Math: How My Enemy Became My Friend, and How That Relates to Art

I always say I'm terrible at math. I've said it all my life. It's based on experience. I've got a friend who's really wise, and she says my definition of math is too narrow—that, in fact, I'm good at math, just not at my personal definition of math. That's a little hard to swallow, but when I really think about what she's saying, I see she's probably right. I'm good at proportions and logic, as long as there are no numbers involved. My definition of math usually involves a lot of numbers. I can tell you without any hesitation—without any misgiving whatsoever— that I stink at numbers-math. This showed up in elementary school with things like the calendar ("Amy, it's your turn to show us what day it is today on the calendar"), the clock ("Amy, what time is it?"), and later in all manner of math problems (please allow your imagination to run wild here).

 I already know I'm OCD. Now you know too.

Along with being terrible at numbers-math, I am also a very determined person. I like understanding things, and I hate not understanding things. If given the choice between doing math and not doing it I will definitely not do it. But if the choice is between doing math and understanding it, and doing math and not understanding it, I'm determined to understand it. I don't know why. So here's how that played out: In high school I worked so hard on math (my worst and most despised subject) that I had little time for anything else. I never studied for English/literature class, which was my favorite, because I spent all my time on math—my nemesis. There was little to show for it. I used to keep a record of how long i spent working on math, and I mean really focusing on it. If I daydreamed I would subtract minutes from my time. I subtracted snack time and bathroom breaks too. I already know I'm OCD. Now you know too. One time I studied 22 hours (or somewhere around there) for a math test. When I say studied, what i mean is tried to understand how to do these math problems. I made a 15 on the test. That's bad. I never told anyone how long I studied and no one ever knew how bad I was doing in the class, except the teacher. Thankfully she gave points for completing homework even if the answers were incorrect. People always asked each other before a test, "Hey, how long did you study for this?" And the answer was usually, "Just in study hall." People asked me, and I said, "A while." It was a true statement. Vague but true. 

Today, in my life, I do very little number-math. I use a digital clock and I'm not "the banker" in monopoly, and I'm late a lot, or early.

What in the heck does this sad, totally depressing story of number-math failure have to do with art? I think it has a lot to do with my art. Here's why. For years I considered all that time spent on my worst most despised subject a waste. After all, I could have been working on art, or taking a walk, or I could have tried out for a play (I never tried out for a play because I had too much math to do.) Yes, it was a waste in that sense. It really was. But, recently I was thinking about the perseverance that developed in me—the determination to finish something that seemed impossible, and maybe was impossible for me. I kept going even though I saw little to no progress. I trudged. I would not stop fighting until the fight was over (it was over in college when I barely passed pre-calculus—as in one point above an F). Today, in my life, I do very little number-math. I use a digital clock and I'm not "the banker" in monopoly, and I'm late a lot, or early. But I use perseverance. I use it a lot. Recently, I finished the cover illustration for my first book. It took a lot of perseverance. I had to start over after many hours of tedious work—I mean start all the way over from the beginning. 

I think there is a sparkly thread of hope and goodness running through our lives. I see it in mine. I see it in my weaknesses, my lowest points of life where I am despairing, and in my victories, and in my art. I definitely don't always see it at the time, but I often see it in retrospect—so often that I believe it's always there but sometimes is hidden from my sight for one reason or another. Sometimes I forget to look for it. But I think that the good, sparkly thread is there somewhere, even in the darkest places. 

- Amy