Ming just returned from a five-day ceramics workshop. He was learning about wedged coil building, which is something he has never done. He loves the wheel, and he is used to making four pieces in an afternoon; but last weekend, it took him four days to finish a single piece.
Every night when I talked to him, he said, I don’t know what I’m doing, I can’t get this done, the clay is too wet, the clay is too dry… He was beginning to face the fact that he might not have a single piece from the entire workshop. It was a new experience for him not to know where he was going, not to be comfortable as he was creating. And every day, the piece changed. Other potters would say, That looks good. Why don’t you stop? Isn’t it done? But it wasn’t.
It was a lesson about time. About how time is an ingredient too. I thought of my own memoir, coming out nine years after I lived it. After two years, the draft I had was too full of me and had to be slashed in half. After four years, the draft became a hybrid novel/memoir; after six years, a meditation on narrative that manipulated form so the memoir moved from third person into first as personal awareness was earned. Now, all of that artifice has fallen away – a gift of time – and the final book is tightly woven and startling to me: this week I read the page proofs, looking for typos and for sections that I will read in public, and I found myself, at times, in tears.
It was the gift of time that I found the courage, in now-forgotten moments over these last nine years, to write this way. It was the gift of time that I could see a bigger picture, a different angle, a universal experience in these little things that happened to me. Each morning, the artist wakes up and looks at the world from a new place. And finally finds himself in the right frame of reference to finish the biggest, most organic piece of work he has ever produced on the very last day of the ceramics workshop.