"Does Not Compute"

 Does Not Compute.
… that’s what the Mountain Farmgirl thinks whenever she has to deal with numbers. Forget the fact that they are rational, logical and never lie (always  valuable assets amongst the people we know) …   SHE has never quite been able to form a friendship with these arithmetical adversaries. As far as she’s concerned, there are two types of people in the world: those who like numbers and those who DON’T! Which type of Farmgirl are you: a Woman of Letters, or a Lover of Numbers?
It’s a number”.
That’s my perpetual down-pat answer, and it's enough of an explanation (for anyone who knows me), regarding why I flubbed any sort of numerical answer, or got the facts wrong in almost any conversation that includes one. While the law of probability says that at least half the time I should get it right, (or at least be somewhere in the ballpark), I can somehow skew even those statistics when it comes to figures. I just can't seem to wrap my mind around 'em!
The fact that I spawned a son who is a verifyable genius when it comes to Mathematics (in fact, he's majoring in it at one of the best universities in the nation) -- will forever ramain one of the Great Wonders of the Modern Age. Not that I'm learning disabled or anything.I always got straight A’s in school in every subject (except that one). I think my math misfortunes stem back to elementary school and the strict, authoritative style of my then nearly-retired 2nd Grade teacher.  At a time when I was developmentally very vulnerable, Mrs. Tewes, a stereotypical ‘old school’ marm, was a force to be reckoned with, especially if you were a shy little girl like I was. But whether timid and hardworking, or a disruptive classroom bully, Mrs. T. made sure that no one escaped public humiliation at least once in her rigidly controlled, no-nonsense schoolroom. For me it came one day when I unsuspectingly volunteered to solve an arithmetic problem on the blackboard in front of the class. I was sure I had the right answer, but my vocal explanation of the proof wasn’t loud enough for Mrs. Tewes’ failed hearing. She made me repeat the answer over and over until she was sure that I was being disobedient by being intentionally ‘inaudible’. For punishment I had to stand, beet-faced and embarrassed, in front of the class until the end of the lesson. Numbers and I never had quite the same relationship with one another after that.
While I’m not looking for a scapegoat for my own personal shortcomings, I do think that traumatic math lessons such as this one scarred me from becoming comfortable around numbers and perhaps even a world class mathematician later in life. Then again, (ha ha) … maybe NOT! But I do have a mathematical claim to fame and it comes in the form of that brilliant son that I had a definite hand in producing. Considering that he was homeschooled all his life and that I was his math teacher, this is nothing short of a miracle. While teachers are certainly important – but obviously not the entire picture, why is it, really, that some of us are math oriented and the rest of us are hopelessly flawed in this area?  Is there anything we can do about it? … and, at this stage of our lives, should we even care or want to?
Basically, I think we all strive to be fairly balanced people, although certain traits – like technical abilities -- are naturally more dominant in some of us than others. For example, we are usually either a quiet or outgoing person, logical or intuitive, structured or haphazard, mathematical or verbal. It turns out there is a reason for this. Our brains are divided into two very different hemispheres, each responsible for different functions, and usually one side is more dominant than the other. The left and right parts of our brain process information in different ways, and we most often tend to exhibit the traits controlled by our dominant side. One type is not better than the other … they are just different, and we have to look at ourselves that way, too.
For example, the ‘left-brained’ farmgirl tends to be rational, solving problems logically and sequentially, closely observing the differences between things and seeing ‘causes’ and ‘effects’. She is organized, a planner, and can control her feelings; responding well to structured authority. She makes decisions based on previously accumulated, organized information. Her ‘right-brained’ sister, on the other hand, is intuitive, solving problems with hunches rather than cold, hard facts, and looking for patterns in order to solve problems. This type of farmgirl sees similarities between things rather than the differences, and finds that the connectedness between things is very important for drawing  conclusions. Right-brained people tend to be spontaneous. 
Our learning and thinking processes are enhanced when both sides of the brain participate together in a balanced manner. This means that by strengthening the less dominant – or weaker -- hemisphere of our brain, we can become more balanced, well-rounded people.
For myself, I’ve already admitted to being hopelessly intimidated by numbers. This would indicate that I am a right brained person, but it doesn’t mean that I am weak in most left-brained activities. Surprisingly, I am very strongly influenced by that side of my brain. For example, I am confirmed list maker. I LOVE making master schedules and daily planning. Does anybody else out there work from lists, taking pleasure in checking things off when they are accomplished (or even writing them down after they are already done so that you can have the pleasure of crossing them off?)! I have to admit I do that! If it’s not written down I probably won’t remember it. I’m also a great speller, I’m naturally musical and linguistic (learn languages easily) – all things that involve sequencing – a left-brained skill. However when it comes to the linear and sequential processing that math requires, forget it! For this reason, I think I may have had an unnatural, mathematical ‘disconnect’ back in the 2nd Grade that fateful day!
As a writer, it’s my left brain that pays attention to mechanics such as spelling, agreement, and punctuation, but the right side pays attention to coherence and meaning, letting me know when a paragraph "feels" right. I’m intuitive about a LOT of things, not just writing. Intuition, the ‘vibes’ we get from certain people or situations, is a really big part of my personal make up. And talk about telepathy!! My mother and I are uncannily telepathic, indicative of right brain activity. One of us will suddenly think of the other one, and almost instantaneously she will call on the phone. This happens all the time.
These are just some of the general differences that exist between the work of our left and right brain hemispheres, and once you’re aware of them, you can start to see a pattern and decide which side of your brain is more dominant. If we see that we are weak on one side, there are ways we can compensate so that we are not at a disadvantage. For example, I cannot remember numbers for the life of me. Trying to remember something as simple as a phone number, even ones I use often, is impossible. (Thank goodness for Smart phones and contact lists). However, I CAN dial ‘phone numbers’ from memory by memorizing the pattern the numbers make on the dial pad … something that is very easy for me. This is one way my dominant side can compensate for its weaker counterpart when numbers are concerned. There are strategies like this one that we can use to ‘trick’ ourselves into doing things and getting answers that we ordinarily think we can’t.
Why is this important to me? As a farmgirl with a philosophy of Lifelong Learning, I realize that my fear – and consequent dislike – of numbers is limiting my potential as a whole person and because of it, I often miss out on a lot.  My frequent excuse of “It’s a number” has always been my ticket to avoiding them whenever possible. It has taken a college age son who loves numbers to show me that they are beautiful, complex symbols that can explain the entire world. My son Noah, who is also a very spiritual person, says that faith aside, mathematics is one of the most compelling arguments for the existence of God. The things that numbers can do, and their illustration of how the world works is not coincidence, but proof of the existence of an intelligent designer. While I will never have the ability or the insights to understand them as he does, I am learning to appreciate them, a HUGE first step.
In the digital age in which we live, math will play an ever-increasing role in our world and our future. In order to compete, American students are going to have to be well-educated in Mathematics, and in the Sciences which require it. One of the most important things I can do is to pass this knowledge on to the last of my children who is still homeschooling with my husband and me. If you are uncomfortable with numbers as I am, there are a number of excellent free online resources for helping your children with homework, such as the Khan Academy. We use courses from the Teaching Company, which offers high school and college Math programs on DVD. I am learning right along with our son Joshua. Who says you can’t teach a right-brained farmgirl new math tricks?!
So how about it Farmgirls … are you a LEFT-Brain, a RIGHT-Brain (or as my husband likes to joke, a scatter-Brain?!). I’m curious about how you interact with your world. In the Farmgirl world, do the “Lefties” or the “Righties” have it? Weigh in here and let’s find out!
And speaking of "weighing in" ... my next column will be the first in a 2-part series on getting in shape, Farmgirl style, and Body Image -- not only how others perceive us, but more importantly, how WE see ourselves.
Until next time, Mountain Bounty, Mountain Blessings
The Mountain Farmgirl


By: Debbie
On: 05/02/2011 16:49:46
Hi Cathi!
Wow! This is quite a post! I'm a bit like you when it comes to numbers themselves. A little on the intimidated side of them but I am however fascinated by patterns. Patterns are sequential and the natural world is full of them...think insects, birds and butterflies. Bark on trees, the lines on a canyon wall, clouds, groupings of leaves on plants and trees, feathers on a hen, scales on a fish, and on and on...
It must be my right brain that " see" patterns so readily and I think I'm happier for it! That being said, I am also somewhat organized, logical when planning things, but I love the thrill of doing or planning something fun, creative and different!Especially in my hobbies of furniture painting, gardening and home decor... and yes, you caught me... even in my approach to homeschooling... Many of our "scheduled" school days have given way to a day outdoors, a fun art project, be it writing, playing music, painting, drawing, furniture building, or a fascinating rabbit trail that must be pursued! Hey, variety is the spice of life... That being said, I would never spend the milk money of something frivolous! Just a great post!
By: Deb Walker
On: 05/03/2011 07:28:09
Right brain farmgirl for sure!
By: Bible Babe
On: 05/03/2011 07:49:35
Well, you got me pegged! I despised math in school,I had to take developmental math to get into college and I really liked it, and later I aced a course overview on math. Why the difference? Because the college teachers actually made me believe I could understand math beyond the basic skills of adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing. Before the teachers were simply flinging information at me and expecting me to soak it up. I still prefer letters to numbers, but when i find myself faced with a need to perform more complex math, I don't crumple up like a wadded tissue--I find a way to do it.
By: Joan
On: 05/03/2011 08:02:56
Well I am one of those that your husband and even some of my family call a 'scatterbrain'. As a small child it was noticed that I did most everything equally right or left handed - which my Grandmother thought was not RIGHT - so I was ENCOURAGED to use my right hand more - and I still do but then my left hand feels left out so in it comes on doing at will too. The left-right brain thing can be very tiring - seems I so often have arguments with myself. I am totally interested in ALL that life has to offer - especially when it comes to learning and there is something to learn every minute of the day if only we are open to it. I just learned many things by reading your wonderful writing - I must practice writing more - it is so insightful. Thanks so much for YOU!!! and all your wonderful 'learnings' and 'abilities'.

By: Melody
On: 05/03/2011 09:03:23
Right brain and left handed!
By: Lisa
On: 05/03/2011 09:21:49
I'm a numbers person. I'm a great speller too but when I think of writing a paper, ugh. I was also shy at school. However, I never quite fit in. I wasn't popular, or and could never seem to find a place to fit in. I did pretty well in school and was an avid reader (I read the very very long Les Miserables in its entirety when I was in fifth grade). I think that working with numbers gave me a lot of comfort. Like you said, numbers don't lie. They don't judge. Kind of like pets! :) And if you played with them enough they would be your great friends! Anyway that's how it was for me.

You said you can dial numbers from memory. LOL Barely me! I can't remember anything!! Which is another reason why I studied math. You didn't have to remember history dates, or the Gettysburg address, or wow - be a doctor?! No - I couldn't remember any of the stuff that I would have to learn for that career. But numbers - sure you did have to remember formulas, but if you did enough homework problems (and not too many at that) they'd become second nature.

Needless to say, I finally found some fit with the nerdy-techy group of folks lol and went to school for computer science and mathematics. I like tinkering with computers and technical stuff, and always will.

And this spring, as I'm finding myself having difficulties taking apart pallets to build raised beds for my garden, I realize that having the capability to work with numbers does not compute when it comes to building raised beds, making compost, trying to make a sourdough starter from scratch (failed attempt!)...planting flower bulbs. I guess all the letters gals and the numbers gals come to gardening and farming on an even playing field, all starting from square one. :)
By: Sarah
On: 05/03/2011 12:58:35
I would say that I am more right brained than left. Some people say that left handed people are more right brained. I'm not sure why that is, but it does seem to hold true, at least for lefties. I love art, but I also love math too. I'm impulsive, but I love my routine and order too. I think that's why I've always been drawn to quilting. It's very colorful and artistic, but there's rhythym, symmetry and geometry all in it too.
By: Maria
On: 05/04/2011 11:52:07
Wow, I had an authoritarian 2nd grade teacher who was close to retirement age at the time, but her name was Mrs. Brierly. I look back on those days as the beginning of my own math anxiety. I'm sorry you suffered at her hands, but I'm glad to know I'm not alone!
By: Lonnie
On: 05/04/2011 16:42:28
Hi Cathi,
I am also a left-handed, mostly right brained person. I can write only with my left hand but can do most any other function with either my left or right hand and even tend to favor my right in sports. I LOVE numbers, did well in math (except for Geometry - which may have been due to a bad experience with a teacher too), love memorizing numbers and sequences, making lists(I'm also guilty of adding things to a list even after it is done just so I can cross it off)and organizing anything. I absolutely love color! I often spend more time organizing my crafts (fabric, beads, papers, ribbon, etc.) and playing with the colors then I do actually making anything with them. I am very creative/artistic and, like Sarah above, am drawn to quilting for all that is involved with color, math, design, organization and such.

On the other hand, I was always challanged when it came to reading comprehension and writing in school. But I am a great speller and love words. I am 37 years old and finally just last year found a LOVE for reading - something that I have always disliked doing before.

Thanks for the great post!

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Cathi Belcher

Cathi Belcher,
an old-fashioned farmgirl with a pioneer spirit, lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. As a “lifelong learner” in the “Live-Free-or-Die” state, she fiercely values self-reliance, independence, freedom, and fresh mountain air. Married to her childhood sweetheart of 40+ years (a few of them “uphill climbs”), she’s had plenty of time to reinvent herself. From museum curator, restaurant owner, homeschool mom/conference speaker, to post-and-beam house builder and entrepreneur, she’s also a multi-media artist, with an obsession for off-grid living and alternative housing. Cathi owns and operates a 32-room mountain lodge. Her specialty has evolved to include “hermit hospitality” at her rustic cabin in the mountains, where she offers weekend workshops of special interest to women.

“Mountains speak to my soul, and farming is an important part of my heritage. I want to pass on my love of these things to others through my writing. Living in the mountains has its own particular challenges, but I delight in turning them into opportunities from which we can all learn and grow.”

Column content copyright © 2010– Cathi Belcher. All rights reserved.

Mountain Bounty

“Keep close to Nature’s heart ... and break clear away once in awhile to climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods, to wash your spirit clean.”
– John Muir