Show Me Your Collection, I'll Show You Your Soul

9 years ago

Actually, I'm not sure that's true, that if you show me your collection, I can show you who you are, but I've been thinking about that concept lately. It's been on my mind since I heard a September 9 NPR report about a ball-jointed doll conference in San Francisco, Ca. I'd never heard of BJDs before then, and as I listened I thought, I need to blog about this, but what? What could I say other than these very realistic-looking Asian dolls are the latest craze and grown women are blowing their salaries on them?

Collecting dolls has never appealed to me, but I do know that some very bright, creative people collect them. For instance, novelist Anne Rice collects dolls:

Indeed, the hushed atmosphere at Paradise West, as Ms. Rice calls her new home, feels more devotional than gothic. The living room's most noticeable features, apart from the ceiling and a huge concrete mantel painted by a previous owner to look like stone, are her collections of dolls and religious statuary. (NYT)

And as I listened to NPR's story, "Invasion of the Ball-Jointed Dolls," I heard Maggie Wagner, a psychoanalyst who has five BJDs, say that she's a grown woman who collects dolls and that's okay. "I've owned that," she said.

Of course, it's okay. Who are we to judge?

I remember my dolls, how I gave them up at 10, announcing "I'm too old for dolls, Mother." But about 18 months later I wanted them back, and my mother produced them because she'd only packed them away. I kept them for a while, until I was 16, I think. Over time, my interest in dolls waned. Still, I've had friends who've kept their dolls or their stuffed animals, and I recall the glee in my adult daughter's eyes last year when we opened a box from the basement in New Jersey and out popped her old stuffed bunny that she now refuses to give away.

All of that, however, strikes me as not the same as professional women buying eyes, wigs, clothes for custom-made BJDs, having parties for them, and fretting about how these dolls will feel or be greeted when they meet the other dolls. Also, like little girls getting the right Ken for Barbie, BJD owners matchmake:

For BJD fans, the dolls are worth the expense. When Jennifer Kohn Murtha starts talking about her doll Kimora, it sound like she is talking about a child:

"I have one 15-year-old girl who is my love," she says. "I have ordered for her a boyfriend who is a boxer and a physicist who will take good care of her. I've also ordered a vampire
for her ... I couldn't resist."(NPR)

The NPR reporter, Nancy Mullane, suggests that through the dolls the women create idealized versions of themselves. Could be, but I took a look around the web and found one BJD collector who seems to enjoy the dolls primarily for their artistic appeal.

Well, dress-designing, face-painting, wig-making - that’s the reasons I like them, too :). Oh, and not to forget: they work as wonderful drawing models as well. (Silvia)

Over at Angel Lahoo's blog I saw a great slide show featuring BJDs, but not what drives her fascination. I guess she just likes how they look.

While visiting I read tips for collecting BJDs but no insight into why collect them in the first place. However, I did come across the informative myths about doll collecting/collectors.

Contemplating this subject more, I began to wonder, "What do our collections say about us?" After all, some social scientists believe that we all collect something.

Whoa! I collect dust, I thought. What does that say about me? I hate housework. I guess, it's not really collecting, however, because I get up periodically and get rid of it. I also admit to some pack rat tendencies that may be genetic. My mother had trouble throwing anything away. I fight against that and also against buying more stuff. Hoarding (being a pack rat, even a little one) should not be confused with collecting, however, because collecting involves selectivity and hoarding is about a failure to choose.

BTW, I'm very proactive at preventing dust, which may be why I don't collect stuff the way other people do. One of the primary reasons I avoid girlie collectibles or bric a brac is when I see these treats, my mind screams, "Uh, no! Dust catcher."

But I really do collect books, not the fancy antiques kept sealed away in hopes that one day they'll be worth a fortune, but ordinary books. I get them and have trouble giving them away. I enter a Barnes and Noble and struggle not to go insane purchasing more, some of which I'll never read.

Does this mean I crave knowledge, think knowledge is important, or fear being ignorant?

Collecting and Loss

In a Psychology Today article about collecting Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis memorabilia, psychiatrist Richard Gottlieb, M.D. connects the dots from collection to loss.

"At heart, collecting has to do with the prevention of loss, which is a universal and painful part of the human condition," Gottlieb observes. "It's an effort to stop time in its tracks, to hold on to things and the people that they symbolically represent, to make us feel less stricken and alone."

I don't know if loss is at the heart of everyone's collection, but it could be that I collect books because I regretted putting off my college education to get married and have children, and even after I rectified that, I regretted not pursuing graduate studies. As I recall, I did not collect books so much before my marriage.

But what about people who collect shoes, what did they lose? Shoes come to mind because at my personal blog, I get visits from people who are really into shoes, and I'm so not into that because I'm fat-footed and flat-footed.

It's possible, I suppose, that women who collect BJDs want to preserve a time before loss or to prevent a loss--lost youth, lost beauty, lost time with hot beaus. It's conceivable that they're living vicariously through the stories they create for their dolls, and that's not farfetched at all since what we do with dolls as children soon as we learn to play is pretend a life.

Yet, as suggested before, it could simply be that the dolls look pretty and the women want to capture that beauty and keep it safe. That would be, sort of, how I ended up with so many music CDS, I wanted to preserve the joy I felt when I first heard a certain song or the butterflies in my heart when I went on that date while Luther VanDross crooned on the radio, or the stories and images cast by James Taylor's lyrics, or the playful funkiness of a New Orleans brass band.

Wait! Did I just admit to collecting CDs?

And this is why we should not presume to judge others, people, or the objects on their shelves. :-)

Nordette is a Contributing Editor whose personal blog is at this link on another site.

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