Those of a certain age or those who are music aficionados will no doubt recognize the term “Helter Skelter” from the Beatles” White Album (1968). Generally considered a pivotal moment in the early development of heavy metal music, Paul McCartney’s song by that name was an attempt to create a sound as loud and as chaotic as the world seemed to be. It was a harbinger of the future, a nod to the increasingly insistent drums of change.
The English dictionary recognizes the word “helter” as a synonym for disorder (though helter is not an accepted Scrabble® word in America), and “skelte” is a middle-English word meaning hurriedly. (Skelte even appears in Shakespeare.) We commonly use the term helter-skelter to mean scattered, disorganized, or chaotic. Boy, does it fit the moment! We are all existing in the helter-skelter worlds of politics, of the environment, of international relations, of public health, and of economic instability. And the constant barrage of bad news, both real and imagined, doesn’t help allay our anxieties.
My own little world has been somewhat helter skelter in recent weeks as I hurried to get our house dressed for fall (in spite of continued scorching temperatures) and did some fall cleaning. I opened up the guest rooms in anticipation of company coming (for the first time in over a year), planned some meals and activities for the visitors, and even did some cooking in advance. Of course, as the saying goes, “We make plans and god laughs.”
In the middle of my systematic preparations, we had several little household calamities (with the pool, the oven, the irrigations system) which slowed me down, but then our first guest’s arrival schedule also started changing unexpectedly. It seems a mutual friend of ours, whom she was to visit before arriving here, contracted Covid just before her arrival. After several days of shifting plans and many discussions, our guest did finally make it here last week and we had a good visit. But then Hurricane Ian hit Florida, reviving all my terrible memories of struggling through Hurricane Harvey here in 2017 and triggering new fears for the safety of dear friends in Sarasota.
In between this and that, I was still trying to get that art quilt finished for an international competition deadline this month (see “The Art of Craft” 8/30). Not surprisingly, there were lots of fits and starts with that project, which turned out to be remarkably difficult for something that appears so simple. The theme of the exhibition is “Minimalism,” which in itself is enough to crowd my comfort zone since I usually do more representational work created in appliqué from my own photographs. In contrast, this design idea had come to me months ago during a spontaneous creative-play exercise in which I simply cut and paste and doodle without any expectations other than to just let my mind wander. I usually throw the mock-ups away after such sessions, but this little sample I liked and so I kept it.
Ironically, my mind certainly wandered far and wide these last couple weeks as both the quilt entry deadline and the arrival of company grew closer and I found myself struggling to concentrate on any one thing. I began to describe my process of finishing this quilt as helter skelter and even considered using that as a title for the piece. The more I looked at it, however, at its straight lines and sharp angles, the more it began to resemble a bus stop or kiosk of some sort — a shelter. So at the last minute, I decided to free-motion quilt the dark grey space in a spasmodic, lurching motif mimicking the chaos all around.
I completed my art quilt a couple days before my friend arrived, just in time to get it photographed, documented, and ready to submit on-line, which I did yesterday. (See the photo above.) Thus, this story has a happy, if unfinished, ending, at least until I learn whether or not it gets juried into the exhibit. I have titled it “Helter Shelter.”