Barry Smith: Irrelativity
August 20, 2012
I often wonder who I’d be if my parents hadn’t actively quashed my natural curiosity and zest for living.
My mind drifts back to Christmas of 1973. As I tear into my “big” present, a 30-in-1 Electronic Projects Kit, I notice that it contains a small strip of zinc and a small strip of copper.
Perfect. These will be the key components for my transporter pad!
I was 7 that year and had recently discovered “Star Trek,” already in reruns. Even though a phaser would have been much more fun (and practical), I had become fascinated with the transporter. The possibility of being able to zap yourself from one place to another was incredibly captivating to me, even though I didn’t really have anyplace that I wanted to go that was more than a short bike ride away.
And with this new educational toy (I asked Santa for the 75-in-1 version but got the 30-in-1 instead – such is life), I would surely be able to skip over the boring projects (Telegraph! Blinking Diode!) and get right to creating a transporter. I mean, I have the two strips of metal – I’m practically there. I just need to put whatever I want to transport between them, and – you know – make them be a transporter.
Now, sure, they were tiny strips of metal, but I figured I’d work out the specifics on a small prototype, maybe transport a pencil from one corner of the room to the other, before moving on to a full-scale version that would fit me. Or, for starters, my little brother. You know, until all the bugs are completely worked out.
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Being the electronics prodigy that I clearly was, I understood that transportation technology would require more power than the included 9-volt battery could provide. So later that evening, I scooched the whole 30-in-1 kit up close to the electric outlet in my bedroom. I held up the two metal strips and looked at them carefully. Then I looked over at the outlet. How do I get the power out of the outlet and into these strips? Hmmm.
And it was here that my ambition came face-to-face with my childhood trauma. Yes, I was already working to overcome childhood trauma by age 7.
See, this was not my first time pondering the void of the electric socket. I remember now (as I remembered then) the time, just a few years earlier, that I was determined to crack the mystery of what was inside those little slots. What is it that makes the lamp light up? The TV turn on? My Snoopy record player work? I need to know.
Not wanting to waste my parents’ time, I set out to discover it for myself. Grabbing one of my mother’s hairpins, I slinked away into my bedroom, plopped down next to the circuit and started probing around inside of it. I was 5, and I was about to get the shock of my life. But not the kind you might think.
My mother, probably alerted by the fact that I had suddenly become very quiet, walked into the room just as I’d plunged the hairpin into the socket and reacted the way a mother might react upon witnessing her toddler fishing around in a wall socket.
She screamed. Loud. Like a blood-curdling, over-the-top, B-movie scream. It was terrifying for both of us, only I’m probably the only one who peed as a result.
So now, 2 years later, I’m in front of the outlet again. Only this time I have a purpose, not just idle childlike curiosity. I’m 7, so I’m a bit more grown up, and I know what I need to do in order to reach my goals.
But I can’t seem to do it. It’s almost like my ears are still ringing from that screaming. Something just won’t let me forge ahead with my project and shove metal strips into the outlet. I had been stunted by my mother, and it was thwarting my scientific progress.
It’s convenient and a bit cliche to blame your parents for your shortcomings, but I have to tell it like it is. I know that my mother was well-meaning, but if she hadn’t totally overreacted all those years ago, I might have made a real breakthrough on that day. Without her earlier meddling, there’s a very good chance that I would have found a way to connect those metal strips to the wall outlet and successfully transport myself to a completely different place.