#ThrowbackThursday: Sock Puppetry, or: Showing Off and Hiding Out

I just ran across this post on my old blog, from September 2012. And it’s not a bad post, worth rereading. So here it is.

Sock Puppetry, or: Showing Off and Hiding Out

There’s this lovely term floating around the internet: sock puppetry. In case you haven’t run across it, it’s when people build themselves fake identities in order to make themselves (in their regular identity) look good. Say, for example, if I created multiple google accounts for myself, and then posted admiring responses to my own blog posts, that would be sock puppetry. (No, Steve made his own account, I had nothing to do with it. Excuse me? Who’re you to say that a bear with two-inch-wide fuzzy paws can’t type?)

But there’s another, subtler form of sock puppetry. Oh, perhaps it’s not technically called that. But I think it might well be. It’s when we portray one persona on the internet, but behind the scenes, things are really different.

 
I used to do puppetry in high school. Marionetteering, to be exact (handling marionettes, string puppets). I have some photos from the first show I was part of, a production of Dr. Faustus – not Goethe’s classical piece, but one closer to Marlowe’s original. My character (see picture) was the Duchess of Parma (I both handled and voiced her; we recorded the play on tape and then moved the puppets to that soundtrack for the performance). She’s a beautiful, elegant noblewoman who does some heavy-duty flirting with Faust, but doesn’t really get anywhere with it. But I was also Helen of Troy, a speechless specter which is used by Mephistopheles to seduce Faust away from his impending conversion. And I was a silly-looking demon, who, at the beginning of the play, gets rejected in favour of Mephistopheles (being a much more sophisticated-looking devil, the latter was obviously better suited to Faust’s purposes. I mean, he had a silk-lined cloak – how could my sackcloth-clad character compete with that?). But really, literally behind the scenes, where we stood on a little walkway holding the cross bars over the miniature stage on which we made the marionettes dance, hidden behind the backdrop, I was an awkward, naive eighth-grade girl who had a crush on the boy who manned the sound equipment (I think for the most part he was unaware of my existence).

When you’re doing puppetry, you can hide behind the backdrop. On the internet, you can be whoever you want to be. You can, all at the same time, show off and hide out. You can tell people in the breeziest of tones about your latest wonderful project, and make yourself sound like you’ve got it all together. But meanwhile, your world isn’t nearly so cheery and bright. You’ve been fighting fatigue and depression for weeks (or not fighting it, as it were). You’ve been dumped by a friend whom you were trying to help. Your beloved kitten has vanished; he’s almost certainly become coyote bait. Your garden is going to pot (no, not weed. Just weeds. And the plants you liked died of thirst). Your remaining kitty, the neurotic one, has gone and pooped in your bathtub (fortunately, you weren’t in it at the time). And so on.

I think it’s interesting that the word “person”, or “persona”, comes from the Latin or Greek word for “mask, character in a drama”. We wear masks. We play puppets; whether sock puppets or string puppets, it hardly matters. I don’t know if we can get away from it, from presenting one persona in one place, and another one in another; the whole of us just doesn’t fit on that little marionette stage.

Internet sock puppetry is offensive because it is meant to deceive. But perhaps it’s possible to play our puppet personas without deception. I don’t think anyone who watched that production of Dr Faustus, back in 1981, was  really under the impression that any of us were the characters we voiced and acted (well, if they thought that I was, in fact, a ten-inch-high Italian duchess, let’s leave them their illusions; they’re probably happier that way). Masks don’t have to mean deception. Sometimes they can even be protection. Sometimes it’s safer to hide behind the scenes, and the dusky lighting backstage can be comforting. So long as, at the end of the play, you step out from behind the curtain, and rejoin your friends and family who have come to watch you do your thing with the puppet on the string. So long as you’re not trying to deceive.

Life, the Universe, Showing Off and Hiding Out. Sometimes things are better on that tiny little stage.

Straw Berries

I was probably in my teens, visiting relatives in the Lake Contance region, the fruit basket of Germany, close to the Swiss border. We were going for a walk, and came by a large strawberry field. All along the ground beneath the plants was spread a thick layer of straw.

And all of a sudden the penny dropped: strawberries!

I was already familiar with the English word, which I had learned in school. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, “[t]here is no corresponding compound in other Germanic languages”; the German word is Erdbeere, earth (or ground) berry – presumably because they grow so low to the ground. But seeing that straw spread under the berries suddenly made sense of the English word.

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“What’s the straw for?” I wondered. Somebody explained (or maybe I figured it out myself, I don’t remember): it’s to keep the ripening berries from sitting and rotting directly on the damp soil.

It makes sense that in rainy England, it would have been common practise to protect the precious crop that way, and so have given rise to the name. Strawberries are extremely susceptible to wet: they can rot in a matter of hours on a rainy day, right on the vine, and even after they’ve been picked. (So if you’re picking strawberries, do it when the sun is shining; and if you’ve brought home a flat of strawberries from the farmer’s market on a soggy, dreary day, better get them into those jam jars or freezer bags ASAP, or you’ll lose half your purchase. Yes, I know that from experience.)

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I have no idea if “strawing” the berries is common practise anywhere, or is even done anymore back in the Lake Constance region. However, in my own garden, I actually got some strawberries for the first time this year (I don’t have much of a green thumb, so this is a triumph). And, well, I didn’t “straw” them, but I had a cardboard box of wood shavings around (I think they were left from somebody’s project). So I “sawdusted” the beds between the berries. Or one of them, anyway – I didn’t get around to the other one in time. And sure enough, the berries in the bed with the wood shavings were nice and clean; the other ones had dirt stuck to them and weren’t as happy-looking. I’m going to have to see about doing this again next year – I think grass clippings would work as well, or maybe even bark mulch.

And meanwhile, we’re going to enjoy this year’s strawberry harvest, the whole pound of it.

Life, the Universe, and the Straw in Strawberries. The best fruit ever.

PS: Old-fashioned strawberry jam: 1 kg of strawberries, 800 g of sugar. Mash the berries, mix with the sugar, bring to a rolling boil, boil for 10 minutes. Put in clean jars and cap to keep from drying out (doesn’t need to be sterilized or refrigerated; the sugar is preservative enough). Very sweet, very tasty, keeps in the cupboard for a long time (except it doesn’t because it gets eaten so fast).

Time

Time’s a funny thing. How long would you say three minutes is? Not very long, right? Not much you can do in that time.

But actually, I’ve recently been surprised by just what you can get done in that time span.

A friend of mine gave me this beautiful handmade microwave heating pad. It’s filled with flax seed, which makes for a lovely, comforting smell when it’s heated. Because that’s what you do with it: you pop it in the microwave for – you guessed it – three minutes, and then you cosy up on the couch and let it warm your back or your lap while you slowly wake up to the day. Or really, two minutes, and then you flip it over and do one more. But I’m usually lazy and just hit the 3 and let it buzz away.

But then I need something to do until those three minutes are up. I don’t want to sit down on the couch to wait, because it’s not enough time to get comfortable. So I putter around the kitchen.

This morning, I got a dozen jars of marmalade labelled and put in their box to go downstairs to the pantry while the pad was heating. If you’d have asked me, I would have sworn that task would take at least ten minutes. But no, I got the last “Marmalade 2020” written on the lid (first canning of 2020, how fun!) before that beep sounded.

It’s funny – I had the labelling of those jars on my mental list as a “job” to make time for before heading out for this year’s February trip to Europe. A much bigger deal than it turned out to be. And the reason I know it didn’t take long is that I had the microwave buzzing away for exactly those three minutes, giving me a clear and objective measure of time.

And then of course there are those times when you’re sure that you’ve only spent three minutes, but in fact it’s been half an hour…

Life, the Universe, and the Fluidity of Time. Is it just me, or do you have those experiences too?

The Twelve Days of Christmas…

…start tomorrow, Christmas Day. Twelfth Night, which is one of my favourite of Shakespeare’s plays (especially the 1996 film version with Imogen Stubbs, Helena Bonham Carter and Ben Kingsley), was written for a Twelfth Night party, the celebration to mark the end of the twelve days of jollification that in Ye Olde England(e) was the true period of Christmas.

Incidentally, I was just listening to Dickens’ Christmas Carol, and he mentions the Twelfth Night party, too, when the Ghost of Christmas Present takes Scrooge around to see people celebrating:

…the Christmas Holidays appeared to be condensed into the space of time they passed together. It was strange, too, that while Scrooge remained unaltered in his outward form, the Ghost grew older, clearly older. Scrooge had observed this change, but never spoke of it, until they left a children’s Twelfth Night party, when, looking at the Spirit as they stood together in an open place, he noticed that its hair was grey.

(from The Christmas Carol on Project Gutenberg)

Unlike in most film adaptations of the story, the Ghost of Christmas Present doesn’t just give Scrooge a single day’s worth of celebration, but good ol’ Ebenezer gets a condensed version of a span of almost two weeks. If that hadn’t cured him of his bah-humbuggery, there really wouldn’t have been any hope for him.

So, remember I said there’d be a surprise coming your way? It’s a twelve day long surprise! And it starts tomorrow…

Life, the Universe, and a Christmas Surprise! Just one more sleep…

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