It was a big deal. I was only five and already trying to figure out how I was going to make my mark in the world. (I only wish I was exaggerating). “Clay Day” felt like my first real chance; after all this wasn’t Playdough or modeling clay. It was “grown-up” clay; the kind that got fired in a kiln and created something eternal.
Visions of mugs, jewelry boxes, flowerpots, and figurines filled my head. I wasn’t exactly sure what I was about to create, but it was gonna make my mother proud of me. I could already see it displayed prominently on the piano (the holy-grail of cool stuff in our house).
The first thing I attempted was the mug. I remember focusing everything I had on creating the perfect piece and at last it was done. But maybe not. It was totally lopsided. I squished it and began again. Next: the flowerpot. I rolled and rolled thin coil ropes between my tiny sweaty palms and laid them one atop the other until my creation was complete. Yet once again, it was imperfect. It ended with “the fist”. My next attempt was a dog, but if you’ve read this far, you already know how that turned out.
As I scooped up my clay once more, and began rolling it into a ball to start over, PANIC set in: Mrs. Bullock was up from her desk. Clay Day was officially O.V.E.R!
Mrs. Bullock made things a lot worse too, when she came to me , gave me the evil eye, and asked what I had been doing the last hour. I begged, with genuine kindergarden tears, for 10 lousy more minutes, but obviously she had become immune to tears in her 30 years of teaching.
Mrs. “Bulldozer” snatched up my clay blob and off to the kiln it went. I am certain that it caught the attention of “the kiln people” also, who surely, as they tossed it into the fire uttered a bewildered “What the fuck is wrong with that kid!”
A few weeks later, everyone received their jewelry boxes, mugs, plates, and other lovely creations. I got my blob of clay and took it home.
“What the HELL is that?” my mother asked when she saw it. (Her exact words, I might add; menopause at its best). Even as I write this, I can feel the horror I felt, and with no idea of what to say, I just blurted out “It’s the moon!” (Pretty clever for a five year old standing there like a deer in the headlights.)
So fast forward 30 years. (Ok, 40).
I still have the damn clay moon. Somewhere along the way, I snuck into the forbidden “bottom drawer” and painted it with my dad’s brown shoe polish (for which a punishment ensued). Apparently I missed “Glaze Day” at school or it wasn’t deemed glaze-worthy. Either way, the question remained: why the hell did I keep it all these years? It didn’t exactly bring back good memories.
As life has it, however, I got my answer.
I was working on a website project with a co-worker. I had created a website that was good…really good….but I was stuck in a near endless cycle of making it “perfect”. I was lamenting to Beth about the process and as only Beth could, she calmly said “You know that perfection is the slayer of dreams, right?”.
At that exact moment, apparently all the stars aligned just for me, and in my mind’s eye I saw my clay moon.
Today, it sits on my desk. It serves as a daily reminder to me, and hopefully to you too now, that when we fail to see the beauty in what we’ve done…when we strive for absolute perfection, we just might end up with…well, nothing more than a lump of clay.
The real irony though? Is that all the while, that what we created was probably already perfect, and someone else seeing it with fresh eyes would already be thinking we’d hung the moon!