Problem Free

In preparation for his GED, my son and I have been going through a number of math problems, most of which involve rules and formulas with which he is unfamiliar or has forgotten. He is very clear how he feels about this activity. “I hate this,” he said at the end of a particularly complex problem. “I hate math. I’ll never use it.” I understood his point of view. I doubted there would be many times in his life where he’d have to find the median and the mean of the volumes of three cylinders. But I’d also seen him find a little pleasure in solving math problems he did understand. With these problems, he could go inside himself to find the solution. With the other problems, he had to turn to me, he had to look outside of himself, and there was very little pleasure for him in that experience. That was what he really hated: not being able to go inside himself for what he needed.

It is odd to me that we call these math questions problems. A problem is something that must be corrected or fixed. A math equation does not need to be fixed; it only needs to be understood. It is already correct. The mathematician is merely learning to perceive what is missing. That is only a problem if the mathematician believes there is something wrong with him, that he is not perceiving quickly enough, or that he might never perceive, and that a better mathematician would.

Writing can be seen as a problem, too, if we let it. A blank page becomes a problem the moment I forget that I need only look within myself to answer the question, “What comes next?” The moment I forget this, writing holds no pleasure for me whatsoever. Now writing is a problem, an incomplete puzzle that must be finished so that I am allowed to enjoy life again. How I hate this puzzle that stands between happiness and me. How quickly I can find myself in prison simply because I am looking in the wrong place for the freedom I already possess.


Write Within Yourself: An Author's Companion.

"A book to keep nearby whenever your writer's spirit needs feeding." Deb Caletti.

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