Friday, September 5, 2014

Haliburton School of the Arts: Thoughts on Week One

When I was trying to decide whether to come to Haliburton, I couldn’t find anyone who had blogged about their experience in the ceramics program. So I’m going to try to do that a little bit here, over the next few months, when time and energy allows for it. If you're reading this because you're interested in the ceramics program, I'm going to talk a little bit about what brought me to Haliburton School of the Arts and then go into what my first week looked like.

The first time I applied to this program was six years ago. Back then, when I told my extended family, they asked me why. Why would I study ceramics? I answered: Because I want to. I've never forgotten the response. With something very much like a sneer, one particular family member said: "Well isn't it nice to be able to do whatever you want." I was struck by those words. No one defended me, so it must have been true: I was foolish and selfish and entitled. Needless to say, I didn’t go.

Six years have passed and in those six years I've come to terms with the selfishness required to make art. The foolishness. The entitlement, even. This year especially. In the aftermath of my grandfather’s death, I realized that I too am going to die one day, just like he died, and in light of that glaring truth, I have to do what I have to do.

And before I move on (in case you, dear reader, need to hear it): No one will give you permission. You are the only one who can do that. So if you want to make art, make art. No excuses. If you want to move 3.5 hours north and study ceramics 12 hours a day, figure out a way to do it. There is always a way. And don't listen to the naysayers. Take that volume dial and turn it all the way down. And then go and do the work that's calling you.

Okay, back to business:

When I was thinking of applying to this program, I asked a few people I knew who’d either been through it or been through one of the other arts programs at HSTA. The word that kept coming up was “intense”. I didn’t really know what that meant or how seriously I should take it. But that’s definitely the word that sums up this first week: INTENSE. And while it’s sometimes stressful trying to juggle everything (flipping your slabs every ten minutes so they don’t warp while finishing up your lidded box before it gets too hard while being called over to watch a demonstration of the project you need to start and finish by the next day and also knowing that somehow you also need to wax and glaze your pots because there's a firing tomorrow…) the hours fly by because you are so absorbed in the work.

This week our instructor was Michael Sheba, and quite honestly, if all the other instructors are as knowledgeable and as good at teaching as he is, it will be a dream come true. In just five days I have learned SO MUCH.

These are what my days look like:

I wake up at 6am. By 6:30 I've scored a table at this little donut shop next door (it’s the only coffee shop that’s open earlier than 9am, which is when classes start) and everyone who goes there is a regular and seems like they’ve been a regular since 1970. Everyone except me that is. I tuck myself into a corner and write every day until 8am. I do this because I need to; because while I'm here to make pottery, my writing is important to me. So I carve out time where I can.

At 8am I return home, pack my lunch, and set out for school. It takes me 30 minutes to walk to the school, which is exactly on the other side of the lake, in the middle of a forest. Honestly, my walk is one of my favourite parts of the day. It is the perfect start and end to the intensity sandwiched in between. I love my walk to and from school. Haliburton is incredibly beautiful and I soak it all in.

Head Lake, Haliburton

Classes are from 9-5 everyday. But I’m there so much longer than this and I usually work through my breaks and my lunch. From Tuesday to Thursday the studios are open until 9pm and while I first thought this was optional, this week has proven otherwise. Studio hours are necessary. Saturdays are also studio days and sometimes classes happen on Saturdays too, like this week for example (we're doing a Raku firing tomorrow).

The nice thing about the ceramics program is that you can’t take your work home with you. It has to get done in the studio. So home time really is down time – even though I don’t get much of it. (And the nice part about not getting much down time is that it leaves no time to feel homesick.) When I do get home, it’s almost dark and this is when I Skype with Joe. Often while eating dinner. Which is usually cereal. I love this time of the day because even though we're far apart, it feels like we're coming home to each other, checking in with each other. I try to Skype with Yonder (my dog) but he doesn’t quite understand the concept and whenever I say his name he looks towards the stairs instead of the screen.

Last of all, just before falling asleep, I read. This week I'm reading through "Tiny Beautiful Things" by Cheryl Strayed. Her letters are just short enough that it's easy to read a few before getting too tired and yet they're so rich and wise that I leave the page feeling like I've read so much. I keep going back to one of her letters in particular, especially this part:

"If there's one thing I believe more than I believe anything else, it's that you can't fake the core. The truth that lives there will eventually win out. It's a god we must obey, a force that brings us all inevitably to our knees."

And that is all I have to say for today.

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