Monday, April 20, 2015

For the Love of Math

Math was never my favorite subject and I wasn't very good at it. But, as an adult, I realized one day that math problems, at least the basics, were easier than any other problems in my life. There's one logical way to solve them and, if I follow the rules, the answer will be correct. No gray area. No debate.

2 + 2 = 4

This revelation hit about the time my oldest child turned two. Parenting is the most humbling job on the planet. We all know this. Most of us start out with such high ideals. We're going to be the best parents and we're going to do everything right - or at least different from what our parents did with us. By the time our kids turn two, most of us just hope they won't end up in therapy some day because of something we said or did.

3 x 1 is 3, 3 x 2 is 6, 3 x 3 is 9

The multiplication tables do what they're supposed to do. They're constant. 3 x 3 never says, oh, today I think I'll be 22. Relationships with numbers are much more reliable than relationships with people. The latter have too many variables. In my first real job, I used to dread when my boss would suddenly become very patient because I knew he was about to forgive me for some mistake HE had made.

-3x + 2y -2z = -10

A math problem with variables can still be solved logically, once you know how. Our political science professor used to tell us over and over, "The easy problems have already been solved". This, of course, leaves us with the difficult, messy, human problems to wrestle with, like poverty and bigotry. There are no easy logical 2 + 2 kind of answers to these problems.

dy/dx = x sin 2x + y tan x, - π/2 < x < π/2

Historically, 2 + 2 has always equalled 4. Math is comforting that way. Other fields of study require constant updating and changing as we learn more about our world, whether it involves the stars and planets or tiny cells in our body.

Historically, we've had to unlearn a lot of things. The earth is not flat nor does is it the center of the universe. The founding fathers did not intend for the US to be a Christian nation, Autism is not childhood psychosis caused by the mother. Homosexuality is not a choice. Poverty is not caused by poor people not knowing how to save money. Hard work doesn't guarantee success - luck is also a factor. Even good relationships have hard times. College degrees don't guarantee a good job. And your mom isn't the perfect mom you always knew she wasn't. She's imperfect in many ways you have yet to discover.

These days, as I am making a thousand little and big decisions daily in regards to my parents, my grandchildren (no, you can't eat all the cookies for lunch), our finances, what to make for dinner, and how to spend my 15 minutes of free time, the idea of a simple problem and simple solution sounds very appealing. It's not there and won't be.

That's probably just as well. If every problem in life had a logical solution, it would be a lot like a math class. I'm too much of an artist to want everything to be logical. I may have learned to appreciate math, but I wouldn't want to go that far.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

So Many Different Ways to Be Beautiful

When I was young, my best friend was a little girl named Gina who was quite vocal about how she wished she was a boy. She even wadded up kleenexes and put the wad down the front of her pants because she wanted a penis so badly. I didn't think anything about it. Children usually don't. We had a great time climbing trees and hiking through the wild areas near our neighborhood.

All was fine until I joyfully came home one day and announced to my mom that I was Gina's girlfriend. I was too young to get the icy tone accompanying my mother's response of "what do you mean by that?"  I said that since Gina thought she was a boy and I knew I was a girl, I was Gina's girlfriend. At age 9, friends are friends - period. We had fun together.

We moved to Colorado soon after and I missed Gina and my old neighborhood terribly. Being shy and quiet, entering a new school mid year was torture. I hated it. I wanted to go back to my home and my friends. There was something else, too. My innocent comment had obviously made my mom very nervous. I had never been a "girly girl". I liked climbing and hiking and catching lizards.. I did not like playing with dolls and I hated Barbies. The label of Tomboy was a badge of honor.
By the time I was in high school, the dress code had changed and, for the first time, I could wear jeans to school. This can't have helped Mom's anxiety about my lack of femininity. At a time when it was stylish to wear old overalls and t-shirts, I was scolded for not wearing nice clothes, not curling my hair properly, and teased for being small breasted.

In my mom's defense, in the 1970s homosexuality was still listed as a mental illness by the American Psychiatric Association. It was also a crime. Scary stuff. She needn't have worried. I am straight. It's just who I am. I could no more make myself lesbian than my lesbian friends could make themselves be straight.

Perhaps it's no wonder I struggled with what it meant to be feminine. I know I wasn't alone, not by a long shot. Struggling with identity and figuring out how to fit in and still be a unique individual is the definition of high school. With the feminist movement of the 1960's and 70's breaking down barriers for women, we were all dazzled with the possibilities ahead of us. It was exciting and overwhelming for us, but must have been puzzling and threatening to some of our parents.

There are still times I hear the voice in my head, letting me know I'm not attractive and not feminine enough, but I can deal with it now. I'm lucky to be married to a wonderful man who doesn't insist on me being a girly girl. In fact, generally when I've felt the most insecure about my identity has been when I have to deal with professional women.

The struggle is okay. It's made me into the weird person I am and hopefully more understanding of others who struggle. I know I've had it easy compared to friends I have in the LGBT community. There is no way I could ever claim to understand what they have gone through. I often wondered if Gina's parents tried to squash her desire to be a boy. Did she get into trouble because of what I said? Was she teased at school? Did anyone try to make her someone she wasn't? Wherever she is and whoever she has become, I hope she knows how much I valued our friendship. I hope she's happy and doing well.

And coming full circle, I have always had close friends who are part of the LGBT community. Now, as I dance with a lovely, inclusive gay square dance club, I realize more and more how comfortable I am with this community. It's a place where everyone is accepted. I delight in seeing one young man occasionally come to a party dance wearing a dress and heels. Actually, I'm totally impressed seeing anyone square dance in heels. And I'm delighted I don't have to.

It's a place where I never hear the voices in my head tell me I'm not attractive and not feminine enough. It's a place where I've learned what my new friends learned long ago: there are so many different ways to be beautiful. Male and female, masculine and feminine are not opposites. They are splotches of many colors on an artist's paint filled palette and often run together, making even more beautiful colors.

"I was not ladylike, nor was I manly. I was something else altogether. 
There were so many different ways to be beautiful.”

~Michael Cunningham -  A Home at the End of the World