A senior in college, I needed to pass freshman elementary

math. All winter and spring I stayed away from the class.

For one thing, nothing made sense. For another, it met

at 9 in the morning, and I was busy with other things,


so at semester’s end my grade was F, with 5 days

between my other finals and the crucial one in math.

The focus that semester was calculus, the occult system

of rates of change through time or space or something,


requiring a leap of imagination that I had never

made. Now I had to, so I concentrated, with a few

books to consult, one lent by my girlfriend; it belonged

to her husband, an engineer. Hour after lonely hour,


day and night, like a mystic probing holy texts for knowledge

of God, I studied. And then I got it! The concept penetrated

my mind, or my mind the concept. During the exam’s 3 hours,

I knew the poetry of mathematical abstraction:


one equation’s pluses and minuses made sense if I rotated the graph

270 degrees! My grade in the course, C minus,

meant I’d done well enough to balance out

the F. By graduation day, I forgot it all.





  1. Ed Curtis · · Reply

    As your former classmate in high school advanced mathematics, it is hard for me to believe that you neglected to embrace the simplicity and beauty of the calculus. At least you pulled several all nighters at the end to rescue a passing, if undistinguished grade. Personally, I found that summer school was a much more respectful and fulfilling approach — and I also finally “got it.” Funnily enough, I established a rather successful computer modeling enterprise some years later that was based on this somewhat obscure, poorly taught and largely under appreciated mathematical discipline. The modeling methodology I used is known today as System Dynamics.

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