From a Lump of Clay

When I lived a life of wide-open space, I spent hours in a potter’s studio hunched over a spinning wheel, legs in a ‘v’ to accommodate the machine before me. Arms tensed, hands gripping the moving blob of moist earth, I pushed and positioned trying to convince the clay to give over its will to me and become the shape I desired. I endured many frustrating battles before I learned to move with the clay rather than against it.

The chilly, concrete-floored studio became a relaxing and peaceful place to escape into during my long stretches of unreserved time between freelance jobs. I developed a specific wardrobe for this room – clay-encrusted, turquoise blue high tops and faded cutoffs. I had discovered it was easier to wash clay off of skin than out of fabric, and the assorted splatters on the high tops became a journal of the various colored clays with which I’d experimented.

I haven’t been back to the studio since my son was born thirteen years ago. Those wide-open spaces of time don’t exist in the same way. When emptiness sits before me, I feel the pressure to fill it with useful and productive over pleasure, but when I pull out my ceramic creations of the past, I feel longing. And last night when I served my son dinner in one of the bowls that usually lives high up in a cupboard more as a memory than as a daily life participant, he said, “Nice bowl,” in the offhand way a teen pays a compliment, and I thought of the studio again.

Pottery was good for me. The studio offered a built-in community of artisans and explorers. We’d share tips and marvel at the results of glazing experiments. At the wheel we’d sit in silence and watch our clay spin round and round. While the professional potters greeted a fresh chunk with a specific result in mind often requiring the use of a ruler to create a matched set, I went off in spontaneity, saying, “Bowl,” unconcerned as to what precisely would emerge.

A lot of (un)fortunate friends received my pottery as gifts, and eventually I'd created too much to store in my home. But I couldn’t halt the output because going to the studio was the only time in my life that was about process over results. The doing really was more enjoyable than the outcome. I was not in the studio to create cups, pitchers, bowls, and plates, but to experience the meditative pleasure of getting lost in spinning clay, to see a creation grow before me, to laugh at the miscalculations while also marveling at the unexpected.

As much as I tell myself to experience life as process, that doesn’t come easily to me. I always return to my goal-oriented perspective, certain I’ve spent enough time in process and now deserve to luxuriate in splendid results. But in remembering how joyous I felt in the potter’s studio, I seek to implant that vision in my mind to make it readily available upon request. Whenever I start to feel impatient awaiting results, I will picture myself at that potter’s wheel content and mesmerized. No matter what activity I am engaged in, I will strive to overlay the image of the potter's studio and chant the mantra, “Process, baby. Process.


Slim said...

Wow. This post was marvelous for a variety of reasons (to me anyway). One, I too love to throw clay, I started in highschool and have taken various classes since. I even had one teacher who was careful to point out that we were handling EARTH, and that we should see it as almost a sacred connection. I actually looked into taking a class last week because I think it may help me with a seasonal depression that seems to have taken hold.

Two:You've described the premise behind one aspect of art therapy. The idea that the PROCESS is cathartic, and the end result need not be a masterpiece is key.

QT said...

I hope you can find the time to take part in this again. It sounds like it was so important for your health.

This is what gardening does for me - digging into the ground, planting, watching them grow. It is not work for me, but meditation.

Mrs. Z said...

Beautiful writing. I remember enjoying ceramics in the one class I too, but I'm not very good. But I think that outlet is good. Thanks for visiting my blog too. I'm enjoying yours as well, and you are the latest addition to my blogroll!

Nance said...

This reminds me of my job: teaching high school. Process, not final product. Sometimes it's really, really hard to remember that. And frustrating. Very frustrating. Unlike some people, who can go home at the end of the day and say, "I'm done", I can't really see a truly final result. Only years later, when a handful here and there come back and tell me what the year spent in my classroom meant to them or how our time together helped them can I really see "the job done", so to speak. I'm part of a huge continuum of process.

Anonymous said...

'Those wide-open spaces of time don’t exist in the same way'
This is a brilliant sentence to sum up what motherhood is really about (at least for me). I could totally picture you in the potters studio, creating. And while it's a great visual to remind yourself of a process and the experience of such, I do hope you'll find time to get back into the studio and start that organic type of creating again.

Emily said...

I've never used a wheel...but this makes me want to run out and take a pottery class...the look of wet clay has always appealed to me

Anonymous said...

you are such an artist. i threw for awhile, but didnt love it the way you describe. the messiness, yes...the patience, no.

so yes, it{s the process, baby.