Is There a Protocol For This?

Photo credit: Sharada Prasad CS

I have recently come to the awareness that I have taken handmade pottery for granted my entire adult life.  I’ve always been one to go to craft fairs in Vermont and New York and scope out the pretty coffee mugs and egg white/egg yolk separators, and I’ve known a couple of people here and there who made pottery as a hobby. I also remember back in junior high when we would take those clay Christmas trees [you know what I’m talking about, right?], scrape the seams off with scalpels, toss them into kilns, and Voila!, out came ceramic decorations that we felt compelled to pull out every year and plug-in somewhere with plastic lights to sparkle and gather dust until we repacked them away in March.

But I never really stopped and considered the process and hard work of creating enough product to market, sell, and make a living on, all the while trying to maintain a balance of creating good art but doing so in an efficient manner.  I have also learned that apparently pottery is not as romantic as portrayed by Demi Moore, in Ghost. I hear the real thing is alot more like chronic back pain, frozen fingers, sweat dripping into the clay, and feeling like you’re sticking your face into the Sun when you’re checking all your baking goods in the kiln.  I’m really, really wishing I could get SNL to do a spoof off of that Ghost scene now.

Another interesting and lovely find lately is to discover that there are potter-philosophers out there in the world who write some really amazing stuff.  I guess this shouldn’t surprise me; there are plenty of other artists who view the world through their craft.  Anyway, I was delighted to stumble upon this phenomenon.


steve carrell

Working as a nurse, I frequently use protocols. They are basically an easy way for us to proceed in patient care without having to obtain doctor’s orders for things that are relatively straight forward and common.  So, for example….keeping a foley catheter in a person longer than necessary or without good reason is a surefire way to give them a urinary tract infection.  So, there are protocols for nurses to decide if that foley should stay put or if we should pull it. Or, if someone has imbalanced electrolytes, there are protocols to tell us which potassium and magnesium supplements to give, when to order blood redraws, and target values that let us know the protocol is complete. Basically, these protocols are step by step instructions for following a process to achieve a desired end result.

Sometimes I wish life had protocols.  Step by step instructions on how to get to where we want to be. Do this and do that until you arrive at your goal.  Be this and then that, and it will bring such and such into your life. I used to think life DID operate according to protocols.  It was called fundamentalist religion and contract theology.  It only took me 30 years of following all those prescribed rules to realize that God doesn’t really play by that game.  The Bible isn’t really a handbook for living, as much as people have told me throughout my life that it is.  If anything, the Bible is a guide for what NOT to do in life. I think the same is true with alot of other sacred literature.

The universe doesn’t seem to operate by a “you do this and I”ll respond in such and such a way” fashion much of the time.  This realization can be really hard when you’re coming out of a protocol-style faith tradition because it feels like you’ve lost ground to stand on and you no longer know the rules of how to play the game…..or if there are any rules at all.


One of these potter blogs that I’ve been reading over the last couple of weeks is written by Carter Gillies; it’s definitely worth your time to look at. He writes the kinds of things I have to reread multiple times to really “get”, and he’ll throw out passages that can bring me to a hard stop.  Here’s one that I read yesterday:

“There is much more to the world than the ‘given’, and it is art’s duty to not only explore this but show the magnificent expanse beyond the merely existing and leaden ‘facts’. We don’t just receive the world, we bring it into existence.” -from Sisyphus, November 10, 2018

OMG!  So good!  This got me to thinking about the idea of being co-creators with God (or universe, or insert whatever word works for you here.).  How often do I sit around and demand life to bring me what I want, to avoid doing the heavy lifting, to refuse to see beyond the superficial? I want someone to hand me the rules and teach me how to play the game so I can get to the goal that culture and society tells me is the whole point.

But….what if….we are the ones that are making the rules?  What if there is no preordained goal imagined by the universe and we have the creative power to design our own ends?  What if the world and what exists before us are our paints and brushes, or our clay and glazes, and our job is to bring more life into existence with them? We belong to the world, but the world also belongs to us and comes into existence through us.

Carter says in all caps:  EVERYONE IS AN ARTIST.  Wow, what would life be like if we all really believed that?


I definitely think there is a biochemical basis for depression, but I’m convinced that our beliefs play a strong role, especially when it comes to our sense of control.  If we believe we have no control over anything, and life is simply done TO us…well, that IS pretty depressing.  But, if we believe we have no absolute control over anything but that we DO have the power to reframe our perspectives, exert influence, and use our creativity to express ourselves in new ways and bring into existence things that once weren’t there….what’s depressing about that?

Protocols don’t leave any room for creativity or thinking outside the box.  This is one reason it was so freeing to walk away from fundamentalist Christianity. That God was boring, small, petty, and type A. There was little room for anything new and glorious because it was all labeled and judged as good or bad.  A protocol-less God/universe is freedom, grace, and space to make alot of mistakes with the knowing that there is always room and time to try anew.


I had a conversation with a new friend the other night about my goals as a floor nurse, and then later, as a forensic nurse.  He asked me what was most important to me when I cared for patients  Good question on his part, and I knew my answer right away.  More than worrying about whether or not my patients walk out of the hospital cured or pain-free, I want them to feel heard and seen. This is an area where protocol doesn’t completely fly.  Yeah, it’s great to get all the technical details right in healthcare, but I’ve met plenty of people who technically received amazing care and still recalled their hospital stays as lonely and terrible.  On the other hand, I’ve had patients tell me I was the best nurse ever, even after all I did was pass meds and sit and talk with them.  Which shows me….most people don’t care about protocol and the details of their medical care nearly as much as they want to be known and validated.  And so, I work really hard to ask my patients the good questions, to listen to their life stories, to empathize, and Lord knows I cry alot with them.

So, my friend pointed out…..maybe your style of nursing is also art? I’m bringing into existence something that wasn’t there before….something that couldn’t have existed if I had just stuck to the rules, and gone step by step through the guidelines created by some hospital committee somewhere.


Going back to the idea of everyone being an artist and my previous immature appreciation about the hard work of creating pottery.  I think we all want to have the sense that we know what we’re doing, and that what we’re doing matters.  Life feels safer that way.  But it’s also sterile and boring when we’re told what our lives are supposed to look like.  Are mass-produced lives, where we all follow similar paths adhering to the pursuit of the same life goals because someone told us to….really worth living? Is it really all that great to spend our entire lives consuming and never creating?

No, I want a life that I’ve helped create, not one that I’ve just passively accepted.  And I want a life that is influenced by other people being brave and putting their creations out into the world.  This gives me hope too; that the world will never remain just as I understand it at this very moment, because there are brave people out there who are constantly seeing with new eyes, creating their art whatever it may look like, and offering it without any stipulations for how it may be received or where it will end up.  People refusing to live inside boxes and according to checklist protocols are what contribute to the enchantment of all things.

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