Sunday, February 1, 2015


Last week the sixth grade math group with whom I share learning, encountered what has been the stickiest point in our time together to date. Slope Intercept formula. As I printed out with Expo, in my best writing y=mx+b and explained rise over run, change in y over change in x and walked the class through several examples with little stick people moving various unit steps, little by little the almost inaudible utterances of "ooooh" and "uh huuuh" began to stir about the room. As the students worked through their practice problems, one of my quick thinkers in the back posed a question. "What if the line is up and down, you know; like vertical?" I shared a sketch on her paper and explained mathematically we call that undefined. "Good question," I complimented. She smiled, shrugged her shoulders and continued her math work (quite possibly sorry she had posed the question in the first place.)

It reminded me of another discussion my seventh and eighth grade scientists had shared a few weeks earlier. Some questions were posed about wormholes and "wrinkles" in the time/space continuum. Another student asked if anyone believed time travel was possible. This lead to the discussion of time. How does time exist? Could we pause and rewind? I asked the scientists if perhaps time could be infinite and we, as humans, create boundaries to understand our temporal experiences better. We attempt to capture the undefinable with our limited understandings. "Hmmm, maybe," was one response as the scientist peered off into the beyond. Everyone seemed relieved that it was time to head to lunch. Often the parameters of time are an entity for which we can be grateful, I suppose.

As I loped down the stairs to lunch I considered the conversation and thought back to Aristotle and his endeavors to categorize the world and phenomena around him. In attempts to neatly organize and understand the world around him he dubbed categories. The hierarchy of what things exist were tangled or attempted to be untangled by language. Does language reveal meaning or does it obscure it? Does how I choose my words clear the water to insight or muddy it to confusion? Some people and experiences seemed to be quantitatively and qualitatively captured and represented, while other seemed to be uncategorizable. What to do with demonstrating experiences via language and writing? 

So many occurrences in my life from extremely beautiful and moving to horrific and excruciatingly painful, defy my understanding or demonstrating through language, and lurk somewhere in the shadows just out of my verbosity or pen's illuminating reach. Having experienced firsthand these phenomenon I should have the knowledge to articulate and explain, but I lack the demonstrateable epistemological ability. A revelation may peek at me taunting me through lyrics, a poem, a quote in a book, or perhaps even a personal journal entry, but hitting the bullseye is rare.

Have I hit an Aristotelian wall? Have my experiences exhausted my categories? Would a lens of hylemorphism bolster me to better understanding and articulation? Perhaps queries of my substantive being are preventing me from explaining my being in relation to my context. Since moving to Vietnam, my writing life has waned considerably. Occasionally I will stop to wonder why this is. Have I reached an undefinable moment in time? Is it the scrambling to string together words to capture where I am physically...mentally...emotionally...that is tiring my mind to the point of inertia? My life is the vertical line existing on the coordinate plane; undefined.


  1. A wonderful opening to the mystery of life. The slope of a vertical line is undefined but x=2 is a defined constant. It is true for all values of y. Undefined and infinity are emotional and mathematical cousins. I wonder if we get out of our comfort zones, we worry not so much about "hitting a bullseye" as much as revealing the mystery of life. Plato was Aristotle's teacher. It is hard for me to go a day or so without experiencing the presence of something some people would refer to as sacred. Today I watched a preschooler attend her first day of class, ever. It was "wondering" for all concerned. Keep allowing your words to sink deep into the soil of life and both Aristotle and Plato will smile.

  2. David Elliott you make me smile and that my friend, to me, is better than Aristotle or Plato. I am fortunate to be planting, pruning, and growing ideas with you.