Today is Valentine's Day, a holiday defined by emotional complexity. For single people, it can be a reminder of our aspirations toward romance and the connections we have yet to discover. For people in relationships, it can be a day of lofty expectations, which may or may not be reflected in our real lives. But there are many ways to think about "love" beyond our romantic relationships, and these are what inspires this week's Question of the Day host Karyn Schwartz into action.
Schwartz is the proprietor of SugarPill, an herbal apothecary in Seattle's Capitol Hill. She is also a driving force behind Love is Action, a campaign for visible resistance and community activism. We asked Karyn some questions about her projects and couldn't be more inspired by her responses. Enjoy!
Tell us the story of SugarPill! How did you decide to become an apothecary, and how did you come to make this your life's work?
I never set out to do what I do - but after seeking out alternatives to conventional medicine for my own personal health challenges, and following that thread of interest after it made such a huge difference in my own life, I just kept getting led farther down that road. When I first started out in the 1980's, I was also working in the domestic violence advocacy community, and doing a lot of activism work, particularly around issues like reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights and AIDS. There are so many intersections between the kinds of work I was doing and deeper issues around health and access to healthcare. Natural medicine appealed to me not only because it worked for me, but because it is based in traditional and evolutionary knowledge and practices that are safe and effective, and which, when used properly, can make people much less reliant on the conventional system of medicine that excludes so many people from care and healing. Working in an apothecary model makes it possible for me to share what I know with anyone who wants to learn more, and to empower people to try simple methods of self-care that will support the strength, resilience and wisdom of their own bodies. Certainly there are many concerns that people bring to me that are not what I would consider "over-the-counter" questions, but even for those issues that require more in-depth care and attention, I can still help people to find the kinds of help they are seeking and prepare them to advocate for themselves within the conventional healthcare system.
In addition to all of this, I am a fierce champion of our need to actively support the independent brick and mortar businesses that are still the bedrock of neighborhoods and communities. As quixotic as it is to keep a small retail shop open in the technological age, I think it is more important than ever to have places where people can gather and talk in person and look one another in the eye. For me personally, the ability to come to work every day and have actual conversations with so many different kinds of people is what makes me feel hopeful. Connection is the antidote to the fears and prejudices that drive people farther apart, and in the present political climate, feels like one of the most radical acts of resistance we can collectively perform every day.
"It's more important than ever to have places where people can gather and look one another in the eye" [Tweet this]
Visitors to Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood might have noticed your "Love Is Action" graphics in the windows of your building. Can you tell us why you decided to make these messages visible in this way?
Love Is Action was born out of my own desire to make it clear that the only way out of the danger that we are collectively in — not just because of the recent nightmare of an election, but certainly made exponentially worse as a result of the horrifying new "administration" — is to take all of the feeling that you have about the world and put it into unapologetic action. Love is necessary. It is powerful, and it is fundamental to making lasting, meaningful change. But on its own, it is not going to get us out of any of the mess we are in, and more immediately, it is not going to keep people safe when there are real, tangible, immediate threats to so many people's lives. I wanted to do something very visual that would make a statement in my own little corner of the world that hatred would not be tolerated here, and also that Action is a vitally necessary component of Love. I wanted people to know that they are welcome to bring all of their humanity in here, and to know that this is a place where conversations about what is happening in the world, and how it is affecting you, are not only welcome but encouraged.
"Action is a vitally necessary component of Love." [Tweet this]
Who are the collaborators behind Love is Action. (In particular, who designed those lovely graphics?)
The collaborators on this project are my amazing upstairs neighbors at Substantial, who invited me to their all-hands meeting a few days after the election to discuss how they could be more actively engaged as individuals and as a company in the needs of this community, this city and the larger world. I was having to pivot from the aftermath of the election to preparing for the holiday season, which felt very awkward but also necessary, as it remains true that those of us in retail still do make an inordinate percentage of our annual incomes in the few weeks leading up to Christmas. I wanted to put something in my windows that was positive but also challenging to people during the holiday season, and also have something to hand people to help guide them in their desire to do something tangible. Substantial put a whole team of people on this project with me, in particular the amazing Flo Truong who did all of the graphic design, and Heather Griswold who coordinated the production of the project as well as helped me to identify and gather the resources that we linked to as an invitation to action that we hope people will be encouraged to take. There is now a also a website associated with the project that not only has links to all of the resources we suggested as starting places, but also offers the design files for anyone to download and make their own posters, flyers or other print items to use as you wish. We are hoping that other businesses and residents in the neighborhood will use them freely to create a visual expression of unity here, and to remind people to stay engaged.
Here's one of the questions you wrote for Siren this week: If flowers and trees could talk to you (and maybe they already do), what do you think they would tell you?
Flowers tell me to insist upon hopefulness and beauty; that no expression of creativity is frivolous, and to remember that everything is fleeting but also cyclical, and what is lost comes around again, just in new ways each time. Trees remind me of the resilience that comes from being deeply rooted, and of the interdependence of everyone and everything. They remind me to breathe when I feel like it is all too much, and that there is possibility in everything.