Almost there

IMG_3249It’s Thursday, the eve of our installation at the Continuing the Conversation Conference at Harvard University. If any one of us told you we weren’t nervous, we’d be lying. The last of our cups were thrown after school on Monday and were loaded into the kiln on Tuesday. By Wednesday, all of our cups had been glazed; and those that had their QR codes were placed in the Art Gallery for viewing by those that walked by before they will be ultimately packed up to come with us to Harvard Friday morning.

The whole experience has been great. All the hard work we have put into this including throwing, interviewing, waxing, or glazing has lead us to where we are now. The bonds among our team  have strengthened from countless hours spent together after school working on our project, drinking tea, and having a good time.  In the future, we will look back at this and realize that the experience was invaluable, and worth more than we could ever imagine.

Seeing all of our work come to fruition has been amazing, but we are still not done yet. The real fun has yet to begin because Friday, October 25th, our show hits the road. Look out Harvard, here we come!




Caught Red-Handed

red handed

I’ve been in the studio after classes every school day for the past month.  Seriously, it’s become a habit now.  I’m not saying that as a bad thing, in fact it’s sort of my fall sport; throwing red cups.  I love it.  Sometimes I work on classwork, but usually I’m “caught red-handed” with these cups and pitchers.

The funny thing is that we still have no clue what we’re doing.  Maybe I’m supposed to pretend we are old pros and not tell anyone that we’re struggling/working hard here.  Perhaps I’m the only one, but I think we all experience this challenge.  It’s a type of project that we have never done before, and we all kind of ignorantly agreed to.  When I was first told about the FLOW Project I thought it sounded very interesting and I wanted to help.  200 cups and interviews seemed like a lot, but we had 2 whole months so it couldn’t be that hard.  Then came the college application process.  Oh gosh, you don’t know how intense that is until you’ve spent every weekend either visiting, researching, sitting in on talk of, testing for, planning, writing essays for or applying to college.  So that cut deep into my time this fall.  Then of course there are your grades, because you need to keep getting those A’s :).  Overall, we were more time-restricted than I thought we’d be.

image (1)But one week from today, we’ll be completely done!  The show is next weekend so there’s no time for procrastination.  It came fast, and we still have a good amount of interviews and planning to do, but we can manage it.  So maybe this project taught me something about what I’m (we’re) capable of.  We faced a challenge new to all of us, but we boldly accepted it and hopefully will hit it out of the park.  And I really do mean WE.  The collaboration in this project was just off the charts.  I even switched some cups for interviews with a brother; 5 to be exact.  I enjoy the cup making more, though people really do have some interesting things to say.  He enjoys the interviewing more, so we made an arrangement.  Working toward each other’s strengths and interests just makes sense in my opinion.

I’m proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish, and I hope other people can enjoy drinking out of the cups we made and listening to the interviews we’ve done.  In fact, they should listen to more than just the interview that the QR code on the cup sends them to.  The more they listen to the better.  More interviews = awesome.  The reason I think this is important is because I feel like I’ve become wiser with every interview I do.  Sometimes I just gain insight into the interviewee, which in itself is precious.  But other times I see a deeper meaning to some of the conversations.  I’ve done a lot of thinking because of this project and can’t wait until I listen to all of these interviews.  After the conference probably, or maybe on the way over to Boston?  Anyway, thanks for taking the time to read my post and God bless.



What IS flow?

Interviewing people about “flow” can sometimes be difficult. The first couple minutes involves explaining what flow is. Well, flow is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what someone does.

Most people have that one sport or one game they love. Some others even seemed stumped by the question. It’s scary to think our body functions and we “lose track of time” and have a sense of timelessness.

You may see a person in flow and not even realize it. I’m sure most teachers love what they do so much they get into a sense of flow. You never know if the mailman is fully absorbed in his job. Everybody has their own “flow” and some people do not even realize they have a “flow.”  Gardeners, sanitation workers, artists, scholars, poets, athletes, and businessmen all may have different flows, and all have found one thing in their life that they simply could not live without it.

Personally, I get into a flow sitting down at the potter’s wheel.  Three-hour open studios go by in a blink of an eye, and after school from 3-5 is even faster. I zone out everything around me and focus on the clay ball spinning in front of me.

It is almost funny to think that I put this much effort into making a drinking vessel or a pitcher when I own so many of these at home. I’m not sure that I enjoy the finished product and using my pieces as much as I enjoy the atmosphere of the studio and the relaxation of throwing a bowl. There isn’t a word to describe the feeling of putting a piece into the kiln to glaze it and seeing it come out. You can predict glazes, but there is nothing for certain. These are the things I enjoy so much that I could do without an end.


The Tryers

Originally posted at Teaching/Craft

“I don’t think I even know how to stand still and not try,” one student says.

Several students and I are in the studio after school, creating cups.  The topic of conversation is ‘senior slide,’ and how yesterday might have been the perfect ‘senior skip day,’ but, really, isn’t October too early in the year for such shenanigans?

Another student adds, “I don’t know if I’d be able to look a teacher in the eye if I skipped, or did the slide.”  They agree that it’s an issue of mutual respect.

“Some of my friends, though, that’s what they’re living for – as soon as they’re accepted to college, that’s when they will quit.  And they can’t wait.”

All the while during this conversation, they are throwing, trimming, sanding cups.  We are well on our way to the two hundred we committed for an upcoming installation – but not there yet.  There are less than two weeks to go, so the energy has escalated.  We are all closing out each day with ruined khakis, the iron in the red clay producing stains that never quite go away.

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Coding it up…

Coding it up...

Our first page of QR codes. We’re laying these out in Illustrator. We print the QRs on laser water-slide decal paper, using an older model HP printer. Then we apply them to the cups, and fire them a third time to a cooler temperature than the glaze.

It’s a process.

The Nod

Originally posted at Teaching/Craft

Sometimes a song pulls me through a week, and this week, it’s Radiate, from Jack Johnson’s album From Here to Now to You.

I know that we can attribute just about anything into music, but I’m reading this song as a making song.  One verse:

I see you lost in what you create
All of time in this one single day
You take it in and you

Every time I hear this song – which has admittedly been stuck on repeat – I find myself nodding.  And then laughing.  Because, apparently, the potter’s nod is really a thing – not just a thing in our studio, but a real experience for a many potters.

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Selfless Flow


I find that through our many interviews people describe their flow activity as something they do alone that benefits them directly. I also feel that for some people they find flow in things they don’t even realize or take a notice to. The thing could also be used to benefit others and also bring the best out those people. It could be something like teaching or giving up your time in order to help other people. These things may sound to some people like things that are not too desirable or something they could become fully immersed in, but for those special people I think it is very possible. I believe that sometimes the activity itself may not be what we are totally in love with, but the outcome that makes the activity unquestionable and pass easily.

One of my teachers is a prime example of this.  If you look at the many things she is involved in, you find it hard to believe. And not only does she complete these tasks, she does it with a smile on her face. I know for the most of us, we see this and we might sometimes take this for granted. She consistently puts in long hours all so that she can see her students succeed.  She is at school at 7:30 for meetings carrying a box of doughnuts for the various activities she is involved in – and still there at 5:00, assisting students or working on school jobs.

Why is this?  Not many people I know could handle this type of workload that she takes on. I like to think that she takes a sense of flow into all these activities, knowing that she could potentially change these students’ lives. She knows that what she is doing now, although it may be tough, changes her students for the better.

This type of flow, in my opinion, is the best type there is. It is powerful, and it is so selfless and kind.

Ready, willing, and able red hands

Image (2)I found myself in a predicament this week at the wheel. For the past year, I have spent much of my spare time in the ceramics studio without even having a class, but most of this time was spent throwing bowls. From making them for Empty Bowls to just making them as gifts, bowls really became the only thing I made. It was what I enjoyed making, or maybe just what I was comfortable with, or maybe its just where I found my “flow”.

They say ceramics is like riding a bike – you never forget. This may be true, but I found that my hands no matter how hard I tried kept instinctively making that classic bowl shape. They all differ in some ways but always end up looking the same. From trying to make a teapot in my Ceramics III class, to the task of making 30 red cups, I became frustrated with myself.

But then I realized – this was perfectly natural. It takes a bit to get back into the swing of anything. Anyone who spends time in that studio has felt a struggle at the wheel in one way or another, and I am always willing to help in any way I can. The same was for people who helped me. My teacher and different classmates helped me get back into it. They guided my hands and did demos for me. I now have a leather hard teapot and 15 red cups on my shelf, all of which I am proud of.

I had to go home a few times with the dreaded red clay stain on my pants. The memories of struggling and being frustrated with the clay remained with me. But now I’ve made 15 cups, and the next 15 can be cranked out with one sitting at the wheel.

I now can make the teapot body and cups with ease, but only because some people helped me.  They and I went home with that same dreaded Brooklyn Red stain on our pants.


Red clay and a task

Yesterday afternoon, throwing cups in the studio with Drew and Brian, I was listening to them talk about what every senior I teach is talking about within two minutes of any conversation’s start:  college applications.

I watched them work – these  talented, thoughtful, and generous young potters who can make wondrous things even without full focus.  And I found myself remembering what it felt like to be on the same cliff where they stand.  Not knowing the answers is a hard thing, a creeping thing, the type of distraction that can pull us away from feeling immersed and centered even in the work that we love.

It’s not surprising that every conversation comes back to college.  The type of pressure they face on what is, for many of them, their first really big life decision –  from teachers, parents, counselors, each other, and most of all, themselves –  is nothing short of a mountain.

I’ve been reading lots of interpretations around Csíkszentmihályi’s work on Flow.  In a number of papers and books, Csíkszentmihályi presents that in order to achieve a Flow state, one must be involved in an activity with a clear set of goals and progress.  Right now, the task of making 200 cups and doing 200 interviews seems daunting – but we have clear goals and clear progress to make.  Yesterday afternoon, it was 5 PM before any of us realized we had just spent nearly three hours after school throwing cups.

By contrast, the college decisions facing my students have unclear goals (“My top three are __, ___, ___, but I also like ___, but I don’t know if I have the scores for ___…”), sporadic progress (“I have to wait back on my SAT scores… still have to finish my common app…. this one school has like nine extra essays to write…”), and big parts of the process that are far out of their control.

I want to tell them that it’s going to be okay.  With their talent, insight, and generous approach to the world, they will be more-than-fine wherever they choose to spend the next chapter of their lives.  And I also want them to know that it is okay not to know, and that sometimes, not knowing can be its own gift.  From an interview with Chris S., a distinguished artist and teacher:

One of the most profound things I heard when I was a graduate student was when I asked one of the professors what he thought of some of my artwork, and he said, “I don’t know.”  And I had never heard a teacher say, “I don’t know.”  What a remarkable gift that was, for someone to express doubt.  In him doing so, it made me feel okay about myself, because I knew there was so much I didn’t know.  And here’s the teacher who’s supposed to know very willingly saying he didn’t know.  In him doing that, it allowed me to engage more fully in the creative process of allowing me to do my own work, because it told me I was okay, that I didn’t have to know all the answers.

I want to tell them all this.  But I also remember that cliff of not knowing, and how scary these big decisions seemed in my own life.  So instead, I offer red clay and the task of 200 freeform cups, 1-2 pounds each, in a little less than a month, and a progress chart.

Here’s to finding flow where we can.


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