Word Count: 1058
So after a ridiculous week at work and a complete lack of ideas on what to write about, I’ve finally been able to get a start on NaNoWriMo. I suppose four days late is better than never. So far my biggest struggle has been to turn off my inner editor. I didn’t think I would have such an issue with not editing as I go, but I have been proven wrong. I’m posting what I have so far mainly as motivation for myself to continue (ie something to hold me accountable). It’s a very very very rough draft and I am trying my hardest not to reread and revise, but to just continue toward the word count. I’ll work for a bit longer on it tonight and hopefully I can manage my life a little better to work on it some more this week as well, because I’m pretty sure that my students have been writing more than me lately. I’ll be posting as I continue. I make no promises regarding the structure, content, organization, or overall quality:
Mr. Pittman, my high school ceramics teacher, once told me a monkey could make something nicer than what I’d made.
“Homegirl,” he’d said, “what exactly do you think you’re making there?
He shook his head, lifted his large glasses and rubbed his eyes. “A bowl,” he muttered. “Homegirl, a monkey could make something better than that.” And with that, he’d walked away to his next victim. I liked Pittman. I’d recently moved from the South to Maryland (I chose to ignore the Mason-Dixon Line argument based on the culture shock I’d gone through) and Pittman was from Rocky Mount, North Carolina. The first day of class, I’d mentioned that I actually knew of Rocky Mount, North Carolina and I’d been Homegirl ever since. I wasn’t aiming for the favorite, but I didn’t mind being associated with home either.
Mr. Pittman was probably in his early sixties when I’d taken his class. He’s long since retired, but I know he would have kept working if his health allowed. He’d often give us a hard time, but no student ever doubted that Pittman cared. Like I said, he was probably in his early sixties and always wore a blue smock, dress slacks, and dress shoes. He had a deep voice and deep smile lines. Pittman’s dark hands were always cracked and dry—the result of constantly working with clay and not believing in lotion. His large glasses were remnants of the seventies, as was his short, gray afro. I’m assuming he wasn’t very tall, because I remember constantly looking him in the eyes when we spoke and I’m only five foot six. He’d often tell us stories of when he was enlisted in the Army in the sixties and coming home to race riots and sit ins. When he found out I was Jewish, he told me about Black Jews and their contributions. It was never dull in Pittman’s class. I took his class three years in a row and there was one day each year when he would give his life speech.
“Gather ‘round youngins,” he’d always start. “Gather ‘round. I’ve got to teach you about life. Pay attention to your elders, cause we’ve got lots to share. Put down whatever you’re doing, cause nothing else is as important as what I’m about to tell you. Gather round, gather round and listen up, cause I’ll only do this once. Hurry up now. Don’t keep an old man waiting.”
He’d grab a lump of grey clay and groan as he went to sit down at the wheel. There were usually about 20 students or so in a class and we would crowd around Pittman like he was the Dalai Lama. He’d put his foot down, wet the spinning wheel with a sponge, and begin his speech. Holding up the lump of clay, he’d begin: “Now, you see this here lump of clay? Do y’all see this? Good. Now this is you. Each of you. Lumpy, ugly, and unformed. My ugly little ducklings. You have no shape. You have no mold. You just are.”
At this point he’d begin to pound the clay into a ball. “And life can be hard. It’ll push you and pull you all sorts of ways. It’ll pound you down and make things hard, but luckily for you ugly little lumps, this is just the beginning.” He’d then throw the clay onto the spinning wheel and begin to shape it. Thinking back, it was rather cliché, but he always held a captive audience. He’d shape it between his hands, find the center, and press down to make an opening. “There will come a time when you will find what matters to you, what drives you, what is really your center. And you’ll follow a certain path.” What was once a lump of clay suddenly became a tall and elegant vase. “Or maybe you’ll find out that you’d make a mistake. People do.” He pushed harder on one side and suddenly the vase wobbled and was lopsided. “But you’ll bounce back.”
“And maybe,” he continued, “you’ll let yourself go a different way.” He’d then push down and in one swift motion, turn the lopsided vase into a large, smooth bowl. “But whatever happens, you can shape yourself. You can decide what you want to be. But whatever you are, be a great one.” And at this point, he would stop the wheel, take the piece off and pound it into another ball. “Because until then, you’re still just an ugly lump.”
He’d then take the lump and toss it to me. “Throw this in the pugmill, Homegirl. Now go away and go do something productive. Lord give me strength, cause y’all wear me out.”
When Pittman told me that one time that a monkey could make something better, he probably meant it as a motivator. And it worked. I say he told me once, because it wasn’t something I intended to hear again. And I didn’t. Not in his class at least.
So now I sit in front of my lump of clay, six years later, wondering what I want to make, what I want to do. I recently decided that I missed ceramics and creation and that taking a throwing class was the right fix. Now I’m not so sure. As I sit in the fancy studio of the fancy art gallery, I wonder why I can’t think of anything fancy I’d like to make. I haven’t touched clay in six years and throwing was never my specialty (I was more of a slab kind of girl). And instead of the gallery and class inspiring instant wonderful creative pieces, I have entered into a staring contest with my lump of clay. And when trying to think of what Pittman would suggest, I think only of the days of life lessons and that a monkey could probably make a mound of poop that looked prettier than what was currently staring back at me.
I take a piece of wire, cut the mound off the wheel, throw it back in my bag, and begin to clean my station. Staring certainly isn’t going to make that piece beautiful. Wiping my dry hands on my apron, I gather my tools and head to the sink when I hear a slight tap on the open door.