(HOST) As Vermont works to cultivate creative capital, commentator Helen
Labun Jordan has a simple suggestion for how we can encourage the
innovator in all of us.
(LABUN JORDAN) When I was a kid I had an
elaborate system for making "paper" out of grass trimmings. It went
something like this: rake up the grass after the lawn is mowed, put that
grass in a plastic wading pool, water it down, stamp on it like grapes
in wine country, smoosh the resulting paste into mats on an old shower
curtain to bake in the sun, and finally cut the result into geometric
Any further details are lost to memory.
that the production line was also filled with superstition, since I was
big into mixing industry with magic back then. There were the carefully
sculpted mud cakes that I hoped would turn into real cakes if I left
them in a certain spot overnight; the miniature home building boom I
started in my friend Chaya’s woods in case lack of readymade houses was
the reason no fairies lived there; or the backyard ramps I constructed
so I could sit on a skateboard and pretend that they were a roller
coaster. That last project didn’t make any sense, since I was terrified
of roller coasters and had no interest in riding one.
In July, I
was reminded of my paper production days while learning to ted hay.
This chore had me driving a tractor for only the second time. The first
time I drove through a fence. I had my concerns about making another
attempt, with heavy equipment in tow – it seemed nothing good could come
out of my participation. But then, driving very, very slow circles
around the fields, I realized that if I took away the tractors and
tedders and rakes and balers from the haying process, I was back to the
same principle as stamping in the wading pool: we were playing around
with grass to make it into something more useful than lawn. I could see
how the modern process of haying all began with curious people
experimenting on a summer day.
Tracing the inventions around us
back to some sort of familiar origin isn’t easy. Out of my childhood
mixture of industry and magic, I might as well have kept believing in
the magic for all I know about how smart phones or iPads came to be. As a
result, today I have trouble imagining ever inventing anything myself.
heard this sort of distance blamed on the computer age, on the rapid
rate of innovation that left points of common reference behind somewhere
around 1950. But I think that’s an excuse for not trying. Every
scientist, engineer, computer nerd, every single person out there
pushing the innovations of today began back as a kid with more or less
the same body of knowledge every other kid had.
I think it’s time
to make a habit of telling the stories behind new inventions in a way
that everyone can relate to – because that would be the best starting
point for encouraging the innovator in all of us.