I love teddy bears. Not just bears. Stuffed toys. I love cute little stuffed toys. I own several. Throughout my life, especially as an adult, this was not a fact that I shared with too many people because our culture frowns on an adult man having affection for stuffed toys let alone owning any or many.
I have been working on this post for several days, and I have to say that I am a bit nervous about presenting it. This is not an easy confession to make, and it feels like a huge risk. And yet, in keeping with the spirit of the blog as a journal of my life and of taking ownership for all aspects of my identity, I no longer feel like hiding and keeping secrets.
So, I am letting the teddy bear out of the bag.
I no longer want to be in the teddy bear closet.
Okay, not to be flip about that "closet" that we use to describe the place people hide their sexual identity from the world until they feel safe and/or brave enough to come out. For many of those people, their identity has been shoved so far into the back of the closet that it takes years for them to step out into the light, if they can ever do it at all. I am sensitive about the closet, so please do not mistake my analogy for being flip and in any way minimizing the difficulty and pain that some people experience as they struggle with the chrysalis of identity.
But my analogy is apt. And this is very much in keeping with one of the main purposes of this blog: to reveal, to uncover secrets, to confess, to be me.
This confession today and what it means to make such confessions reminds me of a musical from the 1970s made famous by Marlo Thomas: Free to Be You and Me. The title seems to reflect one of the themes I am exploring in this blog.
Or as James Taylor said: BSUR (Be aS yoU aRe). Same concept.
About the bears: The brown bear in the picture below is "Yukio," named for Japanese writer Yukio Mishima, who seemed like a kindred spirit when I read part of one of his novels, but in the end was not a kindred soul to me at all (though an interesting person with a good pen name). Ultimately, as for Japanese writers, I liked Kawabata's novels better and later, even more, Haruki Murakami. The other bear in the photo farther below, obviously, is Winnie the Pooh. Both bears are second generation bears. My first brown bear (seen in the final photo of me with many stuffed animals in the lower right corner of the shot) was named Timmy or Tim. I am not sure where this came from as I named the bear when I was two or three years old. As you can see he is still barely intact, very threadbare and fragile with his stuffing coming free in many places. The original Pooh also came apart at the seams, even though he received a new shirt made by one of my first girlfriends, which prolonged his life a few years. She was one of the first people I trusted with my secret love of teddy bears, and she did not judge or mock.
As for the shirt in the photos, for those not acquainted with FAO SCHWARTZ, it is a very famous toy store, located in New York City on Fifth Avenue across from the equally famous Plaza Hotel and just south of Central Park. FAO Schwartz was featured in the film Big, as Tom Hanks' character played there with a toy CEO and won himself a job in a toy company. Anyway, back to my subject about the teddy bears.
For many years, I was a closet teddy bear lover. And for many years, into my adult years, I continued to sleep with my teddy bears, secretly. This was a fact that I shared with very few people mainly because I did not know if I could trust people not to judge and mock. This was a part of myself about which I could not abide any mocking. For instance, during one quarter at college, I hung poster boards from the ceiling all around my bed mainly so I could sleep with my teddy bears without being seen. The teddy bears (two) were kept hidden under blankets or in a drawer. My roommate thought I wanted privacy for sex with girls, which is also part of the motivation of the poster board curtains. But since my then girlfriend was in New York for most of the quarter, the main reason was privacy for sleeping with my teddy bears. In graduate school, I met a guy about my age who also slept with a teddy bear. We had a good talk about it one time, but I never "outed" his sleeping practice to others, and he kept my secret as well. Throughout these adult years, when I was in a relationship and sleeping with a woman, then I left the teddy bears off the bed. But when sleeping alone, it was back to the snuggle with the bears.
As I share about this topic, a part of me wants to lash out. There's a part of me that is angry about the way people make judgments of others, of elements of people's identities, and I want to lash out and call those people names, call them shallow, or find other ways to needle their insecurities. But this strikes me as antithetical to what I am advocating here. My whole point about love of toys, stuffed toys in particular, is LOVE. The toys are just a manifestation and vehicle for recalling and focusing the emotions. In so doing, I cultivate an aspect of my personality that makes me a sensitive and caring individual. I would be violating my principles of love and forgiveness if I lashed out at the stone throwers. The whole point of my principles is to NOT be that way, to not invite the bad karma.
"Light of the world, shine on me, love is the answer; shine on us all, set us free, love is the answer."
I am always amazed at how the language of talking about an issue like this one mirrors things like a hidden sexual identity. The judgments against are just as harsh, the culture just as crushing and intolerant, the feelings just the same. I am reminded of a subject that came in one of the Jill Bolte Taylor videos that I shared in T-shirt #161. Contrary to what we may believe, we are not thinking creatures who feel, but rather, we are feeling creatures who think.
In a discussion with my therapist last week, he praised me for the bravery of putting myself out there with this blog as my vehicle. I explained that I have never had too much trouble with confession as most of my stories and poems in my college years were confessional and exposing. And yet, perhaps, this is not true. I did write confessional stories and poems, but the confessions were a fiction and filled with lies. I did not really reveal my true self. I did not really take risks. I created the illusion of taking risks, and I lied. I used fiction and poetry as a way to manipulate my audience, and mostly just for shock and awe.
And there were many things I kept close to the vest, kept to myself, kept secret.
My love of teddy bears and my relationship with teddy bears was one of those secrets. And I think I was right to keep it a secret. Our culture is not ready for true difference. There are expectations to which we are expected to conform. There are molds into which we are expected to fit. And for those who do not meet those expectations and fit those molds, judgement is harsh and severe. Though there are not religions rallying dubious Biblical text against the lifestyle of an adult who sleeps with teddy bears, the practice is associated with emotionally undeveloped people and serial killers (Psycho for example; Texas Chainsaw Massacre for another). The practice is also associated with Freud's animistic universe, in which everything is alive and imbued with spirit, which Freud judged as a childish worldview that we all out grow as we develop. However, I do not see the practice of loving teddy bears as one that signals lack of emotional development. Rather, I think the practice reveals true emotional development. This is the same issue that I began exploring in T-shirt #128 with the promise of more exploration to come.
Why is the sacrifice of so-called "childish things" a sign of maturity? Is the pain of separation from beloved aspects of childhood truly a required step in the maturing process? Is there no value in these aspects of childhood?
And these lessons lead me to question what we consider as maturtity. If maturtity is defined as sacrificing beloved things or repressing/denying feelings so as to "let go" and "move on," then perhaps the emotionally undeveloped and damaged are not the people who still cleave to childish things but rather the people who are denying themselves the joy of the things that they love because the things are no associated with "adulthood."
Holding on to the feelings born in me during childhood makes me a more highly developed and sophisticated person not less so. I am not cutting away beloved aspects of my life and repressing feelings of love and affection. Instead, I embrace these parts of myself and work to keep all aspects of my psyche in balance.
Balance is key. Being lost in the animistic universe and neglecting responsibility is immature, though there are times to be lost in that peaceful, loving, and accepting world, again as explored in the Jill Bolte Taylor videos that I shared in T-shirt #161. My history with teddy bears does not make me less of a man, but rather it makes me a stronger man. I am a man who is not afraid of his feelings, not afraid to make himself vulnerable by showing love, expressing love, and ultimately, accepting love from others.
Some may argue that I was clinging to childhood and not moving forward with my life. There may be some truth to that claim, but, still, life changed around me, life continued to flow, and I flowed with it. I always vowed to myself that I would not give up the teddy bears until I was ready. Ultimately, I did stop sleeping with them, but only when I was comfortable with the decision and ready to move into a new phase of expressing love and affection with the love of my life, my wife, Liesel.
Of course, and now, ALSO, I have a puppy with whom I can snuggle.
Last thought that did not fit in with the flow in the text above: My sister is seven years younger than me. Because of the difference in our ages, I became her entertainer, her story teller, which is in part why I like to tell stories and in part why she likes to read stories so much. When we were working together to select a few stuffed animals for her to take with her on a family vacation, I invented a story that would provide a running narrative for most of her childhood.
I created the Protectors Five and Company, a crack-jack team of super-powered stuffed animals and dolls that were guardians for me and my sister when travelling with our parents, who were secret agents for the government posing as an architect and his wife. Since my sister had more than five dolls, I added the "and company" as other animals and/or dolls would guest star along with the core group of five, such as the Camel with the Wrinkly Knees or Evinrude the Dragon. The core group of five consisted of Benji, the dog; Baby Dreams, who was sort of modeled on Miss Piggy; Paddington Bear; Snoopy; and Scooby Doo. I created many stories for my sister by acting out detailed and involved narratives during our trips and keeping her entertained, especially on long car rides. I typed out some of these stories and even illustrated others in a comic book format with my sister, as we would alternate doing the art work for the pages.
I hope she thinks fondly of these stories and these times. I know I do.
We could all use the Protectors Five and Company in our lives, and, really, that's the whole point I am trying to make today about stuffed animals and teddy bears.
Check out these relevant videos from Free to Be You and Me and one more: "Love is the Answer."