Friday, October 17, 2014

The Plaster People

I needed weird inspiration, so I decided to go to the sculpture garden. A coffee shop or a library wasn't going to cut it unless they were floating in the sky.

Writing The Water Door Magician has been challenging in a way that writing the other books haven't. Usually I write about people who could be real and the real things that could happen to them. But now I'm writing about a 16 year old locksmith super hero who travels to different worlds by picking locked doors. The most normal thing about her is that she's gay.

The other day when I was making edits, I was struggling too much in the real world to be creative in another. I needed to get out of the house, but I knew I needed something other than the normalcy of a coffee shop with its stuffed chairs and students who possessed no super powers other than the ability to function on two hours of sleep and a hang over.  I needed to be outside - in a garden. A really weird garden. Some place where when I turned a corner, I'd potentially see a bronze monkey holding a baby smoking a cigar.

That's when it hit me - the sculpture garden in City Park! Of course!

And so I went. At first it seemed like a great idea.  I walked into the garden like a hitchhiker, with my backpack on and my eyes scanning for a place to go. I felt different from all the other visitors who were there on a clear, sunny day, touring the art and moving on. I was looking for something I could sit next to and type away, fueled by the art's complexity and other worldliness. It made me feel interesting, and I spent a while walking around high on my own intellectual superiority, which I mistook for being cool.

I wasn't sure what I was looking for. There's some great stuff out there, like the statue of a naked lady poised on one foot, pulling back a bow and arrow. I think it's a goddess or something. Then there's this other one I've always liked that looks like a giant, black chess piece. It's a soldier beating a drum and it looks menacing and vulnerable at the same time. But these things weren't calling me to write next to them.

There's a semicircle path lined with hedges, and a few statues only two of which I clearly remember. One of them is a man in a coat with letters sticking out of his back like porcupine quills and it's called, "Standing man with radiating words." Another one is "Ruth and Naomi," two women standing together, one with her arm around the other. On the edge of the semi circle are two benches, back to back, and on one of them is a life-sized plaster man sitting with his arms folded. On the other side are two plaster women sitting next to each other. These three people look so human, like those plaster molds you might have seen a picture of Pompeii - people caught in a moment in time. Only the plaster Pompeii people are locked in the moment of their deaths, whereas these three are in moments of contemplation. They look so real, with pants that wrinkle at the waist, and arm fat. 

I decided to sit next to the man because he was facing Ruth and Naomi and the Man Radiating With Words. He was so human looking but not human at all, which I kind of respected him for. I opened up my laptop and began to write.

I only ended up staying for an hour. I hadn't accounted for the other live people at the park, how they felt about my plaster friends, and how loud they would be about it. People had two reactions - fear and too much bravado. 

The first person to pass was a lady who looked at the women and said, "That’s too scary.” The guy next to her said, “Oh, these things are all over the place. You get used to 'em.” He sat next to the plaster man and said, "Hey bud, how's it going?" and the lady laughed.

People did that a lot with the plaster man. Men and women would sit next to him and talk to him like they were old friends, or pretend to accidentally sit on him and say, "Oh excuse me." One woman accused the him of groping her.  Then they'd take pictures with him. No one asked me to move and I didn't say anything, I was just trying to write. There are probably a lot of pictures of me now, that those people will look at later and remember that weird girl who bent over her laptop and tried to ignore everyone. Which was impossible.

No one sat next to the plaster women and called them "bud." The men who talked to them said things like, "Hey babe, mind if I put my hand here?” And the women who weren't too afraid to sit next to them or touch them accused them of being bitches or sluts. 

And really, that's what made me go sit somewhere else. The sexual harassment of plaster women actually began to make me feel sick. I know that they're not real and they don't have feelings, and honestly if I saw someone joking around like that in passing I might have laughed too. But after an hour of a variation on the same joke it became disturbing. This is what people will say to someone who can’t move or talk back. This was unbridled human social behavior and it was just mean.

So I went to a coffee shop. It was loud there too, but if anyone was harassing each other it wasn't obvious. There was this one weird, older lady who was giving bizarre life advice to a woman who seemed to be in her early twenties. Older lady was making way to many hand gestures and her blond, gray-streaked hair was falling out of the ponytail on top of her head with every wild jerk. She told her, “Your resistance gets photo transparent.”

I wrote it down because I didn't know what that meant. The young woman she was talking to nodded as if she got it and I wondered if she really did, and if she thought that the loud lady was just as bizarre as I thought she was. I imagined the three of us as plaster people, frozen as we were, Loud Lady with her hair falling and her hands in the air, Nodding Lady leaning forward to listen, and me looking up from my laptop at the two of them.

I wanted to go over to the young woman and tell her how weird everybody is, really. "These things are all over the place," I'd say. "You get used to 'em."

1 comment:

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