Why Making things matters

Making as a deeper way of having

Mr G and I were recently lounging in our bed. Reading. You know those lovely lazy Sunday mornings. When time slows. Then he wistfully lamented. I miss the little boys. Time froze. Yes oh yes me too. In the long moment that followed our empty nest an aching void we held between us.

Later I weep. I’m listening to Patti Smith weep too. As she reads. It’s a piece from her wonderful memoir ‘M Train’. Her prose so lyrically articulates the particular sting of this pain.

‘We want things we cannot have. We seek to reclaim a certain moment, sound, sensation. I want to hear my mother’s voice. I want to see my children as children. Hands small, feet swift. Everything changes. Boy grown, father dead, daughter taller than me, weeping from a bad dream. Please stay forever I say to the things that I know. Don’t go. Don’t grow.’

In those moments I think. Yes. We should have frozen our little boys. Somehow. So they could stay forever. Always eight and six. Caught those golden curls and the sweet cherub mouths. The agile limbs and giggling delight as they tumble ahead along the sandy path over the dunes down to Tallow Beach. This particular image is forever etched deeply inside me. Sunny and shining. Like a faded colour Polaroid.

Perhaps if I had thought to call out. No don’t grow. Don’t go. Please stay forever. And don’t decay. Don’t age. Or shrivel. Or break in any way. And never ever melt away.

But everything does. Go that is. There one moment. Yet gone the next. Fleeting across time. As time itself seems too. Every loss a reminder of every other little and bigger loss. Until that final loss that is to be encountered by each of us. The transience of existence the shadow that lurks beside every living thing. And experience.

It is also true that at some level I can’t really accept the age I am becoming. It can’t possibly be true. I’m still somewhat surprised to find my children’s bedroom empty. To be visiting the graveside of both my parents. How can this be true. When did it happen. And that lined skin surely belongs to someone else. Even other things I thought to be irrefutable fact turn out to seem to be a delusional ideal I have stubbornly held onto. Childish thinking. Like I was happy there at that time.

Sometimes the pain of these losses has been so present I’ve felt it only just bearable. Wondered if I would ever arrive at acceptance. Or some capacity to make sense of it. Of the agony and injustice of this unstoppable hurtling towards impermanence. Of everything.

That’s why I am deeply grateful I have an artisans heart. How to cope without the poets and artists I cannot imagine. I have needed the literature and poetry. I give thanks for the paintings and photography. For music. For Paris. These have been consolations. A soothing oasis and a source of wisdom in times of bleakness. A way back to joy. They show me how to celebrate life and live with the unbearable.

And in between there is the actual making of things. Myself. Making something beautiful from the messiness of life. A metaphor of repair and redemption brought into the physical world. Making it right and real. Making a difference to the day.

Which is why I recently found myself on the road travelling to Bangalow. A village in northern New South Wales near where I grew up. To make a pair of shoes. At Bangalow Shoe Making.

This idea had occurred to me at some point in the haze that was after my father had passed  unexpectedly. I have nothing physical left of him. No relic. Not even a photo. So I thought to do exactly what he did for us. He made our shoes. Simple sturdy humble shoes. Like the man he was. Shoes we felt pride in. But also sometimes ashamed of. Because they wasn’t exactly what we wanted. Not what everyone else had. So truth is I’m not sure we ever actually thanked him for these things.

So a decade later I’m making some good of all of it. The lessons and the grief. Putting it into a pair of shoes. The act of making them is in many ways an act of love. And gratitude. As I think most making is. So the doing is as necessary as the having of the actual shoes. They will be my memento. These I will wear with pride. No shame.

So this is why to I encourage you to bother to make things. Even when everything and anything can be acquired easily. Made relatively cheaply in this modern age. And in this I’m including making a good photograph or a painting. Growing a garden of food and flowers. Stitching your clothing. Building a pot. Baking your bread. Making a pair of shoes or a bag. Even writing a poem or a novel or a blog.  Patti Smith the wonderful muse she is also offered this simple wisdom. The closing lines of her book ‘Devotion’. Though she seems to claim that a chorus of cherubs gave the answer to her. I can go with that though. As a child I once saw a beautiful angel in the sky. Truly. From that moment I knew for sure there was something beyond the life I had.

Question: Why do we write? (Insert make)

Answer: Because we cannot simply live.

I would say because it’s not enough to simply live and to consume and then to die.

We need to flourish before we go. Before we turn to dust.

We can confront the sorrow of our transient nature and essential irrelevance by making things of lasting value. Hopefully leave our own relics of truth and beauty.

When I’m totally in a moment of making time becomes irrelevant. Dissolved and expanded. I too become irrelevant. Absorbed in and taken into the thing. And the experience. In this way the past and the future are folded into a pure presence. Though an act of making.

That really is sort heavenly don’t you think.

Dedicated to all those with a true artisan heart. Your work is special and makes all the difference.

BE THE ROSE with love Bernadette


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4 thoughts on “Why Making things matters

  1. Oh my! This is a truly beautiful piece. I’ve been lost recently in a kind of melancholy – thinking about the not too distant future when the kids will all leave home and it will be just me and the hubster. I’m not looking forward to the empty nest. I treasure all the moments with our teenage/adult kids right now, as I know it is fleeting. Your writing made me cry but in a lovely way. Thank you for writing this. It popped into my inbox right when I needed it. Off to listen to Patti now on this overcast Saturday afternoon with the sound of my family around me and a smile on my face. xx

    • Patti is the perfect thing for moments like these. Enjoy the preciousness of having moments with loved ones.There is joy in the empty nest phase but always the light and dark….thanks for letting me know that the piece was moving. I wrote from my heart to yours. xx

  2. Lovely and poignant. As a maker, I know that my emotional survival depends on it, but I’ve still been mired down in sadness and loss. Children grown and too far away, my parents dying in the last two years, my world shrinking because technology affords me the “luxury” of working from home etc. Yes, there’s much to be grateful for but the feeling of loss has been almost unbearable. I smiled at your beautiful shoes. The last time I visited my son and his family, my daughter in law and I took a sandal making class. It was in heaven. xoxo

    • Thank you. Grief is such a slog and I feel the pain in what you write. I wonder if ‘it’ is not something we get over or though but rather a thing we work out how to hold without being overwhelmed or becoming bitter. Perhaps that’s what making and art helps us do.