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Go make something

Tess Civantos | Tuesday, November 24, 2009

 My friend Andy told me that when he went away to college, the thing he missed most from home was his dog.

“I can talk to my family on the phone,” he said, “but my relationship with my dog is fundamentally physical- cuddling, going for walks. You can’t play with your dog over the phone.”
When I first came to Notre Dame, I never got homesick. Like Andy, what I missed wasn’t something I could talk to. It wasn’t even something I could play catch with over Thanksgiving break.
I missed creativity.
Now don’t get me wrong. I didn’t turn off my imagination when I went away to college. Notre Dame students are endlessly creative. 
The business majors devise clever marketing projects, Arts and Letters majors have brilliant thesis topics and as for the design majors, their inventions on the walls of O’Shaughnessy prove their ingenuity.
But these are works of mental creativity, which wasn’t my problem. If anything, I spent too much time thinking and planning.
No, what I missed was making real, physical things.
Before I came to college, I was always making something. Planting geraniums in the front yard. Kneading dough to make dinner rolls. Cutting and gluing paper to make scrapbooks or handmade party invitations.
I missed working with my hands. 
Sometimes it got so bad that I would spend hours on MarthaStewart.com, ogling the cupcake recipes and craft projects. 
Making things isn’t just about self-expression or even survival. It’s actually good for you. Students who receive regular arts instruction are four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement than their peers. Schools that offer students more access to arts education have higher graduation rates.
Now, these findings refer to drama, music and dance. They don’t refer to baking muffins or carving pumpkins, which were the arts I missed.
But there isn’t such a big difference between painting roses on a canvas and painting frosting onto a cake, except one is ephemeral. And edible. Either way, you’re envisioning what to make and using your hands to make it.
It’s so easy to buy things ready-made that we forget to make things for ourselves. But we should make things ourselves. We’re not just minds and souls. We’re bodies too and those bodies need to be used.
That’s why I missed making things so much. Making things by hand fulfills a basic human need — to build, to imagine, to look at something beautiful and say, “I made that thing. And hey, it’s pretty cool.”
When you go home for Thanksgiving, I hope you get to play with your dog and catch up on sleep. But that’s not what I’ll be doing. I’ve picked out a different craft project for every day and I hope to make them all.
And now you’ll have to excuse me. I’ve been sitting at the computer for too long and the oven is beeping at me. I’ve got some sugar cookies to frost.