Listen, I didn’t drink all three liters in one sitting.
The last thing I’m in the mood for is wiping vomit off the hardwood.
(Note to self: make Pinterest vision board of photogenic approaches to mopping up half-digested ravioli)
Trust me, I did pace myself with that box of wine, never downing more ounces than my children’s combined ages in a single evening.
Jeezus. It’s not like I have a problem–
except for believing that Life by Pinterest is ever anything but a highly shellacked, manipulated, and frosted version of reality that’s been framed in reclaimed lumber and tacked with hot glue onto a shabbily chic barn door swinging on a single artfully bedazzled hinge, all of which has been photographed at dusk and filtered with Loma.
Yea, cutesie-craftsy shit is all about puttin’ the shine on. I know this well and truly, as I recently spent six weeks surveying online craft ideas and translating them to reality. I’m not proud; I’ll admit it: trying to align my craggy, asymmetrical, ham-fisted efforts with what I saw online pert-near killed me. All hail the Bota Box and three liters of wine that preserved my sanity.
Here’s why I had to drink all the Redvolution:
I went to Star Wars: The Force Awakens and was transported by the story in a way no previous Star Wars film had managed. Simultaneously, I watched my twelve-year-old son fall in love with all the characters, including the heroine, Rey. Some days later, as we attempted to channel our movie love into shelling out additional dollars on related merchandise, we learned that Hasbro had deliberately decided not to manufacture more than a couple lame, nominal Rey products–because in their estimation, consumers wouldn’t drop money on images and figures of a female protagonist.
Underestimating, and thereby undermining, the market appeal of Girl as Heroine irked me. What the character of Rey is achieving, culturally, is massive and significant. She is smart, kind, lonely, scrappy, gifted, shrewd, strong, bereft, eager, gritty, mechanical, tough, and independent. None, not one, one of her traits is related to gender. Everything about her grows purely–beautifully–from her humanity. The role she occupies in the narrative and in relation to the other characters is never dependent on her gender or sexuality. Her actions are not propelled by the presence of a vagina. Her choices do not stem from her ovaries. She is simply Rey, and that’s all that matters.
This is a rarity, if not a first, in mainstream storytelling. With most written characters, traits like “nurturing” or “soft” show up as part of composite femininity. Alternately, in male characters, even the most “evolved,” their superior physical strength or libido serve as markers.
Not so with Rey. Rey is a person. That she has breasts never factors into the storytelling, and for that reason she is a significant development in cinema. The biggest franchise in history did something great, and Hasbro missed the memo.
Shame the fuck on you, Hasbro.
Right around the same time I was stomping in circles around the kitchen, angrily sponging toast crumbs from the counter and muttering “You didn’t even put her in the Monopoly game based on the movie, Hasbro? Not even the Monopoly game?”, I encountered the very sweet video in which a mother in Australia demonstrates how she takes those ratchety Bratz Dolls and revamps them into lovely, appropriate reflections of young kids.
The confluence of my annoyance with Hasbro and the idea that trampy dolls can be rehabbed resulted in an idea:
My son and I would make our own Rey. I would get a Bratz doll, and we would rescue her from the manufacturer’s pimped-up vision of young womanhood by turning her into Star Wars‘ vision of badass Jedihood.
All we’d need to do is watch a few videos online, poke around Pinterest and other crafty sites, and voila! We’d have beaten The Man, and I’d enjoy the gratification of conveying a major message to my boy: we don’t have to believe corporations when they undervalue women. We can hang corporations with a long hank of skanky doll hair that they, themselves, manufactured. We can clap wildly and hug our dollies to our chests as we crane our necks to ogle corporations swinging in the wind, dangling from the top of the skyscrapingest building on Wall Street.
Fueled by anger at Hasbro and appreciation for the gentle, loving approach of Sonia Singh in her video, we began the project.
I got a doll.
And we tried to wipe off her crappy assembly line make-up with acetone (nail polish remover). In the video, Sonia Singh easily wipes a cotton ball across a doll’s face, leaving it clear and ready for painting.
In our kitchen, Paco started the wiping with excited anticipation. Five minutes later, the doll’s make-up looked untouched. He asked if I’d like a try. Sure. I re-soaked the cotton balls, laid them on her eyes in a kind of abrasive spa treatment, and left them for a bit. Then, I applied my not insignificant energies to the wiping.
Something like a poop patty smudged across her face. And stayed there.
Despairing, my thoughts drifted to the new box of wine in the cabinet above the stove. Maybe, as a reward for persevering with the facial scrub, I’d sip a wee dram.
I’d still be entertaining wistful thoughts of a dram, had Byron not offered to take over. Within a minute or two of getting no results, he dove under the sink and grabbed a scrubby pad, the kind we’d use to remove baked-on grease from a broiler pan after making ribs. Jamming the doll’s head between his knees to hold her still, he scrubbed the holy hell and the make-up off her face.
TALLY: three people; a bushel of elbow grease; diverting thoughts of spareribs; a wee dram
Excited that we could move on to the next step, Paco asked if he could remove the doll’s heavily stylized out-of-the-box hairdo and get it ready to be Rey-ified. Little did he know, it would be six more weeks before we were ready to sculpt her locks into the signature triple buns.
Sweetly, blissfully, my lad brushed his doll’s hair, more than a hundred strokes, mourning how stubbornly her factory-steamed hair held its original waves. At one point, she received a quick dousing under the kitchen faucet. Next, he asked if he could start to distress the fabric we’d bought for her clothing; his idea was to use coffee grounds.
Minutes later, his interest waned as we realized Rey’s hair would never be tamed, and her clothes needed a deeper soaking in actual coffee.
And as long as I was making coffee, why not toss back a shot of wine while I waited for the water to boil?
TALLY: two people; dipping spirits; three tablespoons of coffee grounds; one trip to the store for fabric; a quick nip of the good stuff
Because life rears up, Rey and the fabric for her clothes sat, untouched, for days. I did realize we’d need something leathery for her belt, and although the skin on my forearms fit the descriptor, we found some old deer hide in the basement (youknowyouhaveweirdshitinyourbasementtooyousociopath), after which I spent one focused afternoon staining it a darker brown BECAUSE AUTHENTICITY MATTERS WHEN YOU’RE FLIPPING THE BIRD AT THE MAN instead of grading 25 student activities on summarizing.
Eventually, I realized the project was stalling out because I was scared to make Rey’s pants. Here’s one thing I learned in 7th grade home economics class: crotches be tough. Here’s one other thing I learned in 7th grade home economics: measure peanut butter by using water displacement.
Guess which two things I learned in 7th grade home economics and have never used in the 36 years since then?
Fortunately, I had bought fabric glue at the store and reveled in the small solace of not needing to make minuscule stitches. While I had no interest in displacing water, I was ready to face the crotch.
Drumming up courage, looking at every possible online image of Rey’s clothes, I cut. I glued. I sipped repeatedly from the box of wine, mouth to nozzle, as I tried to match up fronts and backs of her inside-out trousers. In a moment I would never have predicted, I thanked all the very special adults of Internet who are into cosplay, as their tutorials were more helpful than anything.
TALLY: purple teeth; ten days of inactivity; an hour of actual work; seventy sword clinks with adult re-enactors
I also cut out and glued Rey’s tunic shirt. Advice to world: if you ever have to make your own clothes, go tunic. Go full on tunic, caftan, And Then There’s Maude in your wardrobe, and you’ll be a true golden girl. Little-known fact: caftans don’t have crotches.
Rousing himself for the project once again, Paco made Rey some clay boots, effectively turning her feet into those of Ronald McDonald. While most Bratz dolls have nothing but nubbins for feet once their stilettos are removed, I had found a pre-teen Bratz, a girl who’d been deemed “actual foot worthy” by the white guys in suits. So Paco had no shortage of foot real estate around which to mold the clay. Then we put some masking tape around her legs to protect them–AND HOLY FRICK IF THE MASKING TAPE WOULD ACTUALLY COME OFF THE ROLL WHICH MEANT I ENDED UP STICKING TWENTY MICROSCOPIC PIECES ONTO HER CALVES, AFTER WHICH I TOOK A STRAW AND JAMMED IT INTO A GOBLET OF REDVOLUTION AND STARTED SUCKING UNTIL MY EARS POPPED–before he painted her shoes brown.
A few days later, sighing deeply, quaffing a neat two ounces of wine, I repainted the boots, trying to cover all the tiny white flecks that still showed through.
TALLY: Maude! Ronald McDonald! Quaffing!
And then came the point when I heard Paco’s soul mewling for help. Bravely, he had agreed to paint Rey’s new eyes. Sonia Singh, whom I’d started to call “That Lying Bitch” in my head, seems to hum a little Chopin while she quickly paints eyes on her dolls. Tra-flipping-la.
For Paco, though, there were agonies. He watched videos. He looked at pictures. He mixed paints. He painted two very good eyes. I raised his allowance.
Yet. Hmmm. One of the eyes was a little, how to say it?, asymmetrical. Rey looked tanked, like Mama.
The imperfection was distressing to Paco. He might have to tolerate it in his mother, but he certainly didn’t have to live with it in his Rey.
Straightening my shoulders, attempting to be the grown-up, I docked the kid’s allowance and then set myself to the task of removing, with acetone, the offending eye.
Quickly, I learned to love the scrubby.
When Byron got home, I showed him the doll and asked if he could try to match the one good eye. Kindly, he agreed to. When he had time. Which didn’t happen for weeks. Finally, he started the new eye but then lost the thread as his attentions were claimed by actual things in life like work and bills.
So I tried to finish it up.
It sucked. So did I. Eight ounces.
My spirits bolstered by spirits, I grabbed the nail polish remover and the scrubby and applied my muscles to removing both eyes once again. Byron helped trace out almond-shaped sockets and arching brows.
More days passed. Her eyes eventually emerged, with Byron doing parts and then me taking over, just to keep the momentum going. As it turns out, my attempt to make hazel out of the three tubes of acrylic paint we own that aren’t completely dried up resulted in a dramatic neon green, which made our heroine appear possessed.
Showing Byron, I asked his opinion. Tell me straight, I said. She looks like a demon, he said. He thought we needed to start over once more, with him handling the eyes from start to finish. During this conversation, he only yawned once and noted, “This isn’t actually my project…”
Because he leads with a gracious spirit, the guy painted her eyes after I scrubbed off the demonic possession with a god-damned scrubby, and we called them fine. Mostly, we had to be okay with them because the skin on my hands was peeling off after the latest immersion in acetone, and our scrubby had filed a grievance and gone on strike.
TALLY: a crushed son who now believes he hates painting; an annoyed husband who unquestionably knows he hates painting; a shortage of nail polish; an abundance of tubes containing dried paint; a box of wine I could hoist with a single finger; a mother, joyful that the face was done so that she could AT LONG LAST do the triple buns
I quite like doing hair–have ever since the early elementary grades when we girls would sit in what used to be “Indian style” but which is now “criss-cross applesauce” and twirl and braid each other’s hair while Mrs. Bulger or Miss Hertzler read aloud to the class.
More than anything, I just wanted to reach back to first grade and do my dolly’s hair.
A regular-sized hair rubber band was too large for the doll’s apricot-sized head. So I entered into deep negotiations with Allegra and managed to barter two of the tiny braces rubber bands from the bag that lives by her bed. I’d already grabbed a couple others from the bathroom floor, where the rubber band-hoarding girl often drops them, careless so long as no one is in need.
Having watched seven videos about making the triple buns, all of which stressed the ease of the look, I began a descent into a crazed frustration that ultimately felt like anger.
The doll’s hair is extremely thick and had been cut into layers. Every time I looped Rey’s hair, trying to catch all the ends so the bun would be smooth, rogue hairs popped out. I did each of her three buns at least ten times. I got the scissors and cut off some chunks. I broke a rubber band and had to crawl around the bathroom floor until I spied another one Allegra had dropped.
I spent more than an hour trying to wrassle the doll’s ‘do into reasonable shape–long enough for me to realize how rarely I feel anger, long enough for Byron to put a comforting hand on my shoulder and ask, in a soft, carefully measured voice, “Would you like me to bring you a glass of wine?”
Three sips later, I was back to myself. The hair was fine. Rey is an impoverished orphan living in a remote outpost. Like she cares how her hair looks?
TALLY: thirty buns; one fabulous beau; one significant brush with rage; one son who told me the next day, “Her hair looks so good!”; four more trips to Michael’s and JoAnn Fabrics, which I don’t want to detail here because mind-numbing craftsy words
The next mental obstacle was finding the courage to cut out the belt. Before contemplating making one, I hadn’t noticed that Rey’s belt is fashioned from a single piece of leather, yet it splits into two loops, one fitted around the waist and one dropping onto the hips.
I hadn’t stained all that much deer hide, so if I screwed up my first attempt, I’d have to head back into the basement and start calling, “Here, deerie, deerie, deerie!”
Bolstered by liquid courage, I picked up the scissors and cut.
Later, I noticed some rough detailing on the belt, zoomed in on a photo, and realized it was twine.
You know one thing I’m able to do without crying? Wrap string around a leather belt. (The belt picture on the left is of the actual Rey costume, from the film, and the image on the right is what I made. Chums, you want to roll up on me and register for belt-making lessons.)
So delighted was I by this discovery that I sipped a few ounces of celebratory Redvolution as I typed “Accomplished at crafting dual-level leather belts” onto my CV.
TALLY: one rustic belt overlaying an artfully draped gauzy, coffee-dyed fabric; spirits fueled by tannins; me casually not mentioning how I also fashioned some arm wraps and a leather wrist cuff; basically: I learned I have the skillz to show at New York Fashion Week
With Rey’s look burning hard and bright, I was ready to move on to another favorite hobby: accessorizing.
Early on in the process, back when he was still excited, Paco had taken a chopstick and run some lines of hot glue around it. Thusly, he crated Rey’s staff. All I needed to do was paint it, glue on some fabric, find a strap and figure out a system of hinges for it, and drink a lovely ceramic cup full of wine.
Not incidentally, the photo above demonstrates what our dining room table looked like for the duration. Fortunately, we don’t use the thing for eating.
Just gluing and boozing. That’s all.
TALLY: emerging fierce weaponry; a suspiciously light wine box; continuing visual chaos in the most centrally located part of the house
With the project flowing instead of stalling, and with the most-frustrating bits completed, Paco re-engaged. The kid has admirable abilities at self-preservation, and since he’s too young to drink, his strategy during the taxing weeks had been full-on retreat.
However, when a light saber that his mother has sculpted from clay needed painting, and she’d gone to the store yet again and bought some metallic acrylics…he bothered himself.
TALLY: a project I could once again say I was doing with my kid WHO HAD STARTED TO LIVE IN HIS CHEWBACCA PAJAMAS; the entrance of The Force to our dining room; the words “red wine” on the shopping list
While the light saber dried, I added the finishing touches to Rey’s staff. (On the left is a full-sized one made by someone on Internet who spends summers jousting at the Renaissance Festival; on the right is the one Paco and I made.)
TALLY: a fantastically accessorized doll; an exuberant swing of my wine goblet into the air as I mock clinked with a Wookie; a growing hope that this interminable project might one day end
Doll done. I’m sorry: did I forget to mention that I also made the tiny hip bag?
TALLY: me inordinately proud to have Rey living with us, to be able to collage two photos into a single image, and that the plastic bladder in the wine box still contained enough red stuff to see me through the painting of Rey’s sidekick, BB-8
Indeed, the best heroes have engaging sidekicks. In the case of Rey, her helpful buddy is a droid named BB-8.
Finding an old plastic ball rolling around under the couch–because what mother has time to clean when she’s fabric gluing her fingers together?–Paco covered it with clay and made BB-8’s body. He molded a head out of the same clay.
Then the clay ball was in my court. Repeat, frantic viewings of BB-8 images assured me that the detail work on the body would be hell.
Fortunately, by this point, hell was just another Tuesday to me. Hunkering down, a flask of Redvolution tucked into my bra, I sketched out the panels, rivets, shapes, lines. In the image above, the left hand panel illustrates the challenge of it. All those little flecks on the white? Gunk from an eraser. But I was in the zone; determined to finish this thing, I sketched it all out, and then I painted. Remarkably, I did not rage spiral or jag cry.
I was a damn artisan.
When the body was finished, Paco heaped praise upon me–as a good friend recently noted, “He’s very solicitous of you, isn’t he?”–and announced he wanted to be in charge of head and antennae attachment.
TALLY: high-five of achievement with my very own cute-as-hell sidekick; boobs shaped like a flask; a desire to go into robot design after I show my fall line at New York Fashion Week
I mean, COME ON.
TALLY: an unrealistic moment of magical thinking wherein I believed I could crank out a whole bunch of Rey dolls and BB-8s and open my own Etsy shop–followed by maniacal laughter and me stabbing the wine bladder with a fork so that I could shower myself in an alcoholic baptism as I was reborn into the reality where I remember crafting hurts me
With our characters complete, the only thing left to do was play.
The neighbors do not either think I’m insane.
And, yes, Paco and I staged some key scenes in the raspberry canes.
As I lay on my belly in the snow, snapping photos while the sun set, the kid enthusiastically shaved handfuls of snow into flakes drifting down onto Rey’s head, attempting to re-create the climactic moments of the movie we love so well.
After a bit, neither of us could feel our hands, and Kylo Ren was whining for a snack.
Grinning, we packed it in.
“Peace out,” said my very special doll named Rey.
“Peace out,” I replied, wondering why we both were using such a hackneyed expression.
Carefully brushing the snow from Rey’s clothes, praying to the Goddess of Fiber Glue that Her good works wouldn’t disintegrate, I set the heroine back onto the dining room table, peeling my fingertips away from the tacky masking tape residue that still gummed up her calves.
She was complete. The mess was done.
“Screw you up and down the wall, Hasbro,” I whispered under my breath.
Then, digging for my car keys, I called out to the Wookie who lay on the couch, leafing through the massive Star Wars guidebook he’d gotten from the library, “I’m going to run out for a few minutes, kiddo. I need a new box of wine.”