Saturday, October 31, 2009

"Through the Open Window" by Anne Faye, Chapter 7 Part 2

“Shall we go to the library first?” he asked.

“Sounds good.” We started walking in the direction of a large Renaissance-style building. “How did you get into writing, anyway?” I asked.

“One of my friends was doing NaNoWriMo several years back and he challenged me to do it with him – for moral support. I think I had a couple of drinks in me at the time because it sounded like it might be fun, despite the fact that I had never written anything but school papers in my life, and even those I kept to a bare minimum.”
“So, what happened? Didn't you think better of it in the morning?”

“I had given him my word that I would do it – I couldn't go back on it,” he said as we climbed the library stairs. “Anyway, I soon discovered that, talent not withstanding, I actually enjoyed it quite a bit.” He held the door open for me. “It was like a painting, except with words. I had to tell readers everything that I would normally show them in a painting. It was a creative challenge. I liked that. I still do.”

“Oh my goodness! This is amazing!” I exclaimed as we walked into the rotunda.

“Told you! I knew you'd love it. Take a deep breath. You can actually smell the books from here.” He was right. You could just breathe in the accumulated wisdom of the years simply standing there. The rotunda had these incredible marble columns that led upward to an impressive amber glass dome.

“Wow! They just don't make buildings like this anymore, do they?” I said as I admired the surroundings.

“Shall I show you around?” he offered.

“Yes, please do.”

We headed to the left into a separate room which was filled with reference materials and computers. “When I was younger, this used to be the art and music library. I would spend hours in here just poring over the books. There was so much to discover. I interned here at the art museum when I was in college and my boss used to send me over with a box full of unidentified slides and I would have to do my best to identify them. It was like being on a treasure hunt. A few years back, they changed it into the technology center. Art had to make way for progress.”
“They didn't get rid of the books, did they?”

“Oh no!” he assured me. “Thank goodness, they didn't do that. They just moved them into the regular book section. The music got moved downstairs with the videos and DVDs. Somehow it's not the same, though. There was something about being able to say that I was going to the 'art library.'” he said wistfully.

We continued on to the other sections of the library. It really was an incredible place. “So many books, so little time,” I sighed as we walked out. I was carrying the few books I hadn't been able to resist.

“Are you actually going to have time to read all those?” he asked.

“Don't worry. I'll make time. There is always time for a good book! Besides, I'm a fast reader.”

“I'm not,” he admitted. “One book can last me a whole month.”

“No kidding?” I asked, surprised. “One book can last me a day – maybe two.”

“I prefer to savor mine,” he said. “I treat them like a fine wine.”

The doors to the George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum (that is quite a name, isn't it?) were mammoth wooden structures with impressive lion head knockers. “Those knockers remind me of the ones in A Christmas Carol,” I said as we entered. “I half expected the ghost of Jacob Marley to appear as we entered.”

“No, no ghosts here,” he said. “That would make a good story, though, wouldn't it? – a ghost in an art museum.”

“You are always on the lookout for a good story, aren't you?”

“Well, November comes around every year. It's helpful to have ideas to work with. I jot them down in a notebook as a 'just in case' file.”

“Sounds like a good idea. Maybe I'll have to start doing that, too.”

“You should. You never know when inspiration might strike.”

We were still standing in the entry to the museum and the guard was starting to look at us rather suspiciously. “Which way would you like to go?” I asked Mike as I looked around. There was a massive staircase to my right, a gallery in front of me, and a hallway to the left. “It looks like we have a few options. What's your favorite part of the museum?”

“There are some great exhibits here. My personal favorites are the plaster casts I had told you about, but that's not where I wanted to take you.”

“It's not?”

“Nope. Come with me.” He led the way to the right, underneath the stairs, through a door, and down a narrow staircase.“Watch out for your head,” he cautioned as we descended.

“Where are we going?”

“To the classrooms.”

“Are we supposed to be down here?” I asked hesitantly. “It's awfully dark.”

“Here. I'll get the light switch. . . Let there be light.”

“Seriously, are we supposed to be down here? That security guard was pretty intimidating. I don't want to get sent to jail for trespassing or anything.”
“Stop worrying. It's fine. I teach classes here. The guard must be new, but I’ve got my ID if he questions us. I'm allowed to be here. Anyway, I wanted to show you where I fell in love with art, and, if you are up for it, give you a lesson.”

“Me, do art? . . I don't think so.”

“Why not? You said you wanted to learn how to see and think like an artist. Right?”

“Well, yeah . . .”

“Well, nothing, here's your chance. I'm a firm believer that anyone can create art. They just need to be given the opportunity.”

“I'm not totally devoid of creativity. I'm just not good at painting or drawing or stuff like that.”

“I don't believe you!”

“Ugh! . . . how do I get myself into these things?”

“By hanging around with me,” he answered jovially. “Life with me is never dull.”

“Thanks for the warning. I'm beginning to find that out for myself.”

“Here's an apron so you won't get your clothes dirty.” He put one on as well.


“Don't look so down. You're going to have fun. I promise. Now, what do you want to try working with? We have pastels, watercolors, acrylics, or we can try doing some pottery if you would like.”

“You're asking me? I honestly have no idea.” I paused to think. “Alright, how about pottery? I mean, that's probably the easiest, right?”

“I don't know if I'd say that. It was the class that I had the hardest time with at school. It took me quite a while to even be able to make a serviceable bowl, but it is a good stress reliever.”

“Great. Now I'm even more nervous.”

“Don't be. The beautiful thing about pottery is that if something isn't coming out well, you can just smush it back into a big ball of clay and start over.”

“Why do I get the feeling I'm going to be doing a whole lot of smushing?”

“First, you are going to be doing a whole lot of kneading. Come over here.” He opened up a big container and scooped out a clump of clay and smacked it on a table.

“Have you ever kneaded dough?” he asked.

“Oh sure. My mom and I used to enjoy making bread for the holidays.”

“See, you're ahead of the game already! This is the same thing, except the dough is thicker and it takes more muscles. This is the stress-relieving part. You have to work the clay until it is nice and warm and all the air bubbles are out of it.”
We stood side by side working the dark earthy clay. It started out sticky and hard to work with, but I soon got a good rhythm going. I liked the feeling of the clay in my hands. Mike was right, though. It was certainly a workout for the muscles. I could feel my shoulders starting to get sore. It was a good sore - the kind that lets you know your body is working hard doing something physical. It was also a reminder that I hadn't been exercising as much as I should be. Mike looked over every now and then to check on my progress, offering encouragement. I wondered if his muscles hurt, too. I looked over at him. He did have a very nice physique. I wouldn't mind running my hands over those muscles. Get a grip, Lucy. He's not interested.

“This is quite a workout,” I commented in an effort to break the silence and get my mind back on task.

“Told you! Pottery isn't my favorite thing to do, but whenever I am stressed or upset about anything, I come and pound clay. It always helps clear my head. I'm glad that you chose to do this. I figure beating the clay might do you some good as well.”

“About the other night . . .,” I began, not sure at all what I was going to say. “I wanted to apologize.”

“For what? You have nothing to apologize for,” he replied, still working on kneading his clay. “You didn't do anything wrong.”

“Yeah, but I shouldn't have burdened you with my problems.”

“You needed to tell someone. I'm a good listener. People tell me their problems all the time.”

Great. I had to tell my problems to the Dear Abby of men. He probably has a file somewhere in order to keep track of them all.

“I bet it was a big relief for you to finally tell someone,” he continued. “Besides, your secret is safe with me.”

“Thanks. I appreciate that.” I may have been one of many who confided in Mike, but as he hadn't told me anyone else's secrets, I took him at his word that he wouldn't share mine. That was a comfort.

“How's the clay feeling?” Mike asked, changing the subject.

“Um . . .I'm not sure. It feels warm and soft.”

“That's a good sign,” he said. “Can I check it for you?”

“Sure. Be my guest.” I moved away from the work table so Mike would have room to maneuver. He kneaded the clay a few times and pronounced it ready to use.

“So what do we do with it now?” I asked.

“The easiest thing to start with is simply to make rolls of it and start using it that way." He took some of the clay and began rolling it to demonstrate. I did the same. Soon, I had a long snake of clay about two feet long.

“This is fun,” I said. “I haven't done this since I was a little girl”

“I'm glad that you are enjoying it! That should be good,” Mike said, looking over at my efforts. “Do you want to try making a bowl with it?”

“Sure, why not?” He showed me how to begin coiling the bottom and then slowly build up the sides.

“Wow! Look at that!” I exclaimed as I admired my handiwork. “It actually looks like a bowl!”

“You're a natural. I knew you could do it!”

“Now what happens to it. I mean, it's not done yet, right?”

“You can leave it that way if you want it to be terra cotta colored or you can put some slip on it if you want it to have some color.”

“I like color. Can I try that?”

“Sure thing. Color it is.” He walked over to a few jars on a shelf. “Do you want red or blue?”

“Blue's good,” I replied. He brought over one of the jars and poured something that looked like very watery clay into a bowl for me to use.

“Here you are,” he said as he handed me a brush. “Just brush this on all over the bowl. You don't need to do the bottom. That will stay as it is. Actually, before you start applying the slip, why don't you put your initials on the bottom?” He took a wire and slid it under the bowl to release it from the table and then gently turned it over. He handed me a tool to write with. “Don't press too hard – you don't want to cut through the clay. Just do it deep enough to leave a slight indentation.” I took the tool and gently scraped in “L. L.” and the date.

“See. Now it's official. You've made your first bowl!” he said as he flipped it back over. “Now you can apply the slip.” I took the brush and began applying the greyish liquid.

“Are you sure this is blue?” I asked. “It doesn't look blue.”

“Don't worry. It will once it is fired. It will be beautiful,” he assured me.

“Working with clay is a lot like going through life. You have to go through a bit of fire before true beauty comes out.” Something in the way he looked at me when he said that made the butterflies come back.

“I think I'm all done,” I stammered as I applied slip to the last recesses of the inside.

“Great! You can leave it there to dry. There aren't any classes going on today or tomorrow in this room. I'll come back tomorrow and put it in the kiln.”
“What are you going to do with your lump of clay?” I asked, trying desperately to regain my composure.

“I don't know. I didn't really have any plans for it. I could just throw it back in the clay bin. The clay can be reused.”

“Oh, OK. It looks sad just sitting there, though. It looks like it wants to be used.”

“The clay looks sad? Are you sure that you're feeling OK? Maybe the fumes down here are starting to get to you.” he laughed. “I guess I could do something with it. I could try making a pot on the wheel. Like I said, though, I'm not great at it.”
“That's OK. I would like to see how a pottery wheel actually works. When I was a little girl, there was a pottery wheel in a toy catalog. I wanted it so much. I asked Santa for it in a letter.”

“Did you get it?” he asked.

“No, but I did get a dollhouse my father had been working on for months. That was good, too. I spent a lot of time playing with it, making up stories with my dolls.”

“You must have been so cute!”

“Oh, I don't know about that,” I smiled, “but I still would like to see how the wheel works.”

“Alright, I'll give it a shot - just for you.” He moved over to the pottery wheel.
“Come on over.” I obliged, pulling up a chair next to him. “You know I'm not making any promises on how this is going to turn out.”

“I'm sure you'll do fine. You seem to be able to work magic with everything you touch.” Did I actually just say that? “Artistically. I meant artistically.” He laughed.

He plopped the clay on the wheel. “OK, clay, be kind to me. We have an audience.”

“Do you always talk to your clay?”

“Some people talk to their plants. I talk to clay. I figure it can't hurt.”

“I'll remember that next time I try working with clay.”

“Well, I guess I should try to do something with this. Let's see. The first step is to get the wheel moving. There is a pedal underneath that makes it go.” The wheel started turning. “That should be good. Next step – try to make a bowl. This is the fun part. I need to stick my thumbs in the middle and try to make an opening.” I watched him working the clay. Sure enough, it was starting to look like a bowl. “Now, I need to try to thin out the sides. This is the hard part.” He pulled gently on the clay and the walls of the bowl began to move outward. Then, they collapsed!
“See, I told you this was hard!” He smushed the clay back together. “But, you can always try again. Do you want to try?”

“Oh, I don't know. If you can't do it, I doubt I can.”

“Think of it this way. You can't do any worse.”

“I guess that's true. OK. I'll give it a shot. Will you help me?”

“Of course.” I sat down in front of the wheel. He sat behind me. “OK, start the wheel turning.”

It took me a few seconds to get a feel for working the wheel. “There you go,” he encouraged. “You want it to go at a nice steady pace. Not too fast or your clay will go flying.”

“Do you know that from personal experience?”

“More times than I care to admit. But, it looks like you've got it at just the right speed. Now start forming the clay. Try to get it into the shape that you want.”

“What shape do I want it?”

“That's up to you. This is your world. You are the potter. It is the clay. Do with it whatever your heart desires.”

“Well, maybe I'll just try to make a bowl – see how that works out.”

“Alright, then, once you feel like the clay is ready, stick your thumbs in the middle and gently start pushing against the outsides to make the walls thinner.” I tried to oblige. It really was much harder than it looked.

“Here, let me help you.” Mike wrapped his arms around me and guided my hands over the clay. I could feel his warm breath on my neck. I could feel my heartbeat quicken. My mind was on everything but the clay. I tried to concentrate on the sensation of the warm clay sliding through my fingers as I attempted to shape it into something resembling a bowl.

“I feel like Demi Moore in 'Ghost.' Except, she knew what she was doing of course!”

“You're doing fine! As I said, you can't possibly be worse than me at this, and I spent a full semester of college working at it.”

“Oh no! It's falling apart!” Sure enough, as I tried to thin out the walls more, they started getting wobbly and then crashed in on themselves.

“Don't worry about it,” Mike said. “Just smush it back together into a big lump.” I happily did so.

“Bad clay!”

“See, now you are talking to it!”

“I guess you're right.”

“Do you want to try again?”

“No, I think I've had enough for today.”

“Well, let's clean this place up, then, so that I don't get in trouble with my boss.”
I helped him put the clay away and clean off the tables. He placed the one bowl I had completed up on a shelf. “See, at least you have one thing to show for today's adventure,” he said.

“Absolutely. Thanks for bringing me here. I had fun!”

“I'm glad. I had fun, too. I always enjoy hanging out here.”

We climbed back up the stairs and headed out into the quadrangle. “We never did get to see the exhibits,” I remarked.

“That's OK. It gives me a good excuse to bring you back here again sometime.”

“I appreciate that, but you don't need to feel like you always need to be taking me someplace, like I need to be taken out or anything. I know you have other friends. . . “

“Don't worry about it. I like hanging out with you, and I do still get to see my other friends.”

Visit Anne Faye's blog at

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