Things in Particular

Words :

Erica Vincenzi

Photos :

Alex Madrid

I have accumulated a lot of things. They sit in drawers and cabinets, on shelves, counters, and tables. They hang from ceilings and stand on floors. My friends’ things are even worse: piling, cramming, spilling into space. Objects are easily accumulated and easily forgotten. Some pass through our hands regularly and become invisible as a consequence of habit, while others  are left untouched or unobserved for years. Their materiality seems fixed but in fact they undergo change, not just physically, softening and fading through use, but in our relationships to them—the faculties we grant them. An ashtray is just there, an object of practical purpose, until a friend comes and they use it, and with their departure the ashtray becomes difficult to look at, to move, or to empty. I think it is possible that particular objects can have an existence outside of our own, that we might be passing through an object’s life just as much as it through ours. Some objects exist as artifacts of experience; repositories for memory. Others we imbue with protective faculty, finding our contemporary talismans in the shape of keychains, saltshakers, a ring.

When my life becomes overwhelmed with constant stimulus and information, I have the urge to bury myself in the very tactile and physical, focusing acutely on its presence. This might be a facet of my anxiety, as well as my material-obsessed Taurean nature (What’s that? Ok, astrology is bogus, I get it, not a real justification for experience. I know this. I still like it. Let me live). Some items hold more obvious value, but I like to give consideration to objects that fall into the realm of the domestic or even the banal. Here is an exercise in paying closer attention to the things that we hold, wear, and use every day; a consideration of their respective agencies, histories and meanings.

socks:

Is it normal to feel distressed over a hole in a pair of socks? I hadn’t even had them for long, or worn them that much. Black with gold sparkles, and now a tiny rip, on the right big toe. I am possessive over all of my socks; losing one to the sock-stealing laundry gnomes is a frustrating event. These days I swipe my hand around the inner edges of the dryer, to make sure I haven’t missed any. But I like to choose favorites among my things, and these were the favorites. They were special-occasion socks. Is it normal to have special occasion socks? Nice feeling; luck-bringing socks.

And now a rip. I think about the frequency with which objects get tossed into the trash and replaced. Quick turnaround, made possible by the poor quality of their construction. The hole may have been a sign of cheap, mass-sock production, or maybe a consequence of lots of dancing. Probably a combination of both, although the latter is nicer to think about. Good-times sock holes.

It would have been easy for me to throw them away and buy a new pair. Instead, I felt prompted to try to salvage them myself, probably a result of the attitude instilled in me by my mother’s DIY disposition. My childhood home is filled with hand-assembled contraptions like sliding doors, curtains made from tablecloths, and re-upholstered chairs, evidence of her knack for practical solutions to domestic architectural problems. In a similar spirit I took a sewing needle and black thread and made a bunch of knotted loops in my sock because that is really the only way I know how to sew. It worked, at least it has so far; when I dance in them the stitches hold, and although the fabric at the end of my toe is fairly lumpy, it doesn’t bother me. The lines of thread serve as a reminder that I can do things, small things, to patch up my possessions. I can do that. I am able to touch and transform objects from out of service to perfectly functional. The bits of thread, fabric, tape, or glue used as solutions become not signs of dysfunction but adornments, adding to the character and the history of the thing itself.

cameo ring:

A white shell cameo on coral. The band is silver or seemingly silver, and simple. When I’m nervous, the pad of my thumb presses against the finely carved face; the features are too small to distinguish with my fingers but the ridges are familiar. Reliable. That is a good word to describe it.

I lost the ring twice, because I am extremely fidgety. The first time was at a movie theater. I was twisting it around my finger when it slipped. It hit the floor with a small clatter that made my throat lurch and sent me crawling under my seat during the movie, groping for a familiar flash of silver under the light of my phone screen. The second time I didn’t even know it was lost until I looked at my hands and it wasn’t there. I couldn’t find it for days. I convinced myself that it would turn up because it had to. It did turn up, eventually, in the pocket of a jacket, as could be expected because I have many pockets within many bags and jackets where I have lost and recovered many a small item.

The ring was my nonna’s, given to my mom, whose jewelry I, as a kid, liked to dump out on the bed and pick through one by one, choosing the pieces I liked best. My mom let me keep the ring. Although my nonna was always affectionate and invested in my life, the thousands of miles in distance plus a limited shared language—she didn’t speak any English, and my Italian got worse with every year—left an unfamiliarity that clouded my relationship with her. She’d tell me stories of taking me for walks when I was little and the songs we used to sing together, and I’d feel sorry for not being able to recall any of it. Even before she passed away, I think wearing the ring helped to create a sense of connection between us. I’m remembering things about you. Her past is held present in my life as a material object. When I am anxious and fidgety, it’s her presence that pacifies my nerves with every twist of the ring’s smooth band around my finger.

succulent:

The leaves are dry and cracked, dying. I’ve forgotten to water it. I forget regularly. It was a gift from them, I feel obligated to take care of it, like it’s analogous to our relationship. Remember to water. Remember to call. It’s a succulent, it shouldn’t even need that much watering. And yet, dry and cracked.

A plant isn’t an object! That’s cheating!

A small succulent in its little ceramic pot, or a wooden one if you like. You barely even need to care for it. It’s more for decoration—it could almost be an object. Maybe this is unethical territory, pulling live things like plants into the realm of objects. That seems incredibly horrible, actually. I was thinking rather that I was pulling objects into the realm of living things. Yikes. I’m toying with boundaries, which is not always good or bad but I wonder if the boundary of succulent and object is minor enough for me to be allowed to do this. Even if it is for the sake of comparing my relationship with a succulent to my relationship with a person.

mugs:

I am at a point in my life where I feel a sense of accomplishment in having matching cutlery or tableware. I no longer want to invite people to a dinner where one friend has to use a teaspoon to eat soup. Mugs, however, are a kitchen object that lend themselves to mismatch. I have no qualms with a charming assortment of mugs. My apartment’s current collection includes mugs featuring hand-painted cats, Wallace and Gromit stills, and a Palm Springs real estate company. They make good conversation topics for when small talk is needed after offering tea to an acquaintance, telling stories about the places you may or may not have been to, television shows that you love or might have never watched. The best are the personalized ones you can find second hand, which are relatively easy to come upon at neighborhood garage sales and thrift stores. Mismatched mugs tell visitors, Hey! This household is fun and has a great sense of humor, plus good taste in bad aesthetics! We are Hip Individuals. Haha. Mugs are also versatile in an adorable, “seven ways to use a mug” Buzzfeed article kind of way. If you have too many to fit in your kitchen cupboard or can’t stand the thought of drinking from a novelty mug, they can be used as pen cups, plant pots (for those succulents), or just for trapping big ugly bugs while screaming “holy mother of god” in your living room. The possibilities are endless, kind of.

corkscrew:

There are a variety of devices, most in some variation of a handle and screw, used to pull the tightly wedged cork from a bottle of wine. The origin of the corkscrew is complicated and undetermined, although some theories point to its use for some time during the 18th century. The first patent was given in 1795 to the Reverend Samuel Henshall in Britain, for a corkscrew with a wooden handle and a steel “worm,” or thin spiral. There have since been many improvements to this simple model. The growth of the industrial revolution and of a large middle class resulted in booming restaurant and wine industries, and with them commercially available corkscrews of different designs emerged from various countries. My favorite, however, is the “winged corkscrew,” probably because it is the one my parents used and therefore the most familiar to me but also likely due to its nickname, the “angel corkscrew.” These names transform an object of such regular, pragmatic purpose into a figure of grace. Its design has two levers, like wings, that lift as the screw is twisted into the cork, then pushed down to pull the cork out of the bottle in one motion. I would like to say that it was this fluid motion, or the graceful name, paired with the figure-likeness of the shape, that prompted me to create a dance based on this model of corkscrew. In all honesty, I was most likely influenced by the wine.

I am nearly 22 and still break the cork almost every time I try to open a bottle of wine. As compensation for this shortcoming, I developed a dance in honor of the device I so poorly handle, as an effort to be more in tune with the object so that we might perform better, together.

How to do the Winged Corkscrew: stand straight with your arms by your sides, legs together. Begin to spin slowly in place. As you turn, begin bending your knees so that you become shorter and shorter (corkscrewing). At the same time, start lifting your arms up and straight out to the sides, until they are at about a 45 degree angle from your shoulders and you are in a squatting position. Stop turning. Pop straight up into the air while bringing your arms fast down to the sides of your body.

Perform before opening a bottle of wine or after consuming an entire one, and only around people who will not abandon you when they see you impersonate a corkscrew through dance.