The last Ig post
By Robin Abrahams
This year's Ig Nobel Medicine Prize went to Brian Witcombe, a U.K. physician, and Dan Meyer, an American sword swallower, for their co-authored medical report "Sword Swallowing and Its Side Effects."
Dr. Witcombe began their joint acceptance speech, and Mr. Meyer finished it, thus:
(In the background are shocked Nobel laureates William Lipscomb, Robert Laughlin, and Dudley Herschbach, and an alarmingly gleeful Nancy Featherstone, wife of Don Featherstone, inventor of the plastic yard flamingo. Photo credit: Alexey Eliseev.)
Sword swallowing is not a trick, or fake. It takes about two to seven years of daily practice to learn, and if done improperly--heck, sometimes even when done properly--can lead to serious injuries.
The photo above is from Thursday night's ceremony, and the sword Mr. Meyer is swallowing was about 18" long. At the Informal Lectures at MIT on Saturday afternoon, he swallowed one that was over two feet long--I forget the exact length, but it was going to go all the way down and touch his duodenum before he removed it.
Except he had no intention of removing it. A volunteer was going to do that. Mr. Improbable declined the honor and put me forth instead. Mr. Meyer told me to pull it out fast, but not too fast, and in a completely straight line. We had just heard a five-minute presentation by Dr. Witcombe on the sorts of gruesome things that could happen in sword-swallowing accidents. (Trust me, you don't want to know what happened to the sword-swallowing belly dancer when some moron decided to put money in her garter while she had a sword down her throat.)
My hands started shaking. About two hundred people were watching us. And I said, "No, I can't do it," and sat down.
Mr. Improbable had already introduced me as Miss Conduct, and I agree that a photo of Miss Conduct triumphantly withdrawing a sword from a man's mouth and waving it aloft like a 21st century King Arthur would have been pretty darned keen. But if I was going to be up there representin' the Miss Conduct values, I thought it was important to show that you are allowed to trust your instincts, to be uncool, to go against social pressure if it's something you are uncomfortable with.
Yeah, I wish my hands and nerves were steady enough to have done it. But I'm glad that I felt grounded enough in myself to say no.
Oh, and that leopard-print dress? I realized I could take it to the tailor's and have it hemmed up to be a knee-length jumper that I will actually wear, rather than a frankly louche evening gown that I don't.
Because we have choices. We can act rather than react. We can say yes or no. We can alter dresses and circumstances. All it takes is the ability to take a moment to breathe and consider what we want, what we believe in, what we think we can do and what we know we cannot.
UPDATE: As usual, the Onion sums up what I was trying to say, more amusingly and poetically: Karate Lessons Give Child Self-Confidence to Quit Karate.