mapping care with coronafridges

The topic I’m most drawn to in my writing, that I feel like most of what I write revolves on either implicitly or explicitly, is that of care. This semester, I’d like to write explicitly within the theme balancing memoir (which I write more than anything else) with research. When I think of care, I think of nourishment and baking, ideas of home and belonging, deep friendships, and my relationship to childcare, especially as I am not a parent.

A few years ago, when I worked in communications at my alma mater, I was tasked with writing a story about an archaeology professor and the research he’d done with students in Greece. The group studied the remains of former migration sites — houses, temporary camps — which were right beside current sites. They formed a connection with a local NGO that worked to welcome and assist migrant women, and they interviewed many of these women about their housing histories. The professor referred to this sort of work, mapping home spaces, as the “archaeology of care,” a phrase that has stuck with me.

Last year in a craft class on hybridity, we read Leanne Shapton’s Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion, and Jewelry, a fictional love story told via auction catalog. I was awed by the form, which curates a relationship’s arc with photos, letters, clothing, newspaper clippings, and more, and I was especially drawn to a moment where one character had taken photographs of the inside of her friends’ refrigerators. Drawn to the quirk of the idea in both its intimacy and relative anonymity, I asked some friends and soon friends of friends for pictures of their fridges, not quite sure what I’d do with them all. It was April 2020, we were all in quarantine, no one could find any yeast, my mother and I bought boxes and boxes of butter and seltzer on our every other week foray into the world. The collection of photos felt like a curation of the moment but also represented a sort of access to other’s lives that was suddenly no longer possible, the entry into another’s home. Now nearly a year later, that entry is still denied. It’s also worthwhile to note the aspect of taboo that can go with opening someone’s refrigerator without permission — there’s an intimacy there, which is part of why some of my friends refused to send me photos of their fridges and why others asked that if I did anything with them that I kept theirs anonymous.

I’m still working out what I want to do with all of this, but I have in mind a hybrid work that brings together some of the photos with research on the archaeology of care as well as mini essays/vignettes? on what home means, what’s in a kitchen, what’s in a refrigerator, how we make space for each other when we can’t enter each other’s physical spaces. Right now I feel inspired in part by a book a friend lent me called Know the Night by Maria Mutch, which moves between memoir and research in a lyric way (on a completely different topic). I’ve dug around for some articles on the archeology of care, but I’m also considering reaching out to that professor to see if he might tell me where I can find more information or even discuss the topic with me further. This is nearly 600 words to say: I’m still figuring it out!

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6 thoughts on “mapping care with coronafridges

  1. L

    Katie, this is so interesting! From your post title, I’m wondering if you’re working with community fridges (like the one in Corona) and if you are, would love to talk more about this since I do too! Would love to see how this unfolds!

    1. Katie Machen Post author

      Hi L! I did volunteer some with the JH fridge for awhile in the fall, but I didn’t have time to do a regular shift there so I don’t so much anymore. But I still drop stuff off there from time to time! I’m a HUGE fan of the community fridges. The fridge photos started way before I knew anything about community fridges but I’m interested in the way that they turn the personal public, or the individual collective!

  2. Kathy Fauntleroy


    I am so intrigued by this!! The idea of looking into someone’s refrigerator is VERY intimate, and very personal. It can also say a lot about someone. I look forward to reading this!

  3. Jason Tougaw

    There’s a community fridge at QC–just FYI.

    I think the very particular focus on refrigerators has a ton of potential. The focus–and creative constraint–could be really fruitful.

    Do you want to integrate photographs? Or are they more inspiration? It could be interesting to include snippets of information about the history of refrigerators? Or alternatives to refrigerators? It also just seems like really rich material to write about refrigerators during a pandemic. I wouldn’t want to suggest moving away from the really clear focus. I’m just wondering if some tiny bits of information might come into it like tentacles to other worlds.

    I can’t help thinking of my favorite album cover, for The Cure’s Three Imaginary Boys.

  4. Catherine LaSota

    Katie! This is so fascinating, and I agree that the constraints you’ve set for yourself here (the interior of fridges, the idea of care, intimacy vs separation from other people) can take you some really nteresting places. I also just want to note that you may feel like you’ve just written 600 rambling words here, but I think you may have actually written a part of your final piece in these intro remarks, too!


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