Math was the bane of my adolescent existence. I was an academically gifted student for the most part. Science was a breeze and a bore. Social studies and English were the perfect place for a future political science major. Despite my top marks in these courses a strong of guidance counsellors and family friends told me I could never get into university without taking grade 12 math pure (and getting a respectable grade).
This struck me as unfair given that I wanted to be a liberal arts major. In fact, my choice of political science was a direct reflection of my desire to never do math ever again.
If a bunch of people who were older than me insisted upon the fact that this was the measure of my worth so I decided I would just have to do it.
My grade 10 math teacher was an eccentric and energetic man. We were in one of the trailers by the athletic field so I didn’t even have a real window to look through.
It was not that he was necessarily a bad teacher so much as that he taught for those students who had somewhat of a talent for math instead of us lost souls. He used confusing pop culture analogies to explain things. Halfway through his description of Angelina Jolie, Zoro and Brad Pitt I couldn’t figure out what he was talking about anymore. Maybe it was some sort of multiplication? Negative and positive numbers? Numbers had to be a part of this somehow, right?
Once he was done with the strange analogies he wrote which questions to do on the board. Paying no attention to the potentially tortuous task I instead goofed off with one of my best friends who happened to also be in my class.
Our teacher could assign us all the questions in the world but he had not assigned us seats. He also didn’t check our homework. As the term wore on I did enough to write the tests and obtain an average in the low sixties.
Grade 11 math was a very different world. My teacher was a stern francophone lady. She stood at the front writing notes all class before sending us home to do our work in solitude.
Somehow I did quite well. Maybe it was the structure. Or the single file rows. Or blind luck.
It didn’t last. I had the same teacher for grade 12 math and she took my failure as some sort of an affront. Apparently my excellent marks the previous semester had given her the impression that I was capable of doing math. It didn’t help that I missed most of trigonometry for various extracurricular activities. I failed every single trig test. The rest of the semester was a blur of failure and despair. I have no recollection of who I sat near just of feeling like I was drowning and wanting to put my head on my desk and sob.
When it came time to write the final my hopes were low. I didn’t pass any of my practice tests. This might be because trig made up between 30 and 40 per cent of the questions. Fortune smiled on me and I passed by two per cent.
Still, my mark was horrible. No university would ever take someone with a pathetic 52 per cent in Math 30. The looming adult figures in my life kept telling me this was a huge problem. So what if I was the top student in my other classes? This mark would haunt me.
There was only one thing to do: take the wretched class over again. I had planned to be free of math during my last year but decided that my future mattered more.
My new teacher was a short and spunky man. He was easily distracted but also quite engaging. During the first class he pulled me aside. He said he knew I’d already taken this class and done badly. That I probably thought I could slack off because I’d already done this stuff. But this was wrong. I was here because I sucked at math. He said I needed to try twice as hard as the new kids just to keep up.
Part of me was shocked and resented him but he was right. The wake up call inspired me to work like a dog. Every morning I was in tutorial going over the many questions that had stumped me the night before.
Between my hard work and having already learned parts of the material my marks were great. I seemed to be in class for all the stuff I’d missed before and gone for the stuff I got the first time.
My proudest moment came during the permutations and combinations (perms and coms) unit. We entered numbers in our calculators to determine the odds of certain things happening like drawing the queen of hearts or winning the lottery. It all made perfect sense to me.
When the day of the test came I was in the zone. I finished each question without blanking or hesitating. The period lasted eighty minutes. I was done in eight. There was no need to go over my work. I knew it was flawless.
I asked if I could leave. After all my next period was a spare so I would be able to just go home. My teacher said no. The next seventy-two minutes were spent sending him angry vibes and twiddling my thumbs. I had to start keeping a book in my bag for situations like this one.
When we got our tests back I couldn’t believe it. I’d gotten a hundred per cent. Me. This was a historic moment I would talk about for years to come. (Look I’m writing a blog post about this momentous achievement.)
It wasn’t that I’d worked particularly hard. My homework had been simple so I hadn’t been spending much time at math tutorial. The odds just made sense.
As my teacher had written his notes on the board I’d think of course that’s how it works instead of the usual say what. For example I knew the odds of me winning the lottery were so small as to be pretty much non-existent.
Lottery tickets were a tax on the foolish and wishful thinkers. Instead of saving five or ten dollars a week they were investing in the hope that they’d beat the odds.
My mother always buys lottery tickets that I later find stashed in the glove compartment for safekeeping. Each week she dutifully buys her ticket hoping that the odds will be ever in her favour. Each week I mock her recounting the fact that the odds are positively not in her favour. In fact, they are laughing at her.
Yet, she goes out and buys her tickets anyways. If she wins she’ll buy a flat in London. She’ll be vindicated. She’ll be rich. Maybe those dreams keep her coming back.
One Saturday I was driving around with a friend when he got a text from a guy he was supposed to be going on a first date with that night. Something had come up and he needed to cancel. His excuse was vague and confusing.
My friend pressed for more information. It turned out mystery man had won one million dollars off a Lotto Max ticket he’d bought in Regina. He was flying to Saskatchewan and needed to reschedule.
We started referring to mystery man as Millionaire and asking if he was going shopping for some really expensive ketchup. I sang, “I want to be a billionaire so freaking bad,” at the top of my off key lungs.
I’ve only ever purchased a lottery ticket once. A bunch of my friends wanted to go out and buy them so I tagged along. There was a big jackpot and they wanted to get in on it. I reassured myself that I would only buy lottery tickets socially.
My ticket didn’t win. None of ours did.
On Facebook one of my friends posted that he’d won seven thousand dollars on a scratch ticket. Crazy. It’s not a million but it still seemed like a lot of money.
It got me thinking maybe I should give this a try. Buy a couple of lottery tickets and see what happens. My mother’s never won big but sometimes she wins small prizes and free tickets. The odds are horribly against you but so what? You’ll never land Prince Charming if you don’t go to the ball. It might be worth a try after all.
Life is filled with uncertainty and unpleasant odds. You never know what’s going to happen. There’s a one in three chance that you’ll be injured in a car crash at some point in your life and a 0.05 per cent chance that you’ll die in one. My grand parents were killed in a car crash and what were the odds of that?
Of all the possible permutations and combinations out there our lives end up being made up of a select few likely or not. Somebody out there has to beat the odds.