It was a cryptic pre-holiday text from our daughter, Ali: “Mom, don’t plan anything for Jan. 17th.”

At Christmastime, my children gave me a gift certificate to a pottery class, knowing that my need to be creative was taking a huge hit after I sold my dance studio in August 2019.

The gift was for two people that included one hour of instruction, materials, glazes and finishing.

I’ve wanted to try my hand at pottery for years but not enough to take the time. Isn’t that what retirement should be? Discovering joy in unexpected places?

On that January Friday, my best friend Julie accompanied me to Made in Muncie, although she was wary of this new adventure. We arrived early and wandered about the shop. Industrial-strength shelves were loaded with items begging to be painted. While waiting, I was beginning to share Julie’s anxieties.

I had attempted painting a ceramic piece several years ago. The bowl turned out so ugly that I chucked it into our farm pond. I’d also attended art classes where I couldn’t seem to follow directions.

Teacher as student

Please know that I spent the last 50 years teaching and I issued instructions to all ages and yet, when it was my turn to learn, I found that I wasn’t a malleable student. I worried that feeding clay to my creative spirit would yield another disaster.

Within minutes, our instructor, Merret, beckoned us to join her in the basement studio where two pottery wheels were set up, side by side. She let us know that she was subbing for the regular teacher. She also shared a bit of background including where she grew up, went to high school and the art courses she’d taken at Ball State University.

You know how it is when you are listening to someone talk but really your brain is reeling? My mind was like a slot machine, trying to land on something that I could add to the conversation with Merret that would create a connection.

I started with, “Several years ago, Julie and I were at Ball State to see her daughter’s grad-school presentation and we happened upon a student art sale. There were racks and tables filled with beautiful, interesting items. I found this enormous vase that kept calling my name.”

Sometimes, when I am shopping, things call out to me: “Cindy, take me home.” Six years ago, I bought a sour apple-green loveseat because I couldn’t walk away. At the BSU art show, I couldn’t leave this vase for someone else to take home. I knew it belonged with me.

Continuing my quest for a connection, I described how the giant vase had a lionfish on one side.

She looked at me with a quizzical expression.

“Is the lionfish in black relief?”

It was. Now, I was thinking she might have been in the same class as the student who crafted this magnificent, yet unusual vase. The artist was unknown as there was no signature etched on the bottom.

“Is there coral on the other side?” she asked.

Again, I told her yes although I thought the coral looked like worm casings you’d find washed up by the tide. I silently congratulated myself on buying such a memorable piece.

Merret smiled. “I made that vase when I was a sophomore.”

People, listen to me. This vast universe can shrink to a speck in an instant.

My lionfish/coral vase has been displayed on our fireplace mantle since April 2018 and although no one can see, it now sports the signature of the artist.

As for feeding my creative spirit, the clay called to me. “Cindy. You’ve taken a long time to get here.”

I’m learning to listen.

Cindy Oler is founder of Dance With Cindy which she owned for 50 years, retiring in 2019. Married to Steve, they live outside Economy on a farm with cattle and pets.