Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Amperes and Isotopes and Vectors, Oh My!

Laura the Tennis Pro and I have a lot in common. We both like words. We’re both hypochondriacs. And we both prefer our hair when it’s straight. I feel like we “get” each other’s obscure jokes and almost always understand the other person’s descriptive analogies. But when she starts talking Physics, I’m done for.

“You should be hitting that shot in this direction instead,” she’ll say. “You know…think of Physics.”

She’s been playing the Physics Card for years now and I think my big mistake was to smile and nod whenever she did so. But yesterday, she said to me, “Just think of a vector…” and I finally had to admit the truth.

There’s only one image that comes to mind when someone says the word “vector” and that is the cockpit scene from Airplane! where the pilots are getting clearance to take off. “What’s our vector, Victor?” says one of them. The end. That’s my sum total of vector knowledge right there.

People used to bandy about those same Physics terms while attempting to teach me to play pool. There too, I never wanted to appear uneducated, so I always nodded and smiled and then sailed the cue ball right into the pocket.

So, here’s my confession: I never took Physics. I’m not sure where I stopped in the Math/Science continuum, but it was long before vectors.

I get it. I know that when you’re teaching something that comes second nature to you, you have a whole vocabulary and knowledge base that you draw on, usually without even thinking about it. It happens to me all the time when I’m working with kids on their writing. I’ll say stuff. They’ll smile and nod. I’ll say more stuff. More smiles. More nodding. And then I’ll say, “Do you have any idea what I’m talking about?” And they will of course say, “No.”

Laura took my news well and, as is typical, others began to confess their ignorance as well. Sometimes I remind her: we may not be smart, but we’re cute!

So, my tennis instructor will be putting together a Physics lesson for me – for us, really – in yet another of her valiant attempts to teach a group of good-natured yet addled women the finer points of Doubles. She’s quick, that Laura, and I think she’s finally come around to sobering truth: Tennis Floozies we may be, but Rocket Scientists, we’re not.

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