Friday, October 2, 2015
Connecting the Dots
Whenever I run across a research problem that has me stymied, I've learned to recall a vignette from years ago. Though it's been so long since it happened, it still speaks to me, loud and clear. It's actually taken on a symbolic role in my mind, one that helps me shake loose of restrictive quandaries and have faith that there is an answer.
Have you ever had anything like that—a brief experience that seems to speak volumes? It's experiences like that I've learned to treasure, because they seem to take on a life bigger than the moment in which they occurred. They transmit a metaphysical message that keeps on inspiring, across the board, across time.
In this case, it was an event from my childhood that provided that message that still speaks volumes. Actually, it came from a television program that aired in my part of the country from the mid-fifties to the late eighties: Wonderama. But don't let that silly—and humble—setting fool you; this vignette came with a pearl of wisdom for me.
At least, that's where I think this little vignette occurred. Funny about childhood—some memories become so fuzzy over time, while others remain crystal clear. The show it happened on has obviously become a fuzzy memory—including the on-air personality whose act this was—but what happened has become a treasured symbol for me.
I seem to remember this was the work of a television host known in the broadcasting world as Sonny Fox, although come to find out now, his real name was Irwin Fox. Although, like many others in show business, he was featured in a variety of venues, the one he is likely most known for is his programming for children. Thus the Wonderama assignment.
Among the many features of the program—games, contests, educational segments, and, of course, the ever-present cartoons—was the part that I remember most. Anyone from his television audience could send Fox a letter, asking him to draw a picture of a specific item. From that day's selected fan mail, the host was to comply with the enclosed request on the air, live. The catch was that the artist was required to use only the lines, dots, or other squiggles sent in by the young letter-writer, and that Sonny Fox could only use a set amount of lines to connect all those dots—I think it was five—in such a way as to compose the requested drawing.
The camera would zoom in on the letter's set of squiggles, and then on Sonny Fox as he replicated the set of disjointed items on his easel. He would read the letter aloud so everyone would know what was being required of him. Then, he would set to work.
Of course, there would be a prize for anyone able to stump the on-air artist. But it was a rare moment when Fox conceded.
What was amazing—still is, even after all these years—was to see that TV host come up with creative ways to meet the goal by the deadline. He definitely had a way of thinking outside the box.
Whether I'm remembering the right program or the right television personality is a moot point after such a long time. But remembering that he demonstrated how it is possible to connect seemingly disjointed blips of ink on a page and create them into a viable sketch of the required subject has made an imprint on me. It's reminded me that no matter how unlikely it might seem that those dots, squiggles and lines could fit together, there really is a way.
Over the years, I've had experiences where I've faced that same type of challenge. I'm sure you have, too. It's those times when you think, "There's no way this is all going to hold together—and work out!" But when you know how to connect those dots—and do it with an artistic flair—it seems the world's your oyster.
Above: 1915 oil on canvas by Swedish artist Carl Wilhelmson, "Brunnsvägen, Fiskebäckskil," depicting a path to the coast in his native fishing village, Fiskebäckskil; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.