Origami & The Act of Fiction

About our guest blogger:

Katherine Heiny’s stories have been published in The New YorkerThe Antioch Review, The Greensboro Review, Seventeen, and have been presented on Selected Shorts on NPR, and performed off-Broadway.  She lives in Washington D.C. with her husband and two children.

Origami & The Art of Fiction

If you’re reading this and hoping it will be a piece about how folding origami helped me become a better writer, you can stop right now.  It’s not about that.  It’s about how when my son Angus asked if we could go to the National Origami Convention, I nearly started bleating with fear and panic — but also about how a very small part of me thought:  Maybe I could write a story about it.

Origami is nothing new in my life; Angus has been obsessed with it for years now.  I have driven miles through the countryside to buy special paper from an excitable woman, and then stayed and groomed her dog while the woman and Angus folded a praying mantis together.  (There was nothing else to do, believe me, or I’d have done it.)  My husband and I traveled to New York so Angus could attend a class on how to fold a spiked icosahedron, and when the instructor held Angus’s paper up to the class as an example, the forty-ish man sitting next to him was so overcome with jealous rage that the tendons in his neck stood out.  I have waited in line for more than half an hour so that Angus could have an origami book signed by a man who looked like a suburban serial killer, and we actually paid for Angus to have a private origami session with a man I believe to have been clinically insane.  I have accompanied Angus to origami clubs and lectures and meetings and endured excruciatingly stilted conversations with people who don’t get my jokes and who look down on me because I don’t know how to fold a bird base.  At all of these places, people ask, “Do you fold?” (in the hopeful manner in which swingers ask if you swing), and when I say no, all the animation leaks out of their expressions.  And now Angus wanted to go a three-day conference!  With a dinner-dance!  I felt nothing but a sort of animal terror.

Except — except — I had been thinking for a while that I’d like to write a story about all the crazy origami people I’d met.  I’m writing a series of stories about a couple who have a son who’s very into origami, and it occurred to me that I could make this couple go to an origami convention, though that seemed like a mean thing to do to my characters, and I’m very fond of them.  I thought I would wait until after the convention to write the story but in the end, I couldn’t — the story bubbled up too quickly.  I wrote it in ten days, and writing it was fun and absorbing and surprising and rewarding — all the things that writing should be and almost never is.  The story turned out to be one of my favorites.

So tonight my husband sits at the kitchen counter, his laptop open to the origami convention website.  “Shall I book it?” he asks nervously.  My husband is a former MI6 agent who used to be under death threat from the KGB — not much makes him nervous, but apparently the thought of an origami dinner-dance does.

“Go for it,” I say, bold as a rooster.

After a moment’s hesitation, my husband clicks the CONFIRM button and we’re off, or we will be, come June.  My heart is light, and it would almost (but not quite) be accurate to say that I’m looking forward to it.   Because some people get to find inspiration, and some people get to make their children happy — I get to do both.

Katherine Heiny           


4 thoughts on “Origami & The Act of Fiction

  1. So well written! For many years, for love of my children, I was the leader of two Girl Scout troops at the same time. Over the years, we have always supported each other in our chosen interests–whatever they were. Luckily, my kids and I share a passion for so many interests–history, travel, writing, storytelling–and now we are all fully invested in our shared ventures and adventures.

  2. Almost (but not quite) 🙂 I totally understand that feeling. And how great for a parent to make her child happy and accomplish something for herself, too–maybe you can write a sequel after attending the actual event. Hope you have a great time and meet lots of great characters!

  3. What a cool book idea! I used to drag my mom to comic book conventions and we met some interesting characters. I can’t wait to hear about the origami events. 🙂

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