All I know is what I know; the rest is all algebra to me

As an educated professional, I’m fairly confident and competent both at work and at home. I can turn out quality articles in a timely manner. I manage to feed, clothe and organize my busy family. My home isn’t spotless, but it’s generally tidy. I can make conversation with 5-year-olds as well as financial analysts, but there are some things that just make me feel dumb.

For instance, geography. I recently took an online quiz and was asked to identify several countries on a map. Apparently, people have been busy inventing new countries since I last studied world geography in 10th grade. Turkmenistan? Tajikistan? If I’ve never even heard of them, how can I locate them?

World geography isn’t my only failing; I don’t do well with local geography, either. In fact, I frequently get lost between my North Side home and just about any location in Spokane Valley. One grueling evening last fall I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to find an indoor soccer facility. Road closures and construction made my return trip even more complicated. I could see Interstate 90, but couldn’t seem to get there. After about a half hour of driving in circles in some scary, shadowy industrial area off Broadway, I finally reached the freeway.

I drove for quite some time and then a sign for the Liberty Lake exit caught my eye. I was headed for Idaho, not north Spokane.

Operating a television also makes me feel dumb. I had just mastered our universal remote (well, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but I could turn the TV off and on) when the government made my husband buy a converter box. It came with another remote. My television consultants carefully showed me how to work it. Then they left for school. When the consultants returned they asked me if I was able to watch the program I was interested in. “No,” I replied. “I’ve been too busy with deadlines and laundry.”

“You couldn’t turn the TV on, could you, Mom?” asked the 9-year-old television specialist. I despise television.

I also loathe algebra. Numbers and letters are an unholy combination. “Algebra is like a lovely language,” my college professor informed me. “Yeah, well I don’t speak it,” I said.

“Obviously,” he replied, looking at my grade transcript.

Numbers themselves don’t make me feel dumb. I can balance my checkbook and decipher how much a cute pair of shoes at 40 percent off the regular price will cost me; it’s the ways people use numbers and money that bewilder me. Recently, a financial adviser asked me what I do with my money. “I spend it,” I replied. He took a deep breath and spoke of IRAs and CDs. His words wove a soothing tapestry around me. It all sounded wise and mysteriously mature. Of course, since investment is a dialect of algebraic, I didn’t understand a word he said.

I do, however, know my way around the English language. I can spell and conjugate with the best of them. But punctuation is my nemesis – specifically commas. I distinctly remember learning in elementary school that commas are used to indicate a pause in a sentence. I pause, a lot, but never where a comma should be.

Personally, I think columnists should be above the laws of punctuation. My editor and the folks at the copy desk do not agree. At least I never dangle my participles.

For someone who gets lost easily and can’t operate her television, I do remarkably well with computers. I can find things on the Internet and operate most basic programs, but there is one thing I do not understand: computers that nap.

The other day, I carefully saved my document, minimized the program and went out to lunch. When I returned my screen was dark, but the “on” light was blinking. I tapped a key. Nothing. I pushed a button. No response. I called my computer consultant. “Somebody broke my computer when I was at lunch,” I said. I described the problem.

“It’s not broken,” my husband said. “It’s asleep.”

“Asleep? How come it needs a nap? I’m the one doing all the work!”

Whenever I try to sneak in a rest, someone yells, “Where’s Mom?” Or the phone rings. My consultant/husband patiently told me how to wake up my computer. It didn’t involve shouting. Or smacking it really hard.

My laptop is another story. It’s been hibernating for a week now. If I could just figure out the hibernation cycle of laptops, I’d feel a whole lot smarter.

Contact correspondent Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. Previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/columnists.


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