Monday, August 2, 2010

As Resilient as Glass

I visited a glassworks in Louisville, Kentucky, earlier this summer, where you could sit and peer through a huge picture window into the active glassblowing studio. I sat for over an hour and watched an artist and his assistants sweat over a single vase, thrusting the glob of red-hot, molten glass in and out of the flames, pinching and turning and shaping and blowing it just so with each extraction. Fascinating.

In the time I watched, the artist drew the vase in and out of the fire once every minute or two, working it, studying it, and finally he held it up for a long inspection. I thought he was finished, he had paused so long, but then he shook his head and slammed it back in, allowing it to lose its shape entirely. He drew out the pulpy mass and started over, scrapping an hour's work, at least. Not angry, just matter-of-fact. You could see it in the set of his shoulders. Not bad, but I can do better.

The heat must have been unbearable. I felt pain for him, as he destroyed his work and started again, but his attitude about it gave me inspiration and hope. Because things don't always go as we plan, the first time. And if you don't give up, there are better things on the horizon. It's as true in life as it is in art, whether it be glassblowing or writing, which is my own stock-in-trade.

Attached to the studio there was a shop and museum of handblown glassware and glass art. I fell in love with about a dozen amazing works of art. In the end, I wasn't able to afford anything in the whole shop, apart from the trinkets at the checkout. I bought a small disk of pale blond-colored glass, swirled with strands of copper and gold, etched with the words SCRIBE DEEP.

It's small--about the size of a half dollar, only thicker, like a Nilla wafer--but it's quickly becoming a favorite touchstone for me in my writing life. A reminder that it isn't enough to go through the motions, but that I have to dig to find what's important. And, that it's okay sometimes to scrap a project and start it over, when I know I can do better. It's not the same as giving up, when the raw material (or, in my case, the idea) is still alive in the flames, ready to be drawn out and made into something beautiful.

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