2020. It seems like things have morphed into the unthinkable. They appear unreal, dystopian, maybe. They don’t seem to add up or align with what we expected. Perspectives on daily life are changing every day.
It’s one of the reasons decorated actor Will Smith has recently launched a Snapchat series — not from the red carpet or from the scenes of one of his movies, but from his garage. The series, “Will From Home,” which features the actor trying new Snapchat filters and singing to music in his car, communicates the need for social distancing in an inspirational way.
What if we could rewind the clock back to 2019? We can’t change the current situation, even if that is what we so desperately want to do. We can only trust that we will find a solution and that the pandemic will eventually come to an end. So, instead, let’s journey back to 2006. Let’s travel to another time when Smith’s character inspired the world in a big way. Let’s go back to the 2006 movie “The Pursuit of Happyness,” a film based on a true story currently available to stream on Netflix.
Smith plays Chris Gardner, a single father who takes care of his young son (played by his actual son, Jaden Smith) in the face of economic hardship, homelessness and discrimination — not unlike challenges faced by people around the world today with or without the coronavirus.
But there is one thing Gardner never did: He never gave up. He never gave up despite every hardship he faced. This is strangely but excellently symbolized through a Rubik’s Cube in the movie. At the beginning of the film, as things begin to get difficult for Gardner, he wrestles with a Rubik’s Cube late at night, even coming close to solving it at one point. But the colors don’t perfectly align.
Let’s pause there and come back to 2020 to a night in isolation.
I stared blankly at a man in a snappy plaid tie, watching as he moved his hands back and forth to twist the planes of the puzzle in my hands. Back and forth. He paused to give me a direction, then continued his movements. I had been watching him for about six minutes now. But then, as I was making progress on my own puzzle while I listened to him, he cut off and said something to the effect of, “And then you just take it from there.”
But there is one thing Gardner never did: He never gave up.
I blinked twice. What, are you kidding? That’s it, bro?
For the first time in my life, I felt personally wronged by YouTube. Especially now, more than ever, with everyone having more time on their hands and therefore doing more with their hands, I had been watching more videos. I couldn’t believe that now, for the first time in my life, YouTube had done me dirty. I felt violated. But probably above all, I felt indignant that I, not YouTube, not the intelligent-looking man in the preppy tie, was in the wrong. Let me tell you why. Maybe it’s not what you think.
Have you ever tried to solve a Rubik’s Cube? If you’ve solved it, then that could be a whole different story.
Of the few instances I’ve spent any significant time in the presence of a Rubik’s Cube in my life, I have never really made much of an effort to solve the puzzle. Too hard. No reward. But more than anything: no patience.
I like things I can control. We all do. So it’s hard when things go wrong like they have in the last couple of months. Not everything clicks into place. It storms. Not everything magically falls into line like a rainbow. But like I said, I feel uncomfortable being out of control, which means, of course, I attempted to do the impossible to bring control back in my life. But my goal wasn’t trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube. It was to construct something similar. I had been watching a video on kusudama origami, a paper model similar to a Rubik’s Cube in that its units have to add up and align to create its shape. I did this with the intention of making a multifaceted cube to teach myself a new skill in quarantine and maybe even show it to the world. I’m not sure if I’m proud of that first objective. But it’s honest.
So, I turned to Ben Friesen, a pro origami artist on YouTube Howcast.
“This is a video for kusu …”
I was ready. Vroom vroom. Start your engines. It was 4. A few minutes after my last class. I could totally have this done by 6. Or so I thought. Careless. Proud. Perfectionist. Eager. Too much in a hurry. Insecure. I took the small, shiny, colored pieces of paper — red, yellow, green, blue — in my hand. Folding. Listening to Ben. Folding again. Quickly. And then, when I had correctly assembled all the pieces for the model as well as the unit, that’s when Ben said I just had to keep adding tabs until I came up with the model. In retrospect, his directions were simple. Move in a pattern. Let it come together naturally.
But I wanted to make it quickly before dinner.
I looked at the clock; it was 6. Looking down at the 10 or so pieces, I grew frustrated. Here commenced the arbitrary jamming of fold into the fold, made even harder by the hastily poorly creased pieces. For more hours than I’d like to admit, I kept probing at the kusudama, hoping to bring it to life. But every time it almost did, it would just fall flat again.
For more hours than I’d like to admit, I kept probing at the kusudama, hoping to bring it to life. But every time it almost did, it would just fall flat again.
Girl in one corner. Kusudama in the other corner. Think fast. Kusudama moves staunchly at a 90-degree angle. Girl slips and falls flat onto her face. But so does her opponent. Parallels of defeat.
What time was it? 1 a.m. I stared down foggily at the jigsaw paper pieces. What was I doing?
But then, after all this time, I really considered the kusudama in the picture on YouTube in my mind. Mine looked nothing like it. Even half done, I could see the holes in its sides. It was beautiful, but lopsided. One side of my lips curved upward in a makeshift grin.
I couldn’t show this to anyone. Yikes. But by that point, I didn’t really plan on showing it to anyone. It had become important for a different reason. I was proud of the progress attained. Not of perfection expected on my own timing. I went to bed, leaving the makeshift kusudama uncompleted. A sign of my failure and my victory. I yielded control in favor of tomorrow. In favor of focusing on what I could control. In favor of time. In favor of patience. In favor of hope.
I decided I didn’t need to impress anyone and finally correctly acknowledged that a nearly 400-year-old revered art form cannot be mastered overnight. The kusudama sits on my shelf for tomorrow. Maybe many tomorrows, if it takes that long for things to be right.
Gardner kept moving forward. He also didn’t learn how to solve a Rubik’s Cube in one day. He worked and he worked until he aligned the pieces together. At one point, a prospective boss in the movie tries to solve a Rubik’s Cube in front of Gardner, telling him it is impossible. Gardner insists that he can do it, but all the while, his prospective employer tells him he can’t. That “no one can.” That Gardner’s belief that he can is “bullshit.”
And you know what, Gardner does. He solves that cube. Within minutes. But before he could do it in minutes, it took him months.
Though “The Pursuit of Happyness” is just a movie and none of the analogies I have used here in this piece are perfect, this part of the film speaks to things all of us (whether or not we want to) must remember today, taking into account both the current situation and beyond:
Patience and perseverance.
Life itself is a bit like Rubik’s Cubes and kusudama. Things take time. Life doesn’t always line up. Sometimes it seems busted wide open. But even when life unfolds, it will eventually fall back into place, even if it’s not how we thought it would look. When we get knocked down, we rise back up.