Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Tangram Effect

"Who are we, who is each of us if not a combinatoria of experiences, information, books we have read, things imagined?  Each life is an encyclopedia, ... and everything can be constantly shuffled and reordered in every way conceivable." –––– Italo Calvino 

Lately, I have become obsessed with tangram puzzles. I think that the challenge to make endless configurations with a limited number of shapes is good training for coping with the uncertainty of the times. The more I work with them, the more clearly I see the inner patterns of various shapes, and the possible ways the smaller shapes fit into the bigger picture. That gives me a powerful metaphor for handling experience: finding the “fit.”

Originally developed in China, a Tangram is a square composed of seven shapes called tans.
The seven pieces can be rearranged to form thousands of shapes. They have long been used in storytelling and I am using the pieces on an overhead projector for some of my preschool stories.
I’ve been playing tangram games with my 4 yr old, Jordan. (There are a number of free tangram apps for the iPhone and iPad. But I also like having the pieces in hand and shifting them across a table-top into various forms.) I notice that he is noticing patterns more frequently now. It may be a simple developmental step - the sort of thing you expect at his age - but it may be the tangram effect. Anyway, the other day, we were playing ball in the backyard, when he announces “One plus one plus one plus one is four.” I agreed, and showed him my four fingers as example. But he pointed behind me to a row of 4 tall pine trees standing in the distance. “See?” He says. “One plus one plus one plus one.” 
This morning, in the kitchen, (we are often in the kitchen circa 7am) he starts counting the rectangles inset in the kitchen cabinets: "One, two, three....” all the way to 12. We spent some time working with the pattern: how many rows? How many in each row? etc.. The tangram effect.
I find the tangram effect in the combinatorics of storytelling. Certain arrangements of short stores can form larger story shapes, entire programs. The same stories can be re-assembled with different elements emphasized for various intentions. Telling stories is a puzzling business. We tease out meanings and possibilities, finding the fit for the story.
Recently, as I was lying in bed, I felt a mild oceanic sense of being a small piece fit into the cosmic shape of the Universe. (An echo of Bucky Fuller here.) It was somewhat thrilling, but also empowering and reassuring. I felt as if the “I” that was thinking was in a much greater position than the mere “I” that was lying in bed. I felt I could incorporate everyone and everything else into my sense of Self. It is an exercise I intend to repeat until, as with  tangrams, I can sense the fit all around me.

No comments:

Post a Comment