Hope Grows in Brooklyn
& essayist Jessica Slice on telling the truth
As I write this note, I’m on the verge of being discharged from the hospital after a two-week stint—and one step closer to getting settled in a new home in Brooklyn. Jon and I have been living out of suitcases in borrowed apartments in Manhattan for months; my medical team wanted me within a few minutes’ drive of the hospital in case anything went wrong, so no bridges, no tunnels, they said. But I’ve finally gotten the green light to cross the East River when I leave here, and we couldn’t be more thrilled.
The process of preparing to move into this home has been a true joy for me. I’ve always been a homebody, but in this time of illness, I feel such a deep, almost primal need to create a nest where I can rest and heal. I’ve found myself putting a level of thought and care into every detail like never before. To search for tiny beautiful objects is a welcome distraction from the harder things, and each time I score the perfect salvaged soap dish or vintage water pitcher, it has an outsized effect on me.
Take, for example, the harvest table I found on Facebook Marketplace. My friend Hallie, who has been my go-to design collaborator and conductor extraordinaire of this whole move, fixed it up by hand, repairing the cracks and oiling the wood to a warm shine and shaving off one-sixteenth of an inch from the legs to make it the perfect height. Already it’s become so much more than a table to me. It’s the place where we will gather and break bread with our families and friends—those we already know and love and those we haven’t yet met. That table, that home—they’re the future and all our hopes for it.
Hope has felt dangerous to me in the past—and in some ways, I remain a bit wary of it. These last two weeks have been a setback for me. I’m pretty weak right now, and I’ve lost some of the progress I’d made. My sense of safety has been derailed, and I still don’t know what turns my health will take. We’ve had to rely on others to help coordinate pretty much every aspect of this move—my friends spent the week unpacking all of our things and stayed until the eleventh hour, making sure everything was in its place, even adorning the kitchen in confetti balloons. (Quick tip: If you don’t like carrying boxes, find a way to get yourself hospitalized during moving week.) But getting past the fear and stepping toward hope is what I have to do. I want to live a forward-looking life, anchoring myself in the things that are true and good and beautiful.
Which brings me to today’s prompt—from the writer Jessica Slice. It’s about moving past fear, cultivating hope, and rebuilding a world.
P.S. It’s Day 17 of our 100-day project, and I shared a little pep talk on habit-stacking, which for me as of late involves an evening alien ballet. Read it here!
P.P.S. Our next meeting of the Hatch, our virtual writing hour, will take place next Sunday, April 24, from 1-2 pm. It’s going to be an extra special 100-day project edition. Hope you can join us!
The Isolation Journals is my newsletter for people seeking to transform life's interruptions into creative grist. Both free and paid subscriptions are available. The best way to support my work is with a paid subscription, where you get added benefits like access to my advice column Dear Susu, an archive of interviews with amazing artists, behind-the-scenes tidbits from me, our virtual writing hour the Hatch, and other opportunities for creative community.
Prompt 191. Tell the Truth by Jessica Slice
In August of 2011, while on a hike in Santorini, I became sick, and two years later I still hadn’t recovered. A geneticist later gave me a diagnosis: a disorder called Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS) had led to dysautonomia. (My weakened connective tissue had compromised my body’s ability to regulate my heart rate, blood pressure, digestion, and body temperature.) Every morning during the summer of 2013, I woke up nauseated and dizzy and crawled from my bed to my thrifted yellow sofa. I curled up there with a cup of coffee, my journal, some books of poetry, and my dog, Ben Nevis.
As my body shrunk and yellowed and tiny hairs grew from my back due to malnutrition, the defining layers of my life sloughed off—my marriage, my ability to work, my identity as a runner. What was left felt like it could disintegrate at any moment. Waking each day in physical agony to an uncertain future, I worried that some rottenness at my core had brought on all of these losses.
Reading poetry and journaling became my lifeline. I started each morning with two reminders at the top of the page:
Tell the truth
I was rebuilding my life from scratch, and I wanted it to be honest. But I worried that as soon as I focused on something, it would vanish. To feel more substantial, I made lists of “things that are true about me,” and noted characteristics that were permanent—unlike my fears, which ebbed and flowed. Some days, my lists were short.
I like coffee.
I laugh a lot.
When hope was easier to find, the lists grew longer.
I love my sisters.
I feel the most alive around other people.
Poetry cracks me open.
I am kind to Ben Nevis.
It’s now been eleven years since the hike, and I still wake up every day in physical discomfort. I am disabled. Still, I have built an honest and full life—writing in the mornings, finding new love in a second marriage, and parenting my vibrant son. On hard days, I still make lists of things that are true.
My love for my son feels like a balloon that comes out of my chest and wraps around him.
My husband is deeply good, and we are kind to each other.
Our house is full of laughter, and I helped create that.
Writing down the truth makes me feel alive.
I keep going.
Your prompt for the week:
Compose a list of things that are true about you. Sit with each item, making sure you really mean it.
When I have trouble getting started, I turn to poetry. A favorite is Margaret Atwood’s “You Begin”—quite fittingly. If you get stuck, try reading a few poems and see if that cracks something open in you.
Jessica Slice is an author and essayist who has been published in Alice Wong’s Disability Visibility, The New York Times (including “Modern Love”), The Washington Post, and Glamour. Her picture books about families with disabilities, This is How We Play and This is How We Talk will be released in 2023 with Dial Press (Penguin Random House). You can find her on Instagram or subscribe to her monthly newsletter where she talks about disabled parenting, poetry, and the waterfowl in her Canadian backyard.
Featured Community Member of the Week
We’ve heard from a number of families who are doing the 100-day project together—including Jessica Slice, her husband David, and her son Khalil, pictured here. He usually feels discouraged and uninterested in art projects, whether at school or home. “But encouraging him to be creative in whatever way he wants each day has been joyful and expansive,” Jessica writes. “Today he played with food coloring in oil. Yesterday he danced on the shore. The day before he spent an hour laser-focused on applying makeup. We told him that with creativity there is no right and no wrong, and he reminds us all of that often!”
To learn more about the 100-day project, click here.