And Then I Fell Out the Window

Life, examined and punted around

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Adventures of a Living Statue Part 3

The hardest part is first getting settled. People already have their eye on me because I’m in a flower-covered, 15″ tall wig. My newest addition to your costume, a vintage veil from Goodwill, is aesthetically stunning but also makes my wig tilt back precariously. My biggest fear today is that I’ll tilt my head wrong and the wig will just come toppling off, and the illusion of some mystic statue fortune giver will melt into a frozen bald girl with a white face.

This doesn’t happen, though. Instead I get settled, full jar of fortunes at the ready, folding fan in the other hand. Then it’s the waiting game for who will be the first. This is my first time being a statue at the evening farmers market. I’m hoping people will come once the market is in full swing, but for now I’m just being watched by a couple old guys on a bench by the burrito truck.

My glazed-eye stare rests on the Local Burrito truck. Local Burrito has a Facebook and a Tumblr, I learn. Then a woman comes toward me, bends and drops a dollar in my basket. I  smoothly shift to life, bending and offering out my jar of fortunes. She takes one and smiles at me, and I am energized.


The market ends up being a great choice because of one big thing: KIDS! Toddlers and children are at the market with their parents, and point and gawp and sometimes, sometimes I come to life for them and I see their look of astonishment. Some come up to me with a parent-given dollar, afraid of me at first, but when they shyly came up and I bent, smiled and met their eyes, they were usually delighted. That was worth it all.

One young girl stopped with her mom to give a dollar, then they sat on the bench in front of me because the girl wanted to keep watching me. “You think she’s pretty?” The mom asked. “Yes, she does look like she is at a wedding with her veil. …No, my hair wasn’t that tall when I got married. It was a bun at the side of my neck.” And I listening as the mom had a conversation with her daughter.

Something about being a living statue is addicting. Maybe it’s moments like when the man stopped for a fortune, read it, then came back and gave me another dollar. “One for me and one for the horses,” he said. “This is really wonderful. You made my day.” I wonder which fortune he got.

Or maybe it’s just getting to overhear conversations, to stand still and watch people and soak up humanity like a sponge.  1262890_10100299544438059_1617618150_o

I couldn’t do this every day, and possibly not even every week, but it is a singular experience to look at yourself in a street window reflection and see a rather magnificent doll instead of a human being, to interact with humans as an Other, then to come home, pull off the beehive that Marge Simpson would envy, and grab a beer, talking easily with friends in white face paint and enjoying the luxury of being you, a human being.

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Adventures of a Living Statue Part 2

For real this time. I struggle with the white makeup consistency, but I roll it around until my face is white, then on goes dark lipstick, darker eyeliner, five times more mascara than I wear on a night out. It doesn’t fully come together, though, until I pull on the 15″ high black beehive wig, which I have adorned with fake flowers and greenery and a bird. I literally put a bird on it. I look in the mirror and I’ve transformed into something other than me, something unusual and striking and what might strike some people at a glance as a statue.

The most awkward part of the entire morning is walking to my spot in the ped mall, but I just try to keep my teetering wig balanced and march down the street. I feel a bit better as passersby glance at me and then bust out in a grin. This is it, I think. I am doing this for real. 

It’s a sunny Friday morning, breezy. School has started back up, so all the kids except for the tiny ones are gone from the brick-paved ped mall. However, I find myself in that frantic week of university students moving in to prepare for the start of the school year, so the place starts bustling. Once I’ve found a good spot, all I need to do is put down my donation box, get my jar of fortunes at the ready, and stand still.

Standing still is hard. I’m sure that surprises no one. Things were slow at first, and there were long periods of standing. When people put a few coins or a dollar in my donation box it not only meant that I was getting a nice little tip, but it also meant I got to stretch a bit as I bent at the waist, pulled back my folding fan, and held a jar of fortunes out so that they could take one. Then it was back to the pose, trying to remain still, still, still.

The thing about standing still is that it is the ultimate meditation. You are forced into the moment and into what you are doing because you have one unblinking view ahead of you, and your brain is focused on keeping tabs on every single muscle and making sure it doesn’t stray too far from its position.

The other thing about standing still is that you become this strange mixture of very noticed and very invisible. You can stare blatantly at someone, watching them intently, and they will walk right past as if you are an inanimate object. And until someone drops a coin and releases you from your spell, you are an inanimate object. As physically taxing as that may be, it does make for the ultimate in people-watching.

I noticed how so many people walked with their faces glued to their phones. I realized that I was guilty of that so often–texting back a friend as I tripped over sidewalk cracks and electrical cords, and for all I know I could’ve passed by something unusual, something beautiful that I completely missed. I vowed as I stood there to pay attention to my surroundings more as I walked, if only just to soak up the beauty in the mundane. 

It was hardest to stay still at the reactions. The first person to drop money into my box was a friendly older lady. “You look beautiful,” she said. “Well done.” And in dropped a dollar. A dollar! Someone had given me a dollar just for standing, just for being.

A lot of people asked, “Wait…is that real?” “Oh, no, she’s real. I saw her blink.” 

“Oh my God, I love you!” An exuberant man came up to me, headphones around his neck. “Another street performance artist! Together we’re going to save this town! I love you! You’re awesome.” He tipped me, I bowed, gave him a fortune, and he called a friend. “Hey, man, you’ve got to come to the ped mall right now and see this street art! It’s awesome!” It was hard not to grin at that.

I made a concession for my rule that I would only move if money was dropped–when I saw little children I would bend, raise my fan, and wave it at them, then return to position.

Standing got more and more exhausting as the time went on. During long periods where nobody would stop, holding a position started to be unbearable. I could feel sweat trickle down the backs of my legs, and sometimes when a stronger breeze fluttered my robe, I could make tiny tiny movements to ease the tension a bit. 

Every time someone stopped or commented or dropped a moment, though, I got an energy reboot. Every time I was about ready to say, “Eh, it’s probably about noonish. I could pack up,” someone would come along in a few minutes and would stop to take a picture, to smile, to grab a fortune out of my jar and read it. Maybe they’d read it out loud to a friend, or maybe they’d just slip it in their pocket and go about their day. Either way I felt this bubble of happiness and connection.

It was four hours before I finally packed up and started back home. The arm that had been holding the jar was so sore I could barely rotate it, and my shoulders and neck were stiff, but it was all worth it. As I walked home, I slowly started to shed my statueness. Wig tucked under my arm, robe billowing out behind me. My ghost-white face still got some stares, of course, but I was me again, and I felt like a better me, a kinder me who noticed more.

And, when I went home and counted through the cash, I found I’d made about $32! $32 for 4 hours…that’s better than minimum wage. And no taxes deducted.

It wasn’t the money, though. That kind of money wouldn’t make it worth the time, the effort, the sore muscles afterward that carried into the next morning. The whole experience was transformative. I was able to connect with strangers in a far more intimate way than I ever could just observing from a park bench. And I really saw people, and heard them. I felt engaged, alive, and energized, even through the tedium of not being able to move a muscle.

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The Morning After

Your November 1sts can happen any day of the year if you did a living statue performance the day before. You wake up slowly on a bright blue Sunday, makeup still smudged between eyelashes despite last night’s scrubbing. Your wig sits in a basket. Sunlight streams through the window and the day is new and untouched and you are yourself again, and it feels especially wonderful to be yourself again.

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Adventures of a Living Statue

I’ve been wanting to do this for a while. For just an hour or two, I wanted to be a piece of art, something people would wonder about and maybe stand and interact with for a while. Inspired by Amanda Palmer’s post-college living statue, The Eight-Foot Bride, I wondered what it would be like.

Tonight was the test run. I didn’t put out a collection jar–I just brought a basket of hand-folded paper cranes, each with the same message sharpied across the paper: “Today has never happened, and it doesn’t frighten me” (Taken from a lyric snippet from Bjork’s song “Alarm Call”). I also wore a get-up of sorts, even though I didn’t have much in the way of costuming. A spangled tube top layered over a lacy shirt. Footless stockings converted into long fingerless gloves. Dark shorts and pink tights. Worn out purple Converses. Gold eyeshadow and heavy black eyeliner. Red lipstick. And the icing on the cake, the black and pink wig Mermaidhair gave me after I threw around the idea of getting a wig.

I went downtown tonight (a Saturday night, still busy despite the summer absence of college students) around 11 and parked myself on a busy corner, holding a simple standing pose, the basket held in one arm. I had created only a couple of rules. Rule #1. Don’t talk while being a statue. No matter what. Rule #2. Don’t move unless someone stops and approaches me or talks to me out of curiosity. If they do, I give them a paper crane from my basket, my gift to them.

I was so nervous when I set out. I prepared for the worst: Food thrown at me, getting shoved over, a random drunk grabbing my breast, swearing at me, stealing of cranes instead of accepting one. 

None of this happened. In fact, some of the responses I got I could never have prepared for.

One guy thought I was homeless. “Here…” He tucked a dollar bill into my basket and gave me a look of pity. “Can I buy you a slice of pizza or something?” I smiled and shook my head. 

Someone else thought I was actually mute, then asked me, “Hablas espanol?” 

Some people unwrapped the cranes to read the messages. Others just looked at it, thanked me, then moved on. 

A couple people tried to puzzle out what this was all for. 

“Are you from Anime Iowa?” Someone asked. Someone else commented on my being from some anime convention. Maybe I need to rethink my getup. I smiled and shook my head.

“Is this a religious thing? Philosphical?” A man with dark curly hair had a whole conversation with me, pressing me with yes or no questions. “Did you go to university here? No? Did you go to college somewhere? Yes? Oh, that’s interesting….is this thing that’s written here some kind of epiphany you had?” I shrug my shoulders and shake my head, still giving him a benevolent smile. 

He finally unwraps it and reads the message, then he touches his lower abdomen. “‘Today has never happened, and it doesn’t frighten me.’ Woah. My stomach hurts right here, just because this is so relevant to me. I have to ask you…shoot. I have a text.” He had to run then, but I couldn’t help falling in love with the man who’d been persistent enough to try and puzzle out the meaning of the statue girl handing out cranes for free on the sidewalk.

I got a little thrill out of knowing that I wasn’t doing it for a specific reason. I just had the urge to. I needed to try it, to interact with people in this strange, singular way. 

A couple young women loved the messages they unfolded from the cranes. “Did you fold these yourself?” Nod. “Wow. I’ve never seen anything like this. This is so cool.” I gave a smile and a bow of thanks then resumed my position.

It’s an unusually cold night for July in Iowa. I wiggled my toes in my Converses a lot, slowly shifted weight on the balls and heels of my feet, wished my long black wig wasn’t falling in front of my face like Samara from The Ring

I waited for the last crane to be taken. I had one crane left and three dollars in my basket–pretty good considering that I hadn’t had any kind of donation jar set up–and I waited for the last person to approach.

It was fascinating, being a mannequin and watching feet go by, listening to snippets of conversation that I would never have noticed if I had been rushing off to meet a friend at one of the bars.

The last person to approach was the man with dark curly hair. “Hey, I’m back. I just wanted to ask, is there something I should do for this? Is there–” I handed him the last crane, then I flung off my wig and flailed my basket around. “WOO-HOO! You got the last crane!” I laughed, then ran off, my joints rejoicing at the movement and my adrenaline pumping from the simple thrill of being strange.

I sort of wished I would’ve talked to him afterwards, but instead I went to Deadwood, used my three earned dollars for a cheap pint, and rubbed my sore muscles. Many passers-by probably thought I was a pathetic beggar, or a stupid waste of space. Some who accepted a crane probably threw it away into a trash bin a few blocks later, or crumpled it up and tossed it into the street. I don’t care. That’s not the point. Art isn’t permanent. 

I realized, as I was standing there, watching the streetlight change from green to yellow to red to green, that my idea of putting a message on the paper before I folded it into a crane was especially interesting, because the receiver of the crane is confronted with a choice: destroy the crane to read the message, or preserve the crane and remain in the dark about what the paper says? There is no right way to proceed.

I felt so alive–ironic, considering that I forfeited my humanity to be a statue that people talked about as if I were inanimate–and I will definitely be doing it again.