Friday, March 9, 2012

Foci, or the Crosscurricularity of Math and Creativity

Everything has the potential to feed your creativity. That includes math class.
In precalc this week we've been learning about conic sections. Circles, ellipses, hyperbola, parabolas. All are slices of a cone. All have squared terms in their formulae. All have foci.


Lately my creative work has been tugging me in a lot of different directions. I'm working on revising the Utopia Project, of course, but also throwing around ideas for the ballad of the Sorceress and the Falcon Knight; Matt of the Lekronome; the GW storyline; SF; and the clash of humans, demons, and fae in seventeenth-century Amsterdam (also known as the Trials of Taniel).

It was getting to the point that I'd write a steady 400 words in TUP, then go through at least there of those other stories in rapid succession, adding a sentence here or there or, possibly, reading over what I'd written and waiting to see if the ideas I was throwing around were going anywhere.

To add to that, I've finally decided to take my education into my own hands. (It's a decision long overdue, I know.) There are a lot of subjects in which I wish to expand my knowledge. A sample of such: Jungian psychology, Nietzche's philosophy, Chinese classics and history, Roman history through the five good emperors, military strategy/tactics, German language and literature, Italian folklore, local flora/fauna/history, and a slew of left-brain topics such as programming and economics. You could say that I had a mild case of choice paralysis.

The net result: not doing anything because there was just so much to do.

That's when precalculus saved me.


Parabolas have only one focus. Even ellipses and hyperbola only have two.

When "multiple foci" is used in the medical sense, it means a disease has caused damage at many sites.

(Yes, I just broke the metaphor.)

My point (given in neither Cartesian nor polar form) is that less is more. If there are fewer things on which you focus, you will be able to focus on them with greater intent and concentration.

To that end, I stopped trying to write all the stories and research all the things. I'm going to focus on the Utopia Project for writing, and on Jung for my self-education. Two foci, not twenty.

I only put this system into practice this week, so it's too early to say if it's working. However, I'm feeling good about it: my word counts haven't gone up or down, but my sense of dissatisfaction at not working on all the other stories has faded. I'm reading a lot more from the Jung book I've checked out from the library.

I'm also starting to think about all the things I want to get done over the summer, and beginning to narrow the list down. Believe me when I say it needs thinning out.

Before, I've only ever thought about things tactically. When I wanted to get something done, I'd calculate how much brute force I'd need to get it done. With enough hours, I thought, I could get it all done.

But some sporadic musing on strategy v. tactics (spurred by an AP Euro WWI game in which we destroyed all the German troops in round 3) made me realize that you can't do everything and, as a corollary, you definitely can't do everything at the same time.

But you can do something. Two somethings, in fact, and if those two somethings are the only ones that you are focusing on, you'll only have to divide your finite time/effort in half.

In short: make like a conic section, not a disease. And never underestimate math.


  1. Thanks. :) I'm glad it's been useful - or at least amusing, which may be worth just as much.