Friday, June 28, 2013

recovering perfectionist

When I decided to take a break from making pottery earlier this year, I said to one of my friends, "I feel like my art is broken."  I felt like there was something fundamentally wrong with the way I was approaching my art making, that it had gotten twisted and broken, and making pots was no longer bringing me the joy that it used to. I had let it turn into a grind.

I have been doing a lot of reading, trying to understand how I can shift myself back into the joy of making pottery.  I believe my problem resides in my head, in the way I think. A book I just finished is called My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor. She is a neuroanatomist, a brain scientist who studies the anatomy of the brain, and she suffered a severe stroke when in her mid-30's. If you haven't already watched her viral TED talk, just go and watch it now so you can get the idea of the amazing message she is bringing to the world. (For reasons that I don't understand, none of my links are working in this paragraph, so copy and paste this to see the TED talk:

I have always thought that my streak of perfectionism comes from my creative side, the side that seeks beauty in all things. I suddenly realized while reading Jill's book that perfectionism is a left brain activity-- the logical, analytical, critical thinking side--and has nothing to do with right-brained creativity at all. It's the critical storyteller in the left brain, running its mouth again, ruining the right brained process of creativity. (Sorry, left brain, but you are a bit of a buzz kill in the studio.)

Through the process of recovery from her stroke, Jill was able to re-wire her brain to think differently, and to be more in tune with her right brain. She explains it beautifully in her TED talk and in her book, and I'm not going to attempt to lay it out here. One of her big messages is that the brain has incredible plasticity, and ability to recover from trauma. She's given me a lot of hope that with enough self-awareness and conscious practice, I can tune back into my right brain and make it stronger. And maybe learn to experience joy and lightness again in my pottery studio.

About a week before I read Jill's book, I had a funny thing happen. My beloved Grandma Stiltner died almost two years ago, and I finally sat down and made an urn to store her ashes. The design was based on the trillium flower, a flower that grew in abundance where my grandma grew up in the Pacific Northwest. When I finished the design on the still-green pot, it was perfect. Too perfect. It was bugging me. My hand, seemingly under its own power, grabbed a tool and started slashing at the design, roughing up the surface and breaking up the tight, perfect lines. Part of me was like, "Stop! Stop! If you ruin this you have nothing to replace it with!" (I was a couple of days away from going up to Washington to see my family and had promised to bring the urn.) But I was compelled by a force greater than my fearful left brain to do something to the surface of the pot to make it more interesting, even at the risk of ruining it. I think it was my right brain, showing some early signs that it is still kicking! By the way, I was happy with the way it turned out.