Earlier this month I was biking home from work along Carling Ave, and noticed a bedraggled looking stuffed toy of some kind at the side of the road. By the time I processed what it was, I was already almost a block away. The next day, it was still there, and looking pretty rough. This is right outside the Civic Hospital, so my first thought was that a little kid had been visiting someone in the hospital and had dropped the toy on the way out. But, it was rainy, I was cold and who picks up toys from the street?
All week I biked by that toy. Each day I noticed more details; like that it was a stuffed rabbit, it had wings and I continued to invent an increasingly complex backstory. It has been a really rainy spring, so that poor stuffed bunny was getting absolutely marinated in muddy water. The whole thing reminded me of the Velveteen Rabbit–a story that still chokes me up. I even caught myself thinking about that little stuffed bunny on Friday night as I was trying to fall asleep. My parents used to give me a hard time for personifying absolutely everything, and obviously it is not something I have entirely grown out of. I resolved on that sleepless Friday night, that if the bunny was still there when I biked home on Monday, I would stop and pick it up.
My mind kept wandering to the bunny and it’s mystery bereaved child owner throughout the weekend. Monday was another rainy day, and as I came up to where the bunny had been, I started to actually worry that it wouldn’t be there anymore–that it had been pulverized by some passing car, or chewed to pieces by a dog. But, sure enough, there she was, propped up against a bus shelter, apparently waiting for a ride.
Now my plan had been to subtlety stop, lean down and scoop her up quickly, without drawing attention to what must look like sad-assed scavenging. Now that she had been moved across the sidewalk, it was not going to be as subtle a rescue as I had hoped. There was also a man standing next to her waiting for his own ride. I briefly considered just continuing on, but the idea of the resulting (though illogical) guilt finally encouraged me to fake bike problems, pull over and then very obviously pick up a wet, muddy gunge sodden toy, and stick her on the back of my bike. Her ride had arrived.
The little bunny had indeed suffered a lot of damage–I couldn’t even bleach all of the mud out. She needed extensive resewing, and a dye job at the very least. I wanted to hide my weird behaviour from my husband, who would no doubt roll his eyes and be thoroughly disgusted. I wracked my brain trying to figure out why I had become so focussed on this stuffed disaster of a toy, and it finally the long forgotten narrative started to gel in my mind.
When I was a kid, I had a stuffed bunny. I don’t know what happened to it. Hopefully nothing as sad as being dropped in the mud by the side of the road. When I was in university, I was given a similar bunny as a prop for a play I was in, and I developed a strong sentimental attachment to it. It went with me everywhere–after all, it did help me get into character. I even “liberated” it at the end of the show. I kept that bunny with me all my adulthood, until 2 years ago when we moved to our current home. In a fit of pre move nerves and clutter claustrophobia, I donated all of my stuffed toys and old memorabilia and keepsakes, including Bunnikins. It took 2 years and a beaten down scraggly stuffed bunny for the remorse to hit.
OK, so why am I writing about this of an art and teaching blog? Well, believe it or not, I do have a very practical nature. I am currently in the process of trying to refurbish this little toy and it got me thinking about waste in general. So much of what we own is disposable and even the things that aren’t tend to be replaced at an increasing pace. I think it would be a good exercise–both artistic and conservational, to have the kids salvage and refurbish old toys. Not only would they learn some practical skills like rudimentary sewing, fabric dyeing and have the chance to work with a few tools, but they could reinvent and divert an otherwise discarded, landfill destined… thing. When you think about it, the pedagogical possibilities are endless. Having students take a salvaged object and invent and develop it’s back story could be massaged into both a Language and/or drama focussed assignment. Finding a new home, could involve some community research and outreach; what organizations could use these reinvented toys? They could even base their redesigns on the ‘specs’ provided by a given organization. It certainly plays into my love of creative problem solving–and maybe, just maybe, it will encourage students to reconsider whether they need to toss their old unstylish, outdated bit of tech, or piece of clothing, or simply give it a creative upcycle.