Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
9. The Dream of the Airplane That Actually Flies
When my son was 4 years old, he used to build elaborate paper constructions in the afternoons after preschool. Sometimes these were airplanes or rockets made out of water bottles covered in tinfoil, with invisible explosive flames. One day he built a car out of an actual matchbox, along with looping paper roads that, at certain intervals, were supported by the cardboard rolls that come inside paper towels. That day, he handed me a shoebox. I knew what it was, and the dread immediately sunk in. "Put in the batteries," he insisted. "Get the electricity and the coal and help me make it work." I stood there, so painfully aware of what he wanted, for me to know how to build stuff that functioned and for me to be able to teach him how to build this stuff that functions. All his life, people were going to dodge this by telling him to ask for the Hot Wheels loop-the-loop set for Christmas or just enjoy pretending the noise and sound and motion of an imaginary remote-control car and track. All that is fine, of course. We're not all engineers or Da Vincis. But there was a time in your life when you wanted to do something: fly a plane or catch a butterfly or draw a human hand that looks like a hand and not some weird, fingered crab. This skill is actually possible. Excavate the longing you used to have, practice and master it—even if that skill is simply lying on your bed the way you used to and dreaming of things the way you used to.
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