It has been about 1 month since I arrived here in Gresham, WI to begin my apprenticeship. As you can imagine, moving from a situation where I was living alone in a cabin in the Pacific Northwest, out to a house in rural Wisconsin with a family of 4, might come with some significant changes in lifestyle.
Wisconsin has surprised me with its brand of natural beauty. The landscape is lush with both coniferous and deciduous forests, full of wonderful lakes and rivers, and covered with endless seas of farmland crops. Without any mountains to impede the horizon, the sky seems to go on forever. If you stand in a large, open area it feels like the sky actually dips underneath you. Clouds race by faster than I've ever seen before. Sunsets are long and firey. Rainstorms can come and go quicker than you can get all of your pots brought back inside the studio. The mornings bring a chorus of bird melodies, and at dusk the fireflies paint the atmosphere with their bio-luminescent butt brushes. It is a big change from the dramatic landscape of the Pacific Northwest, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss it, but I can honestly say that I am pleasantly surprised by the beauty that I am finding out here in the Dairyland.
For my apprenticeship, I owe Simon 30 hours of work per week in exchange for materials, room and board, kiln space, a $100/week stipend, and his mentorship. So far, most of my work hours have been spent processing wood for future firings. Other jobs have included staining walls, weed-wacking, sanding pots, cutting and palleting firebrick, etsy listing, and web design. I am trying to find balance between chores and studio time just like I would be if I were a full-time potter. I'm managing some time for exploration as well.
Probably the most challenging part* about moving out here, which really hasn't been bad, has been adapting to living with another family. I am the first of Simon's apprentices to live under the same roof as he and his. The reason being that they (and I) will be moving to Illinois sometime in the near future, so finding a place to live for just a couple of months would have been extremely difficult. If you're accustomed to living on your own, and not having to worry about the schedules, bedtimes, etc. of anyone else, dovetailing into a family dynamic can take some getting used to. Ubering home in the middle of the night still drunk from a concert, and stumbling around the kitchen while trying to make a snack is not something one would feel particularly comfortable doing when living with a family of 4. Luckily there's not much of a night life out here, so it isn't a problem. Despite the tricky circumstances and elevated stress levels from the move, Simon and his family have made an effort to make me feel welcome and comfortable and I am grateful for it.
It is a strange feeling to be land-locked. My whole life I've lived within an hour or so of the ocean, and if I were any further than that, I was in the mountains. I find comfort in the mountains. Not having them around does sting a bit. As far as snowboarding season goes...I guess we'll just have to see about that. But it is all good. Life is about embracing these changes, leaning into them, stepping forward with grace, and finding the beauty in what is right in front of us, because it really is quite abundant.
I came here to learn what it takes to be a successful woodfire potter; to work closely alongside Simon in order to broaden my perspectives and grow as an artist, just as the 16 apprentices who came before me did. I am already being challenged both within the studio and otherwise. I'm observing closely the way Simon runs things, asking many questions, and taking many notes. After one month, I am feeling energized and excited for the rest to come.
*Edit: The most challenging part is loving their two cats, but also being allergic to them.
And so it begins...
I've been telling myself for a while now that a blog would be a fun thing to try out. I quite enjoy pouring out personal musings onto paper, but those notes rather sadly don't meet anyone's minds other than my own. I'm not so sure who my "target audience" would be, or whether or not anyone will actually read it. I won't be advertising or actively trying to get people to follow. I just want to quietly write, and see what happens.
I've decided to give myself some parameters to work within in order to keep things focused and interesting. I'd like to write about things that have meaning for me. Momentary inspirations, struggles, experiences, and perspectives are a few categories that come to mind. I expect a solid amount of writing related to my pottery practice and my new apprenticeship as well. So, if you're reading this, thank you. I hope that the following words might linger in your head as you operate throughout your day, and hold your interest enough to bring you back again for another dose.
The name for this blog came quite spontaneously as I was sitting here preparing to write the first post. There is a classic Zen quotation that you may be familiar with. The quotation goes, "Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water." Feel it? In our lives we create goals for ourselves. These goals sit at varying distances and hold varying weights of perceived importance. There are the small and mundane goals such as finally getting that pile of dishes done. And then there are big goals which you put days, months, years upon years of effort and energy into, such as graduating from college, scoring your dream job, or the dream of one day buying a house and starting a family. These goals can seem quite far off in the distant haze, but they give you purpose and in time become a part of your identity..."identity" being a fascinating topic that I could see myself writing about later on...anyway... They become beacons of light that guide us along like an ever-present undercurrent. But what happens when after all of that time and energy, your goal is finally reached?
The other day I was standing alone in the studio here at Mill Creek Pottery and I was filled with joy as I reflected on the journey that had led me to this point. My interest in apprenticeship began several years ago, and standing there in that moment it hit me that I was finally there. My hard work had paid off, and my dream had become my reality. The Zen in the situation is found when you realize that nothing has actually changed. My life is still happening moment to moment just as it was several years ago when that goal was conceived. I have chopped ample amounts of wood, and carried many buckets of water to get me to where I now stand, and now that I'm here I can smile gratefully, and I will continue to chop and continue to carry.
What this Zen saying is attempting to expound is that it isn't about the destination, it is about the journey. Life doesn't stop when you find your 'enlightenment.' Life was as it was during the search, and it will remain as it is afterward. It is a reminder not to become so attached to an idea that exists in the future, but to give emphasis to , and appreciate what exists right now.
So I borrowed the quote, but swapped around the words. It still works, kind of...and that's the thing! The original message remains, yet it is a reminder that life doesn't always have to make complete sense. Chop your water, carry your wood, don't be too serious, and enjoy.