Perfect Imperfect

Sometimes the right thing feels all wrong until it is over and done with.

     -Alice Hoffman

I made this bowl last night.

It was supposed to be a cylinder.

     When I finished it, I was simultaneously proud and hesitant. I couldn't believe I made it! It looked so good to me because it was a real, actual thing...not a sloppy, lopsided, broken blob. This was only my second wheel ceramics class, my third ceramics class since high school when you count my naughty chia pet class I took last winter—that was a hand/slab class.
     I took ceramics in high school and didn't feel I had a knack for it, in general, and really had a heck of a time with the wheel. I couldn't center, couldn't maintain the right speed to keep projects from going haywire or flying off the surface, literally. That was a long time ago.

Is it age?
The intervening years of making a living using my hands to make things, developing hand-eye coordination?
The teacher?

     The teacher, who is fantastic, teaches in a way that resonates with me, breaking the process down into bite sized morsels and encouraging us - nay - requiring us to do the one bit and then to chuck the clay and start again. Then do the first bit and add the second bit on another pound of clay. Then chuck that clay and start again. Do the first bit, second bit, and add a third bit. Chuck clay. And so on until we got to pulling it into a shape (the sixth step). Dude, that first class I centered from the very beginning, the necessary first step that even after a semester eluded me those many years ago, didn't feel daunting and lo and behold, just...came. I think that knowing you're going to chuck it keeps you from making that blob of clay precious...a thing. It's just practice, so you can approach it with relaxation and that beginner's mind. And boom, that little lesson stays little and gets learned. And the next time it's a bit different, sometimes one of the steps doesn't work, but since we are practicing detachment concurrent to our throwing lesson, it's no big deal. We don't beat ourselves up. We chuck it, clean the wheel, and start again.

     So, class two. Start by practicing what we learned last week. Keeping it mellow, knowing we are going to chuck this clay. I have a new wheel, much faster than last week's, and I can feel myself reacting to that, feeling out of control. But I know I'm going to toss this pound of clay anyway, so I'm able to chill and throw it and center it, even though it takes me a little while. And then the muscle memory comes back, one less thing to think about while I play with the foot pedal and listen for the sound, how it sounds when it hits just that right spin that keeps it moving while allowing me to feel like I've Got This. Next blob, time to practice the big one: pulling up the sides. Last class this didn't go so well for me, and that's okay, I've got all night and all these blobs of clay. We are shown again how to do it, where to place our hands, what to do and what not to do. Our turn: go. I go: steps 1-5 getting more fluid, now. It's time for six, keep breathing, thinking, rehearsing the do's, listening to the sound of the wheel speed...yes, there, remembering the don'ts, slow it down a bit. And it grows taller, wider. My hands are getting it, doing it. It's beautiful, perfect.

     And it's not a cylinder. And there's a weird smudge-y bit on this one edge. And the lip has a bit of slip. But I look at it like it's the most beautiful thing in the world as the teacher approaches and I can feel my chest constrict as I say "I made a bowl". [Holy shit holy shit PLEASE don't tell me I have to chuck it because LOOK I made this THING.] "That looks great!", he beams. Here, let me show you how to get it off the wheel.

I can keep it. It's good.