On losing & breaking things

STEEPED BY SAMIA #16 | 01.26.23
‘My baby photos were lost in Solvang’ & other vignettes of objects well-loved.

My mom’s super power is finding things. Whenever my siblings and I were looking for something, she’d find it and say, “See?? I’m a Finder Keeper!!” I think I inherited these powers — along with her cat fur and dust allergy, lol.

We can all agree that losing or breaking things can be so jarring. Sometimes, we place familiar things in unexpected places (“I swear it was right there!!”) or things slip out of our hands (“I am saurrr clumsy!!”). It leaves a stickiness in our psyche.

As a ‘Finder Keeper,’ losing things leaves me with a gnawing feeling — until I find it or time allows me to accept that it’s now a memory.

A Substack post I come back to, time and time again, is The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling by Bernadette Roca for The Audacity’s Emerging Writers Series. It’s as heart-wrenching as it is heartwarming; Bernadette writes about a favorite cup she broke and picking up the pieces of her life. I resonate with this part:

“Most of my belongings last years, if not decades. I will tire of the things I have far sooner than they will naturally wear down. So when I lose or break something, I remember it. It doesn’t happen that often.”

“The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling” by Bernadette Roca in The Audacity

This is a series of stories that explore my memories with objects of affection — lost, broken, or in memory — and an exploration of the question: What objects make up a life well-lived?

I. My Baby Photos were Lost in Solvang

Search: “I’m just a baby!!” on TikTok

I can say this with my whole chest: I was an adorable baby. But I have very few baby photos.

A couple of years ago, I inquired about this: “Why don’t I have any baby photos? Are they in India*?” I found out something that has become lore in my family. When I was very young, my family took a trip to Solvang, a Danish town in SoCal. Tourists love it; there are marvelous cottages with Danish-style architecture and little shops selling sweets and trinkets. My family suspects they accidentally left a bag of film rolls on a park bench in Solvang. Film rolls that contained a substantial amount of my baby photos (A very 90’s / 00’s problem!).

I’ve come to think of this story as a starting point, of sorts, to my preoccupation with lost and broken items.

From time to time, I think about the film rolls — perhaps, they ended up in the lost & found, then in a landfill, or in someone’s house (that would be kind of creepy!). My sister and I joke that this would be such a good book plot-line. Like, someone is cleaning out their parents’ attic and come across photos of a baby they do not know (,,,a cute baby!).

We’ve gone back to Solvang twice in the past years, while I was visiting colleges in 2015 and after my cousin’s wedding in 2021. We love how cute and quaint it is. And you can imagine, we always keep an eye out for a bag of film rolls on a park bench.

* We used to have a swimming pool in our backyard that my dad filled with cement when my sister was very young. My brother and I have never seen pictures of the pool, and we joke that the pictures were probably sent to relatives in India, aha ha.

II. The Resilient Teal Mug

A dear friend broke my mug. It happened my second year at Mills, in my residence room at Warren Olney. I can’t really remember what happened. Perhaps she was doing the dishes after we had tea, and while she was drying the mug or putting it somewhere to dry, it slipped from her hands. The handle broke off in one big piece, a small piece, and a few crumbles.

I didn’t really mind that she broke it; I wasn’t particularly attached to it. But she insisted she would try to fix it with Gorilla glue, while I went back home for the weekend. When I came back to school, she handed it back to me, solid and intact. Good as new, with some subtle battle scars.

It’s been at least five years since then. The mug, with its robust shape and teal blue color, is living a busy life. I use it for my hot pani and afternoon tea. Sometimes, I stare at it in awe — This thing is still solid, wow !! — tracing the places where it was glued back together, the small film of excess glue starting to flake off; and tugging on the handle to test it, knowing it has weathered years of washing and occasional spills since its injury.

If anything, the mug is precious to me now.

III. The Essay Inked with Purple Pen

A couple of weeks ago, I was sifting through a big shoebox titled “SAMIA’S BOX OF IMPORTANT THINGS.” I was trying to find an essay, and I was so sure it was in the transparent binder sleeve in that box, nestled between hand-drawn art from friends (see picture).

It was a draft for a Teen Library Essay Contest edited in purple pen by my junior year AP Lang. teacher, Ms. Courey. And when I say edited, I mean edited! Purple ink slices through unnecessary words and redirects paragraphs & sentiments with arrows. “Purple ink looks approachable, I hope!” Ms. Courey often says.

I remember that day, after school, when I watched her mark up the essay. I was in awe, and I still am. I witnessed magic. Ms. Courey taught me the importance of the editing & redrafting process. That is where the magic happens; where ideas are brought to life in their fullest potential for others to enjoy.

To find the essay, I turned over the content of my closet, checking and double-checking the bins with my high school & college things. I rummaged through the shoe box of Important Things at least three times. For some reason, the binder sleeve with the essay is nowhere to be found. Maybe I put it somewhere for “safe keeping” — and the keeping was too safe, lol.

I do have my copy of her letter of rec. for college applications and rereading it made me tear up. :’)

IV. The Whimsical Sticker Book

Chance moments can cause us to get rid of something we might treasure one day.

On a mall outing when I was young, I bought a sticker book from Daiso (or a similar stationery store). I hadn’t seen anything like it before: a palm-sized picture book with a sheet of stickers that you insert throughout the story. It was about a pastry chef bear collecting ingredients for a cake for their friend’s surprise birthday, set in a cute dessert-themed world (donut characters, cupcake houses, trains filled with cookies, waterfalls of icing). 

I adored the sticker story book. I reread it over and over, repositioning the stickers until they lost their stickiness. I drew pictures that I put on my wall, with characters and pastries in the art style of the book. A few years later, during Spring Cleaning, I tossed the sticker book in the recycling. I must have outgrown it. Now, I think about it fondly. 

Much like The Chocolate Mountain book, I can’t find it online (My search query, lol: “Daiso dessert themed sticker story book from early 2000’s”). I guess it’s my next “find something from my past” project. And maybe this time, I’ll consult with r/tipofmytongue on Reddit. 

It leaves me with a hollow feeling. When something is no longer in your personal archive, you hope that it at least exists somewhere on the internet. But while the internet is so vast, that isn’t guaranteed. 

Memory, in that sense, is powerful.

V. What objects make up a life well-lived?

Objects, both physically and spiritually with us, are attached to priceless stories, memories, and histories. Diaries, letters, photos, books, artwork, trinkets from trips, pottery, jewelry, items gifted or passed down to us from loved ones. Joan Didion’s signature Celine sunglasses that sold for $27,000 (!!) at auction. The list goes on.

I was named after my paternal great-grandmother, Samiunissa. When I was in college, my dad sent us pictures of his grandparents (my great-grandparents) in our family LINE chat. I was stunned; I hadn’t seen pictures of them before! They looked so familiar, so regal.

I sometimes wonder: What was Samiunissa par-dadi’s personal archive like, living in in the early 1900’s in India? To my knowledge, we don’t have anything from her; she passed away when my Abu was a child (it’s quite possible that family members in India have some of her things).

Her name is part of my keepsakes.

In the past, I probably would have never called my silly little things as part of a “personal archive.” We often think of heirlooms and keepsakes as things related to people who have passed on. But I’ve begun to realize the full weight of this: our personal archive exist in the present. Discovered or waiting to be discovered, imbued with sentimental value.

Nowadays, I glance around my room at the trinkets & treasures I’ve accumulated and feel a sense of calm: my journals, books, the postcards on my wall, a blue tile coaster, candles, two tins of Peet’s loose leaf tea, a small brown teapot, to name a few.

They’re little friends. As the years go on, we’re growing patina together; worn and well-lived, I hope. —S.A.

Steep On This:  

Catch Up:  

01.06.23 | A preoccupation with the strangeness of time

STEEPED BY SAMIA #15: A tale for the time being, Majora’s mask, & the inexplicable pace of time.

About This Blog:

Steeped by Samia is a space where I can simmer on thoughts & curiosities in the scope of digital culture, creativity, life, & more. Far too often, my writing ideas fizzle out in energy; I never get to see them to their full potential. While building my rhythm with writing, I want to share these ideas with you. 

Stay Up-To-Date on my blog by clicking the ‘follow’ button at the bottom of the page, and you will receive an email every time I post. I aim to post a new installment at least once or twice a month. Thank you for supporting my storytelling!🧡

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