Friday, August 17, 2007

girl vs math - it's a draw

I remember practicing my multiplication tables with my dad when I was little. He made up flash cards with problems on each side, we'd sit in the living room and practice them each night. Before too long, I realized that the answers were written on the opposite side of the card; printed oh so faintly in pencil, there they were. Once I figured the system out, it was easy enough to convince him I knew what I was doing, so I didn't have to practice so much any more. I somehow fumbled through most of highschool math without ever really getting a firm grasp on the basics. I flunked math 12 in glorious style, really failing it good and solid - none of this 49% bullshit. It didn't matter anyways, I was going into fine arts, I didn't need math, so I systematically dismantled my calculator outside on the field behind the school at the end of grade 12, never looking back.

Not, that is, until over a decade later when I made the foolish decision to go back to school and pursue a science degree. A science degree? What the heck was I thinking? Face to face with my old nemesis, I had two choices: write a math proficiency test and get placed somewhere in the math program, or start at the beginning. I chose the latter. Starting at the beginning meant I had the opportunity to relearn the basics, and I do mean basics. My first classes were about adding and subtracting and multiplication and long division. No calculators allowed. I took a total of seven math courses spanning from roughly grade four all the way to calc II. I remember a point near the beginning where I was thinking to myself what complicated math I was up to, and my tutor asked if she could buy my textbook when the course was done. She thought it had good exercises she'd like to use for her grade 9 students. Grade 9. There were several points where we learned something so bizarre I thought surely this wasn't in the highschool curriculum when I went through it, but I was informed otherwise by people in the know. Apparently I have some serious mental blocks when it comes to highschool.

The last 12 months I ventured further into math than ever before. Past all the upgrading, past highschool, for the first time with a firm grasp on the basics I faced the dreaded calculus. Calculus to me is like puzzles - sudoku that mean people make you do. I actually quite enjoyed differential calculus, having a fantastic teacher who actually cared about her students and spent time practicing and when she looked out into the class and saw puzzled faces stopped what she was doing and went over it time and time again until people got it. Who got upset when her students didn't do well on tests and quizzes, and asked questions like, 'Is it me? How can I help you do well on this?' and had this fantastically dry eastern-European sense of humour and made each and every class a pleasure to attend. That is high praise for a math teacher coming from a math-hater like me. I enjoyed each and every class. Integral calculus was a whole nother can of worms. Couple the much more difficult and fast paced nature of integral calculus with a young arrogant instructor and chuck that mix into a class that goes all the summer long. Not enjoyable at all. I'm not going to dwell on this jackass or all of the ridiculous things he would say and do, or how he whipped through the material so fast he actually stopped teaching (if you can call what he was doing that at all) three weeks before classes ended, ceremoniously smashed all of the chalk in the room and considered his job done. No, I'm not going to dwell on it, but rest assured the head of the math department will be getting some constructive feedback from me pretty soon.

What I will say is that I made it. I look back on all this math like I had a starring role in some sort of epic war movie. I fought a lot of battles, and sure, I got my ass kicked along the way. I'm coming out of it with broken bones, tired spirit, and bruises-a-many, but I made it. I would like to thank three individuals without whom I surely would have perished:

First off, my mom, who when she saw me struggling and my stress level elevating, offered to pay for a tutor. I never would have been able to pay for a tutor myself, and I wouldn't have made it without the tutor. My mother is a giving and generous soul, and I thank her from the bottom of my heart.

Secondly, Muna, my tutor. Muna first came into my life when I was in grade 9 and she was a student teacher in our math class. We (not me specifically) were so mean to her, she finished her education program but decided not to become a teacher. She told me the experience was so horrible that had her visa allowed it, she would have dropped out of the program. She has three engineering degrees and an education degree, and tutors people in all levels of highschool and university math, chemistry, and physics. She is not only brilliant at those three things, but has a gift for figuring out sources of confusion and teaching the truly confused. She is a wonderful teacher in a one-on-one setting. Muna told me last year she planned on working only until the end of this school year, and then packing up and moving to Nelson with her husband, seeking cleaner air and tranquility. I had this one last calculus class to get through, and she said she brought me this far, she didn't feel right about leaving me with just one class to go, so she stayed in the city a couple of months later than she had originally intended just for me. She is truly one of the most wonderful people I have ever had the privilege of getting to know - I would have wanted to spend an hour and a half with her each week math or no math. I won't miss the math, but I will miss Muna.

Last, but certainly not least, comes Paul. This sweet man of mine is a math genius, and without him at home, my frustration level would have been exponentially higher. He was endlessly patient with me, checking my work, pointing out problems, explaining the laws of ln for the gazillionth time. He put up with multiple math-related temper tantrums, tears, throwing of textbooks and other irrational behaviour. He took the pencil out of my hand and replaced it with glass of wine when he knew I'd had enough, and he stayed out of my way when he knew that was best. In the last weeks he did all of the cooking and cleaning, and didn't take it personally when I was spazzing out. And he stayed true to himself, harassing me and playing practical jokes intermittently at inappropriate times. I truly couldn't have done it without him.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

postsecret movie

Every morning I sit with a cup of tea and do my usual email and blog check, and every Sunday I look forward to the release of new secrets on This week Frank has released a postsecret movie, and it is amazing. The secrets are, as usual, beautiful and haunting and sad and touching, and the movie is set to one my favourite pieces of music. Enjoy.

Monday, August 06, 2007

long weekend not long enough

After recovering from a nasty stomach virus that knocked me off my feet for about 48hrs, I headed up to the glorious Sunshine Coast for the long weekend. I've only got one more week of work before my wonderful holiday from work and (once the calculus final is over with) school. The long weekend was like a delicious appetizer which left me hungry for more! Highlights included:

  • hanging out with my ENTIRE immediate family, which only happens a handful of times each year
  • crashing the after-party of a neighbour and childhood friend's wedding and hitting the open bar hardcore
  • lying on the beach
  • having a loooong talk with my mom, which we don't often get the chance to do
  • floating on an over sized inner tube and holding onto Paul's feet as he swam around doing his "pull" workout
  • water skiing behind our BRAND NEW boat
  • eating food from the garden
  • drinking lots of beer

All weekends should be long weekends. Five more days of work, and nine more days of serious studying to go. Holidays here I come!