I’ve been hooked on clay since I was seven years old.
No, I’m not talking about some code-named street drug, I’m talking about good old-fashioned pottery-making.
It began as a visceral fascination.
I loved the smooth texture of wet clay, the rhythmical rolling out of coils, the satisfaction in seeing the beauty of a finished piece.
But finished pieces didn’t always happen. In fact, more often than not, my attempts at creating masterpieces was thwarted somewhere along the way.
If I was to continue loving ceramics, it was essential that I learn to let go of the outcome and delight in the process.
I often worked on a project for weeks, making sure it had just the right moisture and just the right thickness before it was put in the kiln.
If I made a piece too thin it would crack in the kiln, and if it was too thick or not dry enough, the pressure would build in the high-heat and the piece would explode into hundreds of little pieces.
I knew this when I made my pieces, but even with the utmost attention and care only about two-thirds of my creations would make it through the first firing unbroken.
And then came the glazing process, offering its own set of challenges.
Choosing the right glaze, applying the glaze thick enough, and leaving enough space for it to drip without touching the kiln-floor is a stressful task, to say the least.
Glazing taught me to pay attention to details, have patience, and take risks even when I knew that there was a good chance that I would fail.
And then I grew older, and as I grew older I also grew more critical.
I started to look at what other people were doing, and noticed that some of them, who had put in far less hours practicing their hand at ceramics than I had, were creating pieces much more refined than I could ever hope to make.
I would be inspired by them, and try to reach their skill level, only to find heap after heap of collapsed wet clay on the wheel in front of me.
Despite my feelings of discouragement, however, my love of playing with clay could not be deterred.
Even in the face of repeated disappointment, working with clay taught me the merits of resilience and determination.
I kept throwing bowls, building mugs, and creating sculptures, and because I kept working, my skills did grow, though not always in the ways I had hoped when I set out.
I learned to appreciate my work for its unique style. Even if they weren’t as elegant as what other people made, my creations had other promising qualities that I could focus on instead.
Eventually, I even learned to delight in the imperfections, finding beauty in the reality that the pieces presented in front of me.
Ceramics are not perfect. Neither is life.
Still, dealing with comparisons was one of the harder lessons ceramics would give me, and it is one I still struggle to come to terms with today.
But even with the regular collapse of newly-thrown pots, the mourning of mugs that brake in the kiln, the disappointment of seeing a poorly-glazed finished piece, and the incessantly nagging critic in my head, I still get giddy every time I get the chance to get my hands on some clay.
Because in life, things collapse. They break. They don’t turn out the way we want them to, and it’s all too easy to blame ourselves for our perceived shortcomings.
But if we don’t show up and delight in the textures, rhythms, and beauty of the process, what’s the point, really?