On a warm LA day this past January I found myself standing in front of a bright blue storefront on a busy street. It had a white gated door that was propped open by a beautifully glazed pot. Upon entering the shop I was immediately surrounded by all the senses of a working studio. It's hard to describe, it's so... umami.
It smells like new books and wet cement with a hint of old-building-musk. It feels like the air is alight with electricity. It's quiet, save for the dim whir of pottery wheels and the sporadic pounding of clay. Visually, it's messy. A clean messy though, there's wet clay splashing onto potters, and they wipe their hands on their jeans and brush hair from their eyes with their wrists. But the unused wheels are immaculate. There's such care given to each station. As one potter wraps up her project, I see her delicately scrape the excess clay from her hands into the basin below the wheel. She then runs a wet sponge from the center of the spinning wheel, leaving no trace of the piece she just spent the past hour on. There's a short line forming at the mop sink, where the artists dump their muddy basins and wash up.
Nicole sets her keys down on the front desk and shuffles through the day's mail. I ask to use the restroom and she points me to the back of the shop. "I have a little project for you to do in there if we have time," she says excitedly. I nod, and scurry past the potters to the back of the studio. The restroom is big, bright, and white. A piece of paper with reddish-brown fingerprints along the top edge has been taped to the wall, which reads, "NO CLAY IN THE SINK." I take a deep breath and look my reflection dead in the eye -- this is going to change everything, I think to myself. This is my first major project in a while, and honestly probably my biggest to date. I have to do my best. My eyes are baggy from leaving my house at 4am, and I'm a bit wobbly from the post-flight Mai Tais. GOD. The Mai Tais. THE MAI TAIS. Perhaps I should take us back several steps before I get to the freaking Mai Tas. I'll make it quick, I promise!
Basically a few months before finding myself in LA, I was struck by an intense desire to paint the threshold between my kitchen and dining room. It ended up looking a little something like this.
It garnered a few likes on my Instagram, and eventually a comment from none other than Nicole exclaiming, "Can you come paint the shop?! I'll fly you out *cheesing emoji*" What followed in the next week was what I considered to be a bold move on Nicole's part -- she bought me round trip tickets from DC to LA for January, and sent me pics of the walls where she wanted me to paint. It was happening. An Instagram comment had brought to life an experience I had only dreamed of -- the opportunity to create a large scale piece of art, and on a totally different coast to boot!
So there I was, 2,700 miles away from my life, in a bathroom I would become intimately acquainted with over the next few days. I was scared. I'd spent months researching mural design and the tools I'd need. As a self-taught artist, I'm never lacking in self-doubt. At times I consider myself to be the definition of "Impostor Syndrome." My husband tells people I'm an artist, and I immediately shut it down. "Like, not professionally. I just dabble. I've taken like 3/4 of an art class ever so, like, I don't even think it counts." But to say I dabble is ludicrous. I love art. I love to create, but I also love to take part in it, to view it, and think about it. When I first moved to DC six years ago, I spent every chance I could at the National Portrait Gallery, gazing at each piece with unabashed admiration. What a gift it is to create something worthwhile. To be able to share your vision with the world. I want nothing more than to do that.
At 6am that morning had I boarded a direct flight to Los Angeles. The flight attendants, reveling in my giddiness, gave me free mimosas. "Here, take another! We're living vicariously through you," they whispered as they handed me another mini bottle of champagne. Once safely landing and making a lengthy Lyft trip to the other side of the city, I was greeted by Nicole. "Addizilla!" she cried through her screen door as I meandered up the block looking for her house number. Every house was a beautiful, low-lying plastered bungalow with stout palm and citrus trees keeping their front porches shady. Nicole hadn't changed one bit since the last time I'd seen her. Her thick hair was in a tight knot atop her head, and she had her hands stuffed in the front pockets of her jeans as she stepped onto her stoop. She welcomed me inside and showed me around the home she shared with her twin sister. "What do you want to do? Are you hungry?" she asked. I was hungry, and after a quick Google search we decided on a swanky Japanese restaurant with a killer deal for Dine LA.
Over sushi, crispy Brussels sprouts, and raspberry mochi, Nicole filled me in on the past several years of her life. It had been a roller coaster. Choosing her current path, and taking the leap of small business-ownership hadn't been easy, but her support system surrounded her and held her up. Her family has deep generational roots in Los Angeles, and as a result she has family all around her. There had been low lows, and high highs, and now she was in a new stage. Her business was supporting itself, she'd been featured in magazines, and she had notable artists as members of her studio. All the goals she'd set, she had reached. So what now? What was next? This fear of, and longing for, the unknown resonated deeply with me. I'd felt lost since my wedding in October.
I had spent the past 11 months planning for the biggest party of my life. During that year I also helped re-open Lulabelle's, the sweets-focused sister shop of Willow. It was difficult. I worked my ass off, and learned more about food safety and DC permitting processes than I ever cared to know. It was also the most fulfilling few months of my life. After my stint with Lulabelle's, I became totally enveloped in the process of wedding planning. It consumed my waking and dreaming thoughts. As an organizationally-challenged individual, the DIY Bride title I'd given myself didn't quite fit. I was stressed. Everything was expensive and all wrong for my vision. It eventually came together beautifully, but I'd be lying if I said it was an enjoyable experience making it happen. It low-key wrecked me, and in the months following the wedding I had completely let myself go.
As we wrapped up lunch, Nicole pointed out we still had a few hours before we had to stop by the studio. She knew of the best Mai Tais in LA, and as an added bonus she knew the bartender so it'd be cheap. What was that? I'd never had a Mai Tai? That was completely unacceptable! It had to be remedied immediately.
In the blink of an eye we were in a dimly-lit tiki bar that was older than my grandmother, drinking Mai Tais at 3 in the afternoon. Have you ever had a Mai Tai? According to Google, it's a drink that consists of 1 1/2 oz white rum, 1/2 oz fresh lime juice, 1/2 oz Orange curaçao, 1/2 oz Orgeat syrup, and 3/4 oz dark rum. But it's better described as a boozy, fruity slushie topped with a cherry. It's like if Captain Morgan and 7/11 had a baby.
I had 3 of them. Well, 3 and a third, because a third of the way through my second Mai Tai the cup slipped through my hand and shattered, spattering orange slush everywhere. Someone at the end of the bar shouted, "Party Foul!" I was deeply embarrassed, but Nicole's bartender friend assured me that those cups were the worst and I was hardly the first to break a cup in their establishment. While we drank we chatted with the other patrons, all lumpy older white men with very little to offer to our conversation. The man to Nicole's right asked what we'd do if Brad Pitt walked into the bar right now.
"Um... I don't know? I don't really care about Brad Pitt?" I said.
"Ok," he quipped, "Who would you want to see walk into this bar then?"
"Ugh Greta Gerwig for sure," I replied. "She's 100% everything and I would love to secretly fangirl. But I wouldn't approach her or anything. I'd just sneak glances."
He immediately lost interest. The man to my left told me how when he was a kid this was his grandparents' favorite establishment. They were regular patrons, and would slurp down more Mai Tais than he could count. Afterward they'd take him to the bakery next door and let him pick out any fruit tart he wanted. He works in renewable energy now and was giving a presentation to potential investors the next day. All these years later, he still stops by for a Mai Tai anytime he's in town.