Tag: throwing

seventy-five pounds

IMG_1582On the 23rd of May, i hurt my left shoulder for the second time this year – an incident that left me screaming and clutching my arm to my chest.  For days, normal activity was severely compromised and making pottery out of the question.  Pain made me mostly useless.

Today, three weeks later, i threw seventy-five pounds of clay and transformed it into IMG_1579 eighteen lovely bowls.  For the first time in months, no piece failed; even as i got tired and sore, my coordination didn’t suffer.

i found myself singing with joy.  i kept murmuring thanksgivings.

This kind of blessing during a time of struggle gives the heart hope.  If i can throw seventy-five pounds of clay, i kept marveling as i finished the last, largest bowl, then maybe everything else is possible.  What a joyous notion!

Let’s see what i can get done tomorrow, and what art will come to me while i am at Artspace Gallery in Rockland on Monday.

stealing time

A thief again,
i have been stealing
from my obligations
to other people
and giving time
to myself.

i hide away,contentment_alt
turn everything off
but the sweet stilling music.

Guilty like Robin Hood,
i steal from those tasks
that gobble up days in a mouthful
and give a few intimate hours
to mold a figure in clay,
to let these words
flow across the page.

Reality struck me like a blow
last Tuesday –
the ten thousand chores
on a dozen to-do lists before me
will never go away.
One task accomplished,
three rise in its place.
Requests and demands
will always come
like moths to a flame,
the light of energy and ability
being irresistible.

i have to learn to say no.

Even better,
i must learn to state
“not now”
with singular clarity and purpose.

In my heart, i begin to believe
that i am fully valuable,
deserving of peace and art.
Even without that justification,
the results are profound:
after a few quiet hours,
i feel restored.

Even the mountains of toil
for the benefit of others
do not feel as heavy
with ink staining my hands.

pecha kucha redux

Well, if the weather is our friend, the Bucksport Pecha Kucha will be this coming Thursday (now nearly tomorrow) at the Alamo.

i should be practicing tonight, but a migraine laid me low for a few hours and still has not left me. (Why do they tend to come after an asthma attack?) When even the still, silent darkness got to be too painful, i decided to make myself useful since i was just as wretched resting. So, i have been doing a job that does not require much in the way of thought: putting more poems on the online store. The poems are already written and recorded – i just have to listen to them (my brain is not working well enough to remember what i wrote!), do the tags/keywords and create the product. Really, this is something half my brain can do, which is good because that’s about all that’s functioning right now.

Only, these poems have been soothing me. Mailboxes – written sometime in the past six years – could just as well have poured from my pen today. Losing cohesion reminds me that no matter how stressed and insecure this moment feels, i have fallen apart before and found a way to put myself back together. Love poem to sleep made the thought of rest and dreams, even while alone in my bed, titillate.

i am not quite halfway through this process and i have 160 poems already available. i can feel productive even while wondering if my brain will actually explode within my skull, or if it will take my skull with it into the room.

However, the real miracle is that these poems remind me who i am. In my pecha kucha presentation (titled Recreation) i will be talking about (SPOILER!) transformation on a personal and community level. This subject is immediate for me – and visceral.  The risk and change in my life over the past couple of months has been intense.

whispersThese poems have been reminding me who i am, down in my depths. When i work, the ego dissolves: i become nothing more than the words, the lines of the poem, the forms and stories. In those moments, the universe aligns and all is well. My burdens find me quickly enough when i step away from what i do – stress can overwhelm me when i cannot work. If i deviate from art long enough, i forget who i am. i become the stress, the vulnerability, the financial stupidity, the isolation. The fact that i live on a razor’s edge, like every other artist i know, because i have chosen to pursue these dreams, can feel like a condemnation of my being. Yet, when i pick up the pen, or like tonight, when i drench myself in what i have already done, i am soothed. Granted, there are things i would reword now. The chronic editor could always change something. But, they are proof of my passion.  This art pours out of me: thousands of poems, several novels, at least two dozen short stories, God knows how many pots – thousands  both large and small by now, hundreds of drawings and paintings.

i can forget that i have created much, and it has been wonderful. Tonight, i am using the realization that i am not as useless as this migraine makes me feel to inflate my heart. Let it fill me up.  Let it give me courage and hope!

The Blessings in New Year’s Day

studio5I love my studio.  It was part of the reason I chose this house in the first place, after working in a tiny studio in Virginia or in my condo’s small living-room.  Two floors, the upper that could be private, a sanctum sanctorum for art, and the other for teaching and messy, muddy work.  The big door to bring in canvases and (as it turned out) kilns, wheels and tables. It felt decadent.  I had space for kilns and wheels and slab rollers and tables.  I could teach and make art on a level that I had not previously conceived.

Today, Lara Max was kind enough to watch the pop up after we drew for the raffle today (we only have one more full day – given the weather coming in Sunday, we’re going to let artists start collecting their work at 2 pm Saturday) and during those lovely empty hours of the afternoon my friend Melisenda Ellis helped me with a project I had been stressing over and avoiding:  moving my wheel into the house so that I can keep making pottery this winter.  There was a huge part of me that resisted this change, even though it was unavoidable.

Heating two buildings last winter was crippling financially – I just cannot do it again.  Now, there will be times I can work in the studio – just after a kiln has fired while it is heated by red-hot pottery wrapped up inside fire-brick – but to get the bulk of whatever sculpting and throwing I want to do this winter done would require my wheel and tools to be here in the house. Praying for a miracle windfall of cash has not been as effective as making do with the resources I have: a spare room in the warm house.  By Halloween, I had moved the glazes (and the shelves required for them) to the house (again, thanks Mel).  However, the wheel had been too much for that dayDSCN5425, both physically and psychologically.

Today, even though it was cold, we had no ice, no snow and (thanks to Mel’s kindness) two strong women to muscle the equipment over.  The wheel now sits on hard plastic in my spare bedroom.  While we worked, I had an epiphany on how to protect the walls and floor from clay splatter and how to set up my tools for easy access.

A lot of them sit in the kitchen, waiting to be washed so I can start my work for the winter with that last box of porcelain.

to vanquish these fears – i force my arms to open – i begin to dance (one of the prizes in today’s raffle)

After Mel left and I sat here on the couch being exhausted, listening to my back mumble curses at me, I realized this was one of the best New Year’s blessings I could have gotten: two good friends willing to help me out.  Lara made phone calls for me – something that is a greater kindness than she could know.  Mel’s willingness to lend her strength and stamina to push my dreams a little further has consistently left me grateful.  A chance to continue making art – vanquishing my worries about the change of venue – is a blessing beyond compare.  If I am honest, I will tell you: I already miss the studio.  This solution is not perfect.  I will have to be quite vigilant about clay dust and mess (and curious cats) in the house.  The rhythm of my work will change, without doubt.  However, the important part is that the work will continue. New ideas and challenges already bubble up in my imagination. I already know what my first post-firing project will be – how to best use the slab roller and the work table when I can be in the studio, exploiting a brief gust of heat.

It will be another few days before the spare bedroom is ready for me to be actively throwing and by that time my back will stop complaining about today’s lifting (and it could have been so much worse – Mel moved the clay for me!)

But, today was a new beginning – like every day, every moment.  This particular beginning was proof that I am not alone in this world – that I still have good friends and my art.

Really, what more could I have asked for?




IMG_5588I threw seventy-five pounds of clay today – creating chip and dips, salad bowls, knitting bowls and a few other odds and ends.  In the middle of what promised to be my largest bowl, my favorite rib snapped in half.  The bowl tore in half, but that was nothing compared to my dismay at losing this particular rib.

I bought it at Manassas Clay when I was first learning pottery (and really terrible at it.)  This rib moved with me through all the levels of development, until I could throw lovely thin bowls that made my heart sing with delight.

IMG_5589It was at least twelve years old, probably even older.  Given that I used it nearly every day I have thrown, I shouldn’t be complaining that it finally died.  Only, I am.  It’s like losing a small, inanimate friend.  I threw my first pieces without it, two huge salad bowls and then one massive serving bowl, and felt its loss keenly.  I told my students I should have some kind of eulogy for my favorite rib:

You worked well, lovely little bowl rib.  Job well done.  Now I appear to be a good enough potter to get along without you, but darn, I am missing your perfect curves already.  I keep sighing and shaking my head at the senselessness of your loss.  Rest in pieces.


I threw today – one half of two sets of dishes (the large plates and the small plates).  It was a lovely day for it, the plates got to sit outside to dry and my hands got muddy again.  My hands weren’t cooperating well, so throwing was much more of a challenge than it usually is, but I didn’t care.  My heart was singing despite the frustrations.

Probably, I should have taken pictures of the endeavor – pots drying in the sunshine.  Instead, I kept throwing until I wore myself down.  This was a good thing for me. A validation of sorts. Art will find its time and demand my focus, no matter what else drives me.

I needed the reminder.

too stupid to be my friend

I feel like I should be writing about really important stuff.  Only, I am preoccupied with the stress. My health is crippling my ability to function as a human being.  Thankfully, I still seem to have poetry and pen and ink drawings oozing out of me, but other aspects of creativity have been hampered.  I have not had enough energy to throw; my attention  span (or, rather, the lack thereof) has stalled my novels. And without every medium distracting me from the struggle of running the business and trying to sell my art, I get lost to anxiety.  I am a paradox:  a psyche absolutely at sea without new art coming through me, enjoying this huge engine ready to create, and simultaneously suffering from this massive ignorance as to how to sell my work.

Every once in a while this feels like a strange form of prostitution, convincing people that the work of my hands, something so intimate and personal to me, are worth their money and appreciation.

It is when I am in this kind of state that I make stupid decisions.  I flounder and become easily susceptible to suggestion.  Thankfully, I know it – so I seek out the counsel of others.  My friends keep me reasonable, even if they have to tell me if I go down this path or that I will be too stupid to be their friend anymore. I listen, and every once in a while I even obey.

Depression wears me down.  My limits glare at me.  All I feel competent to do is make art – so I throw myself into it, hoping it will save my life.


Pottery on the treadle wheel

I should have posted this on the 17th, but I wound up being wiped out by the event.  From 11 to 3, I threw on my treadle wheel, doing demonstrations of pottery at the Penobscot Marine Museum.  IMG_2902 Eventually, I will upload the video friend of mine took during one of my quick demos.

But, one moment from that day filled with 19 tumblers and nearly as many demonstrations has stuck in my mind during the past two days.

There was a time when I had what seemed like 25 small children clustered around the wheel in a semicircle.  Directly to my left was a little girl – five and a half years old (she told me).  She started out pretty amazed, staring at the wheel, squatting down so she could see how the pedal moves the treadle.  But, then I smacked the clay down and started to center.  “OH MY GOD, HOW ARE YOU DOING THAT?”  Her eyes went huge her hands went up to her mouth in awe.

“Well, I’m putting equal pressure on each side of the clay, with the wheel going very very fast, so centripetal force helps me pull the clay up.”

I started coning up in earnest, the tower of clay getting taller and taller, “OH MY GOD!”  Her hands flew into the air.

Then I explained to the group that I was going to turn this tower of clay into a tuna can, so it would be nicely centered inside the wheel-head.

“OH MY GOD!”  Jumping up and down, curls flying in the air, “HOW ARE YOU DOING THAT?!?”  Wide eyed thrill filled her as the spindly tower of clay became something compact and smooth.

“Now,” I explained, “just like it says in the Tao Te Ching, the pot is only useful where it’s not,” (LeGuin, Lao Tzu’s The Tao Te Ching, pg. 14 – although I did not provide the children with the citation), “so I have to open it up and compress the bottom of the pot.”

She was beside me, jumping so she could see inside the pot.   All the other kids were giving me their full attention – to the point that one young boy walked into a freshly-thrown bowl, trying to see what I was doing better.  However, I found myself smiling, wondering how much of it was my being an interesting teacher and how much was the infectious quality of this one girl’s enthusiasm and fascination.  Bliss is contagious.  Half the reason I am in love with grammar is because my ninth-grade teacher walked into the first day of English class, spread her hands wide, and with a smile brighter than the sun cried, “Grammar’s FUN!”  Joy can make nearly any subject deliriously fascinating – and the effects last.

At this point, we had arrived at pulling up the walls.  That first pull can be impressive, particularly on the treadle wheel, where it happens so much more slowly than on the electric wheel.  She moaned as the wall started to go up, her hands returning to her face, covering her mouth, her eyes wide.  Before the pull was half finished, the moan had turned into a squeal, accompanied by bouncing, which sustained themselves until my hands came off the pot.  “HOW DID YOU DO THAT!  OH!  MY!  GOD!   HOWDIDYOUDOTHAT?”  She pointed to the pot,  about three-quarters its eventual height.  “HOW DID YOU DO THAT!?”  The other kids started to jump and point,  completely seduced by her wild curiosity.

“Well, I had my fingers on either side of the pot, right across from each other, and I very slowly, with even pressure, brought the clay from the bottom of the pot up the wall, making it taller, until I ran out of clay.”  The even tones of my voice did nothing to calm her ecstasy.  She was bouncing again, trying to see inside the pot.


“It’s really something you have to do,”  I could not have stifled my smile if I had wanted to.  “Has anyone here ever ridden a bike?”

Every hand shot up.

“Did you fall, when you were learning?  Or have problems breaking?”

“I ran into a tree.”  One young boy sighed, shaking his head.

“I did when I was learning, too.”  I smiled, “I bet some of you have gone ice skating, or roller skating, or taken dance classes.”  Most of the kids nodded, “Those are all things your body learns more than your brain does.  I can tell you all about how to throw a pot, describe all the forces of it, but to learn how to do this, your hands have to figure it out.  Your back has to figure out the best posture.  You have to fail at it a lot, to learn how to do it right.”

The bouncing  returned as the little girl cried out, “OH MY GOD, I WANT TO THROW A POT!”

I finished the last two pulls, shaped the pot and ended with a pretty much perfect cylinder to the refrain of “OH MY GOD!”

Then, I stopped the wheel.  “You know,”  I looked at each one of the kids around me, “This is a pretty darned perfect as a pot, but I don’t think perfection is very interesting.  The things that make us awesome are our flaws, the ways we are different and weird and unique.  So,”  I started the wheel slowly and make three indentations in the sides of the pot with my plastic rib, distorting the cylinder into a triangular shape. There were cries of outrage and shock from the children.  “Now, that I’ve done that, I’m going to re-round it.”  I started the wheel a little faster and hear her cry “OH MY GOD!  HOW ARE YOU DOING THAT?”  again.

“Now, this cup has hand holds.  And looks much more interesting.  But, now that we’re done,”  I smiled at the kids who still had their full attention focused on me.   “I have to do the scariest part of all – ”  I took my wire, cut off the pot, and picked it up to move it to the board.  “I have to be very careful as I put this down.  This is incredibly fragile.”  I lowered the pot, so the excited young girl and her friends could see the inside of it, placed it on the board, and grinned, fairly satisfied with the whole thing.  But satisfaction was meant to be dented, too.

No sooner had I pulled my hand away, than a seven year old boy put his elbow right in the pot. His classmates did not react well – indeed, he wound up being the only child whose name I know because it was shouted by several irritated voices at once.  But all was well, the pot was wet enough I could fix it.

And the children were hearded off by their adults, into a single file line, to travel on to the next place they were going.  But, for days, I have been hearing “OH MY GOD!” at odd moments and laughing.  If that girl doesn’t become a potter some day, it will be a true shame.




This morning, I needed a task that would help with built up grief and stress – and I started throwing.  For the first time in months, the process was absolutely effortless.  I felt no pain, my hands behaved themselves, plates flew from my fingers in rapid succession, I dropped nothing, not a tool nor a ball of clay nor a freshly thrown piece.  My only disaster was leaving a couple of plates out too long in the sun, because I lost track of time as I threw, but their replacements flew from the wheel head with great speed. Each pot looked better than I could have hoped.


Sometimes, it is the small blessings that get us through.  Today was full of things that made me despair: continued stress over the business and bills, an argument that left me gutted followed by terrible news about someone I love, the overwhelming feeling that nothing I do is quite enough, given what needs to be done.   In fact, after the plates were finished, I had to stop, too tired and punchy to do the glazing I had hoped to finish this afternoon, a sharp reminder of my limitations.  At that point, I started dropping things.  Pens, my phone (twice), my laptop (thankfully only a couple of inches and onto a pillow resting on a chair.) It was all I could do to write out poems.

But I kept holding the small triumphs close to my heart.  They saved me:  I threw some loveliness and Ruby survived her firing.  For a few moments, when I was in the flow of creating, both in clay and word, the world was aligned again. Even after it snapped back into chaos, a few conversations with friends tonight left me more hopeful.  Tomorrow will be better.

With luck, I can find that same solace when I return to the studio, whether it is in clay or words or something else.

Jars with lids

IMG_0074 (I began this on April 15th, but was interrupted by asthma and wretchedness.  Here I am posting it five days later…)

This morning, I gave one of my most talented students her first lesson on making jars with lids (examples made by my hands, freshly out of the glaze kiln, are to the left.)

As I predicted this morning while I was preparing to come out to the studio, she did a fantastic job.  After watching my two demos, she threw two lovely little jars with matching lids all on her own.

As I made the jars under her watchful eye, I kept realizing how amazing it is that this is even possible.  Blame Cosmos,  but I’ve been thinking a lot about atoms and particles and how wildly cool this world we live in is. The magnificence of existence cannot be overstated. How fantastic is it that we can make something so solid and stable out of mud?  Just add the pressure of my hands, the speed of the wheel, the heat of the kiln, and voila.  The sensual movement of the clay within my fingers feels like a miracle – I am continually amazed that we humans can do such marvels.IMG_0072 Even more, that I can make such loveliness.

Lately, I have been doing some whining.  Those within earshot have heard too much about woes and worries.  Not to mention my vexations.  What I am certain I never get across to anyone with enough clarity – most of all to myself – is that this life is so blessedly fantastic. I rejoice at being born so that I can live through these times. We enjoy a world full of wonders. Realizing that no matter how desperate or vulnerable I feel, or how terrible any situation seems to the individual or the world at large, everything can change in the blink of an eye. We can make loveliness out of mud.  Love – sometimes just as simple the love for what we are doing – can transform any moment.

It all brings me such hope and happiness. As that clay spins between my palms, nothing else matters.  The future and the past both cease to exist, there is just the clay becoming something new, something fantastic that it never expected it could be.

Feeling that clay take form between my hands and then witnessing those skills manifest themselves in my student left me joyous.  In the face of that, what chance did my worry and fear have?