In 7th grade I took BASIC computing language, a required class for my grade at the time. I’d done some programming on the Commodore 64 at home, I understood how If/then worked, and I really liked making the flow charts; otherwise, I was really terrible at this class and found very little to like. I remember that sometimes we listened to the radio — that was exciting. For my final computing project, which was hand-written on paper and delivered in a folder, I wrote the title in dark blue calligraphy on the dark green folder. I masked off the top of each page to create a water color border in blue and green. It wasn’t good work, but it was going to look great. I just didn’t get it; I didn’t think that way. More time and more effort wasn’t going to improve my programming.
Fast-forward 10 years, I am a web-editor at a local university. I refused the title of web-master because I wanted to emphasize the writing-to-editor connection. As the editor of the faculty and staff newsletter, taking over the website was just an extension of those duties, even though I now had to write some of it in HTML. Being a web-editor in 1996, I couldn’t watercolor my borders, but I did play with making icons out of Sculpey and setting them on the scanner. Funny, adorable in a Nick Park-way, and deliciously ironic, but hardly practical.
As a child, I tried to grasp what my father did. I knew he worked with computers in a building downtown. I stitched together blue fabric into a rectangular box, six sides, drawing tiny squares for windows. I called it “IBM Building.” I was under seven. I’d seen punch cards. I drew daily on the reams of green and white paper covered with computer language on one side. I knew about the cold rooms to hold the vast computers. I stuffed my blue building with cotton and hand-stitched it together. I’ve watched my daughter attempt similar feats. She used to take a folded piece of paper and draw the “game” on the top half and write letters and numbers on the bottom half. Once I found a version with a piece of string attached and taped to a crumpled wad of paper — the “mouse.” How do we make sense of the magic that happens so seamlessly when we do not understand how it works?
In 7th grade, I was trying to lean into what I knew I was already good at in order to make up for a deficit, my struggle with the content. As a web-editor, I was quasi-proficient at Quark and Illustrator, but completely out-of-my-depth when it came it making good graphics. Sometimes comical or pathetic, these examples all remind me that making things is just another strategy to make sense of the world, another way to try to understand by literally making it with your hands. When all else fails, there is always yarn and paper.