Yunomi, or, "Fired Thing"

Ever since my recent trip to Iowa City, I've been thinking about collections and collecting. Over lunch at the Bread Garden, a haven for visiting writers, my writer friend Carol Spindel and I discussed collecting and collectors.

We had just visited Akar, a gallery which features Japanese tea bowls made by ceramic artists from all over the country. I've never seen anything like it in Northern California where I live, so each time I return to Iowa City to see my dad, I make sure to stop by Akar and pick one favorite bowl.

My habit began years ago. I'd taken a ceramics course from Bunny McBride, an artist with a love for Asian pottery, and discovered the Book of Tea, by Okakura Kakuzō. (Reading it was magical--like coming upon Grimm's Fairy tales for the first time.)

Kakuzō describes the Japanese tea ceremony in a way that embodies the principles he seeks to teach: simplicity, harmony and, to use a nowish term, mindfulness.

I was smitten. The whole notion of simplicity achieved through mastery spoke to me deeply. (Where did that come from? Was it that my English professor mom nourished me on Taoist collections of poetry at a young age? Who knows?) During one trip back, some 20 years ago, I selected my first Japanese tea bowl, a wood fired thing with a lovely exterior of salmon smeared with blacks and browns. I hesitated, being on a slim budget, but  it chose me and I plucked it off its stand.

I had purchased a yunomi, or,  "wood fired thing" and I've been collecting them ever since. The whole idea of drinking from one of these bowls incorporates being present, acting with care,  savoring one's drink. You sure as heck can't grab a yunomi like you would a Starbucks cup with it's cardboard collar. You'll burn yourself. You have to learn to wait.

And, in learning to wait, you watch the bowl change. Over years, not seconds, there is an alchemy that happens between the tea and tea bowl. The pattern of crackles in the glaze shifts, the colors deepen.

I now possess too many yunomi to store on the shelf in the cupboard where we keep tea and coffee mugs. My husband complains that he can't empty the dishwasher without building tipsy teacup towers. I might have to build them their own shelf.

But I probably won't, because that would remove them from the realm of common use and make them special in a way that would defy their meaning --"wood fired thing." And because like The Troggs song, "Wild Thing," they make my heart sing.

Finding Your Voice

I've been away from my studio recently, visiting friends and relatives back in the Midwest. Whenever I go, I always come back with a fresh outlook, a new way of seeing things. Iowa City is especially stimulating, being home to storied and innovative writing programs and a virtual beehive of activity during the summer months, when people from all over the world come to hone their craft.

Each summer my old friend Carol Spindel makes the journey there to teach. Carol and I met at the University of Iowa as undergraduates in the art department and although she went on to the art of writing, we like to meet whenever we can and see how our two worlds of text and image pair up.

One morning, she arrived for breakfast with a bag of chocolates, leftovers from one of her writing class exercises. She described the exercise to me.

There were two kinds of chocolate in the bag. She asked  students to taste both kinds of chocolate and then, without resorting to metaphor, describe the tastes of each. It turns out to be very difficult, but it is a wonderful (and tasty) exercise for sharpening one's descriptive skills.

Love of writing runs in my family. As a writer and a teacher of writing, my dad was responsible for starting the the Nonfiction Writing Program at the University of Iowa. Now in retirement, he's written a number of books and helps to edit a series of books on the essay for University of Iowa Press.

When I visit, he always shows me what he's up to. Pulling me over to the old Chippendale sofa that's ruled the roost since childhood, he flipped open his Macbook. (At 80, he's far more of a Mac savant than I). He told me that he's writing a book on the subject of voice in writing, an area that he feels deserves much attention and receives little. I picked up the computer and read the title of his book: Your Self and How To Make It.

As he fixed lunch for us, chicken salad with home grown arugula, he urged me to read the first three pages. My dad is like the proverbial Jewish mother--and in addition to saying "Eat, Eat," he also urges me to "Read, Read."

His introduction talks about how when we read the words of a writer, we often feel like we know the person, and if we were to be introduced, they would already be familiar to us.  In contrast, he maintains that the voice of a writer is more like the role of an actor, an actor who can be extremely creative and versatile in creating a character.

That all got me to thinking about the class I'm about to teach, 6 Degrees of Creativity 2. The class, Still Point in a Changing World, Creating a Mindful Studio Practice, is geared toward helping students get over the hump of thinking that studio practice is only for people who have the skill of Rodin or Picasso, or have the luxury of not working a day job. I'm interested in helping them to employ art as a means of mental, physical and spiritual balance. And in the activities which ensue, I hope that they'll find their voice.

Maybe you can’t see what is somebody else’s to see. But maybe, just maybe, you can see what is yours to see. So what is yours to see? This is a great question to ponder, to make your own, to let live inside your bones and your pores, and to guide your life.--Jon Kabat-Zinn

Give Love: A Community Art Project

My blog friend and fellow art therapist, Phoenix Peacock is creating an amazing on and off-line art journal project about community: Give Love: A Community Art Project. She's keeping an art journal about her own community based project and created a means for others to participate. To find out how, click here. Her instruction is to art journal about a community member who has positively influenced your life. This could be a teacher, student, coach, neighbor, a stranger, anyone who is not related to you. Your interaction(s) could have occurred at any point in your life. To learn more about art journaling, check out Kelley Brown's excellent blog: Art Journaling as A Creative Process.

I've been working on my own page during our daily art group at the hospital. As it emerged, I realized it was about my old and dear friend from art school days, Carol Spindel, a gifted author and artist.

This is what I wrote about my friend on the back side of the page:

I'm forever grateful to Carol for introducing me to the world of pattern because along with words and colors, it now forms the foundation of my art work. Cheers Carol!