One of the greatest lessons I received in humanity at Central Junior high school, was not, in fact, in a humanities course, nor social studies… not in any of the rooms on the top floors. But it was in the basement, in art class. Our mustached teacher gave us the great news that we were going to be allowed to throw pots. Use the potter’s wheels. The room filled with “Oooohs!!”
We had tipped our toes on the wheels anxiously throughout the year, but weren’t allowed on. And then the day came. The week actually. We were shown different techniques on the glorious spinning wheel. But in order for us to succeed our teacher said, we all had to succeed. If we didn’t do everything he told us regarding our ashtrays, our bowls, our undeciphered knick knacks, we could make things bad, not only for ourselves, but for everyone. It wasn’t just about succeeding with our own creation. Because, as he explained, if we did a poor job, didn’t pay attention to the rules, the guidelines, or didn’t treat the clay with the respect that it deserved…then our projects were likely to blow up in the kiln and ruin all the other creations. No one wanted to be that bursting pot. We listened. We worked. We scratched our initials in the clay. We, as a group of seventh graders, paid more attention in this class, than any other.
On the last day of our pottery cycle, we walked into the art room. Hopeful. We watched as our teacher pulled his mustache slowly from his lips. We held our breath. And slowly he smiled. We all exhaled. He took us to the rack. No broken pots. We beamed. Were they the most beautiful ceramics ever? Certainly not. But we had created something special – certainly! We had worked together. Saw something bigger than ourselves. We wanted to succeed. We wanted everyone to succeed. What could be more beautiful than that?!
Without the aid of uniforms or cheerleaders, we had come together in the basement of Central Junior High. We waited until we were in the clearing of the hallway that day to high five each other. Celebrate this collective victory! This strange group of brains, and geeks, and jocks and nerds, and hoods…our own Breakfast Club of Central Junior High!
I think of it often as I write. As I paint. It’s a glorious thing to be creative. To be an individual. And make no mistake, we were allowed that in 7th grade. We were allowed to form and glaze our pots however we saw fit. And we proved it was possible. To be free and easy. To be joyful and unique. Not at the expense of others, but right along with them.
What if we lived like that? I want to live like that. Pot by pot. Day by day.