Discouraging Updates: Tooth and Pottery

One of the things I’m enjoying about The West Wing (I’m on season six) is the guest stars. I know it’s going to be a good one when we approach the new person slowly, and hear the voice before we see the face.

I wrote the report of the tooth extraction just a couple of days after I’d had it done, and by a couple of days after THAT things were nearly back to normal: I could eat dairy, I didn’t have to use ice packs or ibuprofen, and I was much better at talking with the little tray in. Now it’s been just over a week and I’d say things are pretty fine. I went back to the oral surgeon so she could make sure it was healing well, and she snipped off the little surgical-string ends I couldn’t keep my tongue from messing with (luckily that stopped feeling icky/painful after the first few days); the extraction site looks pink and normal, like regular gums. I can successfully eat salad again; it’s not EASY, but it WORKS. It doesn’t bother the extraction site to have the little tooth-tray in; I still only wear it when I go out, because I don’t like the feel of it in my mouth and it makes it harder to talk.

The discouraging thing is that I’d been…well, “looking forward to” getting the flipper is a severe understatement. I was more like counting the hours, and also feeling incredulous that it would take so long to make one. I was hoping it would be a significant, wear-all-day type of improvement over the tooth-tray, and I was thinking things such as “This is the last pottery class where I’ll have to struggle to communicate around this gross tooth-tray!” But when I went to the dentist, almost a week and a half after the extraction, they did STEP ONE of the flipper. They had not been tracking with the change from Plan A (attach my own extracted tooth to the implant) to Plan B (if the implant can’t be put in, make a flipper instead), and no one noticed this lack of tracking until the appointment. Now I have to wait more than another week, and I had to have a little weep in the parking lot. In the long run this time will seem like a meaningless blip, but right now it feels like everything is terrible.

Speaking of pottery class, I’ve gone to two sessions and so far I don’t really like it. I’m the only person in the class who is new at this; the others have a minimum of one year’s experience, and some of them have over a decade. It’s supposed to be a mixed-levels class, but the others sign up again and again; one of the regulars didn’t sign up this time because of traveling for so much of the session, which is why there was an available space for me, the newbie.

In theory, this is nice: it theoretically gives me another half-dozen or so teachers, and theoretically gives me more of the actual teacher’s attention. In practice, it turns out that the teacher doesn’t so much teach as supervise, and that making things on a pottery wheel must be mostly a matter of getting the FEEL of it, so every single person (including the teacher) is telling me how to get the feel of it, but that’s not something that can be explained, or at least not by any of this group, or at least not to me. I’ve spent two 3-hour sessions sitting at the wheel trying to get a piece of clay centered while someone tells me that I am in charge of the clay not the other way around, and to move my hand DOWN the piece of clay when my hand is already resting on the wheel and can’t GO any more down, and to make sure to use enough water, and to just get a FEEL for it. Oh, but not with your hands positioned like that. And your elbows are too high/low. No, keep your hands RIGID. Elbow down/up/planted/STEADY. Also there are air bubbles in your clay and you used too much water. Meanwhile everyone else is churning out mugs and plates and mixing bowls and vases and flower pots, and it’s a little discouraging. I wish there were just ONE other person in the class who was new at this—although I guess it would be even MORE discouraging if that person got it right away and I was still struggling.

Everyone is assuring me that it just takes time to figure out how to do this, and telling me their stories of how long it took THEM to figure it out, and that IS helpful, so I have only cried once, and only a little: it was more like a slight leak. I kept my face down and I don’t think anyone noticed, or if they did they were tactful about it and it’s probably not the first time it’s happened. It was when my fourth piece of clay in a row had gone floppy and rogue after a long careful attempt to get it as far as that, and the teacher was trying to tell me how to keep it from doing that but nothing she said was making any sense to me (“Start with your hands low and see if you can rein it back in”) so I didn’t even feel like I knew what to do next time to have it work any better, and while I was listening to her I was also thinking that I could actually just leave, no one would force me to do the rest of the classes. But instead I put my collapsed piece of clay over on the table for overly-wet clay, and I washed my hands and went off to find the bathroom, and I stayed in there for a little while extra, thinking I might do a little unsuppressed crying but it turned out I didn’t need to, and then I washed my hands again and went back to the pottery room and got another stupid piece of stupid clay.

40 thoughts on “Discouraging Updates: Tooth and Pottery

  1. Sadie

    I…also hated my ceramics class, and never went back after 3 classes. I almost told you that on the first post but it felt unnecessarily discouraging. Anyway, they do say you’ll figure it out if you keep it up. But I never found out because I ended up Sunday afternoon drinking instead <3

    1. Britni

      Yes. This exactly. I hated mine as well and didn’t want to say so in the first post either. I stuck it out the entire time but hated it the entire time. Mine also had a clique that was extremely irritating to be around.

  2. Sarah

    YES to the pottery class. I’m very sympathetic. I took a class like that (newer than the rest), and it’s not as much fun as classes where there’s an actual mix or at least everyone is strangers. (I still love poettery classes though). Also, I hate centering clay. It is hard, and takes forever until you get the hang of it. Can your instructor take pity on you and centre some clay for you, so you can at least make something? (I’ve definitely had them do that for me).

  3. Monica

    I hate when I don’t pick up new skills easily. I’m used to being able to do things more or less right the first time, and when I can’t, it’s extremely discouraging. It’s hard/impossible for me to keep trying past the failure… which is a HUGE flaw in my personality. I hate that about myself but I can’t seem to change it. I hope you do better than I do, that you have a breakthrough soon, and that you post pictures of your first completed project!

  4. Ruby

    The thing about pottery is that it LOOKS like it would be easy, when in reality it’s anything but! Could you ask the instructor to center your clay on the wheel for you? I’ve found that that’s the hardest part, and also the least fun. If it’s centered well, it’s less likely to collapse and you can play around more with different shapes.

    I used to do aerial/circus arts, and the gym I went to had an all-levels class. It was the WORST. Most of the people there knew what they were doing and needed minimal help from the teacher, and meanwhile I was all, “How do I do literally any of this?” They eventually divided up the levels, and it got so much better. I could ask for help without feeling like the only one there who didn’t know what she was doing!

    1. Ruby

      Oh, and another thing: if the class is filling up with the same people every week, and (it sounds like) they’re consistently having to turn people away, perhaps they should consider adding another class. Or maybe have pottery CLUB for the people who already know how to do it, and a separate pottery class for those who are still learning.

      1. sooboo

        Yes to a pottery club. In my experience, a lot of experienced potters keep signing up for classes because they can use the kilns and glazes.

  5. Brenda

    I don’t know if this is at all helpful (or even if you are wanting advice) but I have 2 examples of experiences that seem to be similar. The first is teaching myself to spin yarn on a spinning wheel. I inherited my grandmother’s wheel and where I live (in New Zealand) there were no classes or anything where I could go along and learn so I taught myself watching youtube videos and reading books. And it was really, really hard and so frustrating but everything I read or watched said that it takes a long time but it eventually it will click. And eventually (after a really long time) it did, and I could suddenly spin. And I wonder if the same is true for working with clay. The second is that I am in an (allegedly) beginner tap class this year. Except that all of the other “beginners” are teen girls who have been dancing since they were in the womb and I … did not dance as a child. And I am 50+. And it sucks. But I love the music and the sound my tap shoes make so I go along every week and humiliate myself and in four weeks I will be in a concert dancing to a Four Tops song and I have no idea how I am going to get from now to then because holy crap I am a terrible tapper. Anyway, the point I am making is 1) hang in there a bit maybe and 2) do you really think you will love pottery (once you master it, as you will)?

  6. Artemisia

    Ok, I am laughing so hard because learning to throw clay IS that stupid and ridiculous. It is INFURIATING. At one point, when I was learning, I picked up that blob of clay and hauled off and threw it across the room again a wall. A cinderblock wall. That was super fun to clean up. But damn it was worth it.

    When you are sitting, wedge you elbows into your inner thighs and let your legs help give you the strength you need. As you lean forward, let your legs help. (But still keep your arms and wrists rigid.)

    When you do get that clay to center for the first time, it is AMAZING. It is like the clay just disappears. You almost can’t feel it. It is a phenomenal feeling and you will get hooked.

    Hang in there!!!

  7. Suzanne

    The flipper was not even in the works!!! How frustrating!! Things are supposed to WORK and people are supposed to be watching OUT for stuff and ARRGH! I know there is human error and mistakes happen and blah blah but you were COUNTING on this! Ahem. You are of course handling this better but man. So. Frustrating.

    I guess as long as I am riled up I will continue by being annoyed at your pottery teacher. It doesn’t SOUND like teaching. I know you said right up there she is more of a supervisor but SHEESH. Seems like a little teaching could be useful.

    Anyway. I ‘m sorry things are off to a discouraging start. May they improve quickly!

    1. Anna

      Agree that the teacher’s comments seem unhelpful. If you feel up to it, look up some youtube videos on how to center clay and see if someone ELSE’S explanations make any sense to you. Sometimes it’s just teacher/student incompatibility, sometimes it’s bad teaching. Either way, it’s not your fault.

  8. Erin

    Incredibly frustrating about the delay with the flipper.

    I’ve never taken a pottery class, but I can see how it is something that takes time and lots of practice. I’m proud that you are taking the class. It’s much better to have tried it out than to have always wistfully wondered what if… Nevertheless, I say keep at it and finish the series of classes and then you can decide if it’s just not for you.

  9. Lauren

    One thing that worked for me when I took a pottery class was to use a rather small lump of clay, like something you might make a mug or small soup bowl out of. The bigger the lump, the harder it is to control. I’d like to echo the people that suggest you have the teacher center your clay for you so you can have some fun with it. My teacher would do that for us, and it really did make a difference. Plus, you got to watch them in action. But if you hate it, just stop. You shouldn’t have to spend your free time being miserable! Best of luck to you with whichever way you go!

  10. Kalendi

    Man I know how you feel about the pottery class. I try to avoid mixed level classes for this very reason. But I have also taken Beginning Ballet, which wasn’t, beginning that is. There were two of us that were beginners, but everyone else had had ballet before and were taking it because “they were rusty”. People, rusty is not the same as beginning. But I would second the suggestions to watch you tube videos, and ask your teacher to center at least once for you

  11. Allison McCaskill

    Thank-you for letting me know I’m not the only one that does parking-lot weeping. I almost always break down after dental stuff too – it’s a near-phobia for me and just getting through it takes everything I have.

  12. April

    Hey, remember your own advice: what would you tell a friend or one of your kids in this situation? You’d probably say “Nobody expects you to be perfect at it if you haven’t done it before.” And “Set yourself a limit that you will attend x number of classes and if you still aren’t happy with it give yourself permission to quit with no regrets.”

    You got this. And if you don’t, that’s okay too.

  13. rlbelle

    Ugh, I had this happen with tai chi. The class turned out be half a dozen fairly old men who’d been coming week after week (it was a free class at the gym – I figured they’d have at least some turnover!), and despite the fact that the instructor went over basics for most of the class, I got really annoyed after a while at being singled out for my bouncing step, or whatever. Shockingly, I made it through the entire class without crying, or even getting that awful lump in my throat. But I left after one session and never went back. It was VERY uncharacteristic of me – had I reacted the same way to judo a decade ago, I never would have met my husband (and in that class, on the very first day, I dissolved into mortified tears that I couldn’t get under control for a few minutes). But I think I felt too old and busy, honestly, to waste time on a class I wasn’t comfortable in that was going to be so much work. It made me super mad, too, because when I’d first walked in, the instructor kind of smirked and said, “New Year’s resolution?” like I couldn’t possibly be serious about it, and I had so wished to prove him wrong.

    I hope it gets better for you after a couple more classes but if not, I will say that the disappointed feelings of giving up on something you thought you’d like don’t last nearly as long as you might think!

    1. Meg

      ooh I read that bit about your instructor saying that and I muttered “I bet you wish you could’ve tai’d his chi” but that doesn’t make much sense.

      Anyway, sympathies! :(

    2. dayman

      I am filled with blinding rage over the new year’s resolution comment. SO WHAT IF IT WAS. he gets paid to teach everyone.

  14. Val

    A sympathetic “Bah!” to all your frustrations.

    And “The West Wing” is my all-time favorite show.

    May next week be better! ♥

  15. Meg

    I did pottery in high school, so it was back not long after humanity had discovered fire. I found wheelwork VERY VERY VERY HARD but I actually quite enjoyed doing other stuff with clay. I wonder if you might have considered that?

    We did things like coil pots (where you, well, roll out long thin coils of clay and then curl them around and around and build something up in that way). And masks. And making little animals, rabbits and mice and things.

    Is it possible to spend some time in this class doing things like that or does it have to be all wheel, all the time? And maybe if you decide that this isn’t right for you, you could look for something like that, where you get to get mucky and creative but it’s a lot easier to create something that looks okay?

    I feel for you; I hate when I’m the Only One struggling with something. No matter how reasonable it is, no matter how much it makes sense that other people can get it and I can’t, just yet.

    1. Meg

      We got to work with glaze, and we got to put our stuff in the kiln. I made a blue elephant I was very proud of!!

  16. Slim

    I would just like to mention that it warms my heart to know there are other grown-ass women out there who cry (or fight back the tears) on occasions of tremendous frustration.

    Also I took a pottery class and it took a while before I could get the clay centered and started, but it does happen. Meanwhile, none of the people in your class will ever write as well as you do.

  17. heidi

    I took ceramics in college and, as others above have said, I didn’t want to mention before but I HATED it. I mean I liked the first half of the class which was all coil pots and pinch pots and such and could not wait for the wheel. And then… we used the wheel and even if I managed to make a piece, it would crack while drying. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. I stopped going. I even skipped the final. It is the only class I have ever failed in college. So, I have no advice. I have a friend who has taken classes as an adult and loved it. But know, it is HARD. And if you decide to quit, it is totally fine. Then you will have time to try something else. If you decide to stick it out, you may end up loving it. Just don’t be so hard on yourself.

    Also, I second that they should open another class if it is the same people every time and no one else can get into the class. It is NOT mixed skill levels.

  18. Maggie

    I know it’s not the same but I have three crowns and every time I’m irritated/frustrated/astonished at how long it takes to get the final crown. Each one is at least 4 visits (each with their own visit fee in addition to the final insane cost of the crown itself) – diagnosis, root canal or grinding down the affected tooth and getting fitted for a temporary, getting the temporary put on, and then finally FINALLY getting the permanent crown. The whole thing never takes less than 4-6 weeks and I am so fed up and frustrated every time. I have dental phobia due to a really bad experience in my 20s and the entire thing is so stressful I feel like crying every time. BAH

    In re: pottery class – this is exactly the kind of experience that kept me from signing up for a Bollywood dance class at my gym. The sign said it was for all levels but I couldn’t shake the fear that most people in there will have taken some kind of dance for years and I’d be complete novice and it would be just horrible.

  19. M.Amanda

    I started re-watching The West Wing earlier this month. My memory of how good it was did not do it justice. Still, I got to season 4 and discovered Doc Martin, whose social awkwardness makes me feel super competent and given me several talking points for when my daughter struggles. I feel like I must watch all 6 seasons on Netflix before I go back to The West Wing.

  20. elembee123

    *Fist bump of solidarity*

    This is me with baking bread. “It’s 4 ingredients,” I tell myself, “How hard could it be?!” And yet, as I gaze around at all the new self-defense weapons that have come out of my oven, I am convinced yeast bread will be what drives me over the edge.

  21. Angela

    I hate being the only new person in a class! It’s very discouraging. If you stick it out you should reward yourself with one of those “Painting with a twist” classes where you go and follow the instructor’s painting and drink wine. Every time I’ve been to one of those it’s all laid back beginners with at least one person who is really really bad at painting–very uplifting! Plus wine. That’s a big plus.

  22. Kay W.

    Oh yes. That feeling. I can empathize. It happened to me in college when I signed up for beginner Japanese (a bold but bad move), and it turned out everyone else in the class was a native Korean speaker. Korean and Japanese are from different language families, but they share very similar grammatical systems and both draw from Chinese scripts. Needless to say, the class breezed over grammar in one week, loaded up on kanji (which the Korean students mostly recognized already), and focused on increasingly complex vocabulary, while I, bewildered, desperately tried to keep up. The professor was overworked and unsympathetic. I squeaked through with a B-, the lowest grade of my college career. Sigh. Overall it was a pretty demoralizing experience. The lowest moment was the day the professor announced a pop quiz of the previous week’s hundred word vocabulary list that would be worth 10% (10%!!!!) of our final grade. I was about two weeks behind at that moment and knew I would fail. By the time she reached me with the quiz paper, I had broken out in hives all over my arms and neck. She was so appalled by this that she let me leave class and calculated my final grade without the quiz. A very kind act!

    I hope ceramics gets better. Would they let you do some hand building off the wheel to gain confidence? You can make some appealingly rustic-looking bowls and cups and flowerpots that way, and at least get to do some of the fun stuff like experiment with the glazes and firing. Good luck!

  23. HKS

    I haven’t ever tried spinning pottery on a wheel but it does look hard. The last time I ran out of Great British Bake Off episodes and various other gentle competition shows to watch on YouTube, it magically suggested the Great Pottery Throw Down to me. It was surprisingly enjoyable to watch. I think there have been 2 seasons (at least, that’s all I found on YouTube).

  24. Caro

    I allowed myself a little parking lot weep when I found out I had to unexpectedly go to the hospital for pre-eclempsia when I thought I had more time to prepare. I thought of this post, and felt less alone.

    1. Kay W.

      I just went through a very tough pregnancy that ended, miraculously, in a happy outcome (made it to 36 weeks), but my heart panged reading your comment. I never wept in a parking lot because I was on bedrest for most of it and, well, we live in a city and don’t have a car, but there was some public transit weeping and a whole lot of tears at home after bad appointments. You are not alone.

  25. Devany

    You’ve described every experience I’ve ever had with a pottery wheel. It makes me marvel at anyone who can do it but I also want to smash things. Like their perfect pottery.

  26. Jenny

    Oh, man, what a crappy week. I’m so sorry. You can TOTALLY ditch pottery if you want to. I had some similar-feeling frustration at a yoga class the other week and just decided that I’m not at that level yet but there are other classes I can manage quite handily, thank you. Good luck and great big hugs.

  27. Debra

    I don’t know if this is helpful, but when I took a clay class our teacher told us it can take two years or more to throw successful pots. That’s when I knew not to quit my day job! :-). There is a type of clay work where you don’t use a wheel, you build up with slabs of clay. I found that easier and was much more successful. Also, you can make beautiful things with this technique.
    If I may also use the spinning analogy…..I wanted to spin yarn so badly and my husband bought me a beautiful spinning wheel. It was awful. I took classes and I was always the worst one. I practiced at home and would always end up crying. I finally told myself I would spin every day for ten minutes. I set a timer and then walked away. And….I don’t know how, I eventually caught on. But let me tell you a lot of yarn went in the garbage that year! Perhaps when you get frustrated you should just get up and walk around the room, have a drink of water and see what the others are up to. (Which I know is hard because of your tooth).
    Right now I am trying screen printing and it’s deja vous all over again! So much is going into the garbage! But I can step back from it now and know I will improve with time. You will too. Give yourself some time. It’s going to take more than a couple of weeks. All the best.

  28. Liz

    So many hugs.

    It’s been a long time since I took ceramics in high school, but my memory is that you need to start small. Small amount of clay, little bits of water, small movements. Play with the clay without thinking about making anything with it. How flat can you make it? How tall? What happens if you have just your fingers on it? What about just your palms? Just play with no expectations.

    I made one successful very small bowl all semester. Gave it to my mom for her birthday.

    But I loved the feeling of playing with clay even if I wasn’t very good at it.

  29. British American

    That is so sad about the pottery class. :( I’ve always wanted to try that and I even found a place in town that has a class and so I mentally filed it away. I would hate to finally try it one day and then have it be full of experts and not be able to figure it out. Totally not how I would imagine it going. I hope it gets better for you. I do think it would be ok to drop out if you really do hate it.

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