by Emilio DeGrazia • Whenever I’m alone (with great books) in the presence of genius, I’m not surprised by how often genius agrees with me. I’m no superman, but there’s no greater pleasure than to mount some intellectual highhorse and see how far I can fly. I’m fascinated, for example, by the challenge posed by Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle—that it’s impossible to measure the velocity and direction of a particle simultaneously—and by Einstein’s discovery that no two clocks in a room tell exactly the same time. Both these theories inflict on me a general confusion not wholly unlike a pile of dirty underwear on the bedroom floor. Because the urge to pick up on these things and put the house in order usually surrenders to the need to go with the flow, all the clocks in my house are set ahead. “And please,” I beg my darling wife Monica, “don’t remind me they’re set ahead, or how far ahead. It’ll be your fault if I’m later than I usually am for everything.” She generally tolerates my messes, and I’m amazed at her ability to know what time it is without looking at a clock.

Emilio DeGrazia has authored four books of fiction, including Seventeen Grams of Soul, winner of a Minnesota Book Award, and Enemy Country, winner of a Writer’s Choice Award. A founding editor of Great River Review, he has co-edited (with his wife Monica) 26 Minnesota Writers and 33 Minnesota Poets. His most recent book is a collection of essays entitled Burying the Tree. He lives downstream in Winona.All Downstream blog entries ©2008 Emilio DeGrazia.

People measure things differently, and this is one reason the world is a mess. My wife and I especially can’t agree about work. We go around and around about who does what, how long, and how hard. “I’ve worked like a mule all my life,” I remind her now and then, and she comes back with, “So what? I had the kids.” That answer unbalances me. I’m tempted to remind her that the time is coming when we, males, will bear children in our own way. But I don’t want to start an argument.

Little does she know how clever males are or how much philosophic eros her hourglass figure has inspired in us—how when we look at her slim hips we are transported back into history several thousand years to the curves of the Great Mother Goddess, that mythic matron idolized by pagans in prehistoric times because her menstrual cycles were attuned to the moon and tides and therefore made it obvious that she had something to do with seasons and our need to make babies and bread. In museums and books I’ve seen the goddess figurines carved out of ivory, bone and stone by nameless artists too hung-up on her to bother shaping male heroes or gods. Her lush thighs, full belly and large breasts give the Mother-Goddess a well-rounded look, which helps explain her identification with the moon, earth, cows, and big round jars. She’s a tree goddess too, rooted deep in the ground, her limbs heavy with globular fruit, a serpent twining itself around her trunk warning me to be careful with my hands. But her head usually is hard to figure; it’s often given a bizarre shape, like an abstraction attached as an afterthought, or something the artists couldn’t quite see and get right.

It’s natural to call her Earth Mother, but a little digging into word roots brings forth a stream of associations, now mainly lost to memory, that establish that she also held sway over the cradle-rocking sea. My French tells me, for example, that mer (sea) is mere (mother), and nearby Mediterranean languages link madre with mare, a word-cousin of Mary, mother of God, who is another distant relative of the Indo-European mater, the Greek meter, and plain old English matter, the stuff of life. The waters of the Great Mother Goddess break on such solid etymological ground, eventually giving birth to later daughters of earth such as Demeter, goddess of fertility, birthing, and grain. It’s also hard to disbelieve that mating, marrying and merriment had nothing to do with Her.

Generally I keep all this abstruse lore to myself. No need to rub salty foreign words into my wife’s wounds by reminding her of the several thousand years—from the times when the Great Mother Goddess was matron to hunters and gatherers, through the millennia when husbandry provided men plots and property rights—the Goddess served us well as queen of cycles, seasons, and husbandry; how her labors evolved humanity from low erectus to high-minded sapiens, a consummation devoutly wished for by theologians; how there was consolation in Her predictability, not a little beauty in Her forms, and good reason to have festivals in Her honor. Her circlings satisfied.

But not any more. We’ve progressed, are on our way to conquering space and time. No more need for hus-bands to be house-bound slaves to plowing, planting, harvesting and milking cows according to Her clock. We love cities now swollen with masses and machines––Paris, Rome, London, New York, Houston, Detroit, Calcutta and the like. Where is she now, Great Goddess of earth, water, cereals, cows, trees, fruit and babies? She’s a hag divorcee, living an underground life in literature as witch, stirring vatfuls of strange herbal stews and venturing out on Halloween for night-flights across the harvest moon. Or she’s harlot cruising the streets, and getting pregnant is bad for business. In churches she’s everlastingly the Virgin, her face pale and dreary with the candle-lit joy of having sexlessly produced a son lording it over her. I look for a goddess on city street to give me the time of day with a glance. I’d love to get back to basics with her, but the urge is stupid in me, since basics means more babies in a world teeming with street urchins looking for lost moms and dads. I marvel nostalgically at Her power, Her gravitational witchery and allure. But She bugs me too. She can take me or leave me. Worse, She can take me then leave me. I wonder what I can do to compete, and immediately envy boils in male blood.

So she can give birth and I can’t. So what? We can do other things when we put our minds to it. My mind reels as it conjures the ingenious technologies we, mainly guys, have devised for improving on the Great Goddess as calendar and clock. We have chronological and horological instruments that make the circlings of moon and sun as dull as counting the grains of sand in an hourglass. We measure, monitor, track, and calculate in hi-tech ways that make this Mistress Nature seem hopelessly unschooled in the business of life. We have heat and light sensors that from 30,000 feet in the sky can detect a mouse scurrying for cover during a desert storm; from space we can see terrorist intent in the eyes of the tourist crossing the White House lawn. We have seismographic devices that record gastric rumbles under the earth’s surface, heart monitors that chart the quiverings of ventricles suddenly quickened when a bird sings in a nearby tree. We have spectroscopes that separate the colors of stars millions of light years away, and computers capable of gymnastic calculations so vast, complex and precise they render crude the cameras we’ve invented to show us motion pictures of semen hoards exploding from penis into womb, these cameras also able to track the desperate flailings of a solitary swimmer concluding its desperate journey toward a pulsating egg in a Fallopian tube. All this new stuff turns the low-tech human imagination into a lonely seagull on a sandbar wondering what it did wrong being just a bird.

And one day soon the world also will have my own invention, the Gigologometer.


The Gigologometer was conceived months ago when I turned to Monica in the middle of the night and confessed some dissatisfaction with my lot in life. “What can I do?” I asked. “I feel a great need to create.”

“You mean invent?” she replied, turning away from me.

Somehow she read my mind, which whispered, “I’m not like you. I have no womb.”

“Use your head,” she mumbled as she fell asleep.

How could I not respond to the challenge she laid on me? Her words were a wake-up slap that triggered my musings about the device that one day will conclude our controversy about who works hardest around the house. I started living in the basement, and she never finished wondering what I did with all my time. When she asked where I was I said, “Out, just out,” hoping to stir in her some interest in me. Of course I never let her in on either my great ambition to construct the world’s first Pleasure Thermometer or my failure to work out its kinks. I’d spent months on the project, inspired by the sad example of poor old Tiresias, wise prophet required by Hera (nagging sister-wife Mother Goddess) to judge whether males or females get more pleasure from sex. Because poor Tiresias had no Pleasure Thermometer, because he was required to rely on rumor and memory, he decided that men have more fun. Hera immediately struck him blind.

The problem Hera posed, we must admit, is nagging us. With no way to measure pleasure, how can we tell the difference between pleasure and pain? Unsolved, this problem leaves us standing in a room loaded with clocks. Testimonials about pleasure and pain are not reliable, given the tricks mind plays on poor fools who say, for example, that they really love horror movies. How can we have intended consequences when we’re unclear about whether something feels good or bad? The kinks are complex. How can we develop an instrument that tracks pleasure’s harmony with or hostility to, say, morality? What if it turns out that moral actions feel really bad? Under those circumstances how far would it be wise to push morality, especially in the schools? Would the inventor of a Pleasure Thermometer become the next Salmon Rushdie, targeted for assassination by millions of extremely moral persons all over the world?

As I thought more and more about this project I came to realize that working on pleasure was so troubling that any new technologies doing it justice would depend on genius and courage not yet born. Accordingly, I lowered my conceit of attainable felicity and decided to apply my findings on pleasure to work. Yes, a work thermometer. My Gigologometer.

The concept is profoundly simple enough to satisfy the benchmark standards of Roger Ockham and Bill Gates. Instead of BTU, ERG, RAM, MPH, GNP or OHM, I employ the GIG as a measurement standard. GIG stands for Grunt Index Gauge. The Gigologometer measures work in GIGs on a GIG scale established by fine-tuned high-tech calculations driven by a precision-tooled mechanical unit. Its thermometer-sensor is activated when placed in a dark, moist and fleshy area of a body—in the armpit, for example, or some such place. The software, programmed to chart work’s types, intensities, durations and nuances, does the rest. Also factored in are the various forms of stress—physical, intellectual, nervous—each given values on sliding scales that define probability fields. The illuminated dial shows the needle doing its thing, registering from absolute laziness (registered in green on the dial as “Play,” or zero GIGs) to doing the unlikely, moving a day’s worth of Chicago garbage, say, one spoonful at a time (one GIGAGIG, equal to one 100,000,000,000 GIGs).

You can imagine my sense of accomplishment when I emerged from my basement workshop having completed my prototype and, weary, sweaty, greasy, grimy, and groggy with pleasure announced to the world, “It is good.” Zeus, giving birth to Athena out of his head or to Dionysus from deep within his thigh, could not have been more proud.

The published results of my Gigologometric applications are generally unsurprising at present, though it is reassuring to see some expectations objectified. Test results, of course, can stand further corroboration, and subtle refinements are to be expected, given the variables in work environments, such as humidity. Clearly, new instruments eventually will be devised to hone the reliability of my invention. And as these new instruments are developed, we can expect unprecedented velocities in our measurement processes and corresponding shrinkage in our probability fields. This is Progress, but a warning first: Only when exactitudes are established within the narrowest probability fields should legislation be proposed that might affect minimum wage scales, union activism, and the like.

Here, then, are a few results of my pioneer Gigologmetric applications:

Executive Secretaries for Fortune 500 corporations 27-39 years old registered 4.2 GIGs per hour (GIG-PH) for a normal eight-hour working day, with the stress indicator skewing the result upward by 1.7 GIGs.

For Actors the GIG dial moved backward to the green “Play” area during actual performance hours. When Actors were unemployed they showed a consistent 1.3 GIG reading. Compare this to writers when not writing, who logged in at 2.4 GIGs on average.

Computer Programmers (the IBM sample group) register 2.1 GIGs total for each eight hour day. Males registered .7 GIG higher than females in this study.

CEOs of Fortune 500 corporations registered a consistent 1.2 GIGs total for their 14 hour days.

High School English Teachers score 6.2 GIGs per hour when actual classroom sessions are averaged with paper grading time. Three months of summer vacation register 7.7 GIGs per month.

Brick-layers score 4.2 GIGs per hour, higher in January.

Watching TV sitcoms requires 2.3 GIGs per hour the first three hours, with slippage to 1.1 for one subsequent three-hour session. When commercials are included the GIG ratings increase to 3.2 and 4.3 respectively.

Doctors and lawyers score 2.2 GIGs per hour each. Accountants score 2.4 GIGs, higher in April.

Housewives with children in day-care average 2.3 GIGs per hour for eight-hour days.

10. Women having babies score from 12.2 to 26.7 GIGs per hour, with GIG readings showing direct relationship to dilation rates and duration of contractions.

These calculations are thus far episodic and do not take into consideration random variations. The ongoing development and improvement of instrumentation will at once facilitate the expansion and precision of calculations, so that a Global GIG Culture (GGIGC) may one day be mapped. Nor should skeptics decry the Giologometer’s indifference to the relative value of work activities. The traditional Work Ethic, based on the twin truths that laborare est orare (“to work is to pray”) and Arbeit Macht Frei (“work will set you free”) are yet to meet serious philosophic challenge. It remains for us merely to measure which types, intensities, durations, and nuances of work best lend themselves to worship and liberation. Incomparably more sophisticated and sensitive Gigologometers may one day make possible a new scientific work liberation theology. And who knows? Maybe someday people who work hardest may get paid what they really deserve.

More exciting is the prospect of speeding up and improving the efficiency of work processes. Yet to be measured and established are GIG per hour (GIG-PH) standard variation scales. Such scales eventually will be charted for all work activities by type in the various labor-intensive environments so that GIG-PH underachievers may be reassigned to more appropriate avenues. Speed efficiencies will result when work forces are assigned stations appropriate to their GIG output. Tasks will be better fitted, for example, to individual body size and strength, with intellectual tasks assigned to individuals possessing appropriate personal characteristics. Doubtless robotics will be developed concurrently to relieve high GIG workers of their tasks, but it is obvious that those who stand to benefit most from GIG-PH standards are people like my wife, women. Height, weight, and body-fat factors should privilege women toward the more intellectual professions traditionally held by males. It goes without saying that it will be possible to accord GIG-PH ratings with natural selection engineering so that the GIG-PH of childbirth labor may one day be significantly reduced. In this way not only will all work activities related to industrial and technological progress be speeded, maximized, and multiplied to generate unprecedented rates of GNP growth, but women may pride themselves on approximating the Zeus-like power of making birth a virtual and purely intellectual activity. Someday, perhaps, they will become entirely like us.

There is no denying that ongoing gigologometric research and development is the intended consequence of historical necessity. The Great Mother Goddess––whether as moon, waters, cow, vessel, serpent, or tree—is becoming defunct. When Newton saw his apple fall and concluded from it that bodies attract one another with a force directly proportional to their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them, he wasn’t thinking about sex. His bodies are not those of humans or gods, his Nature is no Mother, and his Laws of Nature are genderless. The Apple of Knowledge savored millennia ago is Newton’s Apple now. The Great Mother Goddess has evolved with us into Science and Art, the latter of particular use for indulging our weakness for nostalgia. Without the Goddess we reach more freely for the stars, conquering space by filling it with our presence, beating time by running faster, and striving toward the best practices and benchmark precision that enable us to approach the pure objectivity at the core of omniscience.

I have no intention of telling Monica: Next Monday I will move all the clocks in the house forward another ten minutes. Though my work on the Gigologometer is hardly done, I need to look ahead to the next project. The Pleasure Thermometer haunts me still. Work is one thing, but it’s really pleasure that has a death-grip on my mind. Without knowing how to read pleasure properly, how will we know what to make of ripe mangoes, gardening, ice cream, rolling in the hay, or taking a snooze on the beach while waves gently lick the bottoms of my feet?

Originally published 1/20/09