May 18, 2018
She found the newspaper stuffed in the walls of her house, a midcentury bungalow in Portland whose remodeling included a few surprises. Along with the newspaper from the 1940s she discovered a pistol. She took that to the police.
Unloading the bag of brittle newsprint on the table in my office, this marvelous history teacher offered that the newspaper might work for the mason jar we’d bury as part of our Arbuthnot project. Looking at the ads for movies like The Lady with Red Hair, the cartoons, and the photos from the 1940s, I knew she was right.
Then we picked it up and watched the paper crumble in our hands.
All along this project has been about more than the adventure of students following the trail in the winter and digging up the treasure in the spring. Creativity includes a healthy dose of problem solving. It means adjusting on the fly, finding solutions when things look like a dead end. Creativity means thinking differently.
“You know,” I offered, “It’s not about reality. It’s about the perception of reality.” She looked at me, game. “We can’t use this because it’s too old, but we have to use this because it’s so old. What if we…”
The images on the paper were perfect; the paper itself was not. So we walked down the the art studio and asked for some newsprint. The drawing teacher cut some for us without questions. We fiddled with the photocopier for a bit to get the right resolution and copied the yellowed newspapers onto the fresh gray newsprint. Over the next few days I tea stained each piece thinking this might work.
Two days later The Lady with Red Hair looked up at me from her sepia world of pliable newsprint.
As with any collaborative artists, the results of our efforts succeeded only because we were willing to embrace the challenge of something not working, find allies to help us, and then experiment in how we might solve the problem. We held on to the idea of the newspaper, mostly because it was fantastic and the story of its origin was as magical as we hoped this adventure would be, and we didn’t allow ourselves to give up when it became apparent that using the salvaged newspaper wouldn’t work. Not taking “no” as our starting point allowed us to pause, think creatively, and try something different.
I know the newspaper that is wrapped around our treasure is only a small part of our Arbuthnot adventure, but it’s one that delighted me as a synecdoche of the creative experience.