The Ceramicist

I first meet Guy in the last lazy stretches of summer, early 2014. I’m fresh back from England and accidentally get a job at the first pub I worked in out of school. He’s a hospitality veteran and Uni student who has been working at said pub for a couple of weeks when I first roll back in. I’m 20, he’s 28. I’m pink-haired and aimless, he’s burly and bearded with clay stains covering most of his clothes. I couldn’t tell you how in retrospect, but somehow, the balance is perfect. We become inseparable friends before the month has passed.

At work he is outgoing and playful, and I continuously watch in awe as he banters with customers in ways that no one else could get away with. When the shift is done and we’re among friends, he illuminates rooms and outdrinks everyone in the venue. It takes a while for me to catch glimpses of this other side of him – thoughtful, quiet, contemplative. The side that slips out of group conversations and sits there happily for a while, observing the room. The side that stays home to draw when everyone else is out. The side that answers every one of my 2am life crisis messages with a soft wisdom and drags me along to yoga classes with the devotion of an unlikely monk.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons that out of all the people I meet in those first years of my 20’s, Guy sticks in my life like glue. I love dichotomies in people. There’s something compelling about gentleness where you least expect it, or strength shrouded by a soft exterior. He understands the contradictions in my own personality as if they were written in a secret language only we are privy to. Perhaps it comes along with being born one day (and eight years) apart, twin Librans, if you’re into that kind of pseudoscience. We are. I understand his need to roam is just as vital as his need to put down roots in the form of something solid. 

When asked what drives him, Guy tells me:

“I am intrigued with creation. I went to art school with the intention of becoming a painter or drawer but quickly fell in love with clay, then the wheel and the vessel. Clay has this immediacy to gesture when it is in wet form that is entrancing. I often lose myself in a meditative state when I’m throwing, and this is juxtaposed by permanence once the object is fired. Frozen.

There are so many layers to my practice as well. Not only is there throwing, there’s the trimming, drying (if this is not done carefully there is a risk of losing pieces), firing and the glazing or finish of a piece. A solid knowledge of chemicals is needed to gain an understanding of glazes. Each process is fraught with complications and technicality, which drives the investigation further. It’s like the melding of science, art and craft.”

Sometime during the second year of our friendship, Guy starts building a studio in his back garden. He does most of it himself, and comes to work most days drained and invigorated in equal measures. I visit him when it’s all done and sit in the organised chaos, listening to The Rolling Stones and watching him throw pots. As usual, we talk about the trivialities of everyday life before foraying into meditations on creativity. Sometimes, we agree, the whole damn thing feels like an uphill battle. For him, there is an endless cycle of responsibility fighting for his attention and drawing him away from life at the wheel. For me, I get easily distracted and sometimes only write in short bursts. I am in love with words, but have brief affairs with other art forms (photographs, instruments, even a strange semester-long flirtation with musical theatre) that leave me confused and unable to commit.

I can’t help but admire Guy’s unwavering faithfulness. He slowly chips away at some block of unfathomable size, against idleness and resistance, and no matter what rabbits he ends up chasing, he never gets lead too far astray. Finds true north and gets on with the business of navigating an uncertain livelihood in an even more uncertain world. His pots and bowls sit in my parent’s house, my grandmother’s house, my house. They elegantly command the space around them, each piece smooth but not too smooth, beautiful but not too beautiful.  

Sometimes we talk about the day when he stops pouring beers and starts making a living entirely from clay. This is not a new subject. It’s been on his mind for years, and every time we have the conversation he’s closer. A lot has happened since we met, so much has changed in both of our lives. But one thing that never shifts is his desire to collect experiences and transmute them into something tangible.

I’ve learned a lot from my friend the ceramicist: beer always tastes better from a longneck, listening to metal can be surprisingly calming, stretching before work is an excellent idea. Sometimes dreams are a slow burn. Never underestimate the power of deep breaths, or if that fails, a double espresso over ice. Life is best unraveled during long conversations staged in a parked car. Even when the humdrum of everyday life is weighing you down, there is always something to be savoured. Some sunny afternoon off, a dog-eared book borrowed from a friend. The knowledge that you goal you’re chasing is one you’ll probably be in love with forever.

So what would Guy do if he was told he could never throw again? By an authoritative figure, possibly with a gun in their hand? I pose this age-old hypothetical to him and he seems strangely unfazed.

“Start a fucking band, probably. Or find a way to do it anyway.”

Knowing him like I know him, I suspect it would be the latter.  

Harp Strings

It’s been so long that I almost convince myself I’ve forgotten how to write. Not altogether. Just in the way I always have. The way that comes spilling out of the tips of my fingers like I don’t know what’s hit me. The way that leads me blindfolded through a museum that only exists when I close my eyes and slow my breathing. The way that illuminates all the hidden recesses of my mind.

I’ve neglected this space for nearly two years now. Let ivy grow over the windows as sleeping dogs lie. I convince myself I’ve forgotten to write, but that’s not it. The truth is, I feel so distant from the person who wrote half of these posts that I’m not quite sure how to pick up the story anymore, let alone where from. Reading back through them is like revisiting a book from my childhood. The events are familiar, I remember what happened. But the author has lost the soft shimmer that made their voice seem absolute.

But that’s not to say it wasn’t true. I always wrote as me, but my sense of self was so different back then. Based almost entirely on stories I’d read and loved so much that I wanted to crawl into them and stay forever. Stories of adventure, stories of wandering, stories of entire lives lived out in another language. But we all do this. Craft our personal narratives based on what we value, what society values, what we think will most paint us as the favourable protagonist we long to be. Once, when I was still a kid, I moved overseas on a whim and took all my flawed complexities with me. And in my mind, I built castles around my decision to do so.

But now?

Now, a few years have passed and I've outgrown all my old narratives like the homemade woollen jumpers of my childhood. Now, I live within the quite ebb and flow of my hometown. I thought I’d be long gone by now, only because familiarity is a whole lot harder to romanticise. But still, there is so much wonder around me. I am lucky, the kind of lucky you get so tired of waiting for that one day that you decide to create it yourself. When love comes, it is not in the form I thought it would be. An old friend and I become closer and suddenly, everything is different. Neither of us sees it coming. But it is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before, and I am in constant awe of his ability to uplift and calm me. It is the opposite of all the relationship tropes I grew I believing – that love is a hurricane, that vicious fights and mind games are inevitable. Instead, things that were once hazy come slowly into focus.

In the middle of winter I move house, not countries. I find it to be the bigger adventure by far. Although we’d been planning it forever, the day hits me out of the blue. Suddenly life is lived out of boxes, we talk about bills, we talk about what we’re going to buy at the supermarket each week. We marry our bookshelves into a single library. We wake up together and fall asleep together and although everyone told me it was going to be hard, it’s easy. And even when it’s not easy, it’s worth it.

The harp arrives in December, a lifelong wish delivered in the form of a new hobby. It’s an impossibly elegant instrument that I hire from a woman who lives in the hills. It sits straight-backed in our spare room, taller than even me when I stand up. The strings feel strange between my fingers at first but they sound so beautiful almost instantly. With piano, I struggled for years to make sounds that I thought were interesting. With flute, it was an uphill battle to even get a clear note. But harp is different. It gives away its secrets early, and even Chopsticks sounds like a song from the beginning of time. Although I tend to give up things in a heartbeat, the physical commitment of having a concert-sized pedal harp in the house keeps me coming back most days, tentatively attempting my scales and squinting at sheet music. It’s a language I know well, although it’s been kept in a storage container at the back of my mind for years.

And so, the days pass in much the same way. I am at the tail-end of my degree, not quite studying full time but not quite finished either. I mostly have nothing new to report. But instead of bursting out into the world like I usually do in times of limbo, this time I retreat. I turn down invitations. I do a lot of sitting, a lot of reading. I watch my love grow over everything like ivy, curling around the corners of my life until I can’t remember what was there before. The days are long and a heat wave comes eventually, later in the season than usual. I make a lot of plans and then scrap them almost instantly.

February comes and I spend hours one night trying to seduce sleep, balancing on the razor edge of consciousness. But it evades me like a hunted thing. Lying there in the dark, I realise nothing in my future is certain except the inevitable ebb and flow of more messy life. It's up to me to make something of it. The arc of my boyfriend’s back cuts a silhouette in the dark next to me, rising and falling gently with his breath. Moonlight filters dimly through the window. It’s like an ultimate storybook cliché except I’m here, and I’m living it. All this. These flimsy moments framed by the gentle whir of the fan. It’s cool at this hour, but I like the white noise anyway. I like the way it fills up the uncertainly around me.

And so perhaps all this purposelessness does have a purpose. All the long shifts stretching into the next, all the days off where I have no energy to do anything but sprawl out on the couch and plug myself into some television drama. A lot of the time I don’t know what I’m doing. I feel so over-caffeinated and checked out, so naked in the absence of direction now. To be free of deadlines can also mean to be free of structure. I rarely drink these days so the nights that I do tend to hit me harder. Always I have a mental hangover for days after, sifting through the minutiae of trivial scenarios that I’m not even sure I remember right.

But numbness never prevails. Soon a realisation slaps me hard in the face and I look at all I have in awe. This little house built from white bricks. This pile of unfinished books. This life stitched together with a thousand different kinds of love. I have choice and freedom and generous helpings of some strange, undefinable faith that is always up for trial but never found guilty. No matter what the allegations are against it, I always find morsels hiding in the most unusual places – between fresh notebook pages and tucked behind harp strings. Every now and then, I give up playing the cynic and humour them. And like cherry trees in September, they bloom. 

In My Own Backyard

It was time to go away again. Just past New Years I woke to a text from Mickey. It was short and simple.
Run away with me to Byron Bay?
Of course, I replied, not even knowing that he really meant it. But he did. So by evening, we were sitting in his house by the sea listening to records and pouring over flights and places to stay. He wanted to go surfing and see his favourite band. I just wanted to get on a plane again. It didn’t matter so much where to. But I had brief memories of a trip at twelve years old to see family, of tropical weather in the middle of winter, of beaches and lighthouses and strawberry ice cream and untouched sand. They were blurry, but ticked all the boxes. I needed somewhere to recharge for a while, a reward for standing – knees locked – while the last six months crashed into me again and again like waves I had no idea how to ride yet. It had been impossible in ways only my closest friends knew about, but I found myself again at the end of it, still squinting into the sun. Surely that, if anything, warranted a little lazing around on the beach for no reason.
It didn’t even matter that I’d probably seen Mickey, like, all of three times in the year I’d been home. Born ten days apart, we’d always been strangely connected in a way that you can never explain but only know. Always, there had been sentences said in unison. Things we seemed to go through simultaneously without consulting the other about it first. First there was our Richard Dawkins phase at fifteen, when we both discovered atheism and spent hours discussing it with sweeping gestures and lit-up eyes. Later, this gave way to a fascination with the mind. The strange powers we knew it kept like secrets. Years went by and we capitalised the U in Universe, we marvelled in synchronicity, we sent messages across the oceans even after I went away and found our stories were still being written from the same notes, just set in different worlds. Our lives had traced gentle parallels for years, and I’d always thought that if I truly had to have a twin, it might as well be him. So when his housemate drove us to the airport, it felt like we’d done it all before.
But it was so long ago now. The days have mummified and left crumbs in my mind, so nothing I write now can be trusted. This is more a story about a story than a firsthand account. But I do remember this: heat so hot that my skin (Irish by nature if not by memory) turned red within hours. Then, days later, bronze. We woke up each morning drenched in sweat. Crashed into the ocean before nine without fail. Like clockwork. Mickey was an early riser and it forced me to step out of myself a little, yield in my nocturnal ways to meet him. I always stayed out later into the night. But I was still up at the first smell of surfboard wax and ready to hop out the door. In the afternoons, I’d go off on my own. Walk through the streets in something worn and drifty. Floppy hat. Jewels bought on the side of the road. I walked into New Agey stores and ran my fingers over the spines of a hundred books I’d never read, because touch is memory and sometimes you remember things that haven’t happened yet. Shop clerks complimented me on my energy more than my appearance. Then, as magnets do, I’d meet Mickey somewhere without even organising it first and watch him slice through the waves while the sun faded down. More than once I fell asleep, beer in hand, waiting for him on the shore.
I saw glimpses of a different life there, one I could step into and claim as my own easily. One in which I was some other person, hanging out the passenger seat of a near stranger’s car in bathers. Soaked, still salty. Rolling flavoured tobacco in the sunshine and only wearing shoes to the bars, where the pints weren’t Coopers and people smiled when you told them where you lived, because on the coast, there’s something so small-town-charming about a place like Adelaide. Or perhaps I was walking through the tent sea again, some hours after dark, not sure what I was looking for, but knowing in some way, I’d find it. Sitting in all those groups by all those campfires. Running onto the beach too many gins deep and forgetting to take off my sneakers but it didn’t matter, I remembered just where the waves started licking the shore that I wasn’t meant to jump in. I met so many incredible people from corners of the world I’ve only dreamt of visiting, and hopefully one day will. We spoke through the small hours of the night, leaning off balconies and gazing into the moon. One night there were thunderstorms. I’d met some people and been out for drinks, and we walked home at 3am as lightening flashed across the sky, hollowing out the cavities in our chests. We found shelter near our rooms and stayed there for an hour, all rugged up. Gasping liberally at the view. It didn’t take many heartfelt conversations to realise we were all there for similar reasons. People have the same dreams. A camper van full of books and cameras, a mattress in the back. A ballpoint pen or two. Enough clothes to last a couple of months, and someone to call on their way home from wherever, if only to say 'I'll be there soon'.
All my latest beer chinked conversations have had the same theme; people telling me I seem to have changed out of nowhere. That I'm not nearly the same as I was six months ago. They say that a girl who changes her hair is about to change her life, but I had my platinum blonde dyed dark because I didn't want to feel like I was walking around in the same skin anymore. My bones felt new, all sandpapered up. Why not the rest of me? As within, so without. And almost immediately I felt like myself again, all ashy brown hair on pale skin, unmistakeably my mother’s daughter. But mostly, the girl I might have been if I stayed. But I'm not her, because she didn't know calm the way I do now. Maybe it was the salt water. The palm trees. The way I befriended my rubble then fashioned new armour out of it. It takes time to realise that sometimes the things you're chasing won’t be caught, that maybe once you borrowed a life from someone with a Londoner twang and silver hair who wanted European countries and foreign lovers and a life only romanticised so heavily because it took place elsewhere. But now I've found warmth in my own backyard. And here, everything feels like home.
Like today. I woke up in the darkness and got on my bike as the sun was rising. Normally, I only catch those early hours a bottle of red wine deep as the taxis hover outside my house and I say the same things to different drivers. That felt like living for a long time. But it wasn't. Last year, I was at the point where there were no good days. This year there are no bad ones. Not really. Because ‘bad’, like everything, only exists on a scale of your own invention. And once you’ve found your tipping point, the little scuffs and stumbles on the way seem painted all in gold. The sun is awake when I arrive in the city, though I barely am. I scan my pass and stretch out on my mat, adjusting slowly to the heat. What I didn’t know at fifteen is that we all worship something, and often the art of getting on is simply a matter of replacing one altar with another. So that is my project for the year. Making little changes, because dominos are little, but when lined up neatly in a row it only takes one flick to knock a city down.
These days I pass out well before midnight. Set up camp in library corners. I watch my skin rearranging, and marvel at how it feels to move around the world in a vehicle that I don't feel at war with anymore. My legs are strong. My roots are deep. And something fearless has cracked open in me that seems able to give, and give, and give without draining me completely. It takes time, all this surrender. Though I never doubt that it's worth it these days. With eyes filled with eyesight and rooms smudged with sage, I always try to remember that we are just little animals running around the earth temporarily until we return to it. We are all godly. But humility is the most divine. Since taking up yoga my body feels different. More flexible, more powerful. And since I am a woman, and 'womanness' (though not always defined by biology) seems to be so jailed by the physical at times, I feel a sense of freshness, like that of newlyweds walking slack-jawed around a new house. But what's with flesh being compared to buildings all the time? Your body is not a temple, that idea puts lines on a map where there aren't any. The world is a temple, with mosaics instead of countries. The sun and sky are stained glass windows. Your body is a tile.

October Diary

The time has come now when I have to write something new, not because I’ve been on some new adventure, but because the words are habit now and I’ve found them to outlive everything I’ve ever done in the flesh. When people compliment me on my blog these days, I am embarrassed. I don’t know when I am going to post next, because I don’t know when I’ll do something interesting enough to justify the process of sharing. There are no longer means, but the thirst still rages. It’s not hunger, though. Hunger is something you need, a signal your body puts out for sustenance, and I think that’s a good starting point for everyone here to agree on. But I’ve always thought of thirst as more of a wanting kind of deal. Although it has no scientific basis. Although I know that if tomorrow I were cast out into the desert without being able to drink, I’d die.

If thirst is wanting then words are water. And so, in my last month of 20, I start listening to The National. I mean, I’ve always listened to The National. But this is different. More obsessive. I pluck one song from a list of YouTube suggestions and listen to it on repeat for weeks, far beyond any natural rhythm of discovering a track then discarding it like a half eaten lollipop. Roughly one week after this happens, I have dinner with a friend and he mentions the same album by chance. Says it’s had him in a headlock recently. I’ve been sick, so sick that I drop everything in my life like it’s shatter-proof, and he’s been reading up on things I’ve written in the past like I’ve always hoped someone would. We drag our heels down Grenfell Street on the way to some underground bar, and it’s hot, and I’m trying not to drink as much these days, but I want to show him how the rooms are lined with mirrors and the entrance is disguised as a wall unless you know where to push. As we walk, I keep humming the one line that won’t go away, the line that’s been playing in a neat little loop since the moment I first heard it.

Am I the one you think about when you’re sitting in your fainting chair drinking Pink Rabbits?

I have to Google what Pink Rabbits are. This happens a few days earlier. It’s probably a weekday, and I’m probably meant to be at Uni, but probably, I’m not. Anyway, the internet says it’s a drink with milk, strawberry syrup and tequila. Something I could easily see myself sinking into liking when I’m a little older and can’t be bothered with gutsy drinks anymore. Soon after I read this, I realise that almost all songs are love songs. I mean, of course I’ve always known. Just like I’ve always listened to The National. But I didn’t know in the way I do now, almost twenty-something and, for what feels like the first time, in a completely neutral State of Heart. Not in love, unless you count that blinding love of everything and anything that taps me on the shoulder some days. Not heartbroken, unless you count the way I sometimes mourn past and future versions of myself for days on end. But mostly – and this is perhaps the most significant point – with no overwhelming desire to be either.

This means that when I listen to these songs now, they’re short stories instead of autobiographies. And I find them easier to sit with that way. When my birthday comes spring comes too, the combination of which leaves me running around the city all night again. G has a birthday the day before, so we spend what seems like three solid days together, mostly drinking, talking, dancing, stealing in pieces of sleep whenever we can. The people we love join us. Our names are written on a blackboard somewhere and I am pleasantly surprised. The constant stream of celebratory shots ruins me far too early. I suppose it feels similar to all the other birthdays, except this time when people ask me if I feel different, I tell them I do. And strangely enough, it’s the truth.

The only thing that hasn’t changed is that I still can’t hold my liquor. Much like some 16 year-old me, I stay up for the sunrise. The side alleys shrug themselves awake as I goodbye my friends into taxis when they pass, if they pass at this invisible hour at all. Some weeks I am more than I am others. But I still can’t do too much of it. The drinking, the dancing. The late late nights cracked open into early mornings into late mornings into I still haven’t slept yet and the day is ripe. During the holidays my only real achievement is to drink every day for two weeks, three weeks, even – and properly (red wine over books, pint after pint at someone’s else’s knock offs, dark ale in the sun). Fast forward a few weeks and I am 21 in the passenger seat of some car again. It’s the same friend, the same album. We listen to it three times before midnight. I’d sent him an ambiguous text and he didn’t even need to ask why, knew instinctively that the cure for everything isn’t always salt water and green smoothies and three sessions of Bikram fucking yoga a week. Sometimes it’s a half eaten box of popcorn. The way Adelaide sparkles below you in jewel tones from the hills, our little city, reminding you with pinprick lights that maybe you haven’t ended up in the worst corner of the world after all.     

If wanting is thirst then words are water. But you don’t need your passion to live, that kind of whimsy is bullshit. When artists give advice to aspiring souls in their craft they always say “only take photos if you need to, only sing songs if you need to, only write if you’d die were you told you couldn’t”. But the death they are talking about isn’t literal. It’s what makes some people seem radiant when you look them straight in the eyes, and others, glazed over. To follow either religion or philosophy, it would seem that there’s either one divine path your life could take, or an infinite number of equally feasible and meaningful options. This argument is old, and dazzling. I discovered Sartre late and so recently, in a wave of essays and half-finished books, I’ve aligned myself (perhaps to satisfy some wanky, puritanical world view) with the existentialist side of the chasm. Yet – in typical Libran polarity – I can never really make up my mind between the two.

You don’t need passion to live. But regardless, I put bookends on all my days and try to do right by that all-encompassing thing that lives beneath my pulse and wants, and wants, and wants so terribly. So long as I remind myself that it’s a choice. We are just as capable of blocking out everything good and frightening and important as we are of deciding, for whatever reason, to listen.

I need reminding more often than others. So to the world I would say, mould me into whatever you can salvage from these sandpaper bones. Save the best bits. Discard those that don’t serve me. Let all my disappointments come with disclaimers: let them cry out “I am a necessary occurrence so that you may come into yourself”. Make the typeface bold. I need small signs to wake up to. I need omens, so that I might thread my life around them the way stars sometimes lasso around the moon. Straighten my spine. If I can build my foundations in that, then other areas are allowed to be messy. Things you will forgive: my room, my lecture notes, my hair. They are unruly, and speak of something savage beneath all that pastel-coloured lacquer. The time has come to write something new, not because I’ve been on some new adventure. But when the day comes to call me again – not if, but when – this time I’m going to be ready.