+30

“You were everything to me, and I’m begging you please, don’t go.” – Taylor Swift

It’s pathetic — trying to refind the writing groove by writing about trying to refind the writing groove. I hate it when other people do it; I hate it when I do it. But it looks like I’m still doing it.

FILDI.

Over on my other sad, dusty blog — the one about despair, which also sort of failed to achieve escape velocity, in my post-tw@se hopes for two new beginnings — I’ve been chipping away at a post about my failures in the memory department and… well, ok, I guess it’s also about high school, which seems equally pathetic to writing about writing or trying to dredge up old memories as a foil to writing about memory.

And I say “chipping away” because it’s been awfully slow going; hesitant; just scarcely starting to define the outlines of whatever this fucking thing is buried in this particular block of stone with my tiny little amateur hammer; completely neglected during the sale cycle crush, which now seems to somehow stretch on for six solid weeks, front to back.

I was emboldened a little when Witt re-shared this wonderful terribleminds post, the take away of which, for me, was that making something, anything is almost always preferable to not making something, even if that thing is crap that goes straight in the dustbin upon completion. And by “take away” I mean an idea that has circled back at me dozens of times in my stupid 45.99 years and still failed to really land in a way that tangibly changes my behavior. So I still need to work on that one, I guess. And maybe that’s not what he meant, either, but who am I to argue with the facts that my brain misremembers?

Oh, habits.

[Debating, now, the relative merits of making links to those external nouns I’m referencing. If I add them, this whole thing takes on the smelly shimmer of marketing — a thing to promote other things; “Hey, don’t forget about my blah blah blah thing, still dribbling in those SEO dollars after all these years!” (ps. I’ve never received even my first SEO dollar.) But if I don’t, the whole back catalog threatens to get lost in the digital haze, so that only long term insiders — let’s say my original 22 divided by 2 for lost time and halved again because of that goddamn culture gobbling Facebook — so that’s like 6.5 living humans — so that only long term insiders have the slightest clue what I’m talking about. (If I had to compose that list on a bet, which I don’t, I’d say it’s Witt, xKate, Ron P, WeX, oats and ironmountain — with maybe the remaining half a person (you know, like the Smiths song) for my dear wife, who always intends to read but rarely succeeds; or my mom, who wants to read but usually regrets it; or my daughter, in some future, where she’s amazed to find that dad was such a silent mental patient all those years, quickly followed by being mortified that he so selfishly put any of this on the Internet, including all those stupid baby pictures, where actual, you know, people, might actually, you know, see them; or maybe for my ancient-proto-blog-reading buddy BP, hiding right there in plain sight.)]

Anyhow. Oh but wait: it’s not self-promotion when I link to someone else, duh, so here’s that Wendig post. FILLORY IS REAL, PEOPLE. And if you spotted the deliberate math error in that last section, so I could cram in one more name that I’d originally thought of, you’re my kind of reader. And if not, fuck it — it’s just math.

“last known good, copy” is the current working title of that despair blog post — I added the comma in there yesterday, and wow what a difference! — and after all these years I still don’t know if that’s a title which is supposed to go in quotes or just italics, but let’s not bicker and argue about who killed who. Also, I confess that when I pop that sucker open in a browser, I’m still pretty self-impressed with the title, and the minimal design of the logo, and the little flourishes, which after seven solid years of blogging in that cobbled-together homemade HTML template system now seems toxicly annoying (compared to this slick-as-sin WordPress machine) to have to fiddle with each time I want to Publish, but whose quaintness in the output might (operative word: might — serisouly, I should just admit defeat and surrender it to WordPress before it goes any further) also save the whole endeavor just enough to make it worth doing. (And which, I just now discover, has succumbed to some kind of bit rot since I last paid it any attention, where every “‘“ has become a symbolized “?”, probably via an automatic PHP update or some shit. Jesus fuck, trust me people: even those of us who work in IT (you know: for money; and yes: I successfully avoided the impulse to put the word “work” in scare quotes just then) have grown a deep hatred for the perpetual changing | breaking | relearning | updating cycle of it all. Maybe this is how you know they’re quietly preparing a little ice floe for you over behind the midden pile: when you turn off automatic updates in frustration and just decide it’s worth the pain to ride it out as-is for the duration. A digital death, symblozing a cultural death, presaging the real thing, which will arrive after just a few short decades of resource-hogging incompetant irrelevance.)

So. Hum. I guess I’m leaving the links out. If you don’t know what terribleminds is, but you’ve read this far without stabbing yourself in the eye with the corner of your phone, I recommend Googling That Shit. If you’re unfamiliar with my prior art (ha – yeah, right), go up a few levels on this here website thingy and look around for a link called Writing or something like that — seriously, I can’t be bothered to look! — then remind yourself to thank me for giving you an excuse to procrastinate on that crap you’ve gotta do today for anther hour or three. (Really. I’m still stunned by this fact, but, unless people are just completely bullshitting me, this has actually happened multiple times. I bet in the years I’ve been blogging (or back when I was), I got one or two emails a year from someone saying they’d just discovered my thing, and liked it enough to go back and start at the beginning of the archive, and that over some relatively short span of time they’d plowed through the entire 7 years of it or whatever. And then they went to the trouble to tell me about it, and to lob some seemingly genuine praise at me… which is all just monkeyballs crazy. I don’t even like my ideas or way of expressing them — how the heck can someone else?

+

Anyways… there must be some pottery ideas somewhere in this cordoned off hazmat area I call a soul. (Ugh! Two elipsis within three consecutive sentences. So bad. I’m like that frumpy middle-aged guitar player, out of practice and a little boozy tonight, falling back on the hot licks he learned – yet never really mastered – for solos in high school; trying to think of something good to play while not giving into the temptation of talking about Stevie Ray in the between-song banter.)

So, I had a spring sale — just like every other potter in the universe. Mine did not require a cross country drive to Minnesota — because I’m still and probably always relegated several leagues below Premier… the backwater of Fillmore ain’t exactly where you come to see world class football. But it did involve a short trek to “town”, as we quaintly call it, in our Midwestern faux-plainness, and my stuff displayed in an actual store, open to the honest-to-god and dreaded-beyond-all-measure General Public (where is the tenderness, anyways? You, GP, display an alarming lack of it, with your pallid gazes and staggering disinterest.)(oof! Spectacularly awful: 2nd 80s music reference in 4 paragraphs. One of those has got to go, but now that I’ve done it I want to leave it in to show how committed I am to this ritual humiliation routine.)(Look: Now he’s pulling on that whammy bar like it’s a slot machine handle, gambling away his last unholy nickel on earth. We’re likely just a few short minutes away from the appearance of a wah wah pedal!)

And the sale was fine — thanks for asking, and also, yes, it’s totally fine that you didn’t make it, and there’s no need to make excuses, and “there’s always the next time”, which is what I always say, weakly, for lack of figuring out a better response after these 20 odd years of doing all this. What am I supposed to do, tell the fucking truth?

< Well, Fred, if you’d gotten off the couch and walked down the six blocks from your house during one of the 50 freaking hours that the thing was open and I was standing there staring into the middle distance like a retail zombie, and just spent the usual $100 or so that most people spend, then I would now be approximately 0.42% closer to the approximately twenty five grand it will take to build my new kiln complex — which I desperately need to do, because the “old” one is down to something like 18 firings left before the arch caves in, just like my long-dead dreams; so thanks Suzy, it’s cool — by which I mean thanks for nothing, Archibald, with your ignorant $6 a month on new apps that you delete after 20 minutes of goofing off with them, and Lauren, who readily drops $50 on a dinner or a volleyball camp, yet balks at $32 for a mug that might be the nicest handcrafting thing in your entire dumb house and that, with a little care and luck, could last 20 years (a.k.a. 8 new cell phones from now); and yes, yes, of course I’ll keep you on my mailing list, Reginald, because once you go on it, you’re stuck on there for life — ha ha, yours or mine, whichever ends first, ha ha — and because I intend to keep printing these archaic, custom designed, overpriced postcards and sending them through the goddamn MAIL until they shut the whole thing down for good, or privatize it to Jared, who will somehow cash out for a billion dollars on the deal just before landing in federal prison for treason. So yes, Dorothy, yes — I really appreciate you thinking about coming to my sale. Thanks again. Really. >

Whew! Well, obviously all of that’s gotta get cut. I mean, there’s a time and a place to do some righteous screaming down the memory hole but this certainly isn’t it. Sorry — I’m out of practice and a little boozy tonight, falling back on my hot licks. Which would be an acceptable excuse, maybe, if it wasn’t a complete lie, because it’s not night and I’m never boozy and, now that I’ve written and subjected you to all of the above, I’m no longer out of practice, now am I?

“And I got tired of waitin’, hoping that you’d be coming around.”

+29

 “Sometimes I feel like I can’t even sing. I’m very scared for this world, I’m very scared for me.” – R.E.M.

Last week was fucking hell. I’ll spare you a run down of all the hits, but there were a lot of them. It’s astounding to me how three or four bad things can hit in a row: overlapping, double waves, with an undertow to boot. And then you’re lying there in the low surf, scraped up, sand in every orifice, gasping for air amidst the saltwater and snot, thinking, “Fuck me — that was awful!”… when another big rogue comes out of nowhere and just crushes you against the rocks. What fun.

But hey, enough of that! Let’s find some happy and/or distraction!

So it seems I turned the corner from making to glazing. Hairpin turn, that one. I advise slowing down into it. (Trout below, motherfuckers.) Somehow, and maybe for the first time, I have everything from the Dec-Jan-Feb making cycle already bisked, before I’ve started to glaze. So I can see all 166-odd pots that need to go through he kiln in one spot. (Where “one spot” = covering almost every horizontal space in the studio.) Usually, at this point, a third of it is still drying under plastic, a third cooling in the electric, and just the first wave of stuff ready for wax and slips and stuff.

It’s good to see it all like this; it helps my memory of the road I just walked — what I was thinking, how it was all supposed to cohere at the end. It gives a small sense of that “body of work” thing, which I usually see as a polite-fiction-bordering-on-artspeak-bullshit, but does have it’s merits, in terms of planning and confidence and a little, much-needed morale boost. I’ve plotted and strategized and analyzed all the ways my stupid tiny kiln can get filled over the last 11.5 years and 76 firings that I can almost look at the ceramic mass and visualize how it will fit into five or six batches. Almost. (Now that would be a cool and useful layer of AR, someday, if we can ever get around to someone writing those apps for potters.) (I picture it like the displays in Minority Report, floating 3D objects around with gestures, but with an actual haptic interface, where you can “feel” the virtual objects as you load them into the simulated chamber space.)

Anyways. Yay, Sci-Fi.

I spent a solid hour on Saturday morning — primetime for my caffinated brain — collating my loading notes from the last year’s firings, and putting them into a reference chart that shows all the valid stacking options: combinations of shelf heights that fire successfully, give options for putting different height pots into the various (wildly varying) zones, and matches the actual posts I have to use (so I don’t come up short and end up stacking three tiny bricks to make the right size, or using a too tall brick and wasting a bunch of precious space).

I need to do five firings in seven weeks. It's gonna get ugly in here.

A post shared by Scott Cooper (@stearth) on

The new chimney I added a year ago added more options — previously, I had to have a tall shelf at the bottom or the whole thing stalled like that old Ford Escort. I could pretty much load the whole thing with mugs now, if I wanted to, which would be pretty rad, since I never have enough mugs on the shelf, but I was clever/dedicated/loony enough to make almost 70 of them this time around. (I probably won’t, because they want to stack too tight, which blocks the salt vapor and makes for too dry in the center of the stack; also because mugs and bowls alternate well around each other, and I made a ton of small to medium bowls this time, too. (Such a sellout.) And if I had a little better handle on glazes that worked well without much salt, or liked the dry flashing slips a little more, I could do it and just roll with those dry zones, but I don’t, at least not yet; so I probably won’t.)

So: five in seven, I hope — weather and health and trout permitting; fingers crossed. [Instantiate Karma boost from my tens of fans]

I’ve still got glaze/firings troubles to solve; always will, I guess, but getting weary of the same old shit. Pots that want glaze x but also sort of need to go in zone C, which won’t stack up well with blah blah blah. Blistering down low, where it gets ridiculously hot; underfired up high, where the cold air rushes across the top shelf. I could/maybe should do another round of testing and tweaking and obsessive note taking to try to close the gap, but I strongly suspect that it’d be more effort than the results would warrant, and it drives me fucking crazy. As the day the arch falls creeps ever closer, it’s time to accept this kiln for the flawed, legacy, expectational-debt-ridden tool that it is and just work around its flaws, instead of fighting them; always fighting.

Same for the relentless, time-sucking march of glaze testing: I think I’m due for a settling-in phase of just rolling with what I’ve got and trying to knock them out well. ‘You go to war with the army you’ve got’, etc. (I use that quote advisedly, because, of course, that was a complete load of horse shit at the time, considering that they chose to go to war when we didn’t have to, at the wrong time, in the wrong place, under manufactured pretenses, but… whatever. It’s still a good quote in other contexts.)

(Fucking Rumsfeld.)

Hey, now that I’ve chased away the proverbial half of my audience (just kidding: I know no Republicans still read this), I’ll tease a new twist for my upcoming spring sale. It’s gonna be in a different place, at a different time, for longer, and overlapping with some other stuff. Should be interesting/crazy/cool/exciting/a complete disaster! Details to come.

Oh, and my group show with my imaginary Friends opens at AKAR this week. cf. the Internet.

Oh, and I know you don’t come here for media recommendations, but since I spent so much time laid up the last couple weeks, I plowed through a whole bunch of stuff. I give a hearty recommendation to Sneaky Pete, on Amazon Prime — produced by Walter White/Bryan Cranston, starring a longtime favorite of mine, Giovanni Ribisi. The OA, on Netflix, was weird and solid and creepy and strange and still has me thinking about it weeks later, especially the NDE stuff and that last dance move. Watch the first hour and you’ll know if the other seven are for you. Like most, I really liked the movie Arrival: good, adult-aimed sci-fi; they handled the technical stuff well enough, great meta-twist, wonderful mood and atmosphere, and it layered in solid characters and themes. I’m really glad we get big movies like this now on a regular basis; just wish it was one a month instead of one a year. And if that 18+ hours worth of stuff still doesn’t fill your schedule, I’m also really enjoying Battlehand on iOS; my 5th campaign through XCOM: Enemy Within on PS3; the first book of Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, and the Pod Save America podcast, by the Keepin’ it 1600 guys. Dorky, turn-based wizards and warriors stuff, tense strategic alien zapping, atheistic juvie-lit, and all the left-leaning political analysis you could ask for. You’re welcome.

So, yeah. Blogging. So dumb.

 

“I think about this world a lot, and I cry and I’ve seen the films and the eyes; and I’m in this kitchen, and everything is beautiful, see her so beautiful, see you so young and old, I look at her and I see the beauty of, the light of music. I voice is talking somewhere in the house, late spring, and you’re drifting off to sleep, with your teeth in your mouth, and you are here with me. You are here with me. You have been here and you are everything.”

+28

“Time won’t fly, it’s like I’m paralyzed by it. I’d like to be my old self again, but I’m still tryin’ to find it.” – Taylor Swift

“Why you do this to me?” – Kaiya

Rounding the corner into spring. Hairless late-winter shins, sticking out of my too-soon shorts; weather a month ahead of reason; fewer nighttime fires in the stove and the first tufts of green along my usual walking routes.

I used to adore this time of year, like a first love again each time. Which makes the fact that I hate it now even worse. Recursive loop. Bizarrely, it makes me long for the start of winter again: the post-sale lull and the promise of starting over and going anywhere the clay leads, with empty shelves and hope for new discoveries; and without clear boundaries or hard deadlines. Yeah, a little S.A.D. and bitter cold mixed into the bargain — I mean, winter definitely sucks, too. But hey. Can’t have everything.

Making the transition from starting pots to ending them is always rough. Losing that momentum at the wheel (and the thought processes and the daily pattern) is like a minor death each time, and I sputter and wail my way through the encapsulated stages of grief before I can get moving again into bisque and bricks and glazes.

Every cycle, I think, “This will be the one where I keep my shit together; where I don’t get derailed by illness or schedule weirdness or outlandish circumstance; where I somehow manage to keep throwing a little all the way through glazing and firing. Just a little pulse of wet clay, so I don’t lose that connection completely.” But that’s a foolish fantasy, and I am the Fool. (Damn, that idealism dies hard! When will I learn?) Because there is always illness and weirdness and circumstance — usually a boatload of it. Those are just euphemistic names for all the parts of life I try to ignore or avoid or procrastinate out of existence. Inevitably, they come leaking back into the daydream, like cruel clouds on a sunny February day.

So I sulked and moaned and tried to find buoyance in others’ good news, while not getting dragged under completely by others’ tragedy… I’m sorry, so sorry, and feel worse that “sorry” seems to be all I have to give. Eventually, this week at St. Earth, I got ‘round to loading that bisk — instead of wedging more clay, goddamnit, and just as I was getting a feel for four pounds and those taller cylinders! — and cutting those shelves, trying to minimize the strain they put on my ol’ L5, and at least thinking about how to clean this dump up enough that I can wax and glaze. Time to start rolling this admittedly-quite-promising mass of half-finished pots uphill to the finish line.

That Michael Simon quote; you know the one.

If you know that Taylor Swift song, referenced above, listen to it again and consider that instead of a past relationship, the person with your scarf is the Muse that keeps drawing you back to clay. “So casually cruel in the name of being honest.” Pretty much nails it on the head. And, a complete surprise to me, it’s also a damn near perfect song.

And, lastly, as I try to refind my footing here on the blogging stone, I’ll say that I found another small new path that might make things a little better; or, if not better, at least similar in a different way. For all my bitching about Spring, it does seem to still launch something in me, a renewed belief that it’s worth trying something different; worth taking little chances. Last year it was that risky tower of brick and inviting other potters’ pots into my showroom. This year, if it works out, it could be weird and cool and maybe even circumstantial. In a good way.

“Autumn leaves were falling down like pieces into place and I can picture it, after all these days.”

+27

“She felt proud beyond measure to sit beside her friend Iorek Byrnison under the Aurora as it flickered gracefully in the polar sky, and join the conversation of the bears.” – Phillip Pullman

“And she said, ‘Oh! Do you come from a land Down Under?’” – Men at Work

So: where were we? Oh yeah, my sorta-unsolicited advice. Yes, I agree that when any of us post anything slightly questioning or uncertain, it should be taken as an invitation for comment. Especially on a service that basically exists to invite comments. When I first tip-toed into Instagram, I reflexively just typed in the simplest, most direct captions possible, like “Domino mugs”. (Pretty much the same thing I used to put under the photos of the pots for sale on my website, a million years ago when I still sold pots on the Internet.) I dreaded the implied obligation to answer questions, or consider suggestions, or even just read the kind of random stuff that people (including me!) are prone to so casually throw over someone else’s transom. “Oh, is that your zebra pot?” Shit like that. As a so-called sensitive artist, those kinds of things can ruin my day.

Eighteen months and 181 posts later, I must be feeling more daring, becuase now I’ll occasionally go with an obscure phrase, or something that suggests an intent or direction. Verbs are dangerous. Gerunds probably moreso, as they imply something ongoing, which invites instruction or critique. (thinking, considering, wanting, trying). Mostly, I fight the urge to commit too much self expression/confession there, reminding myself that it encourages unwanted questions and suggestions. (Praise, of course, is always welcome!).

But maybe I’m feeling like I might be ready to take actual feedback there. Occasionally I’ll put in some words that are more of an invitation to that sort of thing. Ending with a question mark practically begs for it. All in all, the IG people are mostly other potters, and other potters tend to: a) get it; and b) be pretty fucking cool. “No fear!”

That little text area also seems ripe for burning through some of my accumulated quotes and song lyrics. That back catalog is close to bursting and pretty unmanageable, what with the lack of actual blog posts to follow them these days. It’d be nice to shout my yawp via others obscure words more often; as it stands, those poors guys are just lingering in Cloudspace, with nowhere to self-aggrandize themselves beyond the porous boundaries of my feeble mind.

(On the downside, thus far I’ve made a habit of tapping the little “Post to FB” button most of the time, so as I veer out closer to the edge of my comfort zone, I’m liable to get more unwanted crap via that channel. Risk/reward.)

(Oh, and if it seems weird that someone who has posted so many spleen-venting paragraphs on the web over the last decade worries about this stuff, I’ll point out that none of my blogs — none — have ever had comments. Very deliberately.)

If that makes any sense.

{ loop }

Back to clay, I’m building up steam on a theory that almost every potter only knows enough to solve their current problem, because we tend to stop researching or experimenting as soon as the most immediate mystical flaw dissipates. So actual knowledge or experience or expertise is just a funky, disparate collection of all these half-solutions and marginal compromises, stacked on top of one another and, at best, cross-referenced in an occasionally useful way.

Which, if true, also means that we’re all only one false move from making a whole batch of fucked up crap, because we never know how close we are walking to any of the dozens of fatal boundary lines on all sides until we race over them, heedlessly. Ignorance is semi-bliss.

Also if that theory has any weight, then it means most of us are operating a lot of the time in a psuedo-scientific realm that is kinda indistinguishable from hedge magic, or Scientology or mere guessing or whatever. We think we know, and we act like we know, and then when someone else says, “Hey, my handles are cracking!” — note the fatal gerund — we go off and tell them about the time that we walked the TriFold Path of Regurgitated Evanescence or whatever and how that madeeverythingperfectforeverandever and aren’t we smart and clever and also a little too smug now in sharing that hard-won knowledge, which we maybe just acquired like 11 hours ago, with the rest of you?

So I think my recent apologetic mindset is coming from that awareness that maybe I have no bloody idea what I’m talking about, and I’m mostly jumping at the change to soothe my wounded lizard brain, and spike my jumpy monkey brain, by throwing smart-sounding sentences out through the digital rectangles before my better knowing Self can rein them in and tell everybody to just shut the fuck up and sit still for a humble moment or two.

Humility says my hedge magic just happens to work here in the backwoods of North America, but won’t have any effect in a place where the toilets flush backwards. It says I was born on third base and thought I hit a triple; that I’m standing on the shoulders of giants and pissing and moaning about it being an inconvenient perch. I often know that should probably just shut my stupid mouth and click the little heart icon and get back to grinding away on some new, likely-fatally-flawed spells in my studio, but all it takes are those occasions when I don’t know that to turn into yet another asshole on the Internet who’s helping to ruin what used to almost pass muster as a civil society.

But then, counter to this half-baked theory, every once in a while you run across some odd hermit is actually is a legitimate, honest to god level 47 Wizard, in some obscure edge of the field, or even just hidden in plain sight, who actually knows stuff that makes your tricky glaze perfect or your dumb kiln fire like butter, and who also tells good jokes or has fine recipes for soups, and then you’ve gotta go back to the drawing board on this whole “nobody knows anything” ego-bandaging/rationalization rant.

Maybe. I dunno. What do you think?

(Don’t answer that.)
(Please.)
(For the love of god; I can’t take it.)

“Can you hear, can you hear the thunder? You better better run, better take cover – yeah.”

+26

“You’ve just gotta cry yourself a river; build yourself a bridge; and get over it.” – Pixel

“I may go crazy, before that mansion on the hill.” – Van Morrison

Sale’s done. It was a good one, and that’s not just the pat, publicly-appropriate answer. It was actually good. (I think.)

And the glow of success and relief lasted almost a whole day before the relentless penumbra of despair settled back into place. So that’s something. (Oh wait — maybe I should be posting this on my other blog? It gets so confusing, having more than one.)

//i am not a bot// i am not a bot// i am not a bot//

HARD RETURN

{loop}

I’m trying to pay less attention to tallies and totals and stats, and year-over-year comparisons… gradually coming to the conclusion that they do more harm than good. The causal factors are so fragile and varied and complexly inter-related; the sample sizes always so small; and whether the trend line is up or down, 16 years of data says that won’t predict the next one, or next year, or the viability of this sin of a dream for the future.

So — screw all the stats and all that data garbage. Attention is better focused elsewhere.

That said, since I like numbers, and I know you like numbers, I’ll estimate that I sold around 150 pots, maybe 170; roughly $4500 worth; and roughly 2/3 of what I had. Which is good. Not too shabby for two days from my living room in the middle of nowhere.

(I also sold a fair amount of the stuff from my three guest potters; Witt and Ratman and BOSS. Not as much as I’d like, maybe $750 worth, total, but decent. I don’t count those into my sales total, even though they are pots that left the showroom, because my gallery commission is a pristine 0%.)

And look: I’m not crying about the money. The money is good, even if I’m still only making about $8 an hour before taxes and expenses. (In other words, the money is good for starving artist pottery money, but lousy by any other measure.) This money will probably be enough to help us hold serve through to the next sale cycle; groceries and propane and trips to Chipotle and all the rest. I’ve got enough clay and firewood left to get me through the winter, and I stocked up on some glaze materials and other consumables — thermocouples, gloves, salt — last month. (Who knew Tin Oxide was $30/lb.? I know it now!)

But — and isn’t there always a but? — but, that’s also more than the number of pots I added in the last seven months of working and from those five consecutive firings. And that’s unsettling, because it means (at least, I think it means) I’m still slowly slipping farther behind.

How in the hell did I only finish 150 pots in half a year? We’ve been over this territory many times by now, if you’ve been following along, but still — it’s kind of mind boggling that I can knuckle down and go harder and put in all those extra evening hours and early morning hours and still end up with so few. I guess I found new ways to lavish time on each pot; more deco, more intricate and layered patterns. (And I still can’t bring myself to charge upwards of $40 for a mug, no matter how elaborate or fine. The Big Hitters online seem to go all the way to $65 these days, which seems a little crazy to this country mouse.)

I guess I committed a lot of time to R&D — learning new tricks on forms like pitchers and oval jars; forms which also take a lot of time to complete, and which don’t sell fast (most of them are still on the shelf). And also to glaze testing, and tweaking my firing schedule, small process improvements around the studio, etc. I still believe it’s foolish to skimp on R&D; that when it goes, that’s the first sign of the end coming near — the warning strip on the road. Also because that’s as close as I ever get to the pure play zone, which in many ways is the only real goal. And because every good new twist or slightly creative idea I’ve ever had came from there, inefficiently and paradoxically and without much regard for rational accounting.

I guess I had a run of bad technical luck this last making session, too, and it came in overlapping waves: s-cracks, handles popping off, large bowls warping, overfired glaze blistering, random kiln mishaps. Almost every group of pots got hit by one of those, which takes an appreciable dent out of the final total on the shelf come sale morning. Like R&D, loss and slippage go with the territory; and I learned (I think) something about how to prevent each of them. But the cannon fodder adds up. Disappointing.

I guess I’m still slowed by other distractions and commitments — dayjob, minor illnesses, parenting, house-as-mortal-enemy, fragile spine. None of that is likely to change soon. So just gotta factor it in and account for it. Build that bridge and get the hell over it.

I’m tired; so tired. Probably close to whatever would technically qualify as exhaustion, which means I shouldn’t put too much stock in my flailing emotions or my fragile mental state. Like the sales trend lines, doens’t mean much in the longer term. Just means I need to rest. Or, more likely, to allow myself and/or make myself rest, before jumping back into the fray.

The dayjob won’t wait, the pots that need to ship out won’t wait, and certainly the breakfasts to be made and backpacks to be packed won’t wait. Neither will the freeze-preventing fires in the stove, or the various and sundry other things that embargo daily life from feeling like the much-needed, yet not actually earned, vacation.

But maybe somewhere in there I’ll find, or allow, some slack. I’d probably better. When I start doing that random, spontaneous little semi-hysterical giggle — the ‘wow we are so totally fucked’ chuckle — that means I’m in danger of not making it to the mansion on the hill intact.

Gotta make it to the mansion.

“A list of things I could lay the blame on, might give me a way out.”

+25

“The craft impulse has become dispersed in millions of do-it-yourself projects and basement workshops, where men and women have sought the wholeness, the autonomy, and the joy they cannot find on the job or in domestic drudgery.” – T. J. Jackson Lears

I’ve discovered two new little surface decoration things in the studio, both of which have some promise. (And when I say discovered, I don’t mean “new”, in the sense of “no new thing under the sun”. I mean something I stumbled onto myself, which I don’t remember being pointed towards from some outside source. Most likely, I’m just repeating what’s well known elsewhere; reinventing a wheel for the sake of doing it myself.)

Anyways, the first one is this smearing of the black underglaze after it comes out of the bisque kiln. For years now — how many? more than 10… maybe even 15? — I’ve brushed commercial black underglaze patterns on my pots at the leatherhard stage. Most often I then carve little ‘pips’ back through it, to reveal the clay body color underneath and add texture — what I call “Domino” pattern, for lack of a better name. (Note: I don’t think that name has any symbolic or referential meaning, other than perhaps the fact that I like to play games. Circumstantial, at best. Oh, and I really like the parephenalia of table and board games: rule books, cards, tokens and printed chits, dice, illustrations, etc.)

Anyways anyways, at some point I realized that this underglaze isn’t completely “fixed” at my bisque temp (∆07), Instead, it’s still kind of dusty and the top layer easily smudges or rubs off. Initially, I saw this as a flaw — the painted sections would smear into the unpainted sections. So I tried to work around it, carefully handling the pots so as not to touch the underglazed areas until after there was wax or glaze over them (and not at all if those parts were going into the kiln bare). Since that’s very difficult to do, a few smudges occasionally slip through the glaze firing — which makes the underglaze glossy and permanent. And I gradually found that I liked the effect. The smearing or odd fingerprint leaves a slightly darkened halo, sort of like you’d get from the overspray of a spray paint or airbrush.

Lately, I’m liking that effect so much — especially after the atmospheric salt has had its say, kissing everything with a bit of organic randomness and gloss — that I’ve started leaving most of the incidental marks alone, and even purposefully smearing the edges and lines that I painted on earlier. Since most of my designs are hard-edged and geometric (again, if there’s some symbolism or “meaning” there, I’ll be damned if I know what it is. Feel free to advance your own theories!), this blurring or softness can be really nice; another layer of semi-intent on top of or next to all my layers of intent. Similar to when a pattern of dots accidentally breaks down; proof that I’m doing these one at a time, by hand, with all the potential flaws and variability that entails. I’m not a machine, and neither are you.

All that said, it’s subtle. Like, so subtle I’m not sure you’ll even be able to spot it in these photos:

A photo posted by Scott Cooper (@stearth) on

This one has a gnarly S-crack in the base, but other than that came out really nice.

A photo posted by Scott Cooper (@stearth) on

There’s a lot of it on that first pitcher on the right. A little near the top of the deco on that taller pitcher, below. It’s more noticeable with the pot in hand. (Hint, hint.)

Anyways, I may be on my way to making it even more of a thing. We’ll see.

The second thing is also a smudging/blurring/fucking-with-my-past-intent technique, which I discovered by complete accident during my last glazing session. I apply most flashing slips (eg. a very thin, kaolin-based layer of clay, closer in composition to the clay body than to an actual glaze) at the bisqueware stage.

(Which, incidentally, I’ve recently learned is fairly uncommon. Most of my “Friends” seem to do it at leather. Not sure where I picked up doing it the less popular way, but I’m pretty sure I was just following Clary and most of the other students at E’Ville, the two places where I learned salt/soda.)

So — applying the slips and then glazing over them works totally fine… except for the rare occasion when I spill glaze over the raw slip in a place I don’t want it. There’s no easy “erase” option, because wiping off the glaze also means taking away the raw slip underneath it. Ugh!

So the other day I lost my concentration for a moment* while sloshing the liner glaze around inside this nice oval jar, so that when I poured the excess glaze out, a big mangled drip of it ran down the outside rim. Now, oftentimes, I can live with that; I’ll just roll with it. But in this case the glaze drip clashed badly with this elaborate Domino decoration I’d put on the pot. And it was a first-time pattern — one I’d never done before — that took a (relatively) long time to do, and which I was quite pleased with. The form of the pot I had nailed almost exactly as I’d wanted, and I had a clear idea what I was going for. I just couldn’t let that drip stand.

[* I was probably thinking about something like how Trump is a horrifying, sociopathic narcissist who shouldn’t be allowed to run for my local, tiny city council, let alone perhaps the most powerful office on earth. Or maybe it was about Minecraft; or about something Malcolm Gladwell had just said on Revisionist History.]

So, feeling a little desperate, I decided to just roll back as far as I had to, wash off the drip and all the slip, even if it meant not getting it into this glaze firing. (If it was just a complete mess, I figured I’d wash everything off and send it back through the bisk firing, to burn off the wax, etc, and start over next time.) The pot was worth getting right.

But then, as I started sponging, I saw that the slip was coming off – well – interestingly. There was some pleasing randomness, to it; something caught my eye. Like a wash — a coat deliberately applied and then selectively removed — the flashing slip was staying put in the texture of the clay, at the joins of the little lugs, and along the horizontal grooves I’d thrown in with a metal rib. On the smooth, broader surfaces, it seemed to have left behind a little staining of the slip’s color; about as much as I’d get from a very diluted brush stroke.

“Hmm…”, I go. “Hmm, hmm, hmm.” Like Merlin Mann when he’s straining for attention. And then my inner John Siracusa, just like the real life John Siracusa, says, “Hey, dummy, isn’t that pretty close to the effect you go to all those elaborate lengths to get in the salt kiln? I mean, it’s right there on the pot already — why would you not go with this?”. And, as usual, inner John S. puts inner Merlin M. to shame, slicing through the murky, humanities-esque bullshit with his Lightsaber of Compelling Reason in a way that’s impossible to argue with.

And, unlike the real life Merlin M., my imaginary Merlin M. quickly relents, admits he has no counter, and that he should probably even just stop trying to talk for the next half hour or so. And then we end the show without subjecting our listeners to a third commercial break.

I’m sorry — where were we?

Ah yes.

Anyways, here’s that pot after the firing:

Oval w/ domino stairs.

A photo posted by Scott Cooper (@stearth) on

It’s another subtle effect, and one I’ve probably now oversold by a poorly-graveled country mile. But still quite nice, I think. Yay, innovation. Yay, process. Yay, me, and the voices in my head.

“Betting against technological progress is always a bad idea.” – John Siracusa

“You know why? Because I’m a lapsed fan. I’m pained; I’m hurt.” – Merlin Mann

+24

“…the craft ideal had largely been reduced to a revivifying hobby for the affluent: the nervous businessman would return refreshed to the office after a weekend of puttering at his basement workbench.” – T. J. Jackson Lears, No Place of Grace

So I’ve made 6 small pitchers and 17 medium ones. (Also 4 small batter bowls (inspired by (eg. stolen from) one I got from Clary Illian last time I visited her.) That’s 27 pots with pouring spouts in a row. I think I could happily make another 20 or so before getting genuinely satisfied/restless enough to move onto something else. It feels good to have my throwing chops sharpening, pulling up all those cylinders. I’m still finding new methods and postures for it, at the standing wheel. It’s awkward, and mentally uncomfortable to adjust to something that fundamental to the making process. And too easy to fall back into the same stances that fucked up my back on the treadle wheel. Maintaining hyper-vigilance on that issue is super distracting, but absolutely necessary. It saps the creative impulse. It takes more time. It’s fucking b-o-r-i-n-g. But it’s a lot better than lying around on a heating pad, waiting around until I can get to work again.

Prudence says I should stop making pitchers — enough pitchers already! — and move onto something else. Shut up, Prudence. Oh, and fuck you, Pete — I’m doing this for my sake, not yours.

I want to keep going, like I did with faceting in the making cycle before last, and with punching all those ridiculous little porcelain holes last winter. Because, you know, neither of those indulgences of ART and The Muse and following ‘my gut’ resulted in a pile of as-yet-unwanted, unsold pots in the showroom, did they? Oh no. (Pro tip: Don’t look in the showroom.) I’d like to steadily keep climbing the ladder: two and a half pounds, three, 3.25, dare I dream of four? To keep on a steady, knowable ramp, with clear signs of progress, with a shot at embedding some of this new stuff into deep memory; into hand memory instead of relying on the crap between my ears. I’d like to go so far that it becomes a thing; a bonkers, clearly too much, over the top thing, a capital-P Project. One whole wall in the showroom that’s nothing but pitchers at the sale, so many that they can’t be ignored, that they make people who came in the door not even considering buying that form think twice, that the sheer volume and variety of them causes new thoughts about pitcherness and where one of these archaic, quaint objects might find a place on your shelf, if not in your weekly routine.

So do I do what I want? Do I get what I need? Can this merely revivifying hobby intersect with a serious pursuit on its way to an attempt at a capitalist endeavor? Oh, reason always has its reasons. Prudence and Pete, sitting there in the stands, either cheering or booing me along.

“This is a state of grace. This is the worthwhile fight. Love is a ruthless game, unless you play it good and right.” – Taylor Swift

I had a dream last night that I was playing some sort of ball game with a group of people; sort of like camp, sort of like a hybrid basketball, volleyball peppering thing. In the dream, I was pretty good at it; enough better than average that I was getting hand slaps and occasional mild “wows”. I woke up realizing that one of the things I miss about walleyball is that feeling of competence and above-average skill, and having it recognized in a social environment. In my studio, I can pull the leanest, meanest cylinder of the day and wrap it into a lovely shape and the crowd is silent. Just Prudence and Pete, in my head; not remotely the same thing as grins and pats on the back from your teammates when you bury the ball into the floor or make an improbable save.

Maybe that’s why this live video blogging thing is so popular. People looking for cheers when they make the play, not months later after it’s been set in stone and dusted off for polite public consumption.

So if I do give in and give up on pitchers, I’ll likely switch to something at least similar — keep climbing the vertical ladder with vases or jars or something that can capitalize on the rung I’ve achieved.

*** Of course, that is to say, if some other catastrophe doesn't come along, as they so often have, and knock me off the ladder completely. As soon as I say this out loud, I'll probably land on my head, get a concussion, and be out of commission for a month. ***

I’ve got a nice jar shape in mind, and I’ve been meaning to tackle cap lids since about forever. Like, seriously, 1996. That jar with the nicely poured bands of Shaner Red, on Weiser’s dark Newman’s stoneware. Some of these pitchers would have been swell vases, with a little tweak to the belly line, or a slight flare of the neck, instead of pulling that spout. That would be a natural transition, and Prudence would be so fucking happy. Pete would come over and give me one of those odd, manly slaps on the ass, which are somehow perfectly condoned on the field or court, but elsewhere srtictly forbidden. Hah! How funny is it to image the Pete in “for Pete’s sake” as Peter Voulkos?


[Growl]
”Good job there, Scotty.”
[Cigar chomp. Snort]
“Ya really nailed the fuck out of that fucker.”

“Thanks, Pete. I did it for you.”

+23

“Dada, music gives me memories. And memories give me music.” – Pixel

What else could I possibly add to that?

+22

“And the things you can’t remember tell the things you can’t forget,
that history puts a saint in every dream.” – Tom Waits

This one felt like a boat anchor, so I sacrificed it to the throwing gods. Guess I was wrong.

A photo posted by Scott Cooper (@stearth) on

Slice and dice. Figure out if it’s nice.
Don’t think twice; that’s a vice.
(Maybe thrice.)
Splice, rice, mice: brain on ice.
Break your heart on a roll of the dice.

Yeah, anyways, so, I made 12 pitchers in my little studio time this week; six small ones and six medium ones. Hoping to get up to large ones next week, but hitting my cylindrical limit at around three pounds. (Pathetic.)

This was one of the three pounders, the last one of the run, when my back was giving me little warning twinges and my hands were weary from wrangling so much super stiff clay. Not to mention my attention, which wanes pretty quickly come 11am or so. I should take that morning break and repower up with a protein infusion, then go back for the last throwing reps of the morning.

Anyways, poetry and self-aggrandizing aspirations aside, this one felt awkward on the wheel, looked odd off it, seemed chunky once freed from the bat, and didn’t do it for me after I’d handled it. All my instincts, even with all that negative signalling from the pot, are to keep it, fire it, pray to the fire gods that it’ll miraculously come out blessed enough to put on the shelf. I need tall pots for the bottom shelf in the kiln; I need tall pots for the back shelf in the showroom; I need tall pots for people who want tall pots; I need tall pots to prop up my ever-failing ego; I need tall pots to counterweight all those endless four inch bowls and mugs.

Did I mention that I need tall pots?

Anyways, loathe as I am to sacrifice even a tiny slice of my spent studio time, effort, attention, hopes — I need to kill more pots at this stage and, even more, I need to kill them in ways that provide useful information. Like here, at the very last leather hardness that’ll take an Xacto knife through the rim, so I can read the cross section and see where it went right and wrong. Not at bone dry, as a last gasp of sanity before committing it to the bisque and chemical alteration for almost all future time.

So I did, and I’m glad. It felt like a fucking awful anchor, but actually looked pretty good. Consistent. A little thicker through the base than I’d like, but since I so often cut it too close there — too lazy or in a hurry or in the groove to stop the wheel and use the needle too, like an amateur — better a little too thick than like a piece of cardstock.

Sidebar story: One of my formative memories about thrown wall thickness is overhearing Chuck Hindes lecturing his class in the next room. Told them about a potter friend at Archie Bray who made gorgeous, skillfully thin pitchers, which were great until a customer returned one, broken. She said the bottom shattered the first time she tossed ice into it. The base, so the story implied, was paper thin.

Sidebar story #2: Another of my formative memories about thrown wall thickness (and pitchers) is Kurt Weiser bringing a pitcher by — coincidentally? — Archie Bray/Montana potter Mike Jensen (spelling of his name just confirmed with this handy reference; interesting!). This has become like my Ur-pitcher. In my probably very fuzzily overwritten 20+ year memory (holy shit, that was 1995-96, my nine months at ASU), it was astoundingly well thrown. Elegant, fine proportions, one of those pots that just screams the thrower’s skill. Wonderfully fluid handle, 10,000-hour spout, lovely streaky ash glaze — maybe woodfired, I dunno. Damnit, I wish I’d had a digital camera back then. Hey kids! It wasn’t always this easy!

(Do I even have a single photograph from that year? When would I have even thought to take a camera… a FILM camera… to campus?)(Ironic/dumb/sad that my future wife was two or three floors up, taking grad level classes in Photography and I never even got her to come take some snaps in the studio. Oh dear, what obvious thing of future value am I forgetting to do right now?)

[Oh dear && it’s 3:17am and I’ve had massively too much caffiene today and it’s leaking out my fingertips into the keyboard && can you tell?

On a podcast the other day, comedian Mike Birbiglia – I didn’t check the spelling because I think that’s right, and honestly, I don’t really care – said something to the effect of ‘write when you’re sleepy and edit when you’re awake’. Which sounds smart and awesome, but even more awesome is write like this and don’t bother to edit because it’s just a fucking blog and who gives a shit? Certainly not me, right? Har. Poetry — can you believe it?

OK, it’s not really 3am, but it sure feels like it.]

[I still love that feeling, even though it’s now tainted for all time by the seemingly endless, sleepless baby time. Damn, that was rough. I’ve still got a text file somewhere called “3am thoughts” and boy is it harsh. (Hey N.S.A., look in a folder called _dO_nOT_sHARE_. You’re welcome.)]

Anyways anyways, I’d love to see that Jensen pitcher again. It’s loomed to heroic proportions in my mind; St. Jensen of Bray; it’s one of those that I’m striving for on the rare occasions that I knuckle down and try to make them myself. That one and, of course, that amazing R&R pitcher that I fantasized about murdering Kline for (oops; he needs a code name), and about a half dozen of Clary’s (oops; she really needs a code name). (Weiser went to NCECA that year, then reported back to me that he’d told her she was the Mother Theresa of ceramics. To her face. I almost died.)

(Come to think of it, Weiser did and said so many things that made me laugh; his default sarcasm and defiant grin were terrific. He was a great teacher for me, kind of the right person at the right time, and it happened almost totally by accident. That said, I never got over my stuttering awe of him: “How’s it feel to be on the cover of Ceramics Monthly?” — “It’s feels alright.” – “Oh. Duh.” That time he invited me across the street for an expresso was embarassing; like I couldn’t put English sentences together. I’d still have no idea what to say to him, but might be a little less terrified to say it.)(Wow, so many memories of that two-semester span come rushing in, once I unlock that row in the vault. Crazy. Wish I had/could make the time to tell them all.)

(Hey, you know the line, “anything that comes before the ‘but’ in a sentence doesn’t count”? Sometimes I think that anything that happens outside of parenthesis in my writing is just filler to distract from the real meat bracketted off inside them.)

I’m going to finish writing this, the grateful, mournful whoosing rush of it escaping, and then want to fall on the floor and cry. But I won’t. Can’t, dude. Can’t.

“And you’re east of East St. Louis, and the wind is making speeches.”

In fact, I made a long run of pitchers that year at ASU, I think in the spring, and I was using a gritty, tough, happy-to-stand-up clay for them. I think they were pretty tall — 10” maybe? — but if I held one now I’m sure it’d be hilariously fat. Then I switched to a smooth, grogless clay and couldn’t get them to stand up at all. Little short guys. Another student — what the hell was his name? Blond 90’s alt-rock hair; nice; kind of an intense stoner demeanor. Anyways, his entire thing was pitchers — like, the only thing he ever made — and his were good technically, but aesthetically corrupted by his reps as a production throwing by-the-piece serf. He came in the day I’d switched clays (I was a morning thrower, as always and as I am now; he was a show-up-after-lunch thrower, around the time I was starting to think about packing up to go home) and said, “What the heck happened to these?” Ha.

Maybe I should find a silica sandy or grogged clay for these. Or mix some of those dozens of boxes of gritty 38-M scraps into it. Or just wedge the grit in. (Oh, crap, I have no silica sand. Hmm.) Maybe I’ve spent too long fighting the physics too hard. Maybe sometimes you win the war by surrendering.

But I think I made exactly zero that year at E’ville (aka East of East St. Louis), even though the clay was good for it — Randy Johnson’s 100% Missouri Fireclay recipe — and despite my throwing chops being at an all-time-up-to-that-point high. Weird. Too busy puching holes in shit or trying to fake my way towards sculpture I guess. Stupid graduate school.

And if I ever tried them at Clary’s — wow, does she need a code name — and it seems crazy that I wouldn’t have, or that she wouldn’t have quietly insisted that I tackle them, I can’t remember it in the least. Gone, like Tom Waits’s train.

Wind making speeches — I think I jumped on “Time” from the subconscious ping on that line; then, as it so often does, the rest fell magically, hallucinatingly into place. Music; so fucking rad.

Anyways, with the Fall windows open now, after the hermetic seal of summer, I hear, see, feel the wind all day ’long; have have to think about it with pots a’ dryin’; lots o’ plastic on rims, and cautious anchorin’ of the plastic sheeting. The wind as a secret element in my work.

Tom Waits, man. Insane, all the songs. The Heart of Saturday Night, with that fretless bass line, melody, perfect lyrics… are you kidding me? That’s a whole career right there. Plus: MOCKIN’ BIRD, SO IT GOES, Shiver Me Timbers, IN BETWEEN LOVE, BLUE SKIES, Hold On — and I don’t even know but a third of his catalog or the insane “Bone Machine” stuff. Like a dream, taken though a straw.

(Huh. San Diego Serenade, on a plane flying home from England. There’s another embarassing story for another embarassing time.)

</>

 

Anyways, it’s good that I cut it. I almost didn’t. It took an overnight of it kind of gnawing at me first. It looked pretty as a picture once it was done, especially that pretty clean slice through the handle. I learned something. I’m not as far off as I’d thought. There might be hope for me in a few days time, when I get to go back to my rock. Maybe. My Instafriends seemed to get useful info out of it on Ye Olde Instagram. I got that next-morning-blush of happy correspondence and positive attention. And this nutso blog post. And so many old thoughts about pitchers. And hey — one less shitty pot to fire.

Everybody wins.

+21

“And hey, can you go wrong? More times than you thought that you could be?” – Wheat

Every week the studio momentum dies, on late Saturday afternoon, and I have to resuscitate it on Thursday morning. This fucking sucks. Some weeks, it takes a long time to get it going again. That rock doesn’t roll itself.

(Can you forgive me for jamming two metaphors into that paragraph? I just couldn’t choose one over the other. Dammit; no discipline. If not, how can I make it up to you?)

I’ve tried to minimize this aspect of the dayjob/studio compromise with a lot of different strategies. None really work any better than just going out there straight away on Restart Day and starting to move clay around as soon as possible. Usually, this is super difficult — so much inertia in being stopped. With the prior week’s enthusiasm and focus drained away, I can think of a dozen reasons why not: chores or other tasks that should come first, or the hazy temptation of a “slow” morning. It’s easy to think of excuses why it should wait until tomorrow, or just until some unspecified “later”.

Some of this problem is because I have no scheduled or planned time off in a typical week. Three days at the office; three days in the studio; a day to catch up on chores and try to be a decent Dad. That last one can be restful, but often isn’t. So I just keep charging through, hallucinating that this is a workable/reasonable routine, until I get sick or some semi-desired “vacation” time appears, or for one of those days where I’m so worn out that I wake up and find that I just don’t give a fuck.

That’s no way to live.

But the alterative — scheduling time off proactively — requires so much more confidence that I ever have. I’d have to believe I can take a day in late August to just rest (eg. “be lazy”) without that coming back to haunt me in mid-November. Every sale prep cycle, almost every one, is a crashing, crushing race at the end. A miserable way to finish off a work season; a dumb way to present myself and my new pots to the public. So, every year — or every twice a year, I guess — I do this dance of how hard and fast can I work early in the cycle versus what will it cost me later — in illness, frustration, buried small debts — to just keep flailing away until I can’t?

Which is also wrong, though, because it gives the idea that I don’t want to work in the studio — that it’s all the same as the dayjob days, or mowing the grass or something. It’s not. I do want to. Often desperately.

That’s why losing the weekly momentum is such a killer: once I’ve regained it, say around mid-day Friday, I finally start to feel like a person again, with ideas that are meaningful and goals that are useful, and with things I want to do more than escape or hide or sloth away the minutes. That lasts for all of about 24 hours, because by Saturday around lunchtime, most Saturdays, I have to face all the pots that have to be finished Now Or Never — because almost nothing wet lasts over that four day layoff well. I start to regret the lingering I did on Thursday morning, or the extra pots I made on Friday in my enthusiasm, or the idea I had to put handles on these and slip and flashing slip and underglaze, each of which takes time to set before the next step, and must be finished before bone dry.

That’s no way to live, either.


 

And so last week was reviewing my greenware flashing slips, making elaborate test tiles of various combinations, cleaning up my #508 clay test notes, so that I could remember what’s what and see what I’d already done and not waste precious effort duplicating things that already proved themselves to not work. Chicken scratchings on reused paper scraps ain’t gonna cut it. Because there wasn’t enough room for actual pots in and around getting and moving a 6’x10’x8’ pile o’ firewood, accidentally crashing a glass door because I’m an idiot, mowing, and other assorted usual tasks and panic… etc.

There was the first tinge of Fall, windows open; remembering fresh air and what it will be like to not have the A/C running constantly everywhere. So much goddamn rain and damp.

After waiting out some weird pains on Restart Day — goddamnit! — this week was graciously, gratefully back to throwing; picking up stubbornly from those first taller vases, finally ginning up the wherewithal to tackle pitchers again. Earlier, I’d looked through about ten years of my photos archive, and sorted all the pitchers images into one place for reference. It primed my brain for it; refreshed my vision of what a good pitcher should be. It was good to at least see some progression there — from very hesitant and uninspiring a decade ago to fairly successful and worth trying to repeat and build from a year or two ago. There are a few I’d love to make again, if I can find the groove again. New details I want to try — stronger lips, beefier handles. Scale, of course, as always.

I had 2 1/2 # of really stiff clay, so I slapped it down on a bat and just went for it. Somewhat astoundingly, a pitcher form appeared, reasonably thin walled and standing proud, bigger than I’d hoped; potential. Resting my overworked back carefully in between them, I made three more, and could feel the throwing method refining itself; the old hand-knowledge dredging up from the murk. Like this; not like that. Do this thing first, hold the tool that way, don’t hold your breath, twist and lean just so. Finish carefully.

Looking at that page of amazing forms in Evolution; wondering which elements to try to emulate, if I’ll ever get there, how it would feel to have made such things.

Then I spouted ‘em that afternoon, after they’d set up a bit, and finished ‘em the next day, with handles and some deco. Handles too big — almost comical on one or two — spouts awkward, but better than those meek little blurbs. Better to go to far, at least at first, than not far enough. Can always pull back later, and there’s no sin in tossing some into the scraps box. Probably a virtue. Freedom.

Slot, variation.

A photo posted by Scott Cooper (@stearth) on

“Is your look in the mirror clearer than it used to be?”

+20

“These hands had to let it go free and… this love came back to me.
Oh-ah-oh. Oh-ah-oh. Whoa-oh.” – Taylor Swift

It came back again. I’ll be damned if it doesn’t always come back, even when that possibility seems remote. At least, it’s come back so far. Maybe one day it won’t. Who knows?

But I don’t mean it’s back like ‘falling in love all over again’; not a bolt from the blue or a ceremonial parade. More like a homecoming or a long journey. Sometimes, there’s that unexpected, un-forceable “Oh, there you are, Peter” moment, which is pretty sweet. Discovering a shard of my former self amidst the ruins.

It’s good.


It’s (also) always a struggle. I’ve tried a bit to lure the Muse back in; seen her, briefly; a flash in the corner of my eye. But I suspect she was just passing through on the way to someone who deserves her attention more. I just haven’t earned it yet, baby.

“Excuse me. Can you not see that I’m driving? If you’re serious about wanting to exist then I spend eight hours a day in the studio. You’re welcome to come and visit me when I’m sitting at my piano. Otherwise, leave me alone and go bother Leonard Cohen.”
– Tom Waits


Anyways, I made those Meerfeld bowls — not copies — and slipped a few of them — not with a flashing slip of the caliber of his amazing, elusive yellow, but just my white body slip. I’ll do some stuff over it at bisk, I guess. I got that warbly line through the stamp and that hard break to the upright rim pretty well, a few times, and the general spirit of the foot, but never quite nailed it. Seems I need a “hoof knife”, if rumor is to be believed. (For once, a trip to Tractor Supply that I’m looking forward to.)

And I might have only come close to that perilous, intoxicating thinness once… not only would I need to throw with more finesse, I’d also have to trim away more riskily. Probably a few dozen more to cut right through — is ten dozen pots analogous to ten thousand hours? — before I get a feel for that kind of wall depth.

Oh, and none of mine quite acheived that globe-like, enveloping upwards swoop. Such a unique volume; what I once took for affectation I now see as genius. Really.

Then I made a half dozen of those larger bowls, another item off the (theoretical) punchlist. I think I ramped up from 4 to 7 1/2 pounds with them, keeping the largest ones just inside the 13” that I measured from my shelves & posts setup. I probably — I mean, if I wasn’t such a pragmatic coward — probably could have thrown 14”+ and been fine, between shrinkage and upwards torqueing during drying. Maybe next time. Anyways, it was fun to throw that amount of clay — an extreme rarity for me these days, post-Backapocalypse — and I really enjoyed moving that volume of clay through space; containing more air in one go; hefting them around the studio from wet to flipped to trimmed to deco to slowly drying out. That also reframed my intuitive sense of how much is how much, so that when I went on to 2 1/2# bases for 2-part vases, it seemed like just a wee bit o’ mud. Nothing to cry about here.

Of course, I still suck at throwing cylinders, especially tallish narrowish ones after a long layoff from that form, so while they looked nice and worked out well enough once finished, they a some damn anchors. You could put a wad of 36” giant sunflowers in these 13” tall vases and they’d be fine. Oh dear. Ah well.

I’m feeling bored with the predictable ‘domino’ dots pattern that I’ve optimized myself into — a safe-yet-appealing offset one-two manuever. So for one of those I did both an unfamiliar pattern in the black underglaze and then a brand new thing with the dots. Not saying it’s gonna start a goddamn revolution or anything [Bernie 2020!], but it’s intriguing. Good enough to try again.

I only managed two of those — slow start, and I’d forgotten that my new anti-cracking method requires making and finishing them in the same day — so I’m chomping at the bit to make more. If I commit to an even dozen, then surely they’ll all crack, but if I only do five, they’ll be fine and I’ll be left wishing I’d done more. Hey, don’t blame me — it says ‘fatalism’ right on the tin.

Which is odd to put all that in writing instead of photos, but also oddly satisfying and reminiscient. I think we fall back on images, in this image-saturated age, much to quickly much too often. Words are good for a different kind of thinking, planning, analysis. Understanding, perhaps.

Also, it seems my initial blush with Instagram is starting to fade; while the Instafeedback can be gratifying, it can also feel like a chore. Also, as I remain phoneless, lugging my iPad out to the studio is kind of a pain, too, and adds the complication of yet another way to lose focus. Streaming podcasts are nice, but god help me if I start scrolling through something random.

So, screw you, illiterate image lovers! Since none of you made it this far, I’m more than happy to insult you! Thanks for not coming!

Seriously, as I suggested last time, I am aiming for (even) more directness here; and pretty content with letting the chips fall. If I’m lucky, this strateg will whittle my readership back down into the single digits, where I’m more comfortable blahing my yap into the world.

Lucky you.


Okay, let’s end with something better than that:

I have picked up, moved, shaped,
and lightened myself of many tons of clay,
and those tons lifted, moved, and shaped me,
delivering me to this living-space
I wake and move about in…
– Jack Troy

It gets even better after that. Thanks, Witt, for reminding me of this one.

+19

“And baby now we got bad blood. You know it used to be mad love.” – Taylor Swift

Nine am. I made two bowls; the first two; mini break. Because I’ve got these words on the brain and they’re getting in the way. I’m going to try to make four or six more before I switch to other chores. So far = OK; never quite as painful as I feared in advance. Got pretty close to the feel of that bowl on the first try; nowhere near exact, but I shouldn’t really aim right at it anyways. Bad for the soul. Probably exaggerating that stand up rim too much, but better to do it in excess than not enough. Also, not really accounting for shrinkage, because I always forget that sixth sense after a couple weeks away from the wheel, so these will be disappointingly small when they’re done unless I crank it up. Maybe 2 1/4 instead of 2. I didn’t turn on the AC, because I hate to do it for just a few hours work time, and I’ve lots of other shit to do today, but this weather sucks and isn’t helping. Come on summer and end already. The regional Arts Orgs are on my ass about joining their Culture Trail or some such thing. How am I supposed to separate the making from the selling when external voices are hounding me about the selling? For chrissake, it’s hard enough to quiet those voices in my own head. And, hey, I know marketing is a shitshow and good titles are hard to come by, but Trail doesn’t put me in mind of leisurely spending time buying handmade food and crafts. Oregon Trail. Trail of Tears. Appalachian Trail, maybe, but that’s like insane endurance sport in the woods, not solving your first world problems via overconsumption. Bataan Death March, more like it, when you factor in shooting down I-70 at eighty MPH and all the terrible places to eat lunch. Yeah, I know, that’s a pretty terrible cynical exaggeration. But seriously, the restaurants around here are awful. I envy how Tony ‘stuck in the mud’ Clennell just lets ‘er rip. And how he doesn’t seem to feel obliged to making a beginning and ending, or a theme; it’s often just a chunk of what it is. (I’m talking about his blog, not his pots, but maybe that fits for his pots, too. In a good way.)

This is what I would write if I was as bold as him, but there’s no way I’ll just leave it as is and dump it into WordPress and push Publish.

+18

“And I held my tongue. As she told me, “Son, fear is the heart of love.” So I never went back.” – Death Cab for Cutie

Oh… Oh! I forgot to mention: I also mopped. Guys: I mopped the floor. In my studio. For the hell of it. What can this possibly mean?

Since Witt left, now an alarmingly long time ago, I’ve mostly been in the studio in Just Passing Through mode. It’s where the tools are, for fixing shit around the house. It’s where I stash all my mowing gear, for the complex, often-more-than-weekly ritual of midwestern lawn maintenance. In other words, all the tasks that, pathetically, rank higher on my priority list than actually making pots.

The Admiral had a prof once, in the art dept at Iowa a million years ago, who said, “You don’t have to balance your checkbook before you make art.” Which, in that professorish way, is simulataneously useful, provocative, and complete horseshit. Like a riddle or one of those Zen things I know nothing about, the truth of it all depends on one’s context and how you define your terms. Does “balance the checkbook” = be able to pay your bills? Or does it = scrubbing the grout in the shower with a toothbrush for six hours while you procrastinate away another perfectly good studio day? See what I mean?

Anywhat, after a potting sabbatical week; then a fakation week out of town; then two weeks of a summer cold, which overlapped enjoyably with a week of covering bases at the office and some weird leak under the kitchen cabinets; and getting Pixel restarted rolling her rock up the hill to school; and; and; and;

I’m finally (I hope) getting caught up on all that slightly-more-urgent-than-’balancing the checkbook’ type crap, and rounding the corner to where it seems plausible that I could start some fresh pots, without collapsing in a heap or needing a therapy session afterwards, and even actually be around and available to finish them off the next day. It. Could. Happen.

Miracle of miracles.

In my Studio Notes book on Saturday, I wrote down:

1. Meerfeld Bowls, [because I was looking again at that bowl of his that I bought a zillion years ago, on the ped mall in Boulder, which still blows my mind all this time later and sadly had to go up on the Not Using shelf a year or two ago, when it’s hairline crack seemed to extend 90% of the way through and I decided it’d be better kept as a study pot intact that in two halves.]
2. Largest bowls possible, [because I have a request for a big one that I can’t really turn down, and if I’m going to keep slogging away in this little kiln I need to find the outside parameters of what will fit, and it’d be nice to make some big volume ones again.]
3. 2-piece vases, [because I need tall stuff; and I still suck at throwing cylinders; and I’ll need the warm up; and shorter vases just sit for ages; and because I think-hope-please-dear-Zeus that I’ve solved the cracking seams problem]
4. larger one piece vases, [because damn, wouldn’t that be nice?]
5. pitchers???, [because, untrimmed, they are still probably the hardest form for me to make well, and I dearly love a good one, but have likely made all of about a half dozen that were satisfactory in my 25 years of throwing; and because those Matt S ones are just frickin’ amazing and I want some of that magic if I can get it.]

+17

“If you try to teach a fish to climb a tree it will spend the rest of it’s life thinking it is stupid.” – Tony Clennel

I didn’t make any pots this week. After a straight 5 at the office, there was just a chunk of Saturday morning sitting there open, hemmed in by yard work, chores and family day. And tiredness. And being fully stopped and not emotionally ready to start fighting inertia. Not quite yet.

Instead, I did something I almost never do; I’m kind of proud of this, because it comes from a different awareness and an angle of self-restraint and discipline that I so often lack. (If I’m not diving into wet clay, my reflexive impulse is to just avoid the studio completely. It can be too painful to be in there and Not Doing The Thing.) I went into the studio as if I was going to start the next throwing cycle, but instead I just lingered, and tidied, and prepped, and thought. Did some all-too-rare paper journaling, which now seems like unshared blog posts instead of the other way ‘round. Trying to remember where I left off and think ahead to where I need and/or want to go next. A check of my bearings, to see if I’m still heading in a reasonable direction. Kind of a review of the upcoming terrain, too — forgotten obligations, needs of sizes and shapes to fit the next few loads, tasks remaindered to the big chalkboard and gathering negative momentum.

I’ve now so long-neglected that wrap up or summary post about my sabbatical week with Witt — and, really, so much random crap has happened since then — that I feel completely disconnected from that experience. Like it happened to another person, or that it’s a movie I watched instead of something I did. Damn, that sucks! The pots we made were still hanging about in weird spots, dispersed in ways that best suited their slow drying while I was away on fakation. So, trying not too think too much about it, I gathered them up, checked them out with sidelong glances only, started setting them in rows on the center table as if I might get around to loading a bisk soon. Assembled and rationalized like that, they make a pretty imposing group. Impressive, even. A link back to that time and a reminder of its longer term benefits. I am looking forward to finishing them off.

In a similar vein, I half-decided it was time to put away that second wheel; let go of the fairy tale and reclaim the precious square footage. Sad. As much as I’d be a miserable bastard of a permanent studio mate, I can’t deny the occasional allure of sharing a work space with someone else. It’s too bad these things are so binary; hard to have it both ways at once. Maybe that’s what Penland is for, if I was rich enough to afford it.

And then… you know how it is. Mowing, shovelling, sorting. Keeping the ever expanding pile of stuff from overwhelming daily paths. Dad business. Oh — a big round of nerd games; that was fun. Sunday; swimming; back to school.

+16

“When the butterflies turned to dust they covered my whole room.” – Taylor Swift

“They were slick, technically astonishing, and I was totally unmoved by them.” – Clary Illian

I’ve been hashing out, chatting with some potter friends, how we maintain that joy in the studio, in the midst of trying to make some of our living there, too. How to find that feeling of open-ended possibilites, and embrace risk in the face of terrifying uncertainty.

It’s tempting to think — because it would be so reassuring to believe — that there has to be a way to get into the Flow state on a regular basis. A way to aim our efforts at “deep play” and then survive the consequences of that unplanned approach; instead of joylessly grinding away at “profitability” or “sellable inventory” or “efficiency”.

But, because I’m a cyncial bastard in the midst of a cold streak, I think: does there ‘have to be a way’? And if so, why? I mean, the universe makes us few promises — without some sort of theological origin story to explain away the darkness, the only rational view is that it’s a cosmic longshot that any of us is here at all; let alone with time and resources to type and read stuff like this. And it’s not like our society and culture encourage Flow or “deep play” or anything like them; certainly not in the average American adult. More like the opposite.

Rather than that guarantee, it seems to me just as likely that all this art making is balanced on a knife edge — of accumulated-yet-faltering societal wealth, of stuttering arts education, of unsustainable institutions and the frail efforts of individiuals who mostly keep making because they can’t bear to stop.

Thinking here of that Stephen De Staebler quote I dug up back in the “barns fell… babies were born” year:

"A life without making the things that tell you who you are and what you feel... is not enough. So I make things."

Anyways, what were we talking about? I dunno.

I think — or perhaps I should say, ‘in my experience’ — OK, in my experience those pure ‘making for the sake of making’ times are the first thing to go when the going gets rough. I only really experiment in the studio in the few weeks or month right after each sale cycle. When I can ignore all the pending externalities and future threats just long enough to indulge myself. That’s pathetic and sad and maddening, but true, so I have to admit it.

Seriously, when I step back a little bit from our potters’ bubble, the rewards of what we do seem so unpredictable, and the challenges so great, it’s kind of amazing that we didn’t all succumb to mediocrity a long time ago. (Conversely, how would we know if we had?) Or even just plain quit!

I wish I could do a podcast — or better yet, a high-production-values show, like Craft in America — that documented all the failures and mishaps in our little realm. A media thing that pushed directly back at all the hero worship, success porn, and confirmation bias. I’d interview someone who was on the cusp of “making it” and then had it collapse around them, through little fault of their own. I’d detail the famous guys who died from the downstream effects of accidentally poisoning themselves with their raw materials. Find the sound of a voice with 20 years of silicosis. Investigate the back surgeries, the crushing MFA loans, the sore hands and shattered dreams.

Because, a) I love the idea of projects that are doomed from the start. b) Like wabi sabi, there is amazing beauty to be found in those sad stories. c) It would be a relief (and, counterintuitively, probably very self-aggrandizing) to be the curator of other people’s (first-world) misery, instead of my own for a while.

Let’s do a Kickstarter! Or just send me cash in the mail and I’ll fail to do anything but spend it on coffees.

+15

“We have acutely sensitive hands, but we handle the world with thick gloves and then, bored, blame it for lacking shape.” – Charles Foster

I tried, during my sabbatical week, to get some thoughts down in type, but they mostly kept eluding me. There was either simply no time to put it ahead of all the other great stuff to do — talk, throw, decorate, talk — or I was so mentally wiped once a slice of time appeared that I could barely concentrate enough to put sentences into WordPress.

Which, in my book, is fine. Trying to liveblog such a unique event is like spending an entire vacation looking through a viewfinder (back when cameras were a thing): you might capture it for your audience or posterity, but you miss most of it yourself as it’s actually happening. I opted for the happening.

A few things did slip through along the way, though, so I thought I’d jumble them in here. Apologies for the randomness (but not really).

1.

Witt is here. It’s crazy. I’m completely fading out at 9pm each night, from the nonstop looking at pots, thinking about pots, making pots, talking about how we do things, why we do things — speculating if there are even justifiable reasons as to why we do any of them. Ah, the heady intersection of pottery and philosophy! What to make next, who’s going to put the handle on which mug, if I should slaughter more of his pots with my surfaces (we just had a conversation thread about whether to call it ‘decoration’ or ‘deco’, and what those might imply; and sarcasticaly/ironically minted the horrific term ‘final finishing’). (Yes, that’s exactly how most of these conversations go. Most of them would make your ears bleed, but between he and I, it’s glorious. I mean, like podcast-worthy, several hours per day.)

He prompted Pixel to try her hand at some of our pots, and she happily slathered white slip on them, thick drips running down to the feet or bases. “Who doesn’t like drips?”, I asked. She also did a ‘final finishing’ onto the bats themselves, so the pots were stuck back down to a giant puddle of white slip. “What the heck do we do with this?”, we wondered later, after she’d retreated back to the house and Minecraft or the animal parade or an apple or something. (I was slightly tempted to just shovel the whole damn thing into the bisk, Plasti-Bat and all, to see what happened.) (Yes, it was that kind of bonkers, free form mental state going on in there. At times it was practically taking the paint off the walls.)

Pixel power!

A photo posted by Scott Cooper (@stearth) on

Later, I tried to do something similar in spirit over her slip, adding those third and fourth layers, in flashing slip and underglaze, that I’m so drawn to lately. Pixel so wants to be an equal member of our little club. I love that she’s getting to see two artists not just engaged in the studio work but having a blast at it; almost consumed by it. Witt is great at engaging with her, thoughtfully answering all her questions, encouraging her to join in. Very sweet.

St. Gillies, showing Pixel what's what.

A photo posted by Scott Cooper (@stearth) on

2.

The last month and a half since the sale are still too raw. What a clusterfuck. And even this week leading up to the big day, when I was planning to already be warmed up and humming along in the studio, all the junk from the long firing cycle and then the sale clutter and then the house debacles, when all the tools come out and scatter onto every horizontal surface. Jesus God Dammit, I so wanted for this to start on at least a blank slate, instead of the usual dumpster fire.

So that crap, and the prevailing mood/mindset of it, definitely did linger, like a background noise from some device I can’t find. If I could find it, maybe I could just turn it off. Or take the batteries out and throw it in a drawer.

Lacking that, I was hoping the blare and triumphal fanfare of this week would smother it — or even blast it out of existence — but it’s such a strong signal. I think I wore myself out in the run up to the sale: too much, too hard. Then, probably as a consequence, I got sick, then I went nuts of bad luck and projects, so I’m at the point now where I’m exhausted. Paying off the debt of time already spent on credit. It clouds my brain; makes me distracted; anxious. Mildly pissed off at the universe almost all the time, despite what’s actually happening in the moment. Gah.

For lack of a long, deep rest, I’ve been substituting liquid courage (eg. caffiene). With this brain, I fall into the old familiar trap of swapping quantity for quality, trying to cram as much into each moment as possible. So dumb.

3-

It took a few days for my six-week-plus funk to fade; all that habit of daily frustration and anger. But it finally gave way under the flow of pots off the wheel, past my brushes, onto the shelves — and, of course, the flow of amazing conversation and ideas, going almost from morning to night. I kind of needed that intensity to distract me from the other pattern, to break the negative feedback loop. Whew! Now we’re rolling.

What the huh?

A photo posted by Scott Cooper (@stearth) on

4.

And, as these things almost always go, just as we’re really hitting our stride it’s time to stop. Probably for the best; everything’s been great; I mean great! But we’re both tireder each day, and a little slower on the uptake. How many days in a row can you really have Fruity Loops and pancakes? If we had scheduled a second week, we would’ve both needed a good three day weekend in the middle here… which we undoubtedly would have screwed up and just run right through at full speed/volume. Ha. And better guest accommodations would help, too. It’s a lot to ask anyone to sleep on a mattress on the floor for more than six nights in a row.

And, the old life is calling. Ring ring. All the things I’ve gratefully put on hold, or just fucking let go to voicemail for a solid week. Gotta answer those calls now. Gotta mow, gotta earn, gotta fix; and sort and shuffle and answer and plan and sweat and fight. “Oh and now you’ve had your fun, under an incandescent sun.”

And it was fun. Worlds of fun. So great. As good as I’d not let myself really hope for, and in a lot of ways, better. Definitely the closest thing to Penland since Penland, AND now with the promise of all those fresh, crazy pots on the shelf waiting for me to finish them off; tons of new ideas and things to try, when I can; a glimmer of refreshed or expanded perspective.

My brain didn’t explode, my hair didn’t catch on fire (not that there’s much to burn there anymore), my ambition didn’t sink the ship. For now, I’m calling it a success. One more thing, perhaps just barely, where I looked an my ocean of dissatisfaction  and decided to pull the levers in another direction; to try to slowly move this enormous cargo ship of my life into a space that might matter a little better. That’s as ambitious as I get lately, but if I look past all the hell and daily drama, there are a few of those little peaks above the waves; little islets of satisfaction. I built a chimney. I levered three potter friends’ work onto my showroom shelves. I dragged my friend into our lives and my studio for a week and it was glorious.

But now, as always, life goes on, even after the magic ends. You can steer that ship, but only if you do all the scut work to keep it afloat. Earn it, then burn it. Maybe if I keep grinding and absconding and denying and trying, I — or even we — will work our way to another little slice of island magic again, a calm inside the storm, in some future week.

Maybe.

Finishing up the last of Witt's pots; listening to the YANSS podcast; wondering who stole my studio mate.

A photo posted by Scott Cooper (@stearth) on

+14

Private Witt: Do you ever feel lonely?
First Sgt. Welsh: Only around people.

W itt is coming to visit. For real. I mean, barring the kind of random catastrophe that’s become routine lately. I’m trying to keep my expectations at ground level, but… I mean… it could actually happen. Tomorrow.

This is your official notice that, henceforth, I’m changing his nickname, again. It started as Wittgenstein (too on the nose), after I carefully considered going with Diogenes (after my 20-year-old self’s favorite philosopher, as he’s the closest I’ve met in real life to that ideal). It quickly morphed to Witty (but that’s still a bit too specific; I mean, he is, but it’s not his defining characteristic). Now I’m going with just Witt.

A few reasons: 1) It sounds cool. Who wouldn’t want to be called Witt? 2) It’s short. I’ll likely be typing it a lot, so short is good. 3) It implies the same thing as “witty”, but with that weird, dangling, extra “t” at the end. 4) It’s the name of one of my favorite characters from one of my favorite movies, The Thin Red Line. He’s… well, if you haven’t seen it, I say you should, and if you have, then you already know better than I can sum him up. Let’s say: a believer in spite of abundant evidence. A questioner. A moral soldier in a pointless war.

“What’s this war in the heart of nature?”

Anyways, after seven whole years of correspondence, comments, chats, phone calls, and pot-swaps, we decided it was finally time to meet in person. And hopefully make some pots. And probably talk shit until the cows come home, like roommates in a freshmen dorm hopped up on late night caffeine and hope.

His first email to me, about two years after I started tw@se and prompted by a link to it from none other than (former blogger and sorely needing a nickname here) Brandon Phillips, arrived on 4/29/09, 6:21 AM.

(Wow, I just discovered that my Sent mail goes back to Feb 2006… I just crossed the 11 year mark of that particular slice of my personal digital archive. That’s a lot of stuff/info/crap!) (Makes me think that there are probably already A.I. composition bots that could do a reasonable facsimile of me from just that pile of words; let alone FB and web comments and chat and IM and browser history and metadata and all the rest. “I seen another world. Sometimes I think it was just my imagination.”)

That email came in right before one of my spring sales, so I replied a week later, on 5/6/09, 4:56 PM. (Probably after composing it off and on all damn day long, as I’m wont to do.)

Just for the hell of it, here it is, in it’s entirety:

Hi Carter,

Sorry for my delayed reply — the week before my sales gets pretty crazy, and I’ve been wiped out since Sunday. Thanks so much for your generous comments about my blog. I’d say that those are all things that I aspire to, but with variations in execution from week to week… But you put it very well; if I’m ever in need of a mission statement for the blog & my goals for it, I might just quote you!

Seriously, tho’, I’m glad that’s what you’re getting from it — especially the part about it being a mix of the various parts – philo, tech, aesthetic. I started out aiming at a general audience, but quickly lost track of that “voice” and just started assuming readers either had a reasonably grasp of ceramics (like other potters) or were willing to plod through some amount of more arcane, inside-baseball stuff. And I like to think that kind of mix keeps me interested – which is really important – and also makes a little something in each post for a variety of interests.

The same goes for what you say about trying to ground my opinions and put my experience in a broader context — I think it’s a worthy goal. I know it’s not very blog-like to talk in facts, and to label opinions and biases as such, but my internal alarm usually goes off when I start blathering about something that’s motivated primarily by my own ignorance or hobby horse. (I’ve got a local folder full of the more ranty, whiny, random-shouting kind of stuff — most of it should never see the light of day.) In fact, one of the surprising things I’ve found about keeping the blog is how often it makes me go back and read up on whatever I wanted to write about. It’s a lot like teaching in that regard — to really learn something, it helps to have to make a public presentation of it.

I appreciate that you’re considering your approach before diving in. Not that there’s anything wrong with the impulsive, casual approach, but I spent more than a few compute cycles thinking about what I was getting into ahead of time. I wanted — and still want! — to commit to something for a fairly long time, and to make that a balance of what I could reasonably accomplish on a regular basis vs. something worth being read (not to mention archived online essentially FOREVER). That’s how I came to the weekly format, the average length and # of photos per post, how much depth I try for in a particular topic, etc.

As for it’s use as a promotion tool — who knows? My site gets an increasing amount of traffic each month, according to Google Analytics — currently about 30 visits a day. But who that might be, and if it helps make people buy my pots, or if it will open up opportunities down the road, those are all murky. Seems like I’ve written about this on the blog, but I can’t remember when or what! Anyways, I guess I started out thinking it would be motivated 50/50 by my interest in doing it and tangible returns; here at almost the 2 year mark, I’d say it’s more like 80/20, but in the interim I’ve become so attached to it that I might continue even if those other benefits never materialize. You seem like a thoughtful person and good writer, so a similar approach might work for you. As Kurt Weiser said to me once, “Everyone I know who made pots because they wanted to make money never did, and the people who did it because they loved it came out fine.”

Wow — this has dragged out to blog post length! OK – last thing: No, sadly there’s no way to subscribe or get notified when I update the blog. Google reader (and others) use something called RSS syndication to do that; it’s a well-established web format that I should have implemented by now, but have just neglected to make the time for. You’re not the first person who’s asked, and my professional web guru associates mock me for this shortcoming on a regular basis. So, it’s on my to do list, but it’s a long, ugly list. When I get around to it, I will proclaim it loudly on the blog — until then I hope you’ll humour my old-school ways and check in on occasion. I usually post by Wednesday each week. Oh yeah, except this week… hmm… I really need to get on that…

Scott

So, you might be wondering — and by “you”, I literally mean you, Witt, because there’s no way in hell anyone else made it all the way through that and down to here — you might be wondering how’s this going to go? What are we going to do? What do I expect? How weird is it to get to know someone so well, sight unseen, for so long, then just pick them up at the airport one day?

Probably we’ll take the tour of the compound, the surrounding hinterlands, at least one trip into what passes for civilization around here. Hang out on the porch, or hide in the A/C — we could both really use a break. Fucking pottery sales. But it’s also a safe bet we’ll make pots, maybe a lot of them; possibly swap them midway through for co-op form/deco. I’d love to get some demos, ask a million questions, show off what little gear and tricks and souveniers I’ve managed to collect on my way up and down the hill. We’ll undoubtedly look at pots — from the kitchen cabinets, the living room shelves, the showroom, the Secret Stash in the studio, bisque and greenware on the shelf — handle them, examine, discuss.Maybe we’ll binge watch GoT. Maybe Pixel will let him start teaching her to throw, since she’s quite resistant to learning from me. One or both of us might go hog wild on WordPress or Instagram; then again, we might choose Internet silence. I’ll probably talk like the world depends on it; and forget that at some quantity it’s indistinguishable from noise, and probably less valuable; and will try and fail to remember that listening is more useful than speaking.

Really, I have no clue. I’m glad we’re rolling the dice on this idea, even having no clue. Sometimes magic happens when you stop looking for it so hard. Happiness is low expectations.

First Sgt. Welsh: You still believin in the beautiful light are ya? How do you do that? You’re a magician to me.
Private Witt: I still see a spark in you.

+13

“…he bleeds onto the page and then admires the pattern he leaves behind.” – Hua Hsu

I turn 45 this week, and goddamn do I hope this is at least the halfway point. I’m more tired of this life than excited about whatever’s left of it. Maybe this is just the midlife crisis talking, but that’s how it seems now.

I mean, this place sucks. The shit to shine ratio is pretty awful. (And as I said last time, I’m not, like, storming Omaha Beach or failing to cure caner. I’m just sitting here in a room at my computer.)

It’s an open question, how I’m going to get through the rest of whatever my alotted time here is. I’ve never done drugs (unless you count naproxin sodium and caffiene; in which case: GUILTY). And I’ve yet to test if I have a genetic predisposition for alcoholism. I hear heroin is nice. Maybe it’s time to start?

Blogging and my birthday have an entwined history, since I started tw@se on a birthday week, eleven years ago.* Ah… so flush with anticipation, so full of hope. A full-time stint in the studio — which had not yet revealed itself to be quite temporary — can do that to you.

And despite everything I said above, I still have that impulse to commemorate or mark the occasion. If I’ve gotta keep rolling this fucking rock up the hill, may as well distract myself by couting the reps. Or maybe I’m hoping that my recorded history can give me a clue on how to face the future? Looking for some sign that the good times in the past weren’t merely the ignorance of youth; that there’s still a chance to reassemble some shards of that enthusiasm?

Anyways; blah blah blah.

Now that tw@se is firmly in my past, I do occasionally go back and flip through it. In the right mood, I have a fondness for it; I can see the bright spots. That browsing prompts a weird dual memory: remembering the things I documented there and also, vaguely, remembering the process of wroting it, shooting and composing the images, manually schleping it all into web-format.

Right after I decided to end it, I thought I’d do some sort of “greatest hits” archival project with it; maybe a small run of a self-printed book. But it’s been 18 months and the desire still hasn’t materialized. Maybe it never will, because just as often, I follow an old link back to it, or surf it a little, and I’m dismayed at how inept it seems, or how hastily assembled, or how transitional or ephemeral the ideas that I was documenting ended up being. Perhaps it’s fine just as it is — still there, as it was, archived in place — and I’m better off going forward instead of walking backwards.

But hell, it’s my birthday, so I’m going to indulge the impulse while it’s here.

So there was that first post and the start of the blog — with an initial promise to myself to do it for a whole year — ha! That first year was a doozy: I quit being a FT potter to go back to the safety (?) of the dayjob; unexpectedly to me and kind of on the spur of the moment when the opportunity presented it. The barn dream crashed in a mighty storm; we made plans to bring a Pixel into the world.

I’ve wondered more than once about that time I got my bell rung in 2008 — stupidly working on a ladder with my head up in the studio attic during a thunderstorm; the loudest lightning strike I’ve ever heard or felt. I could practically see the subatomic particles vibrating around me like a sequence from The Matrix. Anyways, I’ve wondered if I actually died that day, and everything since has been my slog through some sort of medieval Purgatory. Ha! That’d be better, because at least there’s a happy ending (instead of a grim march to simple darkness). If this is Purgatory, maybe someday I’ll have suffered enough or sluffed off enough karmic debits to get my ticket to Nirvana punched. Yeah, right.

(The problem with that theory is it can’t explain this, which was fucking awesome. Also, if fails to account for the better aspects of parenting, and the occasional great pot from the salt kiln.)

(Also also, if this is my Purgatory, then where the heck does that leave you? See, the problem with solipsistic fantasies is that they’re so insensitive to other people’s reality.)

’09 sure sounded chipper and ready to keep fighting. Maybe we were starting to sleep again. It’s interesting to see those pots and think that I’d still be pretty satisfied to take those forms off the wheel. There are more and different things I still want to do, of course, and I’ve got a ne slate of ideas for how I’d approach those surfaces. But most of the structural details remain pretty well where they were as long as seven years ago.

Oh, then the dreaded summer of ought-ten. The less said about that one the better. “Old fears buried deep, bubbling up to the surface as reminders.” That’s code for something, and I’m still not ready to decode it for you. Sorry about that. But I will say that I’m so sick of old fears. Maybe it’s time to fly in the face of reason and do something crazy enough that it might let me swap out those old fears for some new ones.

Eleven, twelve… they all blur together now. For a couple years there, I kind of gave up on the annual “how old am I now and what does it mean?” thing.

2013 was fun, messing around with a reader roll call and my All-22; actively doubting the Googlebot; i am not a bot, i am not a bot, i am not a bot; and the whole meta feedback gimmick. Like a show about shows (Seinfeld) or a podcast about podcasts (Back to Work), blogging about blogging never gets old to do, but gets increasingly tedious to consume once the novelty has worn off. <loop>

(And speaking of which, isn’t it numerologically pleasing that this one ended up being +13?)

Huh. 2014 had an optimistic twang to it (still had?), but that was likely because my new wheel was in transit and I was clinging to the chance that switching from sitting to standing would magically solve everything. Six months later, I killed that blog. So, apparently, it didn’t.

Last year, over at Alms for Oblivion, I think I pretty much nailed it. Nothing significant has improved since then. Maybe a few minor things, yet those have been offset by new losses.

“So much muck to crawl through to get to the next moment of transcendence.” That’s pretty good. That’s better than what I wrote earlier about the shit to shine ration. I’m not sure that I have anything better to add to that. Except maybe to highlight the fact that I wrote that at the start of the summer; still blissfully unaware of how much worse it would get soon afterwards. I even followed that post up with an attempt at a brave face, a little sliver of hope at the idea of breaking ground on my new kiln. (Spoiler: I didn’t. I still haven’t. It’s looking likely that I won’t this year, either.)

I mean, last summer sucked. Historically bad. After those two posts, we had two expensive, time-consuming house snafus. (One per summer is the average, and that one is almost always over budget; two was a disaster.) Then more critters. Ah, life in the country. So much less than it was cracked up to be. And then I blew out my back at the end of June; again; again.

That cancelled the kiln building plan — the backhoe was literally parked behind my studio, ready to start digging. With it went my sense that there was any chance of forward momentum. I nearly lost my mind with dread and panic that KTD and abandoning the treadle and all of it hadn’t been enough and I was going to have to quit making pots.

I didn’t — at least not yet — but that recovery and learning new tricks and rehabbing my spine at PT and the gym ate the rest of the summer. I was six weeks off the wheel, where I’d planned to be nothing but on it. So yeah — all those things combined absolutely destroyed my summer in the studio last year. No wonder I was in a rush to get pots on the shelves last fall, and again this spring. No wonder I’m pissed off to find, yet again, that it keeps falling to last priority and getting cut.

Let’s see — where am I going with this? I don’t want to just bitch and moan at you. I mean, I do, but I also don’t. That was a fun, refresher trip through time, but where does it leave us now?

Settle for less, try harder? How much less is enough?

Water bugs, trout below? What about when the trout have ripped your feet off and you’re treading water with the bloody stumps?

I have not yet given up? Really? Haven’t I, though? How would I know?

The only way out is through? Well, duh. But through how?

All those taglines, so many rallying cries, and still no rally. Fuck me.

So: 45. Yay! Maybe I’ll blog at you about it again next year. This whole thing now seems like a pointless waste. Maybe I should go against my instincts and just delete it. Or keep it as a private journal entry. Probably should. Probably won’t. Oh well.

* For the record, my blogging history goes back even farther than that. Here’s a similar sentiment that I wrote in 2006:

“Good artists never retire; they just die trying to make next month's house payment.”

And I had a proto-blog even earlier than that — 2002 — called Rare Earth, but I took it offline when I redesigned my St. Earth site last year.

+12

“Hung my head as I lost the war and the sky turned black like a perfect storm.” – Taylor Swift

Another run of bad luck — one mini-crisis after another — is conspiring to keep me out of the studio. It makes me mad at the world. Pissed off at myself for letting too many things slide out of view while I had on my sale blinders. Frustrated that I know what I want to make next, but I keep having to wait to get to make it. Already anxious that if I fall behind, November will be a repeat of April, and April pretty much beat me to a pulp.

This is nothing new. Most every sale cycle — 32 of them so far — creates a long lag between working at the wheel. It takes me forever to glaze and fire. The sale itself is a multi-week event, including the promo, setup, weekend, teardown and follow-through. So each time I watch the steadily-retreating thread of momentum and continuity with wet clay; I stand paralyzed and furious that I can’t chase it before it slips around a corner and is lost again. Starting from scratch is so hard. I hate it.

Priorities; traumas; conflicting agendas; promises. Legos. Maintenance. A million chinks in my armor of health. Some great reward for diligently working my ass off for months and months to pull off the sale. Why would I think there’d be a reward? Oh, I lied to myself that there would be, as a goad to grinding day after day after day for so long.

“Band aids don’t fix bullet holes. You say sorry just for show. You live like that, you live with ghosts.” (Yeah, so I pretty much know all the lyrics to 1989 now. Sue me.)

On top of all the other shit, it seems that every year around this time we have to have the whole “can we last here another year?” debate. The Admiral and I. Our budget has been stretched like a paper-thin porcelain wall for years now; it could collapse under its own weight and the steady spin of inertia at any moment. It’s sickening how fragile it is. I blame myself for not being a better or more conscientious thrower, then I think back to the hundreds of things I’ve done to try to get better or do more and yet it seems to be never enough. This house eats money for breakfast. It was probably more than we could ever afford, and now I wonder how we’ll know if it’s finally crossed the virtual line in the sand from which there’s no return?

Yeah, I’ve still got the part-time job. “Only” the part-time job. I hear you. I’m not soliciting your pity. (As I’ve said before, I’m well aware tha there are 6.9 billion people who’ve currently got it worse than me, not to mention winning the historical lottery at birth.) Sure I could add a second one; or hustle to freelance on the side (and it’s not as if I haven’t been); or trade back to a full-time gig at the U. I could do those things. And that’d be the end of me.

I’d rather sell the house; or downgrade to a place with less studio and no salt kiln; or retreat to an apartment for a few years; or almost anything than go back to being that person. God, we were so naive when we moved here 11 years ago. So many dreams, so little substance. “I’ll be a full-time potter!” “Let’s fix up the barn!” Always trying to have more than we can reasonably hold.

So that was fun, right? Veering pretty hard into Alms territory here, which isn’t exactly holding up my end of our stated bargain. OK, I’ll leave it at that for now, but that’s what’s up. News flash: everybody’s got money problems, even me.

No time in the studio since I made that first tiny group of mugs; maybe more coming this weekend. Maybe. But I’ve been settling accounts and shipping out a few pots and tending to all the post-sale tasks, and preparing the ground for the next crop.

Bowls order, shipping out!

A photo posted by Scott Cooper (@stearth) on

I went up to W. Lafayette to pick up 800# of new clay last week. It’s a long haul, but Standard is so much better than Amaco; not even in the same universe. Worth it. I got 50/50 porcelain and stoneware, plus a box each of two Jack Troy clays that I’m curious about. Will be interesting to see how they’re different. Like the Turner Porcelain that I tested years ago (which was lovely, but just a little too flimsy for me at ∆10 1/2), I admire the man so much that I can only imagine his choice of clays as being wonderful. Optimism strikes again.

The new owner of the clay supply business pointed out that the clays I order are pretty much the most expensive ones that Standard makes, which gave me one of those proud/mortified grins. Proud that without ever even looking at the price per pound, and trying at least 8 different bodies, I detected the finest and best and most subtle property differences. Embarrassed because of the paragraphs 4-6, above. Pleased, later on as I was reflecting on this one morning at 5:30 while stretching my shitty spine, that without even trying I stumbled into fulfilling Clary’s “your materials must be of jewel-like quality” directive. What’s a few more cents (or dimes; or quarters) per pound of clay when everything depends on it? What’s the cost of the way that light passes through a glaze and bounces back off the clay wall just so? Or the feel of the bottom of a cup? Or the exact shade of yellowish-ochre-brown in the slightly dry flashed back spot inside a handle? What’s the cost? Everything?

“And now I know we’ve got problems. And I don’t think we can solve them.”

+11

“…vain opinions, flattering hopes, false valuations, imaginations as one would, and the like…” – Francis Bacon

“It is beautiful beneath the sea. But if you stay too long, you’ll drown.” – The Three-eyed Raven

“Don’t run around with a bucket of lava in your hand.” – Minecraft Wiki

“It’s time to walk the left hand path, Richard.” – Bertram Gilfoyle

start

I’m doing that thing again. The one where I hoard little scribbled bits of blog stuff; unpurified ore; vainglorious hopes still in their roughest form. They piled up in the run up to my sale, because I was losing my shit (even more than usual) and didn’t trust myself to make any of them public. Afterwards, I fell into the sick pit, and all kinds of other rocks and crap that I’d just barely held at bay, to meet the deadline, came falling back in on me. I try not to post from the bottom of the hole.

So here’s the connundrum, though: unless I get this stuff off my scratchpad, it’s going to linger there, like a phantom limb. LIke I’ve got something waiting on my Clipboard that needs to be pasted somewhere, but I’ve momentarily forgot what it was, why it was important, and where it was supposed to be going. Brain = bad computer. These little postlets exist in my mind, queued up in my blogging thread, and it can’t progress without marking them for permanent deletion or setting them free to run. And I can’t bring myself to kill ‘em. I’ve gotta let it go.

Well, luckily for me, it makes no difference if anyone actually reads it. Luckily for you, that means you can skip this one with impunity, in its inane length and roughshod ramble. (+jesus god what an awful sentence+) I’m sure I’ll loop back to all these topics again in some form or other later, and probably better.

OK, you’ve been warned — this one’s going to be bonkers.

old[er] intro

Sale’s done. Wow, I feel like a sack of garbage today. Don’t want to write; don’t want to think; don’t want to act. I got insta-sick after my sale; like almost the next day. I guess I stole too many hours there; ran out of clock.

Two months of cramming at 100% for the sale and this is what I get. Nice fucking victory lap. No reward for the stupid.

I put on my blinders twice a year to get to and through the sale. It’s so fucking hard to pull it off each time. I always end up behind schedule; I always try to do too much; something else, totally unrelated but unavoidable, always seems to pop up at the worst timing. Then, often just hours afterwards, the blinders get torn off my face and I see all the stuff waiting for me that I’ve neglected, delayed, ignored. It’s not good, Scott. It’s not good. Yikes.

sale blog sale blog

One of the worst parts of keeping a weekly blog all those years was right before and right after my bi-annual sales. I often punted or cheated — just a quick promotional reminder before it, and skipped the week after, or resorted to an image and a quote, or something quick like that. But even so, the week before the week before and after the week after were often still a bad blog slog. Too little brainpower to know what I wanted to say, or to say it well; too little time to squeeze it in without just burning myself out more in the process.

So it is nice here in DL land to feel relieved of that burden. With this pleasant reframing of my self-imposed rules, I get to come back to it when and as I can, and not feel like I have to narrate everything that happened; or maintain continuity to the “story”; or explain away all the high and low points; or philosophize on what it all might mean for me now or you later or everyone forever or whatever.

Like my Dream, that approach to blogging was shooting just a little higher than I could reliably hit. Also like the Dream, I’m glad I eventually found the wisdom to let it go.

sale schmale

Sale today: 10-4. A great selection of pots for Mother's Day.

A photo posted by Scott Cooper (@stearth) on

So let’s see: my pots — about 80 of them — sold for an average of $34.42 each. My guest potters’ pots — about 20 of them, and boy do I wish it had been more – sold for an average of $30.91 each. As with every metric in my “business”, that’s a terribly small sample size, and so I remind myself not to make too much of it. But it’s a weird and seemingly outsized difference, and I’m not sure what it might mean or represent. Strange.

While I was mostly pleased with the result of the guest potters experiment — man, what a risk! — I do wish I’d sold more of their pots. I’d even have been happy to exchange some of my sales for more of theirs. Of course, I hope to sell ‘em all eventually. There are still some excellent ones left. I was glad that all three agreed to let their inventory roll through the summer and into my next sale.

Either way, now I know what that gallery owner meant when he said his happiest day of the month is the day he writes out checks to his artists — that is a good feeling. And despite the relatively small totals, I’m still inordinately proud of my 0% commission. Take that, capitalism.

jam cram

So I jammed in a 5th firing right before my sale, even though I technically had “enough” pots after the guys sent theirs. I didn’t cut that last firing mostly because I just really wanted to do it — to prove to myself I could go on overdrive for a while longer, to “complete” the plan I’d made up in my head months before, to capitalize on the momentum with the new chimney… I guess also to help myself feel better about the sale inventory with the most recent pots, and the best firing results, on the shelves on Saturday at 10am.

Spring sale: today 10-4

A photo posted by Scott Cooper (@stearth) on

But in hindsight, it probably wasn’t worth it. It was probably too much. It didn’t make a big difference in the sale results; maybe more a difference in perception than anything, because that last batch of pots were most of the new vases and the only domino patterns in the room. Some of those pots sold, and those that didn’t helped make the display overall more impressive. But most didn’t sell, as usual, and the totals would likely have been similar without them.

That last firing cycle really wiped me out and made me crazy at the end there — I almost lost it during setup week. In retropsect, that was time and energy I didn’t have left to give; I borrowed it, stole it, at interest, and have to pay it off now. Living on credit sucks.

KTD

When I hang out with veteran full-time potters — those rare people who’ve actually made a career out of it and make pots I respect — I get the sense that they’re like wild animals. They’re the wolves sniffing around the door in the middle of the night, and I’m the dog, meekly curled up on my pillow by the hearth.

Or trees — yeah, let’s go with trees. They are those few that have managed to survive, year after year, through every blizzard and drought, howling windstorm and creeping vine. The mightiest oaks; the tallest birches. In contrast, I’m an ailing Bonsai; spindly and unimpressive, only significant relative to the scale of my little dish.

Were they made of stronger stuff to begin with, I wonder? Is it simply a matter of better seeds? Or did they get lucky, and land in a friendlier spot, or avoid the rage of the forest fire that knocked me flat? Or, worse yet for me, is it simply that they sought out harder places to drive their roots down, that they strained more to reach the sunlight, that they chose to get by with less water, even when it was plentiful? Because if so, as laudible as those things are, it means my dogness or my Bonsainess are my own damn fault.

minecrafting

After holding it at bay for a long time, wary of the rumors of its allure, I dropped $15 on a post-sale reward of Minecraft for PS3. (Yes, I’ll confess here that I’ve been completely entranced by console video games for the last 20 years. Why not? How can your opinion of me possibly sink any lower? All that time, I’ve almost always had a game ongoing in the background. I usually find one and then obsess over it, playing it until there’s no fun left to be wrung out of its pathetic little codebase. There’ve been more lulls since M was born than there used to be, but still, when I get my teeth into something new, it’s wonderful, and great way to distract myself while I rest my back during studio breaks, or at the end of a long day. Yadda yadda.)

Anyways, part of my rationale/justification for getting this game was thinking that it might be a good entry point for M. She likes iPad games — with the kid-friendly and very intuitive touch interface — but she’s only watched other kids play with the more complex controllers. Those 18+ buttons can be a little intimidating, and she seemed to be thinking she couldn’t do it, like soccer with the boys at recess. I can live without her playing soccer, but video games? Oh hell no.

So I turned it on, she recognized the game from watching a friend’s older brother play at their house. She was excited right away. I walked her through the briefest of demos in Creative mode, explained a few buttons, and off she went. Within a minute she was unintentionally digging straight down, a 200 foot deep shaft, stuck at the bottom and couldn’t figure out how to even look up, or where up was. Hmm. I had to laugh, as it brought to mind the old joke about what to do when you find yourself in a hole.

We eventually got that sorted out, and now a couple weeks later she’s zipping around like a pro, building 10,000 foot towers and pimping out her house made of birch, gold and emerald ore. She wants to play a lot longer than her proscribed “screen time” allows.

Oh, just in case you don’t know the punchline: Stop digging.

where I’m going next

Cups from #71.

A photo posted by Scott Cooper (@stearth) on

Right now I’m most interested in really thick sections of glaze — trying for heavy drips, glazes pulling on slips and underglaze, and glass pooling in texture. I just started trying doing some of all of those on the same pot, and some of those cups were the best of the last cycle. Which is super cool, because making them felt like taking the longest stride into unknown territory — I usually edge in very slowly, one cautious toe at a time. It’s rewarding to go for it like that and get a payoff.

To me, my clays in salt are so nice just bare, both the porcelain and stoneware. I like even the little hints of flashing or extremely subtle changes in texture from varying amounts of salt gloss. But if the whole pot is just that it has a similar monotone, austere feel as what I was getting from porcelain in reduction. I’m really excited by the layering and craziness of stacking lots of competing elements together. (Probably too many, but I’m going to try going too far to find out how far is enough.) For a long time I was a Leach-MacKenzie school acolyte, trying not to let surface compete with form too much; aiming for simple lines and relatively stable monochrome glazes, that depended on the forms being terrific. Often, mine weren’t, and those pots are really disappointing. Like I shot for the middle and still missed.

Another way of looking at that is to say my temmoku quota ran out, and now I feel like home is stamping and carving and pouring slip and having a brush in my hand. The version of me 15 years ago would be astonished at that change.

secret stash

My new iFriend Oats* said,

“I keep certain pots around for a while because I’m still studying them to see where the work goes forward from it… the thing missing from a photograph is how it feels to hold and handle.”

I do this, too. Now more than ever. My “secret stash” started as a huge indulgence that I only realized in the last few years is actually a necessity. I only give them up for sale when that shelf is so jammed full that nothing new will fit. Maybe I’ll post of photo of that shelf sometime.

I realized the same thing about photos a few years ago, too; how much less a photo can capture than having the actual pot in hand — duh! Why did that take me so long? So now I don’t hesitate to keep the unusual or most successful ones around for a while. Having those examples really helps me focus and find a re-entry point at the start of a new making cycle, after what’s usually a long break for sale time, etc.

pace, race, rats

In this brief moment after my sale (despite the despair-inducing illness), I do have this moment’s pause where I wonder if it’s possible to prevent that the next time around by just diving back in at a steady pace and trying to build up some ‘ahead of the curve’ reserve? My inner (and outer) skeptic says, no: that I’m too burned out from just doing it to keep going, that ‘getting ahead’ is a fantasy, that any ‘savings’ I might build up will just be spent by unexpected debits in the next cycle; or that even if I were to magically “get ahead”, my ambition would creep in and make me commit to more than I could comfortably achieve anyways.

Also, I worry that each marathon session actually grinds me away a little, in the long term — my health, my brain, my will — so that what seems worth it in the immediate goal is actually going to turn out getting me less of what I want over the next 4+ decades. Ugh.

site fight

When I solicited his reaction to my website redesign last year, C/Socrates/Witty objected (mildly) to the main link labeled “SCRAPS”. I’ve decided he was right. That’s too clever for it’s own good, kind of dumb, and — since Studio Sales really needs to be a top item — I should just consolidate the “scraps” stuff into other places and move Studio Sales up. I think it’s an improvement!

inter-view

A prof at the U and long-term buyer of my pots, asked me to coffee to talk about some stuff he’s writing about. It was a blast. I most likely blathered on a lot more than was actually useful, but I really enjoyed having to think it through and answer questions on the spot. (Despite my raging cold.) I realized afterwards that I don’t talk about these things very often any more — I write about them occasionally — and so I was surprised at how hard it was to answer some of his questions. I may have been completely incoherent!

Some of the other makers he’s interviewed tend to identify other people with the “Artist” label, but not themselves. I seem to do that too, and the more I think about it, the more I doubt that’s a very helpful or useful perspective. Kind of an old crutch, actually. Seeing that slight of hand done by other people actually makes it seem kind of juvenile; more like a defense-mechanism construct than a rational, supportable position.

Also, I realized after describing the whole ceramics “Art vs Craft” debate and pottery vs sculpture and conceptual vs utilitarian and idea vs beauty, blah blah blah, that all my academic training and such that fuels all those perspectives is now going on 25 years ago. That’s fucking forever! Perhaps it’s time I just let it go and moved on on my own terms?

show-case

The Old Gods & The New have requested an ART gallery, so we shall have an ART gallery. Maybe. Sort of. But well-meaning and generous people requested my help with it, so I hauled a small batch of post-sale pots to town for the showcase bit; kind of a reverse dog and pony show, if you know what I mean. No sales, but EXPOSURE. Ah… the ever-popular, evergreen E word. Really, I’m not as cynical about this one as I make it sound; it would be better than nothing. Whether those Gods can actually spin it in a way that’s worth my while to participate — eg. subsidize that fucker so that the ART gallery’s take is south of 30% — is yet unknown. Probably unlikely. But ya never know. Yay, exposure.

balance

My buddy Change-Master said,

”It’s all a balance. Give and take.”

To which I said, Yeah, man. Exactly. I don’t know why it takes a good 15-20 years in clay to figure this out, but it sure did for me.

Sometimes we give a little on the form to get the glaze to do just what we want. Sometimes we accept a slightly less than stellar glaze result to fit a few more pots on a specific shelf. Sometimes we give up money to make more of the pots we really, really want to make, even though they don’t sell well.

Mostly, it seems to me, we give more of our time and attention and caring to do all the little things in just the way they demand to be done. We’re not the first potters to bow to the fussy demands of white-firing clays. There’s an honorable tradition in bending our will to theirs’.

kiln redux

J/Archimedes came back to weld the bracing on my new chimney. It made it through two months, five firings and unknown quantities of howling winds, rain and hail without tumbling back to earth. Gratefully. So this is more of a long-term safety rail; where god please let ‘long term’ mean something less than three more years of fighting this little bastard until I get a new kiln.

close

So… So.

I’ve got a clay order to pick up from my new-ish supplier. Half porcelain and half stoneware; a resupply for when Witty comes for our two-man Potterypalooza next month. I think my brain will explode. And I wanted plenty of material around to catch the splatters when it does.

I’m desperate to get back to the wheel already, but… hours. Sick. Other obligations. Goddammnit. Maybe, eventually, somehow. Maybe next week. A little.

Anyways… things I think about.

  • NOTE: I’m changing up my convention for other peoples’ names here. Thus far, I’ve just used first initials, which I saw once on this blog I loved,IzzlePfaff. (Back in the day when blogs were still a thing). Oh, whatever happened to you, Mr. Skot? That blog rarely failed to amuse me; written by a guy stuck in a job as a cancer researcher, whiling away his time prejudging bad movies while trying to prop up a side career in experimental theater. Circa 2005, that was way too close to home for me for it not to resonate. And at the end there, 2008 or 9-ish, he helped get me through some of those maddening 3am new Dad sleep deserts.
  • I mean, check this out:
  • “Frankly, this year has been a huge pile of shit on pretty much all fronts (to the extent that a huge pile of shit can make crafty tactical maneuvers), and it's been a little demoralizing and a lot making-Skot-not-feel-like-doing-much-ish.”

  • "Crafty tactical maneuvers!" Oh god.
  • Oh, and I realize now that I completely stole his “tens of fans” idea. Sorry, Skot!
  • Anyways, his first initials approach fulfills a few useful criteria, towards the goal of not punishing the innocent bystanders in my life by pulling them into the churn of my ongoing psuedo-autobiography:

    1) Easy for me to implement. While writing, just omit the other letters of the name you were about to type.

    2) Gives reasonably good anonymity if you don’t actually know me, but is more decipherable the more you do. That’s a nice balance, and makes a fun little game for actual friends, trying to sort out who’s whom.
  • The problem with it, though, which I see now after running with it for a while, is that they’re super clunky to read. They were super clunky on that blog I loved, too, but I was willing to look past it. I’ve also discovered that it’s super confusing when more than one person’s name begins with the same letter. (eg. My wife and my best iPal are both Cs. That’s no schema to base a life story around!)
  • So instead I’m changing to using nicknames. This is another convention that I saw best used in this series I Suck At Footballoh, where are you now, Alex Pappademas? That was so great! - insert about two hours of Googling and catching up on Alex Pappademas — which I highly recommend even if you’re not into sports or are merely football-adjacent, because the writing is so good, and he takes a great pass at explaining and trying to get into a thing that everyone else seems to be into but he’s not. I should read the whole thing again. It’s terrific.
  • Anyways, he wrote, “ all names of real people… have been replaced with those of noteworthy physicists”, which I thought was both brilliant and funny, especially since they mostly sat around in bars bemoaning the fate of the Cincinnati Bengals.
  • So I’m going to try to come up with nicknames for my people as they pop up here, and then put in the effort — for you, dear reader! - to keep them consistent. It’d be funny to do them all as philosophers, but my philosophy knowledge is so limited that the gimmick would run dry really fast. I’ll probably just resort to some pretentious mix of historical figures, pop culture references, and nonsense haberdashery.
  • For example, my builder/fixer/contractor extraordinare J is herewith Archimedes. (Because he’s got all the levers and knows how to use them.) My wife is The Admiral, for reasons which may become clear later, but probably won’t. Pixel will remain Pixel, because, fuck, shit, I mean, how do you come up with a better name than that? My former-philosopher/now-potter friend C definitely needs a PHILO name, but it’s tough deciding which one to choose. Diogenes? Doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, however appropriate it may be. Socrates?(But, of course, pronounced in my head like the Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure version?) Funny, but pretty obvious. Witty? (Short for Wittgenstein.) Hmm. Maybe. I’m pretty sure he’ll weigh in on this.
  • Maybe I’ll eventually add a dramatis personae page in the meta section. That’d be fun. And surely a real crowd pleaser.


.

+10

“You made a space where you could explore where you want to go as an artist.” – Marc Maron

# 72.

A photo posted by Scott Cooper (@stearth) on

There’s this one pot from today’s kiln; the last one of the cycle. It’s not in this photo, and I’m not going to show it to you now. That would probably kind of kill what I want to tell you about it, or at least distract and reduce clarity.

I always save the best pots for the last firing, when everything is as worked out and dialed in as it’s ever going to get. So the odds of a special one coming out are improved. But still… I mean — this pot. Holy shit it’s good. I guess I could say it’s such and such clay, and glaze X, and this surface treatment and that place in the kiln, yadda yadda, but that’s not the crucial thing. The crucial thing is this one pot makes it all worthwhile, the entire cycle going back to those first hesitant ramblings the week after my last sale in December. All the struggle with changing the kiln, fighting the burner, five loadings under threatening clouds and middle of the night candlings and early risings and long, focused attention.

It’s, right now, the best I can throw, in the hardest material. It was the best of a new run of a completely different thing, which felt exciting and risky and kind of bonkers to even be trying, let alone a complete rejection of the idea of scarce time and looming deadlines. Some of the last month was so nuts precisely because I allowed myself to risk and linger on those back in January. I gave it the most dynamic, variable glaze, and it fired perfectly, interacting with that new idea/technique/method in a way I hadn’t even imagined it could do. I mean, it’s just… Forgive the hyperbole, but right now it’s everything. I fall in love with my newest pots and their value to me, while they’re new, is insanely more than it would be to anyone else. This little pot, which will eventually go for maybe fifty bucks, right now I wouldn’t take $500 for it. No way, no hay.

Anyways, I just want to tell you that while it was fresh. Now I’ve got to go brick the door up before the last of the light fades. So it goes.

p.s. As I was literally sliding the last bricks in place, a rumble of thunder and the first hard patter of rain on the metal roofs. A poetic, fitting ending to six weeks of chasing the good holes in the weather, running from the rain, obsessing about the wind and freaking about keeping my kiln shelves and raw glazes dry. The weather gods and the kiln gods get together and write good jokes about potters.

+9

And the sky was the color of clay.” – Sting

5:50am on a Friday. #72 / 5 of 5 is at 660F. Glimmer of first light, coffee, Very Quiet playlist on; full of almost tearjerkers.

C & M still asleep, world still asleep. Just me and flashlights and sketchpad and the pyrometer. I could mark out three months of ideas in an hour; crazy; how the mind races ahead. Terrible at living in the moment, and yet unexpectedly, an ultra rare moment of deep gratitude. The time- and labor-worn curve of my wedging block, beauty like I hope to fall into with my best pots. The soft roar of the burner filling with air just outside the windows. The sound of more cars on the gravel than usual, because the railroad crossing is closed.

Grateful that I prepped salt yesterday, and cut myself some paths through the grass. That I saved the best pots for last, and that these ones that I rushed and crammed and stole out of thin air just a couple weeks ago and now on their way to becoming real. That I went to bed early, and fell back asleep at 1:30 after turning the burner on. That it’s finally not cold for this. Going to be perfect firing weather today.

Almost done firing, almost done with another half year cycle, almost done with feeling like I have to cram and hustle every hour, at least for a little while. BIG FUN scheduled for May. And another one for June. And another one in July. Wow, too much fun.

And as much as I’ve trained myself, told myself, to learn the lessons of the past and not buy into future hopes, those still get past my defenses. They won’t be perfect, but they might be great. God, just slightly better than the average grind and dread would be a relief.

But also, a little sadness that I don’t get to glaze anymore for a while? Regret that I’ll forget where my kiln wash bucket is, again, or the nuances of every little fused together door brick and how they fit back into the puzzle. That amber celadon is best in zones C, D and E, and is the only glaze that can go in F, and even there, spaced generously off the back wall. As hard as its been, I thrive on the comfort of deep repetition; of getting to know the thing I’m doing so well that at times I get the luxury of not having to think about what I’m doing and yet still doing it well.

Trust in my kiln again (or for the first time ever?). In the brick stack to pull me through to the end, in my hard-won stockpiled RAM of details — on the last firing I can almost do it all by feel, the patterns and routine are so pleasingly locked in. Maybe I can even nap a little later on today, without nagging fear? Huh? Well… Maybe. As soon as you let your guard down, that’s when they hit you.

A beautiful variety — and quantity — of pots arriving. So encouraging to like them better in the flesh than I already did on the web. Confirms my faint faith that all the blah blah blah about living with them and humble details and real objects in the hand is actually a thing worth fighting for. It means so much that they’re from people I consider friends. I know what they’re up to, going for, hoping for, in their work. Mostly the same things as me. I hope a lot of people come so I can proselytize that view from a different range of perspectives. Maybe some of it will stick in new or useful ways. Or maybe no one will come at all, it’ll be a snoozer, and I’ll have to backtrack to CG and RP and BP with apologies and regrets. The whole range is possible, as always. As always.

Alright — enough indulgent gazing at yourself in the proverbial mirror. Quartz is almost done. Time to put on day clothes and seal up those cracks; get the girl ready for school; keep running down the list of peripheral tasks. Time is still very, very short.

# 72

A photo posted by Scott Cooper (@stearth) on

+8

“When you thwart what’s real about you, in order to keep creating content for a financial need, you’re just not gonna make it.” – Louis CK

1522F @ 9am. Mug by St. Earth.

A photo posted by Scott Cooper (@stearth) on

Number 71 is in The Neitherlands; that magical, spooky, quantum in-between state of neither here nor there. They’re gone but not yet arrived. 850 degrees Farenheit may as well be the other side of the moon.

That’s two firings in a row on good weather days; almost zero wind. No more backburning, no more heart-stopping pilot blowouts. Also no stoking, no endless waiting around and hoping it will climb. That W knows his stuff, man. Possibly the best money in ceramics that I ever spent. And, weirdly, having a functional, predictable kiln has actually turbocharged my desire to get on with it and build the new kiln — to have the same kind of consistency and reliability, but in more efficient quantities (and without rushing and hiding from passing rainclouds like they’re the plague). I have zero ide if that’s even a remotely reasonable goal for this year; got so close to pouring the slab and starting the shed last summer, but randomness and the potential for minor catastrophe reign over all.

Promo for the sale is gearing up. I did the “reveal” about my guest potters last week (via FB, because where else do people get their news). Cards arrived and look good: a few hundred stamps, stickers and labels to do. Designed and ordered some signs to put out on the nearby roads — something I avoided doing for a decade, but finally decided it’s worth trying. Going to print a new one on canvas to go in the welded old Geil burner ring frame that the inimitable J made for me last December.

First batch of guest pots arrived and they’re even better than I hoped. So strange that this is the first time I’ve seen C’s pots in quantity, after being best friends on the Internet for years. Looking forward to the other two — kind of similar in that I own and love at least a few (4? 6?) pots by each of them, but have never seen a group of 20 in person. Huh. If I didn’t have virtual friends, I’d hardly have any friends at all.  Good thing I can call on them in a pinch.

Got the last, 2/3 full bisk going this morning. I really wanted these pots for the sale, so I crammed in the making last week, and speed rushed the drying, and will just barely get them out in time to glaze for number 72 this week. Once again, I see exactly one day of acceptable weather in the forecast, so it’s going to be tight and all the pieces will have to fit together just right. Luck.

Had a good technical discussion with M and B, about blistering glazes and all the ways they can pop up. I had a terrible run of this last year, and they helped me change up my crash cool and shutdown schedule to allow those sensitive glazes more time to settle down before freezing. (Yes, autocorrect: I did mean “Seattle down”. FFS; computers.) Still a few occurrences of it, but I think getting all the SiC dust off the shelves better, and trying to keep that amber glaze away from the edges will help.

Also had a really useful, interesting chat with R and C about blogging; pottery blogs; the ifs and whys and what firs. I freaking love those meta discussions, almost as much as the activity itself. It seems a perpetually open question, even almost ten years and three or four various iterations of it in. Hell, I’m questioning this right now. Like if I should even push it out of Schrodinger’s box, or leave it an indeterminate Draft.

Ah heck — Game of Thrones is back on tonight. Valar Morghulis.

+7

“It may not be good, but there are no lies in it.” – Ethan Hawke

So firing 70 was good. Maybe my prostrating and carefully jinx-free statements sufficiently placated the kiln gods. Or maybe drilling out the pilot burner head was a long time coming, and had finally hit the breaking point, and I successfully reset that clock. Or maybe it just wasn’t so fucking windy this time.

Maybe some of all the above. Maybe none of it.

It occurs to me that every glaze firing is a series of questions. Aesthetic questions, technical questions, strategic questions. Questions written out in the vocabulary of three dimensional, semi-refractory materials. And fire. And time.

Like:

Will these porcelain vases fit under an 8” brick instead of 7”? And if so, do I have a corresponding set of 5” posts, so I can lower the shelf above to match? And can I get them all in the middle and back, since they bloat in the front? And if so, what’s going in front? I’m out of tall stoneware stuff? More stacks? Ugh… have I worn out this stacks idea or am I just tired of it?

Will this glaze work in zone D? Is this new batch of amber celadon the same consistency as the old one; and what’s the point of a hydrometer when I only have a cupfull of glaze left? Why am I still getting blistering in some spots? Goddamn ceramic supervirus is what that is. If I cool off from peak temp a little slower, or in a few stages, will that fix it? Or just change other variables, like clay and slip colors? If I’m reducing more with the new stack, does it matter if it’s early reduction vs. late reduction? Which does each of those effect? How could I find out without bugging yet another “friend” on the Internet?

What are my glazes going to do with all these holes? I mean, could it actually work to get some of them to fill in with glaze? Celadon, more likely, because it’s running more lately… not sure why Amber isn’t. Maybe it’s that thinned batch, from when I was getting all that damn blistering. Oh — hold the phone — what about GR2BLK? Now that could be stellar. Or terrible; it’s hit or miss on #257. OK, let’s compromise and I’ll just test it. I didn’t like this vase when I made it — a throw away why the hell not experiment — so why not sacrifice it as a test, too? So: two amber, on celadon. Yeah? Dumb? Maybe.

How thick to repeat just that much drip and bleed? A second longer? Two? Or same plus a little sweeter on the rim? And with so little Amber left, can I just brush in some of the spots I can’t dip? That probably won’t work, right? I’m doing it anyways. [ed. note: It didn’t work.] Shit — can I possibly get it loaded in time to mix up a new batch, so I can test it in this one and then have it available in #71, if it works? I really need to do that. Shit.

Wait — do I even like this pattern anymore? Am I a pattern-seeking, path of least resistance robot when I try to just get it all done quick like this? At what cost, Scott, at what cost? Dummy. Why is my greenware slip more reddish-orange now and is that OK, or do I need to work to get it back to mostly white? I deliberately did a lot more surface deco at the green stage this winter, but now I’m hardly using any of my bisk “75/25” flashing slip, and I love that slip. Is that a mistake? And why didn’t I make any domino patterns yet — I still love domino pattern — and how in the hell did my making cycle just end so abruptly and what was I thinking back in March?

Also how did I manage to get out of the waxing rut? I mean, it seems like I used to spend hours waxing. Maybe that first firing — of considering them all to be lambs to the slaughter of the new stack, and not caring so much exactly where the liner glaze got to — trained me to just do it better, or to be OK with wiping it off, or leaving those stray drips as process marks? Can I really plan, glaze and wad an entire load in a single day?

Can I scrape the wash off that kiln shelf and flip it without spitting specs of it on half the load? And if I do, will that awful warp gradually flatten out, or will it just crack? And is the risk of that worth getting this one, that’s still perfectly flat but has two nauseating cracks that have almost come together at the center, out of the rotation?

So did the drilling fix the burner? Because that was a stressful pain in the ass. I’m so awful with mechanical stuff. Hilariously bad. Lucky I didn’t snap something wrestling with those two pipe wrenches after a completely exhausting day at 8 at night. Or drill a fucking hole in my hand or something. Will it stay on this time? Will the wind forecast be accurate when it matters? Will that change the heat distribution in the kiln, and if so, how? Do I even care about my 3+ cone difference, if almost all the pots are good? How does more BTUs through the burner relate to the damper setting? And the wind, right? Open more if it’s calm? But what about barometric pressure? And the flame path through the slightly different shelf stack? And… I don’t know, Libras and moonbeams and shit?

Am I crazy, or has the new stack shifted a little? I mean, away from the kiln? Is it still plumb? If not, do I really want to go get my level and find out? (And when will I have time to get more gravel to spread around here, before the spring grass consumes everything?) Should I bother to replace this roof metal; eleven years old and going; or just ride it out two or three more years? (What’s the ROI on anything when the hourly wage is slightly above indentured servitude?)

Should I set my alarm for 3am, to go candle the pilot? Or will I wake up to pee? (Who am I kidding?) Where did I have the damper set at this point last time? Why is it only going at 2.1º/min when in #69 it was 2.5º/min? How far am I falling behind, and is it stupid to try to hit a specific shutoff time? Alternately, why am I such a terrible father that I can’t get up early enough to be absolutely sure this thing is off before bedtime stories? I could candle at 1 and get up at 3, instead of 3 and 5. Nah. Hey — surely it’s a good sign to have an entire family of deer go springing through the back yard during a firing — right? Please?

Oh shit, what was that sound? Dare I go in for lunch? It’s been 15 minutes lying here with my eyes closed — do I need to go check if the burner is still on again? If I don’t power nap for at least a moments’ unconsciousness, will I make it to 6pm with my brain on? Oh, why is UPS here when I was “good” enough to avoid ordering anything from Amazon this week? Oh yeah — pots!

Let’s say it goes off again… OK, it’s probably going to go off again — OK, it’s probably going to go off and this time, for unknown reasons, stay off — how crazy would it be to C-clamp that sucker open for a couple hours at the end, like I read on clayart? I mean: completely crazy, or just-desperate-enough crazy?

Is that stacked jar whose base was a little narrower than the rim of the one below it going to fall as the wads shift? If so, did I remember to aim it’s lean at the wall, instead of into the middle? Why can I not remember all this stuff when it matters? Have I inhaled too much copper glaze dust? Maybe it’s not smart to work 28 days in a row without a break, except for two days spent being sick? (What’s the ROI on days “off” when you barely make any money from the days “on”, anyways?)

Jesus, how am I out of newspaper? Can I put the salt in these cheap little brown lunch sacks instead of the hassle of rolling it up in newspaper? OMG, the salt rolls up in these cheap little brown lunch sacks perfectly — how in the living fuck did I not think of this before? Wait… this is probably going to bite me in the ass later; what am I missing? Screw it; I can’t live my life in fear! (Can I?)

Time to salt! Woo hoo! Maybe I should use some little sticks, to poke the packets in towards the back wall, so it’s not so heavy in front? Yeah, let’s do that. Smoke! Fire! Oh, hey, I guess I could make my first foray into video with a quick, Vine-ish shot of the salt smoke coming out the stack? Yeah? Let’s do it. Who cares? Why not? OK, I can think of a million reasons why not, but FILDI — I’m too tired to stop myself.

(Hmm… maybe an Internet connection at the studio while firing isn’t such a good idea after all.)

OK, I think it’s done. Is it done? Yes, I want it to be done. Ramp it down this time. Take your time. Pizza? Oh hell yeah. Long enough? OK: Gas off, quick damper shut. Is it shut all the way? Yeah. OK, seal up the port. Why does the worst sweatiest part have to come at the very end? Because life, dude. Imagine 99.7% of potters who ever lived laughing their assess off at how good you have it; two minutes in front of a hot burner port. Wanh. Passives out — isn’t it cool that I have passives now, like a “real” potter? OK, burner check? Spies check? Chimney check? Area check? Is anything going to burn down in the next hour if I go take a shower and lay myself out? No? No. I’ll come back and be sure.

Ten minutes later…

Do I get to open it up yet?

#70: vases

A photo posted by Scott Cooper (@stearth) on

+6

And the hands on the clock, when we realized it’s so late, and this time we spent together…” – Dashboard Confessional

It’s crazy. I don’t have time for this. But I’m doing it anyways. Let’s see if off the top of my head and unedited is worth it.

#70 is cooling down through the 800s, a few dozen feet from where I sit at my studio table, chasing plastic and grinding through the last of the pots of this making cycle. With no random shutoffs, no wood stoking and virtually no wind, yesterday was probably the easiest firing in this kiln ever. Tomorrow I’ll find out if that improved process was also good.

Salt.

A video posted by Scott Cooper (@stearth) on

Somehow in the midst of five a.m. wake up, kiln sitting, worrying, I made a full day’s worth of pots, too. This is the last possible chance to get them made if they’re going to dry, get into a bisk load that’d be half full without them, and get into the last firing of the season. Hopefully, that will be five total; hopefully these last attempts at taller ones, to fill the bottom shelf, will be worth the effort and the time spent making them. I’ve been stealing hours for a few weeks, all crashing the deadline. Getting up earlier; trimming breaks down to the shortest mandatory time for spine rest; coming back out late, after M is in bed, even for just a half hour or forty minutes. Sometimes I think the only profitable hours are these stolen ones. They also cost the most.

So two crazy firings done, a third on in the hopper, hopefully two more to go; if weather and gods and vertebrae and random illness and calamity are all generous to me. Boxes are starting to arrive for my sale. Arrive? Yep — you heard me. More info on that shortly. Pretty exciting.

OK, dudes. Jug tops thrown, triangular vase slabs added, mugs prepped — now handles, lug handles, base finishing, jar lugs, white slip, Tile 6 slip, black underglaze deco, pip chipping, and probably a few other things I’m forgetting. Also need to pull the damper tonight before bed. Oh, and get gas and pick up branches and do the first mow and read H.P. to my kid, and something something with that Frozen snow cone maker.

Cheers. Here I go.

“Time’s wheel runs backwards or stops. Potter and clay endure.” – Robert Browning

+5

“…a new frontier in the annals of self-involvement.” – David Carr

And then three days at the office. Where was I? Oh yes…

Stone cold kiln; out before first light to start the stove on this freakishly cold April morning. A light spitting rain that my weather robot says will get worse, so door down, pots out, shelves and posts out, door back in. Sealed up again before M had even walked into school — probably both the fastest and earliest unload I’ve ever done.

Just a glance at each pot, test tile and cone pack as I rushed them into the studio, but first glance looks OK. Pretty good for a garbage firing. Well, not garbage; I mean for a load of the least interesting pots off the bisk shelf, the pots I cared the least about and sacrificed to this trial run. Not risking the iPad in the rain, so that photo will have to come later. Here they are in the studio, laid out exactly as they were stacked.

#68

A photo posted by Scott Cooper (@stearth) on

First glance says the kiln worked — no single thing went wrong and ruined the whole load. First glance says new chimney is good. First glance says fucking whew! Most glazes look like I expected, roughly, melting the right amount in their respective zones. Didn’t see any surprises in those eight extra cone packs: super hot on bottom, still, super cold on top back. (Relatively cold. We’re talking the difference between 2400F and 2250F.)

Anyways, I think it gave me lots of good info, even if the pots aren’t great. They don’t need to be great yet. I think I can work with this. 

Back in to warm up, regroup, stretch and rest my spine. If I’d done that last year at this time, it probably would have been bad news. This year (I think), it’s stretch, pop, rest it a bit and back to the grind. Progress, maybe.

Soon I’ll head back out, with my third or sixth cup of coffee, and try to digest the firing. Some quick notes; a rough plan for the next batch. Then I need to unload the electric — another back killer — so I can glaze and wad another whole load again today; so I can reload tomorrow between showers. So I can, so I can, so I can…

“Moments snap together like magnets.”

Thinking that once I get to the mindless waxing stage, I’ll take R’s suggestion and listen to Walter Ostrom on ToaRCR. Exciting.

Fire Saturday, number 69, if I get it all done and the wind isn’t nuts. Again. There you go, god(s). That’s my plan. Start chuckling.

+4

“Announcing your plans is a good way to hear God laugh.” – Al Sweringen

Chimney getting hot.

A photo posted by Scott Cooper (@stearth) on

If writing a weekly blog for seven years taught me anything, it’s to not say too much while the pots are still in the kiln. Pride comes before the fall, and the kiln gods love to punish optimists.

So I’ll try not to say too much about that.

Man, that was a brutal four days.

Thursday: Switched the studio over from making to glazing mode; planned the load for the first firing with the new chimney; glazed and wadded them all in a day, when I usually take two or more days to do it. Really holding myself back on deco. Just bam bam bam.

Friday: Unwrapped the kiln from its winter nap. Finished a long slate of little tweaks and changes, related to the new stack. Cleaned and washed shelves, blah, blah — all the usual pre-firing, completely un-fun garbage. Loaded it. Realized I needed a lot of the greenware on the shelves for the next firing, and only one chance on the schedule to do it — plenty of risked pots already on the shelf, but not the right mix of shapes and sizes. So loaded the electric, too, which I never do late in the day, after my brain is too tired for the strategic geometry required to do it well. Desperate times, etc. Rough.

Saturday: Had to wait out insane winds on the salt kiln. I hate leaving raw glazed pots sitting in it. Messes me up to load, then pause, before firing. Fired the electric risk instead… until the winds knocked the power out. Not once; twice. About four hours total, and conveniently placed after the kiln was halfway there. Same distance to get to the destination as to go back, so I stayed up late to be sure it switched off. As almost everything not bolted down around the house went flying through the yard, I spent the whole afternoon worrying that my new brick chimney might get blown off its perch into a pile of rubble.

Sunday: Firing #68. Started well. Middle was great; an almost unbelievable surge of joy at the idea that I’d actually formulated a plan and made a change for the better. Hard evidence that the stack was pulling the damn thing along, instead of the burner having to push it all the way. Had a fun call with C (the other C), about damper position and gas settings. Real kiln nerditry. Kept going out to peek at the pyrometer and just could hardly believe how it just kept cruising along at 2.5º per minute without me doing anything to coax it. Feeling confident — grand — so damn relieved — even thinking, “Maybe I’ll get those four firings done in the next five weeks after all. Hell, maybe I’ll get in six or eight!”. Went in for a celebratory, mid-firing lunch with the fam and…

went back out to find that the winds had doubled in that half hour, somehow blowing the burner out — that’s never happened before — and that I’d already lost at least an hour’s worth of temperature. It relit easily, but then something was wrong, and I couldn’t quite tell what. Temp not climbing; sound was weird, muted. Flame moving too slowly; back burning like crazy with each big gust. (I had the term “mother fucker”in this paragraph somewhere, because it’s the first thing that came to mind, but I deleted it. Sorry K — old habits die hard.)

Anyways, that shock of going from premature victory lap to confused panic… that was rough. Against all my hard-won instincts with this kiln, I had let my guard down and allowed myself to believe it was actually going to cruise to the end. So when I walked out and heard that awful silence, and discovered the burner port was just a quiet, smoldering lava hole, when its supposed to be sound and hot fury? It was like I could feel a small mass of fairly important brain cells just give up and commit suicide. Most of the others started running around screaming “The End Is Near!!!”, or went into fruitless mourning over their departed comrades, leaving me with just the dregs, layabouts, and my sub-mental primal instincts to troubleshoot the problem. Not good, man. Not good. It’s possible that I just stood there staring at it for a few minutes.

Even with the burner back on, the wind kept howling, everything was just bizarrely strange, I couldn’t figure it out. I tried to regroup; think it through like an IT problem. Checked the tank to make sure we hadn’t run out of propane (it’s never happened, but there’s always a first time); verified that the shelves inside hadn’t collapsed over the burner port, and that the new chimney hadn’t spontaneously plunged any bricks inside itself. Stoked in, oh, five or forty pieces of wood, since that’s been my go to move to get past stalls for the last few years. Nada — just belching smoke and a tiny bump. Jerked the damper around randomly; checked to be sure something hadn’t bumped down one of the gas valves.

It gradually dawned on me — I don’t know, maybe after 20 minutes or so — that the burner was definitely still too quiet and not putting out enough fire. Having checked everything else I could think of to check, I pulled it out of the port, still on, and just kind of shook it. Like, when in doubt, give it the Fonzie treatment. I set it back down, aimed it into the kiln, and a moment later it sputtered and coughed and then, wonder of wonders, roared back to it’s normal blast. Thank. Fucking. God.

And I mean that, not so much for this firing, or this batch of pots, but because it confirmed that: a) I’m not going crazy (or at least, not from this); b) my entire kiln remodel moonshot wasn’t a giant waste of resources. The idea that I’d somehow found a way to engineer a chimney that works brilliantly until 2000ºF, then fails spectacularly was too awful to contemplate; c) I actually solved the immediate problem.

Anyways, so I had been meaning to call W, the Kiln Whisperer, for a follow up to all his great help planning and building this thing, and to get his advice on how to finish out the firing. So I went ahead and did that, maybe just to confirm that what I thought I’d just experienced actually happened and get his take what might have caused it (eg. to re-confirm item a) above). His best guess was that when that gust of wind backburned so hard that it blew out the burner (AND PILOT!), some little piece of crap got dislodged or blown back into the orifice; a “one in a million shot, Doc” scenario. Which sounds plausible, but at that point I’d have believed almost anything. Having just heard God laugh, who am I to argue the odds?

He also said that he’s seen or heard of similar things, but usually at the start of a firing, with burners that have been idle for a while getting rust scaling or spider webs in them. But 11 hours in? Strange. OK, whatever — I can live with that uncertainty. (But I’m definitely taking that fucker apart, replacing the thermocouple, and cleaning it out before firing #69.)

He gave me some good advice about getting past stalls — continuing my poor and hasty formal ceramics education the hard way. It seems pretty clear that I’ve got some new tricks to learn, and that some of my habits from just barely squeezing this kiln past the finish line might be part of the problem. On the plus side, that means there’s more hope for fine tuning and considering new variables. Also, the real silver lining here is that the old chimney in that unexpected, much-worse-than-forecast wind storm, would have just died. I mean, probably zero chance of finishing that firing, without staying up until two in the morning and putting a quarter cord of sticks into it. Or what if I’d gone in for a hour long break, or a power nap, as I usually do, and come back to find it had dropped a few hundred degrees? (Like that bisque firing, go on or go back? When it’s outdoors and windy as hell and getting dark, it’s really hard to go on.) Or that gunk could have stayed stuck, or happened seven more times, or, or, or. Only the paranoid survive (to keep punishing themselves with making pots).

So even with all that, or in spite of all that, it seems like the early signs were real; the drive to the end was OK. Even pretty good. Now, with this eight beautiful feet of hard brick — THERMAL MASS — now it seems like I might finally have cracked the code on this ridiculous puzzle of a kiln I created for myself back in 2005. With tons of help, of course.

Oh, and it’s also possible that the bit of shit got stuck in the burner first, and that caused it to go out, rather than the wind. In that case, or without that added, first-time-for-everything wrinkle, the chimney seems like it would have kept powering through the winds, even as strong as they were. Because after that, it pretty well cruised along to the end. Not a fast cruise, mind you, but with zero wood stoking to get it there, were normally (formerly?!?) that’s an almost all-day, every 15-30 minutes requirement. Oh, the things we do (or have done) for love.

And, back to where I started, let me say again that until the door comes down, all of this is provisional. I might even be writing this to distract myself from the fact that every pot could be a disaster. If it’s even more wildly uneven from top to bottom than usual, I’ll have a lot more codebreaking to do. If somewhere in that span I over-reduced it and fubared half my glazes, I will not be shocked. Or under-reduced it to where everything looks like a pale creampuff sundae. Or… you know, insert random bad thing here.

On the other hand, some of the most amazeballs pots ever from this kiln have come out of the worst firings; often a crushingly low success rate comes with a few unrepeatable gems. And I hedged against all this hard, by purposefully putting in the pots I cared the least about — lots of refires, also-rans, just-good-enough-to-fires, experiments. A ton of test tiles of my stable of glazes; at least 10 cone packs. What I really want, when I crack it open, is good information. Something I can work with on the next cycle, and the one after that, to get to the pots that I do care about. And there’s usually tons of it, even in terrible firings, if you’re open to receiving it.

So that about wiped me out, especially after the rest of that weird, hard week. I limped it to the finish line, just barely getting it off as the last daylight died away. Another one done. Now the waiting.

Time will tell. So much more to do.

+3

“It was just a mess of roiling anxiety mixed with excitement.” – Linda Christianson

Oh hell yeah.

A photo posted by Scott Cooper (@stearth) on

After keeping a pretty good lid on it through the worst of my cold/flu/whatever, I freaked out real good on Sunday. And not just because I had to run the gauntlet of yet another holiday’s slate of rituals and familial obligations. More because I’m hearing footsteps; big time. {sale panic; dread; despair} Not enough pots on the shelves, not enough pots in the queue, still with a completely inoperable kiln and only seven weeks to go!

On the other hand, I think that’s happened at about this point, for one reason or another, with almost every sale; twice a year for the past 16 years. This is usually the point where it’s a choice between going all in — and committing to the crazy that’s going to have to happen to pull it off — or just cancelling the damn thing. So far I’ve never cancelled it, although I’ve had more than enough reason to a few times, and probably should have done at least once or twice. Yet I cling to the belief that consistency and stability are key to keeping my local customer base coming out and relatively happy. Or maybe I’ve just jumped through that hoop so many times now that it’s the only trick I know.

Anyways.

Coughed and snorted my way though another half-week at the office; then one day of making pots like a banshee while waiting out a big spring rain (that terrible sense that every moment in wet clay might be the last moment of this making cycle). The pots came out OK, despite the rush and distraction. I rarely try to work quickly, or efficiently, especially since I nuked my back the last few times. It’s become a habit to go slower and steadier and slower. So I’m out of practice on cranking pots off the wheel at a brisk pace — it was strange and weirdly rewarding to see a table full of them by the end of the day.

Finally got to the kiln on Friday. We banged it out. My guy, J, was amazing: he has every tool and knows how to use them. His work ethic and experience are terrific. I implicitly trust his judgement on questions like, “Is this fucking thing going to just fall over if we do it like that?” I wish I could afford to hire him to do all this kind of stuff around here, so I could just focus on making the pots; another discarded shard of Ye Olde Dream.

I tried to keep my terrible personality in check, as we cut and stacked and cleaned and assembled. He went above and beyond to help me get it done in time, and the results look tremendous. After 10.5 years of schleping around this bizarre kiln-like-thing, feeling like a fraud and carrying the weight off all those bad initial choices like a lodestone on my soul, it finally looks like a real kiln. A Pinocchio moment.

Proud chimney standing tall in the evening sunlight. Feet don’t fail me now.

Of course, the trial by fire will reveal its truth. Nothing counts until ∆11 is bending. Or until the door comes down. Or until you can repeat the results you want. These good looks now could be yet another illusion; another mirror to reflect my unearned hope. We’ll see.

+2

“That’s only happened recently. That I feel like I’ve at least earned their respect enough to be sitting across the table from them. It probably makes them less nervous.” – Eddie Vedder

So, I got sick. Lost most of a week. Started freaking out about my sale deadline. Kept it in check, at least for a few days. Took angle iron supports to local machine shop, but it was going to be a while, so got them back. Called my guy, J, to help with the chimney, and see if he could do the welding for me, instead of trying to do it all myself. Gotta trade money for time sometimes.

Irons; fire.

A photo posted by Scott Cooper (@stearth) on

Had a great visit from another J. He brought me a load of free used firebrick, to top off my odd stash of various and sundry refractories. These are the roughest of the bunch, so will likely go up top.

It’s so great to sit across the table from a potter I genuinely admire and just shoot the shit; go deep into the weeds and see what we find. And so rare for me — maybe once a year, if that? Fun, too, even though I was still sickly and my head was swimming by the end.

After having his studio in flux for a couple years, he’s starting to set up shop a few hours away, and I’m really impressed at how he’s going about it. So differently than me, and such a smart, alternate path. In a different life, I might have gone that way, too. Not that I regret it, or wish for it, but it’s interesting to think about how that might have been. I wish he’d landed in a spot a little closer, to give us more of a possibility to team up in the future, but that could still happen. There’s a lot of years left.

+1

“In other words, to the extent that this is all about you, leave that out.” – John McPhee

So I knew — and you probably did, too — that as soon as I’d made the distinction between a fatalism blog and an optimism blog, I would have the overwhelming desire to break it. {cf. muddy, blur, confuse, flaunt, obfuscate, play, avoid, thrash, ignore.} I’m nothing if not a kneejerk rebel. Fight the power, rah rah, et. al.

And I almost did — make this second post one of my classic, solipsistic, doom-and-gloom parades — but I’m trying not to. Because those kind of games are ‘bad for business’; but also because I’m secretly hoping you’ll read both the ‘happy’ blog and the ‘sad’ blog; 1) of course, because that would be great; 2) because my need for your acceptance, recognition, and praise is virtually bottomless; 3) and so now I’m wondering again why there are two blogs instead of one; 4) because that seems kind of arbitrarily bonkers, and how much of that is just another manifestation of Male Heraldry Syndrome (or whatever they called it on You Look Nice Today) — the desire to invent imaginary entities so that I can put my stamp on them?; 5) like peeing in the snow (or, more charitably and on-point, like making pots and putting my actual stamp on them) {duh}; 6) and that perhaps that distinction does make sense, at least in that I can segment my outpouring of words for different people or occasions or intents. Feeds and streams. Stock and flow.

Anyways, did I mention that one thing I aim to do here is give myself a space for more ‘top of mind’ writing? (Like that dumpster fire of a preceeding paragraph?) I’m seeing this eternal pendulum, swinging back and forth over the spectrum of my potential writing {e.g. overanalyzing it to death instead of just doing more of it} where after seven years of This Week @ing, I wanted the slower pace and deeper concentration of Alms; and now that I’ve done a year of that, with both the opportunity and sneaky obligation to turn everything into a filligreed stone monument, carefully considered and reconsidered and edited-until-it-can’t-breathe-anymore Essaydom, I’m wanting an outlet that is quick, snappy, and irrationally well-suited to blasting my thoughts out into public before I second guess them appropriately enough to edit them out.

I guess this format, here on day two, is more like I did for that month at Penland — Today Not @ St. Earth. Also the same as that one is that I’m letting WordPress do all the dirty work (which also requires bending my fussy preferences to its more rigid constraints).

So maybe this will become something of a third style between my other two attempts, tw@se and AfO.

Or, to put all of that yet another way, when your biggest fan sends you a note out of the blue that says “you need to resume blogging”, it’s probably smart to do it. The people {OK, person} have spoken.

____ ∂¡∫©ur∫¡√≈  £∞¶ ____

Kiln remodel: Lego pre-vis.

A photo posted by Scott Cooper (@stearth) on

So, preamble schmeable.

I was gaining momentum on my kiln remodel, perhaps only a week behind schedule to get it done and then start firing… and then of course I got sick. God. Damn. It.

So now I’m at least two weeks behind, which with six-plus weeks left before my spring sale is legitimatey time to start freaking out. I’m still stuck in the Lego mockup stage, which is a nice enough stage to be stuck at, but not good in the face of that onrushing deadline. There’s still a big pile of materials stacked next to it in the yard, and a pile of whistful biskware stacked in the studio — when I was hoping/expecting to be putting on the finishing touches on the new chimney and {at least starting to think seriously about} stirring up my glazes.

So it goes. Maybe next week.

+0

“I don’t want to start, but I will. This is an invocation for anyone who hasn’t begun, who’s stuck in a terrible place between zero and one.” – Ze Frank

So I hope you get it that the idea here is to be not nothing. Maybe not quite the anti-nothing, but at least an attempt at balancing the equation. Which equation, you ask? The only one that matters, friend…

Yesterday's plates.

A photo posted by Scott Cooper (@stearth) on

Or, to loop back and take another run at a beginning, with my fist full of re-sharpened pencils:

Maybe this is a try at getting past the nothing and back to that other story I was telling. You know, the one that dwelled in wet clay and hope.

‘When you finished, I accepted it like a book with a deeply unsatisfactory ending. Yes, the barn had fallen in the second half, but there should have been more and it should have been better because the characters were good and it wasn’t a fair ending.’ – K

Yeah, I liked those characters, too. And it’s a shitty thing to do to a reader, really — leaving them with an unfair ending. It paints a false picture of the world. And I still aim to squeeze as much truth into these abstract paintings as I possibly can.

Let’s see… So if you liked that old story mostly for its pictures, I recently started doing that again here. I like that format for them; images only with minimalist captions is nice. And it’s an easier, immediate way for me to get them out of my head and onto the public web. I’m thinking this time around [turning and turning in the widening gyre;], I’ll mostly put the words here — ‘words, words, words’ – and the pictures there. Except, then again, I just realized I can embed an image from that feed here pretty easily, which you saw up top there, so maybe I’ll do that. I dunno.

At least for now, that’ll work.

So… so so so. I guess we’re doing this again.
I have been making pots. It’s been going pretty well. A good run through porcelain after getting another sale off my back in early December. Some weird things with holes that I’m very unsure about and am hol-ding in reserve to share later. Maybe. More likely if the glaze runs down and semi fills the holes as intended. Less likely if they end up feeling like derivative crap.

Lots of tumblers, simple cylinders, as I got my feet back underneath me; and as I continue to learn how to throw on my feet, instead of sitting on my butt. Taller and vertical-er are hard in new ways. I’m slowly figuring it out.

Lots of horizontal black underglaze stripes, because the last few batches with the pale aqua and amber glazes bleeding the black to verboten cobalt and blurring all but the shadows of my fragile intent were fucking killer.

And shit — goddamnit — but I’m sorry if you’re only here for the pottery talk and can’t handle the swearing. But for the love of god, that’s how I talk, and now that I’ve tasted that freedom on AfO, it’s too late to go back to pretending that my blog can live within the constraints of a Sunday morning from my childhood. There’s no foul language in the Instagram feed, or on Facebook, if that’s how you want to roll; but here, filtering is OFF.

<loop>

Now I’m back to stoneware, good ol’ hearty stoneware. And more of that luscious white slip poured and dipped at the greenware stage, which was also pretty dang rad last fall. Flashing and subtleties that I just can’t get from the bare clay body or the bisque flashing slips. Drippy and loose and fun; a new hard fun to explore. I’m trying to throw bigger and taller. Trying not to torch my back. Trying to try my best. Trying not to forget that if I don’t enjoy it a decent chunk of the time than it’s really not worth doing at all.

So I’ll still write the occasional Alms post. Because, of course, there are still many dark or darkish days. And — there are certainly a slew of them to come. But I’m aiming to be that compressed rim, rather than that failed wet sock of a collapsed, unrealized form. All that chaos has potential to be fuel, if I can just sort my shit enough and get lucky long enough to set it alight.

After ten years and sixty-odd firings in the dumbest, smallest salt kiln in the world, I gave in to despair/ambition last fall and tore down the old chimney. That one got me roughly from Pixel’s birth to her seventh year; firings 20-something to 60-something; six feet then eight feet then twelve feet of barely helpful metal. On advice of counsel (who I’ll name later and extol with praise if this new hack works; and who shall remain anonymous if it doesn’t, since the whole thing is my fault anyways), I’m replacing the metal with brick. Engineered (I dearly hope) to stand up in the air over the burner and suck that damn flame through. Without falling over at ∆7 or the next time there’s a strong gust.

Maybe it will be enough to get me through a couple more years, a few dozen more firings, without wanting to drive my car through the thing by the end of each cycle. Maybe enough to bridge to the tw@se-long fantasy of a new kiln. Big, proper, a useful engine.

Maybe. Which also means, of course, maybe not.

Time hath a wallet at his back. Mine’s empty, and I can feel his hot breath on my neck. Pots in the queue, pots in the bisk, pots on the shelf… not enough pots in the showroom, not by half, so this kiln’s got to get working again and then cranking, up and down, in and out. Deadlines.

So OK. Not great, but perfection is kind of an asshole, and no one invites him to their pool parties. Or something like that.

It’s good to be back. Thanks for re-inviting me in.

‘Let me take the idea that has gotten me this far and put it to bed. What I am about to do will not be that, but it will be something.’ – ZF


cf. & TL;DR

  1. An Invocation for Beginnings
  2. An Invocation transcript
  3. ‘be aware of the difference between thought and awareness. that is where you will find all your answers.’ Uh huh. Yeah, sure.