Thursday, March 1, 2012

Science Fairs and "I don’t care"s

One great aspect of growing up with older siblings is they can help you with your science fair projects. My 6th grade project on “How Things Float” won second place in the County Science Fair, and I got a plaque from the US Navy. Now when I say “my” project, I mean my brother, Mike, had to teach me the concept of buoyancy and think up cool experiments while my other brother, Sean, drew all the pictures for my display. While this project really shined in the greater Dutchess County area, the project I’ve been thinking about lately is our project on inertia. 

Objects at rest stay at rest and objects in motion remain in motion unless acted upon by an external force. 

So, a ball you roll on the ground would keep going if it weren’t for friction, gravity, or maybe that wall it eventually runs into. For my project, I used the old trick where you have a coin resting on a piece of paper atop a glass. You pull the paper out really fast and the coin drops in the glass rather than getting carried off with the paper. Sean also drew a picture of Wile E. Coyote suspended in mid-air after chasing the Roadrunner off a cliff. It was spectacular.

I didn’t win a thing.  

Objects at Rest
Why am I pondering the physics of inertia as I run through the rice paddies of East Java? It took me a good three weeks to “feel like” running. It took me two hours after my alarm went off to get up out of bed. Lately, there has been what I would call a general malaise shrouding my daily existence. 

“Moh!” or “I don’t want to!” is a pretty standard Javanese response from my 8-year-old niece when she is told to do something she doesn’t feel like doing like praying, doing her homework, taking a bath, etc. Somewhere along the way, my cultural integration took me a little too deep, and I’ve adopted a lax way of being that has been taken to the extreme. I’ve got a case of the “moh"s, and it takes nothing short of an act of the People's Consultative Assembly (Indo's legislative body) in my brain to get things moving again.

Once I hit these bouts of being malas, or lazy, nothing gets done really. Yes, siree, if there was a world championship for creatively wasting time, I’m pretty sure I could be a contender. Olympic-medal winning even. How would one test this, I wonder? Does spending upwards of two hours scouring the internet for a favorite scene from a Family Ties episode qualify me? Or what about staring into space for half a day trying to remember the name of that Pauly Shore movie where he goes to the country (also starring Tiffany Amber Thiessen)?*

*Special thanks to Dan N. for finally settling this brain buster for me via text.

Objects in Motion
However, the alternative is once I get going, I am a crazy person. I cannot be stopped. I head to school, check some prep items off my list, download a list of songs and programs I made the night before, teach some classes, get my chatting in with the teachers, stop off to talk with some kids flagging me down on my way home. I eat lunch, wash a couple of tubs of clothes, play badminton, gather some kids to start making cutout letters to use in my classes, head out for a run, eat dinner, take a bath, and read a bit until my host dad says, “Mungkin istirahat?” –“Maybe time to rest?” And I hear the concern in his voice. 

This is not normal here. 

There must be some balance, right? What is it about this inertia of life that has me either lying around like a slug for days, accomplishing nothing or running around causing one of my counterparts to relay to visiting PC staff that “Ms. Erin is like a fast train”? 

I see the value of the slower pace, but why does it result in me wrestling with two extremes of dealing with it – embracing it but finding myself falling into a state of total inactivity, or circumventing it and anxiously trying to check small, made-up tasks off a to-do list that no one outside of my racing brain really cares about i.e. ironing, flossing, cleaning the gunk out of my fan, etc. These are big accomplishments in the down times. “I did it!”, I think to myself. Exactly what Sargent Shriver must have intended – clipping nails and excessively sweeping in pursuit of world peace.

I think back to those tug-a-war competitions at the Lalor’s annual 4th of July parties in my neighborhood and reflect on how, unconsciously, I constantly struggle to keep myself healthily in the middle of things.  

  • How much do I try to avoid “looking too busy” but still make sure I am not shirking my responsibilities?
  • How much am I in my room/house, and how much am I getting out there?
  • How much do I connect with the US, and how much do I focus on my desa?
  • How much am I involved in the community of volunteers, and how much am I involved in my own school and village?
  • How much do I fraternize with others, and how much time do I apportion to retreat into myself?
  • How much am I inside my own head, and how much should I drag myself out of it?
  • How much do I live in the now, and how much should I consider the future?
Like the Indonesian cinetrons that have become a part of my nightly routine, this physical drama currently plays out in my life: this inertia of staying at rest or moving ahead and the struggle to maintain some sort of balance between the two. 

The External Force
The real kicker is you could be in motion, feeling so fluid in your groove that it would take a heck of a strong force to jar your rhythm. 

And then it comes. 

No matter how solid you are, the early departure of a PCV friend shakes you – somehow it opens a door that you had convinced yourself was closed. The perspective of the short time you have left flips, and all of a sudden, it’s no longer, “Oh shit, how am I ever going to get anything accomplished in this short time?”, but turns into, “Oh shit, right. There’s more than a year left of this life. How do I feel about that?” It sure sends the ol’ scales a-teetering.

But, eventually, you remind yourself that while you’re in your room eating Milky Ways, unmotivated to get going – somewhere out there is your 11-year-old best friend who you haven’t seen in weeks waiting for you to hang out with her. Somewhere out there is an adorable 1-year-old with an infectious laugh who is so enamored by you, he can’t tear his smiling eyes away - even when his ibu squeezes snot out of his nose with her bare hand and flicks it on the ground. Somewhere out there is a juice stand not yet discovered - and out there somewhere is a guy waiting to hand you an edible branch of tree he just chopped for you to carry on your run home to share with the neighbors. 

The tricky part is that it’s all out there. 

And you’ve got to set yourself in motion to get there.