Pain I am learning is your body’s last line of defense, our protector. It’s a way of calling attention to something that is not well and asking for care all the while privately teaching us customized lessons, because while others can offer beautiful empathy no one but you can actually feel your way through the pain. And in this pain, this consuming pain, it sometimes can be quite a lonely place, and you are at risk of feeling far away from others and in moments of sorrow or fear there are times when you even feel far from yourself. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote “It is such a secret place, the land of tears.” I have felt pain for several months now, pain in varying degrees and with different signals and instead of slowing down and asking what my body needed from me, I fear I went the opposite direction ignoring my intuition at the peril of falling behind in my schedule, and relentlessly pushed my body, mind, and spirit to fatigue.
I remember 4 months after my 4th c-section I was wearing my favorite onesie and trying to do yoga and thinking “I don't really trust my body to do this.” I remember waking up at our family cabin this past summer and thinking “I must feel this way because this is a new bed and my body isnt used to sleeping here,” I had my husband drive me to the grocery store so I could buy special ibuprofen that said “relief for back and sore muscles.” I remember in August I couldn’t get comfortable sitting in a chair and when I would have mentoring video calls I felt a bit like Goldilocks, trying to find a place I could sit comfortably for an hour. I remember traveling to Utah at the end of August and feeling a burning pain in my right leg and thinking “that really hurts, it must be from traveling and sitting in a car.” I remember I built 8 large vessels and 12 Venus sculptures in a week and I remember thinking I was uncomfortable sitting on the chair in my studio and trying to massage my neck.
the view from the pool where I would float everyday hoping my pain would become more manageable.
On September 7th I remember laying in bed and crying because I was in so much pain that if I moved it was so hard to bear and I couldn't even do it on my own. I remember feeling so desperate to find relief. My husband would have to help me from my bed and I would feel horrible pain with each step as I made my way to a hot shower and I would walk into that shower fully clothed because I was in too much pain to take my clothes off first. Then Steve would help me into our pool and I would float and try and stretch and it was the only time I felt relief. This humiliating and painful cycle went on for a few days. I couldn't care for my children, I couldn’t dress myself, I couldn’t drive and pick my kids up from school, I couldn't lift my baby, I couldn't work. I made frantic phone calls to specialists seeing if they had any availability and that I needed help and pain relief but I didn't know how to find it on my own.I laid in our guest room because it had a firm mattress which felt better than the one in the room I shared with my husband, but I felt isolated from my family and I cried, and I prayed, and I worried. I worried I wouldn't be well, that my back would be hurt forever and this was my new life. I worried I would have to cancel my community night, perhaps the thing I had been most excited for this whole year. I worried I would have to give up my art, it is after all one of the reasons I was in this state. I worried about not being able to be with my kids and all the things I would miss while I would have to heal, would they understand that I desperately wanted to be with them but I was in so much pain I couldn’t. Most of all I was worried I wouldn't be able to fly across the country to North Carolina and say goodbye to my Gram after getting word that her condition had worsened and we didn't have much time to be with her.
I would go to the chiropractor three times a week, plus massage therapy, pain management appointments, and physical therapy
I would get e-stim on my back, it confuses your nerves and allows for pain relief
trying to be brave before my MRI, coming to terms that this won't be a quick fix but I'm hopeful with time and effort I will heal
Time has passed. Some of the pain has passed. Friends and family came to my rescue, some from across the country, some via facetime, and some from a few doors down. I realized in my hours of pain that I needed to rescue myself. I have been learning about literal and symbolic alignment as I dutifully go to my appointments three times a week. My spine was out of alignment, causing pain in my lower back and for an added bonus after taking x rays it was discovered that my last disc is compressed, an unhappily pinched sciatic nerve is responsible for sending that shooting pain down my right leg and because of that pain I can’t sit very long and some natural body movements feel foreign. I have to be so very careful with things like just getting into and out of my car. I had an MRI last week and I’m hoping to continue on a path of healing in the care of my doctors and relearning how to attune to my body’s needs.
I am learning about resting and healing. I thought for a moment that maybe I should just grieve privately and hide for a time. I felt frustrated with my body for not being stronger. I felt annoyed that I couldn’t do it all. I felt some humiliation that I teach the women I mentor to value stillness, to monitor their energy and here I was being so busy caring for everyone and everything else but myself that my body collapsed in such a worn out and urgent way that it resorted to sending me a message I was forced to listen to. Society values being busy and measures success in ways I fear I was chasing and I’m embarrassed to say I think I got trapped in a mindset that I couldn't see was hurting me. I think I was trying desperately to grasp and move in rhythms that didn’t work for this season of my life.
One of the people who came to my aid was my older brother Shane, who is a doctor and professor of kinesiology. He researches bodies and he participates in studies about what our bodies can bear and how they move and recover. What’s more is he had a compressed disc himself 10 years ago, and has felt similar pain as he was moving through his own period of recovery. I remember him telling me I needed to stretch and strengthen and then sending me his routines and movements. Stretch and strengthen and stillness have come to be important words for me over these past couple of months as I am physically stretching and strengthening my muscles that will support my healing and keep my body in alignment but also I am stretching and strengthening my character as I acknowledge that I am not well and I cannot continue on with these same habits and priorities. I need stillness. I need time. I need to take more time for my health and as I continue to fill my vessel drop by drop I realized that my family also needs me to be still for a season. That we as a family have been stretched this past year and it feels like it is time to strengthen.
By a series of miracles I did make it to North Carolina to say goodbye to my Gram, and in one of the most sacred teaching moments of my life, one of the last things she told me as I held her hand and cried was “There is Beauty All Around,” And I knew in my heart I had been distracted and missing some of the beauty that was trying to bless my life because I wouldn't rest.
My family carried on to the Outer Banks, a place that I started coming to 28 years ago with my family and my Gram and Pappap built a beach house there to gather their family from across the country and to have a place for memory making, for resting , and for healing. My family has gone to this beach after getting news of cancer, lost jobs, lost babies, lost directions, poor health, broken hearts, and now it was my turn to seek healing and solitude from the waves and the wind as a broken vessel. I would go for walks and I’m not even sure how it came to be but in one of those moments where you feel like you are being led along I came across a book called “Wintering” by Katherine May ( I highly recommend listening to her read it on audible).Her messages were exactly what I needed at this moment. Katherine is mentoring me with her words about the necessity of rest, teaching that resting has less to do with being perfectly still and is more about actively learning, listening, observing and most of all a changing of habits to give your body the necessary conditions for healing, Katherine writes:
“Plants and animals don’t fight the winter; they don’t pretend it's not happening and attempt to carry on living the same lives that they lived in the summer. They prepare. They adapt. They perform extraordinary acts of metamorphosis to get them through. Winter is a time of withdrawing from the world, maximising scant resources, carrying out acts of brutal efficiency and vanishing from sight; but that’s where the transformation occurs. Winter is not the death of the life cycle, but it’s the crucible.”
I have begun to winter. I am gently trying to sculpt away the unnecessary forms my life has taken on and remember the shape that feels right for me. I am learning to lean into my intuition and these hard lessons that come through pain, fire, and refinement. In a part of Wintering I loved so much, Katherine writes: “ Life meanders like a path through the woods. We have seasons where we flourish and seasons when the leaves fall from us, revealing our bare bones. Given time, they grow again.” One of the beautiful lessons ceramics has taught me is that there is no point along the process where you cannot begin again and become something new.
Kilnfolk and Subscriptions
What does this mean for me and my business moving forward? I don't want to miss my cues to become. I want to put the pieces of my vessel back together. I want to let my spare time expand. I want to have a change of pace. I want to learn the lessons that come by stretching, strengthening and finding alignment. I want to go to sleep before midnight, and rise early to greet the sun. I feel the need to move and heal at a more restorative pace. I need to come back to myself.
I will finish the final few collections for this year with help, and then I have been working on a new direction for Her Name Is Mud that will begin with a name change in 2023 and new patterns of working. I will take a ceramic sabbatical from my collection work, giving my energy instead to leading a year long mentorship program I named Kilnfolk for those beautiful few Creatives who will be applying to join me in 2023. Leading a mastermind and mentoring in this pattern is something I have always wanted to do but I haven't been able to fit with the demands of running other parts of my business. I decided to call my mastermind Kilnfolk although it's not just for ceramic artists, it's the metaphor I'm more interested in coupled with the fact that the lessons learned through ceramics are ones I know intimately through my experience as a ceramic artist. I love that each clay has its own characteristics and the potter comes to know their tendencies through time spent together. Each vessel is cared for through each stage of the process one by one; molding, shaping, refining and the final act is to place them into the fire at a uniquely specific temperature. In the kiln all impurities are removed through the firing process and they become beautiful vessels, honoring each unique purpose. I wish to share my experience and my energy with this group and in doing so bring everyone together in a familial creative kinfolk. I have so many beautiful lessons planned for Kilnfolk, guest speakers, open studios and creating together, and I’m planning a retreat here in Phoenix where we will get to be together in my home and nature, creating and resting. Kinfolk applications will open November 1st and I will be in touch with more information for those who feel connected to this community.
My other work for next year will take the form of a limited number of ceramic subscriptions that will be made and shipped out quarterly in 2023. I will open these in early December and they could be something you gift or claim for yourself but this will be the extent of the clay work I have planned for the year. This will give me the opportunity to create which I need, for I truly have come to know that in making art we make ourselves but this will allow me to work at a slower pace and to think of my time as cyclical, not linear. I will move with the seasons. These will be unique opportunities for my collectors because there will only be a limited number, I will be able to design and create special pieces that I otherwise would be limited due to volume, energy, and kiln constraints. The two subscriptions are intended to honor the seasons. The first being home-centered, I named this “Objects of Intention” with creations like a vase to gather spring blooms, a serving platter to bring friends together in the summer months, a set of six dessert shell plates and dessert serving utensil for autumnal treats, and pieces for cooking and nourishing and learning new methods as we winter like a butter bell, pasta board and prep bowls. The second subscription is called “The Creative Society” and I’ve designed tools for Creatives including a ceramic tray with compartments for art supplies, a special shell palette and shell pigment wells, a bowl and brush, and two mugs one for you and one for a studio mate.
There may be room for writing a course, or hosting workshops, or perhaps a collaboration which always bring me joy, but for now I’m giving myself time to learn important lessons and I’m learning to surrender. From those who have made it through their winters and come back for me they have assured me that some of the most profound lessons will be learned through coming back into alignment, a wise reacquainting of self.
I’ll leave you with the poem I’ve been reciting to myself when I haven't known which way to go or I felt uncertain about becoming something new when I have built a business around collection releases and visual storytelling. I have this photo in my studio of myself as a child with mud on my hands and face and I thought it was there to inspire me to be playful and free in my artwork, but lately she has been giving me permission and encouragement to become something new. To create a new creative life, one built through tending to pain and learning to be patient.
Let This Darkness Be a Bell Tower
Written by Rainer Maria Rilke
Quiet friend who has come so far,
feel how your breathing makes more space around you.
Let this darkness be a bell tower
and you the bell. As you ring,
what batters you becomes your strength.
Move back and forth into the change.
What is it like, such intensity of pain?
If the drink is bitter, turn yourself to wine.
In this uncontainable night,
be the mystery at the crossroads of your senses,
the meaning discovered there.
And if the world has ceased to hear you,
say to the silent earth: I flow.
To the rushing water, speak: I am.
Sonnets to Orpheus II, 29
The photos on film were taken by Kate Lines, all others were taken by me, Kilnfolk branding design by Angela Hardison