I will close the 6th firing category with this post. It has been two weeks since I closed the kiln. I want to put into words, how I experience the various stages of a firing while the 6th is still fresh in my mind. My hope is to enhance my performance of each stage by being slightly more aware of where I am at in a firing.
First however, let me say that for me, a firing is more than the short period of burning wood in the anagama. It spans several segments — making, preparing, burning, waiting, opening, and reorganizing. In my mind, even though I won’t be loading the kiln again until September, the 7th firing begins tomorrow.
I have great hopes during the time of making and much curiosity about clay and the way it responds to touch, or the way it swirls under my fingers on the wheel, or how it cracks when I pinch it hard. Visions of pots precede my sleep and interfere with my waking duties. I have a sense of hope, tempered by a sense of my actual abilities. The period of making is like late summer — an easy time with fruit and berries everywhere for the plucking. Carefree, careless, and fun. A time for dreams, experiments, and playing. Such vacations never last — for me, about four weeks before the pots go in the kiln is about the time I realize how far behind I am in my preparations.
I must plan more adroitly, even when life seems easy and those deadlines so far away.
The time of preparation is quite uncomfortable. With a dawning realization that I have much to do and less time to do it in than I need, I become tense and preoccupied. I begin to worry about every little detail — do I have enough wood, do I have good enough wood, is the wood going to make ugly glaze? Do I have enough pottery, is it good enough to even stick in the kiln, will it collect any shizenyu? Do I have the ability to fire at all? Will I be able to sleep? Can I get the time off? I perserverate on many details, arguing with myself, wondering what to do. I feel an overriding sense of ineptitude and insecurity.
The last week before the firing is the worst — it’s a typhoon of small details and errands culminating in the actual loading. Loading the kiln is hard beyond I ever imagined it would be. It’s mentally challenging and physically excruciating. I don’t know how to make these words describe the difficulty. It’s half a day laying on brick corners in scrunched up positions reaching into the most awkward positions — and it’s harder than that even hints at.
Quiet stillness — a fire is lit and everything slows to a relaxed pace. Burning wood is a sort of silence. If I sleep enough, it’s the easiest part. I’m still working on the self-discipline to leave the kiln’s side and go to bed — aside from that fault of mine, sticking wood in the kiln for several days is like living in a world without time. At night, all alone, listening to the fire, or frogs singing in the field, or rain and wind roaring against the metal roof of the kiln shed, I feel outside of time — outside the world. I feel silent.
All too soon, the stoking period ends. It is replaced first by pure exhaustion — when I fell asleep after closing up the kiln this last time — my legs felt like they were laughing — to just stretch out on the floor of my studio lounge was a delightful sensation. Quite literally, I fell asleep giggling as my legs expressed their pleasure in their lightened burden.
Following exhaustion, comes a period of … grogginess? It’s a time where I have to try to fit back into the world and start thinking in that other sense again. It’s a hard adjustment to go from a timeless world punctuated by only a handful of events — stoke, make coffee, eat simple stuff, nap, stoke — to one set rigidly against the clock, where deadlines are arbitrarily decided as opposed to dictated by natural conditions. As added insult, waiting to open the kiln is painful — the test is over, the work is graded, and the prof is torturing me by lecturing the class before handing out the grades. Whether the firing is good or bad is already decided, and I can’t even find out till long after the fact.
Opening day — I’ve had my most bitter moments on opening day — and some of my sweetest. I’ve stood there smashing piece after piece after piece because of the utter failure of my technique. I’ve stood there admiring glaze that formed as if by some magical underground force — the kiln god’s hand obvious in the mysterious complexity of surface and sight.
Opening day was a week ago (a disaster but a good one nonetheless). I have broken nothing on purpose. The 6th firing is settling about me now — around the kiln, in the yard, all over the shelves and counters of the studio, as well as in my mind. I’m still taking it in … but I’ve also begun my cleanup/reorganization phase. It isn’t clear to me whether cleanup marks the end of the last firing, or the beginning of the next. I suppose it is mostly about transition.
Tomorrow I begin making pieces. Although I don’t know that the 6th firing has fully ended yet, there’s no question in my mind that the 7th firing’s time of making begins tomorrow.