Carl and the Golden Ball

Upon a great adventure he was bond.

That greatest Gloriana to him gave,

That greatest Glorious Queene of Faerie Lond,

To winne him worship, and her grace to have.

Edmund Spenser ~ The Faerie Queene, Book 1, Canto 1

Waterhouse-Knight Lady

The Gentle Knight rode through the wood, following the sound of someone in distress. His companion Carl walked at his side. Presently they came to a clearing and beheld a Lady weeping by the side of a small stream. So intent was she on her mournful state, she did not hear the Knight’s approach.

“My Lady,” said the Knight. “Why do you weep?”

Startled, the Lady looked up in wide-eyed wonder at the Knight. Then she buried her face in her hands and began weeping anew. The Knight immediately dismounted and knelt as a supplicant.

“If you would but tell me the cause of your tears,” he said, “I will banish it ere this day is done.”

The Lady raised her fair head and placed a trembling hand on the Knight’s arm.

“Good and Gentle Knight,” she said, “you have truly shown yourself to be most noble to stay your journey for a poor maiden’s trouble. I would not delay your high purpose…yet my heart is so grieved that I will forego the usual courtesies and pour forth my tale of woe.”

At her words, Carl rolled his eyes and went chasing after a moth. The Lady continued.

“See yon stream? Early this morning I was playing with my golden ball, tossing and catching it in all manner of merriment. But misfortune stayed my hand on my final toss, and my golden ball landed in the stream. From there, the water swiftly carried down, down, down to a tunnel through with the stream flows. And now my golden ball is stuck like a pig in the mud.”

“The worst of it is the clouds have gathered together in preparation for a mighty thunderstorm. The rain will eventually cause the tunnel to overflow, and my golden ball will be lost forever.”

Having told her tale, the Lady recommenced her weeping. The Knight said not a word but followed the stream until he espied the tunnel. Casting himself on the ground, he reached into the tunnel in an attempt to snatch the runaway ball. When that failed, he grabbed his lance and poked it into the tunnel, trying to push the ball to freedom. But however skillfully the Knight wielded his lance, the ball remained beyond his reach. At length the Knight withdrew from the tunnel and returned to the Lady, defeated and dishonored.

“I am defeated and dishonored,” he cried. “I am no longer worthy to bear the title Gentle Knight!” With a wail of anguish, the Knight began removing his armor. Seeing that her golden ball was still stuck in the tunnel, the Lady joined in the general lament.

In the meantime, Carl, who had overheard the Lady’s tale, started taking measurements and gathering data. He determined that the rate at which the rainwater would flow into the tunnel was modeled by the function cubic feet per hour. The rate at which water drained from the tunnel was modeled by the function cubic feet per hour. It was his intent to use these two functions to determine the time at which the amount of water in the tunnel would be at a minimum and what the amount would be. His biggest problem would be getting the Knight and the Lady to stop their wailing long enough to listen to him.

“Gentle Knight! Lady!” he shouted. “I have a plan for retrieving the golden ball!”

With these and other words, Carl finally persuaded the Knight and the Lady to stop crying.

“Listen,” he said, “I can figure out the minimum amount of water in the tunnel; if it is not too deep, I can go into the tunnel and get the golden ball. Will that work for you?”

The Knight and the Lady were awed by his words and could only nod dumbly. Carl set to work with his calculations. As the minutes passed, and the sky grew dark, the Lady began to fret.

“Oh, Sir Knight, what if your brave companion cannot find an answer? Can there really be a solution to such a problem?”

The Knight groaned in response and began removing his outer garments.

“Whatever the outcome, I have proved myself a knave and a beast.”

Carl ignored the two of them and continued to calculate. After about quarter of an hour, he threw down his notes.

“Done! The amount of water in the tunnel will be at a minimum of 27.9945 cubic feet in approximately 3.2719 hours. Now all we have to do it wait; then I will retrieve the golden ball.”

So the Knight, the Lady, and Carl sat down and waited. At the end of 3.2719 hours, Carl went into the tunnel and found the Lady’s ball. He carried it over to her with a warning to be careful of where she tossed it. The Lady was so thankful that she asked Carl to name his reward–she would give him anything, even her own hand in marriage. This, however, Carl refused.

“Lady, I appreciate the offer,” he said, “but I am a cat.”

Then he told the Knight (who by this time was naked) to put on his clothes and his armor. Carl was thoroughly wet from his excursion into the tunnel and wanted to get indoors to the nearest fire as soon as possible. Because the Knight was a gentleman and Carl was a cat, they took the Lady with them, along with her golden ball.

 

 

 

The Pulpinator

No Pulp for Me

J. R. Handley posted a blog about writing pulp fiction, which he defined in terms of the number of words written in a year (a lot) and the number of books published (a lot.) I admire those who can write and publish so prolifically in the same way I admire pro golfers: I cannot do what they do but am awfully glad that someone does.  I have met people who admire math teachers for the same reason.

(Note to self: Download latest AP questions from the College Board.)

The reason I mention pulp fiction is because it is another step in my writing journey. In this case, it is a look down a path that is not for me. Looking at non-models and non-exemplars is just as important as the models and examples. I spent time considering whether or not I should try my hand at pulp fiction; I decided for now to leave it.

For one thing, pulp fiction demands writing thousands of words a day. That does not work for me because I am all about Rhino, and my Rhino does not charge–he meanders. He is like Ferdinand the bull, stopping and smelling the flowers. When Rhino and I get together to write something, it is an exercise in patience and perseverance.

In the first place, Rhino is always late. No matter when I schedule a writing session, Rhino is never on time. Often he simply fails to show up at all. This is annoying because whatever I write on my own has to be redone when Rhino finally arrives. Just once I would like to settle down to write and have Rhino right there with me, without having to stop and grab a Kleenex, get a jacket, check email, or get a drink of water.

Second, Rhino doesn’t stick with an idea long enough to write thousands of words about it. His path diverges into the woods, onto the beach, and up the mountains. He grabs my pencil and runs away with it. And what can I do but follow him?

(Note to self: You really do enjoy Rhino’s sidetracks.)

Finally, pulp fiction writers publish their books–their many words are put into print for public consumption. I am still working on getting my first book published.   The thing is, I don’t mind the wait. I am not in a hurry. I am enjoying the journey.

(Note to self: Write in all sorts of emotional states; it’s a good aerobic exercise. But be careful about what you publish. Just because it’s written doesn’t mean it’s meant for the public to read.)

So I am glad that people like J. R. Handley write pulp fiction and that they write about writing any sort of fiction. It makes for interesting books.   And I’m glad that Rhino meanders and sometimes stops along the way–it gives me time to visit a point of interest and read the signpost.

Official Grammarian

According to a recent article in the Washington Post, the rules of grammar have changed recently. “Their” can be used as a singular possessive pronoun instead of “his or hers.” “They” can be used as a gender-neutral singular pronoun. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/01/08/donald-trump-may-win-this-years-word-of-the-year/?utm_term=.a1a1f1752b49

In addition, you (note I’m replacing “one”) may now single-space as the end of a sentence. Who decides these things? Apparently a select group of linguists do. I happened to stumble across this information while I was racing down a sidetrack. Otherwise, I might never have known and would have continued to foist “his/hers” on the reading public.

I think those who change the rules of grammar should make public service announcements at regular intervals for fourteen months. And I have just the way to do that. Recruit someone who likes to tweet–a lot!

Suppose we find someone who tweets all the time to everybody about everything. A person like that could make himself really useful to the American people by making public service announcements. Perhaps we should give the job of Tweeter-in-Chief to someone well-known, someone in the spotlight. He would not have to necessarily be popular, just someone who draws press coverage. That way, not only would his followers read them, they would be broadcast in every home by the media.

And as for the content, the Tweeter-in-Chief could tweet out all sorts of useful information such as weather conditions, road closures, schools’ foggy day schedules, airline flight delays and cancellations and, of course, changes in the rules of grammar.

 

Writing Exercises

Wyeth-Amalia“The grey cells, they still function – the order, the method – it is still there.”

Hercule Poirot

I do writing exercises to develop my proficiency in writing. The following is a description of each exercise in term of physical exercise and a key cognitive strategy it addresses. When I was teaching, I had my students do some of these exercises as a way to develop their mathematics proficiency and conceptual understanding.

Objects in a Bag

Connect a concept or story to a set of objects, such as a social compact, text structures, stages of faith, or Bloom’s taxonomy.

This is like a weight bearing exercise because it forces your brain to work against conventional thinking, which helps strengthen your framework.

Key Cognitive Strategy: Research 

Map of the Journey

Describe a process or an experience, such as teaching or writing, as a journey.

This is like a muscle strengthening exercise because it uses the writing process to understand real world phenomena.

Key Cognitive Strategy: Problem Formulation

Mobius Trip

Participate in another perspective of a concept.

This is like a balance exercise because it develops the ability to see multiple sides of an issue.

Key Cognitive Strategy: Precision and Accuracy

Sailing to Byzantium

Analyze observations of the world from a Five perspective.

This is like an aerobic exercise because it expands the capacity for sympathy and empathy.

Key Cognitive Strategy: Communication

Writing to Prompt

Write a story based on a given prompt. R. A. F. T.

This is like a flexibility exercise because it stretches the creative vision and keeps vocabulary limber.

Key Cognitive Strategy: Interpretation

I love doing these exercises. I try to do at least one exercise every day. Whenever I get stuck writing for my book, I set the book aside and do a writing exercise. Often the exercise reveals what I was trying to say in my story.

A few months ago, I was unsuccessfully trying to write a back cover blurb for my book. I decided to treat it as a writing exercise; I pretended I was writing to a prompt. It worked! I managed to write a halfway decent introduction for Rhino.

I highly recommend doing some sort of writing exercise–one that works best for you.

The Road to Helicon

Flash Fiction challenge from Terrible Minds. http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2017/03/03/flash-fiction-challenge-right-vs-wrong/

Good Intentions.

It happened last Saturday. My husband had business on Helicon and asked me if I would like to go with him and take our daughter to the beach. Helicon is not my favorite planet, but its beaches are nice so I agreed to go.

When we arrived at the spaceport, we rented a ground vehicle for the day. I dropped my husband off at the factory and then drove to Shetle Beach. My daughter, Amalia, had a great time dodging waves, chasing beach birds, and building sand castles. She even made friends with a cute little beast that made Amalia laugh.JennyNelly

The trouble started when we returned to our vehicle. As soon as I opened the door for Amalia, the animal jumped in first. I tried to shoo it out and, when that failed, tried to push it out. That beast would not budge. I finally decided to pick it up and discovered that the little creature weighed a ton! Okay, probably not a ton, but it weighed more than I could lift. A passing patrol officer noticed my struggles and stopped to ask what was the problem. I explained the situation to him and asked for his help. He smiled and informed me that there are strict rules regarding dumping animals on Helicon and that I must follow the appropriate procedure.

“Well, then, what do I do?” I asked. “I need to get to the Varret factory by 5:00 GST to pick up my husband.”

“This won’t take long,” said the officer, pulling a capsule from his pocket. “Just fill out this Temporary Host form, indicating you have an animal in your vehicle. This will allow you to transport the animal while you are here on Helicon.”

“But I don’t want to transport the animal! I want to remove it.”

“And so you shall. But first you need a permit to have it in your vehicle before you can get the proper permit to get it out.”

This was annoying, but I had no choice. I opened the capsule, unrolled the film, and signed my name at the bottom. I gave it back to the officer, who shook his head.

“Take this with you to any patrol station and obtain an Emergency Removal Order. This will allow you to request a disposal unit to remove the animal.”

“You mean I have to drive around with this thing?”

“Yes, ma’am” said the officer. “That’s why I gave you the TH form. Now you are free to go anywhere on Helicon with the animal for the duration of your visit.”

I thanked him for his assistance and turned to put Amalia in the vehicle. She was already inside sitting next to the beast; she was thrilled.

“Amalia, “ I said, “we are not keeping this thing.” I looked at the animal.

“Don’t get too cute.”

The beastie responded by licking my hand.

“Tasting me, are you?” I muttered.

The onboard map showed the nearest patrol station was only 6.3 kilometers away.

Good! I thought. Let’s get this done.

When I entered the parking port, I pulled up to the information kiosk and explained my problem to the information officer. She only smiled and shook her head.

“But I have here the TH form from the beach officer which he said would get me the ERO form,” I said, holding out the capsule.

“That’s true, dear,” she said. “But first the animal needs an Anti Disease Test clearance. Without that, it cannot be removed from the vehicle.” She looked more closely at Amalia. “Has that child been in close contact with the animal? If so, she will also need an ADT clearance.”

Alarmed, I pulled Amalia onto my lap.

“No, she will not need an ADT clearance. How do I get one for the animal?”

The information officer tut-tutted as she handed me another capsule.

“Take this around the corner to the Operational Hazard office. Someone there will test the animal–and your daughter, if you wish.”

What could I do? I drove to the OH office where they inspected the capsule, inspected the animal, and tried to inspect my daughter. The look on my face–which I inherited from mothers everywhere–unnerved them. In the end, they gave the animal–which they said was a lylen–the ADT clearance; and gave me another document to sign. This one was an OH affidavit stating that I did not knowingly with malicious intent lure the animal into my vehicle. Then they issued me an Entry Level License. This would allow me to take the animal to a shelter where a team of technicians would remove it from the vehicle.

Thanks to the onboard map, I found the “Indigenous Species Shelter and Recreation Area” in record time. The lylen grew agitated as I pulled into the parking port. It started bouncing up and down on the seat, which made the whole car vibrate. I exited the vehicle, taking Amalia with me. By now the vehicle was bucking so wildly I could barely touch the door panel. Once the door opened, the lylen sprang outside. It immediately ran to a large pen holding several other lylens doing whatever it is lylens do when they are not charming small children. A man in a green jumpsuit hurried over.

“Hey!” he shouted. “You can’t dump animals on Helicon!”

“But I was told to come here,” I said. “I have all the necessary forms.”

“Hmm,” he said, looking distressed. “Do you have the TH?”

“Yes.”

“The ERO?”

“Yes.”

“The ADT and the OH?”

“Yes, and I even have the ELL. What more do I have to do?”

The officer opened and read all the capsules I had given him. Then he smiled and waved me off.

“Have a nice day.”

That evening, as we were leaving the spaceport, I noticed a large sign flashing overhead. “Leaving Helicon, the Planet of Best Intentions.”

Leonard’s Legs Leave Home

leonards-legsAvid

Slap. Slap. Slap. Slap 

The sound of running feet echoed across the desert.

Slap. Slap. Slap. Slap.

After years of threatening to do so, Leonard’s legs finally ran away with him. And he was suffering for it. His bones ached, his lungs burned, and his blood beat a steady tattoo in his ears. He glanced down at the road and groaned. He had crossed another state line.

Leonard was annoyed with his legs; this was a most inconvenient time for them to leave. He had deadlines to meet–appointments and obligations. Although he felt the burden of his responsibilities, apparently his legs did not. They didn’t seem to understand that if one is an avid writer, then one has to…well…write! His legs were so unreasonable!

And yet, Leonard had to admit that they had a point. He had grown increasingly distracted, like he was in another world. Well, he was sometimes. Actually, he always was, but lately the occasions that he emerged from his little cottage had diminished. It made contact with the outside world even more challenging; it was like having to learn to speak all over again. He groaned. He had become so disconnected that he recently misunderstood a writing prompt from a blogger. The blogger had asked for three-word titles; Leonard thought he was supposed to write a three-word title story. He wrote a lovely story with a three-word title and posted it on the blogger’s website. He wondered why there were almost three hundred responses to the prompt. Then he began reading them and realized they were all titles, not stories. How humiliating!

It was such a nice story, too, thought Leonard. It really cracked me up. All about that bull moose at Cabela’s. I even included a picture I took at Cabela’s when I visited there with my brother. What a shock that place was! Stuffed animals everywhere! I saw the lion my cousin killed in Africa mounted on one of the shelves. Strange seeing that lion in Cabela’s–I first saw it at my cousin’s house, along with his other trophies. The rhino was the worst; I hated seeing the stuffed rhino head. I love rhinos.

Slap. Slap. Slap. Slap.

Why? he thought. Why are my legs doing this? Was Chesterton right? Must we propitiate the barbaric god of legs with fire and wine?

A few days ago, Leonard’s arms got wind of what was happening, and they wanted a piece of the action. They demanded that the legs stop every hour so that they could do push-ups.

Oh, Lord, no, pleaded Leonard. Not that–I just couldn’t.

So far, the legs had refused to listen to the arms’ demands. Leonard’s arms were not pleased, and to show their displeasure, they waved themselves about as Leonard’s legs ran.

Slap. Slap. Slap. Slap.

 

Next town–Albuquerque

Jane Austen ~ “Novels”

jane-austenJane Austen (1775–1817) was born at Steventon near Basingstoke, England, the daughter of George Austen, the rector of the local parish. She lived with her family at Steventon and later at Bath. After her father’s death, Jane and her mother moved to Chawton, Hampshire. Jane’s formal education ended in 1786 after a near fatal illness; she returned home never again to venture beyond the family circle. Jane Austen’s better known works include Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey.

The following is an excerpt from Northhanger Abbey.

 

“I will not adopt that ungenerous and impolitic custom so common with novel-writers, of degrading by their contemptuous censure the very performances, to the number of which they are themselves adding–joining with their greatest enemies in bestowing the harshest epithets on such works, and scarcely ever permitting them to be read by their own heroine, who, if she accidentally take up a novel, is sure to turn over its insipid pages with disgust.

“Alas! If the heroine of one novel be not patronized by the heroine of another, from whom can she expect protection and regard? I cannot approve of it. Let us leave it to the reviewers to abuse such effusions of fancy at their leisure, and over every new novel to talk in threadbare strains of the trash with which the press now groans.

“Let us not desert one another; we are an injured body. Although our productions have afforded more extensive and unaffected pleasure than those of any other literary corporation in the world, no species of composition has been so much decried.

“From pride, ignorance, and fashion, our foes are almost as many as our readers. And while the abilities of the nine-hundredth abridger of the History of England, or of the man who collects and publishes in a volume some dozen lines of Milton, Pope, and Prior, with a paper from the Spectator, and a chapter from Sterne, are eulogized by a thousand pens–there seems almost a general wish of decrying the capacity and undervaluing the labour of the novelist, and of slighting the performances which have only genius, wit, and taste to recommend them.

“‘I am no novel-reader–I seldom look into novels–Do not imagine that I often read novels–it is really very well for a novel.’ Such is the common cant.

‘And what are you reading Miss–?’

‘Oh! It is only a novel!’ replies the young lady, while she lays down her book with affected indifference, or momentary shame.

‘It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda’: or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language.”

~

What do you think of Jane Austen’s opinion about novels?  Do you think her critique is relevant for modern times?

What’s Left is Right

“Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.” Psalm 85:10 NKJV

Our country is polarized right now and has been for several years. People have been trying to transform left and right viewpoints into “either-or” politics. It’s not working. Different viewpoints are not supposed to be mutually exclusive; in fact, both are necessary in order for either to survive. Fortunately there are people who recognize this and are writing about it: Chris Satullo “Polite Politics: Five Road-Tested Rules for Talking with the Other Side” and James R. Neal “Our Own Worst Enemy.”   I would like to add my own solitary voice to those advocating mutual respect, understanding, and collaboration.

Conservative and Liberal: We need both to function as a society. From Webster’s dictionary © 1980, we have the following definitions:

Conservative: disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., and to agree with gradual rather than abrupt change; to favor moderate progressivism; one who conserves (i.e., to keep from loss, decay, waste, or injury); to favor official supervision of rivers, forests, and other natural resources.

Liberal: favorable to progress or reform, as in religious or political affairs; of or pertaining to representational forms of government rather than aristocracies or monarchies; favorable to concepts of maximum individual freedom possible, as guaranteed by law and secured by governmental protection of civil liberties; free from prejudice or bigotry; tolerant; open-minded.

Based on these definitions, I am a conservative liberal and a liberal conservative. I have a right side and a left side who work well together. My left brain collaborates with my right brain to create all sorts of amazing things for me to think about. Without those two, I would be very bored and restless and would probably get into all sorts of trouble.

When I want to write something, my right hand does the heavy lifting at first, while my left hand holds the paper steady. When it’s time to transfer my written thoughts to my computer, both hands work in harmony on the keyboard. You go, hands!

Speaking of words, I need both my “yes” and my “no,” my “up” and my “down,” my “hello” and “goodbye.” How frustrating it would be to communicate if I did not a have choice of saying either one or the other, at any given time, and in any particular situation.

Justice and mercy are not mutually exclusive; they, too, work best when they work together. I need them both if I am going to function as a contributing member of society. I think we all do.

Text Structures

van-gogh-willows“What is it that can awaken a mind to the meaning of a text? When is the moment that the heart is moved by its beauty?”  The Book of Rhino

According to Webster’s dictionary, text is the main body of matter in a manuscript, book, newspaper, etc., as distinguished from notes, appendixes, headings, or illustrations. There are five basic expository text structures: description, sequence, comparison, cause and effect, problem and solution. Recognizing a particular text structure in a piece of writing always enhances my appreciation of the text.

Description:  The author describes a topic by listing characteristics, features, and examples. Cue words are: for example, characteristics are.

Sample passage

Trees are the largest of all plants. Trees can be divided into six main groups: broadleaf, needleleaf, palm, cyad, ferns, and gingko. Although the trees differ with respect to whether or not they have flowers, fruits, or cones, they all try to get along. The exceptions are the palm and the cyad. They are the Montagues and the Capulets of the tree world.

Sequence:  The author lists items or events in numerical or chronological order. Cue words are: first, second, third, next, then, finally.

Sample passage

Most trees begin life as a seed. First the female part of the tree comes in contact with male pollen, fertilizing the seed. Then the seeds are scattered by the wind, or by birds, or by a friendly squirrel. Unfriendly squirrels can’t be bothered. (The trees take note of this and exact a terrible revenge.) The young tree that develops from the seed is called a seedling until it reaches a height of six feet or more. At this point, it is granted sapling status and can legally buy mulch. It finally achieves full treehood when it is as tall as the other trees in the community.

Comparison:  The author explains how two or more things are alike and/or how they are different. Cue words are: different, in contrast, alike, same as, on the other hand

Sample passage

A tree differs from other plants in that trees grow at least 15 to 20 feet and have one woody stem, which is called a trunk. Plants, on the other hand, have a soft, juicy stem. Trees and plants are alike in that they both have leaves, but trees consider their leaves far superior to those of plants. Naturally, some plants chafe under their supposed inferiority and try to compensate. Seaweeds, for example, grow their stems 200 feet tall, but they cannot stand out of water, much to their chagrin–and the secret amusement of trees.

Cause and Effect:  The author lists one or causes and the resulting effect or effects. Cue words are: reasons why, if…then, as a result, therefore, because

Sample passage

There are several reasons why people love trees. Their leaves provide shade from the sun and the fruit of some trees can be used for food. Trees help conserve soil and preserve the balance of carbon dioxide and oxygen gases in the atmosphere. Their trunks are harvested for lumber and paper. For thousands of years, trees have played hide-and-seek with children and have been something to lean on when you’re having “that sort of day.” As a result, trees have been praised in poetry, worshipped in dance, and appeased with an occasional human sacrifice.

Problem and Solution:  The author state a problem and lists one or more solutions. Cue words are: problem is, dilemma is, puzzle is solved, question…answer.

Sample passage

Trees require enormous amounts of water. A large apple tree in full leaf may absorb as much as 95 gallons of water every day. This is not an issue when a tree is among other trees in a forest or field. But in suburban areas, this is a real dilemma. Without a nearby source of water, a tree will send its roots far and wide searching for it, invading swimming pools and septic tanks, if necessary. Humans do not like this; a root invasion in a septic tank is no joke. The solution is to provide each tree with its own swimming pool or septic tank so it doesn’t have to drink from yours.

This particular text is a description; I hope you found it interesting. Do you know of other expository text structures besides the ones listed?  If you do, please share in the comment section. I would like to know because I’m always curious.

Freeman Dyson ~ Social Compacts

Freeman Dyson (b. 1923) was born at Crowthorne in Berkshire, England, the son of George Dyson, an English composer and Mildred Atkey Dyson, a lawyer.  After World War II Dyson earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Trinity College, Cambridge.  Although he never got a PhD, he is Professor Emeritus of Physics at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.  Freeman Dyson is the author of seven books, among them Disturbing the Universe, Weapons and Hope, Origins of Life, and From Eros to Gaia.

When Freeman Dyson was nine years old, he wrote a story, “Sir Philip Robert’s Erolunar Collision.”  It was inspired by the story From Earth to Moon and a Trip Round It by Jules Verne and the discovery that in 1931 a minor planet named Eros was going to come close to the Earth in its orbit.

columbiadIn Dyson’s story, Sir Philip is the director of the British South-African Astronomical Society who discovers that the planet Eros is on a collision course with Earth’s moon.  He shares his discovery with his fellow scientists who do not panic; instead, they cheer.  They realize that they have a problem, but it is not that the impact will shatter the moon.  No, their problem is how to get to the moon to observe the collision. Science at any cost!  In the end, Sir Philip and his colleagues decide to send up a manned projectile by means of a columbiad–a large-caliber, muzzle-loading cannon.

One of the things I love about this story is the title–it’s so pragmatically descriptive.  It earth-eaglereminds me of a drawing my son made in preschool titled “Earth Eagle with Hot Lava Wings” and Julian Lennon’s drawing titled “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.”  The other thing I love about this story is that the conflict–a collision between two satellites–is a fitting metaphor for competing social compacts.

“Will Eros really go right through our satellite?” said Major Forbes.

“Yes,” said Sir Philip, “Its speed, and its small weight and resistance, will bring it through our satellite, it will be a picture, suddenly rising white-hot from the Moon’s internal fires, followed by a stream of liquid lava.”

Think of it! Eros is happily hurtling through space, unencumbered by any thought of meeting resistance.  Like the god for whom it is named, it is all motion and heat.  The goddess Moon, on the other hand, follows her elliptical path in calm assurance that she will always do so.  Neither Eros nor the Moon has the slightest awareness of the other’s existence.  And why should they? They are each obeying the strictures of their own social compacts, their own orbits.  It is just happenstance that their paths will collide at a given time on a given day.

Isn’t that how conflict begins?  Whenever two or more social compacts compete for the same space at the same time, there is bound to be a collision.  In polite society, most of the damage is not seen on the outside.  People are trained to hide it with tight smiles and cold handshakes, but the lava still burns inside. Some authors are masters at creating these kinds of conflicts; Edith Wharton and Anthony Trollope come to mind.

I think of this type of conflict on a continuum.  On one end is the Erolunar Collision with its advance warning, its huge blast, and its flowing lava. On the other end is the unseen, non-violent, unremarkable conflict.  Its lava flows just as hot, but no one notices it.

What about you?  Can you think of literary examples of two social compacts colliding? Where are they on the continuum?  I would like to know.  Just curious.