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Stuck in the middle with you

My World's on Fire
Stuck in the middle with you
By Colleen Hagerty • Issue #74 • View online
Thanks for reading My World’s on Fire, a weekly newsletter about disasters from journalist Colleen Hagerty. If you found this dispatch interesting, subscribe here for disaster deep-dives, Q&As, and context in your inbox every Thursday evening.

During the three weeks this newsletter has been off (hi again! Or, to all you wonderful new subscribers, welcome!), I’ve been working on a longer-term feature, a piece that I conducted interviews for throughout 2021. One of those was with Jess Mercer, an artist and survivor of the 2018 Camp Fire. We’d first met in January 2020, speaking in a crowded coffee shop in Butte County, California about the role of social media in the aftermath of the fire. More than a year later, we sat outdoors, each on one side of a picnic table, my phone poised in the middle to record our catch-up. 
Mercer has created and facilitated a number of trauma-informed art programs for fellow survivors, many of them for children and teens. She showed me a van she decked out into a mobile art studio, dubbed “Butte County Art on Wheels,” that she allows kids to doodle on and decorate during their sessions with her.
The wheels of Butte County Art on Wheels
The wheels of Butte County Art on Wheels
The pandemic put Mercer’s already-busy schedule into overdrive, as she created art kits to deliver during quarantine, recorded videos to demo projects that could be done at home, and developed new programs for the eventual return to in-person gatherings. By the time I visited in March 2021, she’d cautiously started running some sessions outside, including nature photography courses.
She shared a story with me from one of her recent programs with a group of fourth-graders. To start off their time together, she asked a sort of ice breaker question: if they could go anywhere this summer, where would they go? The answers were pretty much what you’d expect, she said—Hawaii, Disneyland—until the last student chimed in.
“I wish I could go to the day before the fire and tell everyone to leave,” Mercer remembers him saying. 
For the kids she was working with, she explained, the pandemic was a compounding trauma because they were very much still in the process of recovering from the Camp Fire. So was she; so were many others in the community.
“Our souls, in so many regards, are so weathered,” Mercer said. “We still need help, we still need support.”
On Monday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released its final tally of 2021’s billion-dollar disasters in the United States. I’ve written before about this often-quoted analysis—what it says and what it omits—and I thought this blog from the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Vijay Limaye did a good job of further breaking down how it is, inevitably, an underestimation of cost and loss. 
Reading those numbers, I thought about Mercer’s words and how many people started this new year in the recovery process. The people in Colorado, Kentucky, Louisiana, or Texas, just to name a few of the areas impacted in 2021, but also the people still in the recovery process from the year or years before, their stories out of the headlines and donations dwindling. And all of them—all of us—still muddling through a pandemic that has further laid bare so many of the inequities that are often intimately familiar to those who have experienced disasters.
So, entering into another year of this newsletter, I wanted to say thank you for taking a little time each week to learn more about those people in the process and the process itself. And for anyone who entered into this new year struggling, I wanted to share some simple advice from Mercer on how she gets through some of her more difficult days:
“Preserve your mornings has been something that has really benefited me. When I get up, I don’t look at my phone, even though I know there’s a lot of little things on my screen…
I pet my dog, and I slowly have a cup of coffee out of a goofy coffee cup, because it makes me giggle. I ask my Alexa a joke every day—possibly up to five, depending on the day. I make sure that I feel clean and ready for the day…
Is it a hard day for me? Maybe I need to step back a little bit. Preserving your mornings and even spending that half an hour to really just deep dive within yourself—it doesn’t have to get super heavy, but know your capabilities before you go apply them.”
New year newsletter news
I wanted to give you all a little idea of what I’ve been working on behind the scenes for MWOF in 2022. I’ve set up some collaborations with other journalists, am exploring how to host events that could bring my Q&As or “demystifying” series to life,  and will continue to amplify survivors’ experiences and add context to disaster conversations.
To make all that happen, I’ll be doing a bit of experimenting on the business side, including trying out some cross-promotion like this link below to another very good newsletter:
MWOF Recommends: Refind
I believe strongly in keeping this content accessible to a broad audience, and that’s not going to change. But I’ll be honest that I am also trying to make this a more sustainable project this year so that I can dedicate the time and resources necessary to make it worth your subscriptions.
That said, I am always open to feedback and your thoughts on any and all aspects of this newsletter—you can reach me directly by responding to this issue.
As always...
thank you for reading and subscribing to My World’s on Fire. If you value this newsletter, you can show support by joining my Patreon. A few dollars a month unlocks additional exclusive content, including behind-the-scenes looks at my reporting (here’s one example). 
It also means the world to me when you post about it on social media like Joe Lowry did:
Joe Lowry
PS: This is your first but not last reminder in 2022 to subscribe to @colleenhagerty’s newsletter “My Worlds on Fire.”
Now, here’s a little something for reading to the end.
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