Mad Plant Monday: Writing and Bravery

I’ve seen everyone in the writing community gushing over Elizabeth Gilbert’s new novel Big Magic, and I couldn’t help but grab the soft cover in my clammy little paws when I saw it’s colourful goodness sitting on the shelf in my local bookshop. If you’re in a creative rut or looking for a summer read i’d highly recommend it from my very limited view of 45 pages deep. I was really heartened by the chapter on fear. She discusses the importance of acknowledging fear and accepting its’ place in the creative process, but knowing when to ignore it and push on with things.

“You have treasures hidden within you – extraordinary treasures – and so do I, and so does everyone around us. And bringing those treasures to light takes work and faith and focus and and courage and hours of devotion, and the clock is ticking, and the world is spinning, and we simply do not have time anymore to think so small.”

So basically there’s no better time to suck it up and be a brave little cookie. This is something i’ve struggled with, being brave. I’m scared of a lot of things. Yesterday afternoon I stood on a fallen passionfruit while walking the dog and squealed bloody murder because my first thought was FROG FROG I’VE STEPPED ON A FROG. So between that, grasshopper legs, crinkle cut chips and terracotta, i’m a delight. But there’s something that probably scares me more than grasshopper legs, and it’s my problem with sharing my work. This has been arguably my biggest setback. I judge too harshly and never feel ready to let my work go and be what it’s supposed to be. But how is that helpful? When will it ever be good enough?

I’ve started trying to accept that i’ll never feel totally ready to declare a piece finished. And the less i’ve stopped hoarding writing in the depths of my writing folder and more i’ve put out there the easier it’s all become. Writing begets writing, success begets success and so on. There will always be more ideas, a new way to examine something, a better word – but there’s never going to be a better time to have a go than right now.

For more words on bravery and a little tough love be sure to check out this recent post by Chuck Wendig entitled Go Big, Go Weird, Go You, And Fuck Fear in the Ear. He’s really subtle about it.


Pottery Club

My love of clay began when I gifted my Nan a metallic green pig I had sculpted in art class at school.  It had little beady eyes and an altogether unsettling body composition, but I was so proud of it, and the deformed little sentinel still stands guard in her foyer.

I didn’t touch clay again until I discovered the joys of oven-bake clay in November 2011. Clay that you can cure in a little toaster oven in just 15 minutes? Magic! From there I began making miniature food sculptures you can wear as jewellery. I realise that sentence is a little confusing for someone who doesn’t spend hours sculpting a carrot the size of a matchstick, so it’s probably easier for you to get the gist by having a quick squiz here to really understand what i’m blabbing about. Yes, it’s an extremely niche market, but thankfully yes, people really do buy/wear them.

For as long as I can remember wheel thrown pottery has always mesmerised me, but classes were few and far between, and were almost always booked up well in advanced. For my 23rd birthday I was determined to find a class with open spaces, and a new studio opened up just a suburb away. The thought of trying to wrangle a hunk of clay on a spinning wheel using nothing but centrifugal force and my hands was a dizzying concept, and more than just being fun, it would be functional! I might be able to make things that can hold water and food and look aesthetically pleasing – unlike my metallic pig.

I struggled through my first couple of classes. Getting that little lump of stoneware clay to sit in the middle of the wheel-head seemed near impossible, and being left-handed added an exciting little learning curve. My instructor insisted I was a natural, but I felt more like a fraud as I did in music class, holding up the clarinet and pretending to play without having a clue what I was doing. After a few lessons of me gritting my teeth trying to make things that looked less like stunted little vessels that were either too thick or dangerously thin, it all started to flow much more easily.

Wheel throwing has forced me gather a modicum of patience. I was so used to having a near instant end result with oven-baked clay. I could start and finish a piece in under an hour, but now it takes more like 3 weeks, as I only have one day a week in the studio and things need time to firm up between trimming/bisque firing/glazing. I started classes almost two months ago and it was only last week that I sent my first two little planters to the mercy of the kiln gods. They’re not perfect, but they’ll be the first thing I’ll be able to hold in my hand as a finished product. As I put them on the firing shelf I muttered my goodbyes, telling them to “Make Mummy proud or don’t bother coming home.” One of the resident potters happened to walk in at that time and had a good giggle, noting that she too had that same nervous feeling when she started.

In just two days i’ll be able to see how they went on their little journey. They might have exploded, or the glaze might have run and turned them into a permanent art installation in the kiln. I’ll admit that the waiting is killing me, but the process was half the fun.

A x.


Photo by Mark_K_ on Flickr
Photo by Mark_K_ on Flickr

After graduation I was satiated. I thought I had eaten and dished out more words than I could ever read/write/speak again. I revelled in the feeling of having nothing due, to go to sleep without triple-checking to ensure I did in fact set my alarm. I was in a state of blissful limbo, where I felt the space between graduating and work was a good place to rest because damn, I had worked hard.

I worked in my unfulfilling cafe job and spent all my in-between time sculpting. I loved having the time and freedom to pursue my art, and I had no intentions to write, read, or do anything in relation to my degree. I had no idea what I was doing, floating through the weeks in the hopes that my dream job would yank me out of hibernation and inspire me to continue what I used to love and do for fun.

That feeling of euphoric freedom faded as swiftly as it had come. Small talk with strangers became difficult, because when they asked what I do for a living I stuttered and made excuses trying to justify my state of nothingness.

Up until now I had been stagnant, but it all became too much. Doing nothing was weighing on me more than when I was running myself ragged, and that gnawing need to write started to bug me. At first writing was hard, I felt like a newborn baby giraffe stumbling around clumsily. But now it’s just started happening, as weird as it sounds. I’m writing in my head constantly, most of it is shit, I mean it’s not like I picked up a pen and became a writing savant or anything. But I’ve started carrying my journal around just in case, and i’ve actually picked up my university textbooks again. For the first time, in a very long time, I can call myself a writer and actually mean it.

Owning it

I’m a writer. I’m a writer. I AM A WRITER!

So i’ve recently come to the realisation that If you write, you’re a writer. You make art? That’s really cool – but don’t say that you make art. Just call yourself an artist! That’s what you are, and you’re really creative and i’m assuming you also put a lot of work into your art so give yourself the title. You’ve earnt it! As these things usually go it’s much easier dishing out advice than it is taking it on board and applying it yourself.

Today I was discussing my future with my Mum and called myself a writer (as I often do inside my head but never out loud) and she scoffed at me closely followed with “Well, you’re not a writer yet”. I just sort of scowled at her, taken aback at her dismissive attitude considering that i’ve been working my ass off at my internship for a Brisbane magazine waiting for my ‘big break’. I quickly set her straight, but when did it become okay for people to put down other people owning what they are and what they’re trying to do/become in life? It’s not cool. I’ve come so far from where I was a few months ago i.e anxiety ridden and stuck in a rut. I didn’t know what I was doing, or what I was going to do. I’d always loved writing, but wasn’t sure that I was going to attempt to turn it into a career. After seeing fellow graduates getting internships I was extremely jealous that they’d found their direction until I thought about it and remembered that their success doesn’t take away from mine. A rising tide lifts al boats. There’s no point trying to bring everyone else around you down when their success can ultimately bring you up, or at least give you the kick in the ass to drag yourself to high tide.

I’m not going to let anyone bring me down. I’m continuing to do my thing, and not let anyone make me feel any less than what I am. I’m going to write prolifically and continue to make sculptures while working part-time and squeezing in boyfriend time anywhere I can. I got this, and i’m sure you do too.

So all-in-all, own what you are. If you’re still learning or just starting out, it doesn’t matter. Give yourself the credit you deserve.

I am a writer, barista, dog lady, fire twirler and artist. I am all of those things, all at once. 

Hello Internet

Plants loved to death: 5
Pet rats scurrying beneath me: 2
Bulldog lurking at the window: 1
Awkwardness of the first blog post: 107.3%
Firstly, hi. My name is Alissa. The name of this blog is loosely based on me researching the meaning of my name and discovering that it is derived from the scientific name of a plant said to cure rabies/madness. Good one Mum. I am also an overbearing plant mother and it saddens me greatly that I smother them with kindness. Rest in peace drowned succulents and desiccated air plants. I’ve adopted a new theory that if I pay as little attention to my plants as possible, that they will take care of themselves. The tough love act seems to be successful. One weekly watering, as well as a rotation on the shelf to ensure that everyone gets a turn in the dappled sunlight of my studio window.
I would say that i’m also overbearing with my rats, but they don’t seem to mind being allowed free reign of the house and treated to enough dinner leftovers that they look practically spherical. They’ve recently learnt that they can leap onto my bed, so I will often be in bed watching a show and have a small chihuahua sized rat soar through the air to plop onto my duvet. They alternate between launching themselves at me and stealing my socks and hoarding them beneath the abyss of my bed.
My bulldog Baxter genuinely thinks he’s a person and is treated as such. He enjoys hammocks, long walks, and taking my most loved clothes and artfully displaying them in the backyard. Baxter is one of those dogs that always pretend that they haven’t been fed, which is how he’s often treated to an accidental second meal by another family member.
And that’s pretty much my posse.