I touched clay for the first time in a class I took during college in 2001. It affected me so much I married my professor. (Different story all together, but just know it really can affect you.)
I played in it off and on until I graduated in 2005 and demonstrated a couple of pieces to a high school class I was teaching later that year. I hadn’t had my hands in the mud for nearly 15 years, and I could feel it pulling me back. Following potters on Instagram certainly didn’t help.
Four days ago I threw three pots. The first pot was exceptionally bad. (My husband, being the teacher, thought he could help by observing and commenting when it was necessary. I made him leave after the first pot.) For the second pot I also threw a lid, but of course it doesn’t fit well, as is often the case with me and lids (I need to practice more). I trimmed all three, thought I had gotten my fix and could let it go for a while.
Then I got up yesterday and realized, nope.
On my first attempt at throwing I was having a hard time. I could get the clay centered, but after I opened the shape it got off-center. So I cleaned the clay off the bat, wedged it to get it back in shape (and dry it out some) and tried again.
Once again, I got the clay centered, but after I opened the shape it got off-center. So I cleaned the clay off the bat, wedged it to get it back in shape (and dry it out some) and tried again.
And again, I got the clay centered, but after I opened the shape…you get the idea. What was going on? Was I opening it off-center? Was I putting too much pressure on the outside while I was pulling? On the inside? Was the wheel too fast? Too slow? How many times did I need to be rejected by the clay before I conceded that it was just going to be a bad clay day? Those happen sometimes, and you just have to let them. But for some reason I just wouldn’t let myself give in.
So I cleaned the clay off the bat, wedged it to get it back in shape (and dry it out some) and tried again. Slowly. I concentrated. I knew what I was supposed to be doing, but why wasn’t it working? And then, somewhere in the middle of that pot, I suddenly remembered.
I wasn’t listening. I was doing all the talking.
I stopped for a second and got a little teary. The very thing I loved so much about playing in the mud. The thing that pulled me in from the very first time I started to throw. It was the conversation. I was trying to force my will on the clay and wasn’t giving it a chance to have a say of its own.
So I slowed down. A little less pressure. A little more give and take. I let the clay tell me what it wanted to do.
And now we’re both much happier.