Exploding Guinea Pigs by Mike Knotts for Erin Farwell


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?
Erin_Sick_on_Couch_23FEB2015Our 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.


20 thoughts on “Exploding Guinea Pigs by Mike Knotts for Erin Farwell

  1. Erin is a very talented writer, but we did not know her husband too has a knack for writing. Loved the anthology and the photos. I guess I’m a guinea pig too when it comes to messes and maybe even a bit when it comes to being self-centered. I truly care for people and hellp when I can, but I like to hand out bits of wisdom (often unwanted), and like to tell stories of my past, well mostly things my husband, children or I encountered on our life’s journey. Thanks for pitching in and come back and guest blog anytime. Loved it. Cher’ley


    1. Thanks – since I write blogs for a living now as a freelance writer, it’s nice for him to experience the challenges it presents. I’ll pass along your kind words to him. He really did a great job. 🙂


  2. Erin, you have a very understanding husband! Sorry you are ill, but hubby did an excellent job of filling in. I chuckled about the title and was engrossed from the first line. You see, as children we spent a lot of time at a small zoo in Traverse City, MI. Sadly, it is no longer. They had a big guinea pig population (more than they could handle) and ran a short “free guinea pig” giveaway to lessen the herd. We begged and pleaded and dad let us each have one guinea pig (there were four of us). We loved the guinea pigs and tended them well, but they were a bit of an inconvenience. Our family went to our cousin’s house for a weekend visit and we took the guinea pigs along. Who else would take care of them? We went out exploring and walked past a pet shop. In the window was the most adorable puppy you’ve ever seen. He looked mostly like a cocker spaniel with rust spots and patches on his back. Of course we asked dad if we could have him. Dad said it would be ok but we’d have to get rid of the guinea pigs. So we made a trade. The dog was for sale, but when four cute little blonde kids walked in the store and pleaded with the owner, he actually traded the four guinea pigs for the dog. We called him Freckles and he lived to be 14. He was a lot easier to care for than the guinea pigs, plus we loved him and took him everywhere. We were heartbroken when he left one day and never came home, although we searched high and low for him. My dad said he was “old” and had probably left because he didn’t want to upset us when he knew he was dying. Feel better soon!


    1. Thanks, Linda. I’ll let him know that you liked his piece. Guinea pigs are sweet little things but not very exciting pets, that’s for sure. Also, I didn’t know you were also from Michigan. How fun. I am feeling better but not great. 🙂 Erin


      1. I’m a Michigan gal, born and raised. Although we moved a lot due to my father’s job, most of my growing up years were spent in Kalkaska and Hillman (where I graduated from High School). Although I now live in Wisconsin, it’s much like MI so I feel good here, but every time I cross the Michigan state line I feel like I’m home!


  3. Erin and Mike — you brought big smiles to my day! I chucked so much and it felt so good! Like you, Erin, I’ve been sick for several days and I know what you’ve been through — hopefully you are now on the mend as I see you’ve responded to comments today. Blessings to Mike for filling in and let him know he brightened the day of another “sickee” — more Brownie points! (and I’m so glad the guinea pigs didn’t really explode!!)


  4. I’m still smiling and hoping the brownie points help. It does take courage to put yourself out there ‘warts and all’. Thank you spousal unit for a fun post.
    In the meantime, take care of yourself. Doris


  5. This is a most enlightening post. I don’t know any guinea pigs, but I’m happy to turn the conversation in my direction and I shift into lecture mode at the first indication that someone might be listening. Furthermore, in my world, dining rooms always look like something they’re not. So I guess guinea pigs and I must have a common ancestor back there somewhere.

    Erin, your husband did a fine job on this post. Throw that man another handful of Brownie points.


  6. Thanks, Mike (& Erin), for two out loud laughs on this one: “The Guinea pig, Cavia porcellus, is a domesticated humble rodent from South America that doesn’t often explode.” And “They poop indiscriminately. Fortunately I don’t.” I’m sorry you were (are?) sick, Erin, but I’m glad Mike could step in and help. Loved this post!


  7. Enjoyed the post! What a great job, and generous husband. So glad to hear there are others who can turn the conversation and give necessary wisdom to those who probably don’t see the necessity of it. Enjoyed the bit about your husband and the guinea pigs. Sorry you are sick. My husband got sick with a cold the day before we arrived home from our recent AZ vacation. Hoping it’s not my turn now. My daughter says it helps to rub Vicks on your feet at night.


  8. thank you. that was a great post, Mike! Hope you get well soon Erin. With two toddlers now living in my house we lurch daily from one cold infection to the next, but the happy thing to know is that they will ‘soon blow’ over- as will your stinking cold. Maybe Mike needs to set up his own blog- hed be very entertaining and maybe he’d come to love the practice! 😉


  9. Mike I think you should get a few extra brownie points for going outside your comfort zone, Interesting post. Erin I hope you are feeling better. Next time I think the two of you should co author a blog. It would be interesting to see what you guys come up with. Sorry Mike I think we are reeling you in.


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