Missing the Joint Mathematics Meetings

Next weekend, San Antonio will host the world’s largest math meeting. Thousands of mathematicians gathered in the same town? Now, that’s my kind of paradise. But David’s not attending this year, and since it would probably be weird for me to go without him, I’m staying home too. Sad we’ll miss out on the opportunity to connect with old friends.

Instead, I’ll be listening to this Kate Bush song about a man infatuated with pi and planning the party we want to host when the JMM comes to Atlanta in 2017.

Hope everyone attending the meetings this year has a great time. And good luck to those on the job market!

My 2014 year in review


2014 has been good to me. I’ve been nonemployed and able to pursue my creative ambitions full force. I met many new friends over the past year and had the opportunity to travel to beautiful places. I’ve got a lot to celebrate. Here’s a rundown of the highlights in no particular order:

  • Traveling to Seattle with my mom and my sister.
  • Spending the holidays with my family in Cincinnati.
  • Accompanying David to math conferences in Baltimore, Banff, Tucson, and the Bay Area (twice).
  • Declaring myself the First Lady of Math Overflow on Twitter (#firstlady #mathoverflow), and writing some fun blog posts about having dinner with mathematicians, Taylor series jokes, and Algebraic Independence Day.
  • Growing closer with my writing group, attending some kick butt writing conferences, and generally figuring out how to be a writer.
  • Placing third in the Georgia Romance Writers Unpublished Maggie Awards for Contemporary Single Title Romance.
  • Completing a 50,000-word draft of a second novel during NaNoWriMo.
  • Graduating from Dad’s Garage improv classes in January and joining four improv troupes over the course of the year (Shark Party, Collective 51, The Outliers, and the now defunct Bangprov). I also auditioned for a couple of things that I didn’t get. I’m thankful for these experiences too because they made me realize how much I wanted to do improv and motivated me to work harder.
  • Taking long form improv classes at The Brink Improv and becoming part of the awesome community there.
  • Made $10 performing in a staged reading! It was my only income for the year.
  • I wasn’t able to attend as many literary and storytelling events as I would have liked this past year, but I did have a couple of opportunities to share stories at Carapace and Naked City. I was a featured storyteller at Stories on the Edge of Night, and I’ll be performing in that show again on January 22nd.
  • I maintained this blog! Since August, I’ve been blogging at least weekly thanks to the introduction of Fantasy Friday. I have plans to introduce some new themed posts in 2015 so stay tuned for that.

Thanks to everyone who reads this blog. It means a lot to me to be able to connect with friends, family, and the greater global community through this space.

Happy New Year!

Fantasy Friday: mind vacation

We sit on a concrete bench and wait for the MARTA train that will take us to the Atlanta airport. David pulls out his iPad and begins reading a math paper. I keep my eyes focused on the tracks, trying to suppress the onslaught of questions that arises every time I travel. Did we lock the door? Is the oven off? Was the fridge closed? What about the dryer? Were all the lights off? Was the toilet running? Maybe I left the sink on. What if I left the sink on? What if we miss our flight? Where’s the train?

I worry. David reads. And is often the case when my mind becomes mired in anxious thoughts, I turn to him and say, “Why can’t I be you?”


I wouldn’t want to be David forever. I like being me for the most part. But I do believe that spending a little bit of time in David’s brain could provide me with some much needed respite. My brain could take a break from churning cognitive distortions, and I could search out the secret to David’s equanimity so I could reproduce it in my own mind when I returned to my body.

Beyond the potential for a mental health break, I’d like to vacation inside David’s mind so I could figure out what it’s like to be a man. Think of how that could improve my writing! And, for a short period of time, I would know a ton of stuff about math and be able to appreciate it in the same way that he does. That would be cool.

I realize a vacation in David’s mind isn’t without risks. I tend to idolize him and being exposed to his baser thoughts might temper my admiration in a way that could harm our marriage. I’d like to think I’d be cool with his fantasies about other women, but I probably wouldn’t be. Most importantly, though, I probably don’t want to know what he really thinks when I ask him to unlock the front door just one more time so I can check to make sure I haven’t left the sink on.

I probably don’t want to know that, but I might take my chances if mind vacations were an option. It’d be so nice to have a break.

Whose mind would you vacation in?

Algebraic Independence Day party ends in tragedy

Controversy erupted at the transcendental numbers’ annual Algebraic Independence Day party today when π arrived with potato salad even though he’d been assigned apple pie in the event invite. When confronted by e, π asserted he was “tired of being pigeonholed.” He then threatened to cut anyone who made a pie joke.

According to eyewitnesses, γ, otherwise known as the Euler-Mascheroni constant, urged π to “act rational.” π responded by forcibly removing γ from the party, insisting he not come back until he could prove he was transcendental.

Several other numbers thought to be transcendental rallied to γ’s defense, physically attacking π.

The mathematical constant, beloved by many around the world, was rushed to l’Hôpital, where he is reported to be in critical condition.

Asked to comment on the incident, e insisted “it was the principle of the matter. The Liouville numbers brought enough potato salad for everyone. π thinks he can get away with anything because he’s popular. The rest of us have had enough.”

The animosity between e and π spells bad news for mathematicians, who for years have been trying to figure out whether both the sum and product of these two numbers are transcendental.

Noted mathematician Dr. Harold Factor had this to say: “We know either π or e+π is transcendental, possibly both, but how are we supposed to make progress if these two numbers can’t be in the same room together?”

We go where the math takes us: Bay Area

Just got back from one of my favorite places in the world, the Bay Area. David and I met as graduate students in Berkeley so we try to get back there as much as possible. This time our travel was math related. David attended a workshop on rational points at the American Institute of Mathematics (AIM) in Palo Alto.

On Saturday, after the conference was over, we spent time with a couple of our best friends in San Francisco. I wanted to see the water so we went to the Presidio and drove out past the Golden Gate Bridge. The day was warm for San Francisco. Birds flew overhead, and I longed to be one of them, surfing the wind and diving into the water.


I didn’t want to leave yesterday when our trip ended. I love my life in Atlanta, but I miss the beauty of the Bay Area and our friends who live there. I’m sad today because I want to go back, but I know what I want to go back to doesn’t exist anymore. Most of our friends from graduate school live elsewhere. We’re no longer in our twenties.

And I know my life then wasn’t as rosy as I remember it, but it’s hard to imagine life in the Bay Area as anything but perfect when you look out over the water to the hills across the way.


Celebrating one year of nonemployment

One year ago today I left my job and became nonemployed. At the time, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I thought I would try a lot of different things: crafts, volunteering, part time gigs. Instead, once I started drafting my novel last July, I wanted to devote all my time to writing. For the most part, I have, making steady progress on the novel and honing my craft.

Nonemployment, our Honda Fit, and an abundance of SkyMiles have allowed me to accompany David on most of his work related travels this year. The math led us to many places in the Southeastern United States (Winston-Salem, Davidson, Clemson, Columbia) as well as other parts of the country (Ft. Collins, Baltimore, Palo Alto, Tucson). We travelled abroad to Banff and Copenhagen.

It’s been a great year filled with joy I didn’t know I was capable of experiencing.

Thanks to all who have been supportive of my transition, especially my husband, David. Let’s keep it going!




We go where the math takes us: Banff

Last week I accompanied David to a math conference at the Banff International Research Station (BIRS) in the Canadian Rockies.  David first went there in 2007, and I’ve wanted to go back with him ever since.  My first trip did not disappoint!  Great food in the dining halls, fun conversations with mathematicians, Canadian beers, hiking, and best of all, amazing views from the cafe where I worked all week:


I hear the math was good as well!  Watch David’s talk, Rational points on curves and tropical geometry.

4 tips for non-mathematicians attending math dinners

Seminar dinner, conference dinner, generic math gathering, I want to be there.  This shouldn’t be surprising.  I love eating and drinking, and I enjoy both of these activities even more in the company of smart and interesting people.

Still, at more than one math dinner, I’ve been told, “I’m surprised you’re here.  My wife would never want to do this.”

This makes me feel strange, like some mutant math groupie (which, in truth, I am).

I understand where these other non-mathematician partners are coming from.  Mathematicians can be abrasive, and it can feel isolating when you can’t take part in the dinner conversation because you don’t understand the math.  But there’s a lot of fun to be had at these dinners, and sometimes you have to do it for your partner.  So here are my tips for having a good time…

1) Let people talk about math

Nothing is going to turn a group of people against you faster than telling them you hate the thing that they love or that they shouldn’t talk about it in your presence.  The purpose of these dinners is to encourage informal exchanges that will lead to more formal work: project ideas, thesis problems, collaborations, etc.  Don’t stand in the way of mathematics!

Keep in mind when you get together with your coworkers, you talk shop.  Shop talk is generally boring for outsiders. In the case of math conversations, this shop talk is also inaccessible.  Don’t worry.  There’s no need to try to follow the conversation if it becomes technical.

2) Retreat to your rich inner life when necessary

Chances are if you’ve been invited to a math dinner, you’re an interesting person.  People are going to ask you about that.  You’ll get to ask them about the fun things they do: travel for conferences, activities in their home city, etc.  But when the conversation turns to Hodge Decompositions or Del Pezzo surfaces, you’re going to have to amuse yourself, which you can do because you lead a rich inner life.

For me, there’s something very zen about being able to retreat into my own mind when I’m surrounded by people having a conversation that I can’t understand.  It’s like traveling in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language.

If you want to please your partner, remember a few math words from the conversation and use them later out of context (e.g. Can we start calling hugs tangent bundles?).  Only do this if you’re willing to have a math conversation.  Don’t be a tease.

3) Drink

This one is probably self explanatory.  Even if you don’t drink, though, the point is to focus on aspects of the experience that you can enjoy like the food or the ambiance of the restaurant.  I once attended a conference dinner that included an extended discussion of Joe Harris’s lineage (i.e. his graduate students and the students his students advised).  I found the conversation tedious, but I would gladly listen to it again if it meant I got to eat the multi-course Chinese meal we had that night.

4) Don’t take things personally

Mathematicians spend their days saying “That can’t possibly be true!” and asking “Wait, is that true?”  If you attend enough math dinners, it’s likely that someone will question something you state as fact.  That’s their job.

This really turned me off at first.  I studied demography in graduate school, and at one point early in my relationship with my husband, I got into a discussion with one of his friends about how many people have ever lived on earth.  This was a homework problem in my demographic methods textbook that I’d solved.  I relayed my estimate but this guy countered with an estimate he and his friends had come up with based on how many people died during the Blitz in World War II.  This deeply offended me at the time.  I was the expert!  And for years afterward, I’d express hostility whenever he came up in conversation with my husband.  Then, the guy came to visit us, and I had a really great time with him.  He’s an awesome person, and I felt dumb for having disliked him for all of those years merely because he asked me to defend my position.

This last example demonstrates what I’ve gained from attending math dinners over the past eight years as a non-mathematician: a thicker skin and a fondness for intellectual arguments.  I’m a better thinker today for having spent many an evening at math dinners.