I grew up in Texas, just outside of the beautiful and wonderful city of Austin. I grew up in the suburbs with a very standard white Southern family upbringing. Just middle class suburban living.

And then, when I was 11, I got diabetes. Sometimes diabetes is genetic, but sometimes it can just happen, which is what happened to me. For six months, you’re super sick and nobody really knows why. You’re losing all this weight. You’re having all these horrible symptoms, like nausea, all the time.

For six months, you’re super sick and nobody really knows why.

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What’s happening is that your immune system is slowly destroying the cells in your pancreas that make insulin. They’re called beta cells. You need beta cells to live. You need insulin to live. You don’t really realize you’re sick until almost all of them are destroyed. And once they’re gone, they’re gone. They don’t grow back.

That’s very different from type 2 diabetes. I think it’s important to make this distinction. With type 2 diabetes, you still have beta cells. You’re still making insulin. You just have what’s called insulin resistance. Usually your body’s in rougher shape, and your cells are less receptive to absorbing insulin, but it’s a very different disease that just has the same name. Without insulin, when you eat carbs or sugar, carbs get broken down into sugar which just stays in your blood and builds up to really toxic and corrosive levels. Insulin takes the sugar out of your blood and delivers it to your cells. So when you don’t make any insulin, you have to inject it manually. But synthetic insulin isn’t as good as the real stuff.

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When you get the diagnosis, it’s sudden. I was in the hospital for five days, and then they gave me a crash course. Like, “Okay. For the rest of your life, you’re going to have to maintain these complicated calculations all the time, and pay for this expensive drug, and always be prepared.” Imagine going on a seven-day backpacking trip and you have to keep your insulin cold. What if you get lost? There’s just all these factors. My parents, especially my mom, dove into the research. Reading all these books, trying to basically learn how to become an expert manager of type 1 diabetes, because I was a kid. You’re usually a kid when you get this.

For the first couple of years, she really took care of things, calculating everything. If you take too much insulin, that’s really dangerous. You can overdose really easily. And when you do, you have to eat carbs to counter it. Eat sugar, drink juice. But if that happens at night, for example, you can die.

For me, living with type 1 diabetes means that every five minutes, you’re reminded that you’re going to die.

My parents would wake up every couple of hours and test my blood in the middle of the night. It’s tough, but I think, like anything, you just learn how to do it. It’s not like that anymore. It’s been 17 years. The technology’s getting better and more expensive. Now it can alert you when you’re given too much. But as an 11 year old, who mostly had a very privileged and easy, beige life, this was the first speed bump. It was a big one, but it was really beneficial in the end.

For me, living with type 1 diabetes means that every five minutes, you’re reminded that you’re going to die. Or that if you don’t pay attention to it and manage it, it can kill you really soon. I really feel like diabetes is what led me to pursue a life making art. I think the experience of becoming aware of my mortality at an early age encouraged me to ask myself important questions like, what do I want to do with my time? I don’t want to do a job that isn’t exciting. I don’t want to ever go to work and feel like I just have to get through it to live my life. I really wanted to see if I could find a way to make my occupation something exciting and engaging and enriching for me.

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No one in my family practices art, though I would consider my mom a very creative person. I don’t think she thinks so, but she is. In high school, I was interested in science. Maybe because with diabetes, you have this understanding of what’s happening in your body—the cause and effect between “I eat this” and “I feel this way and my blood sugar is this.” I was really interested in the way things worked. Especially weather and forecasting.

In Texas, there are these enormous storms that happen in the spring, where the drops of rain feel heavy and there’s hail and tornadoes and lightning. Just witnessing that force got me really interested in meteorology. But there aren’t meteorology or forecasting classes you can take in high school. Instead, I took advanced chemistry classes, and art classes to fill my time. My high school had a ceramics class that I took. I would just mess around. It really wasn’t a passion. The first time I touched clay, I was like, “I don’t like how this stuff dries out my hands. It’s hard to understand.” I did a lot of photography, which I really loved, and was maybe a bit easier to learn than ceramics. But I went to college thinking I would be a meteorologist.

I was lucky. I had two great professors who introduced me to ceramics, and completely changed my entire view of what ceramics is and what it could be. I really fell in love with the combination of chemistry and tactility that ceramics orbits. It was the most scientific art that I’d ever experienced. I didn’t look back.

There’s a lot of room for trickery and cheekiness in messing with the archetype of the cup.

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I went back to Austin after a year of college and continued my education in ceramics there. I got a job with a potter, Lisa Orr. She was amazing. She had all these wild glazes. She told me about the interaction between sodium and copper that made this special turquoise blue—just instructing me on the chemical reactions that can happen within a glaze. We had all these conversations about the handmade pot. I learned from her that pottery was a language you could learn and communicate with. Like, how heavy is this cup? How wide is the lip? How tall is the foot? These things were like stanzas in a poem that you could bend and shape.

You can make the lip unusually wide and fat. Then, when someone puts their own mouth on it, it’s this surprising moment, like, “Whoa.” It’s invasive. Or you can make a handle that’s intentionally uncomfortable. When someone picks it up, they pay attention to it because of the inconvenience. Most people don’t think about cups. It’s a tool, everyone has one. You get them at restaurants, but really there’s a lot of room for trickery and cheekiness in messing with the archetype of the cup. You could really mess with people.

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For me, the paintings and the sculptures I’ve had in my life, they’re so cool when I first get them. I hang them up and look at them, and it’s like, Wow. Then, very quickly, they just become a part of the wall. I’m not trying to trash painting or sculpture, but it’s the objects I interact with daily that over time really make you think, What is this thing?

Or when a cup breaks and you’ve had it for 10 years. You’ve imbued it with these memories. Like, “I had this cup of coffee with this person who’s dead now.” Or, “I was holding this, drinking out of it when I got this good news.” Or, “I got this when I lived here. And this person, my friend, made it.” These objects can hold so much memory and emotion. It becomes so enlightened and there’s so much substance available when you interact with something. I fell in love with that. That’s when I started making inconvenient cups more intentionally.

I went into grad school loving the cup, and loving how it could exert friction on someone’s daily life.

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I went to Alfred University in New York for my master’s degree. Alfred is a well-known ceramic school. It has hundreds of people working in clay, and all these hard-hitting professors who specialize in different areas. They have a department of ceramic engineering, which focuses on the science side and where they do really technical things. That school and the people I met there really honed the hunger I had for ceramics.

I went into grad school loving the cup, and loving how it could exert friction on someone’s daily life. I had this cup that had an egg on the side of it. And when you take a drink from it, the egg pokes you in the face. I really loved that. Loved it. It made you pay attention to the moment, to what is this typically mundane experience. I wake up, I have coffee every morning. Because of its frequency, I lost how important those mornings were. I think this is the crux that goes back to diabetes. Every moment is precious. You have to take advantage of them because this will end, you will lose this. I was trying to make these cups that I would give away or sell to my friends. They’re not easy. They’re sort of like this weird object that you can’t help but grab. You’re attracted to it like a bug is to a flower. Like, “What is that thing? I want to pick it up.” This is a cup. And then you use it. You can’t help but pay attention to that experience.

I really am seeking to ... inject whimsy and playfulness and hopefully lightheartedness and joy into moments that can lose their potency.

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Those mundane moments—that’s what comprises so much of life. It’s so important to me to pay attention to them, to have awareness, and to appreciate them, because 95% of your life is going to be these routines you do every day. During my time getting a masters, this philosophy expanded into furniture because it was the same thing. A chair has an archetype. It has these parts. A seat that’s this high, arms, and a back. Just like a cup has a body, and a foot, and a rim, and a volume. Furniture is the same thing.

Every day you sit in chairs. You don’t really think about them. I wanted to make chairs that were like creatures, that looked like they were swallowing you, or had eyeballs that rolled around so that you couldn’t help but play with them. That was a breakthrough. Like, Oh, I can make ceramic furniture and cups and basically continue on this path of my feeble attempt to enrich people’s lives through functional objects.

I’ve made some pipes before, but I wouldn’t say it’s a core branch of my practice. But just like a cup or a chair, a pipe is a tool that you interact with in an intimate way. You hold it and you put your mouth on it, and it’s a device used in an experience or a ritual that may or may not be daily. Just like any other daily ritual, I really am seeking to enhance those moments, to inject whimsy and playfulness and hopefully lightheartedness and joy into moments that can lose their potency.

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I grew up in Texas when it was a very not cannabis-friendly place. My parents are very against any kind of drug use, even though I don’t really consider cannabis in that category. They don’t know that I’ve ever smoked. I think they’d probably be extremely disappointed to know that I have. They might read this and find out that way, and that’ll be interesting.

I never smoked or drank in high school. That was not a thing I was allowed to do at all, and not a thing I felt like I wanted to do. My friends would and I would say, “Great, do your thing, but I’m just not interested in that.” Part of it was also fear. With diabetes, you have to constantly be aware of what’s happening. So to do anything that changes the experience of how you’re feeling can be dangerous, or so I thought. What if you get super low and don’t feel it? You could die.

I looked up and the stars were shifting and swirling. It was terrifying.

When I was 19, I went on a big road trip with one of my good friends at the time. We started in Texas and made a ring of national parks. We befriended this pair of old couples in Arches National Park in Utah. They were from Colorado. One of them, Lenny, grew weed in his front yard. He had this gruff voice and gave us a nug of it in a little bag. He was like, “I want you boys to be careful.”

I was like, Well, we better try this because we’re on this trip. We’re about to go into the desert in New Mexico and camp out. I’m with my trusted friend. I’m far away from anyone else. I have food in case something goes wrong. That’s when I smoked for the first time.

It was a horrible, terrifying experience. Everything my parents had told me was right. Puked everywhere. In the sand in White Sands National Park, crawling on my hands and knees away from our tent. Puking for 10 minutes. And then I sat up and it felt like gravity had shifted. I was terrified to look behind me because I “knew” I was going to fall backwards along the surface of the earth and get shot into space. I looked up and the stars were shifting and swirling. It was terrifying.

I didn’t smoke again for two years. But slowly, towards the end of college, I started again in a more careful way. I think the weed we got from Lenny was way too strong. I had roommates who were big smokers and eventually I just tried in a much more controlled way. I smoked the littlest bit. It was so wonderful.

I was never an all day smoker, but in grad school I would work late into the night. Occasionally I would smoke at 10 PM, and then work until 4 AM. I really enjoyed the focus and creativity it gave me. It dulled enough noise to where I could really sink into what my hands were doing with the work. Explore things. But after grad school, I slowed down, and now I would say I’m not a smoker. I think it was great for me for several years. It really helped with stress and my creativity and productivity, but maybe two years ago, I stopped. It just changed. It didn’t make me focused or able to work for eight hours in a really productive, beautiful way. Instead, it made me nervous and really anxious and paranoid. Before it was this guide, and now it’s this foe.

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This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Nick Weddell photographed by Jessica Levin in Chicago. If you like this Conversation, please feel free to share it with friends or enemies. Subscribe to our newsletter here.