Clay Times Back Issues Vol. 21 Issue 99 - Winter/Spring 2015 - Page 49

No Regrets Recently I got a call from an old high school acquaintance. He has been a film writer, producer, and director for many years, and was starting a new project tentatively titled, How to Die … An Inquiry into How to Live. Since everyone will die one day, he posits, the real goal is to live a meaningful life so that there are no regrets. For this documentary, he planned to interview dozens people of all faiths and from all walks of life. Would I be interested in participating? He sent me the proposal. On the list of prospective interviewees were an astrophysicist, a cosmologist, several poets, well-known journalists, famous actors and authors, former presidents, and even the Pope! Why, given this distinguished roster, I asked him, would he be interested in interviewing an unknown potter living in out-of-the-way rural East Texas? Talking to him, I realized I was probably the only person he personally knew who had decided what he wanted to do more than 40 years ago, set about making a life doing it, and never wavered, in spite of years of erratic and unreliable income and little recognition. Plus, as anyone who has seen the movie Ghost and can still picture the potter’s wheel scene will attest, throwing on the potter’s wheel can make for great video. A potter would be a welcome relief, speaking while making something, when interspersed among an assortment of loquacious “talking heads.” The sample questions he sent were along the lines of, “How do you find meaning in your life?”, “How would you define a well-lived life?”, and “Why do you think we fear death?” Whew! If I were going to do this BY DAVID HENDLEY I had better give it some serious consideration and work on the best way to articulate my thoughts. I turned to that current repository of reliable information, YouTube, to see what others had to say on the subject. That turned into an interesting several hours-long bingewatching session, a compilation of “TED Talks”, pontificating pastors, and motivational speakers. What struck me, as it had when I was talking with my friend, was that none of the speakers I watched spend their time actually making things. For the most part, I agreed with the general YouTube consensus that meaning in life comes from one’s relationships with family, friends, and even other unknown people. Think of the old joke that no one lying in the hospital, close to death, says, “I wish I'd spent more time at the office.” I also agreed with the point many others made, that a life well-lived must be intentional, deliberate, and conscious. But there is also a strong human need and desire to interact with the physical world in a creative and meaningful way, and this is why learning a craft, such as pottery, can be such an enriching experience. As is the case throughout the world and in most areas of life, balance is an important part of the equation. What is light without dark, summer without winter, or sound without silence? Sure relationships, thinking, and self-examination are important, but these need to be balanced with interaction with and manipulation of the physical world. Looking back over the past 40 years, first as a ceramics student and then as a studio potter, I am pleased that I decided to dedicate my working life to something that is a perfect combination of artistic expression, scientific knowledge, practical application, and physical labor. There is also a great sense of inclusion and belonging in knowing you are part of something as constant and timeless as ceramics. Of course, some things have evolved and technical knowledge has increased, but the basics of shaping clay and heating it in a kiln are no different now than they were hundreds, even thousands of years ago. There is no way I could have even conceived of the idea when I first touched clay back in the 1970s, but I love the fact that ceramics cannot be digitized into an array of zeros and ones. You still have to get your hands dirty to make something! The much-anticipated and heralded 3-D printer cannot take the place of a potter. Now, to complete the circle, consider that even as much as I’ve just stressed the physical nature of being a potter, it’s still that connection to and relationship with other people that helps make being a potter so satisfying. A little bit of the potter is incorporated into every piece that is shaped by her hands. Hundreds of people have told me, for instance, that, being a mug maker, I am a regular part of their morning coffee. This is significant and pretty cool. And, hopefully, the relationship will continue even after I am gone, and maybe even extend to another generation of user. cont. on next page Opinion I Around the Firebox CLAYTIMES·COM n WINTER / SPRING 2015 49 BY DAVID HENDLEY R ecently I got a call from an old high school acquaintance. He has been a film writer, producer, and director for many years, and was starting a new project tentatively titled, How to Die … An Inquiry into How to Live. Since everyone will die one day, he posits, the real goal is to live a meaningful life so that there are no regrets. For this documentary, he planned to interview dozens people of all faiths and from all walks of life. Would I be interested in participating? The sample questions he sent were along the lines of, “How do you find meaning in your life?”, “How would you define a well-lived life?”, and “Why do you think we fear death?” Whew! If I were going to do this What struck me, as it had when I was talking with my friend, was that none of the speakers I watched spend their time actually making things. For the most part, I agreed with the general YouTube consensus that meaning in life comes from one’s relationships with family, friends, and even other unknown people. Think of the old joke that no one lying in the hospital, close to death, says, “I wish I'd spent more time at the office.” I also agreed with the point many others made, that a life well-lived must be intentional, deliberate, and conscious. 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