Sunday, November 25, 2012

Arithmetic & Dreams

Picture a large pie... okay a humungous pie... apple... cut into 24 pieces sliced with exact precision that could only be done by machine. Only, I did it myself.

Wayne Thiebaud  "Meringues"

Okay, so it happened in a dream. I've been dreaming a lot. I guess that's good. It means I'm achieving deep REM sleep. On the flip side, lately, my dreams have been vivid, active, and verge on being over the edge... okay, they're full blown nightmares.

This morning I woke up in a sweat.

It wasn't cutting the pie that had me freaked. It was that I was standing, holding this monster of a pie, in front of 24 students, in a classroom, while being forced to teach math... fractions to be exact.

I've never been exact about anything related to math.

I can't do numbers in my head or on paper and rarely get the same answer twice when using a calculator.

Fact is... I'm mathematically challenged. I'm genetically 'mis-wired'. Two hot wires must have accidently made contact, at birth, causing my brain to fry and sizzle rendering me inept when dealing with numbers or sequences of numbers... like 1, 4, 9, 16, ?

Charles Atlas  "Painting By Numbers"

When I was in grade school, I was always 'the last one standing'... not to be confused with 'The Last Comic Standing'. There was nothing funny about my inability to come up with a correct answer during our daily math bees, which were much like spelling bees. Except, I can spell... could spell... until 'Spell Check' and 'Auto Correct' took over making spelling somewhat of a lost art... unfortunately, not so for arithmetic.

Spelling bees are more kind, less embarrassing. Clues are given: the definition, word used in a sentence, and word origins. You also get to leave the stage and disappear immediately upon giving a wrong answer, which allows you to avoid any further humiliation. Only with our number challenges, there were never any hints or an easy way out. If you were lucky, or a math whiz with the right solution to a problem, you were awarded a seat as a prize.

David Hockney  "Chair"

While the rest of us, less numerically skilled, with legs about to fall off, continued the rounds to their fatal, I mean final, end.

And it wasn't just addition and subtraction, area and perimeter, halves and wholes, variables and constants, arcs and tangents that I found difficult. It was all math including money... coins and dollars. While I was pretty good at earning money, I was less adept at making change.

Andy Warhol  "Dollar signs"

In college, I took a part-time job as a sales person / cashier in a department store. At the time Macy's and Gimbels were the two biggest department stores in the area and were great competitors. There was even a saying... "Does Macy's tell Gimbels?"... inferring that there were no shared secrets between them. Macy's still exits and thrives whereas Gimbels, my employer, thanks in part to me, is long gone.

My second day of work, I sold a briefcase to a customer. It was on sale. She was buying it as a gift for her husband. After chitchatting a while, she handed me a twenty-dollar bill. I gave her change. I could tell by the expression on her face that something in my calculation was incorrect, but at the moment, wasn't sure. She left a happy customer. As she exited the front door, with briefcase in hand, it hit me... I not only gave her back her twenty, but also an extra five!

Charles Demuth  "I Saw The Figure Five in Gold"

I won't even attempt to explain my first day on the job, which was way more disastrous. I gave two weeks notice then left, even though Gimbels pleaded with me to stay. Hmmm, besides me giving merchandise and money away, could poor judgment on their part have been their demise?

So here I am with 24 slices of pie and a room full of well behaved students... proof I am dreaming. Oh... did I mention the whipped cream?... the 24 perfectly swirled mounds of whipped cream with the consistency of chilled butter cream that I made as toppings? They were beautiful. I can do beautiful. I do have a degree in art. I just can't do math... or drive a car... or cook... and a number of other things.

So I began by demonstrating how there were 24 pieces in the pie, 24/24ths equaled  1 whole pie, how each person got one slice or 1/24 of the pie, and how 12 pieces made up half a pie denoted as 12/24ths further reduced to 1/2.

Cy Twombly  "Untitled" (Bolsena)


A piece of cake... no, pie.

But as the children began feverishly devouring their dessert with whipped cream toppings, I could see my props, or manipulatives in 'teacher talk' disappearing along with my student's attention.

Heads turned, eyes were diverted towards opened windows and to the mobiles that hung from the ceiling. I could hear the start of private conversations and an interruption from across the room.

It was pie, with whipped cream toppings, that held this lesson together. And now that it was gone, so too, was my sense of control.

Roy Lichtenstein  "Crying Girl"

I woke up before anything got worse.

I've had worse dreams, more terrifying... where I was not the teacher, but a student. I'd hear the words 'Pop Quiz'  and find a math test waiting for me on my desk, stating:

"Two trains going in opposite directions leave at the same time. Train B travels at 5 mph faster than train A. In 5 hours the trains are 675 miles apart. Find the speed of both trains."

Rene Magritte  "Time Transfixed"

Then my head would hurt and there'd be flashbacks... to where my legs were about to fall off, and I'd be close to being... "the last one standing."

I'd be in a sweat... an ocean... and I'm drowning.

Alex Katz  "The Swimmer"

That's a full blown nightmare!

Do you ever get the sweats just thinking about a day when someone might ask you to count backwards by 7 from 100?

If not... what subject brings out your worst nightmares?

While you are contemplating your answers, here are a few links you might find interesting:

My kind of numbers... birthdays! Enter your birth date and learn more about your personality here.

Proof that math really does make your brain hurt here.

15 facts about dreams with pictures here along with 30 facts about dreams without pictures here.

Quotes about dreams here.

Bob Dylan's 'Series of Dreams' video here.

Salvador Dali Clock

Arithmetic & Dreams... Surreal


  1. Boy, can I relate! I do not have a head for numbers and have always hated math! I've had reoccurring nightmares as an adult that I am in a classroom about to take a math test and am in a panic because I hadn't been to classes and was clueless. As a kid I dreaded the "story problems" and had to laugh when I read your example about the trains because that particular example always sticks out in my memory. I would go to my dad for help in solving the problems because he was good at math and was good at explaining the reasoning and was also very patient with me. I would think I understood and then go back to my desk in my room to do the next problem and was completely stumped again. I would get so frustrated that once I scribbled all over the page with my pencil and then crumpled it up in the book all the while crying.
    When I sub, I hate it when I have to teach math but I must say that it has been a good education for me because reading the teacher's manual I have actually learned some of the stuff that I never understood as a kid. The way they teach math today makes more sense and I think that I might have had a better grasp of it had it been taught to us that way. Then again, maybe not. ;)
    I checked out the birthday personality profile. It was way off! In fact, it said everything just about totally opposite of how I am.
    I also checked out the article about math making your brain hurt. I definitely have math anxiety. I looked at the math problems and when I saw that you had to add a number to the multiplied numbers, I said, "Forget it." I have this "thing" about adding numbers in my head when you have to carry a number. I can't do it. I have to write it down. Makes me feel really stupid.
    I'm impressed by how you always find the perfect pictures to illustrate your topics. Got a chuckle at your reference to the well behaved class that it was proof that you were dreaming.

    In high school I worked at a drugstore after school and on weekends. We always had to count out the change to the customer. It was the days before the register told you how much change to give. I'm glad I had that experience.

    1. Hey Bevo

      Yea! Unmathematical minds unite! I feel your pain.

      Although it sounds like, out of necessity, having to teach math as a substitute teacher, your skills have definitely improved. Congrats to you! Maybe there's still hope for me, though I doubt it... Surprisingly,I do keep trying.

      In October, with Halloween approaching, I took out a children's book titled: Mystery Math: a First Book of Algebra. It looked like fun. On the cover was an illustration of two children about to enter what looked like a haunted house with skeletons and a monster peering out the windows.

      Exactly my point...Math is scary!