A little heart break

My heart is a little broken today. I know it's the right thing to do-- to let go, but it still hurts. A part of me still wonders if I should say, wait! Stop! It's worth saving! I'll do better! I'll change-- I won't let things that are important to me disintegrate anymore-- I'll make time, I'll try harder. I'll make beautiful things. 

But no-- I won't. I need to let it go.

What's all this about? My wheel. My kiln.

My pottery wheel deserves a new home, a better life. Someone who will take care of it the way it deserves. Who even knows how to use it properly. Maybe I'll be a better person at some point, and then I'll be prepared to bring another pottery wheel into my life, and this time make none of the mistakes I've made with this one. But-- not soon. When I'm ready. I'll know, next time, before jumping in.

When I was sixteen, my parents gave me a birthday card with our traditional birthday breakfast in bed. The note said, "a set of wheel for your 16th birthday." I was puzzled. I didn't have a license and I didn't have any burning desire to drive or get a car-- and the key was just a regular house key. The biggest clue was of course the grammar error. Not likely with my English nerd parents. A p.s. on the card said, check the basement. 

We all ran downstairs, and sure enough, the basement craft room was locked. My parents waggled eyebrows at the shiny new key in my card. I opened the door with it-- and there, resplendent in a coat of fresh sky-blue paint, and with a calico pillow my mom had sewn (and, I later realized when I went to replace it, super-glued and nail gunned in place) was an enormous pottery wheel. A four inch tall round of concrete like a millstone rotated heavily on a steel axis, a half-moon of splash guard fronted the elegantly spinning central wheel. A little companion sat beside it-- a little kiln.

I loved my wheel. I sat with it and wrestled with clay and made tiny pots and wobbly bowls. I attempted to seduce romantic conquests with it (Ghost left an impression). It was the eye of my storming life. 

It was a terrible time. My mom's health disintegrated. She died a little after my next birthday. All of us-- my dad, my sisters-- poured our grief into creative projects. I journaled and did theater and threw pots, my sisters played music and drew and threw themselves into all of their projects and sports and teams and friendships with manic urgency. There was lots of sad Bach. My dad built gardens and trellises and traveled the world and hammered us all into a family band that ground out an album every year for years. CREATE the pain away! 

I went away to college, and occasionally would come home to throw a pot or two, but the enormous thing, at least 500 pounds, stayed denting the linoleum in my dad's basement. Then I spent a couple of years in Japan, my wedding, and graduate school in California-- it became more and more clear that I really had moved out. I was venturing into my own adult life, and I was losing the right to indefinitely store things at my dad's house. My dad somehow loaded the wheel into a rented trailer and drove it out to us in Berkeley just in time for us to jam it onto a barge to Hawaii. 

It stayed under a blanket in a garage for a year, under a tarp in the garden for another year, crossed to Kauai on another barge, and sat in place of honor next to the washing machine in our car port. By this point it was feeling like my albatross. Impossibly heavy-- unmovable, fragile and accusing. I should be taking care of it, using it every day, mastering the skills necessary to really use it well. It hulked in the corner of my vision, looking sad and neglected, and housing unspeakable critters: fat cane spiders and skinks and anolls and geckos and centipedes. Stuff piled on top of it. The pillow moulded. The paint peeled off. Rust threatened the edges. 

The guilt got to me. I finally took a class. It was marvelous. For a few months I was throwing pots, little one or two pound babies. I found it such a soothing practice-- physical and mental and aesthetic. I repainted the tram and reupholstered the seat.  But it was too much wheel for me: the heavy stone charging around and around, capable of shaving toes off. But also capable of flinging shapeless clay inexorably into form.

A baby, a move, a full time job-- the wheel has been sitting, mostly out in the elements, for three years. My optimistic purple spray paint job of five years ago has faded, and the sky blue from my 16th birthday has chipped off showing a layer of red paint underneath. The splash is pitted and pocked, and plants have grown through the motor. Looking at it made me sad and anxious. I wanted to take better care of it, but I just COULDN'T. Not within the restraints of my real life.

This week I got an email from a potter friend of a potter friend. I told him to come get it and take it away, for free. Just take it and take better care of it than I could. Fix it up, give it a new lease on life. Use it. 

Today he came and got the kiln-- he's coming back to get the wheel tomorrow with several strong friends. I went out to make sure it was accessible. I moved the rusting bikes off it, uprooted and disentangle the tropical vines growing around and through it. They were attempting to pull the steel and stone back into the ground. 

I just feel so bad. 

I know it's right to let it go. But it represents such promise, such potential that I never realized. It is a gift from my parents-- both of them, alive and together--to a young optimistic limitless version of myself. It represents that hopeful moment in time-- before death and destruction changed all of us down to the atomic level. It holds the potential of future creation-- I could throw pots with my kids on that thing, I could really master it. But it's too late-- I need to give it away before my procrastination makes it into garbage. 

Obviously part of the hurt of giving this poor wrecked wheel away is the terrible symbolism of the thing. The phrase, "the way you do one thing is the way you do every thing," haunts me. So many things and people and treasures in my life carry amazing potential-- how many things and gifts and years and friendships do I neglect until they die? How selfish am I being to keep beautiful things to myself while they rot? Isn't it better to give them away while they still have value? This lesson plays out often in Hawaii-- everything is so dank and damp that absolutely everything molds. Books, clothes, papers, art-- it's a wonderful exercise in cultivating a zen-like relationship to physical possessions. This lovely thing may be mine for a moment, but it will be destroyed, and very soon. There is no point in saving clothes-- better pass things on, keep them in use while there's life in them. Pass it on.

With the wheel I comfort myself that while yes, the object is important, the memory and the symbolism are more important. Yes, my mom herself gave me that wheel: she chose it and fixed it and kept it as a big delightful secret for me-- but it's not the wheel itself that matters-- it's her creativity and generosity and sense if fun. And even if I give this wheel away, if I ever do pottery again in the future, it will be because of her, her hands on mine. 


  1. This was so well written. I read this and I cried for you. And for your mother. And for your wheel. And your loss. I think you are strong and wise and an inspiration in the way you describe dealing with loss. And I loved the way you concluded. I will remember this.

  2. Geeeez. Crying in Helsinki, ook.
    Loss is heavy and loss is lightening. As I watched my Mom's tiny ship sail away 4 yrs ago (d.2010) I was comforted by the fact that on some other shore, folk were welcoming her arrival. I'll choose to think of your dear old heavy-with-history of love and potential Wheel as being a blessing to the receivers and Restorers.
    I am sad and I am glad. God hold us snugly as we watch the passing on of people and possessions.
    You are wise. Your wheel has set sail with your blessing -- this a Spring cleaning and lightening of physical load. Love.
    Thank you for writing this, Beeka.


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