Friday, October 29, 2010

RHYS: When I interviewed Tasha Alexander, earlier this week, I was delighted to find that she too had cut out and played with paper dolls as a child, acting out scenes from her favorite books--exactly the way I did. And I was even more delighted when so many people chimed in to comment that they had also played with paper dolls. So I'm wondered if it was a writer thing.

Do really creative people always find a way to invent their own universe?

As a small child my other main plaything was my grandmother's box of buttons. She had cut buttons from every discarded item of clothing and had this huge collection. I used to play with them all the time. One day a large button was the mother and the tiny pearly buttons were her children. Another day I'd line buttons up and have a school. (I'd always have badly behaved buttons who got sent to the corner and a favorite pink button who could do no wrong). Then I'd take all the chipped and damanged buttons, put them in match boxes and that would be my hospital. Naturally the white buttons would be my starched white nurses!

So I'm curious now: what early signs of creativity were there in your lives?

JAN: My mother insisted I start ballet and tap lessons at age 3 1/2. I distinctly remember taking all the glasses down from the cupboard and pretending they were dancers. I'd use the kitchen table as the stage, and spend hours choreographing them in different dances. When I was really hard up -- like at night in bed when I had no other toys or kitchen accessories available, I'd pretend my fingers were dancers. And choreograph them. It's amazing what kids will do to keep their growing brains occupied!

HANK: Okay, I'll confess. We used to have bug fights. Bug fights!
We'd find a bug, generally a little one. Then we'd lift up big rocks to see all the other kinds of bugs that were crawling around underneath it.
(I never touched a bug, actually, I made my sister do it. And we carried them on cardboard.)
Then we'd put the little bug in with the other bugs, and see if they'd fight.
Now, I admit. This was weird. And hardly as adorable as glass dancers or as clever as button people.
Kinda more along the lines of incipient serial killer, but happily it did not turn out that way.
However! Lesson learned! The bugs NEVER FOUGHT. The "invading" bug would always curl up in a little ball. The other bugs would sniff around (or whatever bugs do) and then get bored and crawl away.
Then the invading bug would hightail it out of there.
Passive resistance. Very win and survive by not engaging.

ROBERTA: I was a big fan of paper dolls too. And Barbies. I loved when the family went to my aunt and uncle's home because my cousin (an only child) had all the accoutrements--the Barbie Dream House, the convertible, the Ken doll, the Skipper, and tons and tons of outfits. My sister and I also collected simple little china figurines from the charm machines at the New Jersey boardwalk. They were about two inches high, with no clothes, and few features. We would write out slips of paper that had girl or boy on them and others with a number. And then we would draw slips to design families--the number of kids in the family and the order of sons and daughters. Then we poured through a baby name book and named each of them. An early (and simple-minded?) approach to creating characters?

HALLIE: Oh, is this bringing back memories. I was big into dolls. But mostly I loved to play out different roles, coercing my poor sister Amy to be the student to my teacher, my friend Linda to be slave to my queen. In retrospect, I wasn't so much creative as bossy. I was also friends with a very creative young man who wrote plays (at 8) and we'd act the out in his backyard. His mother was a screenwriter so we got a bit of help, and when we performed them one time I got to wear a real movie costume. With gold high-heels which, between the time that we rehearsed and performed, I outgrew.

RHYS: I was also very big into role playing too--with my poor great aunt. I was the good princess and she was the wicked queen, or the witch, or the poor woman gathering sticks. I got a big shock when I went to school and found you can't always be the princess in real life! This is probably the deep psychological reason behind my creating royal characters. We're still all role playing like crazy!

How about you? What did you play?


  1. So many fun stories.

    My sister and I shared the requisite Barbie, Ken, Midge, Alan, and Skipper dolls, and put them in all sorts of situations from our imaginations. I was obsessed with fashion, so pestered my poor mother to death about getting a Barbie Fashion Show--a glorified bit of garishly colored cardboard--for Christmas. When it arrived I began having Barbie fashion shows daily, sometimes hourly, and began my interest in sewing and design right then.

    My sister never got into it as much as I did, but two of my three daughters had equally, if not more creative playtimes with dolls. We're all creative in different ways.

  2. Good grief, you were all such girly girls! Well, maybe not Hank and the bugs. But my friends and I spent our free time, at recess or outside school, re-enacting the westerns we saw on television (including Have Gun, Will Travel), with heroes and horses and, yes, guns. We always made the least popular girl the "wife" and told her to stay back in the cabin. That, as I recall it, was the only female role. Wonder what that says about us?

  3. Sheila, that reminded me! My favorite favorite favorite toy when I was about five was an Annie Oakley rifle and a red outfit with fringe. And I was seriously into caps. The kind you put in the gun, or banged with a rock to go blam.

  4. Yes, I LOVED caps! And I had a great Annie Oakley outfit. Fringe.

    In fact, I remember a big fight I had with my mother because I would NOT take that outfit off. I think I was--6.

  5. When I was younger we lived in an old house with my mother's best friend and her seven kids. Three of the boys were close to my age and we spent a lot of time playing Robin Hood in the woods and fields beyond the house. We also went treasure hunting--walking the ditches on both side of the road looking for pop bottles. Each bottle was worth a few cents at the store and with enough we could buy a popsicle to share. Of course, the store was off limits which didn't stop us from sneaking down there. And that's how I briefly became a delinquent. The youngest boy ratted us out. In retaliation I hit him with a hammer. The fact that it barely left a mark didn't carry any weight with either my mother or his.

  6. Whatever happened to caps? They were great fun, although my mother hated how messy they made our front walk.

  7. Lots of memories flooding in. We camped in the Sierras (Sequoia) every summer for two weeks. We'd make little tin foil coins and elaborate treasure maps and hide the coins and make - wait, who followed it? My little brother, probably - make Davey find the treasure.

    At home the summers were very hot (LA suburb) and seemed endless in a great way. We made an "office" in my sister's closet and had it all set up with paper and pencils and stuff. Outside one summer my brother and I hammered and sawed an enormous ship out of junk wood. Pirate flag on top, wooden boxes for the cockpit and the whatever-you-call-a-ship's-basement, an old sheet for a sail. Could never understand why my parents wouldn't tie it on top of the station wagon and drive it (more than an hour) to the beach so we could put it in the Pacific!


  8. I grew up in a big old house with an orchard. Because there were no kids around I had to amuse myself a lot. I built a trapeze in a big tree and played Patsy of the Circus. I must have had no fear on that trapeze, when I think back to the things I did... but I never fell off.
    When we visited my boy cousin I was always the captured female, tied to a tree somewhere. Didn't like that game so much.
    Never played with bugs, Hank.

  9. Oh, this brings back so many memories! I adored my paper dolls even more than my regular dolls because the paper dolls were adult or teen women (this was pre-Barbie). Now that I think of it, I was never the nurturing-my-babydoll type.

    I built cities on my bedroom floor using construction paper, scissors, and glue. Buildings, houses and streets with toy cars and paper people. And I was a climber. I'd jump off anything to fly like Superman (and still have a few scars to prove it.)

    Sheila, Hallie, and Hank - I was a cowgirl too! OMG, my favorite, favorite outfit was my black Dale Evans fringed skirt and vest with hat and holster to match. Many showdowns in the back yard. Yes - 5 or 6. Rode a broom horse.

    Thanks for the great post - this revved my imagination for the day.

  10. Sheila, would not have pegged you as a cowboy...

    Edith, you reminded me of my sister and my most famous family game moment. We were camping somewhere that had a lot of campsites and a big map so you could find your way around. we took our younger siblings blindfolded to the far side and left them there with the mother was mad, mad, mad....