Friday, October 24, 2014

Creativity for a Cause

These are the first of close to 20 pieces of ceramics I created because a friend needed help.

She was someone I had gotten to know on Google+ in my circle of writers and crafters, and more than a year ago, she and I had done an 'art swap'. She made me these amazing wrist warmers. I don't remember what I sent her - probably a coffee mug.

Selfie: the writer hard at work, with warm hands!

This lovely woman, "T", and her family were in foreclosure from their home, and despite doing everything they could to get the money they needed together (including working multiple jobs, etc), and trying to negotiate with the bank (I bet you can guess how that went), they were informed that there would be a sheriff's sale of their home in November.

So "T", in desperation, started a 'go fund me' campaign. And I went to the campaign page, struggling to find a way to help that wouldn't be a drop in the ocean. I initially thought of donating some timeframe of my book sales to it, but that felt kind of self-serving in an icky way. But then I thought about all the pottery I make. When I share photos of my ceramics work on the 'plus', those posts get far more engagement than any of my writing posts.

I decided to offer donors at different levels ceramic ware of their choice--handbuilt mugs, wheelthrown mugs, or bowls. I posted about it and for the heck of it, I tossed a hashtag in the post and invited other crafters and artists who were so inclined to do the same.

And they did.

They totally did.

Photographers, artists, knitters, crocheters, writers and more offered the fruits of their creativity for donations to "T's" campaign.

So many people donated, talked about, and shared the posts talking about the campaign and I was so moved by their generosity.

Sadly, "T" was not able to raise the amount needed to save their house; however, enough was raised to ensure that her family would be able to move into another home and keep a roof over their heads.

I am beyond humbled and proud to have been able to be a part of this. Something like this shows me the beauty of an internet community and what is possible when we work together. It's not all 'doxxing' and ugliness. Sometimes kindness wins over mindless cruelty.

Soon, these 'Dragon Belly' mugs and Nebula bowls, along with more to come, will be on their way to new homes with the generous campaign donors.

That makes me happy.

Monday, October 20, 2014

We are not our things; our things are not us

We visit our Montana kin, circa 2005
I've been quiet for a little bit, and part of that is because we have experienced two deaths in our community and family over the past week. Through the course of a single weekend, two people who meant a great deal to our lives passed away.

A friend and colleague passed away from complications of an auto-immune disease. Alan was my husband's first boss and became both a mentor and then a dear friend.

He was 71 and had just been convinced to retire to spend more time and be able to travel with his husband.

Then only a few days later, our cousin Frani died in her beloved home, with her husband at her side, after choosing to halt treatments for cancer just a few weeks earlier. She is the woman in the center of the photo above.

Frani and her husband, Kim, lived in a log cabin they built themselves from logs they had cleared from their land on the top of a mountain in Montana. We were some of the few brave family souls who loved to visit in deep winter and experience the beautiful solitude of their magical home and their generous, loving hospitality.


It's so easy to get caught up in minutia; to blow out of proportion slights, irritations, disappointments, and material losses. I know I am not immune. So much of what we worry about is caught up in ego and fear. We are always grasping for more - more money, more fame, more recognition, more things - and lose sight of what makes our lives truly meaningful. For me, that is the web of connection with friends and family and community, and remembering to take (and make) the time to honor that.


We are not our things; our things are not us. We are also not better or worse, more or less deserving than the people around us. It is so easy to lose sight of that in our endless striving.


Yesterday I followed a link to an article in the Guardian detailing how an author, feeling slighted and humiliated by a negative review, stalked (her word) the reviewer, both online and in real life, going so far as to visit the reviewer at her home.

Perhaps the piece was meant to be snarky and amusing; I found it sad.

We are not our things; our things are not us. This is even more true for creative people. We think of our work as 'our baby', or a reflection of our deepest selves. Therefore, rejection becomes a personal attack that we must defend against.

But when we are just a memory in the lives of our loved ones, will a bad review, poor sales, or even never getting to publish matter? How will you want to be remembered?


We are not our things; our things are not us.

Rather, we are the sum of our choices and our actions. 


Yesterday, I had the chance to walk through the Mt. Auburn cemetery with my dear friend, Diane, who was visiting for the weekend. We paused to read many of the headstones, and one, in particular, moved me. I don't remember the family name and I didn't take a photo, but the man had been a scion of early Boston, a man of wealth and influence. In 1850, he lost his wife and daughter about 6 months apart. Then a few years later, his son died in the Civil War. He then dedicated his life to opening primary schools. I can't help but think his actions were related to his losses.


Life is precious and fleeting. There is none of us who will not experience loss. If I could reach out to that aggrieved author, I would ask her why she needs to define her self and self worth by what others think of something she's created. I would invite her to walk in the cemetery with me and reflect on the nature of impermanence and loss.


I will continue to think about Alan and Frani, and what these two individuals have meant in our lives.  I will grieve their loss and celebrate their memory. And in honoring who they were, I will focus on what is important, letting go of all the rest.

I invite you to walk with me on that path.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Sometimes you have to hit it with a stick

. . . Or why revising is like trimming in ceramics.

This is what a bowl looks like after it's been thrown and taken off the wheel to dry for a few days. Do you see the thick mass of clay at the base of the bowl? (It's upside down, so you are looking at the 'foot') That's clay that will need to be trimmed away to reveal the profile of an ideal bowl.

First you need to trim the bottom of the bowl flat.

Then you choose the diameter of the foot and trim away the excess.

Trim the slope of the side smooth from foot to body of the bowl.

To remove weight from the bottom of the bowl, and to create the 'ring' of the foot, carve away excess from the base.

Now we have a bowl with a nice balance of foot to body, and a foot that fits the slope of the bowl.

Unfortunately, when I went to remove it from the wheel, I compressed the side, warping it. And once that happens, there's no way to recover it to round.

So I did what one of my teachers taught me. I hit it with a stick.

Now I have a squared-off bowl.
That will be a dramatic piece, like this one. (Yes, I've done this before. . .)

This is the 'revising' phase of ceramics.

In writing, the first draft is the just-thrown bowl. You really can't do much with it. It needs to dry, to set up so it can be shaped into something finished, something able to be used. While a piece of ceramics will reach that stage in a day or two or three, a first draft story often needs to sit for weeks or months, letting time pass between the writing and the revising so that the writer can approach the work as new again.

Revising a manuscript is the act of shaping and altering. And just like something doesn't work out exactly as you'd planned, you can hit your story with a stick. Metaphorically, of course - turning it into something that may be quite different than your original conception.

And that's okay.

Not all bowls need to be round.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

A Time of Reflection

A quick snapshot from a quote I read in the holiday prayerbook

I have a strange relationship with organized religion. My upbringing was in the Jewish faith, but my parents were more culturally than religiously Jewish, if that makes any sense. They were not observant, nor did they attend services. I ended up being the sole member of my family to belong to our local temple because it was a place of social gathering and I wanted to be like all the other kids in our neighborhood.

So I attended Hebrew school, 3 times a week for most of my school-aged life, sang in the choir at family services, and became a Bat Mitzvah.

But I wasn't like all the other kids there; my family didn't attend with me. And it had something to do with organizational politics and the stubbornness of two men - the Rabbi and my father. I'm still not sure of the full story. (But it reminds me of the old joke about a Jewish man marooned on a desert island. When he is finally rescued after several decades, he proudly shows off the two temples he built to keep busy and sane. When asked why he built 2 temples, the man replied "This is the temple I attend. That other place? Hah! I wouldn't set foot in that other temple if you PAID me!")

What I loved about services at the temple was the music. So many of the prayers are sung in haunting, old tunes and in minor keys. They are ancient laments that have always stirred my soul. I'm not sure I ever believed in 'God' as depicted in the Torah or in the commentaries, but I also enjoyed the way Jewish scholars over the centuries continued to argue over interpretations and laws.

As I have lived my life, my spiritual alignment has drifted closer to a Buddhist philosophy. And still, while I am not terribly observant in terms of the Jewish rituals, there are some concepts that resonate with me. One of them is that of Tikkun Olam, which literally is translated as 'repair of the world.'

For me, what Tikkun Olam means is that my choices and my actions have consequences and I strive to chose the path in life that heals rather than shatters.

The other ritual that resonates deeply is that of the yearly fast and day of reflection on Yom Kippur. Say what you will about religion in general and Judaism in particular, those early scholars were nothing if not pragmatic:  They created a way for self-assessment and community building that just makes sense.

In the High Holiday services, there are repeated mentions that you can obtain forgiveness through prayer, but ONLY for those transgressions against God (ie, lapses in observancy, etc) . If you wronged a member of your family or community, you had to ask them directly for forgiveness. And saying 'sorry' wasn't enough. You had to make a commitment to action and change that your community would hold you to.

So here is my apology and my plea: If I have, by word, deed, or inaction, caused harm to any, please forgive me and know that I will strive to be a better person in the year to come.  And please continue to help me be that better person.

I wish you a world full of healing, light, and love.