the doll games
shelley and pamela jackson




S: It’s so strange the way something that you originally create in a way that’s self-conscious and in that way doesn’t feel authentic, becomes sort of inadvertently authentic in the end anyway because it’s at least documenting your self consciousness at the time—I mean not that we were creating those artifacts to remember them later or anything, but—we weren’t naïve. We weren’t innocent of ideas about doing things well or about story lines or authorship and stuff like that, so it’s not like what we have is anthropological data in a completely raw condition. We were thinking about it.

P: But it’s still anthropological, because we were thinking about it in a certain way.

S: But that’s what I mean. At the time we felt really self-aware about what we were doing in the doll games, or I did, especially later, and we did a lot of talking about "Look at this strange thing we do and that we still do and other kids have stopped doing." And toward the end we talked about how we weren’t going to stop. And this would be this really special thing that we always did. We didn’t understand why other people stopped doing it. Why should they, it wasn’t like it would suddenly becomes stupid, it was this whole interesting world. We had a whole discourse about that toward the end. But of course in retrospect... that’s also another bit of data that we can think about, as evidence of a world view.

Did we ever make any connection between what we were doing, and writing? Or creation in the art sense?

P: I was wondering that. The most explicit link is in those writing contests and writing classes and art classes

S: We clearly thought about being writers, and we romanticized the idea of being great poets, and I did a lot of thinking about my private concern that I didn’t really know what made a piece of writing good or not so good, at least when it was a story—I think I had better sense of poetry, though I was probably wrong.

. P: I was becoming anxious about good art and good writing toward the later parts of our doll games, at the same time our dolls were becoming artists and poets. And there was some anxiety in those art and poetry classes where our dolls had to be so excellent about whether my dolls that were supposed to be the great writers were actually doing anything good enough.

S: I know—ooh, give me that [grabs for microphone]

P: But also—I want to finish what I’m saying! Which was that there wasn’t the anxiety about the doll games themselves, as if those were like art or writing and we had to worry about whether they were literary or profound or great.

S: She’s right. But those classes made me anxious too, because—well it became most apparent when we had singing contests, and our character in the story had the beautiful haunting voice of the natural singer. And we sang the bad dolls’ parts, and they thought they were so great and they sang "na na na na na" [sings in bad voice] and then we had to sing the beautiful haunting songs of our heroines...

P: Who couldn’t sing!

S: And we couldn’t sing well enough! So there was this lapse in realism, and that was embarrassing and made us uncomfortable. But that was also slightly different from the writing embarrassment, because we actually did kind of want to be writers, and we weren’t sure if we were succeeding in making the great writings.

P: And we weren’t.

S: And we weren’t!

P: They were embarrassing!

S. They were the most embarrassing of anything we produced!

P: I mean actually, the writings of Harvey and Dawn showed more of a knowledge of genre, and more cleverness, than the supposedly good ones.

S: It was our desire to be serious that made our stories so bad.

P: Which is what killed writing for me anyway, because it was when I realized that my adventure stories and princess stories and other very generic stories which were what everything I wrote as a kid was, when I realized that wasn’t enough and that literariness was something else, that all the joy went out of writing for me. Forever. Never came back!

S. But there was also this strange feeling that I had—like when doing the crafts—I realized that I did want to write a story that was really good, and this was a chance for me to write something that was really trying to be good. This dawning of the realization that I had an ambition for my writing, I can see that happening in those doll games even though what we produced was really sad. But I don’t think we ever aspired to do better doll games. Whatever we did was—its own justification. Still, I do think we had some self-consciousness about it being a really interesting and wonderful thing that we did that other people didn’t do.

P: I don’t remember talking about it.

S: I think maybe I was more self-conscious about it, because I had reached an age where if I told other people I played doll games they would laugh at me. So I was either keeping it a secret, or buttressing myself in my own mind with the thought that it was actually a much more rich and complicated and interesting thing than what they were thinking of as doll games.