Erin Murphy next to text that reads Listen and Craft
Crafts for the Uncrafty: Happy Accidents with Modeling Clay

I am a distinctly non-crafty person. I can rarely translate what I see in my brain to paper with paint, get frustrated when I’m not perfect at cross stitching immediately, and can’t seem to purchase all the exact right bits and bobs to make my own jewelry (shout out to the collection of pliers and lobster claw clasps under my bed).

Despite crafting not being my thing, there is one craft supply I really love: clay. A few months ago, I took a pottery wheel throwing class and had the best time. Don’t get it twisted: I’m not very good at it. My final products are wonky at best and there are only three of them after six weeks of work. But when it comes to messing with clay, not being particularly skilled doesn’t bother me, because the joy is in getting my hands dirty.

Unfortunately, there’s not a ton of space in my tiny apartment to house a full pottery wheel, so these days I’m opting for the next best thing: air-drying modeling clay. I don’t have any tips or tricks for creating perfect pinch pots , but I do have my personal clay philosophies:

1. Go in without an idea. This is probably ill-advised most of the time, but to me it’s a personal Rorschachtest: is this a candle holder? Is it a ring dish? Is it…an egg? Only you can decide! And who knows…you may make something great by accident.

2. Kill your darlings. Recently when I sat down with a hunk of clay, I ignored personal philosophy #1, and tried to make a little heart-shaped thingamabob. Shockingly, it did not work out, and without hesitation I just…squished it. Clay teaches you that nothing is permanent.

3. Bad at it? Do it anyway. Because it’s fun!

Once you dig into your clay, you’ll find it’s a challenge to do anything besides sculpt. Partially because it’s meditative and soothing, and partially because you’re about 3 seconds from gunking up anything you touch. Which makes it the perfect time to have something good playing in the background, whether that’s music, a podcast, or in my case, an audiobook.

Here are a few that kept me company while I was rolling, wedging, and frittering away:

Charismatic Marie Antoine is the daughter of the richest man in 19th century Montreal. She has everything she wants, except for a best friend—until Sadie Arnett moves to the neighborhood. Traveling from finishing school to a vibrant brothel, and through the opulent lives of Montreal’s wealthy, When We Lost Our Heads explores gender, sex, desire, class, and the terrifying power of the human heart when it can’t let someone go.

Author: Jane Pek
Read By: Eunice Wong

Claudia is used to disregarding her family’s expectations: she has no interest in finding either a conventional career or a nice Chinese boy. She’s also used to keeping secrets from them, such as that she prefers girls—and that she’s just been recruited by an online-dating detective agency. A lifelong mystery reader who wrote her senior thesis on Jane Austen, Claudia believes she’s landed her ideal job. But when a client vanishes, Claudia breaks protocol to investigate—and uncovers a maelstrom of deceit.

Author: Sarah Polley
Read By: Sarah Polley

Sarah Polley’s work as an actor, screenwriter, and director is celebrated for its honesty, complexity, and deep humanity. She brings all those qualities to the six essays in Run Towards the Danger. Each one captures a piece of Polley’s life as she remembers it, while at the same time examining the fallibility of memory, the mutability of reality in the mind, and the possibility of experiencing the past anew.

And because, when it comes to clay, I practice what I preach, here are my weird little happy accidents from my latest sculpting session:

A creepy blue face I thought was going to be more akin to the moon, an egg with a disproportionate yolk, a pineapple, and a little armchair-looking dish for who knows what. Maybe spoons.