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"So I'm going to take a pottery class this weekend, it's taught by Felipe Ortega, an Apache medicine man..."


"...and we make everything by hand and when we fire the pots in the big bonfire, we have to dance around it and sing to the pots..."


"...and then at the end of the class, sometimes he does a sweat."

"A sweat! Hey..." Suddenly, he was listening. "You do realize that sweats are traditionally done...naked?"

"Oh, of course," I said breezily, in that I'm-so-hip-nothing-fazes-me voice I've spent 38 years trying to cultivate. "No big deal."

And really, it wasn't a big deal. Naked. So what? I had nothing to hide...did I? I wondered. First of all, my groovy friend Danna, who had invited me to the class in the first place, had to drop out because of a family emergency. Suddenly I was alone with 15 unfamiliar men and women -- all of whom seemed to know each other pretty intimately, all of whom were INCREDIBLY groovy ("nice to meet you! I'm a soul retrieval therapist!"), and all of whom seemed comfortable and competent with the clay.

They were smart, they were funny, they were interesting -- and they were TALENTED. I looked around with thinly veiled envy at an array of gorgeous platters, pitchers, vases, and sculptures, as I sanded the most lopsided, woebegone pot ever fashioned. I tried to focus on my own pot -- tried to know it, love it, set it free -- but twelve years of Catholic school and a couple of Ivy League degrees have left me the merest bit...competitive. Goal-oriented. Not to mention terminally afraid to look incompetent.

But you know what? By the end of the weekend, I DID love my pots. I loved the feel of the clay in my hands and I loved watching the color and texture change as I scraped and then sanded, buffed and then oiled. I even loved dancing in the hot sun around the crackling fire (although I didn't know the words to any of Felipe's Apache songs, and I couldn't quite bring myself to "fake it" and chant along).

When I heard there wasn't to be a sweat that weekend, I can't say I was disappointed, exactly. But I wasn't relieved either. I wasn't a bit apprehensive to be naked with these friendly, open people -- was I?

After all the pots were fired and cooled, we met around the big kitchen table for the "divination." Felipe carefully examined each student's pot, reading the "fire spirits" -- the smudged patterns that appear in the clay during the firing process. Felipe saw animals and ancestors, analyzed personalities, made predictions -- it was part intuition, part psychotherapy, and part something-completely-other.

When my turn came, I handed Felipe my pot and...I was naked. He told me that I was afraid I didn't fit in with artists or with lawyers or with housewives or with anyone. He also told me that my pot had a "spirit snake" (pronounced something like "ah-ven-you"), giving me both the gift and the duty to speak to EVERYONE. Lightning came out of the snake's mouth. "When you speak the truth," Felipe told me, "you bring lightning into the world."

He told me things about my dead mother, my failed marriage, my perfect children, and my personal struggles that brought tears to my eyes and made the hairs on my neck dance the merengue. He told me that I was afraid I was ordinary, down to my ordinary name. He told me not to be afraid, because I was not ordinary. He told me I was an artist.

So there I was, naked and sobbing in front of 15 previous-strangers, clutching my not-really-all-THAT-lopsided pot. I TOLD you I could do it. No sweat.

Sign me "The Artist Formerly Known as Mary"


Mary Corrine Powers writes: "I'm the mother of three brilliant sons, two breath-takingly moronic labradors, an ancient Volvo station wagon, and an intriguing assortment of mostly-dead plants. In a previous incarnation I was a child and adolescent therapist in residential treatment programs and special education schools. I'm now working (or trying to work) as a freelance writer, high school English teacher, academic tutor, copywriter, and volunteer wine-taster-at-large. I'm becoming my own work of art."

Keeping the Ground Clear | The Joy of Sex
PSSSST Wanna see me naked? | Sunrise at Dusk
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