Paper Cups and Pottery

by Amanda Higgin

Xanda and I are meeting up in first week, perched on the steps of the Martyrs’ Monument with our takeaway paper cups in hand, making the most of the transitory British sunshine. In an effort to turn the conversation away from the looming threat of my Prelims, Xanda ventures the extracurricular line of conversation.

‘How did the thing you wrote about our Uni Parks conversation go down?’ she asks.

I shrug. ‘Unfortunately it isn’t out yet. The editor fell into the Oxford work hole and didn’t manage to bring that issue out last term, but we’re all rooting for him to manage it this term.’

‘Ah, okay. Let me know how it goes down. Do you have any plans for other issues yet?’

‘Possibly.’ I take a tentative first sip of tea and burn all the taste buds off my tongue. I always misjudge that. Perhaps one day I will develop tongue calluses and be able to drink hot tea safely. ‘The first theme they’re accepting new writing for is Fracture.’

‘Hmm…’ Xanda seems able to drink tea without injuring herself. ‘You’ll get a lot of political polemicizing and universalist ecumenism for that.’

‘Yes, we will!’ I suck cold air onto my tongue. Why do I never learn to wait? ‘Can you think of any prompts for me?’

Xanda takes a moment, watching a crowd of tourists crossing over from Jimbob’s in the wake of a pink flamingo umbrella. ‘You could talk about the Japanese art where they repair pottery with gold to demonstrate that the piece is more beautiful for being broken.’ A moment later, Google provides the proper name. ‘Kintsukuroi.’

‘That’s a good one.’ I watch the pink flamingos loiter around the base of the monument for a moment. ‘I could expand the metaphor of being broken into an inspiring, lyrical poem.’

‘You could certainly try,’ Xanda winks in response to my offended face. ‘The only problem I have with it is that Kintsukuroi implies the broken pot is unusual, that it is something special as a result of being broken, and then it’s used as a metaphor for people. But everyone’s broken. Broken people aren’t an exception.’

‘If everyone’s broken, is anyone?’ I suggest. I am a fan of adapting that ‘When everyone’s super, no one will be’ Incredibles reference in various ways so that it sounds insightful.

‘Very funny,’ she smiles. ‘The point still stands, because we maintain an ideal of perfection and most people still think that others at least occasionally live up to that. I don’t think that anyone really thinks they’re perfect themselves, but we think it about other people. If someone did think they were perfect, then they’d definitely be broken. Some people are more broken and some people are less, but everyone’s imperfect. Maybe your parents weren’t brilliant or you were bullied growing up; maybe you’re physically ill or have mental health issues. People can look flawless yet still be cracked by experiences.’

‘But then they get fixed,’ I input. ‘There’s no need to be permanently scarred by things that happen to you.’

‘No,’ Xanda concedes, ‘but just like in Kintsukuroi the cracks are still present even if they no longer threaten the integrity of the piece. My practical point is that once you realise everyone’s broken, you can stop feeling guilty about being less than perfect. Then you can become less self-conscious about fixing yourself.’

‘Do you really think that nobody’s ever been perfect?’ I wonder, gazing pseudo-philosophically up St Giles. ‘Surely there’s been one person in the whole of human history.’

‘Maybe.’ Xanda half-smiles, and sips her tea.

The Poor Print

The Oriel College Newspaper. Run by students, with contributions from the JCR, MCR, and SCR & Staff. Current Executive Editors: Tom Davy, Joanna Engle and Chris Hill

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