I’ve been doing pottery for the past two months. It’s my first time back in the Good Dirt Clay Studio in two years. My only other time in the studio was when I took a mugs class in the summer of 2019, right after I graduated college. I was humbled by my time in the studio then and I’m all the more humbled now.
I’ve only been able to make two pieces since I’ve been at the studio. I made the first piece throughout my lesson with the owner, Rob. He’s a very patient and gifted teacher. He slowly led me through every step, yet made me feel empowered and capable throughout the whole process. The second piece I made I started on my own a few days after my lesson. It did not take me long to get stuck. Thankfully, Rob was in the studio that day. He was preparing for the first try-clay class since that pandemic started, but even within that, he kindly let me interrupt him. It took me a long time to ask him for help. I felt so insecure trying on the wheel and not being able to remember the steps he walked me through just days before. I was afraid of showing him that I was failing. I was also worried that everyone around me was watching and could tell that I had no idea what I was doing and that I had no right to be in the studio without being in a class. The reality is, I really didn’t know what I was doing. And that’s okay. But, the second reality is that I was probably the only one thinking all of those thoughts. Everyone else was deep in their work, headphones in, enjoying their time on the wheel. And, everyone I had met there was incredibly kind and supportive. Shame is the name of the one who is not supportive and I tend to carry her with me into places I feel insecure within. Thankfully though, shame does not get the final word.
I’m going to give pottery another try this month. It is a craft that I enjoy learning and that I also get incredibly frustrated by. It is hard and a lot feels hard these days and so it isn’t always the easiest space for me to show up to these days. I know that I may only make it into the studio a few times due to it being tough some days with my energy being low and my tremors being high, but I know that I want to be there when I can. There is a lot more learning to be had between the walls of the studio. The learning comes from both allowing yourself to be taught and also simply allowing yourself to try and to fail over and over again until you’re no longer always failing.
Both pottery and my current circumstances continue to be strong teachers in my life right now. While I’m having to take time away from the classroom due to my medical condition, I’m reminded of the challenge and the gift it is to be a student. Being a student is vulnerable, especially when you’re learning something that doesn’t come as naturally to you. Our curiosity can be overpowered by our fear and can keep us quiet in our questions. But, as I used to remind my students all the time, learning is not about finding the answer, it’s about asking the next question. It’s not as much about gaining knowledge as it is about engaging with knowledge. Engagement is the key word. Our fear of failure tells us that it is better if we just don’t try. It’s easier that way. We don’t have to own our short-comings because we can use the excuse that we didn’t try. Trying and failing is a whole lot harder and riskier than choosing to fail simply because you did not try. There is a degree of ownership we have to take when we try and fail. And, there is a strength that we have to step into in order to intentionally choose not to let failure define us. We each are students, not failures. Your failure is directly linked to your humanity. We are fragile and finite and clumsy. And, life is hard. It is going to trip you up. That’s okay. As I’d always tell my soccer girls, it is not about how you fall or fail. Instead, it is about how you respond after the fall or after your mistake. Are you going to just stay sitting on the ground? Or, are you going to get up and chase after your opponent and win the ball back?
With every fall and every failure, we have choices. With every space we step into as a student, we have choices. Right now, I feel myself constantly confronted with choices and it can be exhausting and scary. I love being a student and I also really struggle with it too. I’ve always said that, as a teacher, I’m also always a student. And that’s incredibly true. You’re constantly learning within the classroom. The bulk of my job is to be a student of my students and a student of our community. But, right now I am away from the classroom and I’m missing my students. I’m thinking of them a lot as I have returned back to being the one sitting in a new “desk” (or in a doctor’s chair). I’m a student of my health right now- a student of the kidneys. And the kidneys are quite complex. I’m learning how to ask questions. I’m learning how to care for myself in ways I’ve never had to before. I’m learning new routines. I’m learning how to be a self-advocate when I don’t feel heard or when information about my health is skimmed over in a medical space. I’m learning how to be okay with sometimes falling short and failing in learning all the ways I’m supposed to be caring for myself right now in my new lifestyle connected to my disease. It’s a lot. It’s hard. It’s vulnerable. And it isn’t what I’d describe as the “fun” kind of learning. However, I’ve found that I’m not the only student in this classroom. Many others have made the choice to sit alongside me. Friends have become researchers of the kidneys. Or low-sodium chefs. Or they’ve creatively learned how to bring in some fun to my new rhythms and routines. They haven’t let me learn it all alone. No one should have to learn and be a student all on their own. Learning is much more powerful, enjoyable, and impactful when we are doing it together. That’s why I was able to make two pottery pieces in the past two months; I had someone there to teach me and to not let me be all alone in my learning.
It’s okay to need to be taught. It’s okay to struggle as a student. Don’t let the struggle keep you from showing up though. Fear and shame do not get the final word. We can’t let them be the teachers. They’re not meant for the classroom. What is meant for the classroom is our curiosity, questions, and exploration. Sometimes life chooses what you have to begin learning. But, we can also always choose to be a student of something new that excites us, even if the process of learning may frustrate us too. When we do, we may even make something beautiful or two with a teacher or a friend besides us.