Hoard Your Connections
Updated: Mar 25, 2020
Me and some vulnerable friends had ourselves a gathering on FT last night. Vulnerability has blossomed into a popular virtue in the last while. The guru of vulnerability, Brene Brown, has given us a way to respect and admire, and cultivate it —when it’s emotional. When it’s optional. But when it’s physical? When it’s forced on us? Ahhh.... well now we’re in the territory of the disabled. We’re the gurus. The social isolation, the process of coming up with creative ways to handle uncertain and indefinite constraints, the constant mental math of wondering how seriously to take a thing while still being able to take pragmatic precautions but also not torture yourself with disappointment, panic and overwhelm. The immutable reality that you have no control and no way left to convincingly pretend you have control — it’s familiar territory to us. We are watching the world around us contend with these experiences for the first time and feel for the stress and pressure and bewildering level of personal responsibility people now have to navigate.
Digital gathering isn’t new in our circle. Alex and I send each other Marco Polo recordings where we discuss growing up disabled and how our perception of disability has changed as we’ve aged. She listens to me while she drives and does errands and I listen to her as she gets interrupted by babies and poop. Lisa and I have an extensive WhatsApp salon where we discuss literature and narrative and how fiction is affected by the shifting concepts of identity and authenticity. Our access to other people in wheelchairs, with common experiences and values and interests beyond-but-including our wheelchairs opened to us because of the digital age. We have never met in person, but we keep close tabs on each other day-to-day. We don’t have access to these kinds of relationships without technology. All three of us have been through extensive periods of social isolation for various reasons throughout our lives. Each time, we learned more specifically what we needed to feel supported and we found ways to access it under dramatic restrictions.
Throwing a tele-gathering wasn’t something Covid forced on us, it was a continuation of us satisfying our mutual psycho-social-emotional needs.
Thankfully, a new dress had arrived from Paris earlier that day, so I poured some whisky and posed soap-operatically near a window before the call, sending the selfies to our group chat.
“I will be wearing a beanie and hoodie!” Alex said.
“Excellent fashion choice!” I replied.
“How are you nearly naked but not showing any of your privates?” Lisa asked.
“Ancient secret of the sexicons known as the wrap dress.” I revealed. Lisa and Alex re-enacted episodes of the office for me and then we compared jawlines (all three, top notch), we said goodnight and went back to our own pockets of isolation.
Several months ago, my friend Carolyn sent me a long form essay called “How to Live Like the World is Ending." We re-read it a couple days ago as the news got feverish and our nerves frayed. Here is an excerpt:
“One thing I’ve learned from my friends who study resilience and disaster relief, however, is that the most important source to shore up on isn’t a tangible one. It’s not bullets, it’s not rice, it’s not even land or water. It’s connections with other people. Practice mutual aid. Build networks of resilience.”
My mom went to buy food at 7am this morning when there would be no lines. “I get it now.” she said to me, “The toilet paper thing. When I had some in my cart, I felt relief. I know that I won’t die without it. But it was something I needed and couldn’t get. And that feeling wouldn’t go away until I had a package of toilet paper in my grocery cart.” It wasn’t the toilet paper she needed, it was something she could control.
Now that everyone is as vulnerable as my people have always been, I offer you the wisdom born of our ’networks of resilience.’ if you must hoard, may it be your connections.