Math and I are old Frenemies. We whisper about each other behind each other’s backs– word problems indeed. In this area, it’s hard to talk about my feelings– where they came from, how gendered they might be.
Maybe you can relate, or maybe you can’t; maybe numbers make you feel confident, like whatever is quantifiable is also manageable. Maybe you love equations more than, say, a great burrito. For a moment, I’m looking at the other side of the story.
I mostly avoid math, though I do run a business (hi!). In that business, I help students write personal essays that must meet unforgiving word or character count limits. So the math I use most on a daily basis is addition (do these words surpass limit?) and subtraction (what can we take out to be under the word count limit?).
With these numbers in mind, I pull the gem sentences and phrases from the slush sentences. I’m comfortable with these constraints. I’d happily do that for you. Getting 2,071 words down to 650 doesn’t scare me.
Tax Day means Math Day Problems
All my feelings about math resurface on Tax day, the math-iest day on the calendar. Tax day, thankfully, falls during Poetry Month. Now poetry I get. That’s really moved society forward. You can sign up for poem-a-day here.
Most, but not all, of my clients & students are too young to pay taxes as head of household, so they (you) are not exactly sharing my pain on tax day (yet). But no one is too young to understand what giant horse-crap taxes are. The less you have, the more you pay.
I work with students from families across the economic spectrum. For complicated reasons, and due to unforgiving math, my own economic situation is sometimes perilous. It’s good for empathy. If I possibly can, I offer sliding scale as an option for payment. I understand.
But at least I wrote off all those books I bought.
After Math Day comes Non-Violent Day
So April 16th is a great day in the world of ordinal numbers because it means it’s no longer tax day. I do love the reconciliation process, though, the bald truth of it.
But there is another reason: April 16th was also the original pub date of MLK Jr’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail”— a testament to some cooly controlled feelings about– and nonviolent solution to– America’s hyper-racialized society. Please read the whole damn thing.
Come to think of it, all the math in my life all revolves around income and affordability, and about fulfilling exactly what prompts ask us for. That economy. I just don’t like forking it over to a government that hasn’t thoroughly read, absorbed and implemented MLK Jr’s anti-poverty and anti-violence platform, as iterated above. Maybe congress will host a read-a-thon. A woman can hope.
Train Speeds and Who Care Because Crushes
I remember back when I had to take Math for its own academic sake, my brain in a constant math-cramp, when problems were not about personal strain or gain, but about how long it took to trains going at differing speeds to pass one another.
Or, more accurately, about solving for meaningless variables while trying to pass notes to the guy in the row behind me who I had a ginormous crush on.
I didn’t yet know tax jokes. Maybe now that note would say, “Hey, married filing jointly?”
Phew, Poems Will Save Us, From or With Math
But Robin Coste Lewis’s poem, “Math,” which appeared in my inbox like divine intervention, makes me love math differently. She writes about a difficult equation: the ache of loss, and celebrating being alive anyway. This is where the math meets the feelings, period.
Coste-Lewis creates an economy of self-love. She makes me turn to math again to wonder not how fast one train is going when it meets the other one, but how many people on those two trains will ever intersect in real life.
Math is inarguable: it’s correct or it’s not. But most of life does not exist on those terms, and feelings, certainly, have altogether different qualifiers. A feeling cannot be incorrect. Variables shmariables. I can count my losses as many, and still feel life as profoundly, beautifully, agonizingly singular.
Or something like that.
Also, here’s an awesome math teacher in NJ, who gave her students what she couldn’t ever get. The article gave me feelings.
Prompt: Part Math Part Feelings
Freewrite for 5-10 minutes. Tell a story that involves math. Maybe math is at the center of the story. Maybe it’s in the margins. But either way, it’s important to it, and to you. Look in particular for examples, memories, in which you are vulnerable, exposed. Maybe it was that time the receipt didn’t add up, you split the bill wrong, the electric company turned off the lights, you found money on the ground, you added the angles of the triangle all wrong in front of the class. Or maybe it’s a story in which you were heroically math-y.
We may fear math but we love stories! If you liked what you started and want to get an essay going, contact us to share your writing and get quick feedback.
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