Great Expectations

The more the world turns digital, the more I feel the need to be offline. I haven’t written on this blog in so long, I couldn’t remember the password when I decided it was time to reboot it. It doesn’t matter one bit if no one reads this – I need to get the thoughts out of my head.

And so, today’s little story is about expectations. I spend one morning a week making pottery, simply because I enjoy working with clay. In much the same way AI can pump out a meaningless essay faster than a person can, machines mass-produce more than enough functional and decorative pottery to meet people’s needs. In this capitalist/consumeristic cesspool we call society, if any of us think too hard about why we do what we do or make what we make, we’re liable to get depressed. It can (if you have the necessary dollars or plastic) all be outsourced, 3-D printed, delivered an hour after you order it. Why even bother, sighs the Lazy Egg.

Anyways. I enjoy getting up to my elbows in good, clean muck. It is satisfying to center a lump of clay on the wheel and nudge it into being the best little mug or pot it can be. The process isn’t difficult, but it does require your full attention.

Today, my attention was scattered. I survived the chaotic choreography required to merge from the 405 to the 55 on too little breakfast or too much coffee. Someone had accidentally squished one of my better attempts from last week while it sat on the shelf drying. The studio was colder than usual, and an incessant beeping (just the kiln heating up, apparently) felt like torture.

My first bowl crumpled into a slippery heap of mush.

The beeping stopped. Relieved, I scraped my wonky first attempt off the wheel, and tried again. It started off okay, then possibly the most annoying song from the past decade came on the radio. The chirpy ear-worm was every bit as painful as the beeping, and once again my bowl went off center and collapsed. As if the clay has agency. No, I moved too quickly, or incorrectly, and that’s what made the bowl collapse. No mystery, just a lack of attention. A scattered attention.

On a good day, I barely register what’s playing on the radio, letting that day’s decade of choice wash over me. Today wasn’t one of those days, so I gave up on throwing and moved on to trimming the pieces I made last week. Better music came on the radio. Eventually, I found a rhythm. I was still having trouble finding center, but hey. That’s life. An Alanis Morissette song I loved in high school played.

“You treat me like, I’m a princess. I’m not used to, liking it. You ask how my day was.”

Back then, I thought she was clever for the head over feet line, her ironic abundance of spoons. Now, I’m like, WTF? You’re impressed because a guy asked you how your day was? Is that what being a princess means to you? Back in the day, Alanis was, if not cutting-edge, at least edgy for a pop singer. But she was singing to the same marketplace. She was as much a product of her environment as the rest of us.

Maybe Alanis was still being ironic, even in her ballad. But in 2023, its upsetting to realize teenage Cindy’s expectations were just as low as that silly song’s.

I expect a lot better of people now. Is it an Oprah-ism to say you get treated the way you teach people to treat you? Maybe. Oprah was on the kitchen TV nearly every day of my formative years. Empowerment involves having expectations (boundaries?) and taking action when necessary.

But as for my pottery, I’m going to keep the expectations (and my caffeination) low. The clay isn’t trying to overpower me. I just need to spin the wheel a little slower. Focus on the clay sliding between my fingers, and let go of the mental tangles for a moment.

Then, in that one moment of time, I will feel, I will feel eternity. (Thanks Whitney.)