An Accidental Origami Penguin
The importance of flukes and ‘itchy fingers’ in life
This happened a couple of days ago at a post dinner meeting over desserts at a place in Penang, Malaysia along Straits Quay.
It was getting late but we were still deep in discussion over the events that happened and were talking about possible ideas for future events. We paid the bill and the receipt was left on the table with our change.
That was when it started. My fingers started getting restless. It needed a distraction. It needed something to mess about with. Sometimes I would twirl a pen, doodle something or do silly things like trying to balance a tea cup in a way it was not supposed to.
So this time, my fingers decided to get busy with the receipt that was just sitting there on the table as we continued our discussion.
I started out folding in patterns that I was familiar with. I went with the starting folds of a basic paper aeroplane and then started to make more random, symmetrical folds without actually knowing what I was going to create or what I had intended to create.
I ended up with this by pure chance and thought that it looked like a penguin:
Do bear in mind that I have never taken up origami as a hobby and the only experiences I've had with folding paper came from folding paper aeroplanes to throw about and little paper boats to float on water in early childhood.
It’s a cruel affliction really, to have ‘itchy fingers’. Sometimes I am guilty of going around shops and just touching things at random.
Of course, there are some shops with signs that say ‘See no touch, touch no see, see and touch pay money’ when what they meant to convey was that it might be ‘Good to see, nice to hold, once broken, considered sold’. Luckily enough for me, I have not actually broken any thing while fiddling with them in stores.
In any case, it got me thinking about possible insights that could be derived from an experience like that.
ONE It was a fluke incident — to have created something that vaguely resembled a penguin from a receipt.
TWO It was by pure chance that the receipt had been the right size to create something like that.
THREE I started off making folds I was familiar with and then ventured off in making some different folds.
FOUR I could not tell what I was making until the point where I realized that it looked a little bit like a penguin and I tried to complete it in a way that will make it look like a reasonably recognizable penguin.
I could not help but think that this was some powerful metaphor for how we live our lives and create the things we create.
We always start off doing things based on what we are familiar with. Some where along the way. When we realize that there is no point in making yet another paper aeroplane or paper boat, we either start by doing ‘research / exploration’ by searching for information on how to do something else, or begin the process of ‘experimentation’ by just making random folds and seeing what happens.
Some people might start off declaring to anyone who might listen that they were going to create a ‘penguin’. While most people would just experiment a little here and there before stumbling upon something that might look vaguely like a penguin and then see it to completion / perfection.
Sometimes we might feel like we ought to hide the fact that it was all a fluke; that we didn't really know what we wanted to create at the start.
We like to think that it’s a much more impressive story if we start off knowing exactly what we want and how we are going to do it because that implies confidence, competence and demonstrates an ability to actualize intended outcomes.
That’s an idea that we might sometimes find ourselves quite incapable of living up to, at least not at the very start when we don’t even have an inkling or a clue of how to go about planning out the rest of our lives and to say for certainty where it’s going to go — there are simply too many variables.
There are those who prefer to learn how to do something and they learn from others how to create a particular version of a ‘penguin’.
What they pick up, is a skill to create ‘a penguin’, but it’s not ‘their penguin’. It’s merely a set of instructions to replicate something that someone else has created before.
I think there is a time and place for both approaches and we use them for different purposes and in different contexts. In this case, the experimentation was crucial in the stumbling upon of an expressive creation.
The first version of the origami penguin I had created by chance might have been a fluke, but it was a beautiful fluke. The fact that it happened, meant that I was able to break down the components, flow and folds that made it possible.
Once I was able to carefully unfold the receipt origami penguin, I was able to see what made it work, how it happened and what I needed to do in order to re-create it with a fresh piece of paper.
I used a 120gsm paper this time, made some slight adjustments to the folds (because the 120 gsm paper was much thicker and harder to fold), gave it a dash of color with some colored markers and arrived at this:
It’s not quite a fine masterpiece of an origami penguin, but it’s something.
It’s my penguin and I have made it much better than it was when I first stumbled upon it by accident.
That penguin means something to me. It is a symbol for daring to experiment, daring to allow beautiful flukes to happen in your life and to learn how to recreate the conditions that will allow you to do it again and to experience beautiful flukes in life on a regular frequency.
So the next time you are suffering from an affliction of ‘itchy fingers’, pay attention to where that might take you. Who knows? You might end up with a giant polar bear instead of just a tiny penguin.
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The Story of Alec is about Alec, an alpine parrot who grows up in the City of Prakmatik and uncovers the 5 locks in life and eventually breaks away from them to live A Life of Congruence.