Friday, March 27, 2015

Look after your soil

Apparently the UN have declared 2015 the International Year of Soils.  No, I haven't heard any publicity about this either; it was drawn to my attention by a gardening newsletter to which I subscribe.

Coincidentally, over in Ambridge yesterday (not to mention the day before), Adam was waxing lyrical about the importance of looking after the soil we are growing on now or we will not be able to grow on it in the future.  Well, the lyrical bit is not strictly necessary, but obviously the main point is.  For disenchanted ex-listeners of The Archers, this storyline at least is following the original purpose of the programme, which was to remind farmers what they ought to be doing, so you may wish to listen again.

It's also what gardeners ought to do, especially if you are trying to grow vegetables.  I am quite good at this and have been doing it for more than twenty years.  I have a 6 bed rotation of crops.  I heard somewhere over the last year that 'they' have decided this is no longer particularly useful in a vegetable garden, but I shall continue to follow it because I disagree with that.  For one thing, it means that I always use garden compost (if I have any) and last year's growbag compost (ditto) on the first two or three beds until the compost runs out, so by rotating, I know the compost gets added evenly over the years.  I also buy additional stuff to dig in where appropriate.

Over the past five or six years my vegetable gardening has been a bit erratic and this year promises to be little different!  I have, however, started preparing the first two beds, ready for planting onions and sowing root vegetables.  As for the rest - it will have to take its chance as usual.  I hope to post about it a bit more often this year, though. 

I have spent the last week suffering from a lurgy.  Not to go on about it too much, it has just taken a big bite out of my life and indeed I'm still not back to normal.  I am trying not to stress about the gardening and work I am not doing though.  If you can forgive my stretching a metaphor somewhat - I'm trying to acknowledge that we can't grow anything - ourselves, our relationships, our creative work - unless our own soil base is healthy.  That means physical health, for sure, but also mental health.  So I'm trying to be relaxed about it.  It isn't easy!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Am I bovvered?

This week I have learned that I mind more about what others think than I want to.  "Are you the sort of person who cares what others think?" is a question to which I like to answer "Not much" because it's usually asked of people struggling with decisions about what to do.  I don't do a lot of that, and when I do, what others think is usually way down the list of considerations.  I prefer to work out what I think is the right thing.  However, it's become clear that I care what others think more than I realised.  This is not something I like to admit, either, let alone publicly, but it's probably good for me to do so!

I don't care what people think about my appearance.  I'd rather they weren't nasty about it but if they are, then they're probably not people I care for anyway.  I'd rather the people I do care about think well of me, but acknowledge that I make decisions of which others may be critical and I take responsibility for that.  No, those are not the sorts of things I'm talking about. 

What I really mind about is people thinking something about me which is not true.  It matters to me hugely that people do not misunderstand.  This becomes a problem in a changing situation because most of us like to find out what the state of things is, so that we know.  We like to get up today knowing what we learned yesterday, not living some kind of Groundhog Day until we get it right.  And changing situations don't accommodate that.

I first noticed a reluctance to talk to people when M was ill in hospital.  It being most unlike me, I did some serious thinking about it and traced it to a frustration that the situation changed daily so any report I gave would need updating almost immediately.  Since he died, there have been other situations in which I really didn't want to talk much, and it turns out they're all founded in this thing of not wanting people to go away thinking one thing (and by implication basing their behaviour towards me, or what they say to others, on it) when by the time they do either of those, that thing is no longer true.

It turns out that this matters so much to me that I am preferring not to tell anyone anything at all.  This is a rather extreme reaction to what is after all really fairly commonplace.  There are many parts of our lives which change. It's why we chat to friends, send emails, post on facebook - to bring people up to date with our world.  But here I am, bovvered about it.

Another surprising side-effect of bereavement.  I'll try to get over it, but can't promise you instant results. 

Working again

I'm working again. I'm 'at work', mostly in the pottery,  and therefore busy during working hours (about 8 -6 these days).  There have been several contributing factors to produce this change.

I bumped into a customer on my way to Waitrose, who told me she'd been meaning to phone because she wanted to order a set of breakfast pottery.  Mugs, cereal bowls and small plates.  She's a nice woman, so I explained my dilemma about bereavement and work and said I'd let her know if I thought I could do it by the beginning of May.  (She is expecting visitors from the US and would like to have the pots then if possible.)  I really want to do this order, it's such a nice order to have and I rarely get asked for sets of things.  The customer is very understanding and will wait if necessary.

At that point I was in the middle of a very busy 10 days but had managed to finish lots of things I'd been in the middle of and could see ahead to a couple of weeks with not so many commitments.  This is what's needed to work in the pottery.  As I've mentioned before, you need to be there every day for a while in order to work on things at their different stages as they gradually dry.  I could see that having the order to work towards could be the most helpful thing to get me over the problems I've been having.  To have enough work to do a couple of firings I will need not only to make the pots requested, but a whole lot of other stuff besides.

Then, we had some nice weather.  Followed by very cold again, but the nice weather was enough to show that the winter will end one day and even the unheated end of the pottery will become habitable.

Finally, I was away for a few days.  Nothing like being away for making you really want to be at home!

After a final flourish of days with commitments, I was finally able to get in the pottery on Tuesday this week and with one or two smaller interruptions, have been able to be a potter all week.  And it's working again.

I don't know if this state of things is permanent.  I can't say I'll feel the same next week.  I can't say what other problems may pop up to get in the way.  You'll forgive me if I don't say more just now.

A bit of discipline

When you're learning to throw you want to keep every pot that makes it off the wheel because you are so pleased that it has.

The trouble is that a potter, like any artist, is always learning.  You have never finished learning or you would probably stop.  You may be able to guarantee getting a pot off the wheel, but now you are learning to make a different shape, or now you are aiming at 12 near-identical mugs, or now you are trying to free up your style of ...

So you continue wanting to keep everything.  What is needed is a bit of discipline.

I'm quite good at self-discipline generally.  I know people who are astonished that I can keep chocolate or biscuits or liqueurs or other tasty things in the house for months or even years without eating them all up.  On the other hand, I am, as you know, overweight, partly because of my metabolism no doubt but combined with the fact that I do like to eat more than I need, so 'quite good' at self-discipline is probably about as good as I'll get.

In the pottery I am also 'quite good'.  I am moderately strict about what is let through, but not rigorous.  One thing I have always done is to follow the advice of the person who taught me most of what I know about being a good potter*, Douglas Phillips of Ridge Pottery in Somerset, and occasionally cut a pot in half to look at the thickness of the walls and base.  Are they even?  Are they the thickness you thought they were and is it a good thickness?

Here's one I cut up yesterday.  It's a one-person teapot, one of four I made the day before.  As I was rolling the base to tidy it, the centre of the base curved in.  This is usually because the pot is not really firm enough for rolling the base yet and doesn't really matter in a finished pot apart from aesthetically.  It can sometimes be, though, because the base is too thin.  I was feeling a bit more rigorous, so I decided to cut it in half.  Base not too thin, though slightly thinnner than the rest of the teapot.  The walls of the rest pretty even too, and it was a nice shape, so I was pleased with what I saw.  To be really self-disciplined, I think you have to not mind finding you have a cut a good pot in half.  I didn't.  So that was good.

* On the matter of how not to be a good potter, I am entirely self-taught.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Work in progress

There is work in progress.  You will have seen that I have made earrings and new textiles work.  I have also done some work in the pottery.

I don't tend to write about or show pictures of the pottery work I do until it's finished.  This is partly because there's not often anything different to see until it's decorated and fired and it also has a lot to do with the fact that I can't be sure it will exist as a finished pot until I open the kiln after firing.

I haven't been writing about the work I've been doing lately for a different reason, though, which is that until now I wasn't sure what to write.  A few weeks ago I was at the stage of saying that I was pretty sure I would return to the pottery but that I couldn't be entirely certain.  Of the few people I spoke to, some were cool with this and thought it was a fairly healthy place to be while others were clearly taken aback.  Well, having gone back, I think I can say it's likely I'll continue.  I'm probably still a potter.  Probably.

I don't know what sort of potter I am, though.  I don't know what I'll be making.  Oh yes, there is a long list of things that are needed because I am running out of them, starting with a few hundred mugs and cereal bowls.  I am not sure if I shall be making them, though.  The things I have made so far have mostly not been things I normally make.  It has felt ok.  I did make 15 mugs last week, but that wasn't great and the idea of going in there this morning to make mugs - well, I won't be. 

Obviously this is part of the bereavement thing.  But how?  Why?  Where does it fit?  When I returned to the pottery a few weeks after M died I found that the glazing and firing was ok but the making part was the hardest thing I've had to do.  The first time I tried, the grief was overwhelming and I had to give up. 

I was astonished by this.  It was the last thing I expected.  My creative work is so much an integral part of me, my self, and time spent in the pottery was always something separate from M (or indeed anyone else) that I really expected it to be the one place I would feel ok. 

I think I know what's going on now, though, and the explanation has been crystallised by reading someone else's blog.  L is also a creative person.  She's currently going through treatment for breast cancer and has just written that she has not felt able to continue her usual work.  She has been creative, though, writing, painting, making wonderful headgear for herself.  Just not her normal things.
I have come to the conclusion that with life-changing events (bereavement, serious illness) it is because one is never again going to be in the 'before' state that things that totally belong there are the difficult ones. One is now in a new state and things that have a new element belong in the now, so they fit and feel ok.  Things that belong so much in the then, the 'before', are the hard ones to return to because there is a mis-match between the activity and the time.  They're not new, so rather than being part of this new life, they are a sharp reminder of the permanently lost old one.

With creative work this is particularly a problem if you make your living at it.  It's scary to think what might happen if I never return to making the things that people buy.  Will they buy other things?  What will happen if they don't?  If it takes me months to return to production, will outlets wait for me or will they ask me to leave?  Will my business lose so much momentum this time that I won't get it back? 

If a hard thing presents itself, I try to tackle it head on.  The bigger the emotional challenge, the more likely I am to go for it, once I have recognised its existence.  Acknowledging these questions and accepting that I don't know the answers has been a pretty huge challenge, exactly because they are so scary to contemplate, but I think I've met it.  Waiting to find out what happens next is easy in comparison.

Why don't I apply the same principle to making a hundred mugs, you ask.  Well, it's a good question to which I have some answers but I think they are for another time.  This post is already long enough.  And, to be honest, writing it, re-exploring the ideas and feelings that have been milling around for the past few weeks, has taken enough out of me for one morning.  The heating is on in the pottery so I after a comforting hot drink I'll go and turn three small bowls which are ready, because not to do so would be a waste of them.  After that ...  I don't know.  

It's a work in progress.