Let me tell you a tale about my monkey.
Well, technically it first starts off as a tale about a teddy bear keychain.
(Bear with me. Ba dum ching.)
Sometime in 2008, when visiting Florida for the very first time, I got this little teddy bear keychain. He was metallic, with movable limbs and a little sun with the words “Florida” printed on his belly. I named him Teddy Bayer, and I spent the rest of the trip positioning him in various ways and taking pictures of him wherever we went. This spawned into taking Teddy Bayer with me on every trip, getting his picture taken at tourist destinations and restaurants — and this would eventually spawn a souvenir collection of nearly 30 teddy bears from different states and provinces (and countries) — but that’s a story for another day.
Because this is a tale about my monkey.
My monkey came into my life at the Colorado Zoo, hanging (ba dum ching) with his fellow monkey buddies in the gift shop. Since I am a sucker for the soft and cuddly, he was purchased and given the name Wesley — in honor of Wes Welker, who had just been traded from the Pats.
He was brought back with us from the zoo and placed on our hotel bed, where I promptly took a picture of him. And when we checked out, I took a picture of him in the car.
Soon enough, I was taking pictures of him and Teddy Bayer during my travels. And — because such is the way of things — there was only room for one traveling toy in my life. So Teddy Bayer became the protector of my yoga studio keys, staying home while I went off on my adventures.
And thus Wes the Traveling Monkey flourished.
Wes attracts a bit of attention. When a grown woman — a 5’11” grown woman, mind you — is taking pictures with a stuffed monkey, people kind of pay attention. Little kids especially love him, and hikers get a kick when they see him peaking out of my backpack. Eventually he got his own hashtag and a corner of my instagram account, which only garnered more attention. And, through that attention, he’d built a weird following — to the point that, when friends would hear that I was going off on whatever trip, I am told to, “Take lots of pics…of Wes!”
This past weekend was no different. As I brought my bags in to a yoga retreat in Vermont, one of my friends asked, “Did you bring Wes?”
“Of course I brought Wes!” I replied, pulling the stuffed monkey out of my purse as evidence.
It wasn’t long until Wes started taking on a life of his own that weekend. It was first a fun suggestion — as we were gearing up the stand up paddleboards, one friend said, “Put Wes on one of the boards and take a picture!” And — to the enthusiasm of the rest of the group — I did. Pretty soon, he was being posed on towels and over the baby bump of one of the teachers… and back on the paddleboard.
Soon enough, Wes became the unofficial 15th member of the yoga retreat. Every event involved some impromptu photoshoot with Wes in some way. Everyone had suggestions for Wes — posing him this way and that, over this item, with these items in hand. He became as much of a staple of the trip as yoga every morning and night, healthy meals, and hearty belly laughs.
It’s not surprising that something like Wes the Traveling Monkey would be as popular as it is. And it has nothing to do with my one liners on instagram or social media saturation. It is just pure, simple, child-like joy. It is a chance to be a little imaginative and a little silly. And life is far too short, and far too hard, and far too tragic to not constantly and consistently allow the silly and the child-like to enter in. It’s gonna be a long uphill walk if you have no place in your heart for a little imagination and simplistic wonder.
I originally justified taking pictures of Teddy Bayer and Wes the Traveling Monkey by saying pictures of these inanimate objects were more interesting than yet another shot of a tourist spot that had been photographed a thousand times over in the exact same way. That the little guys made a fairly generic travel photo album become a cohesive story. But the reality is that I never did it to make my posts more interesting (I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t post so much online if I were worried about keeping it interesting). I did it because posing Teddy Bayer next to a restaurant menu or buckling Wes into our back seat tapped into a vital and beautiful joy.
For now, Wes is resting. There’s a family reunion and a wedding happening over the next 3 or so months that’ll take me out of state once again, but, for now, I’m back at home base. My nomadic heart (and love of posting Wes pictures online) will have to make due with the occasional (and local) hiking trip.
But enough about my monkey.