Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Relativity of Work

This thought has been bouncing around in my head for years and I have spelled it out many times in person to friends and potters in the past but I think it's time to write it down. I have noticed that a lot of potters quit the biz. This is mostly because they have actually died of starvation but some have found that their bodies cannot withstand the work. Micheal Cardew, in his book, Pioneer Potter, referred to it lovingly as "donkey work" that had to be done daily to get the mug into and out of the glaze load.

This sort of work includes loading a thousand pounds (45lbs/box) of clay off the forklift at the supplier into the back of your car without dislocating your lumbar spine. I calculated this was an acceptable amount of weight for my toyota matrix because there are 5 seat belts and a north american company would have to estimate each person at 200lbs, and besides I do spread the weight out....
If you don't kill anyone on the way home, after you have forgotten that your stopping distance is now twice as far, you then have to unload that same thousand pounds once you get there. I received a wonderful gift from a retired potter of three clay carts that are VERY sturdy, her husband built them for her and then suddenly passed away.

She was so very generous towards me, giving me all her old clay and carts and a few squidgy glazes (that I enjoyed trying out but they didn't fit my clay body on the microscopic level) it probably kept me in business in my second year because it meant that I made a few 60 litre batches of glaze without buying any raw materials. The clay had sat for many years before it was passed down to me so it was too hard to throw and I don't own a pug mill, so I donated it to the Camosun College pottery in Victoria.

Anyway, if you get it unloaded and then spend hours weighing, wedging, balling, throwing and trimming it all and then carry it on ware boards to and from the kiln and wax and glaze and reload the kiln, you might find some sore tendons and ligaments.

The theory is that if the thing you do all day is the hardest thing you do, it will eventually ruin your body. Hear me out. You all watched the olympics and saw at least one movement of the athletes that you thought would have killed you, perhaps it was the skiing crashes. I know I saw a few things that made me tense up. The fact is that these people have trained all parts of their body to accept this type of abuse so that a single run down the mountain is not too much strain on the body. Now back to the potter (or regular person) if my wrists are working as hard as they have ever worked when I am wedging the clay then they are spending hours at a time maxed out leading to damage!

Lets say that I took up tennis and had sore tendons from the first few lessons, the way to fix it is to take a little break and then try again, no one ever got stronger by doing nothing. Somehow people feel like decreasing their activity level will help with pain but the opposite is true! When I started running my hip hurt quite a lot and I rested and strengthened the area with complimentary (glut. med/min) exercise then went back out running and to my surprise the whole hip had gotten stronger! The same effect was found in my knees that has caused me pain for the last few years on the bike. I would haul my pottery up sherman road with the bike and trailer and painful knees were an added bonus. Now when I run (8-10km) I am tired and a little sore but it is a normal acceptable level of tiredness in relation to the distance.
We need to stress our bodies to be able to be relaxed during the normal work day. This means all sorts of stress the most important of which is our hearts. When I was a firefighter I quickly learned that the normal work day could be spent washing the truck or polishing the tools in the toolbox or fighting a fire, bottle after bottle until I fell over. This is an extreme example but it meant that I would have to spend a few hours every week with my heart (and whole body)working as hard as it would during a fire, to avoid serious heart damage when the next fire occurred.

Bring this to your normal life and a potter who pushes on clay all day, lots of force and repetitive movement away from the body, only lasts a few years but if you do the opposite, say chin ups or rowing, it would build tolerance for the daily stress of work and even out the joint and muscle support. I met a potter last week who has been potting for 35 years and does yoga with lots of static strength on a weekly basis, this has likely provided years of pain free, or at least reduced pain, potting that would have been unbearable without it.

Each muscle has an opposite muscle to resist its movement and so too should our work, whatever that is. Say you sit all day and do no cardio, if you rode your bike to work and home it would round out your day, clear your head, so you don't fuss over work once you get home, and best of all it's almost free to ride a bike. (not to mention the pollution of your car)
While you are at work, whatever that looks like, there should be some level of comfort in your body, if you care for your body it will care for you. If you push all day, pull in your own time, if you walk all day, try swimming or cycling after work. Do whatever you can to stress your body so that the stress of work is not damaging. Just my thoughts.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Saturday Market Rant

I spent 2 hours pricing my gallery full of pottery in prep for the start of my market season, with this injustice working around and around in my mind. Generally, I have a good grasp of my thought processes and can keep a lid on the things that bother me by writing about them and then going for a run or a bike ride. It almost always works but when things happen that aren't fair (shame on my parents for telling me things should be fair or even that such a thing exists, hahaa) it sticks in my head. Well this is one of those things and as the leader of the Market I was powerless to negotiate any reduction in fees at all or convincing anyone to justify their price.

It is amazing to me how many hours we have put in to get the Market ready to start up at new season tomorrow. More meetings than I can count with all sorts of people from the City and the DBIAS to the committee level within the Board of the Market to the newspaper reporter on Wednesday after our landmark deal to pay rent for using the Square downtown and Ingram Street. I watched my hair turned grey as we tried to negotiate with the board of the 'bia'. It's never a good time to give the meaning of a word in a rant but negotiating doesn't include standing on a tiny soap box and repeating 'give us all the money we want' over and over.

The market group wanted to reduce the rent that we pay for the time we use the Square on Saturdays as it is pretty high so we looked at the rent that other Markets around BC pay and collected the numbers. Whistler closes their beautiful shopping area to cars and hosts the lovely Market and they don't charge anything!! The reasons they gave were that they really appreciate all the public attention and attendance that the market brings into their midst that would otherwise go elsewhere if the Market weren't working hard to draw people in. The Moss Street Market closes a city street and also pays nothing in rent to anyone for doing so, again the idea is that it is a way to create urban culture and an interface between the people who grow food locally and make art and crafts with the general public, in that case city dwellers. Cedar Market also pays nothing and the Crow and Gate Pub, that allows the market to use the land in front of their pub for free, has tracked a 21% increase in sales since the Market joined them, mostly, I would imagine, due to word of mouth and advertising with the title of the business appears as the location for the Market on every publication.

We also found out that other markets around do pay rent and that ranged from 'less than $100 at the waterfront parkade in Nanaimo' to around $3000 for a Vancouver Market that shares signage costs and pays for a street closure application, like those for parades, to the City. The deal that I just signed as the president of the DFM was for thousands of dollars than that. Maybe one of the smallest cities in the world has incredibly high costs (?)or maybe we are being robbed at gun point. The Market is expecting to be around one hundred vendors strong this summer and there are very few places that we could physically go as we consume 100,000 square feet plus customer and vendor parking. This has us up against the wall for a minimally functional location and we have gone so far as to rent porta-potties in the past (ug!) So we agreed to pay.

The question of course is what are we paying for, which is a very hard question to answer. We are a completely independent body that has a half time employee to interact with anyone involved, from bookings and customers to insurance and website updates. We also have 8 dedicated board volounteers who do everything else from adjudicating new vendors to writing all the forms required to run a huge non profit group like ours. Back to the question though, and it is formally worded: 'provide via the city, power and water...ensure public washrooms are open....ensure garbage bins were delivered by city....allow use of signs....provide, from the city, parking authorization...provide access to electrical panel....not let other groups disturb the market while in session...'. Not to be an ass but, those things are mainly intangible and do not cost $400 to $500 dollars a day! No matter which form of accounting you might subscribe to. It breaks down into the physical unlocking of four doors; two washrooms, electrical room and storage room.

Having said all that, the average business that makes money using the downtown daily all year only pay around $5000 in taxes that would pay the people to water the trees, collect the garbage, sweep the streets and clean the washrooms. Again, how does the market pay 'zillions' more than that to use the Square and Ingram Street for ~40 days, again forty DAYS!?!?

There is one small part of this story that seems like even the slightest tiny ray of light and that is that the agreement includes a maximum amount of money after which we don't pay any more. This is new this year and although the cap is exorbitant, at least it exists. Like I said, a very small ray. Also, I have learned a lot about dealing with people. I used to have a job (yeah I know, you thought I was always a potter) where there was a evening poker night held in some places. The guys I worked with convinced me to play cards with them and quickly realized it simply wouldn't work. A few hands in, they saw that if I had really good cards I would bet (pennies) and if I had bad cards I wouldn't. If any of you have played poker, one honest person at the table kinda ruins it. This, as I have learned, is not the best way to negotiate with people who have you by the toe over an erupting volcano, however, I have not learned the right way to deal there. I still think that the threat and counter threat approach is not a good idea, as some people were thinking of having a protest with tractors and goats in the downtown if there was no agreement, see how much the street sweeper bill would be after that!!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Ride My Bicycle Up Haleakala

The photo on my profile might require a little explanation. That is the top of Haleakala, a volcano on Maui that I rode the bicycle shown, up! Dave and I went to Maui in February for a training camp for his triathlon season, I came along as the "water-girl" someone had to do it, so I graciously volounteered (and shed some unwanted volume to fit into a swimsuit). The deal was that he would rent me a bike and support me for the day (or days, hahahaa) it would take me to climb this, the third hardest road climb in the world.
I trained a lot, I started running (sore hip and knees) and cycling on the road more than my usual commute to Coffee on the Moon to drop off mugs, and riding my kona king kikapu up Mt. Prevost (behind our house) a couple times a week.
I started at the base of the climb (not at the ocean in Piai) and climbed for 32 km (20 miles) about 8,000 feet and all in under 4 hours. It really wasn't that bad (yeah yeah) and no one was around when I finally put in my ipod and sang and cried through the pain. I just took things at my own pace and spent an hour riding with a very nice man from Seattle, but that last stretch between the visitor parking lot and the top was HELL!! The road pitches up dramatically, keep in mind I had been climbing for three and a half hours at this point. Dave was dizzy at that elevation (10,000 feet) taking pictures. I must have looked and sounded really bad because I was hanging off my bars gasping for air! He encouraged me to sit up a little to fill my lungs better, sadly there is only so much oxygen at that elevation and I had to keep turning those pedals over!
The photo proves it though, and he drove me back down from the top as I was seeing stars and was hypoxic (he says I was yelling and riding around at the top but I don't remember it, must have been the lack of O2, haha) It was a great break from the endless days in the pottery studio and Dave got all the riding in that any human could do in 7 days, save the day he spent supporting me, and we definitely saw the sights at the beaches too!

Pottery at the Farmer's Market

Photo by Sarah Hall
Trial By Fire Pottery is starting back up with the Farmer's Market in Duncan, BC on the 20th of March. I will be at the market on saturdays from 9-2 selling my functional stoneware pottery to the public and the gallery is still open if you want to call for an appointment. I am very excited to see what people think of my new oval baking dishes, they are a 'stretch' for me from the round form but I think they look great.

I might be away from the Market for a few days this July if I am accepted into the summer workshop that I have applied for on Saltspring Island but I will let people know if I will be away. I would also like to thank Sarah for putting my website together for me, my photos pale alongside her masterpieces! (see the link to her flickr account)

One change at the Farmer's Market (i know the apostrophe is wrong in the name) is that I am now the President of the Market with a Board of 8 and an employee, so if I look a little tired it's just because I've lost a little sleep over things. Details will follow, trust me!