The Sad Angel

Sometimes, I see things, or read about things, that just stick in my brain. (I’m sure the same thing happens to you.) And it’s for no real reason — just because it’s there, and something about it either fascinates me, or makes me think.

Last Saturday, I visited a friend who lives up around Woodstock, NY, about a three-hour drive north of NYC. She lives in a semi-rural / semi-suburban area, and we took a walk. We passed several lovely homes, set well back on their properties, almost all with large piles of logs nearby, ready for winter fireplaces — one, in fact, already had smoke coming from the chimney, despite the fact that it was a sunny, warm afternoon.

But the thing that fascinated me was one house that had a short stone wall placed near the road — it was about 18 or 24 feet long, too short to be actually hemming anything in, and too neat to be part of a previous building. It had large square-shared stone pillars at each end, maybe four feet high, each with a planter on top. But that’s not what fascinated me — it was the small white statue of a child-sized angel, sitting on the wall, hands clasped together on its knees, staring slightly down in what looked like sadness.

My first reaction was: why was the statue there? And why so sad? It was a lovely area, and the unhappiness on the statue’s face seemed incongruous in such as picturesque spot, with trees around showing their fall colors, and the sun just beginning to fall toward the horizon.

A few years ago, just for fun, I did a serious of photos with captions I called Backstories, making up one- or two-sentence stories about what the animals or objects were thinking. I could have definitely used this statue for that. But after I thought a bit about the statue itself, I started thinking about the family who had placed it there. Was it simply a religious symbol? A gift somebody had given them? Or was there a story behind it?

Angels are often used to decorate tombstones, and a child angel often indicates the death of a child. Was the statue put there to mourn a child’s death? Who was the child, and how old were they? Was it recent, or the sibling of an 80-year-old woman who still occasionally mourned her lost little brother?

Or was I reading too much into it? It could be as simple as somebody seeing the statue in a garden shop, and thinking, “That would look wonderful on our wall.”

This is the way my mind sometimes works.

The Backstory behind Backstories

Back in February, I was staring at a photo I had taken recently: The impressions that my shopping cart made in damp snow, and it occurred to me that somebody who was overthinking things might think it was left by something or someone other than a shopping cart. Like two flamingoes on bicycles.

flamingos on bikesI posted that on Facebook and thought, well, that was fun. The next evening, I was staring up at the various tschotskes on my mantel, and starting wondering what some of the little plastic Android bots were actually thinking — or doing — as they stood up on the mantel. So I wrote that up, careful to stay within the 140-characters (less, actually, because of the photo) demanded by Twitter, and posted it on Twitter and Facebook. And, I decided at the last minute, on Instagram.

So Backstories was born. Backstories are basically short, ridiculous imaginings of what is going on in the minds of the animals and supposedly inanimate objects around us. After all, they live in our world alongside us, don’t they? Who are we to presume that birds, trees and garbage cans don’t have inner lives as well? And thoughts as wise or as silly as anything that runs around in our human brains?

Currently, I set them to go live at 8:30 am every weekday on Facebook and Twitter; they usually appear on Instagram sometime the night before. On Facebook, they are gathered in an album called Backstories; on Twitter, they can be found in my personal feed; and on Instagram, tagged as #theirbackstories. If you’re curious, please do check them out.

How long will I keep publishing them? As long as I can continue to figure out what the animals and objects around me are thinking, I suppose — and as long as that process continues to be fun. Right now, it is a great deal of fun — to create and, I hope, to read.