LOVE L-E-T-T-E-R-S (Part Four)

by Hills Snyder August 7, 2021

If we were a country in North America in 2017, with all of the flat, sour and deadly notes hit that year, I think we would have begun sensing an interval. Maybe we did, but did any of us know the nature of what was coming in 2020? Did anyone know the distance between the tones we once described as “normal?”

Both of those questions imply the same answer — an answer still hovering in suspense — so in the meantime, a lengthy moment to re-establish connection. Nobody I know is reaching for auto-tune.

A growing number of people have been asked two questions, followed by a third in response to their answers to the first two.

Question 1: What is at the top of your mind?

Question 2: What is in the bottom of your heart?

This is the final installment of LOVE L-E-T-T-E-R-S, but there really isn’t any reason to rein in our longing to find each other. I’m sending sincere thanks to everybody that has been part of this project and an equal thank you to those who wanted to, but could not. And big appreciation to those who have read and considered the thoughts and words gathered here.

Reveal, revel and read on.

Kimberley Aubuchon (artist, San Antonio, TX)

Top of my Mind: 

Death and Breath 

One…….Two……….Three………….Four……………… . It was April 26, 2016. I sat watching his chest rise and fall with each breath counting the seconds between each one … knowing that soon he would take his last. In the background was a frantic woman pacing, trying to clean up “the” room that was filled with odds and ends of medical equipment and laundry that hadn’t been folded. She had been patiently waiting for this day that she didn’t know had arrived yet. Five…………Six……………..Seven………………………………… Eight. I kept hearing her voice which was now just a wave of mottled sound in the background. When I can’t sleep I count my breath. Deep breath in one count, exhale out two, and repeat until ten then start over from one until I eventually zonk out. I learned this meditation technique at a Buddhist retreat I attended in my 20s and in addition to helping me get some zzzzzzz’s it also helped calm me when life got chaotic. THIS was chaotic. What am I doing “here”? Counting the breaths toward one’s eternal sleep. For a moment I couldn’t breath when I realized my position. Nine…………………………………………. (eerie pause)……………………  Ten………………………………………………….. One. As I nervously start this cycle my heart starts racing with anticipation of the worst kind… death. I grab his hand. It was cold with a hint of warmth. Two…………………………………………………………………….Three……………………………………………………………………… ………..Four………………………………………………………………………………………………………. . I took a deep breath and waited for his chest to rise. That moment froze in time as he made the transition from life to death. I flashbacked to my sister giving birth to my niece. I was in the birthing room and announced the time of birth and recall what an incredible experience that was. Now, I am counting the seconds of NO air coming from my father’s lungs to his ultimate demise. Suddenly the background noises became clear again. “We need to rearrange the furniture in here,” she said. I motion to her because I couldn’t find a word. I gently laid my head on his chest for a moment to confirm his passing, and quietly gave him a kiss on the forehead and said “see you later Dad” and left the room to her. Outside of the room was a hallway that stretched past three rooms to get to the living room. That particular hallway became seemingly long and endless, like an Escher drawing. As I slothfully navigate that hallway, I can hear her weep behind the closed door. 

My father was a potter for a living and had a studio behind his home that he would diligently report to daily at about 5:30 am with a pot of coffee brewing and the Rolling Stones playing in the background. He would resurface in the kitchen around the noontime hour to make himself lunch, then would go back to the studio where he would continue “throwing pots” until about 3 pm, when you’d find him again in the kitchen, this time popping the top off of a cold brewski. I hadn’t been in his studio for months. It was always a lively place. Lots to look at, plants, pots, random artworks that he traded with other artist friends. I decided that would be a good place to find some solace before folks started coming to the house. To my surprise, I found my dad’s studio exactly the way it was left. His potters wheel dirty and unkempt from the last time he worked, tools still on the tray. Empty chair. It was like he took a smoke break and never came back. It was then that I realized that his “life” had ended months earlier. This image is haunting. 

“I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart: I am, I am, I am” —Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar 


Bottom of my Heart: 

Life and how to live it (cactus gardening perspective) 

While contemplating what to do with myself in May 2020, I found a discarded aloe plant lying alongside the road in my neighborhood. Feeling bad for it and seeing its potential, I retrieved it knowing I had some agaves and cactus-like plants that were just “living” in pots in the yard, and an area that I might give some life to since we had been forced to stay home, and being outside was ambiguous — so I wanted to make a nice “chill” space for us to hang and enjoy summer nights. Since then, I have acquired several hundred different plants, joined two Cactus clubs, started propagating and cultivating, and am now trying to grow cactus from seed. In the many varieties I have there are so many different kinds, shapes, sizes, colors, and some of them have produced some of the most spectacular flowers I have ever seen. 

Unlike us, they don’t need much. Bountiful sunshine, oxygen, fast-drying soil and some water when it’s really really warm. When winter months hit no cacti should get watered … and they will be just fine. If I go out of town for a week or forget to water them for a month … they will be just fine. What may seem like neglect to most plants is a way of survival for these pricks. 

Cacti fun fact — All plants have a stoma (plant pores) — most of them small, open during the daytime hours and close when the sun goes down. In the desert, there is no water to spare and/or waste. Therefore, cacti does the exact opposite of what almost all other plants do; they “breath” during the night. By closing stomata when it is hottest and opening them when it is cooler the cactus conserves huge amounts of water. I spend lots of time with these plants talking to them, singing to them, and dancing around them. They give me hope, especially knowing that I contribute to their well-being, but I bet when the sun goes down they feel great relief. 

I’m learning a lot from these sometimes dangerous, fragile, toxic wonders. They are fascinating man- made ‘looking’ objects, their geometry often more baffling than their beauty. This garden, which I’ve humbly named “Succ-It Square” has become my happy place for lack of a better term. Because of this garden, we have new yard visitors — Anoles, butterflies, honey bees, bumble bees, hummingbirds, and bats to name a few. And sometimes there are unwanted guests. Due to weather events I have to move them around, in and out of safe places. During the winter we decided to purchase a greenhouse kit that myself and a few neighbors assisted in constructing one windy Sunday afternoon. It was the most fucked-up puzzle I’d ever put together. You know it’s not going to be fun when it states boldly in the instructions that you should not drink alcohol when putting it together. Much later we learned why. In this 6 x 8’ flimsy plastic and metal construct, I housed my garden to protect it from temps below 40 degrees. While a greenhouse provides safety from the elements, warmth and protection — enter unwanted guests. Ants, aphids, mites, and shit that is usually the result of too much humidity and not enough moving air — they have been there and are quite comfortable … so more drastic measures need to be taken. 

Cacti are plants of appreciation and solitude, love and madness, ugliness and beauty, toughness and gentleness. That’s why the cactus in Succ-It Square have come to represent endurance, tenacity and strength in the face of adversity — they survive even when it seems impossible. 

Quite frankly I think I only breathe at night too. I’m not that good at breathing in. I’m not that good at breathing in. 

3. I’m grateful that this project caught you ready for what is one beautiful exhale. No further question. Is it OK with you if I just sit here in Succ-It Square and breathe?

Anytime pal. Stay in Succ-It Square as long and as often as you need to. After the deadline for edits I had more things to say … and how I thought a lot about your Artpace Book of the Dead. I tried to imagine my dad (and sometimes myself) in that lounge chair with the sky portal during the transition, and hope to hell some appropriately dressed being suggests a shot of tequila when on the other side — after the maze and uncertainty to the living room. That artwork makes more and more sense to me as I move thru the universe and try to figure out and be friends with the things I don’t know. Thank you for this.

One question for you however…why no question 3? I’m looking forward to the project and am curious of the bigger project of course. 🙂

And I leave you with a couple ditty’s from the many songs on my Spotify “See ya later—the funeral playlist”:

3. I would have loved for your dad to have been a page in that book. If he had, do you suppose he would have hung out in the living room to shoot the breeze? What do think he would say?

I think he would’ve totally engaged and asked lots of questions to himself. I think he would’ve been bothered that the angel wouldn’t talk to him and perhaps not trust him. He’d look at the paintings and read the quotes, drink the tequila, and most definitely NOT be a pussy. And then he would’ve most likely repeated the phrase “Don’t be a pussy” for days upon end. My dad’s name was Ron. Sometimes I called him Re-Ron 😆

Mike Casey (Mayor of Southtown, San Antonio, TX)

For question 1: I’d like to be outside. I’m solar powered. Let’s go!

For question 2: How happy I am to be here with you all.

3. I know I’m not alone echoing your sentiment in Q2. And it is high time we went camping together. Let’s do go. In the meantime, was there a pivotal moment in your life when you realized the solar nature of your being?

It seems like always to me. Growing up, in the summers I’d visit my grandparents in Shreveport. I remember going out on the lake in a flat-bottom boat with wooden oars and fishing. Sitting out under the Cyprus trees eating fried chicken sandwiches. When everything feels crazy and I need to calm down, I like to think of that memory. A nice sunny day, the peacefulness of it all.

James Cobb (artist, San Antonio, TX)

1. Understanding being

2. Loving

3. Those pretty much sum it up. What happened today?

Everything real.

Jennifer Ling Datchuk (artist, San Antonio, TX)

The thing that lives in the top of my head is the constant overthinking of my body and its failures while also feeling grateful for it as it is still navigating a pandemic. I’ve become keenly aware of everything I’ve touched or the few times I’ve hugged people this year. I think about the pressure and style of the hug and how long the embrace was. Was it worth it and who gets the next one? Are they worth it? I don’t want to do it to just be nice.

The bottom of my heart is heavy and some days it feels like it holds my whole body down. I work really hard to find lightness and find small moments of joy in a kitten purring, a dog napping, or pinching repetitive prints into a ball of clay.

3. Can you cultivate presence with rituals?

I grew up tending to an altar of my ancestors. The daily ritual of honoring them through the burning of incense, placing fresh fruit, and silently bowing to pay my respects. I stopped doing this ritual when I moved away from my family but found myself going back to the care and ritual of the altar during this time. I forgot how much this daily practice sets my intentions for the day and provides a sense of calmness and ease to the heaviness I’m feeling.

Sarah Fox (artist, San Antonio, TX)

1. What is at the top of your mind?

At top of my mind right now is young people and education, specifically I wonder how the last year and a half will have changed us all. I was an adjunct professor at Texas State this year. So many of the students were suffering from severe depression, anxiety, and isolation, especially the sensitive art kids. Many lost loved ones from COVID, or lost power and a sense of safety during the freeze, but were still showing up online to do the work and try to make art. I find it pretty hard to give a shit about cross-hatching with so much trauma and chaos, but most of them still managed to. Many students still created some pretty tender, creative work. It’s been inspiring to watch how young people used the internet not only to survive and create social support structures, but also really create change in our world.

I get angry when I think about how our country, but specifically the state of Texas, has treated our public-school teachers. Public school teachers have been underpaid, overworked, under-supported, and programs under-funded for decades now. But this last year, we asked teachers to take on twice as much work under the same traumatic conditions in which we were all living. I think the career has become an emotionally unsustainable one for even many of the most dedicated teachers. I worry we are losing some amazing educators and I wonder how the last year and a half will forever impact public education. I think something has to give, and soon or we are going to be facing a big brain drain in education. We need to give the educators of young people in our country the support they need, the pay and respect they deserve so we can grow a society of people that question and think.

2. What is in the bottom of your heart?

If the top of my mind was a bigger picture, the bottom of my heart is much more inward. The 15-year relationship with my son’s father and someone I thought was the love of my life ended right before the pandemic started. It was a heartbreaking experience. I have been thinking a lot about love.

The timing of everything meant I spent much of 2020 with just my two-year old son in a tiny apartment, or totally alone while he was at his father’s house. The time with my son was chaotic and difficult, but still fun and full of love. But the times I was totally alone were terrifying at first. I am a workaholic and a very social being, so being alone, with not much to do made me really face myself for the first time in a very long time. After some very difficult months, (and a lot of psychology books) I was able to find peace, acceptance, and even moments of joy in the isolation. I made a lot of drawings about it. I can look in the mirror and really be okay with the person returning my gaze. It is difficult work, processing trauma and learning to accept yourself. But we are born alone, and in the end die alone; it’s liberating to love the body, mind, person you are for the short time on Earth we are given.

3. All of us endure different kinds of isolation — yours was acute in how double-sudden it was. Is there something in particular you can bring to your students from this?

It’s ironic because it was such a truly awful year, but I think I can bring my students joy. My friend Nina Hassele always says “happy is good.” I never really understood what she meant until this last year. I think she means, if there is joy in your life, follow it. Stop and revel in it, try to feed the happiness, and don’t second guess bliss while you have it. I’ve learned to do that, to exaggerate and emphasize the moments of happiness I could find, and I think it’s important to bring that to the classroom. I’m teaching a “Nature of Art” camp at Confluence Park on the San Antonio River this summer (a program started three years ago by the brilliant Katie Pell). I’m so looking forward to making art outside with young people — digging in the dirt, picking flowers, making drawings, and just being silly for a few weeks sounds pretty damn happy right now.

Shane Heinemeier (artist, Kingsbury, TX)

Top of mind

Am I doing my part in the relationship with my wife as a husband, co-director of Habitable Spaces, and co-conspirator of our life project?

Are the goats, dogs, cats, ducks, geese, chickens healthy and happy?

The Summer Film Fest is right around the corner, we’ve got so much to do to get it all organized.

I still need to finish my extrication class, my HAZMAT for fire fighter 1, then start fire fighter 2 to better serve my community.

Next 3 steps in the studio: paint the floor battleship grey, put up the ceiling rafters, then the ¾” ply and 1/2” sheetrock.

If we can just keep up with cleaning as we build, Habitable Spaces will look nice at any moment.

We need to skin the north side of the shop with sheet metal to have the outside of the shop finished.

A multifaceted approach may help fund the non-profit: a supper club, a Museum store, weekend retreat for artists, classes and workshops.

Should we build a house for my Mom and Pat? What about Dad and Deb? Could it be one house, will that work when they are older?

Can we attract bigger grants this year?

Oh, good the figs are coming in, all of the big century agave froze but some pups made it. We already have red tomatoes, it’s almost time for non-stop canning soon enough.

I’m so grateful for the rain, our tank is full when it was about to dry up. Now the fish have plenty of room to grow.

I like not going to a 9-5 anymore. Even though I’m always working now, it doesn’t feel like it.

Don’t forget to be on time to watch the Grandnephew babies. Only once a week now.

I need to call my sister.

It’s snake season, got to keep an eye out. 

We need to get some new piglets soon. 

As I start to play drums again, maybe I’ll learn how to read music this time. Maybe I’ll try to play some jazz beats, Latin and otherwise.

I’m trying hard to be less of a mess. I’ve got to be clean and thorough when approaching projects, taking no short cuts.

Am I a good community leader? I could be better.

Will this project really succeed? Are we approaching it right?

I need to second guess myself less, it is boring and unproductive, yet I love to toil away at it.

I wonder how hot this summer will be, will we see any blackouts?

Man it would be nice to have a backup off-grid power system but, we can’t afford that, it would cost a fortune.


Community, agriculture, Love for all, free flow of Ideas. Hoping to not be misunderstood, also hoping to not misunderstand others. A drive to have art in and throughout my life. Boldness yet Graciousness. The need to turn this drive to make visual aesthetics into something tangible that can actually help community/society. To truly love is to truly listen and provide shelter for ideas that may conflict your own.

3. Your daily tasks; your trip to the grocery store; your stop for gas on the way home … you paid cash and had 14 seconds of connection with the cashier because both of you allowed it; the potential you noticed in yourself afterwards to have pulled that cashier out of the darkness, had they not been heading that way themselves; the momentary sense of self- satisfaction giving way quickly to the needs of the next task, the next person; the laying down in a different darkness … they were worth it, right?

My Daily Tasks

Alison, Will and I worked late canning pickles last night, so since I’m the first up this morning I going to make coffee and bring it to Alison in bed. I bring her the coffee, she wakes and says, “Oh good morning sweetheart, thank you.” She brought me coffee in bed several days ago, it’s something we try to do for each other every week.

It’s time to feed the goats, ducks and geese; I run into Sweeny (our current artist in residence) on my way to the seed and feed storage shed. “Today’s the day!” says Sweeny, referring to the fact that today we are going to Geno’s tire shop in downtown Kingsbury to finally get their (their pronouns are They/Their/Them) new tires put on their bus that they live in. Sweeny is planning on leaving H.S. for Missouri for the summer as their residency comes to a close here. The reason we are taking the bus this week instead of last is due to a string of maintenance problems that started with dead batteries (small bus has two) and ended with replacing the starter, which is how the batteries got ruined if the first place. Now the small white bus is ready to roll the 2.1 miles down to Geno’s.

“I can’t believe the problems you’ve had with the bus again,” I said. (The bus since its conversion, and due to it, has had a string of problems of which I can’t mention any more of here.)

“That’s how it goes for me,” replied Sweeny

“How so?” I ask.

“You know things go good for a bit and then there is always shit to deal with but, it’s just a part of my life, it’s just the way it goes and nothing is ever that bad. I just know if it’s been good for awhile I’m due for something to happen.”

“There’s probably a bit of truth in that for most people,” I proclaim.

“Maybe,” they say.

“Well once I’m done with the goats, I’m ready to go.”

“No rush, I’m ready whenever,” said Sweeny.

Sweeny and I pull the bus out and head on down the road. As we approach Geno’s on Hwy 90 we can see he is out front already holding court, we notice the tall cowboy next to him with his tire as we take a left on to 2438 to pull the bus into the side garage door. We just stick the nose of the bus in the garage and park, just to be off the road and go talk to see what was next. When we exit the bus we walk into the shop and see Bo (AKA: Bo Peep) in the back corner working on an engine on a joist stand.

Bo: “Sup Heinemeier? Y’all gonna hafta pull that short bus in to get them tires on, you know.”

“I know, good to see you man, I just want to touch base with Gino before we pull in,” I say, as we walk to the front of the shop just as Gino is interrupted from the cowboy with the tire by a phone call. Geno keeps his 1990s-style portable phone — its receiver is connected to his landline at the shop — in his back pocket at times. As we walk up and outside, he acknowledges us with a head nod with the phone in hand, and then he says into the phone, “What’s the internet?” as he winks at all of us. The cowboy starts laughing, and I can barely hear a lady on the other end trying to explain to Geno how to expand his business through the world wide web. It doesn’t matter because he has to let her go for another call.

“I’m sorry, I have to take another call — GENO’S!” he answers.

He listens intently to the caller for a minute, his eyes move back and forth as he’s taking it all in and then finally says, “Yes I remember, let me check… ,” pulls the phone down so he can yell, “HEY, BO?”

Bo: “YEA” from the back of the shop


Bo: “NAW”


Bo: “NAW”

Geno: “WHAT?”



Bo: “NAW”


At this point Geno is no longer muffling the caller from the shop talk. While facing the ground to help him belt out his voice his dentures fell out.


Geno: “OH MY GOD, I’M SO UPSET MY DENTURES JUST FELL OUT, I going to have to sort this out and call you back.” As he hangs up, we all starting laughing our asses off. Geno grabs his dentures and laughs, Sweeney and I just looked at each other and doubled over in laugher. By this time the old cowboy with the tire was so tickled he was bent down slapping his knee going, Yecck Yecck Yecck — (slow cowboy laughter) which only made me laugh more. 

We get Sweeny’s bus pulled in, Geno turns to us and says, “Hey I’m 82; it’s going to take me more than a couple of hours to change all six tires on this bus — y’all are welcome to hang out but there is no need to if you have to get stuff done.” 

In which we explained that we would go get out of his hair but, not before an interesting moment presented itself before we were picked up by Alison.

Geno and his wife have a son who went to prison for life without parole when he was much younger than 25, thirty years ago. They among many others feel that people convicted of crimes before the brain fully develops (in human adults at age 25) should at least be considered for some sort of parole. Geno went on to inform me that there is a Texas bill being presented in the house that would allow legislators to at least take a look at older policies to see if action was needed it this area. He had a petition for me to sign for the bill, if I choose to sign it. I did sign the petition, I do believe in reform, it’s that simple for me. Geno was still going into depth about the bill, and I asked him, “Isn’t it interesting that prison reform is at least one issue that now both sides can agree on?” (Maybe only in our rural area? Maybe only to a certain extent?)

Geno: “Yea!”

Sarita Talusani Keller (artist, Laramie, WY)

1. What is at the top of your mind

I’ve been cleared for travel. It’s bittersweet. I miss being out there with my people — talking about art and life, making art, and making friends. I’m also worried about getting sick and getting other people sick. Virtual programs take so much work. I’d rather put all that energy into building relationships with people. I just need to get out there.

2. What is in the bottom of your heart

I am grateful to still have a job — a job that I love. I get to travel around the state with art from our collection. It’s like having an ice cream truck, but a million times better. People get excited when my van rolls into town. They know something special is in store. When the program wraps up, I leave knowing we’ve made a connection and we’ve all grown because of our time together.

3. Care to share a couple of specific tales from Stories of The Art Van?

Wyomingites affectionately refer to Wyoming as a small town with long streets. I am a native Texan, born and raised in Houston, a city with four times the population as the entire state of Wyoming. I moved to Laramie in March 2018 to work at the University of Wyoming Art Museum as the Ann Simpson Artmobile Curator. I had my 11th Artmobile trip that October to Crook County, where I visited libraries in Moorcroft, Hulett, and Sundance. I brought an exhibition that features architectural prints and was planning on doing hands-on art projects with students at each location. I have a special place in my heart for Crook County, especially Sundance. Here are some highlights from that trip:

Monday evening, October 22

I set up the exhibition for an evening reception. In attendance is an older charming couple who serve on the library board. They look at all of the images of architecture and stop at Pirate’s Alley, one of the few colorful prints in the exhibition. It is a red building located in the French Quarter. The woman tells me New Orleans was a special place for them. After a long-distance courtship, they married in New Orleans and eventually settled in Wyoming — the place they discovered together. That night, I head to a local spot, the Turf Bar. I was told they have great burgers. I meet more locals — a retired mechanic, a geologist, and a rancher. The burgers and company do not disappoint. 

Tuesday morning, October 23

I ask Kim, the Sundance librarian, about a building project across the street. She tells me it’s the old high school, affectionately called “Old Stoney.” Architects are preserving the exterior and transforming the building into a history museum. Student groups arrive throughout the day to see the Artmobile exhibition at the library. They talk about the architectural prints and start drawing up plans for architectural models in groups. I decide to ask them about “Old Stoney”. Several chime in. The project has been generating a lot of buzz in their town. 

Tuesday evening, October 23

I walk to the Turf for dinner. I sit down to order. The retired mechanic is there with his friend. I learn the mechanic’s son is also a mechanic and owns a shop — Woody’s, across the street. I ask if they know about Old Stoney. A woman sitting with them says she thinks the project is too expensive. They should tear it down and design a new building. A school bus driver and her husband sit down at the bar. They love the idea of preserving the building. They think it’s going to be an amazing landmark in their town. The geologist is there too. I tell him I’ll be going to Hulett and will pass Devil’s Tower. He gives me a geological explanation about it and tells me Cezanne was inspired by geological formations. 

Wednesday morning October 24

While ordering breakfast at a diner I see a little girl at a table with her dad. She points to me and says she designed a house for a fish at the library yesterday. I am flattered she enjoyed the project and am looking forward to working with the last of the Sundance school groups. As the day closes, I realize I have seen every K-12 kid in Sundance.

Thursday morning before sunrise, October 25

On my last Artmobile program day I drive a winding road in darkness to the tiny town of Hulett. A full moon appears in the wee hours and helps me keep an eye out for deer and antelope.  I and pass Devil’s Tower — so close. I am thinking about Cezanne, geology, Close Encounters, the Bear Lodge -Pleides-Seven Sisters, and wondering what life is like in Hulett, pop. 394. I am welcomed by farming families in a community center gymnasium. They are excited to see the exhibition and make some art with me.

Thursday, October 25

That night I head back to Sundance and the Turf Bar, where I am greeted by everyone. I order an appetizer, but no bill comes. The bartender says someone covered it. The mechanic says he saw me in the Sundance Newspaper. The geologist says he will be looking for that paper. The friends of the library couple are sitting at a table. They invite me over. I am moved by the kindness shown to a stranger from Texas. It was almost like a send-off. Before I leave, I am told of an alternate scenic route back to Laramie. The next day, I head to Lusk to see the barn quilt paintings and take the scenic route home. I think to myself: It’s true-Wyoming is a small town with long streets and I am grateful to be a part of it.

Meg Langhorne (artist, San Antonio, TX)

At the top of my mind is an awareness of my mortality and the mortality of everyone and everything that I know and love.

At the bottom of my heart, I want to minimize suffering.

3. Your concerns are no different today than on any other day I have known you. Do you have any second thoughts about not going into some kind of medicine, or are art and your work with wildlife medicine enough?

I briefly considered nursing as a career when I was 19. I was an art major in college but had a traumatic interruption in that trajectory. In that window of time I reconsidered focusing on art. Now I can’t imagine (being happy) doing anything other than what I do. I satisfy my need to alleviate suffering through my volunteer work (rescuing wildlife) and my art gives me a way to advocate for the natural world. Net in one hand, paintbrush in the other, no second thoughts.

Melissa Longenecker (artist, Berlin, Germany)

At the top of my mind a consoled multi-level maze of keys, switches, buttons, bridges, ropes, levers and ladders of what-ifs, maybe sos, might I pleases, schematized and redirected, superglued, scotch taped, sharpied, re-soldered, sticky- noted all with a thick hold of kudzu, cooling system whirring on endless overdrive.

At the bottom of my heart a smallish black cat skulks circling a grand cosmic heap of rust red-golden-green-light leaves ferried in from lawns future, past and present, stacked treasure teetering and set fully aglow by the light of a late afternoon phoenix sun.

3. If you are simultaneously behind the console and circling the cosmic heap, how do you allow the teeter, but prevent the tumble?

Oh, the tumble is inevitable, though it’s more of a crashing leap into kaleidoscopic reverie.

Jack Massing (artist, Houston, TX)

1. What is at the top of your mind?

My central sulcus.

2. What is in the bottom of your heart?

My pericardium.

3. What’s on, or at least close to, the tip of your tongue, the festoon of your faceaway, and the muffin of your mercury?


Celia Álvarez Muñoz (artist, Arlington, TX)

1. At this moment, with the pandemic still raging, what’s at the top of my head is getting back on my feet after three major surgeries these past two years! I really miss just dropping by, physical hugs, friendly handshakes!

2. At the bottom of my heart is the love to All that made it bearable, especially the immediate conduit to the soul, the Art League Houston, for the Lifetime Achievement Award! They went out of their way to express appreciation for making the art. It was a most gorgeous distraction during this trying time! Thankful for scientific and communication technology, the phone, social media connections, Zooms, FaceTime, email, skilled surgeons, face masks, and vaccines!

3. I have to love your phrasing — “what’s at the top of my head is getting back on my feet”  — an inversion that suggests a new perspective is in the making. If that is the case, what will you do with it?

You are asking what I’ll be doing while back on my feet?? Then the answer is that I’ll be going up and down my beaten paths with ever more respect!

Daily walks, ball & stretches exercises, and to the 2nd level of my studio!

All of which I am, now, doing!!!

So, my 1st wish was granted from all levels of inversions!! 🙌🏼

Let me know if this is the proper sequential!

Enjoyed this reflective moment, Hills dearest!


Ariane Roesch (artist, Houston, TX)

1. What is at the top of your mind?

Time is at the top of my mind. Time needed to get things done. Time missed. Time management. Alone time. Family time. Studio time. Time to drink my water. Where does the time go?!

I’ve blossomed (I hope) into being a mother through this pandemic. There’s a lot of watching the clock these days, ensuring correct timing for snacks, meals, naps, etc. And trying to squeeze everything that I want to do into the little slivers of time that are mine.

I think a lot about routines and schedules. And how I just want to throw them out. It’s a bit suffocating when everyday feels the same! The grind of time slowly wearing down the rough edges of spontaneity. I think of my days like a math problem: if I subtract minutes here and there, I might be able to have an hour to myself.

2. What is in the bottom of your heart?

But time also holds a special place in the bottom of my heart because despite the stress of trying to figure out how to make this situation work (under such crazy circumstances) it’s also what we’ve been fortunate enough to have had plenty of. I may not be the one calling the shots but I do have executive override! Though playing in the sandbox usually tops my list anyways.

Time is all we have. As much as I am on the hunt for alone time, I cherish the togetherness.

3. “Executive override” — an allusion to the notion that there is an essential someone behind the noise? Maybe there is more than urgency indicated by that phrase “time is of the essence.”  What do think?

Time is the essence.

Things take time and living takes time. I feel like most attention gets focused on things, especially in the arts, depending on their duration (either having a lot of output quickly or doing one thing slowly, something that takes decades to complete) and their date of completion (the newer the better). If you are not sprinting or running a marathon it is not interesting. It has been nice to have had a pause.

This past year has taught me a lot about process. Or rather I’ve gone through several stages of frantic, denial, guilt, till finally acceptance at the way things will be (copy and paste that a few more times since there were quite a few rounds of this!). There was this urge of responding in the early days of the pandemic and kudos to the artists that have managed to stay productive through this period. The New York Times did a great feature where they interviewed 75 artists about how they spent this past year. I wanted (and still want) to just read. Or watch bad TV. So bad that you can feel the stress bubbles pop in your brain. I started watching Awkward, a teeny high school drama. There was something so comforting to immerse myself in boyfriend/girlfriend drama and teenage angst … where not having a date to prom was cause for the world to crumble.

All in all, I’ve become more focused on the past rather than the new. Thinking about archives and what is left behind, history and how we make sense of it. Although most of my “outgoing” communication (social media) has slowly ground to a halt, I did manage to send a few emails titled “From the Archives” where I highlighted previous projects. I loved the exercise of diving back into my files, maybe finding the long-lost invite and adding it to my website — completing my digital archive.

So time is the essence. It’s how we get from A to B. We always think we’re not in charge of our time — that we have to hop, skip, or jump. Be ready to participate. Keep the attention on us or we’ll fade into oblivion. But we won’t. It’s been good to tune out the noise.

Walter Salas-Humara (musician/artist, Flagstaff, AZ)

1. What is at the top of your mind?

What amazing adventure can I create right now, today, this month, and plan for the future.

2. What is in the bottom of your heart?

A profound love and gratitude for life, the earth, and all the amazing life forms that inhabit it.

3. I’m hoping to catch you on the road, that avenue of surprise, for this one — what did some stranger or some new creature bring these days to your experience of gratitude?

Yes, I’ve been on the road and staying with several different friends. They all had small dogs of varying ages, but all smart, funny, patient, and very loving creatures that Live completely in the moment, Love unconditionally. Lots to be learned there 🙂

Barbara Sturm (artist, Berlin, Germany)

1. What is at the top of your mind?

The noises that make it difficult to keep the thoughts on top of my mind. 

2. What is in the bottom of your heart?

Nothing, I try to keep it empty, to be filled any time.

3. “I try to keep it empty, to be filled any time.” That is lovely. What is your method?

Concerning our hearts, it is difficult to talk about a method. It’s the part of us we have the least control of. We like to say, we try to do this and that with our heart, but that’s just after it has already done this or that to us.

Gary Sweeney (artist, San Antonio)

1. Well, that’s a tough one. I’m always having thoughts swirling around, but I’m never quite sure of their location in my brain. It seems that the actual top of my brain, right below the parietal section of the skull, is actually used for motor function, so, “What is at the top of your mind” isn’t really the same as, “What is at the top of your brain.” Certainly, something to think about.

2. So, the bottom of your heart is actually called the “apex.” Pretty simple, huh? You think there’d be some fancy medical term for it, wouldn’t you? It’s at the bottom of the left ventricle. However, getting at Valentine’s card that says, “I love you from my apex, which is located at the bottom of the left ventricle” seems to dilute the intended message a bit.

3.You’ve accidently called to mind something that fascinates me — Joe Montana’s pre-motor cortex. He was that good because of it. He could see the field, choose the right receiver, and release the ball all in the same instant. Thoughts?

Our friend Brent Barry used to play for the Spurs when Tim Duncan was a teammate. He said that Tim could see what was happening, like a chess player, long before the play unfolded; he was four or five moves ahead of everyone else on the court.

Of course, I think chess players do that all the time. And, I’m just guessing here, since chess is a field in which there are prodigies, but it seems to me that Joe, and Tim, and the Chess Masters must have something in their DNA that enables them to do that.

I wouldn’t know. I’m often unable to read and understand circumstances even long AFTER they’ve occurred.

Kate Terrell (artist/musician, San Antonio)

Top of my mind: How can I transform every bit of this land to provide for the creatures and our sense of place.

Bottom of my heart: Could this transformation make me better? Make those that have yet to see that it is dire to change? Ultimately create a connection with others and that the art and music rise to the top alongside the land and creatures.

3.Seems like a well-grounded stratagem. We all overlay everything all the time, substituting forest for trees, maps for locations. But you’re out there adding maps to compost because you know the value of carbon. Copy that?

It’s a circle with pollinators at the core. A closed carbon circle. What grows, feeds, then the remainder gets composted and planted again. There are many volunteer tomato plants popping up in the garden beds this year. The green cherry tomatoes hang in neat rows like so many earrings.

This year because of the huge development plotted behind our house, I’ve been sneaking through the crack in the fence to rescue wildflowers and continue the habitat. I’ve planted on “my side” now wild bee balm, wood sage, Mexican hat, blanket flower, Texas lantana to name a few. The butterflies and bees came right along with them. The other evening, I was encircled by a ring of deer. “I come in Peace.”

Andrew Thornton (actor/director, San Antonio, TX)

1. What is at the top of your mind?

At the top of my mind there is a raging river of thoughts full of myriad shiny polished pebbles, bubbles flows currents of fresh and captivating water as well as the odd twig thrown in here and there for variety, as if it needed any more reason to make it all the more seductive to my ever-susceptible precious and alas, all-too-temporary attention.

2. What is at the bottom of your heart?

At the bottom of my heart there is the base of the ocean, which is a part of the heart room above, where my child dwells, where I dwell with myself, laughing usually about burns and scars and peril, never being harmed, in a zone of safety where the ocean is a world of possibility and richness, and where no danger can intrude.

3. I recall you talking about a “river of love” a few years ago and here, water runs through all you say. What is your current twig?

My current twig is a new riverbed in my career which encapsulates all the careers I’ve had before now, gives me something to chew on (I like chewing on twigs sometimes) and keeps my mind active and stimulated.

Randy Wallace (artist, San Antonio)

1. What is at the top of your mind?

May 12, 2021

“Top of,” as if to say “the surface, immediate, and/or current” — topical like talcum. Incidental to slight against. 

House graft

Currently, the general state of my day-to-day flexes around the school schedule. We’re winding down the spring while researching and planning ensues for summer and subsequent semesters. Come fall, I’ll cap off nearly a year and a half of synchronous working. Academic absentia. Challenges of managing and teaching arts programming through new and variably distanced platforms has been well scrutinized; so, I won’t belabor the point. 

The girls play at adult lives. Jennifer and I re-stage for whatever else may come. Home is for cooking. Growing summer to-do lists which are giving off shade. Letting go of things. Maintaining in bits. Sighting the horizon.

Are we out of time? Do we go to a commercial?

“Weekly curbside at Chamoy City Limits is our life line; I’m serious.” – signed, Randy Raspa.

Protean form 

Dredge for residuals. 
Will not compete with other artists. 
No war monuments. No war machines. No war language.
Collective traction. Service.  Open-ended research.
Private exchanges.

Sub germane

Perforate the primary art economy — attenuate. American libre. Keep thinking about mountains. think-do-think-do. Writing the future, and the story remains the same (the magician and the asp). Contingencies for change orders, because Future is a two-way street. Existence is Fertile. 

Mimesis gene

Anna Halprin. Alison Knowles. Edward Lear. Jonas Mekas. Gustav Metzger. Null/Zero.

2. What is in the bottom of your heart?

What occupies the depths of a heart? 
Pain, lament, madness. . .
A lather of pitch baked in enamel. 

Wont for not but worry.
First, establish a level footing upon which to mount a jade elephant.
Hold near and dear to wish upon. Envelope with red cheese wax and garlands.

What issues from the heart beyond a sigh?
A song?
And to sing is to spill nectar and ambrosia.

Speaking from the bottom of a heart is restraint for a hostage negotiation.
A desperate clutch at courage or something or other.
Barter and brace against further hauntings.

Next, charter nanobots with commission to slog away shale compactions with an air hammer.
Agitated thumping proves dimples to an orange peel surface.
In the absence of regret and hangers-on, stained still (treat with microbe cleaners).

Deduct the runoff from living and the remainder is a sequence of phantom flickers.
Hands and baby holdings. Dog romps. Bird watching.
The dailies from Jen & Randy’s road movie.

Sambal Oelek

Roberts, John. Revolutionary Time and the Avant-Garde. Brooklyn, Verso, 2015. RE: notes on the Second Economy.

See Virgil’s The Aeneid. for heart and hearth themed references as such (easily recurring well over a hundred times).

Hear Hildegard von Bingen’s Canticles of Ecstasy.

3.“To sing is to spill” — Some singers might say songwriting is a kind of spilling, as in the well-known turn, “spill your guts,” but what you’ve laid down here is more like spilling as in overflow. You’ve alluded that runoff has to go somewhere — it can’t be “deducted” (puns and offshoots, ducts and drains…), but from it something may be deduced. What?

Personally, recent to more extended periods might be better defined in terms of catchments and reservoirs. Routines have proved to be more ascetic in nature. Study. Labors of support. Maintenance. Bobbing to nab at some sea change, but I’ve always leaned heavily into potential. 

Attention trips the life line — the observation effect. The thing of it (the world) is immense. It’s a lot. Everything is so incredible and tragic and inexplicable. All in all, it is a sprawling horror. Amazing and falling apart. Can’t even imagine living in a legitimate landscape of jaw-dropping, natural beauty. When it rips, swim parallel to the shoreline.

Practice is play. It’s about time to seek out a new band of merry men / women. Steering clear of stupid utopias. Ready to be dumb again. Make porous and wide open. Release. Keep moving. Circling back to meet myself coming.

Runoff harvesting. 
Discharge carriers.

To filter is to obstruct.
A catch. 

To be of better service, I’ll be your door wedge or your window prop stick.
By Night with (a hissing) Torch and (a burning) Spear.
If it helps or if it matters or if you need a grunt or to holler, try my name. 

I’m a light sleeper; double-hull punctured. 
Surface crude love spill. We’ll need dish soap and baking soda.

The what, as it were, isn’t in the cube, field, or bubble. It is in the uptake at the table. The thing isn’t really the thing. Thinking feeling like hydrostatic perpetual motion. 

Catherine Walworth (writer/curator, Columbia, South Carolina)

1. What is at the top of your mind?

More joy

2. What is in the bottom of your heart?


I look forward to the third question, and as always, I’m honored to know you, Hills. You’re a playful soul.

3. Nostalgia, that harbinger of joys lost to time, frequently the deceiver, bold enhancer — is experience shining from the past illuminated by interior projection or from some other location?

It is fed by the memory flashcards of handheld photographs that create a sad, sweet moving image in the mind.


For LOVE L-E-T-T-E-R-S (Part One), go here.

For LOVE L-E-T-T-E-R-S (Part Two), go here.

For LOVE L-E-T-T-E-R-S (Part Three), go here.

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