I sat alone in front of a dark computer screen.
No inspiration, nothing, but there the trolls were.
No, they don’t talk, and they’re not the ones we dread and avoid online, but the ones—
Petra and Olaf—who’ve been in my life since I was a child.
Doughty looking, hunched over, and their facial skin a map of wrinkles broken by prominent warts—these trolls are ageless as well as harmless. I named them as soon as I freed them from the Christmas wrapping paper that I’d been eyeing for days. I was 9 years old living with my younger brother and parents in a foreign country—Norway.
The Land of the Midnight Sun was a magical place to me, and the troll myths I read about were fascinating. As our parents adjusted to new customs and a familiar language in which they were not fluent—we’re of Scandinavian descent—my brother and I made friends, explored, and had freedoms we’d not known in our Stateside hometown of Hastings-on-Hudson, New York.
The two and a half years I lived in Drammen were among the happiest and most content of my childhood and adolescence.
Petra and Olaf stand eight inches tall, and are currently staring at me from two feet away—on my desk. They stoically watched me move through adolescence, accompanied me to college, through graduate school, marriage, and all the different places I have called home, always occupying an honored place on a dresser or desk. Over the years I have accrued a few valuable sculptures, artwork, and iconic pieces that have captivated my attention, but none of those have engaged my soul in the manner of these two woodcarvings.
Donald Winnicott, the British psychoanalyst, uses the terms “transitional object” and “transitional phenomenon” to describe what infants use (toys, blankets, sounds) in the course of emotional separation, during times of stress, from the primary love object in their lives—mother.
These objects and sounds provide feelings of self-sufficiency, confidence, and may dispel feelings of loss or abandonment. As I moved through stages of development, and a variety of creative and important activities in my adolescence and early adult years, the ever-present duo may have come to symbolize the attachment that existed between the infant Roger and my mother. An important symbolic attachment to alleviate stress and help me cope with upheaval during those years. This fits with Dr. Winnicott’s concept.
My years in Norway were filled with exciting and wonderful external explorations and adventures. While stepping into those events and into new relationships I expanded my inner world, gained confidence, and developed an identity that wasn’t better or worse than the one that would have been forged in Hastings—just different.
The two unflappable trolls to my left have been a reminder of those years and experiences. In addition to stimulating fond memories of a magical foreign land they have provided a welcome tethering to a time of contentment, inner growth and discovery.
I rely on them to assist me in refocusing when I feel lost and abandoned by my muse.
We all have transitional objects, phenomena, mementos, and tchotchkes which transport us to places we’ve been, and in so doing re-ground us in who we are in the present.
Their lips never move, but Petra and Olaf speak to me during stormy weather of all kinds, dissuading me of fear, self-doubt and questioning, and center my soul’s pursuit when I’m most flappable.by