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A Little Bit Broken

making meaning from falling apart

By Jo HilderPublished 2 years ago 6 min read

The ground beside the cottage was scoured to the earth where just a few days ago was acres of stubby, winter grass. The sheep were on the move again. Walking out to take a look, at first, I noticed just a few pieces of broken pottery; fragments of blue and white china, the edge of a smashed plate. And glass; thousands of pieces of broken bottles; bits of blue, green and brown, and some the pink-violet tint of amethyst. Concealed under the grass, I'd never seen them before, but now they were everywhere.

Every little fragment spoke to me. They're tiny treasures, I thought, each holding the seed of the story of the whole they once were. A piece of plate - perhaps once part of a valuable dinner set stacked away in a cupboard, probably saved up for in pennies and pounds, the darn thing carted out to the farm across miles and miles out the back of a horse. Now laying in a million pieces, hidden in the dirt. Broken. Worthless. Forgotten. Invisible.

They think it's funny, my family. Whatcha want with all that busted stuff? I bring my treasures home in the apron of my shirtfront and wash them in the kitchen sink. I hold each one in my hand and give it a story, bless it, place it with all the others in bowls. Now they all have a story - no longer worthless, they are seen, acknowledged, worthy and valuable again, even if only in my imagination.

Years later, we're no longer on the farm. The isolation takes its toll on my mental health. I need to be closer to family again, but even this has its price. I'm no longer able to walk for miles alone across the fields, exploring the forgotten graveyard, the crumbling stone houses, the broken things emerging from the womb of the earth, born again into my hands. I’m back where we must constantly jostle to prove how together we are, back where brokenness is an anomaly and perfection is the goal. But I know I can’t do it. I know I can’t be that. My world grows smaller as I hunker down into the fog of depression and anxiety. Sometimes, it feels like the safest place I have.

I miss my imagination. I miss making, dreaming, bringing something from nothing. I dig out my glass and china from the farm - I couldn’t bear to leave it behind. I learn how to twist wire and how to solder metal to metal. I am making the broken back into something whole, giving the pieces new meaning and life, mending the fragments not back to how they were, but birthing them again into the world as something precious, valuable and beautiful. Every piece I remake is hard to let go – my instinct is to hold on to my favourites, and they’re all my favourites. But one by one, as I let them fly from my hands, people notice and buy them. As each piece leaves, there is a little grief, a little sorrow, but there is also a little healing. From the broken things is born a way to come back to myself – my creativity wakes up, and as I work, I begin again to see a way forward for myself. Things to do, things to make, ways to be, places to go. No longer living from my memory, from my pain, from my self-consciousness and shame, I find myself being gently shepherded forward by my pure, glimmering imagination.

I can’t remember at which point I decided to retrieve my old sewing machine. I only know when I did, I started seeing beauty and potential everywhere I went. The stacks of colour and texture grew around me as I picked apart the broken, torn, ragged and discarded and started stitching it all back together as something new. I asked myself if I were as brave as I believed, as bold as I suspected, and as free as I wished, what would I wear? What would it take for my pieces to make people feel those things they quietly believed about themselves, but could not express? The more I answered this question for myself, the bolder and brave I became in my making. And the bolder and braver came in droves to own my broken things made whole.

It was an amazing day when I picked up the keys to my shop. For two years, I was riding high, living a new life and identity as the mad woman who sews the crazy clothes from what she finds at the charity shop. My life revolved around sewing – making my creations from the broken and thrown away, making people feel safe in my special space, and making them feel more of who they truly are when they wore my art. Then, in February 2020, the cloud fell again. We didn’t take it seriously, that panic around the first outbreak of COVID19 - we thought it would be like Y2K. We sniggered at the shoppers racing to their cars with trolley loads of toilet paper. But within days, it was clear this was no hoax, no simple storm in a teacup.

For twelve more months, I hung in there. My lease still had months to run, and my landlord had no intention of allowing me to quit. I withdrew. I struggled to leave my bed, to see through the days, to find a reason to move forward. But there would be no cut and run, no way around. I would have to go through. And I broke. I couldn’t help it. The pieces of me cracked and fell apart like eggshell. The concentric circles of creativity and courage grew still, and it was all I could do not to let myself fall to the bottom and let go.

It’s been four months since I gave back the keys. I felt as exhilarated that day as I did on the first. I made it through. I am okay. Broken, but my pieces are safely collected up and carefully curated now, rather than spread across a scoured field battered by wind, rain and sun. I am whole, and I am worthy, despite the cracks, the sharp edges and the flaws. And any time I can, I go to my safe space where the colour and texture, size, shape and form lay in heaps around me, and I dream. I am brave and bold. I push forward into my imagination rather than falling back into my memory. Ripping seams, threading the needle, sharpening my scissors, picking up the fallen pins – all these little tasks remind me of the work imagination and creativity require of me, as well as the reward of finishing something beautiful and of value. Making has taught me even broken things are worthy, that being in pieces, or disregarded by others, doesn’t mean we are insignificant or less than. Creating reminds me there is always more where that came from – when it comes to dreams, visions and ideas, we can never run out, and there’s enough for everyone. And giving my art to the world gives me purpose, healing my soul again and again, teaching me I do not have to be perfect to be enough, and who we truly are lies within us just waiting to be coaxed free. We are all a little bit broken at times, but there is a way to keep our sharp, shiny pieces safe and sound, even if just for a time. And when we are ready, when we feel able, we can remake those fragments into something new, something else yet wholly us, and perfect in its own way.


About the Creator

Jo Hilder

Jo Hilder is a writer, artisan, an experienced speaker and author of four books, most recently the author of Small and Pure – A Cautionary Tale, released in June 2016 by Rhiza Press.

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