Something Fun

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I have a lot of hobbies: reading, drawing, sewing, gardening . . . well, that’s not a hobby, it’s a big part of my life . . . photography, and collecting dolls. Lately, things in the world and the U.S. in particular have been so depressing that it’s a struggle to write for the day job and work on my novels. I’m 44, and I’m starting to have problems with arthritis, so I’ve neglected my sewing and drawing. When I lived on Long Island, I spent hours every day driving around taking pictures. That’s difficult where I live now because I lost my SUV in the divorce due to my ex-husband’s lies and financial connivance. It’s hard to go off-roading in my Kia. On Long Island, it’s commonplace to see people parked on the side of the road, taking pictures. Here, it seems to be bizarrely annoying to people who rocket past in their giant pickups, laying down on their horns as if stopping on the shoulder, putting on your hazard lights, and standing on the opposite side of the road with a camera is some kind of unpardonable sin.

But I digress. I’ve found cemeteries and parks and other places where I can take pictures without someone trying to run me over. There is still the issue of having to go somewhere instead of simply going about my daily business with the camera in the passenger seat. I get some nice shots around my yard from time to time. I got this shot of the full moon tonight:

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I’ve been actively collecting dolls for about 17 years. Doll collecting has gone from a casual hobby to something that keeps me sane. I know what the majority of people think about doll collectors, and I frankly don’t care, because those people collect baseball cards, comic books, model trains, sports team memorabilia, and lots of other things that bore me to tears.

Doll collecting isn’t about returning to one’s childhood, at least not for me. Today’s dolls would have struck me speechless when I was 10. I would have loved the Monster High dolls in particular. I still collect Barbie . . . articulated Barbies, Fashionistas, Holiday Barbies, special collector Barbies. I keep an eye out for a couple of dolls, Star Fairies and Chrissies, that I particularly loved as a child. I’m fascinated by doll photography. I’m terrible at it, but I try. I’ve been incredibly lucky–no, I worked really hard and saved my money and bought three Monster High repaints and three Tonners. I bought the Tonners nude, otherwise I would never have been able to afford them. I found a wonderful lady in North Carolina who makes clothes for Tonners. I dressed the dolls myself, and I’m quite proud of how I personalized them.

Some dolls, you set up and look at and enjoy, like my Wonder Woman dolls. Some dolls you dress and photograph, like my Tonners and my Monster High dolls. I bought a used Ever After High doll, Cerise Hood, the daughter of Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf (I’m assuming he was a werewolf, nothing will sway my opinion) so I could try giving her a short haircut. So few dolls have short hair. The haircut came out gorgeous. I redressed the doll. The entire project cost $33 (and a bruised thumbnail because I evidently don’t know how to hold barber shears) and was so much fun. I took a mass-produced doll and made it unique. I only wish I had the talent to repaint doll faces.

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Aren’t my twin sisters lovely?

My point in writing this post is to say–hobbies are important for your mental and physical health. ESPECIALLY today. Gardening is a hobby for many people, but to me it’s like running every day. It’s just something I have to do to live, and it does relieve mental stress, and it gets me out doing something physical. It’s healthy and productive.

But so are hobbies. Hobbies take your mind off all of everything that’s going on today for a little while. That’s why coloring books for adults are so popular. That’s why crocheting, knitting, building models, and creating model railroads are so popular. If you don’t do anything but work and try to spend some time with your family before you go to bed so you can get up and go to work again, you’re almost certainly tense, exhausted, and unhappy.

Get a hobby. Make doll clothes. Go fishing. Paint something. Become an amateur astronomer. Do yourself a favor, and make sure that you regularly take a mini vacation.

Put your phone down.

Sometimes I wonder if people wonder why this blog isn’t devoted to books, writing them and reading them. I love writing. I love reading. Writing is my job. Reading is part of my job. I talk books and writing with other writers on Twitter. Here, I like to talk about other things, although since I’ve broken through my writer’s block, I’ll likely be writing more posts about writing, and what I’m reading.

This post isn’t one of my ranty posts. It’s for you and so many other people who have reached the end of their tethers with the excruciating stress of daily life. You have a hobby you’ve been neglecting or want to try but haven’t. Do it.

“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality.” Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House

Today’s reality is soul-crushing. Do something fun to escape it. It will improve your mood and hopefully lower your blood pressure.

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Something About a Doll

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Every Tuesday night, I participate in a doll chat with a small group of people who collect all different kinds of dolls, Barbies, Monster High dolls, and Tonners. It’s a two-hour break from “real life” and these days very much needed.

When there’s a crisis, especially an ongoing crisis like Hurricane Harvey, you almost feel guilty for talking about anything on social media but the crisis. To have a regular chat where you can be yourself is a wonderful thing. We talk about all kinds of dolls and other toys, doll collecting, repainting dolls, the toy company industry, companies that cater to adult collectors, making doll clothes, ways to fix things like stains on dolls or matted hair.

We’re like every other group of adult collectors . . . except we collect dolls.

This somehow makes us weird and creepy. Action figures are acceptable collectibles. So is sports memorabilia. Comic books. Baseball cards. Christmas villages. Massive Nativity scenes. So many things, but doll collectors aren’t even allowed on the bottom rung of the ladder. What’s so wrong with us?

Most of us have loved dolls since we were children. That’s normal. We’re not all women, by the way. Men, straight and gay, collect dolls. Not vintage toys, but dolls. Why?

There is something about a doll. People with big imaginations are drawn to dolls. A dollhouse is a tiny world where you can act out the stories in your mind. I was lucky enough to have my mother’s childhood dollhouse when I was a child. Still, I preferred playing with my Barbies and Flower Princess dolls and Star Fairy dolls and generic fashion dolls outside. I believe in fairies 100%. I spent hours with my dolls playing fairies at the mossy base of a maple tree. I made up stories in my mind. When I started school, I started writing down stories. Now I’m a writer, and I still draw inspiration from my dolls.

But everyone who collects dolls doesn’t become a writer or photographer or fashion designer, and that’s okay. It’s okay to just love dolls, no matter how old you are, no matter if you’re a boy or a girl. Dolls are a joy. Some collectors keep their dolls in glass cases and never touch them, which is understandable if you have a collection of 19th century bébé Jumeaus. Modern doll collecting is very different. Whether we collect ball-jointed dolls (BJDs) or other expensive fully articulated dolls or Tonners or Barbies or Monster High dolls, our dolls are part of our households. We may have so many dolls that we pack some away and rotate them throughout the year. Many doll collectors have holiday dolls. It’s fun to set up a holiday scene with dolls providing action. A skilled photographer can make dolls come alive in pictures.

Dolls give us a break from the grinding stress of life today. Often, it’s relaxing just to sit and hold a doll. That doesn’t mean we’re living in childish fantasy worlds. It means we’ve found a hobby that gives us something to look forward to (buying a new doll or buying or making clothes) and it connects us with other people. And what could be more precious than connection in this precarious world?

The Gentle Adventures of Justine and Vivian 2: Vivian

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What is there to say about me? Once I was a mother. I lost my daughter.

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I felt that I was becoming a shadow. I couldn’t bring my daughter back. I couldn’t keep living in our home. One day, I woke up and packed a valise and went to the airport.

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I don’t require much, and when I make a decision, I act. I left England for the United States. I was used to a quiet life in a green countryside. I took a taxi cab from the airport to the train station, and when I walked out onto the street and looked up at the metal and glass buildings and heard the noise of so many people and so many cars, I almost turned around.

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I thought I had made a dreadful mistake, that I should return home, but I kept walking until I found myself in an old part of the city. Though the buildings were young compared to my home, I did sense age, and the passage of many lives, and there was life all around me. Street vendors selling food, clothes, handbags, shoes. I didn’t need shoes. I thought that I might seek lodging in this neighborhood, at least for a little while. Then I heard a woman calling a cat. I looked up, and she was standing on a balcony with a wrought iron railing.

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“There!” she called, and pointed, and I saw a kitten with blue eyes hiding under a food vendor’s cart.

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I have never been a great fan of cats and was surprised when it came to me. The woman ran down, and I saw she was just a little older than my daughter had been. I told her I was new to the city. She said that she had a room to rent.

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This is how I came to live with Justine. She loves books and old-fashioned things. I am an old-fashioned thing. She said that I must have more clothes, so she took me to her dressmaker. I paid. I paid for a new dress for her, too. One thing I did bring plenty of was money. The apartment is tiny, even thought it has two bedrooms. We’ve been talking about moving. I’ve grown to like the little beast, whose name is Pyewackett after a cat in an old movie. We like old movies. We aren’t exactly friends yet. Perhaps we are both trying too hard. I must never tell Justine how much she reminds me of my daughter. Sometimes I hear Justine’s step behind me and think it is . . .

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But it isn’t, and it never will be.

The Gentle Adventures of Justine and Vivian 1: Justine

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I’m twenty-two (my birthday was in January) and have been living in a little apartment since I was eighteen. My apartment is in an old-fashioned brick building with cast-iron door handles and balcony railings. There’s no elevator, but I don’t mind climbing the stairs.

Someone in the building has a lady cat that goes outside, and she had kittens. I adopted a boy kitten and named him Pyewackett.

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He has enchanting blue eyes. My favorite colors are blue and pink. We had a lovely Valentine’s Day together.

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I work in a library, in the history room. I shelve the very old books. On my way home, I sometimes stop at a shop that sells vintage clothes and little treasures. I bought my doll there, and my chest of drawers, and bedding. I like imagining that I saved someone’s favorite thing from being thrown away, and now it’s one of my favorite things.

I don’t need much, just books and Pyewackett. One warm day I did a terrible thing: I left the balcony door open, and Pyewackett disappeared.

The Gentle Adventures of Justine and Vivian

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I write. I’m an amateur photographer. I collect dolls. Necessarily, the three must come together.

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I desperately wanted this doll (Tonner, Urban Legend Lizette, nude) and when I got a little financial windfall, she was still waiting for me. I renamed her Justine, after characters in my books.

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If you knew the characters in my yet-to-be published series, you’d know that this is pre-vampire Vivian (doll’s original name is Delightful Miette, another sold nude) being a really good girl.

I live with Justine/Lizette for a couple of months before Vivian/Miette joined our little family. It’s eerie how Justine came to be a presence with emotions.

Now, how to write the backstory of Justine and Vivian?

Justine and Vivian are not romantically involved and will never be. Per my books, mortal Vivan lost her teen daughter. Ensuing events gave her a cruel streak. She is not a “good” vampire, but she has a little soft spot in her heart for young women who remind her of her daughter.

In this doll backstory, Vivian left England after her daughter’s death and came to America. Vivian was not yet a vampire, so this is an alternate backstory for an established character. She was seeking lodgings, or maybe she was just walking the streets with her valise. I think that she saw a lost kitten.

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Vivian is not a particular fan of cats, but perhaps she heard a young woman calling frantically for Kitty and returned Kitty to Justine. Justine saw her valise and said that she had a room for rent.

Justine preferred her solitary life but needed additional income. She and Vivian are suspicious of each other. Vivian doesn’t want to get too close because she can’t bear to lose another daughter figure . . . yet she’s fascinated by independent Justine. They have things in common. They both love old-fashioned fashion. They both prefer to be alone, but fate drew them together in a little apartment in an old part of a big city. How will they get along while not falling into a mother/daughter relationship? Vivian must establish a new life for herself and finds herself seeking advice from a woman young enough to be her daughter.

How confusing! Let’s see how they progress over the coming months.

 

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I am an amateur at doll photography, but I love it. It’s fun, and it gives me something creative to do that doesn’t “matter” in terms of my career. No, actually, it does matter, because I sell photography and all photography improves my skills. Photography is my side career. Writing is my life.

I finally got shoes for my Tonners. These ladies are an ongoing project. I was only able to afford them because they were both sold nude (the sellers removed their original outfits to sell separately to try to make more money) and they both have rooted hair (no wigs to buy.) Their official names are Lizette and Miette. I renamed the Justine and Vivian. Justine is the younger-looking doll in the blue dress. When I saw this Miette, I had to have her because she has cinnamon-colored hair like the character Vivian in my Empire State Vamps series, and she has brown eyes. After I got Justine and saw her lifelike amber eyes and long eyelashes, I didn’t think I’d like a doll with painted eyes and eyelashes. But I LOVE Vivian/Miette. She looks like my character as a young woman, before she became a vampire.

In my books, Vivian’s 17-year-old daughter was murdered, so she feels a strong motherly instinct towards girls Justine’s age. (But this is all just immature adults playing dolls, right?) I’ve had Justine since January. Since she arrived with no clothes, I had to dress her, and I got SUPER lucky and found an Ebay seller in my state who collects Tonners and makes gorgeous outfits for them for $10-$13. She even made a nightgown to my specifications. Over the last three months, I’ve bought several dresses from her, and we got to chatting. She’s 60. She collects the dolls for her granddaughter, and she makes the clothes to supplement her income. (Again, totally immature adults playing with dolls.)

It was sort of a destiny thing. I had already bought Justine’s long blue frock, and then the seller posted the same dress in a different color and pattern. I wasn’t going to buy it . . . until I found the Miette. And I thought how vampire Vivian loves clothes and would have loved to do the matchy-matchy thing with her daughter. So I bought the matching dress. And I bought underwear and stockings from TheDaughterWhoSews on Etsy, and just last week I bought shoes from Facets by Marcia.

I’ve always collected dolls. I’ve never had the kind of dolls you buy wardrobes for, and accessories, and create “bedrooms” for on your nightstand. I’ve never had dolls that had real personalities. They’re like children–but vampire Vivian would drain me dry if she knew I said that about her.

I’ve been so busy with work lately that I have had almost no time to work on my books. My only relaxation has been Justine and Vivian. I took Instagram pics, of course, but tonight I took some shots with my “real” camera, my Canon Powershot SX20IS. I liked the color shot so much that I took another in sepia, then used the camera’s photo editing software to up the saturation.

So this is what many grown-up doll collectors do. I hope that you like the pics and that you understand doll collectors a little bit better.

 

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Dolls and the Importance of Play in the 21st Century

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Dolls have evolved drastically since I was a child in the 1970s. Of course there are still many traditional dolls on the market, but in general, dolls are becoming more lifelike. Barbie is now available in inexpensive curvy versions and every race and skin tone.

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She’s also available in articulated versions like Made to Move Barbie.

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This was an important decision on Mattel’s part because doll photography is such a huge hobby among collectors, and many of us can’t afford to spend hundreds of dollars on BJDs or don’t like the melancholic expressions of most BJDs. (Please don’t take me to task for BJD hate; I think BJD artists are incredibly talented and I’ve seen BJDs I’d love to have. I have three Monster High repaints that were done by a BJD artist. They just don’t have the extreme sad look of some BJDs.)

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For those unfamiliar with doll terminology, BJD stands for ball-jointed doll/Asian ball-jointed doll. Most BJDs have facial expressions similar to anime characters.

Doll artists strip the factory paint from the faces of Monster High dolls and repaint them to look very much like BJDs. Many doll artists start out with MH dolls, perfect their technique, and move on to BJDs. I got lucky and found a new doll artist. My repaints cost $26, $50, and $65. Most repaints start at well over $100.

Why would an adult collector pay so much for repainted mass-produced dolls? They’re unique works of art. A good repaint shows a bit of the artist’s personality. To me, the most important aspect of a repaint is the eyes. It takes great skill to paint authentic eye highlights. Hair is also important. Most doll artists reroot the cheap factory hair. This is a painstaking process. If you ever see an expensive repaint and are shocked by the price, imagine the hours that the artist spent bent over that doll’s head, replacing thin, matted hair with thick, natural looking hair. It’s hard to find short-haired fashion dolls in stores. I bought my first repaint because she has a short bob like me.

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As I said, people who repaint dolls or paint new dolls are artists. It takes a lot of talent, practice, and knowledge to turn a cheap mass-produced doll into a work of art, and it’s possible to supplement your income significantly with doll sales. This is one reason why a child’s interest in dolls and art should be encouraged.

Children love Monster High and Ever After High dolls because of their differentness. These dolls are not about teaching little girls to be good mommies. These are dolls designed for imagination play and to celebrate uniqueness. Quirks. Things we were taught should be subdued in past decades. Monster High and Ever After High dolls are bold, strong, unafraid of living in a world that doesn’t accept them. They’re diverse. A few dolls are disabled. Others wear scars, or accentuate their uncommon features.

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Some wear glasses. This is so important to kids who aren’t “normal.” It’s a stand against the blonde Caucasian abled dolls that people my age grew up with.

I’m Caucasian and have hidden illnesses: asthma, depression, OCD. A doll can’t address all those issues (that I know of) but when I was at prime doll age as a child, it was hard to find a brunette fashion doll. I still have a brunette generic doll from my childhood, a Polynesian Barbie with black hair, and a “Flower Princesses” Evil Witch doll with black and purple hair. The dark-haired doll was the villain back then. Now I seek out dolls with dark hair because it upset me so much as a child to have nothing but blonde dolls. I realize this is a minute problem compared to the total lack of black, Asian, and Latina dolls until recently, but it did matter to me.

I had baby dolls. My mother bought them for me, and I don’t recall asking for them. I wanted the fashion dolls. When a child is playing with a Monster High doll or a new Barbie, they aren’t preparing for life as a housewife/househusband/parent. They’re creating stories in their mind and acting them out. All my years of acting out stories with dolls helped me prepare for a writing career. Consider the upcoming Wonder Woman movie and the associated dolls and action figures. Children who get those dolls aren’t going to use them to play house.

There’s an attitude that careers based on using imagination aren’t real careers, that you can’t make a living off your imagination. This is obviously false. Look at doll designers, fashion designers, and the illustrators and animators who make cartoons and movies based on doll lines. These people love what they do and they make money. Not everyone makes a living wage (although they should) but these are not immature adults who just want to “play with dolls.”

I know people who design stunning high-fashion doll clothes based on the clothes featured in designer fashion shows. I also know grandmothers who passed their love of collecting on to their grandchildren and who make clothes for expensive dolls (like Tonners) to supplement their income.

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Sewing was not something of great interest to many young women until OOAK dolls came into vogue. Now girls and young women are buying sewing machines and learning hand-sewing techniques to make doll clothes. The ability to sew is an invaluable skill. It can lead to a career in fashion design. It can lead to being self-employed with an Etsy store and one’s own fashion line. It can lead to a job in a boutique, altering prom dresses, wedding gowns, bridesmaids’ dresses, and grooms’ and groomsmen’s’ clothes. Weddings and proms will never go away. Small businesses depend on people with a passion for sewing.

Invariably, at some point, a child will take a pair of scissors to a doll’s hair. I’ve done some doll hair restyling as an adult. We’ll never not have a need for hairstylists.

My love for dolls began with paper dolls. My mother would cut the picture of the baby off the side of the Dreft detergent box when it was empty and give me the doll to play with as a paper doll. All companies need illustrators to design logos and marketing campaigns for their products. Every website needs visual content. I used to trace my paper dolls so that I could design outfits for them. Paper dolls haven’t made a big resurgence yet, but coloring books for adults are hugely popular. Dolls and paper dolls can start a child on the path to a career in art. No matter how much people attempt to dismiss art careers as irrelevant, no matter how much people try to push the idea that only a tiny fraction of people will succeed as artists, there are always art careers out there for people who can draw a coloring book or illustrate a video game. Video games aren’t going away. Who knows what may inspire a child to learn video game illustration? And let us not forget book covers. Even an eBook needs a cover illustrator.

Action figures and Funkos are hugely popular among adults. Someone has to draw a design for each one.

Comic books are still very popular. They wouldn’t exist without comic artists.

Our articulated Barbies, Monster High dolls, Ever After High dolls, Tonner dolls and other high-end fashion dolls would not exist without engineers. It takes great skill to design the body of an articulated doll.

The adult who collects dolls and keeps them in a display case, never touching them, is becoming a myth. Adults who buy BJDs, Tonners and other poseable fashion dolls, and repaints of articulated dolls do so for the purpose of photography. Doll photography is an incredibly popular hobby, and the people who love it do not skimp on cameras.

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Doll photography can lead a child to an interest in general photography. No matter how many smartphone cameras there are, there is still a need for professional photographers for portrait studios, paper magazines, online magazines, websites, stock photography, business websites, newspapers, yearbooks and books.

Oftentimes, doll collecting is a relaxing hobby that allows adults to put the stresses of life aside for a little while. Dolls can also inspire children to pursue many career paths. It’s time to stop discouraging children from playing with dolls and mocking adult collectors. Dolls have served various functions for millennia, and now dolls are planting the seeds of inspiration in the minds of children. If your child loves dolls, that’s a good thing. Stand by and watch their imagination grow and bloom. You never know where that love for dolls will take a child.