Monday, January 5, 2009

Practice Pots

75. Practice Pots

I’ve been self-employed as a potter for over a decade now and, as will happen in any manufacturing process, I get a some breakage or spoilage in my work. This can happen at almost any stage in the pot’s creation, but it’s always a disappointment to me. I want every pot I start to turn out wonderful, lovable, and more to the point, available to sell.
One day in particular, I was loading one of my electric kilns with the large mugs that are the mainstay of my business. This was the first firing, the “bisque,” in which the dried clay has all the physical and chemical water driven out of it by a relatively low (by potters’ standards) heat of 1900 degrees Fahrenheit. I carried the mugs on a board up from the basement and out into the backyard where the kiln lived in its own shed a little way from the house.
I remember balancing the long narrow board on a sculpture stand near the shed, thinking to myself that I should be careful of that balance. But I was tired, and working hurriedly, trying to get a lot done before an upcoming Fair. I opened the shed and prepared the kiln, grabbed a pair of mugs off the left end of the board and put them carefully into the kiln. I returned, grabbed another pair, and as I stepped towards the shed, I heard an odd little sound. I turned back towards the mugs, still holding one in each hand, and watched the twenty remaining mugs slide gracefully down and off the right end of the now tilting board.
It seemed to happen in slow motion, but without the slightest opportunity to make it stop. Oddly enough, the pile of clay shards on the ground grew large enough and tall enough, that one of the final pair of mugs survived unharmed, cushioned by the debris below it. Nineteen mugs in all destroyed. The lost hours of work, the lost inventory, the financial loss at a time when every penny counted just devastated me, standing there stupidly, still with a mug in each hand. I could have cried.
But it was just clay. Just time spent. Apparently they had been pots I’d made just for practice, at a time when I didn’t think I needed any practice. They had been a lesson in the price of haste. I picked up all the pieces to recycle into another batch of wet clay and finished loading the kiln with other pots I had on hand. And though I’ve yet to have any other slip quite so expensive since, every now and again I am reminded by a “practice pot” that I still need to slow down and pay attention. Everything we do teaches us something if we only take the time to notice.

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