Feather Boas and Object Affection

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.

Flapper and Chaplin

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.

Boa night with M.

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.

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55 Comments

  1. You surely looked cute with that glasses! And it’s always great to have an object of affection like that. Thanks for sharing. 🙂 Mine is an old Mickey mouse t- shirt my brother bought me. It’s an ugly t-shirt, but hey, he bought it as a farewell gift when I left for Australia at the time when he was too young to have a job! So I was very happy! 🙂

    Subhan Zein

    Reply
    • Your t-shirt sounds spectacular, Subhan! Funny how “ugly” things can be the dearest to our hearts—especially given to us by loved ones.

      Reply
  2. I have an action figure of the Pokemon Psyduck, who frequently has headaches (like me) and gets superpowers when he does (fun to imagine!). My daughter gave him to me, and she’s one of my biggest supporters when it comes to my writing. Psyduck is still on my desk, but has been largely forgotten lately. Maybe moving him forward would give me some focus…

    Reply
    • How adorable is that??? I love that your daughter is your biggest writing fan, and the way she shows it. Thanks for sharing, Jennette. I hope Psyduck gets some lovin’ soon. 😉

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  3. Darn, my feather boa is at the cleaners, or I would have sent you a photo. 🙂

    Reply
  4. Lovely post. My object of affection are my late mother’s scarves. She wore them with such flair every day. The only sad thing for me is that my dad gave most of them away without asking me (100+ of them) and so now I only have a few to remind me of her style and vibrant presence.

    Reply
  5. I can’t speak about objects of affection, but for motivation I found a Lara Croft action figure (a cheap collector’s toy – not a child’s toy) and she sits on my desk posed as though walking towards me, guns pointed at my head over my laptop 😛 I work better under pressure 🙂

    Reply
  6. I love antiques. Being surrounded by my beautiful old things always inspires me. I want to work harder so I can have a nicer house in which to display them. I love looking at the antiques and thinking about the people who might have owned them before me. What were their lives like? Were they happy or sad?

    I love that picture of you as Charlie Chaplin. 😀

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  7. What an absolutely outstanding post! And so very true. I can’t count the number of meaningful objects I have. One of the biggest was this huge 7 foot long couch that I had inherited from my Mom when I first moved out on my own. The thing was…ugly but so comfy and I had a huge emotional attachment to it because it was the couch I grew up with my Dad. I could see him reading his book, I could lay on it and remember laying on his lap, I could remember all the Christmas and birthdays we celebrated on that couch before he died. It held a huge part of my Dad in it. And when hubby and I decided it was time for it to go (the thing was like 37 years old), it broke my heart. I cried. I STILL miss it! But I have many other treasures, like my Dad’s old camera, to surround myself with.
    I like the idea of using those items more in my every day life and at different times to help calm or evoke a certain emotion. Like my Mom’s wedding ring from my Dad which I wear for very special occasions because it’s soooo special to me. I’m going to go through my treasure box and pull some of those amazing nick nacks out to have around me!
    Brilliant August!!!

    Reply
    • What a beautiful story, Natalie! I think I have my first couch crush. 😉 Thanks for sharing, darlin, and for the wonderful support.

      Reply
  8. BTW, LOVE feather boas and GREAT story! MUAH! xox

    Reply
  9. Fabulous story August. Your friendship with M sounds like the one BFF and I have. You definitely put a smile on my face this morning!

    My objects of affection are always out, displayed if they’re fragile or used/worn if they aren’t 🙂 I haven’t conscientiously used any mementos to evoke emotion, though I’m sure I have, but what a great idea.

    Reply
  10. Great post, August. I have lots of objects of affection. The first one that comes to mind is a striped green knitted afghan that was my Aunt and Uncle’s. They are both deceased and I loved them dearly. I can picture my Uncle David in his recliner, in his TV room with that afghan on his lap. It will forever make me feel close to them.

    Reply
  11. Great ideas! I have a walnut candle holder on my desk that I won in Leanne Shirtliffe’s profile picture contest! It has occurred to me that I have not made one cent on my writing, but I have made a lot of friendships, like ours!

    Reply
    • How sweet is that! Does Leanne know how meaningful your candle holder’s become? Friendship really is a valuable asset, Susie. Happy we share it. 🙂

      Reply
      • Definitely! I have your mug too! The desk had been set up in the sun room when the candle arrived.

  12. August!
    What great pictures of you & your friend, M! And I enjoyed this post immensely. Like in your post, I’m not having a great day, but I knew when I saw your blog email in my inbox that I probably would feel better – & I did!

    After I was at a pain clinic for 4 wks, I stayed w/my brother & his girlfriend for a week. That same weekend, they also had a party & I met a guy T. who was fun, witty, & easy to be with. We spent all night talking! I hadn’t done that in years! We decided to get together when I would come down to Pitt. I was down there around Xmas visitng my brother & family. T and I decided to get together. We were at his house watching the tree & he said he had a gift for me. I was very surprised because we had just met a couple of wks ago & I didn’t have anything for him. He came back in the room with a 5″ box. I opened it & inside was a bed-side table sized Buddha – a seated Buddha! I was so surprised because this was so personal! On the night we met, we discussed our belief systems. I said that my way of living in the world is mostly alligned with Buddhism, especially their understanding of the way we suffer in life because our expectations do not match life, people, creation. 3 weeks later, a sweet man, gives me a gift that he knows is very memorable for me. I keep the Buddha next to my bed & think about how, at times, I may be bringing additional suffering in my life because I am not accepting some things that cannot be changed. This is helpful to do because I think I exert a lot of energy trying to change the wrong things. Ultimately, I can change my own actions and thoughts. Everything else comes from these.

    Thanks for a fun and thoughtful post, August!
    Monique

    Reply
    • Sounds like you learned some valuable lessons from that Buddha—all because you were open to the ideas. Really speaks of your thoughtfulness and heart, Monique. I’m touched that my post brought you some sunshine. Hope you’re soaking in happy warmth now. 🙂

      Reply
  13. I have to admit to the fabulous work-out clothes to motivate me to work-out;) I have a stuffed panda bear my grandmother gave me when I was 4. He went to every surgery I had as a child, trips, and college. Now he sleeps beside my youngest.
    Wonderful post!

    Reply
  14. I still haven’t done my “I’m a Writer” photo! And I do have a boa 😀 Two of them in fact. And the couple of times I’ve worn them, I felt glorious . . .

    I have totems all over the house – when I look at them, or pass them by, they make me smile or feel safe. Sometimes the totems are only rocks I’ve collected. Some are cherished gifts from readers and friends – like the wolfs-head arrowhead a friend made into a necklace and sent me, or the tiny tiny tiny book with blank pages a reader sent, etc – they hang places, or are in jars or vases (rocks) or in boxes I keep beside my bed.

    Reply
  15. Cute pictures, August.

    I have lots of things that mean something to me. My wedding ring (of course!), a chunk of the Berlin wall, an old surfing t-shirt (even though a wet suit is way more appropriate in UK weather), a stone from the last house I built in Devon, my dad’s old pen, and my grandfathers pocket watch. Funny thing about the pocket watch is that it is has a British made case with an American made mechanism inside. I never knew him, but maybe he knew somethings about me 🙂

    Cheers!

    Reply
  16. love the story and the idea of imbuing something with special meaning. In the recovery rooms they often do this with their recovery chips. It’s a good idea for all of us.

    Reply
  17. When I was 5 or 6 a nun gave me a necklace with a key and said it was the key to heaven. I didn’t grow up in a religious home but that necklace always gave me courage. I lost it in my 20’s and hadn’t thought of it in years….until this post….

    Reply
  18. “Things are just things until we give them meaning.”

    That’s the truth, Ruth!

    I used to be a Professional Organizer and I learned quickly that people were attached to weird things because they were usually infused with deep feelings for another person or a memory of an experience. It helped me understand how people could live with such unattractive mismatched drinking glasses when I learned they were from all the grandparents. Of course, no one could use them or they might break. So they used plastic cups. Yeah. We worked on finding a way to honor the glasses rather than hide them.

    My son bought me an inexpensive necklace that I wear everyday. He used his own allowance to buy it for me, and he said the green matched my eyes. I love it, and I aalways get a compliment on it nearly every day.

    Reply
    • I’m such a fan of using fine dishes, rather than let them grow dusty or lonesome on the shelf. And I LOVE that necklace story. Money can’t buy that kind of specialness.

      Reply
  19. I love your boa story. I did something like that with my bestie when she had a rough weekend involving a bicycle accident. I called her and told her to put on some hot pants and I’d be right over. I surprised her by gifting her a box full of various accessories. Funky socks, fancy scarves, bold jewelry, and movie tickets to the Sex and the City movie. We got gussied up Carrie Bradshaw style and had a girls night out on the town. One of my favorite memories with her!

    Reply
  20. I love the boa story! What a fun thing to do to help cheer a friend. I have a few special things. A blue dress shirt from my grandpa, an ugly brown bathing suit my grandma loved to wear, but the most special thing is from my dad. After he got sick, he spent time in a Hallmark store trying to find ‘the perfect cards’ for my siblings and me. I guess he cried while he looked…and we all cried when we got them…because they were so perfect. LOL…I’m about to cry right now just talking about it. I’ve only read it once more since he died, but that’s my most special thing, and I keep it right by my desk.

    Reply
    • Aw… Wow, Kristy. Now I’M tearing up. 🙂 Your dad was obviously a very special, loving man who adored you and your siblings. Thanks so much for sharing. I’m seriously touched.

      Reply
      • He was. That’s why, nine years later, I’ve only been able to read it other time. It makes me remember how scared he was, but that he still took the time to find something to let each of us know what we meant to him. And here I go again, so I’m going to go find something else to think about. 🙂

  21. Love the boa story, August, and sounds a lot like my relationship with my g/f. We alsways wen tout to dinner wherever they served Creme Brulee for dessert. It was our signature comfort food when one of us was going through a tough time. As for actual objects, I have my late Dad’s judge’s gavel. My son, when he turned 18 and was feeling very adult, gave me a birthstone ring with two diamond chips for my birthday. I’ve never taken it off in 6 yrs. My mom is an artist, though at 88 she does little painting anymore, but I have a few pieces of her work, as do my sisters. She and I also purchased identical nicknacks, while shopping one day years ago. It’s a brightly colored metal form of four middle-aged women in sundresses and straw hats sitting on a bench together, laughing. It always makes me smile. From my late first husband, I have a cassette tape recording of him playing the part of an Italian Easter bunny when our kids still believed, and I have recordings of some parody songs he wrote and had sung by local celebs.
    It’s a great idea to incorporate these things into our stories as well. I’m going to go do that right now.

    Reply
    • What a wonderful family you have, Marcia. I love that your mother is an artist, and that you’ve saved and still cherish recordings of your late husband. Voices and words are special treasures we too seldom keep.

      Reply
  22. When I started university and was terrified about exams, my mom gave me a special pencil (for the scantrons) with smilely faces all over it. I only used that pencil to take tests, and somehow, looking at it always calmed me down.

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  23. I’ve always had great memories that have sprung from comic books (of course!) and I always will. Great concept to explore, August!

    Reply
  24. Raani York

     /  July 28, 2012

    I LOVE your feather boa story! It’s great and it’s written in your unique writing style which I love so much!

    I personally do have two pieces of jewelry that mean a lot to me: One is a silver necklace with the locket of California. This way I’m wearing it close to my at all times.
    And the other one is a set of gold necklace earrings and bracelet… painted with green leaves and blossoms, decorated with pearls. It is made after a draft of Faberge and has cost a fortune, but I love it and only wear it at particular special occasions.

    Reply
  25. Great boa story, August! Even better was the wonderful connection you and M obviously share – nothing beats that kind of friendship. I have a gold Cross pen that belonged to my late husband, the father of our two sons. Pancreatic cancer tragically took him many years ago at age 49. I have used that pen (and many refills, mind you) for every single print copy of my work I have signed. I can’t tell you how much that means to me.

    Reply
  26. The object of my affection is my Chi Pin named Lexi. If I’m stressed at work I just think about some of her antics or facial expressions and it cheers me up instantly. Just knowing I can come home to a dog that literally bounces and snorts when I come in the door is just priceless.

    Reply
  27. Oh – this post was very inspirational – thanks for writing about your real life experiences and then interjecting them with some great topics/pointers!

    Reply
  28. Fantastic post, August! I have a t-shirt of my mom’s that my daughter loves because it has sparkly butterflies on it. It’s out of my norm but I wear it all the time because it lets me feel like the two of them are getting to meet and play together, even though my mama is 8 years gone. 🙂

    Reply
  29. What a great and inspiring post, August! Some of my most valuable objects are certain books from childhood. I always marvel at how my reading tastes have never varied since then and have influenced me to write the stories that I have written now.

    Btw, I have to say what a wonderful friend you are, to put your own troubles aside and look out for your best mate. She was lucky to have you in her time of need. And you must have made the prettiest Charlie Chaplin impersonator ever! 🙂

    Reply
  30. Another great idea, August!

    Reply
  31. Kourtney Heintz

     /  August 11, 2012

    Fantastic idea August! I love the idea of you and M out in boas taking on the city. My friend and I had an owl thing for years where we gave each other owls and it was our little thing. To this day, I see and owl and think back to that friendship. It’s also a terrific tip for mining emotional depth in characters. 🙂

    Reply
  32. Candace W.

     /  July 18, 2013

    I love feather boas, too. They make me feel incredibly sexy. I have a black one I got for $20 at Party City, and I often fall asleep in it when I’m having a tough day because it melts my troubles away. Wish I had someone in my life who shared my love affair with them and enjoy them with me.

    Reply
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