In Pursuit of Happiness, #8:  My Mom, Bestie Time (again), and Music (for real this time)

My Mom: Sunday is the only day of the week where I can actually chill out for more than five seconds at a time, and I spend a lot of it with my mother and sister. I also stay over at their place on Sunday nights, because it makes the task of getting to the gym for a 6AM on Monday morning much easier to accomplish.

At 5:20 this morning when I went to say good morning to my mom before getting ready to leave, my mother got out of bed and made me a smoothie to take on the go – banana, mango, and yogurt, to be exact, with just enough milk to thin it out and make it easy to drink from a mason jar on the metro.

While carrying around our ridiculously fat cat (no, really – he’s about 18lbs) and watching me scurry about getting my stuff together, Mom reminded me to take an umbrella because it’s going to rain today, to walk carefully because it might be icy outside, to bring back the mason jar I borrowed for my smoothie, and to call once in a while during the week.

Like any adult offspring, I just smiled and nodded and said, “Of course,” to every reminder. But even though I think I’m old enough now not to need reminding about things like this (well, except for the one about the mason jar, as I’m a kleptomaniac when it comes to food storage containers), I don’t mind when Mom does it. That’s just her way of saying she loves me, after all.

Bestie Time (again): Any time with good friends is time well spent, but time spent with my best friends is priceless and wonderful to me. Being one of those ridiculously busy people, choosing to spend some of my few free hours with friends is one of the ways I say how much I love them – but I realize too that the fact that they accommodate my strange and unpredictable schedule to be able to spend time with me is their way of saying they love me, too.

One of my best friends came over for dinner on Saturday night with a fantastic bottle of red (Apothic 2013). After a long week at work for the both of us and a particularly rough one for me in terms of physical health, it was a welcome kind of socializing: low-key, one-on-one, and at home. I was actually pretty bummed about missing the anniversary dinner of another friend of mine, but being able to have company on Saturday night nonetheless really re-energized this burned-out introvert.

It’s hard to believe we’ve already known each other for six years and, like the small handful of people I do consider my closest friends now, I really can’t imagine my life without him. It’s not just because he’s fantastic company and knows how to pick a really good bottle of wine, or that he’s a gym person too who’s working on his own transformation. He’s one of the funniest, most socially intelligent, caring, and supportive people I’m lucky enough to know and even luckier to call my friend.

Music (for real this time): After my last breakup in early 2015, I didn’t torture myself by lying on the couch eating ice cream out of the bucket while sob-singing along to all of “our” songs. In fact, the music on my phone underwent one of the biggest purges of its history so that all I had left on it were songs that were upbeat, empowering, and carried no connection whatsoever to the relationship that had just ended. This handful of songs carried me through 2015’s changes and transformations; they were there for every step I took on the treadmill, every plate I added to the bar, every drop of sweat I shed, and every ounce I lost last year (and also every muffin, piece of cake, chocolate bar, and Tootsie Roll I begrudgingly passed up).

My workout playlist was literally the only music I listened to for all of 2015. A couple of weeks ago, I received a one-year subscription to Apple Music as something of a late present, and I decided to dive back into my lost love of music. (This came up in last week’s edition of “In Pursuit of Happiness,” actually, when I shared with you the exchange I had with one of my good friends about Poison and, mainly, Bon Jovi.)

Having very quickly overdosed on downloading all the music I truly love, I found I didn’t want to hear just the old familiar sounds of the music I’ve always rocked out to. I wanted to dive into something new and discover more artists whose songs and sounds would maybe help shape and define this newest version of myself that I’ve been working on.

Thank goodness then, then for two things. The first is the NPR Music app, whose alternative rock stations introduced me to the likes of Screaming Females, The Frights, The New Basement Tapes, Cage the Elephant, Beach House, and The New Tarot. But something equally fun as discovering new music on your own is having good friends recommend things to you – which is why the second thing is that there are the judgey-ass music nerds in my life, and in particular two of them.

You’ve already met one (in last week’s Happiness post) and the other is a guy I work with at Job2 (he’s in a band with another person we work with). What they both have in common, besides the privilege-chore of knowing me, is an uncanny ability to recommend artists that are consistently good. Even though there’s almost no overlap in what they recommend to me whenever I bother them for music that they haven’t posted on Facebook and even though they’ve never actually met, I think it would be really interesting and entertaining to put them in the same room and listen to them discuss music together.

The former is arguably more judgmental than the latter but both are equally knowledgeable about what’s going on in the underground and who you should be listening to from down there. My current favourites from them are Automelodi, Antigone, and Three Trapped Tigers, and I have a long list scribbled onto a Post-It somewhere in my agenda of more that I should apparently give a chance. And I’m looking forward to doing exactly that this week.

By the way, if you don’t have any judgey-ass music nerds in your life, I highly recommend you go befriend at least one. Listening to their sighs and observing their eye-rolls at your music, sitting through their rants about the mainstream, and enduring the litanies in which they wax poetic about artists nobody knows about is well worth your effort for all the goodness they’ll bring to your musical life. Trust me, I know things.

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So until next week, tell your parents or parental figures you love them, have a cup of coffee with your best friend, and tune into some artists you’ve never heard before – because that’s what I did this week and I wouldn’t be sharing it if it hadn’t succeeded in bringing some happiness to my life!

Holding on to what I’ve got

At various points in my life, I’ve felt like certain songs defined exactly what I was going through at that exact phase of my life. We’ve all experienced this phenomenon before and we all have a mixtape of songs that for one reason or another we felt were all about ourselves.  Now, I’m not entirely sure what song defined my life at the end of 2015, but I can tell you what happened and how I emerged in 2016 to be howling “Livin’ on a Prayer” into my hairbrush while powerstancing on my bed.

In the last few months of 2015, I actually went through a crisis of faith. Having already gone through similar experiences twice before, you’d think I would have figured out how to prevent them from happening again – especially with all the tools and formation I received from growing up in a devout Catholic household steeped long in theology, philosophy, and Catechism. Having faith was just as normal to us as breathing and the reminder to “just keep praying” was heard as often as “clean your room.”

But I was and still sometimes am a spoiled and rebellious child, and when things don’t go my way I get upset with God. And, depending on what didn’t turn out the way I wanted and how it didn’t turn out, I can get pretty temperamental and stubborn. Yes – right up to the point of throwing in the towel on my faith and going off to a dark corner to sulk and ignore God. “You gave me free will,” I once said in a Parthian shot to Him, “so I’m going to use it the way I want to.”

This last year in particular, on the two bookending occasions of 2015 that broke my heart, the pain I really encountered after abandoning my post at the Foot of the Cross was far greater than the pain I thought I’d had while abandoning myself to the Lord. During Advent, a season in the Liturgical year during which the rest of the Christian world is preparing to greet the Holy Child at Christmas, the hours I once spent on prayer were given over to weeping and gnashing of teeth.  (No, really — I think I cried more in 2015 than I ever have in all the other years of my life put together.) For the first time in many years I didn’t receive Communion at Christmas Mass or on New Year’s Day, and for the first time ever I found myself really considering just breaking off from Catholicism altogether and giving up entirely on religion.

But I couldn’t jump off that side of the ledge upon which I teetered for many weeks, because if there was one thing I learned from my human father it was that even if your faith is in shreds, if you can find a piece of it that’s still big enough to hold on to you really should. And if there was one thing I learned how to do in 2015, it was how to look at something for what it really was and discern if it really ought to be in my life – to use logic and rationale instead of just blind faith to figure stuff out.

I’m definitely no expert at it because hey, I kind of just started doing it, but I’m beginning to at least get enough of a handle on it to start using this skill more often in my life. And when I took that long, hard look at myself on Epiphany Sunday, I realized I was a little too good at letting go: too good, because up until now the rejection, betrayal, or pain from one person was enough to make me let go of everyone in my life – including God.

After all, pure logic would dictate that if I believed God put people into my life for some unknown but good reason, then I should believe He took some of them out of my life for an equally unknown but supposedly still good reason. Along that same line of thought, twisted logic would say that if I wasn’t happy with anything, including God, I should just chuck it all overboard. But that didn’t make sense to me when I thought about it, because in a way that was saying I believed in free will but only when it was convenient – in other words, only when good things happened – and that whenever one of my choices, even a good one, cut me to the core it wasn’t on my hands but on God’s.

Once I figured that out, I spent most of Epiphany Sunday this year in dialogue with myself about all of this. I moved through the day talking myself through all the reasons why I kept abandoning my Catholicism when relationships didn’t work out, when I lost meaningful and formative friendships, or when I didn’t succeed at something I set out to do. I tried to determine why failed relationships and soured friendships had the effect of pulling me away from God so much to the point where the inevitable crash-and-burn in these instances unfailingly results in me uprooting myself from my Catholicism and putting my relationship with God on hold while I try to deal on my own.

The answer, in a nutshell, was that my efforts for others were often fuelled by fear – of being left behind, inadequate, forgotten, or expendable; of being seen as imperfect or ordinary; of being perceived as too outspoken and needy. I bent over backwards for many people who, in retrospect, I can now see as people who took me for granted, overlooked me anyway, or didn’t appreciate my acts of love beyond seeing them as things that got done for them.

Now, this is not to say that every past experience was wholly negative. In every relationship and friendship I’ve had that’s now just a memory, there really are good times. But the pain of the bad times and my own selfishness prevented me from keeping what was good and finding solace in the blessings I had received in being with those people. And because I couldn’t see the blessings I’d been given, I could not see God’s goodness – and so I abandoned Him, too, when I abandoned those relationships.

Before evening Mass on Epiphany Sunday, I went to Confession for the first time in many months and, perhaps for the first time in many years, I made it a good and thorough one. (I apologise profusely to the rest of the line – but if they haven’t experienced this kind of Reconciliation before I hope one day they will, because such a Confession can be one of the most beautiful and liberating experiences in life.) After I did my Penance I remained in prayer, taking the time to be in conversation with the Father I had ignored for so long to ask him for the grace I needed to do three important things.

One To rebuild and strengthen the good relationships that had been damaged by conflict with and fallout from others, because these were the people who stuck by me when I was too selfish and too wrapped up in my own pain to see the gifts of comfort they were trying to give me.

Two To see which connections in my life were damaging and toxic to the good relationships I was trying to heal and repair, and to eliminate them from my immediate sphere of concern – but without malice and without anger.

Three: To learn how to recognize good people when they came into my life as people intended to enrich my experiences and bring out the best in me – people who would inspire me through their own ways of giving to give of my time, talent, and treasure to others not for my own security and assurance, but for the greater good and well-being of others.

My father taught me to believe and to have faith, but my life experiences have taught me to question and discern, and writing has taught me that the simplest questions lead you to the most complete answers. So if I still believe in God and still have faith, then what I have to do with it is ask myself: what has God given me, who has God given me, why these blessings have been put into my life, where I can use them to fix my life, and how I can use them to bring joy into the lives of others?

All three things have been going rather well since Epiphany Sunday, and I’m glad to say that the third in particular has already brought blessings into my life in the form of new friends who encourage me to bring forward what’s best about myself and inspire me to share my authentic self with them and the rest of the world. I’m really looking forward to connecting more often with them and to building up strong friendships with these incredible individuals. I truly do believe their paths crossed mine at this moment in time for good reasons, and I know that it’s up to me to make something good come out of these encounters and connections. Some of them believe in the same things I do and others believe in very different things, but I appreciate them and love them all the same because they each bring out the same good qualities and talents in me I’ve ignored or kept hidden until now.

So how does this all lead to me singing Bon Jovi into a hairbrush while standing in a powerstance on my bed, and why is “Livin’ on a Prayer” the song that defines my life of renewed faith, hope, and love?

Well, even though Bon Jovi didn’t mean it as a song of praise, it rather succinctly sums up how I’m moving forward with my life: holding on to what I’ve got, understanding that what I do have really is quite a lot, and remembering that inasmuch as I can and should take agency of my own life I do need my faith and keep praying. I can’t live on just a prayer indefinitely, but when everything else disappears there’s always a way to find it all again through keeping my faith.

In Pursuit of Happiness, #6: Appointment Television, Healthy Living, and Writing Letters

Appointment Television: At a certain point in my early adolescence, my parents cut the cable to our family room TV. Given that the overall cable viewing schedule of the household was limited to news, educational programs, and family-friendly TV shows, I didn’t really miss it. My classmates would fill me in on what was currently happening on TV anyway when we should have been conjugating irregular French verbs or solving for X, so I never really felt like I was missing out to the point of being culturally irrelevant.

I really got into British programming during university thanks to my parents finally re-entering the current century by installing a dish as well as online streaming services like Netflix, but as a working full-time double major undergrad I didn’t have much time to really expand my TV schedule beyond the few tried and tested classics of my youth and the new shows I really got into in between semesters.

And even now, as a two-job working stiff of a gymrat, I don’t have a whole lot more free time for TV – which is more problematic now than it used to be because missing out on all the new shows and not having a regular time slot for friends to catch me up means I actually do run the risk of being culturally irrelevant insofar as television is concerned.

Praise the Lord, then, for Appointment Television. It’s a podcast all about the TV you should be making time for, and because it’s produced by a trio of hardcore television watchers (my lovely friend Margaret H. Willison and her co-hosts, Katherine van Arendonk and Andrew Cunningham) it means that it’s a trustworthy source of a variety of recommendations, information about TV I really should know more about, and explanations as to why some shows really are as important for society as their fandoms say they are.

Take the segment “TV vs TV” for example, in which two shows of similar premise, style, and production are put head-to-head on trial to determine which is the better production. In fact, the first episode of Appointment Television included this segment and put Star Trek: The Next Generation against Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Now, I would have kept listening simply because Margaret is on this podcast but the fact that Andrew and Katherine were able to succinctly explain the differences between two separate series of a complex universe with a hot-blooded fandom in a way that I, a staunch non-Trekkie, was able to kind of get why any iteration of Star Trek has cultural relevance is what really got me hooked from the get-go.

The other segment I really love is “TV Book Club,” which has broadened my viewing scope because I just don’t want to be left out of anything these guys think is cool to watch. After experiencing Terriers and Black Mirror because of Appointment TV (in retro-listen, as I jumped on the bandwagon after the podcast was already well on its way) I’m now current with the podcast itself as well as with the current TV Book Club series, Bunheads.

Go check out Appointment Television now. Seriously. You’ll thank me later.

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Healthy Living: After the holidays it’s always tough to get back into the routines of everyday life, but I’m so glad that I’m finally resettled into my usual rhythm of working out, eating clean, and giving it all 100% to continue my transformation.

I’ve written at length about why this new lifestyle is so important to me and if you follow me on Instagram you’ll know that I’m one of “those” people who post workout selfies, food photos, and hashtag the holy crap out of words and phrases like transformation, girlsworkouttoo, legday, cardio, workout, girlswholift, gettingfit, eatclean, homemade…and so on and so forth.

After years of constantly making unhealthy choices (physically and nutritionally as well as emotionally and spiritually), I stand here in 2016 as somebody who is done with toxic living on all those levels. I’m so much happier, stronger, and wiser now than I ever have been before – and especially than I was this time last year.

My daily hour at the gym is one of the few I have on any given day that’s entirely all to myself that doesn’t involve sleeping, so I tend to try and make the most out of it.  I’m actually getting to a point in my journey where I can legitimately start pointing out all my “gains” – namely those “booty gains” (I’m telling you now, women who look good in yoga pants do more lifting than yoga) – and where people I’ve known for a while  are pointing them out to me.

2016 is already shaping up to be full of new fitness challenges and goals, and new milestones to work towards every day.  I’m so grateful that I had the opportunity and the means to take control of my health and wellness when I did because now I can’t imagine having ever made it through the last year with the self-empowerment I’ve gained and all the support my gym family gave me.

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Writing Letters: Those of you who drop by on a regular basis will know that another part of my 2016 Resolutions involved writing letters to anyone and everyone who would ask me for one. The first person to officially take me up on this offer was one of my friends from Job2, Frederique. She and I were hired at Job2 in the same group back in 2011, and she’s never been anything but an awesome friend. I’m so glad that the first piece of mail in my letter campaign was for her; she was my first real friend at the store when we got hired and she is such a joy to know.

I’ve got a few more letters on the way to other people who have given me their addresses and I hope each envelope contains in it as much joy for those recipients as the one I sent to Frederique. Handwritten letters are one of the greatest little pleasures of my life. Whether it’s writing them or receiving them, I love how letters are tangible evidence of the connections between two people and two places. I write these letters in the hope that something I have to say could touch a life, and therefore make two lives all the more better for the sharing of one talent.

My offers to send you handwritten letters still stands and will continue to stand into the foreseeable future, so please don’t be shy to let me know if you’d like one!

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That’s all for this week’s instalment of “In Pursuit of Happiness.”  Keep on finding the happiness in the little things around you, and I’ll be back soon with a proper post – I promise!

Like a restless wind inside a letter-box

Welcome to 2016!

The following quote was the inspiration behind this post:

“There is a fountain of youth:  it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of the people you love.”

— Sophia Loren

I’ve always wanted to make my writing matter somehow — in big ways and small, and we all know that the little things are what make life meaningful on a daily basis.

In 2015 this blog was viewed over 3000 times by people in 35 different countries.  In Internet  terms that’s barely anything at all — little more than “nothing,” really — but to me, it means so much…and I want to say thank you in a personalized and tangible way.
In 2016, I would like to revive an old family tradition: writing letters by hand to people whose days could be brightened a little more by a personalized note, written “just because.”

Or in this case, “just because” and to say “thank you.”
So here goes:

  
  

((So that would be emails to demipinteblog@gmail.com or a direct message via Instagram or Twitter @demipinte))


Unmasked, unguarded – and somehow, still safe

We all have secrets and guilty pleasures. It’s a broad spectrum, but we all fall somewhere on it. We think that keeping secrets is a way of holding on to the things that make us authentically individual – truly ourselves – but of course there are secrets we never tell because we’re afraid of them taking over our lives by permanently altering the way others perceive us.

But regardless of what our secrets are and why we choose to keep them, we do so to the point where we hide a huge part of who we are from even the people who know us best.

In my particular case, my nature is so introverted and then further encased in a shell that it’s inherently difficult for me to open up to anyone. This means that when I do confide in somebody it’s because I feel safe with them, and I don’t expect to be hurt by the person in whom I confide the secrets that hurt enough already.

People constantly surprise us and the ritual of confiding in others is a prime opportunity for us to be reminded of this fact. Exhibit A: you tell the same thing to two different people in more or less the same fashion, but they’re both going to react differently – and that will tell you a lot about who they are and maybe even what you are to them.

I once told an ex about the particularly harrowing nature of one of my previous relationships. I trusted him, loved him more than any other person I knew, and wanted him to really know me, and I wanted to demonstrate all that by opening up and telling him things I had never told anyone else. Eventually, instead of bringing us closer together it pushed us apart. My story – and some of the most defining moments of my life that it included – of who I was before him became, I think, fodder for his insecurity, jealousy, and minor prejudices. It got to a point where I did not feel whole standing in front of him; instead, I felt torn apart, over and over again whenever he asked me for reassurances on the subject, and eventually felt incomplete – like I was less of a person for having made mistakes in my past, and now had to tilt at windmills to prove I was worthy.

A couple of weeks ago, I told the same story again to another person – a good friend this time – during a particularly rough and emotional day. It was one of those situations where things just came out and I realized at the end of it that I had pretty much emotionally exploded all over somebody and told them a secret that I had sworn to never tell anyone ever again. It had cost me one close connection and for a few minutes I was utterly terrified that my unintentional and unfiltered blurting had just cost me another one. (Oh, and did I mention I did this over text? Way to go, right…)

“And now I have the horrible feeling that if I was standing in front of you right now, you’d be looking at me in an entirely different way, and I’m hating myself for that,” I said quickly, as it had been a minute or two of text-silence.

“I don’t see you differently. We’re two friends who are telling each other things and being open. It would take a lot to change my opinion of you,” came the response.

I suppose my friend really meant that, as we’re still talking as we’ve always done, and maybe even perhaps on slightly more familiar terms now.

One story, two different people – and two different reactions whose juxtaposition made me realize that I’m too hard on myself and think too much about what people might be thinking.  And that realization caused me to see that not letting anyone in might protect my heart from pain, but it also prevents my heart from experiencing joy.

Anyone who’s had this kind of experience – this unexpected acceptance by one person when the same situation resulted in rejection by another – will tell you that it’s difficult to say how it feels to know that despite revealing something so deeply hidden, you are still cared for and still seen as a whole person worthy of time and attention.  You feel a kind of unexpected joy at the equally unexpected relief of not being the only one who knows something that weighs so heavily on you.  You feel like a person again because another human has accepted you, warts and all, and will still be there for you.

I’ll probably always be guarded. I’ll probably always need my shell, and I’ll probably always be very cautious about opening myself up to another person. But it’s nice to know that I don’t always have to hide – that I can be safe enough in somebody else’s presence so as to be vulnerably open and totally myself with them. It’s nice to know that in at least one friendship I don’t have to wear masks or pretend I’m a little less flawed, that I am accepted entirely and can therefore be exactly who I am and express exactly how I feel.

After all, while the truth sets you free – “this above all: to thine own self be true.”  And by being open and honest, I am being more of who I really am, and I have once again been surprised by joy.

“Sophistcated mud pies,” and what they’ve taught me

As a child, I loved getting my hands dirty – literally. When I wasn’t reading (up a tree, under a tree, on the stairs, in my closet…) I was most likely getting dirty. During free afternoons and all summer long, I would stomp around our back yard with the family dog at my heels to turn over rocks and logs and see what was underneath. I had a particular fondness for poking pill-bugs so they would roll up and gathering slimy worms in my hands to gross out my older siblings. After learning about geodes in a Childcraft book, I spent a whole weekend one spring trying to break open rocks that I pried out of the thick clay that lay under our lawn. Not too long after, I tried to make hand-built pottery from that same clay.

Then I watched Art Attack one rainy day, and I discovered a whole new way to get dirty.

Over the next decade or so, and much to the chagrin of my mother, the drab beige carpet in my bedroom became a ten-by-ten low-pile testimonial to my exploration of art. Splotches of paint from dropped brushes and overturned jars of paint, a rainbow of pencil crayon shavings and broken tips, snippets of bright cloth and embroidery thread – no matter how much I cleaned (when I could be convinced, in one way or another, to do so) that carpet was never pristine.

While I profess writing as my main passion – my life’s craft – I’m fond of saying that, “Once, I was an artist.” And that’s true. I drew, painted, sculpted, papier-maché-ed, coloured, doodled, and crafted my way through childhood and adolescence. When I hit university I had to whittle down all those hobbies due to time constraints, and I chose card making and knitting. Being too broke to afford presents and living within walking distance of a Dollarama created an ideal situation to perfect the art of handmade cards, while working with long needles and giant balls of yarn gave long winter nights a warmer, cosier feel. And, of course, I developed my writing skills to the point where I felt comfortable enough to start this blog.

But my hands yearned for more – more than just paper and glue, needles and yarn…more than just typing term papers, opinion pieces, and these blog posts. My inner child was beginning to need more entertainment than I was providing – something dirty and messy, something reminiscent of those afternoons in the backyard.

Being an archaeology student had given me quite the academic insight into ceramics, and once I’d spent a couple of years in the full-on grown-up world of working for The Man instead of sticking it to him, I could no longer ignore what had become a truly visceral need to create things with my own two hands. A Google search led me first to the Montreal Art Centre and then to the Griffintown Art School here in Montreal, and I was soon enrolled in a ceramics class.

A friend of mine recently asked me why I choose to spend so much money on making “sophisticated mud pies.”  The answer is simple:  it brings me joy because it’s two hours a week when I am working on myself while simultaneously creating for others.  It’s two hours a week when learning how to create with my own two hands allows me to learn more about myself and about life.

I’m halfway through my second eight-week course with Nicolas Ouellet, local ceramicist and fantastic instructor, and I have loved every second I’ve spent at the orange wheel in the studio. I have created more than a dozen pieces of ceramic ware under his careful, patient tutelage, learning the process of hand-thrown pottery from start to finish.   From wedging the clay to marvelling at the uniqueness of each glazing job, I have created a handful of pieces that are functional in my daily life and remind me of the life lessons I’ve learned that transcends my “sophisticated mud pies.”

Somebody else will always know something you don’t, so keep quiet and let them teach you. – I think this is pretty self-explanatory in both contexts of pottery class and the rest of life, but it’s still important to remember this every once in a while.

Creating something truly beautiful and unique takes patience and time. – From wedging a lump of clay to the first time you admire a finished piece, the creation of one piece is probably about a week and a half to two weeks. But this is true of anything you create, whether it’s a piece of flatware or the person you were meant to be.

 Never underestimate the effort of any creation process. – I kid you not when I say that after two hours at the wheel, my back and hips are stiff and that my fingers, palms, wrists, arms, and shoulders literally ache with the effort of turning a shapeless handful of clay into something recognizable. But again, whether you’re making a hand-thrown mug or becoming a better person, the amount of effort that goes into that whole process is largely unnoticed by anyone on the outside looking in.  Nobody sees how hard you’ve worked to be kinder, more patient, more loving, or more aware of the world around you if these things don’t come naturally to you, but the see the end product of those struggles to learn and grow.  Nobody outside of the gym will know how hard you’ve worked (even the other regulars at the gym probably don’t see that either) but everyone sees that you’re slimming down and putting on some muscle.  Life itself is a creation process — it is what you make out of what’s been given to you, and turning it all into something beautiful will always take more out of you than you realize.

Close your eyes and feel what’s going on.   — This is how I learned to understand my clay – how to know when it’s stable and centred, when it’s too dry or too wet, when it’s not the right thickness, and when it’s getting loose and tired. This is also how I learned to feel when a dry piece is centred and ready to trim, and during the trimming process how to know when I’ve trimmed off enough excess clay. And yes, this is applicable to the “real world” – when was the last time you just closed your eyes for a second and focused on the feeling of your surroundings or even how you’re really feeling inside?  When was the last time you looked in at yourself and saw what was really there, and then did something about it?  We’re always so concerned with our outward appearances and how we look to the people around us, but why are we so afraid to look inside ourselves and see what’s buried deep inside our hearts and possibly waiting to be let out into the world?

It won’t always work out the way you want it to, and even when it does it will still surprise and maybe even delight you. – I’ve had to turn a butter bell lid into an eggcup (or shot glass) because my clay was too thin. I’ve had to reshape a piece or two because I’ve deformed them while attempting to remove them from the wheel. I’ve experimented with beeswax, slip, and glaze. And every completed piece is a total surprise, regardless of what happened on the journey it took from shapeless clay to ceramic vessel – even the final colour is a surprise, because blue glaze starts out red and red glaze starts out blue. It’s the same with life: it rarely plays out the way we expect or want it to, but we forget that it plays out the way it’s meant to in order for us to become the best possible versions of ourselves. Just like clay, we start out with very little beauty or shape – but as time goes by we are formed, first physically in our mothers’ wombs and after we are born, which is when our emotional, intellectual, and internal formation also begins. Our families, friends, and other influential presences coax us into shape in our lives. Hard times bring us down, and positive times pull us back up. We are thrust into fire and coloured by our experiences…

…and at the end of it all, in the same way that grey shapeless clay becomes a beautifully glazed mug or bowl, we are revealed to be unique, beautiful, and useful in our own ways.