The Papier-Mâché Buddha: A Meditation on Love, Creation, and Shame
There was this weird time in my late teens I don’t think I’ve ever written about.
Over the course of a couple of weeks, I stole some found chicken wire, piles of old newspapers, flour and a large mixing bowl, and I crawled up into the garage rafters for some of my dad’s old hockey sticks and a saw. I hid all of it in the back of my deep closet and only took them out at night so I could measure them against each other and decide what to make. I knew that I wanted to build a large papier-mâché sculpture, but its exact form wasn't clear to me yet. The why of it, and its covertness, eluded me, too.
Once I had all the materials I needed, I taped and nailed the bones of the piece together in my basement bedroom. As I moulded the chicken wire around the wood and wads of paper, its shape was revealed, slowly growing itself into a three-and-a-half-foot green clown Buddha with Xes for eyes and a yellow cola screw cap for a nose. He might not have been green, though, because while I thought a lot about how I’d paint him at the time, I don’t think I actually did. It took me three or four days to build him, and the whole time my room smelled like wet dough and must. I doubt he ever dried enough for painting.
When I was done building him, or however done he became when I stopped, I sat on the floor and looked at him for a long time. I didn't want to fall asleep and have someone accidentally see him, so I stayed awake until the early morning, thinking about why he might be there. When I pressed my ear to one side and gave him a solid pat with the flat of my hand on the other, his interior contained a dull, low thud that I liked. He was heavy and soft, an intimate. I held him around his belly, and whispered into the drum of his navel that he was safe.
There were parts where the glue hadn’t even dried all the way through when it was time to destroy him, but I peeled away his wet sections and pulled the nails out anyway. There was no other way I could sleep. His materials fought against me, and I sweat while I scissored through glued paper and pulled at wire with the hammer claw. I laid him down on the floor as detached chunks of paper stuck to wire stuck to wood that I could carry, and when it was about two in the morning and no one else was awake, I made several trips out of the house with the pieces pinned under my arm, stuffing the garbage of him into different neighbours' bins up and down the block.
I told no one about him, and no one ever saw him. I kept my room locked and took no photos. No one would see what I had done. I didn’t want anyone to ask me why I made anything. It felt as though I would have to explain the specifics of why I masturbated. I adhered to this compelling idea that everything I made that I loved would have to be created in secret and secretly destroyed to hide the shame of creation.
The next day, when everything was gone, I vacuumed and burned incense until I couldn’t smell the paste and newspaper anymore. I scrubbed the crusty leavings of my flour-and-water papier-mâché paste out of the carpet with a toothbrush, and it was done.
This memory is so displaced, so seemingly rootless, that I doubt it sometimes. I can't fix it into an exact year, and I can't recall any of its supporting characters. Did I see my friends during that time? Was I in school? What season was it?
When I feel creatively lost and hollowed out, like my heart's gone on a walkabout, there is this damp, secret Buddha in my mind's eye, and I must think about him again and wonder why he's still hanging around the edges in a half-remembered dream. I wonder where all his parts ended up, if the wood has rotted out or the wire rusted through. When I'm feeling hopeful, I wonder if the landfill has preserved his pieces out there southwest of my home city so that he is still lying in parts, a puzzle for the piecing.