Friday, September 21, 2007

Thy name is Mud

Time for a maudlin interlude, girls and boys...courtesy of an over-hormonal pregnant woman.


Once upon a time, there was a girl. The girl loved dirt. First the girl discovered hidden things in the dirt. Dead people. Dishes. Remnants of people from long ago. Clues to stories about every day lives and every day struggles in worlds long past. And the girl went to college. And she studies ways to tease out more of those stories. And it was good. For awhile.

But the girl grew unsatisfied. She felt the physical gap between herself and the those people in the past. She could see their dishes, and their cast aside tools, but she didn't know them. And she realized she never would know them through the dry science that is archeology. The dirt would never yield the real measures and stories of their lives. She would always be starving for something she could never have.

She required something more visceral to feed her soul. The girl remembered clay, which is just another form of dirt. She remembered the sensual feel of it, the hypnotic quality of the wheel. She took a class. She took another class. When she threw on the wheel, she felt the clay move beneath her hands at the slightest touch. When she threw, she must be centered to center the clay. She must throw with her whole body, not just her fingers, or her hands, or her arms. When she threw, the whole world melted away. As with most things, she threw her entire self into this new process. It became her whole identity. She was a potter.

When she left college, she simply went to a different sort of school-to an apprenticeship. To a studio in North Carolina, where she learned about economies of movement, about the Zen of creating the same thing day after day. She learned to judge the temperature of the kiln by the cherry red of the pots inside. The girl built her own humble wood kiln, and listened to the crackle of brick as it shattered in the heat, and heard the roar of the flame as she fed a dragon ever more wood through a long southern summer night. She imagined the ash as it flew out of the fire box-landing on the shoulders of her pots to melt into a beautiful gray glaze.

She returned to the plains, convinced she would find her way in the world as a potter. Finding studio space was hard, the wheel cost more than her paycheck, the kilns just lucky finds bought second hand for a song. She squeaked along, working full time, throwing when she could. She bought a house with a shed she converted to a studio. She learned to wire it for electricity, insulated it as best she could. The credit card bills mounted. Still she persevered, though the obstacles now gave her pause, made her wonder how she'd ever do it.

The studio had only a dirt floor, and $1200 worth of gas could be gone in a month during the winter, but the clay had to be kept thawed, or the work would be ruined. The kilns were electric, the glazes cold and sterile. The girl learned to let go of impractical ideals, to live within her means. She threw while it stayed above freezing. She learned to work around the sterility of an oxidation firing. She found places to sell her work, from galleries in the Black Hills to Norwegian church bazaars.

But the obstacles continued to mount and new frustrations began to creep in. Work schedules became less flexible. Her glaze wasn't performing right. The color was wrong. It crackled and wasn't food safe or crawled off the pot in firings. Her sense of two dimensional design was pathetic and the awful little brushings on the sides of the mugs and bowls at looked tentative and tight. She began to hate herself for her inadequacies. At some point the obstacles just got to big.

I quit. I let go of that identity, though I wondered who the hell I was and where the hell I was going. I couldn't face my own perceived failures. Being a shitty potter wasn't good enough, though it broke my heart to let it go. I hated myself for not being able to fix all the things I saw that were wrong. The bad handles. The shitty decorations. The intractable glaze chemistry. It was all a direct attach on my own self worth. When I moved from that house and that studio, I took an aluminum baseball bat to hundreds of mugs and bowls and plates that were still in there. I sort of liked the idea that an archaeological investigation some day might reveal the discarded pieces of someones presence-though it wouldn't really tell the story. I sold my kilns to a nice guy who needed the same break that someone once gave me. But I couldn't sell the wheel. You wouldn't sell your baby, would you?

But now I want to throw. And, I have an opportunity to do so. But it will never be the same as it was. I have other responsibilities now, other identities too. I'm not sure I can give everything I have to it again... and clay does not forgive. It won't wait for you to spend quality time with your child or your husband. It's got it's own timetable. It's own path. I'm not sure if it's worth it.

I'm not sure if I'm in my right mind making such a big deal out of it! LOL! I'm not even sure if I'm in my right mind posting such overly dramatic juvenile drivel in a public forum!

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