Evolution of A Card: Spoons and Mental Health

November 22, 2019

Evolution of A Card: Spoons and Mental Health

[pst, are you asking yourself "what's the deal with all the spoons?" start here!]

When I first started Our Back Pockets, I was playing around with linocut block printing, and made a card with four spoons (one of them only a dashed outline) printed in a brilliant gradient of inks. The inside read:

“I wish I could lend you some spoons.”

For me, the card spoke to a specific kind of empathy that says “I see you, I know I can’t fix it, but I am here”.  Looking back, I think it also belied a personal struggle with my own limitations. It was the summer of 2017, and across the U.S. the shock of 45’s presidency was wearing off, giving way to unadulterated, deep-set fear. My father was 2.5 years into a terminal cancer diagnosis. My own depression and anxiety was heightened.  Pretty much everyone close to me was increasingly struggling financially, emotionally, physically, and/or mentally. I couldn’t care for everyone, I could barely care for myself, and I felt like a failure because of it. “I wish I could lend you some spoons,” but I didn’t know if I could extend anything beyond that wish. I wanted a witness, and I knew I could bear witness.

Artist with block printed cards

I quickly learned that the process of making hand-pressed, block printed cards wasn’t my thing, but I loved the spoons cards.  A lot of people didn’t get it, but I got better at explaining spoon theory and every once in a while a customer’s eyes lit up in immediate understanding, glistening with the relief that comes from being seen. I had important conversations around disability and care that have stayed with me, that meant everything to me. Still, when I sold them all, I didn’t restock them. 

Sometime last year I decided to remake the spoon card with a more illustrative style, in an attempt to make them feel more aligned with the rest of my work. I googled various spoon shapes, got out my trusty microns and ink wash, and drew 15 different spoons (and one spork). I loved the drawings. 

And then? They sat in my “scanned art” folder for months and months. 

When the summer of 2019 rolled around,  I was finally ready to rework them into a new card. What I thought would be a fairly easy design job ended up plaguing me. I couldn’t get it quite right.

Drafts of Spoons Card

After workshopping the wording over approximately a zillion times, and with the help of good friend and compassionate hardass Megan Dowd (of Megan Has Good Words), I landed on the following:

Final Spoons Card

The front reads “It’s ok to be low on spoons -”  with three dashed outlines denoting where spoons once were. The inside of the card reveals a plethora of the illustrated spoons, and says

“I got you."

It took ages to get there, but it finally works

The timing of the thing is curious. Summer 2019 was personally tumultuous. I was on the heels of burnout. My father’s terminal cancer diagnosis came to collect. I interacted with - and was supported by - my community of origin more wholly and honestly than I ever have been.  I shut down my store. I stopped drawing, and then started drawing again with a vengeance. As I was listing the new card a few weeks ago I realized that the wording changes were not just incidental - they were meaningful and reflective of a change that was happening within my own understanding. My concept of community is expanding, and getting more complicated. My concept of myself is expanding and getting more complicated.

It’s not just that I wish I could replenish your spoons, or am raging at the injustices that make resources so scarcely available (although those are still extremely true). 

In the new card there is the specific offer to help, as well as the explicit reassurance that it is ok. 

The new piece is about accepting my own interdependence - my own needs - and piecing together a hazy blueprint for a life beyond hyper-individualism.  

It’s OK to be low on spoons. It’s ok for ME to be low on spoons, even. 

It’s ok. 

I got you. And when I don’t, someone else does, and maybe you’ve got me, too?

I wish that were all we needed; that it was the one elegant solution to all of our pain.  I wanted to end this post on a positive note, with a pithy sentence reiterating how beautiful it is when a community comes together and how you should reach out to your people and everything will be ok.  

But you know that’s not quite the truth. My ideal community doesn’t actually look like a loose network of individuals wearing themselves to the bone in order to help each other barely survive overwhelming pressures! It looks like creating widespread new systems and structures that relieve our collective burdens, but I don’t quite now how to do that. 

I can’t ignore that we are working in a broken, unfair, explicitly-designed-to-isolate-us system. 


We can still try.  We can try not to feel broken for needing things. We can offer what we can, when we can. We can accept what is offered. I don’t have a universal solution, but I do know that it’s not only ok to need each other - it’s unavoidable. It might be the start of something different.

And so, with compassion and boundaries and imperfect systems in my heart: 

It’s ok to be low on spoons -
I got you. 

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