“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.