Sunday, January 17, 2010

the way of the sloth

I have been easing myself back into work, not unlike how a three-toed tree sloth would get back to work. For those of you who don't know what a three-toed tree sloth is or how they act, their most distinguishing characteristic is the fact that they move very slowly and deliberately. It's quite comical to watch, actually. Years ago, I was on a beach in Costa Rica and a tree sloth fell out of a tree behind me-- something that happens all the time since they cannot react quickly-- and I was so startled my first reaction was to get up and run away. I am a total chickenshit when confronted with strange animals. I expected the sloth to be angry and maybe run toward me, but it just rolled over veeeeeeeery slooooooowly and began its crawl back to the tree. I felt sorry for being fearful when I realized it was terrified of me and was doing its own version of a flat-out run for safety.

Anyway, that's my totem right now, a three-toed tree sloth. And it feels pretty good to take it easy after holiday bedlam and plan for the year. Of course, I've had to do some work which can sort of ruin the sloth vibe. I had my first firing of the year last week, and I was very disappointed with the outcome. Cake stands, as usual, giving me problems. I really should charge $200 a plate. I found myself fuming around the studio and even throwing a couple of things. I haven't thrown things in a long time. It's not that I'm worried about what the customer is going to upset with their delayed order-- I've become expert in handling anxious cake stand customers-- I get so worn down by the persistent and ongoing problems with these pieces, it's hard not to feel defeated.

Then, there's a whole new problem that started showing its ugly little head, first every once in a while over the past couple of years, and now all the time. The plates have started popping away from the stands. Sometimes it's already happened when I pull it from the kiln, sometimes it happens after a couple of days. I don't know why this happens, and it only happens with certain glazes, my white glaze being the top offender, of course. I've done everything you can imagine to try and mitigate this issue, and I finally had to give up and re-design the way I make these things, not for the first time. I've always made the stands and the plates separately, so I can really pack them in during bisque firings. But now I'm attaching them while they are green, then bisqueing them like that. It takes up some serious space in the kiln, and I feel less efficient, but when I consider all the stands that get sent to the shard pile, I feel I have no choice. This is the best way to deal with this problem.

I'm finding, more and more, that the energy I spend on being stressed and upset in my work is energy I am totally capable of channeling into finding solutions and just moving on. I really am attempting to train my brain to stop having a panic response to stress; it is super annoying to get a surge of adrenaline when a problem comes up, which makes my heart pound and my hands shake. The three-toed tree sloth does not get panicked. The sloth falls out of the tree, and then immediately gets up and starts climbing again, in the exact same deliberate way he was before. He does not freak out and try to make up for lost ground, or throw coconuts around, or charge at the nearest person standing by. Watch me as I work on my sloth attitude.