What You Do Matters and Thoughts on Diversity and Healing the World with Beauty

I’ve had a lot of thoughts swirling around in my head this week. I’m going to try untangling them here, though perhaps things might get messier in the process. I’d love for you to jump in with your thoughts, too. I want this space to be a safe place to share ideas and perspectives. I want it to be inclusive and kind and supportive. I want to spread joy and beauty and love and I want this joy and beauty and love to help heal our world.

mushrooms and snails.jpg

I no longer “watch the news”, but I do try to keep up with what’s going on. Reading headlines, delving into articles, watching videos or live streams of important events. I know each of us keep involved in the way (and depth) that works best for us. It can be difficult not to get overwhelmed. There’s so much heartbreak. So much that’s frightening or maddening or both.

I am fortunate to have the privilege of being able to “turn off” the news when it gets too much. I’ve had my share of hardships, but I’ve never had to worry about where my next meal will come from. I’ve never had to worry about the safety of my family or wonder where we will sleep.

Last weekend I was feeling the heaviness. What I do day to day — my art, my classes, this blog, the Handmade Joy Exchange — felt so small and insignificant, frivolous, even, in the face of the world’s brokenness.

A Page from the second collaborative sketchbook by Dana Barbieri and Anne Butera

After reading and watching more about the US Government shut down and about migrants seeking asylum I read about the devastatingly low population counts of monarch butterflies. Then I stumbled upon the discussion raging on Instagram in the knitting and craft community around racism and diversity*. That there is a vein of division and anger running through a community I’ve always thought of as being loving and supportive and kind was eye opening to me.

Our world is clearly hurting.

And there is no easy remedy.

Paintings from an art night I taught for the girl scouts last week

The other day the Stampington & Company newsletter featured my article from Artful Blogging Magazine as a free download. The news at the time I wrote the article was especially ugly. In that way not much has changed. My words came back as a reminder as I re-read what I wrote:

At times when heart-sickening headlines dominate, what I do in my little corner of the world seems so small and insignificant: a painting of flowers, a joy list, an incitement to do something creative and pay attention to the world’s glimmers of magic. Art is a small thing. Blogging is a small thing. In the face of the world’s darkness, what difference does it make? It’s easy to doubt the value of what we do when what we do is small or seemingly so. But then I’m reminded of the quote attributed to Mother Teresa: “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” I certainly don’t compare myself to a woman who devoted her life to the service of others, but I find solace and encouragement in her assertion that what we do matters, even when small.

My Article in Artful Blogging Magazine

What I do matters. What you do matters, too.

I just finished reading the book House of Dreams. It’s a biography of L. M. Montgomery. When she was writing Anne of the Island World War I had just broken out. L. M. Montgomery “felt ridiculous writing about college parties, exams and romances while the world was falling to pieces. But as she had promised herself years earlier, she meant to be a ‘messenger of optimism and sunshine’”. Maud’s life was difficult and at times very unhappy (she suffered from mental illness and took her own life), but what a beautiful gift she gave to the world.

Last Sunday Matthias and I went out to brunch at The Rooted Spoon. I wanted to see my art in place when the restaurant was open. We had such a good time. The food was delicious. The atmosphere was festive.

At the Rooted Spoon in Viroqua Wisconsin Enjoying Brunch and a show of my watercolor paintings

Seeing my work on display there was a “pinch me” moment. I’ve gotten so many compliments on the show. One of the words our server used to describe my paintings was “happy”. I’m so glad that the joy comes through when people look at my art.

I know that there are no simple answers. There is no easy fix and perhaps no fix at all for the world’s ugliness and pain. But each of us can do something.

I’m going to keep making my art, keep sending it out into the world. I’m going to keep sharing encouraging and optimistic thoughts here on my blog. I’m going to keep sharing what I know about art making in person and online.

Now that I’ve had the racism present in the knitting and craft community pointed out to me I’m going to work on my own thinking. Work on my own actions. In person I strive to treat everyone kindly, to treat everyone as I’d like to be treated (working in a library this comes as second nature. The foundation of the public library in America is that all are welcome). I now live in a community that is 96.5% white. Where I used to live was 47.2% white. Although I love living in a small town, I miss the diversity of culture. Through the internet I can connect with many different kinds of people from all over the world. I need to ask myself how diverse is the online community of people I follow and encourage and support? How can I be more inclusive?

And finally, as I think about and plan my garden for the coming year (one of my favorite winter activities), the plight of the monarch butterfly is never far from my thoughts. Somewhere I read that it’s possible they could be extinct in 20 years. This article has lots of helpful advice. I have some other ideas brewing, too. Stay tuned.

Life is a work in progress. And I’m finding that my choice of GROW as my word for the year is just right.


*I first heard about the blog post that kicked off the discussion from my friend Ishrat. After that I popped around reading other perspectives. I found this post by Atia of the blog Bright Blooms to be a thoughtful thread in the conversation (her blog and Instagram are lovely and I was so glad Ishrat introduced me to her). Jen Hewett’s thoughts, shared in her Instagram Stories, were especially thoughtful and eye opening (and made me embarrassed to revisit my Artist Interviews and see the lack of diversity there). Gaye Glasspie (whose Instagram is filled with her orange knitting and her gorgeous afro) shared a quite a few thoughtful posts and perspectives (read her toe analogy). GG led me to Caliesha and the moving video she shared in her IG Stories.

I know many, many more people have joined in this discussion and I’ve read quite a few other posts and threads. These are just a few; they affected me and they struck me as respectful and clear headed. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments and/or add links to other points of view in the conversation and remember that I do want this space to be respectful and kind. Kindness matters. Always.