A Potter’s Tail: Backward Mapping and Hind Sighting

My Dad and hanai mother Carolee came to visit in 2003.  Carolee’s health was on an upswing and my Dad, being privy to Carolee and my exchange of letters, was, I imagine, interested in where the “vagabonds” had landed since quitting full-time jobs on the Big Island the previous year.

Roger and I were, if I remember correctly, about eight months into our gallery adventure in the heart of the Taos Historic District.  About 25 artists consigned with us, representing everything from art glass to turned wood to leather medicine bags and elk bone jewelry.  Overhead was steep and we were still living off of savings while the business broke even.   I was worried Pop would counsel me to return to my senses, but instead he showed us a deep and genuine interest in all aspects of our new life.  We talked about what Roger was painting and how my pots were progressing – the set up and displays in the gallery, as well as “doing business” in an art market that had turned downward.  Roger and I both felt validated and encouraged by the visit.  If Dad had doubts or worries he kept them to himself.

When we closed the gallery the following January, Dad weighed in heavily on our initial idea to move to Asheville.  He just came right out and said that he had shattered my sense of home as a child when he left. It stopped me in my tracks.  He connected this with my tendency to move, without a shred of sentimentality, drama, or self-pity.  And after rendering his observations asked, “Why don’t you stay and see what happens?”  And so we did.

Backward mapping is something I do as a potter all the time.  I look at my calendar in relation to scheduled events and pending orders and plot backwards in steps, all the things that have to be done in order to meet the target date, starting with the last step first:  Usually packing pots and loading the truck.  Working backwards it would be glaze fire, glaze, dry-foot, bisque, drying time, trimming, making.  Then I know how many days I have to make what I have in mind.

Projects are one thing, the big picture of life is quite another.  You shoot for something, set your intention, focus on what you want, work harder than you’ve every worked as you adjust to what is actually happening.  Balance your dreams with the demands of the reality of your situation.  Try not to be a total let down to your partner, family, and others who depend on you.

I certainly didn’t backward map my life as a professional potter.  No, it’s all connecting the web of dots in the rear view mirror.

I’m grateful my Dad said what he said when he said it, how he said it; otherwise, we very well could be in Asheville or Timbuktu.