Last week I learned the value of suspending judgment and listening with an open heart. “Hey,” you say. “You are within a few million breaths of completing seven decades of a passingly happy and successful life and you just figured this out?”
To that I can only say, “Yes and no.” Of course I’ve known this most of those nearly seventy years. But a few days ago my eight-year-old granddaughter inadvertently put new spin on the concept.
Let me back up. Compare this picture featured in a blog post on September 1, 2009
with this picture from last week.
Both pictures feature clothespin dolls. I made the dolls in the top picture four years ago for my daughter’s girls. Sarah, the oldest, was four at the time. When they came for a visit last week, Sarah, who is now eight, wanted to make clothespin dolls. My mind whirled at the thought of teaching her to sew the tiny seams along the sides of the dresses, but Sarah immediately took charge of the situation.
She selected a rust-colored pipe cleaner from a pile on my desk. “What can I cut this with?” “Why do you need to cut it?” “To make hair!” Huh, what? Hair made from pipe cleaner? Why not? I pulled out my stash of craft pliers, and Sarah snipped a couple of pieces and twisted them into hair that I hot-glued on. To my surprise, it looked great.
With barely a pause, she chose fabric for the dress, and before I realized what she was doing, she had snipped a ragged rectangle from one corner, wrapped it around the doll and taped it shut. “I want to use this ribbon for a belt.”
Heckuva deal, I thought. So much for me teaching Sarah how to make these things. “Do you want to learn to sew dresses like the ones I made?” I asked. “No! I know how to sew, but that’s not what I want them to look like.” Oh! KAY! New page, new doll story.
Sarah eagerly accepted a sparkly silver hair suggestion for her next doll (third from the left). A taped scrap of “silky” black lining fabric formed the perfect dress, adorned by a snip of lacy fabric and slinky silver spandex cape.
I quickly realized that my job was to provide resources and explain the advantages of hot (faster than white) glue over tape (doesn’t stick well to fabric). Based on her whims, I found strands of yarn for hair, and Sarah did the rest, cranking out dolls at warp speed, intuitively mixing snips of this with scraps of that. She never paused to cogitate, and in an hour or two she had exhausted my clothespin supply .
I admit I was stunned at the results. Her dolls have panache! They sizzle with character. When I made the initial batch, I was thinking inside the nostalgia box, making dolls recalled from the past. Dolls that look like real people. With no limiting beliefs, Sarah was drawing on unbridled imagination and fairy tales. My dolls are dressed to milk cows and bake gingerbread. Her dolls cast spells and eat poison apples. My dolls are for playing house. Hers are for populating fantasy stories.
My post four years ago was titled “Memories I Wish I’d Had.” If you read that post closely, you’ll notice that the memories I longed for would have been about making things, making dolls for playing house with classic roles. I wanted to capture the past.
Sarah took a version of this concept to a new level. Her focus was on making things, but she was future oriented. She wanted dolls, but not for playing house. Sarah was creating adventure stories. She selected, snipped and wrapped her emerging characters, creating her story bit by bit.
Did I remember to tell her these awesome glam scraps are left over from her great-grandmother’s doll-making days? Maybe not. But Sarah’s dolls capture the spirit of stuffed fairy and mermaid art dolls Mother made near the end of her life. Did Mother imagine stories as she stitched her dolls? I bet she did. Mother and I both made traditional dolls for playthings early in life. Mother got wild and crazy much later. She rethought what dolls were about.
Sarah is skipping the traditional phase. By suspending judgment and giving her free reign to follow her muse, I gave her space to follow her dreams, and in doing so, she unwittingly cracked open a limiting shell around my creativity that I had nor realized was there. That drawer of glimmer and glam has been patiently waiting in my physical work room for nearly twenty years. Sarah began pulling it into her stories. Now it’s time for me to follow her lead into that larger space, making new use of old materials, both manifest and remembered.
Write now: recall a time if you can when you showed someone how to do something (formally or otherwise) and learned something yourself in the process. If you can’t remember such a time, teach someone something soon and write about it. That something may be as simple as using a new seasoning in a favorite recipe or as complex as designing a web page. Teach, then write, including an account of how your thinking changed in the process.