The Storied Stylist and the propitious dinner plate

Posted in Blogs, Literary, Visual Art

Nov. 27, 2013

Painting yourself into a corner is typical for an amateur ─ strictly speaking from a writer’s perspective ─ when sharing memories from your childhood. How does a writer make a seamless transition from the past into the present? The answer? Only a good one does.

I wrote myself into this “corner” knowing that I would have one hell of a time finding my way out of it. Believe me, I agonized over this dilemma for weeks. I even had a series of reoccurring dreams, where I found myself frantically rummaging through a row of filthy old cardboard boxes on top of a rickety card table with fluorescent lighting buzzing overhead. What was I looking for? The solution to my dilemma, of course. Funny, how the answer almost always comes from the most unexpected places.

This one came from a broken plate.

Storied Stylist Julian Schnabel Patients and the Doctors, 1978, oil, plates, bondo on wood (500x463)

Julian Schnabel’s “Patients and the Doctors,” 1978, oil, plates, bondo on wood. / Photo courtesy of

Several weeks ago, while washing the dishes after dinner one evening, my husband broke my favorite plate. I only had four of these plates to begin with, because I bought them at the thrift store. So, with regards to this situation, I knew what I was getting myself into when I bought them: No accidents and limit my dinner guests to just two at a time. What can I say? Love is blind. I love those plates.

Then it happened. A plate broke. I was a bit irritated. OK, I was livid! Especially when the perpetrator casually shrugged his shoulders and said, “Oops. Sorry.”

Obviously, my husband was not aware of the pact that I had made with myself when I purchased those plates.

Moments after impact, although I was perfectly composed on the outside, I was boiling on the inside. I even tried a half-hearted attempt at playing it off. But the ugly truth was that I was a raging maniac! What I really wanted to do was jump on the counter and scream a royal stream of obscenities (complete with a two-foot strand of spittle dangling at the corner of my mouth for the complete effect).

This plate, which I adored, represented something much more than a platform on which to put food. It was a symbol of my childhood.

There was only one way to respond to that kind of grief.

Write a poem!

After I finished writing the poem, I made my husband drop what he was doing in order to become my CAPTIVE audience. What better way to torment your abuser then to force them to listen to a poem that YOU wrote about them?

“Husband will wash the dishes”

My dish was broken last night.
In his vain attempt to wash the dishes,
Stumbling, fumbling, like a drunken toddler, the plate falls
and then the body of a not-quite-formed person follows suit.
In a heap on the floor are the remnants of my long-forgotten youth. I weep.
Not for the broken PLATE, but for the person who took my heart
and shattered it into a million tiny fragments.
The tips of my fingers still tingle at the moment all was lost, wishing
they could have been there to catch the fallen artifact.
This is one of life’s many lessons: Never believe the heart is indestructible,
for its precarious existence hangs in the balance of a single breath;
one that often lingers between life and death.
For once the heart is broken; it cannot be replaced.
It is not that easy.
And if it was, everything would be made with the intention 
of being immediately disposed of.
My precious plate,
I will miss you.

His reaction? Like someone who had just received a dose of Novocain.

Some people will never understand. Or so I thought.

Then one day, several weeks after the incident, my dear husband comes home with a box. Guess what was inside? Not one but TWO plates.

It was love at first sight, revisited.

And he had the package mailed to his office instead of his home address so that he could give me the box and see the look on my face when I opened it. This is why I’ve been with the same clumsy dishwasher since 1987.

Storied Stylist the plate

The yellow-ochre Denby stoneware plate was replaced by the errant, but loving, husband.

It really was just a plate. Or was it? This entire incident got me thinking about the reasons why we attach value to things. I love this plate, because it reminds me of my strange yet happy (most of the time) childhood. That yellow-ochre Denby stoneware plate symbolizes all that is familiar and safe to me.

I’m sure no one else can relate.

I grew up with mid-century furnishings, when it was the kiss of death to own any of it in the 1980s. Everyone around me wanted either Laura Ashley or Miami Vice-inspired interiors. Not my family! We had the crap that no one else wanted. Imagine a home filled with half-Danish modern and Drexel mahogany.

So what if I have painted myself into a corner? For whatever reason I feel that my best work comes out when I acknowledge the present, while giving a nod to my past. As for the seamless transition?

I’m working on it.

Julie Cunha Interiors, specializes in expertly edited restyled vintage and modern interiors. She lives and works on Whidbey Island. To inquire, or make an appointment: or cell (360) 969-9921.

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  1. Bravo, Julie! BRAVO! I can relate to this in so many ways. I feel like I am constantly finding puzzle pieces that make sense out of the big picture of my life – one piece at a time connecting my past to my present.The process feels very scattered, like trying to put together a puzzle that keeps expanding while I’m working on it. Still, those are beautiful moments when I find a piece that fits, even if it’s an awkward piece. Thank you for writing this!

  2. Julie, I was so intrigued by your piece. We are the people who gave those plates to the thrift shop. I am glad you are enjoying them 🙂

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