On the Internet, there is a video of an unidentified hand preparing miniature tacos. For scale, we see the hand light a tea candle, open a miniature stove's door, place the lit candle within, close the door, and then set a thimble full of oil on the stove's burner to boil.
The hand uses a bent paper clip to grasp four thumbprints' worth of dough, drop them in the oil, and then carefully fold them into shell shapes. The hand sautés a minuscule saucepan full of kernels of ground beef, and then it very carefully, with an almost-imperceptible shiver, slices a fingernail of lettuce into shreds. Finally, it arranges everything on a small table: four tacos, sized for a doll or pet rodent to eat, warm and waiting before the video ends.
This video has been viewed 25,000 times on YouTube. It's over a year old, but I first watched it this spring. And then watched it again. And then emailed it to everyone I knew. I did not watch it because I love tacos (although I did send it to my taco-loving friends). I did not watch it because I wanted to eat the meal prepared (which is rare: I spend many hours looking at recipes I know I would like to eat but don't really have the patience to gather the ingredients to cook). When I watched the video, I felt only a deep, intense longing. Not for food or for comfort, but for that very, very small world. It was a longing to shrink down and enter the screen and sit at the tiny table, stand by the stove, feel the heat of a votive candle as if it were a bonfire and not a single, flickering flame.
One of my most-read books when I was a child was a retelling of "Thumbelina" — a picture-book version, where Thumbelina was tucked into a walnut shell each night and gently rocked to sleep. She was also nearly married off to a blind, hideous, and oblivious mole. This last part I spent a lot of time thinking about. I sympathized with the mole, who was just looking for companionship, who must have heard Thumbelina's voice, finally at a timbre that his ears could register, who must have felt her soft hand in his paw, finally a size he could squeeze, and thought to himself in the dim twilight of his inner thoughts, This is it!
Although I understood Thumbelina's horror at her prospective spouse, at the thought of having to live underground with him and sully her gossamer clothes with dust, I still didn't think it was such a bad life. It seemed a bit unfair when the mole was portrayed, toward the end of their disastrous affair, as a grasping and jealous mate, one who should have been aware of his own inherent unattractiveness and let Thumbelina go.
In retrospect, I identified with the mole specifically because of his longing. I knew what it was like to encounter the miniature and wish to have it for yourself. What you would actually do with it once you got it was unclear. It somehow was both enough, and not nearly enough, simply to possess it. But I understood the longing of the hairy and squinting and wriggling mess of self to want something so tiny that its smallness became a signifier for something else, an emblem of a kind of perfection that is always out of reach.
Growing up, my sisters and I had a dollhouse. It was unpainted, made of a dark, rough wood and styled as a Victorian monstrosity, gloomy looking, with high, sharp gables that could give you a splinter or cut your elbow if you grazed against them. The windows of that house had thick pieces of cellophane in them, to simulate glass, and the rooms were narrow and dark. But my two older sisters and I loved that dollhouse and played with it constantly. Our aunt had painstakingly sewn a cloth family to live in it: a mother in a beautiful red gingham dress with a lovely, tight little Afro of yarn along her skull; a father in tight black pants and a black suit coat, slim cut, so that he looked ever-stylish and debonair; and various cloth children, boys and girls, as well as a sack of brown fabric that had been carefully stitched over to replicate the folds and lumps of a fat cloud of a toddler.