I once used to think I was from here. My parents told me stories of my upbringing and I had memories of specific joyful things. It turns out that the first day I went to high school I discovered I did not belong where I was. I had somehow arrived at a new and very different place where all the familiar ways of doing things no longer made sense. But I know I hadn’t gone anywhere special. Not then.

Perhaps the transition had been earlier. I remembered my first day of grade school. I had a brand new coat. Some kid took it and gave me his. I knew then that I was not from here. And I can remember even further back. My mom and I were walking on a busy street in downtown Philadelphia and I was holding her hand. Only, when I looked up it was the hand of a stranger. After a few moments of shocked outrage my real mom found me and the sunny summer day went on again.

So maybe its not that we physically have to leave our home planet to be aliens here. I get confused all the time, the world stops making sense, and I look into others’ eyes and have no sense of what they mean. Perhaps being alien comes with our birth. Maybe only some of us, but maybe all of us. Perhaps its like blue jays placing their eggs in other birds nests: When we are born we are born to the wrong parents, sisters and brothers, and we never fit in just right. We find ourselves in the wrong places all the time. The jobs we get as adults we don’t always belong at. Life sometimes fits like a pair of jeans that are three sizes too small.

But the alien in us is not the only traveler. Sometimes we DO belong. Sometimes a friend is there for us, can say exactly the right words to turn us from alien back to belonging. Sometimes we are part of things bigger than ourselves. And while it may be a struggle at times and even make us angry, there are things we believe in that give purpose to our life and are indelibly who we are. Every good parent knows a purpose that is defining. Even the alien in us can carve out a space where it belongs, where it can be who it needs to be. Every artist probably knows exactly what I’m talking about.

What a strange life it is to be human! How lucky I feel that I have friends who remind me that I am not out of place at all times. There are homes for me in many people’s lives. I belong to others as they belong to me. There is a studio that welcomes me in the good times and bad. And pushing clay around on a wheel makes me feel both alive and somehow strangely whole. And isn’t that just wonderful 🙂


This is something I posted on facebook the other day and wanted to share it here. It may be the first non-specifically-art related post I have put here. I hope it speaks to artists. I think it does.



About Carter Gillies

I am an active potter and sometime pottery instructor who is fascinated by the philosophical side of making pots, teaching these skills, and issues of the artistic life in general. I seem to have a lot to say on this blog, but I don't insist that I'm right. I'm always trying to figure stuff out, and part of that involves admitting that I am almost always wrong in important ways. If you are up for it, please help me out by steering my thoughts in new and interesting directions. I always appreciate the challenge of learning what other people think.
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7 Responses to Belonging

  1. Pat Stamp says:

    Thank you Carter. This one really spoke to me. So many times I have thought to myself…”I must be from another planet.” Now at the ripe age (I won’t say old) of 72 I realize that most of us feel alien at some time or other. There are two places I don’t feel alien, the family dinner table and my studio. For three to four months every winter I turn off the heat in my studio and become a reader rather than a potter. Six weeks into the new year and I am getting antsy and longing to be in my special place. This is when I feel most alien.

    • I am with you Pat! I’ve read a bunch these past two months, and have only touched clay to do demos for my students. Today may be the first day I throw for myself 🙂 I am so looking forward to it!

      I think artists are sometimes simply those of us who are drawn to these special places. We have to be at least a bit dissatisfied with the hurly burly of social life to seek out the privacy of our creative spaces. We find satisfaction there but not so much in the populated spaces. Some of us are seemingly meant to be artists 🙂

  2. Hi Carter, This is such a GOOD post, thank you. I immediately thought of my first experience of coming to Penland in 1989, the feeling that I had found my long lost tribe and a sense that I was among like-minded folks. I just shared a chat on Periscope the other day with an Iraqi architect living Istanbul. We spoke about the present circumstances that many refugees and migrants find themselves in, no place to call home. This feeling of belonging has many dimensions.

    • That is so true! I’m glad you like the post. I’ve always felt lucky to be part of your tribe, if only on the periphery, but your generosity and kindness have always inspired me and made me welcome. Thanks for being who you are and for sharing of yourself so incredibly. Your actions and thoughts make it easy to feel we belong 🙂

      Hope you are well!

      All the best!


  3. linda says:

    Thank you Carter! I suppose many people feel this way, it’s always a surprise to me when I come across something that reminds me I am not alone. Being on the outside looking in is something that I have always experienced — it was a demographic reality in my family. I have rarely felt a sense of belonging anywhere — I have made community and been part of them but always from a sense of watching myself, not in the sense of being myself within them. I’ve just sort of accepted my fate and when I see glimpses of feeling a part of something I really genuinely appreciate it!

    I just re-watched the Andy Goldsworthy documentary and realised nature — out in nature — somewhere away from everything is probably the closest I ever come to experiencing belonging. I really related to his sense of comfort with aloneness.

    you’re awesome — thanks for the wonderful honesty.


  4. Pingback: Belonging | CARTER GILLIES POTTERY

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