There's always been a special atmosphere at our events, right from the crowdfund launch at Turning Earth's beginning, and so I am looking forward to this weekend's immensely. When I look at what we've achieved together, and what the studio means to people, I feel as if I could burst with happiness. I really do have the dream job; even the dream life. I am lucky enough to work every day with an older brother who I adore, in an environment that I find inspiring. And what's more, I'm surrounded by some of the most talented ceramic artists I've met. I sincerely think that the work that is made in Turning Earth is some of the most beautiful in the world. I feel very, very lucky to be part of it.
This week I have been reminded that my life hasn't always been this way. In a training session on leadership we were asked to describe how we might have been shaped by our childhoods, and so I explained that my father had died when I was 4, and that I'd been in foster care at 15. After the session, one of the other people in the group grabbed me to tell me that my account of my life had surprised her: from my way of expressing myself she had seen me as someone born to privilege, with a good education and a close family and the world at my feet. She hadn't suspected that I'd been through trauma, and she felt closer to me when she became aware of it. But I have to admit I was embarrassed by the situation - I have never known how to talk about the events of my childhood without sounding dramatic or attention seeking, and it feels wrong at the same time to downplay the impact of it. So I felt awkward and I scuttled away.
Suffering is a funny thing. Once it's no longer on the table, it kind of disappears from view. It's much easier to ignore it and carry on. I think this is something we do collectively - it's all sort of embarrassing and no one quite knows what to say about it, and so we seem to have agreed not to focus on it. And that's pretty emotionally crippling when disaster strikes - we have no way to know what to do to help ourselves or each other. I think it's important that we are able to engage with these things, even when it's uncomfortable, although it's pretty hard to know how to handle them.
It happens that the experience of loss has been pretty present for me lately. A few days ago, I went to a conference and met someone who'd worked at the same paper as my father, before he died. It was almost like my dad had come in to see me at work. After I left the conference, I found myself crying in the street, yet again trying to visualise him, and failing. Childhood loss never leaves you. You lose in childhood, and then you lose over and over again in adulthood as you meet each milestone. Even the milestone of succeeding at the thing you hold dear has tears in it, simply because the person that loved you will never see it. But I am one of the lucky ones; I have had the support I needed to recover. I have received a huge amount of help.
People have told me I am like my father when it comes to my approach to work: he was passionate about his job as a financial journalist, and was writing about the city even on his deathbed, because he loved it so much. He lived and breathed his work, as I do. And I suspect I share that with him also because I lost him: it's been an attempt to fill the gap he left - as capable and determined as he was - that made me so very driven to succeed. His loss is part of the fabric I was formed from.
And this is my point really. If the loss of my father could be so defining, if the events of my childhood a lifetime ago were really that life-altering, then how can I wrap my mind around the fact that right now there are people shivering in a refugee camp a few hundred miles away, without adequate support? While I plan a lovely day to buy and sell pots, flush with the temporary victory of having created something beautiful and worthwhile, there are people who have lost everything, living in the mud and the cold, worrying about their family members. These people are having a far worse experience than I encountered, and I've had a lot of help to cope. Somehow it still seems far away, so much of the time. I don't know the refugees in Calais or see them in the flesh, and so I'm not immediately affected; I don't feel their pain in the way I feel the experience of the people that I care about. But the problem is still there, to reverberate forever if it's left unaddressed. People don't heal on their own. Nor do political situations. It takes other people getting involved.
Lisa, one of Turning Earth's member mentors, has been spending time in Calais, helping refugee families. When she came back, she asked that we make a collection for Help Refugees, a charity working on the ground there, during the sale. It feels like an important opportunity to direct some of the community energy that has grown around Turning Earth, so that it can have an impact where it is most needed. I hope to see our small revolution to make life more beautiful, here, now, somehow help those people on the other side of the water living without the luxuries we are currently fortunate enough to trade. Turning Earth was always, to me, about more than just the making. In its name is the seed of the desire to do things differently, to make things better.
So, this weekend during our sale we are raising money from our seconds table to donate to Help Refugees. We are also collecting warm blankets and sleeping bags to take to the refugee camps in Calais and Dunkirk. Because right now, over there, a child's life is being torn apart. I know from experience that when your family falls apart it is the kindness of strangers that makes it possible to get back on your feet.
If you have blankets and sleeping bags to donate to people living in the cold in temporary shelters, then please bring them with you to the sale tomorrow. We will get them to the people that need them. You can also make a donation at our charity table, or buy some of the specially donated pots from our artists.
See you there. There'll also be delicious food, mulled cider and homemade hot cross buns. :)