Monthly Archives: March 2010

Mathochism: Invisible women

One woman’s attempt to revisit the math that plagued her in school. But can determination make up for 25 years of math neglect?

Today is Ada Lovelace Day, a day in which writers all over the world are encouraged to celebrate women who have made a difference in math and science. Given my recent and continuing attempts to get over my math phobia, this subject has become close to my heart.

To be honest, I only learned about Ada Lovelace a few years ago. As a lit major, I certainly knew her famous father George Gordon, AKA Lord Byron. I started reading Byron’s poetry before high school, and found myself fascinated and repulsed by his lifestyle and ego. The most I knew about his family was that he was allegedly in love with his half-sister Augusta, and that he was not particularly enchanted by his legal wife, cheating on her continuously with various mistresses.

I never heard a thing about his daughter Ada, who is credited as one of the world’s first computer programmers.
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RA Diaries: The hardest button to button

With RA, shopping for things to wear isn’t just about finding the right style or fit. It’s also about making sure I can get everything on and off by myself.

True, I have a spouse who is more than happy to assist with dressing me, and sometimes he does. But it’s an independence thing. The day I can no longer dress myself will be a sad, sad day for me, mitigated only by having a Johnny Depp clone helping out.

Hmm. Perhaps I should look into it. I’m sure there’s a website — perhaps

In that spirit of independence, that means not buying anything with long rows of buttons, particularly tiny ones or the kind you have to pinch shut. It also means no long zippers up the back, or zippers down the side, at least on pants. I get that women don’t need pants with a front zip, but I find those a lot easier to navigate — it’s all about leverage.
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Mathochism: Stuck in the matrix

One woman’s attempt to revisit the math that plagued her in school. But can determination make up for 25 years of math neglect?

Gah. Gaah! Gaaaaaahhhh!!

My first Algebra II test was tonight, and I’m willing to bet I won’t get an A on this one.

Why? I got stuck in the matrix.

(Where’s Neo when I need him? Where??)

The last portion of chapter three introduced matrices, which, for the uninitiated are engines of Satan systems for solving equations without having to deal with pesky variables like x, y and z.

This is what a matrix looks like:

1 -3  1  10
0  2  4  7
2  5  3  1
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RA Diaries: Living with Glenn

I started having trouble with my right knee three years ago.

It started with stiffness, then muscle pain and a certain amount of weakness while climbing stairs. I had it X-rayed recently, and the good news is that, in spite of inflammation, there appears to be no discernible damage. At least, not yet!

That said, my knee has been a downright pain lately. I don’t know what’s up with it, but it’s doing fun things like swelling so much that one leg is half an inch longer than the other, and just hurting for no reason while I’m not even moving.

So, I’ve decided to name it Glenn.
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Mathochism: Supplemental hell

One woman’s attempt to revisit the math that plagued her in school. But can determination make up for 25 years of math neglect?

I really disliked last semester’s Algebra textbook. The reasons I disliked it were twofold: not only was the author trying to be ridiculously hip by including references to D-List celebs like Carson Daly, he also included sexist questions that had nothing to do with math.

This semester’s Algebra II textbook is much more to my taste, and the authors won my heart by including a brief bio of Grace Murray Hopper, a computer programmer who kicked some serious math ass in the ’40s.

My college’s math department, however, seems to feel the book doesn’t go far enough (but they’re happy to make us pay $170 for it anyway), so they’ve put out a supplement.
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RA Diaries: Owww — please don’t touch me!

For me, having rheumatoid arthritis means I have chronic joint pain. But I must clarify that chronic doesn’t mean constant — I have deep sympathy for anyone in constant pain, and have had just a brief taste of that hellish condition when I dealt with sciatica last year.

Whether or not I have pain has everything to do with how much rest I got, whether it’s raining, whether I spent way too much time wandering around the mall or too much time on my feet cooking. Fortunately, though, the pain is mostly manageable with non-steroidal anti-inflammatories.

But it’s not just about pain. There is also stiffness and inflammation, and those aren’t always as manageable with drugs. They’re also a bellwether for possible pain to come.

Because of that, I’ve never been a very touchy-feely kind of person. Mind you, it’s not that I don’t like to be touched — physical contact is important to me, and snuggling with my spouse is something I make sure to do daily. It’s just that, if you touch me the wrong way — say hug me too hard or grab my elbow or hand the wrong way — it can really hurt.
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RA Diaries: Sexy with a disability

Living with a chronic illness can be interesting. And it can be a pain in the ass.

I’ve had a chronic illness — rheumatoid arthritis — for most of my life. I’ve also resisted writing about it for most of my life, because I didn’t want to be “arthritis girl.“ I didn’t want to be “the sick one,” or “the crippled one” or “the girl you should feel sorry for.” People tend to put you in a box, and you know what? I am not only my illness.

Besides, people who talk endlessly about their health bore the crap out of me, and I don’t want to be that person. Even if I’m just a head in a jar at some point, because all my joints have gone to hell and my insurance won’t cover replacements, I’m not going to dominate the conversation with my aches and pains or what meds I’m on.

But lately, I’ve been wanting to write about dealing with RA, and not in the “buck up there, little camper” style you see in mags like Arthritis Today, or in some sappy, woe is me “Chicken Soup for the Soul” way. ‘Cause you know, people who deal with disabilities — and I have a disabling condition — are so “special.” Yeah, I’ll show you special!

No, I want to write down the random, current, not-so-current, stupid, funny, painful and possibly insightful stuff I’ve dealt with because of RA. And I’ve got almost 40 years of stories to tell, though I will definitely edit as needed. And since I’m a writer, I will do my best to make them entertaining.

The first installment is actually a reprint of an essay I wrote for Sirens Magazine in 2006. It’s gotten a lot of mileage, and I’m still happy with it after all these years. Future installments will likely be much shorter.

“You’re ugly.”

I was 12, and I was standing at my school’s snack bar, waiting to buy a sandwich. Next to me was Suzanne, who, like me, was on break from rehearsing the sixth grade play. Suzanne didn’t like me. I knew this for a fact, since she once announced it publicly. I don’t know why she disliked me. I didn’t have any classes with her; I never really spoke to her. But it was middle school. She didn’t need a reason.
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Mathochism: Dysfunction function

One woman’s attempt to revisit the math that plagued her in school. But can determination make up for 25 years of math neglect?

I’m having a bit of trouble wrapping my brain around functions. Well, sort of. I understand the concept of, say, f[x] = 2x + 1. The trouble comes when I’m translating a function into a graph.

I don’t like graphs. I didn’t feel the graph love last semester in Algebra, and I’m not feeling it now. But it seems I’m going to have to learn to like them, along with word problems. To use a food metaphor, graphs seem a lot like cauliflower. I don’t like cauliflower. I think it goes back to my childhood, when my mother would boil it into submission, stinking up the house, then make me eat the limp discolored results.

Now, my mother is an excellent cook. I wouldn’t have become a avid cook without her inspiration. But there are some things even she can’t cook, and cauliflower is one of them. We all have our culinary Achilles heels. Mine is pie crust.
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Mathochism: I’m a woman

One woman’s attempt to revisit the math that plagued her in school. But can determination make up for 25 years of math neglect?

Things are finally getting a bit more interesting in Algebra II.

I actually dreaded going to class last night, thinking I would rather just curl up on the couch and watch “How I Met Your Mother.” I just couldn’t face more rehashed Algebra I, mixed in with the brofessor’s “life lessons” on earth-shaking topics like card counting.

(The above is also why I didn’t update Mathochism last week. I had nothing to say, and too much to complain about.)

But I’m glad I went, since he finally introduced a new concept: Functions. As in f[x] = 2x + 4.

I vaguely remember functions from my math phobia days. Very, very vaguely. I clearly didn’t pay attention. I’m upset that I didn’t pay attention. But it makes sense, since math back then was something to be suffered through, not something to be understood.

I think I am grasping the idea of functions this time around, and a big part of that is determination to overcome my math phobia. I wish I could say that for my classmates.
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