When a friend asked if we could help her staff her booth at the NoVa mini Maker Faire, my wife and I jumped at the chance. Maker Faires are kind of an amazing cultural movement, and should be everywhere. The fact that we had no idea how to make the thing our friend makes (wire jewelry) didn't really occur to us until we arrived at the Maker Faire, goggled at all the amazing things being demonstrated, looked at the credentials on our lanyards ("Adam Shannon, Maker") and felt somewhat inadequate.
This was, hands down, one of the coolest things I've done all year. Our friend Sandy makes "doodle art" - bits of wire twisted into nearly-random shapes, which can be turned into necklaces, zipper pulls, whatever. It's an art form that's accessible to anyone. It was incredibly fun to introduce people to someone easy and creative that was accessible to anyone, whether they thought of themselves as "artistic" or not. Some people really got into it in a way that was tremendously exciting.
We'd figured a certain percentage of people doing wire-scupture art at our table would be kids, but what we didn't realize is that almost no adults would try their hand at making something. Adults seemed to assume that a quick, creative task was intended for children only. A few adults jumped in to make their own art, but all but a handful of them were accompanying their kids. That was totally unexpected.
I watched one young woman, maybe 12 years old, laboring over her work as other kids came and went from the table. Most people managed to produce a little piece of art in just a few minutes, but this girl was focused, deliberate. She was unhappy with her first attempt, unraveling and re-forming it over and over before trying again with fresh materials. She was intense, and I could tell she wanted to make something really different. She was the only person I saw all day who incorporated different types of wire together. "That's me as a kid," I thought, watching the focus and perfectionism she brought to the task, watching her dismantle a nascent sculpture and begin again. The wire was kinked and harder to bend the second time around. She didn't seem very happy, but she kept at it.
And I felt sorry for her, even after she stuck with the task and made some pretty cool pendants out of her wire. It really troubled me when I realized that my reaction to seeing a young version of myself was pity. I wanted her to just go nuts with the wire, not concerning herself with the results, and see what happened. I wanted her to give up on the idea of making something perfect, and enjoy herself as she made something weird and flawed. Even when the end result was some of the nicest art I saw that day, I still felt a sense of loss: the sacrifice of careless fun that was - and is - the everyday life of people who just can't let go. Me, her, and some of you. The hypervigiliant, the ruthless, the dedicated, the miserable, the achievers, the clenched, the obsessed.