Lessons Learned at the Wheel
I took a pottery class this summer, and it was probably the kindest thing I've done for myself in a long while. My "journey to pottery," if you want to call it that, started when I was in high school. At my school in the early 2000s, we took seven credits each year, either as year-long courses or split into two half-credit semesters. Of course we had to take the required core classes: math, English, science, history. But, the other hours of the day could be filled with electives: fine arts, practical arts, physical education, or languages. We were required to have a minimum number of each of those.
Scheduling often became a puzzle, trying to figure out how to fit in the things we wanted to do around the things we had to do. For the most part, I was pretty successful. I took French all four years, managed the required PE and computer classes, took a few extra core classes to sounded interesting, and of course, fine arts every year.
Because music was my great love. In those days, I played my cello every day, at school in Orchestra, after school in clubs, musicals, and small ensembles. I took lessons. I practiced at home most days. I even spent a couple weeks each summer at a cello camp in Illinois. Yes. a camp full of cello players. They were some of the happiest times of my lives.
For the most part, I'm happy with the education I got at Tonka - Home of the Griffins. In fact, I graduated high school with only one course-related regret (and a whole ton of relationship ones, but that's not important now). I never managed to take one class that had always intrigued me. Ceramics.
I knew they learned how to throw on a wheel in that class, something that other art classes never got to do, and I was so jealous of it. Wheel throwing has always mesmerized me. Something about being able to stick a lump of liquidy Earth on a table, apply an angular velocity, and turn it into a vase or a bowl? That's magic, my friends.
For years, I've regretted never learning this real-world magic.
Then, this year, I realized, opportunities to learn don't end when you graduate. I'm an adult who makes my own money and manages my own time, and I could choose to spend that money and time to learn a new skill. I could take a pottery class!
So, after twenty years of wishing I could take a pottery class, I finally did. I learned how to throw on a pottery wheel.
I'm terrible at it. I'm such a novice. My pots are all wonky and small and kind of useless. But I don't care because...
I LOVE IT!
I'm not good at it, but I love it! If you know anything about me, you should know this is completely out of character. I've always had to be good at everything I do. And when I'm not, I don't handle my frustration about it well. I've grown over the years, but it's still a struggle for me. Managing those expectations.
So why am I reveling in my ineptitude here? I thought maybe it was just the soothing nature of throwing pottery. The rhythm you get into with the spin of the wheel. Maybe it was because I could just go by feel and not have to think too much.
Or maybe, I realized this week, maybe I love it because I'm no good at it.
I mentioned above that music is my main passion. It probably always will be. Even when I write, I write about music in some form or another. And about once every few years, I try to learn a new instrument. Cello will always be my first love, but I can play some simple piano and guitar. I've tried to learn violin. I've wanted to pick up clarinets, harmonicas, drum kits, and many many more. If I had unlimited money, I'd probably fill my house with instruments.
None of these instruments come as easily to me as I feel like the cello did. But really, did it? Did I just naturally pick up the cello?
No! Of course not!
I'm sure my parents could tell you about the many hours over several years they listened to me saw away at that thing until it finally clicked. So, what's different?
As far as I can tell, the difference is that I learned the instrument along with learning how to read music on three separate clefs, how to identify key signatures, how to translate those little Latin words into actions, how to count rhythms and hear fifths. I did all of those things while I learned how where to put my fingers on the fingerboard, and how to hold a bow.
But now? Now, when I pick up a new instrument, I come to the process already knowing the music theory. I expect myself to be better than I am. I expect it to sound just as good as my cello sounds when I play it. Every aspect is familiar except the actual physical act of holding and using this new instrument. My mind and fingers are on two completely different levels.
With pottery, my mind and my fingers are on the same level. Noob.
It's been really freeing, knowing that what I'm creating won't be good but I'll still be proud of it.
I think this translates to my writing. I've been struggling for quite some time to really commit to a project and see it through to completion. And, I think it's because I'm experiencing the same sort of frustration as I have with my music. I want to start a new story but the vision in my mind isn't translating to the words on the screen. Brain and fingers are at different levels. So I return to the stories I've written and rewritten dozens of times. Because, like my cello, they are familiar and comfortable. I've already put the hours of work into making them good.
And I remember when I first started writing fiction (often of the fan variety in those days, I'm not ashamed). I didn't care if it was good then. (It wasn't). My only goal was to entertain myself. Several years ago, I wrote stories like how I throw pots today. Haphazardly, without any real direction, just for the simple joy of watching raw material take shape into something real. And I wish I could get that feeling back. I'm trying so hard to get that feeling back. I know if I can start writing for joy again, I'll get it back. I just need to spin the wheel and start throwing.