Monday, March 23, 2009

About Those Paper Dolls

A few weeks ago, I volunteered to teach some local peeps how to knit. (Oh, and I have a knitting blog now -- another blog to kill through slow starvation!) At the end of the morning, Hope (a loyal reader -- Hi, Hope!) handed me a present. How sweet, and when I unwrapped it at home, it turned out to be a beautifully elaborate set of paper dolls.

First of all, thank you very much. I can't recall where I mentioned that I love paper dolls, but it's all true, and even at my advanced age, it's nice to get such a great present.

But then something weird happened, and I found out why I like paper dolls. Here's that story.

But first, if you haven't read this post yet, I'd suggest starting there. That way, when I tell you that Mr. Big told me something in a dream, you won't call the men in the white jackets -- you'll know I already have them on speed dial.

But yeah, he did. I was having some dream about solving a puzzle -- gee, I wonder where that comes from? -- and kept thinking, "I have to anagram 'hypnotism' or 'hypnotist' to get the answer," even though that made no sense at all. (I just checked, using the Starman's #1 software TEA, and the only words that anagram to 'hypnotism' and 'hypnotist' are 'pythonism' and 'pythonist.' I don't even like snakes.) When I woke up, of course, I understood exactly what that dream meant.

When I started law school, I had finished up with a therapist in the Albany, NY area, Mike Nichols. Great guy, very bright. I got to be completely precocious with him, like a bratty kid who thinks being "gifted" is license to behave badly. He was very patient with me. Anyway, off I went to law school, assuming I could just get on in life. I didn't make it through the first year before I knew I was crazier than was comfortable, and I needed a new therapist. I assumed it had something to do with not remembering my childhood (kind of a clue, you know?), and I naively assumed that a few sessions of hypno-therapy would do the trick.

Well, someone sent me along to a psychologist at the University health center for an evaluation. I told him everything and at the end of the hour, he said, "You need psychoanalytic psychotherapy," which is what I'd been doing with Mike up in Albany. I promptly burst into tears, which was NOT the reaction this guy was expecting. He hastily looked at the clock, told me to come back for another hour the following week, and bustled me out the door.

In the second session, I basically told him, "If talking about my problems was all it took, I'd be fixed by now. My deal is I don't have the raw material available to talk about . . ."

Now, I need to digress at this point. There was a famous day in early 1997 when I followed directions to a small storefront in South Philly, parked the car, got out, looked around and said to myself, "Who the hell lives here?!" Eighteen months later, I owned a house not a half-block from where I had parked that day. Be careful what absolutist statements you make, is all I'm saying. Fate has a way of getting the last laugh...

What I was trying to tell this guy at the University health center was that I was convinced that hypnotism had to be involved, because otherwise I was going to be talking about what I could remember, and no work would ever get done on the stuff I couldn't remember. My tears convinced the guy -- not that I was right, but that I really believed what I was saying. So he gave me the name of the super famous psychiatrist in Philadelphia who did hypnosis with people with dissociative disorders. Luckily for me, Dr. Famous wasn't taking new patients, and of the two names he gave me, my own delightful therapist ("the Queen Quiche") was the one who called me back.

When I started with QQ (so named because my sessions with Mike Nichols were on Wednesdays, aka "Prince Spaghetti Day," making him the Prince Spaghetti. A friend had a therapist she dubbed "the Czar" or, later, "the Zar" in solidarity. Royalty begets royalty, and as my current therapist is French, she's the Queen Quiche), we tried hypnotherapy. I went into the trance well enough, but once there, nuzzink. No hidden stuff, nothing I didn't already know, no unexplained emotional reactions. Within six months, QQ and I were doing . . . psychoanalytic psychotherapy. For 15 years . . . ! I mean, it's all been good, and I'm a whole lot less crazy than I was back in 1993, so I really can't complain, but -- geez. I had really pinned my hopes on rooting around in my subconscious, pulling up juicy nuggets of significance, talking about them for a while, then pulling up the next one. *sigh* Not to be, I guess.

I'd actually pretty much forgotten about hypnotherapy until my recent dream. But clearly Mr. Big knew better than me (a fairly standard situation) and I passed the word along to QQ that Mr. Big thought it was time to try again.

Which is how I came to find out about the paper dolls. When I go back to my hometown in one of these hypnotic states (not trances, really -- more deep relaxation), it's empty. The school is empty, the streets are empty, and my childhood home is empty. In fact, I'm in the house all alone. I can walk through the rooms -- there's one I don't want to go in, but it's no big deal -- but there's nothing much I want to do. Except for one thing: I want to be on my bed, playing with stuffed animals, or even better, with paper dolls.

Now, I know that I lived in a house with other humans, but this part of myself, the little girl whose memories I can access, lived alone. Presumably, if another member of my family came home, this little girl was swapped out for some other part of myself I haven't met yet. What's so chilling about this sense memory is the vividness of my isolation. I was deeply lonely, of course, but I was being protected from something deemed worse than loneliness. Still, lonely is sad.

And that's why I loved paper dolls. I had a set where the dolls were cardboard and had holes punched in their torsos such that when a dress was put on, it could be laced up like some Tyrolean dirndl. I really loved those dolls, and something happened to them (maybe nothing ominous, maybe they just got thrown away in a routine clean-up) that constituted a loss I still mourn. A few years later, there was a series of comic books about Millie The Model. Interleaved with the stories of three mid-60s models were pages of clothes that could be cut out and used to dress a cartoon model. I meticulously cut those out and kept them in a box under my bed.

It's such a pedestrian activity, getting dressed, but it must speak volumes to the juvenile mind, particularly for girls. I had Barbies (later), and invested a lot of energy into clothing them (literally -- on one occasion I walked ten miles to the shopping mall where my mother worked, so I could spend my allowance on a new Barbie outfit; if I'd taken the bus, I wouldn't have had the amount I needed for the outfit), but the paper dolls were even more primal and powerful, possibly because they took up so little space. (Losing that third dimension will do that to a body.) I still crave that connection, even though at 53 it's a bit hard to justify the actual activity.

So, thank you Hope, for giving me some paper dolls. Now all I need is a little girl who's sufficiently age-appropriate to justify playing with the paper dolls, just helping you know . . .

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