Calculus

Dr. Raj teaches a Calculus I class right before my Composition I class, and when I arrive, I usually see the whiteboard filled with calculus equations — finding the limit of x as it approaches some number, and, recently, finding the derivative of x and/or y. And I stare at these equations just before I erase them as my students file in, and I think this:

“Damn, I used to know how to do this.”

In working in academia, one has to specialize in order to work meaningfully as a teacher and scholar: my field is English Language and Literature, and so I’ve studied several years in this one field, irrespective of other fields, in order to hone my knowledge and skills. And, I hope, I’ve become competent in it. I can speak with intelligence in this field to my colleagues, my students, and to “civvies” not familiar with the field.

But there’s the risk of being too specialized, too ensconced in one’s academic niche, besides the employability concerns. “Specialization is for insects,” says Heinlein, and a part of my brain clamors at the fact that I’ve lost this ability to do calculus, that somehow I’ve settled for something softer and theoretical, forsaking the harder and more practical stuff. Okay, I only got as far as Calculus II, and stopped because I fulfilled my college’s 2 art/1 math or 1 art/ 2 math requirement and, dagnabit, I’m an *English* major. I never did take a calc-based physics, engineering, or economics class. But part of me says that I could’ve back then, but now?

In that brief space of time, just before I erase the equations and just before I silently swear at myself, I stare at the stark silent beauty of these words spoken in the language of Calculus which I can’t understand anymore, and, like a person suffering aphasia, I struggle just a little bit to understand, and then, like a person waking up from a daydream, I wake up.

What with all the things I need to do (like dissertation and getting back into shape), this “need to relearn calculus” will have to be on the backburner. Grrrr…

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