I was that child, and my journey with mathematics began with a similar tale. As my classmates were learning to add and subtract, I was fruitlessly trying to explain to them that zero wasn't the smallest number. When my second grade class had timed addition and subtraction tests, we were to complete one side of the two-sided test in five minutes. I quickly discovered that I could complete both sides in five minutes while maintaining accuracy.
This idea of speed in mathematics continued into third grade. After my teacher discovered via a game that I could multiply faster than anybody else in the class, she decided that the other students deserved a chance to play as well. She put me to work with something I had never seen before at that point: long division. Since I had never seen anything of the sort, I had to learn an entire new method of doing mathematics on my own. This opened a new door; unfortunately, the new door led to boredom the next year when the rest of the class learned long division.
This boredom with mathematics remained until fifth grade. I was reading an encyclopedia article for a report when I began to flip through the pages to read different articles, as I still do. This time I landed on an article about set theory. As I read about Venn diagrams, unions, and intersections, I didn't know that I was planting a light bulb in my mind--one that would collect dust for years before being turned on.
Soon after this incident, I began middle school and began to take my writing more seriously in order to achieve my goal of becoming a professional writer. My sixth-grade math teacher was the epitome of a middle school teacher, rarely giving out challenges to students who craved them. One day in class we were looking up the birthdays of various mathematicians. My classmates would tell the teachers their birthdays, and she would run a search to see if any mathematicians shared a birthday with that classmate. Before I could give my birthday, one of my classmates said, "Do Sujin's birthday!"
The teacher ran the search, and no mathematicians, great or small, appeared. "I guess we'll all be doing Sujinic algebra one day then," the classmate said.
I tried to imagine what an algebra besides "Solve for x" would consist of. Unfortunately, I didn't ponder this for long because I soon fell into the years of apathy. I still performed well in my math classes; however, I felt as if my math assignments were drills instead of adventures. The two C's I had so loved in mathematics--Creativity and Curiosity--were now gone. All hope for recovering them were lost, but I probably didn't think about recovering them as I worked another drill problem.
Not all hope was lost, though. Although I filled out my college applications as an intended double major in English literature/creative writing and French, I was also taking Calculus I at a local college. For the first time, I had to work to understand the material. Even though I made my first B ever in that course, I never regret the extra effort I put in the course.
Then I was faced with a difficult decision: my math course for the spring semester. I could take either statistics or Calculus II. While statistics looked easier on the surface, another semester of calculus was calling to me. I chose calculus. This decision would change my life forever.
The life-changing event came in the form of a problem: Find the area of the Sierpinski carpet. That was all. None of the drill problems I had grown used to me could help me immediately; for this I was thankful.
I went home that day and set to work. I drew the first few versions of the carpet and saw a pattern. "It's a series," I whispered to myself as I tried to compact it into sigma notation. Three sheets of paper, one meal, and a good bit of purple eraser later, I finished it. Although the problem was complete, the creativity and curiosity had just returned to me--and were ready to wreak their havoc on the world.
Even now, some people ask me why I love math so much. Besides saying "I just do", I see mathematics as the most elegant of languages. It can express so much meaning in so little space or time. When well-written, math can sound like poetry, show the previously assumed, or explain the world around us. Let the mathematical havoc begin.