Lucky duck that I am, I got to spend Memorial Day weekend at Touchstone Center for Crafts in Farmington, PA. I enrolled in the “Creating Pottery for Everyday Use” extended weekend workshop with Amanda Wolf (view her work at http://wolfsdenpottery.com/) and arrived to campus Friday evening.
I was assigned to Cabin #1. This cabin became my humble abode for the next three nights and four days:
The first thing I noticed about my cabin’s interior was the smell. To my delight, it smelled exactly like the clubhouse in my parents’ backyard that my dad built for my sister and me when we were little! It was practically an adult-sized, squarer version of our triangular clubhouse; for that reason alone, I felt quite comfortable . . .
. . . but maybe not so comfortable at night. The first night was the worst. I slept cocoon-like in a sleeping bag. And when I say cocoon-like, I mean it. I was wrapped up as tight as possible in that thing, trying my best to retain all my body heat so I could get some sleep. Night number two was probably the warmest, and night number three was slightly colder than I had anticipated. Alas, staying in the cabin made me appreciate my own warm bed at home. And even though I had the option to upgrade to a dorm, I’m glad I didn’t. It was a true summer camp-esque experience (I even decided to forego the meal plan so I could eat canned foods and packaged snacks!).
When I walked to the pottery studio (conveniently located about 30 steps away from my cabin) on Friday evening, I was introduced to Amanda and my two fellow students, Cindy and her daughter, Taylor. We spent the evening making clay stamps and sprigs for our pottery. Then back to my little cabin I retreated. The next morning would be my first full day at the wheel.
Our day started at 9 a.m. We learned how to wedge the porcelain clay with which we were working. The next step was to center it on the wheel. I experienced problems with centering when I took my first pottery class at my workplace back in March. Fortunately, centering came quite easy to me at Touchstone. “Pulling,” however, didn’t.
Pulling the clay basically involves lifting it up and allowing it to take shape. Silly me didn’t think to cut her crazy-long fingernails, so I couldn’t grab the clay the way I needed to in order to master the technique.
“Your nails are beautiful, but they gotta go,” Amanda said.
A few minutes later, she emerged from the glaze room with a pair of scissors. I refused. I mean, I can “go grunge,” but not that grunge. Haha. So I learned to deal with my long fingernails getting in the way (I did cut them as soon as I got home, though!) and stayed focused on the wet clay circling around in my hands.
Pottery, my friends, isn’t easy. You have to wedge the clay, center it, pull it, shape it, trim it, bisque it, decorate it, glaze it, and fire it again. It takes dedication, patience, and skill. The process itself is a long one, and it’s risky, too. You can’t get attached to a piece because it might not survive one of the many stages (I lost three mugs during the trimming stage . . . sigh). When I encountered a hiccup in the process (there were many, many times when I pulled too hard and completely ruined the piece), I wedged a new piece of clay and started over again. Despite being the kind of person who gets frustrated and discouraged quite easily, I was determined to master the pottery wheel. Luckily, our awesome studio assistant (shout out to Eric!) and two talented potters (hey, Lee and Bridget!) were kind enough to let me continue to work after our allotted open studio hours. On Saturday evening, I stayed in the studio until about 10:30 p.m., throwing and throwing and throwing until I emerged with a little jar that, I decided, I would give to my boyfriend. Amanda was also kind enough to stay with me for awhile, offering me advice and telling me what I was doing right and what I was doing wrong.
Cursive, by the way, got it right: "Art is Hard."
It was dark by the time I left the studio, and I was happy to know that the next morning I would wake up and get to do it all over again.
Here’s a photo of me late Saturday night--sticky clay hands and all!
I admired our schedule: working for a few hours, taking a small lunch break, working a few more hours, taking a supper break, and then working again until almost dark. I imagined myself hanging out with Henry David Thoreau (okay, so I should also admit that my cabin made me think of “Walden”), enjoying that type of technology-less, connected-to-nature, working-hard-all-day way of life.
Aside from making some bowls from molds that Amanda provided for us, I spent a majority of my Sunday on the wheel. I was comfortable there. Eager to learn more. Appreciative of the opportunity to have a teacher who kindly pointed out the progress I was making. So, by Sunday afternoon, I finally understood how to pull the clay. To get my clay to take shape. Gracefully.
Sunday was also the perfect day for a walk on Meditation Trail. With my notebook in hand, I walked into the woods, crossed over the creek, and sat on a rock and wrote. Here’s a photo of me enjoying that alone time:
The entire Touchstone campus is gorgeous. It’s nestled in the boondocks, where cell phone service is limited and artists gather to create art with like-minded artists. Even though I was only there for four days, it felt as if I became part of an artist’s colony. The people there talked art, made art, celebrated art. I loved it.
We spent Monday morning and afternoon decorating our pottery, adding handles to our mugs, and letting our work dry so that we could take it home. By the time check-out time rolled around, I didn't want to leave. I made some new friends. I wanted to jump back on the pottery wheel. I discovered that not only could I use my hands to write, but also to bring a lump of clay to life.
I ended up leaving Touchstone with 12 finished pieces (all of which have yet to be bisque fired, glazed, and then fired again). I created mostly mugs, as you can see:
I have a long way to go when it comes to reaching Amanda’s skill level . . . a longggggggggg way . . . but I’m grateful that she was gracious enough to teach us what she knows. She offered me the perfect mix of constructive criticism and praise; now I have the confidence to keep learning, to keep creating. This means I need to get my own pottery wheel!
From my cabin to Meditation Trail to the clay studio, my first experience at Touchstone certainly won’t be my last!
For more info: http://touchstonecrafts.org/
I was sitting in my favorite coffee shop last Monday, drinking chai tea and working on a grant when an older fellow was preparing to exit the shop with some coffee in hand. All of a sudden, he stopped in his tracks and looked at me.
"What's that little thing you have there?" he asked.
"Oh. They call this a netbook," I said. "It's basically a mini computer."
"Cool," he replied. "What are you drinking?"
"Me? Oh, chai tea. The best chai I've ever had, really. I love this place."
He pointed at the sugar packets hanging out near my cup.
"I can't believe you're consuming that stuff," he said. "Splenda is so bad for you. I'm allergic to it."
"It's funny you say that because every time I order my chai tea, I'm never sure what brand of sugar to sweeten it with."
"Well, I wouldn't recommend that. When I drink it, my vision gets real blurry."
"I'm sorry to hear that. What kind of sugar do you recommend?"
"Go with the cane sugar," he said. "You're too young to screw up your body with all that artificial stuff."
"Cool. Thanks for the advice. I'll get the cane sugar next time."
I expected him to say his goodbyes and walk out, but instead he shifted his coffee from one hand to the other and leaned up against the wall.
"So, are you a writer or something?"
"I am," I said. "Right now I'm writing a grant for my workplace, but in addition to that job, I also write for two newspapers and a few magazines."
"Is that right? That's good, you see."
"It is. I like it. I've been writing for a long time . . . I mean, a lot of writing for what seems to be a long time . . . and I figure that as long as I continue to love it, I'm just fine."
He moved from the wall to the couch, conveniently located right across from me.
"Are you familiar with Susan B. Anthony?"
I kind of lied. She's the one I always mistake for Rachel Carson.
"Well, Susan B. Anthony worked really hard for women's rights. If it weren't for her, you would probably have as many rights as that computer on your lap."
He pulled a coin from his pocket.
"Susan B. Anthony is one of two females who appears on United States currency. See this coin? I used to collect these, you know. When my mother turned 90, I gave her 90 Susan B. Anthony coins."
Then--and I certainly didn't expect this--he handed me the one in his hand.
"Here. My mom passed away so now she doesn't mind me passing them on to other women."
He laughed. I smiled.
I placed the coin in the palm of my hand and examined it. I loved the shape, all the little edges.
"Thanks," I said. "This is really nice of you. Are you sure you want me to have it?"
"I want you to have it and I want you to remember that you can go anywhere with your career. Don't let anybody stop you."
"See? All you had to do was sit and listen to an old guy talk for 10 minutes of your time and now you have a coin in your hand worth about $10. Do whatever you want with it. You're a big girl. Listen, it was nice talking to you."
And then he left. I didn't even get his name.
But I'm keeping his coin.
Mrs. Harte - Grade 6
October 19, 2012
I just want to briefly tell you about my farm. I can either give you the short vershun or the long vershun about my farm but I think I'll give you the short vershun because I'm not good at writing papers.
Also, this is a tough draft. Oooooops, I meant rough draft but I think they both mean the same thing :-P
I think it is stupid that people think that farms are just full of cows and pigs and horses and chickens. I'm here to tell you in this persuaysive paper that farms can be full of any animals you want them to be as long as your farm is a good place for the animals to live and as long as you take care of them. Also you might want to own at least one plaid shirt.
I think my house has a farm because we own a lot of animals. My brother Josh has a ferrett named Ferry, I have a cat named Scarecrow because Scarecrow loves birds and my dad has a fish that I think he forgot to name but with no offense to the fish. My mom stopped having pets because she said that they are too smelly. This is my farm: a ferrett a cat and a fish.
You only need three animals to have a farm. But guess what? I have more than 3 pets because sometimes we see deers in our yard and these deers come back a lot because my dad feeds them apples and corn. Deers can be good pets. Shy but good. We also once upon a time had a squirrewl or some kind of rat in our house because I remember mom was really mad that this in particular animal was hiding in a wall but I told her to calm down because any animal we have is a pet and a part of our farm.
To have a good farm, you should bathe your animals and feed them too. If you want, your farm can grow, like if you find a lost dog. If you find a lost dog, take him to your farm's lost and found. Step two is name that lost-but-now-found-animal Grace. Grace is short for Amazing Grace because of the lyric I once was lost but now I am found. On our farm Grace #1 is a spaniel type of dog and Grace #2 is like a lab mix or something. They are both really good outside dogs and we still have them on our farm so I wasn't lying when I said I live on a big farm.
In conclusion, I think I've reached the number of words we are supposed to have for this essay and I hope that you will consider owning a farm. But you probably already have a farm already if you own, say, a cat a ferrett and a fish.
P.S. People who don't own farms, like our neighbour lady, is a very lonely person.
There was nothing wrong with crossing his arms while sitting at a stop light, Luke told himself. That was how he was feeling today: in an arms-crossed type of mood, his hands locked into place and unmoving. A nice change.
A Bob Dylan song played on the radio in his car. The windshield wipers seemed to keep time with the beat, and the sound of rain provided an unremitting backdrop that almost accompanied Dylan’s unmistakable vocals. Luke turned the heat up and glanced into his rearview mirror, taking sight of the city's bright lights. For a moment, he wondered what it would be like to drive with his eyes closed. How would it feel to drive blindfolded, listening to Dylan the whole way home, as if he were on some semi-slow-motion roller coaster? He liked that idea.
Luke had his foot on the brake pedal and his eyes focused on the light, waiting for it to turn green. It was one of those “five minute stop lights,” the kind that made Luke think that he would be waiting there forever. But he had nowhere to go but home.
He never knew where the man with rotting teeth who walked the streets was going, though. He always seemed lost. Never carried a map. Forgot to pinpoint his destination years ago, it seemed. Luke spotted this tall and skinny man a few feet away, hurriedly making his way toward the railroad tracks.
He was wearing dark denim jeans, a black sweater, and white tennis shoes. He had a backpack slung over his left shoulder but no umbrella over his head that would keep him sheltered from the cold droplets of rain. Luke had seen the man around and always wondered if he was homeless. His belongings showed signs of wear and his spirits, just the same.
Luke turned around and looked at his backseat; for a moment, he imagined the man sitting back there, looking out the window in silence. Instead, Luke saw a brown suitcase, a baseball hat, and a red flashlight taking up space on the floor. An old water bottle looked rightfully in place because it could silently roll around when the car was in motion.
What Luke liked most about the city in which he lived was the constant movement. The pizza place on the corner took pizza out of the oven nearly every three minutes; the local bands were continuously strumming and drumming; the shoppers in the mall never quit going in and out of dressing rooms and twirling about in front of wide mirrors. There were escalators and elevators to ride, as well as plenty of stairs to climb. Hurrying from one place to another was the accepted way of life.
Luke enjoyed observing people. He liked to take note of actions and reactions, always keeping curious. This habit of people-watching appropriately lent itself to Luke obtaining a career as a greeting card writer. His application to the Cause I Said So Card Company was immediately accepted ten years ago on the basis that he would create positive reactions for recipients upon opening their cards and reading the sentiments inside.
This was an easy job for Luke. The difficult part was maintaining that he worked in the advertising department at a candy factory when his friends inquired about his career. Being a greeting card writer was a job that required no secrecy; Luke simply chose to establish that himself because he longed to witness genuine reactions from the people who received his cards, including his friends.
Writing greeting cards--whether they be thank you, get well soon, holiday, thinking of
you, special occasion or birthday cards--was not only a rewarding career, but also a lonely one.
Luke considered himself the most sentimental man in the history of lonely men. His family members lived 600 miles away. His friends were seasonal: he only saw Von in the winter, Chris in the summer, Pete in the fall, and Jim in the spring. His wife never existed because he never found one. He gave up his search five summers ago when he was turned down by a fashionable brunette who always wore her hair in a ponytail.
Luke’s favorite place in the city was a café that housed the smell of fresh-baked bread and vanilla bean coffee. A regular, he ordered the same thing every Wednesday: a turkey sandwich on French bread and an extra large ginger peach tea. The total always came to $8.25 and he would insist that the polite cashier keep the change from the $10 bill. Luke spent his time in the café completing crossword puzzles while eavesdropping on conversations that ranged from business to casual. Occasionally, he would read a magazine. He looked forward to watching other regulars enter the café; they would nod and he would reciprocate.
His routine went something like this: after his lunch at the café, he would stop by the greeting card shop less than a mile away. It was there that Luke would find some of his very own greeting cards lining the aisles. He would pick out a few cards, purchase them, and make a quick stop at the newsstand a block away before returning to his apartment. This routine would seem to negate the very purpose of his job--considering that he was being paid to make the cards, only to use his paycheck to buy them--but such a thought never occurred to him. He was determined to prove to strangers that other strangers care.
Browsing through the newspaper at the kitchen table in his apartment, he’d write down the names of the people who appeared in the obituaries, the newborns in the birth announcements, the couples celebrating their golden wedding anniversaries. There seemed to be no shortage of people that Luke could look up in the telephone book. Once he copied all of the addresses onto a blank sheet of white paper, he’d begin the task of filling out each card. He didn’t write much, mostly because what was printed was his writing in the first place, and it was just enough to get his point across. Luke simply signed his name—“A friend in the neighborhood.” He mailed a handful of cards every week, paying the increasingly high postage fees without any complaints.
His favorite card-giving memories came while he sat in the café, slowly sipping his hot tea. If there was ever a time he could get away with putting a few “Have a Great Day!” cards on empty tables, he would do so. Then he would secretly watch his recipients open the cards and express confused reactions, which were immediately followed by smiles. Oftentimes there came a sweet comment regarding the sender’s random act of kindness. These cards contained no money, no gift cards, no coupons—just the element of surprise.
There were times when Luke couldn’t help but wonder if he would ever be discovered, if his handwriting would give him away.
One day, it did.
The cashier at the café compared his handwriting from the crossword puzzle to the card she received from him on her birthday.
“So you’re the secret greeting card giver-awayer?” she asked with a smile.
Luke winked and walked away, carrying his food and drink back to his favorite table. He wasn’t sure how she figured him out, but he wasn’t upset. If anything, he sensed that she would keep his secret.
The rain refused to let up and Luke’s windshield wipers continued to swiftly dust off the raindrops. He thought to himself that today was the first day he had seen that homeless man in nearly a month. He wondered what he had been up to all this time.
Just as Luke was about to yawn one of those never-ending yawns, the stoplight turned green. He made his way up the hill leading to his apartment. It wasn’t until he was about to turn onto his street that he saw a man lying face-down on the side of the street. Luke automatically put on his four-ways and hopped out of the car in a panic.
Once he got closer to the limp body, he recognized the clothing and pushed the man’s
shoulder a little toward the sky so that he could see his face and confirm that it was him. It was.
It looked as if the man had fallen, but he appeared to have a black eye and a bloody lip. Luke assumed that he had gotten beat up, but there was no reason for anyone to commit such a crime. This man had never bothered anyone in the community. Luke tried to take his pulse as he stared at his back, hoping to see some kind of upward and downward motion that would signify that he was still breathing. Once he found a pulse, he called 911 and waited for the police to arrive.
The homeless man's demeanor intrigued Luke. It was obvious that he didn’t have any money to spend and had very little in the way of social skills, which may have contributed to his isolation. Perhaps this is what made Luke sympathize for him. Last month, Luke decided to go out of his way by purchasing him a “Thinking of You” card and placing in it a $20 bill, as well as a gift card to a nearby restaurant. It was a step away from Luke's typical card-giving routine, but it was a step that he wanted to take. While on his way to work that particular morning, Luke saw the homeless man walking along the street. Luke upped his pace, his suitcase in one hand and the card in the other. Once he caught up with the man, he tapped him on the shoulder.
“You dropped this,” Luke told him.
“Sure . . . uhhh, no,” the man said, avoiding eye contact.
Luke smiled and assured the man that the card belonged to him.
As Luke waited in desperation for an ambulance, his curiosity got the best of him. He unzipped the man’s backpack and looked through its contents. There, along with a pack of crackers and an empty water bottle, was the card Luke gave the man a month ago.
He hadn’t even opened it.
Fiction, poetry, and all that good stuff . . .