Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Last semester, I was fortunate enough to be able to sit down with recent alumna Maria Rogers ‘14 to discuss, among other things, the treasured bird pin she had recently lost. I had decided to contact students who had posted about lost items in the Reserved Students Digest (RSD) and ask if they would be willing to give an interview about the item – and whatever stories went along with it. After reading Miranda July’s “It Chooses You,” in which the author interviews various people who have posted classified ads in the Los Angeles PennySaver, I was excited to delve deeper in the lives of the faceless names we skim over so often.
Below is an edited transcription of my interview with Maria, or Masha as she was known around the Russian department. A recent inquiry confirmed that her pin was never found.
The Daily Gazette: So, what lost item did you post about in the RSD?
Maria Rogers: A little bird pin – it’s a pin made out of very thin metal, and it was painted, and I was wearing it on my leather jacket. […] I found this pin at the Trinity thrift store, I was like, “I want some color, I’m going to put it on, it’s going to make me happy,” and it really did. Like, I had a little bird sitting on my pocket and I knew it was probably not safe because it was just a pin. I was like, “It will probably fall out,” and my mom has a drill at home, and she was going to drill a hole so I could sew it on, and I was just impatient and I didn’t wait and it’s gone. So I’m sad. It’s very cheap, so it’s not worth very much – I think I bought it for a dollar. I just really liked it and it made me feel like I had this little, cheerful thing every time I glanced in a mirror or something […].
DG: What do you think specifically about it lightens your mood?
MR: The color and, I don’t know, it’s sort of like the idea of having a parrot on your shoulder, except it was this little bird on top of my pocket […] It’s anthropomorphizing it, imbuing it with being a friend there, carrying it around, as silly as that sounds.
DG: Do you think that you especially needed your mood to be brightened this semester?
MR: Of course. […] Getting back after October break is like the worst bit, because the thing I had been looking forward to – “I’ll be fine once I get to October break” – is gone, and you have to get through to December. I actually bought it just after October break. It wasn’t even mine for that long. When I found it, I was buying a knife, because I needed a knife to cut stuff for my room, and I saw it, and I thought, “I need to have it.” It’s so cheerful.
DG: In addition to this semester, does this year as a whole have any significance for you?
MR: Seeing as it’s my last semester period, full stop, it’s sort of this…You’ve had all this practice at Swarthmore, this should be the Swarthmore semester you can do with your hands tied behind your back, upside down, inside out, and I think that was why I had this technique. I was like, “I need to find these little things that make every single second potential for having a little bit of happiness,” to help carry me through all the job searching […].
DG: Are there any other small things that you do to find that happiness?
MR: Yeah. I had stopped for a while, but I illustrate, I make my own stationary for letters […]. I draw little images […]. Most of it is copied other artists […].
DG: I love this one.
MR: It’s Maurice Sendak, copied.
DG: But it’s imbued with your own style, as well.
MR: That’s from a children’s book about an owl who just wants to go to sleep, whose parents make him stay up late, because he’s an owl. If you look at the other side of the page, that’s him upset.
DG: Oh, he’s so upset! That’s adorable. Who else do you send letters to?
MR: Everybody. Tons of people. I started sending letters when I was ten. I moved to Ghana, and my front-door neighbor was this lady that babysat me a couple of times, and for some reason, when she said we should write each other letters, I actually did it. So we wrote each other let back and forth for four years – I think I have 20 letters from her and she has the same number from me. And the only reason we stopped is because she moved and I have no idea where she went. But my mom and I write letters, my dad and I write letters, a friend of mine in Korea from high school – my best friend – and I write letters, I write letters to an ex-boyfriend in France, I write letters to Swatties who have graduated. So I usually write and get maybe 20 letters a year. I think I have 40 or something from my mom, because she doesn’t even wait for a reply before she writes back.
DG: It seems like communication is a big part of what you’re interested in – from foreign languages to writing letters. Why do you think you’re so drawn to communication?
MR: I think almost like – I mean it’s funny that you asked that – I feel like shared experience is made more real than experience on your own, and if you can’t communicate your experience to somebody else, then your experience is less real. […] Anybody who says something is too beautiful for words or something, I say it’s crap. You couldn’t find the words, but there are words out there. That’s why I love languages, because each language is a different way of describing and looking at things. I feel that if I knew all of the languages I would be so much closer to being able to describe all my emotions and everything.
DG: Do you write creatively, by any chance?
MR: Yes and no. I do once in a while. […] I like translating. I translated a novel from French for a translation class – a short novel, not that long, it was like 180 pages or something – but I feel like that’s sort of the balance for me. It involves creativity because I have to figure out to communicate the emotions properly – and it’s something that I really care about, not having them get lost – and yet I get to rely on the fact that it’s already amazing and creative. I don’t have to add any of that to it, it’s just about preserving it […]. For my whole life, I want to do that, […] communicate with people and bridge Russia-United States mentality differences and stuff.
DG: It seems like by taking a tape recorder to Russia when you went abroad, you were doing the same thing, helping to preserve the emotions from your trip.
MR: I have 40 minutes of just dinner with my host mom and my host sister, and when I feel really lonely I listen to it and, oh my God, my accent is so bad, but you hear the clinking of plates and the food and the conversation. To me, that memory that is frozen is in some ways for me – it’s better than a photo because it’s so dynamic. Photos are seconds and recordings can be hours, you get to hear what was going on.
MR: I guess, yeah, it’s sort of like a reminder because […] I’ll forget that I have it on and then I’ll notice it again, and in some ways it gets me out of my head, it gets me back to sensory perception and being like, “Ah,” and that kind of basic feeling. [Whereas] I feel like a lot of times I can get trapped just thinking things around in circles in my head, and then I notice [the pin]. I actually wasn’t expecting to be – I would never have said, “Oh, I’m going to be very upset if I lose it,” I didn’t realize that it meant that much to me, until the day I was walking and I glanced down to see it and it wasn’t there. And I had seen it the day before so I knew it was that day I had lost it. It was a sense of – I was really frustrated with myself for not having waited, but I just really wanted to wear it, so if I had waited, it would’ve been sewn on, but I wanted to wear it, to continue wearing it immediately.
DG: You talked briefly about sensory perception, and how sometimes you can feel trapped in your own head. Is sensory perception something that you’d like to be more open to, and why?
MR: Yeah, I think it’s the same reason I like to draw. I don’t think when I draw, I just look and I move my hand. So, I don’t even have any idea what really goes on in my head, it’s not even words […]. I also make my own envelopes out of magazines and newspapers and stuff. That’s another thing – folding paper, gluing, that kind of stuff – it’s very non-intellectual, and very tactile, and that’s something that I like. I do wish that I gave myself permission more to do things like pick up colored leaves. That’s something I keep thinking, I could write little messages on leaves and leave them in my friends’ mailboxes and stuff, but I think I have the sense that I can’t, I need to do the next thing, I need to keep worrying because if I’m not worrying, doesn’t that mean that I’m not responsible? [laughs] Or not taking things seriously enough.