STEM, if you didn’t know this, stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. There’s a lot of concern about getting more girls into STEM fields and rightly so. But recently, I realized that I’ve become very STEM-y as I’ve aged:
Up until a little while ago, I really struggled with directions. Not directions like “Twist off cap and pour”, but the actual compass directions. If somebody told me to go North, I would just look at them blankly and be like, “Which way am I NOW? Is North left, right, up or down from here?” But then I realized that I shouldn’t take pride in being perpetually one step away from being lost in the woods, so I decided to become better at navigation. It’s easy in Toronto, where Yonge Street acts as a permanent point of reference: towards the lake is South and the other way is North. Then I can just mentally orient myself from there. I’ve been practicing in my head, and the other day, a tourist approached me when I was out at lunch for directions to Bay Street. I very confidently told him to go west one block. Then I went back to the office and looked it up just to make sure. Luckily, I was right or that poor guy would have ended up in a very sketchy neighbourhood. I’ve also been working on this at home based on which way our house faces. It’s West, by the way. We’ve lived here for thirteen years, and I just found that out yesterday. I’m a work in progress.
I’m also very good at telling the difference between real science and pseudo-science. Many years ago, Ken and I lived in a different house with a well that kept going dry. A neighbour suggested that we get a water witch to come out. Apparently, this witch—well, warlock really—had a great reputation at locating the ideal spot for a new well. So he came to the house with his dousing rods, wandered about for a bit waving them around, and then said, “There’s so much water on this land!” He said this while standing next to a 12 foot deep pond, and 100 yards away from the Otter Creek. Thanks, Merlin.
The kitchen faucet in my condo in Toronto won’t work. I called a plumber who told me that a service call is $160 just to look at it, then $160 for every hour after that to fix it. I was appalled, and also a little disappointed that I hadn’t gone into the skilled trades. My roommate was like, “What are you going to do?” And I said, “Imma fix it my damned self.” That’s a direct quote. I don’t know why I phrased it like that, but in retrospect, it was a tad overconfident.
I watched a couple of Youtube videos, in which I learned that the first thing you have to do is turn off the water. So I got back from work, and pulled out the pot drawer (actual pots, not marijuana, just so we’re clear), and I looked for the shut-off. Then I did what any normal person would do. I called Ken.
Me: I just sent you a picture of the underneath of my sink. Which way do I turn the knob?
Ken: Are you sure that’s the right one? It looks like it goes to the dishwasher.
Me (crawling inside the cupboard): Oh yeah. The pipes come in from the bathroom. Hang on a minute.
5 minutes later…
Me: I took the drawer out of the vanity and I see the taps. I sent you a picture.
Ken: The valves are right there. Turn them to the right.
Me (crawling inside vanity): They won’t move. They’re stuck.
Ken: Do you have any WD-40?
Me (pleasantly surprised): Why yes. Yes I do.
To make a long story short, after about half an hour and half a can of WD-40, the shut off valves moved and I turned off the water. I used an Allen key to remove the faucet handle, and I could see the set screw. I was almost at the cartridge thing-y that the guy on Youtube said was the problem. But then, the stupid set screw stripped as I was trying to take it out with my rather suspect “universal screwdriver”. I ended up having to put the whole thing back together, all angry and sweaty from being inside very small cabinets; otherwise we would have had no water in the condo at all. So I called my landlord and he said to call a plumber, but if the plumber says, “Huh—the set screw is stripped—this is going to cost a LOT more money”, my response will be “Do I look like the kind of lady who could take apart a tap?!” But at least I tried.
No one knows what Engineers do. I probably do a lot of Engineering type things without even realizing it, and I’m most likely VERY good at them.
Right now, Ken is building a new porch for the front of our house. It’s an exciting project, and every day he gets a little bit more accomplished. I’ve been helping out where I can, passing screws, holding a piece of wood straight or whatnot, but it’s getting harder because now he’s asking me math questions.
Ken: I need to build three more steps. They’re five feet wide with a run of 17 inches between them. How many linear feet do you think I need?
Me: How fast are the trains going and what time did they leave the station…?
Ken: I need to buy wood for the steps. I’m thinking of 2x8s.
Me: But if the steps are 17 inches deep, then that’s only 16. Don’t you want them to hang over a little? What about getting 2x6s and using three per step?
Ken: Ooh, you’re doing grown-up math!
Me: F*ck off.
People tease me about not being proficient with math, and I make fun of myself all the time too, but the fact is that I’m actually very mathematical when I put my mind to it. For example, I know based on scientific calculations that my favourite wine glass will hold five ounces of wine if I fill it to a certain level and thanks to careful research (Google) with white wine at 120 calories per five-ounce serving size, I know exactly how much I can drink every day. I hope you’re impressed because I’m just f*cking dazzling myself with my math/wine prowess. Also, earlier, I had to write my mom a cheque for the deposit on a cruise I’m taking with her and my dad this fall, as well as the money for my brother’s birthday present. And as a math prodigy, I used the tools at hand to make the calculations. And I mean LITERALLY at hand, because I wrote the numbers ON MY HAND and added them up.
See how I even carried the one? I write things on my hand all the time, and I used to tell people that it was my “palm pilot”, which I thought was quite witty and clever, but no one ever laughs at that anymore.
But I MUST be getting better at math, because on the way to the lumber store, Ken handed me a piece of paper and asked me to “check his calculations”. I said that it was very nice how much confidence he had in my math skills. Then I added everything up on my hand and said, “Looks right to me.”
A Quick Update
So I still haven’t gotten up the nerve to ask my colleague “Jim” how exactly I’m like Jeffrey, but I’ve been doing a little ‘detective slash stalker’ work. I sent a LinkedIn invite to Jim and when he accepted it, I looked up all his other contacts until I found the one guy named Jeffrey, who also has a ton of mutual contacts with me and Jim, so it must be him. His profile said that he was “creative and agile”. I agree with ‘agile’ considering how much time I spent crawling in and out of cupboards this week. ‘Creative’ on some days, OK. I am, however, not bald in the slightest. The quest for truth continues.