When I was in middle and high school, I took a few art classes partly because they seemed interesting and rather unfailable. Of course it was more difficult than I thought, and I really didn’t have any obvious talent. Maybe I just didn’t have talent, obvious or otherwise. One class was basic pottery, and I always hated how dirty the room would become and how my hands would feel after prolonged or repeated exposure to clay and water. The pottery wheel was the. worst.
So it’s a bit ironic how life has turned out because I’ve become increasingly obsessed with ceramics since the beginning of the year. (Side note: I’ve started photo-documenting my artwork on Flickr)
It just so happened that my old pottery teacher (in his retirement, after teaching at the same school for 37 years!) was having a show in the local art museum, displaying 20 years’ worth of his masterpieces. At that show, I met his successor, Christina, whose son was in a class I had subbed in. A few weeks later, I asked her if she wanted help with some tasks in the pottery room — win-win for us both since I was eager to learn about ceramics and she had too much on her plate to manage everything in the studio.
Probably the first time we had a real sit-down prolonged conversation, she was finishing up a high school pottery wheel class, and working on her own piece. I sat across from her on the other side of the wheel, and she began telling me a story about how she first started teaching (three years earlier).
“I had made stuff on the wheel (a long time ago), and I could explain what I was doing — but three years ago when I started this pottery teaching job, I wasn’t able to do both at the same time.” And she demonstrated how, when students are forming a pot on the wheel like this…
… they will think they have finished perfecting the pot and say, “Yay I’m done!” and throw their hands up in the air. That sudden movement at the end as their fingertips leave the rim of their work will warp the pot and could result in something like this:
So she tried to teach them what to do and was on the wheel, demonstrating the action and explaining the consequences. What she meant to say was, “If you are done, make sure you are careful and gentle when your hands disengage from your work on the wheel. If you make any jerky movements, it will warp the pot you just perfected.”
Instead, she said, “If you are done, make sure you are careful when your hands leave the pot, otherwise it will jerk off.”
I guffawed way more vigorously than I intended to, and certainly way more than was necessary to add to her shame. She continued with the story: how a student (or two) complained to the principal, and she was called into the office to explain her inappropriateness as a teacher. Luckily for her, the principal was an alumnus and knew her predecessor really well (and was a bit of a jokester himself) so he just chuckled and that was that.
“That was bad… I can talk about it now… kind of…” her voice trailed off, tinged with everlasting regret. The paradox of the story was that she was telling it while she was making something on the wheel — the exact opposite positive outcome of what she was describing had happened three years ago.
So I pointed it out, “Looks like you’re managing perfectly now.” And she seemed satisfied with the comment and kept working. We sat there quietly for a few more seconds with the gentle whirring of the wheel serving as the focal point that canceled out the awkward silence of the lull in our human conversation.
Then one of us said something, I don’t remember who or what it was, and Christina made a wrong move and the piece warped. “Ohp! Ha, well I guess not that perfect,” she giggled.
“Yeah, too bad it jerked off.” The words that automatically left my mouth surprised me just as much as they did her. I felt kind of bad because the shame hit her all over again, and even with her hands covered in clay and slurry, she hung her head in despondency. A bit like this picture:
“I can laugh about it now,” she finally said, more resolutely while straightening her spine. “But at the time I was so embarrassed. Still am… but I can laugh now.” So I promised I would never say those words in the context of this specific story against her in our future conversations with each other.
… which is why I wrote it here instead.
(P.S. With friends like me, who needs enemies??)