Points and respect to anyone who recognizes the allusion in the subject line! It isn’t just a catchy phrase, either. I really did see a hawk in the rain as I was driving to work last week. He standing in a neighbor’s yard, and when I slowed to look at his majesty, gorgeous and shimmering in a glister of rain, he turned his golden eye on me.
That night I had my first moment of magic as I worked my way through a mathematical proof by induction. It was an example problem, posted by a professor at CUNY and I was just trying to work my way from step to step, understanding each move. Given that each step shows the mechanism used to arrive at the conclusion, it’s not as if I was charting any new mathematical thoughts. I discovered, however, that the professor’s grasp of math was (gasp!) much more adept than mine, and I couldn’t make the same hops from step to step without doing all of the minor mathematical legwork in between those steps. I got to a point where I had this equation:
I knew I needed to rewrite it to finalize the proof, but it’s been fifteen years since I’ve done any math, and that was a semester of part time grad school in physics, which was so traumatic I dropped out early the next semester. I thought I’d closed the door on math forever, and pursued my love of writing with enough dedication to shove everything math into some dark realm. In fact, I thought I’d forgotten all of it. Except… as I stared at this equation, I felt something move in my mind. There was a kind of muscle memory, and a feeling not unlike when I met the gaze of the Hawk in the Rain (hint: think Plath, extend from there). I wrote this:
A phrase rose out of the darkness. Factor the quadratic. The motion of writing came before the idea, which should not be strange. It happens all the time with poetry; I write, or a phrase arises in me, and it has no meaning until I put it on the paper, confront it out in the world, separated from me, its own being. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt that with math. I think I was always too busy trying to meet deadlines and make grades, and I am prone (perhaps we all are?) to producing what is measured. Grades were measured; I produced good grades. Perhaps if education measured true understanding, I would have felt this heady, golden eyed hawk of understanding during the long, dark nights of higher-level university math. I filled in the question marks:
QED, my friends.
Oh, and to leave on a funny note. At work, there’s been a focus on Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). One of our KPIs is developer velocity; i.e., the amount of work that is done, on average, by an individual developer in a bounded length of time. In a slide describing this KPI we found the following hilarious typo:
Improve developer moral and velocity
Laughter, it turns out, goes a long way towards improving morale, although its effects on moral velocity have yet to be proven!