Saturday, June 24, 2017

It's too late, Barbie, I can't take you back now

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Barbie and I spent a lot of time together. She and her army of blonde clones dressed, arranged furniture in the town house (we never could afford the actual dream house), and struck poses for Ken.

I only had the one Ken and his head constantly popped off. Sometimes he was the headless boyfriend and Barbie just had to make do with his head on a platter on the pink plastic table. She had a pretty good sense of humor about and it and she and I stayed close through several long years of elementary school.

Barbie's tiny waist and out of whack bust line didn't bother me at all. I didn't even care that much about her high heeled feet, which never went flat. She wore shoes or she went on tip-toes. My Barbie just didn't worry about footwear all that much. However, it bothered me that she was so blond, so pale and so blue-eyed. She looked like the girl society loved.

And, I was not that girl.

I complained to my blonde mother about my jet black hair, chocolate black eyes and olive skin all the time. "How could I make myself look like Barbie?" I could dye my hair, but what about my eye-lids? What about my skin? Could I get contacts for my eyes? I dreamed of one-upping Barbie and turning my eyes light purple.

My mom responded first with a garage sale Wonder Woman doll with slightly chewed feet. She stood taller than all the Barbie's, her suit painted on and her face odd and out of proportion. The only non-blonde doll I owned was also the ugliest. My self esteem did not improve.

Not to be deterred, my mom, who is nothing if not a stubborn woman, struck again with Marie Osman. Marie was roughly the same size as the Barbies, with chestnut brown hair and pale skin. I had no idea who she was and my mother explained she had a talk show with her brother and something like ten children. Marie Osman just never lived up to Barbie's cool standards. She was not an astronaut, a doctor, a dentist or a space scientist homemaker. The Barbie harem had the pretty clothes and Marie couldn't date Donnie Osman, he was her brother, so Ken still ruled the roost.

My mother's last attempt came in the form of a Barbie's Hawaiian friend, Miko. She looked the most like me, but not quite. The clothes fit her and she was pretty much able to keep up with the Barbie girls. But, she just didn't fit perfectly. She wasn't even a Barbie, she was a Miko. No one ever talked about Miko on TV. She just couldn't fill the gap.

Not long after Miko joined my doll collection I started to drift away from Barbie. All the dolls became relics of a different life. I focused on real life people-- mostly boys-- and lost interest in Barbie. We broke up slowly and one day I just packed all the dolls away.

Recently, Matel announced a new diverse round-up of Barbies and Kens. Hopefully, these dolls will connect with a new generation of girls, who will see themselves in these plastic shells and decide to make friends with their own images. It's too late for me, though.

Barbie and I broke up a long time ago and I'm at peace with that.


Sunday, June 4, 2017

Layers of writing and plot

Sometimes I read a book and the layers of writing are gorgeous, inspirational, unbelievable and awe-striking. I taste. I see. I hear. I feel. I am in every way, through every moment of the book, enthralled and engaged with the words slipping through my mind.

I so want to love it because the writing is almost hypnotic. But, I just can't. The plot meanders. The characters shift from one foot to the next, but never step forward. All the beautiful words, creating all the engaging images, only add up to a total immersion in a world that's just, well, not that interesting.

American Gods ended up being one of these books for me. I followed the main character, Shadow, through a long and winding trip across an entire book of well-written passages and perfect descriptions. After all that shared experience, we never really got anywhere. At least not anywhere worth going.

Neil Gamon is a genius. This book is beloved by many. Don't get me wrong, I'm no Neil Gamon, but that's why I'm so disappointed. Shadow is a multi-layered, deep and likeable character who I want to spend time with. Unfortunately, most of the other characters, and there are so many it's difficult to keep track of them, were mere moments on the page. They faded. I got them confused. And, the road trip that lasted forever, was essentially beside the point.

All through the book Shadow traveled, but he never really got anywhere. I hung in because of Shadow's depth and because the writing itself was so delicious. In the end, the book left me stranded and confused, unfulfilled and uninspired.

Writing is critical, but plot, as it turns out, matters just as much.