Potential Energy


“You have a lot of potential.”

Anyone ever said that to you?  A lot of my high school teachers told me this.  At the time, it kind of sounded ok, I mean, compared to what other people were saying about me.  Then I got older.  Not all at once, but rather slowly.  And I started to realize that this wasn’t a very helpful comment.

I tried to define the comment.  That’s what older people do.  They like to define things, to draw a nice, little mental box and then define something so they can stick that now-concrete thing in the box, put a label on it, and then defend that label to the death at any social gathering where there is an abundance of alcohol.

I thought of batteries.  They have potential energy.  That’s a good thing when your lights go out.  Batteries sit in the drawer and wait silently and uncomplaining until you need them.  Of course, if you never need them, you will probably forget that the flashlight is in the drawer and when you move in a few years, you will find leaked acid all over those important receipts you kept hidden away.

I thought of fossil fuels.  They are ripe with potential energy.  They take millions of years to form and are essential to mankind’s existence.  Of course, when man uses up all the fuels, which should be in about 30 years or so, the world will come to a screeching halt and revert back to medieval chaos like in Mad Max, where guys who wear thongs shoot bunny rabbits in the desert.

I thought of springs.  When they are compressed, they have a lot of potential energy.  They help our cars ride smoother and make sure our office chairs retain their original position after we lean way back in them.  They also help Tiggers lead a fulfilling and productive life.  Of course, they can also press deep into your rib cage at night and cause you to not get a good night’s sleep, be late to work the next morning, lose your job, and cause you to be homeless inside of two months because you haven’t a penny in savings.

I thought of a weak nuclear force acting on the baryon charge, otherwise known as nuclear potential energy.  But I didn’t contemplate this idea because I had just copied and pasted the sentence from Wikipedia.  It doesn’t actually make sense to me.

I thought of bows and arrows.  They have potential energy and they help hunters kill things.  That’s good.  Killing things.  Of course, if you don’t know what you’re doing and shoot a bow incorrectly, you can end up with a huge bruise and welt on the inside of your forearm.  And when you can’t hold back the tears, the other hunters will laugh at you.  Or so I’ve heard.

I thought of chemical energy.  No, really, I did.  Chemistry is responsible for pharmaceuticals.  We can take pills to help us be more unipolar, to stay awake all night and study for exams, to examine alternate realities at outdoor music events, and to fight off infections we might incur as a result of attending said events.  Of course, your drinking buddies could get you to eat three packs of Mentos and then funnel a two liter diet coke, which would cause you to projectile vomit and then suffer a collapsed lung.  Or so I’ve heard.

Then I thought of gravitational energy.  I thought of that boulder sitting atop the curved cliff that they show you in all the text books.  The boulder just sits there and obeys the laws of inertia.  It’s probably scared of heights.  And it probably can’t see what’s behind it, because it’s a boulder.  So it’s forced to sit there, frightened beyond reason at the chasm before it, and always wondering who is about to sneak up from behind and shove it over that cliff.  Dreadful thing if you ask me.  Such a graphic representation to convey to an impressionable teenager.

But I realize now the subtle hints they were giving me.  That one day they would sneak up behind me and push me to my death.  I know they are out there with their PHD’s and such, in the shadows, waiting for the right opportunity to transfer my peaceful potential into a flailing juggernaut of kinetic downfall.

So I wait.

I watch.

I listen.

How to get yourself writing: Lie to Yourself

“I want to write, but I just can’t bring myself to do it every day.”


We’ve all said it.  You could, of course, substitute any number of good-for-you activities in place of the write.  This is because writers are all procrastinating and lazy.  Come on, admit it.  It’s the first step to recovery.  So how do you trick yourself into doing something worthwhile?  You lie to yourself.


I can’t remember where I read it, but there was a trick for getting your kids to clean their rooms.  Actually, I don’t think that’s what the story was about, but I adapted the methodology to suit my purposes.  What you do is ask your kids to clean their rooms for five minutes.  Not the whole room, you see, because their rooms are in such a horrible state of chaos and disrepair that to clean it in its entirety would take them the whole day.  I know this to be true because they tell me so.  My kids would never lie.  But to only clean for five minutes?  No big deal.  They feel like they’re getting away with something.  Five minutes is nothing.  A couple of songs on their iPods maybe (They don’t listen to Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd).


But what they don’t realize is how much you can get done in five minutes.  That’s five minutes of actually moving with some purpose, which they are more likely to do because they only have to do it for five minutes.  This is in lieu of the usual misanthropic throes and woes they verbally radiate, like a bad case of verbal diarrhea, as they clean with all the vigor of a sloth on Zoloft.  There is a light at the end of the five minute tunnel; it’s a short tunnel.


And herein lies the problem with writing.  The tunnel can be a very long and lonely tunnel.  We know this.  We sometimes, even though we love writing and the finished product, secretly and unconsciously abhor the thought of writing on a deeper level.  Because it’s like cleaning your room.  The room is your story and it could take forever to finish it.  But you can use the five minute trick on yourself.


Here is the lie you say to yourself when you can’t bring yourself to write –  I will write for five minutes.


You can write anything.  On a project.  Short story.  Novel.  Poetry.  The state of affairs in Bhutan.  Make your own crossword puzzle.  No rules.  Just 300 seconds of pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.  And like your kids, if the five minutes are up and you don’t feel like continuing, don’t force yourself, or them, to do any more.  Stop and move on.  But wait a minute.  Where was the lie?


The lie is that most of the time you won’t write for five minutes.  Your kids won’t clean for five minutes.  Because once the juices get flowing, creative or otherwise, it’s hard to stop them.  They might clean for 10 or 20 minutes.  You might write for another five minutes or another five hours.  And even if you don’t, you’ve accomplished one very important thing.  You’ve written for the day.  And the next.  And the next.  And before you know it, you’ve created a habit.  And since we are creatures of habit, writing every day will become easier and easier.


Don’t worry.  It’s a tiny lie.  And you’re only lying to yourself.  And maybe your kids.  It’s also a better alternative to my other method for reaching goals.


Lowering your standards.  Use only in case of emergencies.


Happy writing.