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.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Dandelion Break

Dandelions, photo by Marcel Grieder, used under cc license, with attribution

The title of this post is from one of my favorite recurrent themes in the Berkeley Breathed comic, Bloom County. Whenever things would get overwhelming, Opus would head out to the dandelion patch to chill out. The strip I linked to is from 2009; it is just as relevant today.

Not only are world events still horrific, there is even more of the sense that we are all living in a constant state of outrage. And in so many cases, that outrage is either manufactured by media spin, or by our own desire to feel something.

So much of what we choose to feel seems like the negative emotions: outrage, fury, jealousy, pettiness.

Not that there aren't plenty of real and terrible things to feel outrage over. It's just that if outrage is our default response to the smallest of things, what is left for the truly outrageous?

Someone recently said some unkind things about me and one of my books. I think it was meant to spark some kind of outrage in me or in others. And honestly? My first reaction was one of confusion. Then I began to feel sorry for the person who wrote the piece. I suspect that this person is living in or is fueled by that state of outrage. It must be a terribly isolating and distressing place to be.

I choose otherwise.

Partly that's out of sheer perspective. In the past 4 years, my family was forced to flee our house in barefeet and pajamas one winter morning and watch it burn. I witnessed dementia tangle my mother's mind and soul and held her hand as she died. I nearly lost someone I love dearly to suicide.

I am crystal clear on what's important in my life and what is simply dandelion fluff. 

So here is my reminder: when faced with outrage, consider if what is pulling on your emotions is worthy of such an intense response. I invite you to choose otherwise. There's a spot in the dandelion patch waiting for you.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Oh, hello, again!

It's officially Fall: aka the busy season. I got the last of the tomatoes canned and put away on the pantry, and it's about to be apple-palozza time. Apple sauce, apple butter, dried apples, apple-pepper jelly. . . Preserve all the things!!

I do need to slow down a bit - with both my sons away at college, it's just hubby and me needing to be fed. We still haven't figured out meal portioning for two. Which means we're only really cooking every other day, since the leftovers are a full meal for two. :)

I also finished the revision pass for TIME AND TITHE this week.

Thank goodness for post-it flags! Now I get to incorporate all those handwritten notes into the document so I can email it out to my beta readers. I'll have time for round two of edits/clarifications before it goes off to the editor on November 1. The cover artist is in her creative process, so we're on track for a mid-January 2015 release.

Next up: the first draft of DERELICT's sequel. I'm really looking forward to that unchained burst of creativity that comes with starting a new project. Before the muddle of the middle sets in.

What else am I doing? I switched ceramics studios in August. After years of working at the New Art Center (which is wonderful, but I was looking for the next phase of my development as a ceramics artist), I moved to The Potter's Studio and have been getting oriented to the new place: new clay bodies, new glazes. It's been challenging and fun.

I love the jewel toned glazes on these cappuccino mugs. Now I need to find combinations I like for my textured hand-built work.

And, as if I wasn't busy enough, I wandered into a fiber shop during our recent trip to Watkins Glen and ended up buying some lovely yarn, a set of needles, and a hat pattern. It's been nearly 20 years since I've picked up knitting needles.

I'm amazed at how the motor memory came flooding back. Now I have this jaunty little hat, just in time for the cooler fall weather.

So that's my update.

Have a wonderful day, my internet lovelies!