Rendered Fat Content

OtterSummer 8.21-Brittle

Stress-strain curves for brittle and ductile materials. Brittle materials fracture at low strains and absorb little energy. Conversely, ductile materials fail after significant plastic strain (deformation) and absorb more energy. Note that in this idealised example, the yield and ultimate tensile stresses are the same for both materials; brittle or ductile behaviour are not necessarily related to strength.

The Muse crawls into bed, reporting that The Grand Otter seems brittle. Her brittle couldn’t be more unlike the sweet, nutty kind; it’s plenty real enough. It has nothing to do with how strong or beautiful she might be: she’s both strong and beautiful. Her ability to absorb energy and strain seems low right now, though she’s surrounded by an extraordinarily positive energy field and far, far away from her usual stressors.

I’d left The Muse and her Otter after supper, refusing the offer of a movie, sensing one of those special, awful moments Otter Summers bless us with, a possible meltdown. Emotional energy felt incoherent. Small trespasses likely to get interpreted as wholesale invasions. This territory would demand a heart-to-heart between kindred spirits, and my guy heart couldn’t add anything useful to the conversation.

The Muse is remarkably skilled in this triage, mixing empathy with an extremely sensitive bullshit detection system. I’m much more of a sucker for tears and an amplifier of fears. I’ve got a decent shoulder to cry on, but that’s a late-game necessity. Earlier, there are depths to climb up out of and heights to scramble down from. Once she’s back on two feet, I might help some. The high wire and spelunking work seems best relegated to a halfway decent Muse.

The details don’t matter, and they never do. The problem couldn’t possibly live up to even its implied potential, let alone its presumed one. The difficulty comes from her brittleness, not from any unnatural stress or strain. Her coping strategy seems to be failing and needs some shoring up, perhaps a wholesale reconsideration.

I see how this weekend will go. There will be whispers and tears, some laughter when the worst fears start evaporating, and a few recriminations on the side. The Muse’s fine duck feathers will deflect most of the most personal downpour, though I’ll have to squeegee off the rest. The apparent problem will probably get amplified in examination, but since that’s not the real difficulty, everyone should survive, albeit a bit wiser.

Every fifteen year old looks ductile and feels brittle, at sixty, we look brittle but have mastered some of the magic of ductility. The old stresses and strains are like relatives then, nothing we got to choose, but something we’ve learned to cope with. We might choose our friends, but not our families, though by our age, we probably have a nearly infinite array of alternative ways of coping with this fundamental absence of choice.

At fifteen, choices don’t seem to come in infinite arrays, but in black and white dichotomies, galling either/ors. I suppose the G-ma’s role as Muse, and mine as the ‘excuse me, but I’m going to clean up the kitchen now’ G-pa, might be to introduce The Otter to some choices beyond the obvious—and the obviously unsatisfactory—ones.

©2013 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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