40. The Parts of the Job
I first thought of this subject while emptying out the clay trap of the upstairs sink at the University of Iowa. Those of you who have never had to do such a chore should count your blessings. Those who have will vividly recall the vile stench that once gave swamps such a bad reputation, before the term “wetlands” rehabilitated their image. The only good part of cleaning out a clay trap is the shower after you’re done.
Anyway, I was kneeling on the concrete, scooping out the muck, thinking about how many aspects of being a potter I enjoy. For instance, some fellow students would complain about mixing up glazes or batches of clay. Or they didn’t like loading kilns or getting wood ready for the wood kiln, or, or, or…. I found it significant that I didn’t really mind any of those chores, chores that many people don’t particularly associate with the profession, potter.
For potters in any kind of tourist situation this narrow public perception of potters can quickly become a problem. The tourists want to see the potter working and that means throwing. Trimming pots and pulling handles might be tolerable as a substitute activity, but anything else, including firing the wood kiln, is generally found to be boring and unimportant. “When is the potter going to start working?”
Every profession has these hidden aspects which may be as much as 95% of the actual time and effort required by the job. Courtroom lawyers, for instance, spend a lot of courthouse time just waiting to be called into court. This may take hours or days, but when the judge is finally ready you had better be ready, too. And of course, the majority of all lawyers work with documents and clients without ever going before a judge in court at all. Police detectives spend a lot of time on the phone, and paramedics spend a lot of time on the inventory and maintenance of their equipment. And so it goes.
This is why internships are so valuable in a person’s education. What did you think the job entailed? How do you feel about all the hidden surprises now that you know what they are?
I was shocked when I first tried to do my federal income taxes as a self-employed sole proprietor. I knew that they would expect to be paid some money, but I did not expect the variety of record-keeping chores I was expected to have been performing all year long. The government had work expectations of me as if I had been a clerk in one of its offices. Vehicle mileage, kiln logs, studio purchases, house and studio square footages, all matter. Pick up a blank “Schedule C” income tax form and study it sometime. The need to supply these numbers are among the new rules for your existence as a “free and independent, self-employed potter.” And that doesn’t even start to cover issues like business cards and bubble wrap.
Until your business is prosperous enough for you to hire others to relieve you of these burdens you will be the one doing them. The time you spend on all the things which do not make pots will act as a drag on your productivity and your emotional well-being. You may well have to take stern measures to protect your access to studio time and your ability to produce inventory.
Of course, you may have never wanted to be a self-employed studio artist, even before my dire warnings. Perhaps teaching is your sole ambition. What do you know about the hidden chores of that profession? If your hope is to teach at the college level, how do you feel about sitting on committees? Attending official ceremonies and public functions? Jumping through the hoops of a tenure process? Listening humanely to the complaints and excuses of your students? Are there no good jobs anywhere?
Perhaps the best that any of us can do is to appreciate fully all the aspects of our jobs that we enjoy and to minimize our exposure and suffering during those parts of the job which we dislike. Everyone, in every job, is doing something similar. And if you can smile while cleaning out a clay trap, ceramics may just be the profession for you.
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