a wandering woman writes

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Sin Querer. Or, how many times can a woman rewrite the same post?

I think it may have been my most potterly moment. My high point, to date, as a practitioner of the ceramic arts.

I published a half baked blog post. Not even half baked. I published a post that had merely been put on the shelf to dry.

Ironically, one night a few weeks back, while saving a rambling, incoherent set of disconnected notes for a post about...why yes, in fact - mistakes, I missed Save and sailed right over to Publish.

By mistake. As the Spanish would say, in a phrase that better captures the upside of mis-takes, the sweet serendipity: sin querer. Without wanting to.

The lovely, insomniac Laura left me a wee hours comment on that fateful night, suggesting I finish the post, or at least a few of its sentences, and consider, perhaps...punctuation?

The thing is, I have been feeding on that ironic error, that accidental publish and prompt retrieval, for weeks. I seem to have picked up a new mantra. "By mistake."

Sin querer.

The ill fated post in question was a riff on a column I'd read in this month's Pottery Making Illustrated. "If there's one thing all of us potters have in common", writes the editor in his opening column, " it's our ability to make mistakes and and keep going. Why do we do it? Because not working with clay is worse."

A few paragraphs later he closes his column looking forward to the new potter's year ahead, a year in which he is confident he'll practice making mistakes. That, he says as he signs off, is " a life worth living."

If you've caught any of my fly-by visits to this blog in the last couple of years, you've gathered that I've become a student of ceramics. A kindergartner, mind you, but a student all the same.

I've become a student of mistakes, as well.

Maybe I should rephrase that. I see myself learning the middle-aged art of letting things go as they go. As they go, and not as I set my mind for them to go. As they go and not as I heroically will them to go. Not even as I plan them to go.

Just as they go.

Clay has had something to do with that. I've had two wonderfully contrasting pottery teachers in the last year or so. The first looked at my pots and my skills and my frustrations, and cleverly led me to process. To practice and love the process of making pots. For months, I threw with no intention of saving my work. When I wanted to learn bowl shapes, I threw bowl after bowl, saving nothing, not even my favorites. I'd throw, dissect, observe-- how walls rose and fell, how curves curved -- and then, I'd re-wedge. Throw, dissect, wedge. Every pot was recycled. I comforted myself with the terrifying command I'd heard Mary Oliver give in a poetry workshop. "You have to throw away your best poem. Trust you will make another." So I threw, and I dissected.

In a case of uncanny perfect timing, my next pottery teacher took exactly the opposite approach. "Now", he told me with a smile in our first class, "work to throw nothing away. When a pot heads off in a direction you didn't intend....thank it for the gift!" When I'd find myself facing sure disaster, whether a misshapen wall, a paper thin bottom or a clumsily nicked rim, he'd approach my wheel with a wide grin, his eyes brimming with mischief. "Yeah!", he'd exclaim. "So now what?!"

With the first teacher, I learned from my mistakes and my successes, and I tossed all of them back into the clay bag. I learned I was practicing a process, not playing russian roulette in hopes the clay gods would choose to smile on me with a decent pot every now and then. The second teacher, with whom I am back in class this session, is teaching me to catch waves - the waves waiting for me if I just toss away my rules and expectations. He's teaching me to sit open to the unexpected, to expand my concept of what might happen and to let myself get giggly-excited about what could happen, if I let the pot go its way.

Granted, if I were a studio potter living on my art, commissioned to make 10 identical porcelain vases, I would persevere to make 10 identical vases, perfectly and classically shaped.

But I am a woman who works in clay for the mindlessness of it, for the focus and the feel of the mud on my hands. I throw for the play and the chance to feed my inner chemist in the glaze room. I throw to lose myself in the process.

I throw for all it teaches me.

Sin querer.

So here's where I just discovered what this now weeks-old post has been saying to me. Here's where I suddenly see the thread from this post -and this new mantra of mine -to the wandering woman who once used this blog to record her unplanned adventures in Spain.

I throw to lose myself.

I have long been a student - and an artesan - of travel. As a traveler, I have always loved to find myself lost. I am an open, curious, patient and spontaneous traveler. I travel light - and I have probably, to this point, been my most loose, my most uninhibited, my most free self, traveling. I am selective about choosing fellow travelers - and I have done most of my wandering solo, to avoid rules and structure and the distraction a companion provides. I'd travel alone to increase the chances I'd get lost, and to ensure I'd be free to soak in the joy of being somewhere new and unexpected, sin querer.

As a kid, I would take my bike to new neighborhoods in an oft-failed effort to get lost, to find myself outside of my rules and maps, outside of the expected and the known. This blog is filled with stories of the serendipity of a bus-mate or a train companion in Spain, of the wonders found by knocking on a door, or wandering off the map, or asking a stranger a question.

After all, if you are happily lost, who knows what may happen?

Somehow, sin querer, I am learning to live, to wander the hours of my geographically-fixed days in this city I have known for decades, the way I once wandered streets in strange new lands. Suddenly, I realize, everything surprises me. Yeah! Now what?

Sin querer, every day and every pot has become strange, and new -- if I just let it be. If I just let it go its way.

Who knows what could happen?