When Panic Sets In: Pumpkin Streusel Cake and The Practice of Painting

I didn’t think I’d have time to bake a cake today. I woke up this morning intending to drive to Los Angeles and hand-deliver a CD of images for a juried show submission that apparently needed to be in their hands today, rather than postmarked, as I’d thought. I woke up this morning beating myself up for somehow misreading a form I had purposely read two weeks prior just to avoid this sort of last minute kerfuffle. I woke up this morning litanizing two paintings for their lack of promise and direction, and the fact that they would have just as little promise and direction this evening on account of my ineluctable journey and the lack of opportunity to work on them, and the fact that I need them to be stellar and presentable by Thursday for submission to a gallery in town I really respect, run by people I know who I don’t want to let down.

It felt like I either compromised the LA submission or ran the risk of compromising the one here.

I get no points for resolving this situation. My sister saved me. She lives in LA, and she agreed to take time out of her workday to make a CD of my images, fill out the entry form, forge my signature, and drive to West Hollywood in midday traffic. The only thing my sister hates more than being woken up and being hungry is driving, especially in traffic. So yeah…my sister is awesome AND I owe her bigtime.

Technicolor Pumpkin, Ink and Colored Pencil on Paper, 11″ x 8 1/2″

Sometimes, when panic sets in, the thing to do is ask for help. And sometimes, if you’re lucky, like me (and your sister is a saint who loves you more than you know how to say thanks for), you get the help that you are seeking.

But sometimes, you don’t.

When I sat down in front of the easel today, I knew the time I had been given to work was a gift, and a lucky one. But I was angry at those paintings for not coming together, for possibly throwing a wrench in the immediate plans of my career and the persona I want to present of myself as an artist. Prepared, prolific, professional. I also understood that being frustrated with the work closes me off from allowing it to grow, from anything other than being frustrated, honestly. Chögyam Trungpa puts it best: “When you get really angry, your eyes are bloodshot and you can’t see properly; you begin to stutter and, you can’t speak properly. You become a mean vegetable.” With a painting, I can be much calmer than foaming at the mouth and still reach the “mean vegetable” stage.

The practice of painting is like any other practice; you have to be gentle with it for it to grow. It’s hardest to do this when panic sets in, but that’s also when it’s most needed. All I can say for today is that I’m really grateful to my sister for giving me the time and space to work with my panic – and make cake too, once the paintings had started to come alive – and that I hope I remember this on the occasion that I don’t get the help I want and I do have to make a compromise, when I have to summon the patience to leave off berating myself and berating work that can only unfold if I am nice to us both.

Recipe after the jump…

Pumpkin Streusel Coffee Cake

Adapted from Bakerstreet

Preheat the oven 350˚ Fahrenheit; grease and 10-inch cake pan and line with parchment paper.


¼ cup flour

¼ cup sugar

¼ cup light brown sugar, packed

1 teaspoon cinnamon

3 tablespoons butter, melted

Whisk together flour, sugars, and cinnamon in a bowl. Stir in butter until evenly combined. Set aside.


2½ cups flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice mix

1 teaspoon salt

½ cup butter, softened

1½ cups sugar

3 large eggs

15 oz pumpkin puree

In a medium bowl, sift together the dry ingredients. In the bowl of an electric mixer (or by hand with a wooden spoon, if you’re old school like me), cream together the butter and sugar. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Add the pumpkin puree and mix until fully incorporated. Dump in the dry ingredients and mix just until combined. Spread into the cake pan, sprinkle streusel on top, and bake 50-55 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Take to critique with paintings and see which gets a better review. That’s my plan at least. I know the cake will do well – I made a mini-one so I wouldn’t have to wait till tomorrow to try it. It’s awesome, super pumpkin-y, how I like my autumn treats! I’m feeling pretty alright about the paintings too, whether or not they are viewer-ready now, I’ve got it in me to love them enough to keep talking with them.


2 thoughts on “When Panic Sets In: Pumpkin Streusel Cake and The Practice of Painting

  1. A thank-you blog post is an acknowledgement I treasure. 😉 You’re welcome. Knowing that you need to ask for help, and having the guts to do it, isn’t easy. You are willing to do the tough things to make your life happen, and I admire your dedication and drive. I’m glad that we can be in this together.

    • Gah, you’re great! Thanks again and me too! I hope I can do something equally as crucial for you someday, well, but I also hope you never get yourself into a silly situation like that! 🙂

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