Posted by: Rachel Lewis
I owe you one. I trust you to take it… you always do.
Dearest Kiln Gods,
Oyez, oyez, oyez! I am a person having business before thou, oh honorable though oft merciless deities. I draw near to ask for thy attention, oh Wrathful Ones, to beg for thy protection, even as I know I am undeserving of thy charity.
I tremble before this alter to proclaim a sacrifice was made in thy honor, oh great Scary Beasties of the Furnace of Stoneware. It was not made intentionally, I do confess. But it was given and it’s destruction did make me wretched.
Please, please, oh Fiery Gods of Loam and Ash, I ask thou to accept this sacrifice to thy glory. And in doing, thus allow these other unworthy creations to pass through your domain unharmed and into the state of whole and completed items of crockery.
I am but a humble servant, grateful for the scraps of thy consideration, and yet I beg thou for the favor of this Holy Pantheon. If my wish is granted this day, I swear upon the life of Brent, who is my best pottery wheel, that I will not bother thou again… at least not before the holidays.
Signed, your unworthiest devotee,
When I first moved to Salt Lake City in the mid nineties, it didn’t take me long to find my favorite neighborhood. My friends called it Little Bohemia and it was artsy and modern, and a bit run down. It’s where they had the old art house movie theatre and the best little coffee shop. It’s also where you could get a vegan burrito and shop for vibrators. (Those were separate shops, to be clear.) It had the best record store, where I discovered artists like Morrissey. Obviously, the Smiths were not a new band in 1995, but I grew up in a Mormon enclave that was still obsessed with Doris Day so it seemed pretty revolutionary to me.
Over the years, this neighborhood underwent a common transformation. The weird fun eventually became “cool,” and once it was cool the things that made it weird and fun could no longer afford the rent and moved away in search of a new hidden gem of neighborhoods. The great coffee shop and the art house movie theatre remained. So did the dildo store. But it also got a Starbucks and some bougie office spaces.
The city, in it’s infinite wisdom, decided that it could do it’s part to keep Little Bohemia weird, and threw some money that way. They put colorful bricks in the intersection in a concentric circle pattern and added some kinetic art installations. The community rejected the Starbucks in favor of the local place and that space was taken over by a gelato store. In short, the neighborhood retains some of the quirky weirdness it always had, but has a much more gentrified feel 25+ years after I moved to town.
In the latest chapter on the gentrification, the city has installed a roundabout. It’s is large and they did pop a few plants in the space, but left it rather bare. They did state that there would be an art installation, but that the intended aesthetic was “to be announced.” True to form, the Little Bohemians didn’t wait. And anyway, nature abhors a vacuum, right? (I read that somewhere and I think I know what it means.) They came out and began to fill the sparsely planted circle with garden gnomes.
Soon, the city, in its infinite wisdom, had a meeting about what weird thing they should give the weirdos to make them weirdly happy (but which might also look fun on a travel website or on Instagram) and announced that the sculpture to be installed on the roundabout would be…. a whale. Because where else in land locked Utah can you see a whale?
The Bohemians were displeased. I assume that would have happened no matter what they decided, but they seemed particularly incredulous. The gnomes began to protest over night.
The last time I drove by, the controversial scene had been removed, but I did manage to photo document some of the drama. I know it pales when compared to the other things we are dealing with in the world today, but I hope it provides a brief and welcome distraction.
There were also pro-whale messages.
Then the local businesses got in on the action…
This is what I get for ordering dog treats online. I’ve known a few guys who measure six inches this way… but seriously. Are we really worried about the pig’s feelings at this point?
When I married into a Chinese family, I learned that the number four is very unlucky. I thought it was maybe just my in-laws, or maybe it was just a Cantonese thing, but it wasn’t. I learned this one day when I wrote a check (it was the 90s, we still did that back then) at my local Chinese restaurant (Chop Suey Louie’s) and the guy almost didn’t take it because it was check number 444. The problem is that the Chinese word for “four” is a homophone for the word for “death.” I wrote a death death death check.
I’ve been thinking about this because I just had my 44th birthday. My death death birthday. I feel like it’s a good excuse to have a midlife crisis. Because honestly, I don’t want to live beyond 88. That’s when I assume shit just goes to hell. (I reserve the right to change my mind when I am 87.)
My therapist asked me why I hate birthdays so much. She wondered if it was because so many women have such a hard time celebrating themselves or being the center of attention. I don’t like those things as a rule, either, but I don’t think that is it. I think it makes me confront my mortality. It makes me take stock of what I have, and – more to the point – have NOT, accomplished. It makes me scrutinize my skin and lament my sagging jawline.
No, that last one was a lie. I lament my jawline every morning; I don’t need a birthday.
Most of all, however, I hate the let down of birthdays. It is just like New Year’s Eve, except worse, because when the last midnight of December strikes and nothing really happens and you just have to pretend you got some magical satisfaction from closing a calendar year, you are all in it together. When your birthday arrives full of promise and cake shaped joy, it’s just you that has to celebrate the let down. You have to put on a show for everyone who showed up and pretend you wouldn’t rather be crying in a dark room while listening to cello music.
God I’m such a downer.
Since my therapist asked, I have been thinking about the reason I do this to myself every year. The fact that I have all this time to sit around and sulk over my jowls and all of the things I want to do but probably won’t have time to check off my list tells me I don’t have any real problems; I understand that. I’ve accomplished enough. I’ve traveled a bit, I made a lot of art, I’ve loved and been loved. I had a turn with a trim jawline and there are photos to prove it. My turn is over, but I had it! I’m good, I really am. I could focus on being grateful for that.
Meditating on the question, however, I did remember a story. A birthday story that started it all, setting me up for a lifetime of disappointing birthdays.
It was August, the end of summer in the year 1982, and “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor was the #1 song in America. It was a Monday, my first day of kindergarten, and my fifth birthday. I hadn’t seen any of the Rocky movies, but I like to think that I was as pumped to go kick ass. Just in a painfully shy little girl kind of way.
The night before, my mom got my outfit ready and we talked about what school would be like. They probably had preschool back then, but I never went. This was going to be my first time being away from my mom for more than a few hours and I felt so grown up, I couldn’t believe it.
“And it’s going to be your birthday!” my mom was saying. “Kindergarten birthdays are the best because all the other kids will sing to you and make you a birthday card… and there will be snacks and games…” Suffice it to say there were big promises made. I. Could. Not. Wait.
Only it didn’t go down like that. First of all, I think I cried when my mom left me at school. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one, but I wasn’t happy about this freedom when it came to reality and I was watching my mom walk away. But, as directed, I took my spot on the strip masking tape on the carpet as class started and my teacher, Mrs. Robinson, called us to attention.
“Boys and girls,” she said, “welcome to my class! I’m so excited about all the things we are going to do this year! But that’s not the only reason today is a special day! Today is a very special day indeed for one of you in particular! Let’s all join together and say a very happy birthday to… JAY!”
If you were still hearing “Eye of the Tiger” in your head then maybe this is a good moment to end it with the sound of a record scratch.
I knew not to interrupt. I sat there quietly like the other kids, trying to figure out which one was Jay. Then we sang to him and later we made cards with crayons and construction paper, just like Mom said we would. It took some time to work up the courage and then find a moment where I could walk up to Mrs. Robinson when she wasn’t talking to the class or someone else.
“Mrs. Robinson,” I whispered, pulling on her pink polyester pant leg, “It’s my birthday, too!”
“Now, Rachel,” she said, leading me by the shoulder back to my tiny chair with the orange plastic seat atop shinny steel legs. “You don’t have to make up stories to get attention. We will celebrate your birthday when it comes.” Then she went back to passing out graham crackers and juice.
When I got home, Mom gave me a big hug and asked if everyone sang to me like she predicted. I told her about Jay and that Mrs. Robinson didn’t believe me it was my birthday. Then I went off to play with my sisters and the my presents while my mother made a phone call to the elementary school.
The next day, we were back in our seats on the masking taped rectangle on the carpet and Mrs. Robinson jumped in right away. “Boys and girls!” she began. “We made a mistake yesterday!” As if she and the entire room full of crayon eating thumb suckers were equally culpable. Then they sang and there were cards and more graham crackers. And I played along, pretending to be fine with it, pretending to accept Mrs. Robinson’s non-apology for having accused me of lying. But it wasn’t my birthday. My birthday was over. And even at five I couldn’t pretend otherwise.
You know the worst part? This was back when they would actually hold kids back when they were struggling and Jay ended up repeating kindergarten. So I never got a real kindergarten birthday, and that little dunce got two! I might as well have been born in the middle of the summer, making sure I never had a school birthday! (Those poor tragic dears.)
It’s a funny story, and maybe Mrs. Robinson did feel bad. Maybe in the 80s they taught you never to apologize to your students because that would hand them too much power and then you’d have an “inmates running the asylum” situation, which could get ugly. I bet they teach how to make a proper apology in school now, what with all that equity / safe space stuff we have these days.
And yet, it seems to have left me with some cognitive wiring that connects birthdays to disappointment and reluctance. I feel like I’ve spent 39 years trying to lower my expectations to avoid another let down. It doesn’t really work, though. A jawline always has further to sag. That’s the thing with gravity. It stalks it’s prey at night (and morning… and afternoon) and it’s watching us all… with they eye of the tiger.
PS how great would it have been if the #1 song that year was Mrs. Robinson? I would have to be ten years older and would basically be storing nuts and small wheels of cheese in my jowls by now… but that would have been comedy gold!
I’ve been absent, I apologize. I’ve been distracted. Life has been a bit nuttsy and I’ve been trying to keep my head above water; I’m sure I’m not the only one.
I have been making art, though. Lots and lots of pottery, knitting, quilting… but mostly pottery. Matt and I are getting married next month (that nuttsy life thing I mentioned earlier) and I decided to make mugs and bowls as wedding favors. So… that took a lot of time.
I made over a hundred. Not all were usable… I had some trouble finding the right glaze that would show the stamp. Plus I had a few that just didn’t turn out. This one, for instance…
Once I finished with favors I got really crazy and decided to make centerpieces. I thought about making small pots for succulents, which I did for a show a few years ago. They looked like this:
But then I started thinking about the logistics of this plan. We are getting married in a National Park five hours away. I’m already packing up a hundred bowls to transport. What is the plan here? Am I bringing all the pots and succulents already planted? Am I going to get there and then buy plants and a bag of dirt from Home Depot and spend the day before the wedding planting these? Also, how much is that going to cost, when each little succulent is five bucks or so and I need enough for twelve tables? And then what do I do with them? Take them to Vegas on our mini-moon?
I spent a lot of time noodling on it. For a minute I thought “fuck the centerpieces, who cares!” But then I saw this photo online:
And I decided to steal the idea! Because that’s the kind of artist I am. Here are a few of the ones I made.
Now making succulents is my new favorite thing! Which is great because I am so bad with plants I can’t even keep a cactus alive. Here is my plan. I’m going to force my friends to make a few of these at my hen party and then fire them and deliver them to their makers at the wedding as gifts… after I’m done using them as centerpieces, that is. Free labor and loving homes for the little dudes after? Um, hell yes. I don’t often feel this proud of myself but, damn. I’m a flipping genius.
Anyway, that’s what I’ve been up to. I’ve made a few other things as well. There’s also a wedding quilt which is coming together. Here are a few of the blocks I made.
This owl design is based on one of my favorite photos of Mr. Owlbertson that I took a few years ago.
To be honest, I hate quilting. I like fabric and I appreciate the artistry, but it makes my brain hurt. It’s basically just math but with bleeding.
I think I’ll stick with clay. That’s my happy place.
Hello friends. I’ve been a bit distracted and I took an unintentional break from blogging. I’m getting back in the saddle; I promise.
Meanwhile, I wrote a thing and someone published it! Yay for me! You can read it here if you are so inclined.
A few years ago, I was dining alone in a nice restaurant in Irvine that had a cool hipster name like Figs & Branches or Peas & Bacon. I don’t know what it was. I was traveling for work (remember traveling? remember restaurants? *sigh*) and my boss recommended the spot. I got their early in the evening and had no trouble getting a table for one, but by the time I was finishing my meal the waiting area was packed with hungry foodies.
Suddenly, three Indian women appeared at my table. One confidently sat down and the other two hovered for a moment, watching my face for my reaction. The confident one said, “you don’t mind, do you? It’s too long of a wait and you look like you need company.” I was shocked, but also delighted. As an extreme introvert it can be refreshing (if startling) to have someone take all of the “let’s become friends” stuff away and just start an interesting small-talk-free conversation with you. I smiled and introduced myself and the other two women sat down.
They were younger than I was. I’m guessing mid to late twenties to my late thirties. Very quickly, we were discussing our parents expectations of marriage and children. The leader of the group (as far as getting them a table was concerned) was grousing about her mother’s bullying phone calls on the subject. Her sense of humor was wry and she didn’t seem to mind sharing details, so I told them about things my mom has said, as well as some of the questions I have been asked as a childless woman living in Utah. “I wonder who is worse about applying pressure to get married and have kids,” I asked, finishing my wine. “Mormons or Indians?”
“Oh, Indians, definitely,” the confident girl, who was unsurprisingly also the chattiest, said without hesitation. “If your parents are from India, not only to you have to get married and have children, you also have to become a doctor or a lawyer.” The other girls laughed but nodded in agreement.
This blew my mind. “You’re right,” I said. “That is different.”
My parents expected me to go to college, of course. And there was always pressure to do well in school. But I don’t remember there being pressure for me to take on a serious career. In fact, I remember once telling my dad that I wanted to be a veterinarian and he discouraged me. He thought it would be too much science and math and that I wouldn’t be able to handle destroying animals. He wasn’t wrong, but Jesus. I think I was 12. Another time, I was watching Who’s the Boss and I was mesmerized by the character of Angela and the idea that she was so independent and that she made enough money to have both a housekeeper AND and drive a Jaguar! I told my mom I was going to go into advertising. She told me that was a bad idea because it was too competitive. Again, probably not wrong, but I was a kid. Would it have hurt to say, “okay honey, just work hard and I’m sure you will do well!” or something like that.
As I have said before, my parents were actually the most progressive ones I knew in this arena. I knew another girl who, even with a 4.0, was discouraged by her parents to go to college as it would just be “a waste of money” when she didn’t need a degree to be a mom.
This popped into my head this weekend when I read this article from Newsweek. It’s about an early childhood education bill that was defeated in Idaho last week. One Republican representative quoted in the article explained his vote against the bill thusly: “I don’t think anybody does a better job than mothers in the home, and any bill that makes it easier or more convenient for mothers to come out of the home and let others raise their child, I don’t think that’s a good direction for us to be going.” He soon apologized, basically chalking up the speech to stage fright.
I admit that I don’t know what religion this man belongs to, but Idaho and Utah are very similar places, culturally. And anyway, this isn’t a Mormon problem. It is cultural problem. In my experience, growing up in this culture, there is little value placed on women who work and even less encouragement for women to find rewarding work. I hope it is better than when I was a kid, but it is still a problem. Utah has the second-worst pay gap between men and women right now. The worst state on this metric is Wyomming, another Mountain West state.
The most frustrating part of the article is it seems the representatives who are interviewed view women working outside the home as a tragic CHOICE that is a product of pressure from feminists, when fewer and fewer women have any choice about working for a paycheck. How out of touch are you, not to understand that?
Back at the Twig & Apricot (or whatever), I signed my check and got up to leave. The women asked me to stay. They even offered to buy me another glass of wine to thank me for the table, but I was ready to go. The manager stopped me on my way out and asked if those women just did what he thought they just did and if he should do anything to make it right, gesturing to my already settled check. “Oh no,” I said, waiving my hand limply for emphasis. “It’s fine. They are friends of mine. From work.”
As I went back to my hotel, I thought about how lucky I am to have found a good fit with my career. I like what a do, and every once in a while, they put me in a nice hotel, pay for a lovely meal, thereby creating an opportunities to meet new people who give me something to think about. I parked my rental car and went up to my room to do a little work before bed.
I think I wrote a few months back that I participated in the Pfizer COVID-19 study. If not, surprise! That was me! (And 29,999 other people.) I was “unblinded” last week and learned that I received the placebo. Good thing that I told myself to pretend I KNEW I got the placebo all along!
The researchers brought me in for a shot of the real stuff yesterday, which was very nice of them. While I was sitting in the clinic waiting for my dose to thaw I got a breaking news alert that the US officially passed 500k deaths. It was a surreal moment, taking that in while in the process of getting my first vaccine. So heartbreaking and also crazy at how routine this has all become.
I’m grateful I had this opportunity to participate in this research and soooo grateful to have my first shot for realz!
Side note: I was given the shot by a girl named Joy. Could that be more perfect?