by Andrew Tuck
Acquiring new passions or skilling up need not be the preserve of youth. Life can be made more fulfilling if we retrain or rediscover at every stage of our lives.
Roberto Paparcone’s studio in Palma de Mallorca is a veritable sanctuary. Step inside and life seems calmer. It’s hard to know exactly where this springs from – is it Paparcone’s almost yogi-like calmness or that using a potter’s wheel demands total focus? What is clear is that this sanctuary is something that his students love. “Once they are here, they all switch off,” he says, whose own work carries the “Paparkone” brand stamp.
He enjoys teaching – no more than four students at a time – and many of the attendees have become skilled artisans even in later life. Yet the majority are here for joy. “They are never looking at the clock,” he says. Most are in their thirties through to fifties – lecturers, landscape artists, designers; all united by the lure of hands touching clay, the quest to acquire new skills, the desire to do something new.
Paparcone understands his students because their story is his story. His training as an architect took him from his home near Naples to Delft, Rotterdam and San Sebastián. Then in 1998, aged 27, he headed to Milan – his first job was designing a cemetery. The grey skies were too much and by the mid-2000s he was rising to be director of a leading interior design business in Barcelona. His partner bought him a course with Misako Homma, a potter in the city, and his life began to change. He was enraptured. He set up a studio in Mallorca.
Commissions came. Personal renewal too. “I just never stopped,” he says. “When you find something you like, it’s easy to learn. It’s amazing.”
As we all hopefully live longer, and enjoy robust health too, there is a lot to learn from Paparcone’s story – and that of many more people who have navigated lengthy careers and rich lives, then decided that it’s time to change direction to try something new. In the past industrial, cultural and peer pressures pushed us along linear life paths with few opportunities for simply starting over again. Today, economics there are few jobs for life now – can force us to retrain but for others it’s a gentler choice to learn a new skill. Perhaps they feel that their life is in a rut, that they are suddenly financially independent, free at last of a deadweight partner or that they just need to test themselves. Whatever the cause, more of us are embracing this world of change.
And so we should. With the passing of time new passions and pursuits evolve; things that never crossed our minds in our twenties suddenly seem desirable, important. Of course, many people say, “I have left it too late to retrain” or “You need to be young to learn new skills.” But is that true? Yes, our brains function differently as we age and perhaps absorbing a new language, for example, will require more hours of study than when you were of school age. But maybe your focus and commitment will come easier now to help you cope just fine.
The important thing is to not write yourself out of the story. Think of Mr Paparcone, who took a class, found a calling, moved to an island and spun the potter’s wheel to his heart’s content. This could be your future too. Though you might have to push me out of the way first.
About the writer: Tuck is MONOCLE’s editor in chief and host of The Urbanist. His Spanish is coming on leaps and bounds but his pottery still leaves a little to be desired.
Text: Andrew Tuck
Image credits from MONOCLE Issue 157: Ben Roberts