Something Doesn’t Add Up Here

Back in November, right after I started collecting unemployment, the state of Washington told me I had to go down to the local Work Source office and sit around a room for a couple of hours with other jobless people as part of an orientation. I said, at the time, that there’s nothing more depressing than spending a good chunk of your morning hanging out with jobless losers other people down on their luck (as I am).

Turns out I was wrong.

Hanging out in a room full of people who have been out of work so long they’re now receiving emergency unemployment compensation (such as I) is even more depressing, it turns out, as I discovered yesterday. That’s three hours of my life I’ll never get back again. (And yet, I feel oddly positive these days, like change is just around the corner. I’m hoping that’s a bit of psychic intuition and not just wishful thinking). I can’t really knock the Work Source office, anyway. They are staffed with people who genuinely seem to want to help those who are “between gigs” (again, moi)  find employment. The EUC meeting didn’t cover a lot of new ground for me personally, but then I already know how to draft a decent resume and cover letter and my computer skills are great. Therefore, when we had to choose a task to complete during the last hour, I opted to take an online skills assessment test. This was a six-part, several-hundred-questions test designed to gauge which career is best for you based on your answers, which are used to identify your transferable job skills.

The test started out innocently enough. Part 1 consisted of questions like “Do you enjoy selling products to people who are disinterested?” (I’d rather remove my own kidney) and “Do you believe that people are generally good by nature?” (Naively or not, I do). In the next section, you had to compare two situations and choose the one you’d prefer – “Would you rather rebuild a carburetor or write a book?” (Duh). I was sailing along, making great time, when I came face-to-face with my nemesis.


If I had been driving a car, you’d have seen me come to a screeching halt once I arrived at that particular (inter)section. Math and I do not get along. We have never seen eye to eye. I’m a creative type. An artist, if you will! What need do I have for numbers? Unless I’m listening to Kraftwerk, of course. (Cue the inevitable vague reference). I don’t just dislike arithmetic – I refuse to call it that because the name sounds so pretentious. It’s just math, dammit. Anything else I consider putting on airs. Math doesn’t like me, either. How else to explain the pummeling dished out to me by Geometry in high school? I still have bruises from that experience (not to mention a D, my worst grade ever – and that was based on a steep curve). I guess, my problem is, I’ve never exactly been an analytical thinker. Give me a paintbrush and I’ll color you a reasonable facsimile of a tree. Give me polynomial equations and I’ll end up with the dry heaves.

I heart math. (Courtesy of

These weren’t just basic 2+2 math questions, either. They were far more intricate than that, the little buggers. We’re talking -4 (7 x .5)² ÷ 3/8 (-6 + – (-4)). And, my favorite: “What is the next number in this series: 4, 12, 6, 12, 36, 18, 36” (actual question – anybody got it)? I muttered, “Nobody told me there’d be math!” under my breath quietly enough so that the instructor wouldn’t hear me (because one of my traits is passive-aggressiveness). And then, a funny thing happened.

I found myself actually enjoying the math problems.

I have no idea why, but they were stimulating. Kind of like brain exercise. I hadn’t worked out math problems like this, by hand, with a pencil and scratch paper (no calculators allowed), in years. I found myself really getting off on the challenge. I took my time, worked everything through, and had a feeling I’d done pretty well on the math portion of the exam. Go figure. And then, I got the results back. A list of occupations that I am most qualified for. #1 turned out to be Librarian. I personally don’t think I’m sexy enough (nor do I wear glasses or have my hair tied back), but who can argue with an 88% job match on the Career Compatibility Chart? Certainly not I. It’s no surprise, given my love for books. But then my eyes skipped to #2 on my list, and I about fell out of my chair.


Even now, as I am writing this post, I cannot believe that one. I guess I aced that portion of the exam, after all. But telling me I should become a mathematician is like suggesting the Pope convert to Judaism or that a vegan should cook hamburgers for a living. It’s just unthinkable. I mean, mathematician (83% job match) ranked higher than Creative Writer (77%) and Writer/Author (77%)!

Suddenly, it’s clear to me why my novel has never been published. All along, I’ve been toiling in the wrong field! I thought I enjoyed writing, but apparently I’m a numbers prodigy instead. Maybe I’m like Rain Man. There’s only one way to find out (hello, Vegas!).

It’s sort of empowering, being a math whiz. I feel like tackling complicated financial statements now, or maybe working on some of those long-unsolved mathematical equations that have bedeviled the likes of John Nash and others for eons. I might as well take a crack at them, now that I’m a certified numbers genius. Maybe I can figure out the Hodge Conjecture or the Riemann Hypothesis. I’d love to take a stab at that pesky Yang-Mills existence and mass gap.

And then write a killer paper about it.

Then again, before I get too big-headed, that same Career Compatibility Chart said I should also consider becoming a Horticulturist (81% match), and I don’t know squat about plants, so clearly something doesn’t add up here (pardon the pun).

In other news, I’m hitting the road a day earlier than planned! Turns out the kids are leaving on Wednesday, rather than Thursday. This works out perfectly because I was secretly hoping for an extra day in Ohio, as I’m tossing around the idea of hitting the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. I figure, when in my life will I ever be so close again? Probably never, seeing as how I haven’t revisited the Buckeye State in 31 years. So, I’m heading out tomorrow (!!) afternoon and won’t be returning until the 4th of July. Like I said, I’ll be blogging from the road. My goal is to write every day, but that’s largely dependent on free wi-fi connections, so we’ll see. At the least, I can update from my phone if necessary. I’ll probably fall behind on reading my favorite blogs, but I hope you’ll follow along on what I’m hoping turns out to be the journey of a lifetime. I’ve got about a million things to do and only about 30 more hours to do them in, so – until I reach my next destination – bon voyage! 



Published by Mark Petruska

I'm a professional writer and editor living my best life in south central Wisconsin.

26 thoughts on “Something Doesn’t Add Up Here

  1. I’m thinking the answer to the math problem is 108. I am guessing this because it seems like the pattern is to multiply by three, then divide by two, then multiply by two, then start again (multiply by three, divide by two, multiply by two), so you should be up to multiply by three, and my calculator says 36 x 3 = 108.
    But then, I wasn’t exactly a pro at math either. Though I did pretty well on that portion of my SATs… some combination of multiple-choice-intuition and doing-math-is-distracting-enough-that-my-stomach-doesn’t-growl-as-loudly. Go figure.

    Safe journeys, and have fun!


  2. “Math and I do not get along. We have never seen eye to eye. I’m a creative type. An artist, if you will! What need do I have for numbers?”

    OMG…I’m the SAME WAY!!!! And word problems are my least favorite – they actually give me a headache. However, after reading this post I think I should reconsider taking a math exam, just to see if I’m better at it now, like you!

    Have a faaaaaaaabulous time on your road trip, Mark. And yes, I eagerly anticipate following along on your journey! Have a safe trip, buddy!


    1. At least they didn’t have any of those “two trains are approaching each other” questions. Those are the ones that make my head hurt! Although, apparently now I’d be able to solve them easily…


  3. Loved your blog. I hate math as well. I was on unemployment years ago and not getting any jobs or interviews. So I went to the unemployment office and they offered to put me in a 8 week intensive computer program course. But there was an entrance exam first that I had to come back and write with a bunch of other unemplyed people. So I had my brother in law the school teach tutor me in math, the basics again. I passed and got into the course and never looked back, If I had to take the math portion again I would probably fail because I have forgotton most of what he taught me.
    I am pretty excited for you with regards to your road trip. You deserve a vacation, and I am looking forward to your blogs as you are going to places I have never been before. It will be fun seeing these places through your experiences. All the best for the trip.


  4. And you wondered why you were unemployed! Could be that Ph, D. in mathematics you failed to get–all the skill, no credential! This is too, too funny! You have to wonder about the people who write and interpret these tests.

    Have a great trip. Can’t wait to hear about your advenures from the road!



  5. Math Smath. blech.
    Have a GREAT trip, Mark–be safe, take some wonderful books, reflect and ask the questions you know need asking. Then…listen for the answers.
    I will look forward to hearing all about it! 🙂



  6. I kind of want to take this exam right now. I really do.

    And if you go to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame I so want a postcard! We hoped to make it there this year, but I’m doubting that will happen with our schedules the way they are. Maybe next year. Have fun! Buy a KISS costume or something equally edgy and ridiculous!


  7. LOL! I hate math too. My best friend through high school loved math, and ended up going to college for it. Whenever she was stressed, she wanted to work on a math problem to calm her nerves. Working on math problems stresses me out! 🙂 But I think this is a case of what we tell ourselves we can and can’t do, and what we are good at and are not. If you tell yourself something long enough, it will end up being true. Because you never try. I’ve always said that I’m not that creative. I can’t ever come up with anything good at brainstorms. And then I found myself not even trying at brainstorms….because I’d already decided my own destiny. Once I changed my perspective, I started to improve, and now I’m getting there! I think it’s cool you realized you were better at something than you thought you were 🙂


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