Artist Date 27: SHAME Throwing

What I was doing when I thought I'd be "throwing..."
What I was doing when I thought I’d be “throwing…”

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.

Will the final week of class look like this?
Will the final week of class look like this?

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.

New Ring. Old Questions. Remembering Mr. Thursday.

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I spent last Memorial Day weekend with my friend Ernie at his beach house in Westport, Washington.  It was cool and grey, not unlike the weather here today in Chicago.  Except that it was expected, as it is usually that way.

We cooked and talked and listened to the soundtrack from Saturday Night Fever over and over.  We napped and read and took long walks on the beach where we created a healing ritual: The Sacred Spiral.

It was a response to the shame both of us had known in relationships, coupled with Ernie’s own experiences dragging a large stick in wet sand in a circular pattern, ever-widening, until it touched the shore on one side, the tide on the other.

We did this in silence, often crossing over one another’s markings.  At the end, we each wrote a message in the sand.  Mine was, “God is Good.”   A reference to a conversation I had just a few days before.

I haven’t thought about that weekend in a while, until this past Thursday.  I was buying an enviro-sac, an overpriced bag that rolls up small and lives in one’s purse, ready for the impromptu shopping trip.  As I was paying for it, I spied a ring in the display case –long and wide with a big, blue stone set in the center.  The typewritten tag next to it read: 1970s cocktail ring. $16.

I slid it on.  My small hand appeared longer, elegant.

I had the immediate thought that with this on my left hand, I could now sell my wedding and engagement rings.  Different finger, but no matter.  It closed the space.

I bought it.

IMAG0246Walking home, I thought about where I was at this time last year, and suddenly remembered exactly where I was at this time last year, the Thursday before Memorial Day.

I was kissing a man who wasn’t my husband.

Not long after asking for a divorce, my husband casually remarked that we were “free agents.”  I was floored, but I chose not to fight it, or fight him.  The ending had already been written.  We were just uncomfortably in the middle, clumsily navigating our way there.

The kiss was clean.

We had known one another for a couple of months.  We’d been flirtatious.  He too was going through a divorce.  It felt obvious.  That evening, electric.

His lips over mine.  My face in his hands.  New.  Unfamiliar.  Searching.

He showed me the scar where his gall bladder was taken out.  He asked me about the scars on my breasts.

We took a walk in the woods, our arms linked, talking and kissing and talking and kissing.  His dog leading the way, turning back from time to time to make sure we were still following.

He told me his story and when he was done said, “Now you.”   He wanted to tell me who he was.  He wanted to know me.

I sat on his lap in the kitchen before leaving that night.  Words rumbling in my mouth, behind my face.  I wanted to say them but I was afraid they sounded silly.  I told him anyway.  I said, “God is good.”

He laughed, looked straight through me with his crinkly eyes and said, “God IS good.”  And he kissed me.

I took to referring to him as Mr. Thursday, because I wanted to respect his privacy.  At least, that’s what I told myself.  I think somewhere deep in me I knew that was all he would be –Mr. Thursday.  Mr.-Thursday-right-before-Memorial-Day-2012 to be exact, as we never connected in that way again.

I talked to Ernie about him that weekend.  How I somehow already knew this wasn’t going to go my way, even though I didn’t want to know it.

Thursday and I had agreed that neither of us were remotely interested in a relationship.  Looking back, I probably would have jumped at one, given the chance.  Anything to get out of my discomfort.  But I bravely told him I was on my way to Africa, and then back to Chicago.  That perhaps we could just enjoy one another’s company.  He agreed.

The next day I woke up with that sick sense of dread.  That what was true yesterday was no longer true today.

It was painful.  All those relationship questions that first bubbled up when I was 12 and Alan Wittenberg didn’t like me back were waiting for me – still unanswered.

“Why doesn’t he like me?” “Why did he change his mind?” “What if I were prettier, thinner, less emotional?”

And then, a more adult concern, “Why do I attach so quickly?”

I didn’t think I would have to address these questions again at this point in my life.  I felt like I had learned nothing.  Like I didn’t know the rules.  My divorce buddy in Chicago, my friend who was three weeks behind in my footsteps, assured me that none of us do.

I haven’t thought about Mr. Thursday in a long time.  My fixation with him was replaced by a fixation on another man, which was replaced by a fixation on another man.  And then that fixation was replaced by truth.  What is versus what I would have liked it to be.

I find myself in a place I’ve never been – I am not with a partner, pursuing a partner or lamenting the loss of a one.  It’s strange new territory.  There is no one I’m interested in.  My attention falls simply “on me.”

I called Ernie this weekend and reminded him of where we were a year ago.  About Westport.  About Mr. Thursday.  About seeing his ex on the beach with their dog, Cordelia, and his new partner.  About turning on our heels before they saw us.

Ernie said he and his ex can sit down and talk now – civilized – with no need to turn away.

God IS good.  So is my $16 ring.