February 24, 2012 § 4 Comments
As a kid/young teen, I had three pipe dreams.
1. To be a catcher on the NY Mets.
2. To be a professional ballet dancer.
3. To be a glassblower.
I knew pretty early on (like, before I was 9) that due to a number of physiological issues, Number 1 was never going to happen. I had slightly more (but not much more) hope for Number 2. That dream of being a dancer lasted a little longer, but had pretty much evaporated before I hit the teen years.
The glassblowing dream, though, behaved in strange ways. (You can read about its origins here and here.) It sort of popped its little head in the doorway every once in a while well into my young adult years. It took years-long sabbaticals, only to re-appear all refreshed and well-rested, tanned and toned (bastard) and tease me with thoughts like, “Man. If I won the lottery, I’d open a glass studio.” Or “I could have a glass studio on one side, and Rachel (my sis) could have a flower shop on the other…YEAH! That’s it! People can watch me making the vase their flowers were gonna go into!”
While glassblowing is expensive and unusual, I sensed if I could really study and practice, I just might have the ability to do this professionally. However, unlike the first 2 dreams, I was only vaguely aware that this was a real aspiration of mine until I spent a week in an intensive glassblowing class in Pittsburgh when I was 42. As you’ve probably read, though, it became clear to me over that week that this dream, too, was unlikely to pan out.
It probably goes without saying that putting a dream to bed at 42 is a lot harder than at 9 or 12 years old. My parents weren’t there to buffer the blow, like they were with ballet. I had to deal with this myself. I dealt with it by staying as far away from the glass studio as possible. Not thinking about it, not writing about it, nothing.
In the meantime, though, I did something else creative. I continued blogging on Catonsville Patch. I started my own blog. I wrote about bullies, truck-drivers, gender, politics, you name it. I started having breakfast with a friend whose writing I LOVED and we started talking about ways to get our writing out there more. In fact, it was she who pointed me towards an essay contest in the Bethesda Literary Festival. Here was the topic: “Who or what has influenced, motivated or inspired you and how has it shaped your outlook on life?”
Oh, this was too easy. Mr. Andros, of course. My childhood ballet teacher – I had written what was essentially a love letter in the form of a blog post to him last August! All about how he influenced and inspired me! I really had fun capturing his attitudes and mannerisms in prose – it was perfect for the contest! Except for the second half of the topic. I hadn’t written or thought about how he shaped my outlook on life. I had to do that (along with editing it down to 500 words…)
When I tackled that task in January, it came really easily, too. While most teachers help you succeed, Mr. Andros taught me how to fail. Rather, he taught me that limitations do not equal failure. That I was valuable as a dance student, even though I wouldn’t be a professional dancer. That it was possible to let go of that dream and keep my dignity and sense of self-worth. That accepting my limitations didn’t have to mean rejecting the art form. (Does anyone else see where I’m going with this? Who needs help with the analogy?)
If that wasn’t enough to make me glance sideways at the glass studio again, there was this. A tweet from my friend, Billy – and old buddy and music geek from camp. That’s right. Buck’s Rock camp, where all this glassblowing began. He tweeted the following: “Your biggest fear should perhaps be ignoring your true voice’s true calling. The trick is: it might be different than you think it is.” Now, he wasn’t writing to me – he was just having one of his many Oprah moments. But boy, was he speaking to me.
Enough layers for ya? Through writing, I discovered I could go back to glass. Maybe my true calling is writing, not glassblowing. Glassblowing can and should take its place with dreams which are now beloved past-times and activities in which I still engage with great joy. I mean, crap – I already know how to write well…and getting better at it is a helluva lot less expensive than getting better at glassblowing.
Don’t worry, though. I’m still getting better at glassblowing. Here’s proof. And if you didn’t feel like watching the video, here’s more proof.
February 22, 2012 § 8 Comments
At the age of 42, I got ready to take a week-long intensive glassblowing class at the Pittsburgh Glass Center after having studied and loved glassblowing since I was 10. It was going to involve 15-hour days and lots of learning, exhaustion and sweat. The end.)
My week in Pittsburgh at PGC was exactly what I’d expected. Almost.
When I say it was what I’d expected, I mean I gained lots of experience, practice, and studied the masters. I spent my afternoons and evenings trying to improve my judgement and skills. As I knew would happen, most of my pieces ended up kissing the concrete floor rather than riding back to Baltimore with me. In fact, the number of pieces I brought home added up to exactly zero.
I spent my dinner breaks searching for any scraps of meat within walking distance. That was a spectacular failure. I don’t understand it, but every place around PGC was vegetarian, or worse – VEGAN!!! I mean, this was PITTSBURGH, for god’s sake! I’m sure 7 blocks away they’d not only be okay with serving meat – they’d probably be happy roasting a Ravens fan on a spit or serving Baltimorean Tartar, but noooooo…not near the Glass Center. Anyhow, I digress…
So, I was doing everything I’d planned and been excited about. I was practicing for hours on end, I was watching amazing teachers, working with my partner, and hanging out with great glassblowing people. I saw improvement in certain basic aspects of my technique. I lost most of the pieces, but truly, that didn’t bother me. As I said before, I didn’t come to this class hoping to produce. Somehow, as the week went on, though, I felt more and more sad.
I couldn’t figure it out. What about this class was disappointing me so? Wasn’t I doing everything I wanted? I started to agonize about this by Wednesday night. In typical hyper-analytical fashion, I obsessed and began to dissect. Slowly, on Thursday, it ate away at me. I spent less time focusing on my work and more time looking at those around me. Here’s what I saw:
Most everyone else was better than I was. So many of my classmates had many things I wish I had. More muscles. More coordination. More intuitive understanding of how the glass worked. More ability to assist their partner. Smaller jeans sizes and faster metabolisms. (I mean, hey, while I’m at it, why not beat myself up about the extra weight, too?) I kept hearing this line from “A Christmas Story” over and over in my head. It was Ralphie, after he gets his Christmas theme back, and he had gotten a C+. “I was surrounded by HAPPY children who were all going to get what THEY wanted for Christmas…”
By Thursday afternoon, I was a mess. I did what any mature, well-educated, clear-thinking adult would do. I had a tantrum. It was a quiet tantrum, but as I was re-heating my piece in the glory hole, I felt tears on my cheeks and my lip kind of quivering. I excused myself, took one of the teachers aside and told him I wasn’t feeling well and had to go for a bit (and to please not make a big deal or worry) and I left. Walking back to where I was staying, I felt like Buddy the Elf after he finds out he’s not really an elf. I probably looked just as ridiculous, but I wasn’t wearing yellow tights or curly shoes. (What is the DEAL with me channeling all these boys from Christmas movies???) I cried my eyes out and took a nap.
I wish I could say it made me feel better, but I was still thinking dark thoughts as I went to that evening’s practice session. At the end of the night, the teachers sat us all down for the nightly wrap-up. Both Ben and Alex emphasized how GREAT they all thought we were doing – how much improvement they see, and they couldn’t understand how we couldn’t see it ourselves. They said they’d never met a group of students so hard on themselves, which had me looking around, thinking, “Wait, I’m not the only one who’s bummed here?” Then came the kicker. Ben said something meant to cheer us up, like, “Lighten up! You guys are in such great positions! You’re doing this for fun, you’re doing it to learn, and nothing major is riding on it. Not a job, not a grade – nothing major depends on this for you guys, so enjoy yourselves!”
What??? Nothing major depends on this??? Didn’t they realize that I had all these professional and artistic aspirations stemming from my childhood dream riding on this? That when I signed up for this class, I was hoping to find out that I had what it takes to be a glassblower professionally? That I was expecting something to click and for me to realize, “Hey! Yeah! I can totally do this with my life! Boy, Wait ’till people at the studio see my mad glass skillz when I get back to Baltimore! YES! I TOTALLY have what it takes!!!” And that all I’m discovering is that I DON’T have what it takes??? And that I don’t have the ability, time and/or money to make it so that I do? I mean, what is WRONG with these teachers, don’t they know ANYTHING?????
Oh. Wait a minute. Ooooooooooooooooooh. Now I get it. Hm. I thought, “THAT’S why I’m so bummed.” Clearly, I infused this class with more meaning than I realized. I wasn’t being honest about my expectations, or at least, I wasn’t consciously aware of them until that point. If I wanted to go to MICA for a degree in Fine Arts, I could be a glassblower. If I could turn time back and locate myself near a studio from the time I was 14 and work there 40 hours a week for 15 years, like Ben had, I could be a glassblower. If I could change my DNA so that I was taller, stronger, more naturally gifted in this art form, I could be a glassblower. But I needed to come to terms with the fact that none of those things was going to happen. And how best to do that? I did what any mature, well-educated, clear-thinking adult would do. I got blitzed. But not until the next day.
Well, my friends, Friday we had class in the morning, cleaned up the shop in the afternoon, and we all went to a place that served BURGERS and got totally wasted. Let me tell you. I bar-hopped like I hadn’t since college (sorry, Mom and Dad) and ate like the carnivore I am. Not only did I eat a bacon-cheeseburger. I ate fries. I drank appletinis. For dessert, I had alcoholic root beer floats. (Yes, you read that right. PLURAL.) A week of 15-hours a day in front of a 2500-degree furnace, a week of being away from my family, and a week of eating vegan had combined to break me and turn me into the Alaskan Bullworm from Spongebob, eating and drinking anything that had the misfortune to cross my path. It was decadent, ugly release.
Miraculously, I awoke sans hangover. I put the Ravens magnet back on my car BEFORE I left Pittsburgh (I KNOW! I’m crazy like that…) and could not WAIT to be back with my family, who thought I was cool regardless of my imagined failure. I didn’t blow glass again for eight months. I didn’t want to talk about it. I didn’t want to think about it. I did, though, want to write about it. Eventually.
To be continued…stay tuned for the finale.