Doing Math In Retirement

We have a running joke around our house about how I’m going to take up math in retirement.

People take up gardening and quilting in retirement. Why not math?

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Dreamer or Doer

I studied English and philosophy in college. It’s my nature to seek understanding through words, not numbers. For lack of inclination or training, it’s hard for me to notice math. It’s not nearly as fun as language.

For my husband, the opposite is true. He is an engineer by training. Unlike me, he can do calculations quite naturally and correctly. He says math is not for sissies; it’s for doers.

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I admit, when it comes to everyday reliability, numbers and their people have a lot to offer. Bridges, smartphones, and stoplights all come to mind.

Curious About Math

I am curious about math.

I have a longtime friend who is an engineering professor. He is well regarded for making significant contributions to technology research and education. 

We get together a couple of times a year for long lunches and indulgent conversions about the meaning of life. 

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Our topics veer from family to physics, the Enlightenment to electronics. Calculus regularly comes up in our conversation. He likes to tout the elegance of “limits” and other Newtonian concepts. 

My friend thinks I would like calculus and that I should give it a try. 

He might be right. 

Higher Math

When I was in high school, I had a spiritual experience in Algebra class. 

It was a dark winter afternoon. Our teacher walked up and down the rows placing a test face-down at each of our desks. Then she stood at the head of the room, paused dramatically, and instructed us to flip over our tests and begin.

Vigorously solving for X, I suddenly began floating above the room like a ghost. 

I could see myself bending over the paper on my desk. I saw rows of classmates doing the same math. I floated to the window, taking note of the gray landscape and then the yellow light of the classroom. I floated back and watched myself from above. I could see the formulas working themselves with no effort on my part. 

It’s very woo-woo, doing algebra while detached from your body. 

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It wasn’t drugs; it was math, pure math.

It was also a fluke. 

It was a one-and-done experience, and I never did advance to calculus or higher math.

My flirtation with math has neither advanced nor diminished over time. 

In college, I gladly took the minimum math requirements for my major. I enjoy spreadsheets as much as the next poet. And I’m pretty good at Sudoku, at least on the phone app that lets me make notes as I’m solving it.

Recently I bought Bertrand Russell’s “An Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy.” I figured this would be a good beginner’s narrative upon which to build my retirement math studies. 

Sadly, I got hung up in the first chapter with the proposition that “null is a member of every set.” Plus, the typeface is ugly and there are almost no pictures. 

I think I will stick to Sudoku.

From Bertrand Russell’s Introduction To Mathematical Philosophy


  1. Kudos to you. My goal is that my two-year-old granddaughter is exposed to all the math and is not afraid of it. Unlike Kathleen Turner’s character in Peggy Sue Got Married who reported to her high school classmates, “You don’t need algebra,” I decided a long time ago it would have been helpful to have higher math skills.

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  2. Math….when it comes to practical math – having to do with money, especially, I am interested. The upper level math concepts do not interest me mainly because I don’t understand them and do not have the willingness or patience to do anything about that. I do believe learning and applying advanced Math Concepts improves mental gymnastics but Id rather use those brain cells on Creative endeavors. Side note – I did love “Good Will Hunting”.

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  3. This brings back memories of high school, also. I had a terrible experience with a poor math teacher my freshman year. So, I avoided math until my senior year. I audited Algebra I with an outstanding math teacher. I really enjoyed it. However, I was totally not prepared for college math. I opted for geology where I received a valuable appreciation for our earth. Now if I make a math mistake, I say, “That is why I became an English teacher and not a math teacher.”

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