Steven (unzeugmatic) wrote,

Initiation by Injury

May 5, 1999

This is a tale of blood, Morris dance, pain, and physics. Mostly physics.

Picture this, the image I hope to retain always: Me, sitting on a stool, dazed, bleeding profusely from the top of my head while trying to stem the blood flow by the pressured application of a piece of gauze, while listening to a spirited discussion on angular momentum and kinetic energy, complete with variables and basic equations. Meanwhile I am doing basic math in my head, in a naive attempt to determine whether I have sustained brain injury in addition to head injury.

"Is a trip to the ER in order?" asks a concerned Michael. "NO!" I insist, having already rudely responded to Michael's previous gestures of concern that I didn't need anything in the way of pity. What I didn't know until later was that it was the force of Michael's overlarge stick crashing midair into Wayne's stick during a stick-toss move in the dance "Old Peculiar" that had sent Wayne's stick flying in the direction of my head, so Michael was feeling responsible for the injury and that is what I had (wrongly) sensed as pity. It didn't occur to me until much later to wonder about whose sticks these were (the options were limited in that area), but it turns out that I can get an awful lot of mileage from the fact that Michael and Wayne (wrongly) feel responsible here. So far the only advantage I have taken of this situation is that I ate three of Wayne's french fries after practice, but I suspect that as the weeks go by I'll find any number of ways to exact favors.

Michael said, "Ok, we'll wait a bit to see what the next step should be." This was followed by a period of general silence, until I yelled, "THE NEXT STEP IS NOT STANDING AROUND IN SILENCE STARING AT ME!" So the guys reformed into their set and did the dance again, badly and distractedly. We did one more dance before calling it a night -- I actually got up to dance before it occurred to me that not only was I dazed and dizzy but it's not possible to dance while holding a bandage on top of your head. The guys danced the dance that requires a "queen" to be chosen from the audience, to direct the dance to, and they chose this dance so that I could sit regally on my stool while they did their figures, individually, before me. Selecting me as queen is gilding the lily, I say.

I have no specific recollection of watching the sticks clash and ricochet in my direction. I was facing elsewhere, and the stick crashing hard on my head came as a surprise. I suppose I have said, in the past, that I was "stunned" about one thing or another. Now I know that this has never been true, for I know what it means to be stunned. I couldn't figure out if I was hurt or not, or how badly. I couldn't do much of anything. I took off my cap to feel my head, and I thought, "Oh drat, this hat got stained somehow -- I wonder when" and then I realized that I would have noticed the huge red stain on the hat when I put it on, had it been there at the time. "This could be blood!" I thought, stupidly, so I went to the bathroom to wash the hat before the stain set. Amidst my stunned passivity, I still was concerned about laundry.

Denise trailed me to the bathroom, where she washed the blood that had started to drip down my forehead (I actually looked in the mirror and went "euw" -- it was involuntary.) I really wasn't certain what to do. I realize only now, in retrospect, that the rest of the team was standing around all this time just waiting in worry. Deb went to her car for a first-aid kit, came back and found the actual laceration, cleaned me up some more, and gave me sterile gauze.

That's when the physics discussion began. I started it. "What actually happened?" I asked, having found a place on the stool. Out came the equations, the assumption of an elastic collision, the concept of kinetic energy and how it is often mistakenly called momentum. Now I'm wondering whether what I felt on my head was the transference of kinetic energy, which seems almost mystic. I'm hoping perhaps that somebody on this list can explain, in terms of momentum and energy, just what happens when two flying sticks of differing sizes meet in mid-air and one goes flying and hits a bystander on the head. I want to turn this into a song.

I felt generally awful, then I felt better if quite sore in a localized sense, and now, it being the next morning, I feel fine, if achy. I have one heck of a bloody patch on my scalp, and a new lump on my head. And a new and pervasive understanding of what is meant by "applied Physics".

-Steven Levine

Followup commentary from Stephen Parker, May 6 1999:

In the oral tradition of morris there is a hallowed saying: "The tree of life must oft be watered with the blood of neophyte morris dancers." That you have had the honor of being the sacrificial offering will crown your days among the blessed ranks of the belled.
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