Charles E. Burchfield, Summer Days, 1921

In the hazy heat of late summer, when the sky feels too vast and the cicada’s ceaseless shriek all but deafening, I turn to Charles Burchfield’s sunflowers.  These are not the cheery picture-perfect rows that grace so many cottage-core garden beds or the charming yellow bouquets of Mary Englebreit greeting cards.  No, Burchfield’s sunflowers throb with an eerie vitality, their petals seeming to vibrate with unseen energies, their stems twisting like dancers caught in the ecstatic trance of an errant breeze.

Born in 1893 in Salem, Ohio, Burchfield spent much of his life in Buffalo, New York, a city of harsh winters and industrial grit. There, he found endless inspiration in this interplay of nature and industry, magic in telephone wires humming with unseen messages and in the steadfast sunflowers that refused to be cowed by concrete or steel. They are nature’s rebels, refusing to be contained or cultivated. This visionary American painter found in sunflowers a kindred spirit – proud, resilient, and slightly otherworldly.

 

Charles E. Burchfield,  Woodland Sunflower (Helianthus divaricatus)

Burchfield’s unique style, often described as a form of mystical realism, combined precise observation with a visionary approach. His technique involved layering watercolors to create luminous, vibrating effects that seemed to capture not just the physical appearance of his subjects, but their inner energies as well. This approach is particularly evident in his sunflower paintings, where each petal pulses with an inner light.

Burchfield knew sunflowers. He really knew them in that bone-deep way that comes from countless hours of patient observation.

Charles E. Burchfield, Sunflowers at Late Dusk August 14, 1916

In his journal, he wrote:

“The sunflower turns its face to follow the sun, but what of its nighttime dreams? Does it yearn for dawn even as dusk falls?”

I wonder this, too, gazing at his paintings.

And it’s not just Charles Burchfield and me. Sunflowers have long occupied a place of reverence in human culture. Native American tribes used sunflower seeds not just for food, but in their healing rituals. In the language of flowers, sunflowers represent adoration and loyalty, their steadfast faces ever turning to follow the sun’s journey across the sky. Did you know the Incas saw gods in sunflowers? I can almost understand why, looking at Burchfield’s work. There’s something ancient there that speaks of long summers and longer winters, of cycles that spin far beyond our brief lives.

Charles Burchfield, Sunflowers, 1916-1922

This unwavering devotion to light and time inspired the poet William Blake to pen these lines:

“Ah, Sun-flower! weary of time,
Who countest the steps of the Sun,
Seeking after that sweet golden clime
Where the traveller’s journey is done.”

Weary of time. Yes, that’s it exactly. Blake’s words resonate deeply with Burchfield’s visual explorations of sunflowers. In Burchfield’s paintings, these flowers aren’t caught in a single moment but seem to exist in all moments at once – bud, bloom, and withering seed head in one impossible, beautiful form. His technique of layering watercolors and using bold, rhythmic brushstrokes create a sense of movement and transformation as if we’re witnessing the entire life cycle of the sunflower in a single glance.

Charles E. Burchfield, Dancing Sunflowers, 1950

 

Burchfield wrote in his journal, with a mixture of awe and kinship:

“Today, I stood before a stand of sunflowers, and for a moment, I swear I could hear them singing. Not with voices but with the very vibration of their being. It was a song of summer’s zenith, of life lived boldly and without regret.”

Oh, to have ears that could hear such songs! To see the world as Burchfield saw it, thrumming with hidden rhythms and secret symphonies. His sunflowers invite us to try, look closer, and listen harder. This ability to tune into the secret frequencies of nature draws me to Burchfield’s work and sets it apart. The weird lights and shadows of his strange singing sunflowers remind us that even in the most familiar of garden plants, there lurk ancient mysteries and untamed magics. In their strange, vibrant forms, we see echoes of every summer past and the promise of summers yet to come.

Charles E. Burchfield, Moon Through Young Sunflowers, July 1916

 

If you seek to steep yourself in the essence of Burchfield’s sunflowers, to feel the thrum of their secret energies, consider exploring works that share their spirit.  Dive into the pages of Algernon Blackwood’s “The Willows” or Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation, where nature’s mystery bleeds into terror and wonder. Let the haunting melodies of Joanna Newsom’s Ys or Grouper’s Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill wash over you, evoking landscapes both familiar and utterly alien.

Lose yourself in the shadowed forests of The VVitch or the sun-drenched, unsettling vistas of Picnic at Hanging Rock. For a more psychedelic journey into nature’s mysteries, Ben Wheatley’s A Field in England offers a hallucinatory exploration of an English Civil War battlefield that feels spiritually akin to Burchfield’s vibrating landscapes. The eerie folk horror of  The Wicker Man(1973) and the cosmic dread of The Lighthouse also tap into that sense of nature as an overwhelming, often hostile force. The invasive, untethered reality of the endless reeds in Onibaba feels like a dream, like folktales or mythology.

Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and Mary Oliver’s nature poetry captures a similar sense of wonder and reverence in the natural world. J.A. Baker’s The Peregrine offers an intense, almost hallucinatory immersion in the English countryside that echoes Burchfield’s vibrant landscapes. Robert Macfarlane’s  The Old Ways explores ancient paths and landscapes with a keen eye for the mystical and the uncanny, resonating with Burchfield’s ability to reveal the hidden energies of the natural world.

Musically, you might also explore the atmospheric landscapes of Sigur Rós, whose ethereal soundscapes evoke the vast, unearthly beauty of their native Iceland. The transcendent folk of Current 93 delves into mystical and sometimes unsettling territory, much like Burchfield’s more intense works. Consider too the haunting Appalachian-inspired ballads of Gillian Welch, the spectral ambient works of William Basinski, or the nature-infused neo-folk of Hexvessel. Each of these artists, in their own way, captures something of the mystery, beauty, and occasional menace that Burchfield found in his sunflowers and landscapes. I’ve got a little playlist here, not so much sunflower-inspired, but more just Burchfield vibes in general: Sphinx & Milky Way.

These works, like Burchfield’s paintings, tap into nature’s hidden histories and the uncanny lurking in the everyday. They evoke moods of wistful contemplation and eerie beauty, revealing a deep, sometimes uneasy connection to landscape and seasons. In their own ways, they whisper of a world alive and conscious, often indifferent or even hostile to human concerns – much like the vibrating, almost sentient plant life in Burchfield’s most intense works. Through these various mediums, we can approach that sense of an animated, mysterious natural world beyond human understanding, inviting us to look closer, listen harder, and perhaps, for a moment, hear the secret songs of sunflowers.

 

 

Charles E. Burchfield, Sunflower in Backyard, 1949

 

Charles E. Burchfield, Sunflower Arch No. 2, 1917

 

Charles E. Burchfield, Ghost Plants (Corn and Sunflowers) September 21, 1916

 

Charles E. Burchfield, Rogues Gallery, 1916

 

Charles E. Burchfield, Hazy July Noon, July 30, 1916

 

Charles E. Burchfield,  Sunflower (also known as Sunflowers) August 15, 1915

 

Charles Burchfield, Russian Giant Sunflower, 1940


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The title of this post is taken from Melancholy Maaret’s audio poem “Paper Butterflies.” I originally pondered this bit of weirdness, this memo on melancholy, if you will, for the Coilhouse blog back in 2011, and my thoughts often return to it. I can’t believe I never shared it here, so I am sharing it today because it continues to enthrall me, even now.

I’m embedding that particular audio installation because I loved it so much at the time (and still do but with an older, craggier heart and more life experience), but I also find the creator herself incredibly captivating. Melancholy Maaret is a deaf multidisciplinary artist, writer, and sound-art composer based in Helsinki and New York. Her work spans various media, including vocals and voice-overs created from sound-memory and vibrations without auto-tune. Maaret’s art often involves character-based performances, embodying fictional or historical women, as well as her own ancestors. Her creations are influenced by an eclectic mix of Finnish folklore, neuroscience, epigenetic trauma, and the works of diverse thinkers and artists. She leverages her classical training in theatre, movement, and voice to create unique sound compositions, often accompanied by manipulated video installations.

Her approach to melancholy was both profound and provocative, as evidenced in her statement about ‘Paper Butterfly’:

‘I do not want optimism and blind hope. I want to triumph in sadness… Science can never denude the soul’s need for an artistic confrontation or a lullaby… Sadness and her sister’s emotions increase productivity, kindness, and creativity.’

The intersection of melancholy, creativity, and cognitive function intrigues me immensely, and I often wonder about this artist—is she still creating? Where has her journey with melancholy led her in her art and life?

By preserving these snippets of writing on my blog here, I hope to maintain a record of my fascinations. Coilhouse, though not active for over a decade, continues to maintain its archives–which is amazing!–but I have been burned so many times by the blogs I’ve written for in the past suddenly winking out of existence, and like a dummy, I never had backups of my contributions. So here we are. And this is why you see things like this pop up on my blog occasionally. I wrote them initially for someone else’s blog, but the site disappeared, and my writing became unhoused for a time. What you see here today and at other times is my writing returning home.

 Anyway, this intro is becoming longer than the original writing! Just a bit more, though. Rereading it now, I’m struck by how some aspects still feel relevant, though I recognize that my approach to language and certain topics has evolved over time. I’d likely phrase some things differently today, with a more nuanced and sensitive perspective. I certainly would not tell anyone to ditch their meds in this year of our lord, 2024! I’m also aware that pain as performance, the romanticization of melancholy, and the allure of the tortured artist–these can be damaging ideations, potentially glorifying mental health struggles and obscuring the very real need for support and care. But …does it still resonate with me? On some level…of course, it does.

So I suppose this serves as a snapshot of a particular moment in time, both in my personal journey and in the broader cultural conversation around mental health and artistic expression.

 

…scientists say melancholics are better lovers” /” ..happy people are forgetful suckers”/ “…Roget created his thesaurus to combat the funk”

Melancholy Maaret, enigmatic contemporary visual and performance artist and founder of Secret Sauna Sirens—a pseudonymous, experimental collaborative of multidisciplinary artists—has some interesting insight into the subject of sadness. In her poem “Paper Butterflies,” she solemnly urges us inward, in lilting, bird-like tones and a delicately rolling Finnish accent, to examine our melancholia and embrace these hermetic, suffocating feelings.

Stop trying to be happy, she warbles. After all, “…mental acuity flourishes in despair” and”…blue betties make fewer tactical errors”. “I’m not making this shit up,” she insists. Well…is she? Perhaps not. In Scientific American’s 2009 article regarding a study of depression’s evolutionary roots, it is suggested that depression is not a disorder at all, but a mental adaptation with some useful cognitive benefits.

Depressed people often think intensely about their problems. These thoughts are called ruminations; they are persistent and depressed people have difficulty thinking about anything else. Numerous studies have also shown that this thinking style is often highly analytical. They dwell on a complex problem, breaking it down into smaller components, which are considered one at a time.

This analytical style of thought, of course, can be very productive. Each component is not as difficult, so the problem becomes more tractable. Indeed, when you are faced with a difficult problem, such as a math problem, feeling depressed is often a useful response that may help you analyze and solve it. For instance, in some of our research, we have found evidence that people who get more depressed while they are working on complex problems in an intelligence test tend to score higher on the test.

Thank you, Melancholy Maaret, for validating us saddies. Viva melancholia! Ditch the Wellbutrin. Stay sad and homely, indeed.

 

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Robert Wun Fall 2024

Yesterday was a weird day. So weird, in fact, that now it’s got me thinking that it’s actually the whole week that’s been weird. But maybe it was just yesterday.

I got bitten by an ant early in the morning, which felt like an ill-omen. Sitting at my desk at the start of the day, I felt an extremely unsettling sensation of something crawling at the back of my neck, and then further down my back. I would not usually be so desperate about it, but it just felt so uncommonly strange that I leapt from my chair, violently yanked my dress off, and frantically slapped and scratched every inch of my body, trying to search out the intruder. And there, wriggling furiously on the floor at my feet. I found it: a massive ant, an ant so giant I could almost see how mean and ugly his face was.

The day culminated with my pasta turning out mushy while making dinner (not a big deal, but it doesn’t take much to make one feel like a failure sometimes) and Yvan breaking his foot while doing yard work. And that one actually was a big deal. I had to drive him to the urgent care place, which was nerve-wracking –and I was already freaking out!– because, believe it or not, I have not driven this new car even once since we bought it last October. This concerns me quite a bit; my mother never drove and was totally dependent on other people for transportation, and I swore I would never let that happen to me. I can drive, and I used to drive more frequently, but then we moved to Jacksonville, and if I am being honest, driving around here terrifies me. But this a problem for another, less weird week.

Anyway, I only had to drive about five minutes up the road, and I didn’t crash or explode the car, so it was fine. It turns out Yvan has a very fine fracture, so tiny you really can’t even see it in the x-ray, but a fracture is still a fracture, and here we are. The funny thing (not funny haha) is that my sister Mary broke her foot in May, and our baby sister Melissa broke her foot in April, so I was sure it was my turn! Yvan jumped in and fielded the curse for me, I guess.

I do not deal well with stress, so here is some runway fashion. That’s a terrible transition; I am sorry!

So, fancy couture it is. I thought I’d share some of my recent favorite runway looks with you. A little glamour to brighten our day, inspire our dreams, or maybe just say, “Good grief, what am I even looking at here??”

It’s hard to put into words why certain looks call to me over others. I suspect my love for beads, velvet, and sequins plays a role – these prismatic sparkles capture and transform light into magic. These materials are stardust made tangible, moonbeams woven into fabric. Sequins shimmer like submerged scales in an otherworldly sea, or glitter like the scattered remnants of a shattered disco ball. Beads, in their myriad forms, span from smooth river stones to alien pearls, to childhood marbles, interiors swirling with miniature galaxies. Velvet, with its shifting shadows and highlights, mimics the surface of a midnight lake – deep, mysterious, and ever-changing. These elements play with light and shadow, offering glimpses of realms just beyond our grasp, portals to realms of dark wonder and luminous possibility.

In the more avant-garde creations, I find a gleeful absurdity that challenges reality. The more a piece defies conventional movement, the more it captivates me, becoming a wearable sculpture that transcends mere fashion. And, of course, I am always drawn to collections that conjure up visions of unwritten horror films, hint at celestial influences, or seem to embody some sort of bizarre cosmological philosophy.

So, without further ado (because lord knows I have had enough “ado” this week), here are some looks that have been delighting my eyeballs and making me want to grab a fistful of fabric and rub my face all over it. That form of escapism will probably get me arrested. But maybe these looks will provide a little escape for you, too.

Schiaparelli Fall 2024 Couture

 

Homolog Fall 2024 Couture

 

Iris van Herpen Fall 2024 Couture

 

ArdAzAei Fall 2024 Couture

 

Elie Saab Fall 2024 Couture

 

Ashi Studio Fall 2024 Couture

 

Robert Wun Fall 2024 Couture

 

Gurav Gupta Fall 2024 Couture

 

Zuhair Murad Fall 2024 Couture

 

Charles de Vilmorin Fall 2024 Couture

 

Thom Browne Fall 2024 Couture

 

Rahul Mishra Fall 2024 Couture

 

Viktor & Rolf Fall 2024 Couture

 

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Margaretha Roosenboom, Silver Vase of Flowers

To gaze upon a painting by Margaretha Roosenboom is to be transported into a realm of heightened sensory experience, to lose oneself in the velvety darkness of a peony’s innermost petals, to trace the delicate veins of a translucent leaf, to feel the weight of a dewdrop trembling on the edge of a petal.

Margaretha Roosenboom, A still life with roses near a bird’s nest

 

Margarete Roosenboom, Still Life with Flowering Lilac

This extraordinary 19th-century Dutch artist broke new ground in floral still life painting, developing a unique, impressionistic style that favored natural compositions of single flower types against dark backgrounds. Despite being denied formal academy training – a common obstacle for women artists of her time – Roosenboom’s talent blossomed under the tutelage of her father and grandfather, both accomplished painters themselves.

This rich artistic heritage is evident in her masterful command of light and shadow. In Roosenboom’s paintings, light takes on a life of its own. Sometimes it’s the warm gold of a late afternoon; other times, a cool, silvery glow that makes the flowers look almost spectral. It’s as if they exist in some in-between place, not quite of this world but not fully here, either.

Have you noticed how her roses tremble on the edge of dissolution? Or how her lilacs droop with the weight of unspoken sorrows? There’s such exquisite detail in every bloom, you can almost feel the silken texture, catch a whiff of their fading perfume.

Margaretha Roosenboom, A swag of roses

 

Margaretha Roosenboom, A still life with roses and grapes

Her innovative approach and masterful watercolor technique didn’t go unnoticed. Roosenboom earned international acclaim and numerous awards, establishing herself as one of the leading flower painters of her time alongside contemporaries like Gerardine van de Sande Backhuyzen and Adriana Haanen. Yet, beyond the accolades, it’s the underlying melancholy in her work that truly captivates – the way she captures flowers on the cusp of decay, their splendor tinged with the inevitable. There’s profound beauty, but also a pervasive sadness. Each petal, each leaf, and stem tendril reminds us of life’s inexorable cycle.

Margaretha Roosenboom, Still life of Dog-roses

 

Margaretha Roosenboom, Wild roses

In capturing these blooms at the pinnacle of their glory, touched by the first whispers of decline, Roosenboom offers us a meditation on the delicate nature of impermanence. Her canvases embody Mary Oliver’s insight: “Attention is the beginning of devotion.” She elevates quiet floral moments into something profound, suspending instants of fleeting beauty that invite us to linger in the liminal space where life reveals its deepest truths.

Roosenboom’s paintings persist not merely as a testament to her skill, but as a gentle challenge to our modern haste—a hushed invitation to pause, to look closely at the small miracles that surround us, and to find poetry in the curve of a petal or the shadow cast by a leaf. In closely observing life’s ever-present and unchanging cycles through her work, we might discover a richer appreciation for its ephemeral wonders.

Margaretha Roosenboom, A bouquet with hedge bindweed and poppies

 

Margaretha Roosenboom, Flowers on the riverbank

 

Margaretha Roosenboom, Hollyhock stems on a stone table

 

Margaretha Roosenboom, A still life with wild roses and a bunch of grapes on a stone ledge

 

Margaretha Roosenboom, White Roses

 

Margaretha Roosenboom, Roses on a forest floor

 

Margaretha Roosenboom, Sunflowers on a stone ledge

 

Margaretha Roosenboom, A still life with flowers

 

Margaretha Roosenboom, A bouquet on a forest-path

 

Margaretha Roosenboom, Rhododendrons and roses on a stone ledge

 

Margaretha Roosenboom, Still Life with Peaches and Rose

 

Margaretha Roosenboom, Still life with grapes, a lemon and flowers on the forest floor


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from Jean Rollin’s The Iron Rose

Today on the Midnight Stinks Patreon, I have concocted a trio of fantasy perfume collections that speak to the darker corners of art and fashion and, well, frankly, just things I am permanently obsessed with: the surreal eroticism of Jean Rollin’s films, the haunting beauty of vanitas paintings, and the avant-garde allure of macabre runway couture.

Envision scents that capture the essence of Rollin’s “Living Dead Girl” and “Fascination,” where notes of blood accord and decaying flowers mingle with absinthe and velvet. Picture fragrances inspired by the fleeting beauty and morbid symbolism of vanitas still lifes, where the scent of wilting blooms and tarnished metal serve as aromatic memento mori. I’ve also bottled the essence of fashion’s darkest visions, from Alexander McQueen’s haunting “Widows of Culloden” to Gareth Pugh’s Asgarda-inspired collection. These olfactory creations embody the transformation of trash into treasure and the juxtaposition of delicate beauty with dangerous edge.

While these perfumes exist only in our imagination for now (and probably forever unless some extraordinary perfumer/s wants to collaborate!) I invite you to lose yourself in these scented reveries. What dark corners of art and culture would you translate into fragrance? Join me on Patreon to explore the full collection and share your own fantasy fragrance concepts: Des collections de parfums imaginaires pour les âmes sombres *

*in French for extreme fanciness

 

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Marie Spartali Stillman: Beatrice (1895)

(I know I said I was taking a digital breather, but I think we all know what that really meant was a break from social media. Writing and blogging is totally different!) (Or so I assure myself!)

It’s a July morning, a weekday at 7 am, and I’m curled up on the sofa with my coffee, lost in the pages of a book. The house is quiet, save for the gentle hum of the AC. I don’t have to work today – it’s the 4th of July, and my office is closed. I’m lingering leisurely, savoring the rare luxury of unhurried time, yet I presently find myself here at my desk anyway, in this familiar routine.

Today’s book is Stephen King’s If It Bleeds, and as I read, my mind wandered. I can’t help but notice how his writing feels increasingly tinged with a sort of nostalgic melancholia. It makes me think of when I first read IT, published in 1986, though I probably devoured it in 1987 when I was eleven. In my memory, that’s when I read everything. Back then, the kids in his books felt like real kids to me. They had outrageously horrifying adventures, of course, but their words and thoughts weren’t always dripping with reflections and portents.. were they? O…r were they? I was only a kid, too. Perhaps I didn’t observe or internalize that vibe; perhaps I couldn’t have recognized it even if I had.

I found myself glancing up from my book, taking in my surroundings. Here I am, a middle-aged person, reading on a comfortable (and not inexpensive) sofa. Morning light stipples through the lace curtains of the house I now own outright. The AC blows on my sockless feet, chilling me even in midsummer – it’s very robust; we just had a lot of duct work done! This dawn-light ritual has become so vital to my day, a cocoon of comfort I’ve carefully crafted.

But as I sit here, I can’t help feeling it doesn’t quite measure up to those vivid memories of my eleventh year. I can still see myself, a chubby preteen growing out of my clothes, sprawled on a vinyl chaise lounge on our dusty screened porch. Hour after sticky hour, I’d sit there, plowing through stacks of lurid paperbacks. Sweat trickling down my back, thighs peeling off the seat when I shifted. I’d gulp down endless icy cups of Crystal Light (the horrid red kind, probably full of now-banned dyes). It was gross and uncomfortable, and yet… I loved it fiercely. When I think back on my childhood, it’s these humid afternoons of feverish reading that stand out as some kind of high point. The kind you can’t recreate, no matter how hard you try.

I’m feeling pretty maudlin lately, and I can’t pin it all on Stephen King. I keep asking myself: as much as I enjoy my cozy morning reads, why don’t they ever quite match up to those sweaty summer afternoons? Is it because at eleven, my whole life stretched out ahead of me, full of unknowns? While now, I feel like I’ve already lived the bulk of it?

Which is ridiculous, right? I’m not even 50. There’s still plenty of road ahead.

I find myself hopeful that every phase of life has its own peculiar charm? Yes, childhood had its magic, but adulthood has its own wonders, too. The ability to create a space that nurtures my passions, the depth of understanding I bring to my reading now, the quiet satisfaction of a life built on my own terms – these are not small things. There’s something to be said for this life I’ve pieced together. It’s not nothing, is it?

I wonder if instead of trying to relive that childhood intensity, I could find a way to tap into that openness, that hunger for stories, right here in my present. There are still worlds to explore, both in these pages and beyond them.
Those memories of reading marathons in muggy, mosquito-filled Florida summers – they’re part of me. But I don’t want to get lost in them. Maybe they can serve as a reminder of why I fell in love with books in the first place. What if I could bring some of that raw enthusiasm to my reading now? What strange new territories might I stumble into? What might I learn about myself in the process?

Who’s to say the most vivid moments are all in the past? (Notice I didn’t say “the best moments,” ha! Not over here trying to say I ever had any glory days.) There could be something waiting in the next chapter, or in a random Thursday morning like this one. This might just be the pinnacle of joy I’ll be nostalgic for decades from now.

 

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1 Jul
2024

Mihály Munkácsy, Woman Sitting On A Sofa

As July unfurls its sticky, sweltering tentacles across Florida, I find myself once again at odds with summer’s exuberant cheer. For those more attuned to autumn’s melancholy or winter’s quiet introspection, this season can be… challenging, to say the least. To say the most, it’s really fucking awful.

It’s a peculiar form of reverse seasonal affective disorder if you will. While others bask on the beach and barbecues and patio pool brunches and trips to Disneyland — you absolute freaking psychos– I find myself yearning desperately for cozy layers of clothing and the rustle of falling leaves, and a more benevolent sun that can actually read the room and doesn’t hang out in the sky until 9 o’clock in the evening. And in this state of summer-induced ennui, I’ve come to a realization: I gotta get out of here.

In the spirit of self-care and creative rejuvenation, I’ve decided to step away from the digital realm for a spell. I’m embarking on a digital sabbatical for the month of July. A respite from the noise, a chance to recalibrate. In the grip of July’s oppressive heat, all those nasty social media feedback loops become a cacophony I can no longer ignore. And knowing this, I’m going to shut it down. Quite literally! Logging out of all the things.

(And yes, I realize this isn’t my first rodeo with the whole ‘social media break’ thing, and it probably won’t be my last. It’s become something of an annual tradition, hasn’t it? Like my own personal digital detox festival. I’m not pretending I’ve discovered some revolutionary concept here. It’s never easy, but I’ve found it’s good for me – a necessary reset for my overheated brain.)

So, instead of losing hours to the infinite scroll, I’ll lose myself in the pages of neglected books and the flickering frames of films long on my watch list. Maybe I’ll start knitting a shawl (or, let’s be realistic, maybe I’ll add another row to that sock I’ve been working on for the past four months.)

This isn’t goodbye, merely a brief intermission. I look forward to returning in August, hopefully refreshed, possibly vitamin D deficient, and with new stories to share. Until then, may you carve out your own shadowy refuges in this sweaty, noisy world.

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Orchid by Sergei Pavlovich Lodygin 1917

Sometime in 2022, I wrote a very long and very personal and very “ma’am, this is a Wendy’s” essay review of this scent, but I am not sure that I shared it here. The gist of Soul of My Soul from Etat Libre d’Orange is that it’s soft and cozy sandalwood-y musks; the cocoon of your feet touching your person’s feet under a fleece blanket when you’re comfort-watching LotR for the bazillionth time. It’s a spot on your person’s chest sculpted perfectly to cradle your head at night. It’s their funny murmuring snore when you shift your body in bed, and your butts touch for a moment. It’s the secret language of two hearts who get it, and who got the chance to get it. It’s the miracle and magic safety and connection and all the green flags saying go-go-go, that it’s okay to be your weirdest, most authentic, very truest self with someone, and no matter how weird or hard things get–and they will get harder and weirder, make no mistake–you will always remain a soft, safe place for each other.

I picked up a bottle of Baruti Oh My Deer from Perfumology in Philadelphia earlier in the month when I was visiting my Best Good Friend. Oh My Deer struck me immediately because one, I’d never smelled anything from these guys, and two, this really does not smell like anything in my collection. This is one of those fragrances that immediately conjures an image in my mind; one of my late father’s Heavy Metal magazines from the 1980s featuring a metallic beauty on the cover, all gleaming chrome and curves, stark lines, and a strange, throbbing sense of mystery. Hajime Sorayama’s art for Heavy Metal magazine perfectly captured his signature style of future-noir and sci-fi eroticism for the machine age, and it certainly captured my attention when I first saw it at the tender age of 11. I don’t typically dissect fragrances through the lens of sexiness and sex appeal because, frankly, it feels inelegant and reductive. Perfumes can be so much more. But in this instance, it feels strangely fitting. Oh My Deer is a scent of bitter, aldehydic metallic musks, perversely both mineralic and animalic, and the olfactive dissonance of peppers that are warming and resinous but also act as a cooling, electric current. It’s a scent that also feels gritty and grungy, somehow, which brings it all back to a very personal place for me. Gritty and grungy is exactly how I felt when I first flipped through that back catalog of Heavy Metal magazines; they terrified and exhilarated me in equal measure, and those dark, techno-apocalyptic narratives may have been the catalyst for the first bit of… stirrings… in my weird little bod. Hey, we’ve all got our origin stories. Oh My Deer triggers a fascinating internal dialogue, pulling me back to those thrillingly strange magazines. It’s not what most would consider sexy, and for me personally, it isn’t either. But it’s undeniably weird, a quality I find endlessly intriguing. More importantly, it’s a scent I genuinely enjoy wearing.

A trio of scents from Heretic that I tried during that same Philadelphia trip…

Dirty Violet: dank dungeon jasmine, a collection of skeletal cypress knees, and a patchouli oil-slicked leather executioner’s mask
Dragon’s Blood: earthy, in a fantasy vegetable detritus compost-y sort of way, and also a bit smoky, like you made incense from that compost? (This was a limited edition and not available now.)
Cactus Abduction: has a sort of retro cucumber melon/cotton blossom vibe, but with an added zhuzh of effervescence, like the dream of the 90s is alive but make it sparkle!

Frederic Malle En Passant I’m a little ashamed to say that as long as I’ve been enthusing about fragrance, this is the first time I have ever smelled this one (I believe it is meant to be some kind of contemporary classic?) With notes of lilac, cucumber, cedar, and white musk, I am still trying to put into words what a beautiful creation this is. All I can say is that it’s like the gauzy childhood memory of a gentle, misty spring day, cool tendrils of fog lifting as the sun shifts through the clouds and warms the skin…but that’s not quite right. As a child, I wouldn’t have had the language for the ghostly sense of nostalgic melancholia En Passant evokes. It’s more like looking at the source of this memory through a hazy window pane as an adult, the present as it unfolds moment to moment, and becomes memory as fast as the moment unfurls. And knowing how fleeting it all is. And the sadness for the passage of time, and the joy for the child who doesn’t feel that yet. It’s that. It’s all of that.

Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab Nyx, Night Goddess Imagine all the forbidden nocturnal mystery evoked by rich, smoky, brooding resins such as opoponax, oud, and frankincense, but soften it with sweetness and snuggles, make it a kinder, gentler darkness. Brown sugar candle glow, amber lantern light, the honeyed hum of a streetlamp– a companionable luminescence for the midnight soul, and a comforting balm for night owls, moonlighters, and after-dark enthusiasts.

Poesie sent me samples from their recent Nerds of a Feather collection, and here are my thoughts…!

Birds of Pair-a-dice(Salty sea air, blooming hibiscus, warm cedarwood, bright orange blossom, and a hint of sweet peach): Have you ever seen the meme that goes, “I’m 37 years old, and just today realized it’s called bird of paradise because it looks like the left picture, not the right…” If not, go look it up, I’ll wait. So, while yes, this scent is an intriguing mix of tropical and earthy notes, where the sea breeze and the audacious sunset hibiscus create a vibrant island atmosphere balanced by the warmth of cedarwood and the delicate sweetness of orange blossom. It’s luscious and vivid and absolutely evokes its botanical namesake, but there’s something delightfully off-kilter about it, a tangy, musky, funky funny thing that I can’t quite put my finger on, like they snuck the olfactory equivalent of a pair of googly eyes on it.  I guess I would think that. The one and only time I ever played DnD, I rolled a character called Pickles McGilliicuddy, a dragonborn sorcerer that I played for all of 15 minutes before becoming massively overwhelmed and anxious and calling it quits.

Gandalf the Grey Owl (Tobacco, mountain spring air, suede, sandalwood, elderberry, oakmoss, blackcurrant, and firework smoke): I had already seen Fellowship of the Ring a dozen times when I did a marathon of the three movies with my sister, who was seeing them for the first time. When Gandalf took a little spill off the Bridge of Khazad-dûm after his battle with the Balrog, I turned to her, and I said, “Well, I guess that’s the end of Gandalf THE GREY.” Being a bit of a smartass who also kinda picked up on what I was saying, she said, “Oooh, does he come back as Technicolor Gandalf??” That’s what this dark, rich scent makes me think of. There’s the deep, loamy oakmoss, the aromatic autumnal tobacco, and the jammy sweetness of woodland berries. It’s like a pile of gorgeous jewels, veiled in shadows, all the colors of the dark. Which is actually the name of another movie, a 1972 Italian Giallo film alternately titled Day of the Maniac, which should give you a clue to my specific brand of nerdery. Who knows, maybe Poesie may do some retro-horror-nerd inspired scents one day!

Romulan Lovebird (Cuddling a cactus (cactus flower, aloe vera, creosote) with your cloaking device engaged (iso E super, black tea): I was very late to the game with regard to all things Star Trek. I only got into it a decade or so ago, so I definitely don’t know all there is to know. That said, this perfume smells like a juicy cocktail created with exotic botanicals from the aphrodisiac gardens on the playful paradise of the pleasure planet, Risa. I asked my husband what he thought, and he said that Romulans aren’t supposed to go to Risa because it’s in Federation space, but clearly, he underestimates Risa’s horny appeal, and those Romulan honeymooners are getting in there somehow.

Night Raven (Jasmine, cool misty musk, and shadows. A hint of Velaris’ blooming floral gardens, warm fireplace of the inner circle’s townhome, and a twist of marshmallow ): I have never read these books, and I doubt I’m ever going to; I’m pretty sure it’s “romantasy” and that’s not really my thing. But from what I understand they are very popular and much beloved, and that’s lovely. This soft, mysterious scent is probably perfect for fans of that world. But for me, Night Raven, with its cool, misty musk and dreamy, wispy floral jasmine, is a scent that immediately brings to mind the enchanted landscape between twilight and dawn, the aura of ethereal beauty and mystery of Michelle Pfeiffer as Lady Isabeau d’Anjou in Ladyhawke. But if Ladyhawke isn’t the epitome of romantasy right now, then what is, right? Am I maybe missing something by not reading ACOTAR? Let me know…

Tarot Sparrow (Old tarot decks, rose mint tea, sea mist, burning sage, bergamot, and the souls of departed sailors: Although I have written about tarot, and I’ve been collecting decks forever, I am not a tarot card reader. I’m coming at it from an art angle, I like to look at pretty things. And Tarot Sparrow is such a pretty thing. I am not a fan of mint at all, it’s actually my least favorite note, but the right kind of mint, when paired with vanilla, creates something quite soft and swoony and magical. A sort of musty, herbal sweetness. But there’s also a delicate luminosity to this scent, like a reflective bit of sea glass or a crystalline prism. It’s a gorgeous duality of tender shimmers that’s never too dusty, medicinal, or too piercingly bright.  To reiterate, it’s damn pretty.

Wren Fest (Fresh strawberries, grass from a freshly mown field, hay, ginger, and vanilla): This is an absolutely delightful scent that smells like strawberry incense, a small jar of red currant and rosé preserves, and the Mediaeval Baebes singing Ecce Mundi Gaudium at a RenFaire on a sultry late spring day in south Florida circa 2003.

While I ultimately love LUSH’s Shade, wow… it has the absolute ugliest opening of any fragrance I have ever tried. Mineralic and greasy, like rancid petrichor, like a stick of butter studded with rusty nickels and stubbed-out cigarette butts, melting on wet concrete after a scalding July sunshower in central Florida. But then it does something miraculous. The oppressive atmosphere lifts and turns into a completely different perfume, softly sugared and clean-woody-resinous, like the sacred soapy sap of the mystical marzipan tree. It’s so good, too good. Maybe even too-good-to-be-true good. It almost smells like something about which I would say: “I love this, but it’s not for me.” Because, in some way or another, it doesn’t feel like me. Too unstudied and unbothered and carefree, I guess. I’m too neurotic to pull this off! BUT somewhere in the vast multiverse, there exists the chillest, coolest, most untryhard version of me, and this is what they smell like. And when I wear this perfume, I am channeling that person…and it feels really, really good.

Three from Francesca Bianchi…

Under My Skin: Is the extraction of musk from shadow; it’s an immersive and hypnotic portal where you feel yourself slipping slowly under the depths of a lightless pool scented with leather and sandalwood and iris and–this could just be my brain’s association with the name of the perfume and a similarly titled movie– it’s an olfactory interpretation of the eerie minimalist strings track that lends fear and mystery to the alien temptress’s methods for luring and capturing her quarry in Under the Skin.

The Dark Side: Is actually the scent that drew me to this brand in the first place, and I’d been intending to order a sample for some time now. I was expecting darkness, but I was not expecting a savage lycanthropic metamorphosis under the full moon of a midnight bazaar. A whirlwind of feverish spices, the smoky char of glowing resins, the harsh metallic tang of hot breath, and the acrid sting of writhing, burning skin, a feral cocktail of predatory hunger and pitiless urges.

Luxe Calme Volupte: Is different from the other two, but I had the most interesting experience with it. I was reading about the idea of invoking the muse when I first sprayed some of the perfume on my skin, and I realized, enrapt by the tendriling greenery and the woodsy galbanum, that my mind had started to wander as I began to both daydream and open browser windows just to get a better sense of the fragrance’s inspiration. I was reading the Baudelaire poem referenced in the brand’s copy when I became aware of the bitter bite of the citrus and sour zinger of the tropical fruit notes, and that’s when I glanced down at the book I was meant to be reading and realized that the very next sentence in this book, utterly unrelated to the perfumes I was sampling, mentioned Charles Baudelaire! Maybe I am unduly influenced but I’m convinced this is the scent of deep, creative wellsprings, fertile, magical places, teeming with connections and synchronicities, and invocations to “Whosoever can bring light to a hidden thing.”

Treading Water’s Fig Wasp. This was a brand out of Portland referred to me by a friend of mine, which I’m glad she did, because I’d never heard of them. Also, Portland has my whole heart and it’s where I’d be living if it weren’t for responsibilities and obligations keeping me in FL, so I was already inclined to be jazzed about these guys.  I ordered the complete sample set of all of their fragrances, and the first one I tried is something that I immediately loved. I just wrote a blog post about how I’m not really a believer in adhering to seasonal fragrance rules, but I have come to the conclusion that summer perfumes are a necessity for me. Not beachy, tropical scents that conjure someone’s platonic ideal of summer, but rather subtle, spectral, fleeting things, cooling and soothing scents that act as small mercies, in a season that shows no mercy.  Sort of like olfactory air-conditioning. Fig Wasp falls squarely in this category for me. Beyond Fig Newtons, I don’t know the smell of figs, so for me this is dry grasses, bitter with the secrets of parched earth, damp woodland fog clinging to old growth tree limbs and your own mist-slick skin, the musty powder of mothdust, memory, and the detritus of dreams,  and the shiver of a deepening shadow in your wake not your own. It’s a fragrance that haunts the edges of perception, hovers close to the surface of your awareness and as you can see I’ve almost emptied the sample.

Naomi Goodsir Nuit de Bakelite OMG. OH MY GOD. This is going to sound weird, considering how I’ll be discussing it, but I don’t think I have ever been so excited about a perfume in my life.  This is the scent of rain lashing the pavement, turning the early evening streets into a labyrinth of slick, stagnant green. Dead leaves, twigs, and other nameless debris bob in the current and clog the gutters, their decomposition adding a cloying sweetness to the already oppressive air, the smell of things both growing and rotting. A late summer downpour that crawled under your skin, leaving you chilled even in the muggy heat.  A storm drain gapes open, its maw lined with slime and moss. Down there, in the choking green depths, something shifts. A sound, not quite a giggle, not quite a rustle, echoes up from the blackness, and, a voice, smooth as rain on stone, slithers softly. The sweet gurgle of a child, warped and twisted into something monstrous, a sound that promised secrets and shadowed places. “We all float down here,” it echoed, a promise both terrifying and strangely alluring. “Wouldn’t you like to float too?” Nuit de Bakelite is the fetid promise whispered by a monster in the dark, the smell of fear forever lodged in the back of your throat. Perfume enthusiasts x horror fans: if you know, you know. There are no words for how much I love this scent.

A Drop d’Issey Eau de Parfum isn’t a mythical unicorn, but it evokes a similar feeling. It’s a minimalist masterpiece that transcends its brief and somewhat simple list of notes- a trio of lilac, orange blossom, and almond milk – to create something unexpectedly revelatory. It’s a crystalline floral that’s somehow also a little musty-musky, but it’s so well-balanced I’m not actually sure if any of those descriptors work.  It’s effortless perfection that leaves you breathless, a glimpse of something impossible made real. The problem is…ugh. The bottle is hideous. As gorgeous and as perfect as this is, I can’t have that thing sitting on my vanity.

I really hesitated to before committing to writing a review for Guerlain Mitsuoko because at this point in time…why bother? Hundreds and thousands of words have been dedicated to this timeless fragrance and what have I got to offer that’s new or different? What am I really adding to the conversation here, and how do I think about it that makes the scent feel mine when I wear it? The whole exercise felt a little pointless…but. But. There was something there.  There was something in this musty classic that weirdly got me thinking of liches, those power-hungry necromancers that did some kind of dark ritual and jammed their soul into a phylactery (autocorrect wants me to use pterodactyl and I am so tempted) and who embraced the bittersweet pang of undeath eternity to become a husk of immortality.  Mitsuoko evokes that damp mausoleum herbal mustiness, and when you’ve slid back the impossibly heavy stone door of an ancient crypt to peek inside its atmosphere thick with dust and humming with the quiet thrum of the beyond… there’s this peach there waiting for you, glowing eerily with a sickly light, just having performed its unholy Ceremony of Endless Night. Cobwebby oakmoss, aromatic and tannic, soft and sour, hangs heavy, like a mournful shroud. And maybe now you’re just trapped with it, forever. Wearing Mitsouko is to become a bit of an unearthly phantom yourself, flickering in and out of existence; to cheat oblivion, to linger at the edge of the world–and walk the veil between. Is that what people mean when they refer to this fragrance as “timeless”? It works for me.

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Lou Marchetti, The Tentacles, paperback cover. Gouache on board

The following is something I have been thinking about for years and years.

It first started percolating back in the days when blogs were more prevalent, and I’d see lots of bloggers getting burnt out and fretting because they’d niched down to the point where they felt trapped, and they wanted to write about other things–but worried their audience wouldn’t follow. Now that blogs have been replaced by YouTube and TikToks, I see lots of baby creators asking questions like, “I want to start an account, but what if I don’t get lots of followers and no one ever comments?” Or, “I want to be an influencer but don’t know where to start!”

While I can’t speak to the “influencer” phenomenon (and would prefer they all vanish into a dark cave), I have some thoughts on authentic self-expression online.

In the ever-shifting landscape of social media, where trends tend to flicker and fade, and the FOMO is very real, it’s easy to lose sight of one’s own creative north star. Recently, a passage from Courtney Maum’s newsletter caught my eye, resonating with the quiet rebellion I’ve long harbored in my heart:

“…as long as you’re not posting hateful content, you should take the same ‘me first’ attitude to all your social media (‘me first’ as in, this is my life, my pleasure, this pleases me and brings me joy). Trends change so quickly, they’re really not worth following unless you want to be on a hamster wheel next to a dirty bowl of water your entire life.”

This resonates with how I’ve always approached my online presence. Honestly, just about every creative endeavor I embark on is in service of amusing myself. Call it selfish if you will, but when it comes to my own creative endeavors and social media sharing, I tend to put my own interests first. Being selfish with one’s creativity isn’t about ignoring the audience entirely. Rather, it’s about trusting that by being authentically oneself, one will naturally attract kindred spirits. It’s about creating a space where like-minded individuals can gather, drawn by the genuine passion that shines through every word and image.

Lou Marchetti, She Came Back cover art 1966

It’s easy to get caught up in the despair cycle of likes, shares, and the endless pursuit of virality, but instead, I try my dangedest to find joy in curating my online presence as I would a secret garden. Each post, each shared thought or image, is a carefully tended plant, chosen not for its popularity but for how it resonates with my own heart, guts, and soul. It’s like planting a garden of perennials while everyone else is frantically scattering annual seeds. Sure, their blooms might be flashy, but they’re gone in a blink. (Or planting a poison garden in a graveyard while everyone else is growing daisies? This is a choose-your-own analogy adventure.) Meanwhile, your garden grows steadily, attracting those who appreciate its unique charm. And so, some may find beauty in this garden, others may pass it by without a second glance, and that’s perfectly alright. In a world where everyone’s frantically chasing the latest brightly blooming fad, there’s a quiet revolution in tending your own weird, wonderful sanctuary

For writers, creators, and sharers-of-things, this selfishness is not just a luxury – it’s a necessity. It’s the wellspring from which our most vital and engaging work flows. When we create and share from a place of genuine interest and joy, our work remains fresh, our enthusiasm infectious.

So here’s a thought: what if we treated our online spaces like a curated exhibition of our interests? Not in a pretentious way, but as a genuine reflection of what makes us tick. It might not garner millions of likes, but it could lead to more meaningful connections and a body of work that stands the test of time.

This is really just a long-winded answer to someone who asked the question I referenced up further above. The individual asked about likes and follows, as a new creator, on a bookish YouTuber’s page– and by way of response, I shared a very brief version of these thoughts over there. But I’ve been thinking about it ever since and felt compelled to expand on them. They’re never going to read this…but maybe someone will.

And I think that’s the whole point. I am not writing for everyone.  I am not even really writing for someone. I am writing for me. But if you are someone who resonates with these thoughts, who finds joy in cultivating your own unique online garden, or who simply appreciates authentic self-expression – then perhaps this was meant for you, too.

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In that shadowy and ambiguous realm between pulpy commercial illustration and fine art, there lurks a master of the macabre whose very brushwork bleeds atmosphere. I  speak of the enigmatic Victor Kalin, an illustrator whose work adorned the covers of countless paperbacks, whispering dark promises of things that are gonna make you feel weird in the best possible way.

Kalin’s artistry beckons to those who find allure in the twilight of human experience. His cover designs, gracing numerous gothic romances and gritty detective tales, showcase a remarkable talent for capturing tension and mystique. The figures populating his compositions, especially the women, embody a fascinating paradox – simultaneously enticing and forbidding, vulnerable yet poised for action.

These characters peer out from jacket fronts with gazes that linger in the mind’s eye, from a pensive brooding mood to a countenance completely aghast, their expressions hinting at narratives far more complex than a single image should convey.  Through masterful use of color and shadow, Kalin conjures an ambiance that skirts the edge of comfort, drawing potential readers into realms where passion and peril intertwine.

What distinguishes Kalin’s craft is his knack for distilling entire plotlines into a single, arresting scene. His subjects aren’t merely decorative; they’re vital conduits for the mood and intrigue of the tales they represent. Each illustration serves as a portal, inviting onlookers to speculate about the mysteries concealed behind those cryptic smiles and penetrating stares.

And it’s not just his portrayal of the feminine that captivates. His backgrounds pulse with an almost tactile menace – gnarled trees reach out with skeletal branches, mist curls around ankles like ghostly fingers, and buildings loom with anthropomorphic malevolence. There’s a palpable sense of unease in Kalin’s work, a feeling that reality is but a thin veneer over something far more sinister. It’s this quality that elevates his illustrations from paperback art to something approaching the sublimely disturbing.

I think one of my favorite thing about Kalin’s ladies is that they bear an unsettling resemblance to those plastic paragons of mid-century femininity – Barbie. Their faces are mask-like in their perfection, with eyes that seem to say, “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe.” These ladies are caught in a permanent state of “Oh no!” or “Oh yes!” – and half the fun is figuring out which. It’s as if Wednesday Addams, in a fit of delightful malice, raided her cousin’s toy chest and staged elaborate tableaux of the weird, carnal, Hammer Horror variety.

It’s this juxtaposition – the wholesome, all-American doll-woman thrust into scenes of Gothic horror – that gives Kalin’s work its frisson of unease. It’s a subversion of the suburban ideal, a glimpse of the rot beneath the perfect lawn. One can almost hear Wednesday’s deadpan voice: “This is Barbie. Barbie has just realized her dream house is built on an ancient burial ground. Run, Barbie, run.”

This unsettling blend of the banal and the bizarre, the plastic and the phantasmagorical, endears this artist to me enormously.

Or…picture, if you will, this fever dream of 1950s domesticity gone delightfully wonky. Our housewife, a vision of mid-century perfection with her coiffed curls and strands of pearls, gazes down at her cupped palms with an expression of serene bewilderment. There, purring contentedly beneath her manicured scarlet fingers, is a kitten that looks as though it’s been rolling around in the most lurid shade of shocking candy pink paint imaginable.

Is this feline anomaly the result of some clandestine government experiment, a Cold War attempt at weaponized cuteness? Or has the tranced-out houswife imbibed a bit too much of that “special” punch at the bridge club, resulting in a technicolor hallucination? One can’t help but wonder if this image isn’t a sly commentary on the artificiality of the American Dream – the pink kitten a garish intruder exposing the hollowness of picture-perfect suburbia. Or perhaps it’s simply evidence that even the masters of the macabre occasionally need to indulge in a bit of psychedelic silliness.

The genius of this piece lies in its stubborn refusal to explain itself. It’s a riddle wrapped in an enigma, frosted with a layer of cotton candy creepy-quirkyness. I like to think that Kalin is reminding us that even in the midst of whips and skulls and gothic castles and feeling weird ways low in your innards about all of it,  there’s always room for a touch of the absurd.

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