Why? Smiles

Every few days, I cower in a corner. It’s usually because someone asked me: “What are you doing in grad school?”

I don’t know what I’m doing. It gives me anxiety attacks.

And then people ask me, “What is this program?”

I start shaking. I have no freaking idea. And I’ve been in school for two months.

Finally, they ask, “What will you do with this degree?”

I respond, “Go away.”

It’d be a lot easier if I hated school; I could just drop out! But I don’t. I love it. I look forward to each class, which hasn’t happened since fifth grade. And I love the people in my classes, because they are unfairly brilliant.

But it’s just that, well, I don’t know what I’m doing here.

Until today, that is.

Let me rewind a bit: About a year ago, I was a bit depressed. I wanted something to make me feel more alive — more consequential — and that’s when I found ITP’s website. It said something about “bringing delight into people’s lives,” which sounded good to me. So I applied. On a whim. It was the only school I applied to.

The word “delight” stuck with me. Ever since the first grade, I loved making people smile. I sacrificed many recesses because I made one too many “yo mama” jokes in class. (“Koool-Aiiid!”) I even tried to learn how to fart on command, because apparently farting makes people laugh.

I digress.

So last year I decided my life was missing delight. And to fix it, I wanted to create things that made people smile — that made people’s eyes light up.

For the first few weeks of school, we learned the basics and made a few interesting things. But there was nothing I would consider delightful — nothing that really touched hearts. And that’s what I was after — what I’ve always been after: hearts.

Then, a few weeks ago, my group decided to make a project called the “Water Bowl.” We wanted to put water in a bowl, and create a device that allows people to make it sing with touch.

After three weeks of struggling, we got it to work last night.

So, today, we presented the project in class. We let our classmates play with it — let them swoosh it around, splash it and even blow it. And all eyes were on the bowl — except mine. The whole time, I couldn’t stop looking at people’s faces — the smiles, the delight. For that ephemeral moment, it didn’t seem to matter what I was doing here, or what this program was, or what I would do with this degree. It just mattered that people were smiling.

I think I always knew why I was here: To make people smile. But it sounds so stupid to say that out loud. It’s so unacademic, unintellectual. But in my grad school application, I wrote that I wanted to overcome language and cultural barriers for people to communicate. I’m learning it’s really hard; there are very few things that universally apply to all people.

But everyone understands a smile.

In the next few years, I’m sure I’ll be cowering in many more corners. So I wanted to document this project, as an reminder to my future self of how it started, how everyone smiled — and why I smiled.

Without further ado, here’s the water bowl:

(Improved video coming soon!)

One response to Why? Smiles

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