85. The Seven Day Race
"Originally published in Ceramics Monthly (http://www.ceramicsmonthly.org),
DECEMBER, 2002, PAGE 112. Reproduced with permission. Copyright, the Ceramic Publications Company"
In these days of marathons and triathlons, iron men and iron women, certain more self-demanding runners have resurrected an oddity from the Depression Era—the seven day race. This audience resistant spectacle is held annually on an outdoor track in upstate New York, rain or shine. After one hundred and sixty-eight hours (taking breaks as they each require) these runners have covered distances some among us would be hesitant to drive.
I read about this phenomenon several years ago, and you could tell, it was a challenge for the sportswriter covering it. What do you focus on? Who? What counts as an exciting development? This may be the only sport in the world slower and more time consuming than either Cricket or Chess.
So, he picked the three best returning runners from the previous year, as well as a couple of interesting foreign entrants, and chronicled their outlooks, running styles, training methods, diets, and sleep strategies. It rained. It turned colder. And still the runners ran their endless laps, battling their individual doubts and their exhaustion.
Of course, many pulled up lame, or just gave up, but in the end the time ran out. The laps were totaled for each runner and, to the chagrin of the sportswriter, the winner was a relatively dull fellow who hadn’t even been mentioned in the early coverage, much less interviewed. Belatedly, the winner was asked about his philosophy, his secret to success.
‘I just spent as much time as I could on the track.’ Where others had had personal masseuses, and diet experts, and trackside tents, the winner had taken catnaps in his car and eaten sandwiches brought to him by his wife. The race rewarded running and he just ran.
The story has stuck with me over the years and his plain-spoken steadiness remains a beacon to guide me in times of uncertainty.
Those of us trying to earn a living from our pots also run a sort of seven day race. Whether we think of our “week” as starting on Monday or the Saturday morning of the Fair, we are constantly running. Fresh clay, wet pots, trimmed pots, dried pots. Load the greenware, unload the bisque, glaze and load, fire and unload. The full cycle may be a month, or less, or more, but always the deadlines loom ahead of us, the immediate one and the one after that, and so on. But it’s not just about running. It’s about being attentive enough to detail to maintain and improve one’s craftsmanship. It’s about paperwork, and errands, meeting people, and noticing the world around you. And it’s about running this race week after week for the entire year.
Every now and again one of us will pull up lame, still more just quit. Maybe they had the wrong shoes, maybe they thought it would be easier than it proved to be, maybe they needed more applause, maybe the sidelines just looked too comfortable. Without them, our profession is a little lonelier, a little less diverse. And when others collapse beside the track we can easily doubt the wisdom of our own efforts. Are you weak-willed for quitting, or weak-minded for continuing?
Perhaps, the long race is not for you. Years ago, I took a full time job away from clay, and switched the pottery to part time. I worried that I wouldn’t find the time to devote to the pots. Instead, I find that I travel less and make more pots than ever. I sell more by attending fewer Fairs with a larger presence at each. And my regulars buy more eagerly, because they see me less often.
And so, I deposit their checks and start the next week, doing what I can to make my time on the track productive. And when I can, I take comfort from the friendly faces of colleagues who have run this race so many times before, and who share with me an appreciation for good pots and happy customers.
Sometimes it’s only pride that keeps you running through the rain.
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