The End of Something

I think this is the second time I’ve used this title in this very blog. I’m sure that has some significance, such as suggesting that it’s easier for me to recognize and contemplate things that are ending rather than things that are beginning. After all, isn’t that how we end up gaining a few pounds, drinking too much, letting project deadlines slide? We often don’t identify things in their nascent state, which is why they sneak up on us and wallop us with stark realizations when we’re least expecting them.

Endings seem to be easier to recognize and identify. And this particular ending is about as subtle as a Supreme Court ruling. Having made a big deal about my foray into mathematics–the beginning of a wonderful journey–it’s a real shame, and to be honest, an embarrassment– to have to announce the effective end of said journey. For the moment, at least, I’ve come to the end of the line. At some future point, I may find another angle by which to approach mathematics, but for now, I have to admit I’ve reached an abrupt and finite closure. (Pardon the puns, but for consolation I’m diving headfirst back into the world of language, whose chief form of amusement is wordplay.)

Let me be succinct and direct. Reader, I failed.

Well, I didn’t really fail, but I came very close to doing so. That test I mentioned last entry? I scored not a C-, but a D- on it. That in itself is an indication of real trouble, but what’s worse is that I didn’t anticipate such a low score. Of course, when I saw my grade I did the responsible thing and went to meet with the professor, who is not only a former colleague but a friend of mine. And I don’t think it’s just because she’s a friend that she suggested I drop the course. I think she’d have given this excellent piece of advice to any of her students in my situation.

The reason is this: while I had done well in my previous math class (College Algebra), which is the prerequisite for this class (Trigonometry), there are some significant gaps in my knowledge. To wit, all of geometry. This should come as no surprise, since the last geometry class I took was in 1979, when I was a sophomore in high school. I have had no real use for the things I learned in that class (sorry, Miss Fenton!), and so I’ve papered over that knowledge with other, more pertinent things which have been more relevant to my life and my career–for example, the number of sonnets Shakespeare wrote, the telephone number of my closest pharmacy, and Ulysses S Grant’s middle name (trick question–it’s Hiram. Thank you, Jeopardy!).

I know what you’re thinking: I should sign up for a course in Geometry. Unfortunately, no such course exists at the community college near me, and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be allowed into the high school to take such a course. Perhaps I can catch up by reviewing it on my own, with some help from a friend, but I’m old enough and just wise enough to know that when you set something aside for a short time, no matter how good your intentions, it’s very likely that you’ll be leaving it for good.

I feel a sense of loss and frustration, certainly, but this essay by Freddie deBoer has taken some of the sting out of my failure. It’s possible I’m being re-directed to things that are more important for me to spend my time on. After all, Nanowrimo starts soon, and I have some knitting and crocheting projects that are calling out to me. I have a new grandson, too, and his charms are far more enticing than those offered by sine curves and pythagorean identities.

All of this is just a long-winded way of saying that this is probably my Farewell-to-Mathematics post. It was fun while it lasted, and it showed me some new ways to look at the world around me, so I don’t regret trying to learn math. I really think the experiene, short-lived as it was, changed my perspective on a few things, which is always good, especially at my age.

And, as a special bonus, it’s supplied me the perfect name for this beautiful tri-partite tree in my back meadow. Seen below in its autumnal glory is the majestic maple tree I will henceforce call “Sohcahtoa.” It was just too good a name to waste.


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