The Formative Years: Barbies, Soaps, and Solitude

     When I was a little girl I didn’t really play all that much.  I was an only child, as well as grandchild.  While my parents were off working hard, I spent most of my early days with my amazing grandmother learning who all my presidents are, who the faces on U.S. currency are, and what all the odd colors like fuchsia are. We also counted the swings we swung on the front porch to get a little math in the equation.  She really took the time to teach me all she could, and I will  always have fond memories of her doing so.  However, it wasn’t always learning reading, writing, and arithmetic.  Something else existed in my world from birth until kindergarten…her stories, and I mean her “soaps”.  The classic daytime shows (All My Children, One Life to Live, General Hospital) would never be missed.  Immediately following Sesame Street and Reading Rainbow, the world of scorned lovers, affairs, chicanery, and deceit filled the tiny living room on Orchard Street.  Perhaps this is where the yarns began spinning for me.  That string I hold in my hand is so long that I can’t see the ball of thread anymore, but I think I know where it is….somewhere hanging out in 1986 in earshot of my bassinet. This melodrama dancing through my unformed mind each day, maybe with slight poison, got my little neurons jumping up and down while I watched the plots thicken endlessly for five years.  My mother became increasingly worried about my exposure to such mature themes, as I would be for my own child if I had one, but I think somehow this worked out for me.

     Like I said before, I rarely actually played (until I was much older and got a teaching set complete with a blackboard and grade book).  However, when I did play, I usually had a Barbie in hand.  Now, I didn’t play with the little plastic perfections like a normal child would.  I didn’t have a dream house with a Ken and red sports car to complete it.  I didn’t EVER play with two dolls at once, or let anyone else participate in my Barbie time.  I would often choose one doll, a favorite, and prance about the house talking to it.  I had its undivided attention, presiding over its little world, gabbing at it constantly.  Looking back I did so in a weird fashion; I’d get so excited and overwhelmed by the thing I was regaling her with that I would literally twitch about and end up walking around on my tip toes in excitement.  Any witnesses to this would now admit their deep concern for me.  What was I doing?  What was I spouting off to this plastic figure, that besides my imaginary twin, Crystal, was my only friend?  I probably looked like a thirty pound ball of blonde-headed lunacy.  I’m surprised I wasn’t whisked away to go play “Psych ward”.

     What nobody knew then, including myself, was that I writing my first stories.  At three years old, all  I could write was my name, and maybe a few other memorized words my Mamaw had shown me.  Though I’d sometimes get out old date books, and scribble in them as I reeled new ideas in my mind, I couldn’t write them yet.  Instead I decided to tell them, sometimes for hours to my Barbie.  I would only stop occasionally to chop her hair completely off, perhaps followed by a slight spanking for ruining my toys. After the post-punishment fit subsided, I would go right back, jumping into the scenario where I left off.  I had so many things to tell her, though I’ve forgotten most of them now.  I do, however, remember one storyline about my actual doll’s rise to power over a fanciful kingdom I created, against the efforts of a cave-dwelling hag trying to kill her…it was a bit sinister at times. 

     In retrospect, I owe a lot of my storytelling abilities and creativity to both nature and nurture.  In the marriage of the two is where I was manufactured…my yarn factory.  I always ticked a little differently, and believe I was born with the arts pumping though my gene pool already.  My father is very good with words, though he channels his poetic energy through songs and music, as about everyone else on that side of the family.  Also, my mother is very much a reader and loves a wild story herself.  But I cannot deny the fact that growing up in an atmosphere where the only child I knew was myself, in tandem with the soaps pumping in and out of my ears, and finding a companion solely under my rule in hand, made me very much who I am today…a story-writing, endlessly pondering, easily excited, somewhat attention-seeking, control-freak with a great big dream.  Here’s to the best abnormal childhood a girl could ever ask for.

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2 thoughts on “The Formative Years: Barbies, Soaps, and Solitude

  1. Teresa Cleveland Wendel says:

    But I cannot deny the fact that growing up in an atmosphere where the only child I knew was myself, in tandem with the soaps pumping in and out of my ears, and finding a companion solely under my rule in hand, made me very much who I am today…a story-writing, endlessly pondering, easily excited, somewhat attention-seeking, control-freak with a great big dream. Here’s to the best abnormal childhood a girl could ever ask for.

    Is this true, I wonder, for all writers? We construct our worlds and live in them with our beloved character creations who only do what we want them to do, but occasionally have a mind of their own.

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