Efficiency, productivity, streamlined, maintenance . . . buzzy buzzwords that can keep our butts in the chairs and us writing our hearts out. However, sometimes, The Girls in the Basement (our inner muses) send up something that seems just . . . useless. For almost two years, my mind has been pre-occupied with David Bowie and the ukulele. I’ve written two short stories and worked on a longer piece thanks to the David Bowie obsession, but the uke? It hasn’t paid off – except I love doing it, and it’s brought me a lot of joy and feelings of achievement. As hobbies and obsessions go, you can’t ask for much more than that, really.
However, my upper mind – the Censor in the Attic, perhaps – is terribly concerned that I should be Writing, and not just any old writing, but Great and Wonderful Stories that Will Enchant the Masses (or at least a few Niches). It’s almost a daily battle between the Censor, who wants to direct things, and the Girls, who just want to have fun. Sadly, as is often the case in war, neither side wins on many days.
But this week, I stumbled upon a 2016 Atlantic piece that soothed my censor a little bit. Ed Yong’s “Rock-Smashing Monkeys Unintentionally Make Sharp Tools” really resonated all over for me.
Here’s the basic premise: there are these African monkeys who get a lot of joy out of smashing rocks together. There’s no vid in the article, but you can easily imagine these guys pounding the heck out of the rocks, enjoying the noise and the basic physics. Perhaps it’s even a type of music – last year I discovered some videos of musical rocks that fascinated me. However, when they are done smashing the rocks, that’s it. They leave them on the ground, and a scientist wanders up and thinks, “My goodness, these look like they could be made into tools!”
The monkeys themselves don’t get any benefit from rock-smashing (aside from physical exercise and joy and trace nutrients, I suppose). But, one can easily speculate that some smart hominid in our past picked up some of this garbage from the rock-smashing fest, and thought, “You know what? I could scrape a hide with one of these.” Or grind some grains, or whatever the first tools were used for. (Probably butchering, the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History postulates.)
There is a tricky problem of free will versus pre-determination in here. Are we wired to pound rocks together? Or pound keyboards, for that matter? And does that mean, only creatures with the right wiring can and will pound a rock? Or pound out a story?
Well, there’s really only one way to find out. If you don’t pound the rocks, you don’t know if you’ll be the lucky hominid who discovers the Ginsu knife ancestor.
And, honestly, if we’re fed and sheltered, is it so bad to pound the rocks for fun and happiness? I can think of worse hobbies. Pound away, and see where it leads! That’s the pep talk my girls are sending up these days, and the Censor agrees that it’s worth a shot.