One of the most rewarding things about designing jewelry is hearing from a customer who identifies something I’ve made as their signature piece. Reaching for the same pair of earrings day after day because it makes her feel like herself. Wearing a particular necklace because she knows it will make her smile when she looks in the mirror. Putting on a custom bracelet as a reminder of her strengths before starting a difficult day.
Bracelets have always been my favorite pieces to design and make. To me, they’re more narrative than any other form of adornment. ID bracelets, medic alerts, friendship bracelets, mourning armbands, cuffs – something about wearing that encircling form on our arms speaks to identity and sense of self in a very powerful way. They can be a mark of possession or self-possession, a talisman to the wearer – intimate, kinetic, sometimes hidden. You can’t look at a whole bracelet at once when it’s being worn – it’s in constant motion, with different focal points as it moves. The story is in motion.
Here are some of the stories I’ve been working on recently for Leaves of Glass. This week I’m making handcuffs – but that’s a story for later.
I’ve been thinking a lot about personal narratives this spring. It started with reading a couple of published diaries, getting my dad’s detailed reports on my grandfather, and taking up letter-writing again. After that, a couple of other things happened to keep the idea turning over in my mind, and I started to examine the idea of how people tell their stories, and especially how, or if, I tell mine.
Someone I know recently lost a family member to unknown causes. When that happens, it raises the most painful questions about people you love, and about yourself. In the early stages of trying to understand his loss, my friend told me he’d found his brother’s journal. He hadn’t known his brother kept a journal. He asked me if I keep a journal. It’s been a number of years since I did that with any consistency; even then it was sporadic. My most thorough journals are from high school. I still have them, but I can’t bear to read them; I know they’ll be stupid and I’m even more afraid that I haven’t changed very much. What he said next really startled me: “Be sure you don’t leave them around.” I thought about that for days. Why do people leave journals behind? I think it’s not so much that his brother’s story was unwelcome to my friend, but it must be agonizing to know someone too late. His brother told him everything he needed to know, but not until after he was gone. The impulse to be known was there, but he couldn’t bear to be known while he was alive.
I’m a deeply guarded person. I know this about myself. Some of that is learned behavior, some of it is family culture, but I think mostly it’s just who I am. I’ve gotten better about being more open with friends and family, but I still struggle with being both authentic and appropriate online. When I started making jewelry five years ago, I started living a huge part of my life online, but almost entirely under the banner of business. Increasingly, as I meet people and make connections – both through my business and in general – more of my personal life is lived online as well. I want to find a way to live fully both on and offline without feeling like I’m split into two personae – business and personal. There are always going to be things that are private, or that, for me, should only exist in person; but I’ve kept my lines very tightly drawn for a long time and it’s time to learn to relax them. My personal life online is a real life, not just a projection of my business. I want to be one person with many facets. I want my business to be part of my larger life, and influenced by it – not the other way around. I want this blog to be something I can use to explore that.
Thinking about the way I live online has been part of a recent ongoing conversation with a friend. In the course of thinking these things through, I realized that there are a number of things I think about when I’m deciding what to share and with whom:
- What do I give away (either in the sense of revealing, or in the sense of a gift) when I say something, and to whom am I giving it?
- What things do I share because they might help someone else?
- What things am I willing to trade away to any taker because I want to be known?
- What things do I save for the people I choose?
- What do I hear that someone chose me for?
They’re all good questions, and valid criteria, but they’re maybe also too much pressure. My two closest friends have loved me through a lot of things, even when I gave them hardly any information. They know me well, and they grant me a lot of gentle space to not say things. That’s not really who I want to be, though, and the things I’ve been thinking about for the last several months have made me wonder how I can change.
I’m going to make a fledgling attempt at change by trying to post something personal here every day in June – a memory or how I feel about something I did or something that’s making me anxious or just a list of what’s currently cluttering up my kitchen table. I don’t think I’ll make any gigantic revelations – although I suppose I could surprise myself – but I want to form the habit of talking more about myself, even if I decide later on that some of it was a mistake. Some piece of story, for practice. I know right now that I won’t make a perfect record – there are sure to be days when I can’t do it, or can’t think of anything, or just don’t get to it. I’m still making the plan, though, and saying it out loud so I have to begin.
Tomorrow I’m going to tell you about the mouse.