Beverly Dove (not her real name) has the most amazing handwriting—the kind they’d given up teaching by the time I rolled through the penmanship grades in the eighties. It’s all over everything she’s dropped off in her packet: over a map she’s drawn and colored, labeling where each story in her XanderPuppy series of children’s stories takes place, carefully naming the life-size paper dolls she’s made of her characters, double-layered then neatly stapled shut and stuffed with newspaper, and posed together in photographs, printed in full color, 8 ½ x 11”. She wants our shop to carry her stories. She hasn’t published a book, mind you. I guess she wants to print pages off her computer and sell them. Her care and effort are enormous, inspiring, and terrifying. Her thirteen stories, written for ages 6-7, involve two children, their puppy and various other animals having adventures and chatting on various wavelengths of telepathic communication she’s named jabbersonic, subsonic, and puppysonic.
I can understand why she dropped it off here. We’re a metaphysical/ herb store. One co-worker describes it as a temple disguised as a shop. Most of her displays look like altars you can buy stuff off of. In an increasingly disposable, meaningless world, all of us who work here are passionate about objects of real-ness and use and meaning. To the point we don’t see paper towels, we see the forest sacrificed to make them. We wipe the fingerprints off the glass with homeless birds and two pounds of fresh atmospheric carbon. That’s a seriously precious paper towel. This can lead to some packratty behavior. Vendors send us products in rubber bands—we have drawers full of them. Ziplock baggies too. It’s also why Barbara Dove’s manila envelope has stuck around beside the register for over a year; it was honest and full of love, and we don’t want to carry her stories which are saccharine and full of well-behaved children, but we don’t want her bravery and care to be wasted either.
I collect Barbara’s kind of crazy; part because I can’t look away, part because it keeps me honest, critical and real. When I was living in Mexico, I took these photographs of the garden of a 70-year old man named Richard Cornu. He’d given vast swaths of flower bed over to elaborate dioramas of battling toys. He was delighted to catch me taking pictures, and invited me to lunch. I swallowed everything my mother taught me to keep me safe, and accepted. I don’t remember what we ate. He rambled like old people who forget their listeners do; he talked about his life, born in France, moved to Puebla when he was a teenager. Apparently he was re-enacting battles from WWII in his garden beds, using toy soldiers, hot wheels, some plastic dinosaurs. He felt guilty about escaping the war, abandoning his country to Nazi occupation, and makes up for it now by using his garden bed to remind everyone who passes of the sacrifices of his generation.
I collect this kind of crazy because I see myself in it. Every work of art is waving a mad flag of love around and hoping others will recognize it and respond. My novel is no different. I just finished my seventh draft, maybe spent half my free time of the past two years making this. Each edit is just another staple in the pigeon doll, the correct stegosaurus to represent General Charles de Gaulle. The only difference between my novel, XanderPuppy, and Senior Cornu’s garden is I try to stay current, see what people respond to, and hope I’m waving my giant, attention-getting love flag in a more recognizable pattern.