Brain Hacking 101: Bad Sugar

Let’s talk diet. You’d rather not? Oh, okay. You might not want to read this post then, because right now I’m having a hard time thinking about anything else. That’s the worse thing about dieting, isn’t it? While your body is adjusting to a new regime of healthy foods, your brain is sitting in the background begging like a pitiful puppy. Or maybe a starving orphan.

Walking past the chocolate stash…Just one, tiny little chocolate rabbit. No one will know. Please? Fixing breakfast…Would one tiny little piece of toast with some nice, healthy peanut butter really be so terribly bad? Cleaning up the snack table at work… Can’t stand it…must not…scavenge…vanilla wafers…

In particular, the diet I’m following has an initial phase of seventeen days with no carbs. The principle is to hack your brain so it craves natural sugars like those in fruit and healthy carbohydrates, rather than those in whoopie pies and donuts. (If someone offered me the chance to swap a consequence-free whoopie pie with my firstborn child, I would seriously consider it at the moment…the caveat being that I don’t actually have any children, for those of you who don’t really know me. I’m only that horrible in theory. Probably.) Breaking your brain of any craving, however, requires you to go through a period of withdrawal.

Right now, I am in serious sugar withdrawal. It’s not nearly as bad as it was last night or the night before, however, so I have hope that it will continue to get easier. The question you might ask, and which I am certainly asking myself, is WHY ARE YOU PUTTING YOURSELF THROUGH THIS? I generally believe that diets are a questionable proposition at best. I love food and I have slightly hedonistic leanings, so depriving myself of one of my favorite pastimes (i.e., eating junk food) in order to squeeze my body into a socially acceptable data range that was developed during the hey-day of phrenology is not something I am normally inclined to do.

I also believe, however, that our experience of life is mediated by the bodies we have available to live that life. Hiking a mountain is exhilarating…less so when you’ve got the pound-equivalent of several housecats stowed away in your thighs and belly. In the years since graduating college, becoming a member of driving society (as opposed to biking and walking society) has begun to take a toll on my body. I used to burn enough calories through my mode of transportation to allow myself to remain recklessly addicted to sugar, but that’s no longer the case. Spending two hours in a car every day while eating whoopie pie and donuts = “There’s no way in heck I’m even trying to climb that mountain.”

So…something’s gotta give. I have to forcibly place my brain and body into an uncomfortable state of change for a while to give myself the chance to get away from the habit of popping chocolate bunnies into my mouth every time I walk past the candy pot or eating Nutella straight from the jar when I get a bit bored and peckish. I have to eat vegetables until I want to throw them at something whether it’s funny or not and pass on the spaghetti and chocolate cake for a while.

Hopefully, by the end of my first seventeen days, I will have made the decision to avoid sugar three- to five-thousand times–enough to ground a habit of mind that will help live my life in a healthier, more energetic body. If this scheme to get my body past it’s addiction to sugar doesn’t work? John may come home to find me knee-deep in whoopie pie wrappers and blissfully sunk into a sugar coma.

It had better work.

Don’t Be Evil

There are probably a dozen of you who are in the subset of people who read my blog and who would understand the context of the comment, “I called someone a Nazi today.” This phrase comes out of my mouth more often than you might imagine, and today I think it’s time to turn the tables: I might have been a Nazi.

For clarification, and to avoid offending people, let me explain. I absolutely do not make a habit of calling people Nazis. I’ll add even more adamantly that I do not harbor any murderous resentment against any other racial or religious group. When I say I called someone a Nazi, what I mean is that I called someone out on their complacency regarding a policy or manner of thinking that I would consider to be bad. Bad is such a subjective word, I know, but as it’s less caustic than “evil” and more applicable to the reason I’m calling myself a Nazi, let’s go with it.

John and I went out this Friday to begin our Valentine’s weekend celebration. Our philosophy for romantic occasions is not so much to buy each other presents, but to instead by a gift for ourselves as a couple that will give us an excuse to spend good time together. This year, we decided to start building a collection of essential oils for the purpose of making homemade massage oil. We did our research on oils, Googled a placed to buy them, and with the aid of a friendly clerk, found the section we were looking for.

Essential oils, for those of you who aren’t familiar with them, come in very small quantities, because they’re highly concentrated and also not inexpensive. The pricing labels for the bottles are, therefore, about twice as wide as the bottles themselves and as a result of this poor (or conniving) planning, we could only find the prices for about a third of the oils. The prices ranged from about six dollars to twenty, and while twenty is a lot to pay for a third of an ounce of fluid, we shrugged off the concern because it was our Valentine’s present to one another.

I was looking at all the gimicky crud around the register while John paid when I heard the clerk announce the total due as eighty something dollars. My head whipped around in shock and I saw that one of the oils had cost not twenty, but more than fifty. I started to protest, looking to John for confirmation, but the look on his as he swiped his card was so resigned that I closed my mouth. As we left the store and drove home, John started to come out of the sticker shock that had numbed him into accepting the cost of the oil and we realized that neither of us had meant to be okay with paying quite that much for so little oil. Alone, neither of us would have made the choice to buy that oil, but together, we unintentionally bullied one another into complacence.

There’s an interesting book by a guy named Blumenthal that uses the data from the Milgram experiments (among other things) to consider how it is that so many probably decent Germans took active part in the Holocaust, which Blumenthal calls the Shoah. This book is the reason that I have the habit of noting that I called someone a Nazi when I commented on their complacency with a bad decision because thee idea that had stuck thoroughly with me is that people have a very strong tendency to obey authority and go with the flow. In groups, people are more likely to fall back on not making the uncomfortable decision, even if it is the only ethically acceptable one.

John and I spent some time talking about the oil purchase and as we did, I realized that we had both been guilty of that same mentality–no one else is speaking up, so I guess I won’t either. Not that the purchase of an overpriced bottle of oil is anything remotely like gassing millions of human beings for nothing more than the color of their hair or shape of their nose, but it struck me to recognize in my own brain the same social wiring that paved the way for those very, let’s face it, evil decisions of the Nazis.

When the subject comes up, I think we all tend to bluster that we never could do such things as the Nazis did. Maybe that blustering is even a way of creating an identity around not being evil that helps us to be better people. When I think about that study about how your brain requires you to make the correct decision three to five thousand times to overwrite something so simply as a habitual motion, I can’t help but think that our habits for interacting with people are even more deeply ingrained in our situation. If horrible things were to happen around us, would we stand up for our ethical beliefs, or would we fall back on the comfortable social patterns that run our lives quite nicely most of the time?

I suspect it’s harder than we often think to not be evil.

Shift

I’ve been struggling lately with a girl in my program whose behavior has just been abominable. She’s not only constantly rude and disrespectful, but she makes the lives of the other girls a living nightmare. Every single day I’ve had her in program for the past two weeks I’ve had at least one child run out into the hall crying inconsolably. When I’ve talked to her parents, they give her a stern talking to in front of me, but I know full well that they don’t follow through with consequences. My hands are a bit tied…being an EEC licensed program limits what sort of consequences I can impose on a student, so I’ve been locked in this spiral of becoming more frustrated with her every day, which only inspires her attitude to new depths of evil. My temper was maybe two days away from bursting last week when something changed.

I was doing a headcount when I realized that this girl wasn’t in the room. I walked out into the hall and called into the bathroom to see if she had gone there–one of our perpetual struggles is to get her to just let us know when she’s going to the bathroom or for a drink of water–and sure enough, she answered me. Her voice sounded sad, though, like she had been crying, so I coaxed her out into the hall so we could talk while I kept an ear and eye out for the other kids. Her troubles were nothing terrible–she wasn’t enjoying program because the kids don’t like her (I kindly didn’t point out that they don’t like her because she acts like a psychopath half of the time). She’s stuck with me, however, because her mother needed to go back to work.

As I stood with her for fifteen or twenty minutes, letting her spill out the minute details of her life and struggles, something began to dawn on me: this girl is no longer a child. She’s an adolescent, just beginning that transformation that turns many preteens and teens (myself included) into raging psychopaths for a while. I had been dealing with her as if she were still an older child, but what’s going on with her brain and body is so different that my approach was absolutely failing.

A similar thing happened a month or so ago with another younger girl who makes me crazy. This girl hates the other kids a third of the time, me half of the time, and the world three-quarters of the time. She has a habit of ignoring the rules and directions with a ferocity that had me on the verge of expelling her from the program until something shifted. I found out that she’s been diagnosed and medicated for a disorder that, more than anything, makes her hate herself all of the time. She is absolutely convinced that it is outside of her power to be good and when I heard that idea formed with her childish words, it broke my heart and drained all of my anger away.

I’m not going to say that life in program is suddenly easy with either of these girls, but I’ve hit the turning point with both of them that convinces me I can help them do well in my program now. Not just in obeying the rules, but in getting their homework done and being kind to the other children. In both cases, it came when I suddenly saw what it was that they were struggling against. Working with my kids has started to persuade me that people are pretty good at heart, but get changed by pressure. If you try to move a mountain by pushing on it with a piece of tinfoil, the tinfoil is going to get a bit warped. By seeing the mountain my kids are fighting against, I can shift myself off the mountain and help them become steel.

The reason I chose to write about this on Valentine’s Day is that it seems to me that the learning I’ve been doing about how to be a better teacher is a learning that can apply to any relationship. I suspect that I can learn to love people more (and by so doing, fear and dislike them less) by looking for the mountains that they may be struggling against. It’s an old truism, I suppose, but learning to live the idea takes a rather longer time than knowing it it my mind.

And slowly I am learning how to shift.

Love-Hate

I want to be a writer when I grow up. I always have. The sad thing that I’m starting to face is that I am now, more or less, “grown up” and my chances of becoming a writer seem almost as distant as they did when I was in fifth grade writing regurgitated fantasy plot lines with flat dialogue and unpronounceable character names. The problem now, however, has less to do with the abysmal quality of my writing and more to do with my sheer lack of motivation.

When I got hired on at my new job, I was thrilled about the split shift schedule. I figured my day would go something like this:

6:30 – Arrive at work

9:00 – Leave work, drive home

9:30 – Work out and shower

10:30 – Snack healthily and sit down to write my best-selling sci-fi novel

1:00 – Break for healthy lunch and a bit of tv or reading

2:00 – Head back to work

6:30 – Arrive back at home to hang with my hubby

How much more ideal could a schedule be? I have a huge block of time all to myself during the part of the day that is hypothetically a very good span of time to be mentally productive. On either end of working for myself, I thought, I would be getting paid to do good work with awesome kids, and in the middle, I would turn myself into a healthy and soon-to-be-famous human being. The reality is much less glamorous.

6:30 – Arrive at work

9:00 – Leave work, drive home

9:30 – Run errands, which inevitably equate to a mental justification for skipping the gym and eating an unhealthy snack even if I arrive home at 9:45

10:00 – Sit down in front of the t.v. with my knitting and/or lesson plans, justifying my vast consumption of Netflix by the drawing nigh of Christmas or the need to make sample projects for my kids

11:00 – Second unhealthy snack, in the midst of watching t.v. and knitting

12:30 – Lunch. Healthiness depends on my mood and current moral stamina and is usually compromised by chocolate for dessert

6:30 – Arrive back at home to hang with my hubby

My job is as great as I hoped it would be, but my personal motivation to the imagined schedule is another story. Changing bad habits is a tough business. It’s so much easier to justify my actions than it is to confront the wild but logically consistent nonsense that stands in the way of my becoming the person I wish to be. The crazy thing is that I actually sort of enjoy working out these days, just not as much as knitting. And I enjoying writing. Just…not as much as easily consuming the witty dialogue of other writers.

Why is it that the thing I want to do with my life feels like it’s standing in the way of mindless enjoyment? My deepest feelings of contentment have always come from a job well done. From a jog well run, from a story well-written. I enjoy apples and celery, turkey and whole wheat bread.  I just can’t seem to convince my active self that my long-term health, happiness, and sense of a well-lived life are a more sound investment than artificially-flavored taste-bud euphoria and cleverly justified laziness.

My mother-in-law has a trick for keeping her eating healthy–she doesn’t allow herself to eat any sweets during the work week, but on the weekend she allows herself to indulge herself as she pleases. I think I’m going to adopt the same rule regarding not only sweets, but also t.v. to keep myself in line. And maybe, just maybe, I will manage to get out of my own way for long enough to write my book and get in shape.

On the Verge of Indoor Plumbing

Last night, John announced to me that he was on the verge of indoor plumbing. This sort of context-free statement is not unusual in our household. We’re both prone to using peculiar phrases to express thoughts we don’t quite have words for. Usually I can follow his non sequiturs, but to this I could only wonder… Was this a metaphor for his current state of being in some way? Physical or emotional? Should I be disturbed? Was there something wrong with our apartment that I wasn’t aware of?

My blank stare must have given away my bafflement because he quickly clarified, “In Dwarf Fortress. I’m on the verge of indoor plumbing in Dwarf Fortress.”

Which made all the sense in the world. Dwarf Fortress is a graphically-challenged systems game that he’s been wrapped up in lately. (Think uber-complicated Oregon Trail, only with dwarven pioneers and a fortress in place of a trail.) I laughed when I realized what he meant and explained what I had been thinking, which kept us puzzling over what he might mean if the announcement had been applied to his mental state.

As a major technological development, the most obvious choice is to compare it to a breakthrough in a problem you’ve been puzzling on. Given that indoor plumbing has been around a while, I think it would be fair to apply it to the kind of problem that has been  wrestled with by others many times before. Like reinventing the wheel, only with the connotation that the invention is positive for the circumstances.

For example, I was on the verge of indoor plumbing at work yesterday morning. My program is held in a school cafeteria which also has a stage built on one side, and the stage is strictly off limits to the kids because of various equipment that’s kept up there. It’s torture for them, though, because the stage is only two tiny steps up from the cafeteria floor, and it’s so much fun to run around up there. They often sit on the edge of the stage, which I have been Ms. Meanie about as well. When they whine and complain and ask me why, however, I haven’t had much better reasoning than, “Because I said so.”

We all know how much sticking power that answer has.

As I was sitting on the stage yesterday to reach under on of the tables for some discarded toys, I stood up and found myself standing on the bottom step. From there, it’s just the teeniest step to the stage itself, and there I had my plumbing moment: Sitting is a gateway drug to standing, which leads to running if you’re under the age of twelve.

The same rule applies to the folded-up bleachers in the gym, which are also strictly forbidden. The kids protest, “But we’re just sitting here!” every time I warn them off. And sure, it starts out harmlessly enough with sitting. But the next thing you know, one person will decide that standing is safe. His friends will stand up too, and then they’ll want to move around. And once you get more than one child moving along a six-inch-wide channel, you will inevitably get a domino effect when one kid trips on a shoelace, careens into the others, and sends one of the three-feet-tall kindergarteners plummeting to the gym floor, three feet  and 9.8 meters-per-second-squared away. I’m not much of a math or physics person, but I know that equation does not end in giggles.

I know I am not the first person to have this revelation that sitting leads to standing. I imagine every parent since the dawn of time has known this. (“Ogg, get away from the side of that cliff!” “But Ma, I’m just sitting here!”) My own mother has always told us where not to sit, although, given that she was more often swatting me away from the kitchen counter and the dining table, her concerns might have been slightly different. So the fact that I can have an epiphany about this idea of sitting as a gateway to standing, which was undoubtedly impressed upon me as a child, leads me to another piece of understanding.

My kids are not going to listen to or hear my explanation of why they can’t sit on the stage no matter how many times they ask why with a whine in their voice, so there’s a good chance I’d be able to save our time for more valuable teaching moments by sticking with the infamous old standby: “Because I said so.”

Home Is Where My Spaghetti Is

Home is a strange term. Typically, you spend the first eighteen plus years of your life in a home that belongs to your parents, frequently the same house for the lion’s share of that time. Somewhere along the line, whether you go off to school or your parents tell you to get a real job and your own apartment, home becomes someplace else. But where? When I was in college, my various dorm rooms and apartments were never quite home. And, as I learned on my first weekend home from college, home wasn’t quite home anymore either.

Now that I’m married and living in Massachusetts, home is an even more elusive idea. Home is where John is,certainly, but living in Massachusetts is a little like living in exile at times. Everything we know and the majority of the people we love are in Maine, so no matter how much we enjoy the commonwealth, its more robust job market, and our proximity to my grandparents, it’s hard to feel quite at home.

I’m “home” right now, in that I’m in Maine for a few days, and I find myself wondering where the sense of home comes from. I don’t think there’s a single wall or patch of floor in the house that has the same paint or carpeting that was here when I left for college. My parents have built additions, redecorated, and gently pushed my younger sisters out of the nest. Our old dog died a few years ago, cats have come and gone, the yard has been completely re-landscaped. The furniture has changed. My parents have aged a little and their routines have changed.

It still feels more like home than any place on earth, especially when John is here with me. Why? Today Mom wanted to have spaghetti for dinner, and since she and Dad were going to lunch with some old friends, I was happy to putter around a real house and spend some time nurturing a delicious sauce to life. As I was chopping onions and pouring tomato sauce into the dutch oven, I was struck by a memory. (Don’t worry, it didn’t hurt me.)

When I was in junior high or high school, Mom started having me cook dinner for the family on a somewhat regular basis. Her mother’s blood runs strong in my tastebuds, which means that if you told me I would have to eat nothing but spaghetti with tomato sauce for the rest of my life, three meals a day, it would probably take me a decade or so to realize that’s not a good thing. Spaghetti is also extremely simple to cook, especially when you just heat up canned sauce, so for several years my family would be subjected to spaghetti every time Mom had me cook, unless she expressly told me what else to make. Sadly, I seem to be the only person in the family who got the limitless-love-of-tomato-and-pasta gene. My love may have permanently traumatized my sisters’ abilities to enjoy spaghetti.

It’s a time period I think about once in a while. I lived on spaghetti all through college, and I still make it for John probably every other week. My tomato sauce skills have improved significantly over the years. My love for tomato sauce (because, let’s be clear, pasta is simply a convenient accessory to the sauce) hasn’t diminished one iota. It’s gotten more complex, nutritious, socially conscious, and demure (out of compassion for others), but the passion hasn’t diminished. Making spaghetti sauce feels like home to me.

I suppose home isn’t so much a fixed place in the universe as it is the network of memories and associations in our own minds that make us feel safe. I learned the word in a more concrete way as a child: home was the address written on the tag on my backpack that I had to memorize so I could tell a police officer where to take me if I ever got lost. It was the same number on the same street in the same town on the same planet in the same galaxy we had to write on pretend envelopes for imaginary alien pen-pals in third grade. Eighteen or so years is a long time to learn a habit of mind for thinking about “home,” and for all I know, it might be another eighteen years before I really learn to feel the transient nature of home as natural and good. They don’t call me a home-body because I love change, you know.

In the meantime, it is comforting to know that if I can get hold of a pan, some tomatoes, and some flavorings, I can at least convince my stomach that home is where the spaghetti is.

The Diabolical Finger Dance

I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned it, but over winter break, I took up the guitar. Again. For those of you who are unfamiliar with my sordid musical past, I am a bit of a tramp where instruments are concerned. When I was little, I played piano, which I gave up in exchange for clarinet because the school band didn’t need piano players and a clarinet was what we had available. I loved the clarinet dearly and practiced myself blue in the face all through high school (aside from short trysts with the recorder and the French horn), until I came to the depressing realization that I had poured my heart and soul into a skill that would quite probably leave me starving and homeless if I tried to pursue it as a profession.

I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving music behind me, so I bought a cheap student classical guitar at Al Corey’s and determined to teach myself to play. I chose the guitar because, let’s face it, playing the clarinet is not the most campfire or party friendly instrument. It’s just not. And to boost the case for the guitar, you can sing while you play it—again, not a possible reality for most normal humans when playing the clarinet.

My reasoning further went something like this: “Approximately fifty percent of the high school population plays some sort of guitar with some level of skill. Of those, approximately one tenth have anything I (as a stuck-up teenager) recognize as intelligence. Ergo, how hard could it possibly be?”

It was 2001 when I bought the guitar and learned a few simple chords, some basic techniques, and a song of two. When 2010 began, I had never really learned anything more than what could be taught with little difficulty to a trained monkey. Every time I looked at my guitar case, I would shake my head and wonder why it is that such a presumably simple-to-learn instrument had defeated me. It was just a matter of time, I liked to reassure myself. But to be honest, I was never quite sure that was the truth.

As I’m studying for my Master’s in education, I keep hearing two critical components students need to learn: explicit instruction and relevantly problematic content. Considering my fingers today, callused for the first time in my nine years of “learning to play the guitar,” I realized that of those components, the relevantly problematic content has to come first. I don’t have access to any more explicit instruction than I did years ago, but my motivation changed.

Having a month off with no employment to speak of, I told myself I had no excuse not to start practicing. I’ve done that before and failed. This time, however, I kept thinking that if I go into teaching, guitar could be a fun way to connect with kids. Maybe I’ll end up volunteering with a Girl Scout troop or a camp on my summers, and what kind of a camp counselor can’t play the guitar? (A lame one—I learned that the hard way.) So I had in mind a potential audience, establishing relevance for my efforts.

The problematic nature of the guitar presented it fairly quickly as I started to learn scales, which I had started with out of some long-atrophied instinct for music theory. While there are certain things that, as I said, even a trained monkey could play on the guitar, the guitar is by far the most confusingly complex instrument I have ever picked up. The piano has exactly one finger placement for each note. The clarinet has a few possible variations on finger placement, but the notes are by and large played on a one-fingering: one note ratio. The guitar, however, is a nightmare. For almost every possible note there are three or more fingers, which means multiple places to play chords and scales as well. And if that weren’t enough, you can throw a capo on the neck and change the tuning so all those scales and chords are played with yet another set of fingerings.

You could compare the ease of learning an instrument’s notes to the ease of learning an orthography, to think about it in a different way. If the piano has the easy one sound to one spelling correlation of Hangul, and perhaps the clarinet with its mostly transparent pattern is Spanish, then the guitar would be English. There is a method to the madness, but the madness is definitely in charge.

I’m having a blast trying to master it.

A Classic Example of Chemical Change

I like English muffins. Toasted, dripping with butter, and topped with just a smidge of raspberry jam. Add a nice cup of tea and a hard-boiled egg and my morning is off to a happy start. The trouble with English muffins, however, is that all those “original nooks and crannies” have an annoying tendency to get the muffin stuck pretty far down in the toaster, which was designed for a bigger piece of bread.

 

Two feet away from the toaster (because our kitchen is small and that’s about as far away as anything can get from any other given thing in the kitchen), we have an ample supply of non-conductive utensils. Bamboo, silicon, hard plastic, regular old wood…and with the possible exception of the ladle, all of them would do the job of digging out my English muffin without too much trouble.

 

But the dish strainer is closer by about eighteen inches, and even if the dish strainer has one or two of the non-conductive items, the pocket that holds the shiny forks and knives is still four inches closer to the toaster and my hand.

 

So this morning I was making use of a knife, as usual, to dig my English muffin out of the toaster when I suddenly had an epiphany. Don’t worry—that’s not actually a euphemism for an electric shock. I just realized that on a regular basis, I defy a precept that has been taught me from my youngest years: Don’t stick metal things into electrical outlets or toasters.

 

That made me wonder about just how high the voltage in a toaster is, and what the circumstances would have to be to trigger the shock, so I asked Google. This discussion here was incredibly amusing, but as it’s long, I’ll compile the highlights of conventional wisdom for you:

 

→ Toasters + forks = death.

→ Don’t urinate into toasters, but if you must, write your will first and put me in it.

→ If the toaster is unplugged, it would take a random lightning strike to electrocute you.

→ Bakeries should start making their bread straight.

→ It’s not legal to sell a toaster that’s wired such that the circuit is active when it’s not toasting BUT…

→ Why take the chance?

 

It didn’t tell me anything I didn’t know, but I find myself wondering why it is that I have such an easy time defying an axiom that I have heard repeated all through my life. I think, in the end, it comes down to conflicting beliefs. On the one hand, sticking forks into toasters could kill you. On the other hand…I can’t die. I mean, I’m alive, right? So that means I have twenty-five years plus of empirical evidence that says I can’t die. Not logical or rational, perhaps, but pondering Piaget and what it takes to change a belief one holds about the world, I think that belief in one’s on mortality is a very, very difficult developmental stage to truly achieve.

 

John asked me, as he does when we think about overarching traits of either humanity or our own culture, what possible use a lack of belief in our own ability to die could have from an evolutionary perspective. How would that schema keeps us alive long enough to procreate? The only answer I could come up with is that perhaps that’s the belief that drives us to find a way out of a no-win situation.

That’s what I meant, at least. What I said was, “Umm…Captain Kirk? Kobayashi Maru?”

 

Case in point, I think.

Metronomes, Groundhogs, and Epistemology

Perpetual motion does not exist. I know that. I have known that for a very long time. With that disclaimer, let me paint a scene for you…

 

Late afternoon, one sunny winter day, indirect sunlight softly lights the tiny apartment where our heroine sits on the bed, digging through a half-forgotten little box of music gadgets. Looking for what, I couldn’t say. Just looking. She discovers a little black box with a slender, weighted silver wand tucked inside it.

 

“Oh, hey! I forgot I had a metronome! Nifty!” she exclaims, jumping up to grab her guitar (on which she has lately been agonizingly learning and playing scales) and find an even surface to set the metronome on. “This will really help me push myself!”

 

Guitar tuned, fingers warmed, she frees the little wand and adjusts the tempo to something not much above andante and begins practicing scales and scale-based exercises merrily in rhythm with the tick tick tick of the cheerful little tocker. After success with C and G and miserable failure with F, the would-be musician jumps up to answer the scream of the kettle, lately come to a boil. She leaves the metronome a-ticking as she sets her tea to steep and, like a mouse with a cookie, pauses to wash the dishes in the sink while she waits.

 

Five minutes, ten minutes later she returns to the desk and picks up her guitar. The metronome has stopped. She moves the slider closer to andante, in hopes of surviving the F-scale and gives the wand a little push. Tick, tick, tick. Tick.. tick… tick….. tick……. tick……….. tick.

 

Hmm,” she thinks to herself. “I wonder if it can’t keep a tempo at that slow pace?” She adjusts the weight back to where she had it and gives it a push, but Tick, tick, tick. Tick.. tick… tick….. tick……. tick……….. tick. “That’s weird. It was just working.”

 

She pushes the weight up to allegro, giving the wand a vigorous push this time, to no avail. She is about to curse the metronome for the fickle bit of clockwork it is when she notices a little hole in the side and suddenly has a flash of thought, a distant memory of a little key that stored in the front of the metronome and could be popped out and used to wind the little box up…

 

The key is gone, completely lost, and the player sighs, deflated to realize her playing is not the only thing that’s a little slow. Not that I would know, really, how she felt. I mean, I told you already—I know there’s no such thing as perpetual motion.

 

I also happen to know that spring is, in fact, really here. How do I know? Simple: Groundhogs are not meteorologists.