I paint when I’m sad. Always. It’s an automatic reaction, an impulse that’s been with me since I was a teenager painting the walls of my room words of affirmation and promises of a different life, one with more color and queerness and acceptance. Now I paint on found objects that have some history, a biography that speaks to my loss or heartache, some history that becomes a foundation for the reality I paint, often a reality I hoped existed.

“Sometimes, I weave baskets.” Sometimes I weave baskets when I need to meditate but cannot sit still, when I want to mull over ideas or work through a problem that has no easy solution, that cannot be rushed. over and under, the twilling, the twisting, holding under tension, shaping, misting, turning. I’m held in rapture, sometimes. Sometimes I put dried flowers in the basket; flowers I’ve collected from birthdays past or sprigs of herbs collected on hikes. The basket is a vessel to keep the herbaria safe until the season changes and the room needs to be cleansed. Sometimes the basket holds onions or garlic or memories. Often the baskets don’t hold anything as their value isn’t defined by their function.

When I am very lucky, I make ceramics in community. To share the joy of creation, to collective heal, to process while talking, while making, to share mate or tea, to learn what we can and cannot eat, what we do and do not like, to talk about health and relationships and the moon and what it would be like to live alone if we could. Together we practice non-attachment: to ideas and to products. Together we learn to find joy in failure, to re-define what failure means, to accept that things don’t need to be aesthetically appealing to hold value.

Increasingly, I write. Words on paper is my ideal form but for productivity and efficiency safe I write on my computer. Articles and book chapters and lectures, often about conservation-restoration ethics and decision making and documentation and the power of acknowledging our subjectivity and bias and preferences. The agency we gain when we practice self-awareness and begin to make decisions consciously based on values and the goal of collective well being. Usually I write to work through problems or to share some thoughts on a contradiction that I want to grapple with in company. In rare moments I write poetry, but mostly I write prose about my emotions and complex relationships and call it journaling. I hope to write better, to be less incumbered by pain or extractive labor systems and to write about all of the incredible people who pass through my life.

Natalya Swanson