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.