My wife, Erin, is sick. It’s nothing bad: just a cold. As she sits staring blankly at the computer, she says in a sad little voice “I have a blog due, and I don’t have enough energy to write something.” Optimistically, I say “I’ll write something for you.” At the back of my mind is the thought of collecting Brownie points. I need all of them I can get. As my darling spousal unit heads for the couch, the reality sinks in: what did I just offer to do?
Our daughter, Willow, hears this exchange as she struggles to finish a mountain of homework. She’s recovering from the same cold, still tired, and with a nose raw from too many Kleenex. Not one to be excluded, she blurts out “Hey, you can do my study guide for me too.” I struggle for an eloquent refusal but merely end up saying something about doing one’s own homework being the best way to learn. I sneak away while she’s distracted.
What does one write for a blog like this? I’m a university research scientist and I make a big part of my living writing technical reports, research proposals, and educational materials. But I’ve never blogged. I’d gladly write about how to make a working electric motor with simple parts like a battery, a magnet, and a piece of wire. I could go on at length about laser speckle, lock-in amplifiers, or machine tools, but none of this seems to fit the need. After staring blankly at the screen for a minute or so, I give up and ask “Erin, what should I write about?” [Way to go, dude. You lost some Brownie points there for having to drag the sick girl back into the blogosphere.]
She answers quickly, “Exploding guinea pigs.” Perfect, I’ll write about that. Wait: “Erin, remind me why we were talking about exploding guinea pigs last weekend?” [There go some more Brownie points.] She answers, “The mess on the floor.” It all comes back to me.
The Guinea pig, Cavia porcellus, is a domesticated humble rodent from South America that doesn’t often explode. But it’s not unusual for their cages to resemble the aftermath of a pyromaniac’s experiment with firecrackers and a hay bale. The little critters kick up a huge mess that spreads to the floor around the cage.
Guinea pigs are a great animal analogy for me. They’re plump, like me. [I’m working on it.] They’re happy as long as food is around. I have a thing for chocolate. They’re sedentary. I am too, but not nearly as much. I walk fast, take stairs instead of the elevator, and occasionally go to the gym. I have removed all chairs from my office. I’m proud of the fact that I have climbed halfway to the stratosphere with Erin and trekked across mountain glaciers with a heavy pack. Those things would definitely not appeal to Guinea pigs. Let’s see if I can get a little more from the analogy before it fails.
One observable fact about Guinea pig behavior applies to me especially well: those little suckers make an incredible mess of their house. [See why I really need Brownie points?] They poop indiscriminately. Fortunately I don’t. That aside, my friends and family will assure you that I share the clutter trait with the plump, furry rodents from South America. [Fitness is not the only reason I have no chair in my office.] Once, a carpet cleaner mistook our dining room for a “computer room” since I had the table buried with a large spectrophotometer for weeks while I worked on aligning the gratings and fixing the deuterium lamp – on and off, between other projects. Not good for spousal harmony… I’m working on the clutter thing, but it’s hard to break decades of habit. So I collect Brownie points when I can.
I’ll stretch the Guinea pig analogy once more before it completely collapses. Those creatures are the center of their own little universe, like me. I’m a really nice guy, a loyal husband, and a devoted father. I take care of others and try not to take them for granted or assume they merely exist to supply lettuce, water, and fresh bedding. I know people who are selfish, and I’m definitely not like them. But too often I turn conversations around to focus on my own experiences or switch into lecture mode to share my “wisdom” that usually doesn’t need sharing. The people in my life are quite smart and wise themselves. Like Guinea pigs, I am self-centered. Why else would I write a public document comparing myself to a Guinea pig?
It’s time to close this silly blog. The Guinea pigs are happily munching lettuce. Willow has finished her homework and is clearly feeling better since she has just recycled 13 empty Kleenex boxes she found in the nooks and crannies of her bathroom and she’s now rinsing 12 mostly empty shampoo bottles. [?] Erin and the cat are snuggled up on the couch. I’ll deposit a few Brownie points in the bank.