When I’ve been firing for a long time the boundary between nighttime wakeful stoking and feverish fitful sleeping is thin.
Several firings ago I had a dream and I can’t be sure now whether I was awake and stoking or asleep and dreaming I was stoking. I dreamt that I had put up all my wood for two years and decided to burn it all in one firing. The wood ran out but somehow the work needed a little something more: the ember bed wasn’t lined up on the belly of a jar just so or the like. So I began dumping wheelbarrow loads of brick into the kiln. Several palettes of brick later (all that I had, again) I looked in and the kiln still seemed empty. I couldn’t see the work. So, left with nothing else in the kiln yard I opened an incision and, one by one, began stoking my internal organs. (As is often the case with this sort of dream, there was no hint as to what the work looked like after such efforts.)
After unloading a firing that looked nothing like I’d hoped a friend reminded me that “Clay will break your heart every time.” Her’s was one of a litany of such thoughts that creep in on me during my week of “unloading funk”. Most of the thoughts begin with “Why…?” and many get no further. One of my favorite comic lines from the glitzy mega-cinema of my adolescence is, after hearing of a particularly foxy heist by Costner as Robin Hood, the prince declares to his cousin the Sheriff of Nottingham: “I’m going to cut his heart out with a spoon”. Sheriff: “Why a spoon cousin?” Prince: “Because it’s dull you twit, it’ll hurt more.”
As far as I understand neuroscience, we are not wired to remember pain. I have memories that I felt pain but I have difficulty recreating the sensation simply by recalling the painful incident (the exception for me is the pain of embarrassment, which I will torture myself with for any minor faux pas at a party). Alternately I can remember moments of pleasure, culinary or otherwise, quite well, and will replay such moments with even more enthusiasm than when I torture myself with my own embarrassment. Pain, similarly, is present only as an abstract concept, if even that, in my dreams. The evisceration stoking was pain free without anesthesia. In dreams, as in memory, we are blessed with the ability to remember what causes us pain, but not the pain itself.
Not only did my evisceration not cause me pain, it felt liberating. Risking “new ageism”, I would go so far as to say that my placing my liver in the firebox was an experience of feeling nurtured by the kiln. “Why…?”
Both of my last two firing have happened since my daughter Greta was born (our first, at the time of this writing she is nine weeks old). The feeling I get when my wife is on shift and I bring Greta out to her to nurse by the kiln is echoed by watching a field mouse scamper up to a stone ledge in my kiln buttress to eat from a bowl of raw honey I’ve placed there as an offering. The combination of a being so small and vulnerable in such unknowing proximity to temperatures catastrophic to their state of being, going about the daily ritual of sustenance, moves me in a way that I would prefer not to try and put words to.
Psychologists (armchair and otherwise) reading this may already see where I am going with this: that I repeatedly return to the source of my grief and pain hoping it will heal and nurture me anew. Like an infant, I can’t say why I need what I do, just that I need it. Unlike an infant I can say a word or two about what risk in my studio life does for me: it sets me free. It sets me free from simply executing expectations, each risk allowing for, requiring, another layer of developmental growth.
The author trained as a traditional potter, serving a three year apprenticeship, before establishing his own studio in 2002. He has, despite his own best efforts to the contrary, begun making forms that are purely sculptural. Each paragraph of this piece was written in between stokes of his third multi day kiln firing in the month of April, one in which the kiln reached temperatures three cones hotter for a full day longer than it had in any previous firing … and during which he hosted twenty-five of his most important collectors for a fundraiser dinner. www.jordantaylor.us