Ego Chronicle #17

Todd’s bud vase made in 1966

Just prior to my senior year of high school, much to my parents’ dismay, I decided not to continue on the science and math track they had hoped would turn me into a doctor. Instead of Math and Science, I took Drama and Ceramics, the first and only high school classes I loved.

In Ceramics, my excellent teacher Mr. Dunning started us out with hand-building projects, which I found delightfully challenging. If we proved diligent and hardworking, as opposed to being goof-offs as many kids were, we might graduate to learning how to use a potter’s wheel. After two months of making things with slabs of clay and coils of clay, Mr. Dunning promoted me to a wheel.

Our wheels were kick wheels, not electric. Having learned to wedge my clay to remove all the air bubbles, I was instructed in how to center a ball of clay on the wheel. This seemingly easy step in the process of making a bowl—easy for Mr. Dunning—took me several days to master, and, in truth, I never mastered centering. Sometimes I managed to center the ball of clay, sometimes not. Once the ball of clay was centered, the ball could be opened and the sides lifted into a cylinder. From this cylinder, a bowl or vase could be made.

After two weeks of practice, I finally managed to throw what I believed to be a beautiful bowl. I was overjoyed. From mere mud, I, a young Zorba in the making (Zorba the Greek was a potter), had created a beautiful artifact.

The protocol was to raise your hand when you wanted Mr. Dunning to come examine your work. So I raised my hand, Mr. Dunning approached, and before I knew what was happening, he took his fettling knife and sliced my bowl in half so we could examine the walls for thickness, air bubbles, and other possible flaws. My precious creation. Cut in half. I’d spent weeks trying to make a bowl and… SLICE!

I went back to work, but was too upset to make another bowl that day. The next day, however, I made an even better bowl, raised my hand, Mr. Dunning approached, whipped out his blade, and cut the bowl in half.

Battling my tears, I listened to his comments, he departed, and I made another bowl, a most excellent bowl, my best bowl by far.

I raised my hand.

Mr. Dunning approached.

I took up my own blade and cut the bowl in half.

Whatever For