I've frequently told the story of how, when I was around six or seven, I asked my parents for a doll house for Christmas. My father, of course, would not hear of it, and my pleadings fell on deaf ears. In his defense, both he and I were aware by that time that I was "different" (I knew I liked--really liked--boys, though I was too young to realize what that meant). He, I am sure, saw my fascination with doll houses as an omen that his son would soon be dressing up in women's clothes and putting on lipstick.
Of course--and this was something he never understood and I was unable to express at that young age--femininity had absolutely nothing to do with it. Never--then, now, or for one moment in my entire life-- have I ever wanted to be in any way feminine, or ever thought of myself as such. My fascination with doll houses had nothing to do with gender and everything to do with imagination.
But, to my father, doll houses were for girls, not for boys, and certainly not for his son. I don't remeber when or where I first saw a doll house, but I was utterly fascinated. I was entranced by the reality/fantasy/power aspects it presented. Here was a real (to me) house, with real (to me) furniture, and I was a giant with total control over it and whatever went on in or around it. I had no interest whatever in playing homemaker or inventing some imaginary family. No, what I wanted to do was get the furniture nicely arranged, then have some pretend-battle during which everything was violently knocked over and tossed about.
I've been given to melodrama from a very early age. The ordinary was, well, ordinary and therefore held relatively little interest for me; it was the pretend, the larger-than-life, the bravely facing adversity and trauma that intrigued me. It still does.
But back to my story. Christmas came, and with it the usual flood of parental generosity: my parents were what was then known as "lower middle class." They struggled and worked hard for every penny they had, yet they always found the money to indulge me to the best of their ability. But it was after all the gifts were exchanged and the floor was littered with torn wrapping paper, and the smell of the Christmas tree, warmed by the lights, hung over the room, that my mom called me aside and took me into my room, where, on my bed, was...a two-room doll house she had made out of an orange crate. The few pieces of furniture were far out of proportion to the rooms, but it was a doll house, and it was mine. I do not believe in heaven, or in angels, but I do believe in mothers.
That simple orange-crate doll house, with my other toys and the books I read and the stories I listened to were the razor strops on which I honed my imagination and led me to become a writer. For an insecure child excruciatingly aware that I was not like the children around me, imagination was--and is--my refuge from a world in which I never felt comfortable, or welcome.
Today I consider each of my books, in effect, a doll house wherein I carefully arrange the furniture. The major difference being that I also put people in them and watch, fascinated, as they go about their very-real-to-me lives with only an occasional conscious nudge or rearrangement from me.
Every child is born entrusted with a small bag of seeds which will grow to produce the adult that child becomes. The seed of imagination is among the most precious of all. It blooms early, but is too often then neglected and left to wither. But when carefully nourished and lovingly tended it can produce the most magnificent of flowers. And they look very nice on the soul's mantle, next to a doll house.
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