My people make things because we struggle to make sense of things we didn’t ourselves create. Dad, an expert woodworker, can varnish the crudest chair into the luster and sheen of a throne; Mom’s sturdy ceramic mugs are what I weave my anxious fingers around when seeking warm comfort in cold chaos; my brother’s guitar is the soundtrack to every childhood memory, and my sister’s watercolor and ink pieces are stacked frame-to-frame along the walls of my adulthood.
These are my people. We are screaming with introspection and we wither in routine. Dad grapples with this by remaining on his mountaintop, workshop safely below, general public safely at bay – his own children merely a memory in his old age. Mom, a few careers from making pottery, transposes her discomfort with the chaos by working within a system that seeks to mitigate the trauma of children displaced from the safety of family and home. My sister grows joy and beauty on a small farm, and my brother, in all of his wry sensitivity, has devoted himself to being the voice of those who can’t speak for themselves.
I don’t speak to my family every day or week, and sometimes I don’t speak to them for half a year; physical distance now separates us, and emotional distance has kept us always a bit apart from one another. But what they make and have made is part of my every day, and this is how I am able to carry them with me always. Our creations are our closeness; our love language is beauty manifested.
These people nursed me, they swaddled me, they corrected and coddled me. They changed the sheets when I awoke to a wet bad at age three; they taught me to ride a bike at age seven and a stick-shift at seventeen; they went to my basketball games, my academic awards ceremonies, my theater productions and band concerts. They planned my birthday parties, they counseled my anxieties, they let me fail when I needed to and ultimately, they showed me how to suffer through this world with my head down and my hands at work.
I don’t profess to build what they do – I’m the baby of us five, and perhaps the least polished as a result of that – but in them I see myself, because from them came who I am. So while they strum and sketch, pinch and polish, I write. For the sake of the chaos, for the sake of nothing, and for the hope that something will become of the overwhelming nothingness that compels us toward our moment to create.
That moment is perhaps why our creativity isn’t all that we share; so too have we all failed to become educated, at least in one screenshot of our lives, at least from one interpretation of who we are, and what “education” is. Dad, in spite of crafting from matchsticks and spare paper a perfect model of the mountaintop mansion he and my mother built before the demise of their marriage, never earned the bachelor’s in engineering he endeavored to complete. My mother hardly finished high school and reluctantly, resiliently returned to earn a bachelor’s – and master’s – only after she and my father brought us three hellions into the world. My brother clawed and screamed his way to high school graduation, serving Saturday detention the week before he walked the commencement stage and requiring more than a decade’s respite and reconsideration to reassess the strictures of education before returning for his associate’s, then bachelor’s, then master’s. And my sister abandoned high school altogether, opting for the least academic college path she could conjure: fine arts. I averaged all of their experiences by giving up on high school but attempting an undergrad immediately thereafter, and a graduate degree with reluctance later on.
We are part and parcel of our families, and my family is a collective manifestation of too much beauty in the brain and not enough in the world, a constant battle with the inadequacies of ourselves and our world. My creativity comes not from chords or clay, nor wood, nor pen. It comes from a place of needing to reason, to articulate. But in a world where everything ends in a question mark and the least measured minds are the measuring stick, I am often emptied of any agency.
In those moments, in these moments, I am however reminded: these people who make such beautiful things also made me. These people who care so meticulously also care for me. These people share my DNA and my history, and these people have held me up even when I’ve pushed with tremendous strength to lower myself into deep and murky depths.
When I feel the weight of what I need to create muting the words I know I can speak write or scream, I hear these people in all their glorious imperfection silently smiling in encouragement, a faint and harrowing hum of encouragement reminding me that whatever I do – maybe nothing and maybe a miracle – I’m speaking a truth, bringing something new into a world of old. And reviving, revolving, recreating the traditions of a family without routines.