Tag Archives: hope

An Offering of Fortitude, with Consuelo Jimenez Underwood

By: Teresa Conchas ‘22, Sarah Doyle Center Student Program Coordinator 

My antique dining room table in hot and sticky San Antonio, TX

Consuelo Jimenez Underwood is a bright soul who sings to the world with welcoming arms. In her early seventies, she beams with an optimistic and enthusiastic energy that is especially touching these days. Each time I experience the treasure of being in her presence, I notice a change in my body and mind — my shoulders relax and my words flow out with ease. Consuelo has a gift for opening, and it comes to her so naturally. 

As many of you in our Sarah Doyle community may recall, Consuelo visited Brown this past fall on a week-long artist residency, during which she collaborated with a group of undergraduates to create Exposing Unseen Boundaries, the most recent installment in her “Borderlines” series. The exhibition showcased a combination of new and old works: the “Brown-Violet Borderline,” “Apocalyptic Rain Song,” a hand-woven barbed-wire basket and tapestry, and photographs documenting a performance along the borderlands. Her artwork reaches deeply into the dynamic political and ecological forces emerging from the U.S.-Mexico border, and sifts through these complex entanglements with bold strokes of color and texture. 

I was fortunate to spend a couple hours chatting with her one afternoon in mid-April. Below you will find some personal reflections and meditations in response to our conversation together. Moreover, I had the opportunity to help out with elements of the Exposing Unseen Boundaries exhibition; included are images of the “power wand” I created (first photo) and the “soil blessings” I arranged (third photo) for its two main wall installations. 

On Solitude

As a fellow textile artist myself, I am all too familiar with the labor-intensive and social distancing aspects that accompany the art-making process. And while I find comfort in the company of my needle and thread and the repetitive motions of embroidering in and out and weaving over and under, every now and then I feel as though asking us to commit our whole selves as artists to the work is too much of a demanding sacrifice — the piling hours of isolation and concentration can become unbearable at times. Thus, when I look upon Consuelo’s beautiful and intricate weavings and paintings, I am filled with wonder and appreciation in reverence to her ability to inhabit this liminal space, carving it out as a universe of her own and transforming it into one of truth, liberation, and imagination. 

When I inquired into her experiences with solitude, she addressed it with a warmth reserved for old friends, referencing Emily Dickinson’s perspective on “solitude of space.” For her, this solitude of “a soul admitted to itself” is long-term, and she is intimately acquainted with its sacred possibility, urging us to presently “do something with it,” to share and create in it. 

Her words on solitude particularly resonate with our moment, as we learn to navigate the difficult and lonely waters of our newly-imposed social guidelines. In our state of quarantine, how can we learn from solitude, find grounding in it, and most importantly, care for ourselves and our loved ones amidst it? I am convinced that art has a vital role in addressing these big questions, in helping us process and understand the new world we are confronted with. Art is healing and unifying, and we should embrace creative practices as a vessel for learning to live with ourselves and our thoughts during this period of remaking and adjustment. Though she is “sad that it’s happening so harshly,” if we have the time and energy, Consuelo asks us to pause and rest, to listen and reflect (inwardly and outwardly) in the silence of our solitude. It will be challenging — approach it with an abundance of patience and tenderness for yourself — but I am excited for the learning, discovering, and imagining that will come of it. 

On Borders

While this is a time engulfed in fear and uncertainty that has exacerbated division and inequality in previously unrecognized ways, Consuelo insists that we resist growing and expanding borders and boundaries — which can be a particularly troubling task when we are required to remain six feet apart. We concluded that borders have reached a new extreme, as we carry them with us on our own person now, “like you’re wearing them.” Several weeks later, this statement still haunts me, its implications becoming further real with each passing day. 

However, rather than dwell in this fracturing, I am choosing to think about borders in the counter-context of inhabiting a shared world through strengthening ethics of connection and care and deepening meanings of community. Nowadays I find myself being more purposeful about acknowledging and cherishing living presences of all sorts — whether that’s greeting neighbors I hadn’t spoken to in years along my daily bike rides or tuning into the birds happily chirping from my front porch — gestures that had long gone neglected and taken for granted. Our restorative solitude has allowed us to “get to know ourselves in order to better understand others,” making our points of connection that much more intentional, enriching, and precious. 

On Hope and Art Futures

Consuelo also emphasized our collective human resiliency, expressing that “we can sustain anything” while we firmly hold onto hope and resist the defeat of despair. Although we are enduring immense pain and devastation, she considers our current moment a call to shift and improve, for “when there’s chaos, it’s a time to change the world a little bit.” A profound structural change is long-due, and it is up to us to accountably fight for it — we owe this to ourselves and the loved ones we have lost. Equipped with a renewed vision of justice and the might to see it through, we will mend and repair the fabric of our humanity in radical ways. 

She assures us that the arts aren’t going anywhere, and that their power to build consciousness and uplift communities is more important now than ever. Anticipating a return “back to the hand” and the rise of guerilla art activity in a public reclamation of art that is accessible and relevant, she views this as a positive reinstatement of the arts as being for and belonging to everyone, the “big empty gallery and museum spaces were getting to be too stuffy for their own good” anyway. And though the arts are the first to be cut from budgets, we will keep them alive and flourishing with our creative resourcefulness. So dream tremendously about the world you want to live in and then take part in actively creating it with your pen, brush, guitar, voice, body, etc. 

Consuelo believes in the promise of young people with her whole heart and spirit. Her confidence in this next generation’s potentiality to sew the tears and scraps of our broken society together bestows dually upon us inspiration and commitment. We will continue to make movement, breathe, survive — and surely do good too. 

For those who missed our series of events featuring artist Consuelo Jimenez Underwood, included are links to the artworks she created and the talk she gave while on campus in October:

High-resolution photos of the Exposing Unseen Boundaries exhibition available at this link: https://brown.widencollective.com/c/pv5fm3af  

For more information about the artist and her collection of works/exhibitions, visit her website at http://www.consuelojunderwood.com/

Image credits: Photography by Nicholas W Dentamaro/Brown University

Nontraditional References (Part II)

By: Timothy Shiner, Senior Associate Dean, Student Support Services

My kitchen table, Pawtucket, RI

Back in 2005, I was asked to write a brief informal reflection as part of a journal published for students and alums of my graduate school program. At the time, I was working at the University of Vermont Women’s Center, focusing largely on sexual violence prevention and response, and my self-care skills were not very good. While I had been out for many years, I was struggling with my identity as a queer man and where I fit in the LGBTQ community. I was burnt out and carrying a lot of personal and vicarious trauma. There was so much inequity and injustice in the world and having finished my graduate degree and worked a few years in the “real world”, I was disappointed to learn that “adulthood” didn’t mean inherent stability, peace of mind, or an ability to control my circumstances and prevent bad things from happening to me or others.

I didn’t really know how to write such a reflection at that moment. Being aware of even a fraction of the struggle which happens in the world, I had never really been able to believe that “everything happens for a reason.” But I had become deeply impacted by feminist and womanist thinkers like bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Ursula LeGuin, and Gloria Anzaldúa and I had come to believe that whether things happen for a reason or not, we can make meaning out of the most difficult circumstances. And while I had been looking to these and other sources (some of them accepted as “scholarship” by the academy) for comfort during that difficult time, it wasn’t until a series of moments outside the traditional academy; an art show, a performance art piece, reading a series of children’s novels; that I started being able to make a little meaning of my own. The reflection I had been asked to write became an outline of my process at that moment; an exploration of Nontraditional References and how they can help us make meaning.

Fifteen years later, like many of us, I find myself catching up on shows I’ve been meaning to watch, returning to old favorite works, and spending a lot of time in the kitchen. One of the shows was the first season of the adaptation of those same children’s novels from 15 years ago; HBO’s His Dark Materials. The adaptation of Phillip Pullman’s books is very good, I think, but it is a later point in the novels that the viewing reminded me of and that I have returned to again and again over time to reground myself in difficult moments (so minor spoiler alert…).

In my piece from 2005, I wrote, “In Pullman’s fantasy world, children are being severed from their spirit. A force called Dust fights for consciousness, for the end of oppression, and for balance and harmony with other humans and with the world itself” (Shiner, 2005, p. 137). As the novels progress, this force of Dust is endangered and is being siphoned away but near the end of the story, a wise character tells the protagonists:

Conscious beings make Dust – they renew it all the time, by thinking and feeling and reflecting, by gaining wisdom and passing it on. And if you help everyone else in your world to do that, by helping them learn and understand about themselves and each other and the way everything works, and by showing them how to be kind instead of cruel, and patient instead of hasty, and cheerful instead of surly, and above all how to keep their minds open and free and curious…Then you will renew enough to replace what is lost…” (Pullman, 2000, p. 491-492)

This moment in a fantasy novel, this charge, continues to bring me purpose and hope in difficult moments and to remind me of the simple goals of why I work in education. Whether in novel or television format, this work of fiction has helped me make meaning for almost two decades.

The worlds of science fiction and fantasy have always been a lens of meaning making for me and no one has shaped my worldview with this tool more than Octavia Butler. She wrote words and captured ways of thinking I return to again and again. “All that you touch, You Change. All that you Change, Changes you. The only lasting truth is Change” (Butler, p. 81). In this world that seems changed beyond recognition, how do we make meaning? Butler reminds me that change is constant, and that I need to accept that. I need to accept that I cannot control change. But I also need to bring intentionality about the way I impact every person I interact with as everything that you touch, you change.

One of the things that has changed dramatically for me in the past 15 years is that I no longer view my life in terms of work only. The simple things of life that restore me have become just as important as the meaningful work which I do each day on campus. And nowhere does this practice feel more salient than in my kitchen. For me, cooking and baking ground me. It is an opportunity to be creative, to feel the satisfaction of working with my hands, and to engage in a practice that nourishes my body and my soul. And, it is a deep connection to my mother.

Mushroom lasagna with bechamel sauce, a variation on how mom taught me to make it.

As a child, I was often in the kitchen while my mother (and on many occasions, my grandmother and aunt) cooked. Whether it was a nightly meal or the once annual two-day process of canning grape jelly from the vines in my great aunt’s yard, the warmth, aromas, and conversation were “home.” The recipes she taught me are still part of my rotation: oatmeal scotchie cookies, cornbread and chili, and my all-time favorite meal, homemade baked mac and cheese. But now it is an exchange of recipes and conversation, we are mother and son, but also friends. She calls me from 2000 miles away when I’ve had a rough day even if I didn’t tell her I was having one. She just knows. During this time of isolation, we are speaking every day. Our conversations range but we always talk about what we are cooking. The food and the relationships nourish us both.

A television adaptation of my favorite books…returning to writings that have shaped my worldview…a recipe and a conversation…nontraditional references continue to help me make meaning out of difficult moments in life. They help me to find peace of mind, to let go of things I cannot control, to feel grounded and connected. They help me to hope.

I closed my 2005 piece reflecting on a performance art piece I had seen by Arab-Canadian feminist author Joanna Kadi entitled Hope is a Four-Letter Word. As I try to make meaning in this moment, to find peace of mind, and to reground myself, her words seem more important than ever.

We are plunked down at the crossroads of past, present, and present. Not past, present, and future. A crossroad is comprised of two places, not three. We need to let go of the future. We need to let go of the 8,741 negative, scary, awful futures we have been composing in our minds night after night. We need to look at the ground under our feet…touch Mother Earth, touch healing soil, seek prairie remnant. Understand our past, understand our present, understand that we are not present in the future. Make our choice about whether to include hope in our present. In the actions we take to change the world, to create the world, in the personal movement we make and the larger movement we make, let us bring hope with us, let us insist on her presence. Above the door write, “Seize hope all who enter here.” (Kadi, 2004)

Image credits: Banner image by maradon 333/Shutterstock.com; lasagna image by Timothy Shiner


Butler, O. (2012). Parable of the Sower. Open Road Media.

Kadi, J. (April 20, 2004). Hope is a four-letter word. Live performance at the University of Vermont, Burlington, VT.

Pullman, P. (2000). His dark materials: The amber spyglass. Alfred A. Knopf.

Shiner, T. (2005). Nontraditional References. The Vermont Connection, 26, 136-141.