Saving Captain Leena (Pt 1: Introduction)

A couple of months ago, I talked about how inspiring I found the content of doll customizer Dollightful’s channel, and how despite it focusing on doll customization, something I myself have never done, it made me want to work hard at all of my personal creative pursuits.

Since then… well, I still haven’t customized any dolls, but I have a confession to make to you all.

See, I recently finished my final shift of my summer job as a respite worker for two adults on the Autism spectrum. One of those two adults would volunteer at a local Goodwill every week, purging clothes that had been on the shelves for too long, signified by a certain color of tag, which changed every week. I would accompany him to these shifts, and so I spent a lot of time wandering through the same Goodwill, week after week.

Because I spent so much time wandering through the same store, I came to be pretty familiar with many of the items on its shelves. While yes, Goodwill does get rid of old merchandise that has sat long enough, it was still fun to note the interesting items on the shelves and how fast it would take for them to disappear. An ostentatious sequined miniskirt here, a new, in-the-box Magic the Gathering themed board game there, a clutch purse with a magnetic clasp that had been torn from the fabric and hung loose and mostly unable to keep the purse closed over there.

These items became somewhat like familiar friends to me, and it was fun to check up on them every week. “Yup, the full Twilight series in hardback is still there” or “Hey, somebody finally picked up that teapot with sculptures of dancing old ladies balanced on it!”

And then there was the toy section. Oh, the toy section. I’m not gonna blame the employees of the Goodwill for this because I strongly suspect the chaos of the toy section was probably due in part to the many small children I would see getting a run of the store while their parents shopped. Or it could also be due to the fact that many of the toys that get donated to Goodwill aren’t exactly in pristine condition themselves, often having been played with roughly. There were tons of Barbie dolls with chopped hair, stuffed rabbits with suspicious brown stains on them, and cars with missing wheels.

But I still liked to poke through the toy section in particular. Maybe it was the piled chaos on the shelves that made it seem like if I just dug through the junky stuff on top I might find some real treasures underneath, and sometimes I would find myself organizing the shelves to the best of my ability, trying to bring forward those toys that looked in good condition to me, so that a kid might see them and bring them home without having to dig through the not-so-nice stuff.

During one of these excursions into the toy aisle, I spotted a flash of hot pink amongst the tans and blondes of a pile of naked Barbie dolls, and extracted a Monster High Howleen doll. Howleen is a werewolf girl with bright pink hair, tiny fangs, and puppy-dog ears, and I was delighted to find her. After all, Monster High dolls are a bit rarer to come by at Goodwill, since Barbies are way more common. Plus, being a casual fan of the doll customizing Youtube space, I knew how popular Monster High dolls were as customizing material.

Howleen was in really good condition, save for one thing. She was missing both of her arms.

Now this isn’t really uncommon for Monster High dolls. As far as mass-produced dolls go, Monster High dolls have a lot more articulation in their joints, and have both an elbow and wrist joint in their arms. They also have detailed hands that have different designs based on the doll, but the relative size of their hands to their skinny arms make it impossible for them to wear tight sleeves unless there is some way to remove the hands. And so… Monster High dolls have removable hands and elbow joints to make dressing them easier.

That’s all well and good, except these joints go missing all the time, especially in dolls donated to secondhand places like Goodwill.

And I thought “Oh, that’s a shame. Both arms are missing. Well, maybe someone will pick her up anyway and give her a good home.”

So I left Howleen on the shelf with all of her Barbie doll brethren, and went on my merry way.

The next week I came back and Howleen was still there. The next week, yup, there she is. And then we got to this week, my final shift at Goodwill.

I returned to the toy aisle and found that Howleen had been moved from her spot among the dolls to a separate area of the shelves. Finding her there, I briefly wondered who had moved her. Was it a kid playing with her, or an employee? What happened to Howleen during all those days I was away from the Goodwill? A little saddened at the prospect of never seeing Howleen off to a good home, I sat her up on the shelf and hoped once more someone would come along and take pity on her.

And then I stopped. Wait a minute. Aren’t I an adult with income that I, on occasion, spend on things? Couldn’t I buy this Howleen and ensure she would go to a good home?

But then, that was preposterous. What was I going to do with a naked Monster High doll without any arms? I wasn’t planning on fixing her up or anything. I didn’t have the materials, the artistic talent….

But then, if I didn’t, who would? Would armless Howleen just be thrown in a salvage box? Would she ever find someone who considered her a friend, like I had come to? And am I seriously considering this hunk of plastic a friend? (Yes.)

So yeah, I bought Howleen. She cost $2 and I hid her in my purse for the rest of my time at the Goodwill, slightly embarrassed at what people would think about an adult woman buying a naked, armless Monster High doll.

But as I stood there in the Goodwill, ideas began rushing to me. What if I made Howleen a cool metal-armed pirate, hardened by the battles that took her limbs but not allowing it to break her adventurous spirit? The prospect of fixing the doll up, giving her a new outfit and story, became a really interesting creative challenge for me to consider.

So yeah guys. This is real. This is happening. I, a non-doll customizer, am going to customize this Howleen doll that stole my heart. And I thought… where better to document this challenge than here on this blog?

So here’s to Howleen, the future Captain Leena, scurvy pirate of the high seas. And here’s to forming an empathetic bond with an armless doll sitting on a Goodwill shelf.

More installments to come, as they happen. Stay tuned.




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