1,000 Paper Cranes
My friend Dave Waterman is a throwback, to a time (I imagine) when people did things. Built things, fixed things, learned how to do things, out of necessity, curiosity, or just the pleasure of knowing, for example, that you can build motorcycles, keep bees, run marathons, brew beer, teach math to teenagers for chrissakes, and I could go on and on. Dave really did show me by his example that if you set your mind to do something, you probably can do it — even if it’s something “pointless and tedious.” I asked him to write something up for Beerasana about his most recent weird project. I’ll let him take it from here, and I’ll let you think about how it may apply to your own practice, whatever that practice may be.
I started folding these shortly after moving to Richmond in the summer of 2010. My dad had given me some origami paper and a few books for Christmas the previous year, and I had spent a little time messing with different figures but I hadn’t really put any time into it. Somewhere I read about the tradition of folding 1,000 paper cranes and how it can be a symbol of good luck or new beginnings. I place no value in superstition, but it seemed like a decent hobby to pass the time. I of course did not really know how long it would take to fold all of them, but since the folding was an end unto itself I never really thought about whether I would finish in a few weeks or a few years.
At the beginning I was on summer break and could fold 20 or more cranes in a day without really giving up anything. When school started up again, there were a lot of weeks where I didn’t fold any cranes. I would just go back to it when I felt like having something to occupy my hands. Once I got to the last 100 and the end was in sight, I averaged about 10 a day. I most often did it while watching TV that didn’t require much attention.
When I folded the first 2 or 3 cranes I had to have the directions in front of me while I went along, and it probably took 5 or 6 minutes to fold one. As I continued I only got a little bit faster; I could probably fold one crane in under 3 minutes now if I really wanted to. The real incremental change was the quality of the finished product. It is easy to pick out cranes from the first 100. The edges are rougher, the points are ragged, the surfaces that should be smooth are crushed. They look like they were made with big clumsy hands. These squares are only 3″ a side, which is smaller than most origami paper you can buy and definitely more difficult to work with. After about 500 the quality reached a point where I was pretty satisfied. From there, what I worked on was determining the perfect folds required. Because there are some places where the paper is folded over itself 3 or 4 times, you need to leave gaps between edges so that there is extra material to make the next fold. Now I know how easy the last 3 folds will be based on how the first 4 go (there are 17 folds and a few flips required for one crane).
Having finished I’m proud of my work, although it is pointless and tedious. Most things we do are, so I am happy with the process and the final product. Individually they are interesting, but taken as a whole it is rather beautiful. I plan to hang them up in my house at some point, although not until I figure out if I’m moving this year.
The pictures are numbered so that 1 is from the first 50 and 6 is from the last 50 (there were 20 colors with 50 sheets per color and I did them in order). 001 was not part of the 1000, just another one I did at the end because I had the paper.