Math Dreams

A few weeks ago I came across this graphic on social media sites and in messages a few times:’s Most Common Dreams by Country based on search volume.

I’m not sure I’ve ever had any of these dreams… at least not that I remember… Teeth falling out? What happened to being in school with no cloths on? Never had that dream either, but I thought that was the dream everyone had. Snakes I can understand, snakes are creepy, snake can be dangerous, lots of people are afraid of snakes. Makes sense that people living in South America and Southeast Asia are having dreams, or nightmares about very large snakes.

For myself, I rarely remember dreams more than a few minutes after waking up and even then they are broken and disjointed. I can’t piece them together. They sometimes includes people I know or have known, but things are always all kinds of fucked up. Funny that I remember that but not clearly what was fucked up. One period of my life including people who are anachronistic; walking through doors into unconnected buildings continents away. That kind of thing.

There is, however, one dream that has reoccured many times over the years, though it’s getting less and less as times goes on. I remember this dream, or at least the theme, the details are different each time but the basic story is the same and I aways wake up in a panic. And the disorientation can last a few minutes, sometimes I even have mini flashbacks to the dream in the first hour or so of the morning while I’m going about my morning routine.

The basic plot of my dream is that I have skipped or missed most of the lessons of a college math class and I am going to fail the exam, which I’m rushing to get to class to take because I forgot it was today because I usually skip class because I didn’t do the homework or studying because I skipped the previous class… and so on and so forth.

There is some logic to this dream. I was not strong in math coming out of high school and into college. And the first two years of college I goofed around, a lot. I was not studious, most of the classes I took were basic, general requirements that I didn’t need to put much effort into. And towards the end of my second year I got worse as I started to work more and more at the fish store till I eventually dropped out to work full time. I even audited a couple of classes my last semester, having to come up with good excuses for my teachers to get their permission. It was during that last full semester that I took calculus 1. I passed but didn’t score great. And I promptly forgot everything. I was more focused on fish and coral.

When I went back to school full time, after almost two years and transferring to George Mason to get out of my hometown. I had to start over on math. As an Computer Science major, I was in the engineering school and they had serious math class requirements. Based on my transcript I went directly into Calculus 2 my first semester at Mason. And it quickly became apparent that I knew nothing about calculus.

When I was at Mason I was determined to do well. From the start. And there were a lot of math to come so I had to get my shit in order. It was either audit Calculus 2 and go back to Calculus 1 the next semester or find some other way to dig my way out. Repeating Calc 1 the next semester was going to put me even further behind than I already was having transferred in. As it was I was going to have to take some summer classes to catch up to where I should be as a third year engineering student.

So… I went to the book shop and purchased the companion books to the text book. There were two book; one with worked solutions to all the problems in the textbook (I think it covered the first half of the book only, but given that that textbook —Calculus, 5th Edition by James Stewart, I still have it!— was used for Calc 1, Calc 2, Calc 3 and DiffEq 1 and DiffEq 2 the first half was enough to start with…) and one with extra problems, with solutions, for studying or practice.

I spent night after night over the rest of the semester sitting in the library working my way though every page and problem, starting with chapter 1. Working the examples, homework and extra problems out of the additional book. I made it through all the chapters covered in Calc 1 and then continued on with the chapters covered in Calc 2 until I finally caught up with my class just in time for end-of-semester exams. I passed, in fact I got a good grade, a B I think, somewhere I have my transcript.

I kept it up all the way through Calc 3 and in many other math classes beyond. I managed to keep all my grades up, I graduated with a GPA of 3.8 (transfer credits from my first couple of years don’t count in the official GPA thankfully).

I think it was this first semester of Mason, and how many hours I spent sitting, by myself, struggling to catch up on my math. Racing against the coming exam, that seared into my brain a panic of not being ready for my exam. My mind somehow combined that with the stress, and shame for auditing so many classes, from that last semester before I dropped out back in Charlottesville, too cook up this reoccurring dream —this nightmare— of not being ready, having skipped too many classes and unable to audit the class because it’s too late…

So other people are having nightmares about loosing their teeth or snakes while I awake in a panic about not being ready for my math exam.