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“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.)

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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.