Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Why Didn't I Know About This Before?

This week: Making Stuff

So lately I've gotten to be rather crafty. I've made armies of crocheted amigurumi animals for starters, not to mention all the things I color and build for the library. But me making stuff is sort of a new, though sort of a not so new phenomenon. I say sort of new because I only started making things a few years ago, and I say sort of not so new because when I was a kid I actually enjoyed making things a lot. Until I didn't. Let me explain by telling the famous robot story. It is a story that my father insists I never tell and gets very angry when I go into it. It is a family tale best left untold. But here it is. When I was 12 my dad bought this really cool robot kit for us to build together. I kept putting off when we would start making it, and when I came back from summer camp I found that he had built it with my brother. I forgive you, dad. But I didn't for a long time. I've been thinking lately, why it was that this bothered me so much. Was it just spending time with my father that I missed out on? That's what I had been thinking for the longest time, but now I'm not so sure. No, what I think I missed was learning about mechanical engineering and building stuff in general.

When I was a kid, I've mentioned that one of my favorite things to do was invent bizarre imaginary stories to act out in my room. But if we are talking about actual toys, my favorite thing was my Domino Rally set. I used to build these crazy arrangements of dominoes so they would slide down the slide and all other sorts of cool things. Have you seen the new OK Go video yet? Well you should:

My dominoes never looked like that. Instead they looked like this

Anyway, it was super fun, albeit a completely lame thing for an 10year old girl to do in her room.

So in addition to playing with stupid plastic dominoes I also took shop in 6th grade. I actually didn't suck at it. It was fun. I made a hardwood marble tic tac toe game, and bent a bunch of plastic to make keychains, and a pinewood derby racer that I actually came in 2nd place in my class I think, and some other crap I don't remember. But I actually made stuff. I got a sense of satisfaction going into the shop each day and building things. I also "helped" my dad make my model of the Parthenon which came out completely awesome. I really was never good at art, but I really enjoyed putting models and things together.

And then I didn't make that robot. Now I'm not saying if I had made the stupid robot that I would have ended up as a mechanical engineer or something. I'm just starting to realize that what happened was I didn't make the robot, and I sort of lost interest in engineering or building or anything like that in general. What I lost was a hobby. Now maybe my interest in building stuff started to wane and that was why I kept putting off the project. All I can say is that I realize now that the reason why I was so bitter about this for such a long time is because I really liked building things and I kind of forgot it until I was an adult. Also, by making it with my brother, my dad kind of reinforced the idea that making models and building things was for boys. School didn't really offer me any more opportunities to take classes like shop, and I had always been pretty bad at drawing (though that's improved too) so I never took any art classes. I totally wish they taught us crochet or origami in class because I've discovered recently that I'm super great at them. But no. My school didn't offer cool art classes like that and they didn't give me any other opportunities to build things. So because my school didn't offer any other opportunities for me to do any kind of building, and because my parents (love them though I do) are completely clueless about doing home repairs so I could never learn from them, that robot was kinda the nail in the coffin. Actually the nail in the coffin was the fact that my high school did not require basic physics, and AP Physics required more math than I had, so any HOPE I had about learning about how things work or building things sort of went away.

Now this of course cannot be blamed on my father. Mostly it has to do with the teachers I had who sort of glossed over a lot of science and engineering, my high school which stupidly did not make physics a requirement but DID require chemistry for some unfathomable reason, and, of course, myself: so determined to get a good GPA that I wouldn't have dreamed of taking a non honors class like shop in high school or taking a class that I might get (gasp) a 'B-' in if I wasn't completely perfect at it. Also, if we are blaming parents, equal blame has to go to my mother (Love you!) who raised me to be afraid of getting hurt. Now I'm not saying that she takes all the blame, but I would never though of doing stuff like lighting crap on fire or building things with the rusty tools in the garage (which now seems like SUCH a fun idea) because I could hurt myself. So I've NEVER hurt myself. Except for the one time I tripped in the backyard and had to get stitches. That's it. No broken bones, no singed eyebrows letting off model rockets. Nada. My brother was raised by the same parents and he is completely fearless, so I suppose its just my nature to be hesitant. Still, even if my dad and I had built that robot, I might never have continued into engineering because my mom (and I) would be too afraid for me to use tools and hurt myself (even though I used saws and all kinds of things in shop class at school).

And now...

Boy do I wish Mythbusters was on TV when I was 12, that's all I can say. Because that sure makes building crazy things seem awfully cool. Yes, sometimes they use chemistry, but god they don't make it look so BORING, and a lot of times they just build a bunch of random contraptions. Of course, because I haven't taken a science class in over 10 years and I never took physics, I am COMPLETELY clueless on how stuff works. I watch the Discover Channel all the damn time and I still don't understand simple concepts that my husband rolls his eyes over. A few years ago I started getting interested in steampunk both for the aesthetic and the craft projects I saw people had done online with just some gears and things. It seemed so cool. So where I am right now is I have an unending fascination with looking at mechanical contraptions and neat little models and gadgets and gizmos and so on, but I have absolutely no idea how to make them or how I would even get started. Even more frustrating is the fact that my husband builds stuff for a living and knows all sorts of things about electricity and engineering and makes me feel completely stupid for not knowing how things work.

I also have discovered that getting hurt every now and then isn't so terrible. I learned that from my husband who gets more injuries than anybody I know. He also convinced me to go ATVing and all sorts of other things I would be afraid to do on my own. So thanks, hon.

And now I have decided that I'm going to get off my ass and build something. So I decided to start simple. I am already pretty good at doing origami following plans, so I'm moving on to some more advanced paper sculpture and engineering. Today I made a really cool paper rocket that shoots and a 3D mouse. My hope is to make this really crazy pirate ship and some paper automata I've seen online. From there I'd like to move on to some basic science projects like a trash bag hot air balloon and a putt-putt tea candle steam boat. I got a few books from the library, and I found a ton of stuff online, and I'm going to teach myself how to build something, dammit. Maybe from my little steam powered boat I could move on to a wind powered whirligig and maybe from there I could make some simple walking machine with a couple of batteries. And maybe, just maybe, if I learn enough, I just might be able to make a robot of my own.


Steve said...

Love ya sweetie girl.

Couple of things. Nat did not help me with the robot. I did it myself. Bad daddy!

To the best of my recollection you did not ever show any interest in engineering stuff. From as long as I can remember you were into books, role playing, games and other things. When I made the picnic bench at our old house you never showed any interest.

Maybe we could have pushed you to explore your mechanics and construction potential. Instead we supported your other interests. The "retrospectoscope" sometimes creates images that are different than the reality at the time.

When you are a parent you will see how hard it is to know what to do with your brilliant (hopefully) children. Fortunately you and
Jesse have skills and interests that complement each other--that is why you are such a great couple.

This is strange but fun way to reexamine relationships. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Love from you biggest fan (or second biggest),

P.S. Do you want a robot kit for your birthday?

TheGloop said...

I think part of the problem was I was kind of shy about my interest in things. Like I mean I would have never wanted the robot at all if I wasn't interested, but I guess I just didn't make it known. I think the big thing was my interest in puzzles. I wanted to be an archaeologist for a long time because I imagined discovering things and putting them together. That's kind of why I like these projects where I have the pieces and put them together. I guess you just never saw how much I liked 6th grade shop and stuff. Also I used to come when you and Nat set off model rockets which I always thought was really cool, but was kinda shy to ask to help. Oh and I never knew you built it on your own, I thought you built it with Nat. Stand corrected