Yesterday I got out my little toy fir trees, cleared a shelf on my bookcase, and set up a forest scene. I call this the Forest of Possibilities. I put a few small plastic animals among the trees as wild inhabitants, and I gave one tree a string of tiny battery-powered lights and a small white star on top, not for Christmas or any other religious holiday, but to invoke the magic of the winter solstice and the turn of the seasons back toward spring.
I did this last year, too, and it was the start of an obsession with dollies. At first it was just that I added some more animals to my forest. Then a pond made of a pocket mirror. Then it was just that I enjoyed making little trees from things I found, like the smooth green stems from some big-leaf maple prunings or the fallen twigs of white alders bearing both open brown cones and stiff green catkins. I made their foliage out of dismantled fake floral decorations or green feathers. (Note to self: Yes, it was the poisonous lichens causing those migraines! Do not use again!) Pretty soon I was looking up videos online to see how other people made realistic model trees. Then I started looking up model trees for sale, just to see what was out there, and I ran across a whole world of miniature stuff and was hooked. It quickly became apparent that whatever your dolly wanted, your dolly could have. There were miniature lanterns that really lit up. Miniature fireplaces, with little glowing fires in them. There were dollhouse potted plants, and world globes, and typewriters, and microscopes, and little jars of canned fruit. There were people making little tanks full of tropical fish, and little washtubs full of geraniums, and throwing real little ceramic crocks on real little table-top pottery wheels. I watched one video in which someone even made an actual tiny working washing machine! And at the end, they put a tiny pillowcase into it and turned it on, and sure enough, the drum rotated behind its “glass” door! Neat!
And the books! Oh, the books! Don’t get me started on miniature books! (The ones with real pages, I mean. Fake pages are just depressing.)
So of course I dragged the box of dolls out of the closet and revisited all the stuff I had when I was a kid. And I realized that I had always loved miniatures. I just hadn’t known it.
I chose a few dollies, and dressed them, and found them some toys, and some little things for their dollhouse, which (who knows?) they might have some day. I found some videos about how to repair their hair, which had gotten sadly frizzy. I really liked these videos, and I watched them even after I knew that I was not going to be messing around with the tedious job of re-hairing a doll any time soon.
I felt kind of silly about all this. Kind of self-conscious. But then someone I respect said, “Well, dollies are what you make of them, aren’t they?”
So what do I make of them? Well, they’re charming. And they’re fun. And they seem to express what I think and how I feel about things. I give them personalities that embody qualities I value, traits I admire. In their world I have agency, and whether that world is a little bed in a drawer or a small space on a bookshelf, I can give it an order, a beauty, which the real one frequently lacks. I can love my dollies, and I can love myself through them, and thereby transform my life just a little bit. Because sometimes a little bit can be real neat!
Hey, maybe dollies can save the world after all!