The Smell of Silence
Clay has a specific smell. After a day in the studio, the clay smell becomes my smell. Having clay on every available body and clothing surface will do that. I have clothes that I wear when I’m in the studio that have a permanent clay smell. I think this is good because it covers up the smell of sweat from muscling clay around. At least that’s what I tell myself (do not feel free to tell me otherwise.) All the different clays smell slightly different. Reclaimed clay fresh from being put through the mixer for recycling smells warm, mineral-y, and slightly stinky, a result of all the bacteria that grows while the clay is waiting to be recycled. (Recycling clay is a decidedly odiferous affair.) Porcelain smells dry and ever so slightly of chalk.
I’ve incorporated studio practice into my life. If I don’t go to the studio for a while, when I go back it brings an instant smile to my face and I try to remember why I took a break (I have yet to figure that out.) Working at the wheel is one of the very few things in my life that quiets my brain. Normally my brain chatters constantly. I think about school, errands I need to run, friends, family, books, TV, myself, etc. The list is never ending, ever expanding, and on permanent play in my brain. Actual silence in my life is rare. This is simply how I am. I’m used to it and I appreciate that it makes up part of my fabric. The chance to not think, to be truly silent, makes that silence a treat, something to be coveted and nurtured. Going to the studio and working on the wheel treats me to long periods of silence. I look at it as my form of meditation. For the life of me, actually sitting down to bring stillness to my mind works in the opposite way. My brain goes into overdrive and all the passing thoughts suddenly crowd in all at once and demand, in the voice of a million two year olds who want a cookie, my attention. Being suddenly seized with a desire for a pluot, a need to do the laundry, a reminder to add pluots to my grocery shopping list, a reminder that I have a doctor’s appointment in a month, a need to call someone, and a need for socks cause my feet are cold- ALL AT THE SAME TIME- is about as relaxing as being confronted by the biggest bull elephant in the world, in musth. And about as dangerous. One way you get stomped to death by a really pissed off and horny elephant. The other way you get overwhelmed with EVERYTHING to the point of brain meltdown. Needless to say, I do not meditate in the traditional sense.
My meditation, the stilling and silencing of my brain, happens when the rest of my body is engaged. Working at the pottery wheel requires very little active thought from me. My muscles have memorized the motions. I simply need to remember to turn the wheel on, grab the needed tools, a water bucket, and clay and then my brain switches gears. My interior life goes silent. I stop existing, the music playing stops existing, anyone around me stops existing. I go through the motions without any of the negative connotations. A number of cups, bowls, hourglasses, and pendants later, the wheel stops and my mind starts.
This total silence is one of the reasons I love ceramics. That and the fact that I can make my own dishes.