Tag Archives: math

A Perfect Circle

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Of course, in 30 years, they’ll teach it in  completely different way than you learned, but at least you’ll be able to empathize with your child’s frustration.

There have seriously been moments in my marriage when the greatest stressor we faced as a couple was the elementary math curriculum. I never mastered anything beyond algebra myself, and of course mathematics education just looked a lot different in the ’80s. The Man is pretty good at math—he can do calculus—but he doesn’t know how to teach little kids like I do. So sometimes the only way for the Girl to get her homework done is for The Man to explain it to me so I can explain it to her. I wasn’t sure how funny this joke was, but I told it to one of the volunteer moms and the librarian at my library and they both laughed.

Presumably, knowing algebra is something of an achievement, because I still scored in the 66th percentile on the math section of the GRE despite being, of course, a liberal arts major. That means I’m better at math than 66% of all people who have, or are about to have, completed a bachelor’s degree and hope to attend graduate school. This tells me that most people must not know any math at all.

There’s also a little joke here about the kind of helicopter parents who would call the school to challenge the basic curriculum because their kid didn’t like it, because these people exist. They are not uncommon today, but that’s another thing you didn’t see too much of in the ’80s.

My Hero

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If you’re wondering why past Mallory has curly hair and future Mallory’s hair is straight, that’s because it’s 1989, so past Mallory is sporting a bad perm.

Just some standard silliness. If I could travel back in time and give 3rd grade me some advice, I’m not sure what I’d say. It’s tempting to joke about stock tips and the outcomes of sporting events, but in fact I don’t really have a great sense of what that would be, and 8-year-old me probably wouldn’t have cared anyway.

If picking a past me to meet and offer advice, I’d probably pick 7th grade me, because she could really use some assurance that she’d show them, she’d show them all. And it would have been nice if future me had clued hormonal adolescent me in about pointless relationships and the fact that I wasn’t actually going to get married until I was 38.

I learned my times table eventually. But, like, not until high school. It wasn’t a huge priority. I was never going to become a physicist. Unlike Mallory Morimoto, who, most likely has further heroic time traveling adventures to pursue. There are wrongs to be put right.

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I'm actually really good at math for a liberal arts major.

I’m actually really good at math for a liberal arts major.

This letter really did come in the mail today. That’s crazy to me. I don’t get as many credit card solicitations per week as I used to when I had a job, or even when I didn’t have a job but the economy was great, but I still get a lot. Random companies just offering me a one time loan at 38% APR is a new one for me. These terms seem not good, but I guess they’re so favorable to the lender that they can afford to send out 1000s of these letters on the chance that 1 person with credit that’s not good enough for a credit card but still good enough for these people will consider this a good way to get some fast cash.

The other thing I get in the mail a lot, besides people offering to loan me money I don’t want to borrow, is people asking me to give to charitable causes. I do donate money to charity, but some of these places, while highly rated for spending responsibly, seem to waste a lot of resources asking me for *more* money. But I’m gonna give when I’m gonna give, and your dead tree missives have no effect on that. I don’t need 3 pleas a week; save that money and use it in lieu of a donation.

On the plus side, that means my name is on the list for a lot of poorly managed charities, by which I mean organizations to which I have never and will never send money, but who nonetheless send me free “gifts,” primarily saccharine greeting cards and flashy address labels.

I should do a post displaying my collection of free address labels. It’s pretty extensive at this point. I’ve never bought address labels. I actually don’t think it really takes that much effort to write my name and address. But, hey, everyone want to give them to me for free.

What a weird world. It seems like there’s more than enough for everyone, and yet we have really pervasive distribution issues.

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Be vewwy vewwy quiet. I'm wistening fow the voice of inspiwation.

Be vewwy vewwy quiet. I’m wistening cwosewy fow the sweet sweet voice of inspiwation.


When we were kids, my brother was considered something of a math prodigy. He skipped the 9th grade to attend the Illinois Math and Science Academy and taught at the University of Illinois before he even finished his BA. While he was in college, he told me, laughingly, Paul Erdős’s statement about mathematicians being machines that turn coffee into theorems.

My brother went on to earn advanced degrees from some of the most prestigious schools in the world. On a recent visit, I mentioned that quote to him and he laughed, this time a little bitterly. He said that most mathematicians do their best work before they’re 25, and that if you haven’t had any brilliant and original thoughts in the field before 30, you’re not likely to, ever. It’s like your brain has lost same particular aspect of plasticity that allows it to uncover new truths about numbers.

That’s never been so of writers. It’s the rare author who has both a mastery of craft as well as an interesting story to tell before 30. Maybe authors don’t hit their stride until 40. It’s not at all unusual to come across an extremely talented person who didn’t even start writing until they had retired in their 60s. So age is actually an asset in this field. And I keep telling myself that. It’s not only the facility with words and the understanding of how to structure sentences, chapters, paragraphs, and stories. It’s also the vast increase in life experience: fodder to create stories. And this increases exponentially. I don’t only gain the experience of my own life. I also get the experiences of all the people I talk to, and all the characters in books I read and videos I watch.

There’s absolutely no reason for a person to feel as if they haven’t achieved enough. In the creative arts, your masterwork can still be in the future.