1. To begin: Flaws. One of my many, is that I've never been able to calculate. Calculus, trigonometry, even algebra, simple logarithmic functions, escape me. In high school, Geometry was the only category of mathematics that I was somewhat able to grasp. That's because it included doodling. (Well, didn't it?) I've often wondered if this failing was solely because I could not understand mathematical relations or if I simply refused to try, refused to to understand. Or. Refused to accept that anything could be answered with such certainty. One plus one, yes, two. But even that simple equation never seemed so simple to me. And this suspicion was confirmed after my second child was born, when in the haze of endless nights punctuated by frightening infant caterwauls and toddler walkabouts it became clear that the idea of one plus one equalling two was nothing more than an algorithmic farce.
I wonder if my inability to calculate bears any connection to a cognitive deficit known as dyscalculia, which Wiki describes as an "innate difficulty in learning or comprehending arithmetic." The reason, though, is more likely disinterest. In any event, I've no compulsion to further explore what I've accepted as a lifelong inadequacy and limitation. I surrender all calculations to the accountants. After all, not everyone can be a mathematician.
2. Some of us have to write.
3. Some of us have to tell stories.
4. And some of us, well, all of us, should listen...
5. To this...
A short short film that I came across the other day while visiting one of my favorite magical depositories on the internet, Brain Pickings. Brain Pickings is, in the words its remarkable curator, Maria Popova, "a human-powered discovery engine for interestingness, culling and curating cross-disciplinary curiosity-quenchers, and separating the signal from the noise to bring you things you didn’t know you were interested in until you are."
Ken Burns, on story:
Stories as acceptable and sincere manipulation. Waking the dead. Building emotional truth. Keeping wolves from the door. Continuing ourselves. Reminding us that it's just Ok.
At about 4:20 Burns illustrates the how and why in which he conveys story. It's a powerful and vulnerable moment that offers us insight into to his success. Moreover, he shares my suspicion that one plus one does not always equal two.
6. (Now, there's something called story algorithm, but I don't want to go there just yet.)
7. As a sort of book club experiment, I've been reading Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes along with Lu who is currently reading the book for her English class. Other than Zen in the Art of Writing, it had been a long time since I'd read Bradbury, since I'd read Something Wicked, and as I flip the pages of his book, I'm reminded of why I adored his stories as a young girl. The grand collector of metaphors set out to have a helluva lot of fun. He stuffed his head with anything he could from every imaginable field. He went to carnivals and cinemas and read comic books and nearly everything else he could collect from the library—short stories, essays and poetry. Only the greats, nothing modern. He likes to say that he practically lived in the library.
The world in which Bradbury lived as a child is very much alive in his works, and it's hard for me to believe that a man who extols the virtues of writing only for the pure joy and fun of writing ever had a moment in which he feared he'd waste time writing something that might not be very good. Even so, by the age of thirty he had his first novel published. And what followed was awfully good.
At the library, from Something Wicked:
Out in the world not much happened. But here in the special night, a land bricked with paper and leather, anything might happen, always did. Listen! and you heard ten thousand people screaming so high only dogs feathered their ears. A million folk ran toting cannons, sharpening guillotines; Chinese, four abreast, marched on forever. Invisible, silent, yes, but Jim and Will had the gift of ears and noses as well as the gift of tongues. This was a factory of spices from far countries. Here alien deserts slumbered. Up front was the desk where the nice old lady, Miss Watriss, purple-stamped your books, but down off away were Tibet and Antarctica, the Congo. There went Miss Wills, the other librarian, through Outer Mangolia, calmly toting fragments of Peiping and Yokohama and the Celebes. Way down the third book corridor, and oldish man whispered his broom along in the dark, mounding the fallen spices...Something Wicked has instantly transported me back to the world of Will and Jim, and Mr. Dark and the salesman toting the curious lightening rod—back to the eclipse of morning's first hours when a flashlight under the bed covers lit fantastical words ablaze. It's been difficult to fight the temptation to read ahead of Lu and her class, but I'm holding back, filling my time with other stories, considering what and how I will write, collecting ideas, piecing words together in such a way, reminding myself that it's just Ok. These are the kinds of calculations I can do in my head. And it's a helluva lot a fun.
* * *
Dead Combo is the ten year old band of friends Tó Trips and Pedro Gonçalves, of Portugal. They began their partnership after they recorded together, for the first time, a contribution to the tribute album to the late Portuguese guitarist, Carlos Paredes.
Together, Trips and Gonçalves have created their own story as well as their own incarnate personae whom they describe as "characters that could have come from a dark comic book: a caretaker and a gangster." They have recorded together, as well as with the Royal Orquestra das Caveiras (Royal Skulls Orchestra), with whom they released a live DVD in 2010.
Story can be told many ways. You can find more of Dead Combo's story music here.
This reminds me of when I went back to school and was having a real struggle in algebra. During my second semester I was lucky to have a professor who understood my problem. I would get stuck on how they would go from 1 to -1 at 0 and he explained that was the hardest concept for math teachers to explain and advised me to just do it and not try to make sense of it because much of algebra just didn't make sense. Most people don't try to understand it and just memorize what they need to know to get by. The next semester I had his father as a professor for a math for non-majors class and became fascinated with ideas such as string theory. He made me want to take more math but I just didn't have the time. My guess is that ideas such as the parts being greater than the sum might have become understandable through mathematics.ReplyDelete
Regardless, the Ken Burns video is interesting. Perhaps what we find in story can also be found through mathematics. This is such a great post Jayne! Again. I love people who help me to think and you do that.
Dead Combo is so terribly groovy. They make me think also.
Rubye- I'm a whole lot more fascinated by the idea of string theory, myself. Yet, I'm still not interested in learning anything more than basic arithmetic. Percentages are helpful, and in a former profession, I used math adequately, but it took me a while to get there.Delete
In college, I had to have at least one math class in order to graduate. My older brother, who went to the same school, had to tutor me through Math 109 (after I had dropped it thrice before!). And I passed it (finally taking and completing it in the summer) by the skin of my teeth. Ugh. Complete failure on that front.
My poor kids-- both their parents are math challenged--they're on their own when it comes to high school math!
I always struggled with math; similarly at you, geometry was the only math that made sense to me - it was spacial, I could picture it in my mind. I was then, and remain today, good at building things - I am a natural engineer and architect. I was interested in being a surgeon at one time, I could see it. But all these things remained out of reach because they required math. I might as well desired to be wheelchair bound desiring to be a track star.ReplyDelete
It did work out; when computers came into fruition, there were few manual to blaze the trail. As a "kinetic" learner, I learned by doing and I excelled.
And I eventually made a film as well, a documentary about a man considered a genius, a magician for magicians and conjuror of the most amazing optical illusions who had only a high school education. So it is true, one can live a rich full life without knowing math.
Robert- You give me hope. (Yet, even with calculators and computers, I'm a disaster.) This is a great story, and I would have never guessed that you are challenged in any mathematical way. I think kinetic, or tactile, learning is the very best way for a thing to really sink in. I see it with my kids. If they can touch, feel, or have some kind of sensory experience relative to the particular subject they're studying it's much easier for them to remember and retain what they've been taught. Makes perfect sense. ;)Delete
People are different, with different interests, for sure.ReplyDelete
I studied math and theoretical physics (which is applied math). To me it was a shock when I took my first and only course in geology, which is a descriptive kind of science. Rocks are brown or gray. Sand is fine or course. Only vague and hand-waving arguments; nothing tied down to precise numbers.
I don't think there's a contradiction between being mathematician and writer/storyteller. I try to be both. My job is to apply math and physics (calculus, differential equations, linear algebra ...) to explore for petroleum. My hobby is to write stories >:)
Cold As Heaven
Cold, you renaissance man, don't I wish I could work all sides of the brain. Yes, and I don't necessarily think there is a contradiction between math and writing--certainly some of our most famous mathematicians and scientists have also been excellent writers. (Plato, Lewis Carroll, Richard Feynman.) I just find this ability to be quite remarkable.Delete
Feynman was an amazing guy. He did great things in theoretical physics (the Feynman diagrams), and wrote some cool books, both the anecdotes (Surely You're Joking ...) and the Feynman Lectures on Physics (3 volumes). I have all of them in my shelf >:)Delete
If it weren't for the calculator on my phone, servers would never get the right amount of tip. :) Well, I definitely think your writing ability makes up for your lack of interest in math.ReplyDelete
Ha! Elizabeth--that cell phone sure does come in handy doesn't it? ;)Delete
i have a friend who can't read for sour apples but can analyze an income statement or balance sheet in nanoseconds. when i read an annual report i can't focus on the narrative for all the tea in china as my eyes go into an autopilot mode seeking out ratios and projections.ReplyDelete
Ok, so I do actually get income statements and balance sheets--the bottom line, that is. I'm not in the business of analyzing them though (thank goodness I have a partner who does this). Years ago I worked for a company as it went public, and I remember being fascinated by annual reports. No so much any more. I'd almost rather not look at them!Delete
Ratios and projections. Hmm....
'Stories as acceptable and sincere manipulation.'ReplyDelete
I struggled with this concept all through the end of last summer, through the fall, through the winter and began to see some sense in it all by spring.
'(Now, there's something called story algorithm, but I don't want to go there just yet.)'
:) Think I'll hold back with you on that one, too.
Magnificent post, Jayne. Thank you.
'One plus one, yes, two. But even that simple equation never seemed so simple to me. And this suspicion was confirmed after my second child was born, when in the haze of endless nights punctuated by frightening infant caterwauls and toddler walkabouts it became clear that the idea of one plus one equalling two was nothing more than an algorithmic farce.'
Articulated like only the goddess could.
Suze- There's been so much talk about recent non-fiction books that stretch the truth that I think the idea of non-fiction is getting a bit convoluted. I mean, the truth is what we remember. Unless every factoid has been fully documented there is no way to reproduce events precisely as they occurred. And even if we could reproduce such events, I think we'd still question to the reality or truth of them!Delete
I think Burns makes a really good point regarding this matter. He does it simply, too. I think of David Sedaris, who writes about his life but definitely stretches or bends truth in order to make it more humorous. I don't really see anything wrong with this. Finding humor in our lives is what keeps us sane, and the reading interesting! (Love that Sedaris,) :)
Thanks Laoch. :)Delete
Well. I'm late again. Frolicking on a Sunday instead of a Friday. Nibbling on leftover appetizers...ReplyDelete
I kind of, sort of remember reading Something Wicked. I do remember that I was captivated by it, and I kept trying to get my brothers to read it. They didn't, of course, despite my efforts. One of my brother still brags that the only book he's ever read was Hank the Cowdog.
It's never too late to frolic, Nessa!Delete
Hank the Cowdog. That's funny. You know Hank has his own website (games and more!) now? Working on a movie too--per the www. Make sure you tell your brother (if he doesn't already know it)! ;)
what? jayne, flawed? not possible.ReplyDelete
isn't the infinite variability of this crazy planet utterly marvelous? i could do math, but i never liked it. my head preferred to be either stuck in a book or hovering over a notebook, pen in hand (until my babies were born—then i didn't seem to have time for anything. those years are somewhat lost in a haze for me).
reading this made me pull bradbury's "the cat's pajamas" off the shelf. ah, bradbury. where would we be without fun? writing should be fun, but no one can deny it is also hard work.
speaking of fun, isn't it fun reading what your kids are reading? i sometimes did that when they were in high school. now hannah brings home piles of books from her literature classes in college (she's double majoring in english and art).
it has also been great fun romping and frolicking through here. there is always something interesting happening at jayne's place. ; )
I know, m, ouch. 'Tis true. What can I say, terribly flawed I am. ;)Delete
Liking something is the trick, isn't it? I wonder if I'd had a really interesting math teacher, someone who made math dance for me, would it have been different? I can't recall one teacher that was able to make math sing or dance. Is it possible? Heh.
Oh, The Cat's Pajamas! That man has written so many wonderful stories. My favorite, I'd have to say, is The Illustrated Man. Fascinating story. I keep trying to get my son to read it, but he's resisting, which is odd as he enjoys sic-fi/fantasy. (The problem of course: it's Mother's recommendation.) Some day...
I'm enjoying discussing Something Wicked with Lu. It's funny though, she doesn't want to spend too much time thinking about it at home since it's discussed in her class at school. Still, I think she's getting a kick out having me read along. :)
'some of us have to write and some of us have to tell stories'.....this has been on my mind a lot lately. thank you for this fascinating and insightful post.ReplyDelete
Well, Amanda, I'm glad you're digging up some stories! I'm having fun reading them. :)Delete
I wonder if, in fact, Ken Burns' words, "Keeping wolves from the door. Continuing ourselves," don't apply to our experience of creative endeavor in whatever form. Fiction, non-fiction, art, music, poetry, all ways to create a life of greater depth and breadth than the one we'd have without the arts.ReplyDelete
Susan- Agree, we can take it to mean all that. I think Burns confirms, essentially, what we all seek to understand--the greater meaning of life. And artists, through their creative endeavors, whether story or painting or any other form of art, have a tendency to find what resonates in us all, and remind us "that it's just Ok."Delete
I'm not sure that achieving a certain emotional effect in film is tantamount to manipulation, provided the motives are pure. But on the topic of Algebra: it was the only course I failed in high school and was ultimately proud I did. Because I hired a teacher from my high school to tutor me. We had one rule: I could stop and ask as many questions as I wanted. I graduated with a high "B" and because he was a great teacher, the subject was actually interesting.ReplyDelete
Michael-- this made me laugh! Proud of failing Algebra. Good for you for finding a skilled tutor and setting the parameters. I did not have that kind of determination until I realized I wouldn't be picking up my college diploma unless I passed a math course. Got through it just in the nick of time, but not as successfully as you. ;)Delete
Finally catching up with episodes of "How the Universe Works" and the way in which, it seems, all knowledge of EVERYTHING is based on math, leaves me in awe. And yet, I believe artists/writers/right-brain types also have access to the great mysteries, not with hard data but with a different sort of knowing. They give Nobel prizes for literature and science. Currently, and with many interruptions, rereading "Farenheit 451," I find that Bradbury has a way to make me fall in love all over again with what is already part of my heart, as his quote about the library confirms. It may be that he invented, or certainly redefined atmosphere, whether on Mars or in the whistle of the carnival train. Story. Couldn't we go on forever just talking about it? xoReplyDelete
Oh Marylinn, please tell me how the universe works! I know that you, more so than many others, can this, and quite eloquently I feel like I haven't been to the Discovery Channel in ages. Probably because I haven't. There was a time I was often there with the kids but it seems like that time has passed and that there's now little time for any of that. (I think I've lost my sense-making ability--as if I ever had it.)Delete
Some of that "little time," though, is self-imposed: when the kids first started school we instituted a NO TV policy for the duration of the school week. It's still in force and I think it's done wonders in terms of getting them to read books (like Bradbury's Fahrenheit). We haven't been so successful with limiting technology--which they can sneak into their rooms--but I'm working on it, as well as working on occasionally breaking rules so they can see special broadcasts during the week. But that is more as a reward for their hard work, as we could as easily tape the shows and watch them during the weekend. But then, but then... soccer and lacrosse and commitments, and lordy, who has time to watch TV on the weekend?! Here I go, going on again--see, give me one short break in the day and I will VENT!
But thank you, Marylinn, for pointing out how Bradbury did, indeed, if not invent, redefine atmosphere. It was so exciting for me to read him as a child or very young adult, and none of that enthusiasm has dulled, and it has a lot to do with the fantastical atmosphere he created. Forty years later, for this reader, it's still as bright as ever. (And yes, I could talk about it forever. :))
Math: I kind of liked it all through high school (I actually had two semesters of calculus), and liked sort of fooling around with it once I started to see how the numbers did/didn't fit together. It was like learning that if you just shifted two gears out of alignment, and added a third gear, you could make one of the original gears turn in the opposite direction. But I never took another math class afterwards. Now that I'm thinking about it, the same thing happened with physics: came to a full-dead stop in college. "Sorry, too busy!" (with, y'know, fuzzy-messy things like words and sentences). Turning to computers years later may have been, in part, an attempt to turn back time to my high-school preoccupations.ReplyDelete
LOVED the Ken Burns short. And you singled out exactly the right moments to draw our attention to.
You better get some fiction of your own together ASAP. Nothing can more assuredly convince you why you like to write fiction than, well, the act of writing fiction. You'll see. (Or maybe you already see; for all I know you've been stealing from blog-writing time to write elegant little storylets on the side, and keep them to yourself, damn you. :))
"It was like learning that if you just shifted two gears out of alignment, and added a third gear, you could make one of the original gears turn in the opposite direction." JES, I wish you'd been in high school with me to explain math in these terms. Although, I'm still struggling a bit to visualize how these gears switch direction. Give me a word problem! Aside from geometry, that's the only other kind of math in which I had any success. (It's not fair--some people have all the good fortune to pull from all angles of the brain, but I am not one of them!)Delete
Fiction of my own. Maybe I should try sci-fi? Somehow, I think a little story tossed with a few numbers or scientific equations, in my case, would not equate to elegance. I haven't yet figured out elegance. But I will forever refer to Grace Kelly for guidance (maybe there's a story in there somewhere.;).
Okay, take two identical gears, A and B, and interlock their teeth. Turn A clockwise; notice that B turns counter-clockwise. Now separate them by exactly a gear's-diameter of space, and in that empty space place a third (matching) gear. Turn A clockwise; C turns counter-clockwise; and B now turns clockwise.Delete
Sorry. I just had to try.
Have you read The Sparrow? I'm pretty sure its author, Mary Doria Russell, didn't know much about space flight before setting out to write a novel whose plot required it. And she wasn't -- at least in my opinion -- really writing science fiction anyway; she had Bigger Issues on her mind. (Although from a certain perspective, there's no Bigger Issue than, well, the universe.) There's your role model. :)
Jayne, you have perfectly described the way my brain works. Math is a foreign language that I will never completely comprehend, but words and piecing them together, this is what I know and what I love.ReplyDelete
Bill- we share a brain. Or have a similar brain? No, ha! I'm thinking about how my husband likes to joke that I share a brain with my sisters. Whenever I don't have an answer or have the wrong answer, he likes to say, "Oh, Betty (or Mary) must have the brain today."Delete
That's Ok, Bill. We'll stick with the words. I think it's a safer bet. ;)
Poor youngest took her Algebra final yesterday. This was her facebook post: SOL question: f(x)= the sum of the given z-score squared to the tenth power of a shown plot which is greater than the variance of a domain not equal to zero.ReplyDelete
Me: "Hmmm... 12 sounds like a lucky number!"
It's all about left brain vs. right brain. To be whole-brained would be pure bliss. My left brain is always on the dark side of the moon.
What? I cannot comprehend! LOL! Leonora- one needs a young, supple brain for that calculation. Poor youngest at least has that, and I'll bet she did well by it!Delete
Now I can talk plots and domains, but once you start talking z-scores no matter how many times squared and powered, well, I'm just a bundle of befuddlement. Yes, 12 sounds like the right number to me, too.
And the dark side of the moon is actually very cool. ;)