We human beings love to tell stories.  Well, we used to.  Back when I was your age we did.  We’d sit around the front porch … no wait, this was back before front porches.  We’d sit in the street in front of … no wait, this was back before streets.  We’d sit in the dirt … no wait, this was in the days before dirt.  Heck, sitting was a new invention back then.  My parents stood through their entire childhoods….(More)

When I Was Your Age

This week we’ll explore Homo narratus, humans as a storytelling species.  We not only like to tell stories; it’s fair to say use stories to organize stimuli into experience.  As we’ll explore later in the week, that can be a problem when we’re trying to predict the ending of a story we’re still living.

But that’s for later in the week.  First we’ll explore two common forms of human storytelling.  We’ll start today with age-and-change narratives, those “When I was your age” stories we endured as children and now make our children and grandchildren endure.  Tomorrow we’ll look at geographic hardiness narratives, where regions compete for who endures the worst of Mother Nature’s offerings.

In keeping with my classmate Aristotle’s suggestion that rhetorical forms are best explored in the form’s own medium, we’ll explore these stories with stories.  Which is to say, today we’ll tell “When I was your age” stories, and tomorrow we’ll tell “The weather here is so bad” stories.  And as Blogistan Polytechnic Institute exists as internet conversation – where legends propagate faster than fruit flies – embellishment is not only permitted … it’s mandatory.

So don’t tell that true but distressing tale of the December you walked to school on crutches, in the snow, because you’d torn ligaments playing soccer the week before basketball tryouts in your senior year of high school.  No one wants to hear about how the bread bag that you pulled over your cast didn’t keep it dry, or how the shopping bag you’d hooked to your crutches for your books – this was back before book bags – broke and dumped your books in the snow along with the design papers and early test data for your independent project physics course midyear review, on the day the review was due, so you had to scramble around the library using the heating vent to dry out the papers that could be saved while rewriting the rest.

Don’t tell that story because that’s mine, or part of it.  And don’t tell it because no one really wants to hear more distressing stuff when DKos has been stressful enough the past few days.  Of course, the past few days are nothing compared to back when I first signed on.  But more on that later….

Back in the day

Imagine if you will a time before high schools had student parking lots.  A time when, except for a few clunkers parallel crunched on the street, students didn’t drive cars to school.  Instead they walked or, if they lived more than two five twenty miles from school, rode the bus.  For me it was eight blocks miles leagues.  Yeah, “leagues” as a unit of distance sounds old enough, and a league is longer than a mile.  That’ll do nicely.

(Parenthetical aside: Did anyone else convert velocity measurements to furlongs-per-fortnight, just to drive your physics teacher crazy?  No?  Guess it was just me.)

Anyway, one bright and sunny raining and windswept November afternoon we played soccer in gym class.  It wasn’t “physical education” back then, because gym coaches couldn’t pronounce that many syllables.  And when the bell rang principal blew the ram’s horn to signal the end of class, I happened to have the ball at my feet.  So I deftly flicked it to the gym coach … and stepped into a hole, my ankle emitting the kind of sound Woofie the Younger makes when he takes off running on a hardwood floor.  I then emitted the kind of sound that would someday make Jamie Lee Curtis famous in Halloween.

Classmates carried me to the school sadist’s nurse’s office, where she decided my foot would be an fine demonstration tool for emergency driving techniques.  Cue more Jamie Lee Curtis sounds, and once they scraped me off the ceiling it was off to the doctor, where the diagnosis was, “We’ll have to wait for the swelling to go down, and for someone to invent x-ray machines, before we do x-rays.  May be broken.  At least torn ligaments.  Either way, say goodbye to basketball season.”  Cue the kind of tears that would someday make Meryl Streep famous in Weeping, With Accent.

So that’s how and why I ended up walking hobbling to school on crutches through the month of December, in the snow, with a bread bag pulled over the cast to keep it dry the moisture in.  And remember, this was back before book bags.  That was a good thing, considering today’s kids have to haul not only their books in those book bags, but also their lockers and the cinder blocks to build the walls their lockers fit into.  Today if a boy offers to carry your book bag, he’s probably on steroids.

Back when I was a kid, the lockers stayed at school and that’s where you went if you forgot your lunch, because there was probably a lunch in your locker that you’d forgotten a month before.  And it was still edible because back then no one had heard of “natural foods,” so whatever was in your lunch from a month ago was as fresh chemically inert as the day you left it there.  Anyway, so no book bags, and as I was on crutches I needed a way to haul books to, from, and around school.

Enter shopping bag, with books, crutch right.  With books, and with the design plans and early test data for the hovercraft I was building for my senior physics project.  Because back when I was in school, high schools didn’t offer advanced physics classes.  So if you’d taken physics as a junior, and I had, and if you’d also already taken Chemistry II, and I had, and if you wanted to squeeze in another science class, and I did, you had to invent your own class.

And I did.  The administration called it Independent Project Physics, which fit nicely with Independent Project History (I’d already taken all of the history classes too), and Independent Project English (yeah, those too).  Back when I was a kid, schools had study hall periods, but I had used my study hall periods to take extra classes.  And those who suggest this was a clever ploy to sneak off campus during my senior year, always having the excuse that I was somewhere “working on a project,” are warned to keep such suspicions quiet.  Back when I was a kid, schools kept your permanent record, so the statute of limitations hasn’t run out yet.

Regardless, that’s why I ended up spreading the designs and test data over the heating vents in the library, drying out what could be saved and rewriting the rest.  Today’s slackers would have all of that on a flash drive, but back when I was a kid a “computer” was something that filled a room in a university.  To use it you had to write a program, in FORTRAN, using punch cards, an input device designed by people who must have had other people to sort out stacks of cards they’d dropped down the stairs.  Which is why the computer program I wrote for Independent Project History – to predict outbreaks of wars based on cultural and economic factors – was really a pair of three-ring binders filled with flow charts, hand-written code segments, formulas, and data from newspaper clippings.

Independent Project English was a breeze by comparison: three term papers and a play.  They had to be typed, of course.  With footnotes, because this was back in the day before endnotes.  Back when you had to guess how many and how long your footnotes would be so you could leave space at the bottom of the page, and when you guessed wrong you had to retype the whole page.  Today’s slacker kids have word processors.  We didn’t even have electric typewriters, or at least I didn’t.  It was an old-fashioned, don’t-type-too-fast-or-it-tangles, ding-thwack, callouses-on-your-fingertips manual typewriter.  If you wanted copies, that’s what carbon paper was for.  If you wanted clean fingers so you didn’t smudge carbon on the main copy, you had to wait for them to invent soap.

Because everything was harder back when I was a kid.  The family woozle was a dire wolf.  The family pootie was a saber-toothed tiger.  And if you wanted milk in your breakfast cereal, you had to hold the bowl under the cow with one hand….

So if you think DKos has been crazy lately, you should’ve been here back when we carved diaries on rocks and threw them into each others’ caves.  Back then the flame wars involved real flames, and if Kos banned you, you had to leave the island.  On a log raft tied together with bits of discarded meta threads.

But I’m sure you had it worse, right?

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Happy Wednesday!