|Work from April 2013|
When you've been practicing something for some time, there's a good chance you're going to get better at it. Which is totally a good thing.
I've been working with clay - handbuilding and throwing on the wheel - for 8 years at this point and I'm finally in a place where I feel I have basic mastery of form and process. I can sit down and create an intentional shape, a planned set of items, even execute a project I'd only imagined and have it work.
My skills have definitely improved significantly from where I was even a year ago. Also a good thing.
What becomes difficult, is that my critical eye gets better even faster than my hands.
I met a friend for lunch at her house last week (:waves to Bliss:) and realized she had one of the mugs pictured above. I cringed. Looking at it, I realize there's more wrong with it than right. I could make a list of the flaws in the work, from centering to shape and proportion, to finishing, to glaze application. What I am making now is far, far better than these.
Yet my friend loves her mug. It's even one of her favorites.
I think she would be mad if I gave in to my impulse to smash it and bring her a new one!
It's a good thing the mug is at her house and not mine. If it were here, I would smash it. Not from anger or frustration, but from a position of not getting overly attached to a thing, and realizing that each item of ware I create teaches me something. Once I've learned the lesson, I no longer have to keep the product. It's the process that's most valuable.
|'starry night' mugs, 2015|
But another lesson here is in learning to let things go.
We are all works in progress and not finished products.
This is also true of my writing.
I finished ITHAKA RISING in 2014 and after the usual process - revisions, readers, revisions redux, editor, production - it was published earlier in 2015. Today I finished reviewing the audio book files for the story. All 15+ hours of them.
And I have to admit, there were places where I cringed in the listening. I heard all the awkward word choices, the places where character wobbled, pacing issues, inconsistencies in descriptions. It was like looking at a bowl I'd thrown a year ago and only seeing where it wasn't centered.
But, here's the thing: perfect doesn't exist. Not in handmade pottery. Not in paintings. Not in music. And not in writing stories. The craftsman is probably always going to be hardest on the finished work. What I came to realize, after having to listen to several sections over again, was that the story didn't deserve to be 'smashed'. It was . . . it *is* a good story. I can distance myself from it, just a bit, to see it through a reader's eye and see where it has a strong shape. Where it is pleasing. Where it entertains and moves. That it works.
I can see both the flaws and the strengths and be satisfied, yet still be determined to hone my craft.
Because that is what artists do. Between now and next year, I will throw hundreds of cylinders on the wheel. I will lay down tens of thousands of words on the page. If I am true to the process, what I produce then will be better than what I can produce now.
And that, too, is a good thing.