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Ten inches

My graduate school had a pottery studio on campus. I joined the pottery club during the first year of my Master’s, but this was a full year before I’d completely lost my motivation to do schoolwork, so I spent little time in the studio.

During my second year, the only course I was taking some ill-conceived algebraic geometry class whose audience consisted of eight graduate students taking the course for credit, and eight professors and postdocs. Two months into the class, the professors and postdocs had taken leave. “No point sticking around when I don’t understand anything,” one of them told me in confidence, and I agreed. Unlike the profs and postdocs, however, I needed the credit, so I compromised by attending the class and not stressing over it. The course was cotaught by two experts, one of whom was clearly more of an expert than the other. One day, after class, as Alpha wrapped up the lesson, Beta turned to me and whispered, I am SO lost in this class.

I took this as permission to ignore all homework assigned by Alpha. A few months later, I gave up on Beta’s assignments as well. Me and five of my classmates.

That year, I was productive in other ways.

When I moved to the Island, one of the first things I did was seek out a pottery studio. I also wanted to take lessons; I felt I’d progressed as far as I could on my own. I soon discovered, to my dismay, that although I now lived in a region known for its potters, none in my city were available to offer lessons. There were two types of lessons, it seemed: ones for student artists studying to be professionals; and one for children and adults who just wanted to poke around with clay.

“We don’t usually offer intermediate-level lessons,” said the artist who apparently was the one to talk to about that sort of thing. “Not much demand for it.” He glanced over at my station, which was surrounded by small misshapen bowls, which were all I’d been able to make this first day working on a new wheel with unfamiliar clay. I can only imagine what he must have been thinking; probably something close to what I think when my C students tell me that they typically get A’s in math. “In order to be eligible for my intermediate-level class,” he said, “You have to be able to throw five ten-inch cylinders, one after another. Can you do that?”

“With certain types of clay,” I replied. “Ones with more tooth than this stuff,” I added, hoping he’d be impressed by my use of the jargon.

He looked skeptical. “There’s still room in my beginner class,” he told me.

I took this all rather personally; I’d taught beginner-level classes, after all. In any case, I knew what one did in such classes, and that wasn’t what I needed to learn. So I set out, during the ten hours a month I could get into the studio, to master the ten-inch cylinder.

They aren’t cylinders, I know. but they were originally. And before they were fired, they were ten inches.

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