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HOW TO MESS AROUND

HOW TO MESS AROUND

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:

TINKERING TENETS

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.

BEST BIT

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.

running-a-drill
“Running a Drill” by Gever (Tulley) via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
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.)

setting-up
“Setting Up” by Gever (Tulley) via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
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.

set-to-go
“Set To Go” by Gever (Tulley) via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
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.

eat-our-rust
“Eat Our Rust” by Gever (Tulley) via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
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.”

Here’s a poem.


MAKING ROOM FOR THE CREATIVE

The Creative has no limits, it is said.

It moves along, coursing through our days

Like rivers and streams,

Tumbling over the rocky places,

Making babbling brooks and dancing rills,

Trickling through the hard

As runnels and creeks,

Diving under massed walls,

Soaking on down to run deep

And springing back up as

Freshets, sweet and clear….

Tributaries all, running through the World

On their way to the Sea of Dreams

Where all potentialities roll around playing.

 

It keeps on moving, the Creative,

Carrying away bits of our landscape

And depositing them somewhere other,

Building up and tearing down

The structure of our lives.

It’s just there, the Creative,

That essence, shiny-bright,

A beautiful, chaotic force.

by Netta Kanoho

Header picture credit:  “Tinker Town Tuesday” by Erin via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]

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MAKING ROOM

MAKING ROOM

I’m re-reading an invaluable book, CREATING A LIFE WORTH LIVING, which was written by Carol Lloyd, the founder of The Writing Parlor and the Life Worth Living workshops.  Over the years since I first read it in 2011 it has kept me focused on integrating my propensities for Making into a regular, ordinary sort of life.  It is an ongoing process, always.

As she was putting together her book, Lloyd interviewed a slew of creative people and picked their brains about how they do what they do.  In an interview with performance artist Chris Wink who was part of a New York-based theater group which was a collaboration of three artists, there was this thing:

“If you’re going to create something, the first step isn’t to start creating something, it’s to create the process,” Wink says.  “…tending to the vessel and shaping it into what it’s going to be is really important.”

The “process” is a matter of making room in your life to create whatever it is you want to make.  It is about finding the space and the time and it’s about choosing how you’re going to move forward towards your goals.

sunrise
Sunrise by Jessica S. via Flickr [CC BY-ND 2.0]

Another IPS (Inner Peace Symptom):  an understanding that by eliminating what doesn’t matter you can do more of what does.  [Following your own heartsong matters.  It’s a good thing to make room for it.]

TENDING TO THE PROCESS

For the past month or so I’ve been working on clearing out the workspaces in my little house, re-organizing and de-cluttering them so that I can see what’s there and see the resources I have on hand.  Even more importantly, I have been clearing my head and seeing where I am going with all this dancing about.

I have been looking at how well my Making has been integrated into the rest of my life and tweaking the places where there are glitches or downright knotted and tangled bits, trying to get to smooth.  I am seeing how I need to make blocks of time available so I can actually sit down and make a something without having to worry about needing to be someplace else.

I am also clearing away all the non-essential stuff that clutters up my calendar with distractions from this thing I’ve declared is most important to me:  making stories, making art, and making meaning.  I’ve deliberately turned away from perfectly good opportunities for me to practice skills I’ve developed that lead me away from what I am calling “Flying My Falcon.”

I am setting up routines and rituals that help keep my energy flowing so that I have the wherewithal to actually make something worthwhile.  I am touching base again with the attitudes, the heart-people and heart-places that are valuable to me because they help pump up the wellspring that powers my Falcon-flying.

It is always an ongoing thing, this tending to your process.  It’s easy sometimes to get so caught up in the day-to-day crises and fumbles and stumbles that the thing you want most to manifest sort of fades away into the ethers somehow.

SHAPING THE VESSEL

The following YouTube Video, 8 Artists: Advice to the Young, was published by the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art’s Louisiana Channel.  The video montage has snippets from interviews with Serbian performance artist Marina Abramovich, South African artist William Kentridge, rock singer and poet Patti Smith, American singer David Byrne, German film director Wim Wenders, Danish-Islandic artist Olafur Eliassan and British artists Dinos and Jake Chapman.

It’s wise and warm and a very nice space to put your head.  And that’s another part of creating process…

If you want to listen to the full interviews for these and other artists who are equally inspiring, CLICK HERE.

Here’s a poem:


MAKING MYSELF

I am making myself,

Day by day by day.

The choices I make, the moves I do

Create the conditions around me

As I play in the World,

As I play with all the other peeps

Who are all busy

Making their own selves too.

 

There are those who say there is a Creator,

An enormous amorphous being who

Personally had a hand in the making of me,

Who continues to oversee my days

Who notices every time I fall down,

Who apparently is the archetypical Control Freak Extraordinaire

Since this non-gendered One apparently feels a need

To direct my every move.

 

I find that…scary.

Well…

Lookit….

 

When I try to be the one herding lemming-folk

Who are determined on self-destruction,

Or are just plain oblivious to dangers and sharp teeth,

There’s a certain point where I drown

In the details involved in taking each one in hand

And guiding every one of their steps,

Soothing away the hurt of every bump.

 

I notice that it never helps the lemming-folk grow,

This interference of mine.

Their sleepwalking apparently deepens.

They still fall off cliffs.

They run headlong into crocodiles and things.

They pick up hammers and whack themselves on their own foreheads.

They blindly blunder into each other and bonk each other in the jaw.

Meanwhile, I go nuts,

Stuck on a meaningless treadmill of

Amoeba-like action/reaction ad infinitum.

I would not wish that state of being on any creature…

Especially not the one who put together all the wondrousness of the Universe!

 

Myself, I think the Dude/Dudette or Whatever

Just placed a spark of Itself into everything alive,

And each sparklet likes to play.

So they do.

And that’s how the Universe got born,

And that’s how it keeps going.

 

Me, I think I’ll just keep trying to keep my sparklet going strong.

I figure it’s the best way I can help out….

by Netta Kanoho

Picture credit:  Intention 1 by Teddy Llovet via Flickr [CC-BY-NC 2.0]

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