Friday, September 26, 2008

Unbalanced Equation

I never got the hang of algebra

Strangely, later on, I took to Calculus right off, following the soaring arcs of growth. Manipulating limits--I’m all about that.

Statistics tickled me, contradicting common sense, puncturing pretense, promising a glimpse of hidden truth.

But earlier, about eighth grade, I hit a wall. At first, it seemed not bad, solving for a variable or two. Unknown quantities—that’s just life.

But bump that up to three, and I was lost. No clear route to the solution—just the equation standing like a brick wall. I couldn’t see a door, much less the key. I would leap, dodge, batter or negotiate, all to no avail. Ending, bruised and baffled, in a blizzard of paper documenting failed attacks.

My best friend—she could see the answer, obvious and ordinary, waiting at the gate. But how, I asked seeking Cliff Notes for the koan). “It just is” she demurred, “I can’t say how.” And so she shared in my poor grades, but for the opposite sin—arriving on time and in the right place without a mapping of the route.

And now, damn it all, it turns out to be a necessary skill, and not abstract at all. Fencing, work and home, facing off against the one set value, 24 uncompromising hours.

Wrestling with two, I’ll strike a precious truce—adequate practice, a home-cooked meal, and wham, the third collapses, my misleading strength undone by lack of sleep. Or sleep gains ground, and work suffers, scattered on my desk at end of day.

Most often these two vie for time: the household and the blade. Some weeks, I spend more time awake in company of coach than with my spouse. And how to place a value on this “a”, this “b”? The arduous simplicity of practice: the company of seekers, challenges to everything I know or think I know, a life’s work, a constant tempest of the soul. The comforting and mundane tasks of life: the cats fed, bread baked, garden weeded, a decade’s long duet of growth and change unfolding slowly, slowly.

The math is clear—I can’t have both, at least not all of both. And thinking back, I remember that these problems have, in fact, two answers, two stable states, each equally true. There is no balance in between, caught in an unsteady state. So even if the answer comes, if intuition strikes, and it just
is, the answer’s not an answer but a choice.

I never got the hang of algebra...

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