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My mind wants numbers. It doesn't care what they are, in what form they arrive, or even if they have any meaning. More overeater than gourmand, it is indiscriminate, gobbling whatever comes by. I can't explain it.

Most of my life I've been number-averse. Either flunked or barely passed every math class ever taken. At one point on a test I even wrote the numbers out as words, getting a quizzical look from my teacher (yep, flunked that one, too). Hence my BA in English. Words pulled me in with their patterned magic.

About three years ago all that changed. Numbers became visual. Probably the most striking incident was the day I strung Christmas lights along the roof edge of my house - just one long strand of tiny white lights. They were new, just out of the box. Some pointed up, some pointed down. Once I put the ladder away and plugged them in, I didn't see them as lights. I saw them as 1's and 0's. Ones up, zeroes down. Decorating the tree later that night proved interesting as well, as I had both colored and white lights, the distance between each in the three-dimensional space existing on an equally three-dimensional number line.

It only got better from there. When going to the mall, people became zip code representations moving against the graph paper tiles. In a wok full of veggies I saw a four color theorem. The volume setting on the TV needed to be a prime number (it still does). Also, it helps if I don't know the channel of whatever I'm watching. A channel with an even number will tend not to hold my attention, regardless of what's on. I stare at the patterns of i's and o's in books, seeing them as 1's and 0's, smiling at their heavenly distribution, asking, "Is there a prime spiral in there somewhere?"

I have a 51-year-old brain pockmarked like a buckshot county road sign by decades of booze and drugs. Those days are long gone, replaced by equal decades of activities in which the only consumable is volumes of oxygen. According to one kind and knowledgeable noder, this sort of mid-life affinity isn't supposed to happen. Yet I'm fascinated by, among other things, various number series. Normally I'm compelled to write a program to generate them. Often, all else stops until that is completed.

While driving around town, I write down any interesting numbers I may spy. "Interesting" meaning numbers that are primarily odd or that have interesting patterns (this usually gets me to include even the occasional even number). When I get home, I'll multiply them and/or get their prime factors. I also check their primality. I have lists of RSA codes that I've checked for that. This is another thing I absolutely have to do each morning before anything gets done. (However, I did gasp with joy when my little RSA card spit out an even palindromic number!)

Since seeing everything as numbers, I find that fiction does not capture me as it once did. I pick up novels and put them down like a hobo searching for smokeable butts. Give me something numeric. After my boys go to bed, I sneak into their books - geometry, algebra, pre-calculus. Some things I for some reason understand perfectly right away. Trig, for example - a class I profoundly failed in high school. I had to learn enough of it in a night to be able to explain it to my son who had an exam on it the next day. I did. He aced it. He's a bright kid, and perhaps he was being kind, but he said my explanations unlocked a couple of crucial doors for him. I don't know why this has started to happen.

This is not to say that I have even the tiniest shred of ability with mathematics by any stretch. I would love to have it but I don't know even where to start since everything interests me - though combinatorics keeps hooking her slender finger, beckoning me to explore. Just to have something to chew on, I've picked up the Algebra II Workbook for Dummies and am steadily churning my way through it. Thank goodness for Project Euler and Khan Academy.

I don't know where this comes from or even if it will stay. For the first, I don't care; for the second, I hope it does. This hunger has opened up a joyous world, a stimulating palace of wonder. So if you come across a guy holding up traffic because he's frantically scribbling down the fleet number of a city bus, please be kind. That's me, and I'm probably smiling.

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