My son loved bowling when he was young, but like most children, he wasn’t thrilled with achieving gutterball after gutterball. Fortunately, there were guardrails.
As if by magic, the guardrails would slide up alongside the lane, ensuring Skyler’s kid-weight ball would bank, bounce, and roll its way to the end-goal, nearly always managing to knock down at least one pin.
Since I’d never set foot in a bowling alley until I was in my late teens—well past the permissible age for those magic guardrails—I found this success-ensuring option utterly revolutionary.
Now that I’m a 56-year-old, mid-career master with hopefully a few years left in her hammering hand, I find magic guardrails essential…but not for bowling.
In July we completed a ceramics studio for my husband.
What started out a few years ago as a possible prefab building ended up being a full-on, guest-house-sized custom building, complete with full bath, storage loft, rolling library ladder, and (at my suggestion, for which I’m still really proud of myself) an electric lift to haul the 25lb bags of clay up and down from the aforementioned loft…all where part of our driveway once was.
For months I worried it would never be big enough for Chris to throw, fire, and glaze all of his beautiful (and huge) pasta bowls, let alone large enough for me to usurp part of if I return to working on an architectural scale. When the builders had framed it, and we stood inside with four other grown-ups all well away from each other, I shifted from worried to a bit jealous.
Chris offered to trade with me. I laughed. “You need more space than me, and I don’t need your dust in our house.” Still, I thought long and hard about my goals, dreams, limits, and needs.
Mostly, I thought about how I’d developed a long and dysfunctional history of making do, even when it wasn’t necessary. I thought about how I’d kill myself to complete work with impossible timelines, then get on a plane, set up a totally-new-to-me studio to teach in, and lie awake, unable to sleep on a hard mattress or in a noisy hotel night after night until I got back home.
The combination of exceptional problem solving skills, a teacher from the former USSR who grew up making whatever tools he needed (because they weren’t available for sale), 7+ years of single parenthood, and a sink-or-swim career, made me the wildly self-sufficient and resourceful artist that I am…at the expense of my own physical and mental well-being.
Metalsmiths are famous, and occasionally notorious for our ability to forge solutions out of thin air, some discarded tools, and our own gray matter.
I’ll never forget the look De Pastel gave me a few years ago when she was assisting on the superyacht commissions, and discovered that I didn’t own a sandbag, let alone the 4 large ones we suddenly needed.
She rolled her eyes while I proceeded to construct some out of garden sand, plastic grocery bags, and duct tape. But hey, it worked!
How about running water?
I’d never had any in here, and for 23 years it seemed enough to have a bathroom across the hall and a kitchen further along—even if the lighting was horrible and the chemicals I use should never be near a food prep area. I had, however, installed a utility sink for the etching station on my deck…but it’s even further away.
Every time I needed to fill a quench bucket or brew a cup of tea, there was a trek that inevitably included letting the dogs out, answering a family member’s question, putting in a load of laundry, letting the dogs back in, and, upon finally resuming work, realizing I’d left the quench bucket in the kitchen.
As I’ve previously shared, I’ve spent some of my more recent successes making up for my rustically outfitted studio (I now own a really nice suede sandbag!).
The one thing I could never figure out was how to have running water in my studio. If you’ve seen it on Zoom, you know it’s tight in here and filled to the ceiling with books. While ordering Chris’ pottery worktables and cabinets, I took a long, sentimental look at the window benchseat I’d made when my young son liked to hang out in my studio while I worked into the early hours, the window seat that had moved to three different windows over time and now served as storage and counter space for my bench shears.
Time to move on…
I googled “small utility sink” and discovered that such things do exist (I’d just never noticed them). Before all of the pottery-studio-building funds were used up, we took apart the window seat, ordered and assembled the storage cabinets and worktops, had a plumber install the sink, and had an electrician expand my track lighting.
There is now so much full spectrum “sun” in here that my dogs plant themselves on the floor directly below a track light rather than lying in the actual sun spots on the dining room rug!
When I mentioned the new sink to one of my silversmithing friends, she said, “You didn’t have running water? That’s pretty basic.”
She was right. It was basic, but long after I could have made it happen, I’d still been making do. The further upgrades got me wondering how many other ways I had stuck to what seemed normal and necessary, but were, in reality, derailing me, trashing my workflow, and needlessly amplifying my level of frustration.
How many other ways have I been flinging a metaphorical bowling ball down a lane just hoping it would stay out of the gutter?
Setting guardrails instead of forever making do isn’t as easy as pushing a button behind the counter. It’s still quite possible for me to land a ball in the gutter if I’m not careful.
Setting guardrails involves getting honest about my own boundaries and limits and keeping those invisible rails in my sights.