Seeking the Unexpected

December 9, 2021

This past October, clutching my mug of tea, I surveyed the unpainted pottery bowls and leaves laid out on the table and selected a leaf with curling edges just larger than my hand. The six of us in the workshop painted our pieces. The workshop leader, Trish, planned to fire them in a kiln, flame them in a trash can of newspaper, and douse them in a bucket of water— the elemental Japanese process known as Raku.

After a months’ long dry spell in my writing activity, my mind needed a chance to wander and become curious again, so I began planning artists’ dates as recommended by Julia Cameron in her classic book, The Artist’s Way, weekly solo adventures to explore whatever interests you, a way to wake up to the river of creativity that already surrounds us.

There was no art to my painting. I did as Trish suggested, a base coat of Cobalt topped with two coats of Evening Star. Anything left untouched by paint turns black. After my painstaking application of three coats, the leaf was the palest blue, and I wondered what I’d created. People wanted to know why a blue leaf instead of nice fall colors. The Cobalt got me, I told them. Trish said it might turn darker and sparkle as the names suggested. The word raku means “happy accident.”

My leaf came out of the kiln a pale green. The flames in the trash can darkened it and added a swirl of bronze with hints of red and purple. When Trish pulled my leaf out of the water, we gasped at a mini miracle— iridescent blue and gold deepening before our eyes. She said she’d never seen those two glazes act that way before.

It’s too much to for me to manage a weekly date, but since then, I’ve watched the new Met opera, The Fire Shut up in My Bones, based on Charles M. Blow’s memoir, and spent time in the bookshop downtown, opening the pages and finding inspiration. My next date is an art exhibit, “By Her Hand: Artemisia Gentileschi and women artists in Italy 1500-1800.”

Lately, I wake up with words coursing through my brain and race to scribble them down on whatever is at hand— the backs of envelopes, in the margins of newspapers— happy accidents of unexpected connections welling up in my body and rolling out through my fingers.

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