Melancholoholic Issue #5.5

Oct 9, 2011 by

A couple of letters have urged me to continue where I left off after  Issue #5. Very kind. Normally I wouldn’t do two issues of Melanchololic but this time it’s okay as there is, of course, a little more to the story yet. Also I have been rather sick for the last few days and today is no exception – I’m afraid it has had some effect on my writing. But the story remains the same….

When we left off last time the little furry critter, Bahji, had picked me.

A busy studio – I hope it can be this way again soon.

In that last post I glossed over a number of things.  I briefly mentioned a pottery wheel that a woman whom I was about to marry wanted, and here in fact is an important nugget of wisdom. What is this nugget?

It is wonder and experience. As I wrote those two words I found myself toying with which should be ahead of the other, then realized after several attempts at thinking about this premise and conclusion critically that it is a case of the chicken and the egg. Perhaps one could look at these as forever joined. It is experience that can help you wonder deeply about things. Conversely the simple act of wondering can open your mind to new experience. What I find incredible at times is how few young people wonder. Wondering when the next party is, wondering if someone likes you, wondering if you should call in sick tomorrow so you can party again tonight is not the kind of wonder we are talking about here at all!

One reason many people fail to engage in healthy wonder is simply that wonder, taking real deep profound wonder in the world, requires reflection. It is this very act of engaging oneself that so many seem to spend an inordinate amount of time avoiding – and sadly what is most damaging about this, as we have talked about before, is that the very act of avoidance dampens the natural cognitive dissonance that lives within us all. The survival of this dissonance, I would suspect, as with all things human, is very individual. If I were to make a completely unscientific guess based on my own observations, I suspect that for many people, if they ignore it all through their twenties, by the time they are in their early thirties it is close to dead or at the very least gasping for air and begging you to listen. That is not to say that it cannot ever be woken again – but there is a certain magic that is lost by losing touch with the youthful dissonance that lives or had lived in us all.

So what about this “pottery wheel,” why was it such an important part of my life and how does it tie into what I just wrote?

Well I could be outright honest and say that after I bought the pottery wheel for Lorna and then she left me for the next exciting adventure, my first thought certainly wasn’t as noble as it should have been. It was something like “I wonder what that bitch would think if I became a well-known potter and lived an interesting life surrounded by artists, intellectuals and philosophers.”

Not a very noble kind of “wonder” but it was wonder nonetheless.  This thought is what set in motion the next pivotal event in my life. I had bought the wheel and I sure as hell wasn’t going to give it to a woman who not only left me for another man during our engagement, but refused to give the engagement ring back – which just wasn’t right. I’ve always thought that she and her new lover sold it to finance a climbing trip.

A show by Scott Malin at our gallery. The ceramic work is the result of a collaboration between Scott and me.

As an aside, people who are seemingly peripheral in your life can have a profound effect on where you go next.  There was an older lady who lived on my street and during one of my many walks of anguish as I now call them, she called me into her yard. She mentioned that I looked broken up and asked me why – and I told her my story. She began to tell me how her husband had just passed away last year,  and the way she described it, it was fifty-seven years of beauty, wonder, and happiness.  I told her how Lorna was still calling me and that I wasn’t ready to talk to her or even to decide if I wanted to try it again. If you want to see an older lady get really mad quickly – wow. This chance encounter changed the course of my life.  She simply said I could never, ever, even consider taking this woman back and that if I did I was an incredible fool. Just so you know – I listened to her and it was one of the hardest things I ever did in my life.

Trust. This was the key part of her talk to me about why I could never, ever take Lorna back as a partner. I wish I knew how life-changing this talk was when I was a young twenty-six-year-old man. Trust. I will say it again and again and again, just so you understand just how phenomenally important this is to all of us, and not just to a hurt and pissed off twenty-six year-old-man.

You can say you love someone. It is incredible how many people, when you ask them what is “love” exactly, get a confused, incredulous expression on their faces, which quickly turns to an expression of “Are you stupid?” Which of course doesn’t answer the question at all does it? A key ingredient of this cloying abstract word called love is trust, and if that key ingredient is missing right from the beginning, it will take next to miracle for you to be fulfilled in the relationship you are in.

Does this mean it will most certainly fail? You can continue to be an ignorant child and hope if you say “I love you” with more emphasis, you might be able to will the your relationship in a particular direction. For a time you may be successful in this, because of our collective human fears, desires, need to be recognized and cared for, and desire to care for others. Some can in fact will a relationship along, sometimes for many years, even though the both of you feel empty and frightened almost every day.

When you have trust it gives birth to loyalty, and like many things, these are difficult to separate – but without doubt, unless you have trust you cannot even begin to understand what loyalty is, never mind experiencing it.

I decided to return this pottery wheel to the man I purchased it from. I drove out to Canmore, Alberta, about one hundred kilometres or so from Calgary, where my home was. I asked the man if he would consider taking it back and refunding my money. He said of course, not a problem, but would I be interested in seeing what it was all about, this thing called “throwing” –  the act a potter engages in when making a piece of pottery on a wheel.

Remember earlier how I mentioned wonder?

Here is where I was fortunate that I still had a sense of wonder – rather than being a conservative, thinking I knew what I wanted, I took the plunge and accepted Mr. Bloom’s offer. He took an old wire off the wall and chopped off a chunk of steel-grey clay the size of a loaf of bread and handed it to me, and proceeded to cut two more blocks of clay the same size, handing another to me. He then motioned me to follow him and we made our way outside, up an old set of stairs that hugged the side of his studio. When we reached the first landing of the stairs, it was elevated enough that I could look out across Canmore and see the Rocky Mountains and I was able to breath this intoxicating mixture of nature mixed with the clay that I carried in my hands. It is interesting – in all my life I had never been filled with so much wonder, fear and of course sorrow, all at the same time.

We opened an old clapboard door, covered with many patches, dents and scratches, and entered a narrow hallway that was filled with  many objects of unknown origin and use, at least to me. They were stacked on top of each other along the floor and on old shelves, heavily burdened and bending at the middle like a violin’s bow. I thought at the time that one misplaced foot could cause the entire contents of the hallway to come tumbling down. To say that I was fascinated would be an understatement.

We made our way down this hallway to a room of  thirty to forty square metres. In it was a large canvas-covered table and a lone pottery wheel. This was the room that would change my life forever. Tony sat down at the wheel, threw a lump of clay the size of a grapefruit onto the head of the wheel and began to throw a vase. It was magical to me, especially considering I had never in my life felt the desire to be an artist, at least not in any profound way; I had always liked creating, but….

After Tony demonstrated a few times he sat me down and took my hands and showed me how brace my body and center myself. It was at this moment that I realized that what he made look incredibly easy was not easy at all. He left me there with another twenty or so kilograms of clay. I’ll be honest, I thought I’d be up there for fifteen minutes, maybe a half hour – never would I have expected that Tony would come upstairs several hours later and say he was going home for dinner. I also didn’t expect him to offer to bring me home to eat – and this was my first experience with the openness and generosity that some artists have. I said some artists because as my path progressed in art I learned that as with anything in life, there are people who do things because they love them and then there are people who do things for recognition, money, etc. I’ll leave it to you to figure who the generous ones are.

Tony Bloom and Rod Wuetherick in his studio in Vancouver in 2004

In between that day and 1996 much transpired. I apprenticed with Tony. I became the membership director in the Alberta Potters’ Guild, and travelled all over Western Canada meeting fantastic people. Then in late 1996 I moved from Calgary, Alberta to Vancouver, B.C. – the life changing effects of that pottery wheel were still directing the course of my life.  Unfortunately in 1996 something began to happen to my body that still, to this day, we are trying to figure out. This has dramatically affected every aspect of my life, and I will write about this in another set of posts one day soon.

I sure wish I could thank that old lady for her advice. It was probably the single best piece of advice that was ever given to me and I’ll  tell you why.

In the late summer of 1997 I had just moved from my first house in Vancouver to another home about twenty blocks away. I had foolishly decided to move in with a friend and his bipolar sister. After spending a few years as a youth in a home with someone who was bipolar I should have known what a mistake this was – but fortunately I wasn’t smart enough to realize it, because that mistake led me to the next most amazing part of my life. Quick aside: don’t regret anything in your life – ever. Each and every mistake, calamity, good choice, etc. that we make in life is who we are. To regret is to have regret about ourselves and to live with useless guilt.

I was still partying a bit at this time in my life – very foolish, as I was already having extreme difficulty with my health.  I had long ago gotten over the pain and hurt of Lorna leaving, but I was lonely and this was my rationale for living as I did. I met some exceedingly crazy Newfoundlanders (I’m not sure if there is such thing as a sane newfie) and boy did we have fun. It so happened that one of these boys was dating a lady who lived five houses up from where I had just moved.

The very first time I went over to their house to meet them there was this girl, she had a boy friend and I thought for sure she was far too young for me. We talked a little bit and I learned that she was attending Emily Carr University of Art + Design here in Vancouver. After a while I got the idea that maybe she could help me in the studio. She was an art student and art students are always broke – that was my justification.

It seemed almost every time I walked past her place in the morning she just happened to be there. One particular morning she was sitting in her house coat, drinking a morning tea with her hairy art school girl’s legs sticking out.  I started talking to her and I realized that I was falling in love with this girl.

Erin with a self portrait on her wall in her studio in 2004

Fall in love we did. Erin and I have been together now for 14 wonderful years. Not a day, not a minute, not a second of any of those years even brings up a feeling of regret or sadness or wonder of what it would be like with someone else. There could never be anyone else.

Erin Gunther is the gift that pottery and Lorna Curran gave me. Without these two pivatol things in my life I would have never met Erin.

We are leaving out one thing,  Bahji. Had I not learned how to love again from this crazy furry friend – I would not have known how to love Erin. So all of these things, for better or for worse, make our lives what they are. Making the best of everything and keeping a childlike wonder can help you overcome so many obstacles.

Now I hope that after all of these years, life will give us a break and allow me to fully regain my health and my full potential. Remember I said these years with Erin have been the best of my life – yet I have not been well for more than a few days at a time for all these years. We hope that maybe now we know what’s wrong, and that with surgery we might be able to enjoy the rest of our lives with minimal struggle.

There is much more to tell and I will continue in another issue and share with you some of our joys and trials. By sharing we all become a little better off and a little closer. We suddenly start to realize that we all aren’t that different after all.

You can see Erin’s work at eringunther.com

BTW –  Scott Malin’s artwork at scottmailin.com  is well worth looking at…

Until next time…

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