The Poetry of Numbers

It’s tax day in Canada. And there’s nothing poetic about that. But it when I think of taxes I think of accountants, and then I think of numbers. And numbers, those are poetry to me.

I have always been good at math. Although I met a few people who were better while I was at university, I can certainly hold my own in most rooms. And while I didn’t love math class (or probably any class, there’s a certain tedium in structured learning), I never hated it in the way that many of my friends did. It was not my nemesis, it made sense to me. I viewed it as luck on my part, that I had this aptitude. I thought it opened doors for me, and I was right. Being good at math never hurt anyone, that’s for sure.

I only really started appreciating numbers once I was in university. During that time I learned to speak the language of numbers in all my classes, and it changed my mindset. I could use the mathematical tools I’d honed for all sorts of things, and I liked it. I even began to find some happiness in doing it. I would do mental long division to pass the time I spent waiting at bus stops, or determine the factors of numbers I saw on license plates in traffic. (792 = 2 x 2 x 2 x 3 x 3 x 11)

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my favourite number. There are certain characteristics that make numbers ‘good’ to me. For one thing, they have to be even, and preferably divisible by 4. I also like them to be divisible by 3. And having a ‘6’ in there somewhere works in a number’s favour. My current favourite number is 96. Like I said, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this. I am just that cool.

I think numbers and mathematics speak to me on some level partly because of my strong need for order and predictability. They’re unambiguous, they’re clean and concise, they provide measurement and categorization. When you’re trying to deal with a problem in your daily life, the ability to translate it into a numerical formula simplifies things. It takes a question from the intangible to the tangible, and provides a shortcut.

I hope that my love of numbers will be evident to my daughter. And that she will understand that being female has no bearing on your ability to solve for X. That she will see how the ability to think mathematically can be so helpful. It would cause my heart great pain to see her wearing one of those T-shirts that say, ‘I’m too pretty to do math,’ I know that much for sure.

So what about you? Do you love numbers, or do you have some other ‘thing’ that speaks to you but causes most people to nod off? I’m sure we all have them. Right? (Make something up if you have to, I’m dying here!)

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  1. I’ve been reading along for a while now. I just wanted to drop you a comment to say keep up the good work.

  2. “Math is hard! *giggle*” — Barbie toy.

    I agree. I have a love of simple numbers. Not as much as BF loves numbers (although he likes to pretend he’s right all the time about them but is rusty right now)…

    And I wish I had discovered this sooner.

  3. I love numbers so much, I went and got a degree in it. B.S. Mathematics. During one of our classes, we went on a field trip to a local private school, and the principal regaled us with his curriculum. They had different curriculum for the sexes, the boys’ emphasizing science and math, and the girls’ emphasizing english and social studies. When challenged on why he did this, he said boys just are into math more. Then he asked how many math majors were in the room, and two of us raised our hands: both girls. Score.

    I love math because it is one big puzzle. It feels like a Rubik’s Cube to me: all you have to do is rearrange them somehow to get the result you want. I love that math has no inherent meaning, only rules. It is clean and logical, and all you need to do to solve a problem is find the right rules that apply to that situation. If only all problems in life were that easy.

  4. I always loved mathematics; it was my favourite class all through school although I struggled with arithmetic. The result? A long mathematical equation with all of the right steps but the wrong answer because somewhere along the line, I multiplied 8 X 2 and got 10 (remember, I’m so old it was all ‘long hand’). However, mathematics was always a game; the answer’s there – can you find it!? Nothing is so fascinating, though, as the number 9. I once saw a whole book dedicated to the way that the number 9 can be worked and played with; a friend had it and what fun it was to read. Now, there’s cool for you. 😉

  5. I too enjoy the orderliness of math, and like you, I indulge in a fondness for tidiness that not so many others I’ve met do: I love to keep a clean house. I reason that this is why I am good at gardening and not at cooking. For me, to each their own! Oh, and yes, it would be nice if your little one grows up to enjoy math, both for the tidiness of it and for its practical uses too. Still, perhaps she’ll branch out and awaken you to another area too?

  6. Alyssa

    My husband and I are both art majors. One day we got into a discussion where we had to do math to try to decide whether to sell our house or rent it (this was before we moved to Canada). We were trying to figure out how to do ratios. It was like this: “There was this thing I remember…where you have a line and a number above it and below it. And then next to it is another line [draw picture], and above one line is an ‘x’ and then you do something diagonal, and you end up figuring out what number the x is going to become.”

    If I had a fave number it would be because it is prettier or more aesthetically pleasing than other numbers.

    I am not a math person. I am a music person. For some reason, I know few people who are as into music as I am.

  7. Well, I can’t say I’m a math person. Although once I understood my required first year math course (the second time around *blush*) I actually got an A+. F < A+ = not bad.
    I like the language of plants (see tomorrow’s post), wild ones you can eat, to be exact. Herbs. And I love languages. I know American Sign Language (ASL) and I love teaching it to my kids and the kids who come to our house for daycare. it’s like having our own special language. I also know French and have taken German, Spanish and Latin and dabbled in Swahili – “hapana nyama” means “no meat” – it was a phrase I learned before going to Africa so no one would feed me kudu or buffalo steaks. 🙂

  8. I like numbers, although I struggled with math. You have to read Embracing the Wide Sky by Daniel Tammet. He’s an autistic savant, and the book talks about people with synesthesia who perceive numbers as coloured and textured; also, he talks about a tribe in Papua New Guinea which uses not just fingers and toes but ears, elbows and various other parts to count on. My favourite number has always been seven, which reflects my lifelong resistance of symmetry.

  9. I’ve never seen that t-shirt and I hope I never do! It was discouraging to see fewer and fewer women in my math and engineering classes each year as our education progressed. We need more girls!


    The only way I passed French (now that’s a worthy nemisis) was because I finally started thinking of it as Math equations.

    When people say Math is not used in everday life, I want to smack them. Don’t they ever double a recipe? Figure out how much time they have until their favourite show is on? Deduct the amoount of the coupon or figure out what 30% off rally means? Calculate the taxes on something? Tire pressure? ANYTHING to do with weights, measures, money, time…….

    I too like finding out the prime factors of numbers, funny that. It decodes the numbers like magic!

  11. I often feel that I was sold out by high school math classes. Well, before that, too. I’ve come to learn that I have a highly analytical, mathematical mind, but I never developed the particular skill.

    Classes were boring, they emphasized memorization not theory, and I’m someone who needs to be fired up and guided by the theory in order to be willing to do the memorization. They were taught by probably the same mediocrity that taught many of the other classes, and mediocrity usually fails to understand the subject matter full enough to communicate the theory. And the other thing that worked against me was that I was a girl, and my husband assures me that he was frequently appalled by how the girls were disregarded in the math classes that he and I shared. And so, I turned my analytical talents to another subject — and approached the study of literature with a great deal more desire for systematization and pure logic than a lot of my fellow students. It’s not a dead loss that I never got into math, I believe I have been able to develop my mind and contribute my talents in other arenas, but I often regret that my considerable interest in the subject (at one time) was squandered and beaten out of me.

    So I don’t have a favourite number, but I’m married to a man who does (he says “2, 3, or 6 depending on what mood I’m in, 2 or 3 usually, 2 most often”), and I love his mind. And yours.

  12. i’m a fan of numbers too (i have ‘comfortable numbers’, i don’t play around with them as much) so imagine my delight when, on arrival in BC, i was asked by the Telus rep to choose my own phone number from a list! bliss! so now we have a ’49’ in our number – 7×7, what could be better?
    i loved maths at school. luckily for me i never experienced any gender bias during my science/maths schooling since my best friend and i stood head and shoulders above the boys in terms of aptitude and intelligence in those subjects. either our teachers were inclined toward equal treatment or we forced the issue upon them!

    “too pretty for math” bleh!

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