Joy of Making

(Clip art by Dear Theophilus, via OpenClipArt.org)

People who are makers are sometimes blessed with a moment in their lives that gives them great pride in being a maker. I’ve had two of these “maker moments” in my own life. Here are the stories of these occurrences.

In 1992, a teacher friend at a middle school in Montgomery County, Maryland, invited me to visit her public school to show her students some logic puzzles I designed. “My mildly retarded students would totally love your Number Squares logic puzzles,” my friend Sue Racoosin said. “Please come to my school to show the puzzles to them.”

Two years earlier, I had started my own Apple II software company to sell this and other educational software that I designed. Number Squares was the flagship product of the company. Sure enough, Sue’s students totally loved playing these logic puzzles. They leaned their faces close to the computer monitor as they relished solving harder and harder puzzles. Anyone walking into that classroom would have no way of knowing these students were mildly retarded. I could hear the occasional whoop and holler as the students found solutions to the puzzles. These students loved thinking. They experienced joy in thinking. I felt a lump in my throat watching this.

The story doesn’t end there. When the bell rang at the end of class, the students refused to leave the computer lab, even though another class was waiting to come into the computer lab. They wanted to play “just one more puzzle.” I looked over at my friend. “Are your students usually this rebellious?” I asked using body language. Sue was laughing. “I told you they’d love your puzzles,” she said. After several minutes, her students relented and left the computer lab. I was overcome by emotion as I walked out of the school. I had never experienced a maker moment like that before. As maker culture spreads throughout the world, more and more people will be able to experience what I experienced. That experience gives me goosebumps to this very day.

The second maker moment in my life came in 2002 when I was working as an Instructional Technology Coordinator for the Arlington Public Schools, in Arlington, Virginia. One day, out of the blue, I received a single-sentence email. The email said in its entirety: “Our school in India loves your children’s stories and we’ve printed them all out in braille.” I stared for a good two minutes at that email. The sender might not have known that as a child, I lived for several years in India when my father was working for UNICEF. I know what schools look like in India. Some schools have desks and some schools don’t have desks. Some schools in India are composed of a tree, with the students sitting in the shade receiving instruction. I tried visualizing these students passing their fingers over the braille pages, reading stories I had written. Half a world away, students whom I’ll never meet were enjoying stories I conjured up in my mind. That realization gave me great joy and pride of craftsmanship.

How did the teachers at this school find my children’s stories? I wondered to myself. Then it hit me: The teachers must have been looking for a biography of Louis Braille, the inventor of braille. A short biography of Louis Braille that I wrote appears on my personal website, and it appears right underneath my children’s stories.

Receiving that particular email from that particular school was more meaningful to me than signing a contract with a book publisher. I wrote these stories to be enjoyed by children. Goal accomplished.

If you’re a maker, think about any maker moments you’ve experienced in your own life. Remind your friends and family about those moments. The more we share these stories, the more people we’ll inspire to become makers themselves. In the wise words of Tim O’Reilly, founder of O’Reilly Media, the original home of Maker Media – “Try to create more value than you capture.” Use your mind, your ingenuity, to bring joy, delight, and hope to others. The rewards of doing that can be emotionally lucrative. In fact, so lucrative, you might find a lump rise in your throat.