This holiday season has had a strange, slow-motion feel to it, as if we're operating underwater. Oddly, during this high-anxiety year, this normally high-anxiety season is pleasantly un-fraught, thanks to evenings and weekends that aren't overloaded with parties and concerts, my having done much of my shopping early for the first time ever, and a surprising willingness to let things go. Not so much resignation (though that's part of it) as an openness to doing things differently. For instance, instead of badgering the kids into watching classic Christmas movies, we've been watching the holiday episodes of our favorite TV shows (a fitting cap to a year where much binge-watching ensued). I've also contented myself with buying ornaments for the kids and the family ornament exchange, rather than making them by hand. In fact, I haven't made anything by hand, all my crafty energy instead being channelled into a totally unrelated, all-about-me project: renovating my childhood dollhouse.
I wasn't looking for a project last month when I came across a friend's photo of toy mice living in dollhouse rooms and decided to dig out the house my grandparents made for me. But a project it's become, as I've stripped, sanded, painted, carpeted and decorated over the ensuing weeks. Feel free to offer your diagnosis--I'm acting out a desire to escape from politics and pandemic, a need for control in a world out of control, an attempt to cling to the past as my kids near adulthood and I careen toward 50. I plead guilty on all counts.
But the real explanation might be simpler. It's been a year of big projects for me. I finished my book and found a publisher. I started two more books. I co-coordinated the Maine Master Naturalist training course. I painted the exterior doors and the trim on our house as far as I could reach with a 20-foot extension ladder. Even my pandemic knitting project is an enormous poncho that's starting to resemble the afghan in Like Water for Chocolate.
Maybe the dollhouse project is all about focusing on something small--tiny even--with very low stakes. I don't need anyone to accept, publish, wear, graduate from, or even like this project. It's instant gratification with zero external validation required, although I've inspired a surprising number of my friends to haul out their own dollhouses and received a surprising amount of criticism from those who like to police how others spend their time. More importantly than any psychological analysis of my motivations, I'm having a huge amount of fun, which during a year like this one is saying something.
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