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Ten Things: Spooky Nerd Necessities From Generally Gothic

generally gothic feature

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!

Peek in on Generally Gothic : Instagram // Twitter // Tumblr // Goodreads

‘L'autoportrait Interdit’ | © Generally Gothic

‘L’autoportrait Interdit’ | © Generally Gothic

Bio:
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’.

‘Library 1/n’ | © Generally Gothic

Library 1/n’ | © Generally Gothic

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.

‘A Different Pen & Ink’ | © Generally Gothic

‘A Different Pen & Ink’ | © Generally Gothic

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.

‘Gardner’s Short Gallery’ | © Generally Gothic

‘Gardner’s Short Gallery’ | © Generally Gothic

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…

‘Giving Away du Maurier’ | © Generally Gothic

Giving Away du Maurier’ | © Generally Gothic

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.

9. Libraries

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.

‘In Progress: The New Gothic Review Review’ | © Generally Gothic

‘In Progress: The New Gothic Review Review’ | © Generally Gothic

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.

Remember point 1? It’s a passion ‒ enjoy it!

The Top 10 things I Love About Animal Crossing New Horizons

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Last month I put out a call on Instagram, pleading with my friends to fill me in on the appeal Animal Crossing, and what is it, exactly, anyway? Don’t get me wrong, I do understand the appeal of escapist video-games (I mean, we’re entrenched in the FF7 remake right now!) but I just knew absolutely nothing about Animal Crossing, and I was SO curious. Not curious enough to play, mind you–I know how easily I get sucked into games and I don’t need that temptation right now–but I just wanted to hear, from someone’s personal perspective and experience, just what is it that makes Animal Crossing so special? If nothing else, I can live vicariously!

My friend Shay rose to the occasion. Shay and are internet friends who have actually met in real life, and to say I adore her is a vast understatement. She and I were in somewhat similarly bad places in our lives when we first crossed each other’s path on the internet in the comments section of a blog that we both loved. As we became friendly and learned more about each other over the years, I’ve really come to lean on her friendship and cheer and perpetually bubbly nature, and I am happy to say that, while we switched places geographically (when we first started chatting she was down south and I was up north, and now the reverse is true) we chat at least once a week, and are always cheerleading each other on in our various goals. Shay–much like my Best Good Friend–is a very Aries Aries and as a slow, shy, sort of detached Taurus, I really need those dynamic, enthusiastic Aries energies in my life.

Thank you, thank you, darling Shay for taking the time, especially right now, which is a super weird and scary time, to have given this some thought and to have shared it with me. See below for Shay’s Top 10 things I Love About Animal Crossing New Horizons I hope you guys found this as illuminating and enjoyable–and fun!– as I have!

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Hello, I’m Shay and I’m a casual gamer that has found a little place of zen in a game. I have played puzzle, design, and sim games for years. I played Animal Crossing beginning on the GameCube and have played every iteration of the game since. It’s the game with no rushed goal, no actual end, it’s a game where you just exist. There is something special about the town and now it’s an island that you get to create and curate.

The Sounds and Songs

Kazumi Totaka has created something amazing with Animal Crossing. The ASMR is being recorded and people are making YouTube videos of his hard work. The Washington Post described it as “a blissful 24-hour lullaby that’s helping countless players weather countless hours of forced downtime.” Totaka recorded the sounds of the island that you hear while out in nature. The ocean waves, a crackling campfire, walking through wet grass, the sound of the mole cricket, cicadas and he changed into sandals to get the sound just right for walking through sand. There is also a theme song that changes throughout the day starting slow chill in the morning and building up to a pop song around noon, happy hour sounds a little jazzy and then as you get late into the night and the dark sets in the tune takes on a slow gothy sound. It’s all so lovely and thought out.

My island celebration for the museum expansion! Hooray!

Cute Anthropomorphic Characters

If you have played the game before, most of the characters are still here and there are quite a few new additions as well. I’m pleased to say my islanders so far are enjoyable but if they weren’t you could go to the town hall and submit a complaint to Isabelle, she’s the dog that works there. There are different animals and they all have different personalities. Personality types tend to be nice, hard workers, lazy, jocks, rude and some are just eccentric. I currently have 2 that think they are a pop star & a superhero (a panda and a rabbit).

Creepy Zipper on Bunny Day

Creepy Zipper on Bunny Day

The Ever-Changing Seasons and Holidays

Depending on if you choose to play the game in your own hemisphere and time zone your game will follow the current seasons. The fish, bugs, and flowers change with the seasons. There are a number of holidays that come along with the season change. We just had Bunny Day that had the CREEPIEST bunny I have ever seen. It really topped the charts in its creep factor, right down to the zipper in the back of his suit. Cherry blossoms bloomed with the beginning of Spring so all the hardwood trees turned into trees covered in pink flowers and at the end of the season the town was raining in pink blossoms.

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All The Outfits!!!

My character is nothing but stylish. She has a packed closet and since you get Nook Miles for changing the outfit….she pretty much changes daily. I have been stuck on a retro 1940’s look lately but I have so many to choose from. The Able Sisters show up on the island and start selling you clothes from a stall, but soon get a store and you can go daily and buy new pieces. I have hipster outfits, gothic lolita outfits and some of my favorite are my punk outfits.

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Fishing and Bug Catching

Part of what drives the game is catching fish and bugs and digging up fossils that eventually start being collected by Blathers, an owl that runs a museum. You also get to sell these items to help pay off loans that the island creator Tom Nook (in the American version of the game they call him a raccoon but he is actually named after his Japanese likeness…a play on words, he is a tanuki which is a raccoon dog that lives in East Asia) give you when he helps you set up your house. Tom Nook continues to help you build up the island with loans for expanding your house and costs that the island creates as a whole to build bridges and inclines to easier get around the island. The money is called bells and you get bells when you sell items to Nook’s Cranny, the local general store. The fishing and bug catching is very much like the real thing. A relaxing pastime that allows you to clear your mind a bit and focus on a task that requires sneaking up slowly to a butterfly or outwitting the tarantula.

Watching the fish from the tunnel in the museum

Watching the fish from the tunnel in the museum

The Museum

As mentioned above, part of what drives the game is the seasonal comings and goings of fish and bugs. This makes the collection to help fill the museum have time frames (again, a few months’ time that isn’t rushed by any means). You have a few months to catch a Marlin. Come May 1st that fish leaves along with the elusive hard to catch tarantula. Taking the place are a scorpion, catfish, and rainbow fish just to name a few. Filling the museum is probably one of my favorite activities. Once Blathers has taken the item from you he adds it to the museum. You can wander through the many halls anytime you like. The museum is quiet. The music is in hushed tones. You can hear the splashing of the water recycling through the tanks, you can hear buzzing from the bees and chirping of crickets. It’s part of the game that feels the most like a meditation. You can sit in the museum and watch the fish swim in schools. It all feels very natural.

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Decorating the Home & Island

Islanders share recipes with you and you can collect flowers, stones, clay, and iron to create furniture to fill your home and the island. You can also buy things from Nook’s Cranny to fill your home. There are multiple random ways to get furniture or designs for furniture. Filling your home and making the island feel cozy lead to happy homes awards and visitors deciding to stay. I tend to like decorating games, so with this part of the gameplay I end up taking a long time changing up wallpapers, flooring, rearranging the furniture in my home and all over the island.

Moon gazing from the cliffs

Moongazing from the cliffs

Terraforming

One of the final tools you unlock allows you to then take your designing even further. Terraforming allows you to change the shape of the island. This allows you to build cliffs, create waterfalls, and lay down paths. I spent days building paths. I found myself cutting down trees and moving flowers so that everything moved in a flow that felt like a little village I would want to live in. I carved a waterfall into an area I dubbed my zen garden. This game has become an escape from a world that is troubling. When the news is too much I find myself turning off the TV and picking up my Switch.

My husband was my first visitor .We play on separate consoles.

My husband was my first visitor. We play on separate consoles.

Connecting With Friends and Visiting Islands

Finally, the last thing that I love about this game is sharing the fun with friends. You can swap codes and fly to each other’s islands. Here you can swap recipes, trade fruits (you start with only one type of fruit and build all the fruits by traveling and visiting other islands), and get ideas for all the many ways you can design your island and make this game your special Universe. I find myself watching YouTube videos of the 5-star islands. If any of this interests you, you must look up the Zelda island and the Twin Peaks island. These are both spectacular examples of people taking an idea and making it so wildly, wonderfully weird. I hope when my friends that are playing visit my island they feel the love, glitter, and weird I have added to make this place something that takes me away from all the bad in the world.

If you are interested in becoming Animal Crossing friends, you can find me on Instagram @shaynovinnyc and send me a DM for my friend code. I sometimes make stories about my island, but most of the time what you see is what interests me on my walks through the New York park near my apartment or something cute my cats did while we are in quarantine in a tiny apartment. Take care, stay safe, stay weird and happy gaming.

10 Things I’ve learned from Owning an Art Gallery by Laurel Barickman

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I “met” Laurel as I “meet” many of my dear, good friends–online, geeking out over the stuff we are intensely passionate about. In our case, we wandered into each other’s orbits, over at the now-defunct sonic cosmos of 8tracks, constellations winking and shimmering excitedly in our shared tastes in music and art. This was in 2010 and I still recall the very mix that began our friendship–I went under a different internet handle at that time, and I was just on the cusp of becoming the ghoul next door that I am today– and in that initial encounter, Laurel introduced me to a strange and wonderful new-to-me artist (which I later wrote about!) and who remains a favorite today. Music and art. Two of the things that we continue to geek out over, nearly a decade later!

It was not a huge surprise to me then, that a few years later, Laurel opened her own art gallery! I was thrilled, amazed, and proud–but not a bit surprised. Laurel, an artist and designer herself, is a shrewd businessperson with a deep love of community and fostering connections, and believes in the vital importance of art and artists creating it.

And so, I am a heady combination of  pleased, excited, and thoroughly honored that Laurel has shared her thoughts at Unquiet Things today, in our monthly installment of Ten Things:
10 Things I’ve learned from Owning an Art Gallery

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Laurel Barickman is the Creative Director of the Austin, Texas based design agency Recspec, and for three years she’s also been the owner, operator, and curator of Recspec Gallery. She has put together over 20 shows for the gallery, working with local, national, and international artists across every type of medium, with a focus on uplifting new and unestablished artists – especially women artists, queer artists, and artists of color.

When I decided to start an art gallery a few years ago, I had no idea what I was doing. I was looking for a space to have an office and also meet with my clients for my design agency, and when I found the right space, it had – prior to me moving in – been a gallery. I had always had an interest in curation, and had been in shows myself, and there was definitely a far-away dream in the back of my mind to one day own a gallery, but I definitely didn’t think it was the time or that I was ready yet! But I decided to take the leap based on the community around me and the amazing artists that I know. It hasn’t been easy, and a year or so ago, we lost our location – and it took almost a full year for me to find a new one, a task at one point I thought was impossible because of the rising rents in Austin. But the biggest thing I noticed during that time that we were closed was how much I missed it, and how much I wanted to do it again.

So here are a few things I’ve learned in the process. I hope that it might help any budding gallerists out there!

rf alvarez - NudeinRed

“Nude in Red” by RF Alvarez

You will buy a lot of art.

As I’ve told my husband any time I announce that I’m buying ANOTHER piece of artwork, in order to sell art, you have to drink the kool-aid and buy art yourself. A gallerist who doesn’t buy art (which I doubt exists) doesn’t really understand the consumer-art relationship, which is so essential to be able to sell art in the first place. Understanding the other side of that relationship is important – what people are looking for, what price-points work for them, why they connect with certain pieces over others, what mediums are most popular, etc. If we don’t believe in the value of art, supporting artists, and buying art, how can we expect anyone else to?

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“Charis” by Christa Blackwood

Supporting your artists is the most important thing.

My main job as a gallery owner is to make sure that my artists are taken care of, supported, and have everything they need to fulfill their vision of their show at my gallery. Galleries take a split of every sale, and it is important to earn that split through our actions that support the artist. I handle all of the marketing for the show, getting the gallery space ready for their work, installing, lighting, I assist with pricing if they need it, photographing all of the works and getting them online for non-local sales, getting sponsorships and setting up our opening and closing events, and more. It’s a huge amount of work to put on a show, and it’s important to me that the artist only has to worry about creating the work. We take care of the rest, which is how it should be. I also encourage collaborations, and if an artist has a vision for creating something special for the show, I do what I can to make it happen.

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Community is essential.

Without the attendees to our shows and visitors to our gallery, we would not exist. Building the community that we have took time, but without knowing that I had a dedicated audience who would show up for our openings and be supportive of what we do, I would not have felt confident opening a new location. I’m so appreciative of this community, and try to foster and continue to build it through talking to everyone who comes through the door, asking how they heard about us, thanking them for their interest, and building a connection. I am not the type of gallerist who barely acknowledges a visitor, I am right there to answer any questions or give any information they may need. As a natural introvert, it can be difficult to put myself out there in this way and spend hours talking to so many people, but I feel like it’s been a huge contributor to building the community we now have.

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“Ten o’clock” by Eva Claycomb

It doesn’t always have to make sense.

When we had our first ever show, I came up with a name for it – loosely based on a film quote, maybe? Just a saying I liked? It was The Eyes Have It — and I remember telling a few people about it and them telling me it didn’t really make any sense. I went with my gut and it was an amazing first show, that I left to my artists as an ambiguous theme that really paid off in the end. Art is weird. It often doesn’t make sense. Trust your ideas, your taste, and your artists. Magic will blossom from the strange ideas you may have.

Joanne-Leah---Sugar-Smell

“Sugar Smell” by Joanne Leah

Selling art is hard.

This is something that anyone who wants to start an art gallery won’t want to hear, but it’s true. Art – while it feels vital to many of us – at the end of the day, is a non-essential, and a luxury. Convincing someone that they should spend X 100’s of dollars on a piece of art for their walls is a challenge, and requires the right circumstances. There has to be a connection for the buyer, there has to be money involved, and you have to make it as easy and no pressure as possible. Sometimes I haven’t sold a single piece from a show that took months to prepare. Sometimes I’ve sold X 1000 plus dollar pieces. It’s a complete unknown, and very hard to predict. For that reason, I try to make sure I have a lot of different price points represented in the gallery and our shop at all times so that everyone can afford something, even if it is just a small enamel pin. Buying art is a privilege, and some people just aren’t able to. Making it as accessible to as wide of a range of folks as possible is important to me, and helps with sales in the end.

Lee Noble

Lee Noble

Grants help.

While I didn’t start my journey owning an art gallery with getting grants — I’ve realized that if there are some available to you, through your city, state, or country — its important to try to take advantage of those resources. It is a huge amount of work to do grant-writing, but as I said above, it’s hard to sell art. Money is needed to own and operate a gallery, so finding some help, even if it’s not a huge amount, can help immensely.

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“Unlikely Growth” by Kevin Munoz and Graham Franciose 

Develop relationships with buyers.

Remember the people who bought pieces, and remember what they bought. Maybe you’ll have another show and you’ll think “Oh, I bet so-and-so would love this.” Reach out to them personally, say hi, invite them by. They might not buy another piece, but they might.

Tell Me When It Rains - Annalise Gratovich

“Tell Me When It Rains” by Annalise Gratovich

Support other galleries.

Much like buying art, if you don’t go to other gallery’s shows, how can you expect them to come to yours? It all ties back into the community, and it’s important to show up and foster that network with other galleries. I’ve never felt in competition with the other galleries in my city because we all do different things. I try to remember what their openings are so I can tell people about them and create those conduits between us. And often I know that they, in turn, do the same for me.

mike combs - flowerskull

“Flowerskull” by Mike Combs

It doesn’t hurt to ask.

I’ve been so lucky to show some incredible artists in my gallery — from Australia, to New York, to California — some with such big followings that it seemed silly to even ask. But I did, and they said yes. All you can do is ask, be confident, and make it easy. They’ll either ignore you or say no if they aren’t interested (which has definitely happened to me), or they will say yes and you’ll get to show your community an artist they probably never expected to see.

Twin Insight - Lesley Nowlin Blessing

“Twin Insight” by Lesley Nowlin Blessing

Art is important. And so are the curators.

It may seem obvious, but my biggest take away from starting a gallery, is that art IS important, collecting it in a space that is accessible to all kinds of people is important, and even if someone cannot buy a piece, just being able to show them that work, connect them with an artist, foster those connections, and hopefully help financially support artists in the process is important. It’s a ton of work. It’s hard to make money. But it is worth it.

Thank you for reading, and for any budding gallerists out there, if you have any questions feel free to reach out. gallery@recspec.com.
________

10 Things That Keep My Spirits Up As Winter Darkness Descends By Allison Felus

Snow sucksIs 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.

Alison Felus

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.

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Smelly Things

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.

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Coffee

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.

light box

Light box

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.

Soundtrack

Commute Soundtrack

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

Snow

Therapy

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.

buddha hall altar offerings

Meditation

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.

second sleep

Second Sleep

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.

gym

The gym

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.

bday magic

Birthday magic

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.

books

Books

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.

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I read way less fiction these days than I generally care to admit, but if I’m going to dive into a novel or a series, it usually happens during this winter window. (I think back fondly on the year I gulped down the entirety of the Dangerous Angels series one snowy January.) Maybe this will finally be the year I read Perfume: The Story of a Murderer or Emily Wilson’s lauded translation of The Odyssey? Looks like I’m gonna have plenty of time, soon enough, to figure that out.

Find Allison Felus: website // blog // instagram

Ten Favorite Things For Magical Baking By Jessica Reed

Snow & Rose Cake

Snow & Rose Cake

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?

Self-Portrait in Cake no 10, Perimenopause

Self-Portrait in Cake no 10, Perimenopause

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. 

The Lottery

The Lottery Cake

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.

Books

Books

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.

Leighton,_Frederic_-_Invocation

“Invocation” by Frederic Leighton

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.

stella

Stella

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.

DigitalScale

Digital Scale

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.

bowl

Silicone Bowl

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.

LodgeCastIronMeltingPot

 

 

Melting Pot

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.

CakeStand

Cake Stand

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.

BlackCocoa

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.

Vanilla Extract

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.

 

handsbw

My Hands

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.

10 Delights for Autumn Nights By Pam Grossman

Pam Grossman feature image potrait detail by Carrie Ann Baade

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 Wave podcast 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 TimesThe 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 ArtforumArt in America, and the New Yorker. You can find her at PamGrossman.com and @Phantasmaphile.

Portrait of Pam Grossman by Carrie Ann Baade

Portrait of Pam Grossman by Carrie Ann Baade

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

Helen Adam, page from In Harpy Land, 1976-1977

Helen Adam, page from In Harpy Land, 1976-1977

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.

 

apothekerri_main

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.

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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.
caramel-five-star-bar_2

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).

 

mithras

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.

 

fulgur

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.

 

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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.)

 

Agnes Pelton

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!

 

third aid kit

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.

 

Kirimi

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.

playlist

BONUS. Sonic Sorcery

As the nights get cool and spooky, my Waking the Witch playlist is sure to keep you warm with its witchery.

 

Caitlin Ffrench: Ten Tools That I Use Most Often

ffrench

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.

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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.)

basket

My Basket

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

Books

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.

Out of last year’s books The Secret Lives of Color by Kassia St Clair was in my top 5, and I showed it here alongside The Modern Natural Dyer by Kristine Vejar and Colors from the Earth by Anne Wall Thomas. These books are three of my most prized possessions, and I’m constantly rereading them to glean knowledge.
(Note: Today I finished my 86th book- I may make it past 100 books again this year!)

bronica

Film Cameras

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)

gatheringsilk

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).

mordarandpestle

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.

shears

Shears

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.

sketchbook

Sketchbook

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.

cauldron

Dye Pots

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!

toolroll

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.

hands

My Hands

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

Find Caitlin Ffrench: Website // Instagram

10 Goth Cheeses and What to Pair with Them

HalloweenCheesePlate-2

For August’s installment of our Ten Things series, I am over the moon that Cheese Sex Death is paying us a visit and taking us to moody midnight cheese church!

As lover and fanatic of all things cheese, I was beyond tickled when I came across the Cheese Sex Death Instagram at some point over the past few years, and it’s been such a treat getting to know the person behind the account: former cheese-monger Erika Kubick. Erika believes that cheese is the sexiest, holiest food in the world and that we should all pleasure ourselves with it every day. She created Cheese Sex Death as a guide to buying, plating, pairing, cooking with, and tasting cheese, and to inspire people to indulge their funky fromage fantasies!

According to Erika:

Even though the world of artisan cheese seems intimidating,  all you really need to know is that you like eating it. I’ll help you learn the rest.

With Erika’s cheese classes you can enjoy a customized luxury cheese tasting in the comfort of your own home or office, and you can frequently find Cheese Sex Death doing pop-ups and events–as a matter of fact, she’ll be at the Chicago Oddities Market this very weekend (8/24 and 8/25 at noon) serving up some sexy raclette nachos, which sound really freaking amazing. Stop by, grab some cheesy goodness and say hello!

In the meantime, put on a Siouxsie album, don some black lace gloves, light a few candles, and peruse Cheese Sex Death’s 10 Goth Cheeses And What To Pair With Them, below. And a million black lipsticked kisses to Erika and to intrepid intern Zoe for this dark, dreamy and utterly delicious post today.

HalloweenCheesePlate-2

10 Goth Cheeses And What To Pair With Them

Most people associate it with cute images of love and romantic picnics in the park, but cheese is one of the most magical and goth foods out there. Many different kinds of cheese spend their youth aging in cold dark cellars, much like a crypt, where they are left to decay and mold. And if that’s not goth enough for you, both Pagans and Christians alike have a history of using cheese in magickal spells and rituals. Some have used it to manifest good fortune or ward off illnesses, while others used it to tell the future!

By interpreting the holes in swiss, the veins in blue, or the cracks and bumps on a cheese’s rind, a fortune-teller would be able to read the markings and find patterns and signs that tell the future—a practice known as tyromancy.

Now that you have learned a little about the magical history of cheese, let me introduce you to 10 different goth cheeses, and what to pair with them.

Humboldt Fog

Humboldt Fog

Goat cheeses like Humboldt Fog from Cypress Grove are cloaked with vegetable ash before aging in cellars. This helps the rind develop and gives the cheese a spooky, shadowy look. Goat cheeses are especially eerie, with a bone-white paste that contrasts against the ghastly gray rind. Pair a wedge with charcoal crackers, which add an extra touch of darkness and a nice crunch to oppose the soft cheeses.

Casa Marzu

Casu Marzu

Casu Marzu (which literally translates to rotten/putrid cheese in Sardinian) is a sheep’s milk cheese which is aged beyond the regular fermentation period of cheese. The result is a decomposition, brought about by the maggots that live inside of it. How did the maggots get there? Cheesemakers place a specific kind of fly on the cheese, so that they lay eggs inside. Due to the acid from their digestive system, the fats in the cheese break down when the maggots eat their way through it. As if that’s not creepy enough, the cheese must be consumed while the maggots are still alive. They’re known to be able to jump up to 6 inches, so pair Casu Marzu with a blindfold to protect your eyes.

Couphole

Coupole

This delicious, creamy goat’s milk cheese from Vermont Creamery is covered with a wrinkled rind that resembles a brain. These cerebral wrinkles are caused by geotrichum candidum, a fungus widely used to develop the rinds on soft-ripened cheeses. Its rich, fudgy interior is snow white and begs for something sweet, so pair with roasted beets for a beautiful blood-stained effect.

Mimolette

Mimolette

With its bright orange pumpkin-like inside, Mimolette from Normandy is one haunted looking cheese. The rind has a sweet, floral aroma and resembles the outside of a cantaloupe. The cavernous exterior is formed by tiny cheese mites that feed on the rind and aid in the aging process. It’s a nutty cheese with a savory finish, so pair with the equally magical and delicious dried figs, which look an awful lot like shrunken heads.

Clothbound Cheddar

Clothbound Cheddar

This is not your mama’s Wisconsin cheddar. Clothbound cheddars are made in the traditional English-style. Rather than shaped into blocks, it comes in wheels, which are coated in lard and wrapped with muslin cloth before going into the cellar to age, like a mummy to a tomb. Pair this cheese with a hard cider as apples symbolize immortality, and are traditionally placed as offerings to the dead for Samhain.

Smokey Blue

Smokey Blue Rogue Creamery

Smoked cheeses evoke images of fire and brimstone. While smokey flavors can often overpower a cheese, Smokey Blue is a rich, buttery blue with just a kiss of campfire. The wheels are gently smoked over smoldering hazelnut shells, creating notes of bacon, funk, and sweet cream. Spread onto a square of Novo Coffee chocolate from Ritual for a perfect bite reminiscent of campfire s’mores.

Black Betty Goat Gouda

Black Betty

This goat cheese Gouda from Holland is firm and crunchy from a full year spent aging in a cave. Filled with crunchy bits of cheese crystals, which are actually clusters of the amino acid Tyrosine, the pale wheels are coated in black wax to distinguish it from the others. Have yourself a sultry and kinky night alone with Betty and enjoy with a whisper of whiskey.

Foxglove

Foxglove

You can pretty much expect any soft cheese with an orange or pinkish rind to fill a room with the distinct scent of gym socks and decay. These are called washed-rind cheeses, and most of them have more bark than bite. It stings the nostrils, but the inside is milder with a buttery, beefy flavor. Foxglove from Tulip Tree Creamery is bathed in porter beer before aging, creating a sweet and custardy interior. Pair it with Dead Guy Ale from Rogue. It’s malty and sweet, but still bubbly enough to cut through the richness.

Harbison

Harbison

This cheese from Jasper Hill Farm is bound with spruce bark, as if crafted by the Blair Witch herself. The interior is so sinfully gooey that without the wooden ring, it would spill right out of its rind. Peel back the rind and spoon out the indulgent, pudding-like center. The inside is as rich as custard with subtle notes of the forest. Pair with rosemary roasted potatoes to complete the woodland feast.

Challerhocker

Challerhocker

Challerhocker is a delicious Swiss cheese that has been washed in brine and spices, then aged for at least 10 months. The name translates to “sitting in the cellar” and is stamped with a haunting face peeking out from the cheese. Pair with onion jam, as the flavor compliments the buttery, nutty, and slightly sweet cheese.

And there you have it cheese sluts! Now you can impress your friends with the yummiest, gothest cheese board they have ever seen. Cheesus bless.

Find Cheese Sex Death: website // blog // instagram // facebook // twitter

Photo credit: All photos courtesy Cheese Sex Death, with the exception of Casu Marzu

Ten things: Favorite European Botanic Gardens by Jantine Zandbergen

photo credit: Jantine Zandbergen

photo credit: Jantine Zandbergen

For a few years there, every time I got super excited about discovering a new artist who it seemed that no one had yet written about or interviewed, without fail, there were always the same two bloggers who had beaten me to the punch. One is a lovely individual who I have interviewed before, and the other is Jantine Zandbergen… who is visiting us today for our July Installment of Ten Things!

I must pause here to say that one might be inclined to presume, that if you’re constantly running into someone who is getting the scoop before you do, then one might begin to consider such a person your nemesis (and don’t get me wrong, I have always been a little bit obsessed with having nemeses, much like Roxane Gay ) But I reckon that while there is an appropriate time and place for collecting nemeses– those people “whose very existence troubles your soul”– I believe that in other situations it is far smarter and more soul-satisfying to attempt befriending those kindred folks who obviously share similar interests and passions with you!

Jantine Zandbergen is a designer and an art enthusiast in the Netherlands who blogs at The Quiet Cold, who writes fascinating guest features about incredible artists at Beautiful Bizarre, and whose art blog, Bleaq was a gorgeous gallery of  visual inspiration featuring the kinds of art that I love best–fine arts, design, illustration, photography and fashion, all touched with a tinge of melancholy, of morbidity, of the macabre.

Jantine, please don’t think that I for even a second considered you my nemesis, though! Every time that Bleaq showed up first in a google search as already having an article or a profile on an artist that I was pursuing, I would always take the time to read your thoughtful words and marvel, and thank the heavens that yes, Ok! Maybe you did beat me to X/Y/Z artist! But in a world of routine reblogs and careless, context-less shares of imagery sans source or artist credit (or any sort of research at all) you are always so thoughtful and respectful and reverent about how you presented the artists and the work that interested and intrigued you. You were someone that I wanted to be friends with from the very beginning, and there was no nemesis-ing about it

…And I hope Jantine is not too weirded out by this introduction! Anyway, I do not consider Janitine my nemesis, and, as a matter of fact, I recently discovered in discussing my budding interests (pun intended) regarding plants and botanicals and horticultural things, that we have yet another interest in common! And that is how this guest post came together.

photo credit: Jantine Zandbergen

photo credit: Jantine Zandbergen

When Sarah and I started brainstorming about what I could write about for the ‘Ten Things’-series it took us around two minutes to come up with something plant related. Although we met online through our mutual love for art (I guess, right Sarah?) (Editor: hee hee, yep! See intro above!) we both turn out to be #crazyplantladies, something that gave me plenty of inspiration for this article.

A little backstory before I start: I live in Rotterdam, the second-largest city of the Netherlands. The city is located in the so-called ‘Randstad’, one of the largest metropolitan regions in Northwestern Europe. It’s great for work and life, yet when you love nature as much as I do it’s not easy to find a good, quiet green spot. Next to slowly transforming my house to a plant sanctuary I also regularly visit greenhouses and botanical gardens to get me my much-needed nature-fix. There are many fantastic gardens in the Netherlands, and once I got hooked I visited beautiful gardens during travel in other European countries as well. Today I’d love to share ten of my favorite European botanical gardens with you.

The National Botanic Gardens of Ireland, Dublin, Ireland

The first garden on the list will always be special to me since it changed my green interest into a serious hobby: the National Botanic Gardens in Dublin, Ireland. I was in Dublin to attend a work conference and extended my stay over the weekend to explore the city. Glasnevin Cemetery, next to the gardens, was number one on my list (I’ll forever be a cemetery fangirl!) and when I found out they filmed scenes for (my favorite) tv-show Penny Dreadful in the gardens I knew I had to visit.

The garden itself, and especially the amazing, Victorian greenhouses, blew me away. There’s a huge variety of especially orchids and palms to see and the combination of the architecture and the plants are fantastic. 

 photo credit: Jantine Zandbergen

photo credit: Jantine Zandbergen

Hortus Botanicus Amsterdam, Netherlands

Then on to my own country, the Netherlands! The Hortus Botanicus in Amsterdam is the most famous botanical garden in the Netherlands – if not for its beautiful variety of plants it certainly is for its highly Instagrammable pink wall in the cacti-greenhouse. The garden dates back to 1638, when it was founded to serve as an herb garden for doctors and apothecaries. The rich history of the place is well documented and make visiting a must when you visit Amsterdam. As of most of Amsterdam’s tourist hotspots it can be super crowded though, so an early visit is recommended!

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photo credit: Jantine Zandbergen

Botanic Garden Zuidas, Amsterdam, Netherlands

If you are looking for a quieter green place in the Dutch capital I’d suggest you check out the Amsterdam University Botanical Gardens, located in the ‘Zuidas’ area. Although not as big as its famous sibling, there’s a lot to see! I especially love the wonderful wild garden and the greenhouse filled to the brim with all kinds of cacti.

Fun fact: plants that are taken into custody at Schiphol International Airport are all taken care off in this garden! Many confiscated plants are on the endangered species list and are protected and taken care off by the staff here.

photo credit: Jantine Zandbergen

photo credit: Jantine Zandbergen

Hortus Botanicus Leiden, Netherlands

The oldest botanical garden in the Netherlands, and one of the oldest worldwide is located in the beautiful city of Leiden. It was first mentioned in 1587 and founded in 1590 to help the medical students of Leiden University.

Today the garden has a wonderful collection of subtropical plants, a collection of trees that are over 300 years old and a very busy bee-hotel :)

photo credit: Jantine Zandbergen

photo credit: Jantine Zandbergen

Technical University Botanic Garden, Delft, Netherlands

As a part of the Technical University of Delft, this garden plays a big role in scientific botanic research. Fortunately, it’s also open for public, and with a nice tree garden, fern meadow and greenhouse with spiral staircase it’s one you shouldn’t miss. 

photo credit: Jantine Zandbergen

photo credit: Jantine Zandbergen

Botanic Gardens, Utrecht, Netherlands

The province of Utrecht is home to several beautiful fortresses, so – of course – the botanical garden based in its capital with the same name also features one. When you enter the gardens, the fort is the first thing you see and is an entry to a wonderful rock garden featuring a large collection of plants. The garden also has several tropical greenhouses, showcasing a big selection of plants from the Neotropic area of South America. Oh, and don’t make the same mistake I made last year and visit on one of the Summer’s hottest days. So. Warm. 

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photo credit: Jantine Zandbergen

Botanical Garden Wrocław, Poland

One of the first things I do when I travel is check Atlas Obscura for creepy places and see if there are gardens I should visit. Wrocław turned out to have the second oldest botanical garden in Poland, so when I visited the city on my company’s annual city trip, one of my colleagues and I sneaked out of the program for a quick plant-fix.

We visited the garden in early October, and with its beautiful Fall-colours, patches filled with pumpkins and a warm, October-Sun my colleague and I enjoyed every minute of quietness before returning to our hectic group. 

photo credit: Jantine Zandbergen

photo credit: Jantine Zandbergen

Jardin Botanico, Valencia, Spain

When you’re from Northwestern Europe, a visit to Spain feels like Summer holidays. The weather is great, people are super relaxed, and there are palm trees and cacti growing in the wild. The city of Valencia is amazing – it has a lovely old historical center, plenty of street art, and a lot of green areas. And, of course, a botanical garden.

The first mentions of the Jardin Botanica date back to the 14th century, with the herb garden turning into a public botanic garden in 1802. The garden is known for its lush greenery and I was especially amazed by the huge cacti, palm trees and Monstera plants all over the place. Also made some cat-friends over there, so I need to plan another trip to see how they are doing 😉

photo credit: Jantine Zandbergen

photo credit: Jantine Zandbergen

Arctic Botanical Gardens, Akureyri, Iceland

The botanical garden in Akureyri, a town in Northern Iceland, is one of the most Northern situated botanical gardens in the world. Although really close to the Arctic circle, geographical factors ensure quite a moderate climate in the city, making it a great place for a botanical garden.

The garden itself is filled with Arctic plants and a delight for plant-lovers. Iceland has a rich variety of smaller plants, yet lush and green patches like in this garden are scarce in the country. There’s an architecturally beautiful café in the gardens where they serve a great soy-latte, so if you’re around I definitely recommend a quick stop before you return to Iceland’s epic North.

photo credit: Jantine Zandbergen

photo credit: Jantine Zandbergen

Arboretum Trompenburg Botanical Garden, Rotterdam, Netherlands

The last garden on this list is one very dear to me: the Trompenburg Tree Garden in Rotterdam. To say I visit this place all the time might be a bit too much, but since it’s only fifteen minutes from my house I try to visit at least once every season.

The garden itself feels a bit like a hidden gem: not many people from Rotterdam know it’s there (old people definitely do: try a visit on a sunny Sunday!) and because it’s not situated in the city’s centre it’s not on the to-do list of the tourists. 

Being an arboretum (a tree garden) means the park is filled with some of the most amazing trees. There’s this little ‘pine-alley’ that I love, as well as a magnificent setting for ferns, a cacti and succulent greenhouse and the best bench to read in the whole city. One of my most remarkable visits was on a cold Winter morning: a tiny layer of frost sparkled in the low Winter sun’s rays and I was just incredibly happy to be there.

That’s all! Thanks to Sarah for letting me share these places with you. 

Find Jantine: website // blog // instagram // twitter

10 Things to Stop You Burning it All Down (the World, the Universe, and Everything) by Ekho

ten things ekho

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.

ten things ekho

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.

Introduction
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.

10 things pokemon

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.

10 things pratchett

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.

10 things mushrooms

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.

ten things elderlings

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).

ten things star wars

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.

ten things buddy reading

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?

ten things comics

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).

ten things reading

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.

ten things lotr

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.

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