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July 31, 2011

It has no life . . .And then it does


By Dana Cameron    

Even though the heat wave has broken for some of us, I think we're all feeling a little oppressed by this summer on many levels.  So here's a chill for you:  puppets.
Get a little frisson there?  A shiver up the spine?  I did.  It was brought back to me last week, when I was touring with the editor and several of the Capecodnoir_books contributors to Cape Cod Noir (http://tinyurl.com/4yk6h9c).  We had four fun events, and talked about the despicable and hateful things our characters did, or compared them with the desperate and violent things other authors' characters did.  I talked about the amoral — or is she just misunderstood? — Anna Hoyt and her latest adventures “Ardent” and “Disarming,” now a podcast (http://tinyurl.com/3hzm96q), and the terrible, mortal choices she faces. No one batted an eyelash.  
 After the events, Mr. G and I went looking for dead things washed up on the beach, and visited the Edward Gorey House museum (http://tinyurl.com/ybz5f53), to see the home of the illustrator known for macabre and wonderful illustrations, most of which deal with wasting death, mourning, and what's hiding under your bed. So like most of you reading this, it's not like I'm unacquainted with the ooky or grim, but stepping into one room of the Gorey house, I was brought up as short as if I'd accidentally wandered into the Arachnid Hall of Fame. 
 Before I even saw them, something made me start to edge to the door.  There they were.  Along the opposite wall, was a row of doors, and on top of the doors were a line of hand-made puppets.  I was just about able to note that they were obviously Gorey-esque.  I broke out into a sweat.  I didn't run, but I kept one eye on them at all times, uneasy until I left the room. 
 I don't know what it is.  Maybe it's the human-like faces.  I think part of it is the shell of something waited to be animated by another force.  It has no life...and then it does ... and then after, it's an empty piece of cloth again.  Just ... waiting.
 Sure it's an existential thing, but I write about vampires and werewolves, the mutation of flesh, sex, power, and pure evil.  Hell, in my latest story (http://tinyurl.com/3zdmsf2), I write about a vampire having sex while Wildsidecover she fights pure evil.  Why the hang up over cloth or papier mache?  I'm not the only one:  Joss Whedon, among others, has revisited the horror of puppets repeatedly, in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel the Series, and, arguably, in Doll House.  There's even a word, pupaphobia, for the extreme fear of puppets (and not as I first thought, fear of puppies). 
Irrational, yes, and I can hear some of you saying:  But Dana ... we've seen you with puppets. In my defense, that started as a joke: I cheekily announced at a convention I would be doing interpretive dance, pole dancing, or sock puppets at another session. I opted for interpretive dance that day, but brought sock puppets another time (I'm only glad there wasn't a pole in the room). I've even bought finger puppets for friends.  But here's the thing: I don't like looking at them when they're not in use. I have puppets in the house, but I don't keep them where children can accidentally stumble over them.  Like the scenes in the Toymaker's apartment in Blade Runner, or the idea behind Being John Malkovich, you should have a little warning before you encounter puppets.
 Puppets are bad, but don't get me started about clowns.  Talk about chilling...
 No, seriously, talk about chilling.  What gives you the creeps?


 DanaCameronHeadShot Dana Cameron’s Fangborn story "Swing Shift" was nominated for an Agatha, an Anthony, and a Macavity this year; her third Fangborn story, "Love Knot," appears in "The Wild Side" August 2. Her third colonial noir adventure, "Ardent," was published in June. When not exploring the dark colonial past and the violent but hopeful lycanthropic present, Dana tries to avoid puppets, spiders, hot peppers, and big dogs.




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Cool post, Dana!

I have to admit, I'm not bothered by most puppets, most of the time, and am, actually, enchanted by the giant puppets that are part of the Bread and Puppets events.

But, what I do have problems with is having anything hanging over the bedposts of a bed, such as tossing a shirt so that the bedpost comes through the neck of the shirt or something like that. Makes me feel instantly claustrophobic. That's probably not a fear of puppets, though . . . .

I also am really uncomfortable when people carelessly say extreme things:
When I was in college, my freshman roommate said she hated periods so much, she just wanted to have everything taken out: a year later, she had a total hysterectomy because of cancer.
One of my patients (when told sugar was a source of 'food' for the cancer they were fighting) said 'I'd rather die than give up sugar', and, a few months later, did.


I have never been comfortable with women who wear lots of make-up, I always wonder what they are hiding being all of it. The whole botox/face filler phenomena just adds to the feeling of disingenuousness.

I think it is an extension of the whole creepiness from clown make-up. Ugh. Clowns.

The only puppet I like is Pinocchio.

Dana, I agree with you on not liking big dogs, I especially get creeped out by some big dogs, their owners barely hanging onto the leash saying those lovely words "don't worry, he's friendly". Back away slowly and keep walking.

The elders used to teach us that we did not put faces on the cornhusk dolls, because that would invite a spirit with evil intent to enter the doll and invade the child who plays with it. Having facial features would allow the child, or adult creator, to see the being a d attach to it, giving it the opportunity to invade. So when you see cornhusk dolls without faces, that is why.

While I was a student, at the elders' request, I cared for the Seneca masks at my school's museum. I found it very frightening, because normally we don't look at them. They are supposed to be hung facing the wall, but you can't do that in a museum. Fortunately the museum holds these for study and do not display them, as requested by the tribes. I was working on the repatriation project and hope they have by now been returned to the tribe. There are many ritual objects such as these with great power, and they must be treated with respect.

What led me to care for them was a series of dreams where they appeared to me, flying toward my face silently calling out to me. I was living in California at the time. I was then recruited to my school in Massachusetts. While visiting the museum, across the street from my dorm room, where my room was located - totally without selection on my part. I would never have chosen a room that allowed me to see into the windows of that musem, a museum out of my childhood, where bodies and skeletons are stored along with sacred ritual objects of the People. No one I knew would have personally placed me there.

I was visiting the tribal collections in storage with an elder one day, and an officer of the museum offered me a student job identifying the Iroquois collection for the purpose mandated by the new repatriation laws related to Native "artifacts." I called an elder back home, and she contacted elders who interpreted my dreams and the circumstances surrounding my return to Massachusettes for graduate school. I needed to ask their advice and receive their permission to care for the masks and other ritual objects. After my first visit to the masks, performing the rituals I was taught, the masks stopped appearing in my dreams. The room they were stored in, although the windows were walled over on the inside -- faced my dorm room across the street. I had to keep my shades closed all the time I was there, but of course it really didn't keep their spirits away.

Holy #$%!, Batman, those puppets are creepy! And this is from a person with a shelf of voodoo dolls in her office.

I LOVE Edward Gorey! "B is for Basil assaulted by bears." LOLOL. I want to go to that museum. I just might have to skip the puppet area.

PS - I own a Jane Austen finger puppet. She's not creepy.

Dana I have nothing against soft fuzzy puppets, but I can't stand Punch and Judy types. I really miss your archeological mysteries. I thought they were wonderful. Hope you write more someday.

New purpose for puppets: I use them when Skyping with my grandchildren! My grandson loves African animals, so I have a lion, giraffes and an elephant that are very chatty. Will the new generation grow up with a whole new set of phobias??

My middle daughter and her best friend, both very creative, spent an entire summer turning bags of singleton socks, yarn, buttons, ribbons, scrap fabrics, and everything else I could throw their way into making puppets. We were treated weekly, at least, to crazy puppet shows that made zero sense, but had the girls completely thrilled and entertained.

Now my daughter is an engineer, and her friend is a stylist in Chicago who also makes charming and goofy stuffed animals like none you've ever seen before:


I have nothing against puppets, but I admit that marionettes freak me out. Oh, and Chuckie.

Nancy, that's brilliant. And I am stealing it, tout suite!

Dana! I always knew you were my kind of people. I hate Pinnochio, always have. I did like Charlie McCarthy, though, although I wouldn't want to live with him. Also love muppets. Lovev Lambchop. But Pinnochio gives me the Chuckie creeps.

Reine, What a cool dream story!

Laraine, I totally get that; extreme language can feel like a pronouncement. Gaylin, I think what it is about clowns is they're trying to make me laugh, and I always suspect they're not laughing under the makeup. Reine, what a powerful story! I'm glad you were able to find the interpretation to your dreams. Ramona, the house is wonderful (as is Gorey's work), and the puppets are part of a temporary exhibit on his connections with the performing arts (and I have a Dorothy Parker finger puppet too!). Peach, thank you! I'm working on an Emma short story right now (and I dislike P+J hugely!). Nancy, I think that's wonderful! No phobias there, just wonderful memories of their awesome grandma! Karen in Ohio, what a great, creative activity: I actually did something similar when I was a kid, and we did puppet shows at nursing homes and hospitals. Arrgh, NancyP! Marionettes and Pinnochio--the worst! But Muppets rule, so I guess we're not true pupaphobes.

P.S. The puppets in your pictures, Dana . . . they really are spooky. Even though I don't mind puppets in general, I don't want to have ones around that bring to mind 'shades' and dark spirits!

NancyP: I loved Lambchop as a child, but when I grew up and saw Shari Lewis continuing into old age to mug with that scrap of fleece, it started to feel sort of creepy.

Muppets?? Yes!!

I avoid hot peppers, too, Dana. Puppets are OK, but those in your photo are creepy, even for Gorey. I have a Gorey print in my office,where I can see it. Beardsley's Poe drawings are on another wall.
Now I have to see the Gorey museum.
TLC road trip??

Laraine, I think it's because they are very human...and very NOT human, all at the same time. Elaine, LOVE Beardsley, for the same reasons I love Gorey, so sign me up for that TLC road trip!

You guys know me, I'm always up for a road trip!

Laraine, Shari Lewis used to be such a nice lady, until she sang that stupid "Song That Has no End". Grrr.

NancyP, I don't even think of the Muppets as puppets! Aren't they real???

Did you know that you can have a custom-made Muppet of your very own? My son-in-law made one made to look just like his wife. She uses it for singing puppet shows with my grandchildren. It's weird to see, but fun.

OKay, we're an entertaining bunch.

No Lambchop for me, and does anyone remember Kukla, Fran, and Ollie? I think my deep mistrust might have started with them. ::shudder::

Nancy, I bet it's odd to see a puppet doppleganger, but I can imagine the kids are amused!

I brought a dragon puppet home with me from L.A., but I haven't really used him, maybe someday. Meanwhile, he just sits around reminding me of what a good time I had telling my Sheherazade story and meeting Laraine.
Many of my storytelling friends have puppets, and the children do love them. I've even had some short workshops on how to move them and look at them to make them more personable.
I would NEVER have puppets as creepy as that photo . . . yikes!!

Gaylin, Muppets are most definitely real!!

Gaylin, awww. Why, of course they're real, sweetheart! I was just kidding.

It's interesting, Storyteller Mary, what a powerful and subversive form of communication puppetry can be. I like that you have a dragon that brings back great memories!

Dana, your doors and their puppets photo reminds me of a Dia de los Muertos altar . . . http://www.blog.lapuntarealty.com/archives/446

You know, Reine, Gorey had a collection of Dia de los Muerots images, so I wouldn't be surprised if his puppets were inspired by them!

Okay, make that "Muertos!"

Heh - the blu-tak from Ace slipped off the end of my chpstick! hand-corrections are a suckfest. :|

Walking is highly overrated.
Reading a book is not.

I wonder if his muertos collection is online. do you have a URL?

Walking is highly overrated.
Reading a book is not.

Dana, sorry, I van't quite finish the message but hope you get the gist. Looking forward to reading your stories.

I am so glad to know that the Muppets are real! Did you see they have a new movie out. Swoon, Kermit is such a heartthrob . . .

I'm okay with puppets, Dana, but ventriloquists' dummies? Don't get me started!

Also, clowns are always creepy. Always.

And I'm sorry, Reine, but a faceless doll is easily as scary as one with a face. Cornhusks or not.

Hah, Harley . . . yeh. I had to give my cornhusk dolls away. It was like seeing an owl in the tree outside your bedroom. Not a good thing.

Karen: no earwigs, NO Earwigs! (re: Shari's singing)

Lalalalalalala . . . .

Laraine, do you mean earworms? LOL

Oh Dana, I do remember Kukla, Fran, and Ollie. I stil have nightmares of Madame Oglepuss and that dragonny animal... eeeeeeeeesh!

But ohhhhgod when I found out that Paul Winchell invented the first artificial heart... well, Jerry Mahoney took an even more bizarre place in my memory.

Scary: puppets (except for Muppets, which as mentioned, are not really puppets...why do you think they start with an "M"???), clowns, mimes, dolls in general, and mimes. Have I mentioned mimes?

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