Have you ever tried to fold a piece of paper over and over and over on itself? At some point it becomes really difficult if not impossible. But if you’re trying to fold a piece of paper into something else, with a purpose, well that’s doable. Knowing when to fold can even be an art form. You gotta know when to fold em…No Monkey not that, not quite.
I fidget. I don’t do sitting well, a long meeting anything over 30 minutes means I will absolutely either find a reason to get up and squirm, bounce my legs relentlessly, or I have to have something to do with my hands. I’m pretty sure I would be judged too old to carry a fidget spinner with me and they do get pretty annoying to listen to after a while. Besides, those nifty little spinning things didn’t exist when I was little fidgety kid. But origami did.
A long, long time ago in a place and time even farther away, I walked to school by myself. Some days I would actually make it all the way to school almost on time. This would require me actually walking to school without stopping to climb a tree, pet a dog, pick the really cool red leaf, ditch and go to the arcade in the basement of the bowling alley, or splash in a puddle. On the rare days when I was actually on time, I would see the cross guard. He would wait for a group of us then escort us across the not really busy small town street. Sometimes, he would have treats or trinkets for us. My favorite trinkets were the magically folded animals. Unicorns, pegasi, penguins and cranes. I would take my new toy to school and no doubt be playing with it instead of paying any attention to read aloud because I didn’t like what we were reading. I really didn’t like it when other people picked what I had to read, ever. Hidden in my desk, over a few months I had a tiny little zoo to tend to. Well, like any zookeeper, I needed to make sure all of the animals at least had friends. I knew how hard it was not to. Maybe that was when I had first heard the Arc story about animals two by two or something like that, but the end result was that I needed to learn how to make them some friends, and I was on time a bit more often.
I’m not sure exactly how the cross guard taught me origami, or where. I think for some reason he was at our little apartment one day and he sat patiently teaching me fold by fold with the patience of a monk, because he had learned from nuns. My mom was a bit surprised I was paying attention for longer than 5 minutes. I was hooked. I memorized how to make a crane with wings that could flap and one that had a poofed up body. I learned how to make a jumping frog out of a dollar. My cross guard also made Christmas ornaments, that were a literal monastic art form. Thin slivers of paper would be wound in different tensions, lightly glued to another piece. Slowly, slowly building snowflakes that looked like lace. He made some for me. I still have those ornaments, but never learned to make them. Kid energy and monkey were not yet able to be channeled that well back then. I have considered trying to recreate those now. I’m sure there’s a how to video out there somewhere, but the truth is I most certainly do not have the patience of a monk or a nun, no matter the god or the denomination so maybe not. But I can fold and fold, and I love that paper is forgiving.
First, he taught me how to make any piece of paper into a proper square to fold. Secret math. I folded and folded corner to corner with nice clean lines. I learned to make cranes on big paper first. After I got those down, I would fold them smaller and smaller. I practiced a lot, I could always find a piece of paper. I then taught myself to make to two cranes joined at the tail or beak. I then made my masterpiece. I folded a crane with cranes dripping from each wing, beak and tail from one piece of paper held together with only gentle folds. I would make seventeen cranes holding each other from a single piece of paper, when I needed a challenge. No glue or tape, thank you. I had a quiet and calming distraction that would carry me through any boring class, of which I had no idea how many more of those there would be. There were so many. The zoo in my desk became an aviary. I was slowly, with every intentional fold learning patience.
At some point as I got older I learned of Sadako and the Thousand Paper cranes. The depressing true story of the young girl who died of radiation poisoning in post WWII Japan. I learned of the power of folding cranes. Little me even understood that there was a type of calming meditation to making these cranes, that the gift of giving a crane was akin to a blessing even though I didn’t really know that word. I began to make them and give them away. I would make a literal one thousand for a friend when she moved. I learned that folding one thousand cranes was supposed to grant a wish. We can all use Wishes after all. I would hunt stationary stores for fabulous rice paper that folded with ease and a grace of its own, hand painted squares with gentle lines of silver and gold that was soft to the touch. I would fold metallic cranes satisfied by the hard, crisp and perfect lines the foil would create. I would make cranes for ornaments, that glowed like fireflies I dreamed of seeing when nestled on a Christmas light. I have never stopped making cranes.
As the Universe would have it I became a teacher and origami was a go to brain break lesson when the class wasn’t with me. I would teach kids how to make a crane and tell the stories behind them. Honestly I was usually the one who needed the break. More often than not, a student would ask me for guidance a few more times to really get it down. I would try to be as patient as a monk.
I remember the first faculty meeting when someone left post it notes on the table. Obviously they had something to do with the meeting, those stupid dreaded parking lot notes or whatever nonsense. Surprise, I didn’t like that idea, I had a better purpose in mind. You see, post it notes are a perfect square and perfect for keeping my hands busy so my often annoyed mouth stayed shut. Keeping my Monkey busy has always been necessary. It was then, that I learned that not every adult just knows how to make a crane. I was now the kid in the meeting distracting everyone from the “task” at hand because they all wanted one. I was happy to oblige. A real win for my Monkey, and for making wishes.
Simple origami is one of those skills that I so often take for granted. Something that I find so natural and common that I just don’t understand why everyone doesn’t know how to do it. Then again, I don’t really know anyone else who grew up around an over educated guy who was happiest being cross guard teaching an ADD brat an ancient art form while discussing Medieval Literature either.
I still find myself folding paper for pieces of comfort. Cocktail napkins at a party I wish I could escape, menu cards and floppy coasters when I falter at small talk, so it is pretty danged often. Each time I fall back to my folding fidget, someone is there to comment or giggle. I usually put the crane in their hands and we both smile. Smiles are contagious.
I called my mom the other day to ask how the hell the cross guard came to our house to teach me origami. She said he was bored, overeducated and wanted to talk books. That actually makes perfect sense given that small little college town and the quirkiness of some of the people there, especially my mom. She then went down her own rabbit hole. I think Monkeys are hereditary. She searched him out, because she remembered. His name is Tom. He’s still alive in that small town. He is still teaching origami, to kids and senior citizens alike. I am overthinking it, but I think I might find a way to reach out. I want to say thank you.
Thank you for teaching me how to make a wish come true with an art form. Thank you for the ability to give wishes away like candy. Thanks for teaching me how to fold ’em. Yes Monkey, actually right.. this time.