Am I a Master Builder?
A week ago Toys R Us sponsored a “Master Builder Event” to celebrate the release of The LEGO Movie on DVD. For two hours on a Saturday afternoon, children were given a package of LEGO pieces — without instructions — and could build anything they wanted. This event tied in with the theme of the movie, which features a LEGO construction worker named Emmet who is accustomed to following the instructions. When he accidentally finds the missing Piece of Resistance, the rebel Wyldstyle takes him to the underground headquarters of the Master Builders, who are trying to stop Lord Business from destroying the world by gluing it together. The Master Builders are people who can build things without instructions. They are the creative thinkers, the people who accomplish great things because they don’t follow the rules — or the crowd.
When I arrived at my local Toys R Us, four children, two girls and two boys ranging in age from about five to nine, sat at a table along with the parents of both girls and one of the boys. (The two boys were friends who came to the event together.) The boys were assembling and disassembling their creations, not quite finding anything they built to their liking. The girls seemed at sea. One looked for instructions and started crying when her father told her there weren’t any. The other simply stared at her pieces, paralyzed. Since I’m proposing to lead some LEGO workshops at libraries in New York City, I wanted to see what happens when children and teens are presented with random pieces and told to build something. I decided that I should come to the workshop with some ideas for the participants, along with a demonstration of a useful building technique. Not everyone will need this guidance but it should be available to get participants started.
After the children and their parents left, and no more children arrived, I went back to the LEGO section to look at some of the new sets. A few minutes later, a store employee came up to me with a box and offered me one of the LEGO packages to take home. Like the ones the children received, it had no instructions, only a picture of Lord Business in the special stilts that enabled him to tower fearsomely over the citizens of Bricksburg. I gratefully accepted his gift (there were apparently quite a few leftover packages, indicating less-than-brisk attendance for the event), and took it home.
Not being a fan of Lord Business or his stilts, I set about creating something different with my red and gray pieces. I came up with an enhancement of an idea in one of my Instagram stories — a flying book that enabled one of my characters to escape from his evil captors.
Whereas the minifigure originally flew away on a miniature book with a wing and a rocket engine underneath, now I had a airplane-like contraption that allowed me to slide in a book as the engine, with a passenger in a one-seat module behind it. My caption for the original photo was that “books can take you anywhere.” With my pieces from the Master Builder Event, I built a spiffy book-powered flying machine. In this picture, my Fernando Pessoa look-alike minifigure flies the Book Rocket powered by his classic work Mensagem.
So if I take a random bag of LEGO pieces without instructions and build something, does that make me a Master Builder? The answer, apparently, is yes. But in the movie, Lord Business picks off the Master Builders one by one. Many of them are already in his prisons. The rest spend more time fighting among themselves than toppling the man who seeks to destroy their universe. So while I accept with pride the designation of Master Builder, I wonder if my lack of success in fitting into the corporate world comes along with it. And is that a good thing, or a bad thing?
My friend L. Marie is also a toy enthusiast who has seen The LEGO Movie even more times than I have, so check out her thoughts on grownups playing with kids’ toys here.