We’re doing a divine sort of math all the time. There are hundreds if not thousands of calculations and estimations being performed throughout our days in the fuzzy, background noise section of our brains. When we’re timing when to cross the street as cars are coming from two directions at different speeds, we are subconsciously working out lengthy equations in our head. We’re able to recognize when one tune resembles the next because pattern recognition is a mathematical skill set that most humans possess. Little girls jumping double dutch are employing an understanding of motion and time that they may never learn to write out on paper as a mathematical expression. But I hate math, so why should I give a shit? Because math has inadvertently taught me life lessons about application and commitment, and because there’s a little math at work in everything.
Math was never about logic or resolutions for me. My relationship it has always suffered because math for me represents rejection. Think about it. Math is all about rejection. Your little human brain toils hard to lay your answers at the Door of the Math Gawd for approval. (In my mind this door is huge and covered in glittering filigree superimposed with an androgynous face. It’s also guarded by beings made of ether and stardust.) If Math Gawd accepts your offering of answers, you graduate to another concept. But if she rejects it you get hurled by the ether-beings back down through space to the Land of Scientific Calculators and Cold Pizza, as ’twas written…in my mind…because I grew up reading a lot of fantasy books.
It’s when your ass hits that purgatorial space in your mind where all rejection and indecisiveness lives that things can get tricky. This is where the real work gets done. You pick yourself back up, plug in the correct values and present the offering again. You do this on a loop until you get it, working each angle until you find a way to the answer. Or, sit in that space shaking your feeble fists at Math Gawd’s oblivious and cruel visage until you die. That’s math. And if you love math, you push through. You develop a Doritos habit akin to a heroin addiction and bags under your eyes as you do it, but you push through.
So now you get that life is math. And in life/math (the Math of Life? life-math?) things that you desire to be good at or graduate to the next level in require much of your time and patience. Exemplo? I accept mediocrity in math. I’m perfectly fine using the math I’ve absorbed from birth til now to cross streets safely, figure out %20-off sale prices, and estimate how much weed oil is required to make a batch of brownies that’ll put my friends on their ass. This is cool for me. Because again, I don’t love math.
What I love is writing.
And it’s not because writing has been an easy or kind endeavor for me all my life. Sure, when I was in grade school I was constantly bombarded with compliments about my writing. But in reality some of it was good and some of it truly sucked. Plus, as I got older, people took off the gloves and gave me even harsher critiques on my writing. It wouldn’t be fair for me not to acknowledge that they gave me really good pointers too, tried and true methods I could use to better my writing. Only, the repetition involved with their process felt dangerously like math to me. So, I switched to writing songs. But writing and releasing songs throughout my teens and twenties provided an even bigger blow to my own perception of my writing. Despite people liking my stuff, I had mixed feelings about my path as time wore on. Making songs with heavy lyrics about death, redemption, space travel, and all my forms of rebellion earned me a only a small following. Thus my choices became clear. I could’ve done the math and and pushed forward in the latter direction: 400 hours in the gym + several photo shoots + songs about ass & money = a budding female rap career. But everything inside me told me not to.
Or, I could’ve pushed forward in the direction I was going in and made music that was genuine to me; I want to stress that I did indeed have that choice. But I didn’t do that either because the business of it all had become draining in a way that was unhealthy for me. So I bowed out. (Rap Gawd is still not speaking to me, but that’s another story.)
So even though I wrote more songs as a way to avoid starting the novel that sat waiting for me in the white, purgatorial space in my mind until about a year ago, I wrote them with no plans of even recording them. I guess I did it because songs are inconsequential to me in a way. By continuing to write them I could satisfy my thirst to do so, and keep them encapsulated and protected in their iridescent bubble of late-night jam sessions with my friends who wear flowers in their hair and dance like no one is watching. That part worked because I’d already decided that the rest of it was too much for me, too many equations that ended in improbabilities. But the problem was, writing songs was less scary than writing the stuff I knew I needed to write. Tales about a family that temporarily derailed when I was younger, the pitfalls and triumphs of surviving sexual violence, and the triple consciousness I posses as a black American, Muslim woman. My mind still buckles under the weight of the equations behind it.
Black American + Muslim + woman + victim + survivor + artist = ??
How long would it take? What is the (x) amount of years times (y) level of commitment that would enable me to produce works that could flush out the breadth of my experiences?
The answer is “all that shit doesn’t really matter.” Calling myself a writer without building a body of work is what mattered That, I would’t do. So I began to balance that part of the equation. Besides, the one thing I’ve figured out in all this has yet to change.
I can create my own levels of happiness. It’s for me to decide how far I want to go in anything I choose to do. It’s for me to do the math, weigh my options, and measure if something’s worth my time and a chunk of my sanity. But luckily for me, I’ve made that decision about one thing in my life already.
Writing is the common denominator in my life. I drag myself down the razor-blade-sliding-board part of it that involves late nights, rewrites, and self-doubt because I love it, and always have. I was good at writing hooks to songs because I have an iambic brain, capable of constructing rhyme and prose. It’s the portion of my mathematical ability that’s innate; long sentence, short sentence…this many beats on this line. I grasp it in the same way those girls jumping double dutch know the precise moment their feet should connect with the ground. When I write, my mind is jumping double dutch. And even though each setback with my writing feels like the emotional equivalent of clipping on the rope and scraping my elbow on the pavement, I’ve decided I can do this type of math.
I can jump this rope.
So I’ve accepted that I now have three gray hairs I’ve named after the main characters in a novel I’m writing. I’ve also accepted that my life will likely become surfeited with naysayers and past-due bills as I move closer to my goals. But I’m doing this math because I love writing and want to excel in it. If you want it bad enough, you stretch to get your body in 180° line if you want to become the prima ballerina. If you love to ball, you pop jump shots until your body begins to effortlessly align itself to create the amount of force to propel the ball at the correct angle to land the baskets each time. And though you’d likely never understand the mathematical expression for it if someone wrote it out for you, you learn how to work it out anyway. And that’s the beauty of the divine math we do, that’s the way in which it’s contiguous with all life lessons. It’s the broad yet profound concept that if you love it, you do the math.
So when I’m older I want each crease around my eyelids to be from some grand equation I solved in my writing, like 1001 ideas + 9 drafts + 126 edits + 23 gallons of coffee + 47 sleepless nights = a final draft of something great. And though there was a time when equations like that would’ve seemed insurmountable, now I’m working them out, one page at a time.