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June 25, 2020

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Thank you for sharing your thoughts on art making during the pandemic. I have had many of the same obstacles and concerns.

It was interesting to read your thoughts on why you seem to not feel like making art at this time. I used to be quite a prolific artist through most of my life, but after Don became ill and died, the art died with him. I often used to think he was my muse, but I think more than anything, for me, art comes from a place of happiness. My first years alone were very sad and I did not feel much like making art, although I did create a few things while spending winter in Bisbee. Oddly, I started feeling happy and like making art again in the summer of 2016 and began to do a lot of carving and painting. Unfortunately, that August, my mother became terminally ill and I went off to care for her and have not really felt like making art again since -- although I'm beginning to feel like doing so again. I was always able to write through the sad times, but making art was near impossible for me. Actually, I stopped photographing insects for about 2 years after Don died. The insect photography is very difficult -- it takes a kind of mental stillness and I found that during that time, my mind was so shaky and chaotic that the insects reacted and fled from me. I know how stupid that sounds, but it's true. When I am calm and centered, they usually just perch and can be photographed (butterflies, dragonflies, etc..) but when my mind is in chaos, I think my hands probably shake and maybe my body is giving off some kind of scary vibes and everything just flies away from me. Probably all more than you ever wanted to know about sadness and art or photography and insects! haha. In any case, I do think this is a hard time for anyone who feels empathy. I'm having a pretty hard time of it. I know everyone thinks I'm as steady as a rock - and I guess that I am -- but even I'm feeling my world turned somewhat upside down and living alone as I do, it's been pretty hard being a hermit. I feel a bit like I'm on some remote island here on my land by the brook. Take care. b

I would say that some of us put everything we think about life into making and leave it at that. I don't feel that I need to speak outside of the art I make because the art is an attempt at fullness, a completeness that expresses my view of how life is laid out and what is important to human beings--and that channels the Transcendentals.

Perhaps I will appear strange (well, aren't writers seen as strange?), but I dislike the assumption that my opinions about current events are any more important than anybody else's. To inform others of my opinions outside my narratives and poems is not my call in life, and the thought makes me cringe a bit. We're all swimming in a sea of detail and news, thanks to the internet etc. And perhaps that I don't wish to tire others who have minds of their own and can come to their own conclusions seems absurd to others. I don't know. And perhaps that is a result of my upbringing and a deep South insistence on modesty.

That you have a different slant on how to behave online or feel a different call than I do is perfectly fine with me. How could it not be? And how could that stance not be right for you?

And, I would also add that some people I know have been through difficult, scalding personal or family or health experiences during these months, to such a degree that such events cast terrible national events into the shade. I can think of five or six people I would describe that way at the moment.

So how could I judge what people choose to say or not say online, feeling as I do? And in the realm of saying, I will say that I enjoy seeing what you make and will no doubt continue to do so. You feel strongly. You imagine new enterprises. You frolic with freedom in a number of interesting disciplines, and I admire that.

"In these bruising days, any delicately made thing quickens the heart."

Thank you for your art work in the context of your written meditation on struggle. I find words and art work side by side to be illuminating.

Beth As I ponder this I would dare to say that your drawings and paintings are always relentlessly looking to make sense of the visible whether organically as growth or historically or geologically. There’s a structure beneath the delicately achieved colour (well not always) and surface. It might be that right now your capacity to make sense is being used up in other zones than the visual.

I and so many others I speak to now are steadied, comforted and strengthened by art. We turn to it, then re-enter this strange, intense time. I am grateful to those making art , though also depend on the vast trove history provides. I remind myself that those people lived through plagues that killed more, and could last for ten or fifteen years. Ebb and flow has been a mantra for months..

In 2007 I found I would have to give up the world of physical exercise (ski-ing, biking, long-distance swimming) and opt for something that didn't depend on muscle tone and quick reflexes. Something hard that would absorb me without going outdoors. Writing fiction, in fact. Since then, for better or for worse, and excluding blog activities, I've written perhaps half a million words in the form of four novels, fifty short stories and a mass of mainly unexceptional verse.

Quality aside I am able to tell myself I understand the mechanisms of fiction but of course this is only part of the story. Fiction (unless it consists merely of dressing up sequences of personal experience) demands creativity - the production of material that previously didn't exist. Rather like your paintings.

Creativity is far removed from correct grammar and flowing syntax. It doesn't reside anywhere in particular, it arrives and departs according to its own whims. Writing experience can nourish it but it cannot ensure its continuity. The struggles I've had with my fifth novel seem to suggest that it's not just my arms and legs that have succumbed to old age but my courtship of this mysterious ability. It still arrives but in odd bursts.

Old age is a distraction. But it's not the only distraction. You list a whole host of modern-day distractions and I'm not surprised you occasionally find yourself reluctant to create something that didn't previously exist. I'm on risky ground here but creativity seems to demand a sense of balance in our lives (adversity alone doesn't necessarily preclude being creative) and we can hardly claim to be living in balanced times. On the other hand when this "thing" does arrive it is thrice blessed.

As with singing where the pleasures - at least in my opinion - are more directly based on hard work.

All I know is that I WANT to feast my eyes on your flowers, delicate black lines, water color trails ...I WANT to be swept away by the rhythms in your landscapes -- as much as I want to read How To Be An Anti-Racist. And I defy anyone to claim s/he knows which experience will make me a larger, more loving, insightful and caring human being.

I've been thinking about this quite a bit since I first read it a few days ago. I'm more of a consumer of art than a maker of it, but in my case I have struggled with both. Primarily reading. I had just started an old Orwell when self-isolation started in mid-March, and it took me until mid-May to finish it. Not even a difficult read. Then I picked up another novel, and after a month I'm only about 60 pages in.

Photography is also a struggle. Not just that I'm not making photographs, but I find it hard to craft existing images or to print them. It just seems so frivolous and inconsequential.

The one place where I am finding some crafty success is in the kitchen. You've seen evidence of this on FB. I suppose food preparation has always had that calming ability, at least when it's approached as a desire more than a duty. In my case it works from several angles; it's not just the execution of a recipe but the discovery of going further into a dish in terms of its history and ways to create it. Plus it occupies my mind (in a good way) with all the resource management stuff in terms of getting in the supplies, planning the re-stocking, etc. It's like I've entered some parallel universe where the primary activity is the administration of the food supply for a world of two.

Beth, I appreciate and empathise with what you're saying in this post but I can't agree that those who are focusing on their own artwork (or any other interest) are necessarily being egotistical or indifferent to what's been happening in these deeply disturbing and tragic times. I am emotionally, intellectually and spiritually fully engaged with and constantly outraged and saddened by what is going on in the world, both close up and far away. But I've become reluctant to write public commnentaries expressing how I feel and think about these things, apart from occasional snippets, because I don't believe that adding my two cents to what is already an overcrowded cacophony of opinions serves any purpose whatsoever. Many people are more eloquent than I could ever be in this field and also have the power to actually make a difference to events. I hesitate to use the age card but, well, fact is that I have a lot less years ahead of me to fulfill my destiny (as I interpret it) so I'm trying to focus.

I think maybe what I wrote in this post was unclear, or misinterpreted, by some. When I said "Because we need art, I am 100% in favor of people continuing their practices and their work as much as possible," that's exactly what I meant, and I didn't mean to judge artists or writers who have continued to single-mindedly do their work. Plenty of those people have been clear over time about where they're coming from politically and as human beings, and there's no need to elaborate. The blogs and feeds I was referring to are from people who have continued to write about clothes, or their house and garden, or their grandchildren, or moaning about the fact that they can't travel, without any reference whatsoever to the fact that we're living through unprecedented times, both because of the virus and because of the anti-racist protests, that are shedding light on the enormous suffering of people who are less fortunate. If people don't want to share their political opinions, that's their prerogative and their business, of course! But at a time when we are being asked to think about our fellow human beings, and our white privilege, it's perhaps a time to show a bit of sensitivity and not flaunt things. I will be unfollowing some of those feeds -- which certainly doesn't include anyone who's written here!

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Who was Cassandra?


  • In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.

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