From Our Readers
May 04, 2015 9:50 am

During the spring of my sophomore year in college, I was dealing with the tail end of a very messy relationship. It was one of those relationships where I felt walked all over; where in my head I thought, “I can fix him.” Spoiler alert: I couldn’t. But right when things were falling apart, right in the ugliest part of the breakup, that tissues-and-all-night-phone-calls part, I found help in an unusual place: the pottery studio. Pottery helped me keep it together when everything was falling apart.

I had joined the pottery co-op at my school because I was extremely stressed with both school and relationship issues, and felt like it would be an escape from these things. The co-op was a program run by a bunch of really cool adults. It consisted of a class once a week, and then you could go whenever you had free time.

Let me clarify: I am not an artistic person. But what made pottery so appealing to me is that it’s art for messy people. For people whose rooms are messy, for people whose hair is messy, for people whose relationships are messy, and for people whose lives are messy. You can sense this the second you step into any pottery studio: It is a train-wreck. There are splotches of clay everywhere and lumps of it being molded, and great, gorgeous, splatters everywhere as people work.

But that’s what’s so great about it. Pottery consists of trying to turn a tough and misshapen piece of clay into something functional and beautiful, first by slamming it on a table over and over again, then “wedging” the piece, which uses an extreme amount of force to fold the clay into itself repeatedly. After this you put it on the wheel and shape it into something like a bowl or a mug.

At my first class I had these two teachers, and I could tell right away that they were two of the strongest women I would ever meet. Smeared with clay from head to toe, age lines on their faces, calluses on their hands, they had nothing but pure toughness in their eyes. And when I sat down at the wheel and began to toy with my clay, the first thing one of them said to me was, “Don’t let the clay bully you, tell it what you want.” And then it all made sense. As cliché as it sounds, the clay was like my boyfriend at the time, and he was bullying me, and I needed to stop thinking about him and start thinking about me.

As time went on, I got better and better at the wheel. I started spending more and more time in the studio, and in some ways it began to soothe the anger and frustration I associated with my relationship. I loved the studio because theoretically the only people who could be in there were those who were part of the co-op, so it was off limits to my boyfriend: It was my space. A part of my life he had absolutely no control over. When I eventually broke up with him, it helped to know the things that I learned in that class, the way the messiness informs the work, the strength I had discovered behind the wheel. I know it was the right decision. And every time I sit down at that wheel, no matter the size, or the toughness of the clay, I make it mold to my hands, and I think about how much stronger I am than I thought, and how, no matter how lumpy and dirty the materials of your life are, you can transform them with work. Your strength comes from within, but it may take some digging to find it.

Katherine Fischer is an English major at the University of Vermont, but remains loyal to her Jersey roots. When not in the library, she loves playing soccer, reading Harry Potter books over and over, and googling pictures of pigs.

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