Let’s face it. There was not much to love about 2016. We watched as our beautiful, beloved dreams died one, by one. Whether it was our star men, our poet-bards, our very first motorcycle-riding, purple velvet wearing crushes, our hopes for a magnificent female president, or at least president who isn’t completely bat-shit bonkers, and as of when I began writing this– the loss of my beloved rebel princess, my very first role model–2016 was devastating in so many ways, and saw the end of so many wonderful things.
And so I look to the little things. The sweetness that lightened the burden. The small discoveries that made life easier, or little luxuries that eased a horrible day, a terrible month, or a no good, very bad year.
Christian Louboutin Nail Polish. Now someone will say to me, “Really, Sarah?” A $50 nail polish?” And yes, I will agree, that’s pretty ridiculous. But the bottle is gorgeous, and the wand is the perfect petite height for my small hands (the stiletto lid is deceiving) and this is absolutely high quality lacquer, very long wearing. I mean, I guess it is. I knit and wash dishes and read books and type and use my hands a lot, and 2 coats lasts me a week without chipping. That’s pretty great, right? I wear it almost exclusively.
Tom Ford Oud Wood Shower Gel. Yeah, so…if you weren’t keen on the thought of a $50 nail polish, you are probably not going to get on board with a $67 bottle of body wash. But this one smells like woods and incense and secret forest temples and is an utter treat. It is my secret weapon in the constant battle of “ugggghh…do I really have to shower today?”
Diptyque Baies candle. I first sniffed this stunningly gorgeous candle whilst shopping at Uncommon Objects in Austin. They had it burning on a counter top near the entrance and I was so enthralled with the fragrant wafts drifting throughout the store that I had actually ordered the candle on my phone on amazon before I made a purchase from the shop I was actually in. Rude! I’m sorry, but I really had to have it. I was so surprised when I read the description for Baies: “a luscious blend of black-currant leaves and Bulgarian roses”. Usually these are not smells that I want anything to do with! But somehow this combines for a strikingly elegant scented object, a sort of woody-musky-green fragrance, that I never ever want to be without.
Owl Moon bloodmilk X Black Phoenix Alchemy collabroative fragrance. From chapter one of bloodmilk’s sister shop, Exquisite Corpse, this is an exquisite, unique scent experience that literally sets my teeth on edge, but sometimes I need that very sort of fearsome inspiration and motivation. With notes described as “dark, rooty, sweet patchouli swirled with honey,” Owl Moon opens with the blackest, earthiest patchouli (before learning of the notes, I actually thought it was vetiver!) and calls to mind cool, moist soil at the base of a pine tree through which all of the busy little night creatures slither and crawl, the pale, ghostly light of the moon glinting off their scales and wings. A yellow-eyed owl, perched overhead, meditates briefly before silently embarking on his nightly hunt; the sour, screechy scent of his nest, littered with rodent bones and pellets, serves as a warning nearby. This is the fragrance of potent night magics, rich and ripe with darkness and feral mysticism. The sharpness of the patchouli streaked with high-pitched honey combine to form an aura that is both graceful and grotesque, sacred and profane. If all of that reads familiar to you, this is exactly what I have written about Owl Moon before, elsewhere, but it’s not plagiarizing if it’s your own words, right?
Hurraw lip balms. Several people mentioned these lip balms in passing this year, but I pooh-poohed them because I thought the name was dumb. Well, turns out I am an idiot. These are amazing. Vegan, organic, fair trade, all of the buzzwords that are bandied about, yes all of those things, but they are also smooth, and not at all draggy or grainy or melty or overly smelly, AND they have options that are not mint or fruit. Also, they are about $15 less than my previous favorite lipbalm, so Hurraw, despite the stupid name, is a win.
Zenmed Anti-Redness Rosacea Treatment. I self-diagnosed myself with rosacea earlier this month, after noticing and freaking out over the course of the year fluctuations and flare-ups of redness and stinging on my face. Based on some suggestions from friends I tried this particular set of products from Zenmed and my face cleared up overnight. That is not an exaggeration or embellishment. It literally cleared up over night. (I also stopped drinking coffee and started taking omega-3s, but I really do think it was this thing in particular that did the trick.) I cannot recommend it highly enough.
And speaking of coffee. I would be remiss in not mentioning cold brew coffee on my list. Any kind, but especially the pre-made stuff in the bottle that you buy at the store. It was a lifesaver this summer when it was too hot to drink hot coffee, and I was too sweaty and lazy to go through the process of brewing the cold stuff. I’m not really drinking coffee anymore, but it certainly made this past May-August ever so much more bearable!
I think Gardein Breakfast Pockets may be my favorite discovery this year. I’m not one of those people who can eat as soon as I get out of bed in the morning; I need to take my time, sip a hot beverage (now that I’m not drinking coffee, the current beverage of choice is turmeric-ginger tea) and just go about my early hours ver-r-rrry slowly. It’s not that I am not a morning person–I am totally a morning person!– but it really does have to be at my own pace. I try to eat a little something right before my work day starts, and these hand-held little pockets are really delicious. I am also a person who absolutely cannot do sweet things in the morning, so to find a convenience food that isn’t a waffle or a poptart or a cloying breakfast bar is pretty awesome. It’s vegan, but I am under no illusions that it’s “healthy”. With no animal products and at only 200 calories though, it’s good enough for me. (Note: I am not vegan. Not even vegetarian.)
The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff Vandermeer left me speechless. I was certain nothing could ever measure up again, and I was very nearly afraid to start reading something else afterward! The books tell of the mysterious, dangerous wilderness of Area X and the humans exploring it: several decades ago, an inexplicable environmental change occurred and a large swath of land and sea was sealed behind an invisible and largely impenetrable barrier. “Inside it, nature shifted. It grew wild and pristine, dense and fertile—improbably pure, as though nature had said “Enough!” and reclaimed itself.” It’s an uncanny, and genuinely surprising read that haunted me for days and probably will continue to do so for many years to come. With this series The New Yorker refers to Vandermeer as The Weird Thoreau, and …yep. Totally apt.
Salt Is For Curing by Sonya Vatomsky. I make myself very sad thinking about missed connections. What would life be like if perhaps I’d never gotten to know certain people, if I had carelessly just let those opportunities slip past? Sonya is one of these people. We connected via social media before I even knew they were a writer and I sometimes think…what if I’d totally ignored this weird person who started following me on twitter? What if I wasn’t a nosy so-n-so and took no notice of the fact that they were also a poet? In my reading of Sonya’s book, Salt Is For Curing, it took all that I had not to devour this small book of spooky delights in one greedy instant. I feared that to do so, to ingest all of these potent magics at once, would give me a terribly heartsick sort of heartburn and yet leave me with the very worst sort of emptiness, knowing there is no more to be had. I drew it out for as long as I could stand. It is now in its fourth printing, which I think is basically unheard of for small press stuff, so, congrats my darling Soyna! Even if this is my fourth time saying so.
What Is A Witch by Tin Can Forest and Pam Grossman is equal parts storybook, grimoire, comic book, and illuminated manuscript, What Is A Witch explores the many guises and archetypes of the witch–that ultimate icon of feminine power. The book’s lyrical language of night-song and half-rhymes, when given voice (and it absolutely must be read aloud), becomes a wild, witty, wondrous invocation, threaded throughout with fanciful visions, whimsical allegory, and magical truths. I engaged with its mesmerizing imagery and the poetic spell it cast, and immediately it awoke something within me. I felt it rise within myself, something fierce and surprising and nearly frightening in its power. If you feel yourself similarly compelled, don’t fight it. Go where this book takes you. See what you draw forth from yourself. Don’t be alarmed. Let it change you. This is magic, after all, and we are witches.
It’s not spooky or eerie in the least, so it may surprise you to know that HÆLOS’ Full Circle is my favorite album this year. I know it’s not supposed to work this way, but I made my decision back in February and I’ve heard nothing that even comes close to changing my mind since that time. A sweeping, meditative album, comprised of down-tempo, melancholic dissonance, lustrous synth, and cinematic, kaleidoscopic strings; reminiscent of 90s atmospheric trip-hop, and reverberating with narcotic, late night poignancy, this is the sonic equivalent of the steady, gorgeous thrum and throbbing heartbeat of a hand in your own.
Two of my favorite movies this year would have to be Demon, incorporating Jewish folklore and demonic possession into a tragic tale that’s not quite horror and not quite comedy, but works quite well as precisely what it is not, and The Handmaiden, a gorgeous, deliciously twisted film, by Chan Wook Park.
And numbers 14-16 are a cheat, but maybe more important than anything listed: I loved collaborating with my brilliant, talented, visionary friends on our various projects–we created not just one, but TWO wildly successful Occult Activity Books this year! That’s amazing!
I loved (is loved the right word?) that I knew when a relationship with a particular outlet was no longer working for me and was lucky enough to move on immediately to something not only better, but which also felt tremendously more right for me. Life is too short to be in an uncomfortable situation that makes you unhappy! Also, boo to bullies and blowhards, what ever form they take. I love that I finally knew when to move on, I guess is what I am saying.
And what about you? What did you take comfort in this year? What are some awesome discoveries you made? What are some of your favorites? Tell me all about it in the comments!
*featured heart garland image is, I think, from etsy seller Kirrakai