Wednesday, April 28, 2010

What really happened and what is up with Alex?

The best answer to both of these questions was answered this evening, by my lovely wife. In her blog.

Give her blog posting a read. You'll have probably more than enough information (probably too much info).

At this point I am pretty glad no one took any pictures of me during my stay in the ICU. The earliest images post-surgery were shot at my out-patient physical therapy.

Busted Belly Benefit - May 2nd, 2-6pm @ the Rongo!!

For those that haven't heard yet, this weekend on Sunday from 2-6pm is the Busted Belly Benefit. The Rongovian Embassy is hosting it and Mary Ellen Salmon, Carol Bloomgarden and quite a few other friends have been organizing it. There will be two awesome live bands playing. And best of all, there will be a fantastic auction of art, fine crafts, and lots of fun stuff from local wineries and bed and breakfasts. Should be a phenominal gathering on Sunday! Come one, come all!!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Shootin' in the Settin' Sun

We don't get many chances to hike as a family. I think it is mostly my fault. I hate feeling this broken and old. So on good days, where the body works and I can convince everyone to join me, a walk along the upper rim of the Taughannock gorge is always fun. Last night was perfect. Great sun, lovely light, perfect temperature and NO bugs. A week from now this trail will be a highway for midges, mosquitoes and biting flies. Yuck!

Ideas coming on strong - instead of sleep

By now, everyone reading this is aware of my pathetic 3am alarm that goes off inside my head every night. Usually I can find a way to wake up briefly, hit the bathroom and be back asleep before ten minutes have passed. Not last night.

Sitting there in bed as the clock worked its way towards 5am, I realized that most of what was keeping me awake wasn't worry or dread, but a whole fleet of new ideas for a ceramics curriculum which could theoretically be made into a book as well. I started with the idea that when teaching throwing on the wheel, we immediately look to history to solve our formal problems... shoulders of a vase, feet of a bowl, lip of a mug etc... all have historic precedence. The issue arises when a student wants to understand the "why". So as I sat there last night, I thought through all the discussions I had sat through in college and grad school... and there was always just assumed to be an understanding of the "why" particular forms worked. That led me to question how far to the extremes could you take things as a way of exaggeration and was there a metaphorical comparison I could use while teaching to explain how far was too far.

Setting: Twenty students in a classroom with muddy hands. Most have already thrown for more than a semester but these are still beginning potters for the most part. They understand the names of the parts of the pots. By and large, they can make the pots they set out to make each day. The pots function more or less as they should. Then comes experimentation. I have seen most schools shy away from this aspect of pedagogy. I assume because it often amounts to excessive failure. I guess I assume that reaching failure is a perfect goal in art. To know that you have crossed a line of acceptability and have made something hideous, awful, insert your euphemism of your choice here.

So how do we demonstrate how far to take this idea of exaggeration? I was seeing images in my head last night of mugs and pitchers and how the forming of the lips gives so much of the character of the pot. That triggered images of human lips and what they told us of their human character. The hard part came when I was thinking of which pots do I use to compare to this person and so on.

As the early morning hours wore on, I found myself thinking about all the things that are taught and once learned are seldom questioned again. I feel that by and large, most potters seriously overlook the feet on their pots. Even those that profess to enjoy making a good foot seem to do so grudgingly. Feet are not simply a stump or a resting place for the pot. They can be anything. They can be everything from a pedestal to a high heeled shoe. I am seldom surprised in a good way when I flip a pot over to examine the foot.

When I decided finally that being awake was more productive that laying in bed reflecting on all the ideas I wanted to bring into my curriculum, I realized that I need to be teaching again. I need to do more writing. Maybe if I can get this ball rolling it will start to gain some momentum and carry itself someday!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Shooting into the shadows

A.Solla - Cold Springs Studio Photography ©2010

Today was one of those Spring days you wait for all Winter. Sunny, not cold, dry and a nice breeze. The cherry trees are in full bloom but I'm not seeing a lot of bees yet. Probably still a little too chilly at night for them.

A.Solla - Cold Springs Studio Photography ©2010

Tonight when Aurora and I went for our walk we spotted a couple little brown bats. I love seeing bats. When I first bought this house we had at least 5 little brown bats living in our garage (which is now our studio). Closing in the walls and windows of the studio was one of the toughest things to do (back when we were building it) since I knew it would have a major impact on our bats. Sure enough, between loss of habitat and this white nose disease stuff, we just dont have anywhere near as many as we did a decade ago.

This afternoon was quiet. The phone calls had stopped. Nothing pressing going on in the studio. Dishes had been washed and dinner prep was done. Perfect time for a quick jaunt around the yard to catch what flowers were left after the weekend's rain. The cherry trees look so marvelous! Just had to catch a few images before the sun dropped in the sky.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Thoughts on Dying --- Coma Dream #2

Let me begin with the obvious: I am alive. But I think of death often. Not with any morbid fascination, but more the casualness one would exhibit looking through a family photo album.

Perhaps we should call this the first glance through an album of memories.

But are they your memories if they didn't happen during your lifetime? What do you call things that happen while your body sleeps and your mind doesn't?


Let me say again: I am alive. I know this because the smells are different. The light is better too.

For a long time I lingered in a twilight haze of ashy shadow and grease. It was always 3am. For years at a time, it was always 3am.

Each day began with me sitting at a table. Outdoors, but without the weather that comes from being outside. The table was made of downward curving metal, perforated with large half-inch holes over the entire surface. The tabletop was covered in a thin rubber coating that once must have been mustard colored but now, like everything else around me, was dingy, grey and fading. Not quite black but never again anything remotely as lively as yellow.

The table was the end of the line for the production of the fast-food joint I was at. No one stood at a counter to take you order... well, not really. There was always someone standing there... but they just looked at you and then looked down as though that would tell you all you needed to know about ordering your meal. A meal. Even now I am not sure I can call it that. Imagine the ubiquity of water fountains and now imagine that in the same way, all food supply units were essentially a bastardized version of Burger King.

After looking down to order, something would be garbled back behind a wall, sounds of movement would begin, quiet, hushed then loud clunking and slow feet shuffling. Far across the open space of the dining plaza, a garbage can would start to beep. Incessantly, but quietly so as to not annoy you if you weren't really sure yet that you wanted the food coming your way.

Then with a whir it would present, through the open slot. Your food. On a tray, grey-brown with wet paper separating the food from the sticky plastic tray. Almost warm but by no means hot. Smells of old onions, scorched coffee and egg shells are the first smack to the face.

Leaving the tray and food intact, I am sure there has to be something better around to eat. I also desperately need to find a bathroom. It has been days since I could pee. I would trade a perfect chocolate milkshake for a chance to pee in a clean bathroom. But there is no bathroom. When I ask at the counter where the meal originated, I get the same bleary eyed response... that downward cast glance as though one could order a trip to the bathroom through this device.

I look down at my clothes. A cover-all that once must have been blue-grey with thin white stripes, but now, like everything else, it was greyed with time, grease and dust. I can't find the sun in the sky. The buildings around me rise ceaselessly into the sky, each one a copy of the one beside it. There is an occasional breeze which at first feels like it might have the warm touch of spring but by the time I can sort out the smell I am overwhelmed with the sickly sweet aroma of decay. The wind grows until I have to duck into an entryway of building so as to escape from the stench that threatens to coat my skin with an oily scum.

Looking through the scratched silver windows of the building lobby, I keep my eyes moving... hoping for someone to talk to. I really want to find a bathroom.

Walking farther down the street, I find a body curled around a bench made from the same perforated metal rounded into tables like I saw earlier. Finding at first his head amongst the papers and rags, I was unsure he was awake. With none of his hands visible I feared that if I asked of their absence, knowing would be worse than the reek wafting from him. Just when I was sure that he was deep aslumber, he opened one eye at me. Asking me with that same downward glaze and soundless hush, he asked why I was there.

I told him I wanted to die.

I also needed to pee.

Laughing into last month's urine soaked newspaper, he turned his head to me. Our eyes met only briefly before I turned away, afraid that his one good eye might see me for what I was. His other eye, caked with drying puss, kept oozing with each blink.If only he would look away... I could ask him again.

Before I can repeat myself he lifts his shriveled hands from beneath his shabby mound and points to an alleyway a few feet away. Slumped between a wall uncertain of its future and the ground well past worn, a woman looks at the needle in her arm, hoping for release. I am not even worth a glare from her direction.

With a plaintive look on my face, I ask again: how can I die?

Shouldering the wet mass of cloth and sopping cardboard, paper and shit, he pushes me headlong towards a guardrail over a highway. Looking down, bits of detritus falling away, he admonishes me to pick one. Slow or fast, both definite. Either way, I could die. Looking for some merciful solution, I look all around, hoping someone would see me in my plight. I asked again: How can I die?

Laughing that piteous laugh again, he slurs through wet teeth that all I need to do is keep eating the food that came out of that slot.


For folks who wonder: I have contemplated suicide only a few times in my life. Mostly during a rough time in college when my girlfriend had been replaced with a demon from hell.

I find it interesting that while in the coma, I needed to pee. I find this to have been almost an omnipresent sensation throughout all of the coma dreams.

But the wish for dying? I did want to know. How could I escape the 3am grey-gloom? I would have done anything to break free of those awful smells and sights. Even now, I feel the need to scrub my body with borax in the shower... anything to get that oily stench off of my skin.

I know you don't smell things in dreams. I never dreamed for years at a time before either.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Letters Written and Never Sent

I have toyed around with the idea of putting some of my ongoing in-my-head conversations down onto paper (or in this case blog) as a way of sharing some of these unwritten letters. Sometimes these letters are to friends, peers, mentors, but always people I so seldom hear from.

I just wonder if that makes for interesting reading. Anyone out there curious?


Another topic for a later blog posting... maybe.
Anyone interested in hearing more about life in the coma? I have held off, mostly because things around here have been focused on trying to get me well. I have been trying to avoid looking into that dark corner. Instead we've had all of our attention pulled to the bright hot spot light of day to day survival and healing. With bankruptcy staring us in the face and another major surgery (to re-connect the colon to the rectum) on the way, tension has replaced peace and tranquility.

So... anyone want to hear musings from the dark side?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Thoughts on the Korean concept of Han

NCECA brought some very powerful and cathartic emotions to the surface of my life. I went down to Philly expecting to see some folks from year's past, eat some great food, see some pots, and maybe, just maybe, sleep a little. Things seldom work out the way I initially envision them.

Within ten minutes of arriving at the Convention Center, we found our way into the hall of merchants. It took even less time to pick out the frame of the biggest man in my world of mud... Lee Burningham. Wrapped in his arms it is hard not to feel like an undersized stuffed toy.

A few minutes later we found one of Lee's former students, TJ. I haven't seen TJ in probably three years, but for a moment, no time had passed. Our eyes met from one end of the hall to the other, and all the movement around us came to a halt. Both of us more than capable of having enough tears to fill the room, but knowing the fear that passes near death and steals those tears away. Looking into his eyes he was so surprised to see me alive, walking... and at the same time, I could see in his eyes the anger and pain knowing what I had lived through. Han.

Wikipedia describes the Korean concept of han as a "feeling of unresolved resentment against injustices suffered, a sense of helplessness because of the overwhelming odds against one, a feeling of acute pain in one's guts and bowels, making the whole body writhe and squirm, and an obstinate urge to take revenge and to right the wrong—all these combined." Yeah, han. Probably the only way to describe it.

TJ and I met when he was a sophomore at Box Elder High School in Brigham City Utah. I knew then as I have learned countless times since, that he stands apart. I remember the first conference we really spent time together at: Indianapolis. Nancy joined me on my first foray back to NCECA after my divorce. For all I know, he might have been with us when Lee took his students to NCECA in Columbus, but I have no memory of that. At that time, my heart was rent. Not much of any substance came from that conference.

Indianapolis was different though. Both TJ and his fellow student Corey sat around Nancy and I listening to stories from the studio. We had such high hopes and aspirations for the studio. Our hands held the jewels of our latest glaze tests. Both Nancy and I had visions of great firings to come, sell out shows and workshops lined up months in advance. Seated across from us, TJ and Corey wanted it too.

I think that was what really amazed me. TJ has always had a peculiar intensity to his demeanor. Despite his furry visage, there is inevitably an air of vulnerability about him. Here we were, describing building our studio (with the help of Lee!) and the trials of bad firings etc... and these high school/soon to be college students wanted in.

Fast forward more than a few years... back to this year's NCECA in Philly. Walking back from an obscure Chinese noodle shop in Chinatown we talked about all the things un-related to clay. The family stuff. The expectations, goals, aspirations, dreams. And then we talked about all the things that have gone wrong.

TJ is off to Germany soon. He spent the better part of a year in China over two years ago. Someday soon he'll find an MFA program, settle down and pull together a fantastic exhibition. I look forward to being able to show up to see the fruits of his labors. Inherent in all of our talks together this trip was the common thread that someday, my body would be healed and my life in clay would re-boot. He has all the faith in the world that I can heal, repair, be fixed... made well so that I can be hip deep in the work that he has admired for so long. And here I was ready to throw in the towel.

"There is no literal English translation. It's a state of mind. Of soul, really. A sadness. A sadness so deep no tears will come. And yet still there's hope." President Bartlett, West Wing tv series.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Quick images from NCECA

For those of you who might never have heard of NCECA (National Council on Education in the Ceramic Arts), it is hard to imagine the overwhelming nature of a national clay gathering. It was a ZOO! 5000 potters, teachers, professors, engineers, geeks and mudslingers of every shape and size converged on Philly from Wednesday through Saturday of last week.

We traveled to Philadelphia with our apprentice Hannah and Mary Ellen Salmon. Thursday we were joined by Douglas who rounded our group out in the best way. Whether as a gang of five or as pairs or off on our own, NCECA was a blast!

We saw more pots than imaginable. We ate fantastic food. We saw and heard great presentations, workshops and demonstrations. For Nancy and I, the most important aspect of NCECA will always remain the reconnection with our friends. I wish I could say that I brought my dSLR on this trip, but it stayed home in the interest of saving weight. As it was, hauling our minimal gear from pillar to post was plenty hard enough. I think we walked 4-5 miles each day (at least, that's what our feet were yelling at us at the end of the day!).

What else can I say?