Posted by Jen Chua

The first time I spoke to Gerit Grimm, I was a trembling mess.

I was at the Jane Hartsook Gallery in NYC, and I went to the opening reception because, well, the artist would be there.  And in theory, I would speak to her.   I would speak to her, and we would somehow end up in a deep conversation, and through my garbled, tongue-tied stammers she would understand how much I loved clay, how passionate and responsible and worthy I was.  She would look into my soul and understand which grad school would be a good fit,  and we would talk and laugh like weʻd known each other forever over beers after the opening.

This did not happen.  I wandered the gallery in a daze, and drank more wine than I should have because I knew she was Somewhere in the room but I didnʻt know what she looked like.  When I finally figured out who she was, I immediately found myself in the opposite corner of the room, fascinated by my plate of cheese.  This went on all night.  My friend Julie nudged me as we were about to leave, and I still couldnʻt do it.  She dragged me over and – …  this part is blurry.  Maybe Julie introduced us.  Maybe I sputtered and told her my social security number.  Somehow it was communicated to her that I had a fear of artists, and she gave me a smile and a big hug, and moved on to another conversation.  I was shocked just enough to hug her back, and that was pretty much the end of the night.

I have always been terrified of speaking to anyone I deeply admire, and still am.  I once burst into tears and ran out of a theater after a play at the prospect of meeting the director (Ann Bogart), and I have definitely stalked artists across the halls of the convention center at the NCECA conference, following them in and out of rooms to the water fountain, daring myself to say hello (Robin Hopper).   As Iʻve gotten older, this inexplicable anxiety has eased somewhat, but it still comes and goes.

And if Iʻm being honest, NCECA had a lot to do with calming my fears about speaking to my heroes.
I quickly realized that the week of NCECA is, for many conference goers, the happiest time of the year.  Everyone is just a bit cheerier and friendlier, more generous with their time, and more willing to bring new people into the conversation.  People who only met at the last conference will embrace and gossip like they grew up together.  When NCECA brings together just about everyone within the field, it becomes really clear just how big and how small the ceramics world is.  And with all the lectures to attend, and galleries to visit, and booths to peruse,  thereʻs a joyous,merry feeling in the air no matter what the weather is like.

Speaking to someone you idolize doesnʻt seem all that awkward anymore when youʻre bound to rub shoulders at the Keynote.  And that total stranger standing behind you in line for coffee (s/he looks familiar from somewhere, but where?) is probably someone youʻre connected to through friends of friends.  So if youʻre at all inclined, introduce yourself.  You might have a conversation, you might not.  But at the next NCECA, youʻll be friends.

PS – Sorry if I’ve ever stalked you.  #sorrynotsorry

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