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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