# Words and Numbers MAG

February 13, 2013

Numbers are horrible to me. Numbers mock me. Every single day they sit on my notebook page and mock me in their silence. They do not tell me how to solve their mysteries. They do not jump up and scream, “Divide me! ­Factor me! Multiply me by the conjugate!” No, they will never do that. Instead they sit pretentiously on the page. They will be erased and rewritten and erased again, and they will be covered up by my sweatshirt sleeve as I try to hide my inadequacy from the teacher walking past my desk.

I stare at the calculus problems and try to keep the tears from dripping onto the page. We have gone over this a thousand times in class … I must at least remember where to start. But no. Nothing comes. Nothing but a white noise in the back of my head and an itching in my legs to run out of the room and never return.

Numbers are concrete. Calculus is concrete. There is a single path that you must follow to get to a single, concrete answer.

But my mind is not concrete. My mind wanders and doodles and wonders and thinks, what if? But Calculus says, “No, ‘what if' will not help you get an A in this course.” So my mind sighs, and its imagination goes into remission.

My mind does not, and will never, look at an equation and say, “Ah, yes, I can predict exactly what this will look like when I graph it.” It will never occur to me that you sometimes have to ­multiply by the conjugate before you can take the derivative.

Numbers are just chicken-scratch on a page, and they mean nothing to me. Words, too, are chicken-scratch on a page. But words are something totally different. I can look at a paragraph on a page, and from that chicken-scratch my mind can construct a castle, a villain, an explosion. With words, there is no single path; there are thousands of beginnings, hundreds of middles, and millions of endings.

Words are an artist's studio, and numbers are the padded white walls of an insane asylum. Words are emotion, and I stare at a book and try to keep my tears from dripping onto the page, because I don't want to ruin this stack of paper that makes me feel so much. Words are mountains and ball gowns and mysteries. Words tell you how to survive in situations you can't even imagine being in. Words teach you how to see the world, and with words I can inspire and be inspired.

I can lose myself in words, but numbers only make me feel lost.

When I leave high school, I will forget how to do calculus. I will forget the unit circle, I will forget how to take the first and second derivative of something, and I will also probably forget how to do everything in between. But that's okay with me.

One day, my child will take calculus. And he will pull at his hair and throw his pencil across the room as I have done many times, and he will ask me if I know how to solve the problems. And in response, I will look down at the numbers in the equations in the calculus book, and I will smile. I will tell him I do not remember in the slightest how to solve calculus problems. And he will groan and let his head fall upon the open book, as I have done many times. And I will pat him on the shoulder and take him to the bookstore and fill his head with words instead of numbers.