With an English teaching mother, and a mathematically minded father, I frequently find myself entangled in a ‘Words vs Numbers’ web of banter. Both my parents exhibit extreme zeal for their respective fields, and I thoroughly enjoy how this passion surfaces in our daily repertoire. Mum’s words are always well-crafted and poetic in nature, and Dad’s way of logical deduction is admirable. I am very fortunate to have grown up understanding how both language and figures can be utilised to reason, justify and analyse.
Dad’s arithmetic brain frequently clashes with mum’s expressive mind, and it’s very interesting to witness how different scenarios and ideas can be interpreted in unique ways. One of the most comical examples of their dichotomous ways of thinking occurred when Mum attempted to explain to Dad the meaning of the term ‘simile’. It went something like this:
“Ok hun, so you remember Forest Gump? Life is like a box of chocolates?”
“That’s a prime example of a simile. It’s when you compare two things things that are seemingly different. Understand?”
“So life is to chocolates as assortments are to random. Life is random. Understood.”
I was in absolute stitches and mum, well, her reaction was as follows:
Interestingly, however, I am the very reciprocal of my father. Rather than applying math to English, I attempt to utilise language to make mathematical problems that little bit more tangible.
For example, the standard equation 12x+10=70 would mentally become this: If I have 70 people coming to my 21st, I will need 70 desserts. Cupcakes come in boxes of 12, so many boxes (x) do I need if 10 guests will be eating vegan equivalents because theyre hipsters following some gluten-free rabbit-food diet?
Most of the time, verbalising the numerical problems assisted with my solutions. But there was one specific syllabus requirement in highschool mathematics that I found specifically challenging.
Can you remember learning long-division? Or should I say, incept-division; Dividing on top of dividing on top of more dividing. The thing I resent about it is that one simple miscalculation can shatter your working out process, and come back to haunt you when your answer is required for part b of the question. On top of this, there would inevitably come a point where you end up with the ‘remainder’. That irritating, unnecessary little bit left over that you don’t really know what to do with.
Accomplishing long division was a huge personal success. It gave me perseverance to understand how it works and resilience to struggle through problems again if my calculations turned sour. Most of all, it enabled me to apply my love of language forms and features to mathematics in a completely new and profound way. Ironically, the metaphor is in the maths.
You see, one simple mistake, one overlooked detail or seemingly insignificant decision can infiltrate your existence like a plague; slowly but surely impacting how you solve the rest of the inevitable problems the world throws your way. And at the end of every big step in the formula of life, when you start to move on to solving your next problem thinking that it’s all behind you, you realise there’s that little remainder. The remnants that you cannot let go of; the memories and thoughts that stick with you forever.
People always discuss the thought of ‘moving on’ in terms of ‘forgetting’ or ‘letting go’. But if there’s anything that long division has taught me, it’s that the remainder will never go away. Rather than attempting the impossible by trying to forget about it entirely, perhaps we should accept it as part of the solution. Indeed these little pieces left behind from trauma, rejection, pain, hurt and despair define us and enable us to learn new facets of ourselves previously hidden. Thus, apply the metaphor of Maths: if remainder is a part of the answer, maybe it’s not about letting it go. Rather, we must acknowledge its existence and move forward to the next question… the next puzzle….part b of the big adventure that is life.