I’m thinking about tea pots all the time. Why? No doubt, my recent visit to “Perspectives: Georgia Pottery Invitational,” has a lot to do with it. There I had the opportunity to attend Akira Satake’s amazing two day workshop on the beauty of imperfection. I watched him make tea cups, tea pots and Chawans with the skill of the master that he is. I listened to his philosophy, which is so very akin to to the heart of what and why I have my hands in clay every day. Couple that with the one piece in the Perspectives Gallery that really spoke to me, a diminuitive and primitive ancient chinese tea pot, and I can begin to see how I came to be steeped in ideas that are now manifesting as these pots. My challenge? As ever, to stay true to how the clay speaks to me in my hands. This means balancing as much tactile-spiritual clay work as I feel is imperitive to my soul with as much technique as I feel gives me paths to form.
Let me explore this a bit more. There are plenty of classes, lessons and utubes to show me point by point how to construct a ceramic tea pot. There are numerous variations of handbuilt tea pots, from which I could choose ( or adapt) a pattern to make my vessel. But my goal has never been to follow a pattern and achieve precise results. My goal, really, is to find how the clay and my soul best spend time together, and, at the same time, to learn as many techniques with clay as I can, to throw both of these eneavors into, say, a tea pot, to simer and steep, and then to see what happens. It is a mysterious process. To some degree, it reminds me of how yoga poses can elicit emotional and spiritual growth. Yet, you do the work of learning and practicing the poses without really knowing exactly how your soul work will be accomplished. You practice without aim. You practice because it feel right to you to do so. It calls to you.
Clay has become my yoga. My meditation. My spiritual practice. My connection to the earth.
There is also the ongoing, primary thread of deeply honoring the beauty inherent in how imperfectly we live as incarnated beings. I don’t try to make my tea pots as perfectly tea pot-like as I can. That’s not me. Those of you who know me know my simultaneously deep, painful and ultimately joyful experience of imperfection and my commitment to self expression. So these tea pots i make are one of a kind, a bit odd, unusual, and (at least this is my intent and my experience of them), sweet.
I call these pots: sweet tea
Today I watched the amazing Jae West of The Liberator Family bravely stand nearly naked on a busy city street. She stood for all of those with eating disorders and disabling body image issues. She stood blindfolded with pens in her hands and a sign asking people to draw a heart on her body to help her love herself; to help us love ourselves.
What is it that we see when we look at ourselves with unkind eyes? What is it that we see when we look at someone else with unkind eyes? We do it all the time. I look terrible in that picture. What’s wrong with her? Why would anyone wear that? These are trivial comments on one level. But on a deeper level, this harsh way of looking at ourselves, at others, is the most fundamental way in which we cast out, shun and “other” our very selves and our neighbors. My goal is this: the next time I look harshly, and it will likely be at myself, I plan to stop and point by point articulate what I see. I suspect that in the hurry of these commonplace harsh thoughts, we are sweeping over things that we would not actually want to inflict if we were mindful of what we were saying. So I will draw it out, come face to face with that personal meanness, and see if I can rummage around in myself and find a gentler voice.
This is my time to clear a path or two for those that come behind me. Surely I can do this. I know enough. Now I just need to bring that knowledge into my core. Maybe I can help my younger sisters to get to a place of self love sooner than I did.
What do you think? Is the world ready for a gathering of nearly naked crones on a busy city street? Meanwhile, I will work on my clay Crone Vessels and think about it:)
As I have aged, I have become more appreciative of the vessel that is my body. As time and illness and injury have each taken its toll on my physical vessel, I have come to regard my body as an imperfect, wonderous miracle. It is with kinder eyes that I see myself now: lumps, bumps, bulges. I can feel how hard my heart works, scarred though it is, to supply enough oxygen rich blood to get me up a short set of stairs or across the street. It is an effort. I notice that. I appreciate it. I’m thankful for it.
Conversely, as a young woman, I led a busy and very physical life. Working. Raising children. Engaging in my favorite spiritual past times: hiking, swimming, kayaking, walking. The list goes on and on. I enjoyed using my body and I demanded a lot of it. In significant ways, I took my youth, my beauty and my health for granted. I was far to busy to THINK about it. When I was still, I was in nature, thinking about oneness and connection. I felt a great kinship with the land, the sea and the sky. That meant a lot to me. But I did not fully appreciate the vessel that allowed me to BE.
I imagine that my son and my husband, both of whom have had to contend with severe physical challenges, have long been more aware of their vessels. Imperfection, physical imperfection, was and is something that they have to confront in every instance that they live and breathe in this world. I will venture to say that I bet they never take their bodies for granted. But those of us with fully functional bodies usually do. Until we age or until something goes wrong.
Rumi says there are a hundred ways to kiss the ground. My way is through clay. I make clay vessels, one of a kind, unique. Each is meant to be a meditation on the beauty inherent in imperfection. Invite me into your story and let me make a vessel in honor of your beauty.
In some ways, I see the entirety of my life thus far as one of spiritual engagement with imperfection. As a child confronted with fearful circumstances, I took refuge in trying hard to be as perfect as possible. As a young adult, I continued in that mode and extended it to being the very best mother i could be. I knew I couldn’t do that perfectly, but I expected myself to be as good a mother as was humanly possible. In particular, I took my childhood sense of an unsafe world, and looked to heighten my awareness of dangers that could befall these children that I loved so very much, and redoubled my efforts to protect them. However, I learned, through a brutal accident, that I am impossibly imperfect, that I had no choice but to be so very human, so very imperfect, in a world that could meet out danger in horrific ways. My young son learned that lesson with me, and I always felt, suffered the great burden of my humanity. He was scalded in a kitchen accident, a week after his third birthday. I had been careful. I had been vigilant. Still, the unthinkable happened. He lost over half his skin and was burned over 75 per cent of his body. Our lives were never the same.
It is now 22 years later. I have no interest in perfection or flawless beauty. I study the astounding beauty in the human, the imperfect, the flawed. I create with clay because I find it to be the most intimate of art forms. My fingers, the red georgia clay, and together we find something of grace. My current work is in creating vessels, using the basic pinch pot and other hand forming techniques. The work is intuitive, ungainly, imperfect, and, to my eyes, graceful. I call my latest work “Crone Vessels.” They, along with my Goddess sculptures ( called The Ancients), represent my reflections on what it means to be a woman in these later years, after childrearing, after menopause, after the “beauty” of youth. I hope in the lumps and bumps and dents and wobbles that you find some of that Grace that I feel I’ve held in my hands.
Clay in my hands makes me happy. Specifically, red georgia clay, dug straight up from the earth, right here in my state. This clay has body, has substance, has something to teach me. keeping my hands in this clay, forming, shaping, co-creating, keeps me close to the earth. Those of you who know me will remember that I love the ocean, love the Maine coast, love swimming, hiking, kayaking. When I lived in Maine, when I was younger and healthy, the land was my true companion and my joy. Now I lead a quieter life, a city life, a southern life, a life with health challenges. Balancing my fond memories of other years, other joys in other places, is my discovery of art, of making things and of the great joy of Georgia clay in my hands.