Offbeat 24 June 2016
I wanted to write these columns, started writing them years ago, because I needed something to think about other than the routines of the day. Routines drop people into ruts, as neatly as a dump truck pours sand into a hole. I needed to diversify my thinking. Sometimes the sameness of everything is terrifying.
I notice that even the ideas I have for this column fall into their own ruts. For a while I wrote about religion and beliefs. Then I wrote a bunch of columns with an environmentalist flavour. Lately, I have been writing a lot about social media, because it changed the world in fundamental ways, and it is my best method of interacting with the world. It feels like climbing out of the rut can be the quick route to another rut.
Last weekend I attended a writing workshop here in Windhoek, at the Goethe Center. It was a halfway blissful day. It had no computers in it. I bought a pencil and a sharpener, for fear that a pen would run out of ink. The pencil was far more primal than a pen, and the ideas somehow felt more real.
The workshop took the form of a series of prompts, all leading up to a story. I took a picture of my old family, the one from 1882, thinking I might end up writing about recreational taxidermy and preservation of families. Instead I ended up half breaking myself on the idea of being pinned to the past by people I do not know, the absence of family members who I care for, and those who repel me.
The point though is the prompt: one thing to set off a hundred thoughts. I have used prompts in the past to come up with ideas for this column, Desi Quintan’s random noun generator for one.
I look around my desk for ideas, and my eye immediately lights on a stuffed toy, a gift from my daughter. When she gave it to me, I immediately thought it was Hobbes,from the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes. She corrected me, told me it was Tigger from Winnie the Pooh. I still look at it and understand that it is Hobbes, but in honour of the love that went into selecting the gift, I make myself believe that it is Tigger.
Stuffed toys are possibly the closest approximation to love vested in an object. Flowers die. A ring, as I think of it, might come with the danger of being a token that forces people to remember live, a potentially dangerous obligation when the love dies. Children however are trained from early infancy to transfer love to stuffed toys. The manifestation of love is part of childhood development, I believe, and a stuffed toy adds to that. It’s an easy transfer of emotions, for a child, a stuffed toy is soft and easy to hold, without damaging it too much.
Yet as we grow older, we put the toys aside. They become a sign of immaturity, unwanted and unwelcome by peers on the playground. They end up in boxes or get discarded, somewhere outside the precinct of the home.
I can understand the need to keep them closer, in a box for instance. There is some kind of residual guilt to binning something that was loved. I still have an old teddy bear somewhere, minus a leg and a couple of eyes. I don’t know where it is, but wherever it is, I will not be able to throw it away.
I struggle to imagine people who bin stuffed toys. There must be a form of emotional callousness to the act of deciding that the love that was vested in something as harmless as a toy is now not worth anything.
If you want a closer look at this idea, watch the movie Toy Story. And if that seems a bit infantile, consider that it is widely rated by critics as one of the best movies ever made, alongside the Godfather and Citizen Cane.The early childhood development entailed in a stuffed toy is, I think, probably a contributor to that sate of being that we call civilisation. I wonder if there is a correlation between discarding stuffed toys and violence in an individual?
As I sit and look around me some more, I realise that I should also write about coffee and cigarettes. And beer, another natural adjunct to cigarettes, though I don’t have any on my desk. And restaurants.