An origami crane made from a sheet of bright, patterned paper

It’s good to have hobbies…

Yesterday I spent a little time talking about the fact that grad school is a difficult thing to do, both in terms of the work that one must complete and the environment in which one must exist.

Today I’m going to write a little bit more on the subject, but rather than complain, I’m going to offer one of the small ways I’ve managed to keep at least some shred of sanity over the past far-too-many years: I took up a hobby. Specifically, I started folding origami cranes.

I guess I didn’t just fold cranes, though. I kind of took it to a different level, because I figured why should anything ever be simple when I can make it so much more complex and time consuming, right? See, back when I was in elementary school, I came across a book about a little Japanese girl who was just a toddler when the bomb was dropped over Hiroshima. When she grew older, she got very sick, but she had heard a story somewhere that claimed that anyone who folded a thousand paper cranes would get a wish, so she started folding. I remember with some clarity that the girl in the book ended up dying before she could finish the full count, so her classmates finished it for her.

This, of course, is the story of Sadako Sasaki, and the book was Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes. I loved the story, but I didn’t really think a whole lot of it at the time beyond thinking that it would be cool to fold that many cranes, too. I just went on my way and the memory of the book just sort of floated at the back of my mind.

Years passed, and somehow I ended up a divorced grad student in an empty apartment with a cat and a lot of emotional baggage. I don’t even know what made me think of the cranes. I just did, and then I started thinking about how I could use them to work through some of my personal issues like self-doubt and worry about a lack of determination. I went online and bought a Senbazuru kit and started writing little notes to myself on the backs of sheets of colored paper, and then slowly I started turning those pieces of paper into cranes.

It literally took me eight months, but I got through all 1,000. I started over again shortly afterward, and I’ve been working on my second one for a while now (it’s been a month or more since I’ve folded any, so I should probably get on that!). I also strung up the cranes from the first set and hung them in my living room as proof to myself that I can follow through on long-term tasks.

Well, this little hobby of mine has apparently become something of an identity thing for me. A while back, I started folding the wrappers from the Andes mints at Olive Garden into cranes and leaving them for the servers. I’ve taught children how to fold cranes on numerous occasions. One of my good friends even gave me a book of Mandala origami paper for Christmas this year (and, bonus, some of the pages are colorable!). It’s not a bad thing to be known as the guy who takes a scrap of paper and makes something kind of cool out of it, and it’s especially nice to know that what I make has become, thanks to Sadako, an international symbol of peace in the post-bomb world.

If I’m ever feeling anxious, or annoyed, or even just a bit blue, I carry a small pack of origami paper with me, and I’ll fold a crane or two. It helps take my mind off things for a moment, which is nice. Grad school has always been there, waiting for me, when I finished folding, and maybe there will be something waiting for me when I finish school, too.

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