Writing into the unknown

What do we say?

This week I find myself returning to my childhood growing up on a fault-line in Los Angeles. 

At the start of each school year, my parents would send us with a mandatory earthquake pack that contained stable foods, like peanut butter and nuts. The packs were immediately stored under the school, in case of emergency, i.e. in case we got trapped at school. 

At the end of the school year, provided we hadn’t needed them (we never did), the packs would be returned, just before we got out of school for the summer. It became a quasi-celebration, the start of summer marked by the return of our earthquake packs, a cheers to going home and also escaping something horrible. There was something voyeuristic and hedonistic about it all, celebrating the start of summer while eating the excess, an excess that was meant to tide us over through unknowable tragedy. 

Stranger still, my mom would pack these little… doomsday notes in the packs for me and my sister. The child of an artist and an artist herself (though only in stolen moments), my mom has whimsical handwriting, slanted and evocative. There was always a little cartoon person, too, a speech bubble saying “I love you” or “don’t worry.” I don’t remember them exactly, but I remember the tone: it would be okay. They were coming. Relax. 

I, obviously a panicked and overthinking kid, would sit in the midst of these parties, where most of us celebrated the general ethos of indulgence, and sit rather stoically thinking again about how I was alive. The notes caused what can only be called an out of body experience—I knew this note was written at the beginning of the year, from the comfort of our home, from my mother’s steady hand. I knew that it was a time capsule, one that should never have been opened. I knew how surreal it was that I was reading something earnestly written to calm me, a terribly uncalm child, in the midst of crisis that no one could have predicted, only prepared for. 

I keep thinking about my mom, in these moments, and her sitting down to write a message into the unknown. Her earnest attempts to reach into uncertainty and soothe a worried child—what do you say? How do you communicate into an absolute void?  

Years later, when my mom was diagnosed with cancer, she dedicated a notebook (which I’ve found, in the years since) for family and friends to write their fears and concerns about the illness, their love for her, and capture it in these crinkled pages. My friends and I were still young, still unvarnished by the sort of stiff politeness that adults can form as an understandable response to illness.

I remember my friend writing simply, “will you die?” in one of the first pages.

I felt relief from seeing it asked so plainly, from seeing this message into the unknown inked, from watching a time capsule created not unlike the ones my mom had penned so many years before—of writing into uncertainty, of writing through uncertainty. 

It is scary, surreal, to figure out where to go in this moment. There is nothing for me to write here that wouldn’t be dipping into uncertainty, and I suspect it will be that way for some time. 

What we can do is help our communities prepare, if we are in a position to do so. We can take care of ourselves if we can, via measures like frequent hand washing and social distancing. We can look to those who most need our help—folks who are immunocompromised, without insurance, unhoused—and reallocate resources. We can remember that people who are at more risk than us are watching how we react, are dependent on how we react, and know that their risk is our responsibility, too. We can think about how this moment reveals what many have known about our deeply broken world for so long and be renewed with the energy we need to fix it.

ID: the art piece '10 am is When You Come to Me' by Louise Bourgeois— a series of watercolor hands reaching out to each other

A doomsday note, from me to you: 

ID: a cartoon face with a speech bubble that says “psst. hello! yes you” with text underneath that reads: hey future you (or me) - breathe. It’s okay. #leanin to uncertainty and take solace in your own strength. Love yourself and others fiercely. tell yourself and others you love them. Breathe <3

First, some really important resources. Most of these I found through my incredible friend also named Shelby, of All Kinds Accessibility Consulting.

FUN THINGS!!!! FOR YOU TO DO!

One fascinating aspect of this moment in time is watching non-disabled folks wonder how to spend their time when social distancing (and buy toilet paper for the next few years??? what are you all DOING). Well, well, well. Come on in, everyone. Me and a whole lot of other disabled folks know these ropes quite well. Let us show you the way.

  • If you want to catch up on a few months worth of awesome topical reads, highly recommend just going back through my previously published newsletters and skipping to the bottom where I link said links. There’s incredible stuff!

  • Same goes for books! There’s a books specific newsletter, and also a bunch of books highlights on my Instagram page. There’s also a “niche IG” highlight which contains some fun pages like owl specific or frog specific stuff. You know!

Crowdsourced ideas from the AFGB community:

> PHONEBANK FOR BERNARD !!!!!!

> Get a penpal! 

> make some sourdough bread 

>  do a Skype movie date

> Organize drawers! Organize under the bed! Do a deep clean!   

> Teach yourself a new skill! 

> PUZZLES! Crossword, jigsaw puzzles, other type of puzzles.

> Exchange gratitude lists with friends 

> Read one of the many books you have and have never started 

> Photo shoot with pets (editor’s note, a lot of people said this, were you telling me to do this with my dog or was everyone just really feeling the pet photoshoot?)

> Trying a new recipe / baking

> Self-published romance novel brackets in place of March Madness 

> Make a propagation station for your overgrown pothos plant! (ed: note - how do they know about my overgrown pothos plant)  

> Duolingo  - free language learning app 

> Creating music playlists for your friends!

> “I’ve been making parodies of Dakota Johnson and her limes” (WHAT)

> Boardgames! Gaming in general!  

> Getting weirdly into making kombucha 

> Germinating seeds! 

> Coloring books! 

write, create, draw, make, break, sing, scream, have an orgasm or two. You got this.

Other things from me (i’m skipping the formatting here spoons are dwindling)

TV? I have seen it all. 

Actual good TV: no 

British crime dramas 

> DID SOMEBODY SAY FATHER BROWN 

> Broadchurch 

> Luther 

> just google “british crime shows” 

Romance: 

> Love is Blind (woof) 

> Love Island 

> The Bachelor, obviously 

> Terrace House, my little gem 

> Are You The One (I’ve never seen people seem to love it) 

Reality, other: 

> Face Off, a reality TV show about prosthetic makeup 

> Vanderpump Rules...yes 

> Top Chef 

> The glass blowing competition 

> Naked Attraction on Youtube 

> What about online dating, as a treat? Might now be a great time to learn a lot about someone without the pressures of needing to meet anytime soon? How sexy! How fun!

Lastly, bunch of photos of my dog :)

ID: clementine smiling with pink tongue flopping out just slightly, her front two paws in her hole.

ID: clementine looking EXTREMELY SMALL on a corner as she waits to cross the street while doing a sit, like a good girl!!!

With love and empathy for all of our unknowns,
Shelby + Clem