One thing I learned quickly at the nursery was that we’re always on the move doing different things. I’d say we spend about 60 percent of our time in the workshop working on trees and 40 percent on, “other.” Other can range from customer delivers, workshops, cleaning, auctions, etc. The point is that many times, I am not able to sit down for an extended period of time to work on a tree. Usually the project gets segmented and I find myself working on a tree off and on. To tell you the truth, this was very difficult for me to adjust to. Back at home, when I was working on trees I liked it quiet and uninterrupted. Many times when I do get interrupted, I’d take a long time to get back into the working mode. I always believed that I needed a good amount of warm up time before I can become creative again. There were cases where I would be distracted by an interruption so much that I stopped working till the following day. It turns out that I don’t have the luxury of being creative in a analog bonsai life anymore but a more digital life where being creative is quickly turned off and on.
Back during my automotive repair days, being interrupted was one of my biggest pet peavies. So you can imagine how I felt when I was constantly being called away from my work to do other things. What finally broke me was this little red pot pictured below. This small chunk of plaster made me realize that I was the one creating the mental roadblock for myself when interrupted and I needed to fix it fast to make it through the apprenticeship. I have Mr. Tanaka to thank for that, though I wasn’t very thankful at the time. This story happend about 6 months ago and I’ve been thinking about how to tell it since then. Since it’s the New Years and we all have our New Years resolutions, I thought this would be a great time to share this story with you all.
One day in the workshop, I was wiring and styling a Japanese Black Pine. I was in deep concentration and I was in a flow. Mr. Tanaka was at his work station fixing a broken feet on a pot. He was mixing a type of plaster and molding a new foot for it. After he was done with the repair, he handed me a bowl with a small amount of plaster in it and says, “make something out of this.” The first thing that came to my mind was, “what?” then, “now?” then, “really?” Mr. Tanaka must have saw the frustration on my face because he then said, “you have to be ready to be creative at all times” then walked away. As I was staring at this lump of plaster, I was thinking to myself, why am I wasting my time messing around with this? Especially since I was working on a very nice tree. I didn’t have much choice in the matter so I started to mold the plaster around trying to think of what I was going to make. Knowing Mr. Tanaka’s expectaions, I had to make something that showed some effort in it. I sat there for about 15 minutes playing around with the plaster and all I came up with was a round ball of plaster. During this time I would constantly look back at the tree I was working on and wanting to work on it instead. After another five minutes of thinking, I decided to make a pot (duh?). Since the plaster was very soft and wet, it didn’t form shapes very well. After a couple of minutes, the shapes I created would collapse and flatten on itself. This only added to my frustration… I decided to let the plaster dry a bit and went back to wiring a few branches of the Black Pine. After about 15 minutes I went back to the plaster and started making a pot. I didn’t want to just make a plain pot so I decided to make it a lucky pot. After about 20-30 minutes I was done making the pot and went back to working on the tree while the pot dried and hardened. I was still uncertain as to how the pot would turn out when it dried so I had that on the back of my mind while wiring the tree.
On the bottom of the pot, I made the shape of a five leaf clover. I painted the pot this color the following day when it dried completely. I showed it to Mr. Tanaka and he laughed and nodded his head. I felt kind of proud of it myself at that moment.
I laid the pot on the counter for the next week and every time someone saw it, they thought it was a tomato! I accidentally made it look like a squished tomato. Everybody including myself got a good laugh over it’s shape.
So now I have a lucky tomato in my tool box. I’ll probably keep it there forever since I don’t know how well the paint will hold if I did actually put a plant in it. After making this pot, I realized that I needed to change my own personal flaw and not get so frustrated at interruptions anymore. The tree I was working on at the end turned out fine and I got a pot out of it. As work continued at the nursery, I slowly began to accept the fact that I have to be ready to move at anytime and to always stay focused. I’ve not only applied this lesson to Bonsai but to my personal life in general and I believe I became a better person for it. It was a tough first four months for me making that adjustment, but I worked through it and ended with a more relaxed me and a flat looking lucky tomato. This was one of the most important lessons I’ve learned during my apprenticeship.
Happy News Years to You All and to a Great New Bonsai Year!
Thanks for reading.
P.S. If you are actively reading this blog, I would appreciate it if you subscribe to it (right column of the blog). This is one of the best ways for me to know how many people are reading. Thanks!