Tokyo, Japan

November 17, 2019

Magic from Mud

A few weeks ago, I sat around with eight strangers and polished some mud.

And then I polished it some more. And some more.

And then I looked down - and I saw something truly spectacular.

See, what we were all doing was learning a Japanese art that's been around for millennia called dorodango (literally, "mud dumpling").

It's a Japanese construction technique originally used for walls (up to three meters high), but eventually turned toward making pieces of art.

The ingredients are simple. Take a ball of mud. If you're building it yourself, get some dirt with some clay, sand, and a little bit of straw. Make a rough ball, and let it rest until it's dry.

Then, start shaping and polishing. We used the back of a hole-cutter drill bit and a sake glass, but anything round will do.

At a few points in the process, add a bit of lime, or a lime/sand mixture. Don't have them? Just add some finer grains of dirt. Then keep smoothing and smoothing and smoothing.

Once you have a solid, smooth ball, you can even add some paint. And then take the lip of a sake cup, and polish - gently - until your arms fall off.

But after three hours of work, the results are worth it.

I rolled my first finished dorodango over in my hands, and to every part of my brain, it looked and felt like a solid sphere of polished blue-green jade. The smoothness. The striations and color. The weight. The way it reflected the light.

I glanced over at one of the rough brown mud balls we all started with, and I thought about how many things in life are like this.

Take something simple.

Make it a little better, a little better, a little better - until it shines.

Have a polishing week,

-Steven

p.s. The best thing I saw all week was this fascinating and perspective-opening video from the awesome folks at Get in the Robot about the intersection of anime, racism, and the cognitive dissonance of complex things.

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