It sounds silly, but I really believe that on more than one occasion, sock monkeys have saved me. The first time, it was when I was incredibly sick and in the hospital. It's a bit of a long story, but I was so sick I couldn't *do* anything but lay there. I couldn't talk, I couldn't even breathe right on my own. For the first couple of days, before the doctors could figure out exactly how to treat me, they had me in my own room. Mostly just in case I had swine flu. I didn't have swine flu, so after um... some number of days that I don't remember at all, they moved me to a more public "room" in the geriatric area of the hospital (this is because I needed so much care, I'm not *that* old).
I'm not ashamed to admit that I was scared. I was scared I wasn't going to make it out of the hospital, that I wasn't going to be able to move on my own ever again, and because I was on morphine, I was having HORRIBLE nightmares all the time. This was bad enough when I was in the bright, sunny room of my own. Once I was moved, there were a lot of people around me. All very sick as well and requiring lots and lots of care. What I remember most though, was the woman immediately adjacent to me.
I don't remember much, but I do remember when she was awake, she was yelling, throwing things, and when medication time came around (which it did frequently in that ward), she would scream. The nurses were all EXTREMELY patient with her, and did the a pretty exceptional job of trying to calm her down. Every time this happened though, I would be roused from my morphine induced nightmares into reality that was even more confusing. I was TERRIFIED, but next to me were Eli and Sirus, my sock monkeys. I'd cuddle Eli and while I would still be scared, it wouldn't be quite so bad.
It's hard to explain how something made of a pair of socks, a bit of stuffing, and some thread can make everything seem not so bad... but whatever it was, Eli monkey was there for me to snuggle just when I needed that most. It's harder to be scared when there's a cute, smiling face looking at you.
Every day I'd ask when I could go home, and every day the nurses would tell me "well get you out of here tomorrow." It was almost a week's worth of tomorrows before I could go home, but I did get out of the hospital. I wasn't back to normal, that took several months*. For a while, everything was a mess, then a friend (the wonderful Ninja Muse) asked me to do a photo project with her. I agreed, but not being a photographer, I just took photos of Eli and Sirus as they had different adventures. This was in December, so when Christmas rolled around, I knew I had to do something big. Something cool. Something with more than just two sock monkeys and whatever other stuffed animals I had around the house.
I needed MORE MONKEYS!!!
To me, this is when I really started to get better. My body had been... not normal, but acceptable for months, but my life was broken and I didn't have a clue how to fix it. I have my Ninja Muse and George (as well as Eli and Sirus) to thank for that. It took me about three months before I was willing to let one of my monkeys out into the world. Mostly because when I first started making them, I didn't know how to sew. I started with a sad little $20 sewing machine because I didn't think it was something I COULD do.
I'm stubborn though, so I kept at it. I kept thinking "Grannies have been making these for decades. I'm going to figure this out damn it!" Eventually, Ninja Monkey (the very first Ninja Monkey) was released into the wild. Well, he was sent to live in the care of Imaginary Ninja, who needed a muse because hers just wasn't working. Sock monkeys make very, very good muses, when THE Ninja Muse isn't available that is!
Now, I'm very much better. I'm healthy enough that I can do the things that I want to. My life still isn't perfect, but it's good enough. It's not BAD by any means, just tough sometimes. Thankfully, it's now the normal, I can deal with this type of difficult. I still have the sock monkeys to get me through the hard times. Now, I'm sending out monkeys on a regular basis to help put smiles on other people's faces. I make a lot of monkeys to be auctioned off at charity events. I wish I could give a monkey to every kid who really needs a pal to bring along to the scary places. I still bring Eli and Sirus with me when I have to go into the hospital for things. When I was in the recovery room after having surgery, one of the nurses said "OH! the sock monkeys-- over that way," when one of my family members was coming to see me.
Being a sock monkey maker wasn't in my life plan, but even with the bad things that had to happen to spark that to happen, I'm glad it did. I don't generally think about how sick I was back then, or how worried I was when I started getting dozens of calls from collection agencies on the bills**, that stuff is all in the past. In fact, the place where I was working closed down (not because of me, it was a big corporation decision thing). I miss the people I used to work with, but now, I can focus on just making monkeys to make people happy.
Best of all, now I get to do things like make monkeys to help other people, I can do fundraisers, and things like that and know that Monkeyville is doing the same thing for other people that it did for me. I have the word "phoenix" tattooed on my arm in Chinese because even though I crash and burn, I always seem to make it through. I think someday I'm going to have to get a monkey tattooed on the other arm.
I was thinking about this because in the past few months, I've made a lot of monkeys (and other sock animals) for different charities, but also because when people meet me in person, they're usually very surprised to find out that I don't have a background in art at all, but biotechnology. When people ask how I ended up making sock monkeys of all things, I usually tell them about Eli and Sirus being there for me when I was sick.
I've never actually considered the monkeys art-- they're toys, and even the fanciest monkeys I make are still toys. They're still good at cuddling, still good at being brave in the face of doctors with needles and scary tests to be done. Yep, even the zombies and skeletons I make are cuddly. If they're art at all, then they're art that's meant to be cuddled, not just collected.
*Though some weird side effects still remain. I'm physically incapable of screaming for instance.
**It was uncertain for a little while if I was going to have to pay these or someone else. After about four months, it was decided that someone else was responsible for those. I still got the calls for a long time though.