Wednesday, August 19, 2009


I was looking at vintage rings on etsy (no I was not leaving hints for my boyfriend), and admiring the craftsmanship and beauty of yesteryear. Today, lots of our jewelry is described as "architectural," "modern," and "sleek," where before they just wanted flowers made out of gems on their hands.

From Etsy, seller thesecretKohola

Seriously, look at that frickin' thing. Beautiful. As I was looking at them, I was wondering why I was looking at them, and why, even though some pieces were very reasonably priced, I wasn't inclined to buy most of them (I hungered after this one for a while).

I realized that almost all of the objects I own don't have any meaning attached to them. The few gifts I've received from previous boyfriends were nice, but rarely did any of them have a story. Those that did, ended up staying with me. My parents never gave my any physical objects of significant meaning, other than my car (read: escape from anything, guaranteed [add unconscious question mark]). I feel that maybe this is because I have lost any semblance of a real connection to them since I was a little kid. Many of my friends have family heirlooms, and I won't deny there is a bit of jealousy when I think of those objects, hallowed by time and inheritance, made into a passive participant and observer of the lives and stories of each new owner.

Looking at these vintage objects, I feel like I'd be borrowing other peoples' stories, that I would be putting them on my body, wearing them, sweating on them, using them, cooking them. Is that false? Or is it just adding another dimension to the overall tale of the object? I wonder if it varies between types of objects. Inherited engagement rings mean one thing, does an inherited set of turntables mean something different? Things pass from one person to another through friendship, bloodlines, love, necessity, birth, sale... One man's trash is another man's treasure. When he is done treasuring it, and gives it to someone else, what is the cumulative value of the object? Is it trash, or treasure? What about good luck charms? Do they really work passed on from person to person? Or is there one good luck charm meant for one person?

What happens to buried objects? Objects that never pass to another living being other than the worms and the insects? They live their own quiet life, dispersing into the world. Do they still have a value? Are they valued by the bugs?

I want to leave a legacy. I want to start an heirloom. What if I pass stuff on and tack on false stories? Stories that never happened? If I buy a beautiful necklace and tell a friend of mine my grandmother gave it to me, and I have always treasured it, and that I want her to have it, will there be some menacing green aura of lies surrounding it? Will it be a bad luck charm, something that haunts the person with confused dreams of an imaginary heritage?

But maybe if whoever I pass my object along to would understand that my purchase of it was simply to celebrate it's beauty, or perhaps to attach my own story and emotion to it in passing, like a Tibetan prayer flag (perhaps a presumptuous simile), spreading its blessing to the next person willing to receive it. I think also the passing from hand to hand, the muttering of awkward and heartfelt words, the stress of importance or meaning, the giving and taking are an act of consecration in themselves.

Rule: Identify an object that has significant meaning to you. Alternately, imbue an object with significant meaning.


Luke said...

I loved this. By the end, it made me think of the movie, Big Fish (I haven't read the book). Have you seen/read that? It's really beautiful, the idea of what "stories" are worth.

Melanie said...

That's totally what a Marshallese handicraft is about. Something made (or bought) where the meaning lies only in the giving and receiving, each thing is a person. I have a few family heirlooms--a dress, a jade necklace, a ring, a record player--and the stories are great. But, my Marshallese handicrafts, one ring I bought from a street vendor my first year of college, and my gray bear are just as cool of stories if not more elaborate.

Jennifer said...

I love buying vintage stuff and if they have a story it is that much better because I like to learn them to pass on to others. The only heirloom type thing I have is my great great grandmothers wedding band that my grandmother will pass on to me it is simple and doesn't fit my fingers but I will wear it on a chain and pass it along to my daughter or son if I have one.