Sunday, 15 February 2015

TMC: Your Turn There

I won’t be going to “Twitter Math Camp” (TMC) this year. But if you’re a math teacher, I recommend you try it out. This post of mine has some tips.

In theory, that’s all I really need to say, but regular readers know I enjoy overanalyzing everything, from teaching to depression to “failure” as a fiction writer. Also, I posted last year and the year before about whether to attend TMC, and I’m a fan of tradition. So let’s make a longer post out of this. Reading it is optional.

Courtesy of AMV Friday #7
Oh, you’re reading? Here, have a bonus AMV soundtrack.


In brief, the TMC logistics aren’t great this year - it’s July 23-26, in California... shortly after my cousin’s wedding. In Germany. Now, that doesn’t make it impossible. My wife was even debating making the trip with me this year. But it now looks like she won’t get the extra vacation time.

Coupling that with the same concerns of last year (notably another white male taking up a place), and the fact that I could use “down time” this summer (having had little of it in 2014), I reach the conclusion that TMC 2015 is not for me.

Oh, there’s also the fact that I declared myself a writer and seceded from the MTBoS back in August. In case you’re wondering why I haven’t been hashtagging much, or going to GlobalMath presentations and guild meetings and all.

Some of you may even be wondering who I am... I’m the guy who made the parabola a character in the time travel serial I began in September.


It's a natural extension. I’ve done the whole TMC thing backwards. It might be sad, if it wasn’t funny.

Consider - when you first learn about something, do you toe about in the shallow end for a while, to become more familiar, or do you immediately dive into the deep end? In my case, I’m an introvert who prefers to take on a supporting role. In 2013, I didn’t know the attendees, except through Twitter and a couple Google Chats. As I said above, I even blogged about indecision over whether to attend at all. So what do you think is the natural course of action?

I not only attended, I signed up to present a session. And a “My Favourite”. With AV clips. Handing out business cards to people. Singing 3 parody songs at karaoke. And I live blogged the whole experience. Daily. Deep end much?

Where exactly do you go from there? How do you top that?

Well, you don’t. Which is why in 2014 I didn’t present a damn thing, only offered a card to a couple people, and generally hung about in the background. Trying to act as a bridge between new and old attendees. Blogging summary points in a not-wholly-live way.

Now, in 2015, I won’t be there at all, I’ll simply be lurking online. I actually haven’t tried that yet, I only found the MTBoS after the first TMC in 2012. Meaning, it’s like I’m at the beginning.

Are we backwards, or are they backwards?
Surely I’m not the only one who sees that as completely backwards?

Then again, it DOES make a certain amount of sense. From the perspective of being insecure.

In 2013, I was adrift, looking for like-minded people, looking for serial readers, looking for song writers - but I was afraid to approach anyone. So I did the equivalent of running around, waving my arms in the air with my hair on fire, to see whose attention I might attract.

In 2014, I knew the format, and (despite my ability to jumble names in my head) had a better sense of individuals. Others also had a better sense of me. So, with no need to make a name for myself, I sat back, learned, and tried to facilitate things for others. (Or, you know, sabotage them, using my old technology...)

In 2015... I’m a known quantity. My stance on things hasn’t changed much in the past two years. If something relevant comes up, I’m easily messaged. I’m not needed. Better to let someone else put in their voice in my place.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t feel like I’ve peaked myself. Perhaps I’m at the “plateau” stage mentioned in one of Michael Pershan’s older blog posts. But I feel that pushing myself at this stage is liable to make me capsize, or quit altogether. No one wants that.

Life is a road, and I want to keep going on... eventually.

For right now, I’m at peace with where I am in the journey. (Even if where I am involves continuous struggling with marking on “levels”.) In particular, I’m less insecure, professionally if not personally, and while it would be nice to see TMC tweeps again... I’ve never been a social beast. Someone else is liable to get more out of the experience.

Along those lines, are you a math teacher? Do you feel the need to push yourself? Or do you feel like you need your status quo shaken up? Then I reiterate, I recommend you sign up. The link to my tips again is here. TMC may challenge you. It may change you. And although you won’t see me there, you’re welcome to tweet at me any time. I’ll be there when the storm is through - at the beginning with you.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

The Fringe of Depression

Okay. Let’s put this out there. I’m wondering who else feels this way.

Depression is something that I’ve dealt with, on and off, since... I don’t know. A long while. Professionally, since second year university. I actually had a really good run from some time in 2005 to early 2014 when I didn’t have any professional guidance. That’s not to say I didn’t necessarily NEED it towards the end (looking at you Exam Debris), but writing serves as a bit of a catharsis, and I have friends who keep me sane.

But what sort of depression is this? I don’t take medication. I never consider suicide in any meaningful way. I know I have many friends, and many other reasons to live. All it usually takes is a reminder of those things, and I feel better. So am I really a depressive?

Well, let’s talk about death.

Welcome to my dry/dark humour.


Let’s start with the death you’ve likely heard about: Robin Williams, who killed himself on August 11th, 2014. I happened to be in the UK at the time, with a number of teenagers and chaperones from the high school where I teach. This because we’d been given the opportunity to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I learned of his death in the evening, from another chaperone, who had seen it on TV.

It didn’t really resonate with me at the time. But then, things don’t often resonate with me.

The show the students were performing there was “Pygmalion”. You may know the plot, it’s essentially the same as “My Fair Lady”. If that still doesn’t help, all you really need to know for the purposes of my post is that a professor of linguistics tries to take a common flower girl (Eliza) and pass her off as a duchess at an Embassy Ball. Someone at the Ball denounces her as a fraud, not because he realizes her origins, but because he believes “She is Hungarian!”

Something very interesting happens in our production at that point.

After everyone shouts “Hungarian?” and the script continues downstage left, Freddy looks to Eliza, on stage right. He points at her in confusion, and mouths something like ‘Are you Hungarian?’ To which she shakes her head. He then points back at himself, mouthing ‘Then am I Hungarian?’ (Because the topic had to come up somehow, right?)

It’s funny. It’s subtle. It’s likely missed by most of the audience, and perhaps even some of the other actors. I grant that I myself might not have realized, had I not been chatting with the lead actress at one point. All that said, this reaction feels completely right.

What happens next?
Often it’s the actions of others that make us question ourselves.

Often it goes unnoticed by the majority.

It was brief, but the death of Robin Williams did make me question whether things could ever be that bad for me. But let’s remove him from the equation. Let’s talk about Justin Carmical, aka “JewWario”, an internet reviewer. He killed himself back in late January 2014. Just over a year ago. That’s why I’m posting this entry now, though I’ve been writing it in pieces for months now.

His death hit me a little harder than Williams’, despite the fact that I don’t watch much in the way of video game reviewers (I had seen him in crossovers). Granted, it might have been the time of year (January exam time is already stressful) but I believe my greater reaction was that I felt more of a connection to who he was and what he did. He was a great guy, posting content onto the internet - not unlike me. If you’ve never heard of Justin, go watch this video of his: You are not stupid. I’ll wait.


When these deaths happen (and there’s another one I might add, that of a former role-player I knew, except death may have been accidental), there’s two extremes. The first camp is those who never saw it coming, and genuinely do not understand how it could have happened. The second camp is those who do get it, and who often lead the discussion about depression. I would say the majority of people are in a spectrum somewhere between those camps, but of course I have no research to that effect.

I feel like I’m on the cusp of the second group.

I get it. But I don’t feel like I could explain things being THAT bad. Could I? Can I even be a depressive if I’ve never been formally diagnosed? If I’ve never been on medication? If “Cognitive Behaviour Therapy” tends to be enough for me?

After Williams’ death, there were a number of posts out there, written by people who (it seemed to me) had it worse than I do. But what is “worse”? Perhaps it’s merely “different”? More troublingly, was I questioning myself because I saw that state as a possible future? Or was it more personal desire to “fit in” with that group somehow, so that I might finally understand myself?

Back to the actions of others. Even something we may know with CERTAINTY can be doubted in the face of someone else’s reaction to it. (Issues of Global Warming aside.) As a teacher, I often question myself, academically or otherwise, based on the actions of my students. As a writer, I often question myself based on the actions of my readers... or more frequently the seeming lack of readers. (Calling it now, this one shot in the dark post will get more views than the weekly scheduled stories that I write!) And as someone who’s experienced depression, I question myself based on suicides. To what degree is that normal?

I've also written fiction about depression.
To reiterate: I have never seriously considered suicide. I have sometimes considered future scenarios when I’m dead or not around any more - is that something more than merely being prudent? I have self-harmed (not this century), yet it was more to advertise that I needed help than anything else. This article link points out that such things may also be a pain thing more than a suicide thing. Then there’s the discussion of links between comedy and depression, which always ring true for me... but as a statistician, I have to ask whether this article has it right, when it says that link gets more attention than others. Certainly more variables could be involved.

Then to what extent am I depressive? Am I merely particularly empathetic? Is it that I’m really lousy at finding the bright side of things? That’s not unique. EVERYONE has those sort of moments. Right? Isn’t that what it’s like to be human? Then, do I merely have them with greater frequency?

What about when it goes further? Does everyone have moments where they think can do NO right? Where the thought of causing short term pain of loss to others might be better than drawing it out over the long term? Where a counselling session isn’t merely a good idea, but a necessity?

What makes what I feel “depression” and not “being human”?

I don’t know. I can’t see what others are thinking. I can only continue to question my beliefs based on their actions. And wonder if, some day, the balance will finally tip, and I will no longer be on the fringe of depression.