Obituary: This Week at St Earth

The last several years have seen the demise of some of the giants of pottery/ceramics blogging. No more Emily Murphy’s Pottery Blog. No more Ron Philbeck Pottery. No more Brandon Phillips’ Support Your Local Potter. No more Michael Kline’s Sawdust and Dirt…. (In fairness they haven’t quit blogging as much as they have stopped writing regular posts, and Michael’s blog is now home to his podcast efforts)

Its enough to break my heart. And until yesterday there was one giant left.

tw@se-banner-2014-v4b

The whole reason I thought I could do a blog was the encouragement I got from Scott Cooper. I had contacted Scott at one point after reading his blog and seeing the depth of thought and raw and unglamorous honesty that was possible in talking about the potter’s life. I knew he was the person I needed to get feedback from on a prickly issue I was then dealing with. I wrote him an email, and in his typically generous fashion he gave me the best advice he could. We have been great friends ever since, and rarely a week goes by that we haven’t traded thoughts on one issue or another. And if it hadn’t been for that blog of his, I can’t imagine where I’d be right now. Certainly not blogging.

But all things end, and after years of mounting frustration in writing a weekly blog, This Week at St Earth has finally closed its doors. Scott’s final post is another example of the best in blogging. Its so well written, so well thought out, and so truthful to the experiences of his life. There is a lot to learn from that, from just about everything that he has shared with us. Maybe someone else reading it will be inspired to share their own story in the same way. One can only hope.

You should read his final post. Really, if you don’t know This Week at St Earth you should delve back as far as you can. That’s seven years worth of writing. There is so much there… But rather than quote from the text I’ll let you read his story as its laid out. The one main quote he includes in his final post is profound, and says so much, that I’ll paste that here instead:

“I don’t want to write a weekly eulogy to the kind of fanatic I used to be. It is time to end. I have loved telling this believer’s story, loved living inside of it, loved hearing when and how it resonated with people I’ve loved or never met, out there in the dark and the noise. I still love this story, and I still think it’s worth loving, and I think we both now love this telling of it best by letting it conclude, by letting it be just what it has been. And, too, I release myself from this labor to find out what it obscures.” Glenn McDonald, The War Against Silence

When I give up my blog I will probably need to use those words too….

—————————————————————————————————

I’ve already written Scott endorsing his decision to make a break from his blog. As much as I regret his departure, I support the man behind it. This morning I wrote him a eulogy. This is what I had to say:

.

The thing is that (and you already know this) what you regretfully saw as eventually a blog about not making pots was exactly where most of us end up at some point, through injury, other priorities, and whatever other circumstances impact our practice. This was the view from the trenches, not the glorified ‘isn’t it so great being a potter and everything is wonderful and I can more than pay all my bills just from making pots’. There are enough mythologies that plague us, and your writing was that bit of honesty that quietly reminded folks that ‘The Dream’ is not always gonna work.

So while it may have mostly felt like a failure of some sort in baring your own disappointments, the way I and I’m sure others view it is as a magnificent triumph of honesty and truth. You always have such a firm stance against magical thinking, and the mythologizing that feeds us these unreasonable dreams is exactly the sort of magical thinking that is most dangerous. By sharing your example, laying the evidence bare, you put down the marker for rationality. Thank the gods someone was willing to do that!

And this is why tw@se was such a high point in ceramics blogging. Most of the rest of what we get is the shiny success stories, and that does very little to help anyone, really. Its like the survivorship bias all over. History being written by the ‘winners’. Really its just the juicy tabloid gossip that makes us believe that the celebrity life is out there waiting for us….. Not so, says the down and dirty misfortune laden confessions of a man who killed his dream. And we f-cking need to hear that.

As McRaney says in that wonderful Survivorship Bias post:

After any process that leaves behind survivors, the non-survivors are often destroyed or muted or removed from your view. If failures becomes invisible, then naturally you will pay more attention to successes. Not only do you fail to recognize that what is missing might have held important information, you fail to recognize that there is missing information at all. You must remind yourself that when you start to pick apart winners and losers, successes and failures, the living and dead, that by paying attention to one side of that equation you are always neglecting the other.

And if I can correct one assumption that seems to plague us, its that there is no wrong way to be making pots. There are no failures, if you enjoy what you are doing. Not making pots like a full time potter isn’t a lesser version. It is what it is, and its also exactly what so many of us do, in our spare time, between jobs, in the wee hours of the morning, late at night after the kids have all gone to bed, in garages and basements, in home studios and community centers….. The ideal version that we see in the glossy journal spreads and in the videos of famous potters are like the million dollar mansions of famous Hollywood actors. Sure, some people actually live like that, but there is nothing the matter with the down scale version either. We need to be clear about that. We need to hear those stories as well.

So maybe a blog about not making pots was exactly what we needed to hear. Thanks for giving us that. The weekly installments of This Week at St Earth will be missed……

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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.
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2 Responses to Obituary: This Week at St Earth

  1. Ashley says:

    I know I will miss TW@SE. When I discovered this blog, I enjoyed it so much I actually did read every single post from the beginning. My own blogging efforts are plain and milk toasty in comparison. I hope that there are others out there that will pick up where Scott left off. RIP TW@SE

    • He set a pretty high standard. But in the end we all have to do it the way we do it. As much as I wish, I would have a difficult time writing like Scott. But that’s also part of what makes life so interesting, that we don’t have the final word, that other voices out there are as interesting as anything we could come up with. Often more so. And that’s alright. That’s how its supposed to be. Its okay to be different.

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