I am a quiet person, pretty much in all the ways. I don’t talk a lot, and when I do, people often literally can’t hear me. Shy, a little socially anxious, and nestled cozily on the far end of the introvert-extrovert spectrum, you can often find me hovering near the food at parties, hiding in the bathroom for a breather during work functions, and completely absent from networking events. In today’s rapid-fire world of cold-calling, drive-by salutations, and elevator pitches, I have a difficult time listening, processing, synthesizing, and opining all at once. I would much rather listen and observe, let ideas sit and bounce around in different parts of my brain, and then maybe 15 minutes, one hour, three days later I’ll think of what I want to say in response, if anything at all.
We have many opportunities to talk throughout the day – to colleagues in meetings and by the proverbial watercooler, to strangers in line and at the bus stop, with friends and acquaintances out at dinner or bars. In many of these situations, I find it hard to push beyond giving sanitized versions of how our weekends were and commiserating or speculating about the weather, and to somehow segue into sharing what we’re really dealing with: the experiences and people that we think have made us who we are, the hardest and best parts of our lives so far, the truths we hold sacred and the questions we grapple with when we have long stretches of time to ourselves, and all those things that make us all eerily similar and wildly different that I’d really like to know and share. But my curiosity and desire for connection is often overshadowed by the fear that I’ll be revealed as (and therefore feel) dumb, boring, or strange, based on the jumble of words I produce at that moment.
Writing has always been different. I can think for as long as I want about what I want to say and how I want to say it, then leave it and come back and change it all over again. When I’m writing, there’s no one to witness how fast or eloquently I can get out a sentence on the first try. No one hears all the long, tentative pauses, or interrupts to ask me to “speak up.”
Kwohtations has become a medium for me to say and share whatever I want and on my own timeline. Basically the cards are my alter ego -- the puppets to my ventriloquist, the Sasha Fierce to my Beyoncé. They are unapologetically cynical, honest, snarky, and vulnerable. They are a catalogue of my thoughts and experiences, like if I’m making the “right” life decisions and how I should be defining “right” and if I’ve already chosen the wrong ones, if such a thing exists. Like how love still confuses me to no end, both conceptually and practically speaking. Like why there’s so much fear and hate of those who are different and what our role is in either perpetuating or changing that. The cards are my soapbox to silently preach that the freedom to be who you are and love who you do is an unalienable right and that the diversity in our identities and choices is a source of beauty, power, and celebration.
So when people pick up the cards, laugh in recognition and say things like, “This is me!” or “This is my life!” or “I need to get this for so-and-so,” I instantly feel heard, more connected, and less alone. And when I do end up talking with customers, because I’ve already exposed a bit about me in the safe form of funny greeting cards, the conversation skips the pleasantries to sharing about life: Their brother just came out. They’re been trying to having a baby for a while. A lot of his friends are getting divorced. She’s going through menopause. He gets hangry all the time, but so does she. He woke up from a coma last year. They’re moving across the country. They’re navigating their first interracial relationship. She’s hoping to quit her job soon. All the big and little things that matter and make us wonderfully human.
I wrote back when I first started Kwohtations, that the cards are “for all the things we really think and sometimes want to say.” I meant this in light-hearted, simple and funny way, like saying “Sorry I Got Drunk” and “Yay You Made a Tiny Person” and “Thanks For Watching me Ugly Cry.” Somehow, this has become a truer, deeper statement as I think about all the fears, aspirations, failings, and accomplishments that I’ve channeled into creating these cards. Maybe speaking through greeting cards is a temporary workaround or a strange defense mechanism, or maybe it’s finally a way to be as vocal and vulnerable as I know how. In any case, Kwohtations cards are not only for all the things I want to say, but as it turns out, has also given me the means to say it, for which I am truly grateful.
Janine Kwoh, https://kwohtations.com