This an excerpt from a letter I wrote to a dear friend, mentor, teacher and potter.
I have put this letter off long enough. I apologize for not writing back sooner.
I am grieving.
This is a long story. If you want the short version, skip to the end. It's all there in the last
Not long after NCECA (National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts) I took a long (and far too dangerous) drive to the Cleveland Clinic to have a long talk with the best colo-rectal surgeons in the US. I really should have either flown or had someone else drive. We didn't know it at the time, but have since learned that one of the side effects from this coma has been that I have developed extreme obstructive sleep apnea. Apparently I haven't slept real sleep since before surgery. The exhaustion caught up to me about a month ago... but I am getting ahead of myself. Before the drive to Cleveland, we knew that I was exhibiting extreme sleep exhaustion. I had a hard time staying awake on the drive into town(Ithaca) each day for PT. I had fallen asleep at the wheel at least 1-2 times a week. Bad stuff. But I knew I needed to get to Cleveland,
and Nancy doesn't drive. Friends offered but I figured it would be no problem. Luckily I took Aurora with me and she acted as my conscience. When I started to doze she was adamant that we get off the road and made me sleep.
Even with all of our precautions it was still a rough drive.
And that was the easy part.
Walking into a hospital, of my own accord, under my own power... to submit to more
tests, probings, and worse....
It was rough.
Finally I was able to see the surgeon with my clothes on for his assessment of my candidacy
for a "reversal or takedown" procedure. I will spare you the lesson in anatomy and say only
that my chances of a simple surgery fall into the category of slim to none. He wasn't optimistic.
He gave me a few options and a final ulimatum - lose 50# or he wouldn't even consider me for surgery.
I asked him how he would repair my abdomen so that I would no longer have this monstrous herniation at the colostomy site. I also asked him how soon after surgery I could actually RESUME my life as a potter.
He looked me in the eye and said it was time for a career change. I am glad Aurora was there. I might not have been able to walk out otherwise. From the looks of things, I will not ever be able to do what I could do so easily before.
No lifting of things greater than 20-25#. Definitely no heavy lifting. No moving of kiln shelves. Or boxes of clay. Or buckets of glaze. Or boxes of pots.
I thought about this on the six hour drive home. There were hour long stretches where Aurora and I said nothing. The Clash, The Pogues and U2 screamed through the stereo. And now and again, she would find me crying. Sobbing. Trying hard to keep focus.
The following week I met with my cardiologist who let me know that my heart had a scary story to tell about my sleep issues. Short version: I was a prime candidate for a stroke. My heart was being tortured every night... first from lack of oxygen and then from racing constantly to wake me up and start that adrenaline racing. Bad combination.
I just finished my second sleep study a week ago. I am finally sleeping for more than two hours straight. It has been over eight months. As I talk to the doctors they are all remarkably surprised I am even here at this moment.
Since sleeping I have had more cognitive function again... (I have had virtually no short term memory for months. Would realize I was somewhere and have no idea why or how I got there)
Being able to think has been a radical relief. Nancy jokes that my brain running on half-power puts me in the position most folks are in every day. That is simply not acceptable.
So... now that I am sleeping again, I have had more time to think and greater focus during the day. I have been trying to figure out how to dig myself out of this hole I have pulled my family into. We are broke. Well, worse than broke. We started looking at bankruptcy back in March.
Since then things haven't gotten better... until this past week.
So where am I going with all of this? What is the point to this lengthy blathering?
To say that I am letting go of my dreams in clay. I had high hopes years ago, that I would be teaching young college students by now. I had visions of classrooms with students ready for a challenge. Kiln pads crowded with ware carts loading and unloading firing after firing. Smoky air filling the quad as wood kilns and raku firings finished up. Ironically I have never had any real course of study planned. I sure love teaching. Strangely enough, I think the only thing I have ever really wanted to impart is my love for learning.
Which leads me to where this is all going. In letting go of clay, I am taking up my camera again. Fortunately this seems doable. I am finding myself capable and competent. Building a new career is daunting but exciting. It hasn't come easily though. I have been ruminating on this since waking from the coma.
Letting go of my dreams though, has been hard. Walking into my studio and finding nothing to trim, no pots to load into the kiln... and dust and cobwebs where there should be plastic sheeting... it has been difficult. I can still throw pots. And I may. I think if I can find a way to make enough of a living to have spare time again, I would love to make pots as time allows. I don't think that my expectations for this business were ever going to be realized, so this is something of a wake-up call. I love the idea of making the pots I WANT to make, firing them any way I feel like firing them and then, once a year, having a nice studio sale where folks can come and pick out what they want. No orders. No galleries. No showroom. Just pots.
For now, this means we are planning to close the studio and gallery in September... maybe sooner. I am ready to turn the showroom into our new photography space. A clean room with places to sit, to shoot, to review work, to see big prints... who knows? Having said all of this (which I am sure has been far too long a letter for anyone to read) I must apologize. Knowing that you have followed my progress, success and failure alike, means a great deal to me. I know there is a bright future ahead, but letting go of clay has been .... well, you can imagine.
All the best,