Math and Other Numbers

You may have noticed from reading this blog or following me on various social media platforms, but I am not a math person. At the risk of sounding like a braggart, I have degrees in history, English Literature, Education, anthropology, and a partial degree in museum studies. There is and has always been a clear method to the madness when it comes to my degrees and I have a definite plan to use each and every bit of knowledge that I have gained, but there is something that you may have noticed. These are all the social sciences, and the social sciences all have something in common.

They really don’t tend to use math that much.

That is really oversimplifying things; I use math in my role as an archaeologist and it’s something I’m glad I know how to do, but I noticed that my work tends to be more focused on the critical thinking, the basic math, and the logic puzzles than on the things I learned in geometry and pre-pre-calculus.

Full disclosure, I stopped taking math at that specific level, because I knew that it was not my strong suit and I wanted to take extra English, history, and music classes.

This topic does make me laugh, though, I can remember a friend of mine informing me when I was a lowly undergrad that, by becoming an archaeologist, I would become a “real scientist.” I laughed and said thank you, because what else do you say to that? I know that historians are not technical scientists, you chemists and biologists don’t need to rub it in!

Look Mother! I’m a real scientist!

But the main point of this post is math. I always hated it with a burning fiery passion, and now that I’m older I think I know why. I struggled with some of the more abstract concepts (to be fair, I also hate philosophy. Am I a drawing on a cave wall? Does it really change my life if I am? Nope. So I don’t care), and it was frustrating. I’ve always been fairly intelligent, and subjecting myself to something that I was horrible at was low on my list. Especially when I could be doing things that I was improving at and enjoying!

There are two major exceptions to my math saga, however. I adore logic puzzles; ranging from Sherlock Holmes to “Who Owns the Zebra.” I think this is because I am a social scientist, and we work in logic puzzles. Every other field seems to give you a set of clues, point you in the right research direction, and then you form your conclusions. While in English you can argue based on your opinion, in history and archaeology, there are actual answers. Something really happened, and other things did not. There is, in fact, a wrong answer.

I love that, when the answer falls into place, when the last piece of the puzzle fits perfectly and the truth (or as near to the truth as we can see) is revealed.

The other things in math that I love are equations. Not super complicated ones, but ones where you solve for x. For some reason, I’ve always found them relaxing. I would guess that this is because there is always a correct answer. X is something, and that is the way it is.

I wonder if this is because every day, I work with people. People aren’t always logical. There are emotions and there are messy situations that can be hard to deal with. My training has prepared me for that. It seems like that’s just what I do; no matter what my job is, I work directly with people. I love my job. I love most jobs that I have had, and I am very lucky to be able to say that.

But sometimes, when I find myself peopled out, thinking about some complex question about history, literature, anthropology or ethical museum practices, when I’m tired of wrestling with the big questions in my fields, I color.

Didn’t see that coming, did you?

You shouldn’t have, it was a weird fake-out.

But sometimes, I find some quiet math. I balance my budget and make a ten-year financial plan. I pull out some old equations or logic puzzles and solve those bad-boys, because sometimes it’s nice to be able to find the answer.

Solve the puzzle. Sometimes, this is the most frustrating part of math. There is a right answer and there is no room for negotiation. There are no additional facts to support your argument. 2 + 2 = 4, and there is no room for debate (unless you’re using fancy math).

So that, dear reader, is my personal journey with math. It’s fascinating, but I’m thankful that now I can just pick the parts I like, the parts that are fun (and the other things, like balancing checkbooks or doing taxes. Less fun, but still important).

Bring on the logic puzzles and the equations!

The math people can keep all the other stuff.

On Superheroes

A few months ago, I realized that I was going through a bit of a bad place. I was unhappy at work, and with the general direction that I felt my life was going, and this made me angry. Actually, I was angry all of the time, and felt like most of my day-to-day activities were in place just to prevent that anger from spilling out and turning me into a rage monster.

If you’ve met me, you may realize that I am, generally speaking, a fairly calm person who it really takes a lot to actually anger. But I’ve been thinking about this a lot since that time in my life, and other than feeling like where I was in my life was turning me into a much more cynical, less trusting, hard-hearted person than I wanted to be, I realized that it’s the calm people who explode in a frightening way.

What does this has to do with superheroes? Well, I’m getting to that.

First, sorry comic book fans in advance.I’m the type of nerd who saw the movies/Linda Carter television show first, then thought, hmm. I’ll dig around in comic book lore. Do you have a favorite series on one of my favorites? Please share!

You see, my favorite superheroes have something in common. You have Captain America, who is an ordinary person who becomes extraordinary because of his compassion, his sense of justice, and his belief in freedom. All in all, he’s a stand-up guys and an all-around decent human being.

Then you have Wonder Woman, because, come on. She’s an immortal princess who fights for truth and justice, while protecting the environment and putting Batman and Superman into their places. Plus, she could probably do it all without her superpowers. She also works full-time. Okay, I might have made that up, but you get the drift.

Batman. Tortured, vigilante, determined to protect the people in his city from suffering what happened to him. Trying to do what’s best for Gotham, while understanding that killing is not the answer (usually).

But when I started thinking about myself, because my brain never sleeps and this is how it works, I remembered another guy. And while I can feel like I want to be like Captain America or Wonder Woman (and I am thankful to not be like Batman), I realized this guy was the one I related to most.

Bruce Banner, aka the Incredible Hulk.

Based on the Robert Louis Stevenson story, “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” Bruce Banner is a mild-mannered scientist who, when he gets angry, turns into a giant green rage monster. He smashes things, doesn’t recognize his friends at first…it’s a mess.

The Hulk movie, and Hulk’s part in the first Avengers movie, seems to focus on this incredibly smart guy, trying to avoid getting visibly angry, because it’s scary when he is. Now, I don’t turn into the Incredible Hulk, but when I get angry, I can feel it bubbling up inside of me and I imagine that it is not a pretty or comforting thing.

These days, I’m less angry. But my experience with the rage inside of me taught me something. If I’m going to act like a superhero (and not an actual person, because I am going to follow this metaphor to the bitter end), I should try to act like Captain America or Wonder Woman.

I shouldn’t be always angry, and unlike Hulk, I was able to remove myself from the situation that made me feel angry all the time.

But I also need to acknowledge that there is a little/large part of me that is Bruce Banner,  the shy, nerdy person who, like all calm people, comes complete with a boiling point that once reached unleashes a force of anger that may not frighten anyone else, but scares the heck out of us.

However, ignoring the anger only makes it worse (and gets things closer to the boiling point). Sometimes, life makes you mad, and I had to learn to recognize it.  Just like the Hulk learned to focus his anger and save his friends in the end, I learned to recognize my anger and remember that it’s okay to be angry(as long as I don’t destroy a factory or Harlem, like Hulk did).

I just need to remember to breathe, pray, and always look on the bright side of life.

And now that song is in your head. You are welcome.