Ada M. Patterson

queer/disrupt gained insight on this piece by reading the abstract, as well as through an interview conducted by Hannah Ayres with Ada.

"On making do, life and love in quarantine, this text is a queer glance at sandcastle building, grieving worlds and lives queered by crisis whilst cherishing the remains. It is punctuated by animated GIFS - tiny scraps of footage, some new, some leftover, all timely and precarious bits of visual debris. I wrote this text between two shorelines of experience; the memories of Gibbes Beach in my native Barbados (where I am currently based) and visits to Quarantine Beach, in Rotterdam, where I was physically situated at the time of writing (April-July 2020)."

This piece was written within the first month or two of the pandemic and Ada was based in the Netherlands at the time. They were working on finishing their Masters and their research focused on pedagogy and its relationship to art with a particular focus on decolonial and queer pedagogies. They were experiencing a crisis moment regarding their own workload as some of what they had planned had to be put on hold due to not wanting to, and not being able to, shift to the haphazard online space. Some of their previous work looked at the way we use language and vocabulary to define ourselves and how we sometimes do not feel capable of defining our own identities - yet another crisis. They were also living through global experiences and environmental catastrophes such as Hurricane Dorian and global anti-Blackness. During our interview, they wondered what all of this crisis was doing to our bodies and identities.

When asked about existing between these two geographical spaces, they stated that it was extremely difficult. At the beginning of the lockdown they were speaking to family in both Barbados and the UK who discussed their own fears and anxieties when it came to the pandemic. They couldn't go home but they had never taken for granted the ability to move across the world as crisis had struck during the last hurricane season and they had to sit and watch their friends livestreams and watch the news. Ada stated feeling like their 'mind is already split' and that it has always been this way for them. They talked about how they see themselves as a queer connection across global communities. In the Netherlands, Ada stated that the response had been leisurely and how there had been no hard lockdown in comparison to Barbados who had handled the first wave well. Ada talked about Barbados acting in lines with 'hurricane logic' meaning that they didn't know what was coming and so prepared for the worst. As I spoke to Ada it was clear that the Netherlands response felt insensitive and foolish in comparison and that it almost felt as the Netherlands thought they knew better than something they didn't understand. Between December 2020-January 2021, the situation escalated in Barbados, most likely due to a tourist that broke quarantine. Having gone through an escalation of the pandemic in the Netherlands, Ada worried about how this would unfold, especially with on a small island with a small population. This understanding of the escalation process did not help Ada, they expected the deaths, grief, lockdown etc. but this did not protect them. It instead felt more bitter to feel this one, particularly as the fault lay with irresponsible tourists. In their first lockdown experience they felt a sense of hope amidst all the grief, a feeling that "change is in the air" but this feeling started to diminish as time went on. The hope lies in what could be and the capacity for change that comes with crisis - it doesn't have to be this way. We want not just to survive but also to thrive.

In the south of Rotterdam there was a harbour, shipping containers and an industrial park - here is where Quarantine beach lay. This beach used to be a place where people returning from 'tropical' places used to be quarantined. As they put it, during this difficult time they felt they 'had no practice'. Building sandcastles was something they had done since they were younger and at Quarantine Beach, the sand felt closer to Barbados sand than Rotterdam. They saw it as a meditative mindful practice, a way of 'training yourself to live with loss' without defaulting or surrendering to it. They stopped going as summer approached as the space became too loud and busy and so these sandcastles were often built when Ada was wrapped up in a winter coat. Using a camera to capture this process helped Ada to handle the loss of losing the moment and this fragment of time.

GIFS never featured heavily in Ada's work previously but they used to make glitchy video rip GIFS for fun. They weren't originally sure why they used them but came up with some possible reasons. The first is that the still image represents 'a dead moment', it partially loses the life and movement present at the time of taking the image. They also spoke about the sharing of videos of police brutality going on during the pandemic - "Black death on loop" - and how GIFS could be seen as a way of keeping life going, sustaining a moment for just a little longer.

This text is one piece of a whole - it is just one fragment. It acted as a way of thinking through the thick grief that persisted throughout the quarantine - it gave processing time.

From Quarantine Beach, with Love

A .GIF Story

I’m embarrassed, to say the least. My body has outrun my spirit and I am not the child I remember, a child feigning patience with their sandcastle. I’m embarrassed when I go to the beach to build sandcastles because they stare


they can’t see me for what I feel, for whom I feel to be. I go there when I can because it keeps me sane; putting my mind to it, shelving the isolation and its demons—

I’m not ready to name them here;

that would award them a substance better dedicated to the sand, the tide and its many gifts of debris.

The practice of building sandcastles is a precarious one, in that you can only really count on its precarity.

Don’t build a sandcastle if you want things to last. Don’t build a sandcastle if you can’t afford to lose, if you can’t afford to grieve.

When the night comes, so does the tide. And when the night comes, so do the crabs.

They outnumber the tourists and they don’t complain when the shore gets eaten up. I don’t know if sandcastles left ashore are built on crab tunnels. I don’t know if crabs hop the fence, trespassing these delicate remains. I don’t know if crabs live in the ruins. I don’t know if crabs mate in the ruins. I don’t know if crabs die in the ruins. I don’t know because the sea doesn’t tell me and, out of respect, I would never dare to ask. I don’t question the sea’s behaviour because it is unconditionally generous. Its capability is known, from splash to storm. I know the crabs come with the night because I’ve seen them and they’ve seen me. The sea tries to hide this fact just as it hides the spoils of the day.

When day returns to the beach, I try too. I try because I’m curious of the remains. I try because there’s something to be said about visiting the remains of things that were never meant to survive. I try because it helps me to figure loss and grief into my life in ways that are both nurturing and reparative.

A helpless commitment to memory, my archive of sandcastles boasts a material inventory of casuarina castoffs, sea-glass, shell fragments, urchin spikes, driftwood, palm husk, twigs of nameless varieties, Shak-Shak, coconut shell crescents, sea-grape leaves, mahogany pods, seaweed, wet and dry sands, grit from the shoreline, dead corals, concrete refuse and—I can’t remember the rest.

None survive in the ways I leave them.

But don’t worry.

This is the game we play; I build with the day, the sea builds with the night.

The night and sea enjoy an elegance with sand I can neither know nor envy. To see what the night and sea have left behind, to see what they have made, I return with the day. The silhouette of each castle is melted to a soft bump of sand. The heavier concrete and corals protrude from the surface like ancient ruins while all the foliage and shells are nowhere to be seen. I can’t ever know what I am inheriting with the day; I can only know that it takes the shape of loss while leaving something else in its place. If melancholia means to grieve what I can’t know I have lost, then what does it mean to grieve an unknowable inheritance? If I can indeed mourn the known loss of a sandcastle, what is to be done with the unknowable inheritance of its remains?

You cannot bury or entomb a sandcastle; you can only destroy it further. Or, to put it differently, you cannot restore a sandcastle; you can only build, from its remains, anew.

I’m embarrassed to say I am grieving.

When the responsibilities and policies of social distancing came to be, I awoke with the day to a practice in shambles. And I keep reawakening to that day, trying to make sense of dead corals, disappearing leaves and soft melts of sand. The story I kept telling myself of my practice—a practice of complicated comings-together, joys and intimacies—had already come undone in front of me and I didn’t—I still don’t really—know what to do. Josh Gabert-Doyon reads me with a mirror when speaking of this particular rupture, “the old world before the disease becomes irretrievable […] it seems hard to believe we’ll be able to make it through without abandoning some of our old selves.” It’s difficult not to take offence when a well-said, too real and too relatable truth clocks you so viscerally; perhaps being read to filth still also means being seen.

I’m embarrassed to say I am grieving what felt like a fixed and stable, yet already always momentary, form of practice I didn’t anticipate losing. I felt like the tiniest queer in the world and my practice felt like a sandcastle left overnight. For a moment—and perhaps still even now—this unanticipated inheritance of its remains has stayed illegible, irreparable and unforgivable.

I’m embarrassed to wake to a kanga now too old for this day and these days. Its face bears a since naïve image of two figures kissing in profile, their hurricane eyes, dead in stasis; stares eclipsed in butterflied horror. Its name?


Imagining this kanga after Dorian and after the ongoing queering of the climate felt across different trembling frontlines of the world, I had hoped to attend to those strange unlikely pockets of intimacy, kinship, love, warmth, tenderness, empathy, and so on, springing up almost magically after another crisis-oriented queering of our worlds.

An image, like this, of intimate contact harnessed after crisis, seems so tricky and sticky given our present responsibilities and duties of social distancing. I don't know what to make of it in this light. The metaphor collapses and, again, illegible silences find me in new ways.

These conditions of distance remind me of another world; my once world of growing up queer in Barbados, my once world of sandcastles built, of sandcastles left to the mercies of unanticipated presents. Though certainly not the same yet not altogether separate, to be queer in anti-queer spacetime is to be both cautious of and estranged from the joys of social intimacy. Your queer friendship or your love or your sex would have to be quiet and unseen, lest the sight of it mark you for death or exile. So, you kept your love hidden, untouched, unmarked, and you learned to be close in other marooned ways.

With this in mind, to be queered might be to touch and be touched dangerously, to be put out of touch or for touch to be out of the question. I’m surprised—and therefore, embarrassed—to find myself back in this place and time, where intimacy can only be safely harboured through digital screens and windows. My local supermarket has since raised plastic barriers for its checkout staff and so the screen persists in and out of home. For some queered folk, the screen is bittersweet. At times, it is a magic portal, taking you elsewhere and otherwise; the first point of access to your not-so-local community, your distant love, your digital cruise. And at other times, it is a wall that strands you; a mocking horizon that keeps you out of touch and out of time. From intimacy to isolation, it is a pendulum at its cruellest, with queer life dangled at its mercy. At its kindest, it is a way home.

I’m embarrassed to have momentarily forgotten the kindness of screens and the warmth of those faces sat behind them. And I’m embarrassed to have also forgotten where driftwood comes from.

Where does driftwood come from?

I have no idea but I do know that it ends up on shorelines when building sandcastles. Driftwood and other flotsam have come to feel like unlikely gifts, unlikely tools, unlikely food, offered up or, more accurately, spat out by an indifferent horizon. When I’m embarrassed, forgetting where driftwood comes from, it is to say I’m embarrassed because I’ve also forgotten the generosity of horizons. Whether building sandcastles and staring out to sea, or staring into screens for warmth and company, what is most nurturing and sustaining, it seems, is the generous arrival and reunion of detritus. Finding the right—and that isn’t to say “perfect”—piece of driftwood for a sandcastle always begs the question, “How could you have been thrown away? You’re everything I ever needed.” And I’m again embarrassed to find myself asking that same question about the loveliest of friends; long since queered, long since set adrift on those troubled waters only we could call “home”. Communities of castoffs, castaways, dejected things and people; we have a habit of drifting together and, more than that, we make a habit of keeping each other afloat.

Tiny queers with not-so-tiny love have been teaching me, again and always, how to be close otherwise. And right now, learning to be close otherwise means, as Anne Boyer reminds me, “to see the negative space as clearly as the positive, to know what we don't do is also brilliant and full of love.” Where it had once been a shelter in the isolation of anti-queer spacetime, the screen opens up again with faerie heart circles, digital dance parties and other little gestures to hold many a sad queer from falling apart.

I’m embarrassed to have woken to what looked like a shoreline devastated; stripped of all practice and possibilities for intimacy. I hadn’t even taken the time to properly look, to see that, for the most part, it was still all right there, albeit in tiny, tiny pieces. Even if it’s disoriented, cast out of reach, forgotten its shape or loses its frills to the night, a practice always remains, even if only in remains. For every tiny remnant and speck of sand can build a world of difference. Each livestreamed poetry reading, each smiling webcam, each meal shared with a lover, each phone call with faraway friends or family, each delicate connection and tiny gesture can be, as Audre Lorde assures me, a discreet bit of “ammunition in my arsenal against despair.”