In the meantime, I meandered thoughts of vast beaches and cervesa. I wedge the clay and slap it once in a while so everybody else in the studio knows I am there. The hallways of the warehouse I have keys to doesn’t echo so much as smell like a hockey rink. It must only be for me though, for else would be a travesty of repetition.
I am the, “new guy”, the, “fish guy”. They don’t know the rest of me. Neither do I.
I feel like a manifestation of my previous thought. The clarity of being just feels obtuse, like the angle is too outward, open to the elements. I feel the acute pain instead of inside where I make tears. I want to splash everybody there with my charm and gratitude. I can’t let them know that I secretly cry under conch shells washed up on the beach.
Neither am I an artist. I only take fish and make molds of them in plaster. Then I cast some clay in the hollow indentation. I bisque it, then I glaze it with chemicals that make colors on the cooked dirt and water. Neither am I an artist.
I’m rather art, which is how everybody should feel. Inspiration is the seduction part, then a perilous journey from self into the world of progress. The transition is difficult. Ideas are often left alone after a while, but when one is carried through, or dragged, a self can feel the variables of the weight. If the idea is too light, it threatens to float away. I hold on tight to these fish. I hold on so tight that even my mistakes pretend to succeed.
When I told Norma that I was renting a studio space to make fish, she seemed real happy. We both knew that it was getting time for me to move on. She is nearing the end of her chemotherapy treatments after having a lump removed from her breast in November. I still showed up and pounded tiles, and I could see how as weeks progressed that she lost a bit of her zest. I could see the bisque ware piling up and knew that she was just giving me work to have work and a paycheck. I fledged. Norma hugged me and told me,
“I love you Bob.”
I didn’t say it back because she said it with such warmth and friendship that I was stunned and sad and happy all of a sudden at the same time.
We’d talked before about me making fish, and she let me do it and helped me learn, despite her daughter’s disapproval. I promised to never sell the fish and gave them away to friends and family for admiration. I remember my last and final batch when she had me help unload the kiln over Christmas. We opened the heavy lid and we both peered in and two crappies and a walleye glowed back at us still cooling. Norma looked at me and me at her and we both knew that I had finally made some beautiful.
We worked it out that I would still make tiles on an on need basis, and I signed up at a pseudo co op studio in Northeast Minneapolis. Almost all potters. I came in with my fish and started go. They fire to Cone 10 which is six cones higher than Norma fires, so I had to learn new clay and glaze on my own. It was like the first day of school without a teacher.
I offered sweat equity at the set studio price of eight dollars an hour and moved tables on the day I signed up. Beth is the owner of the studio and she never looks you in the eye. She speaks loud and is round with gray hair and a stubby appearance. Most of the long time studio folks work there and having a new person such as me in their midst ruffles the equilibrium. I’m different. I made fish. Some said “Hello” in passing and one old guy named Cal shook my hand and told me he was retired as he weighed a fine ball of clay. Others just looked at me from their spinning wheels and wondered who I was.
Today I did more sweat equity, moving shelves and washing them to get some free fire time. As I washed the shelves with a lukewarm bucket of water, Beth came to me and told me the fire was unloading. My first fish. Ten small sunnies and two bass. I was worried the glazes would crackle or crater. I dropped the sponge in my bucket and ran to the big kiln. My fish were on a shelf. Two were trash, the overglaze ran with my brush strokes and then I saw the others. They sang like my old cobblestones in Praha and I wanted to shout into the empty studio that I had made my own beautiful fish. I wanted to go drive over to Norma’s house and give them all to her with a big smile on my face and tears in my eyes and tell her that I loved her too and I was so grateful that she saved me from imminent demise. I wanted to tell her that she made these fish, not me. Her grown friendship was making these fish flowers and that they were all hers. I was proud.