As you might guess, my drive for perfection makes it difficult to be a beginner. Recently I started taking ceramics classes, though — and when you start something new, you have no choice but to start at the beginning. Time for beginner-ing. Ooof.
I’ve wanted to learn to throw pottery for ages. Something about the instant gratification that comes with a guided touch on clay, the graceful turning of forms and hands on a wheel, and the wabi-sabi imperfections that make up a particularly stunning glaze — all of these things have beckoned me for quite some time. Rather than wait until I had some time, I finally decided to make some time this month to make it happen, and I am so glad I did.
The wheel and the clay both have their own learning curve, I have realized. Gravity and centrifugal force have their own demands as well. There is a sweet spot to be found between clay that is wet enough to become what you envision, and too wet to maintain the form you’ve shaped. There is a strange satisfaction in trimming a piece, leathery clay spinning in ribbons off the wheel as you uncover the shape you’re imagining. And there is a magical alchemy to glazes — the way minerals and heat combine to transform into something unexpected and beautiful. That minty-green goop you just dunked a bowl into? Of course it is going to be cobalt blue when fired. Fascinating, yes?
Beginner’s mind is a challenge to get into as an adult. Our society demands knowledge, know-how, swagger, confidence, momentum. Being a beginner requires curiosity, surrender, awe, wonder, and acknowledgement of another’s superior skills. It requires you to be open, vulnerable, and even silly. It requires resilience. A beautiful bowl can become a lopsided twist of clay in a heartbeat, and all you can do is laugh, smush and knead, and begin again. I’m working on squishing down my irritation along with my misshapen clay, working on laughing and shrugging my shoulders, working on going with the flow, working on embracing a “flawed” piece as one I can learn from and experiment with. And you know what? It’s fun. It’s hard and messy and fun. And I am learning.
I have yet to fully complete a piece yet, so this is all about the journey so far. Considering how results-driven I can sometimes be, I am surprised how much I am relishing it. Each step is new and different and hard and exciting. I’m eager to see how my work will turn out once it’s been fired, of course, but (shockingly) I’m even more excited to keep learning and creating — because there is so much to enjoy along the way.