Sunday, February 19, 2012

Unexpected Uses of the Ordinary and the Music of the World

There is delight (if not a touch of delicious mischief) in using something for a purpose not only not intended by the maker but probably never imagined. This latest exploit by OK Go fills my heart with mischief. As one friend said, "I want to change jobs." Indeed, as i watch our three-year-old spend ALL of his time playing (when he's not sleeping), i think and rethink the world of play and just how incapacitated are so many of us grown-ups. The playfulness of OK Go's work is, to say the least, inspiring. And it's also obviously incredibly hard work. But why do we separate work and play the way we do? Such is one of the building blocks of the current and dominant common sense. I daresay this is one dichotomy that is profoundly BAD sense.

My friend dian marino told me of a visit to her mother's during pickling season. Knowing that she was going to enter a house over-run with pickles she was surprised to see none. She asked about the pickles and her mother's response of "in the basement" was so matter-of-fact that dian was halfway down the stairs before the oddity of the situation hit her. Why would the pickles be in the basement when clearly no pickling had yet been done? Nor were the pickles in evidence once dian reached said basement. Shouting up to her mother she was told to check the washing machine and, sure enough, the pickles were being duly cleaned in the Maytag's gentle rinse cycle. "Not what the manufacturer had in mind," dian thought.

dian was a student of Corita Kent, an artist and educator who taught at Immaculate Heart College (and whom i blogged about previously). While dian made it clear to me that her ingenuity was 'genetic', i am positive that it was her work with Corita that educated that ingenuity and allowed dian to follow in Corita's footsteps and 'teach' that ingenuity to others. Jan Steward, Corita's co-author of Learning By Heart: Teachings to Free the Creative Spirit (2nd Ed.: Allworth Press, NY, 2008), writes:
Neighbours around the corner from us have just added a beautiful deck to their house. I was sure when i saw it that it had been made by some Japanese master. Woodgrains were perfectly matched , joints formed and held - not with nails - but by interlocking pieces of wood. I was surprised when I was introduced to the carpenter, a young man of thirty-two. I asked him where he had learned to do such fine work. I went to Immaculate Heart, he said, and was taught by a woman whose teacher had been a student of Corita. Did you ever hear of her? A few months ago I went for a new pair of glasses and told the young woman who helped me how much I liked her cheerful store. There were serigraphs, children's drawings, banners hanging from the ceiling, and a parrot in a cage with his vocabulary written out so visitors could talk to him and get an appropriate reply. I asked who had put it all together. I did, she answered, and I asked her how she knew how to do this. I had a wonderful art teacher,  she said.  She didn't teach us how to draw or paint so much as she taught us to care. She was a student of Sister Corita.
While i do believe there is that about artistic talent that is mysterious, i also believe that far more can be taught about how to create than we allow ourselves to believe. But perhaps artistic talent is mysterious only because we fail to respect the ability to exercise our imagination - something everyone can do and everyone can learn to do but which, unfortunately, though we start life with amazing capacities, we seem to unlearn most of them by the age of ten.

OK Go is a group of people who haven't forgotten how to play. From their rube goldberg machine and marching band versions of This Too Shall Pass to the treadmills of Here It Goes Again and all the others, they play and play and play and, what's more, inspire that play in others (we've been tumbling dominoes in this house for months). But what raises this to another level is that each of these creations is obviously the work of many hands and minds. What we see here is collective, cooperative creative power. And in that lies much hope.

I learned last year about the hindi word jugaad which means "jury-rigged", clever inventiveness, workarounds. It is also the name of a slapped together motorized vehicle. It is a powerful and playful manifestation of creative power.

I can remember this creative power as a child as i recall imagined worlds (notably the bridge of the Star Trek Enterprise and the comic book landscapes of Apokalips and New Genesis, Krypton and Gotham City) and see that the memories of such are as vivid as those of "real" places in which i lived.

The ingenious play of Ok Go is something i hope inspires people to connect with their own ingenuity. And then, my deeper hops is that we will apply this wondrous ability to the daunting challenges which confront us now - climate change, species loss, food uncertainty, etc.... Surely we can find ways to live our lives better and more joyfully while also making the sacrifices we have made inevitable by our centuries of exploitation of our precious planet.

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