Looking at ourselves and the world through the lens of the 21st century.

Saturday, March 5, 2022

Cups and What They Represent in My Life

Cups symbolize many things in modern culture today. It’s amazing to think this simple three-letter word, cup, has so many meanings. At the beginning, when I was first drafting my ideas for this prompt, I was really stuck. I was not ready to take on a daunting task of research into an unfamiliar topic, or do a lot of deep soul diving. I kept saying to myself, “Cups, cups, cups….” and nothing extraordinary would come up. Varying images of drink ware, bras, and movies with cups as a central theme in them (Monty Python’s The Holy Grail and M. Night Shyamalan's Signs, both fantastic films), seemed to keep blocking any other thoughts from developing. My mental cup was full of all the wrong things. Ok, think, brain…

Immediately my first thought that came up was a nice warm cup of coffee – like mother, like daughter. What can I say, it is my favorite beverage. I have a lot of favorite cups and specific types of cups for my various favorite beverages. Growing up my mom had these old aluminum cups that were passed down in her family. I was only ever interested in drinking milk from them. I could taste the cup in the drink if I put anything else in these special cups. It almost seemed that the cup could make the milk colder. As a kid, anytime I invited a friend over, I was sure to show off our amazing aluminum milk cups. Still to this day, mom has some updated aluminum cups and I poured Reyna’s first glass of milk at “Lulu’s” in one to see if she would enjoy the sensation. 

I am the same way with my other drinks. I have a whole cabinet of cups, but I only like to drink out of maybe six of them, mostly because they have lids and keep my drink hot or cold. More metal cups – it must be my thing. My husband, on the other hand, is a collector of cups. He sees them when he goes thrifting and will pick up oddities, collectibles and souvenir glasses from other people’s vacations - places he has never even been before. I roll my eyes because I don’t understand the compulsion, but I too, continue to add to the collection. Before living with Travis, my cupboard was neat and my drinking vessels were organized by purpose and style. Now they are just tossed in there every which way, and I just hang my head in defeat; this is how my husband likes to store them. I gave up. I was just wasting time every day going in after him to organize them. 

My Hot Mess of Cups

This year before the Christmas holiday, I purchased several themed mugs. I only used them during the Christmas season, and then packed them away with the rest of the decorations. It was fun to have a cute mug every day to enjoy my favorite beverage. To me, the cup symbolizes comfort and routine. For my husband, it represents nostalgia, fantasies of travel, and brands that he identifies with. 

I have other memories that involve a cup. One is an especially memorable moment with my grandfather, Poppy. I remember nervously holding a disposable cup full of crushed ice and feeding it to him, with a disposable teaspoon while he lay incoherent in a hospital bed. Mom and I had rushed to see him, and we got there in the middle of the night. He was in and out all evening. The doctors didn’t think he was going to make it. In feeding him ice cubes, I felt insecure, my only experience had been spoon feeding my baby brother. He hadn’t been old enough to judge me if I was doing it wrong. It meant a great deal to me to feed my grandfather ice cubes, though. In my mind, his life depended on it, and it might be the last time I spent with him. Caring for my Poppy in that moment had felt like the most mature and grown up task I had ever undertaken. I realized in that moment of awkwardness and insecurity that the tables had turned. I don’t remember the incident (for obvious reasons), but I have the photo, which I cherish – my grandfather had spoon fed me baby food, and it had been a big deal, so someone captured it on film. My grandmother would always mention how he had never fed his kids, but he had willingly fed me, his first granddaughter. 

Circa 1984

And yet, the cup, with its versatility, can easily invoke disorienting feelings. Méret Oppenheim’s piece titled Object sends ripples of dislike through many viewers. It’s a tea cup covered in fur! That's a whole lot of “no” for me, as it is with many people. I have a thing about textures. If you haven't the slightest idea what I am talking about, you should check it out; it is located at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. This juxtaposition started a huge buzz! The whole concept of a commonly useful object being altered to induce sensations that it would not typically otherwise invoke from the observer is exactly why it is considered an important piece of our art history. The whole purpose is to get you to feel and to think! I’m not here to dispute what art is or isn’t, but just to marvel at the powerful suggestions this piece of artwork induces. I remember the first time I cracked open an art textbook and found an image of this piece. I literally shuddered, my nose tickled, and I swear I mentally coughed up a fur ball. It’s just a cup, like any other cup, but it holds a much deeper meaning. 

Sometimes a cup can bring on the sense of victory. We have used cups as symbolism for our trophies since the days of the Roman Empire. When someone was given an award for victory, they were given olive oil, hence the trophy cup imagery. I still, to this day, remember when the Dallas Stars, my local hockey team, won the Stanley Cup Finals. Talk about a big cup, it weighs over thirty pounds and looks more like a bowl. Tradition allows each player to spend one day with the trophy. Our boys took that cup on a rager and punted it into a swimming pool, and that was not the first time it had been taken for a swim! I do like the idea of the players taking the cup out for a joyride to celebrate. Maybe we should call it the Flat Stanley Cup.

Stanley Cup 1930

Although this writing exercise was a challenge, I did enjoy just picking my brain for a moment. I challenge you to do the same! Whether it is a measuring cup, k-cup, something that’s not your cup of tea, tarot cup, finals cup, or bra cup for that matter, there are memories and feelings that the word cup invokes. It’s an everyday item that everyone uses, but we rarely give much attention. Do you have any special memories that involve a cup? What does the word cup draw up in your mind? Let me know in the comments! 

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