It is said that a measure of success in life is to “plant a tree, write a book, and raise a child.” This has been variously attributed to the Talmud, Buddhist teachings, Ernest Hemingway and José Martí. Regardless of its provenance, it is an apt set of goals for a successful life. We can take it literally or simply see it as an admonition to live a full life and share of ourselves with the world. My understanding of this adage is that a successful life involves creative acts. Moreover, I see this creativity requiring us to use our hands, our head, and our hearts.
I planted a couple of weeping willows in my parent’s backyard that later became my daughters’ favorite climbing trees, their bountiful shade providing them a perfect place to play. While I have not written any books, I have written many articles and edited a good number of books. Yet, to me, there is one more aspect of my life where the work of my hands, my head, and my heart has come together in one endeavor that has yielded much happiness: that is pottery.
Clearly, making pots is manual labor. After almost three decades of making pots my hands know and love the work of centering a lump of clay on the wheel and throwing a bowl or mug.
But the work of my hands often requires careful consideration before, during and after. Sometimes, I need to think about the shape I am going to make in advance and even draw a sketch or plan how I’m going to execute it. If I’m going to make a teapot, what shape shall it take? Will it be short and stout or tall and elegant? Where will the spout go and how will it be shaped so the pot pours well? How about the fit of the lid and the shape of the handle? A similar thought process takes place when it comes time to decorating and glazing the teapot.
I love making pots. Learning to work with clay triggered a major shift in my life. I transitioned from being a mostly left-brained, analytical person to allowing my creative right brain to take over. In the process I found important insights into myself and my life, as well as great joy. Every pot I make comes from the heart and the head, as well as my hands. So, for me, success in life means being able to enjoy the solitude of a day in the studio.