Last year my wife and I took an entry-level pottery course three times in a row. For both of us it was our first time doing anything artistic with our hands like that since primary/elementary school, unless you count helping kids with school projects. Each course lasted six weeks, and took place at the Old School Farm just outside of Nashville, Tennessee. We learned heaps and had a ton of fun.
We went into it not knowing at all what to expect. Chris, our instructor, wore a red beard and a very stylish hat, and was absolutely brilliant. That first class—our class was always Monday evenings, 6:00-9:00—he began by showing us how to use the wire to slice off a small chunk of clay from the clay blocks we’d purchased. He then told us just to take a few minutes and play with it, feel how it felt in our hands; squish it, roll it, kneed it, whatever, and not worry about trying to make any sort of shape yet.
“It’s... so, it’s almost... well, just play with it and get used to how it feels. Yeah, like that.” He showed us how, and we dove right in. “For now I just want you to get familiar with it. Relax; enjoy how it feels in your hands. Remember back when you used to make mudballs when you were a kid. Do that.” (That isn’t a direct quote – sorry Chris! – but he said something to that effect, and that advice is what made me fall in love with clay.)
We spent that first session just molding things by hand. First he had us make a “pinch bowl” – just a small bowl, formed with pinching motions (as opposed to being sculpted on the pottery wheel), and then he taught us how to make coils, which were basically just skinny rolls of clay rolled out against the flat of the table or between our palms. After I was done with my little (tiny, lol) bowl, I got very ambitious and attempted a salt shaker. To make it, made a bunch of coils and bent them around into circles, shaped them a little, and then mashed them on top of each other. I then made a top for it. The mistakes I made were to not leave enough room for the cork to stick out of the bottom, and, later in the process, to glaze over the holes (and that glaze is very hard; I broke a couple of drill bits trying to clear the holes!). After making our pieces, we set them on our shelves, covered in plastic, so that they would dry very gradually and therefore be less prone to cracking.
The next week, Chris gave us an introduction to the wheel. “Throwing”, it’s called, because you literally throw the clay against the wheel to help it stick. At least that’s why I think it’s called that. Anyway, after saying a few words about the basics, such as making sure we were using enough (but not too much) water to get the clay good and wet, teaching us how to use the foot pedal to adjust the rotation speed, and showing us how to center and stabilize the clay to that it doesn’t get wobble-sided (yes, I just said “wobble-sided”—thank you for that word, Mr. Whitaker!), Chris then told us to take a good long while... and just play with it... to get used to how it feels; to enjoy, and not overthink it. Either he or someone else (I can’t recall) said, “With clay, feeling is usually better than thinking.” And I am so grateful that my then racing brain just chilled out for once and let me do exactly that: Play.
You know; play. Remember playing, when you were a kid? I didn’t. Not really. Somewhere along the way to adulthood and growing up and all that Very Important Stuff, I had completely forgotten how to play. But over the next two and a half hours, I put my hands in that cold wet clay, felt it spinning against my palms, zoned completely out of my world of stress and worry, and did exactly that: I played.
I didn’t think or plan or consciously create at first; I just played. It was like my hands were remembering how to play in the mud, that fundamental childhood skill I’d long become oblivious to—and, perhaps most significantly, my mind gradually opened up to the very startling and, well, very grounding realization of just how much I needed to play. So I just sat there at my wheel and spaced out, fingers in the mud as it went round and round and round, and just forgot the world for a while. I highly recommend it.
That evening rocked me to my core. My wife and I learned many things from our instructor Chris over the next several weeks, but for me, that was the single most valuable thing he taught me: How to play again. And for that, I will forever be grateful.
We took three six-week courses total, back to back, and made a bunch of cool stuff (the first photo, with the pretty bowls and mugs, is of some of my wife's pieces; the other junk is mine):
I feel pretty confident that we learned enough of the basics that someday, after covid and once we’ve gotten our own place (with a dedicated pottery room and a place to build a kiln, of course!), we’ll be able to pick up our education where we left off last year, and shouldn’t take too long to recall those early skills that Chris, our other wonderful instructor Eric, and several very helpful fellow students taught us. I look forward to getting back into it :-)
Momma, I thought you said you don’t like watching humans because they make your skin crawl away.”
The many-armed witch goddess smiled and turned an amused eye toward her beautifully glowing son. “They make my skin crawl, yes; they do indeed. Always have, if I’m honest. And normally I don’t like watching them, you’re right... but... well, things are starting to get pretty bad down there.”
The boy nodded, still not understanding.
She pointed at the television screen. “Here, have a look. This one, with the orange hair -- see that man, standing there at the podium in the middle of the tv screen? See that corrupt piece of work who won’t shut up and let anyone else get a word in edge-wise? Well, that’s one human I probably should start paying attention to, before things come to a head.”
“Yes I see him Momma. Which head though?”
“Oh, it’s just an expression, my son. It means when things get out of control and something really bad happens.”
They watched the man with the orange hair shouting and spitting from the podium at a group of other humans who seemed to be vying for his attention, raising hands and trying to ask questions. A moment later, the man said something that made the witch goddess frown and shake her head. “That evil, bigoted, good-for-nothing sonofabitch!”
“What’s big-goated mean, Momma?”
She sighed, but not at her son. “Oh, it just means this human thinks he’s better than other people.” She considered for a moment, and then added, “It means he’s full of fear, and that fear makes him hate anything he doesn’t understand. And in his case, well, he doesn’t understand much, so he’s got a belly full o’ hate.”
“So basically it means he’s stupid,” the boy said.
“Well, he ain’t exactly enlightened, that’s for sure.”
“Is that why he has orange hair, Momma?”
“No, darling. Remember orangutans? They have orange hair, and they’re plenty intelligent. No; with this human, it’s something else that makes him so angry and cowardly. But hey, speaking of color, part of his being bigoted is that he doesn’t like people who aren’t the same color as he is.”
“Oh.” The boy nodded sagely. He looked over to the little side table near his mother, eyeing the wooden remote control. “Couldn’t you just change him to another color then? Then maybe his goat wouldn’t be so big."
The goddess giggled merrily, turning again to appraise her son, this time with all sixteen flashing eyes. “I swear, child, you think of the darnedest things. That idea isn't half bad!”
She picked up the ancient remote control and twirled it in one of her many hands, wand-like, one fourth of her eyebrows arching as she continued to stare at the orange-haired human.
“How’s it work, Momma?” The boy asked.
She lifted the instrument and smiled. “Oh, it’s no different from other tools of magic; you just aim it at things and focus your mind on what you want it to do. Like this:”
The hair of the man on TV abruptly changed from orange to charcoal, and the skin of his face and hands from pale orange to a deep ebony. Several humans on the front row yelped, and the camera view suddenly shook out of place.
“Wow! That is so cool!" The boy trilled. They sat awhile in silence, watching the chaos ensuing on tv. "Is that gonna make his goat smaller Momma?"
"Probably not, but it might at least make him think some."
"Oh, I dunno, son. About the errors of his ways, mayhaps."
"Oh ok." He pondered this for several seconds, then eyed the remote control again. "And it always does what you want it to?”
“Coooooool,” he praised, jumping to his feet. “Can I try it?”
She considered for a moment, but then, with a twinkle in her leftmost, centermost, and rightmost eyes, she tossed the wand-like remote over to her son. Just as he was about to catch it, however, another of her many hands shot out and snapped it from his grasp.
“Hey!” he chirped, grabbing at it and laughing gleefully as she teased him and juggled the object from arm to arm, always just out of reach. At length, before her son could grow frustrated, she let go of the remote. It landed in his popcorn bowl, causing several pieces to scatter across his lap. “Momma!”
She just grinned at him and shrugged innocently.
The boy’s smile faded as he picked up the remote control and began to concentrate on the television. “Can I change something else about the man with the big goat?”
“You may do whatever you like, darling.”
“What else makes him big-goated?”
“Hmm, let’s see,” the goddess yawned. “Oh, I know: He’s always saying mean things about women.”
The boy nodded, narrowed his eyes, and pointed the remote at the man on tv.
Suddenly, the human's body transformed, leaving him with a decidedly female figure. People on both sides of him made as if to come to his aid, but then hesitated, utterly confounded. Somewhere off screen, a squeal of surprise turned into a muffled chortle. The boy guffawed, clapping his hands joyfully, and so did the goddess. “Good! You’re getting the hang of this magic thing, my son. That’ll teach him! Well done. Okay, let’s see now.... Oh, I know: he also doesn’t like people who speak other languages.”
In mid-sentence, the used-to-be man with the used-to-be orange hair began speaking fluent Spanish, with a central Mexican accent.
This little game kept mother and son entertained for hours. Afterward, she tucked the boy in and read him a story, and they both fell into a deep, peaceful sleep.
My brother and I used to freak each other out, intentionally. The more spooked we got, the better.
Growing up, our parents took us on many a road trip, often all the way out to Wyoming and back via Texas or St. Louis or both, stopping with relatives and car-camping along the way. I can’t remember what it was that we saw or read—a collection of stories somewhere? a show? perhaps my brother can recall—but whatever it was, it had us scared to the point of nightmares, and eventually inspired us to make up further stories along the same line. We called them the “white owl stories”, because a white owl figured prominently in most of them as a recurring motif. The owl was a herald of the unknown, the unfathomable, and impending fate—usually a doom of some sort!
When we were still small enough, we shared a big four-person tent with our mom and dad. It was very heavy, with thick canvas and a sectioned center pole made of solid aluminum (which back then was not exactly “ultralite” material, compared to the camping gear of today); this beast was not made for backpacking, but was comfortably spacious, and perfect for a KOA or state park campground. Later, as my brother and I got bigger, we were given our own two-person tent, which we shared for several years. That ended when we became older teenagers who wanted our own space, of course. I’m sure we probably bickered a lot while sharing the same tent, especially when tired and hungry, but all I really remember is the excitement of the road and the adventure of it all. That, and the dark of the woods at night, always fired our imaginations.
There was a face once—had it belonged to that bearded truck driver we’d seen, glaring at us from the window of his cab as our father drove past, us in the back seat with our little arms pumping up and down to get the truck to honk its horn? Or had it been the face of someone we had seen behind the counter at a gas station somewhere, in denim overhauls with a belt-busting paunch? Or had it perhaps been something more sinister: the visage of an intruder to our shared brotherly subconscious mind, lurking and waiting patiently for us to let our guard down?—in any case, this face haunted us, and made its way into one of our late night stories.
The wild eyes smoldered beneath a pale, bulbous forehead, the scraggly beard tangled and lichen-strewn from years, perhaps decades, of wandering through mountain forests. This man, if man he was, wore a tattered brown shirt. It was not likely that that had been the cloth’s original color; here and there could even still be seen a right angle or two of contrasting shades, denoting plaid... but now it was a matted brown, from layer upon layer of dried blood. Using the trees as cover, he would pad silently, stalking, sneaking, eternally patient in the dim twilight. If, whether by accident or design, he happened to snap a twig, you might look his way—perhaps even stare straight at him—but all you would see, or think you saw, would be a lichen-stained boulder or mossy log, for he would shut his smoldering eyes and wait in utter stillness until you looked away. The thing—for if we’re honest, thing he was; an ancient thing, perhaps not in body, but at least in possession, with this simply being its most recent incarnation—would crouch in total silence, unmoving, and await that moment when its prey had decided the twig-snapping noise had most likely just been caused by an animal or perhaps branches stretched across each other by the wind. And as soon as that moment came, the thing would uncoil, leaping on top of you, its impossibly long fangs bared, and devour you raw.
No one heard this particular attack, or any other, for that matter, because the lost soul with the grizzled face and smoldering eyes and lichen- and shelf fungus growing in its beard had grown wise in the art of timing and in its choice of meals. It ate quickly, a brutal machine of extreme efficiency and discipline; and once sated, it crept back into the cover of wilderness to continue on whatever unfathomable journey compelled it.
In the clearing, all that remained of the young boys were a seeping pool of blood and two neat piles of marrow-cracked bones, still glistening in the light of the newly risen moon. Overhead, a white owl perched on a dead branch halfway up a tree, its wide, all-seeing eyes taking everything in. It continued to stare and stare, head rotating around too far the way owl heads do.
At length, the white owl spread its wings and ghosted off between the trees, vanishing without a sound.
Welcome to my online journal! I have decided to call it "Spinning Yarn" for now, and perhaps forever, unless I come up with a better name. But I might just keep this one, as corny as it might sound, because although it has taken most of my life to understand the exact extent to which this is true, storytelling is very close to my heart. I come from a long line of bullshitters... er, um, storytellers, I mean. My parents, their siblings and cousins and parents, and many other relatives, going back generations, all know and knew how to spin a yarn. Recognizing this now (finally), and also coming to realize that all my life I have been telling stories in some form or other, I have decided to embrace this tradition and do what I can in the time I have left in this world to honor my ancestors, as well as the many friends I have met along the way, by reiterating their stories and spinning some yarns of my own.
There are certainly a lot of stories to tell, and a lot of exaggeration to be done! Some of the tales I tell will undoubtedly be duds—especially while I am still learning the basics of writing—but I am hoping I'll at least be able to entertain you in the process. :-)
With that in mind, I welcome you to join me on this journey of storytelling and self-discovery. Most of the blog posts I'll write here on this website (as "D.G Post") will have to do more with magic than science, with the supernatural rather than the natural, and with the imagination rather than actual reality (though all that is, of course, relative!)--but no promises; I reserve the right to babble on about whatever I damn well please. I'll also be writing as "Gaines Post" over on the other website, www.gainespost.com, in the "Beyond Language's Reach" journal, which is oriented more toward science and real-world stuff and science fiction. There will likely be some crossover, but I want to try to keep the two pseudonyms separate so that you have a general idea about what you are getting when you come here or go there.
Thank you for visiting my new website! Check back weekly (if not more often, once I get going) to read the latest Spinning Yarn blog entry, and in case anything I write here inspires you to comment, then please feel free to do so here.
All content © 2020 D.G. Post. Plagiarists and thieves will be hunted down and destroyed.