Last weekend I woke up from a night out and there were roughly six bags, ranging from purses to totes, sprawled out on my bedroom floor. The crocheted purse held my keys, wallet, and red lipstick. The “1-800 INK MAG” tote held my computer, journal, and doodles. The rest were filled with numerous sunglasses, gum wrappers, loose change, and my favorite pen, the Black Fine Gel Pilot-G2 07. The last thing I do before I leave is collect the items that I’ll need for the day. That morning as I followed my daily routine of transferring items from tote to tote I wondered “what is it about this journal that I need to carry with me at all hours of the day?” The probability that I will be out with friends, thrifting for instance, and I pull out my journal to doodle is slim–just not practical. The train of what connects one to an item is long and reveals aspects of who you are. If my objects could be satirical, emotional, and even scandalous, the people I cross paths with daily share a similar trait.
I talked to several VCU students, all whose ordinary objects reveal a story and character that compliments them.
Computer Science Major, Glossier You Solid Perfume
Hearns: What does it smell like?
Eldering: Ugh, it smells so good. It smells clean but also floral.
Hearns: What about the floral smell do you like?
Eldering: Too much floral gets into the ‘old lady’ realm, and we don’t like to travel there constantly–but I will visit every once in a while.
Hearns: You don’t like to smell like an old lady?
Eldering: Constantly? No. But like come on I’m not afraid to put on an old lady perfume–
Hearns: It’s classic.
Eldering: You know what I mean. Like if you’re dressing up in something and you really wanna commit to it, put on an old lady perfume and it’s going to make it look really good.
Hearns: Do you have a fear of not smelling good?
Eldering: OH YEAH. I wouldn’t say it’s what drives me but I’m almost surprised when I find out people don’t. Aren’t we all constantly scared that when we are sitting in a room, everyone is smelling our BO? And you’re nose blind to it.
Hearns: Has something happened to you and you’ve been told you smell bad? This sounds personal.
Eldering: It was never me. I definitely was around stinky middle school boys–
Eldering: And we all made fun of the stinky middle school boys. I mean come on they were the boys in middle school who didn’t get the memo when we all got the memo–
Eldering: They didn’t start deodorant. And then on the other side there were the kids who really got it and they pounded the Axe spray.
HPEX Major, Uncle’s Wallet
Hearns: What’s so important about that wallet of yours?
Freeman: It’s my Uncle’s. At one point of my life I was living with my Aunt Alisha and my Uncle Lewis. They taught me things that I use today, so they were big parental figures until my mom came back [from the military]. My Uncle passed away last year, and I was at a meet. He had stage four pancreatic cancer.
Hearns: I’m so sorry.
Freeman: Monday I flew down. I got there at 10 P.M., and they live in Memphis, Tennessee. I stayed there that Tuesday and I saw him. He was in hospice, and he was ready to go. I was gonna make time for that even if I was in the season, and my mom kept telling my Uncle, “Wait for Lew he’s gonna come.” Thursday morning I ran at my track meet, I was playing good and everything, and then I remember I got off the track, my dad called me and told me my Uncle had passed away. While I was visiting, my Aunt gave me his wallet and said “I really want you to have it.” I’ve always kept it ever since. I take it everywhere with me, no matter what I’m doing.
Hearns: What is it about carrying a piece of your Uncle with you that’s so important?
Freeman: I especially keep it with me when I’m running. I try to make my family proud. One thing I can say, since I do so much stuff like modeling, track, and school it takes a lot of time away from family. I have a twin sister who is always able to visit and I’m always busy so I can never do it. Whenever I’m in my blocks for track meets, I always pray, “Keep watching over me. I always want to make you proud. I’m running to make sure everyone can see this and be proud of something that I’m doing.”
Hearns: Do you find being busy is in your true nature, like you need to do this for yourself?
Freeman: Yeah, cause my mom is the same way. At some point it was just my mom, me, and my two sisters, she was a single mother. She was always doing stuff. I feel like watching that, it just became my nature where I’m always doing something.
Hearns: Yup, yup. My mom is a single mom too and I have two sisters, and constantly seeing my mom hustling growing up and getting shit done makes me think, “Okay, how can I sit back when I’ve seen someone with even less of a backboard than me, do it.” So I totally get that.
Freeman: I always tell my mom, “I’m just trying to be better than you.” She set the benchmark so high, and I feel like me chasing that is always going to make me a better person.
Biology Major, Analog Camera
Elong: So it’s an old technique of taking photos where you can’t look at what you’re actually taking. It’s like 50/50 chance that it’s a really good picture.
Hearns: Very in the moment.
Elong: Exactly. I use it for the times when I’m like “Oh yeah I really want to have a picture of this moment,” like at track meets or parties.
Hearns: So set the scene for me. What’s going on when you take out that analog camera?
Elong: I’m going to an underground party where there’s a new DJ so I don’t know what to expect, what kind of vibe will be had, what kind of vibe at the party. I see a lot of people dancing, my friends dancing, everyone really enjoying the music, then that will be a moment where I take out the camera and take a picture of a group really enjoying what they’re doing.
Hearns: Those photographs from a night out where you can see the pure happiness on peoples faces is so memorable.
Elong: When I get that email that the film has been developed, I am always so relieved and happy because I don’t know what they look like!
Hearns: It’s so fun, and it’s funny. I don’t have a film camera but if I’m ever using a disposable camera the pictures that I get back are so candid. What makes you take photos with that camera rather than your phone?
Elong: It’s the fact that I can’t look over it again. The fact that I assume “this is going to be a great picture,” and I’m good with that.
Fashion Design Major, Grandmother’s Ring
Hearns: So the ring has been passed down from mother to daughter for three generations now, when did your mom give it to you?
Graziano: I was in 6th grade, but it took me an entire year when I started wearing it everyday. I don’t know what compelled me, but I guess the family dynamics at that time were on the rocky end. I love my mom and I love my grandma. I actually read this fact like a year ago that I thought was really interesting. It said a woman is formed with all the eggs in her body that she’ll ever have. In some way, when my grandma was pregnant with my mom I was there as well. We’re all connected.
Hearns: Oh my god, I heard that too. I remember telling my mom, “I’ve actually been with you your whole life, you can’t get rid of me.” What about these women makes you wear a ring?
Graziano: Well I think they’re all like a little deranged, but strong. You know what I mean? I don’t think any of them were dealt a good hand but they made it work. They both had successful children and now in the third generation we have two college graduates both pursuing something that they genuinely enjoy. It’s nice to see that they’re struggle paid off in the end.
Hearns: That being encased in something so beautiful like a ring, it symbolizes a lot of hardship to get to peace. You used the word “deranged,” what do you mean by that?
Graziano: I love them both, but definitely not the most sane people. My entire family has struggled with mental health issues and drug abuse, but for the most part they overcame it.
Hearns: You’re breaking that domino effect, how do you see that in your day to day living?
Graziano: I think I’m more aware of how my actions can affect the future for everybody I know, like my family, and even the people I haven’t met yet, like my children or a significant other. Taking it one day at a time is hard but it’s beneficial especially when you have those kinds of predispositions in your blood.
Hearns: Do you find the need for change comes from fear?
Graziano: I think it more just comes from survival, you know what I’m saying? My mother survived and my grandmother survived, but I wanna do more than survive.
Hearns: What’s your definition of surviving?
Graziano: Just making it through. Once my grandmother had her first kid at 15 and my mother had her first kid at 20 something, all those dreams went down the drain and it was just about making it to the next day, next year, or whatever.
Hearns: What’s the opposite then?
Graziano: Being able to have the choices, and to make good choices–being able to have that room. In the future, more than surviving is taking it slow and I don’t have to be a mother or do this or that.
Hearns: With personal freedom comes great responsibility and knowing that you have that autonomy, and caring about it, can be difficult.
Psychology and Sociology Double Major, Altoid Peppermint Tin With Notes
Hearns: Big fan of Altoids?
King: Mints in my mind are something to refresh my mind. So it’s a box that I carry around to remind myself of what is in here [gestures towards heart]. I think everybody has this a little bit but I’m not the kindest to myself. I used to put myself down a lot.
Hearns: We’ve all been there.
King: Yeah, I was an alcoholic so I had a lot of battles with that, which is what half of these notes inside are about. At one point to help me with showing my progress, I had a jar that I put these marbles in to count the days that I was sober–a visual reminder but they’re also pretty.
Hearns: You’re a very visual person.What do the notes say?
King: At one point I was like well I can’t control my emotions, but then I was like I should be able to. I have this note that says: “You are not a machine, you are more like a garden. You need different things on different days, a little sun today, a little less water tomorrow. You have follow fruit seasons and it is not a design flaw, it is wiser than perpetual sameness. What does your garden need today?”
Hearns: Jada, that was beautiful.
King: Thank you. The reason why I’m doing a lot of this stuff is that I didn’t come from a family home where it was like we talk about it, and try to resolve the problem, it was “we don’t talk about it.”
Hearns: It takes bravery to sit back and be like “I am the problem to some degree.”
King: I have another note on my wall somewhere that says you know I can’t really move on or try to understand other people if I don’t understand myself.
Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies Major, Claw Clip
Duval: Big ass, red ass, fucking claw clip.
Hearns: That’s a statement object, how does that relate to you?
Duval: I am a tiny person, like 5 ‘2. I need accessories. But I like it because the color red matches all of my tattoos.
Hearns: You seem like a very bold and vibrant person, have you always been that way?
Duval: I think so. My parent’s have always said “oh yeah that’s Dom.” I used to not think that way cause I was like I don’t know how else to be other than this. To other people it’s bold but I’m just like this feels natural. Right now because not only am I learning about social justice in different demographics of people like black queer people, and disabled people, and everyone, but also as a creative I feel like you have to be knowledgeable about the world around you.
Hearns: I was just having a conversation about this with a friend the other day. The art that you make, the words that you are sending out to people, it’s essential that you speak from your perspective but that you educate yourself on others.
Duval: Exactly. Thats why Im really glad that I’m learning all of this because I have a creative background where I can project that knowledge into any form of creativity. Use your voice as an artist too, that’s what a lot of art truly is: sharing your voice and understanding how you want to affect people.
Hearns: Honestly, I think it’s really interesting that you’re the object of choice was a claw clip. It’s a very simple item but you’re extremely multifaceted. So why’d you choose the claw clip?Duval: It holds me together.
The items discussed remind each individual of various moments, people, capabilities, or even a floral scent. It was refreshing to hear numerous perspectives on mundane objects, things I wouldn’t normally take a second look at. The reason we hold these items so close to our bodies is to remind us of our purpose and keep our fears, worries and anxieties in check. With purpose driving you, anything can feel like home. Home is technically a place where one lives. However, home can be figurative, like a journal that gives security, sanity. For me, and I can presume for many, a reminder of what is home and what should feel like home is essential to the development that is you. The chapter of young adulthood is prevalent with uncertainty in the future, consideration of self, and a hamster wheel lifestyle; carrying a physical reminder that does not add to the chaos but serves for inner peace is a reminder that you are human. Our ties to people, our talents, our possibilities, all found in objects no larger than a hand is a token of the ability we carry to place meaning and care into anything. So I ask: What is an extension of you?