Kwohtations Cards

A sprig of gratitude in a pile of shit; a reflection on 2016

Janine KwohComment

 

Instead of the regular rotation of holiday markets, I spent these last couple weeks camped out with my sister in a Taiwanese hospital helping my dad recover from an emergency surgery because, well, 2016. There's really no way around it - on a personal, national, and global scale, this has been a shit year. It kind of feels like the 2014 snowpocalypse throughout which everyone kept saying, "there's just no way it can keep snowing" and then the universe would - *boom* - dump another couple feet of snow. Like that, but with shit instead of snow.

I told myself that I would stop talking about grief, stop writing about it, stop infusing it into everything I think and do, lest it tire and push people away more than it already has. I'm realizing that was a futile and somewhat meaningless promise to make, and especially impossible in any attempts to reflect on this year so I'm going to talk about grief, but also about gratitude: 

Last month, my office put up a "Thankful Tree" and asked us to fill it up with paper leaves bearing something we're thankful for this year. I immediately decided that there was no way I would be participating. I kicked off the year reconciling the truth and reality of my partner's sudden death and ended it in a fugue of IV drips, stony-faced nurses, and blurry naps on foldout chairs, and somewhere in the middle of all that, an internet troll became our next president while other parts of the world literally and figuratively blew up. I feel like this year has stripped away everything - my sense of security and stability, ability to function on a daily basis and to imagine a future, the innermost feeling of being me - and I'm not going to entertain for one moment the idea that I'm grateful for any of it, for anything. 

And yet, that's not entirely true.

My friend Sheeren introduced me to the work of Patton Oswalt, whose writing this year has been one of the truest accounts of grief for me. 102 days after his wife's death, Patton wrote:

...102 days at the mercy of grief and loss feels like 102 years and you have shit to show for it. You will not be physically healthier. You will not feel "wiser." You will not have "closure." You will not have "perspective" or "resilience" or "a new sense of self." You WILL have solid knowledge of fear, exhaustion and a new appreciation for the randomness and horror of the universe. And you'll also realize that 102 days is nothing but a warm-up for things to come.
And...
You will have been shown new levels of humanity and grace and intelligence by your family and friends. They will show up for you, physically and emotionally, in ways which make you take careful note, and say to yourself, "Make sure to try to do that for someone else someday."

While the truth is that I have never felt so isolated or alone as in my grief this year, I also have never felt so loved. My sister and my friends - my chosen family - showed up for me the only way a group of fierce, brilliant, loyal women (and a few really stand-up men) can. They cried with me and slept in my bed, and welcomed me without reservation when I showed up at their doorstep with little notice and a simple "I didn't want to be alone." They patiently listened to me rail and reason and ask unfair questions of them that have no answers. They wrote me letters. They called "just to check in," and didn't hold it against me when I didn't call back even though I was comforted just by seeing the missed call notification. They packed my lunch almost everyday for work. They sat with me as I cried in empty conference rooms. They shared google calendars so that others could be there when they couldn't. They are still showing up for me in ways that I don't know how to ask for. They are truly the loves of my life.

Last year, I wrote about how I was thankful that Kwohtations has given me a platform to share my ideas, my humor, and my life in a way that I often find difficult to do in person. That has continued to be true when now more than ever I'm confused about what to say or how to say it, or why I feel the need to say it at all. But more importantly, it has given me a community that I didn't fully recognize or appreciate until I needed it. Fellow makers, store owners, market organizers, and customers have shown up again and again this year to say "I see you, and I'm here" on the days that I've felt the most invisible, in ways that I am surprised and humbled by. Arbalest Press - the letterpress studio itself and the kind friends who run it - has become my weekly therapy, and one of the only places left in the city where my mind quiets down. I found myself wandering into Davis Squared earlier this year when I didn't know where else to go, and Mel pulled me into the stockroom to offer hugs, advice, and wine. I've been stopping through regularly since, supposedly to drop off inventory and invoices, but really because it feels a bit like being home. Others - Lucas at Boutique Fabulous, Sofi at Olives & Grace, Matt at Hollingworth 5 & 10, Vanessa at La Brasa, Greg at the Somerville Flea - all wrote to say they'd be there whenever I was ready to return.

Vendors who I mostly met at markets and through Instagram, have become friends in real life, constantly cheering me on in addition to injecting some much-needed care and beauty into the world around them. When I've found myself caught between being lonely and wanting to be alone, it has been infinitely comforting to know that I can walk into any weekend craft market and see some friendly faces, exchange some hugs, and have real conversations in which I can laugh, cry, and talk about booth displays all in the same breath and they understand. Michelle (Michelle Barrett Ceramics), Kimberley (Porcelain & Stone), Carla (wantapony), Eling (Migration Goods), Alicia (AEO Designs),Sharrel (Mud & Yarn), Abigail (yeiou), Katie (Soy Much Brighter), Kristen (Honeycomb Creamery) and many others have truly beautiful souls as well as creative imaginations.  

Customers - some of whom I've met and others whom I haven't - have encouraged me to keep channeling life into art, and reminded me that in whatever small way, Kwohtations matters. When I've drawn, written, printed, and posted in blind attempts to work out what the hell has happened to my life - my way of screaming into the void -  I've received nothing but a chorus of love and affirmation in return. 

All that to say, this year, I am thankful for you. You are the hopeful sprig of green growing out of shit mountain that is the rest of this year. Thank you for reading, for listening, for bearing witness, for reaching out and sharing. I hope to do the same for someone else one day. 

With love,

Janine