Stories are what my business has always been about. Every piece of jewellery we make has a story behind it, sometimes a happy story, sometimes sad, often with a touch of both. The people who visit our shop and the people who reach out in other ways – they all have a story. My team and my collaborating artists have stories, and so do I. As we approach 20 years since I made my first ring, and 10 years since opening my shop, I want to mark these milestones by staring to share some of those stories with you.
I’ll begin with one of my own, scribbled out from my heart in a rare moment of solitude. My usual medium of expression is my jewellery, so this written word stuff is harder for me; it feels clumsy and and awkward, and I’m nervous in sharing these first attempts at writing. So in the spirit of a quote that I like (I can’t remember the origin) “Feel the fear and do it anyway.” Here goes:
I want to talk about bushfires – The recent Cudlee Creek fire to be precise. I want to talk about the extreme anxiety I feel in advance of every ‘catastrophic’ rated day. I want to talk about my fear and my anger as people fail to grasp the reality of living in a high-risk area. About the gut wrenching, breath holding, heart-in-your-throat all day (and sometimes all night) while waiting for news. When you wait on the outside in the ‘safer’ area, and you wait, and you wait. When you hit refresh on the CFS page over and over again, and every time the fire affected area grows larger and larger. When the hours tick slowly by as you wait to hear news of your family, friends and community members on the ‘inside’. When you find yourself bargaining with a god you don’t believe in keep them safe, keep them safe. I don’t care about any of the material things, just keep everyone safe.
Only once everyone is accounted for and you can breathe a little more, think a little clearer, you realise what you would have lost. How ironic, I thought, to potentially have lost my shop ten years (almost to the day) since I purchased it. How ironic it would be to have it burn to the ground now that it finally has real signage, after nine years of the ‘temporary’ signs which I had only just got around to replacing. The moment of guilt as you ponder what you might have done if your business was gone? Start again or move on, escape, be free for a little while.
I want to talk about the temporary crazy adrenaline fueled anger you feel over anything and everything anyone says or does or writes. When you’re so worked up that no one can do anything right. Social media makes you even more angry, with people debating politics or climate change or pointing fingers and blaming others, or they are trying to promote their own business before the fire is even contained.
A trip to the supermarket leaves you feeling raw, everyone carrying on as if nothing is happening and everyone wishing you a Merry Christmas and you want to scream. Christmas day, by the way, we had planned as a simple family affair but much looked forward to. After being ‘quarantined’ the year before due to toddler illness, we yet again found ourselves ‘alone’ just the three of us, with the two adults trying their hardest to be present and engaged and excited for the toddler who (hopefully) was oblivious to the stress of the situation. And for a little while it worked. We made some happy ‘first bike’ memories, ate some special foods, and took some happy photos. We tried not to dwell on thoughts of how many people were suddenly homeless or out fighting on fire trucks instead of enjoying their Christmas. We promised each other we would ‘do Christmas’ later in the year – we have not done it yet. The worst is how angry you feel over the fact that others post on social media as normal – their lives just carry on, they are unaffected. Your world has stopped and theirs seems unchanged. So you take a break, delete the app off your phone and take a break. The days pass. The weeks pass. Things go back to ‘normal.’ Sort of.
For me it helped to be back at work, to be back amongst the community. January and February were a bit quiet, but as March appears things feel a little busier and more people are appearing. Every visitor has a story or wants to hear a story. That’s what helps in some ways. Talking to each other. Listening to each other. Some people seem good. Some people are not so good and both of these are ok. I’ve heard people trying to be brave or push their feelings aside because ‘I didn’t lose my house’. So I’ll tell you that I’ve had some ‘not ok’ moments even though I didn’t lose anything. Not a home, not a shed, not a tree, not a blade of grass. What I did lose was special time with my family, five days of pre-Christmas trading, our usual January and February sales… I lost sleep. I lost peace of mind and I lost faith. But I’m not fighting that, I’m working on accepting it and I’m telling you about it so hopefully you can accept that whatever your experience is, whatever the mental load from that is, and whatever you feel – it’s ok. You are allowed to feel how you feel. It’s ok to not be ok. And I’m sharing because I think it’s important to talk about how you feel, and if I share how I’m feeling maybe that will help someone else. I’m doing what I have to do to help myself in tough moments. I’m helping others when I can. And that some days I’m really great, and some days I’m not, and that is ok.
I value being part of the hills community. I love that I get to make jewellery as my job. I love that I’m at a place in my journey where I feel ready to share the stories the jewellery together. Sometimes making jewellery is a tribute to someone else’s story, sometimes it’s just because, sometimes it’s about my story, and sometimes it’s all of those things. This is my fourth phoenix design. I make no apology for doing yet another phoenix, because it’s the design I felt compelled to make. It’s a design that gave me some peace and strength and focus through the aftermath of trauma. It’s the piece which to me represents the strength of the individual and of the community. I saw-pierce each one by hand so each one is a little unique and full of good energy. I can make them tiny, huge, and anything in-between. I envisaged a design that I could make in silver or gold and which fell outside the box of a gender stereotype style. I wanted anyone to be able to wear one or just have it as a talisman even if they don’t wear it. I want the owner to attach their own story to their phoenix, for it to symbolise whatever they need it to represent for them.
It is a symbol of hope, strength, and renewal.
Thank you for reading my story, and thank you to those who trust me with their own stories.
Shannon Cornish (March 2020)