Teaching halitosis

“Help me Rhonda,

I have a friend who thinks she is musically talented but has the musical talent of a cat screeching after its tail has been stepped on. How do I tell this friend she is not musically talented and to hang it up? She really thinks she has a voice. And she does, it just sounds like a cartoon screech. How do I tell her she needs HELP?” from this week’s advice column in the local Athens Flagpole Magazine

Back in my days of Philosophy grad school a buddy of mine (and much better philosopher) related a story that one of his undergrad profs had told him. The self, he said, can be divided along three lines: the self that we ourselves know and that is hidden from others, the self that we show to others, and the kimchi self. The kimchi self is that self which we ourselves never get a good look at. Its the way that others perceive us that we ourselves are denied experiencing. When folks get an impression of us its an impression we are incapable of forming ourselves. Yes, we ate the kimchi, but we then walk through life with kimchi on our breath, and the world gets a good taste of it whether they want to or not. Its the difference between seeing and being seen, tasting and being tasted, singing and being heard. There is a perspective from the inside, and another almost unrelated one from the outside.

And being a low tech sort of guy, its not always easy to ‘capture’ myself outside of stray mirrors and reflections in windows. I’m not a big user of cameras much less video recorders. You won’t find me on youtube. The closest many of you will get is these words, and I’m always worried I come off sounding like a lunatic. Or an @ss…… Its mostly a mystery to me.

I don’t often get to see myself the way the world sees me. Other people are our mirrors at times, but we don’t know exactly what they are seeing. The best we can do is infer from their reactions to us, what we’ve done, what we’ve said. So the kimchi self often remains in complete obscurity. Unless, of course, we are in positions throughout daily life where we get to see ourselves ‘live’ the way others do. But even then there is quite often a difference. The ubiquitous selfie and even the old family albums are usually devoid of candor, a pose we present on that occasion for that occasion. What do we actually look like when we are not hamming it up, not paying attention to how we are being perceived? Our natural unguarded selves? The tousled hair, rumpled pajamas, and stale morning breath we wake up to every day? We make ourselves ‘presentable’ for our journey through the day, but are we always aware of the image we are creating?

I can remember one shocking instance almost two decades ago when I was vacationing in Disney World with some friends. We ate some magic brownies, and then got lost in the surreal landscape and rides. At the end of one ride, which went by in a blitz of incomprehension and fantastical ambiguity, they posted an image on the big screen at the landing of folks arriving at the end of their ride. If you couldn’t remember the ride this was what you got, your souvenir. I remember looking up and seeing myself slack jawed and drooling. It was not a flattering picture. Its all I remember….

But then I had no clue. None of us normally do, unless we spend great efforts manicuring our outward images and posing for effect. Unless we see ourselves on the stage at all times. Unless we are performing for others and not simply living our lives. Inside my plastic bubble of a world, I simply had no idea that there was some outside appreciation of the calamity that was myself…..

It makes sense to have at least a small appreciation of the effect you are having on those around you. We all try to be as kind as our conscience allows us. We all try to do the right things when they matter. But acting out our notions of the good and the ethical are simply not the same as embodying other peoples’ notion of goods and ethics. There is an inevitable gap between what we think we are doing and what others see us doing.

Its not just the action they are looking at but the actor. Which is why on movie sets you see hours and hours of careful crafting going into the visual effects of actor make-up and prosthetics. The movie industry is founded on getting the right images in front of us to tell the story. There are stereotypes for the good guys and the bad guys. Films could care less about the actor’s own sense of self, maybe a little about the actor’s revelations of self (otherwise know as ‘acting’), but significantly more about getting the actors in the right physical shape to deliver lines. The job of actors is to make their kimchi selves as close to the script and intentions of the director as possible. There is no room for the oblivious.

Think about it. Our kimchi selves are far less manicured in daily life than they are for actors in the movies. The kimchi self stands where we (normal people) cannot accurately see. And even if we get a glimpse of how others might see us its still us seeing ourselves. You don’t like the way you look in glasses? Your hair is too short? You have just put on another 5 pounds? Who out there really cares in the same way that you do? The kimchi self is still mostly hidden. Our own impressions of ourselves still stop one step short of how others see us.

But these are the days of selfies and posting the trivia from our lives on facebook, youtube, and instagram. So maybe in today’s world there is a far greater appreciation of our own selves from an external point of view than there had been in my own early adulthood. We didn’t even have cell phones (I still don’t) until I was already in my 30’s (I think). So I had never really seen that much of myself before. Or heard myself. Listening to my own phone message recording has always been disorienting…..

But recently some students took a few videos from our class. I had never seen myself throwing a pot. I had never seen myself teaching a class. What the hell did I look like and sound like? What did I even have to tell the students as I demoed? I had no real clue. Seeing this entirely blew my mind! What was recorded was more than a bit different than what I had imagined. You just never know until you see it.

This is my first ever video (contributed by one of my students) from the small jar portion of the Copying the Masters class. Behold the magnificence! Tremble with awe and amazement!

(Nice save fumble fingers!)

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, Ceramics, Clay, Creativity, metacognition, Pottery, Teaching. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Teaching halitosis

  1. Pingback: Clay Blog Review: January 2015 - Pottery Making Info

  2. Whitney Smith’s new blog post: “Perhaps the biggest problem with spending so much time alone is what can go on inside my head. The usual tear-down shit of undermining questions, unsolicited critiques, current resentments. But I’ve gotten really bored with all that. Mostly because I’ve started questioning the veracity of knowledge the voice in my head really has about anything. Like, I’ve always thought that voice in my head is me, feeding me thoughts and information that I need, but that’s wrong. The voice comes from my consciousness, but it is not necessarily concerned with truth. It’s most concerned with just keeping my attention, making itself important, and it mostly does that by trying to freak me out.”

  3. Pingback: Props for Tony | CARTER GILLIES POTTERY

  4. Quoting Phillip Roth: "The fact remains that getting people right is not what living is all about anyway. Its getting them wrong that is living. Getting them wrong, and wrong, and wrong, and then on careful reconsideration getting them wrong again."

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