When I was a little girl, some well-traveled family friends brought me back a headband from Guatemala that was covered in tiny worry dolls wearing long jewel toned skirts and pig-tail braids. Sometimes I wore the headband, but I knew too, that the minuscule dolls were supposed to live under my pillow, and each night I was supposed to whisper worries to them for safe-keeping.
Fast-forward two decades, and I found myself at the Callanish retreat, sitting around a table listing cancer-worries. On a sheet of nice, thick, art paper- the kind that feels smooth and strong beneath your palm- I let the cursive writing flow with worries, beginning each sentence in purple and highlighting the worry with red, using, of course, those special colored fine-tipped felt pens I take everywhere. I wrote in structures, form, creating angles where the worry felt sharp, writing long lines across the sheet and criss-crossing where the worry felt like it intersected with a previous listed worry, making structures, squares, shapes out of words. All these worries of course, architectural as they were, needed a home, a home outside my body, somewhere to be safely tucked away and hidden and held tightly.
And so we made worry dolls. A basket of yarn balls was passed around, and we formed our dolls out of rough, cream-colored fabric and pipe cleaners. My hot pink gittery and zebra stripe pipe cleaners weave throughout my little doll’s arms and legs, making sure she can stand and leap and swing and sit on her knees. The rainbow ball of yarn brought her to life, tightly wound around her little body and colors seeping into one another seemlessly. I added a magenta skirt and lace belt and green worry pocket, and sized her up. Her hair grew quickly, long strands of yellow and red and orange and sparkly yarn and wool and ribbon, strands that would flutter out behind her when she flew through fairyland, hair that she could sit on in the forest in case she forget her sitting pillow. Her hands and feet were born of glass beads and hot glue, and her face remains blank, creamy cloth that invites others who encounter her to imagine, to write her face happy or delighted, terrified, scared, sad, wise, curious, hopeful, thoughtful, pensive. For certainly she is all those things, and I didn’t want to force her into being any one feeling-facial expression!
And so she took off. She became magical, as I wove her together in my hands, she came to life as I sewed a pocket onto her dress for holding worries. I knew she was a forest nymph, one who played in the morning dew drops and who was friends with all those little forest fairies. A little bit of stuffing popped out of her leg, and the white scar in her otherwise rainbow-leg was just proof she was real, real like me, a tiny body with all kinds of things to do in the world and a not-totally perfect leg.
And so I finished that little worry pocket, and I started to cut the worries from the giant art paper, and I decided the little creature’s name was Ada Mi Worry Doll, like hada in Spanish, which means fairy. And of course since I love technology and she had pipe-cleaners in her arms and I had a whole afternoon to do with as I wished, I made a stop motion animation of Ada Mi Worry Doll, and together we played on the swings and in the creek and atop the mountain, and it was SO FUN. The last few years, I do all the facilitating and not a lot of the making, and making this little doll and stop motion reconnected me to the absolutely sparkly joy of creating something and animating and storytelling in ways that are unconstrained and silly and pure. And also, there’s something therapeutic and centering in storytelling, in capturing an imaginary narrative on video, in telling a story in a format that is rough, uneven, wonky, gritty. And stop-motion is all of that, especially when it involves rainbow dolls, cancer worries, and shady river-forest.
So be kind when you watch this silly little stop motion, which I began to make a oboe-sound-track to, but did not finish. You’ll see how the sound is there and not, matches and does not, is empty and too much. I actually decided to leave it that way, because life is kind of like that. Sometimes there’s sound, and sometimes when we least expect it the volume is shut off. Sometimes the key matches, sometimes there’s dissonance, sometimes it sounds weird. Life is weird, and cancer is the weirdest part of life. So here’s the video:
It seems silly, making a worry doll and a stop-motion. But we adults need more silly. And besides, it’s not silly. It’s serious business, making and crafting and imagining and processing. The worry dolls hold a space for worry, for concern, for not-knowing– and when we can give our worries over to our little worry dolls, we make room for hopefulness (not pink ribbon hope, but gritty, grounded hope) and for playfulness, for gentle curiosity and surprising encounters. I think the wisest of us all know what children know- that making things, painting pictures, dreaming up stories, molding materials is a way to reflect our experience to the world, to give voice where words fail, to engage our playfulness in spite of the most challenging of circumstances.
What do you do with your worries? Do you hold them in your belly, shreds of fear scribbled on scrap paper and blocking the light? Do you release them in tears, and run scared like I did from my fear of death? Do you whisper them to worry dolls that live under your feather pillow?
I am grateful to have this little Ada Mi Worry Doll, with her pocket for worries. I love fantasies and magical stories, and I imagine she takes all those worries and flies around with them, until she ends up in her fairy house* in the woods (did you see it in the video? It’s made of sticks), and there she dumps all the worries, and she covers them with moss and pine needles, and she sleeps on top of them. Her little worry-doll fairy house is in the kingdom of the worry dolls, and I imagine she lives in the same tree as some of the other worry-dolls from other people on the retreat. I can see their worry dolls in my mind, each perfect reflections of the makers’ spirit, and I imagine which ones live upstairs from me, and which ones burrow underneath the trees’ roots where it is cold and damp, and which ones live down the pine needle lane. I imagine them flying with all our worries, and shaking them out each night, so we can charge forward, move on, live without them while knowing the worries are all cared for. Ah, the fantasies.
So I hope that you make things. That you imagine stories that link you to other people and experiences and worlds. That you pull out your glue and that you let your mind wander to soft yarns and cool clay and stop-motion animation. Let’s all keep creating.
*Fairy houses. It’s a thing I learned from Tajar. Tajar is a mythical camp creature, part tiger, part badger, part jaguar. Tajar loves to play tricks on people, and Tajar is insanely silly and very mischevious and so very kind. Tajar is full of love. Tajar is everyone and anyone and no one all at once, and Tajar lives at every summer camp and touches the lives of all the summer campers everywhere. So, fairy houses. Tajar told me once, when I became a camp director, that there were indeed fairies living in the woods. I didn’t believe Tajar, but Tajar promised that if I began to build tiny little fairy houses, the fairies would come. Fairy houses can be a little bit of moss and three sticks leaned against a tree, or they can be elaborate and multi-storied. Fairy houses must only be made of natural materials, and often the wind can blow them over. But if you build them, you will see the fairies, Tajar told me. So I started, and I never stopped, because Tajar was right, as Tajar always is. If you want to see the fairies, you must build fairy houses everywhere. What a magical way to bring light and sparkle into our everyday lives. Have you ever seen a fairy? If not, it’s probably time to build a fairy house.