My dearest odd ducks:

I have writers’ block. Everyone gets this, right? Especially those of us with executive function issues who procrastinate and drag out the simplest fucking tasks and make everything harder for ourselves. I have now started three newsletters and thrown each of them away because I cannot sit still long enough to write an instagram caption, let alone one thousand words about dark tourism. But it’s not just the newsletters!! I am stalled out on my long form research project too. But I think I figured out why and it’s so bizarre that maybe, just maybe, it could be ITS OWN ESSAY.

Here is my sincere opinion about creative people: you need to be willing to embrace the strange to be good at your job. LIKE JUST ENOUGH TO TAKE YOURSELF TO THE WEIRDEST POSSIBLE PLACES AND REPORT BACK. Obviously I write about the WEIRDEST POSSIBLE SHIT every day of my life but I’ve just gone through something especially horrifying BUT ALSO KIND OF FUNNY and what kind of influencer would I be if I didn’t mine my own suffering and monetize it for your entertainment?? Of course, I use the word monetize loosely, you should all know I’m not making any money on the corpse and ghost circuit.

A Renaissance painting of a man and woman beset with plague boils, while a man in long robes lifts his hands to the sky in the background

I have been researching San Francisco’s original quarantine facility, called the Pest House. Well, colloquially it was the Pest House – the official name was the 26th Street Hospital, though it was hardly a real hospital. It was a filthy, claptrap set of “cottages” with no actual medical infrastructure, built in the 1860’s to stow away the city’s untouchables. People with visible diseases – leprosy (Hansen’s Disease), smallpox, and syphilis (great pox) – were sent here to die.

I’m not exaggerating! These folks weren’t expected to live, so there was no budget for clothing, bedding, or medicine. They were fed mostly by relatives and charities who dropped off food for them. The diseases they carried, which were visible in the form of pox and necrotic tissue or missing limbs, stigmatized them as dirty and immoral. They weren’t sent away to be treated, they were hidden away from polite society under the guise of public health. Everything was even worse for Chinese patients, who were segregated and blamed for outbreaks.

I don’t want to give away the whole story but the descriptions of their suffering are horrendous. The shacks they lived in had no heat, no insulation. Female detainees were sexually abused by staff. They lived in actual rags, all while enduring disfiguring and uncomfortable diseases with no treatment or care. It’s bad, right???

Well guess what else is bad? I was balls deep into this research project, complete with colored illustrations of saddle noses, blackened extremities, and pox scars, when I BROKE OUT INTO SHINGLES. Do you know what Shingles are??? THEY ARE A FUCKING POX! I woke up one morning with a hideous rash of blisters across my hip, strange nerve pain, and a sincere belief that I gave myself A POX by reading about THE POX. When I tell you I thought I had leaned so hard into this project that I infected myself with SHINGLES in some kind of discount The Secret scenario this is what I mean by ***embracing the strange. ***

An etching from the San Francisco Call of the San Francisco Pesthouse Annex
San Francisco Pesthouse Annex, San Francisco Call, January 3, 1896.

The biological explanation for Shingles is that the chicken pox virus, acquired in childhood, can live dormant in your body and break out in a new mutant form later in life. There are various triggers: low immune system function, stress, perimenopause, Covid (ALL OF WHICH I HAD). But obviously “lol u manifested the pox” is where I went. This shit was never even on my radar! You don’t qualify for the vaccine until you’re 50, and like most people I’m having this kind of post-pandemic ennui where I don’t want to hear about ANY MORE DISEASES GOING AROUND. Flu season? RSV? Shut up and give me my shot! And now I’m just breaking out in fucking SHINGLES???

My dudes, you do not want this. It’s horrifying. The virus travels along the spinal cord and onto the nerves, and then it breaks out in a grotesque pattern along the nerve branches. Like I technically know I have nerves but I DON’T WANT TO SEE A FOUR DIMENSIONAL VERSION OF THEM ON MY ASS. Now, the poetic part of me was like – this is a metaphor! A metaphor for a dormant frailty, forged in youth, riding the lines of the nervous system from my tender core to break free in an itchy, angry visualization of my inner pain!

No!! Fuck the metaphor!! I had scaly blisters all over the left half of my torso (THE THINKING HALF) and I could only wear pajamas and bitch and moan for a week straight. My husband was constantly reminding me to “cover that shit up” and the dog jumped on it at least once a day. It crusted (!!!) and scarred (!!!) and made me exhausted. The Valtrex worked like a charm but also took my intestines on a week long party bus ride that I am STILL recovering from. So, metaphor or no, zero stars.

NOW. What does this have to do with writer’s block? Well, for two weeks I have been too icked out to even look at the Pest House. How could I read about these horrific ailments when I had an IRL version on my own fucking torso? And now I’m technically cured of shingles but absolutely, positively unable to write. Maybe I thought that if I picked up my research I’d break out in Shingles again? Like my manifesting game is just that good? Maybe some bitchy old Virgo part of me is like “this is what you get for writing about this gruesome shit all the time, why can’t you just be normal for one minute?” Or maybe I’m just addled from mainlining Gabapentin for a week???

IDK, but would you look at that – 1000 words on a page, delivered straight to your inboxes. I AM CURED.


An etching of a small demonic creature covered in boils and spikes, posed as a beggar

Leper Beggar in the Shape of the Devil, anonymous, 1474-1566 | Source: