From the desk of Unquiet Things cohort and sometimes correspondent, the entirely ineffable and ever-ensorcelling Maika!
“A thousand dreams within me softly burn.”
Art has always been nourishing for me. What with the ongoing peri-apocalyptic state of the world, art feels more vital than ever. And while I might not be located anywhere near Chicago, it does my heart, mind, and soul worlds of good to know that artists like sculptor Jessica Joslin and painter Jared Joslin are busy creating beautiful and inspiring works of art.
In fact, they’ve been creating their respective works of art side by side for over a quarter-century. Their new shared exhibit, Dreams Take Flight, is a celebration of “over 25 years of two kindred spirits, working side by side, pursuing their dreams.”
The only thing more inspiring than inspiring works of art are works of art created by artists as they inspired each other.
The opening reception for Dreams Take Flight happens this Friday, November 5, from 6-9pm, at the LivingRoom Gallery 1530 West Superior St. Chicago, Illinois
Show dates: November 5 – November 28.
Hours are 12-5 on Sundays, or by appointment.
Please note that masks AND proof of vaccination are required.
Today: a guest post from my Best Good Friend! If you’ve been a long-time reader of this blog, you’ll have seen mention of this exceptional human from time to time, my dearest friend in all the world, my ride or die, sibling of my heart, whom I have known and been perpetually awe-struck and inspired by for over twenty years now.
I am so pleased for many reasons that they have written this review to share with us, but mainly because one: I love their writing and I would love to see more of it (hint, hint, BGF!) and two: I love Love LOVE hearing about people’s passions and obsessions.
There are not many full-length reviews here at Unquiet Things and there is an appalling lack of Adam Driver-related content, but who knows, perhaps this could be the start of something! I don’t know what exactly. Don’t hold me to anything.
Anyway…take it away, BGF…!
It took 48 hours since I first experienced the fever dream of Annette to process it, to try and divine and parse my feelings and eke out a feeble attempt at committing words to virtual paper. But at the very least, before all else, a word of warning: Annette is not for everyone.
So, may we start?
This is a movie that I have been waiting to see for far too long. Over nine years in the making, it is my Holy Trinity of what most consider, in the kindest of terms, odd: written and composed by cult art band Sparks, directed by chain-smoking Frenchman Leos Carax, and starring Adam Driver: Fathers, Son, and Holy Adam. These are my biases. In my mind, it was to be a damn near religious experience of innate weirdness.
I have read many reviews by now, both before and after watching this film, and have been met with an inevitable divide spanning adoration to vitriol. The best commend Driver for his performance, most try to liken it to La La Land and A Star is Born, the bad force it through a woke lens of social media-friendly commentary, and at absolute worst, a mere rant of a middle-aged man who worked at Fox News for 10 years – I wouldn’t deign to call that drivel a review though.
But the wide range of divisive reviews illustrates this one common idea: this movie is not for everyone. And the more I try to explain it, try to prepare people for it, the more it feels like I am one of those snooty l’artistes gatekeeping a precious masterpiece of intellectual creation blah blah blah – almost trying to convince them not to watch it. So far, it has only emboldened people to want to see it all the more, yet bearing the expected and inevitable mixed results. Please believe me when I say with deep sincerity that I have only the utmost of good intentions. I want people to love this movie, but I know that most simply won’t. And that’s OK. But I have this misguided sense of duty to the Holy Trinity to tell a friend or strangers to see this film. Please ignore the fact that the movie literally asks the audience to do so as the credits roll.
If you haven’t heard of the band Sparks, have no idea what lurks in the band’s 50 years of bubbling just beneath the surface of mainstream pop culture musical journey, this musical may not be for you.
If you have never heard of Leos Carax, have no reference for French arthouse cinema, this film may not be for you.
If you are only familiar with Adam Driver’s more mainstream work, content to fill your fantasies with Saturday Night Live skits and lamenting the loss of Ben Solo (both of which I am excruciatingly guilty of), this experience may not be for you.
At the very least, one should prepare themselves by watching Edgar Wright’s documentary The Sparks Brothers, (which gives a good primer of what the music of Sparks is all about, without really telling you anything about Sparks at the same time), Leos Carax’s Holy Motors, to get a sense of the director’s style, and Adam Driver in… well, anything. Because it’s Adam fucking Driver.
Without any understanding of these things, there is a good chance you may not enjoy this movie. I suspect this was the case for the man who made a show of leaving barely halfway through the spectacle.
It’s risky to go into something like this with no context. If your tastes live solely in the mainstream (and there is nothing wrong with that!) you may find yourself armed only with references to current culture, and that would only be scratching the surface. And anyway, not everything needs to be dismantled through the lens of current events.
To blatantly steal one of the myriad text message conversations with one of my favorite wordsmiths and owner of this delightful blog (another bias I admit), “I think when writers are struggling to make sense of something they try and find an angle, and a lot of times that angle is how does this relate to people right now. I feel like current events might be the lazy way to go about it though.”
That said, there is a certain thrill to running headlong into something with no real context, or perhaps just an inkling of interest, enough to compel you into a theater in the middle of a pandemic. It is an achingly arduous feeling to have expectations completely subverted if not utterly destroyed into a beautiful mess. As one viewing companion noted, “It is an unpleasant thing to watch. I can’t stop thinking about it.” Said companion only had me as their guide, and I wantonly led them blindly into the A – B – Y – S – S, mostly for my own twisted pleasure of watching them watch the movie.
For those whose only draw to this movie is the raging force that is Adam Driver, there is plenty to slake your thirst. Driver spends a good amount of time in various states of undress, if that’s what you need. But you may find yourself curling in cringe as you watch your crush writhe maniacally on the ground, telling tasteless “jokes” as he jaunts across the stage in a garish green bathrobe and underwear, or pantomime tickling feet with his tongue. His commitment to the role is what truly shines, as expected, and his uncanny ability to at best make you sympathize with the devil, and at worst, relate to him, is unsettling and masterful.
Sure, there are other players in this sinful saga, each delivering powerful performances of their own: Simon Helberg’s depiction of The Conductor was a breakthrough moment, Marion Cotillard delivers the most realistic depiction of someone using a toilet while singing and smoking, and the gut-punching performance of young Devyn McDowell, who goes toe-to-toe with Driver, chewing the scene and Driver’s character up before spitting them out in a cathartic and harrowing harmonic release. But this is very much Adam Driver’s film.
For those whose interest is sparked by Sparks, I suspect there to be a split among you as well, as only hardcore fans claim to appreciate every twist and turn of their musical oeuvre from glam rock to glorious 80s synth-drenched pop to orchestral chant, and everything in-between. This is probably Sparks’ darkest musical foray, where several times during my initial viewing I found myself wondering, “who hurt the Mael brothers?” But their ironically literal humor and penchant for repetition is not lost.
The movie’s opening song lays out exactly what is to come. There’s singing and dying in minor keys, and yes, they’ll kill for you. Over and over again. It sets the stage, reminding you that none of this is real. These are actors putting on a show for you, a show in which the director not so kindly advises you to not react at all during the movie, and hold your breath until the end. Oh, and don’t fart.
Throughout the film it is difficult to reach any semblance of suspension of disbelief, it is all too surreal and yet NOT surreal enough. Somehow, the series of mechanical puppets depicting the title character of Annette and coital crooning just makes sense. It is a difficult film to reach into and break through. Seemingly nearly impossible to relate to, but daring you to try. It can feel as though it’s dancing on the razor’s edge of SNL satire, avant-garde cinema, terrifying reality, and sheer ridiculousness. At times it feels downright indulgent. It is meant to make you uncomfortable. It is a black mirror, reflecting the viewer’s own experiences.
At the surface, it is a convoluted social commentary of an age-old Hollywood story of star-crossed lovers, celebrity gossip, exploitation, abuse, toxic masculinity, the list goes on – take your pick.
If you dare to dive deeper. you may just find yourself dismantling your existential existence to the core if you let it. In one scene, Adam’s character Henry McHenry breaks the fourth wall after muttering that he must never cast his eyes towards the abyss before looking directly to the camera, and straight into your soul, as he scrutinizes his audience, finally murmuring “Lady, that’s quite an abyss you’ve got.”
As much as the story unfolds itself to you, it also leaves it up to you to synthesize and decode it. Did that really happen, or was it just a twisted fantasy? Who was this film made for? Why can’t I get these songs out of my head? Am I really turned on right now? Why did he become a comedian? Why do I hate myself so much? What’s your fucking problem?
This is where the true beauty of Annette can be found, and one that has so far been missed in every review I’ve read: it will give you as much as you’re willing to take, a choose-your-own-adventure of emotional exploration. There is no wrong way to view this film, even through the lens of disdain. Because as much as people love to debate art, and well, everything, it is my humble opinion that what makes art great is whatever moves you, in any way – if you have a reaction to it, if it makes you think about it, makes you feel something.
And if you’re open to exploring those feelings, great art can tell you a lot about yourself. If we can find any way at all to relate to Henry McHenry, it’s that we will be haunted day after day after day.
So I take back what I said earlier. If it was only one of the Holy Trinity to lure you in, or even none at all, Annette is something I believe everyone should experience, at least once, and I suspect most will get that chance when it hits the courtroom of America’s consciousness via Amazon Prime on August 20.
Annette, like all art, should be for everyone. But that’s wholly up to you to decide if you’re ready to cast your eyes upon the abyss.
Speaking of Sparks, I would be remiss if I didn’t share some of my favorite Sparks songs and albums. Their genre-defying career will surely offer something for everyone to discover and love. It’s difficult to curate a concise list, as I’m one of those fans who has never met a Sparks song I didn’t like, if not love. But if this is to be your introduction to the band, there’s perhaps no better place to start than a couple of their most popular and accessible tomes:
Kimono My House
The energy on this album is solid throughout. It’s fun and endearing and will have you belting along with each note with unbridled glee.
This electronic masterpiece was produced by the legendary Giorgio Moroder, otherwise known as the “Father of Disco.” You may think disco sucks, but I dare you to deny the infectious grooves and cheeky lyrics.
With hundreds of songs to choose from, it would be impossible to choose even a top 10. But I can, at the very least, share those songs that I always come back to time and time again. And I do so with no context.
And finally, I humbly submit some of my favorite songs from Annette, and I warn you not to listen to them until you’ve seen the film, as it will spoil it for you. Sadly, the released soundtrack is only a selection of songs, and some favorites are woefully missing. Here’s hoping a more complete collection will be released in the future. It’s also worth noting that the versions that appear on the soundtrack are different than what you hear in the movie. The soundtrack is of course produced and recorded in a studio, while the movie was recorded live on set.
On this month’s (?) (unidentified measure of time)’s installment of Ten Things, I am thrilled to share the spooky musings of Hannah, creator of the Generally Gothic blog.
Generally Gothic is a collection of content on broadly gothic themes; articles exploring the Gothic within art, literature, architecture, film and television, social history, and life in general.
Today Hannah shares the ten things she finds necessary to maintain these spooky endeavors!
Hello! My name’s Hannah and I’m a Master of the Gothic. You can find me online as Generally Gothic, where I blog and post about (you guessed it) the Gothic within the arts and humanities. I am currently exploring literary and historical witches under my current theme: Season of the Witch. You will also find me as Associate Editor of dark literary journal, Coffin Bell, and in the upcoming edition of YOGURT Culture Zine.
One of the questions I am most frequently asked at, and as, Generally Gothic is how I maintain my blog. I am grateful to have found a space in which I am no longer asked why, but still find it shocking because mine is a sporadic and not very present online presence…
Regardless, during this weird year of confinement and armchair adventures, I thought I would share ten of the things necessary for maintaining my spooky endeavours, which I hope you can apply to whatever it is you’re nerdy about online.
1. A Sincere Passion
Mine was born on the bathroom floor at the age of seven.
I grew up in a house that had books in every room. Amongst the clothbound volumes on the bathroom shelves was a collection of short stories. And amongst their number was Edgar Allan Poe with ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’. I devoured most of the books on most of the shelves, but that moment with that story in that unlikely room was what can only be described as ‘formative’.
2. Inky Fingers
Just as gardening cannot be done without getting muddy, writing, for me, cannot be done without getting inky.
I find greater freedom in writing by hand ‒ that I cannot truly write without pen and ink. If you follow my posts closely, you will spot strong suggestions of my ecological beliefs. It should, therefore, be no surprise that I favour an ink pen that is refilled over and over again, without waste. Mine is very dear to me ‒ it was a graduation gift that I intend to collaborate with for the rest of my life.
I am sure that there are ways of refilling the cartridge without pouring ink into my pores, but I don’t think I want to know them…
3. So Many Papers
With inky fingers come papers… so many papers. Bound in books, and loose, ripped, recycled, and lost, and rediscovered in pockets once long forgotten.
I know that hoarding paper isn’t the most eco-friendly practice, but like inky fingers there is something in the physical, the tangible, that I cannot turn my back on.
Do you remember assessments in primary school to determine ‘what kind of learner’ you were? I am a note-taker. I don’t know that that’s even one of the options. I also don’t know that it works… but that’s what I am. And those notes are the seeds that develop into my blog posts, so I take it back; be a note-taker ‒ it does work, because it is the work. Or part of it, anyway.
4. An Internet Connection… Albeit a Terrible One Right Now
This post is consciously not about the whole Voldermorty (You-Know-What, or That-Which-Must-Not-Be-Named) state of affairs, but I would like to ask just one related question.
The internet has undoubtedly been an invaluable tool in innumerable ways during this time, but has anyone else been surprised at how it’s struggled to cope with the increased traffic? Maybe it’s just the service offered by They-Who-I-Really-Want-To-Name-(and-shame-)But-Won’t…
Anyway, the internet, though fatigued at present, is obviously a spooky nerd essential. There were already so many incredible resources, and now an influx of services have digitised or temporarily waived fees, which is as exciting as it is overwhelming. Go forth and discover!
5. Open Eyes
Whilst memory is not a strong point of mine, I do have a spongey constitution.
Perhaps it’s an individual thing, but once I began to look for it however long ago, manifestations of the gothic in life around me became delightfully inescapable. Whatever it is that I am researching, reading, or writing about at any given time, I will find echoed in likely, and very unlikely, places. I suppose this synchronicity relates to passion. If you find what you love, you will seek it. Once it takes root, you will encourage it to grow wild, as I do.
6. Inspiring Surroundings
Though the world of natural and human invention is ripe with inspiration, it is undeniably more so in certain corners than others.
Just as the great poets and painters sought intellectual salons, country retreats, and dimly lit cafés, I find that connecting with the existing work of the world positively impacts my own output.
Personally, I have a soft spot for museums, galleries, and historical homes. I know I said I wouldn’t mention it again, but one of the greatest things to come out of the pandemic is level access to the arts. I honestly cannot say whether theatres, performers, workers, establishments, etc., are being supported sufficiently by governments and public donations, but I can say that I am hugely grateful for the resulting geographical and financial equality afforded to their expanding audiences.
7. Human Inspiration
Once again making an example of historical creatives, we know that, whilst many succeeded in isolation, with community as muse, art proliferates.
Through Instagram, I have found myself surrounded by a collection of companions with whom I can share and from whom I can learn about all sorts of interesting things that spark endless inspiration.
I remain open about the fact that I would be doing what I do whether anyone was listening or not. And, whilst it’s true that I began by whispering into the silent void, it would be entirely dishonest to discredit the impact that community has had on Generally Gothic. A discussion, rather than a lecture, allows for everyone to grow and, having just this year learnt that I am 3 inches shorter than I had previously believed myself to be, that sounds pretty appealing to me…
8. Tea, Coffee, and Cake…
…for I am human, and I need fuel. I can write without tea, coffee, and cake, but I’d rather not. It really is that simple.
As you may have gathered, I feel very passionately about access to information and equality in education. I believe in books, and I believe in trees.
I am soon moving from the place that I have called home for the past 2 years. Amongst an assortment of wonderful organic things, such as people and landscapes, one of my favourite foreign discoveries has been the local network of Little Free Libraries. (Take a book, give a book whether back or forward.)
I vouch to build one of my own when I am a home-owner, but until then, I aim to share books online. I am currently giving away 2 vintage Daphne du Maurier hardbacks that I purchased from one of my favourite, virtual second-hand book shops. It is an ongoing attempt at practising what I have always vaguely known to be true: that books need people as much as people need books. And that I can exist without hoarding them all… particularly when my luggage allowance is limited.
I have scattered a selection of my library back around the Little Free Libraries I frequented. If you ever find a novel with a Generally Gothic stamp inside, let me know! I’d love to see how far they travel.
10. Embracing the Chaos, with Open Arms
I have a really strict schedule of expectations, and also a whole load of other commitments that are as demanding as they are unavoidable.
I have found that when I choose to cut a bigger slice of cake, take a break with a book, and shrug it off if I miss my self-imposed deadline for another formless week in a row, I create better.
Is it profoundly uncool to talk about how often I look at my blog’s stats? I guess I just like to know where people are coming from and what they are interested in, I can’t help it! It’s probably less uncool than googling yourself, though? Right? Which I don’t do…but that’s only because I have a very common name and there’d be no point in digging through all of the search results, heh. Otherwise, I’d probably be looking myself up on the internet all of the time.
It was one morning that I was poring over the statistics for Unquiet Things I saw that one of the referring sites was an actual website–a proper blog– and this always excites me. (Mostly my referral stats are just pinterest or tumblr, or what seems like shady fake traffic sites.) When I peeked in at some of the content, I was so pleased to find out there was a real human behind it, with real thoughts and feelings that I could oftentimes very much relate to! And that is how I first became aware of Allison Felus, and whose thoughtful, balanced, and informative writing I often find myself returning to because I find it so wonderfully warm and restorative– and I am so happy she is sharing her spirited voice and thoughts today at Unquiet Things, in our last Ten Things of 2019!
Allison Felus is a writer, musician, and psychic living in Chicago. Find her online at Queen of Peaches or check out her latest zine, The Last Band of My Youth . Read further for her ten things to keep your spirits up as the winter darkness descends.
I grew up in Indiana and have lived in Chicago for close to two decades now. So it feels a bit disingenuous to complain about the winter. It gets cold here! It’s dark and it snows a lot! That’s what it does! I feel like such a whiny baby for even making an issue about it. I mean, I guess I could move somewhere else? But my family ties are in the Midwest and my day job doesn’t afford me the ability to work remotely, so really, I just have to make the best of it.
So much of my resistance to winter centers around the physical hardships it entails. Unshoveled sidewalks make getting around the city on foot so much more difficult and time-consuming. The harsh temperatures wreak havoc on my hair and skin (both the harsh outdoor cold and the harsh indoor radiator heat). The hours of darkness trigger my SAD. So anything that provides a little bit of sensory pleasure in the midst of all that is, to me, worth its weight in gold. Knowing that gorgeous bath products await me in the shower is sometimes the only thing that gives me enough motivation in the morning to stumble out of bed and into the bathroom.
I find it increasingly difficult to deal with LUSH’s sales tactics anymore (the emotional labor it requires, as Victoria of EauMG has so aptly put it), so though I will occasionally cave in for the sake of a bottle of Rose Jam shower gel, my main bath-time love these days is Paintbox Soapworks
I started buying my partner their shaving soaps a few years ago when he was finding it more difficult to source the brand he always used to use, and that was gateway drug enough for me. My love for all their products has blossomed into a genuine obsession since then. (I’m wearing their Mandinka perfume oil as I type this, in fact.) The seasonal blends are always impeccable; this fall’s What the Moon Brings and Cathedral of Pumpkins were big loves, and I’m still hoarding the last dregs of a bottle of the Kamasi Washington-inspired Secrets of the Sun lotion from this summer’s release. Between seasonal offerings, though, I gravitate toward anything scented with the previously mentioned Mandinka as well as Blackbird, Whiskers, and Nekisse.
I love coffee. I just do. I’m not really a snob about beans or specific methods of preparation (this tender essay “The Case for Bad Coffee has long stuck with me). I’m just grateful that I live in a world where it’s abundant and readily available. However, I seem to have inherited my grandmother’s sensitivity to caffeine. (I remember being horrified as a teenager when I heard her say that the caffeine from even the tiniest piece of chocolate would be enough to keep her up all night.) I’ve never been a multiple-pots-per-day drinker, but when I started to notice that even a cup or two in the morning would be enough to disrupt my ability to fall, and stay, deeply asleep, I mourned having to give up that bit of morning pleasure.
I tried every possible substitute–tea/matcha, hot chocolate/ceremonial cacao, Dandy Blend, even a DIY carob-based concoction that I dutifully mixed up myself from a combination of powdered roots purchased from Mountain Rose Herbs. Until I realized, uh, decaf coffee exists.
The overly, unhelpfully logical part of my brain protested a bit–“if the whole purpose of drinking coffee is to get the energetic and cognitive boost from the caffeine, then what is the bloody point of drinking decaf?!” But eventually, I realized that it was never actually about the caffeine; it was about the ritual of it. Boiling the water, grinding the beans and scooping the grounds, waiting patiently for it to brew, then pouring it, hot and fragrant, into a treasured mug. So now I allow myself to enjoy the ritual for the sake of itself. These days I just make the generic Whole Foods decaf in a French press and finish it with a plop of coconut cream. It’s just so brilliantly comforting on a cold morning.
Does a light box actually do anything? Is it just (“just”) the placebo effect? To me, it’s a bit like the old saw about it being better to believe in God on the off chance that God exists than to not believe in God and risk the consequences of unbelief, eg, there’s no real downside to using a light box if it does nothing while there’s a whole lot of upside if it actually does. And in fact, I do know that any time I start having a really whiny emotional meltdown about something seemingly insignificant, my partner is usually right when he (gently) asks me if I forgot to use my light box that morning.
I have a Verilux HappyLight, and I just turn the thing on in the bathroom, perched on a shelf, before I get into the shower so that my eyeballs are absorbing its rays while I towel off, get lotioned up, and whatnot. I’m also just constantly amused that it looks like an iPad whose sole function is to glow bright white.
Astrologically, the new year isn’t really until mid-March. Personally, my own new year, my birthday, is in mid-February. Academically, my partner, who teaches college, begins his new year in mid-August. But music, for me, is the one place where January actually does feel like the new year.
I’ve been compiling and writing extensive liner notes for my own personal Best of the Year mixes since 2004. (Here’s the 2019 edition!) So I spend much of early December listening back to the music that was meaningful to me throughout the previous eleven months. By the time I’ve posted my latest installment to all my socials, though, it’s a relief to my ears to abandon those songs for a while (no matter how much I love them) and start totally fresh. Since I mostly stick to new/contemporary releases for my year-end mixes, this also becomes a time for me to dip into music that’s much older or otherwise oddball and non-mixable.
Late December/early January is also the time when my commute to work can feel most miserable. It’s deeply cold, I’m bundled to my eyes, everyone is packed like sardines into the train, the Chicago skies are often leaden and grey. But, this liminal time on the train is simultaneously so, so precious to me. It’s a place where I’m temporarily free and truly alone, despite the crowds. I’ve left home and all its chores and distractions, and I’m not yet at my office where e-mails and conversations and meetings demand my constant attention. The train is one of the few places in my life that’s, oddly, just for me. So it becomes an opportunity for me to really sink into music, one of the most important, most sacred things in my life.
I can never accurately predict what kind of music is going to hit me in January, what kind of energy is going to be needed to sustain me through those bleak mornings. In recent years I’ve had major love affairs with stuff by Brian Blade and the Fellowship Band, Chris Stapleton, Helen Merrill, Sammy Davis Jr., Black Sabbath, Chris Whitley, Jason Falkner, and Tim Hecker. All I know is that my heart will know it when I find it, when the promise of getting to live in a particular sonic world for 40 minutes will be enough to motivate me out the door and on my way
Haha, OK, so let’s be for real now. Therapy is obviously a must, all year round, of course, but never more so for me than in the winter.
I’ve been in therapy off and on (but mostly on) since I was 25. I’ve been lucky enough to have good health insurance that’s made that level of commitment to my mental and emotional well-being affordable and accessible, and I never take that for granted.
Earlier this year, after well over a decade of more traditional talk therapy, I switched to working with a Jungian practitioner. I took the leap not long after I turned 40, as a way of acknowledging my growing sense that the way I take care of myself in the second half of my life is going to require a radically renewed commitment to inner accountability. So, sometime in late summer, as the shadows began to get longer and deeper earlier in the evening, I prepped my new therapist for the fact that the winter can be a difficult time for me and that I would likely need some extra help and support to get me through it. Her response was nothing short of revolutionary: “what if instead of trying to fight or resist it, you accepted the suffering you experience during the winter?”
My whole spirit released a level of tension that I didn’t realize it had been holding onto. Wow. Accept my own suffering? Rather than running away from it or otherwise attempting to bypass it? A challenging notion, to be sure, but one that holds the promise of a kind of radical reclamation of my all-too-human dark side that I’d previously been missing out on due to my unconscious internal insistence that life must feel “good” in order to be valid.
It remains to be seen how I’ll feel about this approach as the calendar ticks through the darkest and coldest months ahead. But actively preparing to get my Persephone on has already helped me feel a little better about facing down the darkness both within and without.
This is where I extol the virtues of meditation and talk about how, after years and years of practice, meditation gets super easy and is definitely something I do consistently every day, right? LOL, wrong, so wrong.
Look, yes, I’ve had some sort of meditation practice since I was fairly young. I briefly attended karate classes at a local rec center when I was in middle school and somehow, even in the extremely square environs of Northwest Indiana in the early ’90s, the teachers were able to convey to us some basic notions about the power of our thoughts and the possibility of focusing our own internal energy. OMG, hearing all that, I was hooked. I’ve actively sought out so many different methods and techniques and approaches to meditation since then. Truly, meditation is one of my greatest passions in my life. But if you think for a damn moment that there aren’t straight-up WEEKS when I’m like, “nah,” well, then, my Gemini-rising-ass distractibility would like a word with you.
That being said, aside from an equally important journaling practice, meditation is basically the only place where I can access that elusive state of being where I’m able to both accept myself as I am while also tinkering under the hood, so to speak, to tweak the internal mechanics that drive me. Which is an important place to go to if I’m meant to make friends with the messages that my winter-specific misery is trying to send me.
Have you all heard about the concept of second sleep? I love it so much. The idea is that in times before electrical lighting, most people went to bed not long after the sun went down. So in the winter, that means they were going to bed fairly early in the evening, and after sleeping for those first several hours, they’d wake up for a while in the middle of the night before going back to bed again until sunrise. In those precious midnight hours, they would read, pray, or have sex (basically all my favorite things).
I definitely don’t go to sleep when the sun goes down, but even just acknowledging these archaic rhythms is enough to inspire me not to resist my impulse to go to bed early. I was such a confirmed night owl throughout my youth that I long felt like going to bed early was some kind of indication that I’d lost my edge or otherwise gone soft. But, I also LOVE to sleep and need to get plenty of it to have a baseline level of coherence and emotional stability, so the more I thought about it, I figured what could be more badass (and frankly even anti-capitalist) than going to bed super early and then reclaiming a few stolen moments in the middle of the night untouched by the demands of the outside world?
In the years when I was drinking fully caffeinated coffee, I would dread waking up in the middle of the night, because that usually meant my thoughts and my heart were racing and that I wasn’t going to be able to get back to sleep easily and would be a groggy mess by the time I had to officially get up for work. But now that I’ve weaned myself off that caffeine cycle and have learned to trust my body’s signals a bit better, I almost look forward to an hour or so of overnight wakefulness. It gives me a weird freedom, an “I’m alone at the bottom of the sea where no one can find me” vibe.
BIG eye roll here. I’m your typical unathletic book nerd who has always dreaded all manner of sweat and exercise and frankly anything that required extra physical exertion. But the (boring) fact remains that everything in my life functions a little better when I’m getting some sort of regular movement in. During the warmer (or at least non-snowy) months of the year, I walk outside a lot. I’m lucky that Chicago is a pretty great city for getting around on foot, so I take advantage of that by, say, getting off the train a few stops early in order to walk a few extra blocks when I have the time to do so. But even with decent winter boots, getting around on snowy, unevenly shoveled sidewalks can be treacherous, so I definitely make more of an effort to get myself to the gym this time of year to compensate.
After years of punitive exercising meant to neutralize or ideally reverse caloric consumption, I finally realized that the best reason to get to the gym for 30 minutes or whatever is actually for my MENTAL health. It’s undeniable how much less prone I am to having random meltdowns or temper tantrums or can’t-get-out-of-bed doldrums when I’ve raised my heart rate beyond its resting state a few times a week. Plus, much like my daily commute on public transportation, the gym is one of the few remaining places where I get to have uninterrupted time to myself where I’m responsible to/for no one else. If I’m not listening to whatever my weirdo winter soundtrack is, I’m probably putting a dent in my podcast backlog, usually listening to the latest episodes of big faves Rune Soupor Against Everyone with Conner Habib.
I share my birthday date with Toni Morrison, Audre Lorde, and Yoko Ono. Pretty auspicious, right? I remain obsessed with my birthday in a way that I think most people probably get over by the time they’re, oh, 12 or 13. But I genuinely still look forward to it every year. I get excited about it and I make sure everyone around me knows when it’s near. Part of it, I’m sure, is that I’ve internalized a lifetime of messaging that says I shouldn’t make too big a deal of myself, so my birthday provides this one socially sanctioned time when I’m allowed to celebrate not my talents or accomplishments or most lovable qualities but the MERE FACT of my existence. How wonderfully refreshing, right? “I was born and I’m still alive—give me cake and presents about it!”
But it’s also, as I mentioned above, my own personal new year, and as such a time of intense reflection for me. Oh sure, I’ll idly set new year’s resolutions and half-hearted, drunken intentions on December 31. But when those quickly reveal themselves to be utter shit, I have the opportunity in the intervening 50-ish days to think more deeply about what kind of energy I truly want to cultivate in the next year of my life.
This also is the time when I’m willing to splurge on every possible kind of bodywork and spiritual and esoteric guidance. In Chicago, I’m devoted to Vita Lerman for shiatsu, Nancy Cole for reflexology, and Jana Robison Cheffings for massage. For tarot readings, I look to Angie Yingst or Angeliska at Sister Temperance Tarot online; for psychic wisdom, Lisa Rosman of Ruby Intuition or Erin the Psychic Witch. Booking one, or several, sessions with these magical healers around my birthday is a perfect thing for me to look forward to in that post-Christmas/New Year’s letdown and before the tantalizing promise of Spring.
How incredibly obvious, right? It’s almost not even worth mentioning, especially to the crowd that gathers here at Unquiet Things. But, books! Books take on an especially magical–borderline talismanic–quality during the winter, don’t they? A to-be-read stack that feels depressingly overwhelming in warmer, busier months can suddenly become SO cozy and inviting in the cold darkness.
When friends are all hunkered down in their own houses and there are fewer reasons to venture outside to be sociable, what could be more inviting than the promise of losing oneself for a few hours in the pages of a fabulous book? The condo I live in is on the third floor of a lovely tree-lined street, and before we even moved in, I was already fantasizing about putting a couch in the sunroom so that I could recline under the windows and gaze out into a winter wonderland while curled up under a blanket with a book. Which is indeed a favorite activity, especially on long, lazy weekend afternoons.
When my friend Harlow reached out to me to suggest a “bougie holiday wish list” for Unquiet Things, my first thought was “what a fantastic idea! Harlow has got freaking amazing taste and I can’t wait to see this list!” My second thought was “wait… what exactly does ‘bougie’ mean, anyway?”
It’s a little embarrassing, but much like when people refer to things as “basic”, or before that when people mocked those they referred to as “hipsters,” I for some reason struggled with these concepts and it took me a long time to figure out what those terms meant, if they were “bad,” and, was I any of those things– and furthermore should I even care if I am? I think the answer is yes I probably am and no I most certainly shouldn’t.
So…bougie. I hear people say that a lot. Still not sure I totally get it. I think it probably means more than one thing, and it’s not always negative or positive or both or either, and it’s become sort of a catch-all phrase that everyone uses to indicate that someone might be all about some pretentious, consumerist stuff and things? That’s what I’m going with for now. (And that…certainly describes me.)
At any rate! However you might want to label this list* (and truly, once you catch your breath from all the gasping at all the gorgeousness, I think you will find it transcends labels) Harlow has curated some extraordinarily beautiful, darkly luxurious indulgences here and I want every single one of them. Scroll further, and I am sure that you will agree.
*So if by “bougie,” we mean AWESOME and HELLA EXPENSIVE, then ok, yes. Seedlip Non-Alcoholic Spirits Trio
Nothing says bougie yet sober like a $36 bottle of nonalcoholic distilled “spirits”. For the holiday season they have special on all three varieties!
Not that these folks are fooling around either, with product descriptions touting distillates of Jamaican allspice berry and cardamom soaked in oak and cascarilla barks, or “A floral blend of hand-picked Peas & Hay from founder Ben Branson’s Farm…”
Fancy craft cocktails, I may be back.
The Prepster Backpack | 3-Day Emergency Bag
First-aide essentials, tech gear, food, water, AND luxe comforts (including premium teas, chocolate, and toiletries), all in a water-resistant canvas and leather metal-framed backpack. I’ll take the one with the big black cross on it, please. Bougie and ready for the first 3 days of the apocalypse.
VALLEY Eyewear DAGGER – Gloss Black
Every witchy goth and dark boheme has been drooling over this eccentric Aussie eyewear brand for a good couple of years now. Owning a pair says, I have an income, and I’m not wearing cheap plastic frames anymore, bitches.
CCWDMOSS B02MS19 / Witch Bag
Crafted from supple calf leather and human hair, this made-to-order handbag is aptly named. Footwear and accessory designer Andrey Moss is the artist behind the covetable indie brand most people have never heard of. Obscure, handmade, luxurious. Dark bougie delight.
19-69 Female Christ Eau de Parfum
I just want this perfume for its name, the perfect minimalist bottle, and the fantastic story behind it. I’m pretty sure that in itself is fairly bougie.
Hood London Maila Bonnet
This amazing wool knit widow-peaked bonnet is offered by Adèle Mildred and Gabrielle Djanogly’s new luxury hat label, Hood London, which can safely be described as Addams Family haute couture.
You may have heard illustrator and costume designer Adèle Mildred’s name pop up in fashion circles over the past decade. Her career began in Los Angeles with Emily the Strange and continued onto celebrity tailoring, and textile design for films. She later left for London to run the couture atelier for esteemed milliner Stephen Jones before moving onto her own projects. In addition to Hood London, Adèle has her own line of sunglasses, and her paintings are shown in galleries around the world.
Take my money, but know I would kill for your resume.
VERAMEAT SMOKING SHOE TRUE BLOOD
Vera Balyura is clearly excited about these loafers, and frankly, so am I. Comfortable, casual, yet makes you look like you give more fucks than just throwing on a pair of running shoes. Plus celebs seem to adore this Brooklyn indie designer, as the list of her famous fans just goes on and on…
Alexander McQueen Skull Folded Umbrella
Because it’s an insanely iconic McQueen piece. Fashionistas of any stripe would recognize it immediately. That skull. Often copied, but never the same. Is it so iconic that it’s become basic? I don’t know, but I want this umbrella with every ounce of my black heart.
Ann Demeulemeester REVERSABLE JACKET LISA BLACK
Did I say I needed an umbrella? What I really need is this incredible fur coat. I would like to live in nothing but Ann Demeulemeester’s inspired androgynous clothing lines, but I’ll settle for just this one jacket.
I went through a phase maybe two years ago, during which time I was obsessed with seeking out writers/cooks who recreated foods from literature–think Dracula’s “excellent roast chicken” or Harriet The Spy’s iconic tomato sandwich. I could have sworn that it was around this time that I stumbled upon Jessica Reed’s Instagram, although now my memory fails me and I don’t actually know that for certain. And I can’t even be sure that she was ever creating or writing about such things? So don’t quote me on that!
But whenever, or whyever it was that I became aware of her wonderful presence in this world, once I peered more closely, I immediately began to see a multitude of such wonderfully kindred little signs of kinship. This photo, for example, of these deliciously magical-looking cookies and a copy of Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body And Other Parties.Or this photo of Pam Grossman’s What Is A Witch…and even more delightful cookies! A repost of a fabulously snarky teacup from Miss Havisham’s curiosities! Staaaahhhp! Weird, witchy literature, beautiful baking, vitriolic teacups…I mean, can we just be best friends already?
Ok, that’s a little weird and intrusive, I get it. But when I peeked even further and discovered more of the culinary work that Jessica shares and the thoughtful energies and emotions that go into creating it, my admiration grew much, much deeper than these surface-level impressions. I’m particularly enamored and intrigued by her self-portraits in cake; I’m deeply appreciative of her discussions on mental health, and can I just say how refreshing it is to find a website with a section titled “just the damn recipes,” sans lengthy preamble about your late Aunt Maude, or whoever?
A writer and artist living in Portland, OR, Jessica Reed is a Cake Historian exploring history, culture, mental health, and identity through the lens of cake. Jessica is a baker of conceptual cakes (as well as regular ones!), freelance food writer, book cover designer, and author of The Baker’s Appendix. Find her online at thecakehistorian.com and on Instagram @cake_historian.
..and I am so ridiculously pleased that she’s here today to share her Ten Favorite Things For Magical Baking.
Baking is magic. I believe that every handmade good contains magic, but baked goods particularly so. There’s just something intrinsically special about sweet or savory treats born from hands, a few essential components merged by beautiful chemistry and fire, and sometimes even literal blood, sweat, and tears (I know of no baker who would argue against this). I bake at least once a week, be it our usual sourdough bread, cookies for the kid or neighbor-bribery, or one of my conceptual cakes. But sometimes, when going after a particular desire or in need of some extra help working my way through difficult situations, I need to up the bewitchment factor. The following are a few favorites I turn to again and again for inspiration, process, and flavor.
I am a proud bibliophile and am devoted to books. My baking is influenced by literature, non-fiction, art tomes, and other cookbooks of all kinds, but two of my most favorite when it comes to magical baking are A Kitchen Witches World of Magical Food by Rachel Patterson and a reproduction of the 19th-century dictionary of Victorian flower meanings, The Language of Flowers. I never bake magically without them by my side.
I keep a small print of this taped in my baking cabinet and make a sort of baking altar with it when I am working a little kitchen magic. Leighton, a member of the Pre-Raphaelites, is best known for his paintings, particularly “Flaming June,” though I was tickled to learn that he designed Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s tomb for Robert Browning.
If I remember correctly, I named my KitchenAid Stella after imagining going all Brando and yelling “Stella!!!” out in fits of baking frustration. Gifted by my now-husband around twelve years ago, we’ve only made the occasional swing into Streetcar territory.
I am a big proponent of baking using the metric system, so much so that I wrote an article about it. As well my book, originally a small self-published booklet, was written to make converting from the American Imperial system of measurement to the metric system easier for the average home baker.
I LOVE this bowl from the Cake Queen Rose Levy Beranbaum’s line. Its intention is to serve as a double boiler but can be used for a variety of baking purposes, my favorite being the vessel for combining the dry ingredients in a recipe. Its flexibility allows for easy distribution into a mixing bowl.
My kitchen cauldron, this is the pot I use for any small project that requires melted butter, a small quantity of melted ingredients, or infusions of vanilla or herbs into milk or cream.
This Aetco stand was another investment, but so worth it. The sturdy base and smooth-moving turntable make frosting and decorating a breeze. Bonus points for aesthetics.
Black Cocoa Powder
A favorite when mixed with standard cocoa for depth of flavor and color. I never bake a chocolate cake without it! I prefer the King Arthur brand.
Homemade Vanilla Extract
I started my Vanilla Extract at least ten years ago and am so devoted I even brought it across the country when we moved from Brooklyn to Portland, OR. Homemade extracts are a beautiful, simple, potion-y, way to work some kitchen magic.
Calculating, opening, whisking, stirring, kneading, folding, mixing, sifting, dipping, sprinkling…. Covered in burn scars, new burns (I never learn), occasional knife cuts, there’s nothing more important for my magical baking.
Listen, you guys. If you don’t know by now of my ardent and abiding admiration and appreciation for Pam Grossman–this generation’s reigning supreme!– I don’t even know what to tell you, and I don’t know how much further I can embarrass myself by gushing and crushing on her some more. But it’s just…I do love her so very much! Pam is a continual source of awe and inspiration and the work she does is important and exciting and it thrills me to my marrow every time I observe some new bit of magic she releases into the world.
…and this month I’m overjoyed and ecstatic that she’s going to share some of those gemmy, plummy, Pammy magics here with us, at Unquiet Things, for our October installment of Ten Things!
Pam Grossman is the creator and host of The Witch Wavepodcast and the author of Waking the Witch: Reflections on Women, Magic, and Power(Gallery Books) and What Is A Witch (Tin Can Forest Press). Her writing has appeared in such outlets as the New York Times, The Atlantic, TIME.com, Sabat Magazine, and her occulture blog, Phantasmaphile. She is co-founder of the Occult Humanities Conference at NYU, and her art exhibitions and magical projects have been featured in such publications as Artforum, Art in America, and the New Yorker. You can find her at PamGrossman.com and @Phantasmaphile.
When I was invited to contribute to this beauteous blog I confess I got a bit overwhelmed because, while I adore making lists, it is often difficult for me to know when to stop. I also confess that the above title is a paltry attempt at giving myself some semblance of constraint, but if I’m being honest I live pretty much every second of my life like it’s an autumn night. However “Shit I Really Fucking Dig” just doesn’t quite sound poetic enough now does it?
Anyhow, without further ado: 10 Delights for Autumn Nights
1. Books by and about Helen Adam
Helen Adam was a Scottish-American poet, collagist, and playwright who hung out with the beats and bohemians of San Francisco, but was, by my estimation, the raddest of the bunch. She was into witchcraft and the dark feminine, and her poems, plays, short stories, and artworks often feature such delicious figures as harpies, a Worm Queen, and dark sorceresses of every stripe. She was also wickedly funny and astonishingly prolific. I fell head over heels for her after seeing some of her deliciously twisted collages in the Robert Duncan and Jess exhibition, The Opening of the Field, at NYU a few years back. In fact I love her so much I used a bit of her poem, “At Mortlake Manor,” as the epigraph of my book. Best places to start are the Helen Adam Reader edited by Kristen Prevallet and The Collages of Helen Adam edited by Alison Fraser, but really you can’t go wrong with anything else you might encounter.
2. Exquisite bath products
Baths are a crucial part of my magic-making, not to mention my self-caretaking. I could not live in a home without a bathtub, and when a hotel room is shower-only, I am filled with despair. One of the best bathing experiences of my life was at an onsen in Japan, and I am forever trying to recreate that experience, which is why I’m obsessed with this book, as well as anything that is scented with hinoki. Still, I love plenty of other bath magix – my one rule is it must not be a pain in the ass to clean afterward, so no glitter bombs for this lady, thank you very much. Bathing is supposed to be chill, not a chore! Here are a few of my very favorites:
– Pretty much anything by Apothekerri. This bath witch makes everything in small batches, and she is a lovely human as well. You can order them directly from her, or here.
– I adore these West Marin Bath Salts by Leila Castle. The smell like walking through Muir Woods.
– These hiba wood bath salts from Cul de Sac Japan get me pretty darn close to the feeling I described above. I only wish they came in larger sizes.
– I stumbled upon One With Nature rose petal bath salts at my local pharmacy and saw them at my grocery store recently too, so they aren’t fancy. But affordable luxuries are always appreciated, and these smell divine.
3. Rose-flavored everything
Speaking of rose, my palate changed as I got older, and I now find rosy foods and elixirs no longer soapy, but irresistible. Can’t get enough of this Tulsi Sweet Rose tea, for example. Makes me feel like a fairy when I drink it.
4. Schmancy chocolate
Some of you might be most familiar with Steve Almond as one half of the magnificent Dear Sugar podcast with Cheryl Strayed (that is a recommendation in itself, as is the book), but I will forever think of him as the author of Candy Freak who thereby got me addicted to Caramel Five Star Bars by Lake Champlain Chocolates. I don’t even know how to begin to describe how delicious they are. My husband and I love these little bricks of ecstasy so much we bought some for everyone in our wedding party (they are also based out of Vermont where we got engaged).
5. Beeswax candles
I love any and all beeswax candles, but I am extremely spoiled because I am dear friends with the man behind Mithras Candle out of Philadelphia (and full disclosure, they are also a devoted Witch Wave sponsor. But that is not why I am recommending them, I’m just a genuine fan). These candles are hand-dripped and look like a column of wax stalactites or something out of a wizard’s secret library. They smell amazing, they glow like magic, and they are crafted by a beautiful soul.
6. Occult art tomes
Our apartment is bursting at the seams with books, but that doesn’t stop me from procuring as many tomes on the occult and art as possible. There are so many I could recommend here from various places, but I say save yourself the trouble and get everything that Fulgur Press puts out. Based out of the UK, they specialize in exquisitely-made talismanic books and feature such brilliant esoteric artists as Jesse Bransford, Shannon Taggart, Marjorie Cameron, and Ithell Colquhoun.
7. Crystalline Binging
Have you watched the Netflix series The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance yet? If not I truly don’t know what you’re waiting for. It may be the most gorgeous show ever made, and I’m not hyperbolizing. (And when you’re done, have a look at the marvelous making-of documentary as well.)
8. Agnes Pelton
You know how everyone is now madly in love with occult abstract art pioneer Hilma af Klint? Mark my words, in a few months you’re all going to be losing your minds about Agnes Pelton. She was a member of the Transcendentalist Painting Group, and inspired by Theosophy and other esoteric studies. Her work is quasi-figurative, but with its own visual vocabulary that feels otherworldly and drenched in radiant pastel hues. I first encountered her randomly in this lovely book that I found in a bargain bin several years back, and recently had the good fortune to see a retrospective of her work at the Phoenix Art Museum. When that exhibition hits the Whitney here in New York next spring, it’s gonna make waves and expand minds, no doubt about it. OK, not an autumn thing. But look into her now and you’ll be ahead of the curve and awash in mystical majesty at the same time!
9. Laugh Medicine
As much as I love the darker months, I can sometimes be susceptible to the blues, the grays, and the glooms. And so things that keep me from getting too heavy are welcome always, but especially during the shadowy side of the year. Here are some of my go-tos to keep the maudlin monsters at bay:
– TV: If you are reading this blog regularly, then Los Espookys was made for you. Just trust me on that. And the humor and giant-heartedness of Schitt’s Creek (not to mention Catherine O’Hara’s scrumptious haute-bizarre wardrobe) completely won me over. I also bet many don’t know that I am a die-hard SNL fan. I’ve loved it since I was a kid, and I never ever miss it. I also cry whenever cast members leave and follow a lot of the behind-the-scenes aspects too (this book and this Creating Saturday Night Live series are especially great). It has certainly had its ups and downs over the years, but it feels like family to me, and what they pull of each week both comedy-wise and craftmanship-wise is nothing short of miraculous. I worship at its altar.
– Podcasts: I’m also a hardcore RuPaul fan, and love not only Drag Race, but the What’s the Tee podcast that he and Michelle Visage put out each week. It’s inspiring and irreverent – vitamins and dessert all in one. I’m also addicted to Thirst Aid Kit, which is a hilarious and insightful show about female (albeit usually straight female) desire. Hosts Bim Adewunmi and Nichole Perkins are smart and salty and both excellent writers, and each episode makes me cackle like mad.
– Twitter feeds: @DoththeDoth is the goth therapist you never knew you needed. @EverySheriff is perfection and never fails to brighten my day (my favorite is the Sheriff of Goblin). Comedian @SolomonGeorgio first came to my attention via 2 Dope Queens (RIP), but he’s become a favorite source of giggles and glitter.
10. The Best Twitter Feed of All-Time
But nothing lift my spirits more consistently than the Twitter feed of Kirimi-chan, the salmon-filet-headed person(?) with an accidentally(?) art-house vibe who is so important, so groundbreaking, so tremendously bananas that she merits her own mention. She is Sanrio’s most conceptual character. She is the Lady Gaga, the Yayoi Kusama, the Laurie Anderson of Sanrio. No, I don’t understand a word of what her feed says. I just know that I need more pictures of this dead-fish-lady in a fish-shaped swimming pool wading next to a live fish, and you do too. Do you want to see her holding a wand with her own head on it? Of course you do. And here she is dressed up like a French maid. You’re welcome.
BONUS. Sonic Sorcery
As the nights get cool and spooky, my Waking the Witch playlist is sure to keep you warm with its witchery.
I am so excited that Caitlin Ffrench is joining us for this month’s edition of Ten Things! I have been knitting Caitlin’s beautiful pi shawls and assorted patterns for a few years now, and I quite often marvel at her wildcrafting adventures on Instagram– so I was wonderfully intrigued when she mentioned she’d be writing about her favorite tools that she employs in her various practices. I interviewed Caitlin in November of 2017 for Haute Macabre, and it was such a treat to work with her again for this piece.
Caitlin Ffrench is a Canadian Fiber Artist and Forest Lurker working with wildcrafted pigments from within the land bases she visits. Ffrench gathers discarded stones, bricks, weeds, and other waste to grind into useable pigments to make paint and dyes. ffrench paints with wildcrafted pigments as a way to find the connections between place and memory.
10 Tools That I Use Most Often
Explaining what I do for work is a hard thing. I make paints from earth and botanical pigments, I write knitting patterns, I’m an artist, and I teach natural dyeing. I’m sure there are other things too, but at the moment I can’t think of them.
The tools I use are well worn and loved dearly. These 10 tools are the most important in my arsenal, but there are many more I could name. (If this was a list of 100 things I think it might cover my most important tools… maybe.)
This well-worn basket has been across the continent with me. I use it for wildcrafting dyes and dirt, as a purse when puttering around town, to carry objects back and forth to my studio, and to store my knitting in while at home. I think it is most useful because I can take it outside and hose it out if I’ve left wildcrafted plants in it a little past their prime, and it can be reshaped while it dries. This one is 9 or 10 years old, and the bottom is starting to give way- but I won’t let it go that easily. A repair is in its future.
Books are my most dynamic tool. I think that as a teacher I need to be constantly learning, and books are the easiest way to study new things. Last year I took on a reading challenge to read at least 100 books (I hit 110 last year!) which means I almost always am carrying a book with me.
Shooting film photographs is a great love of mine, and this camera is my favourite out of my collection. It is a medium format camera that is really simple to use. I got it at a camera swap a number of years ago, and I bring it on most of my travels. I shot a book of knitting patterns in Iceland on it- a feat I’m not sure I’d repeat. There is a nuance in shooting medium format film that you can’t get any other way, but shooting a book halfway across the world on film was a ballsy move. (It is called The Darkness Fell and you can find it, along with my other patterns, on Ravelry.com)
A Silk Scarf
I naturally dyed this silk scarf using the eco print method with Trident Maple leaves and Iron, and then overdid it with homegrown indigo. I wear it as a neck scarf or have it jammed in the bottom of my purse almost every day. I use it when gathering earth pigments–silk is sturdy. I used it yesterday to collect ochre while hiking (the dirt shown in the photo).
Mortar and Pestle
I have two granite mortar and pestles that I use for grinding earth pigments; the one shown here which is the larger of the two, and a smaller one I take traveling. I use the granite ones because they’re a very hard stone, and can break up almost any stone I gather. Using these tools makes me feel like the witch I dreamed of becoming as a child. Some real Baba Yaga vibes.
I am a scissor hoarder–and I don’t regret it. I use scissors in my studio and at home all the time and have a pretty lovely collection. The shears shown here though are my absolute favourite because they’re the burliest ones I own, and they’re sharp enough to get through many layers of denim at once.
I feel naked without my sketchbook. I use it to take notes, to design knitting patterns, for painting and drawing, and for reminders to remember things for later. I use the Moleskine brand and the ‘sketchbook’ paper one. The paper is tough enough that I can use watercolours on it. I use the same size every time, and they sit on their own shelf in my studio. They look quite handsome all in a row.
When I start a new one I put the start date in the front cover so it’s easy to look back at ideas from older ones. I go through between 5-8 a year, and they’re always a little rough looking when they’re finished. I think they’re an intimate glimpse into the workings of my brain.
Shown here is a drawing from a hike I did yesterday, and pigment samples from the side of the lake I was at. I even remembered to put in the date on the drawing. Past me likes to leave helpful notes for future me to look back on.
As I child I made potions out of plants and dirt, and it seems that nothing has changed–I’m still making potions out of plants and dirt.
As a natural dyer, anything you use for dyeing is no longer food safe. You need separate deepest, spoons, lids, scales, etc because the things you’re dyeing with may be toxic. I have a bunch of dyepots, but I prefer to think of them as cauldrons. Be the witch you want to see in the world!
Oilcloth Tool Roll
My friend Kassy at Old Fashioned Standards made this custom tool roll for me this summer. It is a riff on a tool roll she already makes, but with a pocket large enough for my sketchbook, and a zippered pocket. She makes things from Oilcloth, and they’re sturdy as hell. (And water resistant!)
It was made for a residency I did in Iceland, and it needed to hold all of the drawing and painting things I would need while traveling.
Cassy also makes jackets, pants, hats, bags, witch hats, and other magic. Look her up- she’s badass.
My hands always look rough, are stained or cut up, and I love them. My hands are my greatest tool, and when I came into my 30’s I realized that stretching and physiotherapy would make a world of difference on them. They’ve been tattooed by my friend Nomi Chi (The roses on each hand), and by my partner Arlin ffrench (all the things on my fingers.) Having them tattooed was a way of making them fancy- to thank them for their hard work. I also wear Bloodmilk rings on my left hand, and a moonstone ring made by my friend Janet Harrison on my right hand every day. The amber ring on my right hand comes and goes- but the others are always there.
‘I am not what I am, I am what I do with my hands.’ -Louise Bourgeois
This month’s installment of Ten Things is brought to us by my friend Ekho, whom I originally met over on instagram and while now I don’t recall the exact circumstances, you can bet your booty there were lots of books involved.
I am consistently awestruck and wonderglobbed by all of the unique, diverse, and interesting titles and beautiful cover art they share– and my to-read list has grown exponentially in the time I have known them. But more important than the book envy they inspire are the super fun chats that we have on topics ranging far and wide; humorous, heartfelt, and well, just very human things: dreams, therapy, the dumb idea of “glowups”, the vagaries of our physical meat suits (and the skeevy rando turdmuffins who offer unsolicited comments about same) and ever so much more. Ekho is such a phenomenal companion for conversation … I was actually going through our DM history just now, and to be perfectly honest, I think we would be so fascinating to eavesdrop on!
Ekho is a nonbinary trans person living on Wurundjeri land, writing, daydreaming, doing social anthropology, dyeing their hair colours in the blue/green spectrum and looking for shortcuts to mushrooms. Find them on Instagram or check out their blog they promise to update soon. In the meantime, however, I am so happy that they have generously contributed to Unquiet Things this month with 10 Things to Stop You Burning it All Down (the World, the Universe, and Everything), featuring Tolkien tenderness, why comic books have no gender, and how they fill their broken heart.
Acknowledgment of Country Before I begin, and you begin to read; I wish to acknowledge the Wurundjeri and Wathaurong peoples of the Kulin Nations, the traditional and original landowners where this article was mentally gestated and developed as a digital taskscape, whose sovereignty was never ceded. I pay my respects to the Elders, past, present, future, and, emerging.
These 10 Things might not be for you, they might not inspire you to keep fighting the good fight. This might in fact just be a wee snapshot of the insides of my mind and how I reason with myself to get out of bed, put on my clothes in that very specific order I need to keep myself going, make that coffee, take my dogs out to the loo, switch on the laptop and do what needs to be done. Generally what needs to be done is University work (for some strange reason, that began with a hole in my heart, and sorrow I couldn’t fix; I have been enrolled in various Uni courses since 2010), or attending to life stuff like waged-labour and making sure my world doesn’t fall apart. I recognise that I have manifested a portion of self-harm into the research and uni work I do. I tackle the hardest, most painful topics, I refuse the easy way out, I go above and beyond with research and I write out my pain in complex, analytical anthropological essays. I am not fully ready to work on this and make it something more positive. We develop in stages and it is enough that I am willing to think about it and evolve these behaviours in the future, however; sometimes I need to remind myself that I cannot fight if I am dead. The why of the fighting will emerge throughout this article, and the reasons I stay sane might be inane, cute, childish, simplistic and definitely not cool but here we are… I don’t have time for cool anymore, it’s 2019. As 2 parts Anarchist and 1 part Nihilist I will tell you cool is pointless and the pursuit of it is just subscribing to social approval but that might also be the 90s kid or the Gemini in me.
Radical Vulnerability (Making time to heal, and acknowledging that healing looks, smells, and feels like a dumpster fire.)
Let’s start with something really easy, like the concept of Radical Vulnerability. I hate being vulnerable, ew (have I mentioned I am a Gemini) and vulnerability generally = feels, and weakness. For the past decade, I strove to make myself indestructible. As someone with a shopping list of medical and mental health diagnosis, we can see that panned out really well. Radical Vulnerability is something I saw trans nonbinary icon Alok Vaid Menon start mentioning on their IG. They would discuss when they were hurting, they would acknowledge their abusers were likely hurting too and told others what they needed (a hug, love, friendship, safety, an escort to a cab or home, etc). Through being vulnerable, and expressing it, we normalise the very human need for help and kinship and love (of all forms) and we invite others to experience it too. We allow those around us to let down their walls//their golden hair//and allow others in.
I do believe now that Radical Vulnerability has changed my life this year. At the end of 2018 I had yet-another-health-scare and ended up having to see bunches and oodles of specialists, changing my diet and supplements yet again, and do tri-weekly body conditioning. I do not believe in Cartesian Duality so I anticipated the physical struggle would be accompanied by an emotional/mental struggle and that perhaps if I got through it, I could change some of the unhealthy mental landscapes I was existing in. Radical Vulnerability had a big part to play, communicating to myself and my friends the changes I wanted to make, what I wanted to introduce into my life, communicating (EW) feelings, communicating when boundaries had been crossed, allowing others to be vulnerable, admitting I wanted to heal/myself/things… this list goes on. And it’s not easy. I have spent a really long time not being vulnerable, burying feelings, being stoic or angry but defs-not-vulnerable. This has taken practice and active brain rewiring. It has been exhausting. I am also happier this year than I have been in forever because I feel as authentic as I can be.
Please follow Alok on IG see their shows, buy their poetry etc.
Pokémon (Something I can always rely on and turn to when my brain is noisy and my heart hurts.)
Something totally different… As a kid who grew up in the 90s I was left salivating after Pokémon cards, Red and Blue, OG Gameboys, yet I was not allowed to participate in that world. I don’t think my Mum liked it. I don’t think she got it. I think she thought that the cards were a waste of money and we were too middle class (aspiring) for that. Who knows? Then my sibling and I got Gold and Silver. My life was forever changed. I remember the moment my egg hatched into an Eevee and the love of my Pokémon life appeared. I was dedicated to Pokémon, I had books that I filled with my analysis of patterns in the game, when specific Pokémon appeared, when items went on sale in the underground Poke-Marketplaces, how to make Pokémon like you more (haircuts). I was 10. I was obsessed. It was the best summer of my life.
Since then I have had my fluctuations with the games, times where I was less inclined to game. But the reinventions and changes have brought wholesome additions to the Pokémon experience. Pokémon Go has introduced a level of accessibility that bypasses the privilege emphasised by being able to afford games. As a free app, it is pretty easy to avoid in-game purchases. This level of accessibility is so important because gaming is expensive. There are so many testimonies to the benefits of the gaming experience as well, with folks playing it to de-stress, increase exercise, socialise, deal with anxiety in its many forms and also network. I used to play it a lot more when it was first released but then went back to the DS games. I have recently started Let’s Go Eevee and am reminded why these games help me alleviate stress, anxiety, and depression. The new gaming format has a bigger emphasis on compassion and empathy, and the games have always had a big respect for nature, animal life, nonhumans, and compassion. Introducing these ideas to kids, and adult-kids, is no bad thing. A world where we are compassionate to one another, to animals, to ourselves isn’t a bad place. If you have not checked out the Detective Pikachu film yet then please do, it was for me, what the War Craft film was for my Dad (family of #gamers). If it wasn’t for the fact that a cute person had started holding my hand (see- Ew gross- Radical Vulnerability), and felt the need to talk to me throughout the entire film I probably would have been in tears coz that is the world I want to live in. It was beautifully depicted and so wonderful.
Terry Pratchett (His writing can be relied upon to remind me others empathise with the world and the situations we are in and anger is a valid tool to get shit done; he didn’t have his days of rage for nothing.)
One day Terry Pratchett became my favourite author, the end, good bye. I never imagined that would happen to me. Me, an outrageous gothic queer, a nonbinary dreamer, an activist academic (aspiring)… perhaps that is why he became my favourite author. You cannot read a book of his without realising he was/is pro-equality, a dreamer, and a realist; able to dismantle social justice issues then reboot them into heartbreaking sci-fi fantasy narrative.
At first, I didn’t exactly click with his writing. Discworld has no chapters and that was a bit of a head fuck, plus his older writing is short and satirical; which took time and probably maturity to adjust to. Pick up a Discworld book towards the middle of the series and they are different books and he is a different writer. He turns literary clichés on their head while still weaving an amazing gothic narrative. He gives us ghetto gang warfare but between trolls and dwarves and still breaks your heart. DEATH is a kind, curious anthropomorphic manifestation that I hope will usher me on to the land of black sand. I still weep that Terry Pratchett is gone (sort of, I mean he lives on in his books and creations and our imaginations) yet he politically resonates more than ever.
Good Omens the TV show was a perfect culmination and evolution of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaimans’ book brain baby. It was a pleasure to watch with a lot of discourse that is gender affirming in a sense of nonbinary gender and the lack of gendered behaviour. The main characters which had always appeared campy and gender nonconforming in the original text are beautiful soft marshmallow babies who deeply love each other (whether you interpret that as platonic or romantic) and fumble around and don’t really save the world (a very practical witch does, and a young ordinary boy who happens to be the antichrist) but maybe they save each other. Read it. Watch it.
A Short Cut to Mushrooms (Rewilding is a gross buzzword I won’t mention here or again because it’s ridiculous but also go out to a forest or a stream or a sand dune or some tundra or a bonfire and get out of your own messy head once in a while.)
It’s no lie that when I am stressed out, the stressed get going – to the forest – to look at mushrooms. I adore fungi. I am not a mycologist so I do not know everything about them but I know enough to look and not touch coz somehow the edible ones in Australia also look like the ones that give you the runs and also look like the ones that make you cough blood and also look like the ones that will kill you. The most distinguishable, in fact, are the ones that will get you high, which I think the local parks council has realised much to my dismay when I went to my favourite wet bush walking spot and half the place had been dug up. Now, I get where they are coming from. They think ‘fellas some class A drugs are growing IN THE GROUND’ and probably ‘we Australians need to make this forest Australian again so we will dig up the introduced holly, psylocibin fungi, non-native trees and let’s just hope the ecosystem bounces back and looks like the hardwood forest pre-invasion’; (hot tip that forest was decimated by logging by colonisers to make happy homesteads and farms, it will never ever look pre-invasion, not a single one of those trees exist anymore). The land there seems sad. The land there seems like it is waiting. I deeply love the Macedon Ranges, it welcomed its self to me in its damp mossy ways and I plan to live in this area as long as is feasibly (fiscally) possible. I spent a lot of time in this forest looking after my mental health (by walking and taking photos of fungi), many a friendship has been forged as I forced a pal to walk one of my dogs here, and I have spent freezing afternoons with the heater in my car pumping while starting (gasp) the prelude to a romantic relationship. Spending time in a spot that I feel deeply enriches and soothes me is one of my favourite parts of living in the Australian state of Victoria, and living on Wurundjeri land. The land is diverse, exquisite, and bursting with narratives. You only need to step out your front door to encounter stories, old, new, and emerging to help you fall in love with the land.
Realm of the Elderlings (This book series reminds me that having everything crap happen to you makes for a hell of a narrative, forgive me Beloved Fitzchivalry Farseer.)
As a series of books I passionately love. it is a little bizarre that I haven’t reread these novels yet. The Realm of the Elderlings is a recent turn of phrase for the sprawling universe Robin Hobb developed with her multiple fantasy series. It begins with a coming of age story, a boy and his dog, except this child is nameless and then given the lovely term of endearment Fitz (yikes) and begins many an adventure as an emotionally underdeveloped and unreliable narrator. You may wonder why I adore these books as Fitz is pigheaded at the best of times and downright problematic when the occasion arises. Hobb is a brilliant writer (is why) with a beautifully constructed gender diverse character who weaves their way throughout the entire series (sort of) also SPOILER. Hobb gives us a crash course on how fantasy can be hugely gender inclusive and gender diverse without mirroring transgender narratives in the Western world. I refer to her writings when discussing great ways to be gender inclusive to author friends who want tips and do not want to rinse-repeat the male-to-female, female-to-male coming out trope. It’s trope even in our world; something frequently expected of trans people to experience. What if that person was always nonbinary but had a doctor assign a different gender at birth because we equate genitalia with gender. What if that person was always male regardless of what stage they are in with their physical transition; they’re not trying to achieve masculinity because masculinity is a social construct, they are just on their gender journey to their gender destination. Fantasy and sci-fi books can be fantastic ways to think about these things and apply these concepts without people breathing down your neck telling you what trans is/isn’t or spewing transphobic rhetoric. Oh, wait they do that anyway to the author?
Damn. I guess this circles back to Radical Vulnerability, writing about this stuff makes me vulnerable, and as soon as a transphobe opens their mouth (or Twitter account) they are vulnerable too and fear leads to hate, and hate leads to the dark side, and dark side leads to goth, and goth leads to emo, and emo leads to scene kids, and now we have Instagram Influencers with big eyebrows and snatched things and I DON’T KNOW WHAT’S SNATCHED I AM TOOOOOO OOOOOOLD I am one sprained ankle away from Baba Yaga and a cauldron full of semen and smeg (neither of which are gendered either, they are simply bodily emissions and some folx can do both).
Star Wars (This cash cow brings me a lot of binge watching down-time pleasure. Also social justice in space, Finn and Poe are my princes, maybe Rey will bring balance to the Force?)
A Long Time Ago, in a cinema… far far away; I was 7 years old, it was 1996 and I was watching The Empire Strikes Back because the films were in cinemas again and my little sibling was being babysat and my parents wanted to take me. No, I wasn’t scared. Yes I ADORED HAN SOLO he basically is the same person as my (Grand)Pa and OMG DARTH VADERS’ VOICE is exquisite thank you James Earl Jones (I am sorry they stuffed an old bald white guy into your sexy rubber suit for Return of the Jedi). I watched the full trilogy on VHS and yep dug it, medieval space battles, magic swords, and celibate wizards. Got it.
Then oh boy, then… The Phantom Menace came out. I have zero interest in debating whether this is a good film, I literally don’t care if you don’t like it. It was a bloody masterpiece with a martial artist actually getting to play the character whom he is doing the judo chop for, and Yodas’ furry green ball sack; Darth Maul changed my life. Gothic af, his aesthetic is still drool-worthy, his stunts and choreography are breathtaking and John Williams’ “Duel of the Fates” is still my favourite cinematic score and basically the soundtrack to my internal dialogue. Whenever I am frustrated, I build Star Wars Legos, I jump into a generally trashy Star Wars novel, I chuckle about all the forced celibacy and sexual yearnings of the Padawans and Sith apprentices, and I let myself emotionally uncurl and unspiral while watching podracing … and try to not write mental essays on the colonisation of Naboo and reoccurring, always-there-NOT-A-NEW-THING-social-justice politics embedded in the narratives.
Buddy Reading (If I burnt everything down, who would read with me?)
A few years ago I relocated from the place I grew up to the place I am now. I did in fact make a handful of IRL friends, however, our calendars often clash and I often have not enough spoons to physically go out (and they, for the most part, don’t have cars). Creating a Bookstagram on IG became a wonderful healing process where I connected with all kinds of bookworms and discussed my love of literature, comics, novels, and all-round geekery. I have had my Booksta account for around 3 years now and due to this, I have made some incredible lifelong friends. I love finding odd nooks of the internet where all of a sudden your nerd herd emerges and you are no longer alone.
The chaos that the TV adaptation of Good Omens has brought to the internet has kept me going all June. It is a gender non-conforming queer life force. Buddy reading, this was about that. It really got me communicating with likeminded people and sharing my bookish love. It is this wonderful feeling to curl up on your couch, in your time zone and send a voice message to a friend overseas about where you are up to in the book you are reading. Or send photo reactions for your heartache. Or grieve together for the death of a fictional character. It has really helped fill that sense of lacking within me due to loss of community and has brought me back to myself. There are less intense ways of participating in Buddy reads of course; like, you do not actually have to record how much you have cried over The Faithful and the Fallen(by John Gwynne) but if you are so inclined, you can. You can be as extra or as introverted as you wish. Did I mention this has somehow formed kindred spirit type friendships and also made friends for me, with folx in my own new-to-me city?
Comics (Beautifully illustrated and written capsules of narrative, I would miss you the most if I burnt everything down.)
I was lucky to have access to comics from a really young age. A few years back when a lot of femme readers came forward to me saying they felt gate-kept by the comic community and like it was something just for cis-boys I felt really confused. My Mum would take me to the corner store to buy Archies, Jugheads, and Sabrina Double Digests in the 90s. My Dad would take me for my Birthday, and then again for Yule, to the expensive comic book store in Brisbane city to buy me 2 trade paperback comic books (that was basically all I got for those events and I literally do not care, priceless) in the early 00s. No one around me read comics so not only did I NOT FEEL LIKE THEY WERE A GENDERED ACTIVITY, as an Australian I was seeing very little evidence that it was a masculine thing.
Growing up in Brissy, the cis-boys were skateboarding or surfing or playing AFL. The cis-chicks were playing netball or softball or getting orange fake tans coz it was Brisbane in the early 00s. Geekery has no gender (none of the above-mentioned activities have genders either FYI), so for me, I never felt like I was reading something for boys. The rebirth of the comics industry ESPECIALLY WHERE IMAGE COMICS ARE CONCERNED works to cater not only to being gender inclusive but simply put; inclusive AF.
You want POC driven feudal fantasy? I got ya, fam. You want empathy robot children in space with sexy cyborgs? I got ya, fam. You want alt-world Batman where the Joker is a woman and Barbara Gordon is in charge? I got ya fam. You want a queer urban fantasy with pop-icon deities in stunning fashion? I got ya, fam. You want a femme murder mystery with drama galore? I got ya, fam. You want comics written and illustrated by Indigenous creators? You want comics written and illustrated by women? You want comics written and illustrated by queer folx? I GOT YA, FAM. All of a sudden, I realised the stuff I loved about comics, was beloved by more than me, and these people weren’t sitting on their hands (like me) wishing they could create, they were creating, and I was reading and buying their work. Not only are comics for everyone, (ok unless you are blind, I mean there is word-to-audio conversion programs but unless it describes what has been illustrated this is not as accessible as I imagined 2 seconds ago), ahem if you are willing to pay, they are being made by… everyone.
Look around and women are taking over DC, Latinx creators are getting their voices out there, DC has an Aboriginal superhero (WHO DESERVES HIS OWN COMIC), Marvel is writing trans characters and Image is covering every base there is. If a new identity emerges I know Image will feature a creator or include a character by next comic book day (so Thursday).
Reading (Because it builds empathy, slows you down, gives you access to more voices than the ones in your head, and ideas can change this world.)
Reading has saved me, and many a friend, many times over. It’s what I turn to when life gets too much (so, daily) and it has been a companion from a young age. One of my earliest not-quite-memories is of walking over to my Mums’ tabby cat Cosmo and throwing a pile of board books on her head screaming “READ TO ME” like the demon child I was. I think my Mum had to surgically remove the cat from my arm. My childhood was full of bizarre health issues which impacts my behaviour and moods and often made doctors send me off for CT scans. When things got too much, my Mum would read to me. Read absolutely whatever, but as a bookworm. the children’s lit library she developed for me, and then for my sibling was, and is, phenomenal.
One of my fondest summer holiday memories is after swimming for hours we’d sit outside drying off (in the Brisbane humidity, yep it took a while) and she would read one chapter of The Hobbit, acting out sections and doing scary voices where necessary. I was petrified of Flies and Spiders, and my sister wept when Thorin lay dying. My Mum was bemused, “didn’t you say every afternoon you hate this book?” I remember my sister replying, hands crushed in fists against her eyes, golden curls refracting blistering sun “bu-bu-but I loved [Thorin] him”. That dried my tears up quickly. I knew as the loud, annoying older sibling that this was teasing dynamite. I was ready to explode. My Mum saw this immediately and made it clear I was not allowed to tease other people about their feelings. I still maintain that feelings are gross.
The Lord of the Rings (Middle Earth is debatably where I belong, I am definitely an Orc, an eloquent Orc however.)
My family took me to Middle Earth at a young age, (no not New Zealand, still not visited yet) and introduced to me to a wonderful universe. As an adult, I have had my fair share of qualms with Tolkien, pastoralism not the least of them, but on average they are wholesome books with wholesome characters and wholesome adaptations and SO MUCH QUEER CODING SWEET BABY GANDALF. Something I really adore about the film adaptations is the tender masculinity present in the characters. Aragorn kissing his friends’ foreheads and singing poetic verses. Sam weeping over salt or rope or potatoes or Frodo or Rosie or pints. The sweet sexual tension between Gimli and Legolas. Legolas’s facial expressions. Pippin and Merry–the bffs or friends-with-benefits?
These characters fought the good fight, for others, not themselves. And some are lucky enough to live, but never to live unchanged. They give me hope in dark places when I need courage, and when I need to remember that the smallest of folx can make big ripples in this universe. Plus the LOTR community make pretty sweet memes. And fanart. And fanfic. When I am stressed out I put on Howard Shore’s An Unexpected Journey (perfect for reading any kind of fantasy book or just having on low volume for naps). When I am weary I binge well, the LOTRs film trilogy, not the Hobbit so much; this is an article about things keeping me in the world or keeping me from destroying the world so SKIPPING OVER THE HOBBIT FILMS (the first is not so bad, and Thranduil is glam af) is a good idea or I may just need to write a follow up rant article on 10 Things that Make Me Want to Take Back My Word and Burn Everything.
Whether you think Bilbo and Thorin are perfect soul mates or just platonic enemies to frenemies, there is a lot of comfort in these tales. I think that’s what Tolkien set out to achieve, to talk about awful traumatic things that change the shape of your world and how you then relate to that changed world and your changed self. There is a sense of comfort whether it’s imagining Bilbo’s larder and pantry (drool), listening to Thorins’ singing voice (drool), pushing yourself to go on an adventure without your damn pocket handkerchief, crossing over to the Grey Lands as some kind of … assisted dying with emotional support group; there is a lot of beauty in Middle Earth. Which means that it is a beauty that can still be found in our world; Tolkien based his creations on Saxon, Norse, and Anglo myths to bring new meaning to the history of the land he lived on and fought for. This resonates with us; we live now seeing the outcomes of these wars and like a Nazgul on the horizon, we know too that another war is coming. We don’t know how it will be fought, I cannot anticipate this stuff despite my study, despite my heart, despite my paranoia. But we have the stories of our ancestors, our transcestors, our Elders, and we still have time to learn. Maybe that’s what Tolkien set out to do, not build a great faerie tale or a mythic cycle for Britain, but caution us against ourselves and our shared history of violence. To be gentle, to be tender, to kiss those we love (ew), and to find a peaceful mode of living.
I first met Ariel on a strange and stressful day during a very strange and stressful chapter of my life. It was on an afternoon spent surrounded by strangers, talking about potentially uncomfortable things, and though we were brought together for a common purpose and it was in fact, a gathering which I myself had initiated and facilitated, I very much did not want to be there. I am not sure if Ariel picked up on that at the time, but as we’ve come to know one another during the course of our friendship, I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that they are one of the few people who just gets it. And is okay with it. And doesn’t judge me or think less of me for being a weird, squirrelly hermit.
Whether we meet up for scintillating discourse on matters of mortality, or deliciously unhinged Gothic cinema; were we to spend an emotional hour together discussing a local tragedy and its personal implications or just run into each other on a busy street corner (yes, this has happened! and we don’t even live that close to each other!) I always know I will come away astounded by Ariel’s brilliant insights, awestruck at their tremendous sagacity and, of course enthralled by their incisive wit–and I am astonished, to be frank, that this incredible human, this one-of-a-kind (in the truest, purest sense) person actually wants anything at all to do with me! But …they do? This makes me indescribably happy and fills me with the sort of delirious, demented joy that I’m pretty sure only other lonely weirdos understand fully. And though we don’t get together often, when we do, it calls t mind Doctor Who meme I sometimes see floating around on Facebook, the one that says “Spend Your Life Doing Strange Things With Weird People.” Except, well. It wasn’t weird enough.
I am lucky to have met Ariel when I did, and that we grew to become friends, and I am beyond thrilled that they are this month’s Ten Things guest blogger. See below Ariel’s Ten Things I Tell Myself to Make Life Worth Living, and I will share with you the same thing I said to Ariel, that I am awestruck and utterly humbled that they would write any of this at my behest, and I feel so incredibly undeserving of what they’ve shared below. It is beautiful and difficult and wrenching and absolutely perfect.
1. It’s Okay to Delay
This is a mantra that I’m just learning. It is a challenge, and by no means am I proficient. And while on the surface this phrase seems to echo sentiments that it’s “never too late,” it means something a little bit differently to me.
There’s a popular rationalization for transness out there that implies that a trans person is X gender trapped in a Y-sexed body. Personally, that is not my trans narrative. I have perceived myself, however, as the hapless protagonist in a cosmic narrative of a Can-Doer trapped within a Do-Little. I am predictably-unpredictably hindered, hampered, prohibited and limited by disabling chronic illness.
I idealize the tenets of minimalism and idolize the gurus who promise that the key to a fulfilling and adventurous life is the process of simplifying day-to-day tasks and purging material objects. The irony is that I live a fairly consistently low-impact lifestyle. I don’t have much to “declutter.” I don’t have an overflowing calendar brimming with engagements. I don’t keep many obligations. I scarcely have anything to write in a to-do list or planner or place in a twee inbox.
When I do accumulate tasks, I embark on a journey of epic proportions to hit all the high notes. When the mania strikes, I start plotting. I scheme out several “appointments”.
And then I hit my nadir.
For me, fatigue, flares and malaise are byproducts of ambition. I quickly become sobered by the humiliation that I have to suspend my schedule. And then I feel ashamed for it.
But then I defer back to what I learned all along from my minimalist icons. I appreciate what has “sparked joy” within me in my accomplishments. I appreciate the effort of taking on days, weeks, even months’ worth of accumulation and pre-planning to achieve. I appreciate that a “rest period” is an opportunity to regenerate. If delaying means reveling in the highs and charting a new course, then it’s okay to delay.
2. Tomorrow is Another Day
As someone who dissociates on the regular, time is an alien and abstract concept. Don’t get me wrong, I comprehend the science of the planetary rotations and the lunar cycle. I understand the guidance of the almanac and the shift of the seasons. I defer to the sacred obligations of my religious calendar.
But I’ll be frank. I don’t follow a Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday, etc. schedule. I divide my days by shifting between pajamas and civilian clothes, going outside for extended periods vs. remaining indoors indefinitely, or days when my partner is at work or at home. Sometimes the ‘pajama days’ are disproportionately longer than the ‘civvies days’. Sometimes my partner picks up extra shifts or flips his schedule around, and I’m sparked into spontaneity. As you can imagine, these units of measurement do not translate well to real-time deadlines.
Over the course of these ‘days’, I lose huge chunks of time to no recollection with nothing to show for it. And in the periods where I am cognizant of my presence, I’m often unable to project myself into ‘meaningful’ activity.
I still haven’t quite de-conditioned from the stress of a metered week. I used to live a very professional and organized life. I agonized under the weight of timed obligations. I grit my teeth and asked for extensions.
That’s not my life anymore. Maybe it will be again some day, but for the here-and-now, tomorrows might not necessarily be “tomorrow” in a traditional sense. It might be several days from the current day. But every “tomorrow” is a chance to center my presence in the present. It’s another opportunity to push through the fog and orient myself to the novelty of a new day’s offerings.
3. Yesterday is a Thing of the Past
This is really the same face of the Janus coin as the preceding truth. The pursuit of tomorrow means leaving yesterday in the past. This isn’t to say that the past is irrelevant. The past is a hard-packed foundation for progress. But no one can reach for the heavens if they’re wallowing in the dirt. (Disclaimer: this is by no means a diss on archaeologists.)
I have a hard time putting things down. I’m sure I could blame Aries energy. There’s countless astrological interpretations as to why I just won’t leggo my eg(g)o. I’m slowly learning to leave yesterday in its grave by meditating on the Jewish honorific: zikhronam liv’rakha. This phrase translates into ‘may their memories be a blessing’ as well as ‘may their memories be for a blessing’. The meaningfulness of for whom this blessing is for (for the deceased or for the living) may be debatable. In both senses: I am blessed that yesterday occurred, regardless of what happened there, and yesterday is blessed by the fact that I lived throughout it.
4. Forgive, But Don’t Forget
Yesterdays haunt me from beyond the grave with the ghosts of people, events and circumstances that have deeply wounded me. Much of my trauma has manifested into trigger points that are part of my everyday life. When a new mental health professional pushes me to express how trauma manifests, I often find myself trying to suppress the details.
My regular therapist noticed this veneer right away. He also identified what he suspected was going on. I was already re-living the trauma, but I was attempting to protect myself from experiencing guilt, shame, self-loathing, and all the other usual suspects. Most of the people and places associated with my triggers are removed from my life. Rightly or wrongly, in my headspace, I’m the only one left to absorb the culpability of what happened.
I will never forgive the people who did badly by me, partly because I logistically cannot, and partly because I earnestly do not want to (and nor should I have to). I can’t ever forgive the places where I was wronged, because to anthropomorphize a space in that capacity errs too closely to de-burdening humans of their accountability.
I can, however, forgive myself for subjecting myself to my own internally recurring unkindness. And by learning to forgive myself, I can eventually learn to recall my histories in ways where I can continue to practice compassion in my life.
5. Old Dreams Die; New Dreams Are Born
Even though I strive to live a death positive life, I grapple with thanatophobia every day. This isn’t always demonstrated by the anxiety of my own mortality. Sometimes it manifests in struggling to accept that I am not the same person as I have been previously. The current me often feels like an impostor masquerading in the skin of the older me, mainly because I am not fulfilling the hopes and dreams of the older me.
The older me is Oxford-educated and was en route to doctorate status. The older me eagerly wanted to be a parent. The older me was a working professional who volunteered for special projects and promotion opportunities. The older me practiced yoga daily and researched teaching scholarships. The order me sang in the choir and fantasized about the opera. The older me drove a car and had aspirations of being an air-conditioned vagabond. The current me is not a realization of any of these.
The current me, however, is the descendant of all of these. The death of my old dreams was the birth of new opportunities. Those dreams, too, may age out of me in the tomorrows from now. But new dreams will be birthed from those dreams, and so on and so on.
6. Expectations and Standards Are Only as Real as You Make Them
At least 30% of my therapy sessions in the span of 5 years have covered my anxieties, my resentment and my wallowing grief regarding my deep-seeded fear that I’ll never produce a life worth the monetary value. I routinely agonize that no amount of expensive surgery or recurring costs of hormone replacement will ever convince the public to perceive with my gender; that no amount of emotional, physical or skill-based labor will equal out the debt of my student loans; that no temple will accept my patrilineal heritage and consider me a worthy investment of “birthright”; that no mounting medical bills or adaptive tools will enable me to maintain pace with my abled fellows.
Every time, I have to re-educate myself that the gospel of ‘Being Human’ is actually an arbitrary set of guidelines inferred from a messy collage.
Some folks over the years have approximated what “gender” looks like and whether that gender’s presentation amounts to being “ugly” or “beautiful”; others have calculated how the “value” of a human being can be measured; some have proposed what amount of competency in one flavor-of-the-victors language amounts to “literacy.”
For the most part, we unconsciously enforce the ‘rules’ of humanity. We make baseless accusations and judgments from precognitions that were taught us by parents, siblings, friends, television personalities, magazine advertisements, history books, religious doctrines, billboards, neon signs, stump speeches, inspirational speakers, etc. We mount these on a vision board that coats our minds’ eye with the color lens of our choosing. Such lenses are ableism, white supremacy, classism, xenophobia, misogyny, heterosexism, cissexism, antisemitism, etc. We may identify these lenses by different shades or hues depending on our learned perceptions (what differentiates ableism from internalized ableism, for instance?), but ultimately, “blood orange” by any other name is just fucking red.
The fact of the matter is that these hypothetical ’truths’ are based on centuries’ worth of tradition, rebellion, assimilation, appropriation, aggrandizing and the existential need to apply meaning to every little thing. It’s a social neurosis that’s demonstrated perfectly in the Garden of Eden narrative: Adam is charged with identifying every animal and plant in Eden, yet humankind is cursed by the malady of sin when he and Eve seek to qualify their knowledge from the tree. Is it our own desire to categorize and define the world around us rather than simply identify and appreciate the beauty of diversity that pollutes our souls?
Who knows? Judging our current human relevance off of archaic presumptions shouldn’t be how we define what it means to “matter.” “Mattering” should be determined by our compassion (however we choose to express it), our presence (however we make it known) and our impact (however we manifest it).
7. We Are the Gods, Now
If everything around us is, at best, subjective, or at worst, built on fakery, lies and creative exploits, then where do we go from there? As Gabriel Byrne-as-Byron once bellowed to Natasha Richardson-as-Mary Godwin in a delightful 80s romp: “We are the gods, now.”
In the context of Ken Russell’s Gothic, Byron, Godwin, her paramour Percy Bysshe Shelley, her stepsister Claire Clairmont, and Byron’s [strikeout]#1 Fan Please[strikeout] biographer John Polidori are questioning their own personas, desires, grievances and dreams. Guilt, lust, heartbreak, grief, insecurity, mortality, anger and fear plague the fivesome when they are imprisoned in a labyrinthine villa by an atmospheric dark-and-stormy night. Godwin herself becomes the Promethean bringer of the dawn when she channels her negative energy into the momentum for her first published novel, Frankenstein: a piece that in real life would see revision fostered by the same manipulation of tragic energy from within her inner circle and drawn from a changing European social climate.
Frankenstein relays much of its explicit religious overtures from English comprehensions of Christian mythology. And from the exclusively Abrahamic perspective, a fallible god that lives, dies, achieves or fails is inconceivable. A god who is driven by passion and by mundanity is unfathomable. But these are the very tenets of godhood in other mythologies globally: the Olympians, the Teotl, the K’uh, the Deva/i, and so on and so on. The winking acknowledgment is in Godwin’s subtitle: the Modern Prometheus, a Titan who is credited in Hellenic literature for both bringing fire to the first people manifest of clay… and for drunkenly mis-applying genitals to many of the clay peoples he personally created (Aesop’s 517th Fable on gender fluidity and attraction model fluidity).
By no means do I want to portray myself as sacrilegious or anti-theistic. Rather, I want to celebrate my status as a vessel of divine power, from wherever and whomever I may have inherited that divinity from. I want to learn to perceive my mistakes as opportunities for vernal growth to replace my ingrained doctrine that successes are the only tales worth celebrating.
8. ‘Failure’ is Another Word for Everything to Gain
If ‘freedom’ is just another word for nothing left to lose, then it stands to reason that ‘failure’ is another word for everything to gain. The basis of this one isn’t very novel. It’s preached in sermons, penned in self-help books, bulleted in business seminars and parroted in virtually every Hero’s Journey that sees the protagonist stumble before they run.
It’s a redundancy because for as true as the statement is, the mantra that ‘failure is not an option’. It’s a phrase that in its popular application is, at best, apocryphal. In practical translation: it’s a fucking lie. It’s a lie that has become a commodity. It is a provocative phrase that evokes fear even in the most humble of practices.
Failure equates to destiny. Failure draws out the possibilities of what were previously sketchy boundaries. Failure identifies goals and stretch goals. Failure articulates purpose. Failure generates motivation.
Every failure I experience is just exposition to my next accomplishment, which may be totally unlike that I initially projected for myself. Taking the path of Ls may lead me to a road that I never would have discovered if I only stayed on the straight and narrow. The terror of being and feeling lost is outweighed by the sublime sights of possibility.
9. You Live Your Own Obituary
I have lived long enough to see my friends die. In the LGBTQ+ and in the disabled and chronic illness communities, it happens disproportionately more often and sooner than in the general population. Not all of them were honored in ways that did justice to their legacies, namely due to a lack of respect to their core identities. But even if their services were all-inclusive, I don’t know if words and actions alone would have been enough to eulogize their memories.
For every grim and sober detail, I have several living memories, anecdotes, recollections and flashbacks. However brief my friends’ lives may have been, they were rich. Like a spectacularly fudgy, heavy slice of cake cut into a deceptive sliver on a comically large saucer. Had they lived longer, how would it shift the narrative of that presentation? Where would my memories trail off to?
Every day that I thrive, I add another chapter to my living obituary. I generate more content for an everlasting eulogy that will be curated and maintained by those who survive me.
10. Your Friends Will Bury You
At the time of writing this, a friend has been dead for several days. My partner and I lived with him for a time. When we moved out, we made plans to stay connected. It didn’t work out. We were on opposite sides of town living opposite lives. When we had the news broken to us, we were told he was living in a group home just down the street from us. That crushed me.
We never explicitly related to each other about living as severely mentally ill people, but it was definitely the baseline of how we were able to be friendly toward one another and respect one another’ boundaries. Our unspoken civility was refreshing at the time. Now it’s a weight in the pit of my heart. I feel equal parts culpable for not being present in his life and equal parts fearful that I could flicker out in the shadows cast by the people surrounding me.
My life has very much been pillared by isolation, loneliness, drifting and severed relationships and by agoraphobia. It is only now, as I crest on my 30s, that I’m forging friendships that are forgiving to my less-than-sociable tendencies and nourishing to my hunger for human connection.
Part of this I can credit to my personal growth, particularly my learned talents of pruning back toxic relationships and nourishing what I’ve managed to germinate within inspiring people and compelling communities. Part of this I want to credit to the fact that as I’ve aged and matured, so have the people I choose to surround myself with. But I feel most confident in and grateful to what emerging technology has enabled me with in order to stay connected to the friends I rarely see and the friends I’ve never seen in the flesh.
Tangential to the above, if I have faith in nothing else when I die, I will have total faith in the fact that my friends will be the ones to memorialize me. Regardless of whether they may be physically present, I will know that they will hold space for me because of how I have pushed myself and how I continue to push myself to hold space for them while we are alive.