Monday, March 30, 2009


One sunny day in 5th grade we headed to Mrs Buchanon's science class in the next building over. I loved science class and although I can't seem to remember the frequency with which we visited Mrs Buchanon I have several very vivid memories of her classroom. They mostly involve owl pellets and computer assignments...But the assignment on that sunny San Diego day in 1994 left an impression on me that I don't think will ever rub off.

Once inside the room we settled ourselves at our desks. Mrs Buchanon held up a rather unsightly contraption and said "Class, today, we are going to make Hum Dingers." The item that she held up was enclosed in wood and all I could see was a small piece of string that she pulled on. When pulled, the string would set off a chain reaction - something within the box would hum a low deep hum and then as soon as the string was let go, the box would ding! like a kitchen timer.

"So - today you are going to make this" Mrs. Buchanon said, "but here's the catch. I am giving you some rubber bands, a few paperclips, some metal, a string, a tiny little motor and a box - but I am not going to give you instructions. You have the rest of the class period to figure out a way to make your materials Hummmm and then Ding!"

We had all been subjected to the dreaded Invention Convention - where our parents competed against eachother the night before the assignment was due to see who would come up with the most thoroughly ridiculous project. I think I stole the show with the "Goose Neck Sprinkler" - a regular old spray bottle with a plastic straw attached - for those hard to reach potted plants.

But this project was different - I felt the need not only to be the first one done, but to be the one with the loudest ding!

It really wasn't all that hard. At least I remember thinking that. But once I had thrown all of the pieces together and tugged on the string, my Hummmm was more of a lackluster bzzzzzz. But boy did it ding when you let go of the string.

The last part of class was dedicated to Mrs Buchanon pulling all of our strings in front of our peers. She showered those who accomplished the task with compliments and made a somewhat disappointed face when a student failed to make their contraption Hum or Ding or both. When it came to my Hum Dinger she seemed sort of torn. She pulled the string, listened to the buzz and the ding and said, "Well...It doesn't sound exactly like mine did, but it humzz and it dings! And the project didn't have any instructions so I say...Great Job!!!"

And this has sort of contributed to my life's mantra ever since. In life you aren't always given instructions for the things you have to do. Sometimes you just know the goal and are given the materials, but the means to the end are really up to you.

You can half ass it, you can fudge the meanings and definitions of some things, you can create your own pathway to the destination. But dammit in the end, if you aren't humming or dinging....well then you're doing something wrong.