Watching Pitch Drop

December 7, 2013

Have you ever heard of the Pitch Drop experiment? It’s a rather interesting project, I think. Imagine starting a study that you know, with a fairly high degree of certainty, that you will not get to see pan out. It will continue on to the next generation, and the next.

The first Professor of Physics at UQ, Professor Thomas Parnell, began an experiment in 1927 to illustrate that everyday materials can exhibit quite surprising properties. The experiment demonstrates the fluidity and high viscosity of pitch, a derivative of tar once used for waterproofing boats. At room temperature pitch feels solid – even brittle – and can easily be shattered with a blow from a hammer. It’s quite amazing then, to see that pitch at room temperature is actually fluid!

Okay, so it might not sound incredibly exciting to everyone, but it is a really cool experiment to those of us who thrive on nerding out over science projects. And it’s kind of mesmerizing to watch.

What made me think of this project was that I have been trying to write a post (yesterday’s post) and it keeps taking these incredibly personal turns, and I am not sure how to just let that out. I think I should just do it, let the words out, let them fall where they may. And then because procrastination is so much easier, I tried to think of an appropriate metaphor. That’s when I remembered the Pitch Drop experiment, and it seemed the perfect, if not a bit hyperbolic, metaphor. The exaggeration, in my mind at least, added to the integrity of the metaphor.

One of the things that is fun about watching the Pitch Drop feed is the people who will sometimes walk by and wave. I always want to wave back, even though they can’t see me. Kind of like how I think it’s sad when someone doesn’t return a high five. (Watching the Pitch Drop Experiment: High-five, bro)

Sometimes people leave papers taped to the glass. Usually the messages are so out of context that I’ve no idea what I’m reading. It’s for a specific person, or it’s a reference I simply don’t get. As one who likes to create fictions out of whatever (aka a writer), I like to think a lot about the motivation behind these messages. I sometimes like to think about the people who wave, maybe make them into a character.

Today (it’ll be last night by the time this post hits the site), I was watching the live feed and there was a person with a bow-tie. I wondered if this person was a Doctor Who fan, or if they just think that bow ties are cool.

But then while I was watching, I started hearing this tune in my head. And some words came pouring out, not on the thing I was trying to write, but on another piece I have been thinking about a lot lately. Funny how that goes. When focussing so hard on writing one thing, another thing gets solved.

I don’t often feel like I am putting huge chunks of myself on the page, or on the screen. I have this disassociation that goes on. I think it’s a safety net for a lot of writers, that we do this to keep ourselves from getting too worked up over criticism, or taking things too personally. After I wrote this thing, I felt like a huge chunk of me was right there on the screen. The pitch had fallen, and I was there to see it.

In actuality, the pitch has not yet dropped. Only the metaphorical one that I connected to my difficulties in writing. And you know what happens when the pitch drops? You wait for the next one to fall. Very, very patiently. And of course, while you wait, there are plenty of other things that need doing.

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