Sunday 11 August 2013

Kuza Nama

Listen again. One evening at the close,
Of Ramazan, ere the better moon arose
In that old Potter's Shop I stood alone
With the clay Population round in Rows.

And, strange to tell, among that Earthen Lot
Some could articulate, while others not:
And suddenly one more impatient cried-
"Who is the Potter, Pray, and who the pot?" 

(Omar Khayyam, "Kuza Nama", Book of Pots, 12th Century)

As evening fell just the other day, I sat in the studio twisting Igusa around the last of the coffee mugs and drippers. Cool air wafted down from the hill behind the house and through the open window, while birds and cicadas sang songs to me. Occasionally I would look into the back garden, the face of the Nobotoke buddhist statue greeting me calmly, the "koushintou" stele behind his shoulder and the shine to Inari off to the left. 

Our lives are served to us in easily digestible bite size pieces,  those moments when our little patch of the earths surface slides beneath the bright space between sunrise and sunset, and gratefully we are allowed to rest between mouthfuls. Some of them are hard to swallow, but others are sweet, and there are never any two the same. It is, therefore, important to savour each and every one of them.  

I have often been asked how long it takes to make a pot. The real answer is a lifetime. But, this last month, I have made about four hundred, large and small. It is a process that cannot be hurried, and the role of the potter is to be patient, taking action when the clay is ready, guiding the vessel into it's finished form. Rather like parenting.

When we look back over the days and weeks and accumulation of moments that have brought us to today, it is astounding to see how far our small steps have journeyed. I know how easy it is to become despondent, feeling that no matter how we strive and struggle we seem to make no headway at all; but it is not the destination that is important, so much as the journey. 

Each day, each moment, every movement that helps create the vessel is a precious gift, and it is important that we notice and take joy in them, no matter how small they may seem.

As each pot is trimmed on the wheel, as I place the chattering tool to its surface, as I listen to the sound of its rhythm, I am in the moment. An adjustment of speed, a change of angle, a touch more pressure, and magically the rhythm becomes a clear hum, and for these few seconds I hold to this course, from the centre to the edge, striving not to break that rhythm. When the wheel stops, when the silence falls, then I find the evidence of those moments, the accumulation of a life time of moments, a gift of beauty.

Step by step we move forward, and each step is always the first. 

These vessels which I make are not for me. They are for the hands and lips and lives of others, friends, family, strangers. They will become a part of their daily lives, for a moment, a day, perhaps a lifetime. They will live beyond my life and speak for me, telling the world about the beauty I have seen and the passion I have felt. I make the vessel for others, but the making of the vessel is for me.

It has taken nature aeons to create clay for me. Thank you, I will do my best not to waste it. Each morning my studio is filled with the light of day, and by this light I make my pots, and in the evening when the light fades I put down my tools. This was the way people lived for thousands of years, I am happy for Mr Edison to not interfere with that. By all means let him light the evening meal which I share with my family, keep my food cold and fresh, help Mika wash the clothes, these are very helpful things. But I am not happy for him and his minions to dictate society and economics while they poison the air and the land and the ocean. There must be a better way.

We are husbands to this world, not the owners of it, and it is not disposable. When I draw fresh clear water from my well, I do so in gratitude for a world which is beautiful and good. It is my role to ensure that my children and theirs can live lives which are just as beautiful and good. 

So I take each step in my process carefully. I strive to work with the forces of nature to create a lasting beauty, by making every moment an ephemeral beauty. It is nature who creates the curve of my handles, the spiral of my throwing rings, the rhythm of my forms. 

These vessels are beautiful and useful, part of the art of living. I make them with as little impact on the environment as I can, with natural and healthy materials, in collaboration with natural forces. When complete they will potentially serve their function for ten thousand years, and if they are broken they will return to the earth from which they came, with no more environmental impact than pebbles and grains of sand.

None of us know what tomorrow may bring. It is, therefore, important to make the most of today. To make our plans for forever and live each day with love and joy, knowing that you have done your best. No one can ask for more than that.

I look back at what I have achieved over the last month. I have wedged clay, thrown pots, trimmed them, decorated them, handled them and put them out to dry. I have waxed them, made glazes and glaze tests, and glazed the pots. I have cleaned the kiln, cleaned and kiln washed the kiln shelves, tested new coatings on the inside of the kiln.  Yes, it has been a good month.

I have also tended the garden, heated the wood fired bath every day, prepared meals, baked bread and cakes and scones, and done all of the thousands of little tasks that daily life requires. Mika and I have helped our children with their homework and shuttled them to school and choir and sports. We have listened to their troubles and hopes and dreams and told them about our own. We have hugged them often and told each other "I love you." It is all these things, these little moments, these building blocks that make our lives, that make us who we are. There is not a moment to be missed!

 Yesterday I stacked the kiln, the penultimate step in the making process. Each pot carefully placed, thinking of how the flame will flow through the kiln, where it will touch the pots. Not all of the pots I have made this month fit in this firing. I hope to stockpile work to fire in winter.  As the last light of day washed obliquely into the kiln shed I bricked up the door, washing each brick as I set it to avoid dust falling into the pots, for just one grain of sand in the wrong place can ruin a vessel that has taken a month to make. I plan to fire tomorrow, today I will rest. The morning air is cool as I write, and the family begins to stir. I will take them to the river today, we will have a barbeque. This, too, is part of the making of pots, and the making of a potter, another page in my book of pots.