A couple years back, my potter’s guild held an exhibition meant to challenge the members to create work honoring face pots, those vessels with diabolic or frightening facial expressions that are part of our early American history.
My take on the challenge soon became a series of pieces that gave identities to what I call my ‘inner demons’. It became a cathartic experience in that I was able to, since then, work toward reigning in each of these character flaws. Don’t get me wrong. They are still in there, just not as much in control as they used to be!
Since childhood, I have always been slow to wake in the mornings. I even remember a late sixties orange felt banner hung in my room depicting a tired Snoopy on his doghouse with the quip printed “I think I am allergic to mornings.” My parents, who had gifted me with this wall decoration, had identified this flaw early in my life.
I am the person who hits the snooze button half a dozen times or just plain sleeps right through it. If there is a plane to catch or appointment to get to, at least two alarms are set and a cell phone with vibration alarm is placed under my pillow. The coffee maker is primed and dripping coffee by the time I shuffle to it, and I must have a minimum of one hour to sip the brew. I need that quiet time, usually in the company of my dogs and cats curled up beside or on me. Humans are welcome, if they do not speak or expect conversation. As the caffeine wakes the brain cells, thoughts stretch, yawn and line up to form something close to coherence. The day can finally begin.
As much as I love the docile creatures themselves, my sloth creation has evil eyes, sharp teeth and menacing claws. The extra-large stoneware mug holds almost six cups of coffee. It stands on three sets of claws, while the fourth appendage forms the handle, its claws holding the rim of the cup. Sloth’s snarly face mocks my morning lethargy.
How I tamed my demon Tarrydawdle: I forced myself to set the alarm(s) for 6am, whether I have an appointment or not. In essence, I do have an appointment. I have to punch in to work in the studio at 10am. No more lollying my gaggy in the mornings. I do still take at least an hour with coffee and waking slowly, but I now have a couple hours each morning to swat away whatever minor interruptions intrude.
In no way does this work every day. Yet. But I am getting closer to five days a week, even though it’s taken a couple years to get this far. My sloth is leashed.
The second piece I made for the Face Forward exhibition in 2016 was this squid like creature cup commemorating my innate ability to be distracted easily. I allow myself to get sidetracked from deadlines and goals by trying to do as much as possible. I want to write well, I want to sculpt better, so why not take workshops to learn new techniques? I want to see new places, organize a lifetime of photos, and kick a few things out of my bucket list.
In a sense, I feel I’ve reached that point in my life when I’m hearing of contemporaries failing health or deaths. Before I go into that big sleep, I want to explore more, create well, and enjoy life. In trying to do too much, I created this demon.
This multiarmed creature is a gaudy spectacle with an eye at the base of each suction cupped tentacle. A close cousin to procrastination, Salmagundi is distraction at its best, and it devours time. For a added measure of mayhem, I made this stoneware piece as a dribble cup, ready to stain the day and derail any schedule.
How I tamed my demon Salmagundi: I didn’t. But I’ve learned to recognize him instead of wondering where the days and time have gone. At best, I’ve corralled my distractions to occur only if I am able to meet work deadlines. I limit myself to three weeklong workshops a year now and make time to travel once a month for short trips, sometimes combining the two.
The most important thing, and the hardest, was to cut out toxic relationships from my life. Some friends are not friends at all. A sad lesson that took me 50 years to learn, but lifted a heavy millstone from my psyche, and cut out drama and a huge time sinkhole.
The third demon in my life has been with me since grade school and when I discovered that the treatment for being bullied was to make several slices of toast after school slathering them with butter and a thick coating of sugar. This was back in the day when even teachers enjoyed bullying the odd child, so there wasn’t any support groups or sage advice filled counselors to coax a beaten student out of a bathroom or keep them safe from being tripped or knocked around on the walk home, and it was ok to leave a 9 year old at home to take care of a baby sister and prepare the family dinner for when both parents came come from a long day’s work. Life as a tubby kid grew to a life turning to pastries and breads for solace.
Crumpit is all mouth and belly with a real fork firmly grasped in its prehensile tail. The fork holds the final bite of a donut. This stoneware creation is meant to hold cookies or such, if you are brave enough to reach past his fangs to snatch your treat from its gaping maw!
How I tamed my demon Crumpit: I committed to a better diet, had a gastric sleeve procedure, and lost 165 pounds. Sounds like a lot, but I still have another hundred to go. It is slow going, but while I have vastly improved my diet, my current challenge is exercise, or, more accurately, the lack of exercise. I’m working on it. I let Crumpit out once in a while. One cannot live in a world with potato donuts, dark chocolate, or pastries and not imbibe on occasion.
This demon did not really fit into the “Face Forward” exhibit challenge put forth by the Shenandoah Potter’s Guild in 2016, since it could be argued that it was not a vessel with a face. But I included it because it took form in my mind as I worked on Crumpit.
Miasma represents that heavy black fog that holds you down like a lead weight blanket. Depression and anxiety are an odd mix, and unidentified or untreated, it can envelop and freeze you in your tracks. You cannot snap out of it, you have no desire to do anything, and you feel you are in a tar pit, slowly sinking and almost looking forward to disappearing under the surface.
I made Miasma into a melancholy black blanket with stalked dragon eyes and smokestack exhaust tubes that belch smoke (incense) as it slithers along, eating time shoveled into its mouth by tentacle graspers and crunched by large tusks. This creature is swallowing my old Mickey Mouse watch.
How I tamed my demon Miasma: I am not embarrassed to admit I take medication to level out my serotonin levels, which in turn keep depression at bay. Before recognizing what I was living with, I was lost in a cocoon of darkness that kept me from doing anything for over 10 years. I had two triggers. The first was 9/11. Anxiety took center stage. But it was a couple years later, at the death of my mother and subsequent suicide of my father that I became immersed in a deep depression. It took years away from me, over a decade lost to barely existing. So many people suffer from some form of this and do not seek help because their family or friends unknowingly believe the one affected will ‘snap out of it’ and do not encourage seeking psychological assistance.
My demon Miasma is tethered by medication, time, and knowledgeable counseling.