Winter has finally arrived, with the first lasting snow we’ve seen all year. The roads so far have not been too treacherous, and the kids have finally pulled out the snow pants and are enjoying snowball fights. For the first time, this year, they’re all old enough to really enjoy a good snowball battle, instead of coming to the door whining about the snow down their necks whenever somebody actually lands one.
This has been a pretty good Monday. I got up and pulled yet another spout off of yet another teapot (one I had declared finished, yesterday) because it still wasn’t quite right, and then spent my morning trying handles and feet and spouts on various pots. while the kids did their homeschooling. It reminded me of my mom trying different hats and scarves on the sledders in her applique quilt: “like playing with paper dolls!” I never understood the whole shoe-shopping-and-accessories thing connected with womanhood, but I can get into trying on handles and spouts.
Tyler had set his alarm to start on his lessons before the rest of us got up, and once we had breakfast and coffee, everyone stayed pretty focused. (At least until “Shout” came on the radio and we had to crank it up and dance around the room in our pajamas…) “Throw your hands up and… shout! Come on now… don’t forget to say you will…”
This afternoon I drove to EMU through the highway-and-semi-trucks version of winter wonderland, headed for my printmaking class. I had etched a 2″X3″ zinc plate with a beetle design last Sunday, sitting in a pew in church. (Hey, the lady next to me was knitting…) Tyler is in the UU coming-of-age youth group now, so we’re back in church for a while, and find we have missed a lot of the friends and faces we’ve seen there over the years. (My now-teen was baby Jesus one year in the UU nativity play.) Jeff and I attended a discussion session on “Cooking as a spiritual practice” and then I sat through the sermon etching with a dry point tool. I’m pretty sure Unitarians don’t go to hell for leaving zinc shavings in the pews.
The part that kills me is that there is no way to see how the etched plate works without driving 50 miles, inking the plate, wiping it, soaking the paper and running the whole works through the enormous printing press. Oops, that back leg is too light! Scratch it deeper, ink, wipe, soak, pull a print, and oops, that antenna is too dark…
Meanwhile the plate is deteriorating slightly with every print, so while I fix one part, another part is fading. I can see how this process can keep artists engaged for a lifetime, never quite perfecting the next step and the next.
I am in a similar dance with ceramics. Both involve being able to open my clenched, detail-crunching little fist at some point and just let it be what it is, take some risks, and accept that nothing lives up to its possibilities, ever. It’s the striving that makes it worthwhile, after all. I’m learning to be open to some of the happy accidents that happen when things don’t go according to my overly-perfectionistic, control-freakish plans. Accepting that a lot of what is beautiful in life happens on its own, with a plan mysterious to me, helps me relax and breathe a bit about whether I am doing everything right.
I remember once when the potter Polly Ann Martin, listening to me obsess over some detail, raised her hand in a tight fist and then opened it slowly, palm up. That visual image for “let it go” has come in handy for me, kind of a silent mantra when I’m clenched over worries and plans.
It’s probably a skill I need to master before my kids get too far into the teen years…
Tomorrow we read about the Greeks and Homer, do some math and some laundry, and around the time Jeff comes home, I pack my bags for my night class and overnight at EMU. Wednesday I will demo trimming for Lee’s class, spend the day in the studio, and then go to printmaking to drop my beetle-collection hard ground etching into the acid bath for the first time. It’s both exciting, and my worst fear: committing, in an un-erasable, irreversible way, to a decision. I can always add more to the plate once it’s etched, but I never can remove the marks already made there.
I’m going to bed before I give in to the temptation to drag THAT metaphor out into some heady philosophy of life…