Yesterday I participated in a Japanese woodcarving class in my friend's courtyard. I signed up without knowing that this would be a spiritual, meditative activity, rather than an art project. The point is to choose a piece of wood and whittle away, letting the object shape itself, rather than planning what you want to create. There are a few unwritten rules: try not to cut yourself, don't keep dropping your sculpture and if possible, refrain from talking.
Halfway through the process, I began to relax and de-stress. I stopped worrying that everyone else's work looked like an egg, a whale or a giant chopstick, while mine was "nothing." I didn't even care that the compliments I received were about the grain of my wood, rather than what I had carved. For once, I was free to enjoy the ride and not care about the outcome.
Ah, if only the college process could shape itself like this, I thought. Take a block of rough wood, focus on the journey rather than the destination, and poof! you end up with something smooth and functional, something that was meant to be.
My happy, zen ponderings dissapated when I broke rule #3 and began to chat with my carving buddy, a young woman who sipped green iced tea as she whittled. Although she was a first-timer like me, her piece of wood had transformed itself into the kind of pendant you could purchase at Barney's, while mine looked like a marked-down souvenir from the Maui airport.
The small talk did, in fact, to turn out to be a huge mistake: My cool fellow carver was, I kid you not, ....an SAT tutor. And once she found out I was the Neurotic Parent, all she wanted to talk about was whether the UC's really do want subject tests this year, even though they say they don't.
So much for meditation and sprirituality.