Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Dolled Up & Ready to Go... Where?

May 3. True story.

 As a kid I wanted dolls to play with; Barbies, babies, etc., & my little sister felt the same. So that's what our Christmas presents usually were. Being poor, we felt lucky to get any gifts.

We didn't know we were making a choice that was supposed to represent our major life interests. We didn't know to ask for telescopes, spaceships, microscopes, easels, guitars. Those were things I could have wanted, given a chance-- I don't know about my sister. I wanted drums, I wanted a mummy, I wanted to be Mr. Spock, but didn't know how to ask for those. Maybe being trained in girl-ness for six years was enough to show me I shouldn't ask. After all, the train set I had asked for never appeared. The Hot Wheels track in the basement belonged to my older brother, and despite my enthusiasm for playing with the cars, on the rare occasions he allowed that, nobody ever considered that I might want race cars & a track as well. No one asked if I wanted them instead of dolls.

Why would they? I was a little girl during the early 70s, and that meant I could play house (they should call it HouseKeeping 101), put on pretend fashion shows, play with baby dolls, Barbie dolls, color pretty pictures, use my BFF's Easy Bake Oven. Oh, and read, which I did, daily. Any interests I had outside of the conventional set were not going to be overly encouraged, at home or in school. No one was going to notice how, before actual 'play' I spent two hours setting up every detail of Barbie's house, made of discarded shoeboxes and whatnot, and think that I had a talent or desire to design & organize. The teachers at school didn't see that while the other girls were swinging & braiding each other's hair at recess, I was playing Star trek with a (boy) friend, roaming invented galaxies and negotiating with aliens.

To be fair, I was encouraged in some ways-- my Mom made sure I got books on whales & archaeology, two of my interests, and got me art supplies & books on how to use them. But I was miserly with my paints, knowing there wouldn't be more anytime soon, and was afraid to really experiment and thus use them up. A side effect of being poor. I guess another issue was that I learned better by being shown how to do something, than by reading instructions (still do). So the How-To books didn't work for me, and my lack of production of a masterpiece was taken for lack of strong motivation, although I drew constantly, on any paper I could scrounge.

This kind of unconscious choice we make, as kids & adults, is almost heartbreaking to me, now. I carry some guilt to this day, for not somehow intuiting the methods & techniques to become A Great Artist; and that I didn't figure out how to ask, despite the behavorial programming, for the guidance & gifts to become some kind of scientist. And I bristle when I see children being locked into similar choices, choices that they too are unaware they are making.

I wanted it all-- to be an artist, to understand whales and dig up ancient civilisations to study, to figure out the mysteries of space, to learn to play drums and to create my own fairy tales. My heart was full of all these desires. And still, I asked for dolls, mostly, and that's what I received.

C 5/2016
by Mari Kozlowski

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