Mathochism: The limit does not exist

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

We dove into calculus today, and started with limits.

Now, I am not one to reference movies often, at least not in my writing, but the math tournament scene in “Mean Girls,” where Cady says “The limit does not exist!” and it turns out to be the right answer, kept running through my brain in class.

And as it turned out, in quite a few of the limit examples, it did not exist. Or it existed on just one side. Or it was a problem mathematicians have named “pathological.” Ha! I love this. From now on, I am referring to all the brain-bending problems as pathological.

But back to limits, we did sort of cover them in pre-calc, though we were approaching them from one side or another, and not combining them. Because of that, this new material didn’t feel too difficult. It felt more like fitting and tightening new concepts around the old.

Old concepts, however, have been haunting me. I got stuck on some absolute value problems in the review section. I couldn’t get past why |pi-4| translates as 4-pi. I leafed through several old textbooks, going so far as to pre-algebra, but was still befuddled. Finally, I sucked it up and asked the Calc Professor.

The answer was embarrassingly simple. Pi is roughly equal to 3.14. 3.14 is less than 4. Therefore, you put a negative sign in front of the equation and rewrite it. Voila! 4-pi. How could I possibly have forgotten that, yet remember complex trig identities?

I continue to be impressed by the Calc Professor’s organization, but doubt we are going to become buddies, the way I felt with Uchitel and the Summer Calc Professor. He is good about answering questions, but there is a veneer of a sneer under his answers. Now, this could be attributed to the fact that some people just have natural bitch-face, and come off as unpleasant even though they are lovely on the inside.

In fact, my family, particularly my mother, has often accused me of suffering from this condition. It’s funny, though, that with most friends, with sources, with my spouse and my in-laws, the bitch-face does not exist. Hmm. It’s a mystery.

At any rate, i refuse to let a sneer discourage me from asking questions. And I got most of the limit problems we studied right, and was on the right track with the others. Hopefully, this is a good sign that my personal calculus limit may not exist.

All text copyrighted by A.K. Whitney, and cannot be used without permission.


  • Yeah, unless his words are also disrespectful, I would assume that he’s just a weird math teacher. We have a lot of those. 😉 Though I try to actively work against this, I’ve been told that I can seem unenthusiastic in class, which is especially strange considering how much I love teaching!

  • Well, this guy is definitely the closest I’ve had to a math-esque math prof. How do I describe it without being mean? He’s certainly geeky, and if I worked for Central Casting, I would choose him for the role.

  • My mother has a really intimidating, natural bitch-face and she was a math major. Maybe there’s something to this…j/k. I love the idea of labeling equations “pathological”.

  • Heh. Wait, she’s not gonna read this, is she?

  • I had a professor who could sound like he thought you were really stupid when answering a question or correcting a mistake (I cried in the car at the end of the first week). Then I listened to him give a seminar talk and realized that he always sounds rude while simultaneously thinking and talking. He was sort of a jerk in general, but realizing that his “math voice” is just set to “bored and annoyed” made me not use anything about our interactions as a gauge of how I was doing in the course.

  • Excellent point. And frankly, as long as this guy teaches clearly, and actually answers my questions, he can be however he wants. I just have no interest in having a cup of coffee with him. Now, Uchitel — he’d be a kick in the pants.

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