Brooklyn: How to make a mask

"It is easy to forget just how surreal Brooklyn’s streets have become," writes Cara Michell, an urban planner and artist in New York City. "As I stand at my makeshift home-office desk and look outside, I long for the warmth and energy of my friends."


Once upon a time there was a small firefly.


He was so small that his abdomen could rarely muster up enough energy to shine as bright as his friends.


He would flit around the woods so gracefully at night. But hardly anyone could notice because his light was so dim.


Feeling invisible already, he routinely burrowed his way into the bark of an old oak tree. And on occasion—when feeling particularly self-indulgent—he would cry himself to sleep at night, singing:


woe is me; woe is me

what must I do, must I do to be seen?


The melody of his tears was so loud that he could not hear the chirping outside of his myrtle oak walls.


But his eyes, which had grown increasingly sensitive with longing, did notice that the light beyond his walls became brighter and brighter each night that he cried.


Until one night, when he curled into his leathery bark nook—succumbing once again to the vague à l’âme...his self-pity—he could not help but notice how bright the light outside had become.


Bright enough to force his eyes wide open—stunned lids unsealing as the thin layer of skin and blood vessels illuminated like the sunset—and dry his tears. And when the tears stopped, he could hear a sound outside. Chirping? Praise? Applause? Slowly, he emerged from his nook to see nearly half of the possi of fireflies gathered around his nocturnal hideaway. They were stirring and chirping at the sound of his music, and in return, they brought their light to him.


Hello, my friends around the world! I’m reporting to you from Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn and this is quarantine week eight. It took quite some time for me to decide what to share with you. There is so much to say about what life here in New York looks like, how it differs from the perceptions of my friends abroad, and how we stay positive within our 500 square foot bubbles when the world outside is imbued with so much fear and uncertainty. We do not know when we will reemerge, but the combined lack of testing, pervasive social inequities and distressingly rugged individualism of many entitled neighbors who still refuse to wear masks, mean it could be months.


It is easy to forget just how surreal Brooklyn’s streets have become. As I stand at my makeshift home-office desk and look outside, I long for the warmth and energy of my friends.

'It is easy to forget just how surreal Brooklyn’s streets have become'

Last Saturday, I ventured out for a longer walk and visited friends from a six-foot distance. From far away, their light is dimmer than usual. Perhaps some of it has been absorbed by the black holes that now reside within shuttered cafes and abandoned Brownstones. We, like you, protect what little bit of light is left by covering our nose and mouth, itching to get out from behind that uncomfortable fabric so we can once again be seen. I do not like wearing masks.


They remind me of how much of myself was suppressed before the pandemic by less concrete fears of being misunderstood, unwanted and unloved. So, it is particularly important that I make my new mask with care. I hope you are able to make yours with care too.

This story was shared by Cara Michell, an urban planner and artist in New York City. She currently practices planning at WXY Studio.


Credit of all photographs included in this story: Cara Michell, who was so kind to share these pictures with us.


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