I think that in every Maker’s heart of hearts, there is a dream of being surrounded by others like them who live their lives working and dancing to their own heartsong, trying to do their own best work and cheering each other on to greater effort.
We dream of a place that supports us in our journey while letting us find our own way to our own best life.
AN ARTISAN DREAM
One of the oldest established “artisan communities” in America is the village of Sugar Loaf, which is a small hamlet roughly six miles long and five miles wide, in the town of Chester in New York’s Orange County. It’s been around since the 18th century.
The village was originally a waypoint along the King’s Highway, providing supplies and horses for the travelers along that road. It was a busy place and went through many changes as the world moved through and then past it.
Back then it was likely that every tradesperson was some sort of artisan, if the definition of “artisan” is someone who makes things by hand. (There wasn’t any other way to make useful things.)
Sometime around the middle of the last century, the village had become little more than a forgotten bit of the landscape between crowded metropolises. Transportation routes had changed and it was no longer a hub and hive of activity.
There gathered a group of artists and artisans who took up residence in Sugar Loaf and began doing their work in the old falling-down buildings and barns that had endured for a couple of hundred years. These Makers found a place with room enough and time enough to do the work they loved.
In the course of things, a core group of these full-time working craftspeople opened up their independent artist’s studios to the public, selling the works of their hands to support lives they found meaningful.
For an interesting history of the early days of the Sugar Loaf artisan community as well as some of the trials and tribulations as the community went through assorted economic and other changes, click on the button below to check out an old Sugar Loaf Guild site by one of the leaders among these early artisan-residents, Bob Fugett.
(I have to warn you: Bob is a bit cantankerous.)
As Fugett points out, some of the early artisans continued to develop their skills in their chosen work to a high level.
Over the years other Makers joined in as the earliest of these creative people and their neighbors made a community that was centered around producing locally made, one-of-a-kind, high quality creative work.
The people who appreciated the quality of the work they produced came in droves from all over the world.
THE CHANGES DO KEEP ON COMING
But, the Way of the Creative is never an easy road. In his musings on his website, Fugett mourns the lost shape of the community he helped to build.
In one of the riffs on his site, Fugett quotes James Lynch, the founder of Fforest Camp, an eco-living retreat in West Wales: “It’s my experience that artist communities are almost always camps because they appropriate space that nobody else wants (at the time), but by virtue of a creative progressive view of neighborhoods they create a demand from others that ultimately marginalizes them, so they are forever transient.”
It’s a pithy commentary on what happens after the Makers have made Beauty in some abandoned place, which then becomes a “destination,” and then gets made over into something else as other folks move in.
This YouTube video, “Artists and Artisans,” was published in 2017 by Sarah J. Burns. It’s a mini-documentary featuring interviews with some of the artisans currently living in the village and focuses on how their livelihoods changed with the recession. It also offers a glimpse of the village itself.
The future is never certain, but the village continues anyway and it will grow into some new shape that better reflects the Makers who now live and work there in these very different times.
One of Bob’s salty comments that is spot-on nevertheless is this: Talent is bullshit; work is the thing, and of course it is all for naught, always has been, always will be, but that has nothing to do with the doing of it.
In 2001, a group of friends graduated from college and set out on a cross-country road trip to interview people who lived “lives centered around what was meaningful for them.”
The boys acquired an RV, and wandered around countryside filming a documentary about their trip in which they brazenly approached all sorts of people who were doing what looked like interesting things and asked them a lot of personal questions about life-issues like, “How do you know that this thing you do is right for you?” and “What was your worst mistake?” and “What advice do you have for a lost puppy like me?”
The documentary the friends made of their journey was expanded into a series on PBS. They wrote a book about the first road trip.
This first book was followed by other books, by other projects all designed to help other people get the kind of insights the young men acquired on their own original road trip.
Eventually they and the team they assembled along the way launched a nonprofit called “Roadtrip Nation.” The goal of this nonprofit is to help other young people who need advice for shaping their own careers into something fulfilling, for living a life doing what matters most to them.
In the following YouTube video, “Road Trip Nation: The RT Nation Story,” the three friends, Mike Marriner, Nathan Gebhard and Brian McAllister, tell the story of their continuing journey.
They point out that going around the country asking people they encountered questions about how they ended up living lives that had meaning and mana helped each of them find their own truths, their own self-definitions, and their own kind of good life.
Asking questions and listening to the answers from people who had taken their own paths was profoundly useful to them. It helped them answer that age-old question, “What am I going to do with the rest of my life?”
What started as a madcap adventure-cum-vision quest has spawned a whole movement of young people who are looking for their own answers to this most important question.
Besides an assortment of books, Roadtrip Nation maintains an extensive on-line video library of the interviews they conducted on their PBS series.
If you click on the “watch” link you can browse the PBS series by season. Within each season you can browse each episode by interview subject. Among those interviewed are everything from CEOs of major corporations to everyday workers in all kinds of industries and working situations who love what they do.
Here is another powerful poem by spoken poet Robert Maxie, Jr. He is sixteen years old and has been writing poetry since the age of seven. He has his own You-Tube site and his first book,BLEEDING INK, was published this year. More are on the way….
He says, “This poem is extremely important to me and my life. It’s a constant reminder that I’m not alive to make sure that I do and say what pleases everyone around me. That kind of life is unsustainable. Instead, I want to make sure that I’m saying and living my life the way I want to.”
A wise young man.
I did not speak much when I was a child
They asked me to speak, so I spoke
I spoke of whatever my mind could conjure up
hoping that the abundance of words
would make them like me more
I was wrong
They said I was annoying
That I talked to much
They asked me to be quiet
So I shut my lips and sewed them shut to please them
Hoping that they would love me more
I was wrong
They told me I was antisocial and quiet
So I was friendly and outgoing and I spoke what I thought
They told me my thoughts were wrong, that I still talk too much
So I hid my thoughts and agreed with whatever they said
Hoping they would want me more
I was wrong
They called me a follower and gullible
So I led my own path and said what I thought,
hoping they would love me more
I was wrong
They hated me for my diversity
They abused me and made me an outcast
I starved myself to death trying to feed everyone else
People don’t want you to think
People don’t want you to speak,
they want you to shut up
especially when you have something important to say
For if thought corrupts language,
language will also corrupt thought.
Ah…here it comes again. Another Un-Seeing Exercise. There’s THAT question: Who am I to be so bold?
The story you tell yourself about what you “cannot” do can hurt you your entire life. This question, in particular, can tie you up in all kinds of knots and keep you stuck in suck.
WHY BOLD? WHAT IS BOLD?
“Lemme tell ya, cookie,” as an old, rasty rascal of a friend used to say, “it’s supposed to be bold. What are ya? Some kinda snail?”
Jan (Arny) Messersmith published that sky-diving image in the header of this post in his Flickr stream in 2010. He tells the backstory in a long rumination in his image notes. He also includes one of the best definitions of “bold” I’ve ever seen.
He says, “Boldness is the exercise of one’s beliefs accompanied by a certainty that positive and well-considered actions will produce desirable outcomes.” He continues, “Timidity and fear are not compatible with confidence and trust.” It’s a truth, that.
This INBOUND Bold Talk, “From Suit to Seal” was published on YouTube by HubSpot in 2015. It features Phil Black who hung up his suit as a Goldman-Sach minion to become, of all things, a Navy Seal.
“Be bold,” Black says at the end of his talk. Bold is the first step to following your dream.
TAKING THAT FIRST STEP
How do you get to bold? Some counterpoint questions might help. How about these?
When you are 80, are you going to regret that you did not take action and believe in yourself because you were scared?
What message will you give your kids and your grandkids? How are you going to authentically encourage them to follow their dreams when you stop yourself from following your own?
The saddest comment I have ever overheard was one from an elderly grandmother telling her grandson, “Go do your dream, bebe. Me, I too old for dream now. I can only wish.”
Another take on this is the advice in this spoken poem, “Everybody Dies But Not Everybody Lives” in this YouTube video by Richard Williams, better-known as American rapper and spoken word artist Prince Ea.
Prince Ea published the video in 2016. It was a collaboration between the artist, who calls himself a “Futurist,” and Neste, a Finnish oil refinery company that, besides producing and marketing petroleum products, also produces “renewable diesel” which is produced in a patented vegetable oil refining process. The upcycled vegetable oil works well as an alternative fuel in diesel engines.
PRETEND THERE IS NO COUNTDOWN
The Real is that being bold isn’t all that hard to do. Major tip: Forget the countdown. Never mind “a-one and a-two and a-three.” Just go.
Practice will help with that. It gets easier every time you do something that makes you scared and nervous.
FOLLOWING IN THE FOOTSTEPS
Bold can also get easier if you can follow along the trails of adventurers and explorers who’ve gone on ahead of you.
Start a file folder today – either a physical paper one or one on your computer. Choose a few people who you admire for their bravery and bold actions. Research their stories.
Chances are your heroes started in situations that are no better than yours right now and they made it. Find out how they did it. Look at ways that maybe you can do it your own self in your own field.
Cinthia I. Albers is a fellow member of the Maui Live Poets Society. She’s a lifelong poet with a quirky sense of humor and her own tales to tell. She has laid claim to a “poet husband and a poet cat” and has collected her poems in a series of books that are available on Amazon.
I asked her to share a poem that has meaning and mana for her and to tell us why. This is hers:
“I have always been at war with the ideas of what the world says woman should be. Magazines show us these images and most of us do not measure up.”
“I was at a doctor’s office and picked up a woman’s magazine and thought about all those magazines I had read and discarded over the years. The idea that what interests women is reflected on their pages seems like a cosmic joke. Women are much more than that.”
“This poem grew from that. This was published in Maui Muses Vol 4- Equitude (a collection of poems curated by the Live Poets) and in my own collection.”
I was flipping through one of those magazines
You know the ones
With the makeup ads
And perfume ads
And Handbag ads
And High heeled shoe ads
Just for you
The ones with the articles
How to lose weight
Lose belly fat
Sculpt your thighs
Sculpt your arms
Tighten those abs
Make that butt tight and firm
Those articles about
How to please your man
How to have more sex
How to have satisfying sex
How to declutter your home
How to organize your life
That kind of magazine
That follows the weight loss article
And the sculpt your body
into a fat burning machine
With the recipe for a 10000 calorie dessert
And the five minute meal
That takes three hours prep
And 100 dollars of ingredients
But you’ll be fine
Using their budget tips
I picked up that magazine,
I flipped through
I admired those thin women
With the leather coats
And the hair that flows in the wind
The one where you can smell her perfume
The one that runs in heels and never falls
Looking at them, the perfect make up
The happy homemaker
The husband pleaser
With the decluttered kitchen
And the picture perfect comfy house
Being born a woman
How did I fail so badly?
They showed me how
It’s so simple
They told me so
I just have to read
Follow simple instructions
Bat my phony eyelashes
Buy the right kitchen organizer
Use the correct perfume
Take care of my man sexually
And all will be perfect
I will grow the perfect boobs
Sculpt the perfect ass
I will the don the perfect haircut
And I will be able to run
In expensive spiked heels
With matching bag
And fly away coat
Truth is it never worked
I just can’t quite master that image
Who would have thought being a woman
Was so hard to become
Considering I was born one.
At a party recently, a bunch of old guys – artists, tinkerers and generally handy dudes of a certain age – were reminiscing about high school shop class.
They found it amazing that forty and fifty years ago it was not considered unusual for a bunch of silly-assed, overly amped kids to be dealing with hands-on fooling around using massive, old, industrial-strength power tools.
In fact, they agreed, shop class was the go-to class for all the worker-dude guys who were not academically inclined.
All those assorted spinning wheels, sharp cutting edges, power cords, burning and smoking things, flying sparks, mounds of debris and such were a natural part of the shop class landscape.
Every one of the guys remembered that their shop teacher was missing at least a couple of fingers. Every one of them remembered the safety lectures.
Mostly, though, they remembered how shop class got them fascinated with the joy of Making Something. Collectively they mourned the passing of this rite of passage.
Those old dudes were sounding “Taps” too early, it seems. The joy of Making has taken the world by storm again. It’s even got its own Movement now. Do-It-Yourself lives!
This “Maker Movement” is a convergence of traditional artisans, computer hackers, independent inventors, designers, tinkerers and other (often manic) crafty sorts who toil away in their cluttered workrooms and closet-offices making cool stuff that sometimes solve everyday problems, big and small, and sometimes is just for fun.
The first stirrings of the Movement in 2005 was spurred on by the vision and enthusiasm of the editors of Make: magazine, a publication that was born out of founder Dale Dougherty’s conviction that Making is a very good thing to do.
Before the magazine was a year old, it had become a nexus and a gathering place for a tech-influenced, grassroots, DIY community that spread and sprawled out like a kudzu vine. The magazine dubbed them “Makers.”
“I think the magic of [the magazine] was simply that we connected a lot of different groups that were making things but saw themselves as doing something separate,” Dougherty has said.
According to him, the artisans and artists saw themselves as different than the people who do robotics or electronics. There was a sense of disconnection among all of these creative folks. A knitter, a musician and a guy who builds a drone might not be able to feel like they belong to the same tribe, for example.
“To some degree calling them all makers kind of allowed for a flourishing of some different people coming together and seeing commonalities,” he said.
MAKE: MAKER FAIRES
The Makers also spurred the magazine editors on to put together the first Maker Faire, a festival celebrating the innovation and self-reliance of the folks who do-it-yourself.
The first Maker Faire happened in San Mateo, about 20 miles from San Francisco. It was billed as the “Greatest Show (and Tell) on Earth.”
The idea was to get all kinds of people of all ages and backgrounds to come together and show what they were making and share what they were learning with other people. It was also all about experimenting, playing, and having fun connecting with other people.
The first Faire was a grand success, stirring the imaginations of jaded consumers numbed by the overabundance of generic, mass-produced goods. It spawned what has since became a worldwide network of fancy flagship Faires in major cities that involve thousands of people as well as more down-home, independently produced mini-faires.
At these events, curious participants of all ages can experience the inventions of the Makers firsthand. The spectators are invited to join in the parade and fun is had by all.
This 2012 YouTube video, “Inspiring a Maker Movement” was published by CNN and features Dale Dougherty talking about the very fundamental human need to make stuff. You’ll also get a taste of what it’s like to be at a Maker Faire.
As Dougherty points out, it isn’t all high-tech, although 3D printers, digital manufacturing, drones and robots are all glittery highlights at the big international Faires. New forms of arts, entertainment, crafts, food experiments, and every other kind of human creativity is fodder for exploration.
You can learn to build your own smartphone or make your own toys.
You might be able to print out a pair of shoes.
Maybe you’ll make your own jewelry or a handbag for mom or learn how to cook up something new.
You might learn how to crochet.
You might even learn how to home-automate your house with just a few simple measures.
You could learn how to pickle, can, and preserve fruits and vegetables and check out the latest advances in bee-keeping, composting and growing your own food.
You might learn how to write better instructions.
Checking out all that’s new in the world of making things could lead you to the start of a new interest, hobby or vocation.
At the Faires, open-source learning, contemporary design and powerful personal technology rule. The strategy is to provide interested people with the right tools and the inspiration and opportunity to use them. Creativity and a lot of imagination-sparking ensues.
to check out the Faire schedules and locations. It truly is mind-boggling!
Makers make stuff. They want to know how they can do this thing or that. They want to know how other people have solved a problem they are facing.
Magazines (like Make: magazine) as well as books, podcasts and YouTube videos for do-it-yourselfers have grown exponentially as more and more people become interested in being a Maker of one sort or another.
Hobbyists, enthusiasts, and those who’ve gained a certain mastery in some form of Making might be encouraged to give demonstrations, classes or workshops that attract others who want to explore new ways of Making too.
Then there are the MakerSpaces that welcome a diverse group of builders, hackers, and hobbyists who share resources and knowledge. Hundreds have cropped up in the past decade or so in the United States.
Some are housed in existing community centers such as libraries, museums or youth centers. Others are sponsored by companies and organizations at conference centers. All of them focus on the love of Making.
This YouTube video put together by TheMakerSpace earlier this year explains further:
MakerSpaces have taken off in all kinds of directions. There are community-based spaces, spaces for kids, and spaces for explorers of all kinds.
Here’s another YouTube video, by Intel (yes, those guys) showing off their “Ultimate MakerSpace,” at the company’s Intel Developer Forum in 2014.
Both the dedicated and dabbler Makers have fueled the growth of companies that produce the materials and tools that people use to make (or fix) stuff. Sales of arts and crafts supplies and parts for all kinds of machines and electronic equipment are booming as well.
People who get involved in Making often find something that they feel is worth exploring further, that gives them great pleasure. Some of them turn their new-found passion into a life-long hobby. Others become entrepreneurial and turn their creations into a business of their own.
Besides distributing their creations to traditional brick-and-mortar stores or participating in venues like street fairs and festivals, many Makers sell their creations online to people all over the world by making their own websites or by using Craigslist, eBay, or Etsy to sell their own cool stuff.
The connections just keep multiplying.
More than one observer of economic and business trends have commented on the Maker Movement. It has gotten wide and deep.
The general consensus seems to be that it is a very good thing to encourage folks to ponder on problems and figure out how to make their own solutions rather than just going out and buying another doo-dad put together by someone else.
After all, it is the people who make things who have the potential to change the world.
Matthew Crawford, a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville and the author of SHOP CLASS AS SOULCRAFT: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work, has this thought: “I think [the Maker Movement] is tapping into a really basic fact about us as human beings. From infancy we learn about the world by manipulating it, by sort of poking it and seeing how it pokes back.”
My own feeling is that each of us carries a little spark of the Creative within us. It’s a good thing, I think, to go play with that.
Japanese farmer-philosopher Masanobu Fukuoda once said, “The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation of human beings.”
THE SEED IS PLANTED
In the poorest postal code in Canada, in the city of Vancouver, the old farmer’s vision has come to ground and taken root in a network of four urban farms located on five acres of reclaimed land. They call it “SOLE Food Street Farms.”
The name is an acronym. It arose out of a project, “Saving Our Living Environment” (SOLE), by United We Can, a Vancouver non-profit that operates a recycling program and employs street people and people from the neighborhood to clean up streets and alleys. Until the farms were able to operate independently, they sheltered under the United We Can umbrella.
The project was spearheaded by visionary farmer and food-growing advocate, Michael Ableman (of Foxglove Farm fame), and his collaborator Seann Dory who worked for United We Can. They put together a project that provides stable jobs and training and development for 25 people, most of whom live in the neighborhood where they work. Together they have built an oasis of green in the middle of gray and black city hardscape.
DOWN ON THE FARM
This 2013 video, “The Story of Sole Food,” which was produced by Point Blank Creative with the support of Vancity and is available on YouTube, tells the tale:
The farms have succeeded beyond the two founders’ wildest hopes when they began reclaiming their first piece of ground in the parking lot of the Astoria hotel in Strathcona, the oldest neighborhood in Vancouver (right next door to Downtown Eastside, the poorest postal code in all of Canada.)
Every year the farms produce over 25 tons of fresh produce that includes tree fruit from a large urban orchard that grows in an abandoned railway yard.
The farms supply more than 30 area restaurants and sell at five Vancouver farmer’s markets. They operate a community-supported agriculture program as well.
They donate up to $20,000 work of produce every year to community kitchens.
Most importantly, they help their urban neighbors reconnect and re-ground themselves in the age-old cycles of life and growing that every farm honors and celebrates.
After the farm project had been going for several years, the MBA program at Queen’s University conducted research into the uber-local farming enterprise.
The guys in the lab coats figured out that for every dollar SOLE Foods spent on employing people who are “hard to employ,” there was a $1.70 combined savings to the person and the legal system, the health care system, the social assistance networks, and the environment through carbon sequestration and energy and transportation benefits. A good return-on-investment, that.
The book is a triumphant mash-up of Ableman’s philosophy about farming as a business and a traditional craft with pictures on every page spread (many of them taken by Ableman) documenting the continuing trials and tribulations of trying to build a real farm in the middle of the big city. The best parts of the book are the stories about the relationships that have developed between the organizers, the farm workers, their clients, and the Downtown Eastside neighborhoods where they work and live.
If you’d like more information about SOLE Food Street Farms, CLICK HERE.
At the time it began, the scale of the farms was, perhaps, unique. It was urban agriculture, growing food on a for-real farm that was run as a business with a heavy dose of social consciousness added in. Many of the earlier efforts by assorted city planners and developers in various cities around the world focused on garden-scale projects – urban horticulture rather than agriculture.
It isn’t a new concept, this growing food in the middle of a city. As cities grew, the food needed to feed the people was grown all around them. Sumerians, back in 5000 BCE, were famous for the sophisticated irrigated agriculture in and around some of the world’ earliest cities in what is now southern Iraq.
But, these ancient farmers and all of their descendants in the long history of agriculture did not have farms built on top of pavement covering over the contaminated soil between buildings in the remains of demolished factories and other urban ruins. This is what makes these street farms so remarkable. What makes them even more remarkable are the number of lives they have touched and the ones they have helped to nurture, heal and rebuild.
Michael Abelman says that SOLE Food Street Farms is “based on the belief that the simple act of planting a seed can bring new life to the world.”
[Amen to that one, braddah.]
Another IPS (Inner Peace Symptom): a tendency to build bridges between your world and other people’s worlds. [Foot-traffic on all the bridges you build brings many treasures into your world.]
Ever since people started talking to one another, they’ve explored the power of words. The power of LOGOS (the Word) has been the fundamental foundation for building a religion, a culture, a movement, a life.
Words can move you. Words can move other people. That’s probably why everybody talks so much.
A MOST EFFECTIVE PUNISHMENT
Remember the Biblical Tower of Babel? According to the story, the people on earth got together and decided to build this great tower that would reach into Heaven itself. They figured they could be like little gods if they did that.
They were planning to invade and trespass into God-country. The Big Guy got mad that they even dared to make that attempt.
So, how did the Dude punish them? He made it so they began to speak in all kinds of different languages. All of a sudden, there was a major obstacle to collaboration and cooperation. You can’t work together if you don’t understand what the other person is saying. The project was abandoned.
Of course, that also meant that folks had a harder time just living together peacefully, but that’s another story….
DISTILLING THE WORDS
Poems are an especially powerful form of word-use. Poets distill their thoughts down to their essence, throwing away all the parts that interfere with their dance with the words.
Poems are like the essential oils of the Word World. It takes an incredible number of rose petals to make an essential oil. Imagine. It takes 10,000 POUNDS of petals to make one pound of rose oil. Each little 5mL bottle contains the essence of 105 pounds of petals.
Have you ever tried opening one of those teeny bottles of essential rose oil? Wow! One sniff and your nose transports you into the best enclosed rose garden there ever was.
POEMS AS A BUSINESS TOOL
In this 2013 TEDxMarin video, “The Power of Poetry”, leadership coach and teacher Dale Biron, who combines poetry with martial arts, leadership, and life-strategy, in his speaking, coaching and workshop sessions for business conferences, organizational retreats and university classes, talks about how great poems are like powerful “apps” for the mind.
Biron says poems can be “good stories with the boring parts removed.” He believes in the power of poems to get you to a life worth living.
POEMS IN MAXIMUM PRISON
Touring spoken word poet Phil Kaye has won many awards in his career so far. He’s currently a co-director of Project V.O.I.C.E. (Vocal Outreach Into Creative Expression). The Project, it says here, is “a national movement that celebrates youth self-expression through Spoken Word Poetry.” They aspire to encourage young people to use Spoken Word Poetry as a tool “to explore and better understand their culture, their society, and ultimately themselves.”
When Kaye was still a student at Brown University, he participated in and eventually became the coordinator for the college’s S.P.A.C.E. (Space in Prisons for the Arts and Creative Expression) prison initiative program. The University students, unpaid volunteers all, offer a variety of weekly art workshops at the Rhode Island Adult Correction Institutions (ACI). Phil did workshops about spoken poetry.
(S.P.A.C.E. also facilitates workshops in the Providence Center, a residential recovery service provider located on the campus of the ACI.)
Kaye developed a keen appreciation for the power of poems during the time he taught weekly poetry workshops in maximum-security prisons. In this TEDxFoggy Bottom video, “Poetry in Maximum Security Prison,” he talks about that time in his life and how it has influenced his life-direction.
Kaye’s journey has led him to venues all over the world from the Lincoln Center in New York City to the Malthouse Theater in Melbourne Australia. His work has been viewed online over five million times and has been featured in media outlets ranging from National Public Radio to Al Jazeera America and Upworthy.com.
One of Kaye’s favorite life high-points was being asked to perform alongside His Holiness The 14th Dalai Lama during the beloved teacher’s 80th birthday celebration at the 2015 Global Compassion Summit conference in Anaheim.
In my own life, poems have been my way to get back to clarity about a life-situation or about my own self. Writing down and recording all the moving parts is like taking a step back from them so I can get a better handle on the whole mish-mash of chaos and confusion.
Sometimes, a hole opens up in the clouds and a light shines through. Sometimes not.
I keep working on it. Sometimes I get a whole bunch of poems. Sometimes nothing.
It’s all process….
Here’s a poem:
Nothing comes together.
This poem is not going well.
The words keep turning pale.
They fade, they float away.
They stumble around looking confused.
I let loose my Sergeant Major
Who growls at these clueless bo-bo recruits.
They keep stacking themselves this way, that way.
They keep falling over, all in a heap.
A horrible mess.
These words have forgotten how to weave, it seems.
They’ve lost the knack of bending and turning themselves
Into a shapeliness that lightly dances.
All they’re doing now is tripping all over themselves,
Faltering and flailing wildly.
Maybe they’ve contracted some runical laxness…
A touch of lyrical amnesia, perhaps,
Or maybe some versical repression.
They are limp, they are flawed.
They are a bunch of lazy bums!
Maybe I’ve stumbled upon a stash of leftover bits —
Just coagulated lumps of airhead thoughts,
Neither highly expressive nor particularly rhymical.
Hands-on (often inept) fooling around with stuff has been called “tinkering.” The top definition for the word “tinkering” in the online collaborative Urban Dictionary is this: “to mess around with something and you don’t really have a clue what you are doing.” (The regular dictionary definitions are pretty boring.)
It’s to honor the Urban Dictionary spirit of tinkering that Karen Wilkinson and Mike Petrich, the co-directors of the San Francisco Exploratorium’s Tinkering Studio put together the book, THE ART OF TINKERING.
In the introduction to this amazing collection of wonders by 150+ Makers who combine art, science and technology to put together incredibly diverse works, Wilkinson and Petrach tell us that tinkering is “more of a perspective than a vocation…. It’s thinking with your hands and learning through doing.”
The book grew out of the work being done by a group of artists, scientists, developers, educators and facilitators who play with many different sorts of tools, materials and technologies at the museum’s “Tinkering Studio” and at the PIE Institute.
JUST MESSING AROUND
This gathering of fun-loving Makers bent on giving us all a taste of the joy of tinkering was the result of a project called the PIE (Play-Invent-Explore) Network. This federally funded project began as a collaboration between the MIT Media Lab’s Lifelong Kindergarten Group, the Exploratorium, and several other museums,
They started by experimenting with science and art activities that developed into innovative educational activities suitable for wonderment, playfulness and learning about the world around us.
Work by the Tinkering Studio guys often become either exhibits at the museum or hands-on activities that allow museum visitors to jump in and play in the museum’s Tinkering Studio space which is open to the public.
The Tinkering Studio at the Exploratorium has become an inspiration for tinkerers and other wanna-be Makers since it began in 2009.
This 2012 YouTube video published by core77inc gives a taste of what the sessions held in the Studio feels like:
The book has a slew of advice about how you, too, can play at tinkering.
Here are my favorites:
Create rather than consume.
Express ideas via construction. Use your hands to build the constructs living in your mind.
Embrace your tools. Learn how to use them the “right” way, then figure out other ways to use them that work for what you are trying to do. It’s been said that a master knows how to misuse tools at least three different ways to get other results.
Prototype rapidly. When you have an idea, don’t let it just sit in your brain. Get it out into the world as soon as possible. Sketch a design. Build a working model with stuff you have lying around. Once it’s out of your head you can work out your next steps and move on to Phase 2.
Make it strange. Use familiar materials in unfamiliar ways. Take a common object and put it to another new use.
Get stuck. It’s a good thing. Failure tells you what you don’t know. Frustration is for making sense of that failure in the moment. Taking action to work through the problem and playing with it ultimately lead to new understandings.
The best advice of all is this one: You need to balance autonomy with collaboration.
Autonomy – going solo – helps you get to your own kind of mastery. You learn how to work with tools and materials. You develop your own skill and knowledge. You grow your confidence.
Tinkering with other people can be a blast. Collaboration helps you clarify your ideas for solving a problem because you have to be able to explain them to your partners in a way they can understand. (Otherwise they won’t be able to help you get where you want to go.)
You and your partners will have different and various skills and ideas that can be brought to bear on the problem. Cross-pollination is likely to occur and that could lead to other wonders.
Best of all, everybody can be a part of something larger than themselves, and that, as any wise guy will tell you is a very good thing.
All of the pictures of the hand-made sailing rail-cars project above were taken by Gever Tulley, the founder of Tinkering School, an internationally known summer program. He also started SF Brightworks, an innovative K-12 school in San Francisco emphasizing experience-based, hands-on experiential learning.
Tulley is the also the author of the book FIFTY DANGEROUS THINGS (YOU SHOULD LET YOUR CHILDREN DO), among others. As he has noted, “I have made it my mission to reintroduce the world to children: the real world as revealed through unscripted, hands-on, meaningful learning experiences.”