Friday, April 10, 2009

Friday morning decapitation

Anevay: My doll's head fell off.

Me: It fell off? Or you pulled it off?

A: It fell off. I swear.

M: I understand. The same thing happens to me sometimes.

A (looking quarrelous): Mom, you're a person. This is a doll.

M (also looking quarrelous): You mean you've never done it before? To yourself?

A: Noooo...

M: Well, don't look so apprehensive. I bet you could do it if you tried.

A: You mean you want my head to pop off?

M: Only if you put it back on.

Anevay and I then spent many minutes trying to will our heads to pop off. It didn't happen, of course, and Anevay was no further along in believing me than she was before our little experiment, but I must say, the whole process of trying was extremely amusing.

Now, I understand that most grown-ups don't believe that decapitations are humorous, but when I think about how many millions of kids take apart their dolls, I think that there is something in their thinking that us adults would be wise to remember... That bodies are just bodies. In addition to treating them like temples (which is something that they learn how to do from adults, who have developed the fear of them dying), they are also great sources of amusement.

When I was a kid, I believed that my stuffed animals and dolls were truly alive. For this reason, and because I thought they were such good friends of mine, I never maimed them. Hell, I didn't even cut off the hair on my Barbies. Anevay, on the other hand, ties up her Barbies, cuts their hair, and, as evidenced in the pictures above, pops their heads off.

I love it. I wish that I had been comfortable enough to maim my dolls when I was a kid. But I had an overdeveloped fear of dying that I let fester rather than, like many kids, explore...

Bringing her doll to me, in such a state, felt like some kind of weird test. It seemed like Anevay wanted to see what my reaction would be.

After the whole head-popping experiment, we had another talk...

M: So, did your doll's head really just fall off, or did it have a little help?

A (smiling): It had a little help. Are you mad?

M: No. It's your doll.

A: I'm glad in real life our heads don't pop off like that.

M: Me too. But it sure is fun trying.

Lots of giggles ensued, and then we took a handful of pictures to document the moment. (I love the one in which Anevay flares her nostrils, making herself look like a cute little piglet... Our roommate, Clare, caught us taking the last few of these pictures... I wonder if she thought we were nuts!)

For what it's worth, I think I passed Anevay's little test. I'm proud that she feels comfortable enough to come to me with her decapitated dolls. If I had done such a thing to a doll when I was a kid, I probably would have hidden it away in shame.

As an adult, on the other hand, I have thankfully come to see the macabre playfulness in all of this. Believe me, I don't expect that most people will understand this... But maybe some of you, like me, get something out of Charles Simic, or Poe, or have enjoyed the Kill Bill films (I just watched them last week, and thought they were a lot of fun)? I don't think the world is filled with only rainbows and unicorns, and I don't think it's all death and destruction, either. Recognizing that life is all of these things is healthy, right? I sure hope so, because that's the attitude I seem to be passing on to my kid... Not that I ever expect either of us to be decapitated, but we'll certainly have to deal with, at some point, illness and death, and my hope for Anevay is that those events not be as isolated as much as they are simply part of the big picture.

In the novel I'm completing, one of the characters is from a region in India where many of the people worship Kali, a Hindu goddess associated with death and destruction.

And yet, by those who know and study her, she is recognized as the goddess of time and transformation. There is an acceptance that life has cycles, and that death is a part of this. Kali is most often depicted dancing upon the prostrate Shiva. Whereas Shiva is stable, always the same, Kali is always changing. Together, their iconography signifies opposite forces that make up the universe.

I totally simplified all of this. Forgive me. This must seem like the most fragmented post ever...

It all boils down to this. This morning, Anevay included me in a sort of play that kids usually do behind closed doors. She let me be privy to this intimate child's play. Instead of asking her why she pulled off the head of her doll (would she really have understood why she did it? really?), I played along. I think I surprised her. I think she thought I would be mad, or disappointed. But instead I helped make it fun.

And why not?

Besides, I'm starting to play around with some of the same ideas in my most recent embroideries... I just had a much later start than my smart, confident little Anevay:

(this is a detail of a canvas I have up at the Brooklyn Collective)

(I embroidered the guillotine and Miz Antoinette on a sweatshirt that I sell in my shop, as well as at the Brooklyn Collective)

(this is a detail of a cool convex canvas I did...)

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