Pottery before P-Sets

How marriage and a reindeer plate gave me some much needed perspective
MAR 2019
Sam
M.
Technology and Policy Program

I wouldn’t really call myself a pottery guy. Don’t get me wrong… I can appreciate a good bowl every once in a while, and some of those vases can really knock my socks off, but that hardly means I was dreaming of making my own. And yet, there I was in a small pottery painting shop called the Clay Room in the middle of a Monday afternoon. Instead of writing the essay due in four days for my class on sustainability, or the chapter of my thesis that I had promised to complete by the end of that week, I would end up spending four hours of my Monday afternoon meticulously applying three coats of paint to an image of a smiling reindeer on the face of a cookie plate.

So why was I, a self-proclaimed non-pottery guy, spending my Monday afternoon at the Clay Room? One word: marriage.

I got married on July 7th, 2018, about halfway through my two-year master’s program at MIT. Some people might think this is crazy. They might be right. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love my wife. She is the best thing to ever happen to me. But marriage is not all sunshine and rainbows. My wife and I spent the six years prior to getting married battling the emotional warzone of a long-distance relationship, and while that might sound challenging, we had a rude awakening when we started living together for the first time ever.

A lot changed for me from the first year of grad school to the second because of my marriage. I moved from my studio apartment in Sidney Pacific to a larger (but really not that much larger) one bedroom apartment in Eastgate, one of MIT’s family housing options. I can’t get away with piling up dishes or laundry anymore. And it’s funny how buying groceries for two is more expensive than buying groceries for one…

None of this compares to the challenges my wife has faced since getting married. She had to move from North Carolina to Boston, where she was greeted with a not-very-large one bedroom in Eastgate and the cold that paralyzes her fingers. She had to start her career as a social worker in a new city, landing a job as a residential counselor in a children’s mental health unit. And she had to live with a guy whose former diet primarily consisted of frozen chicken patties and yogurt.

Both of us have had to adjust to a new life. We’ve argued about personal space, constructing Ikea furniture, whose turn it is to do the laundry, where to go for dinner (yeah, that one gets worse with marriage)… We’ve learned how not to push each other’s buttons, when to give each other space, and when to give each other a hug.

For all of these changes, the biggest is a newly gained appreciation for what is most important to me: a relationship that will last far longer than my relationship with my thesis. In my first year of graduate school, I worked like crazy. Endless meetings for group projects. Hours and hours of banging my head into my keyboard, struggling with problem sets late into the night, haunted by the constant dinging that confirmed what I already knew… my code would still not compile. Weekends spent at my desk contemplating the costs and benefits of dropping out of MIT and travelling to Papua New Guinea to set up a yurt on the beach instead of trying to write an essay on adaptive regulation (the numbers just aren’t there).

In my first year as a graduate student, it seemed like the only thing that really mattered was getting good grades and finishing my thesis. Since my master’s was all I could think about, these were the only goals that  defined my life. But that’s not the case anymore. Now I have to make time for the one thing I know will last long after I move on from MIT. Now, weekends are spent hanging out with my best friend on the couch being totally unproductive because sometimes you need just that. Now, dinners are shared with a partner and involve dishes, instead of a two-minute microwavable chicken patty. Now, when my wife has had three straight weeks of five-year-olds cussing her out at work and asks to go paint pottery on her day off to try to forget about it, suddenly my grades and thesis seem a little less urgent. Maybe I should have spent a little more time on that paper, but I passed. Lord knows I have a long way to go on my thesis, but it’ll get done. And maybe our reindeer plate isn’t very good (though in my non-pottery-guy opinion, it’s a masterpiece), but neither of us is going to forget the four hours we spent painting a reindeer plate on a random Monday afternoon, and, for me, that’s time well spent.