This month’s Cameo features At the End of My Rope by Nora Howell, a fiber and performance-based artist and program director at Jubilee Arts in Baltimore.  

It came to her in a flash.

“Usually my ideas are vague, but not this one: tie knots and unravel them and tie them again. I just thought, ‘Let’s do it!’”

The result—At the End of My Rope—perfectly embodies her (and many of our) grim psychological journeys through the Covid-19 pandemic.

Working at a community art center and with young children at home, Nora had already experienced a year of hard choices and challenging pandemic days. Then came the vaccine, and for a while, everything seemed better.

Until it no longer did.

With the rise of the Delta variant, Nora’s sense of optimism from early summer faded.

“The need for vaccinated people to wear masks indoors again felt so heavy,” says Nora. “I didn’t want to feel that weight again—I had let go of so much of that weight over the summer, and now it was back.”

Making At the End of My Rope was a way for Nora to reckon with her distress at the virus’ persistence.

“I needed to do something about my anxiety—to take it out of my body.”

So she converted it into a rope full of knots.

Her 11-minute time-lapse video begins simply enough: Nora’s hands outstretched on a table, fingers nervously tapping once or twice, then one of her hands reaching out for a strand of rope. She begins tying knots. The knotting continues, the tangled rope lump in front of her growing. She carries on, pausing occasionally for more finger tapping. As she progresses, the braided rope becomes increasingly thick, the act of knotting more demanding. She rests. She hesitates. She’s exhausted, the tangled bundle on the table getting larger and larger—a metaphor of growing Covid-19 angst over months and months.

More brief pausing (as if summoning the energy to continue), then more knotting.

And so it continues until she has made 428 knots with the ever-thickening rope strands, each knot symbolizing one of 428 days between Baltimore City’s initial lockdown and the artist becoming fully vaccinated this past spring.

Pause. On the table, a snarled hulk of rope, like a massive tumor of dread.

Then, she begins unraveling the knots—86 of them, like one long exhale, each untying emblematic of a day between Nora’s vaccinated status and Baltimore City reinstituting the mask mandate. The collection of knots shrink, along with our anxiety.

Until it no longer does.

Nora pauses, then resumes her knot-making. Before the video ends, she makes 18 new ones—the number of days between the city reintroducing the mask mandate and Nora creating her video.

Deceptively simple, At the End of My Rope is a tale of unfolding existential dread—her own and ours.

Making the piece proved therapeutic.

“You can’t control if you get anxious, but you can control what you do with it,” she says. “Knotting is a physical way of naming my anxiety—naming it changes where it sits in my brain.”

“And knotting is so repetitive,” she adds. “It’s meditative—even soothing. It’s like a fidget tool: it helps me calm down.”

Active on social media, Nora began sharing about the piece.

“With this piece—sharing my own anxiety—people could recognize their own. They knew they were not the only ones on this rollercoaster ride of feelings. I did the piece for personal reasons, but I’ve had feedback from people that’s so meaningful. It’s helped me connect with people, which is what I’m really interested in.”

Connect with people—and help them (and herself) through confounding days.