Saturday, May 17, 2014


Let me get this right out of the way:

I am afraid of bicycles.

It's true. I fear them with a mighty fear. Not the way I fear cars or guns or cancer, mind you. Those things can kill you and they evoke a very primal, panicked fear in me. The fear I have for bicycles is more subversive than that. It hides just below the surface. It's the kind of fear that's tied up in failure, in not measuring up, in not being enough.

Okay, so clearly I have some baggage around bicycles. You see, I used to date a guy who was a cyclist as well as a runner. He was good at biking and running... and pretty much everything else. Anything he put his mind to doing (and he put his mind to doing a lot of things) he did and did very well. (And he was only ever kind and humble about it, by the way.) Which was why I liked him. But it had implications for me.

I was constantly in awe of him. He was always doing something interesting or going somewhere interesting and after awhile it seemed to me to be in his blood, this constant need to be in motion, to do exciting things. Me, though, I liked to sit still. In fact, everything I do well (writing, reading, daydreaming, baking, drawing, claying) requires being still or staying in one spot for long periods of time. I started to define us by our opposite natures: him always in motion, me always still. And because of other baggage, events in my past that go further back, I came to think of his motion as ideal, and my stillness as a lack.

That relationship didn't last, but the thing that did last was this: the bicycle was a symbol of everything I could never be. Because when I was biking, it was always with this boy - who was faster, more confident, more skilled than I was. When I biked, there was always the pressure to keep up combined with the knowledge that I was slowing him down. So that's how I saw myself whenever I was on a bike: Less than. Not enough.

I was telling my bike-obsessed friend about this and he looked at me and said, "It sounds to me like you need to get back on that horse." And at first I was like: You do not understand! This is deep, scarring stuff! The bicycle is a symbol of my inadequacies... and on and on like that. But the more I thought about it, the more I wondered if maybe I was just making excuses. I mean, what if I could get back on that horse - er, bike? What was the worst that could happen? (My mother would say: You could be hit be a car and die! My mother is adorably neurotic like that.) So a few months ago I bought a bike. And then I did a brave thing: I started riding it.

Now when I bike, I go at my own pace. I decide which route I'm going to take. If I'm nervous about riding on the road, I don't; I walk my bike on the sidewalk instead. If I'm tired and need to slow down, I slow down. If I'm unsure about something - about gears or tires or whatever - I seek out answers. I'm redefining my relationship with the bicycle. And while I'm still afraid (the cars! the intersections!) it's not the same fear anymore.

Now when I bike, it's about reclaiming something that I let define me as less than. It's about being brave - but not too brave, because I need to leave some bravery for tomorrow.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

back to it

There was a time not so long ago when I made my living through pottery. I loved it. My mornings were spent walking to my studio, which was in a building full of artists and art enthusiasts, not to mention lots of potters. I could structure my life how I wanted. If I wanted to sleep in, I slept in and worked late. If I wanted to write in the mornings or afternoons, I could. I was my own boss. And I loved it.

I made most of my income from doing shows: art shows, indie craft shows, music festivals. This meant a lot of long days (and long weekends) not to mention driving vast distances to get to those long weekends. I loved it... for a little while. And then I started to get burned out. I was doing a lot of shows and the thing about shows is that they're often a bit of a gamble - especially one you've never exhibited in before. Will it be worth it? It's a question that constantly goes through your head. Sometimes it is worth it. Sometimes it isn't. And while I loved this part of my job - the uncertainty, the vast distances and new places, the mad rush to get everything ready - it ended up burning me out.

In the end, though, it wasn't actually the shows that made me stop and take a break. It was the work I was doing. I made the same things over and over again - because people loved and wanted them. Because they were dependable. But after three years of mass-producing (by hand) the same designs, I was sick of them. And there was a nasty little voice in my head that said this was all I could do, these trivial little things, over and over again. I wasn't a real artist. I was just pretending to be.

Looking back now, I think part of the problem was that I was writing a ton, which meant that all my creativity and drive went into my writing while my ceramic work took a back seat. Ceramics was my living, my job. I forgot that it was also my art practice. It was something that had once been life-giving. So I leaned on my tried-and-true designs and saved all my creative energy and drive for my stories. And the part of me that loved pottery shrivelled up and died.

So I stopped making things out of clay. I didn't go near my wheel or my kiln for a year and a half. And then last fall, I started to get this itch. My hands were hungry. Writing is my truest love, that's for sure. But my hands have always needed to make things. And my hands were craving clay.

So, slowly, this past winter, I've been easing myself back into it. At first, I didn't let myself make any of the old things. Only new things. I let myself doodle new designs in my sketchbook, and then I took those designs and transferred them to clay. It's been strange, becoming reacquainted while in the midst of baking, bookselling and writing. The thing that once took up all my time I now have to make time for in the midst of early morning baking shifts, bookstore shifts and novel revisions - and I actually think that's really good for it. It forces me to honour it, to choose it. And art always gives back to you what you commit.