Rat City Living - Jon Johnson

John Johnson


Website: www.johnsonclay.com

Jon first began to cultivate a love of clay as a student at Texas Tech University. Learning to throw on the potter’s wheel, he quickly learned to appreciate the simple rhythm of making with an intuitive, highly moveable material. Jon experimented with several different firing methods before becoming enraptured with the surface qualities achieved through the soda firing process and has been utilizing this technique almost exclusively in the time since then. Jon graduated from Texas Tech with a BFA in 2011, dabbled in the world of IT and graphic design between 2012 and 2016, and worked as a studio tech at the Helen Devitt Jones Clay Studio on the LHUCA campus in Lubbock, Texas from 2015 to 2017. In the summer of 2017, he knocked off around 800 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail before heading out to begin a yearlong assistantship with Deb Schwartzkopf at Rat City Studios in Seattle, Washington.

Artist Statement:
Making pots is a meditative act. In working with porcelain, I am afforded the ability to create a clean canvas upon which I build layers of glaze in loose patterns. To push these patterns further, I utilize atmospheric firing environments to speak to the pots about Nature in order to develop a wilder surface. I take great delight in the opening of a freshly fired kiln. The discovery of this “unknown” is what drives me to make pots in the manner that I do. The drawings I have begun to incorporate onto the surface of my pots are derived from psychic automatism sketching practice, wherein I focus the mind to be blank in an effort to allow my subconscious to spill forth through the pen. I see this as an extension of uncovering the “unknown,” instead focusing within my mind, rather than on the outside world. To understand the true character of things is at the forefront of why I make; ultimately, I seek to create pottery that encourages use by invoking a sense of natural wonder.

How have you come to work with Rat City Studios:
I started at Rat City as an assistant on August 1st of this year, and I hit the ground running with a few busy weeks of events and studio upgrades. Getting to know the local clay community through Deb has been a wonderful and humbling experience thus far, and I’m looking forward to that continuing throughout the year. While here, I’m converting (at least temporarily) to the cone 6 electric environment for my work, and I am really excited by some of the possibilities I’ve come across. Over the next year, I plan to continue the push to get my work into shows and further develop my online presence.

Rat City Living - Rickie Barnett

Rickie Barnett

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Website: rickiebarnett.weebly.com

Rickie Barnett grew up in the Northern California city of Redding. He attended California State University, Chico, receiving a Bachelors of Fine Art degree with an emphasis in painting and ceramics. After Graduating in the fall of 2013 he took up a year long position as an Artist in Residence at Taos Clay Studio in Taos, NM. He has just finished up a long term position in the Seattle area where he worked as an assistant for George Rodriguez and Deborah Schwartzkopf at Ceramistas Seattle ( now known as Rat City Studios). He is now gearing up to move to North Carolina to take up a position as the studio assistant to Cristina Cordova.

Artist Statement:
My work is an internal look at the preeminent issues of being bound to another and the affects it has on an individual.  The malleable nature of clay allows for a quicker way of working in a highly detailed manner. I work figuratively creating characters based on the struggle of balancing relationships, placing them in an open narrative where they can revisit emotions experienced but not quite understood. I strive to provide a sympathetic relation to narrative in the restlessness of living in one’s headspace, an effort to stay honest with myself and my loved ones.  The continual self assessment within our interactions bears fruit which nourishes the bond and eases vulnerability, harvesting growth. 

How have you come to work with Rat City Studios:
In the early summer of 2015, I was living in a small cabin behind Toas Clay Studio in Taos, NM. My residency was coming to an end and I was in the mist of the ever so chaotic task of trying to figure out what the next step was going to be. My partner at the time had just received a position at Cook on Clay, on Whitbey Island. I had been wanting to get up to the northwest for some time but I didn't want to make the commitment of moving to an island, without a studio. I had recently read an article about Deb's studio in Ceramic Monthly and decided to reach out to her. I knew the deadline for her assistantship position had past but after perusing her website and seeing how connected she was with so many artists in the area, I decide to reach out to her and see if she could point me in the direction of someone needing assistance. To my surprise, she got back to me within a few hours and said that she had an opening available at her studio and that I was welcome to apply. Within a few more days she offered me the position and with great enthusiasm I accepted. 

Shortly after that Deb offered me an opportunity of a lifetime. She had picked up an old 1963 Aloha camper at an estate sale. It needed a lot of work and she gave me the opportunity to live in it, next to the studio, if I could fix it up. I had never done any trailer remodels but I figured I could accomplish it with the help of the internet. It turned out to need a complete rebuild. This was one of the hardest things I have ever taken on by myself. It was also, the beginning of me realizing how Deb goes about mentoring her assistants. 

Deb is not the kind of mentor to hold your hand and help you through something. She will be the first one to tell you that she's not afraid to voice her disappointment in you either. She will balance the strengths you have with the direction in which you want to go and push you to grow and sharpen those skills, no matter how painful. Along the way you will also learn about a bunch of stuff you didn't even know you would be interested in. She will challenge you all day and call you on your bullshit. If you need guidance or are interested in a certain aspect of her work you need to ask for that guidance and that information. You want a crit, ask for it. Otherwise she will just let you keep working. Deb is not interested in reading your mind and she is not interested in babysitting your career. She is interested and driven to help you learn how to swim on your own. If you start sinking and feel like you are drowning, she will get in the water with you and talk you through the strokes you need to make you keep your head above water. She will not bring you a life preserver.  You need to figure this out on your own. But at the end of the day she might invite you out for a beer and talk to you about life and where you want to go. 

Deb Schwartzkopf is a shark. She can not stop moving and if she did she'd probably die. Her sense of urgency is out of this world. If it is decided at a morning meet that the kiln shed needs to be extended, she wants to know if it can be done by the end of the day. You will learn to not doubt that this is, in fact, possible. You will learn to not doubt yourself as much as you have in the past. 

My time at Rat City was easily one of the best times of my life. Both my work and myself grew immensely. I made life long friends and found myself finding huge strides in my work. Deb Schwartzkopf changed my life in a huge way and even though I'm now living on the other side of the country I know, for a fact, that Deb will always have my back when I need it. Even if that's in her telling me to stop bitch and get back in the studio. 

Rat City Living - Zak Helenske

Zak Helenske


Website: www.zakhelenske.com

Zak Helenske was born and raised in Fargo, ND. There, he earned his BFA in Ceramics at North Dakota State University in 2009. Completing his MFA in Ceramics and Ceramic Sculpture at Rochester Institute of Technology’s School for American Crafts in 2014 led him to an art practice that crossed disciplines. Zak has been a visiting artist nationally at University of South Carolina, McNeese State University, University of Washington, and internationally at Akademia Sztuk Peinknych in Gdansk, Poland. He has taught at University of Washington, 3D4M and Rochester Institute of Technology, School for American Crafts. In 2015 Zak moved to Seattle with his partner, artist Mya Kerner, to be an Artist in Residence at Pottery Northwest. Since completing his residency in January he has set up a studio in Ballard where he maintains a full time studio practice. In May of 2017 he was named Emerging Artist by Ceramics Monthly.

Artist Statement:
I am a potter who is interested in the development of form and the exploration of pattern. My work is wheel thrown and hand built with a gritty terra cotta clay. Surface drawings act as a framework to the pots’ forms with slip work to designate positive and negative space.  By layering patterns on top of each other, carving the surface in and scraping the drawings away, I hope to integrate the surface into the form rather than onto the form. These drawings are then highlighted with a bright white porcelain slip. The immediacy of the brushwork mirrors the directness of the drawings, and the dimensionality of the materials completes the link between form and pattern. I look to industrial and architectural situations for formal references and use geometry as a language to communicate these observations. My labor is in the pursuit of an object that rests in balance, in beauty, and in nuance. I am interested in the intersection between the current pace of development in our designed world and traditional approaches to materials; clay is the medium I have chosen to navigate this crossroad.

How have you come to work with Rat City Studios:
I finished a two-year residency at Pottery Northwest in January of 2017. I wanted to stay in Seattle, hoping to continue the momentum I had built while in residence. My goal was to set up a home studio, but the housing culture in Seattle is fierce. I knew my partner(also an artist, and also looking for studio space) and I needed time to find the right place. Deb called me to offer me a small studio at Rat City, and with the understanding of what my goals were, she offered me a short term lease on a studio there. I worked at Rat City for 3 months absorbing all the great energy she is building around her community. It allowed me the time and space to continue developing my work in a new environment. I have since found a studio in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle, where I maintain a full time studio practice. My time at Rat City Studios was wonderful; Deb’s dedication to her work and to her community has left a great impression on me.


Rat City Living - Angie Cunningham

Angie Cunningham


Website: www.cunninghamceramics.com

Angela Cunningham first took a ceramics class at the suggestion of a high school teacher during Saturday detention. After receiving her BA in Philosophy from the College of William and Mary, she decided to put her degree on a shelf and pursue her love for art and ceramics.  She continued her art education in a post-baccalaureate  program at U-Mass Dartmouth, and soon after received an MFA from Penn State University in 2004. She is currently a studio artist working at Mudflat Studio in the Boston area.

Artist Statement:
I make objects that beg to be touched. Through sensuous surfaces, intricate details, and provocative imagery, I strive to draw viewers near to explore. As much as I want to seduce, I equally want to push people away – to awe with the beauty of an object and perhaps repulse with the details.

The imagery in my pieces is drawn largely from forms in nature. I am inspired by the seductive textures, elegant lines, and fertile energy of flowers. Fruits and vegetables fascinate me with their tantalizing colors, dense seed structure, and grotesque beauty.  The human body enters here and there – the curve of a hip, the softness of belly.

More and more, my obsessive process feeds the content of my work. I have given myself over to investment. Every part is sensitively considered, well-loved; details are rendered with an attentiveness that borders on obsession. I strive to capture a sense of exquisiteness in its richest definition.

How have you come to work with Rat City Studios:
Deb generously hosted me as Rat City Studio’s first visiting artist in spring 2017. Every day for two months, I witnessed an incredible sense of community and leadership. Deb heads the studio with the entrepreneurial drive of a businessperson, the care of a teacher, and the spirit of a pioneer woman. It was inspirational to observe and participate.

The time I spent at Rat Studio set the stage for my most productive studio time in years. I will be forever grateful for the opportunity and the generosity of everyone connected to the studio! 

Rat City Living - Jonathan Steele

Jonathan Steele

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Website:  www.jonathansteeleceramics.com

I grew up in the greater Seattle Area. I took my first ceramics class in 2008 as an elective at Whitworth University where I earned a BA in Physics. After graduating, I knew I wanted to dive into ceramics and I took the roundabout path of going back to community college to earn my acceptance into a Post-Bacc program in Art at University of Puget Sound. I earned my MFA in Craft from Oregon College of Art and Craft in 2016 and am currently Resident Artist at Pleasant Hill Pottery in Pleasant Hill, OR. I have accepted an offer for spring 2018 to be Sabbatical Replacement Professor for Chad Gunderson at University of Puget Sound and I look forward to the opportunities that will unfold for me from there.

Artist Statement:
I choose to look at the world with the eye of an artist, finding profound and poetic content in the simplest facts of nature. My ceramic works are my engagement with material as I find beauty in observing and placing my hands into the phenomena of the earth. It is about curiosity and the joy of wonderment in discovery. Physical accumulations and changes over time are as much my media as clay is and woodfiring my functional vessels is an expression of that. I provoke sensitivity to a material dynamic that is ever present in the world and strive to create a moment of considerate pause for my viewer.

How have you come to work with Rat City Studios:
I began my involvement with Rat City Studios in 2014. I was living in Seattle the summer before starting my MFA and Deb invited me to trade studio space in exchange for helping out with the studio building efforts that were taking place that summer. I helped to build a fence, framed the studio door, and sprung the arch on the pizza oven. I consider Rat City Studios to be one of my first great inspirations as I’ve envisioned making a career as a ceramic artist and setting up a studio for myself in the future. 


Rat City Living - Stephen Ruby

Stephen Ruby


Website: www.stephenrubyceramics.com

Steve has been working with clay, creating, for over a decade.  His interest in wheel throwing pulled him into the medium.  However, over time, exploring and creating functional, utilitarian work left him searching for more.  Beginning at a city college and working for many years as studio assistants and technicians revealed the dexterity and complexity of a seemingly basic art form.  His interest quickly spread to glaze making, mold-making, surface decoration, hand-building and sculpture further increasing his understanding of the versatility of clay.  Soon he began searching for ways to make his interest in clay into a career.  Recently he has returned to the bay area and settled in to Oakland, CA where he is beginning to realize his place in the ceramic world.  Making ceramic art is his dream and in order to make it a reality he realized that a balance between teaching, making art, and running a studio could enable this to happen.  Teaming up with Anna and Katie, a vision developed around Merritt Ceramics to be an outlet for creativity for themselves as well as the local community.  

Artist Statement:
I love the making process.  I have been influenced through history and my environment and as a result that manifests into my work.  Being filtered through my personal lens, I am left with a hybrid between traditional influences and my personal esthetic.     

After exploring a new medium (monoprinting), I have found that the way I look at ceramics as a medium has changed.  Through exploring scraffito, a type of decoration made by scratching through a surface to reveal a contrasting color underneath, I find I am able to utilize classic design while updating it to fit my style.  Being influenced by native American, Mexican and Asian motifs, my designs have begun to take a more floral esthetic allowing me to experiment with stains, underglazes, engobes and glazes as options for creating contrast through color resulting in more dynamic surfaces.  It is through these motifs, that I feel free to utlilize the entire surface through repetitive design and the creation of negative space to emphasis contrast.   

I consider my past experiences as a form of accumulating tools or options that I can pull from during the making process.  While initially I was attracted to ceramics via the potters wheel, I find that today I spend much less time on the wheel than I do decorating or embellishing forms that have already been made.  

How have you come to work with Rat City Studios:
My obsession with clay began on the potters wheel.  I had wanted to learn how to throw for a long time and as I made more and more thrown forms, I soon realized I wanted to add my unique perspective to the traditional forms I was throwing.  I began to alter and adjust symmetrical forms to a more unique orientation.   This is when I discovered work by Deborah Schwartzkopf.  I felt that she had taken clay in the direction that I had wanted to, creating unique forms that left me thinking about the process.  Eventually I applied and was accepted to an assistantship with her and George Rodriguez.  It was an eye-opening experience into the lives of full-time ceramic artists.  I loved being privy to their processes and receiving guidance and critical inspiration.  At that time, Ceramistas Seattle was born, eventually becoming Rat City Studios, where my studio space was located.  I was guided into developing my own glazes and a more focused approach to making work.  Before my assistantship, I was having a hard time developing a voice in my work due to the fact that I was so attracted to every aspect of the clay making and glazing process.   I wanted to do everything.  Rat City Studios helped me clarify my goals and I realized I still could pursue all the aspects I was interested in, but I had to proceed one step at a time, seeing through one direction of exploration before beginning a new one.  


Rat City Living - Eliane Medina

Eliane Medina

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Website: www.elianemedina.com

Eliane Medina is a potter currently working as a studio assistant for Deborah Schwartzkopf at Rat City Studios. She graduated from Central Washington University in 2016 with a Bachelor’s degree in studio art.

Clay has been of interest to Eliane since a young age. She often made small sculptures with polymer clay until her first year at Green River Community College. There, she took her first pottery class and learned to throw on the wheel. After declaring her major at CWU, Eliane took several more ceramics classes and is now focused on clay as her main medium. She plans to continue to work toward becoming a full-time studio potter.

Artist Statement:
Being surrounded by people every day, I observe subtle details about both strangers and acquaintances. I find that I am not the only human with imperfections, insecurities, and daily embarrassing moments and mistakes. I see beauty in what society deems to be imperfect, and I have discovered that there are countless versions of what constitutes “beauty”. My work steps away from society’s conventional beauty. I want my work to reveal the fact that we are all different, we are all odd, and in those ways we are all very much the same.

I love that the pieces are to be held and felt, with both the hands and the lips. As we get to know a person we start to see them as a whole. We learn about them and understand their complexities, including their imperfections, often bringing us closer together. This is what I hope my pots can do. As someone lives with one of my pieces, I hope it can continue to offer new details. 

I strive to create work that resonates with all walks of life, simply because of being human.

How have you come to work with Rat City Studios:
In June, 2017, I moved to Seattle from Ellensburg, Washington, where I attended college at Central Washington University. I am now working as a studio assistant for Deb Schwartzkopf at Rat City Studios. In my three short months here, I have quickly settled into this new studio as well as a new home. Deb’s setup here is an inspiration to me and I am gaining great experience in learning what kind of work goes into running a pottery studio. My own work is developing as well, and it is great to be surrounded by other artists who I can connect with and learn from. I am excited to be here working with Deb who has so much knowledge about pottery and running a business of her own. I will be using this year to continue developing my work, applying to exhibitions, making connections, and overall focusing on creating my life as an artist.

Rat City Living - Jake Fetterman

Jake Fetterman

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Website: www.jakefetterman.com

Jake Fetterman grew up near Seattle, Washington raised by parents with a strong sense of self sufficiency ingraining him with a down to earth attitude. He learned to love working with his hands by helping his parents build their 30' sailboat from scratch, gardening with his mother, and working in his father’s shop on his own projects as a kid. His love of handmade objects and the traditional  Slovakian objects of his heritage that surrounded him in his childhood pushes him to be an object maker. He dreams of building his own little house either on wheels or out of cob, homesteading somewhere, and starting his own studio. Jake Fetterman graduated from Western Washington University with a BFA in ceramics and sculpture in 2015 and now currently resides in Northern Washington working in an old dilapidated carriage barn, developing both functional and sculptural work for graduate school applications. 

Artist Statement:
My work is an attempt to acknowledge the forceful requirement of uniformity within this culture. The struggle to navigate this construct in day to day life forces me to embrace the disasters and awkwardness that is a direct result of my humanness. The paradox of trying to understand when to conform and when not to conform is a dilemma, when does it matter and when does it not, when is it self inflicted and when is it unavoidable.

My need to constantly experiment with material and process pushes me to create objects in a tactile way to accentuate the methods of construction, human presence, and materials. By pushing, scraping, breaking, rebuilding, and jerry-rigging I want an amalgamated surface of both messy and refined moments in an attempt to bear witness to my struggle to find the balance between chaos and control.

How have you come to work with Rat City Studios:
I was fortunate enough to be taken on as an assistant during 2016/2017 year. During my time here I was able to begin figuring out my studio practice and understand what techniques really interested me and made sense in my work. The ceramic family that is in Seattle is amazing and so supportive and I hope to end up there to be a part of it. 


Rat City Living - Nan Coffin

Nan Coffin

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Website:  www.nancoffin.com  and www.thirdpottery.com

As a self-employed potter who works alone, yet enjoys being and socializing with others, clay is a medium I am able to use to interact with people on a daily basis. I enjoy making and using functional kitchen ware and table service. When others use my pots in their day-to-day activities, itʼs a way for me to communicate and share with them a part of myself. Itʼs the ultimate compliment when others want to reach out, pick up and ultimately use a piece of my work.
The pottersʼ wheel is often the first tool utilized in my work. I begin with thrown pieces and continue to alter, shape and manipulate the clay off the wheel. When determining ʻwhat to makeʼ, the decision often falls to the need for how a particular piece will be used in food service, either in the preparation or serving of food and how it will be presented in a table setting. 

Artist Statement:
I grew up in central Indiana, received a BA in journalism from Ball State University, worked for a short time in my ʻthenʼ area of expertise, traveled the US and returned back to central Indiana to set up a clay studio.
A lusting to make things from clay was all it took to get me started and in the mid-1970ʼs I set up shop in Whitestown, Indiana on a shoestring budget. I am a self-taught potter, having no academic training in the medium. Fortunately, I did have guidance and support from my former husband; with that, an old truck and a strong back, a small studio building took shape. Soon to follow were hand built kick wheels, two kilns from scrapped fire bricks (one, a small wood burner; the other, fueled by #2 furnace oil); clay mixed by hand, ware boards and a huge learning curve.

My ideas combined with works from various media, influential artists, shapes and colors I saw in the world were incorporated into the pieces I made. When I saw a form, a decorating technique, a color or a pattern that struck my fancy, that particular impression was filed away and I tried to create it in my own style, making it ʻmy ownʼ.

In the early 1980ʼs, I moved to Paoli, Indiana and set up my second studio, Log Creek Pottery. As we started a family, I put clay on hold for several years and found great joy in raising our children. As fortunate as I was to be a stay-at-home mom, my eye was never far from the ideas and vision of pieces I wanted to create.The decision to postpone clay work is one Iʼll always treasure. Clay would always be there, children are in oneʼs care for only a short while.

Twenty years later, I relocated to San Diego, California and have started yet another studio,Third Pottery, with new inspiration. With great favor, Iʼve been able to travel to other countries and study their cultures; through these adventures, the evolution of my work in clay progresses. I continue to find inspiration from my rich experiences and work diligently to encompass those unique influences into the pieces I make. Affirmation comes to me when folks choose to use my work in their homes, their lives, sharing food and celebration with family and friends. 

How have you come to work with Rat City Studios:
In August 2016, I was invited to participate in Deb Schwartzkopf’s Build or Bust- Teapots summer event. It proved to be a lovely time in Deb’s studio working alongside committed, engaged, talented artists, sharing their knowledge, expertise, points of view and humor.

Collaboration of ideas, and assembling parts and pieces for teapots was delightful and stimulating; the environment of the studio and surrounding gardens (which provided much of our gourmet lunches and dinners) was an added pleasure.

As the weekend culminated, the local community participated in a terrific potluck where the invited artists were able to share in lively conversations regarding work created through the weekend. 


Rat City Living - Tilly Troelstrup

Tilly Troelstrup


Website: www.tillytroelstrup.com

Born and raised in Oak Park, Illinois I graduated from the Illinois State University BFA program in 2014.  This provided a foundation in clay and woodworking that pushed me to pursue further studies. I utilized a summer staff session at Watershed Center for Ceramic Arts to explore handbuilding. This informed my Post Baccalaureate program at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado where I made a switch to mixed media wall installations.  Since then I have had the honor of participating in: A short-term residency at Taos Clay Studios in Taos, New Mexico. Assisting in the development of, and teaching of a workshop for Women’s Empowerment, complete with kiln-building and marketing classes, in Kerala, India. A short-term assistantship with Cook on Clay in Coupeville, Washington. An assistantship at Ceramistas Seattle (a.k.a. Rat City Studios) in Seattle, Washington.

In 2016, I completed a bicycle tour from Seattle, Washington to Los Angeles, California as a means of recuperation and reflection. Interning for Sunshine Cobb at Sidecar Ceramics, I currently reside in Sacramento, California. I am focusing on finding what’s most important to me: Balance in the studio. Outward and inward exploration. Biking and not forgetting to eat. 

Artist Statement:
“Every communication is either an extension of love or a call for love”

Making is a part of who I am, whether I like it or not, and is my way of remaining honest in a society that rewards masks and fictitious personalities.  Leaving the studio alone, on foot or by bicycle, each new place I explore inspires me by the relationships I witness and engage in, no matter how brief. Abstracting the participants and paring the encounters down to simple but repetitive marks or faceless, disproportioned figures, I am able to expand upon my observations and learn lessons that I may then apply to my growing list of, “how to be genuine in a fearful world.” Recreating the simplicity and complexity that is the human experience, while taming my anxious mind, is best achieved by moving between processes and materials in the studio. The clay’s sensitivity at varying stages speaks to my own sensitivity as well as my interest in the ability to adapt to human error. Red, low-fire clay is representative of my desire to create a warm and sustainable lifestyle. 

How have you come to work with Rat City Studios:
January 2016 I joined what was then Ceramistas Seattle as an assistant for 6 months. My experience there reminds me that being honest and conscientious are quite possibly the most important things to practice in art and in life. Rocky, sums up my experience better than I am able to:

“Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place. And I don’t care how tough you are. It will beat you to your knees and keep you permanently there if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life, but it ain’t about how hard you hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward, how much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done. Now if you know what you are worth, go out and get what you are worth, but you gotta be willing to take the hits and not point fingers, saying you ain’t where you want to be because of him or her or anybody. Cowards do that, and that ain’t you. You’re better than that.”

–Rocky Balboa