Symbolic objects

Writers are very weird. Yes, I know, you now have your shocked face on, but I assure you it is a truth universally acknowledged.

I honestly don’t remember how my writing life became associated in my head with — of all things — mugs.

It might have had something to do with my having certain weird requirements in mugs. I like them bigger than usual (being very lazy and not liking to go back to the coffee pot for refills!) And to my liking certain colors (Jewel tones, usually, or an interesting design) and certain shapes (slightly rounded.) It’s not that I won’t settle for anything else, and at any given time I have the favored mug, the backup mug, the two “will do” mugs, and then about half a dozen others which I’ll use if I have to.

But there is always the main and favorite mug.

I think the reason it became associated with my writing started with the lucky mug. This was a mug bought at a con, which was prodigiously large (good, because at the time we lived in the three story house in Manitou Springs, which meant the distance between the attic office and the kitchen was two long flights of stairs) It had pseudo arcane symbols on the border around the lip, and a jewel (not really, but a shiny lump of clay) in the middle, and it…. wait for it… had BEAST FEET. (Its maimed remains are still around, but I didn’t find it this morning. At any rate I have an idea how to repair it now.)

Anyway, I bought this mug at a con, came home and sent out a batch of stories. Of that batch, and after about a decade of off and on trying, two stories sold. One at pro rates.

I think that’s when I became fixated on the idea that this was a LUCKY mug.

Well, I used it almost exclusively for two/three years. And then two of its toes broke, and eventually the “jewel” fell off. I was still using it, but I wasn’t happy, because the lucky mug was maimed. So, when I was in Oregon, at the professional Oregon Writers workshop, the house we were staying in had no mug big enough for my needs. I walked down to the shops and, somehow, in a very touristy area, bought the MOST plain of the writing mugs: a kind of middle-round satisfyingly hefty shiny red mug.

And you know, I sold my first novel (Ill Met By Moonlight) at that workshop.

Weirdly, that mug broke utterly just about the time I had come to an end of the road (and come out of the political closet) and become determined not to publish with anyone but Baen (and also aware no one else would touch me, once out of the closet as being to the right of Lenin.)

At the next con, from the same artisan as before, I bought a smaller mug, somewhat rounded, with a dragon bas relief.

About 6 years later, I bought my secondary mug, which is the same, dark blue, with a rocket bas relief, but that one was never the “favored, primary” writing mug.

So right about two years and a little ago, when the mug of the “Baen period” broke I shouldn’t have been surprised that within a week or two it became absolutely obvious I was at the end of that road, too.

Because of the reactions to this being so…. interesting, as in all my indie friends CONGRATULATED me as from a blessed release, and because I was determined to encourage myself to fly like the wind, I spent a lot of money on one of those “we make it to order” things on Amazon and bought this mug:

Yes, my counter is a mess. I was repairing the mug on it. Deal.

I loved the mug when it arrived. It was the right shape, and though it doesn’t show in the photograph, both the background and the dragon glowed.

But somehow… the indie freedom it was supposed to represent never quite took hold. Part of this, as I’ve told my “kids” who were indie from the beginning, is that you get a ton of bad habits from being trad pub. You don’t even realize how much you condition yourself, say, to “write when it’s accepted” or whatever. But the bigger part was that while informing me they wouldn’t continue my series, Baen was determined to hold to both Shifters and Darkships, to the point they ignored my request for reversal. Not said “no”, just pretended it never happened, and in fact put out audio of Shifters AFTER my request for reversal.

There is a level of anger that spurs writing. And one that stops me cold. Which has been a lot of the problem in 2020, btw.

And the mug, about six months in, broke. And it wasn’t anything I did either. I got it out of the dishwasher, and the bottom of the handle had broken. I glued it with superglue, and it broke again. At which point I went to the vendor, squaring my jaw and determined to replace it. To find they were no longer making those mugs. (I think something wrong with the design.)

On my birthday, and in a way not fully explained, I got most of my IP back (it’s complicated and I’m still investigating the rest, and not particularly happy, but I can republish both shifters and DST series, and I can continue it. I could theoretically continue it before, but I figure that would just make them money and encourage them to hold ont o the previous books.) and last week, I was sitting at the kitchen table and remembered kintsugi. Perhaps I could do that with the mug?

A quick look for kintsugi materials on amazon made me recoil back going “quel horreur!”

I mean, look, yeah, I wanted to mend the nice mug, but it already cost me way more than I usually pay for a mug — I think north of $30 — and I’ll be damned if I’m going to pay $90 in materials to REPAIR it. Taking in account that with real gold, etc, it can never take either dishwasher or microwave. Not that I should do that to it, anyway, but you know, I’m not the only one who loads the dishwasher, and I’m not even talking about Dan (though that’s a consideration) but tired-ass-out-of-my-mind Sarah who sometimes does bizarrely inadvisable things with dishes just before going to bed.

I still liked the idea though. So, I had some tile-repair expoxy (shut up.) It was white, and I couldn’t find the tinting for it. (my entire craft room is still packed up as a series of annoying events, including but not limited to computermaggedon) made it impossible to finish the flooring when we intended to.) Might not have worked anyway, since the tint is for CLEAR epoxy.

Well, this IS my writing mug, and indie writing in particular is a series of Improvise, Adapt and Overcome.

So I started by patching the handle in place with tile epoxy because it’s sturdy, and let it dry. While I was in the middle of this, younger son came up from his basement lair, and apropos nothing said “Have you considered kintsugi?” Or perhaps our minds are THAT in tune. Turns out he has a picture painted on glass that got broken in the move and that he’s been considering kintsugi for. If I’d known that, going ahead with that route might have been worth it. I might consider it, if the current repair doesn’t hold.

I waited until the tile epoxy had dried somewhat, and sanded it first rough then fine sandpaper (you can see them in the picture) then I put gold paint over the repair. And then I sent away for $8 of supposedly dishwasher-safe matte glaze, which got here yesterday. So now we’ll run it through the diswasher, and then I’ll have a writing mug again.

It actually looks pretty decent.

So, what does the symbolic mug mean for my writing? Who the heck knows? if this doesn’t work, I’ll try something else, and I’m willing to innovate and improvise.

But obviously, the original mug was flawed, since the artisan no longer makes that model (and briefly replaced it with a model in stoneware with a clunky, thick handle. But my guess is that didn’t sell.)

So, what comes to mind is what younger son told me when I was applying the epoxy: “I like the idea of Kintsugi, because it assumes something precious that broke doesn’t need to be tossed. It can be repaired and made prettier, and stronger and even more precious.”

Let it be so, for my writing, for all of us, and for our Republic too.

21 thoughts on “Symbolic objects

  1. I vaguely remember Martha Stewart doing a feature in her magazine about repairing pottery. There were lots of pix of antique repaired pottery, often wired back together. It was a decade or more ago and it wasn’t nearly as pretty as the kintsugi images I just looked at.

    The right cup makes a difference! It can’t be tippy either. Cups that want to tip over on their own quickly become colorful shard mixed in with the gravel.

  2. If writing down the lies that the people in our heads tell us and printing them on dead tree carcasses so that other people can be entertained is weird, I don’t want to be normal.

  3. “Writers are very weird.”
    I protest. Other people are weird, and have improper enthusiasms. I am completely normal and proper in every way. ~:D

    “They’re all out of step but our John.” Quoting John’s mother.

    1. “All the world is queer save thee and me, and even thou art a little queer.”
      — Robert Owen, 1818

    1. No,no, only rich people get to be eccentric. The rest of us are just weird.

      It’s okay. I never wanted to be eccentric anyway.
      “Kid, your eyes are red.”
      “You should see ’em from the inside.”

  4. There’s nothing mechanically special about kintsugi joining; the gold is for pretty, the epoxy is for repair. Talk to your local woodturning group (there surely is one) about what kind of epoxy to use for strength, heat resistance, and the ability to sand it smooth without fracturing it, and how to color it. (Tho you may start a debate; woodturners are like rabbis…)

    And those aren’t lucky cups. They’re ROADMARK cups. Here be a turning point, for the road less taken, or perhaps for the new road forged into the wilderness.

      1. Ah, somehow missed the operative “tile”. Yeah, that should handle pretty much anything you’d do in a kitchen.

  5. I’ve used nail varnish. Nail polish? Whatevs, you know what I mean, to cover repairs on ceramics. Pretty much heat and moisture resistant, plus you can match pretty much any color, and it’s cheap. I use it to mark metric versus real world SAE wrenches. I turned my little brother onto the trick. He’s got three, maybe four Triumph Stags in various stages of ‘repair’. He now has 4 (I guess) vials of nail varnish on his workbench. One color per car, so he can tell near-identical-but-not-quite parts apart.

    1. I used pink nail polish on my tools at the shop. It was easy to track them down at the end of the day if they’d been “borrowed.”

  6. I like the idea of kintsugi and I like younger son’s comment about it. I don’t have a favorite mug, but out of any pair I’ll pull out for the two of us, I’ll usually gravitate toward one of them every time it appears. I have a giraffe mug that a friend gave me; maybe I’ll go ahead and wash that one and start using it.

  7. My favorite site for glues is And for pants repair: Sashiko. And for really smashed up pottery, smash it more, store it in a bin and “glue” it into the cement mortar between pavers (most recently the border around our burn pit)

    I purely hate throwing out anything that can be saved or repurposed. So maybe illustrators are weirdos also.

  8. Have you considered getting a nice mug to commemorate the period in your life when you haven’t won the Mega Millions Jackpot? Based on your track record, you’ll either have a beautiful mug until death do you part, or…

  9. My mugs aren’t so much benchmarks or celebration as tactile experiences and holiday remembrances. I’m not much one for photographs, but we have two mugs from the royal gorge railroad, a hand-thrown mug from Brevard (it feels good in the hand), another from going along the old fort trail in South Texas, one from Palo Duro Canyon…

    As you noted, though, they are almost all larger than standard, tor more tea to less going to get tea time.

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