The Baffled Mind, the Impeded Stream

January 2, 2013

My work table, a mix of high and low tech

My work table, a mix of high and low tech

The Real Work
by Wendell Berry

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,

and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings.

I get a bit anxious with the year-end reviews and resolutions, the tug between looking back (and feeling discouraged about lack of accomplishments and growth) and looking forward (and feeling hopeful about doing better this year).  Progress, if any, feels so slow, and I tell myself to be patient.  After all, it’s the journey that counts, and not so much the destination.  All of my little musings, struggles to draw and paint, wishes to take better photographs and to write better, flaws in my roles as wife, mother, sister, daughter, friend . . . everything all the time.  Yes, my mind is often baffled.

And that is why I find so much solace in today’s poem.  “The mind that is not baffled is not employed.”  Thank you, Wendell Berry.  Finding my purpose, figuring out what is important in my days — this is my real work — even when I don’t know what I’m doing or which way to go.

“The impeded stream is the one that sings.”


“It is in the doldrums that our talents are most needed.  The best training for desperation is to know early the feeling of no guidance.  In photography the squeak of intention destroys serendipity.”
— Dan Torop, Draw It with Your Eyes Closed:  The Art of the Art Assignment

“Only when he no longer knows what he is doing does the painter do good things.”
— Edgar Degas

“Sometimes confidence is overrated!  Questions and uncertainty are the stuff of artists! . . .  You need enough confidence to hold your paintbrushes, and to show up in the studio, knowing that you are not wasting your time — but after that, I would say uncertainty should prevail.  We can never be too sure.”
— Anna Deavere Smith, Letters to a Young Artist

7 Responses to “The Baffled Mind, the Impeded Stream”

  1. Rosemary I was intrigued by your post title…this poem spoke to me so deeply as I am preparing for a retirement from a vocation in August. I am unsure where I will be heading on this new path but I intend to enjoy the journey.

    • Rosemary Says:

      Donna, Thank you for your comment and letting me know that my post meant something to you. I send my thoughts out and never really know if they are self-indulgent blather or important on some level. It keeps me going when I hear that something I said resonates with others. Thank you! And best wishes as you navigate into new territory.

  2. Lynne Says:

    Thanks for this inspirational post, Rosemary. Here’s a poem by William Stafford, “You Reading This, Be Ready,” that I love:

    Starting here, what do you want to remember?
    How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?
    What scent of old wood hovers, what softened
    sound from outside fills the air?

    Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
    than the breathing respect that you carry
    wherever you go right now? Are you waiting
    for time to show you some better thoughts?

    When you turn around, starting here, lift this
    new glimpse that you found; carry into evening
    all that you want from this day. This interval you spent
    reading or hearing this, keep it for life –

    What can anyone give you greater than now,
    starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?

    –William Stafford

    • Rosemary Says:


      Thank you! I love the Stafford Poem and had not been aware of it. I so appreciate your sharing it with me and my readers. Happy New Year!

  3. garden.poet Says:

    I think all artists fear a lack of inspiration- thank you for reminding us with this post that it is not always a determination to create something that creates something great.

  4. shoreacres Says:

    Many people who write about the doldrums equate them with desperation, or despair, or a felt lack of guidance. But in the real doldrums – in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico in July, perhaps, with not a lick of wind and nothing but a slick, hot, oily sea, attentiveness is key. The wind will come, but only those who pay close, deep attention, will feel it lift, and know when to raise the sails again.

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