Wednesday, September 10, 2008
We have been over on Stradbroke Island for a week. This beautiful island is mostly National Park and in the middle of winter the wide sandy beaches are nearly empty.
When I was over there I read "Life in Seven Mistakes" by Susan Johnson. Through the disfunctional (but all too common) family holiday Johnson's novel engages with issues of family, death motherhood and art in a way that is simultaneously painful and laugh out loud funny. Several times as I read this novel I found myself laughing at the exaggerated but familiar disasters encountered when the generations get together to try and have a "nice" time. One of the wonderful surprises of this novel is the engagement of art and artists and the strange, niche that we occupy in society. The main character Elizabeth is a successful potter. The insignificance and ectasy of this success within her family and within Australian society is drawn out with humour and wit. Johnson's descriptions of the creative process are beautiful and capture the way I feel about making.
"Why does she do it? Because she has done it for so long she no longer knows what to do? To stop herself from feeling rubbed out? It is certainly not the commercial language of ceramics which speaks to her, but other secret words she longs to hear......a language from somewhere else, which makes her long to speak back. It is true that for Elizabeth the world sometimes seems filled with this unspoken language and that she hopes to find in her work something loosed from ordinary earthly laws which might free her tongue. When she is working on a new piece she gets up every morning hoping that this might be the day when a piece begins to resemble the truth in the whorls in a piece of washed up wood or in the roots of an ancient tree, and which speaks to these things in shared words...."pp 214
As I was reading this novel, particularly the descriptions of Elizabeth making pots, I was thinking of my friend Australian ceramicist Jane Sawyer and the acknowledgments at the end of the book thank Jane for her inspiring bowls. This weird little backwater of the art world still has the power to inspire others....Many thanks to Susan Johnson for combining my two passions ceramics and novels.
Susan Johnson has a wonderful blog and website with many wise and illuminating ponderings about creativity, travel, motherhood, familyhood, shoes, ships, sealing wax, cabbages and kings.............