A love letter to pottery

“Pottery is life. The final product is just a reminder of the steps taken along the way.”

Growing up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, I was fortunate to experience many artistic mediums in a community that appreciated them. My mediums were metalwork and ornamentation. Making jewelry was expected: if I spent hours making a piece, I knew I would get the finished product I had planned. When I first studied ceramics in high school, I encountered the opposite.

I hated Pottery. I would spend hours at the wheel, unable to center my clay ball for the entire semester. When I finally had something that looked like a cylinder, I screwed it up by simply removing it from the wheel. Once upon a time, I had a small teacup that I could reach into a whole shard of glass. My bumpy mug with an anemia yellow and gray glaze could barely hold 4 ounces of water. After the semester ended, I swore I would never do pottery again.

I have always been interested in medicine but never really pursued it. I didn’t naturally excel in science as I did in English or other language classes. How the hell can I be a good doctor? When I made the decision to go to medical school, something in me changed. I lost 15 pounds due to Graves’ disease and with a resting heart rate of 130, I was sick. When a doctor diagnosed me and started my treatment, I finally began to live again. At the same time, the desire to do more for my clients outside of my scope as an esthetician was brewing in the background.

Sitting on the fire escape stairs at my school in Chinatown, San Francisco, I called my mom and told her I wanted to go to medical school. My desire to make the dream come true by saying it out loud, I knew I would do whatever it takes, no matter how hard it might be. Just because I wasn’t naturally good at something doesn’t mean I never would be.

While I was post-baccalaureate, I needed something else to do—something meditative. After seeing my best friend’s creations from his ceramics class, I was inspired to try pottery again. Even the bowls from the “rejection pile” were pretty to me. Maybe my little rejection can also be beautiful.

I still take hours centering a piece of clay. I left the studio empty-handed for days on end. But the feeling of kneading the clay, the smell of it, the way it slid between my fingers when I finally learned to pull it off, was magical. When I finally learned to trim, watching curls of clay fall around my pieces as they whirled magnetically on the wheel put me in such a trance that made me forget my stress. My cups were far from perfect. It was “rustic”, but I made it up. When a piece explodes in the oven, that’s okay. I can always make another cup and have another excuse for being in the studio – to be present. Unlike hard metal, clay was malleable. Like my mind, mud can grow.

Life goes through stages. Things never turned out the way I expected, but the beauty for me was found in the experience — the process. From making mistakes to learning from them to coming to terms with an outcome that wasn’t planned for – pottery is life. The final product is just a reminder of the steps taken along the way.

When everything explodes

Particle alignment

Silica spinning hub

Pull out, hollow out

drying in plastic

Solid leather, ready for trimming

Mud fall rolls

The fire is ready for the glaze

Gently dipped in glass powder

Wipe the bottom carefully

bubble expansion

The adjacent piece explodes

They are caught in the crossfire

A dashing and bright piece

Shrapnel helplessly lying in the furnace

They don’t

Nothing to take home

But lesson learned:

He will be fine

MX Mindelo He is a fourth-year medical student at the University of South Carolina College of Medicine in Greenville. They received Bachelors of Arts in Romance Languages, Literature, and International Studies from the University of Michigan and practiced as a licensed esthetician prior to medical school. They hope to pursue an Ob/Gyn and incorporate their love of psychiatry into their practices.

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