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The First Thing I Ever Made: The Zoo
The Caged Bullies
By Fay Funk
I was a creepy child.
You wouldn’t think so, from looking at the drawings on the walls and refrigerators of my parents and my aunts and uncles. There are clumsy attempts at drawing anime from when I was in middle school, and some decent acrylic paintings from my high school art classes. But history has been sanitized. My most elaborate art projects from when I was a young child have either been hidden away or have disappeared completely, and are rarely brought up, unless we are discussing how surprisingly well-adjusted I turned out, considering my high creep levels as a kid.
I showed an interest in sewing when I was about six years old, and to foster my creativity my mother bought me a book on how to make dolls, along with sheets of flesh-colored felt, stuffing, yarn for hair, and colorful thread for embroidering faces. The sewing machine was off-limits for me at that age, so I hand-sewed all of my dolls. I was proud of them, ignoring that they looked nothing like the pictures in my book. My dolls were always either over or under-stuffed, leaving them with bulldog bodies and hunchbacks, or floppy pinheads. Six-year-old me could not grasp the subtlety of embroidery, so my dolls suffered with amoeba-like eyes and wide, crooked red smiles. Their yarn hair was ropey and witch-like, even when I unraveled the yarn like the book suggested. My parents were wonderful, praising my creativity work ethic, and very strongly encouraging to give the dolls away as gifts.
The dolls did not appear again in my life until I was in college. I learned that my aunt, who had been given most of the dolls, used them to torture her partner. She would arrange them in a circle on the bed or hang them from the ceiling to scare him when he got home, or hide them around the apartment so he would occasionally get a disturbing surprise while looking for a snack. I hadn’t seen my dolls for years, but when I picked the Frankenstein-mermaid doll again at age 20 and examined it as objectively I could, I saw it. My dolls were pretty damn creepy.
As unnerving as my dolls were, they had nothing on my Zoo. The cages for my Zoo were old shoe boxes with bars cut into the sides. Inside the boxes were dioramas featuring paper cut-out drawings of people who had hurt my feelings. The theme of their cage related whatever they had done to upset me. For example, a girl I overheard gossiping about my terrible swimming in the locker room after practice had a water-themed cage. She stood on a tiny island surrounded by shark and crocodile infested water. My fifth grade teacher definitely had a cage, and while I don’t remember the exact theme, it probably had something to do with math. A classmate who had been bothering me found herself trapped in a twisted play structure modeled after the one we played on at recess. My sister would have been in the Zoo, but my mother put her foot down on that one. I had about five cages in my Zoo before I stopped making them.
Looking back on the Zoo I’m simultaneously disturbed by myself and in awe of my own creativity. As weird as the Zoo was, it was an effective way of coping with hurt feelings, literally locking away my anger. I don’t recall holding a grudge for longer than it took to make a cage. Maturity has made things so complicated. There is so much more to process, discussions to have, decisions to make. It’s never as simple as putting your feelings in a box. Perhaps that’s why artists have a reputation for being immature. They find the simple solution to a complicated problem, and move on. And as effective as that is, it’s weird. Really, really weird.
#Makers #Creators #Dolls #Childhood
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