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  • John Diamond-Nigh

The great shark/missile splashdown


My 3-D class is making #boats, or rather some original water-borne invention that will float them across the pond on campus. Yoshi and Carla, using PVC pipe and rubber weather balloons, have created a skeletal contraption with an old bicycle fixed on top that will motor the paddle wheel. On the trial run, it sank with Carla on the bicycle seat, but Yoshi, as weightless as a bean, made it across. Jared’s weird kayak is made with scavenged plywood and resin and painted like a tattoo artist’s cross between a missile and a shark. Jared being Jared, he ran down the hill, boat in hand, took a flying dolphin leap into the pond, but got the angle wrong, and the boat hit bottom and Jared took a bath. His mother, who had come to watch, clutches her hair. What did I do wrong? she laughs.


The ‘regatta’ was held on a spring evening, jazz quartet from the music department playing under the trees, the college chef outdoing himself with a majestic spread of goodies, hundreds present. What lunatic, elegant vessels, vessels such as this earth has never seen. But all my students make it across. Billows of applause. The trophy goes to Carla and Yoshi, with Jared getting honorable mention. Brenda was a difficult student. Not dextrous, quarrelsome, apt to frustration. And heavy. I helped her quite a bit with her boat. Long after most folks have gone, and the sun is sinking, Brenda has put her boat back in the water and, with her young daughter on her lap, is sitting becalmed in the middle of the pond. I hear the loveliest song, scarcely audible at first, some old mother-to-daughter lullaby. Growing. What a pure, diaphanous voice.


And that damn boat keeps floating. A #miracle. How much have I, myself, to learn about the brilliance and #empathy of things! And even of the angels hiding inside rough-cornered people. Brenda, for all her irascibility at times, had gained steam, and as the boat took shape her craft returned the favor, shaping her beyond the niche of her grudgingness. She worked a few times through most of the night.


What is #creativity? At the high end, a master like #Sofu Teshigahara, founder of the #Sogetsu school of #Ikebana flower arranging observes that we must strive to develop into artists of breath and depth. Instead of remaining comfortable in our artistic niche, our creations should vary. If we do not venture out, we will never become outstanding artists.


#Edmund de Waal observes that a new object (or poem) necessarily makes a space for itself in the world, a fresh, perilous #space. That new circumference of freedom and space gets passed on to us. So many systems now, from business to politics to education are increasingly ironed flat with uniformity. Look at the Senate and you wonder, is there no place in politics now for the shades of individual conscience, even against such preposterous wrong? Are we atoms now in one totalitarian milk? Education, once a precinct for idiosyncratic invention, has become less so. As it swings toward profit and the efficiencies of the internet, my dazzling, grand old profs have vanished. Of “venturing out,” do I hold out hope for the arts?


I cut this line from today’s NY Times, referring to the three dominant men tennis players. Roger #Federer is the #pleaser and Rafael #Nadal is the #fighter. Call #Djokovic the #searcher. Pleaser, fighter, searcher. All of my students knew, on that sweet evening in May, that they had worked like hell, improvising through harrowing, tricky impediments. Some #craft sank and had to be modified. Others just sat in the water; the propulsion didn’t work as hoped. (One went backwards!) In the end, all had made it across the pond (one still going backwards). They had pleased their teacher, the crowd, the jury. Chiefly, though, they had sought. They had sought in themselves for that scope de Waal talks about, that rare, tiny, tremendous object/space that would add a big inch to the spaciousness of their being.

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