Geometry (and the Quadrivium): Weekly Photo Challenge

Vietnam prayer card coil cone incense
A prayer card hangs from the center of an incense coil in Hoi An, Viet Nam.

I’m avoiding thinking about the results of today’s election and focusing on how some days WordPress bores me. Thus it was when they gave out this week’s photo challenge: “Geometry.”

My first thought was how boring basic geometrical shapes are.

My second thought was that I hated that subject in school. I was an A+ student in all subjects when I was little, but math fell apart the year our dad left. It’s not a boo-hoo moment. It’s just the facts. I went from straight A’s to failing, and my math never recovered. As a child of a teacher and youngest sibling of two annoyingly gifted shits, the presumption wasn’t that I didn’t understand, but that I was a slacker. I even approached my Geometry teacher early in the first semester, explaining that I was struggling, and he told me to quit messing around and do my homework.

As it turns out, I’m really happy that my math teachers failed to recognize my dire need for help with mathematics. I was so far ahead in reading comprehension by the time I went through that rough period that my reading and writing continued to excel, setting a path for me as a writer.

Hoi An Viet Nam prayer coil altarI did eventually force myself to address my mathematical shortcomings, started over again at the point of failure: fractions. I went through several “dummies” books and by the time I was confronted with math again, I made it through the quadratic equation in Chem I and II at Pitt.  I still hate “doing math” but I love the idea of applied mathematics.

So what the heck is this “quadrivium” thing? Quadrivium is Latin, and loosely translates to “the four ways” but the usage I like best is a “place where four roads meet.” In the Renaissance period, the quadrivium covered four main subjects: arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy (I love that music is in here, since this is my favorite place of applied mathematics).

Renaissance scholars used the quadrivium as preparation to study philosophy and theology. So after getting over my initial reaction to the word “geometry” for this week’s photo challenge, I thought about the quadrivium, and couldn’t unpair geometry from quadrivium, and quadrivium from philsophy and theology.

I still don’t have as much affinity for basic geometrical shapes (squares, circles, etc.) as I do for layered shapes and combinations.

I thought of this photo I took in May: an incense prayer coil from Hoi An, Viet Nam. Each coil contains a prayer card, the coil disappearing in ever-decreasing spirals as the incense burns. The spiral is one of several shapes my hippie (or are they hipster?) friends refer to as “sacred geometry.”

I don’t know what the people writing these prayer cards were thinking about. I’m sure it wasn’t about sacred shapes or geometry as they placed their cares on the cards and sent them skyward with the smoke, and I’m certain they weren’t thinking about how much they hated math in school or who might win today’s election or everyday blogligation.

prayer cards in incense cones hanging Viet NamInstead, each prayer card represents a singular wish, thought, memory, moment of life without the chaos of all those colliding shapes and numbers in the rest of the world.

And maybe today I don’t want anything other than focusing on one coil, one card, one moment of peace from the chaos.

If I could pare it all down to one card, I  know what I would write. It’s already written in my mind. What’s on your card?

Dangit, there I go talking Buddhist smack again.

Happy Election Day.

Love, Marla

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