On Disappointment

Disappointments in life are inevitable and very much so in the pottery making business.
I was resisting writing this post because I want to appear as if my life is going perfectly smoothly
But I know everyone out there has suffered some sort of disappointment.
When I’m teaching, I always give a little speech to my adult students on the first day of class about losing a piece they’ve worked on.  I tell them children don’t seem to mind if what they make falls apart. They value the process over the product. They are much better at staying in the moment, having fun  and not worrying about “wasting their time.” I tell the adults, Please remember that you had fun while you were making it”.
I joke that the only reason I sell pots is so I can have an excuse to make some more. I love the act of making.
As many of you know, I recently moved to Minnesota. I have been warmly and generously welcomed into the pottery community here and almost immediately found ways to fire my work  -which was the chief problem I had to surmount because I do not  (yet) have my own gas kiln.
Once I knew I could fire, I began making work and mixing glaze and, over  a recent past weekend, glazed, loaded and helped to fire all my work (85 pieces) in a cone 10 gas reduction fire. Everything I’d made to date went into that kiln. Talk about putting all your eggs in one basket! 
I will admit I was utterly spoiled at Lill. They fire off a glaze kiln as often as once or even twice a week. My work went through as I made it and if there was a bad firing (um… never?) I would have lost, at most, 15 pieces. Glaze tests could be run through whenever; this is the beauty of a really large group sharing  kilns.
So there I was with my Shaner Clear (which had been sort of tested in a soda kiln and in it, had formed crystals due, we thought, to the way the kiln cooled) and another (untested!!) clear; the recipe for which had been given to me by a new potter friend here.
I glazed about 2/3rds in the Shaner which was my old dependable from Lill and the rest in the new clear of which I had a smaller volume.
Fast forward to the  morning after the firing when even a look through the peep set off alarm bells in my head. Sure enough, after we unbricked the door, it became clear that the Shaner’s had formed crystals again, obliterating  my carefully carved designs on about a third of the work. 
I did not give vent to my feelings. I was with other potters and I was damned if I’d make them uncomfortable by indulging myself. The extent of my emotional reaction was some choice swearwords were muttered into the back of the kiln.
As I unloaded, I told myself the things that I’ve thought of to help with pottery disappointments. But I wasn’t really paying attention to that mantra which goes something like this:
You had fun making these things. This is a learning experience.  Thank goodness a third is in the other clear which looks great! It’s not a pot until it’s safely out of the glaze kiln. Think how much you learned today. You had fun making these things….
I felt heavy, I felt sad. I had so much hope for certain pieces. I had gotten a bit attached to several promising things. It was hard to see them ruined. 
Once home I took the time to sort and assess exactly the extent of the damage. I felt a huge gratitude to this friend who had pushed the other recipe on me. Those pieces has come out absolutely pristine.   I plan to use that glaze in the future. Goodbye Shaner’s clear. Good riddance.
I sorted things and found it wasn’t quite as bad as I’d thought.
Comparison between the Shaners (below) and the new Clear (above)
Later, in my studio again and carving another piece, I was suddenly struck with tremendous joy.
I love carving. I am  usually in “flow” * when I am carving or working in my studio. I don’t feel tired when I am working with clay.
The whole “you were happy when you were making these pieces” part of my mantra suddenly became vividly real at that moment to me.
I am happy. I am so lucky to be able to do this.
I guess my life is perfect after all.

9 Replies to “On Disappointment”

  1. Reminds me of watching glass blowers explode a piece as they’re blowing it. Thank you for a wonderful post reminding me what’s important.

  2. Thank you Glynis for sharing this story Late last night I came into my kitchen to discover that one of my favourite mugs had been broken. I just finished a wood fire with a group of friends and it was such a wonderful experience, I’m pretty sure I put all of that feeling into that mug. I was so angry at my daughter for so casually placing it in the sink, without talking to me about it, that, I must confess, i let her know it. She said, ” Mom, I’m sorry but mugs break- it just happened.” Today, I head to the studio with your gentle reminder in my head about the act of creating and the joy it brings. Thanks- I needed that!

  3. Greetings Glynnis,
    Aaahhh another Buddhist lesson of non attachment!
    I am smiling wide as I am remembering you sitting at the table at lilstreet, with the sun shining in over your shoulder…your hair a wild nest of curls…red glasses on your nose…and yes, you are carving!!! Always carving with a smile on ur beautiful face…thnx for the post! Warm hug

  4. I am so glad that you shared this beautiful post! Your work is so gorgeous, and I can’t imagine putting all that time into it, and then getting disappointing results. I hope that by re-firing your pieces you can save some of them.
    We started in a soda kiln, then ended up firing electric until we built a gas kiln at our Community Arts Center. So a big learning curve on glazes after not having to glaze the outside on the soda-fired pieces. We have had success firing Hafner’s Clear in both the electric at Cone 6 and and the gas reduction at Cone 10, although I use a sponge brush to put on a very thin coat over the carved areas.
    Hafner’s Clear
    Gerstley Borate 50.0%
    Flint 32.5%
    EPK 17.5%

  5. Patty, thank you for sharing your story. I agree, sometimes we imbue our made things with emotions or memories associated with them or even with the experience of making! I didn’t think of it until you said that.
    I am so happy to hear from everyone that they are glad to “be reminded”.

  6. Connie, thanks for sharing that recipe! I will look into it. To get a very thin coat, I always give a good rinse in clean water just before dipping; that way I get a very thin even coat of the glaze.
    Also, I did finally re-fire in electric and I’m sad to say that the Shaner’s seems to be truly flawed. Just a very few things looked clearer but some of the pieces that didn’t quite get up to Cone 10 and were therefore a bit matte, formed crystals and although they look pretty interesting, it was not the look I was going for. Also the re-firing made everything doubly vitrified so it all sounds a lot more glassy than my work normally sounds. But really, it’s okay! It’s all a learning experience. I should have another firing the first or second week in August and I will keep you all posted. Thanks again for the support and the community.

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