The Way of the Potter: Don Hutchinson

Don Hutchinson at Surrey Art Gallery. iPhone photo by gayle mavor

On Sunday, I went to a special talk given by Don Hutchinson, an incredible artist, sculptor, potter in Surrey, B.C. who had a retrospective on at the Surrey Art Gallery that just ended. As an aside, if you’ve never been to the Surrey Art Gallery, you must go. It just feels GOOD in there. Good Feng shui and good programming.

Don started off meandering through some of his childhood experiences which built resilience and the idea that there was no room for waste. When you ran into a problem, you never went out and bought something, because you couldn’t. No money. You had to solve the problem some other way. He became very resilient, and like an inventor, very versatile in his approach to problem-solving on the cheap.

He said he failed art in high school. And French. And Latin. And Chemistry. 

When he graduated (somehow) from high school, he spent two weeks wondering what he should do. At first he thought he might be a priest. Then he thought, no, I’ll be a clown. And then he went into the Royal Air Force. Leaps of faith. Each one of those.

Eventually, he was accepted into Art School, the Vancouver School of Art.  At some point, he had to choose what he wanted to specialize in. He loved painting and sculpting. He didn’t really want to choose. And then he realized: potter. He could be a potter. This was the 1970s. Pottery and working in clay combines both colour and form. Two of his loves.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He spoke about a teacher he had who gave the students an exercise. Create this type of vessel. When he came back at the end of the week and saw Don’s piece, he just laughed, didn’t say anything else. He then walked out. Don was humiliated and angry and frustrated. He wrecked the piece and the very next day, started over.

A week passed and he had a new vessel. The teacher came in. Looked at it and once again just laughed and walked out. That was it. Once again, Don was horrified, humiliated, frustrated and angry.

He started all over. By the end of that week, the teacher came by and Don was so frustrated and defensive that before the teacher could say anything, Don said, Look. This is it. I’m happy with it. This is the best I can do. I don’t care if you like it. I’m keeping it.

The teacher, with a bit of a satisfied grin said, Good. That’s what this was about. You’ve learned the lesson the hard way. I need you to do the best you can do. I need you to believe you’ve done the best you can and I need you to take responsibility for your work.

It was after that lesson that Don began to sign all of his pieces. By signing my piece, I was saying to myself and to anyone who bought it or looked at it that it was the best I could do at that time. Of course, years later I’d look back and think, Oh. That’s not so good. I can do better. But at that time it was the best I could do then.

I think this lesson is true for anyone working in a creative endeavour, including writers. We need to really do our best, believe it’s our best, take responsibility for the end result, even when we aren’t sure that anyone else will like it. The integrity in the process will lead (hopefully) to end results that matter and we are the most important person it must matter to.

That’s a great story. Thank you Don Hutchinson with perhaps a few details that weren’t exact in the retelling.  Don Hutchinson has been a potter for 50 years and taught at Langara College for 30 years.  Officially, he retired from being a potter two years ago and is now focused on painting in White Rock, B.C. 

Cross border diplomacy: Week 4 giveaway

photo by gayle mavor. Image on photo card by a Tagger named Tagger 8 (I think) taken near an alley near SFU Woodwards campus.

So Week 4 of Write for 5 happened over the weekend. I’ve had the same teeny, weeny group of loyal followers to whom I’m immensely grateful.

I don’t want to give out a book to someone more than once so that leaves me with two potential recipients for this week. They both reside in the U.S.A. Why not build relations with our neighbours to the south?  As we all know, their illustrious leader isn’t doing them any favours in the winning popularity contests department.

One of these people, Marjorie,  I went to high school with. The other is a guy with a blog that is interesting in the true definition of that word (and with a slight raising of my eyebrows).

According to his blog, he lives somewhere outside of Atlanta, Georgia, off Peachtree Road, 3 miles east of Buckhead which, in my world, might as well be Mars.

He posts amazing photographs from the Library of Congress. And he has a lot to say. You can see check out his blog if you’re so inclined at Chamblee54.  

I think I’d like to send him the book and card. I’m not sure he’ll want it or would read it. I tried to send him an e-mail. I got an error message in return.

I did hear back from him later. He said he couldn’t guarantee he’d read the book. So, I’ll send him the card and see if I might also be able to find some strange photograph postcard for him in my collection of cards.  I’m happy with that. I think he will be as well.

Week 4: Write for 5 right now

Photo 1 -from a magazine from long ago and unfortunately I have no photographer to credit at this point.

Photos 2 – from Creative Commons CC0

Hi kids,

Hope you didn’t have any green beer last night. If you did, I don’t want to hear about it. And let’s face it, you wouldn’t be up at 8am now, would cha?

These weeks are rolling by as if 7 days are wrapped into two. Don’t you feel that way? Here we are at Week 4 of Write for 5 our lives flashing before our eyes.

I guess I’d have to have a following of thousands and thousands to have the kind of participation that would be thrilling. Still, it is exciting for me to read whatever anyone submits and I’m super grateful for anyone who takes the time to play along.  It is true that interaction is what blogs are supposed to be about, right?

I’m wondering if you’ve noticed anything about your process or about how things come to you once you actually start writing. That would be interesting to hear about.

Guidelines

If you’ve participated before, you know the routine.  If not, here are the guidelines:

·         I post a photo (or two) above at 8am on Saturday morning. Like now!

·         You take as much time as you need to look at those photos, (above)  then choose one.

·         When you’re ready to write, set the timer for five minutes.

·         When you’re done, you post your results in the “Leave a Reply” box below.

If you need to see last week’s submissions, please go to this post and scroll down to the comments:

·         Five minutes goes by super fast. In a blink really. As long as it takes the kettle to boil. But, as I’ve said before, this is really about revving up the imagination more than it is about writing. Think of it as the appetizer for the main course: your “real” writing. Don’t think about it at all actually. Just get at it and see what comes.

·         Form is open: poetry, CNF, Flash fiction. Or whatever.

·         On Monday, I’ll let you know whose writing touched me in some way. Then, I choose a book for that writer (no matter where they are in the world). I pick one of my own books and mail it to you with a card and a note.  It’s an awesome way to cull my books, and to give someone a nice surprise.

Good luck. Give it a try!  You’ve got until Sunday (let’s say 11pm) to post your results but you don’t have to wait. Just stick your piece in the comments when you’re ready.

Let the free associating begin. Let the creative wizardry unfold. Let the subconscious rise to the occasion.

Understanding trauma through storytelling

photo by gayle mavor. Art by Suzanne Fulbrook.

I went to a panel at the Growing Room Festival on Saturday called “No Way out but Through: Writing about Trauma.” The panelists were: Evelyn Lau, Christine Lowther and Sonnet L’Abbe with Elee Kraljii Gardener as the moderator. 

I was invited to be one of the active listeners. I’m not sure who suggested me. Someone, I suppose, who knows that I’ve taken quite a few counselling and related courses (eight to be exact) as pre-requisites to a Masters in the past few years. Poet Jonina Kirtan was the other active listener.  Fortunately, or unfortunately, nobody needed to talk to us.

Let me rephrase that. Some women may have benefited from sharing their feelings. There were no outward signs (except coughing) to indicate that. The thing about coughing is maybe you have a cold or maybe your emotion is being manifested through coughing.  Who’s to say.

How strangely serendipitous it should be that I would find myself being invited to that event because what some of the panelists had to say set off a bit of a light bulb moment for me in understanding that some of what I’m writing about is, of course, trauma-related. And if I re-examine some of the things I’ve been writing about from that perspective, it’s much clearer to me how to focus the stories and perhaps my entire manuscript with that in the background as the “golden thread” of explanation.

Evelyn Lau spoke to how she needed to be completely in her own space, in silence, in order to have the psychological space to work through her stuff.  She spoke about forming her commitment to writing long before a commitment to people.  “When talking hasn’t worked, writing is all that’s left.” And she also reminded us that trauma can also translate, eventually, into strength.” That, I believe, for me, has absolutely been true.

As a writer, a storyteller, you have to decide who you serve. Do you serve the writing or do you serve the people around you? Christine Lowther recalled hearing that (from Evelyn Lau) and as a result, (and she’s not alone in this experience based on what I’ve heard from other writers), she’s had relatives not speak to her for periods of time because of some of the things she’s written.

I think it was Elee Kraljii who said “the closer you are to a trauma, the more catharsis feels like the impetus for the writing. Years later, however, if you are still writing about it, it can feel psychologically damaging.”  Interesting insight to mull over.

Christine Lowther has been writing/re-writing about one specific image left over from a childhood experience, approaching that trauma and having new memories surface to add new layers and different ways into the story.  

She recalled having some student say to her 20 years ago, “Well, I hope you’re not going to be writing about this 20 years from now!” And she still is.  And maybe that’s what every writer is doing. Writing about the things that were the impetus for writing in the first place, in only slightly revised ways, but with layer upon layer of new insights impacting the words on the page.

Sonnet has this incredible project where she’s using Shakespeare’s sonnets to write around and interject her own writing over top of them, layering her experience as a woman of a Guyanese, South Asian and African mixed descent over some of the most seminal works in British colonialism.  I hope I understood that correctly.

I don’t know when trauma became a commonly referred to word but it didn’t exist when I was growing up. Or if it did, the depth of understanding related to it is greater now. At least that’s how it seems to me.  After a lot of therapy, some education and my own insights, I can’t help but see how that term – trauma – gets loaded with so much misinformation and misunderstanding.

Our stories, after all, are just our stories. They don’t come with labels alerting us to the clinical box they might fit inside. We can so easily forget to recognize how the scenes we’ve been a part of in life can be defined clinically in ways that we can so easily overlook. Sometimes that acknowledgement, not just in life, but on the page, can not only lead us to be kinder to ourselves, but to a more cohesive narrative.

“When I read your book…”-Richard Wagamese

It’s a quiet, gray Tuesday. And without anything to say here today by me, it seems appropriate to pay respect and honour this incredible writer, Richard Wagamese (1955-March 11, 2017).

.A short video of him accepting the Matt Cohen Award in 2015. Have Kleenex nearby.

 

The Writing Life in 5 minutes

photo by gayle mavor

Hi kids,

Thank you to the three writers (plus me) who participated in Write for 5 this week. I must admit, I read all your pieces more than once (What a burden. They’re so long!) in order to decide who I wanted to give a book of mine to with a note. Who doesn’t love to get something other than a bill in their mailbox?

I liked the tone that was captured by Sue Goldswain in her short piece. I loved the idea of two little girls dressing up their grandmother when they visited her at what we have to guess might be an assisted living home, “plopping the shocking pink and yellow sombrero the size of a small planet,” on her head giving her some playful fun in a life that is dictated by others’ routines. And then the woman examining the photo more closely and having it remind her of her mother when she was “fed up to the back teeth,” afterwards.

I was captivated by the story written by Jo-Anne Teal because right after it began I wanted to know why this girl was stuffing clothes into her knapsack in a way that there would be no evidence on the outside. Then, as she got past her yard she began to run.  I was immediately transported with her along that run. Where’s she’s going?  Why didn’t she stop when her jeans got soaked? Why is she in such a hurry to get to school when she “still hates chemistry”?

I loved the idea of her doing something completely unexpected. Ripping off her jeans and tossing them on the bench because she was wearing tights, and then having the older woman join in her defiance, sick of struggling with her broken umbrella, letting it go to the bench as well. Then the ending still keeps us hanging on, wondering about the mystery of which journey this young lady was going on. She wasn’t going to school after all. Was she running away? Was she just skipping class? Was she going to the mall? Was she meeting someone? Where was she going? I want to know.

The story stayed with me as I was falling off to sleep. I was thinking how great it was that that story was told in a way that would never have arisen in my own imagination and how great it is that our minds, so unique,shaped by our experiences have that wonderful possibility of going in such vastly different directions in response to a single image.

I know Jo-Anne submitted her story after 9 p.m. but it was my favourite. So, I’m not going to be a hard ass. I have to go with my favourite. This week she’s my choice.

I’ve decided I must name the book I’m giving away, even though it will ruin the surprise for the receiver because I want to be sure people know I’m really sending people books. I stood in front of my bookshelf for a while and then chose, The Writing Life by Annie Dillard. The back cover describes it as a kind of spiritual Strunk & White, a small and brilliant guidebook to the landscape of a writer’s task… Last week’s book giveaway was Breathing the Page by Betsy Warland.

Happy Monday for anyone following along.  Next Write for 5 starts, as always, Saturday morning, March 18th  at 8 am.  Please join in.

Week 3: Write for 5 right now

photo by gayle mavor

photo from Creative Commons CC0-public domain

If it’s Saturday morning, it must be time to Write for 5. Or not! This is Week 3 of doing this and I’ve so enjoyed reading the writing of those writers who have taken the time out of their hectic schedules to sit themselves down and courageously face the blank page and screen.

If you’ve participated before, you know the routine.  If not, here are the guidelines:

·         I post a photo (or two) here at 8am on Saturday morning.

·         You look at the photo(s) above this blog post.

·         You take as much time as you need up to Sunday at 9pm

·         When you’re ready to write, set the timer for five minutes.

·         When you’re done, you post your results in the comments.

·         Do I ever look at what I’ve written and change a few words, and fix it slightly? Of course. I wouldn’t want you to put up what you don’t feel comfortable sharing. But perfection is not the goal. Heck, it’s not even possible. Five minutes. That goes FAST. But that’s the challenge and for me, that’s the fun.

·         Form is open: poetry, CNF, Flash fiction. You decide.

·         After it’s over, on the following Monday, I’ll let you know whose writing touched me in that moment in some way. Usually, it’s in a way that I’m not always able to define as to why. Then, I choose a book for that writer from one of my books and mail it to them. It’s an awesome way to cull my books, and to give someone a nice surprise.

Good luck. Give it a try!

PS: I probably won’t be posting my own response until Sunday morning. No time this Saturday. Very thankful for the scheduling feature in WordPress.