She’s Gone to Pot – 2nd Place Winner, 9th Annual Essay Contest

By Ellen Sonenthal

She’s gone to pot! What is your first thought when you read this? Someone is crazy, let herself go, smoking an illegal substance (in most states), or has a hobby that involves a pottery wheel, clay and creativity? In my case, it is the latter.

As a child, we went to lots of Midwest art fairs. My parents always knew that I would gravitate to the pottery, especially if there was a demonstration. I was mesmerized by the motion of the wheel and the elegance of the forms that would be “thrown” on it. WOW! I could watch for hours and often did. Best of all, this was a free activity, an important aspect when you are poor growing up.

After college graduation, I vowed that I would learn to throw pots. And I did. It lived up to my expectations. Taking a ball of mud and turning it into usable vessel was thrilling! My first pots were – well first pots. But you must start somewhere.

For years, I told everyone that pottery classes were my stress management and definitely cheaper than therapy! Also, I ended up with lots of bowls that I enjoy using daily. Then, late last year (2010), I found it increasing difficult to have the strength and stamina to make pottery. Much to my shock, I was diagnosed with end stage renal failure.    Depression set in and my stress management was not available to me.

In late December, I was in the emergency room to start dialysis. At first, I really didn’t feel much better, but as I inched towards my “dry weight”, I started to feel better and gain my strength back. Every week, I went to the pottery studio – sometimes just to chat and see the demonstrations, sometimes I would find simple projects to complete, but always it was the one thing that I really looked forward to.

After the placement of my fistula, I had less strength in my arm. But I persevered. I asked others to get my clay down and replace it when I was finished as I could not lift the 25 pounds. Slowly but surely I have gained more and more abilities as my fistula matured My pottery is not as elegant and accomplished as before, but I am able to accomplish a lot and I can trim to get the right shapes, I could throw again and all was right with the world. Once again, I was mesmerized by the movement of the wheel, as I was as a child.

Most of my bowls are donated to the “Empty Bowl Project”; this is a nation-wide initiative of the potters in America to help feed the homeless. All bowls are donated and then sold to the public for $16, the bowls are washed and then you can choose a soup you would like to eat. In Las Vegas, there are silent and live auctions as well. Last year, we raised a little over $42,000!

Now, my hobby of taking a lump of clay throwing it into functional bowls is not only a hobby, but also the stress management tool and salvation once again. It helps me feel normal and alive, not just a kidney dialysis patient! When in class, I am a potter and proud of it!!

About the Author
Ellen Sonenthal, BSIM from Purdue University.  Worked for IBM 30 years in various technical sales, programming and management positions.  Diagnosed with End stage renal disease in December 2010 and  currently a hemodialysis patient.  In my spare time, I enjoy spending time with my family (husband, son and step-daughter), volunteering, making pottery and developing new “kidney diet” friendly recipes. I am currently residing in Henderson, Nevada.