Math with Miss Parker

Every time I open my Intermediate Algebra book to have a gander at the week’s lesson the same thought goes through my head, “What fresh hell is this?!”

Settle down, Dorothy.

I am usually relieved…more shocked really, to I find that I get it.  A few weeks ago I had a glass of wine and began hacking away at my homework. I don’t necessarily advocate drinking and Algebra, but it’s not a bad way to spend a Friday evening. Every time I put the answer into the computer (my class is online) I would scoff, “There is no way that ugly number is the answer.” But, I would be wrong. Wrong in my rightness, as usual. “Nice job!” the program would egg me on. I’d get a sort of sinking feeling; a voice in my head would say, “You don’t really know why that’s right do you?”

No Dottie, I don’t. Shut up.

But I couldn’t stop myself, even though I knew I would have to do it all over again to make sure I was reasonably competent.

It’s the stupid mistakes that kill me: the unforced errors. I am, it would appear, more than a little prone to them. I tried making a deal with the math gods: offering up 1 or 2 answers for every quiz and test I took, “Take them: my gifts to you.” They were mostly appeased.

That is until yesterday.

I had to take a quiz. I decided to take it at the college in the library. I pressed the “I am ready to start” tab: the commitment that small action requires is unnerving. The quiz is timed: once you begin you have to finish. I had had a pretty easy time with the homework, so I was feeling okay even though my day had started out on the wrong track when I ran my son’s ipod through the wash cycle.

No matter, carry on.

It was going swimmingly, a little too easy. I was working on the final problem on the scrap paper in front of me. I looked up to input the answer and a black screen looked back at me. I rose from my seat; so well accustomed to my ridiculous life I was not even slightly perturbed. “Excuse me,” I politely interrupted the librarian in my best sotto voce library-esque voice, “I’m in the middle of a timed quiz and my computer just crashed.”

She had no succor beyond sympathy.

By the time I reached my lodgings, my kind professor had emailed me to say that she had re-opened the quiz for me so that I could finish. In hysteric haste I finished the test and hit, with reluctant finality, “submit.” Half the answers were wrong. Fully half of them. Does an electronic demon possess every computer I touch? I wondered. No, of course not. The demon possesses me and mine alone. I had forgotten that every answer needed to be given in both its positive and negative form. I got all the answers “right,” and yet they were all wrong. Wrong in my rightness. Again.

I went for a walk. About a mile out it began to pour.

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