The ability to temporarily retreat from the sights and sounds of daily life is a valuable one. In some ways, it is like a getting a good night’s sleep; you don’t necessarily realize how much time has passed or how restful those moments were until you come back to reality and realize how restored you feel. For some people, the process of disconnecting and relaxing involves a private space within which to meditate. For others, the desire to step back and away from the demands of life leads to an energetic outdoor jog.
A few months ago, I enrolled in and began attending an evening course at a ceramics studio. I had no experience with clay or a potter’s wheel. When I purchased a set of potter’s tools from the local Dick Blick, I wasn’t sure that I had all of the tools the syllabus listed: what did a rib look like? I knew next to nothing about the process of making a ceramic piece. That, coupled with the fact that I didn’t know anyone else taking the class, or even quite why I was signing up (I suppose I had been considering, for the past few years, that I might enroll in a formal art class), suggests that this might have been a somewhat compulsive decision. The forty-five minute commute to the studio through rush-hour traffic wasn’t an effective deterrent, though.
However, in the space of a few short weeks, I realized how different my three hours in the ceramics studio were from all of the other hours I spent at work in the lab, or tending to odds and ends at home, or socializing with friends and colleagues. In regards to many things I do, I develop a small anxiety about timing, expediency, efficiency, and productivity, and a clock or watch is always in peripheral sight. This is different. My time at the pottery wheel can stretch for hours and I won’t notice. Dinner is a vaguely familiar notion, and so is the need to drink water. Only later do I realize that I have clay smeared on the ends of my hair, on my forearms, across my pants, and sometimes, even on my shoes. Maybe it has to do with the preconceived commitment to spending the whole evening at the studio, knowing that I don’t have anything further to do before I head home to bed. It helps that, as a beginner, I don’t feel the pressure to make a certain number of pieces in an allotted amount of time; if I get one nice piece out of the evening, that’s wonderful already. Regardless of whether I make one decent bowl or manage to turn out five or six handsome cups, I always feel like it was an evening well spent. Something about the quiet focus needed to shape the clay and to feel when the wall of the vessel wants more moisture, or when the wall wants to be trimmed thinner, or when the piece just no longer wants to stand up, takes up just the right amount of energy so that I no longer care to expend effort worrying about work or whatever will come the next day. I’m sure that gazing at an object spinning round and round on the wheel qualifies as a kind of hypnosis, too.
Some of the satisfaction of being a fledgling ceramicist derives from being able to hold the finished piece, weighty and unique and usually not quite how I imagined it to come out, in the palm of my hand. The flow of creativity involved in considering the shape of my next pot or the color and type of glaze is also an opportunity to think with the other half of my brain. I think that my sentiment can be summed up in a statement I overheard a few days ago, when a much more advanced potter realized that the end of the class term, and the beginning of the holidays, was approaching: “What am I going to do without my therapy?”