November 24, 2010

And Then I Didn't

I think I mentioned that I bought a Barbie Dream House on eBay. The original 1962 model, just like the one I had as a kid. Not to play with. To write about. Really. Perhaps the italics have given you the wrong idea, but here's the truth: I had a Barbie Dream House, and then I didn't. I used to write, and then I didn't. Ah, but as a kid I wrote all the time. Wrote wrote wrote wrote wrote. Stories, plays, poems. Teachers awarded As. Classmates read avidly. My father corrected my spelling.

Was I good? Hard to say, though I've kept every scrap. The more important question is: Did I love it? Yes. I wanted to do it for the rest of my life. But I didn't. Not good enough, talented enough, dedicated brave strong confident stubborn defiant crazy driven enough. When I came back to writing nine years ago, it was no longer fun or easy. My fingers no longer itched when they'd been too long away from a pen and a few sheets of notebook paper. I had no idea what kind of writer I wanted to be. I had no ideas, period, and relied on exercises and prompts to get me started.

In Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg preaches the power and efficacy of what she calls writing practice--writing in response to a prompt for five or ten or fifteen minutes during which you don't stop to think or correct, you don't pass go, and you don't collect $200. You don’t even lift the pen from the page.

For example: write about a favorite toy. Ten minutes. Okay, go.

No, stop. What was my favorite toy? No idea. Well, let's see: my bike, roller skates, a baby doll named Jeanie, a teddy bear whose name changed depending on which one of my siblings claimed ownership, Barbie, the Barbie Dream House, COLORFORMS--whoa, wait. What was that about the Barbie Dream House? Ah, yes. The Barbie Dream House. I loved the Barbie Dream House. Whatever happened to that? No, seriously, what did happen to it?

It took me several writing sessions to remember the last day I played with it, and—I’ll let Barbie tell you her version of events:

"I was in the midst of a hot date with Ken when the Mom-person came to tell my person that it was time for dinner and that she had to go home. The Friend-person asked the Mom-person if my person could stay for dinner, but the Mom-person said no. (The Mom- and Dad-persons seem to have a lot of power. Especially the Mom-people. What they say goes.) And so my person and I went. She gathered up all of my furniture and stacked it against the back wall of my house. The bed on its side, balanced on the couch, along with the coffee table, the easy chair upturned over the ottoman....well, I don't know how she does it, but she gets it all in there. She takes good care of my stuff and for that I'm grateful.

"She doesn't pull my arms off or cut my hair. Doesn't let her little brother shoot me with his BB gun or blow me up with GI Joe’s bazooka. My friend Skipper’s cousin’s neighbor said she knew some Barbies whose Brother-person stood up in a field with some other dolls so he could pretend he was shooting Germans in WWII, but that might just be an urban legend.) But she does stuff me in my dream house on top of all that furniture, and then SHE LEAVES ME THERE. My back just kills me. One of these days, I'm going to become a chiropractor--or maybe an astronaut. I haven't decided yet. Whatever has the cutest clothes.

"Anyway, on THAT day, which would be--little did I know it--the last good day of my life, my person stuffed me into the house, folded up its walls, and off we went. It was a bumpy ride from the Friend-person's house to my person's house. She acted like I'm HEAVY or something because she kept setting my house down and letting out these big sighs. (I'd have been insulted if it weren't for my svelte, buxom figure, which I just know will still be sexy even when I'm 50.)

"Once, she set me down for a really long time, and I heard voices. Girl voices, and boys laughing. My person didn’t say much. And then, really clear, a girl voice said, 'Barbara, do you still play with DOLLS?' Like playing with dolls was a bad thing! Like it was a dirty thing. After that my person picked me up, real rough, like she didn’t care about my safety and comfort, and the ride was worse than it had ever been. She left me for a long time in the dirty, car-smelling garage. A long, long, LONG time. Like, forever."

Barbie exaggerates. It was two years, three tops, before the Barbie Dream House was disposed of in some manner I no longer recall but which most likely involved Goodwill, and Barbie, freed from house arrest, was relocated to the cardboard box that would become her tomb. (It was an accident, I swear.) Writing, shoved into a grimy and unvisited corner of my psyche, languished longer.

Why does this matter? Because I used to write, and then I didn’t. I had a Barbie Dream House, and then I didn’t. I didn’t write, and then I did—and when I did, the Barbie Dream House was one of the first things I wrote about.