Many thanks to my good friend Anne for sending me this quote from the beginning of David Foster Wallace's essay "A Derivative Sport in Tornado Alley" found in his book A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again.
"When I left my boxed township of Illinois farmland to attend my dad’s alma mater in the lurid jutting Berkshires of western Massachusetts, I all of a sudden developed a jones for mathematics. I’m starting to see why this was so. College math evokes and catharts a Midwesterner’s sickness for home. I’d grown up inside vectors, line and lines athwart lines, grids --- and, on the scale of horizons, broad curving lines of geographic force, the weird topographical drain-swirl of a whole lot of ice-ironed land that sits and spins atop plates. The area behind and below these broad curves at the seam of land and sky I could plot by eye way before I came to know infinitesimals are easements, as integral as schema. Math at a hilly Eastern school was like waking up; it dismantled memory and put in light. Calculus was, quite literally, child’s play."
I've never been a fan of DFW, but I also have never read his essays, just attempts at his fiction. Truthfully, Sick Puppy from Girl with Curious Hair (1989) freaked out my naive, Iowa-girl mind when I was 18. Not sure I was ever able to overcome the trauma...I recognize this is my failing and not DFW's.
While I love what DFW says here about those vectors and lines that are imprinted on my soul and thus infuse all of my poetry, I was terrible at calculus. In fact, I'd been excellent at math until my senior year in high school when I hit pre-calculus. I could work the formulas and get the "right answers" for tests, but I couldn't understand what I was doing.
I confess that finding out DFW was from the Midwest, and wrote about it like this, motivates me to read more.
Here's a lovely image that includes DFW with a field of corn. May he rest in a peace that apparently alluded him here on earth.