Thursday, December 23, 2010

Contentment in Troubled Times

It's nothing new to get a bit reflective as we approach New Year's Day. In my case, I've also been just a wee bit too busy the last three or four months to pause to write, so I'm overdue. The fall semester is finally over. And so, it's time to look up and notice the changes of the past year.

For full time potters, or artists in other media, the day to day struggle to be both productive and businesslike, can make it difficult to notice much of the future (except for show application deadlines) and almost nothing of the past (except for tax records). In this way, any artist without children might be excused for failing to pay much attention to the passing of whole decades. Really, what has changed? Hopefully, the work has improved, and maybe the money has increased, but the making and the selling remain remarkably the same from year to year. It's a sort of seaside ocean scene with crashing waves and shifting tides, but always the same ocean of hope and opportunity, dampness and cold.

It, the art-as-business cycle, could be easy to take for granted, and easy to think of as much much too important. Well, this year, too busy for many things, I have still managed to notice my friends, and to value them more. Marriages have broken. People have moved to new cities. Jobs have been lost, and sought, and a few won. My friends have begun to feel like a small fleet of independent ships, some disappearing over the horizon for a while, some close by almost every day. A couple have sunk. I can't steer their ships for them, nor protect them from the weather, but we keep an eye out for each other, and take some comfort in each others' company.

They are among my contentments, and I am noticing those more these days, too. The past year has been full of dramas and suspense. But it has also been a time in which I have paid more attention to my contentments, the little things that can never make you happy by themselves, but which stitched together like a quilt, make life warm and cheery. Whatever you contentments happen to be, I hope that they increase in the coming year, and that you find the serenity to truly appreciate them.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

What Things Equal

A few years ago I acted as driver for a friend who was going to a weight loss clinic. There were weekly weighings, etc., and special foods to be purchased, and a studiously lean selection of staff members in the lobby/waiting area. For the benefit of those of us waiting, there was also a big poster illustrating the weight gain potential of alcoholic beverages. I suspect it was aimed at college women in particular, but it compared beer and wine and mixed drinks to ice cream sundaes.

Now, I don't have ice cream sundaes very often. Like most people, I think of them as a fattening self-indulgence. But a beer or two, every now and again, is a much easier thing to say, "Yes," to. Which was the point of the poster. The equivalencies were a little disturbing. Booze is fattening.

Of course, being the independent thinker I am, I got something entirely different out of the moment. Looking at the poster, and thinking about my occasional beer, I thought to myself, "I should be having more ice cream sundaes."

Saturday, April 3, 2010


A couple of months ago I happened to start a list of all the types of employment I've ever had. I sort of startled myself, and I don't know what to make of the list. Of course, I didn't know what to make of it years ago when I read of all the jobs the author, Jack London, had held. Did it represent courage and adaptability, or a short attention span and an inability to maintain good employee/employer relationships?

I'll leave off the employments I never got paid for, like martial arts instructor, poet, and painter. And I'll only do a rough approximation of chronological order. But follow me for a moment, if you will.

Newspaper delivery boy
Library assistant [alphabetizing cards for my mom]
Kitchen drudge/dishwasher [an Orange Julius restaurant in Albuquerque]
Agricultural laborer [detasseling corn]
Summer Child Care/Nanny
Construction work [KU football stadium renovation]
Assistant Soccer Coach [Grinnell College]
Figure Model [for drawing classes, yes nude]
Linen Boy [Hospital worker, shifting laundry, both clean and dirty]
University Ceramics Lab assistant [KU and the University of Iowa]
Ceramics Instructor [children, adults, community center and College]
Full Time Potter
Home Repair Guy
Writer [essays]
Writing Teacher
Factory assembly worker
Loading Dock worker
Furniture Mover
Prepress technician [Allen Press, Lawrence, Kansas]
Pressman's helper
Access Control Officer [credit card manufacturing security officer]
Clay Supply Warehouse worker
Medical Supply Delivery driver
Proofreader/Copy editor
Art Museum Security Guard
Bus Driver
SafeRide Driver [free late night taxi service for college students]
Library Assistant
and now, a Manuscript Specialist at a University Archive.

I'd prefer to mark all the changes down to geographical moves and improved opportunities. Almost none of the jobs involved getting fired or laid off. And several were the sort of part time work you count yourself lucky to find when you're also trying to be a student. I suppose student is a job, too, though almost no one will pay you to do it.

The long and the short of it is that I've got a lot of story material based on diverse work experiences. And I have a hard time understanding how someone stays with the same job their whole working life. It either indicates a brilliance in finding the perfect first job, or a complacency about life that borders on the vegetative.

Paula Poundstone was right. We ask kids what they want to be when they grow up because we're still looking for good ideas ourselves. I hope my current new job [combined with my old interests] lasts a good long time. Stability can be a change.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

I Believe I'll Trim Some Pots

What if Art could be thought of as a religion? I mean, it's something you can believe in, isn't it? It gives strength, insight, satisfaction, peace of mind, even moral direction. It requires faith, and dedication, and attention to others.

I say this because not all of us can be holy men (or women) or live our religions twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. And when your physical sustenance must also come from the practice of your beliefs, how does that complicate or erode your experience of that faith?

I worked for many years as a full time potter and it had its ups and downs. I certainly could have been more 'faithful' in my practice, more savvy as a business owner, and better capitalized at its inception. Many parts of it were wonderful, and I'm still delighted to visit my good old pots at other people's houses. But living in poverty was too stressful, for me, and my family. And selling pots because you absolutely have to, sucks.

Now, I finally have a good job, away from the arts but in a worthwhile endeavor. And I can express my faith in the same way that so many others of us express theirs... on the weekends. For artists just entering the business of art I recommend finding something similar. If success at your art simply overwhelms your ability to find time for a second career, well bless you. But for others, life is more likely to overwhelm your art. Build a wall of practical success and let it protect the temple sanctuary of your art. I rather wish I'd done so years ago.

Monday, March 8, 2010

A New World

A great deal has happened since the last time I wrote, and what I'd really like to do is write about things more important than myself. But first I much catch up on some important details.

1) I am now a full time employee of the Spencer Research Library, here at the University of Kansas. In many ways, this is just a direct continuation of my work there as a Student Assistant, but the money and benefits allow me to give up my late night bus driving, and even to give up my degree goals, if necessary.

2) One of my large wood-fired sculptures, Firetrap #8, got juried into the 3rd Biennial Concordia Continental Ceramics Competition in St. Paul, Minnesota. According to one gallery visitor, it even won an Honorable Mention, though ironically, no one from the show's management has bothered to mention it.

3) We have chickens. At the end of October, in a blatant gesture of defiance towards the forces that might have forced us to move to another city, we bought four chicks, and I built a four foot by ten foot mobile chicken coop. The chicks are now grown, though not yet laying eggs, and we just bought two more chicks, of a different breed.

And I'm sure there's much more that might be said, but really, I'm just glad to be back among the reasonably well-rested. Soon, I even hope to write here about those many subjects that have always interested me more than myself.

Please enjoy the return of Spring. I know I am.