Monday, October 27, 2008

New Beginnings

Once in awhile, something big moves in your life. A partner comes or goes, a job does, or an opportunity...

And when that happens, it's like trigger, that suddenly makes you aware of all the things in your life you thought might be different by now. One thing stops time, and all of the little voices, that were heretofore in the background, resound in a chorus of demands on you to fix whatever is wrong - and there is a LOT to fix.

I thought about some big shifts that occurred in my life recently, bringing questions and feelings of doubt, along with an ungrounded feeling. Sometimes when something moves, and you had, in part, defined yourself by your relationship to it, it is possible to feel detached, as if you had somehow lost a part of yourself in the transition. Or, maybe you glimpse a part of yourself that is bigger and more powerful than you ever imagined - and that is, well, equally terrifying.

Coming from a place like this, as an optimist, I thought, "What can I say about this that would be of any use to people?" In other words, how can I find something inspiring to say about something that makes me (as it would anyone) uncomfortable and confused?

Well, you have to start with the truth. I may be an optimist, but I firmly believe that you cannot just smile and pretend things are okay. You have to be [sometimes brutally] honest with yourself. The only way to look at something optimistically, is to acknowledge what you are really feeling - what you REALLY make of your life. And then, you can access the parts of you that see it differently - that see it all as a magical endeavor for you to grow and learn with.

So, the truth is - something sucks. You feel lonely, disoriented, skeptical of the people you meet, and doubting that you will ever really know another person with good intentions. At the same time, something nags you inside to notice how glorious you are - begging you to step up to the plate. The more you don't, the worse you feel. What does this feel like? I'm not going to describe it for you - just feel what it feels like. I did this tonight after a long hot bath, and it brought tears. There weren't any thoughts, there was no blame. I just felt some obscure sense that there is hurt in the world, and that I (like anyone) touch a lot of lives with my presence, and that there is some significance in that.

And then, I realized that must be what my friend had felt when she thought she might lose her kitten. That must be what my brother feels like when someone lets him down. That must be what that client felt like, when they had a bad day and took it out on me. That must be what that waiter felt like. That must be what that sad man on the subway felt like. And on and on...

Just as soon as I had honestly acknowledged any pain, I felt the opposite - I felt utter compassion. In knowing what life really feels like, I can be a better friend, a better sister, a better vendor, a better customer, a better person to run into on the street. Because we learn compassion from acknowledging our fears, worries, faults and misunderstandings, those things have a strong and powerful purpose.

I won't pretend to really understand what troubles anyone else - the stories people have about their life are deeply personal and they are very attached to them, for better or worse. But I do think we feel the same pain, regardless of the story line. And there is something inspiring in that.

Certainly, artwork is often created in a form that inspires many different individuals to relate their own story lines to it in many different ways. Art is seldom universally liked, but great art does speak to a certain mass of people - those who like Tchaikovsky or David Lynch would not find themselves loners by any measure. So great work, in appealing to the masses, demonstrates that there are some things a great deal of us relate on. I would suggest that one of these things is our pain - that that could be the great work of Universal art that unites us all. If we could be open to the knowing that we are not alone in our suffering, maybe it would soften us. Maybe it would allow us to really connect.

Most of us have felt this when we could see someone we love suffering. But what about our own little sufferings? The little everyday voice that says, when? how? why? That wants to blame and label and categorize. What if we could have compassion for ourselves instead of allowing that little voice to berate us, and thereby realize that everyone we meet has a little voice, too.

In thinking about everyone else's little voices, I decided to post this blog. Previously, I had decided only to post things when I was already feeling totally optimistic. But today, I had a feeling that honestly conveying what seemed like a fairly common thing, might allow me to shift into feeling optimistic. In other words, putting myself out there for others to relate to seemed a greater gift than not sharing at all until I felt more perfectly suited to do so.

On that note, I guess today's lesson is: Do it anyway. Even if you don't feel like making art, do it anyway. Feelings you're afraid of showing might be more shared than you think. It is my hope that we'll find some truth with each other in this way. Wouldn't that just change the world?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Ceramics Part V - Glazing and Glass

Excitedly, I used some glass from my 30th birthday ceremony in my latest ceramic glazing experiment. The piece I was glazing was one of the first pieces I threw on the wheel. Twice, it was going to be a bowl, until I pulled up too far and caused the top to fall off. What was left was a base (perfect for a candle holder), and a wavy, delicate rim, and the shape delighted me for some reason, so I decided to fire it.

Nadeige, the brilliant ceramicist and owner of Choplet, warned me that colors not in the the green/blue spectrum may not retain their color in the kiln because of the temperature. So I used a neutral "almond" glaze color, just in case the glass color developed a
mind of its own during firing.

But the pink glass pebbles I put in there not only kept their color, they also formed the most amazing crystal-like facets, almost like pink ice in the circular bottom of my piece. I was thrilled with how it turned out! It seemed to me like the kind of thing a fairy princess would have on her dresser. So, that's where I put it. Right near the painting on wood my two-year-old niece made. (Also in this photo, you can see two of the little glass pebbles exactly like the ones I used in the glazing process - to the right of the ceramic piece.)

Here are several views of the piece:

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Beginning of Fall - Tarrytown Field Trip

Last weekend, my mom came to town so she and I could attend a workshop together in Tarrytown. Afterwards, we were feeling very inspired, and I decided to take her to what has become one of my favorite places - Stone Barns. To get there, we drove through the legendary Sleepy Hollow, and down a beautiful, hilly road. My mom commented that it reminded her of where she grew up in West Virginia.

The sun was beginning to set in the early-October sky. The sheep were in the meadow, and rather shy. The pigs were in the woods, and had no qualms about hamming it up for the camera. Sunlight streaked across trees that were only just beginning to consider changing colors.

My mom and I strolled around, finding delight in so many things. I wanted to show her all the treasures of the farm. I took her into their 22,000 SF greenhouse (the largest greenhouse in the country existing for the purpose of providing fresh produce to the affiliated restaurant), and we wandered over hill and dale. It felt so good to have her there with me - to feel the amazing sense of nature all around us in the rolling hills, tall trees, and spunky animals. A mom is a very good person to share these things with, and my mom is just happens to be one of the best moms there is.

We strolled and walked and explored the grounds that are a tiny tip of what is the historic Rockefeller estate. To a New Yorker, a farm of rolling hills contains a sense of immenseness they cannot relate to the claustrophobic caverns they're using to barreling through. It is simply breathtaking. And unless you've lived in a big city for a long time, I doubt you really know what it's like to be under a giant open sky, smelling plants, hearing crickets, and taking in huge, deep breaths. The contrast makes it something else entirely.

My mom lives in the country, so I don't know that she knew what I was feeling. Still, I loved her companionship. I loved having those beautiful moments that we had set aside just to spend with each other.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


I just want to take a moment to write about courage.

Firefighters have so much courage, that they run into flaming buildings to rescue the life otherwise trapped inside. While many of us don't face such literal life-and-death risks each day, we do constantly exercise courage.

Little kids who are learning to walk keep losing their balance, and falling over and over and over again. Imagine having no sense of how to control your limbs, and yet repeatedly trying to rise to your feet. (You did it, once. Don't forget.)

You go into work each day, knowing there are people who will contradict you, who seem - perhaps - not to have your best interests in mind. Yet, your career and your ability to earn a living are important to you. You go in anyway, not waiting for a sense of well-being, but rather increasing your own tolerance of the situation by exposing yourself to it, and finding your sense of well-being in the process.

Couples show up to their relationships each day, wondering if some wound will be exposed, if words will strike the other in away that stings or reminds of childhood scars. Yet, they keep re-committing to each other, with every laugh, with every kiss, with every touch - they know that the reward is not some perfect relationship at the end of the tunnel, but rather the glimpse right now of a connection to another soul despite one's fears.

I am often coming up with new and bigger projects for myself to complete, and when I do, I always think, "How am I ever going to sustain the courage to do this?" I have never been able to answer myself before something drives me forward, makes me do it anyway. Courage, I find, has nothing to do with overcoming one's fears in preparation for action - rather, it's being afraid and taking the action anyway.

Recently, I took a public speaking class at the Open Center, and the entire class revolved around this principle: that we were not going to get up there to speak and NOT feel nervous, but we would get up there feeling nervous and still be able to speak.

I think it's the things that we care about most that make us nervous. Maybe there are more things that we should just do anyway, in spite of our fears. Maybe we should speak our mind, especially when we think our voice will break. Maybe we are exactly like the firefighter, running into the world each day, desperate to bring a sense of hope by speaking our truth.

My truth is my faith in the human spirit. I know that every person is capable of amazing things, beyond their wildest dreams. I know this because I live it. With frequency, I ask myself to face my fears, and over and over, I find - to my own utter amazement - that I am capable of doing just that.