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.

Ax

The flood

  

Hooray! I have just moved back into my flat/studio, and in light of the fact that I now have furniture and room for spontaneous (and horrible) dancing I thought i’d recount the story of the day my house flooded with muddy crap-water.

One rainy afternoon in May of this year I came home to find my Mum frantically sweeping water away from the door to my room. I occupied the lower level of the house, and sprang to action when the reality of the situation hit me – it might actually flood. We swept away water and threw down towels and sucked on hoses in a futile attempt to syphon the water away from the main exits, only to have the water come from all sides. Shortly after we gave up the water rose up to my thighs. It’s a strange feeling seeing the space you live and work in in a state of complete chaos, and I couldn’t help but laugh as my flooring started floating while I waded through water trying to pick what I needed to save first, all while our big bulldog bounded through water after us because he wouldn’t leave us alone. People who drove large cars went ‘sightseeing’ and with each asshole that drove through the street these waves of muddy water came through the house. There were multiple garden gnomes floating in my bedroom by the time the waters reach their peak, as well as a mound of freshly mown grass creating a floating island for insects clinging to life. I managed to rescue a lot of my possessions before the water came up too high, but I did lose a lot of things too.

The biggest challenge for the past few months was not the fact that I had had a forced purging of my belongings, but the fact that I had to move upstairs with the rest of the family. I stuffed myself and my belongings into my little sisters room and patiently waited with the promise that downstairs would be back to normal soon. Insurance took months. Months of hassling and trying to hurry up the insurance company. Months of living like that hunchbacked lady in her junk heap in The Labyrinth.

Yesterday I finally got the all clear to move back downstairs, and it was like ‘moving out’ all over again. I am deliriously happy. It’s bliss having my own space again, and it’s amazing that having a dedicated studio space to write and sculpt has had such a big impact on my motivation.

So what have I learnt?

Everything can be replaced, except your favourite and very expensive mattress – get that shit to safety stat.

I prize my plants over most things I own

Having space is a luxury not to be taken for granted

Insurance is worth it, but it can be a GIGANTIC fuckaround

Most people who own 4×4 cars are assholes

Do not frolic around in the gross water when all hope of saving your belongings is lost, because you will get a wicked ear infection.

The Bra Plight

It’s only within the past year or so that i’ve discovered the true joy of liberating my boobs from their wire-framed cage. Nothing signifies the end of a hard day quite like the snap of a clasp, closely followed by a dull thud as it hits the wall with force. I remember the excitement when I bought my first bra, I couldn’t even wait until I had anything to put in a bra, and for a few years they did a great job of doing nothing other than making me feel like part of the club. Now bras cost more than my clothes, and there’s nothing remotely exciting about strapping myself into one. So recently i’ve sort of just stopped wearing them unless I feel I’d like to, and my comfort-based decision to get the girls out regularly has been liberating in more ways than I expected.

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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.

Phone Anxiety

Photo by Doug on Flickr under Creative Commons License https://flic.kr/p/7sYYEA
Photo by Doug on Flickr under Creative Commons License https://flic.kr/p/7sYYEA

“Yes who’s speaking please?”

This was the phrase I was taught when I was six years old. If the phone happened to ring and my Nan or Gran couldn’t make it to the phone in time, this was my go-to. I was more than happy to skip over to the landline and chew the ear of the poor soul on the other end. Everyone found my high-pitched little voice adorable, and it was usually just my mum, aunty, or Gran’s hairdresser on the other end.

I think it was probably the teenage years of MSN messenger and texting that helped nudge me on this path of phone awkwardness. We all preferred to chat through emojis and text speak than actually talk to each other, and it’s stunted me when I came out the other side where people in the real world did talk on the phone/skype. It makes me laugh a little when I think of that confident little girl chatting away on her Gran’s prehistoric telephone in comparison to me now, who has to psych herself up and gets sweaty behind the knees over a phone call – even if it’s just to order Thai food.

So I have a newfound trick that I decided I should share if by chance anyone else (please, tell me it’s not just me) has the same problem. So here it is:

I pretend i’m Mum. Obviously don’t pretend to be my Mum though because although I don’t doubt your stellar acting skills, I just don’t think you could get her voice down pat. An equally confident go-getter will do the trick though.

Mum loves the phone. She loved the phone back when texting wasn’t really a thing, and she loves it now because she can both text her girlfriends for everyday happenings and call them all in quick succession when something really exciting goes down. She is effortless when calling up about bills, making appointments, and even making a complaint. She has this very to the point, professional-yet polite voice that she puts on, and i’ve heard it so many times that my mimicry is spot on. I don’t even have to practise a little script of what i’m going to say before I call anymore, and the back of my knees perspire much less, thank god.

Hungry

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.