I gave a talk at Miami Dade College on Friday. There were two groups of students there, English students and math students, and let me tell you, college students are a tough audience. For one thing, they have their bored look so down. I haven’t been able to arrange my face in that position for years, though I’m quite sure I was a real pro at it when I was their age. Of course I also used to be able to do a very impressive and graceful backbend from a standing position, and I haven’t been able to do that in a good fifteen years either.
So I’m up there, giving my talk, and a few of the students catch my attention: a young woman in a pretty dress who smiles at me every time my eyes light on her, I keep coming back to her for that encouraging smile; a tall man who spraaaaaaaawls across his chair, lanky and easy in his skin, like an athlete; the articulate young lady who introduced me with such enthusiasm and whose name I adore, Jupshy, pronounced gypsy.
There is faculty there, too. The math and English chairs (the people, not the furniture) are there, as well as other professors, which makes me nervous. I didn’t go to college, and it’s a chip that’s painfully slow to fill on my shoulder, though it’s getting there. They nod along with me as though I am making profound points, and they are quite clearly the sort of encouraging educators we desperately need in schools everywhere.
My presentation is unpracticed, and I wander a bit. I was so pressed for time, and knowing that there would be math folk there made me want to wing it for some reason. I think I got so nervous every time I thought about it that I was too paralyzed to sit down and create a coherent lecture. I mean, just the word “lecture” fills me with dread.
It doesn’t help that this presentation is different from any other I’ve given on my book. At a reading and signing in a book store, the people seem to be most interested in: 1) How I came up with the title (gift from the title gods), 2) how much of my real life is in the story (not much), and 3) how did I get published (in a long, slow, painful process). But here, they’ve brought these students together to talk about the ways in which the book presents math, music, art, nature, and language as a whole, as a way of looking at the world in a different way, a way in which numbers rule everything and in which we all have a natural ability and innate understanding even when we have no idea that we do, or even a concrete belief that we don’t.
And what I love about that is, that’s how I wrote the book. That was my fascination with the research, and with trying to fit a realistic and moving story around it, and to present it in such a way that was not too dry or academic. The math people talked about several points in my book that I tried to be careful to make, and yet tried to make subtle, like the difference between arithmetic and math, and how often just one piece of knowledge can open an entire world or can keep the door to understanding firmly latched.
I worked on those things, I mean really worked. And I had no confidence that I had succeeded in pulling it off in any way that would be significant to people who already knew about these things.
But they got it. They GOT it.
And they think I, my book, might be able to help students get it.
Do you have any idea how astonishing and amazing this is? How incredibly honored and grateful I am to think that people want to share my book with others because they think I actually have something to say?
Thank you to Miami Dade, to the students who attended and who were so smart and kind and were such fun to talk to when they got their books signed, to Jupshy who is beautiful and ambitious and exactly the kind of young woman who should be encouraged, and to the educators: Ginny, Luli, Diane, Gilda, and I know I’m missing some, darn it. My visit was, hands down, THE most gratifying day I’ve had in the entire publishing process.