When I was small, all long-lashed dark eyes and shyness and feathers of night hair, I was taken on a plane across the Atlantic to see family. In the long between of the flight, the crew let us littles get some wiggle out by helping collect items after a meal. I was given, folded from an after dinner mint by a passenger who looked like my nisei kindergarten teacher, a bright green origami crane.
It was wonderful. My tiny world of home, church, school, and carefully being taught to fear strangers opened up a little bit more to the idea that strangers can be good. The crew were strangers. It was fun to help them. Helping them with more strangers got me treasures. This was neat.
I was, before and after, raised to serve. But the service was very directed to the controlled spheres of home, church, and school. I was not taken to volunteer at outreach like soup kitchens. That exchange on the plane, being gifted the crane, underlined a moment of service to all. I am not a wholly-owned resource of my upbringing in part because of the freedom of that tiny exchange.
The artifact itself, the crane, kept giving to me. To learn it, I interacted with books in a way that plastic brick layout pages and fairy tales hadn’t led me to do. I soaked up pictograms and translating transformative instruction into action years before I was officially introduced to those skills in scouting and fire-making. I was given other origami forms like completed lilies that I would carefully unfold and reverse engineer. The crane came to me before schoolyard fortune telling games with folded paper. Because I wanted to make more cranes knowledge became something to be used, very early.
We are surrounded by paper, so I had abundance no matter what else was going on with my life. Church programs, wrapping paper, coloring paper; stuff didn’t have just one purpose. It didn’t even have the limited purpose of a place to keep notes. If the writing or design was expired, paper still had value it was not designed to have. Re-purpose and re-use were fun, and under my control which is not always something a child is given.
At that time, there was no research about abuse, the hippocampus, and 3 dimensional mental resilience. Later, I was taught to meditate through breath-work and guided imagery. But the flow I needed to start healing myself came, along with other tools, in the act of turning flat page into round object.
And that was not the only mental discipline gained practicing this art. There is a concept called preparation folds. You do something. You undo something. It leaves a mark. That mark is essential to the success of a future action. Patience, planning, forgiveness of mistakes, taking advantage of mistakes are just a few of the things that crane gave to me.
The folding art lent itself to being combined with other art. As an adult I have used it to make containers, puzzles, imbue a form with perfume since paper is a good carrier, embed the paper with seeds, tuck poems and spells to the inside of the form as a secret for the curious, make sun hats, fold napkins, make markers for games, toys for cats, and participate in hopeful practices such as folding 1000 cranes.
My family is not Japanese. But my father worked in Japan before I was born, and the area of the world I grew up in owes a lot to Japanese immigrants. Having something of that culture so embedded in my everyday world, along with other things like getting my first sashimi by begging bites off my mother’s plate or being taught to use chopsticks by my father, made my neighbors comforting and familiar. Along with things like the cherry blossom festivals celebrating trees given by sister cities in Japan, it made the world into just farther away neighbors.
All of this from literally a throw away item and a filler moment.
We can not know what others get from our creations.
Even if I had an origami teacher who I studied under, the inner world work was mine to know and do. Flow and meditative states are a mystery that must be experienced. How I took the gifts of the crane and used them immediately in playing with wrapping paper, or later in make a mala of 88 lotuses folded around wishes for the person I was making it for, happened outside and after a potential student-teacher relationship. Ways to apply lessons can be suggested, but the practice is private.
All creation is this way. Deeply resonant art, for example something as raw and multi-layered as Beyonce’s Lemonade album, is taken personally by the person receiving the art. Another example, smaller and more pagan, is an elemental invocation before a ritual that had me lovingly cursing the person calling water. Usually, the water element is invoked with great poetry, or with flowing dances, or color and form, and goes big by mentioning something very archetypal like the ocean or rain. This invoker asked us if we knew our local water shed. And just like that in my mind I had the map of my home in the creek-beds, and knew them over time from the drought of my childhood to the storms of my preteens to hiding in the storm sewers as a young adult to kiss my lover. All of my life, and my life specifically, reminded to me in their brief words.
Creations, and art which I am using somewhat interchangeably, endures. The crane is long gone, but I am still discovering things about myself for which it was a catalyst. There are songs I have been taught or heard that reach back centuries. We have poems so old that the cultural elements they are referencing, like waiting forever at a specifically named well that you have to have known was a dry well, are almost lost. We still look to old stone structures. We are still learning from pigment hands on cave walls. The Divje Babe flute is thought to be in the diatonic scale. The denisovan bracelet is so old the people who made it are long gone, fractions of who they were captured in hybrid humans, and it is beautiful. I would wear a version that fit me.
Masterful works, like the Beyonce’s Hold Up or the Pyramids (Yes, I just put those two things in the same category), are important and powerful and worthy of amazement and veneration. But humble art is just as worthy. I have stood and marveled at Da Vinci’s paper and ink sketches where the talent made so much more of the materials. Hack silver was made to be able to be broken apart, but it is still gorgeous and can be mined for anthropological information. The 40,000 year old bone flute mentioned earlier was probably not the Stradivarius of bone flutes of its time. Some of the best dances I have seen on Youtube are toddlers and/or seniors. Some of the best food I have eaten were from home cooks. I treasure my hand made books. I wish I had a piece of my childhood friend’s pottery. I love the evolving murals of the city across the bridge.
Humble art can be more inspiring than a master work. All that power and perfection can be intimidating! A master work might make me feel or think more, but an accessible piece of work will invite me to do more. I admire couture, but I sew quilts. I attend concerts, but I sing karaoke. I watch cooking competition shows and pay to taste the talents of chefs, but I try to recreate the curtido of the converted fast food diner I had to move away from.
Because we can not know what others get from our creations, and because all creations are worthy, art is enough. Your art, whatever you make, is enough. Trust yourself.
If I can get this whole blog post from a tiny chocolate and mint scented scrap that was still small in the palm of a 6 year old, then anything you make is big enough.