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Monday, November 9, 2009

Life's Lessons In Glass

I spent a fair amount of time this weekend working on a small sushi plate that I intended as a gift, using a glass weaving technique. Strips of glass are carefully cut to size, placed on a clear glass base, and then tack fused -- the pieces of glass are fused together but they retain their individual shapes. The process takes several hours in the kiln. The following day I slumped the woven glass into a flared mold. This process, too, takes time. The glass is slowly brought to 1000 degrees, the temperature is held to let the glass "soak", and then it's raised to slumping temperature. The glass has to be watched at this stage to ensure that it slumps adequately into the mold without over-slumping. Once slumped, the temperature is dropped quickly to 950-1000 degrees (by fanning the door!), held for an hour to anneal, and then slowly brought once again to room temperature.

It was a busy day yesterday. While slumping the glass I vacuumed the house, did some laundry, paid bills, worked on another idea for a design, went to the grocery, got dinner in the oven, and planted some daffodils (a last gardening effort before the snow flies). Just before dinner was ready I made a final check on the sushi dish. The temperature was down to about 200 degrees and I felt I could safely remove it from the kiln. I am always impatient to hold the final product in my hands. The glass and mold were still fairly hot (duh, 200 degrees!). I placed them on the table and started to walk away to finish dinner and let them cool. But I was impatient. I wanted to get the piece cleaned up and look at it -- really look at it. In the mold, the dish looked near perfect. The piece had slumped evenly and cleanly with no rough edges that I could see. I decided I would put it in my bucket and take it to the sink for cleaning. It was still warm, but I thought I would get the tap water as hot as I could and then fill the bucket, slowly bringing the glass to room temperature.

So I did. I knew I shouldn't have. I knew the moment I ran the water into the bucket that I had made a mistake. I heard the run of the crack in the glass -- a satisfying sound when you are breaking a score, but a sound that makes you feel slightly ill when you're looking at a finished piece.

I held the glass up to the light. On the outside, the glass was still intact. However, on the inside there were several hairline cracks. The piece I had worked so hard on -- for two days! -- was ruined.

I've always tried to look at my mistakes as learning experiences. With this experience, the glass reminded me of a couple of life's lessons that I should know by now (but apparently don't). The first lesson is patience. A lack of patience can ultimately lead to disappointment and failure. The other lesson is that even when things look cool on the outside, often they are still volatile on the inside and if stressed, will crack.

So I tried not to feel too sick about my failure and appreciate it for the lessons I'd learned. You can bet I'll be keeping that piece around for awhile as a reminder, in case I have the urge to let impatience take over again!


~A handful of patience is worth more than a bushel of brains. ~ Dutch Proverb (or a half-bushel, in my case!)

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