“Ceramic is life. The finished product is just a reminder of the steps taken along the way.”
Growing up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, I was fortunate to experience many art mediums in a community that valued it. My means were metal work and stonework. Making jewelry was predictable: if you put hours into a piece, you knew you would have the finished product you had planned. When I first took ceramics in high school, I experienced the opposite.
me hated ceramics. I would spend hours behind the wheel, unable to center my ball of clay for an entire class period. When he finally had something that looked like a cylinder, he would mess it up just by pulling it off the wheel. Once, I had a small mug that I managed to bring down to a fully enameled piece. My uneven cup with an anemic yellow-gray frosting could barely hold 4 ounces of water. After the semester ended, I swore that I would never make pottery again.
I was always interested in medicine, but I never followed it. Naturally, I didn’t excel in science like I did in English or my other language classes. How the hell could he be a good doctor? When I made the decision to go to medical school, something changed in me. I lost 15 pounds due to Graves disease with a resting heart rate of 130 I was sick. When a doctor diagnosed me and started my treatment, I finally started living again. At the same time, the desire to do more for my clients beyond my reach as an esthetician was brewing in the background.
Sitting on the steps of the fire escape at my school in San Francisco’s Chinatown, I called my mom and told her I wanted to go to medical school. Wishing the dream would come true saying it out loud, she knew she would do whatever it took, no matter how hard it was. Just because he wasn’t naturally good at something didn’t mean he never could be.
During my post-graduate studies, I needed to do something else, something meditative. Having seen my best friend’s creations in his pottery class, I was inspired to try pottery again. Even the bowls in their “reject pile” looked beautiful to me. Maybe my little rejections can be beautiful too.
It still took me hours to center a piece of clay. I left the studio days in a row empty-handed. But the feeling of kneading the clay, the smell of it, and the way it slipped through my fingers when I finally learned how to lift it was magical. When I finally learned how to trim, watching the curls of clay fall around my piece as it spun hypnotically on the wheel put me in a trance that made me forget about my stressors. My cups were far from perfect. They were “rustic”, but I made them. When a piece exploded in the oven, it was fine. I could always make another cup and have another excuse to be in the studio, to be present. Unlike fixed metal, clay was flexible. As my way of thinking, the clay could grow.
Life goes through stages. It has never gone the way I expected, but the beauty for me has been in the experience, in the process. From making mistakes to learning from them and agreeing with a result that was not foreseen: ceramics are life. The finished product is just a reminder of the steps taken along the way.
when everything explodes
Centered Silica Yarn
Pull up, hollow out
drying in plastic
Hard leather, ready to trim
falling spirals of clay
Fire, ready to glaze
Gently dipped in powdered glass
Background carefully cleaned
The piece next door exploding
caught in the crossfire
shredded shiny piece
Fragments lay helpless in the furnace
they didn’t make it
nothing to take home
But one lesson learned:
It will be OK
MX Mendelow is a fourth-year medical student at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine in Greenville. They received their BA in Romance Languages and Literature and International Studies from the University of Michigan and practiced as licensed estheticians before medical school. They hope to go into OB/GYN and incorporate their love of psychiatry into their practice.