Thursday, November 08, 2012

When I was in elementary school, they had this contest called "Odyssey of the Mind."*

In fourth grade, the challenge was to build something that you put into motion and, as far as I can remember, set off a mousetrap, have a raw egg drop like ten feet without breaking and put out a candle. I remember racking my brain to try and figure this out and then having my dad hovering over me working with the candle while I made a mess and slapped together some contraption. My thing totally didn't work; it'd do the candle, but then the egg would break. Or the mousetrap would go off and then candle would stay bright. It was a mess. I don't have to tell you that I did not win.

This girl named Sarah F. won, and her stuff totally worked. I think she had a wooden board with a curvy groove in it that the egg rolled down, triggering the mousetrap and somehow putting out the candle. Not to be a hater--kids totally accused me of having help from my mom in first grade when we had to make a hat and I totally did that all by myself--but that matte-black paintjob looked awfully professional for a 9-year-old. I'm just saying.

In fifth grade, I was determined to at least place. As soon as I heard what the challenge was, I started trying to figure out the best way I could build a contraption that would be powered by a brick, travel 25 (or more?) feet and pop a balloon. I had all kinds of ideas, but none seemed good enough to beat Sarah F. I worried about this all week.

So the night before the competition, I still had nothing. And the hourglass was emptying fast. By 8 p.m. I had even frittered away any opportunity for my mom to take me to a hardware store. I was shaking in my boots.

I threw about 12 hissyfits, stomping up and down the stairs and whining about having no ideas. My parents tried to help, but that would just make me more frustrated. Finally I gave up. Sarah was going to win it again that year, I guessed. But I couldn't show up empty handed.

I started rummaging around the house. I found a brick in the backyard that was used to prop up the gutter drain. I took the blue skateboard that I begged and begged to get from Santa and would ride approximately six times throughout my entire life. I dismantled an old window-insulation frame in the basement and took two metal sides. And I got a fat but sharp needle from my nani's old sewing box.

It was really late at this point, but I took some duct tape, made a V with the window frame pieces, attached the needle to the front of the skateboard where the V came together, and I covered that muddy brick with some tinfoil. Honestly, I can't remember whether I even tested the contraption before taking it to school the next day.

I got there and everyone had their projects ready. Sarah's was so crazy! It was this big wooden thing with wheels and a pulley thing attached to the brick--she pushed down on the brick and it made the wheels go. And I think it was painted all kinds of red-white-and-blue stars and stripes or something. Some other people had elaborate stuff, too, but of course I can't remember them because I was so hell bent on beating Sarah and pretty sheepish about my own pathetic entry.

We lined all our contraptions behind the line (some way farther back because they needed momentum) and one by one, we gave them a go.

I went toward the end; I remember being in a panic that morning because everyone else's was so much more elaborate than what I had. So I drew on my tinfoil-wrapped brick to make it look like an chubby square astronaut. And when it was my turn, I made up a silly story about how the astronaut had to jump in his duct-tape ship and take off into the galaxy and defeat the balloon aliens. Or something. I stood about 5 feet behind my skateboard and tossed that brick onto the skateboard--it landed up in the V and propelled the whole thing across the line.

Wouldn't you know it, the duct-tape spaceship sailed across the room and popped a balloon. It was the only entry that actually completed the required tasks. Sarah's stars and stripes didn't even make it halfway.

My halfassed, slapped-together, madeup contraption won first place! They even said my name over the P.A. to the entire school!

It was so awesome, I remember it clearly 23 years later.

To tell you the truth, the only times in my life when I felt like I was doing well at my job have been when I have been put in a seemingly impossible situation with a limited amount of resources and I had to make the best of it to get the job done. It happened with deadlines in my main career and it happened with the insanity of a busy hospital in my last position. Having too much time to think seems to fog up my brain, I guess.

Maybe that's why I'm so frustrated these days. It seems like the logical, mathematical side of my brain has gone from hibernation to marathon running. There are days when I stare at my burgeoning to-do list and don't even know how to go about starting any of those tasks, which were all due last week. And then I waste time worrying about all that I have yet to do. It is a very big project, with thousands of tiny puzzle pieces that have to fit perfectly or big chunks won't work. But because the buzzer doesn't go off till next April, I haven't worked up enough frenetic energy to kick my brain into gear.

Or maybe I am just overwhelmed and having a bad week.

Speaking of fourth grade:
you just can't square dance on the beach
In which I realize that apparently NOT everyone has to learn square-dancing in school!

*Apparently this is a big thing with a lot of different categories. I never realized it was so complicated until I started researching it just now.


Ale said...

ahhhh... so that's when you started yourself on this "working at NIGHT and on WEEKENDS" pattern.......... for whatever reason i feel bad for Sarah.

Jon said...

Is it wrong that I think we should institute an Odyssey of the Mind competition in our apartment?

cadiz12 said...

you may be right, ale. i did start staying up way later than my friends around fourth grade.

don't feel bad for her; unless she was some kind of woodworking prodigy at age 10, someone clearly made that thing for her. and it was fancy and beautiful, but it didn't work. at the end of the day, that was the assignment.

dang. now i feel bad for her.

jon, you would have been SO GOOD at those competitions. i guess they didn't have those in cali? man, no square dancing, and no OotM? sad.

Madelyn said...

You begged for a skateboard and then only road it 6 times! (Yeah, that's what I got out of this post.)

Guyana-Gyal said...

Would it help if you imagined that your project with the far-off deadline has several people competing? And one of them is Sarah F.?

cadiz12 said...

you know, gg, maybe it would.