When my kids were little they loved the game “Ker Plunk.” The concept of the game is relatively simple. It’s played with a vertical plastic cylinder that has several small holes poked around the centre. A handful of thin plastic sticks are inserted every which way through the holes, creating a mesh on which you then perch a handful of marbles. The players then take turns extracting the sticks, until eventually the marbles come crashing down into the tray at the bottom of the cylinder.
My experience of the game was somewhat different than my children’s. For one thing, they didn’t have much interest in the scoring of the game. In theory you won or lost based on how many of the marbles fell into “your” section of the tray. In practice, the real joy of the game was that moment when the marbles fell, especially if you weren’t the one to cause the collapse. The kids lived for the crash, but weren’t terribly interested in what they perceived as the somewhat tedious process of setting up the sticks to play again. This meant that the set up tended to fall to me. The kids would wander back when it was time to start removing sticks again.
It’s been quite some time since I’ve played Ker Plunk with anyone, but the game entered my thoughts the other day because I found myself feeling something equivalent to the moment when one has just started to remove the critical stick. You can feel the marbles shift, but you’re committed to that particular stick now and there’s no turning back. All you can do is keep pulling while you cringe in anticipation of the clatter of marbles on hard plastic. And then, even worse than the anticipation of the crash is the knowledge of what comes next–the long, tedious task of re-inserting the sticks, one by one by one, until the resulting web has enough structural integrity to hold up the marbles again.
Someone asked me recently how I do all the things I do. Well, the truth is, I don’t always. Sometimes I pull out one two many sticks, and sometimes they are pulled out for me– usually by whatever seasonal illness has caught up with me in my run-down, overextended state. Either way, I find myself standing amid a pile of sticks, watching the marbles roll off in every direction, and wondering where I will get the energy to set up the sticks for the next round.
But I always do.