In my dream, my longtime mentor, Kathryn McBride, is happily tending a trayful of her wonderful new ceramic pieces. She’s comfortable with what she’s created, almost matter-of-fact in the pleasure she takes in them. She’s just at the edge of my peripheral vision, off to the side, a tad behind me. I’ve glanced over at her, but we’re in parallel play mode, not interacting directly, not speaking. Yet every bit of my psyche is soaking up her contented presence, enjoying her enjoyment. I notice how this one dream moment conflates a myriad of actual ones from nearly a decade of being around this artist, this teacher, this person, in exactly this manner.
When I return to waking life, I hasten to write down such a marvelously domestic dream; after all, I’ve been asking for it for months now. My last Kathryn Dream – only days after she died in late February of this year – was metaphoric: full of confusion and anger, milling and indifferent crowds, tilting kilns and broken bisqueware. I needed that dream at the time and it clarified my existential questions, but I have desired another to tell me how it is now and give me a specific green light.
Since February, I’ve been majorly “called away and taken up with things,” as K used to say. Much of it had to do with helping to complete collaborative works at Cabrillo College that she had been involved with, and stretching to meet some formidable deadlines in the process. (The photo is from one of those: the Cabrillo exhibit for the annual Ceramic Conference in Davis each April.) I also began teaching my own Beginning Handbuilding students, was accepted into a Big Important Exhibit and even Won An Award. I could have used her trusted and willing ear many times and have groaned, moaned, yelped and winced at its loss. Slowly, through the busy-ness and the stages of grieving, I found new ways to relate to K: a snippet of memory, a phrase, new insight into why she was a certain way, a sense of presence.
I hoped, though, that in good time I would receive at least one more dream giving me permission to write about the essential and yet often incidental things that knowing Kathryn afforded me. What kind of attention was I really paying all those years of beach walks, field trips, art groups, projects upon projects and parallel play? What beyond the clay work at hand was the heart of the matter? It’s coming clear. It has to because it’s all I have. And sharing it will be a Good Thing.
A story. One fall evening, K and I stepped from the ceramic studio and kiln shed – where we were working on pieces for the Culinary program’s dining room and she was watching over a slow firing in the gas kiln - and we went right next door to the campus theater to take in a performance of the dancer/choreographer Tandy Beal’s multi-media production Here After Here: A Self-guided Tour of Eternity. It is an unflinching, often humorous and exquisitely artful look - done through dance, video, spoken vignettes and audience participation - at what we think happens after we die. (If you ever get the chance, go see it. I hear she plans to take it to San Francisco.) Right before Intermission, there is a small reveal and the audience is challenged to ask, either by cellphone or of the person sitting right next to them: “What do YOU think happens when we die?” After nearly an hour steeped in the sensitive and moving performances addressing this profound mystery, I swear, K and I turned to each other…paused…inhaled…exhaled…and then she said, “Do you think the kiln is up to cone 8 yet?”
~Liz Crain, who is relieved to at last be able to share and celebrate her special take on her ceramic-plus life with Kathryn McBride, 1950-2012. (This post’s title is from the famous “To be or not to be” soliloquy from Hamlet, which some of you may find refreshing to read.)