BY JOAN LI
These are more than just labels.
If there’s anything I’ve learned about myself over the summer, it’s that I’m hard to beat when it comes to making nametags. That’s right, nametags. Those things that you stick on yourself for maybe an hour before they end up abandoned and crumpled on the floor. They’re lame, and rightly so. Black sharpie marker in print handwriting (or maybe slight curls at the end of your letters if you’re feeling artsy), throw in a “Hi. My name is _____” and a handshake and you’ve got yourself the most generic introduction possible. But who cares? It beats coming off as a dorky try-hard.
Well, let me tell you.
Actually, I don’t have a profound explanation as to why I showed up to work twenty minutes earlier than necessary in order to draw Disney-themed pictures on my nametag. I could pull some longwinded BS on how plain, black and white nametags represent the failure of self-expression, and thus act as a symbol of the downfall of individuality in society—that would be me speaking when behind on the readings in an English seminar. But the honest me would say that the reason I sketched using pencil first, then tracing over in fine point marker, and finally coloring in with Crayola markers was that, simply put, I had fun doing it. In the ten weeks of my fellowship at the Florence Griswold Museum in Connecticut, my most memorable takeaway wasn’t my folk art research or my gallery talks, it was the nametags I made every morning for a month before teaching kids at a summer art camp. It’s easy to say that being surrounded by elementary and middle school children and teaching them how to paint landscapes or craft paper beads is low on the job scale in terms of professionalism or maturity. But as it turns out, kids possess certain attributes that many adults, especially myself, could learn a lot from.
Before camp, I never could’ve imagined genuinely befriending people with such an incredible range of backgrounds, personalities, and interests. Each morning, I watched campers bond over sharing markers, and it reminded me of my once-upon-a-time days in kindergarten, when I could converse with my peers without the preoccupation of how different we were or how compatible we could be. Certainly that’s not how it is for me nowadays; I typically try to seek out people who share my hobbies and interests because, well, it just seems like a surefire way to make friends. I find people in my niche and I get comfortable. Certainly then, I did not expect to become close with a Southern sorority girl, a local college grad trying to make it as a fashion model, and a middle aged, professional watercolorist. But we all became close regardless, through dealing with child tantrums, monitoring goldfish during snack time, and nametags. We started a competition over the last one, drawing characters from children’s movies, television, and books, and then tallying how many campers recognized our efforts. What started off as trivial as writing our names became a bonding point between us, or what we called the “nametag game,” which escalated to planning out a calendar of characters to draw ahead of time and looking them up on our phones to copy. In that sense, the other employees and I were no more different than the campers we taught. We never needed any major similarities in backgrounds and interests — all it took was a bucket of markers and a roll of adhesive labels.
The “nametag game,” among other craft projects I engaged in while helping campers, tapped into my childish side when I really needed it, even though I didn’t realize this at the time. As a sophomore who has to declare a concentration in just a few months, thinking about everything in the context of “The Big Picture” is unavoidable. If that’s scary, then I don’t even want to think about being a senior and being pushed out into “The Real World”. It’s easy to disregard the tiny pleasures — doing things purely because they make you inexplicably happy. On my last week of camp, it crossed my mind how much I was going to miss the environment. It was in this same week that I had the joy of teaching a five-year-old camper who, after seeing my Frozen nametag, became inspired to personalize her nametags as well. More specifically, she decided to draw Christmas trees, not only on her nametags, but on everything else she could. The fact that it was a long way until the holidays made this funny enough, but wait, there’s more: this particular little girl was Jewish. When one teacher suggested that she draw a menorah instead, she asked why. And when told that Christmas was a Christian holiday, she replied: “But I can like Christmas trees no matter who I am.”
It struck me that this girl was not only very (very) adorable, but also incredibly right. She could like anything she wanted. And with this reasoning, I could like anything I wanted as well. I shouldn’t have to feel nostalgic about drawing like I did in middle school or wistful about getting excited over the most trivial activities because I never have to stop doing these things. It’s because of these nametags that I can tell stories like the girl and the Christmas tree, and it’s because of these nametags that I’ve chanced upon incredible friendships, all of which have given me new perspectives. My 20 days of camp ended weeks ago, but my enthusiasm for whimsical details has been renewed, and will hopefully stay as I start my third semester.
Joan Li ’17 (joanli@college) is suffering a serious Pinterest addiction and can’t stop scrolling through DIY Craft porn.