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Saturday, September 29, 2012

How A Sea Urchin Tea Set Taught Me To Value Intuition,
Or When The Going Gets Tough, Don't Be Lazy

When I first purchased my sea urchin tea set at the Rockefeller Center Anthropologie, I barely had enough money for that month's rent in my bank account.  It was a sad time for many reasons, but aside from being sad, it was a worrisome time.  The idea of letting my parents down, who I'd left miles back home in Los Angeles to start a life in a new city with a guy I'd only been going out with for six months, was beyond disappointing.  Having just moved out of my ex's apartment, the thought of rebuilding a new life after rebuilding a new life was just too daunting... And so, I would have not-so-happy happy hour oysters and beer with Bluebs who was kind of in the same boat at the time, in hopes that the delight they brought me would delete the malaise, or that some ancient secret from the sea would seep into my brain... Or, even more foolishly, that maybe I'd arrive at some sort of alcoholic epiphany.  I was giving Heineken way too much credit, it being so obvious that I was simply being fearful and lazy.

While shopping together one night- or rather, while Bluebs was shopping and I offered her company as I didn't want to be alone that evening- I spotted this sea urchin tea set, the one pictured up there.  I told Bluebs that I really, really wanted it, but I shouldn't be spending money on things I don't need.  The intuitive part of Annabelle was saying you need this tea set.  The rational part of Annabelle was saying you have no money so you cannot afford to purchase a tea set, especially since you do not need it.  The intuitive side won, strengthened by the idea that I needed to start reifying my independence.  

Both sides were right though.  I rarely use the tea set these days, however it brings me a lot of pleasure, not just because it's a beautiful object, but because it was one of the first steps in slowly rebuilding my life.  I set forth on making it happen one step at a time instead of sitting mystified at how I would make it through the slump. I wasn't going to have a fantastic job situation or a newly furnished apartment overnight, but little by little my new material life slowly presented itself.  There were many trying times and dangerous dips, but when you're treading that terrain, you remind yourself those are temporary and continue working towards what's beyond the stairs you're climbing, and (most importantly) be wary of using their ephemerality as an excuse.  If you don't keep your focus on what's beyond the stairs you're climbing, the temporary very soon becomes more and more permanent.

I cut down on the oysters and beer, and began working harder.  A couple of months later, I was self-sufficient again.  The film I'd been working on for a year went into pre-production shortly after my break up, and my confidence took off with it.  I carved out a nice life for myself in New York- I was working on something I loved, reading great books during off-time for inspiration, even had some opportunities to travel, and enjoyed my time with good friends and family.  The good friends and family part is crucial as the last thing you need when you're undergoing hardship is people inflicting more hardship on you.  Without the good friends to throw in an unexpected raise or remind you of why they think you are special, the climb can seem endless.  

During a period where my job was nurturing conversations on the subconscious, I reexamined the brief anxiety I had about buying that tea set in the first place. It seemed meaningless months later.  The reason I was so reluctant to buy a tea set (market price about $35), couldn't be the money.  My ostensible reason was I can't afford to buy this, but obviously I could afford it because I bought it.  To better solve the riddle, I examined what a tea set means.  To me, a Mexican-American woman brought up in California, tea sets conjure up ideas of luxury.  Idleness, or having extra time.  Comfort. On the historic tip, I think of fancy 17th and 18th century monarchs and aristocrats who introduced the idea of tea time after its discovery in the East.  Tea in a cup is cool, if you’re sick or going to sleep… But a whole set for the frills seems a bit much if you’re broke.  I was trained to think that superfluous purchases in times of frugality are unwise.  Perhaps what was really going on was that I didn't think I deserved the luxury of a nice tea set because of my financial state, but by allowing myself a tea set, I was psychologically untraining myself in a sense, for better or worse, and was symbolically on the road to creating a more stable domestic life for myself.

Einstein called the intuitive mind a sacred gift and the rational mind it's a faithful servant. He said "We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift."  I am still grappling with whether this general sentiment holds true, since I feel like I'm in a society that highly values the artist, and where almost everyone I meet wants to be an artist. Growing up in a working class family, I was taught that intellect was a priority over imagination because intellect gets you good grades, which gets you into good schools, which gives you a better job and a better life. Imagination, the fun part, was highly encouraged as a child, but viewed as more of an indulgence upon entering the "real world". 

Approaching the end of my third decade alive, I’m carefully undoing that conditioning, trying to avoid the dangers of living a life guided foremostly by rationality. It’s almost a betrayal of your humanness.  It is very remarkable that humans invented bridges, boats, medicines, and as a former student of the natural sciences who was constantly clonked on the head with the importance of the scientific method, I greatly marvel at those and many other accomplishments, but what about the urge and imagination to conceive some of those and other ideas?  I tend to think in terms of cause and effect, a comes before b, do this first and then you can have this, but that's not the way things work outside of research labs and classrooms.  If people were constantly guided by such myopic thinking, even with Science’s best efforts, minds and offerings, I highly doubt there'd be an IMAX or iPhone, Mars Rovers or Sesame Street Grovers. Like everything else, it requires a delicate balancing act.

Two years now with my sea urchin set, I'm back at square one!  Q-tip (the rapper, not the object) is in the back of my head somewhere asking me "don't know you know that things go in cycles.”  I recently quit a great job to have more time for myself.  I am entering the Mesozoic to my previously detailed Cenozoic, only now the suffering is self-induced, so the sympathy is harder to come by. I take full responsibility.  While reading Marie Darrieussecq's Pig Tales as research for a screenplay I started to writethe prostitute piggy testifies "Rationality is the ruination of mankind," a well-timed reminder.  

This morning- er afternoon, I made myself a cup of coffee.  I noticed the sea urchin set which I haven’t used in a while, and told myself lazily that it's because I have no need for it.  There were a couple of old sugar cubes in there, along with gross dust on the base of the creamer.  I think a useful approach in times of transition or big changes is to question your initial thoughts, since these are the times where you’re more susceptible to be guided by the fear of what's ahead; adorably enough, this reevaluation serves as a pleasant sort of marriage of the intuitive and rational.  Our natural defense mechanism may push us towards panic, and at other times they may pull us towards inaction, hence my "I have no need for it."  Do so during trying times and you'll soon start to learn how often you lie to yourself.  

Instinctually, after reflecting on the first time I bought the set and why I got it, I cleaned the sea urchin set. I found myself reversing my thought pattern by making room for it's need. I refilled it with sugar, and cleaned up the creamer nicely.  Moments later, as I was sipping the coffee in my room, where the tea set rests, I noticed the coffee was a little bitter.  I went over to the reinstated sea urchin sugar container, scooped a small lump, and created what became a perfect sip.


  1. ha. So long story short, or short story long, OR I'll just tell you;

    I set out 10 minutes ago; well I haven't been on here for some time and, well simply, why do I always have to use google in the first place for some 2-dimentional boredom? oh this feels radical alright...
    But anyhoo, so, on this reading peregrination to see whose talked(ing) about sea urchins, led me to your bizarre anecdote of Sea urchin, of the tea pot kind. Hmm, it lifted the veils of my own misconception today: Purchase another terrarium or save the money to cut your hair, so ya' temporarily look somewhat more respectable than you do right now. (It was the store front window's similar reminder to me, "are you ok? or are you not ok?") And then I saw my face, and then my wallet, and now I'm here, looking fuckin'. great.

    But yes, setting aside my own quarter life crisis last year, I'll subserve to your-fingered-movements on the key board and absolutely agree; the Imagination, the fun part, was highly encouraged as a child, but viewed as more of an indulgence upon entering the "real world". Maybe through the fringes of what's even acceptable to think about publicly (even more optimistically than setting aside the "real world's"current hyper-rational aural landscape) that's emerging out of the bones of a dying history, brings the point where the imagination could help promote a more integrated rational mind in the first place, maybe...

    AND it's including sea urchins! I'll read it awesomely to you, very AWESOMELY:

    "For monkeys to speak of truth is hubris of the highest degree. Where is it writ large that talking-monkeys should be able to model the cosmos? If a sea urchin or a racoon were to propose to you that it had a viable truth about the universe, the absurdity of that assertion would be self-evident, but in our case we make an exception."

    Enjoy your tea pot.


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I'm an LA transplant now living in Brooklyn. I develop film projects by day, write at night, and have a dangerous predilection for vintage Robinson Golluber scarves- this blog serves as a tiny window to everything else I do when I'm not satisfying those first three passions. I'm trying to blog more and tweet less @annabelleqv. What about you?


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