It’s been a while, hasn’t it. More than three months, to be precise. Steve and My Man and I went to Europe at the end of February for another family-event-with-stopover-in-London-on-the-way. While we were there, Covid-19 started ramping up, which did spoil the fun a bit, so when we came home in early March, we hunkered down with the family and pretty much stayed put.
I’ve been spending a lot of time ever since making things. Getting my hands into clay and garden dirt and bread dough (not all at once, silly! I do wash my hands in between) helps my soul stay grounded and cope with this very, very strange and disconcerting time.
Here’s a few pictures:
And now it’s almost summer; the garden is growing and so are the dust bunnies in the corners of the house; I’ve almost run out of good clay and need to reconstitute the dried-up stuff I’ve been saving up for several years; I’m part-way through editing a novel I wrote during NaNoWriMo a few years ago; and Steve is telling me I ought to get back to writing some stories with bears in them (he’s a stuffed animal of a one-track-mind).
So now you know. How’s things been with you?
Life, the Universe, and Coping in the Time of Covid-19. Making things helps.
One of the great things about pottery is that clay is very forgiving. Every potter has a slop and trimmings bucket sitting by their wheel, and when you’re in the early stages of your pottery skills acquisition, most of what you attempt to make ends up in there as well. But you haven’t wasted anything at this stage – you just let it dry out, re-wet it, wedge (=knead) it back together, and you’re back in business. So all those crackpots you have on the shelf? As long as they haven’t been fired, you’re good – chalk it up to practice.
Here are Guy and Cat on the subject, from p.95 of Seventh Son. This is the first time Cat is in his pottery shop with him:
Guy was in the corner of the room, by the drying shelves, examining the cups and lids Cat had looked at the previous day. He looked up as he heard the shop door creak and raised his eyebrows in greeting as he saw Cat.
“These are ruined, I think,” he said, gesturing at her with one of the lids without a handle. “Too dry now to put the knob on. Ah well, we start again.” He chucked the lid into a bucket which sat on the floor between the wheel and the shelf and was filled with dried-up pottery pieces. It hit the contents with a dull thwack, and broke. Cat gasped—did he so casually discard his work? Guy looked up at the sound and gave her his crooked smile.
“There’s plenty more where that came from,” he said, sending half a dozen partially dried cups without handles after the lid. “It’s not a waste; I’ll reuse it. As long as it’s not fired, the clay can be re-wet over and over and made into new things.”
“Couldn’t you salvage these? Seems a shame to throw them out!”
“No, the handles won’t stick now; they’d just crack off during drying—or worse, after they’re fired, and then it really would be a waste. There’s not much use for a fired cracked pot. And, believe me, these aren’t a great loss; I can easily make more. Besides, sometimes this”—he narrowed his eyes, and hurled another cup into the bucket with extra violence—“can be quite satisfying.”
The cup shattered into a dozen pieces.
If you want to know what happens next (hint: something pretty dramatic!), just get a copy of the book. It’s free to download!
Life, the Universe, and Reclaimed Clay. It’s all highly symbolic.
Here is Steve, mugging for the camera. Well, he’s guarding my new favourite Christmas mug, which I got for all of 35¢ at the thrift shop the other day.
I already had a collection of Christmas mugs (most of them hand-me-downs), so I really didn’t need another one. As a rule I avoid buying knick-knacky things – they’re fun to get as presents, but I’m not going to spend money on them; I’m trying to have less “stuff” in my house, not more. But there was something that struck my fancy about this mug.
I picked it up, cupped it in my hand, turned it around a few times, put it back on the shelf (between the other two Christmas mugs identical to one I have at home), walked a couple of steps away, turned around, and went back to pick it up again. Repeat process a few times… There was no price tag on it, but finally I decided to just do it. As it turned out, it cost even less than I had expected, so, bonus.
I’m not quite sure what it is about this mug that makes me like it so much. It’s the cheerful, bright yet not-kitschy colours that got my attention at first, I think. The design isn’t exactly high art or great taste, but the Frosty is kind of cute in a folksy sort of way.
But the real selling feature was the shape and size, and the feel of the handle. I like mugs that I can fully wrap both my hands around, and the size of the handle loop makes a big difference. I don’t have huge hands, but I like getting three of my fingers crooked through the handle at once, for full support of the hot cup, and a lot of mugs have handles too small for that. The other thing that matters is the thickness and shape of the handle – not too thick (again, crooking my fingers around it) or too thin (in which case it feels too flimsy to hold that full heavy mug of hot tea), and it needs to be nicely rounded so it doesn’t cut into your fingers.
On the last count, my own homemade pottery mugs (e.g. the one in the front of the picture) actually fall down. I pulled the handles (which is a vaguely indecent-looking process in which you hook your index finger around a stubby sausage of clay, gently squeeze down on top with your thumb, and pull it out into a longer, flatter shape), and me being not the most expert of potters, they have high ridges that are a tiny bit uncomfortable on the hand. Another thing I don’t like as much about my own mugs is the thickness, or rather lack thereof – I’d like them to have a bit more heft. I’m going to have to see if I can remedy those issues next time I make it back to my long-neglected pottery shop.
The other thing that matters is the shape of the mug itself. I like mugs to be fairly straight-sided, or at least not too narrow at the bottom – they have to be sturdy, so as not to tip over and inundate my computer, lap, or plate of sandwiches with a flood of hot tea. And then there’s the rim. The feel of the lip of the cup against my, well, lip is really important. I know a lot of people like a thin cup lip curving outward, but my preference is for a fairly thick, round edge. What I really don’t like is mugs that curve in at the top – how can you sip hot liquid from something like that? As for the material, ceramic or thick glass are the only options for good mugs. Not metal – definitely not metal! And plastic is only tolerable in travel mugs (which are in a category all by themselves).
The funny thing is that some of my favourite mugs are my most ordinary ones. Not the one-of-a-kind artisanal hand-thrown pottery from my own shop, or fancy gold-rimmed designer porcelain. No, the simple set of cobalt blue mugs with white speckles, which I got as hand-me-downs quite a long time ago and then found more of in a thrift shop a few months ago.
They’re plain, straight-sided, and fairly heavy. The lip is thick, round and smooth, the better to sip you with, my dear (tea). The handle is round, and rounded (not attached in that half-heart shape that even my handmade mugs have because it’s the easiest way to attach handles), which makes it perfect for sticking three of my fingers through (with the pinky wrapped underneath) and then cupping my other hand around the belly of the mug, absorbing its warmth as I stare out the window at the cold grey winter’s day, musing on the vagaries of life.
Tea is, of course, the elixir of life, but the right mug to drink it out of makes a difference, don’t you think?
Life, the Universe, and Favourite Mugs. What’s your preference?