My first sculpture, in clay, was of the groundhog.
I was in the second grade.
And it was awful.
Why had my teacher picked the end of January to bring a couple bags of clay into the classroom and tell us build sculptures in commemoration of the February 2nd holiday?
I do not know.
Perhaps there was some message there, about working with earth and water and fire, and about the living cycles of a world we were only beginning to explore.
Or maybe, it was just a random collision of events and the groundhog theme seemed, to her, like a good idea.
So we wedged and shaped the lumps of clay with our little hands, and then she took them off to be fired. When they came back they were hard and crumbly, and we painted them…, garishly.
I vaguely remember that some of my fellows had, roughly, approximated the look of a large rodent, sitting up on its hindquarters.
I had not.
There was a greenish lump (the ground) upon the crest of which stood a rough brown cylinder (tree trunk), and next to that another brown blob resembling a brazil nut with ears (the critter).
It was bad, really, REALLY bad.
I was so embarrassed by it, that years later, when a friend of mine in college was twisting my arm to take the Intro to Ceramics class with him, I was filled with an irrational fear that my secret shame would finally be exposed.
“I paint, I draw,” I told him, “I’m a 2d artist. I’m just no good at 3d work.”
“Come on,” he countered, “you’re gonna love it. Have you even tried?”
And in my minds eye…, green and brown lumps of earth…, and people laughing, LAUGHING!
“Yeah, I’ve tried.”
But in the end, I relented and took the class.
And my friend was right, I loved it.
That first class was followed by a second, and suddenly the focus of my studies had shifted from painting in oils to sculpting in clay.
There was something deeply powerful in the manipulation of those basic elements, earth, water, fire. There was a ritual quality to the process that touched the spirit, and there was the careful science of manipulating chemical reactions to occupy the analytical portions of my mind.
I had never…, have never…, felt so entirely within my element.
And then the long winter began.
When I left school, I left the ceramics program behind.
I lived in a cramped apartment without the financial means to acquire the tools and materials I’d have needed to pursue my interests.
So I focused on my painting, and I told myself that a brief hiatus from clay would do me good.
And the years passed, and I painted less and less.
I got a job as a graphic artist for a magazine.
I learned new skills. I won awards.
And the paints came out less frequently.
By the time I changed jobs again (this time repairing computers) my easels had been stowed in the attic and my paints were congealing in their tubes.
And so I came here, and I began to write. And always, ALWAYS there was the intention that the writing would be a portal into something bigger, something that would utilize all the other skills I have acquired along the way, something that would make me feel like I used to feel before this long winter took hold.
But after a while, the writing seemed to be using up all the creative energy that I had to spare, and keeping to my self imposed deadline was chewing through what little free time I had. I felt like I needed to take a break and get my head on straight, and finally get a start on whatever that next big thing was going to be.
And so I stopped writing. I withdrew further into the day to day grind and I waited for the creative well to replenish itself.
But that was never going to happen.
The well didn’t run dry because my creativity went away, instead it has been filled up with silt and debris, the grit and grime of a thousand little things that we like to call ‘living’ but which have nothing to do with being alive. It is plugged with worries about money and home and transportation, and with all the things that come from being a cog in someone else’s machine.
The waters are still there, but they will never rise above all that junk.
To find them again, I’ll need to grab a shovel and climb down into the well.
I need to get my hands dirty.
I need to start digging.
I know this.
I WANT it.
But wanting and doing are two different things.
Part of the problem is not knowing exactly how to get started.
But far bigger than that is the fear of failure.
And so hear I am, I have become the groundhog, curled in his burrow, desperately wanting the winter to end, but afraid to peek out for fear of seeing his own shadow.
And tomorrow I’ll get up and eat my breakfast and head off to work like a good little citizen.
And I’ll wonder – How many more weeks of winter?