My scissors memorialize a moment in time


No, not the brush or charcoal, nor the chisel and even no camera! I just use that ancient invention, the scissors. I may cut out one square from the funnies, or I trim an old photo snapshot to focus on a single detail, as in “cropping,” which is not respectable in academic circles.

I find surprises and personal glimpses within my own artistic domain, which is the memoir. Which may explain why I admire and go for the value also of minimizing each passing day. The high moment, the wasted opportunity, not the good joke, but rather the missed chance. Like, just now, when the “Pickles” grandma muses, “Whenever I meet someone new, I think to myself, why are you here and what do you have to teach me?”

Struck me as the perfect example of the Hassidic concept that every new acquaintance is an angel sent from the firmament above to contribute to your day. I leave out and alone, though, the cat that adds the irony of his feline joke, “I always think, why are you here and what do you have to feed me?”

I also use my trusty scissors to study, close-up, the hidden insights in bad snapshots idly taken perhaps a long time ago. I took a group portrait that included my grandfather, who had walked and camped out across all Europe to get a job in Whitechapel, London, eons ago. It also contained his newborn daughter and my grampa’s second wife who was holding my late aunt Edith, the infant, in her arms. When I showed this clip to my grown son, his only comment was, “she was an odd-looking lady.”

My focus was on that baby who grew to be my babysitter and companion throughout her lifetime. I stare at my dad’s dad’s expression and my step-grandma’s features with close attention but no judgment, just fascination and genuine interest.

So it goes. Scissors can reveal and interpret.

My wife brings home from the market bouquets of blossoms in season to decorate the table with lush flowers at the height of their glory. I use those magical scissors to save the last rather shriveled specimen by cutting the stem with an oval long snip and placing it in a wee tiny vase, a survivor that somehow earns another lifetime of a few days on the altar. It really does seem to thrive somehow. So that, or this, is my art form, my genre. Just to make whatever is left ever more valuable, as time goes on. ...

MIKE FINK ( is a professor emeritus at the Rhode Island School of Design.