Skipping Around ~ essay by Marion Deutsche Cohen

(1) Giant Leaps

I can’t read a novel without skipping around. First approximation: to the end.
Second approximation: every hundred pages.
Next: every fifty pages.
And then every twenty or ten.

I keep lessening the increments until I’m satisfied
satisfied enough to relax and skip, like a normal reader, to the next word.

(2) What I’ve Been Reading Lately

My friend Freda tells her students that her friend Marion is
the only person she knows who skips to the end of a math book.

Our Scrabble group is talking about what we’ve been reading lately. Barbara’s reading Running with Scissors, Bruce is reading Wuthering Heights, Susan The Time Traveler’s Wife, and I’m curling up with Numerical Semigroups. It was the title that got me. I always liked semigroups, numerical or not, wondered why the texts never said more about them. And indeed these characters have begun to pull at me. I care about them. My friends laugh when I tell them what I’m reading, laugh again when I say that, like with novels, I skip to the last page.

Well, I really want to know how to make a numerical semigroup, how to make all numerical semigroups, want to know what numerical semigroups look like and what happens to them. I don’t get to tell my friends that skipping to the end doesn’t quite work; even though I’ve found out what happens, I haven’t found out how. Also, I know whodunit but not to whom it was dun.

— appeared in Talking Writing

(3) Movies, Too

Spoilers don’t spoil anything for me.
I enjoy a movie more if I know the ending.
I enjoy it even more if I know parts of the middle.
And the trailers don’t supply the right parts.

(4) All the Good Numbers

Kids chant “5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30…”
They do not chant “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6…”
Some numbers sound better than others.
Kids skip over those others. Kids know which numbers to pick.

(5) Student in the Hallway

Just before going in to teach my calculus class, waiting for the previous class to clear out, I get into a conversation with a student not in my class. He tells me he’s having trouble understanding his one math course. “If I could only know where it’s HEADED,” he says.

“I have a suggestion,” I answer. “Before you read the book, read the table of contents.

“Don’t expect to understand all of it,” I continue, “and don’t panic when you don’t. You’ll learn something. Something about where you’re headed.”

In my syllabus I include a course summary. Longer than a table of contents. My department chairman said “They’ll never understand all that.”

But they understand parts.

(6) Table of Contents, Anton’s “Calculus”

(A) Chapter Titles:
Coordinates, Graphs, Lines
Functions and Limits
Applications of Differentiation
Application of the Definite Integral
Logarithmic and Exponential Functions
Techniques of Integration

(B) Things that Can Be Learned from Just Those Chapter Titles

That you’ll first review. Some of the review things you’ll remember.

And that calculus starts with functions. High-school-type functions like x-square.

And that something strange was bound to come next. What do limits have to do with

From now on, expect strange. E.g., you won’t remember differentiation because it never happened, or not to you. What does differentiation have to do with functions and limits?

Applications. You knew there’d be applications, word problems. But weird word problems, calculus word problems. And you knew there’d be more strange. E.g., integration. Not the opposite of segregation but the opposite of differentiation.

Yep, two completely new strangers, along with their applications/word problems.

Uh-oh, definite integration. Here’s what’s definite about them: the answers are numbers, definite numbers, not functions.

Back to high school territory, logs, exponentials, a break from calculus. They’re functions, so maybe differentiation and integration get done to them. Likewise, next chapter, inverse trigs and hyperbolics. Uh-oh, what are hyperbolics?

There are, you’ll learn, techniques of integration. In the plural. So there’s more than one technique, not only a formula. That’s why they don’t have a chapter called Techniques of Differentiation.

By skipping over the entire book you’ll learn things you didn’t know before.
You’ll also have questions you didn’t have before.
But at least you’ll learn what those questions are.

(7) T.O.C., “Crossing the Equal Sign”

my poetry book about my passion for math

“Points are blinking. / I could think about those twittery lines. / Yes, points are blinking. / Someone wrote a book called The Joy of Math. / I feel so sorry for the insides of things …”

Gee, said a poet friend, the T.O.C. reads like a poem in itself.

A poem, of course, that’s not in the book. We should read that poem before reading the book.

It’s like Cantor’s diagonal proof.
A T.O.C. is a diagonal.
A proof of the rest of the book.

(8) We All Do It with Remembering

If, as we’re dying, our lives pass before our eyes
it won’t be our entire lives.
Only the best parts.
Or maybe only the worst.
And it will, probably, be out of order.
Or out of chronological order.
It might at some point skip to the beginning.
But it probably won’t skip to the end.

(9) Skipping to the Last Stage of Grief

Two weeks after my baby died I wrote a poem called “Good-bye”. It begins “I stare at the ghost of the bassinet…” and it ends “Do you know there will soon come a time / when we can’t go on meeting like this?”

I was in the first stage of grief, but when that poem appeared in my little book of Kerin-poems, it appeared as the last poem, even after “Acceptance Stanzas”.

When I wrote that poem it was not time for the acceptance stage. I only wished it was.

(10) What Else Do I Do It with?

Do I do it with eating?

Well, sometimes dessert first.

Do I do it with thrift-shopping?

No, I get too involved with the aisle I’m in. Except, I start with the dresses and skirts, not with the rack nearest the door.

Do I do it with playing the piano?

All the time. Skip to the parts I like. Skip to the parts I have to practice.
And then I do the opposite of skipping. Repeating.
Repeating all the things I skipped.

Did I do it with birthing?

Okay, okay, we know what happens. Let’s get this over with.

Do I do it with living?

Okay, okay, let’s get this over with. Indeed, there are years I’d have liked to skip.
And I wouldn’t mind knowing what I’ll be doing in five years. But not tomorrow.
And not tonight. Please, not tonight. That’s not enough skipping, that’s too soon.

Do I do it with loving?

Come on, we know what happens, let’s get this foreplay over with. We know,
we know. Sometimes we like to skip what we know. And sometimes we don’t.

Will I do it with dying?

Probably not. But it’ll feel as though I do.

Do I do it with writing?

Lately my typos are taking the form of leaving out words. Sometimes the
left-out word is “not” or the second syllable of “wouldn’t”. And writing up
math ideas, I have once or twice forgotten the right side of the equal sign.

And do I wish I could skip from the hypothesis to the conclusion? Sometimes yes.
But I don’t really want to forgo the proof. Sometimes the proof is the best part.
No, I don’t really do it with math.

(11) Doing It with Dreams

Dreams skip ahead when they’ve made their point.
They skip to the next point.
A poet friend said she writes poetry because with fiction you have to get the characters from here to there.

We want the here, we want the there, we don’t want the in between.
In poetry and dreams the Intermediate Value Theorem needn’t hold.
And it’s said about emotional crises that “the only way around it is through it.”
But for poems and dreams, around and through are one and the same.

(12) Isolated Skipping Ahead Incident

A bunch of us were walking toward some restaurant. Impatient and hungry, I walked ahead. Actually, I skipped ahead, literally skipped ahead. I kept skipping until Jeff called out, “Hey Mar, we passed the place.” I’d skipped too far. Maybe next time I read a book I’ll skip too far, skip to past the end, to those empty pages, skip to nowhere, no space, no time, skip past the end of everybody’s lives.

(13) Bargaining with Entropy

“What we perceive as time is really increase in chaos….”

I try to imagine not perceiving time as time, try to see it all at once, all as one. I try to think in a language with no past or future tense, maybe no present tense, maybe no verbs at all.

I try to believe in a universe that is only space, one blink of space. Maybe if I were smarter, or less smart, or less bourgeoise, maybe if I were better, yeah better, I could forget about time, not perceive anything as time.

Not perceive increase, decrease, not perceive constancy either. I should learn to skip time, all of time, and I should, maybe, skip all of space. What we perceive as space is really increase in time-chaos. If we weren’t so wrapped up in our personal lives, maybe we wouldn’t hallucinate space. If we didn’t put so much energy into clothes and money, maybe we wouldn’t need space or time.

We’d be happy locked in one point, we’d be one point, and we wouldn’t feel bored or claustrophobic. There wouldn’t be a we, there’d be only an I, one I – I’d be perfectly happy to just be, very simply be, I wouldn’t find that too simple, wouldn’t want to move about, moving about would be something I never heard of, I wouldn’t have heard of anything at all.

I’m a bad girl. I can’t do it.

Marion Deutsche Cohen is the author of 27 collections of poetry or memoir; her latest poetry collections are “The Project of Being Alive” (New Plains Press, AL) and “New Heights in Non-Structure” (dancing girl press, IL), about home-schooling and other ideas with respect to engaging with children. She is also the author of two controversial memoirs about spousal chronic illness, a trilogy diary of late-pregnancy loss, and of “Crossing the Equal Sign,” about the experience of mathematics. She teaches a course she developed, Mathematics in Literature, at Arcadia and at Drexel Universities. A poetry chapbook, “Truth and Beauty” (WordTech Editions), about the interaction in that course among students and teacher, was released in 2016. Other interests are classical piano, singing, Scrabble, thrift-shopping, four grown children, and five grands. Her website is .