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My Life of Pi

By: Valerie Nguyen


The admirable number pi:

three point one four one.

All the following digits are also initial,

five nine two because it never ends.

•  Wisława Szymborska (1996), Pi

            The number pi, an irrational number, that is represented throughout the mathematical world. 3.14 corresponds to the beginning for a number that never ends. 3, in third grade, I was in my small classroom of 20 students. Math and numbers truly didn’t make sense to me. Every homework assignment I did, I received a zero. “Valerie, you did not divide the same way we learned in class! You have to stay inside during recess to do all of your math homework,” Mrs. Wilson told me. My teacher’s idea for perfection made me, a nine year old, sit inside of her classroom during my morning recess until I got those math problems correctly after much repetition. 

            The numbers kept on coming and it felt like they would never stop. I redid every problem in my math textbook until I hated that subject. I hated the stupid math and I hated how it costed me my recess. I hated how I could never get the right answers, no matter how hard I tried. Math is about effort, isn’t it? 

            Mrs. Wilson had me sit in her classroom during lunch sometimes. Most of the time, I would sit outside of her classroom on a small table, to do more practice problems. Division did not make sense. Fractions ended up circling my head, even at night. One of my worst dreams from that year was the number line chasing me. I woke up that night and went into my parents’ room and stayed there until the nightmares were gone. 

            Although Mrs. Wilson did put me through a lot when I was so young, that eventually set the tone that math was not my subject. At all. No matter how hard I tried, math was just not something I could ever master. The following year, my new teacher taught us organization and skill. She taught us how to format our papers within the red lines, in order for it to be easier to read our work. Grades were based mostly on effort and participation, which gave me time to enjoy recess and lunch with my friends. Even though math wasn’t my thing, I was pretty okay with what I was learning for once.

To lay the logarithmic spiral on

Sea-shell and leaf alike, and see it fit

•  Howard Nemerov (1988), Figures of Thought

            In middle school, I walked into my first math class that truly changed the way I thought. The room itself had all girls for students with the only male being my own teacher. He begins talking about how he started an experiment three years ago, having two seperate classes that only had one gender. He talked about the differences, how girls were less scared to answer questions and raise their hand in class. 

            “Math is everywhere,” he told us. “Look at the snail shells next time you see them. Inspect them. They follow a spiral that is known as a Fibonacci, which is something that is seen in nature all the time. Every day we have class, I will give you another fact about how math is important in our daily lives, with examples that you can find easily.” After hating math for so long, it didn’t seem so bad, for once.

            I went into class everyday prepared to learn. We took weekly quizzes, and this was the first time I got a grade I was proud of. After learning more about the importance of math in my life, I was able to talk to my dad about math- something that he’s loved ever since he was younger. My dad is a math genius. He competed in algebra competitions for his high school in Texas, being able to do all of the questions correctly and efficiently. He even had an award that was signed by President Reagan. Eventually in college, he decided to take every math course his university offered. Just for the heck of it. 

            I was always in awe of my dad. His love for math in addition to my teacher’s daily math examples gave me a new impression of math. The slope of a hill, the way that trees somehow develop similar shapes. The math behind ice skating. All of these showed me that surely, math wasn’t that bad at all. Math was just something I could accomplish and work on.

            Oddly enough, December 2012 was the month where I relied on math the most. Math was so simple – there was only one straightforward answer, and practice made perfect. That’s why, when my mom and I got into arguments, I would run to my small safe place and bring my math homework with me. It was a distraction, something that could take away from the guilt from getting into a fight with my mom. My math problems were able to be easily written out in front of me, with each step carefully following the next. 

            Math was something that could never really leave me. The knowledge that I’ve learned would stay with me for my lifetime. When my ex boyfriend left me, I drowned myself in math. Calculus was the only thing that was on my mind, and that was okay for once. The challenge and rigor of the class was something that calmed me.

            I didn’t need someone to tell me that it was going to be okay, because I only had to focus on math. The problems in front of me needed my attention instead of the underlying problems that were in the back of my fresh and recent break up. It was the best distraction at that time, because I was able to spend all of my energy focusing on my class instead of trying to understand the hurt and pain I had just felt. 

            Senior year of high school was when I was first introduced to Ms. Goldau. Arguably the best math teacher I have ever encountered in my entire life. Her quirkiness made me enjoy going to her class, and she would use the strangest analogies. As strange as those analogies were, they were so odd that you had to remember them. She loved taking Taylor Swift songs and would find ways to make them math related. For example, for U-Substitution when you have a Table Swift, the U value will never ever get back together with their X. Just like the Taylor Swift song: “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”. The infinity symbol was thought of as a cloud, because you can never quantify a cloud. 

            Math was no longer a chore for me, but rather something I would be excited to do everyday. There were different ways to solve a problem, you just had to think or look at them differently. That’s the beautiful thing about math. You will always find the right answer.

            I would like to believe that Ms. Goldau fueled my newfound obsession of pi. The fact that it’s never ending, however it is somehow the exact number that can help calculate a circle. How can something so infinite become a defining factor for a shape with no end? In the O.J. Simpson trial, their arguments revolved around pi. How can that be something to use in defense? How can a number that has such a small, yet infinite number contribute to so much that we see today? Just one number can impact the world so much.