Day 3: Finishing What I Started; or, There and Back Again

“I want to go back to my normal house!” – Maggie Pixel

“Water all around, never learn how to swim now.” – The Replacements

Dear Carter,

It rained like a crying toddler all day, which was good for my discipline in the studio; I turned the crank pretty good, and logged a solid 8-5 with just a couple short breaks. All of which was unlike the last two days, which were such a freakishly warm leap into spring that I kept wandering outside to assure myself it was real.

First: some musical inspiration while getting my thoughts about mugs together in my sketchbook. [You guessed it: Coldplay. Green Eyes, Warning Sign, In My Place — all legitimately good songs. Deal with it, people.]

I jotted down a few things to aim for with two mug ideas, starting with my memory of a couple examples on the Save shelf back at home. Letting the rims ripple a bit; getting that gesture in there with a last all-or-nothing pass with a wooden rib; leaving that little extra line of clay at the foot, so I can come back and make some little thumb impressions there later; thinking of the lifting off as an important part of the making, not just an obligatory task. [Yes, your channeling of the Ron Meyers influence is gradually working on me. Yes, it helps that my wheel is sitting about five feet from some of his bisked demo pots. Yes, this is exactly how I keep finding ways to go slower. This.]

I threw two short runs of mugs, four each. In my sketchbook, I decided that these forms (or “styles”) needed names — and, I swear, this was before I’d read your George the Mug post, so I was seriously channeling you today — so I labelled them Ninna’s and Non’s; which are an homage to Maggie’s go-to names for her imaginary siblings/friends. I think they turned out okay. Handles, as always, will be key.

[Also: I think Channeling Gillies would be a good name for my punk-folk group, once I make my feebleminded way to the nursing home someday.]

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I love getting to the studio early enough to be the first one there. It reminds me of my routine at Edwardsville; how I was usually the first to leave in the evening, but could almost always sneak in a solo hour or two in the mornings, the sun gradually creeping through that wall of easterly-facing glass block. Just me and the quiet and the coffee pot. Those were good hours at the wheel.

In many ways, as occurred to me during my involuntary middle-of-the-night brainstorming process last night [only an hour this time; huzzah!]; in many ways, this experience is like a return to that year in grad school; a revisiting of similar variables, a challenge to my comfort zone, preferences and assumptions. That’s the last time I worked in a group studio space, with all the crazy, mostly-unspoken interpersonal dynamics; they run non-stop, like background radiation… some for the good, some bad. As a change-up, a part of this adventuring party on their way to visit the dragon, it’s fine; interesting and challenging and informative. But all the time, it would slowly and inexorably drive me batshit crazy, I’m certain. My Precious

Anyways, other than my time teaching at the U — which doesn’t really count as my studio time; just demos of pots I didn’t keep — it’s been entirely my personal space for something like 13 years. A fellow could get used to such a thing; like an after supper pipe to a hobbit, solitude has a way of becoming a necessity. So I realize only now, with that fundamental variable flipped, just how often I crank the music, or mutter to myself out loud, or leap into the air in a bad Pete Townsend air guitar swoop for no particular reason, at home alone. Or sit staring into space, or doing things completely wrong because I’m too lazy/stubborn to walk across the room to retrieve the correct tool for the job, or any number of equally or more embarrassing things that I’m unaware of. These are things I allow myself to do in private, but try — I hope, mostly successfully — to cull here, in a room of five other people all working away at their clay.

E’ville was also the last time I dove into the local culture’s preferences for clays, gear, glazes, kilns, etc. Which is its own strange acquiescence: “I used to do it like this, now I’ll do it like that.” Perhaps in a significantly related fashion, this journey here to the NC is exactly the kind of thing I promised myself that I’d do when I quit school with only an M (eg. sans F & A). I was planning to fill in the missed experiences, education and exposure through many more things like this, back in ’99, but… well, things just have a way of getting away from our better intentions, now don’t they?

In between there and here I’ve bought two houses and spent uncountable days chipping away at their deficiencies. I’ve gotten a steady job and worked it five days per for a lot more years than I’d ever planned or hoped for. I’ve quit it, restarted it, and finagled a way to chop it in half. Semi-salvaged a barn, and seen it fall on a late, warm-to-cold, superstorm kind of late January day just like today. (In fact, it was a Tuesday, January 28th or -9th, five years ago exactly. I’ve got a link around here somewhere to prove it.) [Insert sad link to collapsed 100-year-old barn.] {Aw, screw it. You know where to find it if you want to. } I’ve built a kiln and had a daughter and been to Maine and New York, Italy and NM, SoCal and Chicago (three times) and places in between… and made — shoot, I don’t know — 7500 pots since then? 10,000?

That’s a lot of blood under the bridge.

Other than that really great workshop I did in ’03 with the aforementioned Mr. Meyers, a quick trip to NCECA when it was in Indianapolis, and visiting (or visits from) a few other potters here and there, I think this is the only thing I’ve done in all that time along the lines of leaving hearth and home to go out and seek adventure. (The giants of new experience; the wargs and goblins of social  interaction; the potential salvation, like eagles swooping to the treetops, of a sincere, meaningful connection.)

To belabor that comparison — and to contradict what I wrote above about lack of solitude turning me into Gollum — it occurs to me that the hermit-like path I’ve taken, diving ever deeper into the very local and my own stubborn way of wanting to work things out for myself, even when it means reinventing the wheel many times over; it occurs to me that that path needs occasional branching back to alternative approaches to find it’s optimal levels. Sitting around trying to write my memoirs without having the adventures first is like watching the hair grow on one’s toes and declaring it progress. Sure, if you want to move the goalposts like that, then we can count them as points. But damn if that’s not really lowering the stakes.

For all the wonders and treasures to be found at home — and by Frodo’s missing tenth finger, I swear they are many and lustrous — there’s so much more out here, On The Road, in the messy space of other people’s real lives and experiences, and not just in the weak reflections of them that appear as pixels on a screen.

But you already knew that, because you’re only dumb enough to have read this whole thing, when you could have been doing just about anything else instead. You’re certainly not dumb enough to fall into all the ridiculous traps I have. Certainly not. Certainly. Not.

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