A Rant about Math

In which I take issue with this culture of fearing and mocking intelligence, and the T-shirt that makes it sound as if it’s all right to do so.

I know you’ve seen it–on either the bumper sticker or the T-shirt or the meme.  The sentiment that reads, “Yet another day has passed and I didn’t use Algebra.” Or the one that says, “I’m an English major; you do the math.” I understand the humor behind it; it’s punny, it’s sarcastic, it’s ironic. Heck, I’ve even used some version of it myself.  I regret that. I don’t find it funny any longer. The more I think about it, the more disturbed I get. No, it’s not a major important issue in our society, but it troubles me nonetheless. Here’s why.

First the goal of this sentiment is to make the displayer feel superior to all those teachers and students who love math and use it; and it somehow tries to make their accomplishments unimportant. As an author you’d think I never use math, but you’d be wrong. Just the other day someone asked me to edit an essay. I moved sentences around to form a logical argument and wrote in my comments, “See, you still use your Geometry for writing. Remember proofs?” Geometry proofs teach logical thinking. It doesn’t require numbers.  And looking at royalty statements, taxes, business expenses–all a part of writing–does require some number acuity.

Here’s one for Algebra that does use numbers: if you go the grocery store and they offer 5 for $3.00, but you only want to buy one. Ta da: Algebra. So what? you say. You still don’t really use it. Well, do you really use history, art, dance, PE, wood shop, or science every day? And having read many, many essays, emails, tweets, and manuscripts, I would say some of you don’t even use English every day. Besides, you probably do use Algebra for simple equations more often than you think, only it’s so ingrained in your head that you don’t even recognize you’re using them (think about calculating expenses, or date entry, or comparing the price of cell phones.)

And there are many many people who do “use” Algebra every day. And even higher levels of math. Robot Guy is one of them. He told me to consider formulae and equations as a language. I use words to create; he uses math. Engineers are highly creative people. Their language is just different.

Math is about problem solving. The skills you learn, the way you look for solutions is math. It’s something that your brain was trained to do in math class. Besides, why is it bad to have knowledge that you don’t necessarily use everyday? I like to learn things just for the sake of knowing them. You never know when you may appear on Jeopardy! Or just play Trivial Pursuit with the family.

I don’t like the trend I’ve seen lately of intelligence shaming. Suddenly being smart is not something people value. TV does it. Look at the Big Bang Theory, a show I like and enjoy, but when you think about it, it makes fun of those members of society we label smart. No, I don’t believe going to school necessarily equals being smart, but this fear of knowledge that pervades our culture right now is a trend I’d like to see stop.

Yeah, I’m taking this too seriously. You don’t have to tell me.


Books I’m reading now:

Harry Potter und die Kammer des Schreckens by JK Rowling

The Power of Art

To roll off of what I posted a couple of days ago, I wanted to discuss why I believe literature is not just important but also vital to our world. I taught eighth grade gifted language arts and literature for several years, and each year I would greet parents at Open House. I always enjoyed Open House because I enjoy performing, and talking in front of a crowd is like a performance. In addition to telling the parents about myself and my background (and always saying that I wrote romances that were not appropriate for eighth graders and that if anyone had a problem with that to please, please, please start a protest because I could use the publicity—never happened, but my students always offered to hold a book burning for me), I would give the parents my passionate and sincere beliefs about literature—all kinds of literature.


Technology progresses at a much faster rate than society. I love technology. I believe we can’t have enough engineers, physicists, and scientists in general in this world (My husband holds a PhD in robotics—yeah, I have a soft spot for the brainiacs). Robot Guy is an optimist; he believes technology can solve what ails the world. Unfortunately, technology moves too fast—too fast for the average person to assimilate it and understand it (by understand I mean use it with comfort—For example, we all drive cars now, but how many of us could actually put a car together? And you should read people’s reactions to automobiles when they first arrived. Hilarious. That and the use of electricity. The showy Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 helped usher in our dependence on electricity. Once people saw the spectacle, electricity became less frightening. Anyway…). So how does the average citizen become accustomed to new ideas and new advances?


Through Art. (Yes, with a capital A)


Art of all sorts exposes us and makes us comfortable with new ideas. We explore our fears through this safe venue and learn from it, so when reality confronts us, it isn’t as frightening. Ideas are often met with fear. Take robots for example. Stories and novels have explored all aspects of robotics in a way that a lay person can understand. From killer robots to helpful robots (Dr. Who to Isaac Asimov). My husband can tell you that there isn’t a robot that doesn’t have a huge red kill switch beside it (we’re not talking Roomba here), and the kill switch isn’t to kill the human operator. In any case, we’ve become so accustomed to the idea of robots that we hardly notice them in our lives. I don’t know about you, but Google’s self-driving car is something I want (although Robot Guy says there is still a long way to go. Robot vision is a particularly nasty problem.) And yes, I feel safer knowing a computer does most of the flying on an airplane.


But it isn’t just technological ideas that Art helps with. Cultural change happens through the examination of ideas in Art. Between Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Gone with the Wind, The Invisible Man, To Kill A Mockingbird, and more recently The Help, we’ve seen racism through various lenses. Without realizing it, the ideas become a part of us and how we respond to those ideas shapes us (I don’t want to debate the validity of the arguments represented in such works—that would be a whole book by itself. What I’m saying is the ideas are there and we’re exposed to them, which affects us, however greatly or minutely). The rapid switch (rapid being relative to the time from when it actually came into our collective consciousness as opposed to the history of mankind) to the acceptance of same sex couples (which the majority of us now do) I believe was helped along by TV shows, books, and movies that featured LGBT characters. Once we saw they are simply like the rest of us, acceptance followed. (And if you’re not in this group and want to leave some sort of screed as a comment, just don’t. This is my page. Make your own page for your own screed.)


Whatever we read touches us, changes us, teaches us. We can agree with, disagree with, argue against, stand for, or dismiss those ideas, but in whatever way, those ideas have affected us. This is why books can be dangerous. This is why governments use propaganda. This is why dictators fear freethinking. This is why education is so important. This is why a great swath of people can be convinced to vote against their own self-interest. This is why debate is so important.


Right. I’ve gone on long enough. If you’re a former student, you’ve heard all this before.



P.S. I’ve focused mostly books, but I truly believe all forms of Art has this power. I just know books best.


Books I’m reading now:

The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare

A Feast for Crows by George RR Martin


The most interesting thing about having written a collection of short (short) stories is how everyone has a different favorite. Smaller Preternatural High Res FINAL REV copyI like them all but even I have a couple that stand out as my favorites. The people who have previewed the stories all told me they enjoyed the entire collection, but X is their favorite. X has been different for each person. One friend like the first in the collection; my husband liked a totally different one. I find it so interesting that our tastes can vary so much. I also find it wonderful.

Why so wonderful? There are books people rave about that I couldn’t finish. (You know the one I’m talking about, Monique.) There are books I obsess about that I can’t get others to read. What it shows is that there is room for everyone out there in the world of books. You may not like my books, but you’ll rave over someone else’s. Some author might leave you cold, but my books will carry you away to that magic world where you forget yourself. It’s all good.

If we all liked the same thing, we’d all have to read (and eat, and view, and furnish our houses with) the same thing. Yuck. How boring. While I believe there is value in having common experiences in a culture , i.e., certain books, films, etc. that everyone has read or seen, you are still allowed to pick your favorites. And pick your unfavorites. Taste and sharing them or arguing over them makes life interesting.

Have I mentioned I don’t like olives?


Books I’m reading now:

This Case is Gonna Kill Me by Phillipa Bornikova

Rosemary and Rue by Seanan MacGuire

A Game of Thrones  by George RR Martin (reread)