I just finished moving some heavy furniture around within my apartment. This was harder than it sounds, because I’m not allowed to put a heavy load through my spine. I had to come up with ways of lifting and moving furniture that transmitted the forces across different parts of my body instead. I ended up sliding around on my back on a towel on the floor, and pushing the furniture above me, so that I could use my arm and chest strength instead of my back.

If you’d asked me beforehand, back surgery and the following limitations would have sounded like a terrible burden to live with. Actually, it’s been a lot of fun to evaluate my body for the first time as a complex system, and try to hack it — to figure out what it can do. I realize this is part of being a jock, which I missed out on in adolescence. I had never realized that the things I’m good at — understanding complex systems, building things with them, and looking for loopholes — were good for what I thought of as the opposite of an analytical activity as well.

Marvin tells a story of a friend of his who had a stroke. For more than a year, he couldn’t walk. But a year after that, he walked into Marvin’s office. Marvin asked him how he did it. “One day I was just thinking of a piece of music”, he said, “and I noticed that my toe twitched. I tried to think of the same music again, and it twitched again. So I tried thinking of different things, to see what would make different parts move. It took me about a year.” “That sounds excruciating,” Marvin told him. “On the contrary. It was the most fun I’ve ever had.”