Archives for posts with tag: relationships

As described in my last post, the first step in pottery throwing is centering the clay on the wheel. My pottery teacher says that it takes students typically four weeks just to learn how to get the clay to stick to the wheel head, to mix the clay by coning it up and down for structural integrity, and to keep it centered.

The next major step is opening up the form. First, a thumb or sponge is used to make a small opening straight down into the clay. This is much harder than it sounds or looks. For most of my pieces, this has resulted in losing center and turning my clay into a wobbly mess. I typically end up taking a wire tool and removing the clay off of the wheel. Unfortunately, the clay has to dry out for awhile and be rewedged to remove air bubbles, before being re-used.

One of the reasons that I have focused more on plate-making is that they do not have to be opened. Yesterday, I arrived at class still not having independently made a decent cylinder, a basic form. I had, however, watched a number of pottery teachers on the Internet over last weekend. What they were doing didn`t look any different than watching my instructor. A lot of pottery is learned through feel and I was just not getting it.

I came into the studio and tried throwing a plate, which ended up going off center in the last step. It was not worth trying to save so I took it off of the wheel, balled it up, and put it back into my clay bag to be used in a couple of weeks. Then I tried to throw a cylinder, which turned into a saucer sized plate. I liked the looks of it so I was not too bothered by the fact that the clay had a mind of its own. Then it collapsed and I wired it off, discovering that the bottom was so thin that it was not viable, anyway. Counting the two plates I tried to throw last week, I had now made four wet clay blobs in a row. I was feeling a little frustrated.

Mikki, our instructor, had other things in mind. She wanted us to learn to make mugs. A mug is a cylinder. We were also adding curves to the form to make it easier to make a handle that would accommodate fingers. I centered my clay, mixed it up and down three times, took a deep breath and poked my thumb into the top of the clay to make my opening. To my surprise, it worked. Then I took my thumb and pulled it across the bottom of the form to widen the cylinder. I had a couple of close calls but there was nothing that I was not able to repair. I had successfully opened up the form without collapsing it.

Then it was time to “pull” the form. Basically, that is when most of the vertical growth occurs in the form. I carefully followed the steps but my form went awry. I asked my instructor for help. She put her fingers in my piece and said, “Oh, you didn’t make your hole deep enough.”

When I opened up, I had not gone deeply enough. I have also ruined forms by going too deep. I have also ruined forms by not having the wheel spin fast enough. I have ruined them by going too slow. As for this form, I was able to fix it and had a break through about what “pulling” a form actually meant and I moved my hands, slowly at the speed of the wheel, just as I had been instructed to.

By the end of the night, I had made two nice looking mugs. No, they didn’t match. I was actually kind of happy for that. I like variety. Next week, we’ll learn how to make and apply the handles.

By going deeply enough at the right speed and by trying over and over, I will have made a vessel from which I can derive sustenance. Opening up leads to many outcomes. Fortunately, life gives us many many do-overs.

When I was a little girl, we made May baskets at school, which were usually a cone made out of construction paper with a paper strip looped on the back as a hanger. Each year, I took them home, filled them with flowers from the yard, and carefully walked to the neighbor’s house. As I recall, I mostly walked to the same neighbor’s house, Myrtle Anderson’s, hung the basket on her door knob, knocked, and then ran away. They were not so random acts of kindness.

I have long enjoyed giving gifts to people. I notice the things that people like over the course of the year and file it away in my mind for future gift reference. Sometimes I give people gifts “just because”. When I was in college, I had a boyfriend who was often awkward about accepting gifts from me. They were small things, really. I knew that he liked to play cards so when I took a ceramics class and made him a mug decorated with a heart, a club, a spade, and a diamond. It was just one of the things that I made. The rest I kept for myself. When I asked him when his birthday was, he wouldn’t tell me. It was one of many arguments that he and I had over seemingly really silly things. He actually told me that I didn’t argue enough. Anyone who knew me when I was in my early adulthood would appreciate the uniqueness of this characterization. He was not comfortable with affection or gifts. When he told me that he thought we should break up, I didn’t argue. I agreed.

The following fall, I met the man who would become my husband. As I’ve written in the past, John was dating someone else at the time and in the process of a somewhat messy break up due to the fact that his girlfriend was out of the country for two years, on a religious mission. They communicated by letter. Their relationship had been in poor shape when she left.

John and I started dating the following spring. Our first kiss was on April 25th, 1988. I decided to make a May Day basket for him. I went to the University Bookstore and bought two colors of paper. (Hubby tells me now that he thought I used blue and green. I don’t remember.) I carefully measured and drew lines on the paper as a guide for cutting. I wove the strips into a basket; I remember it being surprisingly large. I made a handle for it and filled it with tulips.

I was excited when I made the gift as I often am when I am making something for someone I love. There is an enthusiasm full of hope and energy. But I was also nervous that he wouldn’t like the gift or would feel that it was “too much”, that I was “too much”.

I walked into his apartment with it. I greeted him with, “Happy May Day!” He smiled, “Thank you, those are beautiful.” Then he gave me a kiss. In short, he acted as if I had given him a somewhat random act of kindness that he very much appreciated. He acted like giving a gift to your boyfriend was a normal and healthy thing to do. This is when I learned that he could accept my love. I hoped that it would last for a long long time.

John is leaving tomorrow for an eagerly awaited ten day trip to the canyon lands of Utah. He is traveling with his stepfather, Don. They will have a marvelous time and I am very happy for him. They have not taken a trip, just the two of them, since 1993 when they went to Tanzania together.

I woke up this morning, missing him even though he hasn’t yet left. When I noticed that it is May 1st, I thought back to the basket and the flowers. So as part of my walk, I stopped at the Thriftway and picked up six bunches of locally grown tulips. When I gave them to him, he thanked me and remembered our first May Day together.

May 1st means a lot of things. To some it is just the first day of May. To others, it marks the day of a birth or a death. To others, it is a time to advocate for workers. All of these things are true. To me, it marks the newness of spring and the joyful discovery of love given freely and freely returned.

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Back when I was a researcher, I used to travel to conferences to make presentations. One of them was the meeting for the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), which was held in Anaheim, CA. Yes, the largest conference devoted to the education of young children was held at Disney Land. The conference attendees were offered a special rate to go to the park. It was less than half the price and since it was for admission, after hours, there were no long lines for the rides.

Since this was a professional conference, I was attending with other people from the not-for-profit for which I worked. One of the people from work did not like me. She was the director of one of the other departments in the organization but since my position involved work in her department, she was one of my direct supervisors. And when I mean that she didn’t like me, I mean that she pretty much actively disliked me. She also did not like my work. As you could imagine, it was awkward hanging out with a group of people, one of whom had a lot of power over my job not to mention constantly emitting, “I don’t like you” vibes.

As I have mentioned previously, I do not like to go on scary amusement park rides. The group I was with wanted to go on the “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” ride. Ordinarily, I would have just said, “No way!” But my boss was there and I knew how much she believed in employee togetherness. I asked an employee how scary the ride was and she told me that it wasn’t. So I agreed to go on the ride.

The ride began and within about five seconds I realized that it was way too scary for me. I closed my eyes and started doing deep breathing. Soon, I felt calm. I was aware of the way the air felt on my skin as the ride accelerated in speed. I noticed smells of liquid vapors and of machine part lubricants. I could also hear the gasps and yells of the people who were experiencing the ride. I noticed sounds of surprise, fear, and exhileration. These are all strong emotions. I felt no strong emotions but I noticed and observed.

As a child and adolescent psychologist, I often work with children and families when they are in distress, experiencing strong emotions, mostly painful ones. It would not be helpful for me to join in with the distress. “Oh no! That’s terrible! What are you going to do?” I need to be present and engaged but not swept away. I need to avoid adding drama. I am there to carefully observe, interpret, and to provide assistance.

It is a complex process. Clinicians who do not demonstrate enough empathy and emotional connection are described as cold. Clinicians who demonstrate too much emotion are described as having poor boundaries. And the definition of what is too little or too much varies person to person. To be the right amount of present, calm, and connected is incredibly therapeutic to someone who is in distress. To be too little or too much is not only counter-therapeutic, it is also not healthy for the clinician.

I started formally practicing mindfulness nearly three years ago as a way of dealing with my breast cancer diagnosis as well as to live a healthier life. It occurs to me that many years before this time, I was already practicing it in session, with my patients. This helps me be effective and also minimizes the amount of stress I take home with me. It has been trickier to apply mindfulness to the rest of my life. But I have been doing it and I plan to continue. It has greatly enriched my life and helped me cope with the scary hurts and heartache much better. I still experience all emotions, at all levels. I experience pain. I am having more and more moments of acceptance and less and less suffering.

I have noticed some shifts in my personal relationships. Some of the shifts have been uncomfortable. I initially found myself getting annoyed at how upset people got at what I considered to be minor annoyances or future catastrophic outcomes of low probability. And it’s not all complaints or expressed fears. It’s the ones tinged with helplessness or hopelessness that really get to me. Anger turned to worry and worry turned to sadness, over time. I realize that some people in my life are on a much different ride. We are no longer experiencing the same ride. Although this is helpful as a therapist, it is harder with relationships that are more intimate and more expecting of reciprocity.

At this moment, I feel a bit sad about it. But I also know that my feelings have changed about this and will likely continue to change. I do know that I have selected the right ride for me and will try to live the healthiest way I can since that is best for me and my family.

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George Lakoff

George Lakoff has retired as Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society (cnms.berkeley.edu).

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