The explanation for “Moonie and Me” will be longer and more serious than you were likely expecting from a blog consisting of photos of a troll doll, but bear (or, if you’re Moonie, “bare”) with me.
After a certain life event, I was diagnosed with depression in August of 2012. I basically curled into a ball for the next year of my life. After having been praised for the unique way I saw the world, finding color nearly anywhere, I saw only gray. For that year, I was simply going through motions – robotic workdays, rote errands. Until one trip to Whole Foods in 2013.
It was my best friend’s birthday. We live 2,500 miles apart and hardly get to see each other, but we speak by phone every few months, particularly on birthdays and holidays. Talking with her must have lifted my spirits above average, because when I ran to pick up some groceries, I saw something different this time. I saw color.
Either a clever Whole Foods employee or a prankster customer had placed several white mouse puppets among the various cheeses. I stopped short when I saw the first one because it was so out of place and yet so perfect. For the first time in so long that I’m surprised it didn’t crack my cheeks, I smiled. Then I saw another mouse in the cheese. Then another.
There were four in all, and I was all but laughing out loud by the time I’d found the last. I whipped out my camera phone to document each one. And I stepped back in time somewhat, because once again I was finding something funny or quirky or beautiful that others had missed. Plenty of people surrounded me, but they were all so intent on their shopping or chatting, no one else took notice of the toy mice. It was like a gift just for me. For once, I was out of the gray and back into the color I’d once spent so much time in.
Here, tell me these overjoyed little guys making jazz hands over their bounties of cheese wouldn’t have lifted your spirits as well.
Go on, I can wait while you drink it all in.
I’d never been particularly interested in photography. As much as I admired others’ photos, I didn’t put much thought into snapping my own. But these mice among the cheese were share-worthy. I’d hardly used Facebook lately, signing in only to “like” the occasional thing someone would post to my wall or accept the occasional friend request, but I uploaded the mice to see if they’d lift others’ spirits. And they did.
I’ve been playing more with photography recently, and I’ve been interacting much more with Facebook now than I did in that lost year between August 2012-August 2013. I credit the invisible prankster/marketing genius behind those mice for helping to bring me back to myself that day. I’ve also been much more interested in posting other photos I’ve taken of things that I find beautiful or poignant or funny because I want other people to feel a reaction, especially if things have seemed gray or dull to them lately. We all need some color from time to time. We all need to make sure we can still smile without cracking our cheeks. Heck, sometimes we even need to cry; feeling sad is better than feeling nothing. But I’ll aim for happy here anyway.
This leads me – at last – to Moonie. “Moonie” seems the only appropriate name for a naked doll that perpetually shows off its little bum, so that’s what I naturally call every troll doll. These troll dolls, with their tan bodies and paunchy tummies and shocks of brightly-colored hair, were big when I was a kid, but I hadn’t owned one and certainly hadn’t spent time thinking about them. Then my photographer friend David Lee Black used troll dolls in some of his work, and I liked the effect. He’d capture this amazing, awe-inspiring view, such as a mountain cliff with an entire world spreading out below, or a bucolic pasture somewhere in Ireland, and then slip in a toy, with its neon ‘do and its naked little butt, to drink in the scene. The teeny troll would stand, feet planted, unashamed of its stocky body or exposed bum, as it lifted its little arms in rapture under a wild tuft of neon hair. Each of those “Moonie” photos – just a tiny percentage of the ones DLB takes of people and landscapes all around the world – made me smile in the same way the mouse puppets in a grocery store cheese section had. Each shock of bright hair and each little bum amid his landscapes added an extra shot of color to my world.
Through one of DLB’s photography workshops I met another photographer, Martha Wells, who also enjoys slipping a mascot into some of her work. In 2013 Martha set out to travel to all 50 states and some territories while documenting her adventures in photographs. You can catch her travel adventures at Martha’s United States of America (“MUSAP”) and at her blog Photo a Day. Martha brings her own little pal, a pink and purple stuffed butterfly named MUSAP, on her adventures both near and far. An extra subject can elevate a photo, somehow managing to convey how much fun it’s having or how humbled it is by a scene even when you know the toy is inanimate. Martha’s butterfly MUSAP, like DLB’s occasional trolls, can help take us outside of ourselves and add a new perspective. One snap at a time, we can imagine that they’re alive, and we can enjoy their adventures.
Sometimes in life, we all need a little extra color in the frame.
I picked up my own Moonie on April 25, 2015 at an antique store in Providence. I didn’t intentionally plan on copying pal DLB’s concept of photos with troll dolls; I just thought this particular toy was cute and needed to be rescued, the only small troll in a store that featured a line of large (well, respectively) ones across its front window. The little pink-haired guy called out to me, giving me a wide hopeful smile that hinted at the adventures we could have together. After purchasing Moonie I slipped him into my pocketbook, soon forgetting about him in a rush of errands. That night I stumbled on Moonie while digging out my wallet, and he looked so overjoyed to see me and so eager to look around the cafe we were in, taking in the sight of people and art and smells of coffee and baked goods, that I decided it couldn’t hurt to snap one photo of him standing on the front-row table, enjoying great live music (even if not adhering to any dress codes). Just one photo, I told myself.
That turned out to be pretty similar to the concept of having just one potato chip.
I’m a bit hooked now. As I go through my days, which despite the strides I’ve made against depression can still occasionally be sad, it can add so much to have a little pink-haired dude in each scene. DLB and Martha were onto something with their photo mascots, and I thank them both for inspiring me to add a new point of view and interest to pictures. I’m also glad Moonie fits in my purse, making him easy to carry around (he says it’s quite comfy), and I hope we’ll have some great adventures together. Some people post lots of selfies, but I prefer “moonies” instead, with his shock of pink hair anchoring scenes of wonder and drudgery alike. This little guy has a big personality, as well as an insatiable appetite for both cookies and bad jokes. Whatever life has in store for us, I know he’s looking forward to experiencing as much of the world as he can, whether in big bites or Moonie-sized ones, from his happy, naked little point of view.
I hope you’ll enjoy the ride as my three-inch sidekick encounters various people, places, food, music, and whatever other adventures await Moonie and me. And I hope, like the person who set out those mouse puppets in Whole Foods two summers ago, that Moonie and I can help make you smile, and that his spiky pink ‘do is just the color you may have been seeking.