07 November 2006

What is real?

This one is from the archives. I rediscovered it when, whilst pursuing something else through the back issues of Quality Digest, I found a reference to it in an article by its editor (at that time, Technical Editor) Dirk Dusharme.

In a piece built around Margery Williams' The Velveteen Rabbit, he had quoted an anecdote of mine, from February 1998. That anecdote still moves me deeply, most of a decade later, so here it is in slightly tidied up form:

I saw a small drama played out this afternoon.

I was "babysitting" an exhibition; the organisers can't afford to pay for the invigilation required by the insurance, so a lot of people have volunteered on 3hr shifts for the month it runs. It's an exhibition of puppet art -- everything from Japanese shadow puppets through punch and Judy
to animatronics and body puppets.

One exhibit, "Miss Moody", is a life sized puppet of an old woman asleep in an armchair. When anyone steps on the carpet around her, she starts chuckling and talking in her sleep. It was particularly popular with children, who experimented to see what did and didn't set her off -- a large school bag seemed to be heavy enough, a teddy bear wasn't.

One little girl came in with her parents, at a time when the place was otherwise empty. Once she had discovered Miss Moody, she squatted in front of her (on the mat) for about ten minutes, watching closely as Miss M moved and chuckled to her self. Then she said "Are you real?"

She didn't get any reply, of course. She waited about a minute, then asked again: "Are you real?"

She tried the question about a dozen times. Then she gave up and moved away. As she turned, she saw me, sitting at the desk, and came across. Standing in front of me, she asked the same question: "Are you real?"

"Yes" I said "I'm real".

She looked at me silently for a long few seconds, then said "How can I know?" Then she walked off to find her mother before I could think of a reply.

What answer should (or could) I have given?

No comments: