When I saw this ‘Trigonometry Formulas’ chart today, it reminded me how much I loved learning Trig (I do, however, draw the line at Calculus—for the record). This kind of math is like finally understanding the language of the universe. It is like going into the matrix and seeing what rivers are made of; what we are made of. It is the one form of math, for me, that is visible in everyday life. In my journey as a returning adult college student, I have discovered that I am a visual learner, thinker, and creator, while also being heavy on the logic and reason side. I’ve discovered that our brains are not binary. We are taught, as a social construction, that we are either a left-side-of-the-brain or a right-side-of-the-brain kind of person. This is a myth, and a source of our suffering. We decide very early which side to claim and then dismiss our aptitude for the other, not realizing that when we tap into both, our superpowers are released in an epic origin story with a shoulder-shrugging glance around the room, “Who knew?”
Creativity is not simply art; and logic is not simply math. Our lives, and solutions to our problems, do not start at A and move in a straight line to a blissful ‘Destination Z.’ In fact, if we try to move through life that way—forcing straight lines out of curves—we are merely living as static 2-D cardboard cutouts positioned in the extended-arm strain of a Steinholding competition. Relax. Take a sip. Germany has been wrong about some things.
I went back to school in my 40’s in a grand experiment (some might say, grandiose delusion) to see if I could become an astronomer. When I realized that journey was not my path after two years in, I was devastated. It felt like another monumental failure in my collection. Then I thought I’d pursue writing and became a literature major. Just that word, “Literature.” Every time I hear it, it registers in my brain as a pompous British accent with a hard emphasis on the ‘t.’ Once I realized that path didn’t fit either, I was lost and confused. Creative writing was supposed to be what I loved, a natural “artistic” talent that I was supposed to foster. Reluctantly, I meandered into my last option; something that I had always gravitated towards, done professionally, and something that I was good at (arguably, but roll with it): communication. This was my inescapable root; a universal curve; an unconscious fusion of both sides of my brain that I used to think should be kept away from each other like angry siblings in the back seat. It turns out, when we combine both sides of our brain into one, that is when we discover what we are really capable of.
Getting to Z is not meant to be a straight line. Any calculation that involves a circle or a curve will prove this. The very shapes of planets, tree trunks and fruit; the shapes that make up meandering rivers—and I would argue, the flow of our lives—are all explained in the study of wave motions in trigonometric formulas.
Take the “meandering ratio,” for example. This is the trigonometric (and geometric, for any math activists with corrective wagging fingers) way of calculating that explains how much a river meanders—or deviates from the shortest possible straight-line path. The average ratio of meandering rivers throughout the entire world equates to exactly one number: 3.14…, or Pi. This, my friends, is what is referred to in math as an “irrational” number, because the number just keeps going on and on into a never-ending lineage of decimal points. It is a maddening, inexplicable quest into infinity with no definitive ending point; no blissful straight path to ‘Destination Z.’ Yet for being so irrational, Pi makes precisely the most sense, because that same number pops up in the natural world everywhere. It appears in the pupil of the eye, in the circular rings that travel outward from our teardrops hitting our soup—it is even in the spiral of the DNA double helix that comprises our very existence. It turns out, irrational is rational.
If you are meandering; if you are lost; if you are finding that you can never really figure out how to make straight lines on the fast track to Z, take comfort in knowing that straight is not natural (shout out to non-heteros everywhere), and that there is no ‘Destination Z.’ There is only a constant flow, a sinuous deviation in one direction and then another. When you are meandering, you are doing exactly what both sides of your brain want to team up on. Looking for different solutions. Trying new things. Testing new theories. Scientists know that testing, experimenting, and rerouting when presented with new information is a part of the discovery process. Inherent in this is not being afraid to fail, because, in science, not finding the right solution the first time is not considered a failure. It is considered successfully knowing what the wrong answer is in order to continue with the creative-thinking process in finding the right one.
If you are trying to force your life into the shape of straight metal slide that burns your ass on the steep way down to a rough landing in the dirt, just stop it. A river carves its way in twisty, bendy, windy curves until it reaches the sea. That is exactly the way it’s supposed to be.