Lost in a Forest: Finding Our Mathematical Soul in the Effervescence of Confusion and Curiosity

Back in Fall of 2019, I began writing my third — and final — book. I had a loose title/theme about this constant, steady movement towards unknown ideas about math. My gut instinct told me that there would be much to unpack in terms of a whole book, so I proceeded. The main reason I gave myself a green light to undergo the 18 months of writing was that this lifetime pursuit — the movement itself — has been a locus of wellness.

Mathematics has made me a better person, friend, and father. It has given me a colorful lens on the world that refracts the abstraction of the subject to concrete moments of peace, calm, and gratitude.

Then 2020 happened.

The pandemic became my muse. I will be honest in saying this — and feeling guilty about it — but I didn’t have feel any feelings of anxiety, isolation, and uncertainty. I also wasn’t weighed down by teaching on-the-fly in constantly changing situations through a virtual medium that only reinforced the anachronism of what we were teaching and why.

I quit teaching in 2013 under far less exhausting and mentally deflating circumstances. But, I quit because my mental health was being encroached.

Writing a book insulated me from the detrimental effects of the pandemic. But, more than that, as I wrote, I realized that I have always been deeply lost in this mathematics wilderness. And, I am not trying to get out. I am happily centered in this space of enchantment, bewilderment, and confusion.

Confusion. Without it being a trusted guide of misdirection and misunderstanding, there is no book. This magical place is inaccessible. And, even if I found myself in it, it would feel lonely.

That is why the first chapter is called “Lost Together”.

There is a whack of mathematics scattered about, blooming with the same color and randomness of wildflowers. Chapter 3 is a little inflection point. That the purest joys of mathematics come from stumbling through ideas. That our bliss resides in this wobble.

The currency of clarity in mathematics is heightened, not diminished by confusion. The history of mathematics, as I have said many times, can be boiled down to slow failure. In Chapter 6, which is my final homage to Anthony Bourdain, I do mention risotto.

Math history is about ruining thousands of risotto dishes. Math Education is about Minute Rice.

This is my final book. I have nothing more left to say about mathematics or math education. Everything micro and macro idea that I had left in me is in this book.

30 years ago, Pearl Jam launched their career with their first album. The first song we all heard was “Alive”. The first words we all heard were

Son,” she said, “have I got a little story for you

My book is my little story. Mathematics is beyond alive. Mathematics is life.

Looking forward to sharing stories of the book with all of you in Fall 2021 and beyond:)

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