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Permission to be a Beginner

Photograph by Lindsay Crandall

Last summer, I got it into my head that I wanted to take a pottery class. After going to an event at an arts center in the city, I kept getting flyers in the mail about the classes they offered. I’d flip through it and wistfully daydream about taking a class. The summer had been a challenging one. My husband and I were navigating some unexpected changes, things that were turning our life upside down, and I was struggling to get my feet on the ground. 

I spent most of the summer trying to balance my writing and photography work with being a full-time mom. It was taking a toll. Every moment felt overloaded and I felt frantic all the time. But I couldn’t understand why. I was being creative in my daily life and in my work. I loved having my kids at home and having no schedule to dictate our days. We were figuring things out, and I tried my best to be grateful for each day. 

Still, the undercurrent remained—the feeling that things weren’t right, that I shouldn’t feel so stressed out all the time. 

So, I thought, maybe pottery.

I brought it up to my husband at breakfast on a hot August morning. We sat at a sidewalk café, sipping coffee and talking. Summer was almost over and we were sending both of our kids to school every day for the first time in the fall. It felt both miraculous and unbelievable—bittersweet is the word. 

“I’d like to take a pottery class this fall,” I said. “I think it would be fun.”

I immediately started selling it to him, telling him how much it would cost and what would be involved, how it would affect my working from home and how I thought it would be good for me to have a new creative outlet. 

He nodded in agreement: “I think it’ll be good for you.”

I was taken aback. I spent so much time thinking about taking this class, daydreaming, wondering how to make it work. I don’t think I actually believed it could work or should work, and I had a list of reasons why now wasn’t the right time: that I should get the kids settled into the school year first or that the class would be too expensive. 

But my husband thought it was a great idea and now was a great time.

I signed up for Intro to the Wheel on Tuesday mornings. Despite having taken nearly every art class offered in high school, I had never thrown pottery on a wheel. I’d be learning something brand new. It was thrilling. 

The first day of class, everyone got a bag of clay and we jumped right in. The teacher, a kind older lady who had established the pottery studio years before, showed us how the wheel worked, then did a demonstration of how to throw a cylinder. She showed us how to center the clay, how to pull it up and push it back down, then how to open it and create walls. Then she let us each have a turn. 

We worked for two hours and by the end of that class, I had a bunch of failed attempts and one cylinder. I had actually thrown a pot. It felt amazing.

Photograph by Lindsay CrandallTuesday mornings quickly became my favorite part of the week. I’d help get the kids ready for school, then scurry off to the city for my class. I’d stop at a favorite coffee shop and get myself a large flavored coffee, then head to the studio. Every week, I was anxious to see what we’d learn next. 

It had been a long time since I felt the excitement of being a beginner, of trying something without any pretense about succeeding or failing. My goal at my pottery class each week was to try, and I loved the freedom of not having to produce anything. I could embrace the process without worrying about the outcome. I gave myself permission to be an amateur.

The last time I felt that rush of excitement was when I was began learning photography. I got my first DSLR and immersed myself in as much information as I could find. I read blogs and books. I shot my camera every day and I took photographs of everything. The entire process filled me with so much joy and the learning was just as exciting as photos I was taking. 

Eventually, though, I decided I wanted to do more with photography. I wanted to turn my passion into a profession, which for any creative person seems like the next logical step. If you can turn your creative passion into a job, you’re getting the best of both worlds. Except that isn’t always the case. Turning something you love to do as a creative outlet into a job means it’s not your creative outlet anymore. You might still be creative, but the exchange of money makes the process different. 

Last summer, I was feeling that shift. I was making money selling my photographs, but that became the focus of taking photographs. I struggled to maintain the joy of simply shooting my camera. I couldn’t find my way back to that sense of passion and wonder, and it was taking a toll on me. I still took a lot of photographs, but it wasn’t the same creative outlet it had once been. I wasn’t a beginner anymore—the stakes were higher. 

But taking this pottery class was giving that back to me. I was a beginner again. I was doing it simply because it brought me joy. Sitting at the pottery wheel was giving me freedom and space. I’d sit and work the clay, and my mind was at rest. The wheel would spin and the clay would slide through my hands, and I could feel myself relax. It was quiet. I needed that.

The thing is, I didn’t know what taking a pottery class would do for me. It started as a daydream because of a flyer I got in the mail and turned into a new creative hobby. It didn’t fix all my problems, but it showed me how important it is to have something creative that was my own. At first it felt indulgent, but then it felt necessary. The time I spend at the pottery studio is sacred time. It’s time when I can be a beginner, when I can let my inner child play and ask what if. It’s time when I can try and fail and try again. 

If I could go back to last summer and tell myself one thing, it would be this: It’s not selfish to do something you enjoy. It doesn’t subtract from your obligations. If anything, it enlivens you so you can take care of what’s before you. That sort of joy fills all the cracks. It makes the unbearable bearable. It eases the overwhelm. And it gives you life, which you desperately need. 

Photograph by Lindsay Crandall 

Lindsay Crandall is a photographer and writer living in upstate New York. She is half of the daily collaboration at and a contributing photographer with Stocksy United. More often than not, you’ll find her with a book or camera in her hand (and sometimes a glass of red wine). Learn more about her on her website or follow her on Instagram.

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Reader Comments (1)

"It had been a long time since I felt the excitement of being a beginner, of trying something without any pretense about succeeding or failing." I love that. The goal was simply trying. To have something at which you can "try and fail and try again," and something that gives you joy — that sounds like a good form of success to me.

That's a beautiful mug you're holding, too. I like looking at all those pieces, even the ones on the top, with the assertive streak of blue and the spots on the one in the center where the clay didn't want to be covered with glaze.

Intriguing, your being taken aback by the lack of resistance you were expecting or setting up for yourself. How often, when we're making a list of Why, do we also make that list of Not Yet?

One more thought. I wonder whether holding a physical object that you shaped from a lump of clay gives you a different satisfaction than looking at your photos.

June 29, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterLaura Brown

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