I keep toys in my office.
I cycle them out from time to time, taking home a few and bringing in a few others. I don’t display them or do anything to draw attention to them. They’re small an easy to miss, but they’re within my eyeline as I work throughout the day. I do this for several reasons.
The first is I abhor the notion that you are meant to ‘grow out’ of something. Certainly some behaviors and interests are expected to wane as you age but that should happen naturally. It should not be a socially-enforced expectation. If you liked pop music in your teens and twenties but just don’t anymore, that’s fine. But if you don’t listen to it anymore because you’ve been told its weird or that you should grow up, that’s a shame. A pity. A tragedy.
This is in part what gives rise to the ‘guilty pleasures’. You should never feel guilty about enjoying things. If it’s harmless and delightful, don’t feel guilty about it. Whether it’s a type of cookie, a type of music, or a type of television show, one should never feel bad for what they enjoy.
Secondly, I like what toys represent. Toys are instruments of the imagination, tools to aid us in the use of our creative minds. They are props to help us project and guide our imagination and I don’t think there’s a single corner of this world where imagination isn’t immensely useful.
Thirdly, I like toys. Divorced from the intellectual and personal benefits, I just like toys. They are visually stimulating – both on their own and in how they can be positioned and placed – and they are tactilely stimulating. Just passing your fingers over most toys, be they action figures or fashion figures, will reveal a variety of textures and possibly even surfaces. Don’t neglect the sense of touch.
Fourthly, it reminds me to take breaks. Whenever I notice my toys, I try to take at least a moment to pick one up and do something. Change weapons, transform it, put it on the other side of the shelf. Something. Anything. But the momentary displacement from my work helps my mind cool down.
Fifthly, these toys remind me this is my space. Yeah, sure, we can get into a discussion about whether office space is the employer or the employees. And while I won’t contest my boss or boss’ boss if they ask me to remove them, I operate on the understanding that my office is my space to (within reason) do with as I please. And little pleases me more than toys.
Sixth, though perhaps not finally, I like to keep toys on hand to remember why I am working. I don’t mean why I make money. Frankly, I don’t buy that many toys, a point of disappointment between me and myself. No, I mean they remind me of the lives I help to protect.
I don’t talk about my day job to terribly much on here, but I work for the North Carolina Central Cancer Registry. We gather cancer diagnosis and treatment data to help watch for spikes in cancer occurrences, and to help identify the best treatments and practices for dealing with cancer in the Tar Heel State. It’s a slow, laborious process that is staggeringly unglamorous. Cancer research takes years and decades. The data we collect today will largely impact the people diagnosed with cancer five years from now. But it is that sort of forward-thinking that I feel drives science, medicine, and most good there is in the world.
My toys help to remind me of the kids in the cancer wards around the state, around the country, and around the world really. I hope they have their favorite toys with them. I hope they draw strength from their toys. And just as most toys are about some form of representation of heroism, I hope that they know that people are working to help safeguard them and those like them.
It’s a stretch, sure, but it helps me.
Toys are a cornerstone of modern society. They are tools by which children learn to play, progress, and grow. They are tools of stimulation, meant to help guide a child through the process of developing. They stimulate a child, help them learn to focus their energies and attentions, and give them aid in projecting their own thoughts and imagination. From germ of inspiration to finished product (whatever that might be) is a surprisingly daunting process, especially for a child. Toys help them make leaps, supporting their thinking and their ambitions.
I subscribe to the theory that children, especially those in the middle years (4-8 years old), are no less intelligent than tweens, teens, and adults. They merely lack the experience and vocabulary (whether that’s semantic vocabulary or emotional vocabulary) to really express themselves. Toys provide them tools to help them learn to express themselves. Just as fanfiction is often called ‘writing with training wheels’, so too might toys be considered. By giving tangible form to the objects of the imagination, by giving named characters with decided characteristics, a child can eschew some of the steps in learning to use their mind.
Toys are important. Toys matter. There are good toys and there are bad toys. There are good toys for this child and bad toys for this child, but the inverse would be true for another child. Diversity of toy type matters. For example, there’s been a long debate about gender in toys. Stores and parents have argued about ‘boy toys’ and ‘girl toys’. With the rising awareness of the popularity of professional wrestling and superheroes with women, you see the production of toys that would seem to bridge the gap: toys that look like ‘dolls’ but have many of the features of action figures (lots of points of articulation, weapons as accessories, etc). The distinguishing feature becomes the emphasis on expression, and hair. Most action figures (or ‘boy toys’) put an emphasis on movement and the overall body aesthetic. Most fashion figures (or ‘girl toys’ or ‘dolls’) focus on having real or real-adjacent hair and having more distinct expressions.
You are seeing the gap between these two styles of toys being bridged. Professional wrestling toys, whether deliberately progressive or by materialistic accident, seems to be leading the way. Many wrestling figures put some emphasis on the expression of the toy, meant to capture the likeness of the wrestler themselves. Likewise do these toys often come with removable ring attire like shawls, robes, belts, etc. All you’d need is brushable hair and they would meet all the criteria for a doll.
At the same time, the WWE’s Fashion Dolls have much in common with your typical Barbie (what with the clothes, shoes, and other accessories). They also come with a wrestling wring and far more joints than almost any other doll on the market. The packaging doesn’t shy away from these being wrestlers either. All these dolls need is to come with a folding steel chair or a break-away table and they’d be impossible to disqualify as action figures.
Our toys are an expression of who we were and who we are. Like all forms of art, they speak volumes about the stages in life we have passed through and who we were in a given moment in time. Most go through stages of playing with toys and toy collecting. Some of us move on to other stages and other toys, or move away from toys entirely. Others do not. Some keep a love of toys for the rest of our lives and that is no short-coming or fault.
Toys help stimulate the imagination and help remind us of what is important to us.
And some toys turn from a robot into a car which is just stupidly cool.