January 12, 2014

the sweetness of light

When the sun is shining I can do anything; no mountain is too high, no trouble too difficult to overcome. -- Wilma Rudolph

Just to continue the theme of joy and of cultivating a sense of gratitude, I share the above quote on this sunny day in NC (and hopefully your neck of the woods). Wilma Ruldoph was born in a community outside of my hometown of Clarksville, TN. After the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome, she was widely considered the fastest woman on earth, the Italians nicknamed her “La Gazella Negra” (The Black Gazelle). Rudolph overcame polio as a child to be the winner of 3 gold medals! She of course was legendary in middle Tennessee and around the world.  But how did this person shake her childhood leg braces and become a world record holder?

I remember my very first pottery class in the summer of 1983. I only had a vague idea of what clay was. At that point I knew very little about the material, but I had visited a pottery class with a friend and seen a potter make a pot on the wheel. During that visit I also saw the class fire some pots in a raku firing. It all seemed so much exciting than ANYTHING I had experienced in three years of civil engineering that I had struggled through.

During the first night of class I just squished clay together and hand built a funny sack-like pot. I was shown how to roll out a slab and I was also shown coil building. There were lots of wheels in the room, but they were off limits to me as a beginner. (Maybe that’s why I was so ambitious to learn to use the wheel?) Anyway, this sack-like vessel was made with “coils” that I sliced from slabs, squarish coils that I scored and slipped together.

Sorry, I don’t have a picture to share with you. It’s a picture that exists in my mind only. What a strange time it was. very few people had cameras on their cell phones. Oh, actually no one had cell phones.
Yes, I’m a dinosaur.

But let me try to get to my point on this sunny day. It’s a point about perseverance and skill. (maybe patience?)

After that first class, I was hellbent on finding out about the pottery wheel. After all, I was inspired and transformed one night watching someone throw on the wheel. I have heard many people describe their reaction to watching a potter for the first time. It usually involves the word “magic”. But I soon found out that it wasn’t magic so much as it was practice and maybe, knowing a few of the magician’s secrets! aha!

Well, even after learning some of the secrets (its no wonder we use the words, tips and “tricks”) I found it really difficult to center, much less throw a cylinder. I worked on this “centering” that whole summer. When making on large pots, I still work on it!

But I was SO determined. I was convinced that I could learn it. I saw all the students around me doing it. Surely, I thought, it was something I could learn.Eventually I did learn to center, but I remember that it seemed like SUCH a long time. I was SO impatient. After working so hard, for so long, it seemed like at some point I forgot that I was trying so hard. It had become such a mission for me, that I made it happen by sheer will.

Maybe you have had this experience with something you are determined to do? We can be so driven! WE can dive so deep into something when we are REALLY interested and REALLY curious. Learning how to recognize what we are really interested in, what we really enjoy, takes time.

Last night I was cleaning the studio and ran across a project of very little significance, really. My staple gun that I had bought in art school didn’t work anymore. This mundane object had a LOT of significance to me. I had used it to attach canvas to the stretchers of my paintings. I used it to canvas UTFC posters and band posters all over the strip in Knoxville! Wanting to save such a tool doesn’t mean I’m a pack rat does it? After all, I was using it just the other day to staple a tarp over the chicken coops! I guess I also just hate to throw things out when they break! Since this tool didn’t have any electronics or rivets, I thought that surely i could take it apart and find out what the matter was. I won’t bore you with the details. But I was really motivated by my nostalgia and my DIY pioneer determination to fix that damn thing!

Just when I was about to give up and toss it, I had a realization that the staples were getting stuck right at the end of whatever you call the place where they slide to the end. It appeared that with the thousands of staple that had been pounded into poles and whatever over the years the staple feed had also been pounded.

Anyway, bless you for sticking with me through this. Maybe its time to make a point. I guess I’m trying to make a point that the same irrational impulse to pursue such a silly project may be the same irrational determination that drives me in the studio. Just maybe. It was all about getting lost in the process. Granted there is always the risk of failing, but there is also the prospect of success, which is sweet!
When we challenge ourselves or to put it another way, when we find ourselves challenged, we are usually engaged at a higher level than when something is easy for us. When something is easy for me I’m not as motivated. Do you find this to be true?

Picking up that first ball of clay, way back when, seemed so foreign to me. My only prior experience with clay was probably playing as a child in a Tennessee ditch! But with clay, or anything that speaks immediately to your senses, there is resonance. We feel it! No tools are really required! We can get lost in any process that captures our imagination and engages our senses. That is what joy is, I think.

I have gotten lost in this writing.

Well, the sun is gone over the hill in the same way as I have lost sight of the original topic.

Something about the sun, I think?

It’s likely that I won’t edit this post, clicking the send button is so much easier! ;-) So I apologize in advance for any untied threads or deep ends I leave you hanging in. But I do thank you for your diligence in getting here to the end with me. If anything struck a chord feel free to share your thoughts in a comment or email me directly.

I love hearing from you.