Wednesday, February 29, 2012


It might have been because of Inspector Gadget. Or possibly Mr. Wizard.

Or maybe there's some natural phase during which little kids just want to be inventors. Probably when they're around seven, about the time they realize they're their own little selves. About the time they look around and figure out that nothing--in the whole grey, knee-scrapy world--nothing is how it is because they made it that way.

Babies think the outside world is them. If they feel pain, the whole world is pain: joy, joy. Seven year olds, maybe suddenly, see that nothing of the world is them, that everything is impacting and nothing has been impacted.

Maybe they even feel as Elizabeth Bishop did:

I said to myself: three days
and you'll be seven years old.
I was saying it to stop
the sensation of falling off
the round, turning world
into cold, blue-black space.
But I felt: you are an I,
you are an Elizabeth,
you are one of them.

(Looks ever-so-slightly as if she could have come from my mom's family)

And when I became a David of six years and 362 days--on August 30th, 1989--I needed to make something that I could put my mark on, so that I'd stop falling off the meaningless world.

Though I doubt the exact date, I actually believe that I had some existential feeling like Bishop's around that time, spurred on by a Where's Waldo-induced sense of anonymity. But I think it's equally true that an Inspector Gadget marathon and a marathon session of drawing pictures with my crayons on a large roll of butcher paper was just as important in launching my career as an inventor.

Because I hated the permanence of crayons.

Smeary and imprecise as they are, crayons left me dissatisfied with my blue houses and half-suns, my chimneys and robotic dragons, my cities on the moon and my dinosaur butts alike. My drawings were sometimes half-decent, but what I really wanted to do was clean them up. Why I wasn't satisfied starting all over again, I don't know. I still have a tough time abandoning any work I've done, maybe out of vanity. Except I don't need anything to be perfect, I just need it to have a some kind of use. I have an overactive need to be practical (which, incidentally, also slows down my writing instinct), and did then too.

So, if I drew a useless Triceratops ass, I'd have a difficult time convincing myself that coloring was a useful vocation the next time I picked up the Aquamarine (why I drew butts in Aquamarine, I can't tell you). Same goes now for a useless, is-this-worth-it poem (except the difference is I can keep tweaking those).

Crayon drawings were forever.

So, I set to work on what would be my first invention: The Crayon Eraser. I think I'd picked up somewhere that inventors were supposed to identify a problem they saw in the world, and then address it. Crayons (pronounced "crans") and their indubitable indelibility (pronounced in-doo-bi-ti-bull in-del-i-bil-i-tee) were my world's biggest dilemma.

The creativity involved in identifying this problem was not matched by the creativity that would have been required for solving this problem. I had no working knowledge of eraser components, or potentially effective astringents, or detergents, or trichloroethanes, or magic.

I did know addition, though, so when I thought about crans and erasers, I figured 1 cran + 1 eraser = 2 cranerasers. And so I jammed little pieces of Aquamarine and Black, Chestnut and Lavender into the pinkish, parelellogramic pencil eraser I had on-hand and hoped for the best. I surmised that each color I wanted to eventually erase would need to be embedded in that pencil eraser--each bit a kind of kiddie anti-matter that would neutralize wayward outside-the-linesing.

When all was set, I allowed the eraser to marinate for awhile. Then I began my experiment by trying to erase a half-sun, and since you've been patient up until this point, I won't drum up any extra suspense: as you will have guessed, my eraser failed, and it failed miserably. A dappled Forest Green covered that half-sun before my dream crumbled all over the butcher paper.

Alas. I went to wash up before supper.

This had been a cold, blue-black moment.
But I still felt: You are an Inventor!


P.S. I've just read that Baking Soda might be an effective crayon eraser, and so, since my erasing idea has come into being, I'll be taking my next post to expand on the six other invention ideas I've developed since 1989, lest they all be made obsolete by a common household Soda or Starch.

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