Sunday, August 30, 2009

Dividing the Pie

Starting back to work this week put me in mind of a time when I taught a class in fractions to seventh graders. We watched a video featuring a fellow who vainly tried to explain to his girlfriend why she couldn’t have 100% of his love. After all, he said, a percentage of his affections were wrapped up in his car, not to mention his bicycle, his cute science tutor, his mom and dad, his guitar, and, of course, his leather jacket. But, he promised, as he sang and danced around her, that the 8% left over was all hers.

What if your life was a big pie graph and you had to chart the outlay of your affections in fractions? How would your percentages read? Where does your strongest passion lie? Do your favorite possessions rank right up there with sweethearts and best friends and family ties? Where do things like your SUV or your new iPhone fall in the general scheme of things? Do you love things or just like them a lot? How large a piece of pie would contain favorite holidays or perfect places? What about chocolate?

These thoughts sent me running to fetch a sheet of paper, a dinner plate, a ruler, and a pencil with an eraser. I traced a circle around the plate, put a dot in the center, and sat nibbling the eraser while I contemplated just how I might apportion my adoration according to mathematical concepts.

It seemed expedient to begin with a list of whom and what I loved. I started with the obvious – family and friends – but decided the categories were too broad so I began a sub-list, identifying family members and then friends until I ran out of names. I drew a straight line from the dot to the edge of the circle and nibbled again. Where should the next line go? Did I spend the majority of my affection on my family? Should the number of names on each list determine the size of my pie slice or did the depth of my affection count for more? Where did the cat fit in? And what about concepts? I have been known to fall in love with ideas – which slice would they go in? I had room for 100% here and all of a sudden it didn’t look like enough.

I thought of all the things I love: waking up to birdsong on a spring morning, burying my nose in a bunch of bluets, taking that first sip of hot, sweet tea, green grass and pink sunsets and mud puddles and good stories, a cat curled on my lap, whipped cream on chocolate pie, my old blue sweater, kisses, movies, fresh asparagus, driving fast, warm hugs, walks in the woods, spiraling snowflakes, waves breaking on a sun-drenched beach, music, rare beefsteak, Christmas morning, mashed potatoes, birthday surprises, my old homestead, watching clouds as I lay on my back in a meadow, reading poetry, my fuzzy, leopard-spotted slippers, Mama’s old china teapot, snow angels… the list promised to be endless. And if I labeled each pie slice, would that make it immutable? What if I fell out of love with someone, or some thing? Would my percentages change?

I tore my paper into pieces. 25% of it went into the wastepaper basket. I crumpled the other 75% into a ball for the cat to play with. I felt 100% better.


steven said...

hi pauline - this is fun. affection and love are connected for me but observably distinct. i can't place a number on love - it's a quality and can't be defined by a quantity. my daughter sometimes plays a game with me - "who do you love more?" i can't do that - i just love. but affection is a different piece. it's more physical, emotional. not to get too cerebral about this!!!! thanks for a cool and interesting post pauline. steven

Jo said...

"What about chocolate?"



focusfinder said...


Ali Honey said...

An impossible task to get right I think.
Hi, I came over from Molly's Blog. I read your post below on thunder and ligtning and realise having our computer fried was mild when compared with your story.

I once had an electrical shock from an appliance that did a similar thing to me. The noise I uttered was primordial, apparently.
I too now dislike such events.

herhimnbryn said...

I wouldn't be able to portion it all out either!

Pauline said...

Steven - we bandy the word love about easily but I agree, affection is more to the point in most cases. As for the division here - it's an exercise in mathematics that caught the kids' attention for sure ;)

Jo - hahahaha - I'd need a pie chart just for chocolate :)

Thanks, B :)

Hi Ali H. Thanks for dropping by and commenting. Electrical shocks are no fun, eh?

HHB - you should have been here working it out with me lol

Molly said...

Oh, I would have tossed in the towel too! You can't put love and affection in neat little boxes. Better to love wholeheartedly and chaotically.........And savour that cup of tea without having to assign a number to it!

Ruth D~ said...

Great solution. I have to think that at any given moment we give each of our loves 100 percent. They each get their own full circle. They just take turns, that's all.

Anonymous said...

A great post, Pauline. Witty and wise. Fortunately I'm so god-awful at mathematics the question of divvying up my allegiances would never get past calculation point!

JeannetteLS said...

I think love's more like some giant sequoia thing... the more different types of nutrition you give it, the bigger it grows. No wonder you felt better when you threw out the paper. I had a counselor who once asked me what I really loved and I listed things like chocolate and writing and bunnies and baby cheetahs and the cottage and mom and... she interrupted me and told me, "THOSE are not all things you love. I am talking about REAL LOVE. Your mom, okay. Even the cottage, but not cheetahs. What do you love, whom?"

I knew what she meant and all, but mostly I thought 'how sad.' I think loving cheetahs feeds the bigger sequoia, don't you?

Pauline said...

Molly - I could no more make that chart than I could fly, even though I knew (or maybe because I knew) it was merely a math assignment!

I like that thought, Ruth...

lol Dick - that is half the reason I tossed in the pencil

Jeannette - I agree. Loving itself feeds the big sequoia.

JeannetteLS said...

great picture! perfect :)