Show them your tricks, pt. 3

As I’ve said these past few posts in this series, the best conversations are the ones where you leave with something new. My talks with Ben Carter were a great opportunity for me to put a few things out there and have them bounce off of Ben’s formidable head. It must be so fascinating (or occasionally painful) for him to directly confront the ideas that other potters are thinking. He routinely puts himself in the path of sturdy thinkers and heavyweight potters, and occasionally in the way of runaway trains such as myself. And he doesn’t simply step aside, duck for cover, and let the rest of us trundle past. He deflects us and herds us into new areas where the conversation becomes (I hope) mutually beneficial. He welcomes us and gets on board with some of the things we are saying. Sometimes he even helps us put the breaks on. Conversation is an art form, and Ben is a master at it.

One of the things we briefly discussed in the interview was my advocacy for making connections with our fellows in the field. Its interesting that Ben and I came to know a bit about each other in precisely this way. He had written a great post on his blog and rather than simply reading and moving on, or dropping a comment there, I took it upon myself to contact him directly and to pick his brain in a less public forum. That email conversation morphed into an occasional back and forth on his blog, in further emails, and eventually in his suggestion of us sitting down in person to do the interview. And none of that would have been possible if I hadn’t made the effort to contact him directly, but also it would not have been even a desire of mine if Ben hadn’t been regularly posting his thoughts and experiences on his blog. I would not have known he was a kindred spirit unless he had shown himself through his deep insight and generous sharing on his blog.

As we discussed a few things after the interview he remarked that the Red Clay Rambler blog itself gets very little feedback, but that his podcast interviews have seemed to catch the imagination of potters everywhere. He now gets far more interaction and feedback from the work he does in his podcasts than he ever did just from the blog itself. But the blog itself was a start. We might never have met if he hadn’t put himself out there. We might never have met if I hadn’t been courageous (rash) enough to look up his email address and make an effort to let him know that there was at least one person out there who was moved by his generosity and the ideas he was sharing on his blog.

In our interview I discussed how Scott Cooper and I have come to know one another. It started with me having read his blog and being so impressed with how smart and candid he seemed that I felt he might be a person who could help me work through some issues I was facing. I was having a tough time in a specific pottery/teaching situation and I needed some outside advice. Scott responded to the complete stranger that I then was and helped me gain perspective in a way that I would not have been able on my own. It started as a simple conversation and has evolved into one of my closest friendships. Scott is someone I absolutely count on to set me straight whenever I start to wander off course. He is my sounding board for all the zany tangents I come up with. And he also feeds me these nuggets of brilliance from his own insights into the world. He points me in directions I would never have known about otherwise. His humor never fails to crack me up. I’ll never be as smart as he is, but at least he stops me from being as dumb as I would have been. Not sure its ever an equal exchange, but he indulges me most of the time. I’m totally spoiled.

In my interview with Ben I in fact blamed this very blog I’ve got on Scott’s influence. If he hadn’t twisted my arm I might never have been brave enough to share the things I am thinking about in a public way. As I think I said twice in the interview, I am naturally very very shy. Putting myself out there in any public context is not really in my nature. But I am so glad I did! And I had to learn how to do it. People like Ben, and Scott, and Ron Philbeck, and Brandon Phillips, and Emily Murphy, and Michael Kline, and John Bauman, and Carole Epp, and Joel Blum, and Tony Clennell, are all folks I have met or become reacquainted with out in the aether. I have made a number of true friends and kept up with others by searching out like minds and passionate souls and by engaging in this public blog forum. Its something that enters me into the community of potters. The blog puts one big foot into the arena of resources that other potters have access to now. Just as I contacted Ben out of the blue and Scott out of the blue, I find I am now on the receiving end of some very encouraging and delightful conversations. Other people are now showing me their tricks and its only making my sense of community that much more enjoyable.

So, if I can offer a bit of unsolicited advice, show your fellow potters who you are. Comment on their blogs if they have one. Write your own blog. Respond to everything sensible that gets thrown your way. Get in touch with strangers. Give them feedback on the things you are mutually interested in. Don’t be afraid to go deeper than the shallow ‘lol’ and ‘like’ snippets. Become their real friends. Show the rest of the world what you do and what you think. Show us your tricks! If this shy wallflower can do it, so can you! 😉

If you won’t take my word for it check out this response a class of grade schoolers got when they contacted famous author Kurt Vonnegut. It doesn’t cost you anything to extend your hand in friendship other than an openness to hearing what that person has to say. You may be surprised who will reach back and by what they may have to tell you. The world is not as small as it may seem. It just takes the effort and desire to build and be a part of its community. Start from the things you care about and expand your world from there. As you learn new things and experience different ways that the world around you matters you will discover new voices on the road you are traveling. Hail them and make them welcome! Greet them with kindness and humility.

For example, here’s what Kurt Vonnegut had to say to those children:


Pretty freaking amazing, right? Kind of what I was suggesting in the previous post in this series.

What Vonnegut has to say here is brilliant, but the other important thing to remember is that these words would never have reached these children (and then us) if they hadn’t written to him and opened the doorway first. The incredible thing about the world today is that we can make contact so easily with people we admire and who share some of the same interests. Let this be a lesson that extending your hand in friendship and community is a real place for value. We are connected to each other in more ways now than at any other time in human history. Search out the like minds and passionate souls of your fellow travelers and give them greetings and salutations from your corner of the world. DO IT! It costs you nothing. Nothing important, that is…..

Peace all!

Happy potting!

Make beauty real!



About Carter Gillies

I am an active potter and sometime pottery instructor who is fascinated by the philosophical side of making pots, teaching these skills, and issues of the artistic life in general. I seem to have a lot to say on this blog, but I don't insist that I'm right. I'm always trying to figure stuff out, and part of that involves admitting that I am almost always wrong in important ways. If you are up for it, please help me out by steering my thoughts in new and interesting directions. I always appreciate the challenge of learning what other people think.
This entry was posted in Art, Arts advocacy, Arts education, Ceramics, Creative industry, Creativity, metacognition, Pottery, Teaching. Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Show them your tricks, pt. 3

  1. Barb Rogers says:

    Thanks, though words may be cheap, true thoughtful expression is priceless…oh, maybe that means cheap actually!

    • Heh, heh! I like it Barb!

      Maybe it earns its ‘value’ in how it gets received? Putting it out there doesn’t cost much, but having it find a welcome home and evolve into something cherished on both ends is where it earns its place. Its the old “failure is 100% guaranteed unless you at least take the first step and give it an honest try” meme. Your best efforts can still be wasted, but unless you put them out there you will never know what might have been. When what we do starts to resonate with others we find that we are not so isolated after all. But to actually resonate with other people you need to be making at least some contact with them. Things have to be bouncing back and forth for the harmonics to get going.

      Thanks for ‘chiming in’! 😉

  2. Scott Cooper says:

    Undeserved flattery and false humility will get you _everywhere_ with me, as usual. Your check’s in the mail.

    And seriously: we’ve got to put an end to this “who’s smarter” business. I propose we take an IQ test, and I’d wager 100# of your finest porcelain that you beat my by 20 points.

    But seriously, seriously, I think you nailed it here. Yelling your “yap” into the void is a great way to let others know you’re alive and still kickin’. Maybe the best way to find like-minded people in such a niche area of interest as handmade pots. (Especially when you live in the boonies, like I do.) I suppose that can happen via Facebook/Twitter/etc, too, but amidst all the clutter and noise it’s harder for me to imagine those kind of connections being made in quite the same way.

    I totally agree about making the effort — and taking the slight risk — of reaching out to people whose yaps have have made an impression on you. In the Web/Email Era of the last 10-15 years, for me that’s produced far more interesting and worthwhile results than I ever would have expected. I never wrote to Vonnegut, but in the world of ceramics it’s pretty amazing how close the luminaries can be.

    And the magnifying effect of that ease of connection, as you described, still kind of boggles my mind — how easily it can go places I’d never have imagined otherwise, like how my blog prompted you to contact me, which eventually helped lead to your blog, which gives me yet another venue for long, rambling comments, and so on and so on.

    • Its nice when the echo chamber turns into an expansive loop, loop, loop….. 😉

      No comment on the humility haggling, except that I stick by my previous statements. I’ll even mark ’em on my gravestone just to be sure the record is straight.

      And yeah, it is remarkable who has wandered through our lives in the era. I remember the days of Don Pilcher riding herd on us with incredible fondness. He and I had talked up a storm in private emails, and I know you had a blast when he came out to your studio for a visit. I need to check in with him to see how its going…..

      One of my all-time favorite fantasy authors actually wrote back to me in the early days of my internet brazenry. That just blew me away! Some 4 dozen books under his belt and a notable 40 year career behind him and he still had a kind word to say to a complete stranger. That was especially interesting as the internet phenomenon is probably not something he is as comfortable with as the more recent generations. I was not expecting a response, but he surprised me!

      I am having mixed success unloading my long-winded rambles on unsuspecting luminaries in the arts advocacy world, but I am still making interesting connections there, and at least a few people probably think I am not a complete moron or buffoon. The one lesson from that is that I might need to do a better job self editing and that being concise is more in my self interest if I want to actually make a positive impression.

      Ah, but you know me! I get carried away by ideas!

  3. Meg says:

    Thanks Carter for the excellent advice.

  4. John Bauman says:

    I like it, I’m commenting.

  5. Steph Nesbitt says:


  6. Pingback: Tricky business and other tricks of the trade, pt. 4 | CARTER GILLIES POTTERY

  7. Pingback: Susan Cain on how to overcome the fear of putting yourself out there | CARTER GILLIES POTTERY

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.