A thousand points of courage

I remember once talking with my mom about history. Because, well, it was an odd-numbered grade and so I was failing the final quarter of the history/social science course that was required of all students. This began in the 5th grade, resulting in not only having to redo the project that I had neglected into failure, but also stunted my summer as I was grounded for most of it, at least until I earned a passing grade from my mother on the report. I remember that this report was on the history of a single state, and that I had chosen, and somehow received, Hawai’i (notice the correct punctuation in the name?) and while I enjoyed reading and learning about the former island kingdom, I did not like sharing that information in the format of these reports. Besides, I figured it was about my learning, not anyone else’s, and I learned. So why do a stupid report?

I learned why is because you probably want to be able to leave the yard during summer. Ha! If only I’d known.

Mom, being the taskmistress that she is, wouldn’t let me just write down the info on Hawai’i in a pleasant and lovely format to get a passing grade from her, oh no! She made me do another state entirely, and my dad, beaming full of pride and thinking he was helping piped up and said, “How about Arkansas?” which caused me to shudder and writhe in, I thought, a rather unnoticeable manner. Yeah, no. Eagle-eye-Mom saw and realized this would be perfect punishment. ARGH!

So anyway, a good portion of my summer was spent doing a very rudimentary history of a state that hasn’t had much going it’s way since the Civil War, other than Bill Clinton, and he’s iffy. I hated it. Hated it enough to drag it out in a foolish attempt to make others suffer with me. Didn’t work, and after much wailing and gnashing of teeth, finally, the report was done.

I promise, there is a point to this.

After receiving a passing grade given with a lecture on doing homework on time in the future, summer returned to normal and all was right with the world. Until 7th grade, final quarter, and lo and behold, I’m once again failing my social science class. My teacher was so unforgettably dull I couldn’t remember his name all year. Not once when describing my day could I conjur forth the correct sequence of sounds for anything remotely close to his name. I still can’t. I don’t care as much now, but really, I almost cared then. No really. Really! Fine!

Then 9th grade. Same time, same deal. Same grade. Same look of ‘what-the-bloody-hell-is-wrong-with-you?!?’ on my mother’s face. Of course, by now she had to deal with bigger problems, like my sisters, or the impending sale of the house followed by the move, and so my punishment was rather non-existent. Plus she’d learned that telling my father of these minor issues wasn’t fun. He wasn’t around because of the house not selling in Helena and his job being transferred to several different states throughout my high school career. And besides, these were quarter grades, and as we all know, only semester grades, the average of two quarters, was recorded in your Permanent Record. And so that’s all that really mattered, right? My thinking exactly!

In a last ditch effort to get me to give a shit, my mother just talked to me about her fascination with history. She particularly loved the middle-ages, as the clothes were complex, the bathing inconsistent at best, and the plumbing being either the woods or a literal brick shit-house. And with those elaborate dresses, piled on top of petticoat after petticoat, and corseted together into the tightest of all sausages, “how did the women pee?” she wondered, and the look on her face was priceless!

I was shocked, not only for the thought, but that it’d never occurred to me. How did they pee? And what about the men, they wore tights with codpieces under pantaloons that puffed wildly about their hips, while their boots rose almost to the knee in a very Robin-Hood-the-Whore-of-Babylon sort of way. How did they pee? And who helped them do it?

Those simple but profound questions are what makes history and archeology so amazingly tantalizing, because no one ever writes those things down. We’ve never come across the diary of anyone that detailed their normal every day life. The closest thing we have to this at all would be Anne Frank’s diary, but that was hardly normal life. The mundane is missing from history, and so a lot of how people lived is missing. And really, there was no easy way to document these things, and bigger things to worry about.

We don’t write down how a toothbrush works, we just brush our teeth. Even the stupid diagrams on the back of my new Super-Power-Dental-Washer, Waxer, Shiner, De-Stainer and Whitening-without-Sensitivity-Toothbrush package aren’t good directions because they never show the brush in someone’s hand up against their own teeth.

But blogging changes that. Changes it in profound ways. With the bright and courageous musings and writings online from people like Heather B. Armstrong who not only writes about her life-long struggle with constipation, but includes graphic and amazingly witty, funny, poignant observances of how all of her life is lived – from the dog to the child to the husband, Jon who has recently added his voice in a more in-depth and amazing way, to Laid Off Dad and his friends at The BlogFathers who are posting about being dads in this time, here, now, in whatever city it is they inhabit.

They are writing it down as it happens, and that’s an entirely new ability and an amazing gift we give to the future generations of humanity. When archeologists from the year 2386 are digging up old files and reading about the mundane, the ordinary, the truly personal, they are given a real look into a real life. They can hear the voice of a person from that time, know what they felt because these brave people say what others may not even be able to face. Could you honestly write about your constipation? What about your depression that was so deep and scary that your family was prepared to lose you, as much as anyone can ever prepare for that? What about crayons and how they stick to teeth when eaten?

I don’t think I’ll write about poop, but I will write about whatever else is going on in my life. I may change names but only to protect those who need it. It’s a social experiment to write down your life, it’s also very interesting to record the everyday for posterity. It takes real courage to look at all the blemishes and oddities and warts that make up you, and to then, honestly and openly, point them out to others for their understanding, or even more intense, a discussion with them.

So thanks to Heather at Dooce.com, Jon at Blurbomat, the The BlogFathers, Kottke and all the other voices out there in the blogosphere. You might just be writing for yourself for now, but what you are doing is giving voice to the now in the centuries to come. I just hope I add something worthwhile.



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One response to “A thousand points of courage”

  1. Tom Gagnon Avatar

    Always a pleasure to read your articles. It is sad how much we lack in the nitty-gritty of history, and its great that distant-future generations will not feel that woe for our time.

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