Dare Wright wrote creepy children’s books about talking teddy bears and a pouty doll who gets spanked for bad behavior. Although the photographs are lasting in a unsettling (if inappropriate) way, I am not suggesting run out and buy these books for your three-year-old. Or five-year-old. They’ll think the stories are weird and you even weirder for chasing a remote childhood memory. The first of the lot was published in 1957. They show their age. They do, however, leave an impression.
In A Gift From The Lonely Doll, Edith, a.k.a. the Lonely Doll (whose blank look bears an eerie resemblance to Wright), knits Mr. Bear a muffler. She knits and she knits and as she knits she pours her heart and soul and all of her longing into her scarf; slowly, the muffler grows. Row after row she knits, head down in her own private rhythm, switching colors for stripes. A pattern emerges. Sometimes she drops her work and it unravels so she picks it up again and knits some more and stuffs it into her basket and refuses to show it to needling Little Bear. Alone, she knits in the dark when Mr. Bear’s not looking. She knits out of love and when she’s naughty she knits for forgiveness. The muffler continues to grow. When it’s time to deliver her gift she realizes, aided by Little Bear’s taunting, how carried away she’d gotten. Her muffler is absurdly long. It consumes the whole room! Terrible! Full of holes! Impractical! Heartbroken, Edith, adorned in an extravagant fur hood, plummets into despair. She sulks and cries until it dawns on her that maybe she loved her little prezzie too much, fueled as it was by a self-serving desire for Mr. Bear’s approval, so much so that it clouded her judgment; despite all this, the power to fix her work lies within. Carefully, she mends the holes and ties loose ends and trims her muffler down to modest size. One becomes three. Mr. Bear, Little Bear, and Albert (also a Bear) revel in Edith’s handmade bounty, which keeps them warm through winter. The lonely doll is elated, the world a little less lonely. The end.
On a good day, writing follows a similar process. During the generative stage, we bow our heads and knit ideas and write with the sum of ourselves without much thought to practical application or audience. We write in private, in stolen moments, we write from love and shame and a desire to connect and a sense of urgency; as words stitch together we squirrel away pages without looking back or editing or examining the gaps and shortcomings until the whole thing is done and what we have created is a sprawling imperfect lumpy first draft. An unruly mess.
Then we weep into our soup. We fall apart at family functions. We indulge in dark stretches of self-pity while wearing ridiculous fluffy head ornaments.
After a while, however, we claw out of the abyss. With a cold eye and a little perspective, we go back and examine the flaws in our work and strive for clarity as we edit and revise and edit and revise and hopefully improve upon our initial efforts. We cut out the sentences that prance and preen and otherwise love themselves too much. We pare it all down. In the end we hope that what rises from the chaos is not a vain attempt to impress but something humble and functional and real, a story that wraps around lives and touches not one – but many.