Monday, January 24, 2022

Learning to repair what is broken


Broken raku vessel mended with gold

Hit it with a stick

I have been 'playing with clay' for over 13 years and one of the first lessons I learned as a beginning potter was that of impermanence. As my first teacher taught me, there are almost limitless ways to ruin a pot along the way. I still hear her voice in my head when I mess up centering ("an excellent way to ruin a pot"), trimming ("yup, a great way to ruin a pot"), or glazing ("a perfect way to ruin a pot"). 

I also remember another one of her adages: Hit it with a stick. Which was her answer to the question of what do I do when the pot is knocked off center. So the second lesson I learned was of transformation.

Some of my favorite bowls are the squared off pieces that I took Stephanie's advice with and hit with a stick. 

 

There is no such thing as perfect

There is no such thing as perfect. I am quite good at critiquing my work and picking it apart. My current favorite tea mug is one I hated when it first emerged from the kiln. 

Now I embrace its imperfections - it's slightly wonky and on the outside where I overlapped 2 glazes, there's a little crazing (spiderweb cracks). Because it's on the outside only, it doesn't pose any hazard to using the mug and has, instead, become a subtle design element that I believe enhances the look of the piece.

  

Our scars show our journey

The vessel in the image at the top of this post was one made by a fellow potter and fired in a raku kiln. It cracked and broke into several pieces upon cooling and my potter friend asked me if I might try to repair it using the kintsugi technique.

The philosophy of kintsugi is that of using the cracks as a way to enhance the beauty of an object, rather than attempt to invisibly mend it. 

I am also a (now retired) physical therapist and this applies to the body as well: injuries are mended, but there are often scars - some visible, some invisible - that show where we have been hurt. I have come to believe this to be true for our psychic wounds as well. 

We may very well heal, but the healed places will be different than they were before the hurt. 

If I could make my soul visible, perhaps there would be gold lines wavering through it. And I think that would be quite beautiful.

 

Little, Broken, Still Good

I recently re-watched the Disney movie, Lilo and Stitch and literally caught my breath when Stitch says at the end: "This is my family. I found it, all on my own. It's little, and broken, but still good. Yeah, still good." 

I have been feeling very broken lately, with the jagged places raw. There's a novel I've been poking at for several years now, only making minimal progress. Most days, when I think about opening the file and working on it, I feel as if I have failed the story and failed myself, having lost my way as a writer. 

In the enormity of the world's suffering and pain, how can I even pretend that my creativity matters? That my own distress matters. That I even deserve to feel whole?


Impermanence. Imperfection. Transformation.

I was text-chatting with a writer friend last night and they helped me see myself and my work in a different light - ironic, as *they* were the one who reached out to me because they were struggling. But that's how it works, I think. We are here to help one another.

These are some of the things I wrote - ostensibly for them - but also for me:

So many people are fighting to force things to be 'normal' but there needs to be a reckoning for all our losses. And I don't think our culture has the ability to do it. Not fully. Not in the way it needs to be done.

And those of us who have the sensitivity to see it are mocked for it. 

And I know  I get sucked into minimizing my own reactions to it all, end up wondering what's wrong with me.

I worry for the future ... and how to carry that grief and not let it consume you. I haven't figured out that at all. 

I think the sensitive ones like us are the emotion translators in the world. It can be exhausting. But it's also [critical] to do. To express in art and reflect back to the world.

[It's] work. Hard work. Necessary work. Sacred work. 

 

And as I wrote those final lines, it felt like something unlocked deep inside me. My broken pieces weren't grinding against one another quite so hard anymore. They fit together. Not seamlessly, but with the seams shining in the places that had been cracked apart.  

It is okay - more than okay - it is essential - to bring beauty into an uncertain world. 

Both what we create and who we are as creators don't need to be perfect. They and we can't be perfect. But if we commit to repairing the broken places with care and gentleness, gold will shine through the cracks to illuminate us all. 

 

 



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Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Falling to the Level of my Systems


A simple system


I recently hurt myself and was on couch duty for a few days. I didn't have the focus or concentration to read and there is only so much television I could stand, so a friend recommended a few podcasts to me. 

BrenĂ© Brown has been a kind of hero of mine ever since I saw one of her early TED talks, so I started with her 2 part conversation with James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, on her "Dare to Lead" podcast.  

There's a quote that comes from Clear's book that she referred to over and over: 

"You don't rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your systems." (James Clear) 
And that has been reverberating in my mind and my soul ever since. 

It's not like I didn't know about how systems are critical to the functioning of things like safe airflight (preflight checklists, anyone?) and safe surgical procedures (time outs, checklists), and I've long understood that I personally function better with a certain amount of structure in my life. 

Hell, I'm great at systems. Erm.. setting them up. Following them? Not so much. If there is an organizational system out there, I've probably tried it. Even believed that it (whichever one I was taking for a spin) would be *the one*. 

(Okay - you can stop laughing now.)

And it's also not like I can't be disciplined. I've accomplished a hell of a lot in my life - much of it through sheer stubbornness and dogged optimism. Grind, grit, and goals can only take you as far as the personal walls you hit. 

Ooh, that's good. I think I'll repeat that for emphasis - because I'm often slow on the uptake when it comes to my own learning.


"Grind, grit, and goals can only take you as far as the personal walls you hit." (LJ Cohen)

 I really believed that the wanting was enough. And that if I wasn't finishing this (%$@!) novel-in-progress, it was secretly because I didn't want it enough. *I* wasn't enough. Or I was too much. Too distracted, too depressed, too broken. 

When I ran my physical therapy practice, I had structure. My available hours were limited as I shared an office with another clinician and I had a hard stop time when I needed to pick my children up from school. My work had to fit within those parameters. And it did. And it worked. 

Those were the years when I also wrote an hour a day in two 30 minute chunks. Because that what my structure/systems allowed. 

I learned a long time ago that limitations can help and unlock creativity, not hinder it. Case in point: I've been in a poetry rut for quite some time, so in November, I asked folks to toss me six random words for me to craft a short poem around. And it led to some remarkable pieces. 

This is all to say that for more time that I'd like to admit, I've had no systems to fall back on. The why isn't as important as the fact that with no limits on my time, I drift to mindless scrolling of social media and wallow in quiet self-loathing because of it. 

 

My goals aren't enough. Goals are a pull. I need a push.

 

My goals aren't enough. Goals are a pull. I need a push. That's systems. Which in my case, means building up better habits. Something the podcast explicitly talks about. 

I think I need to read Atomic Habits for more specific support in creating the habits and systems that will let me find my way back to my creativity.

In the meanwhile, I'm going to further lock down my phone. I've already deleted the FB and Twitter apps from it, but there's always the browser. I have it set to so many minutes per hour and I'm going to also block it until midday. (I'm better writing in the morning.) Somehow, I don't abuse social media when I'm at the computer in the same way as I do on my phone. 

And maybe that will be enough of a habit and enough of a system, at least for now.





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Sunday, December 26, 2021

When Bagels Need Help



If you've been following my posts, you've seen tons of bagel photos. I learned how to make sourdough  bagels last year & make them nearly every week for my spouse.

Something I realized today was that it's even more important to know *why* & *how* something is supposed to work so you can troubleshoot & correct when it doesn't. 

I didn't have the lovely fresh milled flour I've been using both to feed the starter and to bake with, so I had to use the commercial bread flour. 

Well,  the starter was sluggish,  so I gave it an extra feeding and delayed baking a day.

Then the dough was slow to rise,  even though I had added a bit of yeast to goose it along. 

So I wrapped the bowl and put it under a warming light.

It still didn't rise as much I prefer,  but I also didn't want it to over proof, so I decided to shape the individual rounds with some extra kneading and give them more time to rest before making the holes & finishing the process. 

And voila, another dozen bagels.  

This process isn't just for baking,  though.  Having instructions is a good first step for any activity, but understanding the why/how is the only way to make the bagels work.



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Thursday, December 09, 2021

Another group of Bespoke Poems

I've written 16 of these poems inspired by #6Words given to me by friends and social media followers. I still have a few sets of prompt words to go. I'm planning to put together a small chapbook of the poems along with the words that inspired them. Keep a lookout on the blog and on my social media posts for the download link. And thank you for following along. 

 

These are all a bit melancholy! I suspect both the prompt words and my mood at the time were responsible. I wonder where the poems would have taken me - using the same words - had I written them a different time. Or if someone else had taken the same words in a different direction...

 









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