Archive for Wednesday, November 27, 2002

Hands-on experiences are the ones that grip you

November 27, 2002

"Do-it-yourself" may soon no longer be a part of our vocabulary, as I recently suspected when finally trying to repair my driver's side door handle. Thanks to Mitsubishi for installing a plastic handle that easily snapped off a 1999 model, jimmy-rigging a homemade solution without employing super glue was impossible.

Imagine my surprise when the dealership told me replacing this hunk of plastic would cost $70 because of course Mitsubishi doesn't sell just the handle, forcing customers to purchase the entire panel. Moreover, they wanted $112 to install the replacement, because of course the car is designed so that only professionals who have the know-how to split open the door can install the piece.

Whether it's because of technology or just complicated equipment, it's often impossible to fix much of anything yourself these days without an engineering degree, or at least equipment that extends beyond my humble toolbox.

You should see The Eudora News office when our server goes down on a Wednesday afternoon, when we're trying to put out Thursday's paper. We're rendered nearly incapacitated without intervention from our much appreciated "tech guys."

There was a time in newspapering when just about the worst thing that could happen in production was running out of rubber cement during a process called "paste up," a word seldom heard anymore that described cutting and pasting stories and photos onto a board.

Although I appreciate the quality and creative freedom computers and technology allow us with the newspaper, there's something to be said about the hands-on process that's missing from so many things we do.

To me, Brant Watson, a 1996 Eudora High School graduate, exemplifies a love for the hands-on process. The burgeoning photographer not only makes photographs the old-fashioned way film, negatives, smelly darkroom chemicals and all but he also makes his own frames. When I interviewed him for a story last year he said using pre-fabricated, Hobby Lobby-type frames took something away from the creative process and the idea that his artwork is something he created entirely himself.

In one of my many pre-bond election conversations with our school superintendent, Brant's name came up in a discussion about technology options that will be offered in the new school. Marty Kobza said Brant's success was a perfect example of why offering hands-on, creative outlets like visual and industrial arts was important in a learning environment enamored with laptops.

For me, getting to do things hands-on was never more important than during my school years. Even though our dozen chemistry laptops and yearbook/newspaper PowerMacs seemed like big-time technology when I left Maize High School in 1997, I realize compared with what they and other schools, including Eudora, have now, they're dinosaurs.

Despite the advantages technology allowed in the classroom, the lessons I remember are the ones I put myself into physically.

I don't remember using laptops to graph the parts per million of river water, but I will never forget wading in a cold, secluded spot of the Arkansas River far from the city in fishing waders to collect the sample. I don't know what vocab words we learned from our portable language lab, but I can tell you the name of every Gemüse (vegetable) my German teacher tossed out for us to catch at our desks.

To this day when I hear the opening clink-clank sounds and bass line of "Money" I'm taken back to my freshman year when I began the day at 7:30 a.m. surrounded by the smell of tempera paint and glass etching acid in an art class taught by a man who let us call him Joe and who had a penchant for Pink Floyd 8-tracks. I remember how much more ready I was to face second hour algebraic equations after engaging in a hands-on creative process, what I've heard do-it-yourself guru Martha Stewart call "food for the hands." To me, it's food for the soul, too.

Perhaps that's why I'm so fascinated with the people in our town who create with their hands. Like watching Robbie Wisdom weave baskets or seeing Nancy Reese sculpt her pieces. Knowing people like Dennis Mullen wade elbow-deep in mechanical parts to make things run again. Appreciating the time and patience it takes the Eudora Quilting Bees to stitch together a piece that's not only functional but beautiful as well. Enjoying the fact Pete Lawson shares his love of woodworking with others.

It makes creating things remotely from a computer seem so uninviting.

Despite however computer-reliant newspapers are these days, I love the fact that on a Thursday I can pick up a copy of the News, smell the paper and let the ink smear on my hands, knowing I played a part in creating something, even if I did most of it from a Macintosh.

It's the same kind of satisfaction I felt when I personally installed a new shower head last weekend with nothing more than a wrench and my own two hands. Apparently installing a new door handle on my car won't be as easy. However, one thing I can do is reach around and open it from the other side using nothing more than my own two hands. I will get the satisfaction of doing it myself. Better yet, it won't cost me $182.

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