Ten mugs, four years and a lot of reflection

Oct. 26, 2018, 1:43 a.m.

There’s something satisfying about the shape of a mug – how it curves into flesh of your palms, how it’s the same basic design in country after country. Like most college students, I own many, many mugs, and like more college students than would care to admit it, I’m emotionally invested in all of them. I’ve accumulated this collection over the course of my college career, and, as I am wont to do, I’ve sentimentalized these inanimate objects for my own personal growth. I’ve only got so many possessions, y’all; I take it where I can get it. 

Mug #1: Yorrick

Alas, poor, Yorrick, I am but a sentient cliché! Yorrick is, first and foremost, not used as a mug is supposed to be used; he’s been my pencil-and-assorted-writing-instrument holder since high school. I bought Yorrick at the gift shop adjacent to what was once Shakespeare’s house, in the English hamlet (ha) of Stratford-Upon-Avon, when I was 16 years old and, like his namesake, he’s a skull. A hollow one, admittedly, with a ceramic handle for convenience, but a skull nonetheless – a fellow of infinite jest, still, and a steadfast friend in the purgatory of young adulthood.

Mug #2: The Owl

As a child obsessed with both Greek Mythology and my own cleverness, I (self-aggrandizingly) projected quite intensely onto Athena, the gray-eyed (and, in my mind, blonde-haired) goddess of wisdom, the symbol of whom is an owl. My childhood nanny, whom I love dearly, indulged my fantasies, even once I outgrew them; I wear a silver owl necklace that was a 15th birthday present, I have a stuffed owl named Fitzgerald (after the author), and I have a dishwasher-safe, bronze-and-lavender, owl-shaped mug. As a going-to-college gift, it was the only real dish in my dorm room freshman year, and it faithfully served me everything from chai tea to microwave mac and cheese. I love you, little owl friend.

Mug #3: The Owl, pt. 2

Ditto to above: A large, rounded ivory mug with pastel polka dots and a cheerfully cartoonish owl waving out from the ceramic, its acquisition conveniently coincided with my decision to join Chi O freshman year – one of the copious emblems of which is an owl. There is no connection.

Mugs #4 and #5: The Teatime Twins

While one could argue that neither of these are technically “mugs” per se, I don’t actually care enough to address that argument. These two are a matching set of small, palm-sized tea cups (not teacups) that I bought last summer in Zagreb, the capital city of Croatia; one is white with a watercolor, pen-sketched flower bouquet in shades of teal and rose, and the other is a kind of dusky magenta with a sleepy, satisfied face messily drawn in the middle.

I’ve mentioned my depression in passing in previous columns, and while I’m not ashamed of my mental illness, it’s still difficult to discuss in detail, since it makes friends uncomfortable and they awkwardly ask if I’m okay. My sophomore year (and the subsequent summer) was the height of my mental health troubles at Stanford, and the kind of hysterical anxiety that I felt – about needing to “succeed” professionally, about being and doing “enough,” about my deep-seated self-loathing – was all-consuming, and I guess I thought traveling was an answer. I was in a country about which I knew next to nothing but in which I was desperately trying to discover something about myself, and these little tea cups from a corner tea store were comforting, somehow.

The Twins made it home in my suitcase weeks later, wrapped in T-shirts, without chipping, only for me to gracefully drop the white one on the wooden floor of our kitchen the first time I tried to use it. Eh, the hairline fracture gives it character.

Mug #6: Doch.

A preliminary warning to any Germans reading: I apologize if I butcher your idiom.

Also last summer, post-Croatia, I visited my best friend from high school in Dresden, Germany during her internship. While wandering the Neustadt in the rain, I window-shopped at an organic tea shop, to which I returned, best friend in tow, days later for the mug I’d seen on display: medium-sized, monochrome and with “Doch.” – with the period – scrawled on it in faux-handwriting. According to Maddie, the best friend in question, “doch” is essentially what you say in German when you are unwilling to continue a conversation, when you are convinced you are in the right and refuse to engage with the argument someone else is presenting. (The opposite side of the mug, for the record, literally has a doodled scribble. That’s it.)

Maddie and I bought matching mugs (or, more accurately, Maddie talked to the cashier in German while I handed over cash), and we drank hard cider from them on a picnic blanket in a park, bread, cheese and tomato paste on plates in our laps. It was lovely; it was like I held the evening light in my hands.

Mug #7: Breaking news from the Farm since 1892

This mug was a free present (for staffers, at least) from The Daily’s 125th anniversary celebration last autumn. Tiny, painfully anxious freshman that I was when I first joined The Daily’s roster, The Daily terrified me; the managing editors were all upperclassmen, I had no clue who Duran was and I was a copy editor – there were only, like, five of us, and we didn’t exactly interact with the other sections often. My newfound ease at The Daily – nay, my enjoyment of it – has been a gradual phenomenon a long time coming. Maroon and emblazoned with the stylized “S” of The Stanford Daily’s logo, this mug reminds me just how much I’ve grown in four years. It makes me smile.

Mug #8: L’Amore Domina Senza Regole

This mug – the Italian title of which translates to “Love rules without rules” – was a goodbye gift from my host mother in Florence, on the day of my departure after six months in the city. Corto and somehow both boxy and circular, it’s more accurately a cup, really, complete with complementary saucer and decorated with a minimalist marigold; this cup carried my cappuccino to me every morning, the literal realization of my first proper pre-work routine, ever. It’s a mug of harried people on narrow neighborhood streets, of sweat bubbling at my brow because it’s so damn hot, of rosy sunsets, of inside jokes with the other interns, of the delicious soreness of my feet after the 40-minute walk to work. Being abroad forced me to reckon with myself; lacking a support system, I had to consciously exert the effort to be the person I wanted to be. I’m still not quite certain who I was this summer, but I liked her. Grazie, Italia, per avermi insegnato come essere.

Mug #9: The Pun One

Off-white, oblong and the size of a peony in full bloom, this mug has a stenciled illustration of an old-fashioned coffee grinder stamped on the porcelain in black ink, with “Stay Grounded” written beneath it in lopsided typeface. It’s a mug made for foggy mornings bundled in blankets, face flushed and fingers cradling the cup for warmth, nails painted the purplish-red of Homer’s wine-dark sea. It’s a mug for a settled soul, for contemplative planning and a count-your-blessings breakfast. It’s a mug that says what will come will come, and we’ll have to meet it when it does. More than that, though, it’s a mug from Bed Bath & Beyond, purchased in August while college shopping with my younger sister, who’s just starting her freshman year; there’s something deeply poetic about that, something absurd and disarming and circular, something bittersweet and symbolic and timely as the future looms large and unclear after graduation – summed up in a gentle pun and a hot tea.

Mug #10: RIP the T(ea)

The newest member of the Great Mug Congregation (2013-2018), this mug was a conveniently provided collectible courtesy of my job with The Stanford Fund. You know how when you and your student organization write “Thank You” postcards and letters for alums, you’re required, by rule, to capitalize the “t” in The Stanford Fund, as I just did? THIS IS THE RULE NO LONGER. WE ENTER UNEXPLORED WATERS, AN UNPRECEDENTED AGE OF LENIENT PUNCTUATION AND STUDENT-FRIENDLY LETTER FORMATS. In celebration, TSF threw a department party/stewardship hour opportunity with these bad boys (accompanied by sugar cookies iced like lowercase “t”s) last Tuesday, fittingly titled, “RIP the T.” On one side of the mug, you can see the logo for The Stanford Fund with the “t” in “The” crossed out and corrected in red pen; on the opposite side is a stylized grave for the Capital T, aggressively graffitied by a zombie hand, which is a Big Mood. 


Contact Claire Francis at claire97 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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