"She had a point. A pilgrimage is not about punishment but
about making an intentional decision to look at the world
with fresh awareness and to consider your place in it.
A pilgrim defines her own pilgrimage;
maps are guidelines, not prison sentences."
by Jane Christmas
I have been researching pilgrimages lately. I have the itch to challenge myself in some way that reveals a new aspect of the world I live in. It's probably a sign of my age or my ceaseless curiosity but the whole idea appeals to me. So imagine my surprise when I recently realized that I had been on a pilgrimage and didn't even recognize it.
Early morning mist at Penland School of Craft
I enrolled for a week at the Penland School of Craft in western North Carolina with my sister. She is developing a passion for pottery and while I don't "do" clay I thought it would be a fun week together learning new things. I like to think I truly enjoy the process of exposure as I dabble in something out of my field. I now know I am my own worst enemy when it comes to "dabbling".
As the week went on I became more and more anxious that neither my quantity nor my quality was "measuring up." The irony was that no one, except I, was doing any measuring. The gal across from me took a week to make 3 pieces, the far more experienced potters behind me were crushing as many as they kept and the giggles from my sis as she broke pieces and parts were having no positive affect on my drive. Head down, in a minute I'll be there I said, only to turn and find myself now alone in a darkened room. Nose to the grindstone...for what? In hindsight I have no answer.
Kiln opening is always a big deal: a reason to party and laugh and share the big reveal. Our night was no exception. Wine in hand we all prepared for the "really big shoe."
happy hands reach into the treasure trove of cooked pots
always a collective inhale as the lid is raised
we gather our work and give it a closer look
I laid my treasures out at my work station and the grin slowly slid from my face. "What in the world?" I wanted to say. "I spent a week making this crap?" Only to myself would I admit that 9/10ths of all I had attempted were fit for the garbage pile. Suddenly I felt very, very tired. Even the excitement of fellow students and their sincere attempts towards encouragement didn't lift my spirits. And let me be honest: I was the first to admit that I had no idea what I was doing, just an interest in doing it. What was I expecting? And to what end?
I packed up my treasures that had now lost their luster and it was 3 weeks before I had an interest in unpacking them. With time had come a kinder eye and I could see the things I had learned, the areas that failed and where some fun things had mistakenly happened. Most did end up in the dumpster but I now called them "practice pieces" not "production pieces." We had a good laugh. Still...still...I knew there was more to this; processing takes time, mulling needs distance, analysis means stepping back.
the piece I kept - my pilgrim's token
I realize now that the purpose of my pilgrimage to Penland was not about pottery...it was about lifting my head up and partaking of all that is around me. My lesson had very little to do with wet or dry clay slabs and everything to do with slowing down and breathing in the rarefied air that exists in such a place. I coulda (shoulda, woulda) come home with one decent piece and enjoyed the yoga, taken long walks, lingered over dinner with the writer and visited the studio next door. This epiphany was mind blowing and, in a funny way, comforting. It's easy to espouse what we believe but so much harder to live it. I wanted a quantitative bang for my buck and my time, I came back with a qualitative one.
I know this doesn't sound much like an ART blog or even a decent PILGRIMAGE story. But it was both for me. Have you ever been on a pilgrimage that you didn't recognize as such? Have you ever had to learn, the hard way, how to really live what you think (or pretend) to believe? Please tell me I'm not the only one.
ALWAYS A PILGRIM,