Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Written Pottery

I look at a shard of pottery, countless years old and unknowably ancient, and I wonder about the potter, and what that person might have been like. It's all guesswork from here because I will never know if the potter was a man or a woman, a child or an adult, or if the potter was left handed or right handed, if they made the pottery during a full moon, or if while they were making the pottery, if they had just lost a friend.

This tiny piece of someone's work is the last surviving evidence of a life lived back in our history. But remember, they saw themselves in terms of the present, as contemporary folk, and this shard might be from a time when pottery itself was as new to some people as computers were twenty years ago. All they had, even if it was only simple stone tools, were advances in human technology that made their lives easier much like the microwave or the car. True enough, great leaps did not happen each generation and there was very little communication outside the distance someone could walk or ride a horse, but have you ever stopped to think about what things happened in their lives that truly fascinated them? Can you imagine the excitement of seeing a copper tool for the first time, or seeing some different sort of weaving you had never known existed? These were hands on people, people who would see instantly how something was made, yet the advent of metalwork must have blown some minds. We thought the moon landing was really something when I was a kid, but we had already gotten used to television as a given. I wonder if at some point in time, someone pointed out to their offspring they didn't have pottery when they were growing up, and had to carry everything by hand.

Can you imagine what it must have been like to see pottery for the first time. A device made of dirt, simple dirt mind you, is suddenly used to hold fluids, food, and like medicines of some herbal sort. Drink from a cup made of dirt? Are you nuts? Why next we'll be carrying things around in that stuff and look how fragile it is! This pottery thing is just a phase!

You know that happened. And you know two minutes after someone discovered how to write one wet pottery so the images stayed on it after it dried, someone was offended by it.


When I read old books, old poems, or flip through some old encyclopedia, I wonder whose idea it was to write this, where they were when they committed to writing it, what state of mine were they in, who did they share it with, and when did they know they were done? I have books dating back to the 1800's, and I wonder about the daily lives of the people who affected the writer. The set of history books I have from the 1800's must have seemed really and truly advance at that time. But the United States was just recovering from a Civil War, the 1900's were not arrived yet, and so many of the things we think of as totally mundane were still unborn.


When I was a child my parents had a set of encyclopedias that gave me my first taste of geography and physics and art. So many images flood into my mind when I think of those books, and I wonder, thousands of years ago, if some child watched pottery being made for the first time, and when that child had grown old, if the memories of the new invention, this pottery stuff, came flooding back. Perhaps the child had grown up to become a potter, and in turn watched as children who had never seen it stood slack jawed with amazement. But, the potter would remember, the amazement slowly wore off as more and more people turned to pottery as the next big thing.

Do you think writing will one day be as outdated as pottery? Advances each day bring that closer to reality, you know. Text is going to be replaced, one day, and we writers will be as functional has those people throwing pots. Books are already being replaced. Encyclopedias are all but extinct in hardback existence. Knowledge is growing so fast there isn't a way to record it and publish it before it chances dramatically once again, unless it's digital. We with the dirty hands have cleaner fingernails than those who wrote in ink, and can you imagine having to actually look words up in the dictionary?

How many people will read these words I have written? A dozen? Maybe twice that number? Yet there was a time not long ago unless a writer was published, or that writer went around with a stack of papers to everyone they knew, having twenty-five people read something written just for the sake of writing, for the love of the craft, would have been nearly impossible. Yet even as a medium comes into its own to reveal my work to others it also changes so that many other people are writing, it's like shouting during a shouting match. I have already warned you the next big thing will make us text writers extinct. Why do you doubt me when so many forms of art and function now like in ruins before us?

This shard is all that is left of a life lived. We will never know who the potter was. We will never be able to guess much more about that life than we would if we found three sentences from all my writings. Take the last three...who am I? From that, what do you know? What can you gleam from those three sentences what will allow you to form me into a person, actual and whole?

When you write, you should write as if every sentence will be the only evidence left of your life when you are gone.

Take Care,



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