Making Art From Life

At the 2011 Ontario Writers’ Conference, Wayson Choy used an exercise to demonstrate the power of craft. He gave us half sheets of paper and asked us to tear and fold the paper to make a butterfly.

We dutifully tore and folded and made ugly butterflies. When we had demonstrated our work, Choy stood in front of us, folded his paper to make a crease marking a square, tore the paper to leave the square, and quickly folded a beautiful origami butterfly.

As he explained it, the original paper is our life experience. Through craft, we learn to recognize where we must prune and how we must shape this experience to make beauty.

In the context of his talk, which focused on the fact that we must acknowledge all of our own material even if we choose to censor our use of it, I took away that there will be holes in our paper if we avoid our source material (our experiences) in our work.

I loved the metaphor and decided I would learn to fold a butterfly to better remember his words of wisdom. Yesterday, I made my first two butterflies. The first was bad. The second was better. As it is with learning a craft.

I also made a crane. I have been folding cranes since I read Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes in middle school. If you aren’t familiar with the story, here is a summary. Sadako developed leukemia from radiation in Hiroshima. She died having made 644 cranes while trying to fulfill an Japanese proverb and earn a wish by folding 1,000 cranes. I practiced hard for months, making hundreds of cranes, until my muscles remembered how to make them without thinking.

Now, when I fold cranes, I remember the power of practice and the need for compassion. Metaphor, beauty, craft, and wisdom all in one practice.



About Kate Arms-Roberts

Posted on June 4, 2011, in Education, Play, This Writing Life and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. You reminded me of something that Woody Allen said about the craft of cinema: “If you want to make movies, you also have to see lots of them, hundreds, thousands, until film-making enters your body.”

    The key phrase there is “enter your body.” I maintain that, in order to find your voice as a writer, you have to write until you go crazy. And then you just keep on writing.

    Craft is just like driving – or folding cranes and butterflies – there’s so much to take in, so many details to bear in mind – until you learn what to focus on.

    As an old Japanese swordsman once remarked, if your mind stops to dwell on the stroke, you will not land your blow.

    The mind must flow like water from one move to the next. That kind of simplicity takes practice.

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