I don’t really like odd numbers–I feel like they are super aggressive? Probably a weird take, I know. Odd numbers just make me feel intensely uncomfortable and itchy in my soul. But somehow a list of four things just doesn’t sound as interesting as a list of five things.
your quarterly madcap on a budget thread: what is the ONE thing you would tell someone to buy to gild or enhance — even SLIGHTLY — their life in lockdown that costs $25 or under. i’m talking something frivolous and silly but that sparks joy.
So here are five gilded good things and life enhancements that are small sources of joy to me right now. Some of them didn’t cost anything at all, but most were under $25.
1.“Rajio taiso” exercises, a program of Japanese morning exercises and gentle calisthenics broadcast in the early mornings on NHK, Japan’s public broadcasting company. I’ve read that the first broadcast took place in 1928, and the aim was to improve the health of the general public in Japan. What’s nice about it is that it’s been designed for anyone at any age to do on their own, without any equipment required. Everyone from children to the elderly can join in, and there are even versions that you can do while seated. On mornings when it’s raining outside and I can’t go for a wake-up walk (or maybe I’ve just woken up too late, whoops!) I do ten minutes of Rajio Taiso exercises instead.
Alternately, I’ve been trying my best to follow along with this “yoga for sensitive knees” video, but don’t be fooled. If you, like me, don’t have much in the way of a regular yoga practice, this is not as easy as you think it’s going to be!
2. There are times I can’t commit to sitting in a bathtub full of water and getting my whole body wet. On some days, that seems like a major production and I haven’t got the energy for it. It sounds like an exercise in misery, but at the same time, my bones are are crying out for some sort of relaxing soak.
On those days, I run the tub half full, use all the bath bombs and salts and oils that I have at my disposal…except maybe even more than I might use for a regular bath, and then proceed to roll up my pants, sit on the edge of the tub, and lower my feet in. I bring a book with me and I read for about 10-15 minutes while my toes wiggle under the warm water, and then I use a nice salt or sugar scrub to slough away the barnacles and follow it up with an enthusiastic callous scraping. I dry off with a good towel, slather on a thick, healing foot lotion, and then suit my feet up with a cute pair of socks. I make a weekly ritual of this, and it is so very, very nice!
I thought I had a more illustrative photo of this process, but apparently, I do not. The above imagery is from an Instagram story I posted a few months ago. It’s definitely not that chilly anymore, which is even more reason not to immerse my entire body in a tub of hot juice!
3 . The Faculty of Horror Podcast. I believe I have mentioned before how picky I am when it comes to podcasts. They have to hit me in the right spot (weirdness, witchy tidbits, horror) AND they have to not be obnoxious. There’s nothing I hate more than listening to two people rambling off-topic and amusing themselves with a whole bunch of inside jokes. There’s a fine line between two friends who are having a good time and keeping their audience amused, entertained, and informed, and two friends who record themselves because they think they are hilarious but no one outside of the two of them knows what they are laughing about. So that’s my problem with a lot of buddy-podcasts. I don’t have the patience for them and they embarrass me. Not that you asked.
Andrea Subasatti and Alex West, however! I enjoy the heck out of their discussions in their Faculty of Horror podcast. If you are interested in horror analysis and scholarship through a contemporary, feminist lens, Andrea and Alex’s fabulously insightful, passionate, and incredibly fun chats are such a treat. I believe there’s over seven years worth of content, so if you’re unsure where to start, just pick through and look for some of your favorite films, and dive right in. I find that hearing people talk about a thing you already love is a great way to get a feel for their treatment of and read on a thing.
And I’ve recently been inspired to rewatch so many films due to their commentary and perspective! See Interview with the Vampire, Event Horizon, The Mist, and Hausu, for a few of my favorites. Additionally, they just did a “best of 2020” and I really just gobble up lists like that, so that’s a highly recommended episode, as well. The Faculty of Horror also has a Patreon where one can get access to additional content if one is inclined to support them in that way!
4. 505 by Elektroforez. I don’t know what to say about these guys, but I sure am enjoying them. I have been listening to them nonstop for the past week. They make me want to dance! Albeit, in a moody, morose, sort of way. A recommendation from my good friend Sonya, who I hear has got an excellent list of these austere, gloomy Russian goth, new-wave, synth-pop, post-punk type musicians that they’re going to share for our ears over at Haute Macabre sometime in the near future. Yay for new music! It’s been a while, but I’m suddenly becoming interested again and that is both a pleasure and a deeply relieving realization.
5. Oh, Suddenly Egyptian God! These little six-minute slice-of-life snippets are just too, too adorable. “This is sudden, but welcome to the world of Egyptian gods, where ancient deities work, have fun, and relax like the rest of us.” These little stories are, as one dour reviewer points out, probably full of inaccuracies, but come on. It’s cute fun.
Some bonus good things!
-We placed an order with Botanical Interests for a gazillion seeds and are so excited for our summer garden possibilities. -This chili crisp oil is, at $17 or so, insanely overpriced (damn you, persuasive Instagram ads!) but SO GOOD. – This addictively trashy book which I am looking forward to finishing while soaking my feet in the tub and enjoying a glass of wine. –This Marshmallow Fireside candle, which is just as amazing as everyone says it is -Twinkle lights for my shelves, seen in the feature photo for this post. Granted there’s only one string of them up now, but they just make the workday so much nicer that I can’t help but to think more lights will make the day even better? Eventually with enough twinkle lights, I will look forward to my 9-5? It’s probably too much to hope for, but I’m going to give it a try.
YOU GUYS. This has been A Time. We are all having A Time right now, in various ways, reckoning with various things, and wow, there is a lot to reckon with. Enter: my friend, Ekho.
For this month’s Ten Things, Ekho is paying us another visit at Unquiet Things (you may remember them from their excellent 10 Things To Stop You From Burning It All Down guest post last year!) and we are always so thrilled and honored to host their knowledge, wisdom, and insights. I know that whenever Ekho and I have a conversation, I will always come away both energized and humbled, having learned more about, well, something (we have diverse and interesting discussions!) as well as learning something about myself. I honestly count them among the most brilliant and thoughtful humans I know! One of the things I love most about Ekho though is something I wish I could be better about myself–I can always count on them to tell me when I can do better. Discussions like that aren’t easy to have and they are not always easy to hear, but I do my best to always be open to learning how I have misstepped, and how I can get it right, I am so appreciative of people who will take the time and energy to broach those conversations with me.
In that vein, Ekho is here this month to help us build a better bookshelf.
Ekho lives on Wurundjeri land in the Kulin Nation in so called “Australia”. They write, read, study social anthropology, are committed to anti-racism, & believe in nonbinaryfuturism. Let a thousand genders bloom. During the pandemic they have been bed ridden like a Gothic literature protagonist, & have coped by burrowing under their one hundred odd unread books. Their IG is @_hex_libris
Hi there, what you are about to read is a shortlist of antiracist book recs. A few years ago, in a paradigm far far away, I became very frustrated with how many books I owned that were by cis-White-men. Libraries and bookstores in my corner of Australia were packed with them too. Franchises were predominantly written and directed by cis-White-men. This was in recent time but still feels aeons ago compared to Taika Waititi doing epic work with The Mandalorian, N. K. Jemisin bringing out Eldritch supernatural SFF to punch racist Lovecraft in the proverbial and literary face, Janet Mock directing a TV series about BIPOC queer and trans lives, and Alok Vaid-Menon getting published by Penguin to write a pocketbook for gender-expansive teens to help equip them for this not so welcoming world. Don’t know who these folx are? Well now you have read their names and you have 4 wonderful BIPOC folx to look up and consume what they create.
CONSUMING. CONSUMER. We are all consumers no matter how little waste we want to produce. I am a post-grad social anthropologist working on my honours thesis, and like many millennials, I have anxiety about what I consume. How much waste do I leave behind? What’s my carbon footprint? I need to stop shopping! Why did all my earthworms die? In one of the many wonderful textbooks on Indigenous peoples I read in my bachelor’s degree, I came across an Amazonian culture that viewed every single thing as a consumer because we literally need fuel to survive. This translated into cannibalism as well. You are a cannibal because you consume. You consume a thing with life force even if you are a staunch vegan. And the earth is a cannibal too, breaking down and consuming our bodies with the help of cannibal bugs and consuming bacteria. So I say CONSUME and be mindful of what you consume.
White folx, if you read, watch, listen, dance to, support, donate to, fund, and view, work by Black, Indigenous, people of Colour, then you will begin one of the many steps towards being antiracist. You will be funding their livelihoods and you will be supporting them with your dollary-doos. Your antiracism must be active. That includes, buying (or requesting your library to order it in) THEN READING, the book. Blog or review the book WHILE BEING MINDFUL that if you are White you will have been socialised to read and understand literature in a certain way. When an author who is Black/Indigenous/of Colour breaks White Euro literary conventions, learn from them, don’t police them. You are literally making your own life tasteless and empty by reducing the potentiality of literature to a mirror of yourself and your education and your Whiteness. Don’t be that person. I have read each and every one of these books that I am recommending. I read a lot, so 10 doesn’t mean much… I wish I could recommend 20. Or 100. What I have here is a mix of ethnicities and cultures, a mix of genders, a mix of sexual orientations, a mix of forms of literature. All the authors are BIPOC. The quick info-data-intro summarises what you are getting into and why I think you should get on in; but please do not let that limit your experience with it. Many of these authors are so expansive and multiplicitous that my mere words are not enough. Where possible I have recommended another form of media to consume when you read that book as a complimentary item.
In closing, before you jump into this list, me- a White nonbinary person living on Wurundjeri land in the country so-called Australia, is writing this list to direct you to books by BIPOC and also content by BIPOC creators because right now and forever, our bookshelves need to get decolonised, our minds and hearts need to as well, and White people who can, need to do this work to directing others to creations by BIPOC. I’ve read the books, I’ve watched the films, and I’ve danced my bod to the songs. I am not going to regurge yet another listicle of content from White creators. And if your listicles DON’T contain some work by BIPOC you need to ask yourself why because these folx work in every genre, in every medium, in every art form. Creation doesn’t occur in a vacuum. Don’t let Whiteness be the reason you consume something.
Title: Dark Emu.
Author: Bruce Pascoe.
Background: Nonfiction about Aboriginal Australian agricultural practices prior to and during early years of colonisation. Bruce Pascoe is an Aboriginal Australian writer who has done work across YA, children’s lit, historic fiction, literary fiction, and nonfiction. Dark Emu examines the colonial myth of Australia and how European colonisers have deliberately framed Indigenous Australians as lacking agriculture and forms of farming to perpetuate the idea of Aboriginal people having little to no culture, being nomadic hunter gathers who lived like cave people out of a DreamWorks animation. Sounds ridic but the plan worked for a very long time with many policies and racist White Supremacist laws paving the way for destruction of Aboriginal Australians. Bruce got sick of ALL THAT and went through the colonial archives reading essays and surveys and diaries by colonisers and found so much evidence of beautiful cultural traditions, bravery of Aboriginal people along with agriculture, aquaculture, and community. That is what Dark Emu is about, that journey into the archives to read firsthand accounts of a history that has been deliberately erased through White Supremacy, Imperialism, and greed.
Accompanying Media: Mystery Road, a crime/mystery series spanning 2 films and 2 tv series following the career of Detective Jay Swan, an Aboriginal Australian man, who investigates murders and mysteries that directly impact and pertain to Indigenous lives in Australia.
Author: Akwaeke Emezi.
Background: a short middle-grade novel about a utopian American antiracist society with a trans femme main character. Akwaeke Emezi is Black, nonbinary writer based in New Orleans. Their various IG accts are so wonderful and you can see facets of their physical and spiritual journey there. Pet is set in a utopia that SHOWS an imagining of how we could do things differently, no police, no crime, no violence. We get to read the transition of the main character and it is one of joy and love, part of her life but not central to the story (since when have any of us wanted to be reduced to just GENDER yet that seems to dominate media about transgender people). A monster crawls from a painting by Jam’s mother. Her town is supposed to be free of predators yet Pet is here because it is not, and they must be stopped before evil seeps back in. It is a truly chilling story relevant for any age despite the character being in their early teens.
Accompanying media: the amazing song Q.U.E.E.N by Janelle Monae featuring Erykah Badu released in 2013.
Title: Do Muslim Women Need Saving?
Author: Lila Abu Lughod.
Background: I studied a textbook by Lila Abu Lughod in first-year anthropology about Bedouin culture. The perspective she wrote it from was from that of the women within the society, revealing to her a very different world to how most of the world views not only Bedouin women but also Muslim women. Lila Abu Lughod is a biracial woman with a Muslim Middle Eastern background. Her research as an anthropologist and empathy for the different cultures and ethnicities that follow Islam led her to write various essays that challenge the social imaginary of what White people think about Muslim people, especially the narrative of ‘saving Muslim women’. Do Muslim Women Need Saving collects essays that directly challenge these notions and educate those not within those cultures.
Accompanying Media: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. A female vigilante vampire in Iran kills baddies, dances gloriously in her apartment, wears a chador, and falls in love.
Title: An Unkindness of Ghosts.
Author: Rivers Solomon.
Background: Rivers Solomon is a nonbinary Black person now residing in the UK with their family. They write wonderful speculative fiction that addresses intersections of body, race, culture, class, gender, sexuality, and what resides in our pasts. An Unkindness of Ghosts follows a highly intelligent gender nonconforming young female called Aster who assists a ship surgeon on a space station lost off course. Something is sending people within the space station crazy, and the racialized classism is claiming lives quicker than the mysterious “ghosts”. Aster must solve the puzzle to understand not only the death of her mother, but the root of the racism and classism in the space station and what is causing malfunctions and death and insanity.
Title: Ezili’s Mirrors, Imagining Black Queer Genders.
Author: Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley.
Background: Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley is a queer Black woman of Afro Caribbean descent. This book branches between academia, song, oral communications, and visual material that sublimates the concept of research into something new or perhaps, something very old, something pre-colonial. The book explores modes of Ezili, the many Ezili of the Voudoun pantheon and how these Ezili embody various forms of femme queerness and who then interacts with these queer Ezili. I hope through exploring this book you will understand part of the impact colonisation has had upon gender and how Black people, queer or not, live outside of the White gender binary and that it is something imposed on them, on us all; a violent liminality to control and minimise. If you are interested in different cultural practices, the influence Afro Caribbean culture has had upon queer communities, if you are enamoured with magic and spirituality like me, if you want a book celebrating Black women and girls and femmes (the answer is yes), then Ezilis Mirrors is waiting.
Title: Fabulous, the Rise of the Beautiful Eccentric.
Author: Madison Moore.
Background: Madison Moore is a gender-expansive queer Black man, an academic, a fashionista and, a DJ. Fabulous contains a collection of amazing essays exploring Black and Brown Fabulousness and its history in Afro American culture and in Queer culture. You will get to explore different art forms and expressions, be introduced to mythic sex clubs, groundbreaking film, the social media of the new generation of Fabulous BIPOC Queer folx, and my fav, and interview with the nonbinary fashionista/prophet/poet/artist/healer Alok Vaid-Menon. Focusing on the work and influence of Black and Brown people in not only Queer communities but the fashion world is so important and understanding the multiple modes of intellectual and cultural dispossession we enact towards Black and Brown queer folk is one of many steps towards anti-racism and changing our thinking and practices.
Title: Queen of the Conquered.
Author: Kacen Callender.
Background: Kacen Callender is a nonbinary Black person of Caribbean descent. They write across multiple genres and age groups and if I had my say, their Tweets would be bound and published by the Folio Society. Queen of the Conquered is as far as I can tell the first genre fiction book Kacen has had published (but far from the first they wrote, if their Tweets tell the truth). It is set in an alternate Caribbean Islands, heavily leaning into themes of Gothic Horror. The book is very much marketed as a Fantasy novel but I disagree with that, Gothic Horror is my toe-jam, and this book is GOTHIC AF. The mc Sigourney Rose seeks revenge for the slaughter of her family when she was a child due to running plantations on one of the Islands and as punishment for their Blackness. All the other Plantation owners are White with heavy Scandinavian vibes. Sigourney is biracial but very dark-skinned and adopted into a family sympathetic towards the slaughter of her kin. She vows to seek revenge and grows up entwined in the racist and brutal politics of the Islands. Full of ghosts, mind games, psychological terror, and whimsical women running through mangroves, yes this book feels very gothic horror to me.
It’s about time we have more gothic books with predominantly Black and Brown characters because the gothic subgenres have been built upon the suffering of Black and Brown bodies. Wuthering Heights to Dracula, the aspects of racialization are very difficult to ignore and many an academic essay will pop up discussing the value of race in these genres especially race and villain. This is a pull no punches book on colonisation in the Caribbean, the only fantastical elements is how magic manifests, but pull away the metaphor and that magic represents who has the right to live, who has the power to make others die, and who has the ability to inflict pain on others. Book two comes out in December and I am excited to read the next installment despite screaming at our unlikeable heroine the whole time, who cannot see revenge will never succeed when on the playing field of White Supremacy.
Background: Jason de Leon is a Latinx archaeologist who has done contemporary archaeology on people crossing the Mexico American border into the States. This is one of the most harrowing books I read, I learnt about the weaponization of nature and land against the people needing to journey into the US, their vulnerabilities, their hopes and dreams, the lies they are fed, and the very real reason why they would want to cross an imagined border into a different country to be able to provide for their families and change their opportunities. Mostly I learnt of the imagined concept of borders, their politicization and their role in upholding White Supremacy. I urge all people living on colonised land with govts not allowing refugees and asylum seekers in (or allowing them in but profiling them and leaving them in detention) to read this book.
Accompanying Media: Mayans MC TV show. This spin-off of Sons of Anarchy is far superior from the OG series and primarily focuses on Brown Lantinx and Indigenous bikers and the various social issues that are caused by Trumps’ wall, corruption, racism, and people trafficking. The show is very violent but highlights police corruption in the US, vigilantism, family bonds, and primarily Latinx actors.
Title: The Devourers.
By: Indra Das.
Background: This is one of my all-time favourite books which I have not read since my initial foray between the pages in 2017. I expected a South Asian Interview with the Vampire-esque story with shapeshifters and gore. I got that but I also got many openly queer characters, an examination of gender expansion and gender nonconformity in colonial India, racism and misogyny in India, and a lush AF heartbreaking story that is filled with longing and hope. Looking at this makes me want to reread it. Because there is a reason I keep gifting copies to folx and that I hold it so close to my heart.
Accompanying Media: I urge every reader to check out https://www.alokvmenon.com and explore the work of Alok, the wonderful Indian, nonbinary genderfluid writer and artist. They create exquisite fashion, have performances available on youtube, and have a pocket-book and poetry collection available in print to purchase. They have always been a huge inspiration and validation for me as a nonbinary trans person.
By: Stephen Graham Jones.
Background: Mongrels is a werewolf story and a coming of age narrative, in an urban horror setting that is analogous for being Indigenous in North America. Stephen Graham Jones is a Blackfeet Native American author with a prolific bibliography. Mongrels was an outstanding read, gritty, suspenseful, and examining the impact of blood quantum on a child growing up on the fringes, and how that affects their sense of self, their life choices, and indigeneity. I anticipate his newest release, The Only Good Indians, which comes out in a few months, and I have preordered a copy because in the publishing world preorders assist authors with getting better pay with their next book deal (pay in publishing is incredibly uneven for BIPOC authors). I wish I could say more about Mongrels but I actually read it a handful of years ago, but I did so in a buddy read and I remember both of us were blown away by how unputdownable the book was, and how heart-rending. Stephen Graham Jones books are tough to come by in Australia, but that’s the truth for every author who is BIPOC or queer, shops think we still want Tim Winton, or, the poisonous JKR.
Accompanying Media: I highly recommend @thunderbirdwomanreads on Instagram. This incredible bookstagram account run by Dani who is Anishinaabekwe; features beautiful posts and reviews of books by Indigenous authors. She is a skilled writer and through her posts she educates on social justice, and the importance of decolonizing your mind and bookcase. While her feed is full of amazing books, you can also pay her for her time and order specialised recommendations that she has created with her knowledge and time investment.
In conclusion, I can’t force you to become anti-racist. I cannot walk you onto the path of becoming that is unending, that is never-ending, that is unlearning, that is confronting your prejudice, confronting the racism you were socialised in, confronting the White Supremacy you benefit from. This is a journey we all embark on alone. But there is no reasons you cannot take a book with you, a book to teach you, to learn from, to develop your empathy, to unlearn false histories and become informed, to become a better ally, to actively work on being antiracist.
Reading and financially supporting creative endeavours by BIPOC people is only one facet of antiracism. But it is something you can continue doing as you learn, as you make mistakes, as you spread awareness in your communities, as your confront friends and family on their racism, as you unpack your shame and move into doing something constructive, something that actually benefits BIPOC lives. Don’t be too scared of getting it wrong that you do nothing. Don’t assume that everyone around you knows you are antiracist. If you are not active and present in your antiracism then you need to be, because racism doesn’t sleep or go on pause or just stop for BIPOC. It is constant– so antiracism must be constant in its various, myriad, shifting, and nebulous forms.
On this month’s (?) (unidentified measure of time)’s installment of Ten Things, I am thrilled to share the spooky musings of Hannah, creator of the Generally Gothic blog.
Generally Gothic is a collection of content on broadly gothic themes; articles exploring the Gothic within art, literature, architecture, film and television, social history, and life in general.
Today Hannah shares the ten things she finds necessary to maintain these spooky endeavors!
Hello! My name’s Hannah and I’m a Master of the Gothic. You can find me online as Generally Gothic, where I blog and post about (you guessed it) the Gothic within the arts and humanities. I am currently exploring literary and historical witches under my current theme: Season of the Witch. You will also find me as Associate Editor of dark literary journal, Coffin Bell, and in the upcoming edition of YOGURT Culture Zine.
One of the questions I am most frequently asked at, and as, Generally Gothic is how I maintain my blog. I am grateful to have found a space in which I am no longer asked why, but still find it shocking because mine is a sporadic and not very present online presence…
Regardless, during this weird year of confinement and armchair adventures, I thought I would share ten of the things necessary for maintaining my spooky endeavours, which I hope you can apply to whatever it is you’re nerdy about online.
1. A Sincere Passion
Mine was born on the bathroom floor at the age of seven.
I grew up in a house that had books in every room. Amongst the clothbound volumes on the bathroom shelves was a collection of short stories. And amongst their number was Edgar Allan Poe with ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’. I devoured most of the books on most of the shelves, but that moment with that story in that unlikely room was what can only be described as ‘formative’.
2. Inky Fingers
Just as gardening cannot be done without getting muddy, writing, for me, cannot be done without getting inky.
I find greater freedom in writing by hand ‒ that I cannot truly write without pen and ink. If you follow my posts closely, you will spot strong suggestions of my ecological beliefs. It should, therefore, be no surprise that I favour an ink pen that is refilled over and over again, without waste. Mine is very dear to me ‒ it was a graduation gift that I intend to collaborate with for the rest of my life.
I am sure that there are ways of refilling the cartridge without pouring ink into my pores, but I don’t think I want to know them…
3. So Many Papers
With inky fingers come papers… so many papers. Bound in books, and loose, ripped, recycled, and lost, and rediscovered in pockets once long forgotten.
I know that hoarding paper isn’t the most eco-friendly practice, but like inky fingers there is something in the physical, the tangible, that I cannot turn my back on.
Do you remember assessments in primary school to determine ‘what kind of learner’ you were? I am a note-taker. I don’t know that that’s even one of the options. I also don’t know that it works… but that’s what I am. And those notes are the seeds that develop into my blog posts, so I take it back; be a note-taker ‒ it does work, because it is the work. Or part of it, anyway.
4. An Internet Connection… Albeit a Terrible One Right Now
This post is consciously not about the whole Voldermorty (You-Know-What, or That-Which-Must-Not-Be-Named) state of affairs, but I would like to ask just one related question.
The internet has undoubtedly been an invaluable tool in innumerable ways during this time, but has anyone else been surprised at how it’s struggled to cope with the increased traffic? Maybe it’s just the service offered by They-Who-I-Really-Want-To-Name-(and-shame-)But-Won’t…
Anyway, the internet, though fatigued at present, is obviously a spooky nerd essential. There were already so many incredible resources, and now an influx of services have digitised or temporarily waived fees, which is as exciting as it is overwhelming. Go forth and discover!
5. Open Eyes
Whilst memory is not a strong point of mine, I do have a spongey constitution.
Perhaps it’s an individual thing, but once I began to look for it however long ago, manifestations of the gothic in life around me became delightfully inescapable. Whatever it is that I am researching, reading, or writing about at any given time, I will find echoed in likely, and very unlikely, places. I suppose this synchronicity relates to passion. If you find what you love, you will seek it. Once it takes root, you will encourage it to grow wild, as I do.
6. Inspiring Surroundings
Though the world of natural and human invention is ripe with inspiration, it is undeniably more so in certain corners than others.
Just as the great poets and painters sought intellectual salons, country retreats, and dimly lit cafés, I find that connecting with the existing work of the world positively impacts my own output.
Personally, I have a soft spot for museums, galleries, and historical homes. I know I said I wouldn’t mention it again, but one of the greatest things to come out of the pandemic is level access to the arts. I honestly cannot say whether theatres, performers, workers, establishments, etc., are being supported sufficiently by governments and public donations, but I can say that I am hugely grateful for the resulting geographical and financial equality afforded to their expanding audiences.
7. Human Inspiration
Once again making an example of historical creatives, we know that, whilst many succeeded in isolation, with community as muse, art proliferates.
Through Instagram, I have found myself surrounded by a collection of companions with whom I can share and from whom I can learn about all sorts of interesting things that spark endless inspiration.
I remain open about the fact that I would be doing what I do whether anyone was listening or not. And, whilst it’s true that I began by whispering into the silent void, it would be entirely dishonest to discredit the impact that community has had on Generally Gothic. A discussion, rather than a lecture, allows for everyone to grow and, having just this year learnt that I am 3 inches shorter than I had previously believed myself to be, that sounds pretty appealing to me…
8. Tea, Coffee, and Cake…
…for I am human, and I need fuel. I can write without tea, coffee, and cake, but I’d rather not. It really is that simple.
As you may have gathered, I feel very passionately about access to information and equality in education. I believe in books, and I believe in trees.
I am soon moving from the place that I have called home for the past 2 years. Amongst an assortment of wonderful organic things, such as people and landscapes, one of my favourite foreign discoveries has been the local network of Little Free Libraries. (Take a book, give a book whether back or forward.)
I vouch to build one of my own when I am a home-owner, but until then, I aim to share books online. I am currently giving away 2 vintage Daphne du Maurier hardbacks that I purchased from one of my favourite, virtual second-hand book shops. It is an ongoing attempt at practising what I have always vaguely known to be true: that books need people as much as people need books. And that I can exist without hoarding them all… particularly when my luggage allowance is limited.
I have scattered a selection of my library back around the Little Free Libraries I frequented. If you ever find a novel with a Generally Gothic stamp inside, let me know! I’d love to see how far they travel.
10. Embracing the Chaos, with Open Arms
I have a really strict schedule of expectations, and also a whole load of other commitments that are as demanding as they are unavoidable.
I have found that when I choose to cut a bigger slice of cake, take a break with a book, and shrug it off if I miss my self-imposed deadline for another formless week in a row, I create better.
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!
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. [email protected]
Is it profoundly uncool to talk about how often I look at my blog’s stats? I guess I just like to know where people are coming from and what they are interested in, I can’t help it! It’s probably less uncool than googling yourself, though? Right? Which I don’t do…but that’s only because I have a very common name and there’d be no point in digging through all of the search results, heh. Otherwise, I’d probably be looking myself up on the internet all of the time.
It was one morning that I was poring over the statistics for Unquiet Things I saw that one of the referring sites was an actual website–a proper blog– and this always excites me. (Mostly my referral stats are just pinterest or tumblr, or what seems like shady fake traffic sites.) When I peeked in at some of the content, I was so pleased to find out there was a real human behind it, with real thoughts and feelings that I could oftentimes very much relate to! And that is how I first became aware of Allison Felus, and whose thoughtful, balanced, and informative writing I often find myself returning to because I find it so wonderfully warm and restorative– and I am so happy she is sharing her spirited voice and thoughts today at Unquiet Things, in our last Ten Things of 2019!
Allison Felus is a writer, musician, and psychic living in Chicago. Find her online at Queen of Peaches or check out her latest zine, The Last Band of My Youth . Read further for her ten things to keep your spirits up as the winter darkness descends.
I grew up in Indiana and have lived in Chicago for close to two decades now. So it feels a bit disingenuous to complain about the winter. It gets cold here! It’s dark and it snows a lot! That’s what it does! I feel like such a whiny baby for even making an issue about it. I mean, I guess I could move somewhere else? But my family ties are in the Midwest and my day job doesn’t afford me the ability to work remotely, so really, I just have to make the best of it.
So much of my resistance to winter centers around the physical hardships it entails. Unshoveled sidewalks make getting around the city on foot so much more difficult and time-consuming. The harsh temperatures wreak havoc on my hair and skin (both the harsh outdoor cold and the harsh indoor radiator heat). The hours of darkness trigger my SAD. So anything that provides a little bit of sensory pleasure in the midst of all that is, to me, worth its weight in gold. Knowing that gorgeous bath products await me in the shower is sometimes the only thing that gives me enough motivation in the morning to stumble out of bed and into the bathroom.
I find it increasingly difficult to deal with LUSH’s sales tactics anymore (the emotional labor it requires, as Victoria of EauMG has so aptly put it), so though I will occasionally cave in for the sake of a bottle of Rose Jam shower gel, my main bath-time love these days is Paintbox Soapworks
I started buying my partner their shaving soaps a few years ago when he was finding it more difficult to source the brand he always used to use, and that was gateway drug enough for me. My love for all their products has blossomed into a genuine obsession since then. (I’m wearing their Mandinka perfume oil as I type this, in fact.) The seasonal blends are always impeccable; this fall’s What the Moon Brings and Cathedral of Pumpkins were big loves, and I’m still hoarding the last dregs of a bottle of the Kamasi Washington-inspired Secrets of the Sun lotion from this summer’s release. Between seasonal offerings, though, I gravitate toward anything scented with the previously mentioned Mandinka as well as Blackbird, Whiskers, and Nekisse.
I love coffee. I just do. I’m not really a snob about beans or specific methods of preparation (this tender essay “The Case for Bad Coffee has long stuck with me). I’m just grateful that I live in a world where it’s abundant and readily available. However, I seem to have inherited my grandmother’s sensitivity to caffeine. (I remember being horrified as a teenager when I heard her say that the caffeine from even the tiniest piece of chocolate would be enough to keep her up all night.) I’ve never been a multiple-pots-per-day drinker, but when I started to notice that even a cup or two in the morning would be enough to disrupt my ability to fall, and stay, deeply asleep, I mourned having to give up that bit of morning pleasure.
I tried every possible substitute–tea/matcha, hot chocolate/ceremonial cacao, Dandy Blend, even a DIY carob-based concoction that I dutifully mixed up myself from a combination of powdered roots purchased from Mountain Rose Herbs. Until I realized, uh, decaf coffee exists.
The overly, unhelpfully logical part of my brain protested a bit–“if the whole purpose of drinking coffee is to get the energetic and cognitive boost from the caffeine, then what is the bloody point of drinking decaf?!” But eventually, I realized that it was never actually about the caffeine; it was about the ritual of it. Boiling the water, grinding the beans and scooping the grounds, waiting patiently for it to brew, then pouring it, hot and fragrant, into a treasured mug. So now I allow myself to enjoy the ritual for the sake of itself. These days I just make the generic Whole Foods decaf in a French press and finish it with a plop of coconut cream. It’s just so brilliantly comforting on a cold morning.
Does a light box actually do anything? Is it just (“just”) the placebo effect? To me, it’s a bit like the old saw about it being better to believe in God on the off chance that God exists than to not believe in God and risk the consequences of unbelief, eg, there’s no real downside to using a light box if it does nothing while there’s a whole lot of upside if it actually does. And in fact, I do know that any time I start having a really whiny emotional meltdown about something seemingly insignificant, my partner is usually right when he (gently) asks me if I forgot to use my light box that morning.
I have a Verilux HappyLight, and I just turn the thing on in the bathroom, perched on a shelf, before I get into the shower so that my eyeballs are absorbing its rays while I towel off, get lotioned up, and whatnot. I’m also just constantly amused that it looks like an iPad whose sole function is to glow bright white.
Astrologically, the new year isn’t really until mid-March. Personally, my own new year, my birthday, is in mid-February. Academically, my partner, who teaches college, begins his new year in mid-August. But music, for me, is the one place where January actually does feel like the new year.
I’ve been compiling and writing extensive liner notes for my own personal Best of the Year mixes since 2004. (Here’s the 2019 edition!) So I spend much of early December listening back to the music that was meaningful to me throughout the previous eleven months. By the time I’ve posted my latest installment to all my socials, though, it’s a relief to my ears to abandon those songs for a while (no matter how much I love them) and start totally fresh. Since I mostly stick to new/contemporary releases for my year-end mixes, this also becomes a time for me to dip into music that’s much older or otherwise oddball and non-mixable.
Late December/early January is also the time when my commute to work can feel most miserable. It’s deeply cold, I’m bundled to my eyes, everyone is packed like sardines into the train, the Chicago skies are often leaden and grey. But, this liminal time on the train is simultaneously so, so precious to me. It’s a place where I’m temporarily free and truly alone, despite the crowds. I’ve left home and all its chores and distractions, and I’m not yet at my office where e-mails and conversations and meetings demand my constant attention. The train is one of the few places in my life that’s, oddly, just for me. So it becomes an opportunity for me to really sink into music, one of the most important, most sacred things in my life.
I can never accurately predict what kind of music is going to hit me in January, what kind of energy is going to be needed to sustain me through those bleak mornings. In recent years I’ve had major love affairs with stuff by Brian Blade and the Fellowship Band, Chris Stapleton, Helen Merrill, Sammy Davis Jr., Black Sabbath, Chris Whitley, Jason Falkner, and Tim Hecker. All I know is that my heart will know it when I find it, when the promise of getting to live in a particular sonic world for 40 minutes will be enough to motivate me out the door and on my way
Haha, OK, so let’s be for real now. Therapy is obviously a must, all year round, of course, but never more so for me than in the winter.
I’ve been in therapy off and on (but mostly on) since I was 25. I’ve been lucky enough to have good health insurance that’s made that level of commitment to my mental and emotional well-being affordable and accessible, and I never take that for granted.
Earlier this year, after well over a decade of more traditional talk therapy, I switched to working with a Jungian practitioner. I took the leap not long after I turned 40, as a way of acknowledging my growing sense that the way I take care of myself in the second half of my life is going to require a radically renewed commitment to inner accountability. So, sometime in late summer, as the shadows began to get longer and deeper earlier in the evening, I prepped my new therapist for the fact that the winter can be a difficult time for me and that I would likely need some extra help and support to get me through it. Her response was nothing short of revolutionary: “what if instead of trying to fight or resist it, you accepted the suffering you experience during the winter?”
My whole spirit released a level of tension that I didn’t realize it had been holding onto. Wow. Accept my own suffering? Rather than running away from it or otherwise attempting to bypass it? A challenging notion, to be sure, but one that holds the promise of a kind of radical reclamation of my all-too-human dark side that I’d previously been missing out on due to my unconscious internal insistence that life must feel “good” in order to be valid.
It remains to be seen how I’ll feel about this approach as the calendar ticks through the darkest and coldest months ahead. But actively preparing to get my Persephone on has already helped me feel a little better about facing down the darkness both within and without.
This is where I extol the virtues of meditation and talk about how, after years and years of practice, meditation gets super easy and is definitely something I do consistently every day, right? LOL, wrong, so wrong.
Look, yes, I’ve had some sort of meditation practice since I was fairly young. I briefly attended karate classes at a local rec center when I was in middle school and somehow, even in the extremely square environs of Northwest Indiana in the early ’90s, the teachers were able to convey to us some basic notions about the power of our thoughts and the possibility of focusing our own internal energy. OMG, hearing all that, I was hooked. I’ve actively sought out so many different methods and techniques and approaches to meditation since then. Truly, meditation is one of my greatest passions in my life. But if you think for a damn moment that there aren’t straight-up WEEKS when I’m like, “nah,” well, then, my Gemini-rising-ass distractibility would like a word with you.
That being said, aside from an equally important journaling practice, meditation is basically the only place where I can access that elusive state of being where I’m able to both accept myself as I am while also tinkering under the hood, so to speak, to tweak the internal mechanics that drive me. Which is an important place to go to if I’m meant to make friends with the messages that my winter-specific misery is trying to send me.
Have you all heard about the concept of second sleep? I love it so much. The idea is that in times before electrical lighting, most people went to bed not long after the sun went down. So in the winter, that means they were going to bed fairly early in the evening, and after sleeping for those first several hours, they’d wake up for a while in the middle of the night before going back to bed again until sunrise. In those precious midnight hours, they would read, pray, or have sex (basically all my favorite things).
I definitely don’t go to sleep when the sun goes down, but even just acknowledging these archaic rhythms is enough to inspire me not to resist my impulse to go to bed early. I was such a confirmed night owl throughout my youth that I long felt like going to bed early was some kind of indication that I’d lost my edge or otherwise gone soft. But, I also LOVE to sleep and need to get plenty of it to have a baseline level of coherence and emotional stability, so the more I thought about it, I figured what could be more badass (and frankly even anti-capitalist) than going to bed super early and then reclaiming a few stolen moments in the middle of the night untouched by the demands of the outside world?
In the years when I was drinking fully caffeinated coffee, I would dread waking up in the middle of the night, because that usually meant my thoughts and my heart were racing and that I wasn’t going to be able to get back to sleep easily and would be a groggy mess by the time I had to officially get up for work. But now that I’ve weaned myself off that caffeine cycle and have learned to trust my body’s signals a bit better, I almost look forward to an hour or so of overnight wakefulness. It gives me a weird freedom, an “I’m alone at the bottom of the sea where no one can find me” vibe.
BIG eye roll here. I’m your typical unathletic book nerd who has always dreaded all manner of sweat and exercise and frankly anything that required extra physical exertion. But the (boring) fact remains that everything in my life functions a little better when I’m getting some sort of regular movement in. During the warmer (or at least non-snowy) months of the year, I walk outside a lot. I’m lucky that Chicago is a pretty great city for getting around on foot, so I take advantage of that by, say, getting off the train a few stops early in order to walk a few extra blocks when I have the time to do so. But even with decent winter boots, getting around on snowy, unevenly shoveled sidewalks can be treacherous, so I definitely make more of an effort to get myself to the gym this time of year to compensate.
After years of punitive exercising meant to neutralize or ideally reverse caloric consumption, I finally realized that the best reason to get to the gym for 30 minutes or whatever is actually for my MENTAL health. It’s undeniable how much less prone I am to having random meltdowns or temper tantrums or can’t-get-out-of-bed doldrums when I’ve raised my heart rate beyond its resting state a few times a week. Plus, much like my daily commute on public transportation, the gym is one of the few remaining places where I get to have uninterrupted time to myself where I’m responsible to/for no one else. If I’m not listening to whatever my weirdo winter soundtrack is, I’m probably putting a dent in my podcast backlog, usually listening to the latest episodes of big faves Rune Soupor Against Everyone with Conner Habib.
I share my birthday date with Toni Morrison, Audre Lorde, and Yoko Ono. Pretty auspicious, right? I remain obsessed with my birthday in a way that I think most people probably get over by the time they’re, oh, 12 or 13. But I genuinely still look forward to it every year. I get excited about it and I make sure everyone around me knows when it’s near. Part of it, I’m sure, is that I’ve internalized a lifetime of messaging that says I shouldn’t make too big a deal of myself, so my birthday provides this one socially sanctioned time when I’m allowed to celebrate not my talents or accomplishments or most lovable qualities but the MERE FACT of my existence. How wonderfully refreshing, right? “I was born and I’m still alive—give me cake and presents about it!”
But it’s also, as I mentioned above, my own personal new year, and as such a time of intense reflection for me. Oh sure, I’ll idly set new year’s resolutions and half-hearted, drunken intentions on December 31. But when those quickly reveal themselves to be utter shit, I have the opportunity in the intervening 50-ish days to think more deeply about what kind of energy I truly want to cultivate in the next year of my life.
This also is the time when I’m willing to splurge on every possible kind of bodywork and spiritual and esoteric guidance. In Chicago, I’m devoted to Vita Lerman for shiatsu, Nancy Cole for reflexology, and Jana Robison Cheffings for massage. For tarot readings, I look to Angie Yingst or Angeliska at Sister Temperance Tarot online; for psychic wisdom, Lisa Rosman of Ruby Intuition or Erin the Psychic Witch. Booking one, or several, sessions with these magical healers around my birthday is a perfect thing for me to look forward to in that post-Christmas/New Year’s letdown and before the tantalizing promise of Spring.
How incredibly obvious, right? It’s almost not even worth mentioning, especially to the crowd that gathers here at Unquiet Things. But, books! Books take on an especially magical–borderline talismanic–quality during the winter, don’t they? A to-be-read stack that feels depressingly overwhelming in warmer, busier months can suddenly become SO cozy and inviting in the cold darkness.
When friends are all hunkered down in their own houses and there are fewer reasons to venture outside to be sociable, what could be more inviting than the promise of losing oneself for a few hours in the pages of a fabulous book? The condo I live in is on the third floor of a lovely tree-lined street, and before we even moved in, I was already fantasizing about putting a couch in the sunroom so that I could recline under the windows and gaze out into a winter wonderland while curled up under a blanket with a book. Which is indeed a favorite activity, especially on long, lazy weekend afternoons.
I went through a phase maybe two years ago, during which time I was obsessed with seeking out writers/cooks who recreated foods from literature–think Dracula’s “excellent roast chicken” or Harriet The Spy’s iconic tomato sandwich. I could have sworn that it was around this time that I stumbled upon Jessica Reed’s Instagram, although now my memory fails me and I don’t actually know that for certain. And I can’t even be sure that she was ever creating or writing about such things? So don’t quote me on that!
But whenever, or whyever it was that I became aware of her wonderful presence in this world, once I peered more closely, I immediately began to see a multitude of such wonderfully kindred little signs of kinship. This photo, for example, of these deliciously magical-looking cookies and a copy of Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body And Other Parties.Or this photo of Pam Grossman’s What Is A Witch…and even more delightful cookies! A repost of a fabulously snarky teacup from Miss Havisham’s curiosities! Staaaahhhp! Weird, witchy literature, beautiful baking, vitriolic teacups…I mean, can we just be best friends already?
Ok, that’s a little weird and intrusive, I get it. But when I peeked even further and discovered more of the culinary work that Jessica shares and the thoughtful energies and emotions that go into creating it, my admiration grew much, much deeper than these surface-level impressions. I’m particularly enamored and intrigued by her self-portraits in cake; I’m deeply appreciative of her discussions on mental health, and can I just say how refreshing it is to find a website with a section titled “just the damn recipes,” sans lengthy preamble about your late Aunt Maude, or whoever?
A writer and artist living in Portland, OR, Jessica Reed is a Cake Historian exploring history, culture, mental health, and identity through the lens of cake. Jessica is a baker of conceptual cakes (as well as regular ones!), freelance food writer, book cover designer, and author of The Baker’s Appendix. Find her online at thecakehistorian.com and on Instagram @cake_historian.
..and I am so ridiculously pleased that she’s here today to share her Ten Favorite Things For Magical Baking.
Baking is magic. I believe that every handmade good contains magic, but baked goods particularly so. There’s just something intrinsically special about sweet or savory treats born from hands, a few essential components merged by beautiful chemistry and fire, and sometimes even literal blood, sweat, and tears (I know of no baker who would argue against this). I bake at least once a week, be it our usual sourdough bread, cookies for the kid or neighbor-bribery, or one of my conceptual cakes. But sometimes, when going after a particular desire or in need of some extra help working my way through difficult situations, I need to up the bewitchment factor. The following are a few favorites I turn to again and again for inspiration, process, and flavor.
I am a proud bibliophile and am devoted to books. My baking is influenced by literature, non-fiction, art tomes, and other cookbooks of all kinds, but two of my most favorite when it comes to magical baking are A Kitchen Witches World of Magical Food by Rachel Patterson and a reproduction of the 19th-century dictionary of Victorian flower meanings, The Language of Flowers. I never bake magically without them by my side.
I keep a small print of this taped in my baking cabinet and make a sort of baking altar with it when I am working a little kitchen magic. Leighton, a member of the Pre-Raphaelites, is best known for his paintings, particularly “Flaming June,” though I was tickled to learn that he designed Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s tomb for Robert Browning.
If I remember correctly, I named my KitchenAid Stella after imagining going all Brando and yelling “Stella!!!” out in fits of baking frustration. Gifted by my now-husband around twelve years ago, we’ve only made the occasional swing into Streetcar territory.
I am a big proponent of baking using the metric system, so much so that I wrote an article about it. As well my book, originally a small self-published booklet, was written to make converting from the American Imperial system of measurement to the metric system easier for the average home baker.
I LOVE this bowl from the Cake Queen Rose Levy Beranbaum’s line. Its intention is to serve as a double boiler but can be used for a variety of baking purposes, my favorite being the vessel for combining the dry ingredients in a recipe. Its flexibility allows for easy distribution into a mixing bowl.
My kitchen cauldron, this is the pot I use for any small project that requires melted butter, a small quantity of melted ingredients, or infusions of vanilla or herbs into milk or cream.
This Aetco stand was another investment, but so worth it. The sturdy base and smooth-moving turntable make frosting and decorating a breeze. Bonus points for aesthetics.
Black Cocoa Powder
A favorite when mixed with standard cocoa for depth of flavor and color. I never bake a chocolate cake without it! I prefer the King Arthur brand.
Homemade Vanilla Extract
I started my Vanilla Extract at least ten years ago and am so devoted I even brought it across the country when we moved from Brooklyn to Portland, OR. Homemade extracts are a beautiful, simple, potion-y, way to work some kitchen magic.
Calculating, opening, whisking, stirring, kneading, folding, mixing, sifting, dipping, sprinkling…. Covered in burn scars, new burns (I never learn), occasional knife cuts, there’s nothing more important for my magical baking.
Listen, you guys. If you don’t know by now of my ardent and abiding admiration and appreciation for Pam Grossman–this generation’s reigning supreme!– I don’t even know what to tell you, and I don’t know how much further I can embarrass myself by gushing and crushing on her some more. But it’s just…I do love her so very much! Pam is a continual source of awe and inspiration and the work she does is important and exciting and it thrills me to my marrow every time I observe some new bit of magic she releases into the world.
…and this month I’m overjoyed and ecstatic that she’s going to share some of those gemmy, plummy, Pammy magics here with us, at Unquiet Things, for our October installment of Ten Things!
Pam Grossman is the creator and host of The Witch Wavepodcast and the author of Waking the Witch: Reflections on Women, Magic, and Power(Gallery Books) and What Is A Witch (Tin Can Forest Press). Her writing has appeared in such outlets as the New York Times, The Atlantic, TIME.com, Sabat Magazine, and her occulture blog, Phantasmaphile. She is co-founder of the Occult Humanities Conference at NYU, and her art exhibitions and magical projects have been featured in such publications as Artforum, Art in America, and the New Yorker. You can find her at PamGrossman.com and @Phantasmaphile.
When I was invited to contribute to this beauteous blog I confess I got a bit overwhelmed because, while I adore making lists, it is often difficult for me to know when to stop. I also confess that the above title is a paltry attempt at giving myself some semblance of constraint, but if I’m being honest I live pretty much every second of my life like it’s an autumn night. However “Shit I Really Fucking Dig” just doesn’t quite sound poetic enough now does it?
Anyhow, without further ado: 10 Delights for Autumn Nights
1. Books by and about Helen Adam
Helen Adam was a Scottish-American poet, collagist, and playwright who hung out with the beats and bohemians of San Francisco, but was, by my estimation, the raddest of the bunch. She was into witchcraft and the dark feminine, and her poems, plays, short stories, and artworks often feature such delicious figures as harpies, a Worm Queen, and dark sorceresses of every stripe. She was also wickedly funny and astonishingly prolific. I fell head over heels for her after seeing some of her deliciously twisted collages in the Robert Duncan and Jess exhibition, The Opening of the Field, at NYU a few years back. In fact I love her so much I used a bit of her poem, “At Mortlake Manor,” as the epigraph of my book. Best places to start are the Helen Adam Reader edited by Kristen Prevallet and The Collages of Helen Adam edited by Alison Fraser, but really you can’t go wrong with anything else you might encounter.
2. Exquisite bath products
Baths are a crucial part of my magic-making, not to mention my self-caretaking. I could not live in a home without a bathtub, and when a hotel room is shower-only, I am filled with despair. One of the best bathing experiences of my life was at an onsen in Japan, and I am forever trying to recreate that experience, which is why I’m obsessed with this book, as well as anything that is scented with hinoki. Still, I love plenty of other bath magix – my one rule is it must not be a pain in the ass to clean afterward, so no glitter bombs for this lady, thank you very much. Bathing is supposed to be chill, not a chore! Here are a few of my very favorites:
– Pretty much anything by Apothekerri. This bath witch makes everything in small batches, and she is a lovely human as well. You can order them directly from her, or here.
– I adore these West Marin Bath Salts by Leila Castle. The smell like walking through Muir Woods.
– These hiba wood bath salts from Cul de Sac Japan get me pretty darn close to the feeling I described above. I only wish they came in larger sizes.
– I stumbled upon One With Nature rose petal bath salts at my local pharmacy and saw them at my grocery store recently too, so they aren’t fancy. But affordable luxuries are always appreciated, and these smell divine.
3. Rose-flavored everything
Speaking of rose, my palate changed as I got older, and I now find rosy foods and elixirs no longer soapy, but irresistible. Can’t get enough of this Tulsi Sweet Rose tea, for example. Makes me feel like a fairy when I drink it.
4. Schmancy chocolate
Some of you might be most familiar with Steve Almond as one half of the magnificent Dear Sugar podcast with Cheryl Strayed (that is a recommendation in itself, as is the book), but I will forever think of him as the author of Candy Freak who thereby got me addicted to Caramel Five Star Bars by Lake Champlain Chocolates. I don’t even know how to begin to describe how delicious they are. My husband and I love these little bricks of ecstasy so much we bought some for everyone in our wedding party (they are also based out of Vermont where we got engaged).
5. Beeswax candles
I love any and all beeswax candles, but I am extremely spoiled because I am dear friends with the man behind Mithras Candle out of Philadelphia (and full disclosure, they are also a devoted Witch Wave sponsor. But that is not why I am recommending them, I’m just a genuine fan). These candles are hand-dripped and look like a column of wax stalactites or something out of a wizard’s secret library. They smell amazing, they glow like magic, and they are crafted by a beautiful soul.
6. Occult art tomes
Our apartment is bursting at the seams with books, but that doesn’t stop me from procuring as many tomes on the occult and art as possible. There are so many I could recommend here from various places, but I say save yourself the trouble and get everything that Fulgur Press puts out. Based out of the UK, they specialize in exquisitely-made talismanic books and feature such brilliant esoteric artists as Jesse Bransford, Shannon Taggart, Marjorie Cameron, and Ithell Colquhoun.
7. Crystalline Binging
Have you watched the Netflix series The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance yet? If not I truly don’t know what you’re waiting for. It may be the most gorgeous show ever made, and I’m not hyperbolizing. (And when you’re done, have a look at the marvelous making-of documentary as well.)
8. Agnes Pelton
You know how everyone is now madly in love with occult abstract art pioneer Hilma af Klint? Mark my words, in a few months you’re all going to be losing your minds about Agnes Pelton. She was a member of the Transcendentalist Painting Group, and inspired by Theosophy and other esoteric studies. Her work is quasi-figurative, but with its own visual vocabulary that feels otherworldly and drenched in radiant pastel hues. I first encountered her randomly in this lovely book that I found in a bargain bin several years back, and recently had the good fortune to see a retrospective of her work at the Phoenix Art Museum. When that exhibition hits the Whitney here in New York next spring, it’s gonna make waves and expand minds, no doubt about it. OK, not an autumn thing. But look into her now and you’ll be ahead of the curve and awash in mystical majesty at the same time!
9. Laugh Medicine
As much as I love the darker months, I can sometimes be susceptible to the blues, the grays, and the glooms. And so things that keep me from getting too heavy are welcome always, but especially during the shadowy side of the year. Here are some of my go-tos to keep the maudlin monsters at bay:
– TV: If you are reading this blog regularly, then Los Espookys was made for you. Just trust me on that. And the humor and giant-heartedness of Schitt’s Creek (not to mention Catherine O’Hara’s scrumptious haute-bizarre wardrobe) completely won me over. I also bet many don’t know that I am a die-hard SNL fan. I’ve loved it since I was a kid, and I never ever miss it. I also cry whenever cast members leave and follow a lot of the behind-the-scenes aspects too (this book and this Creating Saturday Night Live series are especially great). It has certainly had its ups and downs over the years, but it feels like family to me, and what they pull of each week both comedy-wise and craftmanship-wise is nothing short of miraculous. I worship at its altar.
– Podcasts: I’m also a hardcore RuPaul fan, and love not only Drag Race, but the What’s the Tee podcast that he and Michelle Visage put out each week. It’s inspiring and irreverent – vitamins and dessert all in one. I’m also addicted to Thirst Aid Kit, which is a hilarious and insightful show about female (albeit usually straight female) desire. Hosts Bim Adewunmi and Nichole Perkins are smart and salty and both excellent writers, and each episode makes me cackle like mad.
– Twitter feeds: @DoththeDoth is the goth therapist you never knew you needed. @EverySheriff is perfection and never fails to brighten my day (my favorite is the Sheriff of Goblin). Comedian @SolomonGeorgio first came to my attention via 2 Dope Queens (RIP), but he’s become a favorite source of giggles and glitter.
10. The Best Twitter Feed of All-Time
But nothing lift my spirits more consistently than the Twitter feed of Kirimi-chan, the salmon-filet-headed person(?) with an accidentally(?) art-house vibe who is so important, so groundbreaking, so tremendously bananas that she merits her own mention. She is Sanrio’s most conceptual character. She is the Lady Gaga, the Yayoi Kusama, the Laurie Anderson of Sanrio. No, I don’t understand a word of what her feed says. I just know that I need more pictures of this dead-fish-lady in a fish-shaped swimming pool wading next to a live fish, and you do too. Do you want to see her holding a wand with her own head on it? Of course you do. And here she is dressed up like a French maid. You’re welcome.
BONUS. Sonic Sorcery
As the nights get cool and spooky, my Waking the Witch playlist is sure to keep you warm with its witchery.
I am so excited that Caitlin Ffrench is joining us for this month’s edition of Ten Things! I have been knitting Caitlin’s beautiful pi shawls and assorted patterns for a few years now, and I quite often marvel at her wildcrafting adventures on Instagram– so I was wonderfully intrigued when she mentioned she’d be writing about her favorite tools that she employs in her various practices. I interviewed Caitlin in November of 2017 for Haute Macabre, and it was such a treat to work with her again for this piece.
Caitlin Ffrench is a Canadian Fiber Artist and Forest Lurker working with wildcrafted pigments from within the land bases she visits. Ffrench gathers discarded stones, bricks, weeds, and other waste to grind into useable pigments to make paint and dyes. ffrench paints with wildcrafted pigments as a way to find the connections between place and memory.
10 Tools That I Use Most Often
Explaining what I do for work is a hard thing. I make paints from earth and botanical pigments, I write knitting patterns, I’m an artist, and I teach natural dyeing. I’m sure there are other things too, but at the moment I can’t think of them.
The tools I use are well worn and loved dearly. These 10 tools are the most important in my arsenal, but there are many more I could name. (If this was a list of 100 things I think it might cover my most important tools… maybe.)
This well-worn basket has been across the continent with me. I use it for wildcrafting dyes and dirt, as a purse when puttering around town, to carry objects back and forth to my studio, and to store my knitting in while at home. I think it is most useful because I can take it outside and hose it out if I’ve left wildcrafted plants in it a little past their prime, and it can be reshaped while it dries. This one is 9 or 10 years old, and the bottom is starting to give way- but I won’t let it go that easily. A repair is in its future.
Books are my most dynamic tool. I think that as a teacher I need to be constantly learning, and books are the easiest way to study new things. Last year I took on a reading challenge to read at least 100 books (I hit 110 last year!) which means I almost always am carrying a book with me.
Shooting film photographs is a great love of mine, and this camera is my favourite out of my collection. It is a medium format camera that is really simple to use. I got it at a camera swap a number of years ago, and I bring it on most of my travels. I shot a book of knitting patterns in Iceland on it- a feat I’m not sure I’d repeat. There is a nuance in shooting medium format film that you can’t get any other way, but shooting a book halfway across the world on film was a ballsy move. (It is called The Darkness Fell and you can find it, along with my other patterns, on Ravelry.com)
A Silk Scarf
I naturally dyed this silk scarf using the eco print method with Trident Maple leaves and Iron, and then overdid it with homegrown indigo. I wear it as a neck scarf or have it jammed in the bottom of my purse almost every day. I use it when gathering earth pigments–silk is sturdy. I used it yesterday to collect ochre while hiking (the dirt shown in the photo).
Mortar and Pestle
I have two granite mortar and pestles that I use for grinding earth pigments; the one shown here which is the larger of the two, and a smaller one I take traveling. I use the granite ones because they’re a very hard stone, and can break up almost any stone I gather. Using these tools makes me feel like the witch I dreamed of becoming as a child. Some real Baba Yaga vibes.
I am a scissor hoarder–and I don’t regret it. I use scissors in my studio and at home all the time and have a pretty lovely collection. The shears shown here though are my absolute favourite because they’re the burliest ones I own, and they’re sharp enough to get through many layers of denim at once.
I feel naked without my sketchbook. I use it to take notes, to design knitting patterns, for painting and drawing, and for reminders to remember things for later. I use the Moleskine brand and the ‘sketchbook’ paper one. The paper is tough enough that I can use watercolours on it. I use the same size every time, and they sit on their own shelf in my studio. They look quite handsome all in a row.
When I start a new one I put the start date in the front cover so it’s easy to look back at ideas from older ones. I go through between 5-8 a year, and they’re always a little rough looking when they’re finished. I think they’re an intimate glimpse into the workings of my brain.
Shown here is a drawing from a hike I did yesterday, and pigment samples from the side of the lake I was at. I even remembered to put in the date on the drawing. Past me likes to leave helpful notes for future me to look back on.
As I child I made potions out of plants and dirt, and it seems that nothing has changed–I’m still making potions out of plants and dirt.
As a natural dyer, anything you use for dyeing is no longer food safe. You need separate deepest, spoons, lids, scales, etc because the things you’re dyeing with may be toxic. I have a bunch of dyepots, but I prefer to think of them as cauldrons. Be the witch you want to see in the world!
Oilcloth Tool Roll
My friend Kassy at Old Fashioned Standards made this custom tool roll for me this summer. It is a riff on a tool roll she already makes, but with a pocket large enough for my sketchbook, and a zippered pocket. She makes things from Oilcloth, and they’re sturdy as hell. (And water resistant!)
It was made for a residency I did in Iceland, and it needed to hold all of the drawing and painting things I would need while traveling.
Cassy also makes jackets, pants, hats, bags, witch hats, and other magic. Look her up- she’s badass.
My hands always look rough, are stained or cut up, and I love them. My hands are my greatest tool, and when I came into my 30’s I realized that stretching and physiotherapy would make a world of difference on them. They’ve been tattooed by my friend Nomi Chi (The roses on each hand), and by my partner Arlin ffrench (all the things on my fingers.) Having them tattooed was a way of making them fancy- to thank them for their hard work. I also wear Bloodmilk rings on my left hand, and a moonstone ring made by my friend Janet Harrison on my right hand every day. The amber ring on my right hand comes and goes- but the others are always there.
‘I am not what I am, I am what I do with my hands.’ -Louise Bourgeois
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.