Yes. Those are my shoes.
As you can tell, I have had them for a few years now. They kind of look like the pair Andy Dufresne traded in at the end of Shawshank Redemption.
On the outside they look like something that would understandably draw the remark, “you need new shoes” with the scuffing, discoloring, and fading. Yet, they continue to be one of the most comfortable pair of shoes I have owned.
I will probably buy a new pair this summer — maybe. But, not too long ago, that was not as simple as it sounds.
5 years ago, there was a fire at a historic building on a beautiful historic street just north of Toronto. After I left teaching, I started building something called “The Right Angle”. It was going to be the first Math Store/School that I knew of. A store in the front that sold mathematical games, puzzles, books, gifts, etc., a lounge area(for parents), and rooms/open area in the back that would offer enriched and playful exploration of mathematics.
My first school to book a visit to The Right Angle was going to come all the way from Ottawa, a four-hour drive.
The Right Angle was in that building. It was the first fire ever in the building, which was built in 1871. Unfortunately, through a terrible landlord and frustrated lease, there was no insurance. Long, long story…
Some of us have stories of tough times from the beginning. It’s rarer to have those stories of tough middles. Most of my friends, who were turning 50 in 2014, like myself, were doing very well in terms of living a stable, middle-class/upper middle-class life. Vacations, cottages, and older kids.
My kids were 5 and 7, and just lost almost everything. If it wasn’t for my parents supporting me after the fire, I most likely wouldn’t be writing this article.
Losing everything, and seeing life through an impoverished lens for many years, especially at a cliched age of comfort and security, gave me a gift that most of you can not possibly understand without such loss. That gift is gratitude.
My TEDx Talk, which should be available soon, uses that idea as the locus of the title of that talk — Your Heart is Your Identity.
Having a comfortable pair of shoes is enough. So are many more things. Family and Friends. Laughter and Kindness. Everything post-fire has been influenced by the struggles of that financial reality — including my views on math education.
I have written two books. One was about happiness and other one about play. I didn’t write one on how to succeed in math or better understand fractions. Your world changes when you lose almost everything — and then realize you have everything. That gratitude seeps into your thinking and writing. You perspective is irreversibly altered. Thankfully. Your universe become brighter and so many kindred spirits start to illuminate your lives — people in the math community and my fellow authors at DBC/IMPress.
Just being kind and be given kindness becomes a source of abundance.
Mathematics, unfortunately is linked to eltisism, performance, and classism. Which is one reason, subconsciously perhaps, I still wear shoes that eschews all of that. They may not look nice anymore, but their growing comfort with the wearing leather is perhaps a metaphorical reminder of how much we discard things in society to create better appearances — to let everyone know we are fine.
So, I have zero interest in having cosmetic discussions about math education. I want to dig deep, anything that allows me to connect with you, to find the grit/earthiness of our lives.
My shoes. They are more than fine — just like me.