Dr. Freud, We Have A Problem

There are few things that warm the cockles more than watching a young child play with her dollies.

Unless of course she’s me.

A dolly placed in my hot little hands was immediately stripped of her worldly possessions. That’s right, you read correctly, I removed her clothing. I can’t tell you exactly why I insisted on carrying around a pack of bare assed dolls in my stroller. Perhaps, even in my youth, I had little patience for bullshit. Wanting instead to delve beneath the surface and find out what made those plastic wonders tick.

But the dysfunction didn’t end with toy nudity. Oh no. Young Heidi was also obsessed with making her dolls…

Pee.

Yes, next to Jamoca Almond Fudge ice cream, I believed a peeing doll was one of the lord’s greatest creations. And if the doll in question was not originally designed for such activities, I found a way to create an opening in its mouth. At which point I’d dutifully give the little sack of sunshine her bottle and then wait patiently for the big event.

I’m sure my mother loved discovering these water-filled mold receptacles. Have I also mentioned I cut their hair, drew on them with marker, and removed their limbs? All the while assuming my inanimate friends would return to normal of their own accord the very next day. Time after time I was baffled. Why can’t I make them do these things?

That stubborn determination to force my congregation-by-Mattel to do what I wanted brings to mind a recent editorial experience.

A few weeks ago I posted a short story Edwina, Pretty Edwina. I’m thrilled to see it was one of my most popular posts because I liked the piece very much. (In fact the only post that’s had more hits than that was I Don’t Eat Spotted Dick, But I Could Try, and I’m guessing that’s just because you all have very dirty minds.)

The photo of the four-legged woman was incredible inspiration of course. Almost immediately I saw her sitting in the window of a shoe store. So the beginning was clear. I even heard the first paragraph as if it was a melody playing in my head. And I knew how I wanted it to end. But the million-dollar question was how to get Edwina from A to Z effectively? I developed my antagonist’s many peccadillos, added then subtracting other characters when I realized they didn’t strengthen the story. A little research about tanning leather and the history of cobblers added yet another layer. I wrote several drafts before I worked it all out. But with each version I got closer and yet further away from my goal.

Something didn’t work. Wracked with frustration, I could not find just the right way to get from the story’s climax to its resolution. I tried to force a solution by reading the different drafts aloud over and over until I could no longer recognize them as English. In my attempts to make it work, I lost the rhythm of the words altogether.  Finally, I threw up my hands disgusted, fearing I would never find the right level of aggression and subtlety. A better writer could figure this out, but not I.

Then I did what I should have done all along and left it alone for a few days. I hate the time-to-leave-it-alone part of the editing process. I think I’m still under the impression if one dolly won’t pee when I give her a bottle maybe the next one will, and why the hell hasn’t Barbie’s hair grown back, dammit?

I’m sorry, what were we talking about? Oh yes, the leave-it-alone-and-don’t-force-it part. I suppose like so many things in any creative process it is fear that drives my inability to step back for a time. Perhaps a lack of confidence in my ability to work it all out if I return later? But I think all creative endeavors require breathing room. Don’t you?

Incidentally, several days later as my lids fluttered open to greet the day, my mind suddenly produced the few sentences of dialogue that brought the pieces together. They didn’t show up though until I stopped trying to make them appear and gave the tale some time to cook in my head.

You see we must all heed the lesson of the non-peeing dolly. Sometimes no matter how hard you force her, Chatty Cathy cannot be turned into Baby Alive. But if you wait patiently you might receive Velvet for Hanukkah whose hair grows longer and shorter with the twist of a knob. However, she will still look unattractive if you drag her around the playground in the buff. And while this may be the weakest of metaphors, and in all likelihood my penchant for naked dolls was merely a sign of exhibitionist tendencies to come, I still felt the topic of giving your creative endeavors time to breathe was worth mentioning.

Postscript: In this last paragraph I’ve given you links to some truly silly vintage doll commercials. But for extra super duper dolly creepitude let me recommend this spot for Baby-laugh-a-lot. What were these ad execs thinking when they came up with this one?

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About Madame Paradox

Heidi David is a writer and freelance producer. She is the author of an as yet unpublished novel, THE FLYING JEWEL; the tale of a traveling circus where the price of admission is one's free will.
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20 Responses to Dr. Freud, We Have A Problem

  1. julie says:

    A perfect (albeit unusual) analogy, Heidi. And I expect nothing less from you. I am in a stage with my WIP right now where I probably should put it aside for a week or two and then read what I’ve got with fresh eyes before moving forward.

    I think for me? It’s the patience goblin that haunts me (hobs me? either way.)

    I want to keep making progress and the time-to-leave-it-alone part doesn’t aid in this endeavor. At least immediately. However, if I were to step back and spend some time thinking (perhaps pondering ways to make my daughter’s dolls pee?) I may return to my writing with renewed insights and energy and inspiration.

    Right?

    In the meantime, I’m off to re-read Edwina. Because really? I need a break. And she’s cool like that.

    • Frankly I’m amazed I got away with calling it an analogy at all. 🙂

      Let me recommend on behalf of your readers that during your time off you scour the garage for more brilliant shots of you from the 80’s. A far better exercise than making dollies pee.

      Yes, I agree there is the issue of feeling a sense of urgency about getting it *done* that also interferes with stepping back. But I know for me there’s a lot of self doubt that it won’t happen no matter how much time I give the story. I need to get over that methinks.

      Thanks for reading Edwina again too. So appreciative. xo

  2. Marisa Birns says:

    It’s the same when I’m trying to remember a name or event. The more I think about it, the less I can bring it forward.

    Then, usually in the middle of the night, it appears clearly.

    Yes, hard as it is sometimes, giving creative endeavors breathing space is the very best thing one can do.

    You took off their limbs? Why does this bring to mind something that can be highlighted in CSI or Criminal Minds… 😀

    • It’s strange to say the very least. I wasn’t a particularly violent child. But I did have a very old dolly that could pee. Yet the rest of them did not. I think I may have begun to remove a leg here or there in hopes I could determine why? Although I never showed *any* science or math skills in later life, so that seems unlikely. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by Marisa!

  3. J.A. Pak says:

    Dolls have always freaked me out, and now I’m freaked out even more. Thank you.

  4. You’re so right about not forcing things. Though it’s frustrating, sometimes the best thing you can do is to walk away from what you are writing. I’ve given up trying to fight it, because it works so well.

    As to the dolls, you just brought me back to my six year old self, who decided a new life-sized doll named Jenny needed a salon treatment. After a cut and wash, a blow-dry would have been nice, but the clutter in my grandmother’s house didn’t include such amenities. I thought the next best thing would be to prop Jenny up against the door of the wood-burning cookstove, where you could peer through a little window to see how the fire was burning. Jenny’s lovely plastic tresses… well, I think you know where I’m going with this.

    • Hmm, I’ve never attempted to blow dry my hair via wood burning stove…sounds dangerous. 🙂 Thank you, that was most amusing. As I said on twitter, we are sisters in deviant doll destruction.

  5. scott says:

    That’s weird. I’m always trying to make my doll do things she doesn’t want to do, too.

    That story reminds of this – the one and only Unknown Hinson doing his chart-topping song, “Polly Urethane.” Sure, he’s rumored to be a 400 year old hillbilly vampire, but that doesn’t stop him from writing a classic ode to HIS dolly.

    • With all your charms Scottie, somehow I imagine the dolls are more than willing…

      You cracked me up with this video. I love it. Thanks for leaving the link & for reading.

  6. Peter Wilkin says:

    ‘Leave it alone!’ & ‘Don’t force it!’ Angry commands that resonate from my own childhood. The former I always ignored, hence the need for such high-prescription glasses. The latter I always complied with, which explains the need for my thrice-daily doses of Dulcolax & Fybogel sachets.

    Another wonderfully funny posting, Heidi … with some good advice sandwiched between the laughs. Many thanks …

  7. Laura says:

    OK, that is the weirdest analogy I have ever heard, but you make it work surprisingly well. It sounds surprisingly Yoda-esque: “We must all heed the lesson of the non-peeing dolly, or become a Jedi you will not”

    • That was great. I just laughed very hard. I personally think someone should revoke my writers-who-make-analogies card for even pretending this worked. But it was still funny, so what the heck. I am totally down with carrying my Madame Paradox as Yoda badge of honor. Thank you for that, and for stopping by.

  8. Kate says:

    “Edwina” was fabulous. Very fabulous. That being said, I would have appreciated it more if it had peed. But whatever.

    The analogy is dead-on. In my case, the idea of leaving a piece for a while, with full intentions of returning, terrifies me–simply because I’m not convinced I’ll keep my end of the “full intentions of returning” bargain. I want it done, I want it over, I want to enjoy it. Which is an absolutely ridiculous version of impatience.

    You know, the more you post, the more I’m thinking about adding some fiction to my own blog. Maybe under a separate tab where I could, you know, hide it.

    Good work, lady. Super duper good.

    • Auntie Kate, thank you for reading the story! I’m so glad you liked it. If my ridiculous tales of dysfunction in the ‘burbs get you to start writing *more* I will be thrilled. I love your style. Despite your full time job of not-turning-Aura-into-a-ballerina, I hope you find the time to explore your fictional side. Thanks for stopping by.

  9. Ilana says:

    It is so interesting to read about someone else’s creative process. I find with stories, I have to sit and sit and rewrite and rewrite until they come together. But with my stupid captioned albums? I must leave those alone. I’m sad to say but I’ve woken up in the middle of the night to run over to my computer to insert a better caption.

    Analogy or not, I love your anecdote about the naked limbless dolls. I was a big fan of cutting off my dolls’ hair and then crying at the outcome.

    • Please tell me you looked at some of those videos, particularly Baby laugh a lot. A more perverse ad for a doll I cannot imagine.

      Everyone has there own writing process, I suppose. I too spend a lot of time editing while I’m writing, and also experimenting with moving pieces around in multiple drafts. But when my gut says, “hmm something’s still missing” I pretty much know that it’s time to step away for a bit. Whether I do so or just sit there torturing myself, ahhhh that is the question.

  10. Laughed much at your analogy, partly because it reminded me of my own dolls when I was a child. I never liked dolls, but my parents insisted that Santa bring me one every Christmas. Dolls back then (waaaaay back then) had composite heads with stapled-on wigs. I discovered how to remove the staples. All my dolls were not only naked, but bald. They did however, retain their limbs, as I lost interest once I’d taken their scalps. I grew up to be a relatively normal mother and grandmother anyway, if you disregard that little thing about writing books about werewolves.

    • Angela, I’m so happy you came by for a visit. I love that you scalped them. I finally feel I have a partner in this peculiar doll insanity. My mom tells me the worst moment was when she and my dad traveled to Japan. Upon their return she gave me a doll, whose outfit (kimono) she had painstakingly picked for me, along with several wigs. Apparently before you can say “mental illness abounds in the suburbs” I had forced that poor demure doll into a life a nudity along with the others. *sigh* 😉

      Thanks so much for reading. I’m glad you enjoyed.

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