It’s a rainy Sunday, and I have dragged my adult daughter to an origami class. It is, after all, her birthday; and in our family, we really know how to celebrate.
We have signed up for the beginner class, titled: Family Fun. Accordingly, we find ourselves seated at a low table with several mothers and an array of squirming seven-to-ten-year-olds. I feel vaguely unqualified for what we are about to undergo. One mother looks at me suspiciously, but I just smile back.
At 2:30 sharp, our instructor arrives at the table. She is a no-nonsense sort, in a dark green knee-length dress, with glasses on a string around her neck, and the demeanor of a patient lunch detention supervisor.
Origami is fun, she tells us. We are not to take more than one sheet of paper per person. We are not to do anything with our papers until instructed. We are to fold our papers in imitation of her, we are not to do anything until she has demonstrated each step. We are always to fold away from ourselves, never towards, and we are to make neat creases on each fold with a thumbnail. None of these requests is unreasonable, and I receive them in the spirit of a humble disciple. If she says this will help, then I am ready to have fun.
We begin with a simple model. The crane. We pass around square packages of colored paper. Our teacher folds her square diagonally in half – corner to corner. We copy her. I line up my corners with microscopic precision, folding away from myself, and make the sharpest crease I can with my thumb nail. Looking down, I am surprised to see what a good job I have done. I feel a sudden and unexpected rush of pride. Hey, maybe this will be kind of fun.
The teacher folds her paper again. We follow suit. And again. And again. We turn the papers over, make several strategic bends. And suddenly we have a flock of flapping cranes sitting on the table. Orange, Blue and Red. Everyone seems quite proud of themselves. Mothers praise their offspring. My daughter and I give each other a mental high-five.
Having mastered the crane, we proceed to make flowers. This involves three pieces of paper with a green pipe cleaner as a stem. I am so full of self-confidence after my success at making a cane that I stop following instructions properly. When it is time to show off our flowers, mine looks like a storm-damaged windmill. My daughter looks at me pityingly. One of the seven-year-olds needs the bathroom. I’m jealous.
In another corner of the room, the Advanced Adult class is busy constructing a fully-working Chinese dragon out of what must be almost a ream of blue paper. I bet they always fold away from themselves.
But there’s no time to stop, because we’re on to making a pocket posy. This means three more sheets of paper, of various colors, each of which is folded separately and then at the last minute slotted into the others to make an ornamental flower that ACTUALLY STANDS UP. I am determined to regain my origami mojo, and by heaven I do. I take the longest of anybody at the table, but when I’m done, I have a pocket posy to be proud of. I convince myself that the teacher is looking at me with deep respect.
On we go, for another grueling hour. Students suffer paper cuts, bruised knuckles, dented egos – but we all make great strides. And at the end of the session, each of us has nine origami models sitting in front of us. My work is decidedly uneven – I have a lopsided mouse and a penguin that can’t walk – but I also have that magnificent pocket posy, truly my best work of the day.
Across the table, my daughter modestly scoops up her handiwork, so as not to make me feel bad. We leave the mothers and children by the vending machines, and head out for a more adult beverage.
I’m not sure I’m cut out for origami as a regular pastime. But it was a good reminder, for a self-confident lone wolf like me, that sometimes if you just follow the rules, and always fold away from yourself, you really can do amazing things, even with a single piece of paper.