I am, by no means, a timid person. I have no problem talking to anyone, no matter what they are wearing. I am the resident tick remover. I have peed in a parking lot. I have walked through downtown St Paul fully decked out in frontier garb carrying a chicken. But, what most people don’t know is that being outgoing is a learned trait for me. I was never the kid who wanted to be picked to be an example. I sat quietly in class, hoping not to be called on. I hid my shyness in high school behind plaid shirts and grunge music and only let in a select few confidants. I fancied myself a misunderstood youth, casting a perimeter of mystery toward my peers. But, in reality, I was just shy.
Most people prefer safety in numbers. Learning something along with a peer gives you the opportunity to laugh at your mistakes. But the idea of others watching me fail used to terrify me. It felt fine to fail in private. Brave even. But to try and fail in public was like exposing to the world my rattiest pair of panties. So I learned to self educate. I made up an entire lesson plan for learning to bake. I read countless magazine articles. I bought a ‘teach yourself to grow mushrooms’ DVD by the most celebrated mycologist in the country / bearded hippy. I watched online tutorials about making cheese taught by women who probably smelled a lot like the Roquefort they were making. While many of my attempts succeeded, a failure was something I could share at my own discretion. A party trick or a story I could tell at dinners.
But eventually, the inevitable happened. I grew interested in something I couldn’t teach myself. The first thing was pottery. I read a dozen books about throwing a bowl on a wheel, but nothing I did worked. This had truly never happened to me before. I became frustrated and pushed the potter’s wheel into the back corner of the basement, to collect dust and be a creepy shape to torment me from the shadows every time I went down to do laundry. I intended to go back to it again one day, but in reality, I gave up. Until we moved to a smaller house and I had to down size. I needed to make a decision. Keep the huge iron source of my disdain, or get rid of it. In my mind, that meant putting the idea of being a master potter out of my head forever. I kept it. It was time to face my fears. I would need to take a class.
So I did. The first pot I completed didn’t turn out. It looked like a hollowed out celadon colored cow pie. But, to my surprise, no one in the class cast me shameful looks. No one cried out, “Dear God! What is that Thing!” And I….…laughed. Then, I tried again. After that first course, I felt like nothing was unapproachable. I followed with another ceramics class. Then silver smithing. And now, Oxy-acetylene welding.
But the hour before the first day of class, my old friend Fear began to seep in through the drafty windows in my dining room. Maybe it was the prospect of branding a 6,000 degree torch. Maybe, it was the fear of accidentally starting a chain reaction resulting in a fiery explosion that would bring a molten metal wrath down on the whole of South Minneapolis. This time though, there was no out. I had told everyone I know that I was going to take a welding class. So, I went, and once I was there, fell in love with the possibilities that unfolded before me.
This week, I joined my first pieces of metal. Then, we took a field trip to the scrap yard. I spent two hours uncovering rusted cogs and climbing over old radiators. I proudly branded my trusty magnet, using it to check treasures for enough iron to be welded. Every corner I turned held a new source of inspiration, decked out with patina and grease residue. I toted home some iron clips, a beautiful gear, the handle to an old spigot, a long rusty doohickey with a hook at the end, and some teal colored machine part that the owner didn’t remember but quickly decided would cost ten bucks. It is like every impractical contraption I’ve ever imagined has become possible.
I still keep the celadon poo pot in my bedroom as a reminder of fear overcome. I’d love to tell you all that I am as fearless as the title of my blog suggests, but fear still tries to thwart me sometimes. But, once overcome, fear has also propelled me to many new opportunities.
Chicago Ave Fire Arts Center - Link to where I am taking my class