I just got home from a gelato date. Three flavors is a piccolo (small). I filled my cone with pistachio-almond, yogurt-granola and rose and sat in the square watching children run back and forth and forth and back over a star pattern on the ground – my friend Ernie took a picture of me in this space when he was visiting in the fall. He thought it was a Star of David and wanted me in the center. It isn’t.
The sky is pale blue, silky – like underwear. Clouds like cotton. The weather has been unsettled for the past two days, and I too, along with it.
I feel acutely alone in this moment, which is strange as I spent the better part of the day with people I love.
During the winter I often spent Saturday nights alone – by choice. I looked forward to cozying in, midnight blue outside my window – cooking, writing, sprawled out on the shiny, moss-green futon. Summer feels different, like all the world is out – together.
I remember when my friend Teresa found herself “suddenly single” after a many-years long relationship. Understanding why, on Monday, I was making plans for Saturday. “If you don’t, you end up alone,” she surmised.
And yet, I chose this “alone” – for Artist’s Date 27. But I never quite made it.
I thought I’d throw pottery at Lill Street Art Center. I attended my first, First-Time Potter class on Wednesday. Studio time – every day from 10 to 10—is included in the fee and students are encouraged to go practice.
But I didn’t go. I talked on the phone with Chase, then Monica. I went for gelato. I told myself, and Chase, that I was tired. That I needed to take it easy. Maybe. But mostly I think I was afraid.
What if I don’t remember how to start the wheel? What if I can’t get the tray that sits around the wheel collecting water to snap into place? (I had trouble on Wednesday.) What if the wheel is running in the wrong direction – clockwise, like how they throw in Japan, instead of counter? I vaguely remember Robert, the instructor, telling us the wheel turns in both directions, to make certain it is running counter-clockwise. He did not tell us what to do if it is not.
My friend Mark recently told me an acronym for SHAME. Should Have Already Mastered Everything. Genius.
I get caught up in my pride and it stops me from moving forward.
And yet, I am moving forward. I signed up for the class. I went. I kind of sucked – I certainly had not Mastered Everything. And I loved it.
I was afraid that night too.
Afraid I wouldn’t be able to tolerate the painful callous that developed on the side of my hand the last time I tried to learn to throw. Afraid I wouldn’t like it. Afraid I would be an utter failure.
I didn’t develop a callous. The wheel wasn’t painful against my skin. Different clay, I was told.
I wasn’t an utter failure. Two of four pieces will be fired and glazed.
I did like it. All of it.
Buying my supply kit and writing my initials on each piece with a Sharpie marker, my full name on my blue water pail. Picking up a 25-pound bag of clay and splitting it with a partner – separating the four vertical logs from one another, each of us taking two.
My clay “partner” is here with two of her friends. They just graduated from high school and live in the suburbs. One of their mothers dropped them off here.
They seem so young, so brave.
I run a wire twice through my logs and place four disks of clay in front of me. Robert teaches us to wedge the clay, to take the air out of it and prepare it for use.
I roll one wedged disc into a ball, stick a thumb in the center, and form a pinch pot. As we get acquainted with the clay, we introduce ourselves, sharing a bit about what brought us to this moment, this studio, this canvas table.
There is a couple taking the class together. A woman who just moved from Minneapolis and thought this would be a good way to meet friends. A woodworker.
I mention that I always wanted to go to art school. That at 43 I can send myself. The words tumble out of my mouth. They feel profound, true.
I remember my friend Robyn saying our parents tie our shoes until we can tie them ourselves. Throw us birthday parties until we can throw our own.
Robert moves to a wheel and we gather around him, watching him craft a simple bowl. He shows us how to throw the clay on the wheel – “throwing” pottery. How to center. How to bring it up, bring it out. He tells us to keep our clay wet. Shiny.
We nod our heads. Fill our buckets with water and go to our wheels. My mind is blank. I put my foot on the pedal. Nothing. The woodworker is sitting next to me. He smiles and points to the “on” switch. I smile back.
I throw the clay and press it down, pour water on the wheel. I am having difficulty bringing it up. Robert shows me how. The bottom is too thick. He shows me how to thin it out.
It is rising. It looks good. I don’t stop. It collapses onto itself. I throw it onto a board and put my initials in the clay with a tool. I will let it dry out and re-wedge it to use again.
My second bowl goes better. It is small. Imperfect. A reasonable effort.
Robert calls us to him again and demonstrates another bowl. It makes more sense now that I have been on the wheel. We return to our stations. I remember things he has said. To angle my finger at 5 o’clock to widen the bowl. It feels like arriving home for the first time in a new city, without getting lost. Without using a GPS
My third bowl collapses onto itself. The fourth joins my second on a piece of wood, hydroplaned on. I cover it with dry-cleaning plastic wrap and put it on my shelf – the one assigned to me for the next four weeks.
Cleaning up, I watch the potters in the advanced classes. Their work is beautiful. Elegant. Effortless. Perhaps I will be like them one day. I am over my SHAME. I know there is no reason to believe I Should Have Already Mastered this. Or anything else. Not even my Artist Dates.