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Clay Diary: Part 3

We are delighted to bring you several sections of Abigail Thomas’s ongoing “Clay Diary,” a work that is both sui generis and speaks for itself. We will be publishing it over the next five weeks: a self-portrait in language and ceramics. We welcome you along for the ride.

Read the other sections of “Clay Diary” here.

—The Editors


I’m just walking through a room full of things I’ve collected, or made, or found, or been given, all things I love to look at, and here it comes—that twinge, a freshly minted reminder that I’m mortal. And not just any old garden-variety mortal—at eighty I’m more mortal than ever. Next I endure an unpleasant moment during which it feels like I’m dead already and in mourning for all my lovely stuff, and then life resumes. Twinges by definition don’t stick around, although they recur with unnerving frequency. An hour later, I am staring at what is taking shape in my handful of clay, and again with the twinge. I get it, okay? Mortal. You can stop now. Except there is no “you.” 

But now I’m curious. What other physical manifestations of the abstract are there?   There’s panic and depression, and fear and grief, and then my mind goes blank until I remember desire. Of course, good old desire! Polar opposite to death twinges! But close cousins. Speaking of which, parked next to Woodstock Meats, I watched a young man shoving his shirt down into his jeans, which reminded me of an old boyfriend who was always naked in his jeans, which made me acutely aware of the possibly naked body of this young man, which led me to reminisce, I’m sorry to say, about all things penis. I got a little nostalgic. I experienced a bit of a rush. I wondered about the young man. His girlfriend stood nearby, waiting while he sorted himself out. I tried to study her face to determine whether she was a girl who cared what kind of penis she was dealing with, but concluded you never can tell. 

Who am I kidding? We all care. 

Three more puppies today, and a dead baby elephant. The latter just showed up in my hand. Sad and ghastly. You never know what you’ll find. Two turtles.


I don’t know what possessed me but I watched a YouTube video by a real artist about how to make a face out of clay. Lots of measuring. It was a really good face. But there was nothing crazy going on. It was kind of depressing. 

Made another turtle.

My daughter Catherine wants the white creature with her baby! And the newest turtle, which I think is actually a frog. Making another right now.

I have been experimenting with just finger dents for nose, for mouth, for eyes, and if it works, she will be just so lovely and so understated. Terracotta. Finally had to use the knitting needle for her eyes, though. Just a hint.

The guys came by to mow the lawn. Outside is every shade of green in the world.

Found an old letter from Chuck. Had to sit still for a long time.


This morning, first thing I did was to check on the experiment, and oh god, I love her. She reminds me of when you’re trying to remember someone you knew years ago, but you can’t quite picture the face. That’s what she looks like, a sort of dim memory. She is just lovely, but she’s just about to disappear. I can’t stop staring at her. 

Later I made a man’s face with the white clay, which is still slippery but I’m getting used to it. He is austere, and smart, and I left the tiny leak of terracotta slip that came off the needle when I made his left eye. It’s just a trickle of blood; it suits him not to wipe it away.

A head appeared complete with ears and a sort of George Washington wig thing going on with his hair so I made him into a bust. His head is flung back, nose in the air but joyous and playful, not a serious bone in his body. Of which he doesn’t have one, of course. 

I gave the shiny silver mouse to Paul for his mother (she likes mice) and made three more as soon as I got home. With every passing mouse, the next gets bigger and more menacing. Almost ferocious! It’s so interesting. As if I am in charge of the evolution of the mouse so it can take over the earth and make a better job of it than we have done.


Well, today I went crazy. Two capybaras, four mice, two young girls’ faces, one old man, one young man I started yesterday while listening to American Roots. He wound up with a pompadour and his mouth wide open singing. Or, not quite a pompadour, but I don’t  know what else to call it. Then I made another singer, the blues, I think. I love him. A bear’s head, a grizzly, judging by its snout. Might paint it. And two rats. Making a rat makes me love rats. It was a feverish day of making and making and making. I turned the heat on even though it’s almost spring because it was chilly but really so I could put everything on the radiator to dry faster. I used to just lean over to see how they were doing but then I brought a chair. Sometimes Sadie comes to lie down on the rug next to me while I watch them dry. It isn’t boring. They are separating from me. I am watching over them, really. 

Tomorrow we’re supposed to get sun.

I counted: fourteen new pieces in one day.

Abigail Thomas has written two story collections, one tiny novel, and three memoirs among which are "Safekeeping"; "A Three Dog Life"; "What Comes Next and How To Like It". Her next book will be published this fall, "Still Life At Eighty: The Next Interesting Thing."

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