Tuesday, October 8, 2013

I Was Lost, I Am Found

It's been a while. Sorry about that.

And sorry in advance that this won't be the entry I promised last time. That one's coming, but I'm in a rather different mood in writing this and needed to go in a different route of sorts. I looked for the best toy to write about this time, and found this little guy.

This little guy doesn't have a name.

It was ages ago I found him. Back when my church (that my dad is the pastor of) was in the process of constructing a new building, my dad and I were visiting the premises while it was under construction, and happened to find him lying around. He had an orange string tied around him, and we had absolutely no idea whose he was or where he came from. So, naturally, I took him home. Once in the safety of my room, Sam took him into the loft to care for him and give him a place of rest (this is actually the toy that prompted Sam to turn his former pad into a haven for new toys to find shelter and rest). To this day the little guy rests quietly on Sam's leg, draped contently, but always with that seemingly mournful look in his eyes.

We got word a few weeks ago that one of our dogs (we have two) had contracted a mammary tumor, with an estimated two months left. Surgery was an option- if successful she'd have up to two years left, but given that she's already 13, we decided it would be best not to put her through that. In the past week it's been getting progressively worse and worse. She won't eat, has a hard time getting through the pet door, and even has issues just walking sometimes. I'm writing this on a Thursday night. We were hoping she would last through the weekend, but even that's looking suspect. By the time this publishes next Tuesday, she will have in all likelihood passed on.

I remember when we first got her. She was the first pet we purchased as a family- we had two dogs before (Gypsy and Scout, the former who had passed on by then), but both had been around before I was born, and our cat Tigger was more thrust upon us by a neighbor than actually purchased. Towards the end of Scout's life, we began scouring through the local Humane Societies and Pet-Co's looking for a second dog. After a lot of searching, we stumbled upon a timid female Australian Shepherd. She had been found in a field somewhere, covered in ticks, and it was discovered she had been beaten by a former owner and had either escaped or was thrown out.

Though she was enormously timid and hesitant around us, she seemed to warm immediately to my mother, and almost without a second thought we knew we had found our new dog. It took her a long while to adapt to our household- she was terrified of my dad (leading us to theorize that her past owners may have been an abusive husband and compassionate wife), and would dart away if you even raised any kind of long stick. But she was devoted to my mom, and would follow her anywhere she went. After some deliberation, we named her Gracie, because though she once was lost, she now was found.

I have so many memories of that dog. I remember how much she still had the Shepherd in her- when we later got Freckles, a white lab/collie mix, we would often go to the park and throw a frisbee around, and as Freckles ran out to fetch, Gracie would dart out to herd her back to the family. I remember how protective she was- she barked at any and all strangers that arrived at the house, and she would often bark at me were I to come out into the darkened living room in the middle of the night (as I often did in those days, and still do). I remember her stubbornness- how she always stayed outside to watch over the house without fail, even in the pouring rain or in our signature Phoenix summers. No worries if she did get a little warm, though- she could always dig a hole in my mother's garden. I remember how she used to jump on the couch during thunderstorms, or how she used to pester us to pet and scratch her- she had a favorite spot on her back. And I remember how she loved my mother- she followed her so much that she began to be called her shadow, with us joking that her theme song would be U2's "I Will Follow". Gracie treasured every walk, every chance to stand outside, every moment to be a part of that household. Through my mother she came to accept and trust each and every one of us, and truly became a part of our family. She was lost, and had finally been found.

"Amazing Grace" is, of course, a mainstay at funerals. Being a church pianist, I have naturally played at my share of funerals, and you know, it's funny how after all this time I don't think I've been nearly as emotional at any of those than right now with this dog. And I'm sure I'm not alone in that- it always seems as if people get more emotionally attached to their pets and animals than their fellow human beings. There's the old joke that if you kill off half the cast in a film your audience will be fine but you kill that puppy and they'll be sobbing in seconds. But why is that? Why do we place so much more affection on our pets than ourselves?

There's a host of possible, and equally valid reasons- pets represent a sort of innocence we often view as having lost, pets are seen as reliable and dependent where human beings are reckless and unstable, and they also have the advantage of being pretty danged adorable. But I think a major reason is that they tend to live such short lives- the average lifespan of a dog is something like 10-15 years. Chances are most people have seen more pets pass away than they have relatives, and I daresay most of us have been through that point where we see our beloved and faithful companion grow weaker and weaker as they near closer to death.

And it's hard. It's really hard. Gracie lately has a tendency to whine softly in the middle of the night, and on hearing her earlier I decided to go in the back room and keep her company for a bit. And to see her laying against the floor, in a position that seems to be made less for comfort and more for simply avoiding the pain, with matted fur on her underside wet from chewing and licking...to see this once attentive and watchful dog not even move as I pull a chair up next to her....and worse, to see this dog who was once, for those moments with us, actually happy and joyful not even react as I pet her and scratch that special place on her back...it's heartbreaking.

It's of course taking the worst toll on my mother, who has by now had to stop taking Gracie on her morning walks and no longer has a shadow following her where ever she may go. I daresay she even misses the holes in her garden. She's a very brave woman, my mother, so she hides this very well, but every day she comes home a little tense and a little downtrodden, asking where Gracie is. I can only imagine what my parents had to go through when Gypsy and later Scout had to be put down, and I fear the day when I will have to look upon one of my own loved ones the same way I looked at Gracie earlier tonight. It's something that terrifies me each day.

Perhaps that's one reason why I value my toys so much, and refuse to ever throw them out. Because as long as they're with me, they will never die. But it's not the toys themselves that truly matter. The bits of plastic and stuffing, that's not important. No, I think what matters it what lies inside- the memories, recollections, and histories lurking beneath, waiting to unfold. Those plastic or cotton shells are in the end about as important as our own shells of flesh and blood- it's the impossible breadth of history and knowledge emboited within us that makes us who we are and gives us reason to stand in this world and declare ourselves to be, in some fashion, alive.

And maybe we are all, in a way, born lost. Born into a fleeting and ever-changing world where it is too easy to become adrift and forgotten. And through our lives we ground ourselves in our ever-growing histories and stories until they come bursting out from us, to be endlessly told, retold, and revived. And through sharing those stories and facts- of a toy, a person, or a dog- we can postpone the strains of death. It is in that we become immortal. It is in that we become found.

I said earlier that this little guy didn't have a name. I think I found one.

This little guy's name is Gracie.

Thursday, July 25, 2013


So let's talk about emotions, shall we?

This is Timmy. As I mentioned on Tuesday, Timmy was my souvenir from Disneyland in 2008- we had gone in October, so the park was Halloween-themed. And being a fan of both The Haunted Mansion and at the time The Nightmare Before Christmas, I decided to pick him up (along with a couple other assorted bits and bobs).

Let's focus on that name for a bit...Timmy. I think I may have 3-4 different toys in the room all named "Timmy" because it's the default name I attach to something whose character I perceive as being innocent or naive. We'll get to the precise reason of why that is when we get to the most important Timmy, but I find it interesting that a particular name can stir up connections and emotions in you.

Well, to be honest, that's not really that interesting nor unusual, but I wanted a good segue into the fact that I get emotionally attached to things very easily and I'm not quite sure why. Four posts into this blog and I think we reach the basic answer to why I have so many toys in the first place- 'cause I'm too emotionally attached to them to get rid of them. And there are multitudes of reasons for that- intense childhood nostalgia, actual interest and fascination with some of these toys, Toy Story- and I'm sure I'll find instances to elaborate more on these as we progress through my room. But I think for now I want to focus just on the emotional investments- to start with, why I'm apparently a sucker for anything that has eyes.

That's not a joke. It's almost dangerous for me to linger past a stuffed animal shelf at a thrift store because I will inevitably get emotionally attached to one and absolutely have to buy it (a quick look through my room discovered 4 stuffed animals picked up that way). And I often maintain- the simple reason for this is they have eyes. And somehow that renders me unable to maintain control over my finances and I must have it. Lord help me when I move out onto my own and can start buying pets for myself.

I mean, the reasoning for this seems rather simple- eyes are the window to the soul and all that, and having eyes almost seems to indicate a certain sense of life and soul in something- that there's depth and substance and, well, emotion in what you're looking at.  And that allows me to get invested, and inevitably, when I get invested, I start creating a story. That toys' thoughts, emotions, some sort of history. It all starts forming and it becomes impossible for me to ignore it.

I mean, you want to know something crazy about me- and I mean legitimately crazy? I build LEGOs a lot and for the past few years have sorted them out by piece & color for easy searching during the building. Well, whenever I happen to stumble across the odd mis-sorted piece here and there, I find myself unable to put it back, because immediately my mind starts forming a history about how it feels at home here and I can't take it away from its new-found friends and family, and it finally feels accepted and loved and-

It's a freaking LEGO brick.

Let's be honest, that's a little chronic. I mean, I guess I just have this persistent need to create stories and histories, and then my emotional side gets really easily attached to those stories and then it becomes hard for me to ignore them. I honestly don't know why those two things happen the way they do, but I guess that's part of why I started this blog...maybe by exploring some of these stories I can figure out why I am the way I am.

Because another thing that characterized myself as a kid (and to some extent now) is getting super emotionally invested in stories- but often in really weird ways. Like watching Snoopy, Come Home and getting totally sad for Lila because she doesn't get Snoopy in the end. Or nowadays getting invested in a really dumb movie like The Dream Team enough that I watch it to the end despite having figured out fairly early on that this is pretty bad. I always got super wrapped up and invested in films...and in a lot of ways I think that's what led to my interest in stories and pursuing a career in, well, now it's scriptwriting.

So you know what, I'm gonna be a little unorthodox and skip ahead a couple toys. 'Cause the past couple have been a lot of introspection and reflection, and while that's all fine and well, I think it's about time for a break. So come Tuesday I'm gonna look at a toy with some actual stories attached to it, and start to tell a little bit about the past and histories of my toys. A little bit about the saga of Toy World.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

I Can't Trace Time

In the weeks since I last posted, my room got completely renovated, with my loft that I've had since middle school being taken down to make way for new shelves and desk space. Because of the extent of these changes the room had to be absolutely cleared out, and I finished putting everything back in a couple days ago. Additionally, my family went on a trip to Disneyland last week, so for today's toy let's pull out a past souvenir and talk about change, shall we?

So to start this is Donald (how shocking). Donald is, as I said, a past souvenir- he was bought at our second trip to Disneyland in 2008. Thing is- he's not actually mine. Well, not originally. My sister had bought him for her souvenir (We'll get to mine on Thursday) and kept him for a while. But sometime in the past year, in a period of major change and renovation for her, she started throwing out a lot of her old toys, the pile of which I ransacked to keep in my room. Donald was one of these 'survivors'. See, I didn't want to lose those toys. Even though they weren't mine, I still had memories and emotions attached to them that I didn't want to let go of. So even though all of those stuffed animals have to date just been stored in a drawer somewhere and only recently been taken out to be displayed on the top shelf in my room (a shelf marked by its inaccessibility, thus reserved for toys that I in all likelihood will never play with), I still didn't want to lose them. And you know what, I probably still would refuse to throw them out.

Yeah. I'm not very good with change.

I mean, as long as I can remember I've always been really resilient to change. I had the same backpack from sixth grade to I think junior year of high school- and I'm still using my sixth grade binder. Whenever I'm buying something like shoes or socks I always go for the same brand I already used- and when it's not there it absolutely flummoxes me. Just the couple of days ago I needed a new pair of earphones and almost didn't buy any because the brand I had wasn't stocked anymore. I mean, I've gotten better lately- this renovation was mostly my idea, and to be honest becoming a Doctor Who  fan really helps one become more content with change and regeneration. But I'm still an awfully stubborn person when it comes to giving up on something old and moving forward to something new.

Part of that I think comes down to how much I tend to attach myself to things emotionally, but I think that's a big enough subject that I'm actually gonna put it off to Thursday (since that'll be a linked post to this one given that the toys in question are linked). But it's also I think that I just really don't like being wrong. And changing in some ways kinda has that implication with it...the old one was old and outdated, here's something new and improved. Something better. I mean, obviously that's not always the case, and usually a change is the search for something different rather than something outright better. But at the same time it almost feels like a weakness to be moving on..and deep down I'm just really afraid of being weak.

I am. I don't like being wrong, and I hate having my motives or values questioned or judged, because I just begin to lose my balance and just feel out of control. And more than anything I want to feel in control- like I know what's going on around me and can easily accommodate myself to a given situation. And in a world that's constantly changing, how is that possible? How can you keep yourself afloat when the water levels keep rising?

I mean, the answer's pretty obvious. You have to change with it. But even with an answer that obvious it still feels unwelcome and at times just scary. Like you're giving up a part of yourself to make way for this new part- and that's not always a good thing. But sometimes, it can be. And I suppose that's the whole point- that you have to just leap and take the chance because sometimes the other side is just absolutely beautiful.

Donald was purchased at Disneyland, which of course has gone through its changes over the years. Heck, my favorite land didn't even exist at the time of opening. And not all of the changes have been good- you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who believed removing Country Bear Jamboree was a smart move, or (to pick a WDW example) that "Tiki Room: Under New Management" was at all a good idea. But you know, New Orleans Square was a pretty good addition. And the Mountain coasters and Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean. Sometimes change can be a pretty great thing...if only for the chance at a new experience that's completely and utterly unlike anything you'd imagined before.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

It's a Magical World

This is Sam.

I got him as a Christmas present in I believe 2000- just before we moved from a small town in Colorado to where we live now, in Phoenix, Arizona. We were spending Christmas at my Grandmother's house in Littleton, having basically moved out of our old house and spending a week or two there before moving out once the new year came around. Sam was a present from my Grandmother, a Beanie Baby basset hound given in tandem with a beanie baby cat for my sister. The cat was christened "Snowball" (I believe the default name on the tag), while I named mine after the stuffed dog in Arthur (a running theme throughout this blog is probably going to be how startlingly uncreative my names are).

I ended the last post with an invocation of sorts- let's go exploring. The line, along with the title of this post, is taken from the final strip of the newspaper comic Calvin & Hobbes. The influence of this comic on me as a child cannot be understated- I fell in love at a very early age with the characters, storylines, artwork, jokes, everything. As a kid I had several collections- the original book, The Authoritative Calvin & Hobbes, and There's Treasure Everywhere (As a kid I preferred the older strips. As an adult I prefer the later ones). Along with Toy Story, which we'll get to in due time, it was a major influence on how I treated and interacted with my toys.

Sam was, essentially, my Hobbes. Every kid has one- that one toy that they interact with the most and in many ways see as a sort of companion. Sam wasn't my first toy and doesn't have the strongest emotional resonances for me, but he was the constant in all my stories- the one I probably played with the most. Interesting, then, that my characterization of him was never that charitable. He was always a bit of a lummox- a glutton for food and an undying love for his girlfriend, the aforementioned Snowball, which would inevitably manifest itself in a comically misplaced jealousy. Even in terms of the world of my toys he was never the king or the president- not even a council member. Just a co-star on a mildly successful sketch show starring Snowball- the Harvey Korman to Snowball's Carol Burnett.

No, Sam never amounted to much in Toy World. But then he never seemed to mind. He was always the first to go on vacations, and each and every place was the new hotspot of the world- be it Disneyland, San Francisco, or Littleton, Colorado. It was a running joke between my sister and I that every time we stopped to get candy or snacks on the car ride, Sam would be overjoyed at the "gourmet" meal of mini M&Ms or Nerds- or even a cheeseburger from McDonald's. Everything was the best to him- every sight, sound, and experience was savored and relished, and everything that was ordinary was to him deemed extraordinary.

One of the things that always separated Calvin from Hobbes was his insatiable desire to be somewhere better. Calvin constantly daydreamed of far out galaxies and dinosaurs in F14s and was constantly unsatisfied with the things in his life. Hobbes, by contrast, could find satisfaction in just about anything, be it a warm summer's day, a beam of sunlight streaming through the window, or a bowl of beets. Maybe it's time to take a page out of Hobbes' book. Maybe it's time to learn to be happy with the life you lead instead of constantly striving for something better. That doesn't mean to stop trying and to stop dreaming- not at all. Just to not let the dream of the future eclipse the present. We should never stop dreaming and never stop working to live better lives...but there's something to be said for being able to appreciate what we have.

After the sketch show ended, Sam moved up to the loft and opened up a small guys-only place. Nothing special or fancy, just an innocent little place for he and his friends to hang out, watch movies, that sort of deal. After it had been open about a year or so, Sam heard reports of new toys that had no place to stay and were on the verge of being donated. Without a second thought he opened the place up to them. The guys had to clean up their act a bit and the hang-out nature of the place was sacrificed, but it became a haven for new toys without a place to go. Many of the friends became sort of father figures to some of the toys that arrived.

Since then, Sam hasn't been up to much. He's still in a committed relationship with Snowball, and loves her more than ever. He still goes on vacations, and every place and every food is still the greatest in the world. But most of the time he stays up in the loft, just hanging out with friends, caring for newcomers, and generally living a mundane, everyday life.

And he couldn't be happier.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Chronicling a Life, One Toy at a Time.

I don't remember when I got my first toy.

That's not meant as a shocking sort of statement or anything like that, just a simple little fact. Toys have been around my life for so long that they break that earliest point beyond which your memories strangely disappear. I had toys when I was 14, 10, 5, 3- heck, I don't think I had even been born when my parents bought me what I think was my first toy (I'll have to ask them on that point to make sure).

Point is, I had toys all throughout childhood. And I still do- that picture of my bedroom was from last Sunday, and hasn't changed pretty much at all since then. And chances are, I'll still have them as long as I'm able, and the collection will keep growing and developing along with me.

They are, in their own bizarre way, a part of who I am.

They've carried my imagination, they've expanded my interests, and most importantly of all, crystallized my memories. I can look at virtually every toy I've owned and remember how I got them, where I got them, why I got them, if I bought them or if they were a present, etc. As is the case with such things it's just a little fuzzy on some of the details, but most of it is startlingly well-preserved- even the stuff I gave away but remember having, I remember the circumstances of. Each toy carries with it a capsule- a little chest of random and disparate memories, all throughout my life.

This is a chronicle of those memories.

Every few days I'm going to go through my room and take a look at a toy- starting with a rather important li'l guy sitting at this moment to my right, and continuing from there. With that toy I'm going to post whatever really comes to mind- thoughts, memories, reflections, ruminations on life and its mysteries- you know, the usual stuff. I'll probably even post stories every now and then- I played with my toys constantly as a kid, and still do, so there's a wealth of stories and tales to be told. Just wait 'till we get to Cornelius, and Irnakk, and the President, and the Great LEGO War of '12.

But I also want to look at myself. I'm still in a transition phase from an old life into a new one. In that time, I've begun to really look and start re-evaluating my life- what I want, where I want to be, life choices in general. And as I do this I want to go through my life and rediscover myself through my toys. These little things that have meant so much to me through the years. I want to look at them and find out who I used to be- what I've wanted, where I've longed to be- even just revisit some of my favorite (and least favorite) memories. Explore my mind as I explore my toybox.

And once I've done that, maybe I'll find out, or remind myself, who I am.

C'mon. Let's go exploring.