My favorite project to build with anyone–including my son–is the fast-catch boomerang. First off, boomerangs–in their flight pattern and behavior–are just really beautiful and exciting; even a toddler gets that. But slightly older folks–from about elementary age on up to retirees–are just thrilled when they see you make a working boomerang out of a piece of scrounged poster board. By the time you hit first grade you’ve probably already grown jaded about the boomerangs: You’ve gotten a cheap foam one as a party favor or a little present from an uncle, and it never worked, and you basically assumed that boomerangs were either really hard to throw, or really hard to build, or just sort of an overblown myth to begin with.
In a nutshell, the cheap toy-store boomerang encompasses the core sadness of “growing up,” and highlights what we envy in the “childlike wonder” of children: As we mature, we begin to reflexively doubt that neat things are real, or really as neat as they seem, and start to assume that most of the time most things just aren’t going to work as advertised. This is our default setting as Americans: Don’t believe the hype. So, if you take a room full of people who are savvy and jaded and know enough not to believe the hype, then give them a ruler and a marker and a pair of scissors and show them how to quickly make a working boomerang out of something they were going to cram in the recycle bin, they become luminous; They’ve just made something awesome out of trash, and it clearly dawns on them that there are a whole lot of other things they could make, too. They could remake the world.
I don’t want to wax too spiritual on this, but that’s the place where my faith–as thin as it may often be–makes direct and solid contact with the rest of my life. Doing this–making–is a concrete expression of our core human responsibility, which is to make joy out of trash.
And it’s so easy to convince people that they can, if you just give them scissors and scrap cardboard and show them where to cut. Everyone walks away from making a boomerang understanding that they can make more things. I love that; it’s my favorite thing.
DAVID ERIK NELSON is the author of Snip, Burn, Solder, Shred: Seriously Geeky Stuff to Make with Your Kids. You can find his book in many actual bookstores, order online from Amazon (where it’s on backorder), or get a copy immediately from the publisher (No Starch Press: http://nostarch.com/snipburn.htm)–where you can use the coupon code “SHRED,” save 35%, and get the ebook editions for FREE!
The Kindle edition of his Nebula-nominated novella Tucker Teaches the Clockies to Copulate is now available for immediate purchase and download at Amazon.com