it was all too much (but not for my husband)

Thursday, February 21, 2013

It doesn't matter why I told my students this bit of personal whatever on Tuesday, but when I said "I just started taking pottery lessons," they laughed.

Out loud.

It's probably because I don't have the natural grace of an artist, or the excellently good ideas, or maybe the time. But they laughed, one louder than the rest, and there I was, in the pottery studio this morning, wishing that I could laugh, too.

I only wanted to cry. We were to combine three techniques—the slab, the pinch pot, the coil—and make something wonderful. To my left—my artist husband, who has been designing three-dimensional things since the day he was born. To my right—my award-winning pottery teacher. In between—my clay and me.

Please understand that to get to the pottery studio I have to rise at four AM at least, get a half day's worth of corporate work in, write back to my beautiful memoir students, send a note to my fellowship student, read some of the books I've promised to read, start grading papers, exercise so I'm allowed to eat a cookie, set up the piles that will greet me upon my return. Oh, and wash my hair.

So I arrive at the studio out of breath. I arrive with all kinds of hopes for yoga calm. Breathe, I tell myself. Enjoy this. My husband at once begins his work on his already-signature slab columns that elicit all kinds of fabulous awe from the other women there. Bernadette, my instructor, is, of course, patiently building beautiful things. And I'm standing there with my pile of clay, trying to throw the air out of the slabs, roll the weight to an even thin, decorate decorously, slip and shine. (For you clay folk, I do know that the term is slip and score. At least I know the terms but, as a writer, I choose to bend them.)

My work was not working. My work became, as a reality TV show mother said famously last week, "a monstrosity of evil." Clay can be very kind, and clay can be very cruel. My clay was cruel to me.

I just kept thinking about all I should be doing at home. I just kept asking myself, Do I have to be good at this? Is this a requirement? Can I sleep under the table? Can I walk home? Somebody let me walk home.

But I stayed. I stayed until the end because Bernadette is too sweet to let me decide to leave and because my husband was having a ball. (Of course you're having a ball, I told him later. You're an artist! And you slept until seven! And you are not freaked out. You never freak out. Why can't you sometimes freak out? For in truth, my talented husband is also enviably calm.)

Here's the lesson that I learned today.

You can fail, and your life will go on.


Serena said...

You are so hard on yourself. You should just let the clay move through your fingers and empty that full mind of yours...just be. That's my advice...though I'm not one to take that

Elizabeth Mosier said...

Are you going to the Mud Room? I just dropped a friend off there last week.

It's good to do things we're not good at! :)

Melissa Sarno said...

Oh my gosh, Beth. I'm sorry but I have to laugh (Can I sleep under the table? Can I walk home?) Sometimes I think we are the same person. (Picture me in a dance class, everyone patting Tyler on the head telling him how adorable he is, what a fast learner, while I'm sitting in front of a mirror sulking for 20 minutes practicing 'proper posture')

Jennifer R. Hubbard said...

"You can fail, and your life will go on."

Failing is woven right into life; it's part of it.

But I wouldn't even call what you're doing in pottery failing, nor you a failure. I would call it learning, and you a student.

Sarah Laurence said...

Hey, I'm an artist, and I did not like pottery. I prefer free form clay sculpture to the wheel. Is there room for that in your class? My brother is a straight line architect, and I excel at messy charcoal and paint. He envies my rendering and I his precision, but to each his/her own. There are lots of ways to express yourself in art.

Art isn't about failing or succeeding, and there is no single standard. The techniques can be challenging to master, but a good teacher will tell you it's all about the process, not the results. As you struggle with something new, you will become a better teacher yourself.

This was your husband's gift to you, but perhaps it has become yours to him. What would your husband think of a gift of dance lessons for you as a couple? I think it's okay to quit if you aren't getting any pleasure out of it, but don't call that a failure of anything but your expectations.

Beth Kephart said...

You guys are the best! Thank you, Serena. And, Libby: Mud Room? Is there a Mud Room? I probably have the right attire!

And Sarno, oh Lord. Well. Yeah.

Hubbard, I know. Learning/Failing. Sometimes you need more sleep to know the difference.

And Sarah, we do indeed take ballroom together. A journey of its own. (He's Latin, you recall.)

But I won't quit pottery because I am not a quitter (she says, while sitting up straight to make sure she means it). Besides, Bernadette is just too sweet.

Elizabeth said...

To reiterate sarah's comment above, how can you possibly fail? My favorite painting instructor told me that to create you must let go of the idea of failure. You are just having an experience. For me, it's just paint and canvas. At the end of the day, it's still paint and canvas. But through manipulating it, I've had an experience. I can't strive to make a masterpiece; I can only interact with my materials and subject matter. You can only interact with your clay, and the product is a memento of your experience.

That's my self pep talk for the day. I'm off to spinning (wool) class, where I'm producing anything but a masterpiece. But I do love handling the wool!

Katrina said...

Beth, you made me laugh out loud. I was EXACTLY the same in my own futile attempts at pottery. My clay was cruel, too, and in the battle between clay and me, clay won. I never returned. (I also once left a beginning Step class in tears, humiliated to my core because I couldn't step, kick, slide, hop fast enough to keep up with everyone else.) And yup, life goes on. You excel at so much! So allow yourself to be human and fallible --and just see how funny you are when you laugh at yourself and invite the rest of us to laugh, too. LOVED this. Sending hugs and clay commiseration. (I now express my love of pottery by buying it.) xo

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