I have this memory of being in Mr. Lowe’s OAC (yes, OAC) Calculus class. I got back another test where I had managed a 70 something after a thousand hours of studying and fretting and worrying and fretting. And feeling like #why. At the time the why was this vision that if I didn’t take OAC Calculus I wouldn’t be able to take Psychology courses at University and become a therapist*. Then I discovered a University that would let me in to their Psych program without Calculus. I digress. I’m sitting in this class and I get the 70 and I’m just Done With Calculus (despite Mr. Lowe spending hours of his own time helping me, and my friends J. and J. spending hours of their time helping me). So I go to the office to call my mum (or maybe it was a pay phone) and ask her – crying in this memory – can I please drop Calculus, I don’t think I’ll need it to be a therapist and it’s making me miserable. I don’t know if my mum remembers the call, or knows how I’d spun out the different versions of my life that hinge(d) on her Yes or No to Calculus. But she supported me and said, of course, do what you want to do. And so I dropped Calculus. Like right after I hung up I walked over to the counselling office and dropped it. Probably for Latin. Very useful. (actually) (as useful as Calculus?) (what do you want from me)*
WHY THE LONG RAMBLE, ERIN.
Well, Gabrielle Zevin’s Tomorrow, and Tomorrow and Tomorrow, in addition to being (or maybe mostly being) a book about friendship and its boundaries, and a book that intentionally or not tries to capture the mood of A Little Life (credit to mum for pointing out this parallel which is Spot On), is also a book about women in math.
Our protagonists, Sam and Sadie, spend the book falling into their friendship and then creating wildly successful video games together. Their lives are peppered with the accidents of circumstance and the mistakes of choice that make for any life, and their friendship is one of the accumulation of small moments layered on a true connection. The book is mostly about this friendship – how they come to be friends, how they betray one another (or think they’ve betrayed one another), how other people interrupt and intersect with their friendship, and what the boundaries of love in a friendship fall. It is a beautiful story on this thread – even if, again credit to mum, Sadie’s grudge against Sam midway through the book stretches the boundaries of plausibility.
And it is also a book about what Sadie has to experience and respond to because she is a woman who is very good at math, and one who loves video games, and one who wants to make those games in an industry and institutions full of men. I’d forgotten I read this book, truthfully, but then remembered when reading a list today of top books of last year, and was like oh right, that one. And then found myself tonight listening to a podcast about how boys are struggling in school and how this is impacting men’s outcomes in a bunch of domains. And truly – I’m a mother of a self-described boy and am not dismissing the (surprising to me) information about the widening gap in gendered achievement in schools. But was also like Come On. I suppose I can accept two things at the same time: women are doing better at school/university across a wide range of metrics AND the programs that men dominate are still the ones preferentially valued. The glut of women in universities is hardly yielded Power to the extremely well educated, and extremely underpaid teachers at my daughter’s daycare.
So maybe that’s the thing I liked best about Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow: its careful exploration of how Sadie navigates computer science programs, video game making/marketing and Silicon Valley. The way she finds herself used, abused and manipulated by men with power and then ‘lucky’ to find the good ones. The way efforts at ‘wokeness’ risk violence, and the tension between what we know about our friends as individuals and the way we let their individual identities influence our perception of their actions (like: did he do that because he’s my friend, or did he do that because he’s a man?).
And there’s more someone else would read into this book about race and class and orphan-hood and disability. There’s a heap to think through and plenty to enjoy. It reads quickly, is absorbing, and in the end – I think – satisfying.
But for me? I couldn’t stop thinking about Mr. Lowe. And what we tell ourselves about math.
*I did not become a therapist. But Latin probably got me the degree.