Smoking With Beth Thomas

Read the Story December 15, 2007

Explain the title. It’s quite beautiful.

Teec Nos Pos (translated as “Circle of Cottonwoods”) is a style of Navajo tapestry and rug weaving, named after the community where it originated (Teec Nos Pos, Arizona, near the “Four Corners”). The Teec Nos Pos aesthetic includes intricate geometric patterns, bold colors, orient-inspired designs, and wide, dark borders. It is in these bold borders that I found the cornerstone for this story. The “Weaver’s Pathway” is a design element that appears in Teec Nos Pos weavings, as well as other styles of rugs/tapestries with thick borders. You might notice a single thread of color passing through the border from the inner design to the outer edge of the rug. (To the untrained eye, it might look like a flaw in the weaving. This contrasting color seems to throw off the perfect symmetry of the rest of the design.) Some say this is a path by which energy and passion can flow into the rug. But most say that this pathway is a corridor for the weaver’s soul. When the weaver focuses so much energy, creativity, passion, and time into a single piece, there is a danger of the weaver’s soul becoming trapped in that piece, and of the weaver just weaving their life away and missing everything else. The “weaver’s pathway” is an outlet for the soul, a means of escape.

“Rosie worries about her mother, who suffers from a lack of daydreaming, a lack of staring off into nothing for a while.” Tell us what you know about the Navajo culture and their beliefs, and why Mama Mabel’s attitude is so confounding to Rosie.

I only know enough about Navajo culture and beliefs to make myself sound ignorant. But I do know how competitive these arts can be in tourist hubs like Santa Fe, which is where Canyon Road is located. I see Rosie as someone who is using her talents in order to… transcend, I guess. She wants to put in the work, make her beautiful art, and then reap the benefits. To her, that is rest, indulgence, vacation. Her mother, who probably does not have this artistic gift, is more pragmatic. She wants to pay the bills, of course, and beyond that, wants the renown that comes with owning a gallery or shop on prestigious Canyon Road. These two women are two sides of the same coin.

“She can not fault him; he doesn’t understand.” What should he, and people in general, understand about the Navajo and their craft work?

Without trying to make a grand statement, I simply wanted to suggest that this man (the tourist) doesn’t know much about where he is. I’m sure this is a common problem. He knows he has money to spend—maybe he’s acting on a tip that a “native” tapestry would be a good investment or a good show piece—but he does not know that the Navajo and Anasazi are different people. So the mixing of “genres” that Rosie expects is crass, but not surprising.

This is your last story to be published as the Kathy Fish Fellowship holder. Any thoughts about your time as writer in residence?

My main thought is that it is over too soon. I think what my writing career really needs is to have the SmokeLong staff around to critique my stuff all the time. Alas, I must go off on my own now. Leave the nest. Unfurl my wings. Fly, etc.

But I have learned a lot from everyone at SLQ this year. Most importantly, these things (and most most importantly, #6):

1) Don’t fear the Draft. The draft is our friend, not our enemy.
2) Specificity is very important—except when it isn’t.
3) Build tension; develop urgency.
4) Reorder everything to find holes or new directions.
5) Cut cut cut. Economize.
6) Revising is not a sign of weakness!

Thanks to all SmokeLong staff and Guest Editors for 2007. I appreciate all of your feedback, direction and support. And thank you, Kathy Fish, for being such an inspiration. Viva la Fish Fellowship!

SLQ completed issue 18 at the close of summer and launched this issue, 19, on the threshold of winter. During the three months in between, the crops were harvested, the leaves fell, the rain returned, temperatures dropped, darkness lengthened. Death in increments. How does the turning of the seasons affect your “muse,” your inspiration?

I think this year it is the longing for seasons that is affecting me. Since moving to California in 2004, I have not seen a real autumn or winter. Darkness comes early, mornings are cooler, but there is no snow, no frost, no fires in fireplaces. If there is a cold rain one day, the next day the Santa Ana winds kick up and it’s 80 degrees in December. This has thrown me all out of whack. I need the seasons to change and then stay changed for a while. I grew up with that cycle of seasons; the predictable shifts in weather and daylight and smells and attire. I don’t know if any of it has affected my muse—inspiration seems as sporadic as ever—but I know that I miss it. I need a hayride, a snowman, a thunderstorm.

About the Author:

Beth Thomas is originally from New Mexico but currently lives in California due to military relocation. She works as a technical writer in the aerospace/defense industry—don't ask what she writes about 'cause she can't really tell you. She has a BA and an MA in writerly things from New Mexico universities. Her work has recently appeared in Pindeldyboz Online, SmokeLong Quarterly, Juked, Word Riot, and other places.

About the Artist:

A native of Ohio, Marty D. Ison lives with his wife transplanted in the sands of the Gulf of Mexico. He studied fine arts at Saint Petersburg College. In addition to the visual arts, he writes poetry, short stories, and novels. See more of Ison's work here.