I purchased a vintage paper doll and matching wardrobe off Ebay. While I’m sure that particular set of words has been strung together many times before and by crazy cat ladies who know the value of a good keepsake ornament, I am not a collector. Instead, I was looking for a blueprint doll and matching grown with enough surface area to represent a whole story. Luckily, I found her.
Each of these six headless doll outfits represents a specific essay. Not all of the essays have accompanying dolls. So what does an essay have to do to garner this mildly batshit doll treatment? I guess it has to melt down easily. Which isn’t to say I wasn’t aiming for some lofty complexity in all of these essays. But their visuals in these six stuck with me in a way I felt would reproduce humorously on a paper doll. What we have here are: “Lost In Space” (an essay about what it is to be truly lost), “An Abbreviated Catalogue of Tongues” (a story-in-eulogy about how my family changes with each murdered house pet), “Le Paris!” (a travel essay about not one, but two ill-fated trips), “Show Me On The Doll” (an essay about spinning globes and growing older in Lisbon), and “Light Pollution” (an essay about friendship and guns and bears but mostly bears). Wow, I feel like they should all be wearing mini-pageant sashes.
Anyway, if you look carefully you’ll see I haven’t laid out every meaning of every detail on every doll. Because, well, you don’t need my help. The idea is that all their secrets and symbols become obvious if you read these essays. And if they don’t, well, that’s okay too. I just really hope you enjoy them. I would say I hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoyed making them but I had the advantage of a lot of open containers of glue so….
Lost In Space
A) The Crystal Ball: This was the first image that jumped out at me from this essay. There’s a reference to the movie Labyrinth in this essay. I also wanted to make a highly attractive David Bowie wig out of the trim on the Light Pollution doll but then I remembered none of these dolls have heads.
B) The Mushrooms: Like the small gold Cheshire Cat, these are a tribute to the Alice in Wonderland reference in this essay. Also: they are a tribute to very tiny mushrooms made of twisted cotton and glossy paint. They are scattered in random clumps across an old map of downtown Manhattan. Perhaps using movies from my childhood to illustrate the childlike feeling of being lost is no accident.
C) The Scantron Bodice: My general lack of functionality, though never a secret to my friends and teachers, really came to light when I began taking standardized tests. Which they give out in New York State like they give out condoms in China. I would skip or mis-bubble dozens of answers at a time when I took these tests.
An Abbreviated Catalogue of Tongues
A) The Creepy Bugs: When I first started making these, I had the grand plan of designing them in the chronological order of the essay they represented. So either the present-tense version of myself or the start of the action would be up top and the past would be at the hem of the dress. And then I remembered I needed to live my life. But this one doll works a little like that. It operates literally from the ground-up. So the bugs and animals at the bottom are below the surface – dead and buried in dirt – and the trim on top is “grass.”
B) The Circles: These decals are pre-purchased from a stationary store. I like how they look like pet family crests and I especially like the glow around the bird. If the animals at the bottom are dead, these are their mini-souls ascending to the big birdcage in the sky.
C) The Hearts: A couple of times in this essay I mention that we tried to love our pets. And on one level, the essay in general is about misplaced affection. You know what else I tried to do? Glue a bunch of microscopic hearts on a paper doll without half of them sticking to my fingers. Everyone has a goal.
A) The Metro Bow: I had the most fun making this doll out of the bunch. Rather, I enjoyed revisiting it the most after I knew it was good enough. I liked scouring my house for random French memorabilia. That’s when I realized I had Metro tickets not only from my most recent trip to Paris but one from my first trip there in college. So the bow is made from both.
B) The Boat-T Bodice: Two words: Jean Seberg. Two Letters: H&M. If I hold very still, I assume the current nautical fashion trend will go back from whence it came.
C) La Grenouille: The frog had to make a cameo on a doll about an essay about American (okay, my) misconceptions about France. He was actually a gift from the woman on which Light Pollution – the Alaskan essay — is based. He’s a good luck frog. Unfortunately, I didn’t bring him with me on either of my Parisian excursions. Which explains a lot.
D) The “Notice”: This made me laugh. It’s from the back of a plane ticket and says that it should be retained “as evidence of your journey.” Yeah, well. Either that or you write an 9,000-word essay on the subject. Keeping the ticket kind of seems like the lazy route.
E) The Euros: These feature in Show Me On The Doll (about Lisbon) as well, for obvious reasons. Aside from the vintage doll, they were my one EBay purchase for this. Once I found them, I wanted to see if you really could by a miniature version of anything on EBay. You can. I bought teeeny tiny handcuffs. For what, I don’t know. For if I saw a roach and didn’t have any bug spray or heavy magazines, I guess.
Show Me On The Doll
A) The Belém Bodice: Just go here please: http://www.pasteisdebelem.pt/. They recently relaucnhed their website in a direct effort to taunt me (yes, I sometimes check the website of a custard tart I can’t even order even if they were 100 dollars each). These tarts were part of one of the happiest days of my life.
B) The Insane Glitter Patterns: This is an essay about finding your way and about crazy circus clowns. Both can be quite frightening. The top swath of glitter is supposed to have a harlequin clown feel. And the bottom? I took a map of Lisbon and followed the streets with glue from one side of the dress to the other to demonstrate just how windy the streets are there.
C) The “NO WINE” Sketch: This is from the last scene of the essay so I won’t ruin it. Really. That’s all you’re going to get here.
A) The Fishing Vest: This is the first doll I made so it’s a little bit less refined than some of the others. I considered starting over halfway through but then I realized the awkwardness of it kind of worked both with my experience in Alaska and the general manliness of the state. Though what’s a feminine state? Maybe Louisiana. Somewhere genteel where people slap vowels and accents on their names. Where was I? Oh right. I went fly fishing.
B) CANADA: In the essay our “Lower 48” party often speaks of the strangeness of being “above Canada.” So when I saw these stickers I knew they would be perfect at the bottom of this particular doll. And the flag is really there to drive the point home. Though there’s a Canadian flag featured in Le Paris! as well so that guy moved around a bit.
C) The Flowers: These are pressed wildflowers. In the first paragraph of the essay, I am watching a blur of wildflowers from the backseat a moving vehicle. As I sit down to dissect the dolls for this website, it occurs to me how obvious the imagery on this particular doll is. You already knew these were pressed wildflowers. Again, I think that’s an Alaskan thing. It’s not a subtle state. Lots of in-your-face beauty.
D) The Bells: Since I was in Alaska for a wedding but the main bell in the story is a safety precaution against wild bears, I was very excited to find these: bachlorette party favors. But the perfect proportion for a dress on a doll about an essay about….you get the idea. Plus, this is the only interactive doll! She chimes!
Take A Stab At It
A) The Key and The Lease: Much of this essay focuses on real-estate envy and, more specifically, apartment renting. So the key is, well, a key. And the trim peaking out from beneath the dress is cut from a photocopy of my lease.
B) The Cameos and Roses: I wanted to invoke an over-the-top olden-timey girlishness with this dress. At first I was going to try to craft this doll top-to-bottom in Deadwood chic. But since none of the essays are about only one thing, I thought that might be too narrow. So I just glued these large plastic flowers to what I like to call “vintage flirt” paper.
C) The Scary Black Paint: Things were getting a little too rosy and shiny for an essay that’s founded on long-dead suicidal whores. So I thought some black acrylic creeping in from the seams would help balance out the situation.
D) The Jewels: I had a roommate once who sometimes borrowed my accessories without permission. The cluster of stones comes from a shirt I wore quite a bit while I was living with her and the earring backs come from – oh, yes – the backs of earrings.