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Morning Sun
  • OKIE IN EXILE: A Little at a Time

  • I’ve written about it before: the Archimedean Property of the real numbers.  There are fancier ways to say it, but when all of the corn is ground it adds up to this: if you add something little enough times it becomes something big.

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  • I’ve written about it before: the Archimedean Property of the real numbers.  There are fancier ways to say it, but when all of the corn is ground it adds up to this: if you add something little enough times it becomes something big.  
    When I wrote about this before, it was in terms of pocket change.  If you put your pocket change in a flowerpot, day after day, eventually you’ll have enough that you ought to put it in the bank.  It’s a truth of the real numbers. (There are those among my mathematical colleagues who will begin to talk about the p-adic numbers as an exception to this.  I ask them to imagine me puckering my lips and going, “Ptttttt.”)
    It works with other things too.  We can think about it backwards and start with a large task, a task so herculean that we shudder when we think about doing it.  We can then divide that task into smaller bits, bits small enough to do, and start working on it one bit at a time.
    The task I am thinking about is moving my stuff out of my office in Yates Hall, where I worked happily, surrounded by wonderful folks for 17 years, over to Grubbs Hall, where I’ve been doing the same for the last 7.  
    I called it my stuff, but your English teacher doesn’t like you to use the word “stuff” too much.  Let’s be precise. It’s books.  I’m a scholar--or at least I was--and I love books.  I literally surrounded myself with them.  I walled myself in with them, like that guy in “A Cask of Amontillado.”  In pace requiem!  You get them one at a time, in the old days at a bookstore and now from Amazon, but they finally add up to this huge mass of paper.
    We usually don’t think as paper or a single book as being heavy, but consider that paper is made of trees.  Think about a box of books, and then think about a block of wood that same size.  Yep. If you’ve carried a box of books you know what I am saying.
    My solution is to take the books over to Grubbs Hall a few at a time.  I still teach a math class.  As a habit, I carry my teaching stuff around in a tote bag.  On the way back to Grubbs Hall, I fill the bag with as many books as I can easily carry, and I take them back.  Across Cleveland Street, through the door, up the stairs, down the hall, and into the office.  I am usually scampering by the end because they are heavy.
    I’ve been doing this since school began in January.  I’ve made a dent, but I am not nearly done.  It is working though.  If I were to try to do it in a day, I might succeed, but I would be exhausted at the end.  As it is now, after I get the books on the shelf in Grubbs, I don’t feel like I’ve expended any effort at all.  This isn’t a surprise.  It’s why I’m doing it this way.
    Page 2 of 2 - What is a surprise is the effect that it’s had on my spirit.  In moving my books, I’m taking them off the shelf and looking at some of them for the first time in years.  I am remembering the joy I had when I first purchased them.  I am experiencing the regret of never having read some of them.  I am getting back in touch with the knowledge that I gained from some of them.
    As I put them in their new home, I am sorting them out and organizing them.  As I do this, it reminds my of the times of my life when I was learning to teach analysis, when I was learning to teach statistics, when I was learning about web-programming.
    But it is more than that.  It is as if I am rediscovering a part of myself that I’d put aside for a while.  My old self is meeting my new self, which has been created bit-by-bit over a period of the last 7 years.  Me, the paper-shuffling, coffee-drinking, phone-talking bureaucrat is being introduced to Me, the computer programming, proof-writing, doer and teacher of mathematics.  It’s somewhat awkward, like the husband meeting the ex-husband.  The new man has heard some stories about his predecessor, but he comes to realize over time that there might be a little spin on them.
    I am also discovering how much I had missed my books.  I’d surrounded myself with them before because they gave me comfort.  I can reach to them and know something.  
    They are my friends; they are a part of me.
    And I am bringing them back a little at a time.
    Bobby Winters, a native of Harden City, Oklahoma, is Assistant Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and Professor of Mathematics at Pittsburg State University. He blogs at redneckmath.blogspot.com and okieinexile.blogspot.com. You may contact him at okieinexile@gmail.com.
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