3. Learning to Center the Wheel
I come from a long line of master crafters. My grandmother would knit me sweaters for every occasion-even for my summer birthdays. Wearing a sweater vest in August is not for the faint of heart. Following in her steps is my mother. Some of my best childhood memories involve the beauty of her artistry. Charcoal family portraits, Rainy-day spoon dolls, home-made birthday cakes that arrived in shape of flowers, fishes and fairy-tale cottages; waking up on Christmas morning to find newly sewn green and red tartan dresses for my baby dolls. Creativity was constantly bubbling in our home. I am sorry to say that the creative bubble bursted with my birth. I made a few attempts to excel at my generational crafting legacy, but I usually wind up just reading crafting and decorating books as if they were good novels. Rows of intensely studied folded dog-eared pages line my shelves, it would probably be easier for me to write a dissertation on the evolution of Martha Stewart than to actually attempt one of her DIY projects.
For some time I have been quietly read blogs and books on ceramics and pot-making. When I completed my seven months of chemo my body and brain felt like Jell-O-everything shook with fear and exhaustion. I wanted to be gentle with myself, to learn to play and to have fun without the pressure of striving for mastery. Taking a pottery class seemed like the perfect fit. I signed up for a beginner’s pottery class on the West-side and from the minute I entered the leftist aging-hippie storefront I was using a whole other side of my brain. My mother was excited when I told her what I was doing, she was so proud that I was following in her footsteps or at least trying. The first day I arrived I was told to cut a piece of cold grey clay and begin to “throw” the clay. I stood in a circle of seasoned throwers who kneaded the clay with a constant rhythmic force. As we threw the clay we talked about family, politics and the latest joke we read online. I imagined how generations of women in my family probably huddled in a circle together to make pastelitos (meat patties) and share in a community of love and culinary delights. Next was the pottery wheel, learning how to use a pottery wheel takes lots of patience and practice and for the first time in my life I welcomed both. Before you can begin to make something out of the clay you have to learn how to “center” the clay. I watched the movements of the teacher and tried to duplicate the technical aspects of her approach. With the wheel spinning slowly, I patted the clay into a cone, prodding it to the center of the wheel. Immediately she turned to me and said, “No, you’re thinking too much-just feel the center.” I looked at her with a knowing smile and confusedly thought to myself, “What is this woman talking about…” But eventually I realized she was right. The more I let go of the constant humming of thoughts in my mind and began to allow my body to follow the clay to the center…it was much easier and a lot more fun. Week after week, for three months, I tied on my apron, took my place in the sisters’ circle and I centered my clay. And slowly I began to find my own center.