There are any number of things that I never saw coming before I jumped right in. Law school. Blogging. “Live Lit.” Sketching pictures of cats and mice and circus wagons for my own children’s books.
And along the way, all of the unknowns turned out to be just the entry points for some incredible adventures, happy thoughts, fond memories, and genuine “eureka” moments.
To that list, I’ve now added “Shop Girl.” As in, I now have a little shop in cyberspace called BooksBirdsBeauty where I sell porcelain birds and plates and knickknacks. I can genuinely say I had no idea how much fun I’d have and the learning I’d embrace!
As usual, I stepped into the great unknown sideways, or even backwards. After selling my empty nest with the fourteen acres and moving to a smaller place, I discovered that there was literally no place for me to set up a bird feeder to watch the feathered visitors that brightened my day every time I’d looked out the kitchen window. Blue Jays, Indigo Buntings, White Breasted Nuthatches, Goldfinches, Cardinals, Rose Breasted Grosbeaks… the list went on and on. And they were so close to my window I didn’t even need to break out the binoculars!
And so, in a fit of compensation, I began to collect porcelain birds at thrift stores and estate sales to sprinkle around my new digs, to remind me of my former delights. It grew into a habit. Did I mention that I live in a small space? There are only so many niches I could put my new acquisitions in, and they filled up in a hurry.
As I rotated through new “favorites” and other, earlier, birds fell from favor, I set up a little shop on Etsy to sell the extras. It was a nice little hobby, I thought, as I continued to upgrade my expectations as to what would make the strings of my heart go “zing” when I saw it sitting on a shelf. It also gave me a reason to actually walk into the occasional garage sale by myself without feeling self-conscious about it. Prior to my bird-collecting binge, I’d only ridden shotgun to these events with a friend who has a bona fide antique shop, and my primary aims were to get in some female bonding time, and to see how much fun I could have spending, oh, a quarter.
But life threw an unexpected curve ball, in the form of my elderly mother breaking a hip, and suddenly in the months that followed full of serial crises and emergencies there was no part of my life that was my own. I felt like a marionette, jerked by invisible strings at any given moment from brushing my teeth in the morning until falling into bed at night. Creativity and writing and inventiveness went out the window. In their stead I found that hitting a thrift store or two on my lunch hour still gave me a surge of endorphins as I searched for that inexpensive, elusive treasure that had been someone’s discard. It kept me amused, it kept me just a little bit busy, and it came without a deadline.
Along the way I managed to score dozens of interesting books to read to the grandchildren, some knockout vintage “clasp” bracelets for myself (I used to joke that they were my very own brass knuckles in a courtroom), and my all time favorite indulgence, a faux fur coat from the 1970s that makes me think I belong in some scene from Doctor Zhivago with a young Omar Sharif involving a horse-drawn sleigh on the snow-covered Russian steppes.
Little by little, as I looked up the backstamps on every porcelain cup and bowl and knicknack, every bird and squirrel figurine and vintage planter shaped like a fish or a deer, I added to that complicated ball of arcane knowledge in my head, and it was fun, and sometimes it was even inspiring! Some of it was just darned…entertaining. I now know what a “whistling sake” decanter is, and can recognize “dragon ware” (which looks just as dramatic as it sounds!), and know that an Imperial Cart of ancient Japan was drawn by an ox, not a horse. But some of these lessons have been far, far more important.
While researching some images painted on Japanese porcelain, I came across an image of “The Great Wave off Kanagawa.”
It is an iconic image of a giant wave cresting, published between 1829 and 1833 by the Japanese artist Hokusai, and it was the first of 36 fabulous woodblock prints he created featuring views of Mount Fuji. And he was in his seventies when he began this enormous project! I immediately added a book with the Mount Fuji series to my own library, both for beauty and inspiration.
Several months later I was in a thrift store and came across some porcelain plates featuring nature studies of game birds by the British artist Basil Ede. I had never heard of Basil Ede before, but I could certainly recognize that these were gorgeous renditions of birds in their native habitat. And seriously, anything with a bird on it will catch my eye from across a room.
And so I bought the plates, of course, but more importantly when I got home I began to pull on the internet threads concerning Ede. I learned that he was widely considered to be about as thoroughly and scrupulously talented an avian artist as John James Audubon. But the really inspirational lesson in human perseverance came when I discovered that he had suffered a stroke when he was in his late fifties, and it prevented him from painting with his right hand. And so he retaught himself to paint using his left hand and within three years was back to painting with considerable detail. I was awestruck by his resilience…and immediately added a book of his bird portraits to my own library.
And so it goes. For every piece of porcelain I pick up, there’s always a backstory to find and a bit more knowledge to absorb. And on occasion, there are examples of human endurance and creativity and resilience and courage that shine through as well.
I’ve finally resumed writing, by the way. But there’s absolutely no way I’m giving up this new habit. So onward…to the next estate sale! Who knows what the next piece of porcelain will teach me?