Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Gee whiz

"Aging Reader" tells me I've been lax about posting lately, and he's right. So to keep him entertained, here are some updates about my exciting life.

The lot with the geo-thermal tubing balls now has a giant gaping hole surrounded by immense piles of North Carolina red clay. The first day of digging was pretty much the best digger action I've ever witnessed and made me want to borrow a toddler to share the joy.

Beamer and Leo now have three additional harlequin rasbora companions, named Leo 2, Leo 3, and Leo 4. We haven't bonded with the new guys yet, as they don't seem to have much personality (I'm sure the sentiment is mutual), but perhaps we'll grow on one another over time.

I'll be selling pottery in the Watts Hospital Hillandale Art Walk on Nov. 7. This will be my first sale since returning from our Germany hiatus last December, so I've started pulling pots off shelves and assessing my inventory. It's quite the eclectic mix, between the one-of-a-kind class demo pots and the intentional self-improvement pots. Self-improvement phases have apparently included Round Things, Tall Things, Oval Things, Stretched Things, Darted Things, Miniature Things (a phase that lasted about 30 minutes), Chickens, and--most impressively and somewhat disturbingly, when you put them all next to one another--things with holes in them. Lots and lots of holes. Wow.

It's especially nice to discover that pots I once felt ambivalent about--pots that, when removed from the kiln, looked nothing like I hoped they would when I put them in--actually look quite good thanks to several months' separation from my initial expectations.

My friend Adrian came over this morning to pick up a bunch of pieces to photograph for me, so I should have some quality pictures to post soon. In the meantime, here's some of the stuff he didn't take, looking oranger than in real life:

Because I like kitchen gadgets, I'll mention that the pots on the bottom right were made by zesting straight cylinders with a lemon zester, then stretching the cylinders from the inside, yielding the globe shapes with spiraled zest lines.

I've been working with clay for about eight years. I've been competent for perhaps the last five of those, meaning I've generally been the boss of the clay rather than vice versa--that is, I usually manage to turn the blob of clay I start with on the wheel into what I intend for it to become. I'm still waiting for some personal style to emerge, some characteristic detail or gesture that connects most of my work. Looking at the mish mash of pots in the photo is probably not the best way to find that connection, although the combination of zested pots, tall things, holes, and the isolated chicken has me leaning toward the "gee whiz" factor.

A lifetime ago when I was a grad student in astronomy, the grad student cubicle room would occasionally get telephone questions from inquisitive members of the public. The questions usually dealt with what my peers called "gee whiz" astronomy--delectable popular astronomy tidbits that emerged from stunning satellite or telescope photographs, the sorts of images and ideas that make people say "gee whiz!" (as in, "gee whiz, that's where stars are born?" [Omega Nebula image credit: European Space Agency, NASA, and J. Hester (Arizona State University)]). Gee whizness is what led me into a master's thesis on interstellar gas and dust--which, frankly, is not as exciting as you might think once you take away the pretty pictures and the Vangelis soundtrack from Cosmos.

When I later became a music theorist, I noticed I was drawn to what I called "gee whiz" theory: bring to the fore previously unnoticed details and discuss them in engaging and artful narratives that make people say "gee whiz!" (as in "gee whiz, even though the ghost of Manfred's deceased beloved doesn't ever sing, I actually hear her generating pitches inside my head in that single measure of silence in the third act!").

Gee whizness doesn't answer big questions: it resides in snapshots and unexpected convergences, in flashes of forest seen amidst lots of trees. It's nifty, but not particularly useful or utilitarian in the grand scheme of things. It's like using a Van de Graaff generator to make your hair stand up rather than to produce extremely high voltages for accelerating sub-atomic particles.

I hope I'm not just flattering myself to think my pots are leaning toward a certain gee-whizness, built into the making if not apparent in the final result. The Klein Bottles are pretty obviously gee-whizzy, as are the double-walled bowls and (I think) the chickens (wheel-thrown chickens!). And personally, I think lemon zested oblate spheroids are pretty gee whiz too.

It's possible that I'm simply confusing gee whizness with nerdiness. I recently submitted a proposal to Claymakers for a new class I've dubbed "Pottery for Geeks." I sure hope they let me teach it.

In other news, the auto repair shop just called and we need a new front axle.

Here's wishing all the best to "Aging Reader," "Aging Breeder," and the rest of you in Pixel-land. Leave a comment sometime so I know you're out there!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Goodness gracious

Great balls of wire!*

*Actually, it's tubing for a geo-thermal heating system, but Jerry Lee Lewis never sang about that. I guess he never sang about great balls of wire either.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Our "La Bohème" moment

E didn't have school on Monday, so on Sunday our family drove to Hanging Rock State Park for a quick overnight camping trip. As darkness fell that evening, we discovered ourselves reenacting the opening scene of Puccini's "La Bohème."

Night time: a chill hovers in the air. The wind blows; droplets of water from an earlier rain shower drizzle down from the canopy of trees above. Gloveless fingers are cold; our child shivers. In a desperate effort to light a pile of damp wood, S makes a sacrifice, crumpling up three precious pieces of paper and tossing them on the struggling flame. "My review," he says: "let my burning review warm us." Thought bursts into flame; the paper dissolves into ashes, and academic prose ascends to the skies. What a cheerful spark! But it doesn't last long. (Is brevity a virtue?) In that languid blue flickering, a title page and cover letter go up in smoke. Thus are the ideas of brilliant men integrated, beautiful, to vanish in a joyous flash.

And then--success--the wood lights, without our having to burn any chairs or picnic tables. Now enter children: friends who coincidentally happen to have a tent pitched four campsites up the one-way loop, there celebrating the brief and festive days between the oldest son's hard-core soccer league practices.

Marshmallows! Graham crackers! Chocolate! We eat and devour--S'mores! We sit in the collapsible camping chairs (they wouldn't have burned well anyway) by the fire and share a glass--nay, a dented aluminum cook pan--of cherry tea. (Alas, Bordeaux isn't allowed in NC State Parks.) Hark, is that a cough? Relief: it's not tuberculosis, just dense smoke.

So much merriment is had by our protagonists that, the next morning, E declares "this was actually way more fun than I thought it would be." Maybe we should take him to see "Tosca" at the NC Opera this fall.

Friday, October 1, 2010


From modest beginnings...

come great things.