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.