The world is school. Class is always in session. We are the students. (Photo Courtesy of CzechoSlovak Fans)
Even though my boys are grown, the first day of school that is happening all over the country right now still makes me get a few little butterflies for some reason. I have a grandson who will be starting Kindergarten tomorrow, and I’m a little nervous for him, as any good Nana would be. Since I won’t be with him on the first day or won’t see him, I had a little talk with him last night before he went home. After he told me he “hated school,” which I knew probably was a learned response instead of a true response, I talked to him about all the new friends he would meet. He then got excited and started talking about his new friends and how they would play outside together during recess and eat lunch together every day. I told him that these new friends were going to be a part of his life and may be friends he kept forever.
This photo is of my friend Vicky and Me-we took tap and ballet classes in 3rd grade together, and look at us now! We’re still as happy as we were back then. I do believe that school is a platform to make and keep friends throughout life. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a friend like Vicky who keeps us all together!
“All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” is my most treasured book. Robert Fullgham lives in Seattle, WA and remains one of my favorite authors today.
“And it is still true, no matter how old you are, when you go out into the world it is best to hold hands and stick together. ”
Stay amused, stay amazed, and above all, stay in touch with yourself . . .
I can’t help but share his wise thought on teaching today, as the beginning of school begins ~ I’ve taken the liberty to highlight my favorite parts.
TEACHING WITH FIRE!
The climax to a course in ceramics at the Penland School of Crafts this summer, was firing the kiln. A Japanese-style anagama – an ancient way of making finished ceramics out of clay in a furnace fired with wood.
The burning pine logs produce ash.
The heat melds the ash with the clay to form a natural glaze.
The kiln must be cautiously stacked with pots, the fire slowly brought up to 2,500 degrees, and the heat carefully maintained around the clock for at least three days.
Every four hours a new crew of fire-stokers takes a turn at the kiln.
My watch was from 3 a.m. until 7 a.m.
Three of us formed an on-deck team – watching the temperature gauge, and performing a co-ordinated dance to stoke the fire on demand.
One person swings the kiln door open, another hands over the wood, and the stoker shoves the pine into the kiln – quickly because of the intense heat, but carefully to avoid hitting and breaking a pot.
This is hot, dangerous and exciting work.
The three-person team was not alone – even in the middle of the night.
The fiery furnace attracted the company of those drawn to the power of fire.
Fueled by good companionship and black coffee, there was time to sit and stare.
The conversation focused on this barely tamed force as it transformed clay, skill, and imagination into finished art.
And the teacher, Peter Callas, was there during part of every shift.
In Japan he would be called sensei – master.
Because he is both a master of his art and a master teacher of his craft.
That’s a rare combination.
The mark of a great teacher is that he is always teaching.
He intuits that one’s finest art is one’s ongoing life.
The art lies attending to the small details of one’s endeavors.
It’s not what you make or do for a living.
The art is in how you make the living worthwhile all along your Way.
One small example out of many:
The Art of Breaking Sticks
It’s far into the middle of the night at Penland.
The anagama – the furnace of the wood-fired kiln – has been roaring along around the clock for two days toward the goal of maintaining a steady 2,500 degrees.
The fire now needs to be fine-tuned and maintained by inserting short dry sticks of kindling into small stoke-holes in the sides of the kiln.
One red-hot brick is pulled out – the sticks are thrust in and the hole closed.
A supply of sticks must be broken in half before being thrust into the fiery furnace.
And focused thought must be given to this delicate phase of stoking the fire.
This tricky work must be done quickly – preparation is required.
Callas, who has only snatched a few hours of sleep during the firing, remains alert to every aspect of the work at hand.
The stick-breakers start trying to snap the wood in half by the usual method of slamming them across their thighs and tossing them aside.
A stick-breaking style that is both inefficient and painful.
Callas to the fore – with a “here’s a better way” lesson:
Grabbing some sticks, he shoves them one at a time half way into the hole in a handy cinder block, effortlessly popping them in half and stacking them in a ready-to-use pile in front of the stoke holes.
His method is fast, easy, painless and useful.
Moreover, his pile is creatively arranged.
This is the Art of Breaking Sticks.
A second example – the Art of the Mop:
It’s the late afternoon of the first day of the ceramics course.
The students – all advanced in clay technique – have had a whirl-wind day of throwing pots, with Callas moving non-stop around the studio with demonstrations, critiques and suggestions.
Now, it’s time to clean up the studio, a task usually left to students.
Not the job of the master teacher.
Huge mops and buckets of water are produced by the studio assistants.
The moppers start to work – without much enthusiasm or skill.
Theirs is the weariness of creative overload.
Callas takes command of a mop.
He demonstrates how to soak the mop, and then employ one’s full energy to soak the floor in great flowing muscular swaths.
A man and a mop in fluid motion, dancing across the floor.
Ju-jitsu with a mop – using its energy in synch with his to do the work.
The wet marks on the floor are strokes of oriental brush painting.
Callas’ Way With The Mop is not only more efficient, it’s artistic, clever, and entertaining.
It’s Zen mopping.
Great teachers understand this truth:
Students watch you – all the time.
In formal demonstrations, yes, but also in the simplest acts in the studio.
They study your tools and your smallest moves.
Students may not always listen to what you say, but they watch what you do.
Because they want to be like you.
Most of all, students learn an attitude from a great teacher.
Namely that every aspect of a craft can be improved and included in one’s art, because the art is in the attention to details
Art is not what you make – it is what you do – it is what you are.
As a teacher Callas can do anything with clay better than any of his students.
They know that – it’s what brought them to the class.
Can he throw a delicate tea bowl – one after another – yes.
Can he throw a huge cone of clay, reach inside, and turn it into a sphere – yes.
Can he take a massive block of wet clay and tear it and smash it and cut it into an assertive free-standing sculpture – yes.
Can he hold forth on the mysteries of glazes and the properties of clay – yes.
Can he build a kiln, stack a kiln, fire a kiln – yes, all that.
And all the while telling stories, making jokes, encouraging the dull student and praising the adept.
Yes to all of that.
It’s to be expected.
It’s what he does and is beyond his craft that remains in my memory.
As if sharing all that he knows is the way to have creative heirs and descendants.
As if the life and art of ceramics is a joy and a privilege.
As if the art of breaking sticks and the art of mopping a floor are an essential part of being a master potter and master teacher.
The fire in the kiln is only part of the story.
It begins with the fire in the soul of those who yearn to learn and pass that on.
Peter Callas is one of those – Fireman First Class.
I write this at the time of year we call Back-To-School.
These thoughts are not just about Peter Callas and Penland and clay.
They are about the infinite possibilities in this life that lay readily available all around us and exist readily available within us.
As the Buddha said, the task is to stay awake.
To stay alert.
To be there all the time.
And to be is to do.
The world is school.
Class is always in session.
We are the students.
And . . . we are also the teachers.
The mops and sticks abound.
* * * *
- Sunday Morning Scramble
- Pollo Fajitas