Encouraging Updates: Tooth and Pottery

Last time we talked on these topics, things were a little discouraging. But now they are so much better!

First, the tooth. You remember I’d gone in for what I thought was an appointment to get my flipper, but it was only an appointment to take molds for it, which left me having a little weep in the parking lot. But something I didn’t mention, because I hadn’t yet noticed the improvement to my life, is that while I was there the dentist made a few adjustments to the tooth tray, and those adjustments made it much more tolerable to wear: he filled in the little gaps and shaved off a little piece that was pressing uncomfortably against another tooth. It looked better, it felt better, it fit better, and it no longer whistled.

So that was already better. In fact, I worried that paying multiple hundreds of dollars for the flipper would turn out to be a dumb idea. But then I got the flipper itself, and it is MUCH BETTER. It is like a retainer, in that there is a piece of smooth plastic on part of the roof of my mouth. The dental assistant said some people hate that, but to me it feels like the comforting presence of a half-dissolved, perfectly smooth Werther’s Original Hard Candy. What I hated about the tooth tray was that it fit over ALL my top teeth; the flipper still feels intrusive, but it’s a kind of intrusive I prefer. I had a retainer for years, so maybe that contributes to the preference.

The tooth tray was visible when I talked or smiled, and my upper lip would get caught on it; the flipper is completely invisible from the front and looks just like a real tooth, and there is nothing to catch my lip on. I still have to learn to enunciate around the part that goes on the roof of my mouth, but I don’t have to think about appearance at all; I can talk and smile normally. The only thing I still hate is that I have to take it out when I eat. I hate that so much. Each time I have to eat with new people, I feel freshly self-conscious and upset about it. I was going to invite a new maybe-friend out for breakfast, and then realized I would have to take the tooth out to eat, and I decided not to. But this is going to be for the next, like, six to nine months, so really I have to get over it or else suggest a walk instead.


I also have an update about pottery class. Last time I mentioned it, I’d gone to two sessions and I was discouraged and wasn’t enjoying it. Now I’ve gone to four sessions. I nearly didn’t go to the fourth session (not quitting, but just taking a sick day because I really didn’t want to go), but I was already dressed in my clay-spattered clothes and I needed to run an errand in the area, so I just WENT. And this time things were better.

Part of what made it better was having your comments, which cumulatively informed me that not all pottery teachers/classes/philosophies are the same. Liz said:

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.

Lauren, too, mentioned that SMALL was the key.

And I laughed with delight at all the comments that were basically “I HATED pottery but didn’t want to say so earlier.” And Jill, who commented “Well hell.” It made me feel so much better.

Anyway, I went in and the teacher was down the hall helping with glazing, so instead of trying once again to make the 1.75-pound straight-sided cylinder that I COULD NOT DO, I took a pound of clay and just messed around with it as Liz advised. And I kept in mind what Artemisia said about how clay-centering feels: “It is like the clay just disappears. You almost can’t feel it.” I aimed for that feeling, and although I didn’t entirely achieve it, I could tell I got a lot closer.

Instead of going with my teacher’s philosophy that you should know before you even cut off a piece of clay EXACTLY what you are going to make with it, I went with the philosophy that made more sense to me, especially for a beginner, which was Liz’s: just see what happens. And instead of going with my teacher’s philosophy that you should only keep what you LOVE or else you’ll be overrun with pottery and have nowhere to put it (and that makes a LOT of sense for someone at her ability level), I went with my own philosophy, which is that if I follow her philosophy I will end up with literally nothing, and that I really don’t want to attempt the next stages of the process with something that is precious: if I’m going to accidentally trim a hole into the bottom of something, or drop it on the way to the glazing room, or do it wrong so it cracks in the kiln, I want it to be something I don’t really care about.

I was nervous when my teacher came into the room and saw my tray of three little things, none of which were a tall straight-sided cylinder, but she gave a very positive reaction, as if she’d said that thing about the straight-sided cylinder but didn’t remember/mean it. I said my line about wanting to make some things I could practice trimming on without caring if I messed it up, and she said that was a good idea. So! I made something like a cup, and something like a little flower pot, and a flattish bowl, and a tiny little bowl like for dipping sauce. (The tiny bowl happened because more than half the clay broke off when I was trying to center, but I went with Liz’s “play, with no expectations” concept and just kept going with what was left.)

Oh! Also! While the teacher was out of the room, other students in the class kept coming over to help me, and they were saying things along the lines of, “[Our teacher] suggests doing it this way, and that’s a really good way! But [other teacher] suggests this other method, which is ALSO good and which I found easier.” Which really bolstered the “People do it different ways and you don’t have to do it exactly like this teacher says to” idea. And I started asking other students if I can watch them do things, which I wasn’t sure I should ask, but they seem to really LIKE showing me. And it’s a nice class for praise: there is a definite culture there of everyone asking people what they’re working on and commenting positively on it.

Anyway, I was SO MUCH HAPPIER not trying to make A Particular Thing! I am, as it turns out, a “let’s see what this piece of clay Wants To Be” type of person, not a “4-inch-by-6-inch straight-sided cylinder” type of person. I see huge merit in being able to make a set of four matched mugs, but I am not interested in doing that! at all! and I don’t have to! because I am an adult taking a non-required, non-graded class!

And one more thing that made me happier: thinking of this as a Pottery Appreciation Class—like Music Appreciation or Art Appreciation, where the benefit is in ending up better able to appreciate what OTHER PEOPLE do. I am already planning to lay down some cash for SOMEONE ELSE’S gorgeous ceramics, now that I know how difficult and time-consuming it is to learn how to do it beautifully.

25 thoughts on “Encouraging Updates: Tooth and Pottery

  1. Rachel

    wow, that was encouraging! It wasn’t even my things that weren’t going well, but I’m so pleased that you are in a better place with teeth and pottery.

    Well done with the pressing on and doing what feels right for YOU!

  2. Laura

    Hooray! So glad the pottery is going well. As someone who is decidedly NOT GOOD at new physical activities I feel like some of this advice is very applicable to the hobbies I have tried.

  3. Chris

    Yay! Maybe some day you will be so proficient with ceramics that you will want to make beautiful, perfect things but right now you can enjoy your little “imperfect” treasures. We have a friend who blows glass and she is at such a level that when she makes something imperfect, she does not like it. My husband asked her to make us a set of non-matching, misshapen drinking glasses and they are awesome! She thinks we are crazy to want them this way on purpose when she can do so much better. We appreciate her artistry!

  4. Ruby

    Both of those things are so encouraging! I was taking an adult class in a different subject recently, and I had the same revelation you did: this is a non-graded class for adults! The goal is to have fun, not to do it The Right Way!

    I also found that it was much easier to put the teacher’s instructions/suggestions into practice once I’d had time to experiment on my own a little. I realized that it made things easier for the teacher AND for me if I could come to her with specific questions (i.e. “How do I fix this one specific issue?” instead of “How do I do this entire process start-to-finish?”), but it was impossible to know what kinds of questions to ask until I was able to some trial-and-error.

  5. Auntie G

    I had a really discouraging day yesterday which I was not entirely able to shake off today, so this post was really, really heartening to read. Thanks for the updates!

  6. Celeste

    My daughter took one class and thought it was enough. I don’t think I’d like it, either. I’m a needle and thread gal. I’d much rather be a patron of the pottery arts. Here is the work of one I especially love, Constance Bacon; she does this technique called sgraffito in which she lightly carves out a design, and uses a crackle glaze. To me it is one thing of beauty after another, and I swoon. https://www.pinterest.com/pin/414542340673388497/?lp=true

  7. Chris

    Yay!! Great updates! This kind of scenario is where I appreciate not being a rule-follower myself. I would have ignored the teacher a loooooong time ago. Usually this trait is less-good. ;)

  8. A different Celeste

    I’m so impressed by your perseverance! I had nearly the exact same experience in a mixed level pottery class that I took years ago, but I just stopped going after 2 classes because it all felt so awkward-all these middle aged ladies who knew where everything was/went, could center and throw perfect pots all night and all knew each other and the instructor. And me, who had taken some pottery in high school and was 20 years younger than the youngest person in the class. But I bet they would have been happy to help me!

  9. Heidi J

    Ha! I especially loved the pottery appreciation comment. I feel that way about a lot of handicrafts. Many times I’d rather pay someone else to make beautiful things for me.

  10. Nicole Boyhouse

    Love the update! I have never made pottery but it always seemed really tricky to me. Like, if there’s a bubble it can blow up! Eeek! Also I’m not very coordinated, so I know I wouldn’t do well with it. I’m glad you got the flipper made too, and that you are feeling better about the whole thing. Dental stuff is so awful to deal with!

  11. SheLikesToTravel

    I once took a pottery class, and I made a number of lumpy little vases. I gave those to family at Christmas as my treasured item and now I love seeing them on my brothers shelf and hidden in a corner at my mom’s house. Like you, I have a new appreciation for the effort required to make a beautiful clay piece. But I’m so glad I took the class… another item on my bucket list is firmly crossed off.

    1. Swistle Post author

      Yes: if nothing else, this will tell me I can safely cross this off my list of Things I Should Try!

  12. JenC

    Never, ever, EVER stop blogging. This was just what I needed to read and I don’t even know why. Thank you for talking to us – yes, even total lurking strangers like me. I always think that the world must be a good place if there are Swistles in it, after reading one of your posts.

    1. Swistle Post author

      This was fun, wasn’t it? I had wondered if the post would just sit there with no comments!

  13. Laura

    So I am a long time lurker, but chiming in on teeth issues! My two front teeth are implants, and I had a flipper for years. I never had a problem eating most foods with my flipper in – perhaps that’s worth a try? I naturally couldn’t eat things like apples and corn on the cob, but most things were manageable. I would go to the restroom after eating and rinse my flipper out, and that was much more tolerable than eating toothless in front of people!

    And for the record, I love love my implants so much more than compromised teeth. I’ve had the implants for almost 20 year now and had nary a problem with them at all!

    1. Swistle Post author

      Oh! That would make life so much better, if I could eat with it in!

      It’s so good to hear you love your implants. It was hard to start this process, knowing how long it would take and how many unpleasant steps there were, but my HOPE is that once it’s over I’ll be so glad I went ahead and did it.

      1. Laura

        I’m not sure I ever actually asked my dentist if that was an ok thing to do, but I was in college and you can be damn sure I wasn’t going to eat in front of people with it out!! I hope it is a workable solution for you!

        And yes, the process is painful and long, but so so worth it. I am an implant evangelist! My recurring nightmare used to be my teeth spontaneously falling out, but that vanished once the implant process was complete. Modern dentistry is amazing!

  14. Rayne of Terror

    The line about being an adult in a non-required non-graded class made me smile for you. My parents take all kinds of community art classes and have so much fun in that freedom. I’m glad for you on both the flipper front and the pottery front.

  15. Debra

    Your pottery class adventures remind me of a study I read about a few years back. This study said girls (and women) tend to think they must have some kind of inborn ability to be successful at the things they tried. For example they were either good or bad at math, or sports, or drawing….or fill in the blank. Boys, on the other hand, looked at their tasks as something they could have mprove on with practice.
    I found this so true in my own life! How many times had I said it can’t “do” math? Or draw? When what I needed to do was not give up on the first try and practice. This has especially changed how I talk with my granddaughters and great-nieces. I tell them that even at my age I am learning new things and how I need to practice to get better at it. After years of saying that I couldn’t draw, I began art lessons two years ago. Oh I was so bad at it! But I’ve stuck with it and have gotten noticeably better. I’m glad you are going back to pottery and learning to play with your materials. You are a great example for your daughter. Have fun!

    1. jill

      This is fascinating, this study you mentioned! I have to go look for it.

      Thumbs up Swistle. Lots of bravery from you lately. I wonder if you have reflected on where it is all coming from.

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