Mathochism: Acceptance

One woman’s attempt to revisit the math that plagued her in school. But can determination make up for 25 years of math neglect?

Ever since that eye-opening (or, more accurately, denial-ending) conversation with my classmates on Thursday, I’ve been grieving.

I’ve been grieving for the calculus experience I had hoped I would have, one where those classmates and I got the support we needed to master the material. I’ve been grieving for an experience where we weren’t treated like a commodity not worth investing in, or a sucker parted quickly from his tuition money.

I’ve gone through the Kübler-Ross stages — denial, anger, bargaining. I’m still kind of in depression, which made me consider dropping the class, because failing repeatedly even after working hard and understanding things is a huge drag on the psyche.

But I’m determined to see this through this time. Even if I don’t pass a single test. Even if I am always a pace behind.

Because I AM LEARNING CALCULUS. I’m taking limits correctly. I’m deriving things correctly. I’m slowly but surely demystifying related rates.

I really want to see what comes next. I want to study integration, and the fundamental theorem of Calculus.


Yes, the format sucks, and the time frame for tests is against me. Yes, the department wants to weed me out. Yes, the book sucks, but I am finding new sources of problem sets every day. (PS to math folks out there — I’m open to suggestions for more sets! Give me the tough stuff! Just keep in mind we’re not covering logarithms or exponential equations. They leave that for the next course.)

But I still enjoy the professor’s lectures, and appreciate the clarity she’s given me, in spite of the part she plays in the system. And I wonder if, unless she is a sadist, she finds this set-up as soul-sucking as I do. I’ve seen glimpses of that when she’s let her guard down. I think this person truly loves math, and truly enjoys teaching.

Or maybe I’m a fool who just wants to think the best of people, because the alternative is bleak. Then again, I am also old enough to have seen many acts of grace, and many acts of beauty, coming at times from people who are also despicable.

But never mind. This is not about her soul, but about mine.

So yes, I may fail this time, if only on the transcript. But things ARE worth doing even if I’m not perfect at them right away.

All text copyrighted by A.K. Whitney, and cannot be used without permission.

Note: Mathochism runs Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Please check out my next installment on Dec. 25.

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