Dollhouses and Doors

Monday Morning Musings:

“We do on stage things that supposed to happen off. Which is a kind of integrity, if you look on every exit as being an entrance somewhere else.”

–Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

 “The Heart

has many Doors.”

–Emily Dickinson

Full poem here.

“our home has been nothing but a playroom. I have been your doll-wife, just as at home I was father’s doll-child; and her the children have been my dolls.”

–Henrik Ibsen, A Doll’s House

 

 

The heart I’m told has four chambers,

but every chamber must have a door

and so,

blood flows,

love comes, it goes,

the doors of the heart beat open, then close. . .

 

We go to the theater,

drink coffee before closed doors–

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they soon open,

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A Doll’s House, Arden Theatre, Philadelphia

taking us to a nineteenth-century

that seems contemporary–

how shocking the play must have been then,

it’s hints of sexuality, as well as the dissolution of a marriage.

We are caught up in others’ lives,

the doorbell rings,

people enter and exit,

the audience gasps at Torvald’s remarks,

feels Nora’s awakening

pauses, then exhales

with “the door slam heard round the world.”

We applaud, then exit, too,

down the stairs

and out into the cold.

Winter folds its icy heart around the city.

 

We walk and talk

past the ghosts of Christ Church

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through another door

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to drink more coffee.

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I think of doll houses and dolls. . .

 

Our daughters used to play with dolls and doll houses,

tip-tapping the small figures round tiny chairs and tables

and in and out of rooms

without real doors to open or shut–

but who’s to say it wasn’t real,

a man-doll named John,

a piece of a wooden chair named Pumpernickel,

(we never knew why)

the mini American Girl dolls

they were all real,

weren’t they? At least for a time?

A door opened, unfastened hearts and minds,

as I remember . . .

 

a doll has no heart,

except for that which is given by love,

or perhaps they create their own hearts

and perhaps they make ours grow

as they enter our lives and exit,

leaving the door ajar for others find their way in.

 

We open doors,

we close doors

sometimes we perch upon them

never noticing how precarious it can be,

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life, opening and closing–

sometimes we carry our hearts right through a doorway,

and keep on going.

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I’m told that people can die from broken hearts,

like Debbie Reynolds after Carrie Fisher died,

the heart no longer beats,

the four chambers, silent.

The doors of the heart open and close—

until they open and close no more—

Exits and entrances.

Another dollhouse.

Another doll.

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There was also this.

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For those outside of the U.S., yesterday was Super Bowl Sunday. My local team, the Philadelphia Eagles won. It was a big deal, and even family members and friends who are not particular sports fans were excited. I made my husband goodies to eat, and sat with him for about half an hour, but I then went upstairs to watch other shows and read.

 

 

 

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Dolls, Ghosts, and Memories

Monday Morning Musings:

 “Remember thee!

Ay, thou poor ghost, whiles memory holds a seat

In this distracted globe.”

–William Shakespeare, Hamlet

 

“but with ribbons

it was spinning Fates conjured,

bewitched by the doll mistress

who knew her dreams.

Whose intention they must spin.”

–Luanne Castle, “For the Doll Mistress”

from Doll God (Aldrich Press, 2015)

 

The play began,

the first floor of a bed and breakfast,

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, late November,

every surface is covered with knickknacks,

including American Girl doll Samantha,

and it turns out that Jenny, a guest there,

had a Samantha doll,

who she believed was always angry at her,

maybe is still angry at her,

now that she’s packed away in the basement of Jenny’s parents’ home,

(though Jenny cut out pieces of the cardboard box so the doll could see)

And the innkeeper asks Jenny and her boyfriend,

who are facing problems in their relationship,

she asks them each separately,

if they’ve ever felt that they were watched

as though something watched over them.

(I think of how I don’t like people to watch me

when I sleep. How I’ve been awakened by a gaze.)

The bed and breakfast might be haunted,

(this is Gettysburg, after all)

the Jackson room is sometimes “unreliable,”

(perhaps, so are we all)

Mertis, the innkeeper, mentions

the building was a hospital for Union soldiers,

amputated limbs were tossed out of the windows.

Jenny later meets Genevieve, Mertis’s, blind friend,

Genevieve might be crazy,

she thought she was possessed by the spirit of her ex-husband John,

and John, is also the name of Jenny’s former lover,

(we all know someone named John)

who also has a hold on her,

Genevieve hears rustling sounds that no one else hears—

is it us, the audience?

Mertis admits she’s a bit of a mind reader.

Is she also a witch,

a doll mistress, arranging the scenes for Jenny and Elias?

Mertis winds the clock at the end of each scene,

she closes the curtains at the end of each act, and opens them again.

She lights her “angel chimes,” near the end of the play,

flames cause the angel figures to fly,

there is a final sort of “ah-ha” moment,

did Mertis help bring it about?

Did she know their dreams,

the intentions they must spin?

 

There is much to ponder in this play,

filled with as many details as the B&B’s room,

It is long, punctuated with silences,

but it does not seem long to me.

We sit, drinking coffee,

and discuss it.

 

 

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Customs House Coffee is–of course– across the street from the Customs House Building

 

The next day, I look for my daughters’ American Girls dolls,

I see Molly and Felicity high up on a shelf

(one of each daughter’s dolls)

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Molly and Felicity with Frieda

 

but no Samantha or Josefina,

I wonder if they are in the attic

then I  wonder if they are angry.

Should I find them a new home,

foster parents to take them in?

I think of my son-in-law

who was saved by a couple who took him in,

who became his new parents,

moving behind the scenes,

directing them, providing props,

to make certain he was cared for

before he knew his dreams.

Was it fated,

fated he’d meet his love in a play?

 

We talk about dolls at my younger daughter’s house.

(ghosts and memories)

She remembers–

she didn’t want to send her Molly doll off to be repaired

fearing her doll might be replaced,

another Molly,

so she kept her Molly,

and cared gently for her fractured arm,

holding it on with a rubber band,

battlefield medicine.

 

My son-in-law enters the room,

makes an innocent remark,

daughter and I burst into laughter,

laughter that bring tears,

and simultaneously,

sitting across from one another,

we wipe our eyes,

mirror figures,

mother and daughter.

 

My mother tells us,

when she was a little girl,

sick with diphtheria,

(a ghost disease),

she dropped her doll,

“they” took it away,

wouldn’t let her have it in the hospital,

and she cried for her doll,

and she cried for her parents,

who also were not allowed in her sick room,

when she was finally  home,

there was another doll for her,

It wasn’t the same doll,

but. . .she shrugs.

Did your mother make clothes for your dolls?

(She sewed beautifully, I tell my daughter.)

Yes, until my brother was born when I was six.

He was a handful.

He baby brother, now gone,

gone before her.

Ghosts and memories.

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I have not been good about reviewing the books my friends have written. But with a play in which a doll was a key plot point, and a discussion of dolls, I thought of my doll-loving blogger friend. Poet Luanne Castle’s writes about many different topics on her blog— including family, history, travel, and cats.

Her book of poetry, Doll God   is the 2015 winner of the New Mexico-Arizona Book Award. The poems are thoughtful, thought-provoking, lyrical, and sometimes enigmatic. Do check it out!

We saw John by Annie Baker at the Arden Theater in Philadelphia.

 

Childhood Dreams, Childhood Memories

“Walkin’ through the world
Things happen
Right before your eyes
Things happen
Soon enough you’re lost
And thinkin’
When I’m gonna go back home”
–John Kander and Fred Ebb, “Go Back Home,”
The Scottsboro Boys

 

I was in my car today listening to Radio Times, as poet Lynn Levin described the doll on the cover of her new book Miss Plastique. The brief discussion brought back vivid memories of my daughters playing with their dolls. They loved playing with “the Barbs,” and gave each one a name. I remember Mary, Colonial, Tracy (aka Tracy-Hopping-on-One-Foot after she lost a leg). The Barbies had so many adventures—some of which, I recently discovered, I knew nothing about. It’s probably better that way. I did witness though, and participated in, many of the dolls’ escapades. Little Women Barbies was a favorite game of my younger daughter that we played together when her older sister was at school. She selected particular Barbie Dolls to be the main characters of Louisa May Alcott’s story. In my daughter’s Barbie version, Amy had superhuman gymnastic abilities and drove a car. And I’m pretty sure I remember Aunt March sang “Bare Necessities.” I’m not certain why.

 

Dolls have existed since ancient times and in cultures throughout the world. (See an example here.)
They can be made from all sorts of material. My daughters made paper doll families, seashell families, and on one family vacation, they made a family from the chopsticks they took home from a restaurant. I was never worried about them being unduly influenced by Barbie’s freakish body. Clearly, the dolls were merely props for the worlds their imaginations created.

 

These reflections about dolls and childhood came after my checkup with my oncologist. He said everything looks great. I was relieved, of course. I know how easily I could have been told something else. Yesterday I had attended the funeral of a young man who died much too soon. He was only 23, barely out of boyhood. I am happy that I am well, but it makes me feel almost guilty. I cherish the memories of my daughters’ childhoods, but they are alive, and this wonderful young man is not. His family has the memories of his childhood to cherish, but he is no longer with them, and memories are all they have.

 

Like many people here in the US, I’ve been feeling that “Right before your eyes things happen.” In the case of the “Scottsboro Boys,” it was being on a freight train at the wrong time and place. Last week it was watching a marathon in Boston. Why is one person injured, while someone else moments before just happened to move away? Sometimes randomness is reassuring, but at other times it’s frightening. Since prehistoric times, humans have tried to understand fate, but it is impossible, of course. “Giddy Fortune’s furious fickle wheel”

 

Girl with collection of dolls

Girl with collection of dolls (Photo credit: George Eastman House)

spins and we don’t know what it will bring. Perhaps that is one reason why children are so drawn to dolls. They can be held, loved, and cherished. They can be used to create a new universe where characters in a novel take on new lives, or where a family member still exists. They can help to bring shape and order to a random world.