‘Math for Poets’. That was what the moss-green and mustard-yellow polyester-clad professor called Math 105, the only such class I took as an undergraduate at Iowa State. What he was suggesting, of course, was that numbers were destined to allude we non-analytical thinkers throughout life, at least in a substantive way, or that at best we’d be relegated to approach them as lowly simpletons, counting on our calloused fingers, Neanderthal brows furrowed, with very little regard for or understanding of their intrinsic qualities and untapped potential.
In 1 way, though, his words (though equally difficult for him) were prophetic: It was obvious by looking around the room that none of us ‘poets’, struggling through this hard-to-fathom requirement / pre-requisite regardless of how it was set up, were plotting a course towards great scientific achievement, at least in a conventional way. Nor did we sense that algorithms, whatever they were, were in our future. Heck, the majority of us never took let alone understood what trigonometry, calculus, or other advanced math subjects even were, other than me emphatically stating to a more numerically-savvy peer that 1 of the symbols used in his differential equations textbook looked eerily similar to an elongated orange peeler my mom had purchased at a Tupperware party. Tactile comparison, after all, will always win the day over computing for members of the right-brained fraternity. But that doesn’t mean numbers aren’t powerful in their own right for poets, or that they inherently lack meaning. Remember 57 from a couple years ago? I mean that was some pretty heady shit if I do say so myself. Maybe it’s just that we write about numbers or see them as aesthetic forms better than we calculate with them. So be it.
Simply put, numbers tend to resonate in a holistically different, more literal way. Take for instance the number 1. I mean what could be simpler, right? And while it will never be anything more than a basic quantity, boorish declaration of superiority or euphemism for urination in my book, 1 possesses certain dynamic attributes in its own right, however it is expressed. A cleanness. Independence. A statement of sorts, either positive or negative. And certainly is no number more reflective of our current reality than 1 with 1 daughter away at law school, 1 in her freshman year in college, and 1 at home. In the interest of keeping things basic, 1, as you may have gathered by now will prevail throughout this year’s letter by providing: 1 thing we all wanted to be when we grew up, 1 reason it didn’t happen, 1 really strange fact or occurrence, 1 song with 1 in the title that has particular relevance for 1 reason or another, and 1 thing either real or fictitious that we hope for in the New Year.
Anna (22…both digits are 1 away from 1): As a youngster, Anna pined for and often fantasized about a career as a rodeo queen, though we were never quite sure what this meant. Fortunately, her early fear of horses and refusal to ride even a small 1 in our Field Club 4th of July Parade precluded this from ever taking firm root. Additionally, cowboy hats, sparkly boots and fringed sleeves are frowned upon at Loyola University of New Orleans where she is currently thriving as a 1st year law student, unless the individual in question is planning to seek an appointment in Judge Roy Moore’s jurisdiction upon graduation (she is not). She ate mustard on a bratwurst for the 1st time several months ago which she described as a life-changing experience (hello!!!), and will soon start humming Murray Head’s ‘One Night in Bangkok’, though for her it will be more like ‘Two Weeks in Spetses’ to continue her studies with distinguished legal scholars in Greece (home of the 1st Olympics). Her wish for humanity is logical meaning that for some reason it continues to elude us, and specifically entails that disaffected white men with guns stop killing those with opposing belief systems and / or lifestyles. I mean is it really that difficult? Anna ate mustard, so the answer to that question is a resounding no.
Emma (18…one of the greatest ages with 1 in it): Forever our songbird, Emma, though sometimes hesitatingly, dreamed of a career as a singer, 1 she could easily still have if she wanted to. I’ve even offered to back her up on the banjo. Sadly, this strong desire was muted by the stern, restrictive fashion required of fledgling crooners, a belittling, Trunchbullesque middle school teacher who was obviously jealous of her talent and the ‘quiet time’ policy in her dorm after 10 pm at the University of Nebraska where she’s finding a new voice as a speech pathology major. She was recently featured in an Omaha World Herald article about continuing her great grandfather’s legacy working in the Nebraska basketball office, and has even more proudly built upon family tradition by pledging Delta Gamma last fall where her Grandma Karen and two great aunts were members (new #1 grandchild!). Her goals for the New Year are more selfish in nature, and involve potentially accompanying Anna on her drive back to New Orleans after Christmas (meaning we’ll be down to 1 car), and finding a good Chinese restaurant in Lincoln that delivers which she feels is kind of like curing world hunger 1 person at a time, but without the force-fed religion, persistent cry for pledges that are very likely redirected to back suspicious bank accounts in the rural south, and mealy porridge slapped haphazardly upon tin plates of various descriptions. ‘One Fine Day’ quality Chinese delivery could cure world hunger…now there’s an idea.
Isabel (12…has many 1s in her future): In Isabel’s world, baby said she’s traveling on the ‘One After 909’ means that she likes the Beatles, but would just assume I don’t blast them over the home stereo system after 9:10 pm, her preferred bedtime. And though her slumbering schedule may have suffered had she remained resolute in her youthful desire to become a hairstylist, she’s come to the rather mature decision to hone her advanced braiding skills as a hobby instead. And she’s damn good. If it’s any indication, she can fashion my balding mess into a depressing man bun which is really saying something. As a student leader at Lewis and Clark Middle School, she’s found great success academically, in swimming (all-city champ in the backstroke!), and on the volleyball court this year where she recently made the 1s team for her club, Southwest Iowa. Highlights apart from this included learning that gum can’t kill you if swallowed, and overhearing an awkward 1st date conversation at a neighborhood restaurant where the woman confessed to the man that she wanted to name her pet hanging plant ‘Debra’. Wonder how that 1 ended? Her hope for the New Year mirrors a class project from earlier this semester where she created a country called Todos Sao Bem Vindos, which is Portuguese for “Everyone’s Welcome’. Talk about a novel concept!
Kerry (‘Still the One’…by Orleans where Anna lives): As the Talking Heads so eloquently stated in 1980, ‘Once in a Lifetime’ a woman comes along who you inherently know from the get go will complete you as a companion, champion, constructive critic, creative and career consultant, and compassionate caregiver, and it’s important for me to say this here in that Kerry and I celebrated our 25th anniversary last May which gave us occasion to pause, reflect, envision what’s to come, and enjoy a memorable trip to Napa and San Francisco to contemplate our love, partnership, marriage, and parenting over many really fine fruit- and grain-inspired beverages. So realistically, her childhood ambition to be an artist has never been abandoned, it’s just taken form in a variety of unconventional mediums. Simply put, she’s a true artist in what she does every day, including her work as a paraprofessional and advocate for Omaha Public Schools and as treasurer for the Field Club Homeowners League. On Kerry’s yearly excursion to Kona, Hawaii she had her friends Deb (not the hanging plant) and Wendy found themselves immersed in an intense conversation with a 20-something fish processor who felt it necessary to talk in depth about the relationship he enjoyed with his 75-year old girlfriend which struck me as hilarious and raised a lot of questions that I won’t bother to list here. Replacing massacred chickens who audibly met their gristly fate at the prying hands and gnashing teeth of predatory vermin over the course of a week does not seem like a noble resolution, so instead she dreams, as many of us do, that ‘Another One Bites the Dust, namely the orange-coiffed, slurry-beaked turkey living in the White House.
Steve (less than 1 year til 50…YIKES!): From an early age, Steve wanted to be a professional baseball player, but came to the realization that standing in the front yard as an adult in a loose-fitting diaper waiting for a game and begging relatives to sing the National Anthem while he saluted the flag came with a host risky implications. This was reinforced when he showed up at his 1st informal college practice (directly from Math 105) in a moth-eaten Pink Floyd t-shirt, pair of patchwork fuchsia sweatpants made during the sewing portion of 8th grade home economics, and mismatched golf socks, from which point he was immediately relegated to the outfield to shag balls by himself. Earlier this year, he saw a Jerry Springer-style fight break out on a plane between two couples who had just been on the Jerry Springer Show where he actually heard 1 sister say loudly to the other from across the aisle, “Fuck that bitch, I’m ‘bout to get my damn kids back from grandma”, summoning lyrics from The Fixx’s ‘One Thing Leads to Another’ to once again dance in his head. For 2019, Steve’s only wish is that scientific research will finally confirm his long-held belief / hope that there is a positive correlation between pooping and weight loss.
You’re all #1 in our book (well, most of you anyway)…