As I was pilfering through my news feeds this afternoon, I happened across a post by Laurie Erdman, an incredible potter and general inspiration. Her simple question was...how does pottery (or your art form) sustain you?
I smiled. I shared the link with my friends. And then I reflected on my answer.
Since childhood, being led by the hand through the Philadelphia Museum of Art and its overwhelming Egyptian exhibits (always my favorite), I've been fascinated with clay vessels. I asked how it was done. Read books about it hiding in the library while my father worked, and daydreamed about how incredible it must be to craft such beautiful things with a bit of earth and fire. We were hanging on to middle class by the skin of our teeth, so I never asked about classes. And as I became a young adult, I became complacent with the idea of admiring, and wondering...but not doing.
Too busy in college. Too frazzled upon my entry to corporate America. Too distracted by living and loving, my daydreams drifted off to rest between the pages of some of the textbooks I retained about Greek and Egyptian history.
When I moved to Austin in 2005, my life changed in many ways. None of the ways I expected. And I found myself eventually in my mid-thirties looking around and realizing all the hopes and wishes I had for myself were drifiting off on waves of reality that I couldn't possibly control. In that painful acceptance of being stripped of love, and happily ever afters, I found myself with a great career, a reasonable sense of self...and a giant hole. And I had no idea what I should do to begin filling it.
And that is when pottery came back to me. Flipping through a text on the middle dynasties of Egypt, I wondered out loud, "how come you've never even looked into a pottery class?" The answer was...I was waiting. Waiting on my life to begin. Waiting on what I then believed to be important markers of my successful adulthood status. A home. A husband. A family. A happily ever after. When all those things happened...perhaps then I would consider the other things I wanted to pursue in the spiritual, creative cultivation of self.
Life has very slowly, very meticulously demonstrated to me that life, art, creativity, imagination and expression are all the things withering away while you stare out the window waiting for your story to unfold. The irony is...your creativity and expression ARE the story. They are the window.
Pottery coaxed me back into the living world after a mean sleep. As I learned to center, to lift a wall, to shape and to trim, I worked through anger. I worked through despair. I worked through my own tired expectations of myself and what I had to "accomplish" before I could be an acceptable adult. And then, I began to find hidden parts of myself. My eye for color. My addiction to finding new ways to construct traditional forms. I dreamed clay dreams and found something to be excited about...again.
How has pottery sustained me? With each piece, I see more growth. I see structural improvement. I see a willingness to forget my own conventions and express my individuality and experience creative and social freedom. Pottery feeds my hunger to learn. It stimulates all of the other art forms I quietly nursed while no one else was looking. It gives me a reason to engage strangers, to form new friendships and find new ways to happiness.
This life will always have it's share if disappointments. Setbacks. Trials. Pottery reminds me that we can always break something apart, and make it better than it was before. Pottery is beginning soft and yielding, being fired into a backbone, then glazed into something stronger than you ever imagined.
That is how pottery sustains me.