"Psssst! Wanna See Me Naked?"
"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
"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
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
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."