You’d read about this method of working with clay called kurinuki, which in Japanese means to gouge out, to hollow, to excavate. Instead of building something up, you create by taking away. One night in your studio, you try it. The new brick of clay is dense and wet, too cold yet to work with. You pound it with a wooden dowel to warm it up, slamming it again and again. At your first ceramics class, you’d been uncomfortable with the violence required to soften the clay. But like most things, you got used to it. Now you make jokes about this being your therapy. You start to get warm, like the clay, and push up your sleeves. You decide to make an egg-shaped bowl and roll the edges of the clay brick into a rough oval. Then you begin scooping out the inside with the loop tool, the metal ribbon cutting through the clay in a satisfying way, slice by slice. It’s like peeling an orange over and over again. You discard the gray scraps in a growing pile, the innards of your creation. As you work, an empty dish begins to appear, and you can’t help but think that you know what the clay feels like, to be scraped open like that one piece at a time. For you, it started when you were just a little girl, when you wore pigtails and twirled in dresses. They’d tell you to give a hug to your “Uncle” Mike, and you’d do it even if the smoky smell of his skin made you squirm. Later they’d tell you things like you’d look better if you smiled, and then you would smile. Or they’d say come on don’t be such a tease, and you’d open your body, until it became a response like automatic doors sliding apart. You didn’t even think about it anymore. You dip your hands into a bucket of water and slick down the edges of your bowl, smoothing the outsides. You look at it, still wet and glossy. The exterior is almost done, but of course there’s still more to scoop out inside. Because you are like the clay: there’s always more to take away until eventually what is left is a shell, a husk, an emptiness where it used to be full. You are like this pretty little dish soon to be glazed and fired and then set on a shelf for all to admire.
-- Betsy Finesilver Haberl's recent fiction has appeared in Hypertext Review and Barnstorm Journal. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from Northwestern University. She is also a curator for Sunday Salon Chicago, one of the Chicago's longest-running literary reading series. She was born and raised in northeastern Wisconsin, but now lives in Evanston, Illinois, with her family.