Kwohtations Cards

2017

Janine KwohComment
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Now that it’s the end of the year, many people have been posting their “best nine” - their nine most “liked” Instagram photos from 2017. As I reflect on the year, some of my “best nine” could also fit under “worst nine” because life is funny like that. In that spirit, here are some of the many things that shaped 2017 for both Kwohtations and me personally. They’ve blended together a bit, kind of like when you spend too much time with someone that you really like.  Here goes:

You and all of your support - thank you for listening and bearing witness; for sharing your ideas and life experiences; for dropping by to say hi during markets or through social media; for supporting the business and keeping it up and running; for sending / wearing / using art out in the world, as it is meant to be; and for making the world a more interesting, vibrant place just by being in it.

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Kept Kwohtations alive, because sometimes it’s harder to continue working on something than to start something new. Kwohtations has been my side hustle for six years to the day - I opened my Etsy shop on December 31, 2011 ( which tells you what a wild, raucous life I lead). Running even a small creative business on the side of a full-time job is hard. Running a business while just trying to do life is hard. Spending Saturday nights ironing tote bags, or sitting outside for 10 hours trying to sell paper goods in the rain, or trying to figure out expense categories from the IRS website is not particularly fun or inspiring.  And yet, for reasons still inexplicable to me, Kwohtations continues to be an outlet; a platform; a reason to get out of bed; a source of purpose and pride; and a way to get to know people, places, and myself in ways I don’t think I would otherwise.

The letterpress studio continues to be sanctuary, where there is nothing to do except spend time with two of my favorite humans (who are also amazing artists) and crank out little cards on a big press.

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Made new things that I hadn’t planned to -  like a unicorn wearing a strap-on. I’ve long felt like I stumbled into making cards -  sure, I could carve and paint small people out of linoleum and letterpress simple words onto square cards, but it felt like that was the limit of what I could do as an artist. This year, I gave myself permission to do and share something different, even if I didn’t know what or how. The result has been liberating, and opened up so many more ways to play with and present ideas and sentiments that I couldn’t within the constraint of a greeting card, and the opportunity to put art on everything from bandanas (I swear they’re coming back into style) to bus stops.

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Moved to Brooklyn to be closer to my chosen family, who are pretty much the only reason I’ve made it through anything in life. It took me six years to finally make the move, but I did it so I decided that’s what counts. One of the things I miss most about Somerville is the community of store owners, makers, and supporters there that Kwohtations has introduced me to, who have made the journey of building up a creative business a little less confusing and far less lonely.  I’m both excited and daunted by the prospect of being and growing in a new city, as both a person and a business.

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Continued to grieve in a tangle of rage and regrets, but mostly just sadness that runs underneath all of the art and activities and food put on top of it, which every so often erupts to overwhelm everything else. But I’m learning how to live and change with it, and am trying to become a better, rather than worse, person for it.

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Had many feelings, among which, I realized that though it feels like it has been put through a meat grinder, wrung out, and then pummeled into an unrecognizable state, my heart has retained the capacity to love - and love deeply - and in some ways, it can’t help but.  I’ll have to think of a card for that.

Also, I just finished a month-long, outdoor holiday pop-up shop that is chock-full of experiences and learnings that I’m still digesting (and thawing out from). And I bought myself a label maker.     

Cheers to 2018.

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sometimes unicorns are just horses wearing strap-ons

Janine KwohComment
 Available in the  Kwohtations Etsy store

Available in the Kwohtations Etsy store

I generally walk around with two questions bouncing around in my head: Why is my shit perpetually such a mess, and how is everyone else keeping their shit so together? 

In his New York Times op-ed, "Don't Let Facebook Make You Miserable," Seth Stephens-Davidowitz writes about how what we choose to share about ourselves and our lives on social media presents a very different, incomplete picture from what we actually do or experience in real life. Or, in 21st century terms, how our public Facebook or Instagram posts compare with our private Google searches: there are about 2x as many tweets about golfing than doing dishes, even though Americans spend about 6x more of their time doing dishes; there are more Facebook awareness and support groups for people with migraines than for those with irritable bowel syndrome even though the two are equally prevalent; people who own luxury cars are more likely to announce their affiliation on Facebook. We know all this.  I know this. And yet, I find myself participating on both sides, and I'm not quite sure why. 

I expend more time and energy than I'm comfortable with scrolling through photos and announcements from people I don't particularly care about or don't know at all, like binge-watching a TV show I'm pretty sure I'm not enjoying but can't seem to stop. And then I inevitably go down the rabbit-hole of comparing how they and their lives are so much better than me and mine, running through all the things I dislike about myself and the iffy life choices I've made until I'm reduced to nothing but a big pile of regrets walking around on two (short and chunky) legs. It feels a bit like running a race that gets me nowhere and nothing except that I'm really, really tired at the end of it. And then I feel guilty about feeling sad and insecure when I'm supposed to be all thriving and empowered, and for not keeping more perspective and being less self-involved given everything else that's happening in the world. Which makes me feel even worse. So then there's that.

As my most logical self, I know that what people share is a highly curated, filtered snapshot of their lives. And yet, I can't help but believe that some people really are that infuriatingly well-adjusted and happy in real life - like unicorns, they seem impossibly, effortlessly perfect. They make me feel like I'm looking into one of those fun house mirrors - we're kind of the same general shape, except completely opposite in the dimensions that seem to matter: they have a Passion that they also excel at and can make a living off of; they tick off life milestones as straightforwardly as checking off a grocery list (and I regularly have trouble remembering to get all the things on the grocery list); they've successfully given up all the unhealthy things I love to eat, and they look and feel better for it and will probably live longer; they inexplicably don't seem to sweat as much and can buy clothes online (okay not that important but still, come on); they read books and long articles and publish thoughtful pieces in the Washington Post; they give TEDTalks; they own property and other assets; they travel; they appear well-loved and fulfilled and impervious to Facebook rabbit-holes of despair. They represent impossible standards of health, wealth, and happiness. They make me feel like shit.  

I try to post - and more importantly, to make - things that highlight some of what I think is hard, messy, and confusing about life because I think that's where a lot of the real living is, or comes out of. But I also find myself posting photos that selectively represent what being me and running Kwohtations is like: promoting craft fair days with chirpy captions about how rah-rah I am to be setting up shop at 7AM on a Sunday, while in reality I'm exhausted and grumpy and demoralized because no one is buying anything? Guilty. I've posted about funny cards (yay!) and working on new projects (double yay!) when in reality I'm holding my phone in bed paralyzed with anxiety about everything and nothing all at once, because life is hard even when it's cushy. I haven't posted about all the times I've delayed or missed an order this year because I'm sick with grief or norovirus or strep or scabies or surgery. I've Amazon Prime-d myself an iPhone charger and a box of granola bars because between my full-time job and Kwohtations, I'm too exhausted to go to the store, even as I #hustlehard #shopsmall my way across Instagram. 

I curate the life that I share with others on social media and in person - we all do. And yet, because I only see part of everyone else's story, that's the part that I latch onto, that I believe, that I take and compare with everything I know about my own life - and I never seem to stack up. It makes me feel like I made a wrong turn somewhere, that I missed all the boats and memos, like I'm pedaling just as hard (or harder) but only inching forward - or toppling sideways. Everyone else seems like they're fine, like they belong up on the pedestal where I've put them, instead of down in the muck where I spend a good amount of my time. Of course, I don't always share about the muck. Or I do when it's been slightly better arranged and from a good angle. And so, ironically, to others we may seem like the ones who are the unicorns.  

In my heart-of-hearts, I don't think that anyone is perfect. I think we just often aren't privy to others' wobbly, weak, and downright nasty bits - those bits that we all have, and that we're all hyper aware of in ourselves. And I also don't believe that perfection is the right thing to be striving for. I think that we're all wildly beautiful and flawed and complicated. I think that we're all both good and bad, succeeding on some fronts and failing on others, and doing the best we can, which on some days is better than others. 

At the end of the day, I kind of think we're all just horses wearing strap-ons, running around trying to be unicorns.  And that's okay. 

With love,

Janine

things to do when you're in a depressive spiral before you crawl into bed (from one human to another.)

Janine KwohComment

I don’t know about you all, but I often feel like I’m both okay and not okay, sometimes in a ping-ponging sort of way that’s a little crazy-making, and sometimes – even more confusedly – both at the same time.

On one hand, I recognize that I’m extremely lucky and privileged in so many ways; if I ever followed through on keeping a gratitude journal, it would be in tiny print and overflowing. I spend my spare time semi-compulsively making greeting cards and occasionally baring my soul on the internet, so I’m not going to pretend like I don’t have an almost-embarrassing amount of freedom and time on my hands. On the flip side, I’ve been through my share of fucked-up shit (i.e. trauma, as my therapist prefers to call it) that I feel like I’m perpetually crawling out from under, hauling my emotional baggage around day to day, place to place, like a pound of bad pennies. What all this adds up to is very confusing to me.  

So, as when I try to solve most things in my life, I’ve made a list. This is a list of things I have to do before I’m allowed to give up on life and crawl back into bed: I run an errand. Then I listen to a podcast and clean the stove. Then I go sit at a coffee shop. Then I exercise. Then I call a friend. I turn to this on those days that are hard, when everything seems inexplicably wrong, when I’m completely paralyzed by all the things that I can’t fix – in my own life, in the lives of those I care about, in our society. Those are the times I find myself wanting to sleep, not because I’m tired, but because I don't want to have to engage with the world.

This list is essentially a pact that I’ve made with myself. When I feel like I can't do anything, I pick some things from the list and do them anyways. I think of it more as a menu of options than a set of to-dos: I can go for a run or take a walk, read a book or watch a movie, go out for drinks or invite a friend over. It doesn’t matter much what I choose to do, as long as I do it. And, at the end of the day, I might find something interesting, distracting, or even fun during my self-imposed scavenger hunt for sanity. Or it might still end up just being a really bad day. But at least I'll have tried, and that’s what counts. 

 www.kwohtations.etsy.com

www.kwohtations.etsy.com

The “things to do when you’re in a depressive spiral before you crawl into bed (from one human to another.)” print is based on this mental list of ways to spend the day when I don’t feel like spending it. I made it because I needed it, and I hope that some of you find it useful too, whether you have the occasional bout of the blues, or are going through a particularly hard time, or struggle with chronic depression, or whatever it is you're dealing with. Please take what’s interesting and doable, leave what isn’t, and add your own. And then get out there. Because the world needs you to participate in it.  It would be such a shame if you didn’t.  

With love from one human to another,

Janine  

“things to do when you’re in a depressive spiral before you crawl into bed (from one human to another.)” can be found in the Kwohtations Etsy store. Handprinted on an antique press in Somerville, MA.