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A man and his son approached my booth at the Second Annual National Maker Faire.

“What are you doing here?” asked the father.

“This is the Make Fix Anything Project,” I said, “we will help you make or fix nearly anything for free.”

“Anything?”

“I’ll help you make or fix nearly anything. What do you want to make?”

The son’s face lights up. Wheels spinning, his creativity beginning to work.

“A circuit board that …” He’s off. His dad smiles. I get a pencil and pad and give it to the boy. He begins to draw.

“See here’s the board, and there could be two things coming in from the sides to hold it…”

The boy continues, lost in his own whirring imagination. So alive. So human. Inventing.

The dad looks more closely at my sign

“Bicycles to broken hearts, huh?” he asks.

“Yep,” I respond.

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“How do you fix a broken heart?”

I nod. Look at him. I get it. I get this.

“I can help,” I say, “but in the end you have to make the fix.”

I think the dad is going to say something. But he doesn’t.

“See!” The son says, “It’s done!”

I look at the drawing.

“OK, let’s have a look in my supply box,” I say.

The boy is ahead of me. He brings out a piece of coat hanger wire.

“I know what this is! It’s a coat hanger!”

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The boy quickly set about twisting and hammering the wire back into the shape of a hanger, muttering to himself. His dad and I shared a little smile at the boy’s quick change of focus.

“We need more coat hangers because there’s no place to hang shirts, because we moved and don’t have coat hangers anymore and we have to buy everything all over again even though we already had it….”

The dad’s eyes have a flat sadness to them. The pieces begin to fall in place.

I’m reminded that making and fixing things is rarely just about making and fixing things.

I couldn’t fully read what was happening in the lives of these two but the subtext was there — dad wants to know how to fix a broken heart, and boy is trying to solve the little problems of relocation. Was there a divorce? Did Mom die? Where did all the hangers go? I don’t know what happened but I do know that this boy is working on it, smashing away at the steel wire, building order in his world.

“I did it!” The boy was done. He proudly held up his work. The wire had only been the remnants of a hanger so the boy’s hanger was a scale version, too small for adult clothing, but perfect for his.

“Now I have a place to hang my shirt!” With pliers, a hammer, and something that was otherwise trash, this boy had built himself a solution.

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When people ask me what this practice is about I tend to either get sucked down the long theoretical explanation, or conversely the simple broad response, “because it’s really important…”

The truth is that it’s simple and complex. You start with one problem and you end up working on another.

Somehow through the doing we work ourselves out.

When we make and fix things together, we don’t start from a place of special skills or knowledge. We start from our essential humanity: in the face of a chaotic world we as creative beings experiment, we teach ourselves. Underlying all the tools, technology, and gadgets of the maker movement is this primary human ability. It is a superpower that is both common and widespread. Through the doing we find ourselves to be extraordinary.

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