It’s March, somehow… it has been a while since I posted, but as the sun makes its way back, I find I have a little more energy. I am convinced that we were meant to hibernate all winter. When spring comes I always feel like I am waking up from a months-long sleepwalk.

Below are patched together bits of emails I have written in the last few weeks, the best I can do to bring this blog up to speed. It’s funny, when I used to write in my diary as a kid, I always pictured some future audience poring over every page with rapt attention, fascinated to learn that I my like Quisp cereal and my brother likes Quake, I like Count Chocula and he likes Frankenberry.

Now I have this blog and I have no illusion that anybody, anywhere reads it ;0) but unlike my journals I am unlikely to lose it, and I don’t get writer’s cramp.

Florida:

“My biggest worry is that two years of MFA won’t be enough time for me to get where I need to be with my skills. In fact, last week when my hubby and kids headed for Florida without me (Jeff has two weeks off, I have one) I headed straight for the clay studio at EMU and just stayed there. My plan was to a) keep so busy that I didn’t have time to miss the family, and b) catch up to the other grad students, who are cranking out some pretty good work.

One of the three MFAs — glamorous Reem from Libya — will be leaving for U of M’s program, where her husband’s job will provide a tuition waiver. It will seem really weird to have her gone next year. But a new MFA named Nancy is already working in the grad studio, and there are some wonderful, inspired and inspiring MAs in the program as well, also making good work. We have all started to bounce ideas off of each other, and go looking for crits on our own, on a regular basis. In fact, last week when my studio hours started early and went late, half a dozen of us went to the Side Track for food and happy hour one night, then came back to the studio to work until after midnight.

So it was a week without switching gears from homeschool to art school, Michigan to Ohio. Instead of my one night a week sleeping at Diana’s, I just moved right in — seeing very little of roomie Patrick, who has a huge course load and studies late into the night. (Diana is in Florida winter semester, though she flies in frequently to raise the bar for us all) ;0)

I finally felt like I was getting the ball rolling in the studio, building up some momentum, making new work that has a spark of inspiration from old successes, and then suddenly it was time for me to get on a plane and join Jeff and the kids at my mom and dad’s in Florida. I went from full speed ahead to full stop/vacation mode overnight, and it has caused a bit of mental whiplash.

I’m not saying I hate being here. I left Ohio in all its midwinter shades of glory — highway grey, dead grass beige, slush grey, overpass grey, salted car grey, and my favorite, sky grey. I left temps that hadn’t crept into double digits for weeks, where people are pale and walk hunched against the world and scowling. I arrived in a land where bright pink bougainvillea creeps over the door, the scent of roses washes over my pillow on open-window breezes and a bowl on the counter offers bright, glorious strawberries picked this afternoon. Everybody is tan and relaxed, friendly, retired or on vacation.

And it’s not that I have nothing to do. The kids and I take the kayaks out, ride bikes, and have been to the library three times in five days, hauling home books like “Ceramics of Picasso” and “The Figure in Clay” and “Smashing Glazes”.

But the truth is, it kills me that the grad students — (many of them school teachers with this week off work) –are back in the studio right this minute slinging clay without me.

I went out to dad’s shed to dig out the $4 Goodwill record player I had bought last year to throw mini teapots on, but it was full of spiderwebs and had given up the ghost. I have a grapefruit sized ball of clay in my suitcase, but haven’t taken it out yet. It seems kind of fruitless to make tiny work I can’t fire here, and don’t want to transfer home. Especially now, when I am brainstorming up some large pots and a couple of installation pieces, through scribbles in my sketchbook and an ongoing email correspondence with Diana.

I have spent some time working on an asphaltum-coated zinc plate that I’ll etch next week for my printmaking class, and a lot of time sitting on the driveway with my kids’ box of enormous bright sidewalk chalks, drawing composite forms, soy and oil bottles and ewers. The bright chalk gives them a disney-ish look, especially when I go back with a finger to blend in the chalk colors.

We’re planning a wood fire on the weekend of 10th. Patrick is the firemaster and will post a sheet for shifts. We’re working out a system so that nobody ends up doing all the work for somebody else’s pots — so nobody gripes about where their pots ended up, because we’ll all load our own — and where nobody’s stuck doing after-firing cleanup after the glory part is over. Work in, work out.

I have to admit I have become a more discriminating pot shopper, if nothing else. I was sorry to see that Englewood, Florida’s one high quality gallery (always full of artfully produced clay and sculpture) is gone, while the half dozen other galleries offering awkward, dorky pots are still doing fine. Lids that don’t even remotely fit, uninspired glazes and beginnerish forms apparently sell like hotcakes around here. I used to think Diana and Lee were just being picky when they lifted my (ahem) perfectly thin walled forms and made a grunting noise like they were lifting a brick. Now I have recalibrated my sense of appropriate weight, and am surprised when a pot in a gallery weighs twice what it looks. Am I becoming a pot snob? Yikes, I hope not… but I have sure raised the bar for my own work in the last six months.

Anyway, it’s late. Jeff and my middle son are at a cooking class in Sarasota, learning to make plantain crusted snapper fingers and key lime cheesecake. Mom and dad went to the airport to pick up my brother and his fiancee from Bogota, and my other two kids are immersed in the joys of vacation at grandma’s: ice cream and nintendo. Time for mom to get them off to bed.

Yours, Kelly-from-Ohio-in-Florida… dreading re-entry to snowy Ohio, my house with the drafty closed windows, overflowing litter boxes and box of unpaid bills… dreading the crabbiness of kids back to homeschooling, chores and “mom’s rules” after two weeks spoiled by grandparents… dreading muddy march… but oddly looking forward to the long hauls to EMU, coffee in the rattletrap little coffee maker in the early morning studio, and the smell of aging clay.”

And home again:

“My grandmother tried to teach me how to knit when I was in college. I was hopeless. My loops were all different sizes, I never could count and think at the same time, and my attention span was so short that I gave up when my little knitted strip was like two inches by three. I put it in an envelope and mailed it to my boyfriend, who had just dropped out of Ohio State to hitchhike to N’Awlins and work on a paddle boat. He pinned it to his coat and wore it. When people asked what it was, he just said, “My girlfriend knitted me this.”

That was pretty much it for twenty years, until last Christmas, when I got little Molly one of those hat-knitting kits with the plastic-peg-ring thing, where you loop the yarn around and around on the pegs. She mad
e a hat, and then I made a dozen. It requires no brainwork whatsoever, and I soon discovered that there are some wonderful funky yarns out there.

I tend to worry too much in wintertime, and keep myself happy by keeping busy. That’s fine at home or at school, but I hate being stuck someplace where I can’t get anything done, especially when life is stressful. So I made a hat in the hospital waiting room, last month while my Jeff had a cardiac catheterization… made a hat on the plane in bad weather, headed for vacation, and another on the way home. I keep it in my book bag and knit away on long drives when I’m a passenger, or through long sermons at the UU.

Everybody around me has a hat by now, so I’m making them for the homeless shelters… though I like the idea of making and donating hats for newborns. It would mean I could use some fuzzier, prettier yarn than what would suit the guys at the Cherry Street Mission. “

“After a week’s break, I was back at school the last three days. Diana was back in town briefly and the crits were flying last night, thick and direct. The grad students worked together in the community throwing area, waiting for our turn to be summoned down to the crit space. I was told my face and neck were flushed beet red by the time my turn was done. When Lee came in and put a hand on Patrick’s shoulder, he rose to head down the hall and I murmured, “dead man walkin”…. (gallows humor).

Critiques continue to be hard as hell. We spend so much time and energy invested in an idea, pursuing a form, building momentum and exploring new directions… and then it’s time for reality check. If the greenware shelves are like the maternity ward, full of the precious fruits of our labor … and we students are the proud parents of those pots, enchanted by them and certain they are the most lovely and glorious ever… then the profs are the veteran labor and delivery nurses who have seen decades of babies. They can objectively say, “Well, that one looks a bit like Winston Churchill, and this one looks more like a monkey than a baby, and these over here are a little funny looking as well…” It can be awfully hard to hear. There was no joy in mudville last night.

I can’t say I agree with everything my profs say, but more often than not, they put words to design problems that had been wordlessly nagging at me all along. I struggle still with tightness, with mechanical and overworked forms, the kind of thing I can’t seem to fix using my one all purpose skill, “trying harder”. Somehow I have to try less hard.. or try differently, or something. Unclench my jaw, and some muscle in my brain that wants to control every part of the outcome. Lately I’m not having much luck with that. Maybe summer will help.

I do have to say that after the crits, after Reem and Patrick and I closed up the studio late and headed out, P. and I headed back to Diana’s (where Patrick lives full time, and I sleep over every week.) Diana had made a nice pasta fagoli, I had a cold beer, and we three sat and talked, planned and gossipped, and laughed together like we used to last semester. (Diana is in Florida for winter, flying back every month.) It’s hard to get your feelings hurt over pottery crits when the bringer of bad news also gives you a house key, makes you supper, and cares very much about you as a person. This must be what traditional apprenticeships felt like. It’s their job to help us do our jobs better; it’s our job to be open to instruction; but at the end of the day, work is done and it’s time to have supper together.

Is there some little part of me that resists instruction, after all these years of going it alone? Well, honestly, yeah (though I mostly shut up about it.). There are forms I might like to make but my profs would roll their eyes. There are things I have been asked to give up (and did) that I still feel attached to. But the majority of what I have learned, about good pots, 3D design and visual balance, I would never have let in if I hadn’t been able to follow someone’s lead. I don’t intend to put up a fight and demand to make the kind of work these profs disapprove of… not because they are always right, or that work is always bad, but because I came to learn what they could best teach me. You don’t go to a sushi restaurant and demand a grilled cheese sandwich, y’know?

Anyway it was a long day, the kind where everything catches on everything else, and I seemed to be running in place both in the clay and the printmaking studio. I drove all the way home looking forward to the familiar chaos of my house, good supper on the table, the voices of my kids (Wednesday is concert night, they play us piano/sax practice tunes) — and the good husband I haven’t seen since monday. Ever fantasize all afternoon about putting on your fuzzy pajamas? Those are the winter comforts, I guess.

Yours
Kelly in Ohio with a cat in my lap… a somewhat bewildered, elderly cat who mostly sleeps in a private spot, but emerges right at 8:30 when the children go to bed to read, and sits with Jeff at the TV, or in my lap at the computer. If the kids aren’t in bed yet at 8:30 she stands in the doorway and complains in loud yowls until we send them off. How a cat can tell time is beyond me.

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