All throughout my academic career, math plagued me. God, how I hated it. I’d sit in class and stare at those cold, hard numbers, taunting me. At the word problems that appeared to ask me to figure out what time the train would arrive at the station if it was going X miles an hour and it was Y time, but what really said, “HAHAHAHAHA YOU’RE FUCKED, VAN BLARICUM! YOU’LL NEVER FIGURE ME OUT!” Ask me to identify the themes and motifs in a piece of literature and explain their significance to the story, I could do that easily. Ask me to solve one of those train word problems, and my only answer would be, “Unless I’m on the train taking me out of this damn math class, I don’t care!”
If you were to ask me if I considered myself good or bad at math, I’d answer most assuredly that I was bad. After all, when confronted with a more complex algebraic equation than 2x + 2x = ? My eyes would glass over and my brain would turn to mush, or to daydreaming about all the other stuff I’d rather be doing. In reality, I would probably have been very good at math had I applied myself a little harder and quit talking to my friends and passing notes during math class. It didn’t come to me as easily as English did, but had I worked a little harder, put in a little extra study time, I probably could have made it easier on myself. But math was a complete bore, and so I would mentally check out pretty much every time I went to class.
When I was in second grade, my academic laziness regarding math translated to me having to go to a remedial math class, called Chapter 1. (To this day, I have no idea why it was called Chapter 1–perhaps it indicated that this was the first chapter in the story of my journey to not be a retard when it came to math?) I don’t remember having to take a test to qualify for Chapter 1; all I remember is that one day during the math portion of class, another teacher came to fetch me and a few other students, and we would go to a different classroom and do all sorts of math crap. I didn’t learn a damn thing in Chapter 1. All I remember from that class was that there was a little boy, John, who had a major ear wax problem, and that the teacher lent me this LeapFrog-type computer toy for me to play math games on. (Incidentally, I loved that toy, but I think it was because my parents refused to buy any sort of game console for me and my sister growing up, so any sort of video or computer game, even math-themed ones, was awesome.)
I think my Chapter 1 teacher must have suggested to my parents that practicing with flash cards at home would be beneficial for me as well, because every day after school, Pops would go over them with me. He had good intentions–after all, what parent wants to admit that their kid is the dumb one in a certain subject?–but he was like a drill sergeant. I looked forward to Flash Card Time with about as much enthusiasm as a root canal. For about half an hour, I was bombarded with card after card of simple addition and subtraction problems while my dad’s patience steadily chipped away. He would start off by trying really hard to give me little tricks to solve the problems, but eventually he became a bundle of raw nerves and said things like, “YOU SHOULD JUST KNOW THINGS LIKE 9+8. THERE SHOULD BE NO REASON FOR YOU TO COUNT ON YOUR FINGERS!” and, “DO YOU WANT TO BE THE ONLY KID WHO STILL COUNTS ON HER FINGERS? EVERYBODY ELSE DOESN’T COUNT ON THEIR FINGERS!” Eventually I wised up and started counting on my fingers in my head, a tactic that made my dad think I was improving while managing to get one over on him simultaneously. After that, and even up until college, I refused to use flash cards as a studying device.
Math started to click around seventh grade, but I still encountered my fair share of obstacles, which really meant that I would half-ass problems that I thought were stupid, like word problems, proving geometric theorems, and imaginary numbers. These three things could be separate blog posts unto themselves, so I will only say this: I didn’t see the point in spending a lot of time on them, since I didn’t see the point in learning them to begin with. (I mean, seriously, imaginary inumbers? WTF? What purpose to do they serve, and why bother studying them? That’s like trying to take out pet health insurance on a unicorn.) However, I was measurably better than I was in elementary school, which resulted in me being asked to be part of the Mathletes program in eighth grade, an invitation I found both flattering and ironic. I think the Mathletes went to competitions and did math problems; I don’t know for sure, since I went to one meeting, said to myself, “Yah right!” and peaced out.
I’m glad I’m finally at a place in my life where I don’t use any math function more complicated than simple addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. I’m glad the days are over in which I had to account for pi. I’m glad I no longer have to figure out what time the train will get at the station unless I have an actual train ticket in my hand. I’ve made it out of the Math Forest and now I’m in the sunny clearing of Real Life, where algebraic equations, geometric proofs and the Pythagorean Theorem are nothing but distant memories. Hallelujah. Can I get a witness?