The other day, I looked at myself in the mirror and damn if I didn’t get choked up all of a sudden. I suppressed it and reminded myself about all I’d accomplished in the past year. Then, I wiped away my almost tear and went to the studio. Emotion ain’t no big thang to me anymore, I’m too busy.
For the past sixteen months, I’ve made ceramic fish. All sorts of fish you can’t even imagine unless you read a book about them or something. I’ve held dead fish in my hands and run them under the faucet to rid them of smell. I’ve cast them in plaster, opening their toothy mouths and spread out their fins. I stick bundles of newspaper in their gutted bellies. I’ve created new fish from the molds I made with clay and sketched the lines of their fins, carved them out, made their gills, took little balls of clay to make their eyes. I’ve researched glazes, layered glazes, mixed glazes to get colors just right. I’ve applied to the clay fish these chemicals trying to get the fish to look “real”. Then I fire them to almost 2200 degrees Fahrenheit. The chemicals melt and make my fish. I’ve studied the fish; how they look, where they live, how many spots they have. None of this is about the fish.
”I always tried to see myself as something, now I just see myself.”
That was my mantra for a while, just a little bit changed. Now my mantra is,
Work hard. Be Strong.
It’s a pretty good mantra when I can be strong and work hard.
Instead, I pushed everything away. All my feelings went into the fish. All of them. It felt good for a while to put my feelings into the clay and let go of them. It felt good to release with work and determination. It felt good until I started to sell the fish. Selling the fish was more work than I expected. It also gave my emotions back because I didn’t have the fish anymore.
I suppose I used to feel about words this way. I used to give my words to girls in love letters and when they were gone, I felt a real empty spot in me that I knew was filled before and so full that it run over like wax into someone else. No more to be just mine.
Giving away oneself through words or fish can be a complicated process. It fatigues the soul by means of determined want. I want my fish to be all they are to me, but inevitably they will hang in a kitchen or cabin or someplace unknown with all of me inside them. I sold them for monetary value, I paid the rent.
About four months ago I was in Chicago for a belated Christmas. Like all of our childhood homes, we have history there. My history is friends and memories, we all have them. I even still talk to my old friends and they sometimes refer to me as the “glue” that gets them together. People change, they grow apart. I heard that statement a lot when I left for college up here in Minnesota. I went out of my way to ensure that didn’t happen with my friends, we’d been through too much as all friends have. My group of friends is diverse and eclectic as many can imagine. I have doctors, attorneys, electricians, television peoples, car salesmen, Insurance agents, cops, and junkies in my circle. I want to talk about the junkie. He was a friend of mine.
So, I was home for belated Christmas and went to take a shower, when I came back to my room, Dawn told me that my phone had rung. She was still in bed. We were getting ready to get up and have my sister’s family come over for a nice dinner and opening presents for the kids and everybody else. I picked up the phone and dialed the voice mail.
”“Eh Bro, it’s Tim, I just wanted to call and let you know that Dave died. I talked to so and so and they said that Dave was found in an alley of an apparent Heroin overdose the night after New Years. I don’t know much else, but his mom had him cremated and they aren’t having a service...”
I hung up the phone and went and laid down next to Dawn in my boyhood bed. I knew it was coming. I knew Dave was going to die. But now, I had to be strong. I had the kids coming over and we were leaving the next morning. I cried for ten seconds.
For the past sixteen months, life is like that for me. I wake up with things to do. I have tasks and responsibilities. I have to get things done. Emotions can’t play a role in it anymore. Then that day a few days ago when I got choked up in the mirror happened..
When I got back to Minnesota after I found out that Dave had died, I drank myself into a stuper and woke up real early the next morning. I made some coffee and ate a banana and showered. I got my grits in my tote bag and went to the studio. When I got to the studio, I pulled out my arctic char mold. I looked at it and the stacks of other molds I had made in the past year. I counted them. What had started with a few sunfish had grown into over forty different fish species. I grabbed a bag of clay, sliced off a bit, rolled it out and pressed it into the mold.
I put all of my emotion about my friend dying and how I wasn’t a friend to him since he became a junkie into the clay. I felt real sad then and when I finished putting it into the mold and trimming the edges, I carved his initials right into it along with all my fingerprints.
Life is a process.
When I got that fish out of bisque, I glazed it right away. A girl in the studio was there and she asked me if I was “all right”. I didn’t reply for a while until I was done. It took me over two hours to glaze that damn fish. When I replied I said,
”This is a special fish.”
She replied in her kind, Fulbright Scholar way,
”It must be, I’m surprised your tears haven’t washed away all the glaze.”