“Teddy and Daruma” by Allen S. Weiss

Like the shaman from his cave, Teddy (yes, Teddy, my teddy bear!) finally emerged, resurrected after a hibernation of forty years, with what particular wisdom I cannot say. I have no idea if Teddy is an adept of Zen, but I am sure that the roly-poly Daruma who now shares, alongside a bizarre pin-cushion doll, his tiny abode – a knitted ski cap full of embroidered galloons – knows by heart the famed kyōgen Jizō’s Dance, about a wandering monk who asks for shelter for the night, but is refused because of the strict interdictions against lodging travelers. After repeated pleading, the owner agrees to at least take in the monk’s large precious straw hat, and soon afterwards the monk appears, as if by magic, under the hat, arguing that as long as he stays beneath the hat, it is the hat that is sheltering him, and not the house, so no law is broken. The owner, amused, agrees to the arrangement, and in repayment for the kindness the monk does a dance that is the finale of the piece. In the manner of true Zen humor, Teddy’s compatriot Daruma relishes the fact of living not under a hat transformed into a shelter, but inside a hat. Superficially, it might seem easy to interpret a world where there are so few elements: a hat, three occupants, eight galloons. To describe it, one might think of a cheap magic trick, or the stage of a destitute childrens’ theater straight out of Dickens, or an addendum to Through the Looking-Glass, rather than of an entire world. But it is grandiose: heaven and earth transposed, a coincidentia oppositorum, a corpus hermeticum for our times. Teddy’s very eyes are an allegory of this primal conflict, one that sees straightforward and clearly with the acuity of an eagle, the other askew and askance; approbation and disapprobation in the crossing of the eyes, a perpetual double-bind that touches all that his gaze falls upon. Can one possibly attempt the interpretation of a world where everything is already its double, its opposite? The calculus is incomprehensible, and with just the thought of it I am already lost in the labyrinth of infinite semiosis!

I have no idea as to what is happening within the terribly confined quarters that house Teddy, Daruma and the disquieting pin-cushion doll whose identity and origin are a total mystery, just as I have little idea about what is going on inside Teddy’s mind. In fact, I even wonder about the reality of Daruma, he who at one point spent nine years staring at a wall in a cave, and, having briefly fallen asleep during the seventh year, immediately cut off his eyelids so as to prevent such an indiscretion from happening again. Is his presence yet one more incarnation of Bodhidharma, during yet another moment of his endless travels, having alighted here because he somehow sees interaction with Teddy as a path to the salvation of humanity? Or is he an emanation of Teddy’s mind, whether stemming from unconscious guilt at having slept so long, or from religious fervor at finding a compatriot who so complements, by sheer antinomy, his long-lived lethargy? Or perhaps Teddy has chosen, for simply pragmatic reasons, an adherent whose zealously wakened state will guarantee vigilance in case Teddy once again falls asleep for an extended period? Or is Daruma just a drinking buddy? As for the sinister pin-cushion doll, I won’t even begin to speculate, fearing what I may find.

Ultimately, it is impossible for me to tell whether Teddy’s domain – the world in a hat – is cosmos or chaos. But then, who can really distinguish ostensible accumulation from hidden organization, who can know object from allegory, reality from symbol? I even wonder what Teddy is to me, and me to Teddy.

[Excerpted from The Autobiography of Teddy, forthcoming.]

For more by Allen S. Weiss, please see the WiK piece about his 2016 book, The Grain of the Clay, or his Manifesto for the Future of Landscape where you can find an overview of his biodata and multifarious creations.  (His Author Page with amazon can be viewed here.)