On Art as Solace

“It may be that when we no longer know what to do,
we have come to our real work
and when we no longer know which way to go,
we have begun our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.”
― Wendell Berry

I went to the neighborhood grocery store today and the line outside and crowd inside was more busy than I had seen it since the very early, very panicky days of the pandemic. There’s a feeling of impending change, chaos, something hard to define. I have been asked a lot about what my plans are for Tuesday night, election night here in the US. This isn’t something I have had to consider in previous years, so I haven’t really had a good answer.

But like Wendell Berry, I recognize that the real journey begins when we realize there is no good answer, no clear road, and that real creative and innovative rewards can come from that as well. So, like other times when I have reached something that seems impossible to navigate around, I will be in my studio for the most part. When I’m creating with my hands, it frees up my mind to process without judgment, and in that processing I often find inspiration, motivation and hope. Honestly I will probably be spending less time online and more in my studio for the next few weeks, so if I don’t post for a little bit, that’s what’s-what.

Other things that my husband and I have planned for Tuesday include a text chain with his friends so that he feels socially connected, and also the two of us planning out some fun things for the remainder of 2020; things that are within our control in terms of geography, budget and pandemic considerations and so are unlikely to change or disappear. It is so important to have things to look forward to.

It will get better, it always does. Take care of yourself. Control what you can control and let the rest be what it will be. Go to your art materials, musical instrument, the draft of your novel or screenplay. Find a way to use this time for good.

Catching Up on a Tuesday

Things have been pretty busy, and time has gotten away from me here in this still unnamed studio. I’ve made a good stack of new work, and spent the weekend in East Texas doing some research and getting some more photos and other items to use.


It was nice to be home in East Texas, and my work on the Pine Curtain project made it a little more interesting to be there. The nature of it being a community history means that it gave me a lot of new things to talk about with my family, which was fun. Both my mom’s side and my dad’s side are from and still live there, a mile or two apart, and their extended families came from other parts of the piney woods. So, with those two perspectives there is a wealth of information and lots to learn. Also, as time is doing its thing with my parents and older relatives (and me!) it is important and valuable to get these stories as close to firsthand as I can, while I can.

During a break in activity, I went to the older of the two community cemeteries and walked around looking for names that matched my research. Many of the headstones from that era (late 1800s) were pretty weathered, but I identified a few who I had been reading about. It was cool to see, and to connect what I am doing to real people.


So, now I am back to the more usual routine, and that always feels good. Now that my Etsy store is stocked and up, I can look toward 2021 and work toward some of those goals!

Researching East Texas History

My research assistant, Bluebonnet, hard at work.

This week, I discovered a few new online resources to help my research:

The JStor academic database, which has a free tier during the pandemic

The SFASU East Texas Research Center online libraries

The Texas Historical Commission library

AND, yesterday, I received my copy of “They Left No Monuments,” a volume of East Texas human interest stories by the late historian Bob Bowman.

I’m just scratching the surface of these resources, but I have already learned so much! It’s really exciting to read this information, find archival images, and think about how it might fit into writing, art or both.

I’ve settled into a routine where I work and write in my studio most afternoons, and in the evenings I dig around online and read. Routine and purpose have been things I really miss about pre-COVID times when my business was stronger. If you are struggling, too, I urge you to just pick something fun to do and dive in. If you have a fuzzy assistant or two to keep things lively, even better.

Besties

“Besties, 1980” by Stephanie Khattak. Embellished acrylic monotype.

In rural East Texas, your first best friends are your cousins and your neighbors. And often, your cousin IS your neighbor! In my case, my cousin spent lots of time visiting my grandmother, who lived just one stop sign and few houses away. So, almost a neighbor.⁠

I’m an only child, and people often ask “Weren’t you lonely growing up?” ⁠

Because of my cousin and my neighbor, I really can’t relate to that question. How could I be lonely when one bestie lived at the far end of my driveway and the other was conveniently at all family functions? Plus, they’re older than me by a few years, so I don’t know what it’s like not to have friends like them.

An upside to being related to and living next door to your best friends is that they’re stuck with you for life. Lucky them! And lucky, lucky me.