The art in me - JJ Landis
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The art in me


We ascended the mountain in a not-as-crowded-as-usual mini-bus. The women from the Mennonite mission team my husband and I partnered with in Hong Kong were taking a field trip. My role had always been ambiguous since I was not a missionary by definition, but rather a school teacher. The four other women were my friends and completely included me. They were kind to invite me along on their retreat out of the polluted, over-populated city up into the country to explore and shop at a unique pottery factory.  


My attitude was sour; though I showed it to no one. Daily I teetered precariously on the line between anxiety (from work) and melancholy (from life). I didn’t want the friendly interaction or the break from my weekend. Instead of time away, I longed for more time at home to prepare lesson plans and do laundry. Teaching was hard for me, and I spent way too many hours planning way too much way too far in advance. Using up an entire Saturday for relaxation and fun was not something I thought I could afford.


Because my heart wasn’t at a healthy place, I turned my unsettled feelings onto my friends and resented them for having time for such a frivolous day of folly. (I sound like an awful person. Confession – I am.) (Another confession – I struggle with this STILL. I am very selfish with my time. A fact that has lost me some friends.)


The death trap bus wound around the kinky mountain roads and after about an hour deposited us at our destination. The other woman who all had kids and were more established in their homes bought actual pottery and bowls and practical items for everyday use.


I purchased a penguin.



Why did I buy a penguin? I have no idea.


I do not recall my exact thought process, but I know I wanted something small. A large piece of terra cotta would not fit nicely in a suitcase whenever we moved from China to our next stop in life.  


Also, I appreciated the subtle lines and colors of the pudgy, little guy. He was smooth and shiny. I like smooth and shiny.


The black and brown and white paint (glaze?) blended together with no sharp edges. A work of art.


Many folks, I realize, would not give this diminutive knickknack a second look. But to me, he is a pricelesspossession. His discreet presence in my home may go unnoticed by most, but I know he’s there and I love seeing his handsomeness in my kitchen window.


My penguin has been on display in a prominent place in my various apartments and houses since. I worry that he will get broken. The windowsill where he currently lives could prove a fatal home. A clumsy child, a window cleaner not paying attention, an overeager dish washer, a curious cat – there are many dangers.


I wish to shield my ceramic friend from harm. But yet. I don’t want to swaddle him in bubble wrap where he would be sure to remain safe. I want to expose him to the world, so he can fulfill his destiny, (his destiny of adorning my space).  


My penguin is a lot like the human heart. When exposed to life, to the big, bad world, the chance of brokenness is real. But to be packed away for protection would be a tragedy because the beauty and vulnerability would be hidden from notice. Sure, he  would remain intact, but at what cost?

If my penguin breaks, I will repair him and he will continue to bring joy, even with scars

Are you willing to show your heart or are you scared of pain? Will you let others appreciate the art that is you? Or will you hide to stay safe? 


Images on the sidewalk speak of dream’s descent
Washed away by storms to graves of cynical lament,
Dirty canvases to call my own,
Protest limericks carved by the old pay phone.

Broken stained-glass windows, the fragments ramble on,
Tales of broken souls, an eternity’s been won.
As critics scorn the thoughts and works of mortal man
My eyes are drawn to you in awe once again

In your picture book I’m trying hard to see,
Turning endless pages of this tragedy.
Sculpting every move you compose a symphony,
You plead to everyone, “See the art in me.”

(Jars of Clay)

  • aleigh
    Posted at 07:31h, 11 October Reply

    Sweet post, JJ. Love the little penguin. xo

  • aleigh
    Posted at 07:31h, 11 October Reply

    Sweet post, JJ. Love the little penguin. xo

  • Meg
    Posted at 18:43h, 09 October Reply

    he is very handsome indeed!

  • Amelia Rhodes
    Posted at 16:01h, 09 October Reply

    I love the penguin!! And you are not an awful person. Don’t ever say that again, or I might just have to show up on your doorstop 😉

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