Sunday, October 30, 2011

Rolling paper guns

I've been watching paper gun videos with Benjy on YouTube. The making of paper guns is an old obsession, and today it has reemerged. With an urgency we often see when Ben is in the grip of obsession, he ran around the house this morning, looking for tape and scissors. He sat me down and made me watch four videos, each at least four minutes long, that capture the delicate art of folding these agents of death. The irony is not lost on me. For Benjy there is no irony, only a kind of fervent besottedness.

We are not a gun family We do not own them, like them, find them very interesting. At least, we didn't until Bejny discovered their beauty. Lars has his own history with guns: during his compulsory military service in Germany in the 1970s, he was always the guy doing 100 push-ups as punishment for forgetting to remove the bullets from his weapon. (He was also the guy -- perhaps not the only guy -- who was always sleeping when he was supposed to be manning some phone or other overnight, waiting for urgent communications. Answering groggily the groggy guy on the other end.) Obviously, we are not a disciplined or militaristic family.

Here is an excerpt from an essay I am writing about Benjy, called "Benjy, Awake":

Benjy's is the only room that shrinks as his illness waxes. He crams the most
beautiful paper guns -- pistols, semis, the odd German rifle – into bookshelves, on
top of his dresser, his desk; he strews them on his floor. He lives in a fevered state
of creativity, but he only creates weapons. When he is not rolling and taping he is
watching YouTube videos about making paper guns. Who would have guessed
there is a whole subgenre of YouTube video: paper weaponry. Benjy had guessed.
He spends hours and hours watching maladjusted boys and men explain the
intricacies of rolling a double barrel, or constructing a magazine with paper bullets
inside. Then, after a while, he no longer needs the tutorials. He Googles certain
types of guns – how he knows what they're called I have no idea – and after
observing the original for five minutes creates stunning, intricate replicas out of
white paper.

I try to see the positives in these creative interludes. The irony is, he uses an
old draft of my novel about a mother who abandons her autistic son in a forest, to
construct the guns. Along their barrels you can read little jolts of anguish, lines
from the story of a family coming undone.

In spite of this fascination with rifles, machine guns and pistols, Benjy is the first to cry when we hear news of a death in Iraq or Afghanistan. He simply can't bear the thought of some other family's profound loss. So I accept the gun obsession with equanimity. I don't think he's ever going to use one to harm another person.

How wonderful his depth of knowledge about complex things, and his ability to see beauty in the most unexpected places.

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