Bowl by Bowl
It’s craft season. Again. For other makers, craft season isn’t just the fall holidays. Many Etsy sellers and craft show veterans keep working all year round whether their micro-business is their main gig or not. That’s their jam and, you know, respect. That’s not how I do it. I do one show. That’s it. Some years I sell online, the thought of which makes me want to roll around on the floor, whining and kicking like a toddler; most years I sell to friends and family in person after my one show. I gift what I don’t sell, which usually isn’t much, and I start each year fresh. It’s one of my rhythms. It’s what I do.
Every year about this time, as if I have no concept of how a calendar works, there I am again, running around in circles, screaming and waving my hands in the air, wondering how on earth I’m going to pull off a craft show in the time I have left. You’d think I’d learn by now to manage my time better, or at least recognize that I always throw the most in September and October once the kids are back in school. You’d think.
It’s like being surprised every year how Daylight Saving Time works. “Can you believe how dark it is so early? Isn’t that crazy?” No. It’s not. It’s the same every year. What is wrong with you?
Even so. Even with that underlying stress that I’m not going to make it, WHY DIDN’T I START SOONER? I’M NEVER GOING TO MAKE IT! I know I’m going to make it. I know this, because I’ve made it every other year. Proof of my ability to do one simple, local craft show is in my personal history multiple times. Calm down.
I was thinking about this as I went for a run this morning. This past weekend was the one year anniversary of my finishing a half marathon. As I ran, I wondered whether I would be running any more races. I kept coming back to, well, you know you can, because you did. Yes, I’m obese, yes, I run slower than most people walk, but, I finished a f*@king half marathon, you guys. I even have the 13.1 sticker on the back of my car to prove it.
I am not the greatest potter or writer or nurse. I can’t run fast. But, I’ve made pottery on and off for two decades. I have written this blog for almost eight years. I have a couple of degrees and I am licensed by the state of Pennsylvania to take care of people, professionally. I no longer have to wonder if I can do it. I know I can do it. I’ve done it. Now it’s just a matter of doing it some more, of keeping at it even when I don’t feel like it, which, really, has always been the true hurdle.
The problem is, it all seems so big sometimes. Making a table full of thrown, trimmed, glazed, twice-fired pottery feels daunting. Running a marathon feels daunting. Earning a Master’s degree feels daunting. Surviving cancer feels daunting. But, you don’t do it all at once. There is a beautiful book on writing by Anne Lamott called Bird by Bird where she tells this story that I’ve started to consciously turn to when it all feels like too much:
Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”
Right? What kind of a sadistic teacher assigns a report on birds to a ten year old?
That aside, bird by bird is the secret to all of it. It is how anybody accomplishes anything. I can’t make a table full of finished pottery all at once. Even if I could, it wouldn’t be much fun because there would have to be machines involved and it would no longer be the craft that has become a part of my idea of who I am. I make pottery one piece at a time. Mug by mug. Plate by plate. Bowl by bowl.
When I started running, my first goal was to jog for 60 seconds. I used a couch to 5k app and after five minutes of walking, I jogged for one minute. That was it. I built on that one minute until I ran 13.1 miles at one (long) go. If I ever run another half, or decide to run a full marathon, it will still have started with that one minute. Some minutes really matter. I’ve written about that before.
Of course, self-imposed complications aren’t the only things I need to take on one moment at a time. There have been rough patches where I was sick or someone else was; or even rougher patches where grief was so consuming that I was positive I wasn’t going to make it through to the other side. But, I did. I’m still here.
Sometimes I took it one day at a time, sometimes I took it one hour at a time, and sometimes I knew if I could just get up, even if I couldn’t stop crying, if I could just get up and do something, anything, that would show me that I had it in me to keep going. After a while I knew I could do it only because I did it.
I try to remember this when I see pictures on social media of everyone’s highlight reels. One smiling shot is not the whole story. All of the suffering has been cropped out. When I see a before and after picture where somebody lost 60 pounds in the blink of an eye, I’m tempted to wonder why it was so easy for them. But I know better. I know what that picture doesn’t show are the weekly Weight Watcher meetings, the hateful, endless salads, the trips to the gym when she really didn’t want to go, and keeping track of all of those godforsaken points.
Pictures of smiling couples don’t show the ridiculous fights over how to properly load a dishwasher or why can’t you put down that phone? Pictures of smiling children holding trophies or ribbons don’t show the hours of practices and driving to meets. You can’t see from the picture of the graduate with his mortar board and diploma whether he ever got a detention for playing Tetris in history class, or whether the smiling mother next to him ever questioned the millions of decisions she had to make as his parent.
Life can be so unbelievably overwhelming sometimes. Not only are we trudging away through all of our obligations, but bad things happen that we don’t expect. We don’t have to get through any of this all at once. We break it into little pieces. Weeks. Days. Hours. Breaths. Heartbeats. We get through the hard parts and try to remember to stop and smile and capture the good parts and share them with our people.
A month from now, on November 18th, I’ll be standing behind my table which will be covered by pottery that represents hours of work. Throughout the course of the day I will hear one of two comments by almost everyone who stops to talk to me. Either, “have you and your husband ever recreated that scene from Ghost?” Hahahahahaha… Seriously. Multiple times. Every year. Uh, no. You don’t touch someone while they are throwing pottery. It throws them off center. My husband knows this and respects this.
Or, they’ll say something along the lines of, “I always wanted to do that.” Of course, they could do it. Anyone can. The nature of a craft is that it is something anyone can learn how to do. But that’s not really what they mean.
They don’t want to start from day one, where you slap a blob of clay in the middle of a spinning circle and it is a complete freaking mystery how to get something that so obviously wants to lay flat to stand up. They don’t want to spend hours upon hours learning how to make mugs out of mud. They don't want the hard parts. They want to just know how to do it. Like magic.
But, that’s not how it works. In order to do almost anything interesting or difficult, you’ve got to put the time in. You’ve got to sit and practice and keep at it. And keep at it some more, bowl by bowl.
Your comment will be posted after it is approved.
Leave a Reply.
I like to throw things.