Last week I listened to Yarn Harlot on Stash and Burn and was really struck by something she said. In a round about reply to the question of why she knitted, she talked about breast feeding. When she worked with birthing mothers she was often asked why babies breast fed so much and her reply was that breast feeding provides for so many needs simultaneously (hunger, thirst, warmth, bonding, comfort, security, skin contact and so on and so on) why wouldn't they? She said that knitting was like that for her. Sure you get to make and keep stuff, but you get to feel the beautiful yarns and work out patterns and give gifts and collect yarn and so on and so on.
So last weekend as I was teaching another toy making workshop I was thinking about this. I've taught this class enough times now that I don't need to think too hard about 'performing' or what comes next and this frees me up to think a little more deeply about what toy making is. Like why, in stark contrast to so much of my life, I am drawn to making toys, and more specifically to a decorative cuteness and sweetness I might otherwise find repellent to my functionalist nature.
I find myself talking in the classes about how certain toys make me feel, my desire to cuddle or play with certain toys, the feeling of pride and achievement when a child takes a toy I have made and builds a bond with it. And I was reflecting that there aren't many things I do in regular life where I describe things so often in terms of how they make me feel. Most things are more about what I think, or what they do, or how they work.
So all this was floating through my mind when I went to see Lars and the Real Girl. Let me preface this by saying I wasn't keen on seeing this film. A bloke and his blow up doll. Hmmpf. But see it I did. And clearly I don't listen enough to film reviewers of merit because it was a really really wonderful film. Superbly written and conceived by Nancy Oliver who wrote one of my all time favourite TV series, Six Feet Under, it was a joy from start to finish. Funny, beautiful, sweet and full of possibilities for a different kind of life. Go see it!
As the film progressed I was really fascinated the way one man's delusion gradually infected a whole community. While many react with alarm and disgust to Lars' clear break with reality, the wise and compassionate members of the town (most particularly the local GP) willingly play along while Lars uses the doll to work through his mental health issues. Little by little the imagined girl comes to play a central role in the town's community life and even the cynical are drawn in.
What is it about the doll? I was thinking that there is something powerful about those multiple needs. The doll is to the people in Lars' life what knitting is to Stephanie, or the breast is to the baby, what toy making is for me. This kind of green field in which I can see, make, think or feel the things I need. For Lars, she is a kind of transition into human relationships, but for others she becomes an opportunity to embrace, to include, to warm and to support - all while suspending conventional judgement (and to some degree the bleeding obvious).
So perhaps that makes no sense to anyone, I'm not sure I can really describe this complicated mess of thoughts. It just strikes me that perhaps toys represent a kind of socially acceptable small scale imaginary friend. A place we can deposit some emotions for safe keeping, a place we can expose our thoughts and mental pictures knowing they will not be held up to the scrutiny of adult functionality. Perhaps that's why they seem so precious and important.