How taking a ceramics class taught me to be a better person
Breaking the mould
Words— Odessa Paloma Parker
As adults, we get very good at rarifying the times when we have to do something we’re not good at. Now that I’m in my late thirties, I see more and more of my peers deciding what they want—and don’t want—to devote their time to; I do it too.
I’m talking about the things we maybe never had an aptitude for. If you weren’t sporty in the past, no one is forcing you to suit up and sweat it out at this point in life; and now you can at least decide when, where, how and with whom you subject yourself to physical activity.
I was never particularly artistic growing up. Creative, yes definitely. Maybe it was my lack of patience, or perhaps I have lacklustre hand-eye coordination—I just never could find finesse in any fine art projects. This more or less dashed my dreams of becoming a fashion designer, but I was able to channel what eye and taste I do have into becoming an editor, writer and stylist—roles that suit me just fine.
What I’ve come to ponder lately is that the reason such participatory demands were made on us in our youth didn’t totally stem from wanting to either dishearten or embolden us, but instead perhaps to instill the idea that you can’t be good at everything. Most of us can take this news in stride, and eventually those irksome attributes—athleticism, mathematic inclinations, or grammar-centric prowess—fall away as we replace them with doing things that we enjoy and manage with as much ease as possible.
Yes, I’ve even found myself in a comfortable rut when it comes to challenges—any arduous task can be made easier by knowing a) I mostly enjoy my job, b) I’m not saving any lives, and c) nobody has to know that I’m bad at math, aerobics or drawing if I don’t want them to.
This changed in the spring when I signed up for a ceramics workshop led by Toronto-based artist, Julie Moon. I’d been a fan of Moon’s groovy, quirky work for some time, and I couldn’t resist the chance to make some pipes on 4/20 with her and a small group of likeminded people. I savoured the thought of having three hours of my time to devote to simply making and enjoying the process—not letting thoughts of annoying work or life stuff enter into my placidly focused mind, and definitely not worrying about the final outcome because I assumed it would be mediocre.
My pipes turned out better than that, happily, and I enjoyed the class so much that I signed up for a summer class series with Moon; one where we could make whatever we wanted under her thoughtful, and quite frankly generous gaze.
My friend Julie came with me. She attended the pipe class as well, and it wasn’t long before I felt a tinge of jealousy because she was SO GOOD at ceramics. I knew she went to art school, but for a different discipline, and I was familiar with her exacting and thorough manner with which she worked and kept a lovely home. But neither piece of knowledge truly prepared me for the extremely inventive and beautifully executed things she made and continued to make throughout the summer.
All this while I thumped away at and smoothed my clay, endeavouring to at least make something charmingly knobby if not somewhat realistic. I decided to stick to what I knew—or could at least kind of simulate—and tried my hand first at making a Memphis-style dish and psychedelic mushroom shot glass.
Both turned out fine, but just so. I had muddled through as I typically did when I came to making things with my hands, and it honestly felt nice to be satisfied with the best I could do. In my work life, I would never let myself "rest" in that way, and I’d wager most of us wouldn’t. We’re so wrapped up in being the generation of dreamers and hustlers that to settle for ‘okay’ seems counterintuitive—even when our actual abilities limit us through no fault of our own.
I also let my feelings of jealousy wash away; as an adult I realize instead I should be proud to have such a talented friend. It’s a lesson we all learn as kids but as adulthood takes over, it seems most of us become more lax about, and even inviting of toxic thoughts. I’ve started acting on re-framing negative impulses—being catty, for example—and it, of course, feels much better mentally to let good feelings ruminate instead of bad ones.
For my last project, I decided to make a large planter, the creation of which was easy enough using the slab technique. Ever the maximalist, I wanted to adorn my pot with something and after Moon asked, "What do you love?" I settled on fabricating pieces of pasta to stick on the sides.
Referencing images online and trying and trying over again until satisfied, I felt a diligence I hadn’t really experienced in a while. Not because I’m on auto-pilot while I work, but because I’ve honed my particular skill set to ensure I’m optimized to do quality work in my beloved chosen profession. Digging into something new and trying my hardest was a feeling I haven’t felt in a very long time. It was refreshing, humbling and grounding in ways I didn’t consider would be revealed in such a seemingly innocuous and chill setting.
As I write this, I’m heading into the last week of my class and will see the final outcome of my planter in a few days. Part of me is worried because I posted images of my work-in-progress online and many friends—including artists I greatly admire—were very encouraging and positive with their feedback. But another part, the part I’m letting speak louder, is just excited to see my effort in its final manifestation, no matter if it’s exactly what I wanted it to look like or not. After all, I’m not perfect, but the things I learned in this process get me closer to being the best I can be.