The Gravity of My Toenails

I was hanging out my 2nd floor bedroom window a some months back, precariously balanced on the windowsill, firing my toenail trimmings into the garden below, watching their forlorn descent. My sister unapologetically trims her toenails indoors, saying that that’s what vacuum cleaners are for, which is gross, though apparently common, which, again, is gross. I took a moment to stare over Wellington harbour and soak in the scenery. It was the tail end of a beautiful summer in Wellington and my flat, which was on top of a hill, over-looking Wellington, afforded an impressive view of the city. It’s very pretty. Beyond Mount Vic I could see an aeroplane taking off from the airport. I was struck by how ridiculous it looked. It was too big and too heavy. The perspective of distance, the airport was maybe 6 or 7 kilometers away, made it look like it was barely creeping into the air, really struggling. There was an unreality to it, somehow counter instinctual. Something about the angle of the plane as versus the direction of it’s movement – it was pointing upwards but moving more forwards, kind of skidding on the air; it just didn’t look right, and my gut feeling was that it was going to plunge downwards any second.

I had a friend who was mortally afraid of flying, so fearful that she had to get extremely drugged up to just to approach the check-in counter. She always said that it was against nature that planes can fly (she called them ‘terror-planes’). I’ve always found her logic appealing: planes are made of metal, metal is much, much heavier than air, thus it’s only a matter of time before flaming death greets all those who dare turn their nose up at mother nature.

Watching that from my windowsill, thinking of terror-planes (gravity’s guilty secret) raining from the sky, I tried to think about the physics of it: something about fluid dynamics and newton’s second law of motion – proportional momentum and direction, equal and opposite reactions and the like. Which made me think of the local science fair I entered when I was 13 – probably under duress, as I wasn’t one to do it for the glamour. I had fucked around for weeks and weeks while everyone else was putting in the hard yards (a theme that was to remain constant throughout my education) and, accordingly, on the last night I went into panic mode. I borrowed a model aeroplane my dad and brothers had made, got a hairdryer and some chalk dust – the imagined result was meant to look quite flash – then I just copied, word for word, three pages of aerodynamics from the encyclopedia Britannica – cryptic equations, diagrams and everything. When the judges came round the next day, I fled the scene – I was terrified of being associated with my piece of crap entry and being revealed as the plagiarising fraud I was. Later I was told that, had I been there, the judges would’ve given me a prize. They had been quite impressed, apparently. I took, what would eventually be described, as completely the wrong lesson from the experience.

After the aeroplane had disappeared into the distance (the further it had gotten from the ground the better it looked in the air) I realized that I’d been holding my breath for a short while.

It’s funny the influence our gut feelings have on what we see around us. We make strings of decisions every day, based on nothing more than our best judgment. More often than not that very judgment is a fraud. Various neurological research shows that most decisions are made in the blink of an eye, on instinct and impression, the reasoning, apparently, we manufacture later, sometimes a split second but embarrassingly often hours or days later. During this recent period I made a few big life decisions. 3 decisions actually, one about a job, and 2 about people in my life. I feel absolutely sure of my decisions. I know that I’ve made the right choices: give me a piece of paper and I can show you my working. But I know that I had made 2 of those decisions immediately upon facing the situation that was presented to me. I can’t help but wonder whether my decisions will fly or plummet. Have I reverse engineered the physics correctly? Or will I get a bit of a shock later? Still, certainty remains about them, a surety I wouldn’t want to pick a fight with. Or maybe, just to tap a metaphor, those decisions will flutter vaguely downwards, unsure exactly of their landing, much like toenails from a high window. Which is kind of gross.


One response to “The Gravity of My Toenails

  1. While Newton’s 2nd Law is perfectly valid for airplane flight, I think the Navier-Stokes equation would be more impressive, visually. It is derived from the 2nd Law yes, but it perfectly describes fluid flow (such as air around an airplane wing).

    I do hope you have engineered your situations correctly though. Atleast those two out of three.

    I don’t know how I got here.

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