the doll games
shelley and pamela jackson




P: There’s so much we don’t remember, as I just said twice without the Record button on.

S: And as I was going to reply: well that’s the weird thing about memory, you remember these high points as you skim over them in your mind, and they are always there so you sort of assume the rest of it is there too. And then you try to remember what the rest of it is, and it isn’t there. We’ve said this before, but I think it’s important that we make part of the work be our investigation of failure and doubt and loss and gaps, and our inability to reconstruct and remember. Because in a way our relationship to the doll games is as much made up of our distance from it and its sort of mysterious egg-like enclosure in our past–so we have to kind of talk about what it means to us now, and why we’re still interested in it, and how that’s different from what it meant to us then.

P: I was also thinking there are more recent episodes we could talk about, like when we started the project before a couple years ago, and when I got obsessed with Harvey and started taking all those Polaroids, because Harvey somehow was the doll who best embodied my relation to all that stuff in his sort of ridiculousness and poignancy. I mean, now we have this whole new history of talking about this and thinking about this.

S: Yeah, so we don’t present Doll Games as this work that just sprung into existence complete. Especially since we’re interrogating the whole method of collaboration, which we are having to reinvent in order to do the doll games project.

P: And that’s also something we should be reflecting on, how the collaboration is going, and how it is different or similar to the collaboration of the doll games themselves, how it repeats elements or doesn’t, in ways that we might have to work out. Like right now I’m holding the tape recorder for the first time!

S: I know! So we might also have to embarrassingly investigate aspects of our own relationship, or at least include in the thinking about it our knowledge of our resistance to investigating features. Like my being the boss, and controlling things, but also our having this self-imposed moral guideline of equality.

P: That’s one of the things that I wonder about, because I know I didn’t feel like I was not an equal participant, but I’m sure that you were the one that guided the stories, because that’s just what you did. And since I don’t remember much about my role I end up really seizing on the material artifacts we have, like doll writings that I did, as evidence of what I was doing.

S: Well it was really organic and we did both contribute, so it wasn’t like you were my puppet, but I was conscious of manipulating things, trying to make you feel like you were doing things freely when sometimes I was forcing them on you.

P: Like what? Like decisions about plots and characters?

S: I don’t know, it’s more a general feeling I have about things we did together than a memory about the doll games, but I’m sure it played into the doll games.

P: I remember mostly the time when I became resentful, and a bad collaborator, because I felt that I wasn’t equal.

S: You mean in the doll games?

P: No, later. I think as long as the doll games were going on I had no real consciousness of that. The only thing I remember I might have felt towards the end was some anxiety about making sure that Melanie was just as good as Mara. That’s the only thing I can access at all, which makes me think that it was a little bit later, after the doll games, when I really started having issues and feeling oppressed by you being always the one who — the guide of our adventures.

S: I was completely oblivious to it too, except that I did have a certain amount of cunning; I felt at times that I was making things happen but making you think that you were making them happen. And so I also felt guilty about those things, although I think in the doll games we were so bent on the same ends that although I do remember maybe being a more energetic generator of plot ideas, and overriding you sometimes because I had such a brilliant idea, that was something we both were perfectly happy with because we wanted the best ideas. So you were happy too. I mean I always thought that was the case.

P: Yeah, I think I was.

S: But then you said recently that maybe the sex aspect of the doll games had been completely my idea, and that you didn’t know if you even understood it at first, and that made me wonder if I had completely been oblivious to your relationship to the doll games all along, and was just making you an unwitting participant in all these elaborate scenarios that were entirely my own obsession. But I always thought it was totally mutual.

P: Well I think both things might be true. You were creating the world, and it was my world. I had no resistance to it, so even if I didn’t really understand why we were having this kind of game in the beginning, I was perfectly happy. I obviously learned the rules and got into it. Its strange, because I know it was your sexual fantasy life that we were working out first and most explicitly, and I don’t know how it impacted mine, or what I would have done on my own. I have no way of knowing that. But it’s not like I felt like I was participating in some alien ritual, it was more like just with everything we did together as kids, you were older and you knew what the right thing to do was before I did. So it wasn’t like there was even a possibility that my right thing might be different, I didn’t start thinking that until much later. Until high school, I think.

S: I was thinking about that when Carol was talking about Nikola and Reed playing. Reed can barely talk yet, and Nikola’s sort of leading him around the house going "No, the game has to go like this, you say this now" and he willingly does it. And I was thinking oh, of course, that’s just what happens when one kid is older, she’s thinking on a different level than the other kid, so naturally she leads the way. But I still have this sort of–when we were kids we just thought of ourselves as equals, so I had this idea of myself as bossy, and sort of a mixture of feeling pleased with myself that I had better ideas and feeling bad that I forced things on you. When really it had nothing to do with my particular character, even though it became that.

P: I don’t even remember thinking of you as bossy until later, the issue didn’t come up until later— and I don’t think it’s that my will was being trampled on and I finally realized it, I think it’s more that there was a developmental point when I needed to have my own will and it occurred to me that we might not be just collaborators on a single project, that that might not be the whole way that life is. And that was the traumatic part, the earlier part wasn’t traumatic. I completely trusted you to come up with the right things that we should both do.

S: There’s a right way and a wrong way to play a doll game, and I know what it is!

P: I don’t actually remember it the doll games so much as with something like drawing, where you would come home with–where suddenly it was important for us to draw things anatomically correct, for example. And it hadn’t been before. But I would just think, "of course."