A few weeks ago, I was catching up with a friend talking about pottery and how I finally, in my mid thirties, decided to sate my lifelong curiousity and take some classes. As I was talking about the meditative and healing effect its had on my life, we began comparing the pottery process to the maturation process.
The most powerful lesson pottery teaches its student is one of recovery and rebounding. Anything that has been done, can be done again. If it fails, prepare your clay, wedge it well and try again. Like life, it is a series of failures and mishaps, bumps and sags that teach you and prepare you for greatness. With each failed attempt, you get stronger. You become wiser. You gain practice. And you try again. Eventually, with time and patience, you learn to "read" the clay and the clay begins to yield to your will. The more confident your touch, the better your results.
When you finally create something you like, it goes into the fire. Over 2200 degrees of heat harden your piece just enough for it to endure another process. Often times your creation makes it through unscathed. Sometimes, it doesn't. You glaze your piece and fire it again, to see a finished product that once was just an ordinary lump of clay. Hard. Solid. Bursting with color, unique in its subtlety or loud in its expression. It becomes something that is a testement to who you are. Big. Small. Perfect and Imperfect. Light. Heavy. Whatever it is and however you describe it, it is yours. Your accomplishment. Your own personal artifact.
I threw the biggest bowl of my life last week. Nearly 18 inches in width (wet). I was beaming, in spite of myself, as I removed it from the wheel to let it get some air. After the piece set, I covered it lightlyefully with newspaper to protect the rim from damage and to better retain just a bit of moisture. I covered that newspaper with a layer of plastic, and gingerly placed the bowl on my shelf to dry for about a week.
Today, I went in and after about 30 minutes in the sun, my huge bowl was ready for trimming. I flipped it onto a bat, placed it carefully on the wheel and adjusted it. I centered it. I visualized the foot I wanted and prepared to trim. Without thinking, I flipped the on switch of my wheel and my stomach dropped as I heard it immediately hum as if in full spin. I looked down in time to watch my beautiful, perfect bowl sail off my wheel into a nearby pole then clatter to the floor with a sickening thud.
My potter mates all shrieked in disapppointment. I love how we all "feel" the loss of a prized piece no matter who it belongs to. The kid in me wanted to wail. The ill-tempered perfectionist in me wanted to kickbox a hole in the wall. The little wise sage in me said, "shhhh. You can make another. That's the beauty of this exercise. It's gone. Let it be gone."
I went with the sage. And that's the best kind of growth I could ever ask for.