19 for 2019: #11 Fold Some Origami

Of course I learned to make those square paper fortune telling devices that foretold who you’d marry and whether you’d dwell in a mansion, apartment, sewer, or house based on your selection of favorite colors or numbers, and I’m sure I still could. I could make basic paper airplanes before that, and have no idea how many secret notes I passed as elementary school passed to middle school that were scribbled on notebook paper and folded neatly around themselves into a neat little flat package that included that little tuck in flap to keep it securely closed–the information inside was almost certainly top secret.

I even learned with some guidance to fold a paper crane in my twenties to contribute to a Sadako memorial celebration while doing some volunteering for the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, and promptly forgot for lack of using this skill.

Much more recently, as a Peace Corps Volunteer, paper cranes entered my life again, as PCvs are often posted in the same places as JICA Volunteers, who are conveniently loaded with Japanese cultural modules to share with their communities, like teaching origami, which was a thing that happened at my site. Doing my best to be a good role model, play along, and participate, I sat down at the table with all the other blind students at the training center I was serving in Bishkek. The instructions were being given in Russian, which I’d picked up at a rudamentary level, though understanding and following relatively complex instructions is a higher order language skill, and I was definitely on the struggle bus and frustrated. My paper was getting mushy from folding and refolding in different places, and I was nowhere near a crane. When one of the other students was instructed to help me, she simply came over and basically did it for me and walked away, leaving me feeling more frustrated and disempowered–she still was clearly not on board with the empowerment model of training and/or didn’t really have teaching experience, and to be fair, that wasn’t exactly why she was there. File under the category of Learning New Things Is Just Not Fun.

Four origami wallets lay flat, nested and fanned together in neon pink, purple, green, and orange.

And then a couple of years ago, my creative and great at teambuilding boss brought origami to the weekly department meeting as a team building exercise.Although she did have deep knowledge and experience with both the empowerment model and teaching blindness skills, I just couldn’t stop overthinking the instructions–after all, there are so many ways to interpret words, and some kind of PTSD kicked in and I was back in the trauma of feeling inadequate, like I couldn’t learn this new, simple thing, and my brain and pulse raced, my heart fluttered and sank into my stomach, and a lump formed in my throat. I knuckled down and made it through the exercise, not without the scars of folds in places they shouldn’t have been on my little gifting envelope that we folded that day, and I’m sure one of my yarn friends would remind me that it’s just my signature. I also managed to fold a little jumping frog that day, and both of those items still live at my desk as a reminder to persevere through discomfort for the growth that follows.

I watched with curiosity and admiration when someone who would occasionally drop in to a networking program I run that involves coordinating a meet up for blind working people out at bars, who would bring along a plastic box of bright and colorful square origami paper and quietly fold while conversing with those around her, and even drawing them in to join her, when another origami enthusiast happened to join us from out of town.

In the background, a book stands upright with a triangular bookmark attached to the top corner of a page, next to it, a stack of art supplies—spiral bound construction paper, a packet of markers, and a variety of colored papers, to the right of that stand two empty stemless wine glasses. In the foreground, origami sailboats, a house, cups, and a yellow ring, most items colored with hearts and messages of 1st anniversary celebration.

And then my husband and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary–the paper anniversary, and before heading out to our fancy dinner at Chez Panisse, we sat down at our kitchen table and folded some origami together over a bottle of wine–a sailboat, a bookmark (that still marks a page in one of his funny Victorian cookbooks), a house, some cups, and a ring, just for a quirky and fun way to mark the occasion.

It was also around this time that I picked up yarn crafting and learning new things actually became a joy, so it seemed natural to add this to my 19 for 2019 list to keep the personal development party going. It can be said, at a basic level that this item can be checked, though I’ll opt to roll it over, as I really only re-taught myself to make that paper money envelope this year, and that was at the prompting of a friend and colleague who wanted to learn it, and I’d have to sit down and figure it out all over again–I’d not say it’s burned into my memory banks, and I think there’s a lot more fun learning potential here.

Up next: Looks at Books–did I read more in 2019?

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