I Love Math – And It Makes Me Sad

I love the game of Go, I love golf, I love my wife, and I love math – and this makes me sad.

I love the game of Go – the heft and smoothness of the stones, the sound of the wooden board, the stark patterns in black and white, the rhythm of play, the tension between tactics and strategy, and most of all the sense of possibility at the start of play.  I spent several years studying Go books (even trying to learn Japanese) and replaying, even memorizing, games.  Yet I am not a good player.  For one thing I lack the ability to visualize a sequence of moves.  I also make hasty moves and get angry (internally) at my opponent’s good ones.  I lose games I should have won.  I get lost in  tactical situations and start useless battles.  Because of my personal weaknesses, my play of the game of Go does not always respect its traditions and does not honor my deep feeling for its essence – and this makes me sad.

I love  golf – the camaraderie , the variety of shots, the competition , the self-discipline required, the strategy, the outdoor exercise, and most of all the feel of a good swing.  If I don’t play golf for a few weeks my body literally craves to make a full golf swing.   Yet I stubbornly try low probability shots, choose the wrong club or the wrong trajectory, lose matches I should have won,  and  in a round of 80 or 90 strokes only one or two swings replicate the feel that my body craves – and this makes me sad.

I love my wife – the details of her personality, the way she goes about daily tasks, her ability to read my mind, her looks, her physicality, her cooking, her disciplined care for her animals, and most of all her present-minded  approach to life.  Yet I get impatient and hypercritical and draw into myself.  I still don’t know how to express my love for her in a way that matches the feeling I have inside – and this makes me sad.

I love math.  I love working math problems, inventing interesting exercises, reading math journals, teaching math , and applying math concepts.  I love working through a mathematical proof – making my own or following the reasoning of another.  I love “cool” proofs, clever tricks for solving problems, really clear and insightful explanations and clever demonstrations of math concepts.(see Wolfram Demonstrations Project – http://demonstrations.wolfram.com/). I love the variety of structures that mathematics addresses.   And I want to understand it all.  Once a week I walk over to the library and scan through math journals.  I try to read articles that I find interesting but most of them I find too difficult .  One year on sabbatical, I took two topology courses.  I liked the way everything was built from a few basic concepts.  But I had difficulties doing the homework and insights would just not come.  In the end I think my abilities do not match my feeling for math.  I love math – and it makes me sad.


About jrh794

I am a sixty-five year old math instructor at Southern Oregon University. I taught at the College of the Siskiyous in Weed California for twenty-six years. Prior to that I worked as a computer programmer, carpenter and in various other jobs. I graduated from Rice University in 1967 and have a MS in Operations Research from Stanford. In the past I have hand-built a stone house and taken long solo bicycle tours. Now I ride my mountain bike and play golf for recreation.
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1 Response to I Love Math – And It Makes Me Sad

  1. Ruthe says:

    Halfway through your blogs, it makes me sad. I cannot understand why you must register to make a comment. How many readers do you have, that you do not know due to their reluctance to sign up?

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