Clay is Heavy but We Carry On
Clay comes in 50lb boxes—unless you dig it up and process it yourself, which I don’t. Truly, someone digs it up somewhere, probably not that far from here in the scheme of things, but it’s not me. 50lbs, however, is a weight bracket I’m familiar with from childhood—a bag of corn or livestock feed is commonly around 50lbs. As are bales of hay (maybe more between 60-70lbs) and even a 5 gallon bucket of water (approx. 42lbs).
So it’s not like I haven’t ever lifted heavy things before. I don’t remember minding—in fact, in a family with two other sisters and plenty farm work to go around, I remember relishing the challenge of keeping up neighboring farmer’s sons, my friend’s big brothers, baling hay in the stifling heat and dust of July. I remember being proud of being able to hoist a 5 gallon bucket of water over a fence…and being grateful when the hose reached all the way into the goat pen/sheep shed/chicken coop, making that task obsolete. And at least a little thrilled when pitching out a shed full of cow manure (heavier than you’d think) was hustled along with my dad’s new found trust in my capacity to operate the family skid loader.
It’s possible that I just don’t remember being put out by all the physical labor. I was disgruntled sometimes, at all the time we each spent working to keep things running smoothly—the grass mowed, the animals fed, helping dad in the garage with whatever. And mowing the lawn. I hated mowing the lawn. Certainly as a teenager I complained. But I liked how the farm smelled. A deep inhale of a fresh hay bale. The smell of my favorite cow friend, on a casual jaunt down the driveway—by which I mean an animal 4 times my weight and I vying back and forth over who would drag whom down the driveway. All aimed toward being prepared for the showmanship aspect of the county fair. Lots of people here gasp when I tell them I was (and will be until the day I die) a Reserved Champion Showman of Dairy Beef Feeders. Then they ask what in the world that jibberish means. And maybe I can proudly locate a scar from the time said cow-friend dragged me across the yard as though he was a speed boat and I was one of those inner tubes attached to the back. Sometimes you’d watch those ski-tubing fools out on lake Eric being pulled behind a boat so fast that they only touch the water every now and again. They’re virtually flying. That’s me, flying behind my wild-eyed cow friend.
And clay isn’t that different. I like how clay smells. It’s earthy (to be cliché) like it just rained. Different colors of clay with different mineral contents smell different. Moldy clay smells, well, moldy. But it’s no worse for the wear. I like the tools—the metal ribs, the trimming tools, the sponges of various sorts. I like that I’ve carried 50lb boxes of clay up the same flight of stairs for five years in this apartment–since I brought the pottery wheel here. Well, each time I like it when it’s over and the clay is safely on the second floor. I like spreading clay work out everywhere, when the kitchen studio just isn’t enough. I recently cleaned the floor in my bedroom, which served as a drying rack as I made my piece for the upcoming Wild Things show. Just a little bit of mud in front of the box fan. No big deal. It’s a good time, all the carrying things around and mopping things up. Mostly. Clearing space on the table for a bowl of cereal between some freshly thrown vases. Good for my heart, if not my knees. Bikram yoga takes care of those.
I‘ll be honest, though, I’m looking forward to a winter some day down the road when I don’t have to carry my clay up a flight of stairs in the 5pm twilight. A day when I have my own first floor studio with lots of windows in a house I built myself. The carrying keeps you humble, I suppose. Sometimes clay work is like my wild-eyed cow-friend, full of unpredictable moments. But mostly, in the winter, it’s the discipline of showing up. Carrying the clay. Practicing instead of succumbing to the early darkness and the thought that I really don’t want to carry anything, anywhere. I’d be totally fine (just saying) with hibernating from December through February. But I’m learning new things like, it is possible to ride a bike when it is 30 degrees or even 25 degrees. (I’m not sold on bike riding under 25 degrees) You just bundle up! And it’s amazing! It might change your whole life. Your WHOLE life! So, if I can keep riding my bike, a thing that makes me really happy, I can keep practicing clay in these rather-be-sleeping months. Just making space for amazing, staggering moments to appear. And it happens, truly.
Once upon a time, I had a pottery cat named Oliver. He kept my clay practice interesting. One day, perched on the window ledge high above my pottery wheel, he lost his balance and landed smack in the middle of the bowl I was throwing. Little white foot prints. All. Over. My hard wood floors. It was amazing! A feat of physics and chance! And then the doorbell rang. I believe the UPS man was shocked at the white clay all over my face and neck, not to mention the red remnants of bloody claw marks on my arms, but still so polite.I got clay on his pen.
I’m certain I hadn’t even brushed my teeth yet that day. He might have been bringing me a hubcap. It also might have been a pair of shoes. Who can remember? But if I don’t sit down and work in clay, hilarious things might not happen! I might miss out on a moment to laugh at myself, or to accept myself and my skill exactly where I am.
So I’ll keep hauling 50lb boxes of clay up the stairs to my apartment, just in case something really funny happens. I’ll keep carrying clay and 5 gallon bucks of raw materials for glaze-making around the public studio where I work. Good for biceps. And good for a laugh. Good for friendship and solace and the building of dreams. And I’ll keep opening those boxes of clay….and making stuff. Good stuff, bad stuff, wild stuff, and hopefully some stuff that’s just as amazing and fun and energizing as a full moon bike ride in the snow in December.