Tuesday, 24 July 2012

A friend asks me to join a pottery class.  Here, using stoneware clay, I could learn to pinch, coil, roll and even turn a wheel to make bowls, cups and sushi plates.  I could even sculpt some ceramic figures.  She shows me some examples that her students made in the form of misshapen objects passing themselves off as crockery and lopsided mugs so heavy that drinking from one would easily count as arm exercise.

The workshop is a happy mess of poorly made attempts to create pots, dishes and decorative tiles.  Odd-shaped plates hang on walls with pictures of nudes, fishes and flowers on them, all crudely executed and unevenly glazed.  The question why anyone would want to make plates, bowls and pots when it’s easier, cheaper and prettier to buy from the shops, crosses my mind momentarily.  So much effort for so little result.

Nevertheless, I’m excited.  It’s been a while since I’ve made really practical use of my hands.  That’s the bane of always relying on other people to do your job for you, I suppose.  One ends up losing even the most basic of skills.  And I’m not just talking about doing household chores, but even holding a pencil to write in neat cursive, growing a plant in a pot or sketching on a drawing pad, are becoming alien tasks.

Of course, these days, fingers are more used to the swiping motion on tablets than writing and doodling, while the thumbs (formerly passive actors of the hand department) have become adept at punching the tiny keypads of our mobile phones.  And when it comes to actually doing tangible things with the hands, I have to say, I’m evolving backwards.  I don’t get better.  I get worse, through lack of practice.

The blessings derived from having household help and the freedom from daily cleaning, dusting and washing up, not to mention doing the ironing and cooking, should in theory allow my idle hands plenty of opportunity to express themselves in more creative pursuits other than play Angry Birds and Temple Run on my iPad.  After all, once upon a time, I was artistically inclined and possessed an enviable dexterity with the drawing pencil.

So, what is stopping me other than my general laziness?  Am I so used to gadgets and technology that I’m loath to soil my hands digging dirt to plant flowers in the garden, get messy baking in the kitchen or hold a crayon between my fingers to sketch a drawing?  Or is it that I’ve forgotten, neglected rather, the skill that most of us have innately.  That is, creating and producing things with our hands, and the immediate joy it brings us?  And all without the intervention of technology?

Suddenly I remember how it was when I was younger, when there was no distracting gadget constantly clutched in my hands.  How my fingers were never still, whether kneading dough to bake an apple pie or make bread and butter pudding; filling my sketch books with drawings of everything I could see around me, fruits, people, objects, landscapes; cutting and pasting stuff to put in my scrapbook or the school magazine; making figurines out of modelling clay and painting them.

Somewhere in between, I still managed to get my chores done:  scrubbing the bathtub, cleaning the sink and toilet, dusting, doing laundry and ironing and putting away the clothes.  Chores that in those days I did quite happily, because I didn’t have a choice in the matter.

Hardly a day went by, whether at school or at home that I was not making or creating something with my hands:  a drawing, a painting, even a skirt or a blouse in the home economics class.  Including, a very long time ago, a wobbly vase in the pottery class at school.

I look at a poorly glazed bowl with a thick, uneven surface and a shape that is neither round nor oval.  It has been fired in a kiln.  There is nothing pretty about it and yet it must give the maker a lot of pride.  Once, it was just amorphous clay.  And then, by the magic of creativity, it becomes an object, a thing with a name and a purpose.  And the satisfaction that goes with its birth.

I look at my hands and fingers.  They have been idle far too long.  I decide to sign up for the pottery class before the devil finds work for them. 

(Desi Anwar:  First published in The Jakarta Globe)

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