Me and Mr. Pavlov

Anyone who has tried to write knows how very easy it is not to.  I do love writing this blog, but getting down to it can be a challenge. There are so many other more compelling activities!  Checking my email.  Ironing the kitchen towels.  Whipping up a pan of brownies.  Eating up a pan of brownies.

To counteract my natural tendency to do anything but write, I try to structure routines that might eventually make writing almost automatic.  In particular, I do my best to write while I am sitting at a certain downtown Boston coffee shop which I frequent on Saturday afternoons, while I am waiting for my daughter to finish her clarinet lesson at Symphony Hall down the street. 

You have surely heard of the great Russian psychologist Ivan Pavlov and his seminal work on the "conditioned response."  Ring a bell each time a dog is fed, and eventually the bell alone, absent the food, will be enough to provoke the dog to salivate.  This is my plan for Saturdays at the Pavement Coffee Shop:  eventually the simple act of walking through the door will provoke the conditioned reflex:   MUST.....WRITE....BLOG!

At this point I do recognize a definite Pavlovian response when I walk into the coffee shop:  MUST....HAVE.....LATTE!

This past Saturday it was my husband who drove our daughter to her clarinet lesson, so I missed my normal writing time.  Not to put things off for another week, I decided on Sunday afternoon to venture forth to our local coffee shop with my laptop, hoping to keep up the steady stream of Pavlovian conditioning.   Sundays in Newtonville are usually sleepy and sedate.  But this week I was surprised to find the roads blocked off for the local Village Fair:

Friends and regular blog readers know of my vegetable fetish, so you will not be surprised at my response to the brightly-colored tents, which called to mind the many farmers' markets I frequent:   MUST....BUY.....TOMATOES!    Or at least a few eggplants.

But there were neither eggplants nor tomatoes at the Newtonville Village Fair.  Here's what I found:

The collection of which triggered this Pavlovian response:   MUST....MOVE....SOMEWHERE WAAAAAY MORE INTERESTING!

(A brief shout out, at this point, to the one super-cool display at the fair:  the Newton North Ligerbots, the high school robotics club, which produced this bitchin' robot:

Rock on, Ligerbots!)

In truth, the more I wandered through the fair, the more Pavlovian responses I experienced.   I spotted the face-painting booth:

....and immediately reacted:   MUST...PROTECT....UPHOLSTERY FROM THE CHILDREN!

I saw the sand-art table:

and thought:   MUST....VACCUUM....SANDY MESS OUT OF REAR CAR SEAT!

I saw this thing:

and responded:   MUST...KEEP....CHILDREN FROM SEEING THIS LAME-ASSED TRAIN OR THEY WILL INSIST ON RIDING IT, AND I WILL HAVE TO GO WITH THEM!

Now, it is important to note at this point that the children in question are 17 and 22 years old, and on Sunday afternoon they were far and very, very far, respectively, from the dubious delights of the Newtonville Village Fair.  But those conditioned responses were deep-seated enough that they kicked in, at the mere glimpse of greasy face-paint and spillable sand, absence of small children notwithstanding.   This Pavlovian thing can be powerful, indeed.

And so I set out anew for the coffee shop, seeking to deepen the latte-sipping -> blog-writing trigger:

And while it wasn't instantaneous, eventually I did experience that conditioned response at which I arrive almost every week at that coffee shop down the street from Symphony Hall:

MUST...FIND....BATHROOM!

 

Leave a comment

Add comment