Once in a while you hear something so true, so directed to the moment you are living, that it resounds like a bell in your head. Most recently it was an African proverb shared by my friend Stephani — one which needs to be lettered in paint on my studio door.
“Go fast”, said the rabbit.
“Go slow”, said the tortoise.
“Pace yourself”, said the cheetah. “It’s a long run.”
This week the readjustments of ballast have resulted in a more even keel. Jeff gave the kids a pep talk about teamwork, explaining that supporting mom in her new challenge means more than just saying so… it means pitching in and doing your part. So that helped.
One of the things I realized was that some of the pursuits I eliminated from my schedule as “luxuries” — like exercise, coffee with a friend, or making pizzas in the backyard cob-oven — were not luxuries at all, but instead were the pleasure-breaks that refuel my enthusiasm, and give me a break so I can come back to my pursuits with a fresh perspective.
I have come to relish weekends, that breather after early-week college hours and late-week catch up at home — and am determined to preserve them for family and rest, for regeneration. No little nagging voices are allowed to whisper, “You could be making pots” or “Go make the kids’ lesson plans for next week”. We cook, we relax, we play board games and lie around reading or hike at the park. Jeff goes out to turn wood, and I go out to the studio just to dork around, play, do little fun projects totally unrelated to my academic pottery.
You know what? Some of my best ideas happen when I am not trying to be profound. When I try NOT to do university-work with clay, stuff still happens.
And somehow the less I think intentionally about art and my reading, pots and ideas, the more everything around me sneaks up with suggestions or connections. So I am renewed in my faith that there is no such thing as wasted time.
One of the things I am by no means required to do – so it’s really fun — is to photocopy the ancient pots I am learning about at school, and stick them on the hallway timeline the kids made last year for our ongoing “Story of the World” ancient history curriculum.
Like most pre-packaged learning materials, we take what we like and leave the rest, ignoring coloring pages and more schoolish approaches, but reading the cool stories. The kids draw their own pictures for the timeline. Today the boys made Lego seige towers after we read about the cruel leader of Assyria — and Molly drew him, looking mean and surrounded by the heads of the conquered, on pikes. Honestly, they seem fascinated by this stuff, gore and all. My leanings are a little more pacifist, but I figure if the boys can watch “X-Men” with their dad, they can handle history.
I tape my pots on their timeline, and they think, “Hey, look at the stuff these people made and used.” For me, it’s much more interesting. I always knew the pots, and now I am learning the history to match them. That Minoan jar I always liked with the painted octopus has now been colored in for me by the story of King Minos and the people and culture of his time.
History of the world, in pots. I suppose if I was an architect it would be dwellings and palaces. they say when the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to treat everything like it’s a nail.
A friend suggested that I should be sure to let my kids see what I am getting out of this MFA experience. It’s not what you might expect.
What they are enjoying the most is seeing their mom/teacher getting a little of her own medicine. Part of my job as a fun-sucking mom is to say, “You can do better than that. Try again.”
Or, “Sorry, that’s wrong. Give it another shot.”
They sometimes wail that they worked HAAAARD on that, or tell me all the reasons it’s really not wrong, but I am the final word around here, and that is that.
So now it’s mom. I come home and report to them that I have to make three lidded jars bigger than my head and not squatty, and remake the Anatolian jug with the RIGHT proportions this time, and read this convoluted several pages of postmodern art vocabulary for my seminar class… if they are unsympathetic I read them a few lines until they flee.
Then on Monday afternoon, I pack my pottery homework into a foam lined box and my books and papers into my bookbag, four meals in my lunchbox, and off I go, assured by the kids that my pots looks great and I’ll do fine.
Then I come home. “How did they like your pots?” the kids ask brightly. A lot of times the answer is, “They didn’t”. Some went in the slop, some ride the long miles back to my home studio, some need reworking if they ever hope to see the inside of a kiln.
I don’t whine, I don’t tell them I worked haaaaard, I don’t say the profs are wrong and I am right. I do what I hope they will do, and go start over. And do it better.
Last time I came home pretty happy. The glaze kiln had been unloaded and my very first pots to survive wet-leatherhard-greenware-bisque-glazing were finished. I announced proudly to Connor, who met me at the door, that I made some pots that turned out pretty good.
He folded his arms, doubtfully. “YOU think they were good, or Diana thinks they were good?” When I reported that Diana had liked a bowl I painted in cuerda seca with a big beetle, (his favorite bug to draw) he ran off woo-hooing through the house, and went to report to his siblings that mom finally made some pots that didn’t suck.
Whichever kid set table for breakfast even awarded me the “fish dish”, the special plate reserved for a family member who has a big event or successful day.
So, yeah, they are learning something out of all this. Molly is still dubious, and has suspicions that when I finish my MFA I might like to teach, which would mean I wouldn’t be home all day. She has insisted for years that she plans to live with me forever, even when she is a grown up. She does intend to marry and have children one day, but expects they won’t mind living with me.
I don’t have the heart to tell her that by the time she is 16 and knows everything, I will be so stupid and dorky and clueless that she will count the days until she can move out.
Or that by the time she is having my grandbabies — if, indeed, that is what she chooses — I might well be traveling, in an elderhostel somewhere, or on a train in India, sending postcards home.
For now, though, I tell her that will be fine, and she can live with me for as long as she likes.
Off to bed, for me. Tomorrow is library-piano-saxophone-lessons day, and breakfast is bright and early.