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I was just reading some music reviews at Pitchfork Media (a great site), and got to the review of Wilco's A Ghost is Born. When I got this album I ferociously jammed it onto the iPod, fearfully hoping that it might provide as many hours of studio inspiration as Yankee Hotel did last year (or was it two? I can never remember.) And then... I waited for the desire to hear it over and over again, which never materialized. A ghost indeed? "Please, Jehosaphat, don't let it be a flat follow-up...", I begged. But it seems that it is, to my ears. And it's not unusual for new music to take a couple months to sneak into my subconscious, and then to get hit frequently on the iPod and elsewhere, but this one just hasn't yet, and I'm thinking it might never.
So, my mindfull of bees hums up an extrapolation to the general; what can we learn from this? (aka, why is it so common for inspired beauty to be followed up with dullness?). Too many expectations, perhaps, or too good an understanding after the fact of the brilliant territory just conquered? Good theories I guess. But what I hit on was a memory of the emotional crux of the film about the making of YHF (I Am Trying To Break Your Heart).
It's the one where Tweedy and Jay Bennett have a meltdown over a seemingly-inconsequential issue (I forget what), and Bennett quits the band in a childish huff. At the time, it seemed too stereotypical, a well worn page out of the "How to Form a Band and Then Dissolve" handbook. But some part of me then, just falling in love with YHF and by extension with Wilco for the first time, thought, "Uh oh. That's going to be trouble." Yes, Bennett seemed like a pain in the ass. Yes, the mood got a lot lighter once he split. Yes, I even know someone who walked out on the film at that point because the drama seemed so juvenile. Sure, Tweedy is great even solo acoustic, and bands find ways to go on. But what they lost, as Ghost seems to chronicle too well, is the creative tension between the two writers; the friction that made the songs really heat up and come to life.
By extension further, I imagine that my best work comes out of the struggle, not the calm. Or to be even more precise, it comes in those fleeting moments right after a point of conflict reaches its max and then starts to become resolved. The first brushstroke at a new angle, the first time a new form comes into clarity, the resolve to make a change and the actions thus set in motion.
Hard as it is to accept, the struggle is where the good stuff is born. It's the push to keep looking for new problems to solve, the disgruntlement with staying pat on a stale answer. It's the symptom and the cure wrapped into one package. The hard part and the reason for doing. As elusive as this nagging idea that I'm trying to express, as constant and necessary as the wheel or the clay or a Sunday afternoon work session.
When Bennett walked out of that room, Wilco lost the energy that was contained in all the creative conflict between him and Tweedy; now, as a creative entity, it feels like they're stumbling around trying to find something else worth fighting against.
So apparently, you can now get a virus or be hacked just by looking at the wrong JPEG. That'll teach you a lesson!
I've decided that a more detached, Zen-like approach will help me get through a weekend without composing phantom emails in my head and repetitively plotting my resignation speech. Who wants to admit that their ulcer was born out of an online application? World peace or genocide, maybe, but not this... The drudgery I'll forget, but the stress could last a lifetime.
(My problem with "zen-ing out" is that it never lasts! Practice patience, grasshopper.)
Take It Outside
(This one's for potters)
Yesterday, a bright, early-Fall Sunday morning in Indiana, I made some pots in the backyard. I've been doing this for a while, starting last summer I think, on my trusty old Lockerbie kickwheel. The origins of this outdoor throwing go back to a couple of isolated events that merged together, unexpectedly yet with great results.
I finally bought a treadle wheel back in 2001, and happily switched to using it all the time. My studio isn't big enough for both wheels, so the kickwheel went out to the garage storage area. When I finally got tired of stumbling past it there, I pulled it outside and put a tarp over it.
Then, two years ago I took a great workshop with Ron Meyers at the Appalachian Craft Center in Tennessee, and got a taste of underglaze decoration over white slip on earthenware. I hadn't done low-fire since my very 1st semester of ceramics, back at the U of Iowa in 1991, when we weren't allowed to "move up" to stoneware until Ceramics II. I took the workshop because Meyer's pots have fascinated me for a long time, and I felt the need to stretch out from my core of high-fire reduction stoneware and porcelain. Also, I've never been much for decoration other than glaze -- fear of the brush and all that. The workshop proved to be a great choice, as I came home really excited about the new clay, techniques and - wonder of wonders - almost entirely over my fear of brushwork.
So, the earthenware jones and the spare wheel outside collided and now I'm using some of our remaining nice weather making pots outdoors. I really recommend this, to those of you who haven't already tried it. I get to be "in the studio" and outside at the same time. I get to watch the weather and smell the fresh-cut grass. I get to see a reflection of the sky, sun and clouds swirling in the pool of water inside each pot as it grows. I see the process of throwing from a perspective changed just enough to enlighten the whole process, and to make me grateful for all its intricacies.
I'm discovering two big things: First, that working outdoors really loosens things up! I look at my pots at times and think they're becoming too tight, too clean, even contrived. As much as I desire to improve my skills, to gain more confidence and control, I dread the coldness and calculated perfection that this competance can bring. But sitting in the sun, pulling up clay while occasionally swatting at insects, a breeze in my face... it all seems to be a better solution to tight pots than I could have invented if I'd been trying.
The second thing is that having two types of clay, and two very different processes, going concurrently is good for both. On the same day, I'll go from throwing porcelain pots with very little decoration - perhaps some stamping or a few carved marks - to slathering red earthenware in a white slip and painting it with a rainbow of underglazes. This creates some dramatic mind and mood shifts, and seems to create better results on both sides.
I suppose I've mentioned before that I get bored too easily (and if not, my brief, shotgun writing style probably suggests it without requiring additional comment!). I love few things as much as spending an entire day absorbed in the studio, but find it so much more engaging when I switch tasks a lot. I always work in series (at least 2 of something), but rarely make a big group of one thing at a time. I hate the frustration that goes along with the lapse in attention; the stagnation of feeling obligated to follow up on something old when I would rather be starting a new thread of exploration. While less caffiene or more narcotics (currently zero) might "cure" this problem, I think the related blessing is that I don't get stuck on one form or one style; I avoid making a repetitive catalog of pots.
When the options are nearly infinite, why stay so close to home? Certainly there are good reasons behind the counter argument: going deep instead of broad, committing to a few things and focusing on them, doing the hard work to get past the hard parts of the process. Yeah, I guess on another day I could write up a decent post regaling all the virtues of that approach. As I've written elsewhere, I'm always wondering how much diversity is the right amount, and I guess this is just another variation on that question.
But for now, I recommend taking it outside. Winter is coming soon, and then we'll all be in our studios looking out frosted windows and longing for spring. Even if you've got but one wheel, claybody or style, do it anyways. At the least, you'll get a sunburn and a better understanding of the local bugs.
9.01.2004Must Be Time for an Upgrade!
Holy crap! The new iMac is wild. I love the tagline: "The display is the computer." Nice. The slew of ports on the back is awesome (although they're still on the back! Hello!) and a G5 would be mighty nice [My G3 really pokes along, even with 512 RAM, and especially when switching apps or coming out of sleep mode], not to mention an increase of 5" monitor space. Why O why did I buy the 15'" model?
It's hard to believe they can cram 160GB hard drive and DVD combo drive into the thing, too. Now where was that $1900 I had lying around?