Look out, M.C. Richards

Hands in Clay / igz

Not to establish any kind of astrological theme here—really, I’d prefer not to—but just moments after posting my last entry, I got a new and rather ominous Rob Brezsny horoscope in my inbox. Some kind of “cautionary metaphor” about the great rivers of the world drying up before they reach their destination.

Awesome. Everybody got their Prozac today?

Since reading this, I’ve somehow been thinking about my college pottery class, during which I never once pulled a pot off the wheel. Instead, I drew lump after lump of clay into shapes and forms that I always, always smashed before they could ever become beautiful, working parts of the world.

Like those evaporating rivers, I never actually got anywhere.

I’d had a bad history with clay. It started back in my junior high sculpture class, when my teacher mockingly massaged the lumpy, unrecognizable body of the dodo bird I was building, pretending it was a woman’s breast. Artistic trauma, anyone? I avoided clay altogether in high school, but in college my painting major required that I also practice in clay. This turned out to be as unfortunate for my self-esteem as it was for grade point average.

The first-level clay class was all handbuilding, and went far better than expected. Working with slabs on a still platform, I could focus on one square inch of the clay and chisel until I had what I thought resembled … say, a zipper, or a convincing tree bark texture. The class ended and I exhaled—maybe I wasn’t so bad at this! Then came the second-level clay class, and the bottom fell out from under me—or at least out from under my pots—as I was required to work on the moving surface of the potter’s wheel.


Some might find it odd that I made it all the way to college—as an art major, no less—without ever using a potter’s wheel. I was even an art instructor at a 4-H camp, but somehow managed to direct the kids that summer toward such bizarre alternatives as environmental sculpture and bodypainting. (Avoidance, pure and simple.)


The key irony here is that I actually think a lump of clay on a potter’s wheel is a damned lot of fun. Blissing out for hours with a wet mass of mud spinning between your fingers is … well, it’s pretty rad if you’re into that sort of thing. I was content during the class, and I inevitably learned something, too. I focused intently on the process of centering; and learned a lot about rhythm, patience, and the real capabilities of my hands.


But I didn’t finish a single piece.


The various starts and stops in my life—quitting of the recent job included—show that in some ways, I have not stopped smashing my pots. This would be a huge downer, if I were out to, say, fill my china cabinet. But luckily, that’s not what life is about—at least not to me. I have so enjoyed the feeling of thrusting my hands into experience after experience, letting intuition guide me, and finding new lessons every time.


Yet at this point, making a “finished piece” seems like a good lesson, too. After many years of practice and centering, I am ready to throw a damned pot, already. I want my hard work to manifest in something real, something useful. I am ready for some of the most important practices that I have developed over the last decade—namely writing and yoga—to develop to a deeper and more productive level.


My concern is that I will have to choose one area of focus, and commit to one endeavor at a time in order to see results. During the coming months, I’ll be tinkering around to figure out whether that’s necessary.


Finally, I have some words from someone whose wisdom trumps Brezsny by a long shot. (And I’m not just saying that because my recent horoscope was a little grim). Indian mystic Maharshi (not to be confused with the Maharishi) is here to tell us that with a little bit of faith, it’ll all work out just fine. But you knew that already, right?

Place your burden
at the feet of the Lord of the Universe
who accomplishes everything.

What is to be done will be done
at the proper time. Don’t worry.
Abide in the heart and surrender your acts
to the divine.

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