The Collision of the Miniature and Immense in the Construction of Self
The dining table of the house I grew up in wasn’t a particularly enormous one, but it was big enough that, when it was spread with the far-too-large tablecloth my mother used for Christmas parties, the space enclosed by the walls of heavy fabric was more than enough for a brother and sister to hide away in. Every year, as soon as this tablecloth came out for the Christmas party, my younger brother and I were in and out from underneath it, burrowing under the folds of fabric which pooled on the floor around the table’s edge, sitting in the semi-darkness together or alone, playing at spies or detectives or cavemen or else just existing within the space we felt we’d made—in helping to lay the table cloth—and discovered—in crawling beneath its folds. This was not the only such space we created or appropriated; we made pillow forts and tree-houses (some more successful than others), took over the tiny triangular space behind the winter coats in the closet under the stairs where the ceiling sloped to meet the floor, built huts of fallen palm fronds in recesses of the backyard, and appropriated the little shed that housed the back-up generator at the side of the house in the day or two when it was empty and awaiting an newer model. The two of us, only fifteen months apart, pushed and wormed our way into every nook and cranny we could find and made them ours—despite having our great-grandmother’s little wooden playhouse available to us in the backyard. Many of the memories I have of the house I grew up in (which we left nearly ten years ago) are grounded in images of these places—small, physically enclosed spaces, which were, because we found and created them, ours.
Our engagement with miniature space did not stop at inhabiting any nook we could discover or make, though; both of us spent hours constructing spaces too small for anyone but fairies or Alice after she’d drunk the shrinking potion. American Bricks, Girder and Panel, Erector, and Lego were staples in our house growing up, but they were more the domain of my brother. My building materials were whatever I could get my hands on, constructing cities and buildings on my bedroom floor from books and dominoes and boxes and blocks and anything else I fancied. In the backyard (or anywhere we went, really), I made houses and huts of twigs and grass, leaves and berries, moss and flowers. Somewhere around the house, there was always bound to be some such construction project underway and I could sit for hours building and staring at my creations, imagining life into them, imagining myself into them. Looking at the photos of myself in the midst of constructing one of these miniature worlds—whether on the floor of my room, in the backyard, or by a lake—I am struck always by the look of concentration on my face and by the size of the thing I am building, which, though logically I know the scale I must have been working with, always surprises me by its smallness in the photograph. For in my imagination then and in the vestiges of my memory now, those cities and buildings were somehow infinitely vast, transgressing their physical boundaries and swallowing me. Read More