I have a very particular set of skills.
Avoiding clothes shopping for full decades, for instance — I excel at that. I also do an OK Joe Pesci impersonation.
When it comes to physical feats, though, I’m far less accomplished. During a commercial for that show where couples compete to circumnavigate the globe, Rebecca gasped, her eyes sparkling with hope, and said, “Oh, I want to do an Amazing Race!”
I wiped a drip of ice cream off my jowls and belched. “I want to do an Amazing Rest.”
But don’t let my aversion to exercise fool you. I’m actually huge on personal growth, as long as it doesn’t involve sweating. One of my favorite pastimes, in fact, is to broodingly ruminate about my future.
What do I want? Where am I going? Will I have enough time to get there?
You know the routine.
Midlife is a time of unrelenting reassessment. After all, it’s around the midpoint in any race, I’m told, when you finally slow down enough to take a look around. You start wondering if it’s too late to double back and find a better path. You think, Am I giving it my all? For the first time, you’re tired. You notice new body aches and, even more alarming, notice yourself noticing the birds along the way, and with newfound admiration. You think a lot about protein and water consumption, and then it hits you — the suddenly very real possibility that the path you’re treading will, one day, disappear under your feet, leaving you lost in midair a moment like Wile E. Coyote, with just enough time before falling to look remorsefully at the audience, all those faces you left behind or never got a chance to know.
So — basically — that’s why I took a pottery class.
“Aprons over there,” our instructor, Heather, nodded toward the back. Then she sat at the wheel and explained her actions — how she centered the clay, formed a well in its middle, spun, molded — and I was shocked at how quickly her brick of mud transformed, as if by magic, into a bowl textured by the grooves of her fingerprints.
“You make it look easy,” I said, not unlike a kid marveling at home run hitters, assuming they must be superhuman.
She smirked. “Lots of practice.” Then she set us loose, guiding our actions as we went.
To my surprise, there’s nothing dainty about working with clay. To start, you slam your brick onto the wheel — really make it thud — or else it won’t stay in place once you kick on the pedal to start spinning. Molding isn’t delicate, either, at least not at first. You really manhandle the clay, push and squeeze and stretch it, let its silver slick your palms and slide beneath your fingernails.
The streaks near your knuckles look like real work. You begin to like that.
Then, to balance your brick’s center of gravity, Heather tells you to hold a hand firm, like a fierce karate chop, on top of the spinning clay, muscling it into submission.
Oh yes, you like this very much.
You dive your fingers deep into the middle of the mud then pull a side toward you. The spinning wheel puts everything in fast motion, and you watch as the pressure from your fingers stretches your well open wide like a blooming flower. In that moment, you feel the hunk in your hands transform from a blob into a bowl, as if all it had been waiting for to evolve was your guiding hand.
This, right here, is the magic part: when nothing turns into something. You did that.
There’s a metaphor in there somewhere about how we mold our lives, about each year being an unformed mass of potential, an invitation to get our hands dirty. But metaphors — those are the dainty and delicate things.
I made a bowl, hearty as Earth and hardened by fire. It doesn’t exist on the page or in my head but in my cupboard, where it has a job, a purpose. I’ll even eat out of it — probably ice cream — definitely while I’m resting.
And it will be amazing.
Mike Cavaliere is the author of The Humorist: Adventures in Adulting & Horror Movies, available now.