13 August 2010


I haven't written here in almost a year (though I have one post in draft from six months or so ago), but I have been plodding along, working my way up the stairwell from the underground onto level footing to begin my degree. I've finally started "coming out of the closet" regarding my major and professional goals, and it feels good. Now if I can just live up to those dreams...

This will be my last semester of classes I "should have taken" in high school (algebra-based physics and calculus I), and next semester I'll begin the real work of pursuing a physics degree. I managed to ace college algebra and produced a very respectable B in a condensed-session trigonometry course.

But in two weeks, I start calculus, and I'll confess, I'm terrified.

My friends who took calculus in high school or college tell me it's not as hard as it looks, that I'm smart and I'll be fine. My brother-in-law took calculus three times before earning a C and he is now employed as a mechanical engineer. I know on an intellectual level that I'll probably be fine. But as one of my favorite authors has said, "Intellectual understanding does not always bring visceral belief." (Orson Scott Card, Xenocide)

I have an irrational fear of drowning in calculus. Maybe it's just a function (ha!) of how math-terrified the general population is, of how calculus is whispered of as though it were a medieval torture device. But even having had two semesters of precalculus and having done well at them, I look at my calculus textbook and it is a foreign language.

This is a big step for me. Much as I held precalculus as a marker of my probable success, calculus fits that role even more so. If I can't do calculus, I can't do physics. Calculus is the language of my chosen profession and if you can't speak the language, you can't be a physicist.

I'm determined to speak the language, one way or another.