The Vacuum Cleaner Story
I cannot remember where I read this story or if it is supposed to be true or not. My memory says it was told as a true story but I think now we would classify it as an "Urban Myth". A super-early Urban Myth.
My personal interpretation of both Urban Myth and Myth in general is this: it always begins with a real happening. A "real" person went into the "real" world and experienced something later perceived as extraordinary. The perception of the "extraordinariness" does not necessarily have to lie with the person who experienced the event. The protagonist may have actually seen, at the time, nothing out of the ordinary. Sometimes, it is the receiver of the tale that sees the hidden gods in the story. From there the tale moves from mouth to ear to mouth again, it winds through the bodies and minds of the tellers and listeners, it filters through the hearts and spirits of those participating and breathing it in and eventually it comes to life. It comes to live as a new thing. Storytelling changed when we started writing stuff down--the life's blood of myth and story stagnated when we started arguing over the "correctness" and "accuracy" of a tale. Wisdom, I believe, has a hard time finding purchase in "correctness" and "accuracy". Now, instead of experiencing the tale for what they are, what they offer as living breathing things that reflect ourselves back to us, we argue over whether or not they are true, or translated properly, or accurate to the time.
Religion is what results when someone tries to make a single interpretation of a story, the only interpretation. There is an actual formula for how religions begin: they start from a single person's experience, which is translated into a story, which is then told again and again, which is transformed into a doctrine (what we should learn from this story), which is interpreted into a liturgy (rituals we should initiate as mini-versions of the original story), and then which is practiced by believers.
So...what is my point...? I got lost in that for a minute...
I was going to tell the vacuum cleaner story...
Well, do whatever you want, but I'm not sure the vacuum cleaner story would make a good religion; but, then again, it probably already is...
The Vacuum Cleaner Story
Aways back, there was a semi-pre-industrial small town in an Eastern Part of a State. In its conventionality, the men went outside the household to work and the women stayed inside the household to work. The work of the house involved many things, including keeping the house clean. Keeping the house clean took a certain amount of time every day--dusting and sweeping and washing, etc. Nobody thought too much about this, it was just the way it was and the way it had been for a good long time.
Now, let's look at one of the houses. It is on the edge of town, and the first to receive the stranger from the west. He knocks and, after introducing himself, is invited in the house to discuss this new contraption he is selling: a "vacuum cleaner". The woman of the house is told that this "vacuum cleaner" will transform her life into something better--a Life With More Time. The vacuum cleaner can clean things faster and better than they are being cleaned now by hand. He wants to demonstrate the vacuum cleaner to her BUT, alas, the house has no electricity! He shakes his head in wonder at how people still live like this and mournfully leaves with his "vacuum cleaner" feeling pity for the poor woman who has to work so hard everyday--if only she had a "vacuum cleaner"!
Now let's look on as the woman ponders this after the stranger leaves. Why should she have to work so hard everyday while this "vacuum cleaner" exists? The town had been talking for a while about getting electricity--maybe she could encourage them to do so. When her husband comes home, she tells him all about this "vacuum cleaner" and how she could have a Life With More Time--and more time for her means a better life for him. The husband immediately sees the logic of this and agrees--a Life With More Time must be better than a Life With Less Time! After several months of town meetings and debate, the semi-pre-industrial small town votes to get electricity and within a year a plant is built and soon after that almost everybody in town has their house electrified.
Now let's watch the stranger from the west as he returns--he has heard about the small town's new electric power plant and is eager to share his "vacuum cleaner"with the women of the town. He knocks on the door of the very same house he first visited and the woman invites him in, delighted! She is tired of all this time she spends cleaning by hand--in fact, ever since the stranger (not so strange anymore I imagine) suggested a quicker way to clean, cleaning had become downright tedious and seemed even more laborious than before! She immediately purchases a "vacuum cleaner" and, after using it several times, is convinced she made the right choice--cleaning IS quicker and easier. She brags about her "vacuum cleaner" to all the other women and brags about her Life With More Time. The other women of the town also want cleaning to be quicker and easier and they also want a Life With More Time and before you know it, almost every household has a "vacuum cleaner". All the families chatter about how much better life is now that they have "vacuum cleaners" and now that they have Lives With More Time.
Now, lets look on as the head of the "vacuum cleaner" company notices how much the people of the Eastern Part of a State seem to love their product. In fact they are receiving more and more orders everyday. The head of the company decides they need to build another "vacuum cleaner" factory to keep up with all the business, and, wouldn't you know?--they build the new factory right in the very town we've been watching!
Now, let's watch as the new factory goes up next to the electric-power plant--now both producing more and more "vacuum cleaners" and electricity every day! Let's watch as the soot from these factories subtly and slowly begins to introduce a new kind of dust and grime to the small town --a natural byproduct of factories. Let's watch as the air quality changes--subtly enough that it is not quite noticeable on a conscious level, but enough that houses (and everything else, of course) have a increase of filth significant enough that the "vacuum cleaner" is now working to clean up it's own mess--and there is no Life With More Time.
It takes longer to clean in the town's new industrial age than it did before--and so the "vacuum cleaner" has, in the end, saved nothing for anyone.
And that, my friends, is the Vacuum Cleaner Story. Watch what you do with it--it's a powerful tale!
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Gillian Gontard wants a lot of things--she's trying to change that..
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