When I was about eight years old, I decided to build a tree house. In my mind, I concocted elaborate plans involving multiple stories, plumbing, and a working refrigerator packed with candy bars and soda. I grabbed an old piece of plywood from our garage, a few small logs from our woodpile, and a ball of twine and set out for the red maple in our front yard, ready to build my dream home.
Within fifteen minutes I was overwhelmed and fed up, blood oozing from a cut on my thumb and my other fingers loaded with splinters. I’d forgotten scissors for the twine, and quickly realized the logs were useless. So I balanced the plywood between two branches and sat on it, precariously, for about five minutes. I considered this a victory and returned to the house to dress my wounds and read a book.
I am not a maker. I lack the patience, skill, and interest needed to see detailed projects through from start to finish. My treehouse was the first in a long line of failed projects where my imagination far exceeded my resources or ability. As I reached adulthood, I became interested in words and ideas, not material projects. I can write a paper. I cannot make paper.
So why do I care so passionately about Mixxer, and about makerspaces in general?
I believe that knowing how to DO stuff matters. We used to be a nation of doers. Men and women coming of age during the Depression and World War II learned how to do without many material possessions, so they fixed, altered, jerry-rigged, and created the stuff they needed, rather than buying new, cheaply made items on a whim, as we do now. When disposable income is low, ingenuity runs high.
I study history, and one of my favorite stories about WWII is how the American soldiers were so successful, in part, because they knew how to make and fix stuff. These were farm and city boys who grew up working on cars, so if a tank broke down in a field, they fixed it and kept using it. The Russians, for example, didn’t have this know-how. If a tank broke, they left it where it died. Basic ingenuity helped win the war.
I believe we can be makers again. And making isn’t just about stuff: it’s creativity, problem-solving, critical thinking, teamwork, a sense of achievement, pride, resourcefulness, thrift. Important qualities, all, and the very qualities many of us hunger to experience in our day-to-day lives. Data entry, spreadsheets, apps, and immediate gratification won’t ever meet our needs for fulfillment and satisfaction the way making and fixing stuff can.
So I’m not a maker. Yet. I might be one someday. I want a place like Mixxer so I can find out first hand what it means to create something born in my imagination. And because I’ve never stopped dreaming about that perfect treehouse.
Cynthia Briggs is a professor of counseling, a speaker and consultant, and a writer of fiction and creative non-fiction. She’s the co-editor of Snapdragon: A Journal of Art and Healing (snapdragonjournal.com). Her memoir and essays have been published in numerous print and on-line journals. She teaches expressive arts and writing in her hometown of Winston-Salem, NC. Visit her at her website: waywardsister.com.