Ebbs and Flows

While I’m doing something, I’m immersed. Now, that doesn’t mean I can’t get distracted – because I like shiny things and noisy stuff as much as anybody – but I try to come back to where I was.  And to me, even the distractions – the shiny stuff and the noisy things – become part of the whole process…

It’s all stream of experience as you go through the day… which makes living, first of all, and a job that you enjoy, a lot more bearable, because you see the ebbs and flows…

Rich R.


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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Challenge / Satisfaction

Challenging is an interesting word…. I don’t see it as a challenge… how can I put this? It would be challenging if I didn’t enjoy it as much as I do.

It IS a lot of work. That’s what some people don’t realize – it’s definitely very tedious, and it IS a lot of work. But the outcome you get from putting in all that work and effort… the amount that it pays off takes all of that feeling of challenge away. It’s just pure satisfaction.

Joe C.

Mindfulness and Learning

I’m trying to teach my students to just focus on the activity and the process, and not worry about the outcome. Their lives are so hectic right now, and so distracting – with technology, and with so many different subject matters – that they seem to turn on and off, on and off with subject matter – I’ve really been encouraging them to be mindful on the activity. To be aware of the mindfulness of just mindfulness.

Jon T.

Process over product

The ‘after’ really doesn’t matter to me as much as I thought it would. It’s really the process that I’ve come to enjoy. The building is the part that I look forward to… That’s what I think we need to get students to buy into: It’s the process of learning that’s valuable, not what they produce along the way.

Kevin Q.

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.

That Special Moment

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Sir Ken Robinson signs a bowl made in our studio

I got to interview Sir Ken Robinson. I’ll let that sink in for a minute, because it was just as unexpected for me. Sir Ken Robinson, the man with the most-viewed TED Talk of all time.

It wasn’t just a coincidence, however. He came to speak at Malvern, and there was an opportunity to do something I could never do otherwise. For this project, we agreed to try for two ‘reach’ interviews, and needless to say I can cross one off my list.

This unique moment I had epitomizes my feelings for the interview process. At first, I wasn’t too sure about asking people for a five minute interview. It took as long to explain the project itself as to interview, so I wasn’t exactly jumping out of my seat to interview people. Last week I worked on getting a chunk of interviews done, and as the week went on my attitude changed. Each individual wasn’t just another interview out of the way, but a story. The interview gives me a chance to have a special conversation with people, some of whom I see everyday. I never knew that Luke B. loved scuba diving. Who could have known that seeing bubbles rising to the surface of the ocean gives him a calming feeling? The interview isn’t a burden to be carried, it has become my key into people’s lives, to peer in at a special moment that they have and share it with them.

From creative writing to riding motorcycles, the different moments of flow have come in all shapes and sizes (click over to interviews to hear more!). Do the ways we experience flow shape us, or do we choose our moments because of our own characteristics? This is just one interesting question I’ve thought about in the process, and hopefully by the end I will have an idea of an answer.

It was awesome to interview Sir Ken Robinson, but hearing every person’s moments of flow has been just as noteworthy, because of the chance to hear special moments in people’s lives.


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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