Honoring my friend Quintin Jones
A little over a week ago, I began feeling a familiar pain in my abdomen, and along with it, a sense of dread. I knew what it meant: that I would have to go to the ER, have to be readmitted to the hospital, have to go through the whole rigamarole again, canceling all my plans, being poked and prodded and asked the same old questions about my pain level and various bodily functions, undergoing endless tests, being put on higher doses of meds.
I’d only been home for two weeks, and I thought to myself, I can’t go back. I can’t handle all that again. So I hunkered down in denial for several hours, hoping the pain would subside and I’d be okay. But eventually denial gave way to reality, and my mom and I got in the car and headed to the ER, and all the things I dreaded came to pass.
But I was wrong about one thing—that I couldn’t handle it. I could handle it, and I did handle it. Somehow it surprises me every time: how you fear something, and you think you can’t possibly endure it. Then when what you feared happens, you uncover new stores of strength you didn’t even know were there.
This was true of last weekend, and it was true of my relapse in general. Over the last decade, the notion of getting sick again haunted me—it was my most feared thing. I believed that, if it happened, I would not be able to survive it, not physically, not psychologically, not spiritually. And yet, and yet…
When I think of this, I think of my friend Quintin Jones—aka “Lil’ GQ,” if you’ve read my book. Quin survived a childhood difficult beyond measure, including poverty, abuse, mental illness, addiction, and living on the streets as a young teen. In his two decades on death row, he spent 23 hours a day in solitary confinement, and he could have folded in on himself, given up all sense of hope. Instead he reckoned with his past, sought forgiveness for his wrongs, and committed to becoming a light to others, building meaningful friendships from his cell with pen pals across the world, myself included.
To me, Quin is the embodiment of someone who was forced to plumb the depths of their strength and was continually uncovering new reserves. Here on the one-year anniversary of his execution, I’m resharing his prompt “Survival Skills,” which asks us to reflect on our strength—on our ability to endure.
P.S. Today we’re gathering at the Hatch, our virtual writing hour for paid subscribers, from 1-2pm ET. Carmen will be hosting and sharing a passage by the genius Annie Dillard—about newborns and sharks and loving our scars. Join us here!
P.P.S. We’ve reached the halfway mark in our 100-day project, and to celebrate the milestone, I sent out some thoughts on building momentum and cultivating seed dreams. Read it here!
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Prompt 196. Survival Skills by Quintin Jones
As I sit here in this execution watch cell on Texas death row, with a camera surveilling my every move, I’m thinking about acceptance, and I’m thinking about survival. Years ago, I came to understand and exercise this power: “Change what you can. Accept the rest.” Now that last part doesn’t mean that you give up. But by accepting things as they are, you in turn are able to gain a certain amount of control over said situation. You feel me?
I’m also thinking about how I ended up in this position, as well as where I came from and all that I endured and survived in my short forty-one years of living here on earth, over half of it incarcerated. Growing up feeling unwelcome, unwanted, and unloved by my own parents. Dealing with mental and physical abuse at the hands of others, as well as at my own. Despite what I grew up feeling and believing about my own strength, I tend to shake my head and pat myself on the back for surviving so much for so long.
Your prompt for the week:
When was the last time you really noticed your inner strength? What were you doing or going through? Was there ever a time you realized you had taken your survival skills for granted?
Featured Community Member of the Week
Joanne Proulx is a writer, photographer and occasional home designer and builder who lives in Ottawa, Canada’s capital city. She joined the Isolation Journals at the beginning of the pandemic, and back in February contributed a gorgeous essay and prompt, “Look Down, Get Low, Think Small,” inspired by her forest photography.
For her 100-day project, titled WET, Joanne has been photographing and filming water in all its forms. She provided a short index: “Ice! Slush! Crystals forming on a sewer grate. Morning mist drifting across the lake. A waterfall. A leaking tap. A frozen river from a thousand feet up. Whitest clouds sliced by the wing of a plane. A drop of rain gathering on a pine bough, working up the courage to fall.”
It’s stunning to see the twists and turns this substance makes. Joanne writes, “Today, lying on my stomach beside a forest creek, I thought I was videotaping air bubbles gathering on the surface of the water. When I zoomed in, I saw freshly laid frog’s eggs. The translucent sac I’d mistaken for an air bubble? Food for the small creature growing inside. We are 60% water. Leaves are 90% water. Everything on earth is water, needs clean water to live. Turning my attention to it on a daily basis feels like both a homecoming and an homage to the sacredness of life. WET has brought me closer to the source.”
Learn more about the 100-day project.
For more paid subscriber benefits, see—
Cultivating Seed Dreams, a reflection and community discussion celebrating Day 50 of our 100-day project
Dear Susu #5: Marriage Vows & the Myth of the Good Catch, on the source of our self-worth
On Going with the Flow, thoughts on Virginia Woolf and being fluid and a writing prompt from our last meeting of the Hatch