Illuminating The Cave


One of my personal goals for this site is to focus on the process, not the product. The story, not the store. It’s easy to peruse blogs and websites and storefronts and see a beautifully displayed collection of objects, tangible whispers of the things we are or aren’t or aspire to be. Yet these days, I’m choosing to see the price tag as one small part of an artist or designer’s diary entry. The exclamation point after a long, hard sentence with many run-ons and misplaced pronouns and conjugated verbs. My e-friend Re Jin Lee knows about these exclamation points and today, she’s sharing a small, vulnerable part of her own story – not only about design, but about life and love and illumination.


Re Jin Lee founded Bailey Doesn’t Bark, a Brooklyn-based home gifts studio, in 2008. She’s a gifted ceramicist with an eye for creating everyday heirlooms that boast a touch of quirk (my kind of collection indeed). Yet shortly after the birth of her son, Re Jin hit a wall. She stopped working, dreading a return to the studio and conjuring up feelings of guilt and resentment and doubt. “My memory of the months post birth is of pain, exhaustion, frustration, feeling very hot, many tears and a constant reminder that I was supposed to be filled with joy and love,” she writes. “The routine (nursing, changing nappies, putting cream on my sore breast every 2 minutes, taking the dogs and baby for a walk in the humid NY heat…) was driving me crazy. I thought I was going to go mad for a while. I had many talks with my husband about sharing responsibilities, needing time for myself…but they all turned into fights. It was hard for him to understand what I was going through because at the time I didn’t even know why I was feeling that way.”

bailey doesn't bark ceramics

Re Jin calls this her “deep, dark, new mother cave”, one that I experienced as well as a new mother, and one that I think we can all relate to when we’re thrown into a whirlwind transition or life change. It’s as if we’re kids again, moving houses for the first time and waking up in the middle of the night to a new bedroom and new sounds and new monsters in our closet. We fumble around for a light switch, but that light switch has moved because we’re in a different space now. And so, we fumble and trip and sometimes fall until we – eventually – find the new light switch. The funny thing is, it’s never where it was before, in the comfort of our old bedroom or our old house or our old life. It’s in a different space now. Because we are.


Re Jin didn’t find her new light switch for a few months, but when she did, it was in a ceramics class – a birthday gift from her husband. “On the first day of class, as I sat on the bench and worked on my clay, I realized that I’d gone back to 2008,” she writes. “When everything was ‘simpler’ but so much more fulfilling.”


And slowly, one by one, new light switches illuminated her new bedroom. She learned to nurse in public so she didn’t feel chained to her home. She started pumping and delegating feedings to her husband. Her son began sleeping through the night. “I could feel warmth again,” she writes. “It almost felt like I was waking up from a very deep, heavy sleep. And just like that, I became normal again. I started to get inspired, motivated and wanting to make/create/work. I’m happy with my business now. More than ever. I’ve made it work with my life instead of the other way around.”

bailey doesnt bark ceramics

The beauty here is that Re Jin is back, yes, but in a different room entirely. Last month, she launched a miniseries collection as “a result of spending countless hours in the studio letting her new inspirations transform into functional art without limitations.” In other words, she’s learned to play. She’s found her light switch and is basking in the creativity that can only stem from illumination.


I think I’m still fumbling for my own light switch these days, but I know I’ll find it soon. After all, the moon only rules the sky for so long before the sun rises to illuminate the land.

Image Credits: Bailey Doesn’t Bark

p.s. Just for fun, more ceramics: Pillow planter, string garland, illustrated ceramics and drawer pulls.
p.p.s. Ceramix!

  • Love that…

    The “deep, dark, new mother cave” is ahead of me (I think), but the story is so moving, a bit frightening actually, but in a creative way. Thank god for Bday gifts from husbands!


    • Ha, you are so right, Marta! And you know, my mother cave lasted longer than most, I think, and I’m still kicking! You’ll be just fine. :) I’m sure of it!

  • Gosh, I love this. Love RJ and love you, Erin! What beautiful writing. It’s been such a joy to get to read your blog this year and the amazing turn its taken. As a fellow new mom and creative person and business-owner, it fills me up to overflowing to know that others have the same struggles and thoughts and joys that I have. Thanks for sharing and being honest always! xoxo

  • Thank you. Thank you for sharing Re Jin’s story, for being honest about your own struggles, and for your poignant musings that always, ultimately, point towards joy. As a momma of two, one only seven weeks old, I am also attempting to reintegrate inspiration, creativity, and lightness into my impossibly busy days. I needed this post, at exactly this moment.

    • I’m sooo happy to hear that, Jess! Congrats on your seven-week-old! I remember that being a particularly difficult time for me. Sending you good wishes from my neck of the e-woods! :)

  • Oh, thank you Erin and thank you Re Jin.
    I recently started a new blog only to shut it down last night because … I’m just not ready. And I SO want to be ready. I so wish I was that blogger that’s already been doing it for years – erm, like yourself : ).
    But, I’m not, I can’t be, and that has to be okay.
    I will emerge from my own “who am I online cave”, hopefully in a few weeks, with focus and a plan. First on that plan is to not beat myself up (too much).

    • Awww, you are so kind, Mel! Please do emerge soon – when you’re ready. I can’t wait to hear what you have to say. :)

  • hi erin! really loved reading this thoughtful story about my pal RJ (even if it’s a little heart-breaking), she’s such a talent. thanks for sharing:)

  • Inspiring story and artist. The work is phenomenal and the honesty of sharing her story even more. Thanks Erin.

  • Thanks for sharing that lovely familiar story. Although I am well out of ‘that’ cave,as a an artist I find myself stumbling or waking to other unfamiliar dark places and it’s nice to be reminded that it’s not only part of our life stories but those caves are where the little lights of creating start.

  • Hi Erin. Just wanted to tell you that I love the way Design For Mankind has radically evolved, I really do. Even though everything I *thought* I loved it for has changed, in its place is a refreshing pause… and exhale, a needed depth in my generally-shallow blogging world. Thank you, you little gem.

    • Oh gosh, Alana – thank you for saying that! It’s been a risky change, but I’m so enjoying the ride. :)

  • WOW, what a post. I clicked on the post because I thought “pretty” but I’m so touched now by the whole backstory and Re Jins experience. I actually teared up at this part “I could feel warmth again,” she writes. “It almost felt like I was waking up from a very deep, heavy sleep.” I have a 19 month old and I feel like I have gone through this process and even more particularly in the last few months that I have begun blogging and investing my creative self. I am experiencing so much joy, and a lot of the joy is coming from the fact that I experienced the “deep, heavy sleep.”

    Thank you for sharing and for being a person who looks a little further. What a shame it would be to miss all that is behind this work!

    • Ah, thank you sweet Henna! I agree – Re Jin’s work is pretty, but her story adds so much more depth to each piece! :)

  • wowsers, i just came by for the pretty pictures. i am transfixed by your words.

    “The exclamation point after a long, hard sentence with many run-ons and misplaced pronouns and conjugated verbs.”

    thank you, that made my soul feel better.

  • Beautiful story! I read it because i am making ceramic. But when i click it, i were in tears. I just gave birth to my first son in january. It was a ride since then. Lack of sleep, almost zero social life, and less romance between me and my husband. At first, i thought motherhood is would be a brake for my creativity. But instead stop me for making things, motherhood really give me the gas for doing things that i really want. For me, my deep heavy sleep was before my son born. Thanks RJ for the beautiful works and thanks erin for sharing

  • What a lovely and difficult story. My wife had a terrible bout of post-partum and I think Re Jin’s words, “deep, dark, new mother cave,” are so very accurate. Margaret writes about some of those early days here:

Comments are closed.