As a kid, I associated feather boas with flappers and the roaring 20′s, much due to my obsession with film legend, Charlie Chaplin. (Yep, that’s totally me—the 12-year-old “dude” in glasses.) Years later, a woman entered my life and made them magical.
M. and I met in a college course and hit it off instantly. We were both somewhat older than our classmates, self-perceived outsiders in small-town Minnesota, and passionate—M. for guys and socializing, though she’s also whip-smart, me for blasting through school with the straightest possible As. Two years later, boredom and a breakup sent me to hightailing it to Minneapolis. Thankfully, M. and I stayed in touch.
I was strolling the mall one day when M. called me in tears. “We broke up,” she mumbled through gasps and sobs. Desperate to help, I stopped walking and looked around. My eyes locked on a plush feather boa display in a Frederick’s of Hollywood window. “I have an idea,” I said. “Up for driving to the Cities?”
M. zipped down to my apartment. When I reached into my shopping bag and pulled out the boas, she could have rolled her eyes, written the notion off and bowed out. Instead, her eyes lit up. Then we both burst out laughing. I had little cue as to what we’d do with the finds, but figured what the heck. It’s gotta be hard to feel blah when adorned in feathers.
We gussied ourselves up to the tune of Dido, techno-style, then hit the town in our feather boa glory. Though a basal level of heartache remained, the happy glint never left our eyes. Somehow the sadness made our joy more important.
What M. didn’t know was that I’d been having a tough day, too—more like a tough day extravaganza. By reaching out and embracing what some would have deemed ridiculous, she took my mind off of my own misery and inspired what is likely to be a life-long love affair with feathers. I’ve since thrown feather boa parties, sent boa-themed care packages and have more than a few feathery doo-dads around my house.
Things are just things until we give them meaning.
In the mid-1900s, renowned acting teacher Uta Hagen encouraged actors to use significant objects as strengtheners for characters and scenes. A pen is just a pen, for example. If you lose it, no biggie. But what if that pen was a family heirloom? Or a gift from a loved one? Simply closing your eyes and pondering its loss could inspire heartache, frustration, perspiration or tears. Hagen called such objects release objects—items we recall from an event that release particular emotions. Here’s what M. taught me on Boa Night: Meaningful objects can enhance not only our creative work, but our lives.
1. To calm down: If you’re anxious about a job interview, social event or relationship stress, wear a necklace or bracelet from a supportive loved one. Simply glancing at the jewelry when your nerves peak can help calm them. If you tend to eat in a hurried or anxious fashion, use a calming object—jewelry, a candle, your favorite dishes—as a reminder to slow down, relax and enjoy.
2. To motivate: We all need nudges now and then to keep us enthused and working toward our goals. If you have trouble staying motivated to exercise, wear fabulous workout gear. Remind yourself that you’ll feel more fabulous if you move more. If a creative work-in-progress grows stagnant, keep an inspiring photo nearby. If the work itself seemed muddy, think of a meaningful object to incorporate. (Bonsai trees are significant to my protagonist in my first novel, for example. The tree inspired her and me.)
3. To heal: A friend of mine wears a necklace engraved with the initials of his brother who passed away. In doing so, he feels closer to his brother. And when he’s asked about the jewelry, he shares his story, keeping his memory alive. Meaningful objects can comfort us when we’re hurting physically and emotionally. And positive attitudes make way for better healing. According to a USA Today article published in 2004, they may even elongate our lives.
4. To show love: What’s the best gift you’ve ever received? Chances are it’s not a random gift card. Gifts that show we really know or understand the recipient are some of the most beloved. Tins of homemade baked goods, personalized stories, photos of treasured memories, mix CDs and books we adore can effectively show and strengthen love. And sharing meaningful objects increases their specialness—for both parties.
5. To inspire memories, adventures and fun: Red hats were pretty insignificant until Sue Ellen Cooper gave a friend an antique red bowler for her 55th birthday with this warning: “When I am an old woman I shall wear purple. With a red hat that doesn’t go and doesn’t suit me.” After numerous requests for similar gifts, Cooper hosted the first Red Hat Society tea party in 1998. It’s now the largest women’s organization in the world. But meaningful objects need not turn grandiose. If M. hadn’t caught me at the mall, I might still be in my mustache phase. Okay, probably not. Regardless, you never know where playfulness and creativity might lead. Adding meaning to objects on purpose might be my favorite use.
What are your objects of affection? What experiences helped give them meaning? What’s your favorite use? As a side note, hmm… No one has submitted a feather boa-themed “I’m a writer!” photo. I’m accepting photos until August 1st.