tea pots, tea pots, tea pots

I’m thinking about tea pots all the time.  Why?  No doubt, my recent visit to “Perspectives: Georgia Pottery Invitational,” has a lot to do with it.  There I had the opportunity to attend Akira Satake’s amazing two day workshop on the beauty of imperfection.  I watched him make tea cups, tea pots and Chawans with the skill of the master that he is.  I listened to his philosophy, which is so very akin to to the heart of what and why I have my hands in clay every day.  Couple that with the one piece in the Perspectives Gallery that really spoke to me, a diminuitive and primitive ancient chinese tea pot, and I can begin to see how I came to be steeped in ideas that are now manifesting as these pots.  My challenge?  As ever, to stay true to how the clay speaks to me in my hands.  This means balancing as much  tactile-spiritual clay work as I feel is imperitive to my soul with as much technique as I feel gives me paths to form.

Let me explore this a bit more.  There are plenty of classes, lessons and utubes to show me point by point how to construct a ceramic tea pot.  There are numerous variations of handbuilt tea pots, from which I could choose ( or adapt) a pattern to make my vessel.  But my goal has never been to follow a pattern and achieve precise results.  My goal, really, is to find how the clay and my soul best spend time together, and, at the same time, to learn as many techniques with clay as I can, to throw both of these eneavors into, say, a tea pot, to simer and steep, and then to see what happens.  It is a mysterious process.  To some degree, it reminds me of how  yoga poses can elicit emotional and spiritual growth.  Yet, you do the work of learning and practicing the poses without really knowing exactly how your soul work will be accomplished.  You practice without aim.  You practice because it feel right to you to do so.  It calls to you.

Clay has become my yoga.  My meditation.  My spiritual practice.  My connection to the earth.

There is also the ongoing, primary thread of deeply honoring the beauty inherent in how imperfectly we live as incarnated beings.  I don’t try to make my tea pots as perfectly tea pot-like as I can.  That’s not me.  Those of you who know me know my simultaneously deep, painful and ultimately joyful experience of imperfection and my commitment to self expression.  So these tea pots i make are one of a kind, a bit odd, unusual, and (at least this is my intent and my experience of them), sweet.

I call these pots:  sweet tea

Stardust and Grace

Today I watched the amazing Jae West of The Liberator Family  bravely stand nearly naked on a busy city street.  She stood for all of those with eating disorders and disabling body image issues.  She stood blindfolded with pens in her hands and a sign asking people to draw a heart on her body to help her love herself; to help us love ourselves.

What is it that we see when we look at ourselves with unkind eyes?  What is it that we see when we look at someone else with unkind eyes?  We do it all the time.  I look terrible in that picture.  What’s wrong with her?  Why would anyone wear that?  These are trivial comments on one level.  But on a deeper level, this harsh way of looking at ourselves, at others,  is the most fundamental way in which we cast out, shun and “other” our very selves and our neighbors.  My goal is this:  the next time I look harshly, and it will likely be at myself, I plan to stop and  point by point articulate what I see.  I suspect that in the hurry of these commonplace harsh thoughts, we are sweeping over things that we would not actually want to inflict if we were mindful of what we were saying.  So I will draw it out, come face to face with that personal meanness, and see if I can rummage around in myself and find a gentler voice.

This is my time to clear a path or two for those that come behind me.  Surely I can do this.  I know enough.  Now I just need to bring that knowledge into my core.  Maybe I can help my younger sisters to get to a place of self love sooner than I did.

What do you think?  Is the world ready for a gathering of nearly naked crones on a busy city street?  Meanwhile, I will work on my clay Crone Vessels and think about it:)

Imperfect Vessels

As I have aged, I have become more appreciative of the vessel that is my body.  As time and illness and injury have each taken its toll on my physical vessel, I have come to regard my body as an imperfect, wonderous miracle.   It is with kinder eyes that I see myself now: lumps, bumps, bulges.  I can feel how hard my heart works, scarred though it is, to supply enough oxygen rich blood to get me up a short set of stairs or across the street.   It is an effort.  I notice that.  I appreciate it.  I’m thankful for it.

Conversely, as a young woman, I led a busy and very physical life.  Working.  Raising children.  Engaging in my favorite spiritual  past times:  hiking, swimming, kayaking, walking.  The list goes on and on.  I enjoyed using my body and I demanded a lot of it.  In significant ways, I took my youth, my beauty and my health for granted.  I was far to busy to THINK about it.  When I was still, I was in nature, thinking about oneness and connection.  I felt a great kinship with the land, the sea and the sky.  That meant a lot to me.  But I did not fully appreciate the vessel that allowed me to BE.

I imagine that my son and my husband, both of whom have had to contend with severe physical challenges, have long been more aware of their vessels.  Imperfection, physical imperfection, was and is something that they have to confront in every instance that they live and breathe in this world.  I will venture to say that I bet they never take their bodies for granted.  But those of us with fully functional  bodies usually do.  Until we age or until something goes wrong.

Rumi says there are a hundred ways to kiss the ground.   My way is through clay.  I make clay vessels, one of a kind, unique.  Each is meant to be a meditation on the beauty inherent in imperfection.   Invite me into your story and let me make a vessel in honor of your beauty.

imperfection, the soul’s journey and Crone Vessels

In some ways, I see the entirety of my life thus far as one of spiritual engagement with imperfection.  As a child confronted with fearful circumstances, I took refuge in trying hard to be as perfect as possible.  As a young adult, I continued in that mode and extended it to being the very best mother i could be.  I knew I couldn’t do that perfectly, but I expected myself to be as good a mother as was humanly possible.  In particular, I took my childhood sense of an unsafe world, and looked to heighten my awareness of dangers that could befall these children that I loved so very much, and redoubled my efforts to protect them.  However, I learned, through a brutal accident, that I am impossibly imperfect, that I had no choice but to be so very human, so very imperfect, in a world that could meet out danger in horrific ways.  My young son learned that lesson with me, and I always felt, suffered the great burden of my humanity.  He was scalded in  a kitchen accident, a week after his third birthday.  I had been careful.  I had been vigilant.  Still, the unthinkable happened.  He lost over half his skin and was burned over 75 per cent of his body.  Our lives were never the same.

It is now 22 years later.  I have no interest in perfection or flawless beauty.  I study the astounding beauty in the human, the imperfect, the flawed.  I create with clay because I find it to be the most intimate of art forms.  My fingers, the red georgia clay, and together we find something of grace.  My current work is in creating vessels, using the basic pinch pot and other hand forming techniques.  The work is intuitive, ungainly, imperfect, and, to my eyes, graceful.  I call my latest work “Crone Vessels.”  They, along with my Goddess sculptures ( called The Ancients), represent my reflections on what it means to be a woman in these later years, after childrearing, after menopause, after the “beauty” of youth.  I hope in the lumps and bumps and dents and wobbles that you find some of that Grace that I feel I’ve held in my hands.

Joy in Georgia

Clay in my hands makes me happy.  Specifically, red georgia clay, dug straight up from the earth, right here in my state.  This clay has body, has substance, has something to teach me.  keeping my hands in this clay, forming, shaping, co-creating, keeps me close to the earth.  Those of you who know me will remember that I love the ocean, love the Maine coast, love swimming, hiking, kayaking.  When I lived in Maine, when I was younger and healthy, the land was my true companion and my joy.  Now I lead a quieter life, a city life, a southern life, a life with health challenges.  Balancing my fond memories of other years, other joys in other places, is my discovery of art, of making things and of the great joy of Georgia clay in my hands.

Time to face the strange ch-changes…

Hanging on to the moments
Hanging on to the moments (Photo credit: demandaj)

Tonight I write as my family sleeps.  In my new life since my heart failure, sleep eludes me.  It seems I can neither sleep at night nor nap.  At first I thought of words I had heard about insomnia long ago:  “Do not fear it as everyone eventually sleeps.”  However, I find that this is not entirely true.  I do catch a few hours here and there.  Most often, I sleep as the first light of day comes, catching 3 to 4 hours.  What I have found is that there are few medications I am allowed to take and all of those make me groggy without providing sleep.  That means I am tired enough to want to sleep, but can’t, and am too tired to do anything else.  So, medication is not the answer.  What is?  Going with the flow.  I will sleep as I can and see what happens.  Oh, the ch-changes.

I have noticed that in times of hardship during my life I am most able to live in the moment.  When my son was injured many years ago, I recall realizing that I was literally living one moment, possibly one day, at a time.  I had to.  There was no other way to manage.  A rather elderly man (and boy, isn’t “elderly” a slippery term!  I’m sure I fall into that category in the eyes of, say, high school students) said to me:  “If you have learned to live one day at a time at your young age, you are doing well, young lady.”  I took that to heart.  But of course I did not keep that up.  Several months later, I was again laboring under the multitude of tasks most of us take on, most certainly those of us who are mothers of young children.  As I learned to “manage”  the crisis of my son’s health situation, I inadvertently allowed distance to creep in and obscure that one-day-at-a-time living.  Perhaps it is impossible not to.

As a child, my family moved frequently.  I believe I had lived in something like 12 places before going off to college.  These places ranged from Wisconsin to Mississippi to Long Island.  It seemed I was always pinch hitting.  When I became a mother, this served me well as I was able to respond to the ever changing ages and stages of my children.  If there was a crisis or someone needed me in the moment, I had the requisite skill set.  After I married Marc, my life settled down and I began to experiment with such things as pacing and setting limits.  I remember I used to ask Marc:  what is a normal amount to do in a day?  I had no concept of when or whether to stop “doing.”  This became more of an issue as I would head off at full  speed and suddenly my energy would drop right out from under me.  I was stunned.  I assumed it all had to do with needing to learn self regulation.  And I am nothing if not an eternal student.  So I worked on it.  But even as I gained the skills, the fatigue did not abate.  I wondered if I had simply taken on too much in life.  Perhaps I had used up all the energy allotted for one lifetime.  Too late, it seemed, I learned to hold some energy in reserve.  Some of that was no doubt at play.  But, the larger part of it, I think, was the beginning of my heart failure.  I did, after all, have a “broken heart” many times over.  But I was in no way in a difficult time of life when the fatigue hit.  My kids were in college.  My husband and I were happily enjoying our “empty nest.”  But that is when the heart condition really caught up with me.

The take away message?  Perhaps there is none.  Who knows?  But my thinking on this is as follows.  Stuff happens.  I have no idea why.  I don’t know why my husband can never catch a break with his eye situation.  I watch him fight through pain everyday.  I have no idea why my son would suffer such a brutal injury at such a young age.  There are many more such examples in my family and in pretty much everyone’s family.  But I do know that as an eternal student, and as a person of faith, I choose to try to see what such experiences yield in terms of learning and perhaps wisdom (one can hope!)  So far, I am learning yet again of the primacy of faith.  This can be as simple as:  I don’t know if I will sleep tonight or I don’t know how well I will cope with the next medication change or I don’t know when I will have the energy to post again or when will I have the energy to grocery shop or to return those items to walmart.  Or it can be as high stakes as:  I don’t know what the story of my children’s lives will be and I have to have faith that they have the tools to cultivate joy and to withstand hardship if they must  (of course, I would sheild them from everything if I could).

Now I have forgotten my other point, which is great, because the better “point” is that I am here now, living, watching, trying, appreciating, loving, some days complaining,  and learning what it means to be.

Memorial Day Week end: First thing, Thank you to our vets

This week end I am especially thankful to our vets.  Our daughter, Emily, is dating a wonderful man, Joe, who will be going on his 8th tour of duty this fall.  He was in college during the time when 9/11 occurred.  Like so many brave young people, he enlisted within a couple of years of graduation.  He now serves as an Army Ranger.  We think the world of him.  I can’t imagine how his parents have endured these many deployments.  I pray that all of the troops come home soon and that we, as a country, stand by our vets and make sure they get all of the services they need.  

Yesterday I listened to Vice President Biden’s courageous words to our Gold Star Families.  He spoke from the heart to these families, first  recounting his despair after his wife and brother were killed in an automobile accident.  Vice President Biden was a young man, newly elected to the senate.  He had young children.  As you can imagine, he was devastated.  He told the families that he knew what it was like to want to commit suicide.  He acknowledged that some in the audience may struggle daily with such feelings.  He talked about the black hole of pain.  And he promised that if they were able to endure, that one day, when these families thought of their loved one, they would smile at a memory before the tears came.  And that would be a beginning.  Vice President Biden may well have saved some lives with this “straight talk.”  I am so proud of him.  The last thing these families need is platitudes.  They are in the trenches of grief and loss.  Vice President Biden essentially lit a lamp, held it high, and perhaps offered a path through the darkness for these families.  I will be praying hard for our vets and for the families of our vets this week end.  

Lighter matters:

Today I went to the Kennebunk plant and pie sale at the local hardware store.  I came home with some lemon basil and some chives.  I learned that the chive flowers (supposedly) can be used as an edible garnish to add taste and color.  I will be adding both the chive and the lemon basil to this week’s rice salad.  So, the base will be brown rice and lemon juice.  Add-ins are fresh herbs, red sweet peppers, aduki beans, scallions, corn, sweet peas, zest of lemon and orange.  I will put the rice dish on a bed of Arugula or I will sprinkle watercress on top.  Both of these greens are loaded with vitamins A and C.  Watercress has as much vitamin C as an apple.  In fact, it  has so many nutrients that it is known as nature’s multi-vitamin.  Check these greens out if you like the bitter greens of the early growing season.

Late night snack.  Oh, I have missed having milk and cereal before bed.  At last I have found low salt replacements.  Try Mom’s Best Sweetened Wheat-fuls.  An entire cup has only 10 mg sodium.  Wow!  And they taste great.  Really.  For a milk-like substitute, I am using Westsoy’s organic unsweetened soy milk that has only 30 mg sodium per cup.  It  isn’t quite as tasty as milk or other milk subs, but the salt content is far less.  Oh, both of these products pack a great protein punch.  5 and 9 grams, respectively.  I actually fell asleep before the sun rose this morning and I think this snack helped.  In addition, I tried some melatonin.  That seemed to help as well.  i’m hoping I can get my sleep cycle back in order.  I had forgotten how beautiful the morning is!!!  Ah, but I have already gone through a lot of my water supply for the day.  It is amazing how fast that 2 liters can go.

That’s all for now.  Gus is asleep on the couch.  Marc and his Dad are out having coffee.  Phyllis is relaxing and enjoying the day.  I hope you all have a great week end.