Tag Archives: science

Kinetic Energy and Potential Energy

Think back to elementary school science class. Remember learning about kinetic energy and potential energy? I was smitten with the word “kinetic” from the moment I heard it–that word is not one you bump into by accident. It is a book-learning, SAT kind of word. I’ve been thinking a lot about kinetic energy and potential energy this morning as I try to get myself packed to go to a writing retreat. I have re-organized our silverware drawer, talked to my insurance agent, folded everything that needs folding, and even done a few chores for other people because I am a bundle of nerves. I am downright kinetic.



So, in case you are having trouble finding that fourth grade science part of your brain, a refresher: imagine an archer, pulling back the string of a bow. Potential energy is “the energy possessed by a body by virtue of its position relative to others, stresses within itself, electric charge, and other factors.” So when the archer pulls back on the bowstring, the string possesses a great amount of potential energy, all derived from the force the archer’s muscles can pull, the tautness of the string itself, the angle at which the string is stretched, etc. When the archer’s fingers let slip, we are watching kinetic energy as the arrow is pushed forward by the released energy of the bowstring. Kinetic energy is the energy of being in motion.

For potential to move to kinetic, the archer has to LET GO.

Last week, when I wrote about the challenge I’m facing with writing, Margaret reminded me of something our boot camp coach Tami used to say: if you want to run faster, you have to run faster. Simple in words, but hard in dead…right? Margaret pushed through her PhD with those words. Tami moved herself from a nursing career to an interior design career. To achieve the thing you want, you have to DO the thing you dream of. The only way to train your body to run faster is to push it to run faster. Not to talk about running, watching Chariots of Fire every night, join a running list serv, or shop for new shoes. You get better at running by running.

That got me thinking (see how I’ve been doing allllll this thinking but no writing?) about Wise Heather. Heather has been training for MONTHS for the Marine Corps Marathon. It’s her first full marathon and it’s this weekend. She’s running in memory of her father. She has hit every mark of her training plan, mile after mile after mile. She’s run in wind and rain and heat and other cities and other races. She knows the course elevation. She knows the forecasted temperatures. She knows she has to “beat the bridge” at mile 18 and she has practiced running that far, that fast.

Then her training plan told her to quit running. Not quit altogether, but quit pushing herself higher. This is the dreaded “taper” that runners have to do before a race. Cut the mileage back, let your muscles rest, all with the aim of going farther and faster because you slowed down.

Heather is pulling the bowstring and it is HARD. Building up potential energy requires those stresses in oneself. Waiting to let the string go and see how far it can push the arrow, in the right direction, if the wind is right.

I am writing these words, right now, about her, and about math and science and Margaret and Tami and elementary school, because I really want to be writing a book and it is HARD. I think about writing and talk about writing and read books written by people who know how to write. But the only way to write more is to write more. In sun and wind and rain and in other cities.

So. My car is packed. The string is pulled. Now I just have to let go. Change potential into kinetic.

This Saturday, think of Heather and remind her that she can do this. At the same time she is running her race, I will be writing mine. We can do this. Potential to kinetic.

Let’s go.


Learning to Breathe Air

Saturday morning, Carlos and I checked on the science project we’ve got going on the deck.


I eased the brown plastic cover all the way off of his sandbox and propped it against the railing. Twenty little tadpoles flitted across the surface of the rainwater that has collected in there during the last part of summer. The water is nice and clear, but nice and brown too. Every few days, we throw some vegetable matter in there for them to nibble on. They like grapes. There’s shade and sun and room to practice swimming. The cats and the birds haven’t bothered them. Yet.

“Oh, look how much they’ve grown, Carlos!”

He leaned over towards the surface. “They gwowin, Mama!” He parrots what I say often. He’s learning so many new words.

“This one’s got legs!” I named that tadpole Lieutenant Dan–because he’s got new legs. I didn’t try to explain it to Carlos. He’s never made it through Forrest Gump.

"Lieutenant Dan! You got new legs!"

“Lieutenant Dan! You got new legs!”

If our shadows crossed the water, the tadpoles darted away to the safe end of the sandbox. I took a piece of pinestraw and stirred the water gently.

“Look how the big ones are hanging out right at the top of the water.”

“What they doin’ Mama?”

“They’re learning to breathe. Well, they’re learning to breathe air for when they live on land instead of in the water.”

“They breevin’ air.”

Lieutenant Dan flicked his tail and skittered a few inches away from my pinestraw. His tiny legs just hung there while his tail did all the work.

It got me to thinking about how the tadpole doesn’t know that these changes are happening. It doesn’t wake up one day and think, “Alright, today’s THE DAY. I’m gonna get me some LEGS today! Better start practicing breathing the air because I’ve got big plans for these LEGS!” That tadpole spends every day just being a tadpole. Then one day he’ll be a frog. “Gradually, then all at once,” as Hemingway said.

I spend so much of my life trying to anticipate what comes next, trying to make sure that I am ready. I try to ensure that nothing will take me by surprise, while all the while I have no idea what is coming. All this anxiety that stems from prepping for…something.

Going from breathing water to breathing air. What is it in the tadpole that pushes him up towards the top of the water, to that other world? Is it air pressure or the angle of the sun or the buoyancy in his changing body? The tadpole has to change. It has to grow and adapt to a radically different world. But it does that simply by living each minute. The change happens to the tadpole, not because of the tadpole. (This is where my therapist would clear her throat and raise one eyebrow in my general direction.)

Every one of us made the same transition. In the womb, our tiny lungs are filled with amniotic fluid. Then we leave that quiet ocean and the pressure of the atmosphere forces itself into our lungs. We answer the surprise of that invisible weight and the rush of our own blood flowing with our first great wail. The first time we comment on this world is the first time we breathe air.

Even if we never knew it was time to practice.

Saturday Snort–Yo Mama Is a Nerd

oh snap

Yo mama’s so fat that scientists track her position by observing anomalies in Pluto’s orbit.

Yo mama’s so fat that China uses her to block the internet.

Yo mama’s so stupid that her exchange particle is a “moron”.

Yo mama’s so old that she goes on carbon dates.

Yo mama’s such a ho that even the noble gases are attracted to her.

Yo momma so fat, she took geometry in high school just cause she heard there was gonna be some pi.

Yo momma so mean she has no standard deviation.

Saturday Snort – Courtesy of Dr. G

Living with a chemist isn’t always easy.  We go through more bleach than your average household.  He thinks the swimming pool is a big lab for experimenting.  When I wanted to use a pressure washer on the concrete in our new screened porch, he said that was crazy talk…we should use hydrochloric acid instead.  Much safer.

But he’s funny, that G.  He found this easy-to-understand infographic about the way our weights would differ on other planets:

weight on other planets