Writing into the unknown, still

A year later

Hello all — hope you’re doing okay in these trying times. Today I bring you some resources to share, great places to send funds to if you’re able, and some excellent pieces I’ve read this week.

First, I want to republish a piece I wrote right around this time last year. I’ve learned a lot since: in the year after publishing this, the online space I had resided in for years began to feel more and more hostile, which is a surreal experience regardless, especially so in times of isolation and uncertainty.

I experienced extremely invasive, obsessive, and malicious harassment for months last year. I didn’t talk about it publicly, and didn’t receive much behind the scenes support. None of the people who had so gleefully connected with me when it seemed I could offer them my platform and post about their book or newest project said anything while people gossiped openly about my appearance, my intentions, my exes (by name). Watching people lie and gossip about you and frame it as some social justice crusade was disgusting, not because it was about me but because it felt so endemic to the online space I felt trapped in. (And not that it matters but so much of the “do better” stuff was leveled at me while I was attempting to do public health and disability justice 101 explanations to 430k people on Instagram, working on a congressional campaign and raising money for local mutual aids by selling my art. People really wanted me to list out all the ways I did Good, and I refused because lol do you not see what my work is about, and this was taken as apathy.)

Since I started awardsforgoodboys I received pushback—varying from literal nazis to slightly snubbed teen girls. No one was there telling me what to care about, what not to care about, what I should attend to, what I could ignore. Real criticism certainly existed in the chaos, I am not exempt from making garbage takes, but how was I to know which was measured and important, which was just someone lashing out because I failed to live up to their projections of me? This made me paranoid, reactive, terrified of interaction—both online and in real life.

I learned a lot last year. I learned the world I felt I belonged to online wasn’t real. These weren’t my people, even if they posted like I thought “my people” should. These weren’t my comrades, even if they said the right things. These weren’t even my critics, they were bullies, treated by some as “allies” because their repeated harassment of others was framed as simply trying to get others to “do better.” This sort of endless public shaming which masquerades as an attempt to hold someone to higher standards, to get them to atone for their sins, is not only counterproductive and ineffective but often cruel. It is arbitrary. That is so often the clout-chasing enterprise, this idea that you can build an entire anonymous internet presence on talking shit about those who fail to meet your standards, presenting this back as a universal truth, encouraging others to bully those who put their face, their words, their vision out into the world.

How eerie, to be a person who had popularized the idea of “not awarding men for doing the least” to then see people in this same space impose unbearably high standards on those in community with them. My goal with awards for good boys was to question why we can’t stop clapping for the bare minimum, not lash out at those around us who fail to be “accountable” in the ways we decide they should be, a metric likely based on whatever infographic you’ve most recently mainlined into consciousness. My point is this: this online world, this space where saying the right things becomes larger than action, this obsessive need to be correct, this dogmatic insistence on ticking the right boxes at all times—it’s counterproductive. It’s miserable. It’s unfun. It undermines the urgency and severity of necessary collective action. It’s myopic and narcissistic. It’s so not the point.

And I know this experience isn’t unique to me, and that feeling isolated online while simply looking for connection is unfortunately extremely relatable. So to anyone else who has felt distanced from others in ways far beyond the imposed social distancing, know you are extremely not alone, that the internet is too crowded and jumbled with all of our misdirected fears and projections, that in trying desperately to connect with others and to show that we care we perhaps find ourselves continually adrift, alienated and alone. You are not alone, even if drifting, even if floating. Remember that, please.

Writing into the unknown

What do we say? 

awards for good boys Mar 13, 2020

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.

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

To give to:

Listen: "I want you to care when people are still alive": Yves Tong Nguyen of Red Canary Song

Black and Pink Opportunity Campus: Help Black and Pink raise money to build a housing and community space in Nebraska!

The Opportunity Campus will be a housing and community space in Omaha, Nebraska for LGBTQIA2S+ youth and young adults who are system-impacted. We understand system-impacted to include individuals who have been impacted by such violent carceral systems such as incarceration, detention, foster care, and family surveillance. This initiative will provide housing, wrap around support services, mental health support, daily drop-in services (such as hot meals, showers, food pantry, and laundry), and community programming to system-impacted LGBTQIA2S+ youth, young adults, and their families. All services at the Opportunity Campus will be provided at no-cost to our residents and members.

To attend:

Building Solidarity: A Conversation with Jeremy Corbyn & Niki Ashton - this is tomorrow!

Sister Spit virtual tour: this Sunday! Here is more about it:

​Sister Spit began in San Francisco in the 1990s as a weekly, girls-only open mic that was an alternative to the misogyny-soaked poetry open mics popular around the city (and the nation) at that time. Inspired by two-bit punk bands who managed to go on the road without hardly knowing how to play their instruments, Sister Spit became the first all-girl poetry roadshow at the end of the 90s, and toured regularly with such folks as Eileen Myles, Marci Blackman, Beth Lisick and Nomy Lamm.

To read:

In unimportant news, but of great import to me, I’d just like to remind everyone that if you’ve seen a really beautiful pigeon around the web — yet again, this was me, I am like Nathan For You secretly with a hand in many shenanigans, only some of them I will take credit for, others I will relish in secret, so here you go here is Drew Barrymore talking about the hot pigeon. I’ll explain the whole saga to you all soon, I promise.

If you’re not signed up for the subscriber newsletter, you can do so below, this week I’m venturing into the world of “men go to therapy” memes. (As always a reminder if you need a free subscription or a sliding scale, gimme an email!)

In other Shelby specific news, I am part of a fun new cartoon newsletter adventure — an ever-expanding group of cartoonists (if you want to join, reach out!) are going to experiment publishing Sunday cartoons straight to your inbox, with future plans to take you behind the scenes of the illustration / cartooning world. I’m the only non-New Yorker magazine cartoonist which I find extremely funny and also awesome—I’ve learned so much from these artists and they’re all so kind and lovely. I’d love for you to come learn from them too! Or if you have no interest in how the sausage of cartoons is made, just enjoy the best of the stuff we can’t publish elsewhere. It’s a treat!

Here is a new angle of my dog:

With love,
Shelby and Clem