I was sitting at my computer the other rainy day when I heard a loud boom. The house shook a little, and our power went out. Now, as one who has perfected the art of procrastination, I wasn’t too upset. Truth be told, my current manuscript was not even open. My plans for the morning involved numerous diversions from the realities of the grim world: the New York Times Wordle, Connections, Mini Crossword (I’m too stupid and impatient to do the regular one), and Spelling Bee, with a few rounds of Outspell from the Washington Post. These are the “exercises” I do daily for my brain, such as it is.
I’m not really stupid. (I am impatient though.) I skipped two grades in elementary school, graduated from high school at 15 and college at 19. However, somewhere along the line, my science skills suffered. Science credits were a requirement to get my bachelor’s degree from Adelphi University (and so was passing a mandatory swimming test, which is pretty bizarre in retrospect). So, I took a two-year survey course, AKA Science for Dummies: a semester each of watered-down Earth Science, Biology, Chemistry and Physics. I’ll never forget the physics professor standing at the blackboard laughing, saying there was no point trying to explain anything to us because we were too ignorant. He was right, if politically incorrect.
Back to 2023. No power? No problem. I could always write in longhand if absolutely necessary. (But probably couldn’t read what I wrote.) As I sat in the gloom, I tried to remember what it was like pre-computer. I have become totally dependent on it, but have no understanding of bytes and pixels or any other associated computer science words. In fact, I do not understand how most mechanical and electrical things work.
I took driver’s ed in the dark ages, when one had to identify the locations of pistons and spark plugs and batteries on a little map to qualify for the road test. Nowadays, everything is computerized, and whatever I “learned” then is obsolete. I passed, although I will drive for blocks to avoid parallel parking. Maybe even go back home.
Some years ago, I bought a research book to help me with early automobile history. I was writing a book set at the turn of the twentieth century, and the heroine had to learn how to operate a vehicle on the fly to save the hero’s life. Here is the German edition of In the Heart of the Highlander (A Scandal in Scotland auf Deutsch). See the cute car?
The research book was mercifully in English, but I still failed to comprehend how anyone could have learned how to drive. Each nascent car company had a completely different design from the others, and what complicated procedure worked on one would get you nowhere on another. The first car keys were used in 1910, but they only activated the electric circuit or locked the ignition. It wasn’t until 1920 that you could stop cranking the handle. And it wasn’t until 1949 that Chrysler first used the key ignition system we have today. Now, some cars don’t use keys at all. It’s difficult to keep up with advances in technology, and I’m not trying anymore. Ignorance is my bliss, just as that professor professed.
You will be happy to know the power came back on without us having to go full Little House on the Prairie. According to the CMP guys, the issue was “animal-related.” Life resumed—except for the squirrel who electrocuted itself when the transformer at the end of the street blew. No matter how advanced we become, there will always be a suicidal squirrel to remind us there’s more to life than staring at a computer screen.
Those rodents really have it in for the modern world—twice, my car’s wires were eaten by chipmunks. (If this ever happens to you, insurance should cover it, and strategically-placed mothballs seem to be a deterrent.) A mouse’s nest killed our air-conditioning system when we lived in Connecticut, and something chewed right through my son’s letterman jacket when it was stored in a box in a garage (with no mothballs).
Are you science-savvy? What do you do to procrastinate/keep your mind sharp and avoid the dreadful news headlines? Is it working?