Wednesday, December 19, 2012

the way of the stressed-out potter

Sunday, I woke up at 4 am.  I would have liked to have gone right back to sleep since there was no reason in the world for me to be awake at 4 am, but no, that's not how it works around here. I had some thinking to do. I had an order cooling in the kiln at that very moment, an my highly tuned antennae were taking flight down the street to my studio and hovering over the kiln, trying to figure out a way to get in and see what was happening.

Why was I all stressed about an order? That's a good question. I generally don't get stressed about orders anymore. I get bothered, I get frustrated, I get disappointed, but not stressed out. I've gotten to this place where I've decided that no amount of money is worth my peace of mind, and that has released me from a lot of stress and tangentially, a lot of problem orders too. I don't know why it works that way, but it does. Orders still go wrong, all the time, but it doesn't keep me up at night anymore.

But... but. But. I took a last minute order from a design company in very late November for six place settings, three pieces each. Big plate, small plate, bowl. Twenty-eight pieces total.  Not a big deal... but they wanted it in 3 weeks-- by December 20-- for their client, and they wanted it in white. All white. The last time I took an order for an all-white dinnerware service set, I ended up grinding down miniature bubbles, giant freckles, and blue spots on almost every plate and re-firing everything. It came out okay, but I was not satisfied. The customer loved it, I didn't care that they loved it. I did not love it. I was mildly traumatized by this order.

But, I did learn something soon after that: my white glaze likes to be mildly under-fired. Firing it to a very cool cone 5 does it right, which is how I've managed my white glaze since, and it is very reliable now.

I won't go into the details of why I was waiting for it to cool down the day before it had to ship out with absolutely no wiggle room. Or why every large plate had to be absolutely perfect because there were no extras in there. Or why the kiln had fired a bit too hot, hotter than I like to fire the white glaze. It happened, and it was totally stressing me out.

So there I was, laying in bed, trying to get myself back to sleep at 4 am. My mind cleverly created a deck of flash cards, each card with an image of something horrible, like a rash of bubbles across the surface of a plate, a cracked edge, a warped foot. Every time I would drift off, one of the flash cards would pop up, and I would startle back awake, my heart racing.  I thought I was past this level of stress, but apparently, I still have some things to work on. I took on the challenge the order, and in the end, I won. The order was beautiful, and it shipped on time. But me, I feel a little bit fractured, a bit delicate around the edges. It's definitely the holidays.