16 May

When I was younger, from childhood through young adulthood, I was told I was slow, lazy, aimless, and lackadaisical. I often flaked out and had no follow-through. But I wasn’t any of those things. I was scared and anxious all the time, and didn’t know how to express that, so I would often procrastinate, drag my heels, and I agree to things I didn’t want to do (and then be a no-show or ghost people) because I was afraid to say no at the onset.

In reality, as an adult, I am a very hard worker, tireless, ceaseless, a perfectionist. But sometimes I wonder if that’s because I’m trying to prove something to people who thought otherwise? That I’m not lazy and worthless? And when have I proven myself enough? To people who are quite literally dead and gone?

I am still scared of everything. Everything. Even though I have almost reached the half-century mark. But if there is one thing I have learned, it is that the fear of actually doing a thing is outweighed by the dread of thinking about doing the thing. So I just pick the lesser of the fears and get on with it. And since no one is around anymore to see these small victories, I’ve continually gotta prove myself to myself.

This is how I have written three books. Thank you for coming to my TED talk 🤣


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9 May

I spend a lot of time reviewing and recommending and celebrating the creations of others– and I love to do it! – but for the next few days leading up to my birthday, I am going to spend some time honoring and giving lots of love to my own work.

From the sheer number of people who say to me “I didn’t know it was you who did that!” it’s obvious that I need to toot my own horn a little more. I would say, “I hope you’ll indulge me” but that’s weenie-Sarah speaking.

Instead, I will step up and say WITNESS AND REJOICE IN MY TOOTLING FRIENDS! Because you wouldn’t be here if you were not my friends and you are happy to drink my own Kool-Aid with me for a little while! I think!

Anyway, going way back, in case you didn’t know…

-Did you know I began life, more or less, as akissofshadows on LiveJournal? Did we know each other back then? I changed usernames several dozen times, but that pilfered Laurell K. Hamilton title was the one that began it all.

-Did you know I have been blogging for 20+ years now, in some form or another? And I still do! I have written for myself in all my blog’s incarnations, and I have been a guest blogger and a staff blogger for: Coilhouse, bloodmilk, Death & the Maiden, Dirge, Haute Macabre, and Thespiai.

-Did you know I was the creator responsible for Skeletor Is Love?

-Did you know I was the co-creator of the Occult Activity Book Vol. 1&2?

-Did you know I successfully ran Death Cafe events for a couple of years?

-Did you know I have a YouTube channel, a Patreon, and a newsletter?

-Did you know I spearheaded the solving of a decades-long art mystery involving the cover art for a beloved book?

-Did you know I have written and published and put my heart and soul into three books of mystical, magical, fantastical art?

I am happy to chat and share more about any of these experiences!


This is a screencap of someone else’s TikTok account, but that someone is using a photo which belongs to me

The above is an image I screencapped from TikTok. If you are someone who has seen photos of my perfume cabinet over the years, you might look at it and think “…hey…that looks like Sarah’s perfume cabinet!” And then you might get confused because you’d think, “Huh, that username says “redacted” not “midnight stinks,” and, “hey, I know Sarah; she would probably never attach a GIF of Ben Affleck’s dumb face to any of her photos, what the heck is going on here?”

Friends, I saw that and was similarly confused. At first, before anything else, I saw my tacky pink sparkly skull and my great-great-grandparent’s antique photo, and I didn’t notice the other stuff. I thought someone had found one of my photos, wanted to know more about the owner of the photo, found my various accounts, and thought, “Aha! here’s a kindred spirit!” In this daydream, the person was posting my photo on TikTok in the spirit of, “Wow, I just found the coolest person! You should all like and follow them!”

Of course, I am terribly deluded and naive about how the world should work. It was just some throwaway post with a trending gif set on the backdrop of my photo, for which I was not credited. For proof ( I mean, you’re following my blog and probably don’t need/wouldn’t ask for proof, but just in case, here is the uncropped 2014 photo below:)

MY perfume cabinet, circa 2013-2014

If you know anything about me at all, forget perfumes, forget my books and blog, TikTok, and everything else. You may know and SHOULD know that I am passionate about making sure that artists receive credit for their works. I have built my entire writing career on it. Now, I am no artist, and I won’t pretend otherwise, but that was a photo I had taken of a space that belonged to me, so you can imagine how livid I was when I saw that this morning.

Long story short: I left a comment, and they responded. They DMed me and were intensely and genuinely apologetic, and you know what? I couldn’t stay mad at the individual. I am mad that laziness and incurious people exist in general, but I couldn’t be angry at this particular person. I am still marveling at what they said, though. I asked her where she found the image and she said she “got it from Google,” and it’s like…how can that be enough for you? If you uncovered an image that spoke to you so intensely that you took the time to upload it to social media and caption it and add Ben Affleck’s face to it…don’t you care enough to find out who was responsible for the photo? For the human behind it? I mean, what if they shared other photos that you might like? What if they SAID or WROTE things you might like? What if they were AN ACTUAL HUMAN PERSON that you might like? Don’t you want to find out? How can you not want to know more? I will never, ever, ever understand this. I just won’t.

Another photo for good measure, several years and several perfumes later

I was going to use the incident as a teachable moment or a form of behavior modeling and make a video about it on TikTok, but you know what? I am wasting my breath, my time, and my energy. I have seen time and time again that very few people are concerned with this. Also…I mean, the person did apologize, I don’t want to embarrass them. Also…the only reason I even saw it in the first place was because one of my friends reposted it, and I was flabbergasted… did they not recognize my perfume cabinet??? But also, how could this other person, a virtual stranger, whom I have never met in real life and only occasionally chat with on TikTok as of three months ago, recognize a photo of my perfume cabinet from 2014?? HA! I don’t know! But for a hot minute, I was mad at EVERYONE!

At the end of the day though, I am on that app because it’s fun to share my enthusiasm for perfume, and I don’t want to muck it up with something that makes me feel gross. Instead, I retrieved the original photo and several other photos of my perfume cabinet from 2009-2024, and on TikTok today, I shared a little perfume cabinet progression slide show, and I mentioned none of what led up to it.  I reckon it will garner just as much attention and views as the passive-aggressive scolding video (which is to say not much at all, my views are abysmal), but at least it’s coming from a more pleasant place in my heart.

And if you have read this far, gosh, and thank you. It was quite a bitchfest.

P.S. Again, the issue has been resolved. I know you all aren’t the sort to find someone and give someone a hard time but there is absolutely no need. Apologies were made and accepted! If anything, go give a comment and a like to my video 🙂

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Could it be that our Ten Things feature has returned, for real? Well, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves (I’m a bit superstitious like that and don’t like to make those kinds of declarations, BUT…)

I am extraordinarily pleased that this month we are hearing from my long-time internet friend, Jack Guignol, whose dark, gothic tastes in literature, music, and film are absolutely impeccable, and whenever I peek over at the atmosphere and ambiance of the stories/supplements he shares on his blog, it always makes me wish I were way more into D&D than I actually am. For reference, I am zero percent into D&D–it makes me very anxious!–but his blog posts make me YEARN!

Jack is also the co-host, along with Tenebrous Kate, one of my other favorite internet people, of BAD BOOKS FOR BAD PEOPLE–a podcast where two ridiculously smart people talk about the weirdest, kinkiest, most outrageous books they can unearth. I can count the podcasts I am interested in on three fingers, and these guys consistently invite us into insightful and entertaining discussions on truly offbeat literature. They are the ultimate excavators of the darkest corners of the bookshelf and my go-to for bizarre literary deep dives.

When Jack asked me last month if we might be interested in a Ten Things focused on …well, whatever he wanted to write about… I said HELL YEAH. And now, today, we have ten glorious recommendations from the realm of Euro-Gothic cinema, where classic Gothic themes like vampires, haunted castles, and dark family secrets intertwine with distinct national filmmaking styles and historical anxieties, creating a truly unique and unsettling cinematic experience.

I found some beloved favorites listed below and some thrilling titles I’ve never even heard of, so I think you’re going to have a lot of fun with this one. Thank you kindly, Jack!


Jack Guignol, Morbid Scholar

Jack is a scholar of all things morbid and literary. He is a cohost of the Bad Books for Bad People podcast, the creator of the PLANET MOTHERFUCKER roleplaying game (better have your “show me adult content” filter checked for that one, it’s outrageous), and has a chapter in the forthcoming book Something Wicked: Witchcraft in Movies, Television, and Popular Culture from Bloomsbury Academic.

Black Sunday (1960): Loosely based on Nikolai Gogol’s Viy, Black Sunday (also known as La maschera del demonio or The Mask of the Demon) was Mario Bava’s directorial debut–and what a debut it is. Barbara Steele, the stunning Queen of the Euro Gothics, does double duty starring as both Asa Vajda, a condemned witch, and Katia Vajda, a haunted and beautiful young woman in danger of having her youth and vitality drained when Asa returns as the undead. Black Sunday is a gorgeous film; from the famous opening scene in which a mask is nailed over Asa’s face before execution to the big reveal of the final reel, you could press pause at any point and come away with a stunning still image that captures the macabre beauty of the genre.

The Church (1989): The literary Gothic tradition is rife with convoluted storytelling combined with a heady brew of anti-Catholic anxieties, so why should its cinematic counterpart be any different? Originally intended as a sequel to Lamberto Bava’s Demons series, director Michele Soavi insisted that The Church be a separate entity with its own filmic identity. There’s a lot in the mix in this movie, but it’s all classic Gothicisms: a gloomy cathedral whose catacombs harbor a dark secret from the medieval past, something-something about Teutonic Knights, and a priest who just wants to watch the world burn.

Dark Waters (1994): Straddling the line between Gothic horror and folk horror, Dark Waters is a dream-like film that should appeal to viewers who have room in their hearts for both H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” and Mattew Lewis’s The Monk. Elizabeth (played by Louise Salter) arrives at a convent on an isolated island during a tempest; she is assigned Sarah (Venera Simmons), a young novice, to be her guide. The two women delve into the forbidden mysteries of the convent’s library, the secrets in the convent’s catacombs, and even Elizabeth’s own tainted familial history.

Eyes Without a Face (1960): Who needs “elevated horror” when we have Georges Fanju’s 1960 classic Eyes Without a Face? Dr. Génessier (played by Pierre Brasseur) will do anything to restore the beauty of his daughter Christiane (Édith Scob), who was disfigured in a car accident. And by “do anything,” I mean abducting and murdering young women so he can attempt to graft their faces onto Christiane’s damaged visage. The masked Christiane is a truly tragic figure; even with her face hidden behind a stoic expression, Édith Scob manages to convey an overwhelming sense of sadness that spills over into madness. Despite being such a dark film, it’s also one of the most beautifully shot on this list.

The Gorgon (1964): You could put just about any Hammer Horror joint with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee on this list, but I’m including The Gorgon here for one simple reason: instead of the usual Gothic monsters such as vampires, werewolves, and mummies, this movie has a snake-haired lady who turns people to stone as its central figure of terror. There’s a fun wrinkle with the monster here too–an otherwise normal-looking woman becomes a gorgon on nights of the full moon! You will have no trouble figuring out who the gorgon is (there just aren’t that many women in the movie), but you’re sure to enjoy the schlocky thrills of a Hammer movie made from a story submitted to the company by one of its fans.

Lady Frankenstein (1971): Lady Frankenstein is a film of star-studded madness that features the considerable talents of Rosalba Neri, Joseph Cotten, and Mickey Margitay. Tania Frankenstein (played by Rosalba Neri) arrives home from medical school, but she’s already well aware of what her father’s experiments are really about. No shrinking violet, she wants in on the transgressive mad science action! Of course, like most Frankenstein flicks, this one features a monster running amok–though this one is doing his best “Jason will kill you if you are nude romping in the woods” gimmick. That would be enough for most movies of this ilk, but Lady Frankenstein doesn’t know how to say “no” to excess: add in brain transplants, seductions and murders, and the obligatory peasants with torches and pitchforks storming the castle.

The Long Hair of Death (1964): The Long Hair of Death, which also stars Barbara Steele in dual roles, would make an excellent pairing with Black Sunday for a Euro-Gothic double feature. Steele plays Helen Rochefort, a woman whose mother was burned at the stake as a witch for the “sin” of being desired by a powerful man. Helen, too is killed for confronting male power and its base lasciviousness. But the story doesn’t end there! On a stormy night, a mysterious woman named Mary, who is uncannily identical to Helen, appears at the castle to pursue revenge against patriarchal hypocrisy in an extremely morbid and overheated Gothic way.

Mill of the Stone Women (1960): Hans (played by Pierre Brice) arrives at an obscure island to research a legendary carousel of female statues created by Gregorious Wahl (Herbert A.E. Böhme). During his visit to the mill, Hans falls in obsessional love with Wahl’s supposedly ill daughter Elfie (Scilla Gabel). What follows in the film is an absolutely insane tangle of psychological fixations, corrosive love, and murderous desire. And the titular carousel of statues? Absolutely unhinged when they appear on screen. I can practically guarantee that you will be haunted by the film’s final images.

The Vampire Lovers (1970): Did you really think we’d get through this list without running into a vampire movie? Specifically, a lesbian vampire movie? The Vampire Lovers is an adaptation of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s classic Carmilla with all the sapphic dials and opportunities to exercise the “male gaze” turned up to eleven; with Ingrid Pitt as the vampiress Carmilla Karnstein and Madeline Smith as her desired prey, The Vampire Lovers is the epitome of “Hammer Glamour.”

The Whip and the Body (1963): We started this list with Mario Bava, and by God, we are going to end it with Mario Bava too. Whereas Black Sunday is an undeniable atmospheric classic, The Whip and the Body is for the sickos only; if you’ve made it through the other films on the list, you can have The Whip and the Body as a little sadomasochistic treat. It really does what it says on the tin–it features both whips and bodies. Make no mistake, this is a vile little movie, but it has got Gothic nonsense like familial strife, transgressive sexual desire, and dubious inheritance claims galore.


Stephen Mackey, Never Sleep With Your Eyes Shut

There’s a world veiled in static on the periphery of our vision, where dreams and nightmares bleed into one another. Glimpsed in flickering candlelight and whispered shadows of tangled vines in fairytales, we sense it creeping, seeping into our reality.

We’ve entered the unrestful realms of British artist Stephen Mackey, where his paintings serve as portals to lands of darksome lullabies, unsettling dreamscapes of perpetual twilight evanescence. With each brushstroke, Mackey weaves secret tales of the precious and the sinister, the twisted romance of unquiet beauty.

Stephen Mackey, A Scented Mourner


Stephen Mackey, Meniscus


Stephen Mackey, Dressing Up As People

Beneath the whimsical surface of Mackey’s paintings lies a darkness that lurks, unseen but palpable. Ethereal maidens appear to frolic with fantastical creatures, beauties dream soundly in enchanted canopied beds, and primp before shimmering mirrors. Yet, closer inspection reveals scenes fraught with lurking tension – the subtle dance between predator and prey, the maze of perils and pathways dark and bewitched.

Are these glimpses into a world existing just beyond our perception, where fairytales take a darker turn? Or are they manifestations of Mackey’s own subconscious, a shadowy reflection of the human psyche?

Stephen Mackey, House of the Somnambulist


Stephen Mackey, Keep Your Secrets

Mackey himself comments wryly about his cryptic creative persona, ‘No information = mystique . . . You can have any facts you want, but you’re sworn to secrecy.’ Keep your secrets then, Mr. Mackey! We’ll develop some haunted and outlandish theories of our own!

Self-taught and inspired by the great French, Dutch, and Italian masters of the Renaissance, there’s a definite echo of Romanticism in his works, a touch of Fuseli’s nightmarish visions and Blake’s mystical explorations. Yet, a distinctly modern disquiet prowls beneath the surface. Peer deeply, and you’ll find unsettling details: the death-curses of butterflies in spring, a somnambulist’s fear of the dark, a crescent moon glowing eerily in a noontime sky. These subtle elements disrupt the tranquility, hinting at a world teetering on the edge of something unknown.

In these scenes of capricious glooms, somber palettes, velvety textures, and hushed intimacy, one also senses that the sleeper may awaken at any moment, and these menacing monsters and melancholic mysteries? Perhaps we’ve shattered the illusion, and they were never there at all.

Stephen Mackey’s The Sandman can be seen in the pages of The Art of Darkness: A Treasury of the Morbid, Melancholic and Macabre. You can find more of Stephen Mackey’s art over on his Instagram.


Stephen Mackey, The Sandman


Stephen Mackey, The Honey Tears
Stephen Mackey, Music For Night Children


Stephen Mackey, The Mithering


Stephen Mackey, The Thousand and One Afternoons


Stephen Mackey, The Bringing Spell


Stephen Mackey, Introducing The Dark


If you enjoy these art-related writings, or if you have ever enjoyed or been inspired by something I have written, and you would like to support this blog, consider buying the author a coffee?

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Earlier this month, I was one of the co-hosts for Elizabeth/Reading Wryly’s Midnight Society Book Club, and in her introduction of us, she mentioned I was someone she admired for actively “romanticizing my life.” And that surprised me because I don’t think of myself as someone who does that. But that’s the thing…I don’t think about it. When I paused to ponder for a moment, it occurred to me that, sure, of course, that’s exactly what I do! I’ve just been doing it so long that I never even considered it was a “thing,” let alone a thing I spent time doing.

I’m not even sure I understand what it means to “romanticize your life,” but for me, I think that looks like taking the things I do every day and just making them more…special, I guess? I’ve always wanted to live a life that looked like the pictures in my late grandmother’s Betty Crocker’s New Picture Cookbook. I think a lot of us have those formative memories of what we think/hope adult life is supposed to look like, and somewhere along the way, we realize, nope, adult life is ugly chaos– and that you’ve got to actually work to make it look like a scallop-tiered, charming cupcake cutie carousel. And really, that’s all I am doing. Trying to conjure meringue-frosted, angel food cake feelings as I go about my daily experiences.

At least on the surface, that’s what it looks like I am doing. But then I thought about it some more…

In my early twenties, I was living in a tiny, crappy Daytona Beach riverside apartment; fifteen minutes away was the enormous racetrack that NASCAR fans flocked to, and a two-minute walk away was the Boothill Saloon, where the bikers congregated during bike week. Compound that with living directly in the middle of a tacky spring break town, and you could definitely say I did not feel like I was living the most elegant of lifestyles. At that time, I was in community college, I was working dead-end part-time jobs, my boyfriend was a flaky musician who was involved with some shady stuff with his brother, and they would both disappear for days on end. I was constantly broke, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, and I was constantly living with the disappointment and dread that I was going nowhere fast–and I didn’t know the first thing to do about it.

My baby sister and I would sometimes meet up at our local Barnes and Noble, scrape our money together to buy a few coffee drinks in the cafe, and look at beautiful books. We wanted to “live elegantly.” We wanted to create spaces for ourselves that felt not only safe and comfortable but fulfilled that longing to be living a life that felt special, somehow. It wasn’t enough to be living in a world where we were barely scraping by; we knew there was beauty in the universe, and we wanted our fingers on the pulse of it.

And I could, I could really feel that haunting tug of loveliness in the world…but it was just beyond my grasp, constantly dancing outside my periphery and I could never sustain it. Because lived right on the river, where there was a little dock jutting out from the crusty parking lot in the back of the building. Whenever I’d park under the crumbling carport after work in the evening, I’d pause a moment before heading up the dim, narrow staircase to our one-bedroom apartment with the janky AC that was broken more often than not, and just watch the sun reflecting off the water, glittering wildly like a handful of carelessly tossed coins. I lived for that moment, and I wanted more. But I didn’t know where to find it. So, that’s where the books and Barnes and Noble came in. We would sit there for hours reading books we couldn’t afford (we spent our money on the coffee!) And we dreamed.

Two books in particular I remember from this time are Alexandra Stoddard’s Living A Beautiful Life and Living Juicy by Sark. They must have been gifts, either from my family or the members of the poetry society I was part of at college. They have been savagely well-loved over the years, even though something inside me rebelled against Sark with her bright colors and relentlessly cheery affirmations!

Circumstances changed, and a decade or so later, I found myself in New Jersey! Despite working two jobs to pay rent, I had no friends and very little in the way of social life, so I found myself with a lot of time on my hands. This is when I truly began to take notice of and appreciate art and music; I spent a lot of time on Tumblr, curating an ongoing gallery of eyeball-pleasing things, and, constantly seeking new sounds and eager to share them, I would make weekly playlists over at 8tracks. I frequented the MakeupAlley and BPAL forums and became more and more fascinated with fragrance. It was the heyday of food blogs and knitting blogs, so I was forever trying new recipes and patterns, and just blogs, in general, were feeding my curiosity and appetite for learning about new and intriguing things. This was when I moved my blogging from Live Journal to something I built and hosted myself so that I could write about and photograph all of the things I was reading, watching, baking, and listening to, in a way that felt more personalized, that I had more ownership of.

My photography skills were abysmal, and many years later, they are not all that much better, but it was in the attempt to capture images of all the things I had made that I began paying more attention to how they looked. And they didn’t look anything like those Betty Crocker cookbooks! So I kept trying! I still don’t have an eye for balance or symmetry or lighting or perspective, but if nothing else, I think have an eye for detail, and a “more is more” instinct that gives my images a sort of special je ne sais quoi, even if they are not technically great pieces of art. During that time, I had a lot of fun creating little “Adornment Tableaux,” where I would try to artfully arrange and photograph my jewelry and perfume for the day.

I was sad and lonely a lot, and I was in a shitty, abusive relationship with a shitty, awful person…but I had a burgeoning perfume and art collection, I could escape into books and movies, and came to know the terrible joy of throwing oneself into their writing. I took long, long walks in autumnal graveyards and frozen river strolls and immersed myself in neighborhood explosions of spring florals. I experienced what beauty I could, and I survived.

Time flies! Another decade has passed! I am back in Florida. Daytona-adjacent again. But I have now got a partner who is loving and encouraging of my hobbies (which is great because not only do I no longer have to hide them, I have got someone who will actually offer to help me!), and I do not have to pay the rent all by myself, so now I have a bit of discretionary income. My collections of beautiful things grow, and I grow tiny followings on social media sharing these things. My mother gets cancer and dies a year later. My grandfather dies two summers after that. Two years later, the day after Valentine’s Day, my grandmother passes away as well. A lot of turmoil and sadness in a few short years. Still, I have my sisters, and I have Yvan, and I have late summer roses and the ocean at sunrise on New Year’s Day, and I have so many artists, old and new, that I am learning about and obsessing over and interviewing and writing about.

And then I am signing a contract to write a book about some of that art! And then the world goes weird and sick and sideways. People are unwell and dying, and we are quarantining ourselves away for a long time from everyone, even those we know and love best in the world. Now I have more time than ever before. I don’t have to cancel plans in a moment of introverted panic; plans never got made in the first place. We live like this for a year and a half.  My first book is released at the height of the pandemic. Within the next six months, I am contracted to write another. And then another.

During this time, there is also a lot of baking and and growing and knitting–and the arranging prettily and immortalizing the results of these things.  I continue to share them, and to write about them, even though I never know if anyone is listening or if it is just so much throwing flowers into the void. In 2022, with nothing tying us to the area anymore, we decided it would be smart to move closer to Yvan’s parents. They are getting on in years, and it would be better if we were nearby. We pack up house and move two hours north. I collect assorted blooms from our ragtag little gardens and jam them into a McDonald’s cup as we drive away from our old neighborhood for the last time.

We’ve now been in this new house for almost two years. It’s too big for us, so we’ve filled it with too much junk. It’s draped in perpetual twilight, and all of our indoor plants die… which is just as well because we’ve got a hyper-strict HOA and we have to spend all of our time outside trimming, mowing, raking, sweeping. It’s been one thing after another, constant chaos. We’ve had to remove trees because they were growing under the house the the roots were breaking up the garage floor. We had to have the entire house’s worth of ductwork replaced. We are redoing the flooring by replacing all of the nasty carpets with wood (or woody bits; I don’t know the difference) at the same time as knocking down walls and building closets, so all of the stuff and furniture at one end of the house has all been stuffed into the other end of the house, and it’s a big, dusty, messy mess. As someone who loves the safety and comfort of home, this has neither felt comfortable nor 100% safe, and all in all, it’s most unlovely. I was joking with Yvan the other day that the only way I have made it through the past three months is by just disassociating entirely. I was mostly not joking.

But what also got me through it is remembering all of the other things I got through to get here. And here, for all its messiness, is a really good place to be. And to be in this good place with such a good person by my side? I never thought that would be me. Sad, scared 21-year-old me looking out over the Halifax river, wishing for another kind of life, or really, any kind of life at all–she had no idea. 28-year-old me was going to have to go through a lot of shit to get here, too. 20-years later-me gets it. Maybe? But 47-going-on-48-year-old me recognizes the hubris in saying such a thing, too!

I have cultivated a life rich in experience, even when the circumstances weren’t ideal. My story hasn’t been about curating some pristine pretense of perfection, like those retro tableclothed displays of fake cakes–it’s about acknowledging the messiness and finding the poetry within it. I still don’t actually properly know what it means to “romanticize your life.” (Sort of like I never figured out what people are getting up to when they do “shadow work.” Like, I know we have to explore and integrate our wounds and traumas and whatnot, but HOW?!) But I reckon, at least for me, viewing your life through this lens of the romantic has to do with using your dreams as guiding stars, your darkness as a catalyst, and finding a light in the cracks. Finding solace in art, writing, and the beauty of nature; channeling creativity through the darkness. The quiet joy of everyday moments that become infused with a touch of the extraordinary through the active practice of those creative rituals.

Those cookbooks and early Barnes and Noble dreams fueled a lifelong quest for beauty, a journey that unearthed glittering moments in the most unexpected places – a sunset on a river, a meticulously arranged perfume tray. Even during dark times, the embers of that yearning for those moments glowed, transforming sadness and loss into art, stories, and photographs. My life may never resemble a picture-perfect still life, but it’s a weird, wild, wonky knit stitched from experience, resilience, a big imagination, and a healthy dose of accidental romanticism. And that, I believe, is a story worth sharing. Whether anyone is reading, watching, or caring at all.

If a seed is thrown into the void and no one is there to catch it on the other side, does it still bloom? I’ve dreamed these flowers my whole life. They’re waiting for me.

If you enjoy this navel-gazing nonsense, or if you have ever enjoyed or been inspired by something I have written, and you would like to support this blog, consider buying the author a coffee?

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Image credit: Alex Segre

This was initially written for Dirge Magazine in 2015. Dirge has since disappeared, but I hate the idea of my writing being homeless, so here it is for my own blog–which is probably where it belonged in the first place. 

IN THE AUTUMN AND WINTER MONTHS I am drawn to the somber quiet of cemeteries and graveyards – places that house the still, silent dead. I suppose as the afternoons grow darker and colder, so do my thoughts and mood – and as such, melancholic meanderings alongside spirits and shades are often the order of the day.

The mind tends to wander strange, surreal pathways during these wintry boneyard rambles, and yet one sometimes finds oneself contemplating such practical frivolities as fashion and fripperies whilst traversing between headstones. The thought, for example, that aside from all the dead folk beneath your feet, cemeteries are also full of fascinating sartorial inspiration: the curious gravestone iconography; the bleak, chilled color palette of concrete crypts, porcelain urns, and faded funeral bouquets; the varying textures of cracked stone, velvety moss, and the tangle of overgrown, interwoven vines.

Incorporating these solemn motifs into ensembles for cemetery strolls when you’ve got a case of the morbs would then seem a logical progression, would it not?

See below for a selection of crypt couture and funereal finery fit for early winter visits to even some of the world’s most famous cemeteries. Pack your bags for a whirlwind, worldwide cemetery tour, fashionable saddies and tapophiles!

Seriously, pack a lot of bags. I didn’t skimp on the accessories and accoutrements.


Highgate Cemetery, England

Private Practice Jacket $98 // Rag & Bone Distressed Skinny Jeans $255 // Commando camisole & briefs $70 // Michael Kors “Joanie” knee-high boots $295 // Halston Heritage suede tote $297.50 // Lipstick Queen “Black Tie Optional” $22 // Morph Knitwear Shapeshifter shawl $124 // Acanthus Vanitas pendant $390 // Bittersweets NY Memento Mori ring $1300 // KMRII “Estoc” belt $320 // LUSH Death & Decay perfume £30


Lutheran Saxon Cemetery, Transylvania

Dolce & Gabbana lace blouse $1875 // Alexander McQueen coat $5795 // Maticevski “Predator” skirt $1000 // Chantal Thomass hold up stockings $55.69 // Agent Provacateur bra $590 & panties $450 // Lancôme gel liner $25 // Saint Laurent lace up boots $524 // Charlotte Olympia suede bag $1195 // Eres + Maison Michel wide brim hat $970 // Christian Louboutin nail polish “Under Red” $45 // Antique black enamel bracelet $2450 // Gisele Ganne Mourning Blacking ring £210 //  CB I Hate Perfume “Winter 1972” $20-$100

Cimetière du Père Lachaise, Paris

Bolongaro Trevor Faded Snake parachute dress $92.56 // Theory “Virny” blazer $192 // Lonely Harper bra $75 & briefs $60 // Gareth Pugh “Runway” wedge boot $643 // Skull mask ring $200 // Pamela Love cross ring $250 // Luxirare wallet necklace $95 // MAC pigment “Softwash Grey” $31.50 // Bloodmilk Two of Swords Tarot earrings $200 // COMME des GARÇONS Silver Words fragrance $149.50

If you enjoy these sartorial musings, or if you have ever enjoyed or been inspired by something I have written, and you would like to support this blog, consider buying the author a coffee?




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Oiseau sur une fleur


In the 2010s, or maybe just a soupçon prior, the thing was to “put a bird on it.” Do you remember that? I do. I was wild for all of the twee, sweet, bird things from Anthropologie. If I could have afforded it, I would have birded up my entire wardrobe with their various collections. That was well over a decade ago, but it’s funny how things jump to the forefront of your mind, given the right conditions.

A few weeks ago, I came across the delicate, hauntingly introspective artworks of Kiyoshi Hasegawa. I first thought they were as if poet Pablo Neruda looked over his body of achingly melancholic works and thought, “hm, this is all wrong. It’s missing something. Let’s put a bird on it!”


Bird on Roots


Still life with Mexican dove

But from what I can see, Kiyoshi Hasegawa (French/Japanese, 1891–1980) wasn’t one for trends or fleeting fancies. This printmaker, who spent most of his life etching away in Paris ateliers, was far more concerned with whispers of soul and the quiet poetry of existence. Sure, birds flitted through his works – ethereal creatures, often solitary, perched on windowsills or etched against a darkened sky (or dressed in Parisienne finery!) But they weren’t mere decorations, these feathered friends. They were symbols of longing, memory, and the bittersweet beauty of impermanence.

Oiseau et Papillons


Parisienne Pigeon

His art, primarily wood engravings and mezzotints full of rich blacks and velvety textures, spoke in soft, nuanced tones. He found magic in the mundane – a forgotten teacup, a lone wildflower in a vase, a toy fox of knotted rope. Meticulously crafted with a lifetime of honed skill, each image resonated with a melancholy grace, as if capturing the echo of a half-remembered dream.

Hasegawa was an artist attuned to the subtlest frequencies of life, a soul who whispered stories of the enduring beauty found in the in-between spaces. His work spoke of solace in solitude, expressing the complexities of the human experience through seemingly simple scenes. He wasn’t about putting a bird on it; he was about etching an entire universe onto the soul of a single feather.


Time Still Life


Field flowers in a vase


Fleurs des champs dans un verre


Bouquet de fleurs des champs


Nature morte au gyroscope


The Fox and the Grape (from Fables of La Fontaine)


Graminées dans un verre


Coupe de fleurs des champs


Sympathy between Bird and Fish

If you enjoy these artsy-fartsy musings, or if you have ever enjoyed or been inspired by something I have written, and you would like to support this blog, consider buying the author a coffee?





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While I’ve certainly had some high points and some pretty interesting things happen last year, I’ve begun looking at it overall like this: did I keep my promises, honor my commitments, and do everything I said I would do in 2023?

This is a good question to ask myself because I wasn’t always very responsible or good at that.  But yes, I definitely was. I kept my word, I delivered on all of my commitments, and not only was no one left hanging, and nothing was half-assed– I think I went magnificently above and beyond everything that was asked of me. I consider that a wildly successful year. Maybe that’s super cringe and corny and Pollyanna. I don’t care. It’s important to me to be someone that people can count on and trust and be glad they did. And I was, to the very best of my ability.

(Ok yes I also wrote another book and spearheaded the solving of a decades-long art mystery! And those were very cool things, too!)

But I also liked a bunch of things, bought a bunch of things, made some recipes, and read some books. if you are interested in any or all of that, below is a roundup of all of my favorites from 2023. Be sure to share some of your 2023 favorites and highlights in the comments, as well!

(note: the pictures used for the collage in the featured image are not mine; they are from here, here, and here.)


Some of my favorite books this year …

✹ In Natural Beauty by Ling Ling Huang, our unnamed narrator (which becomes a more and more interesting choice the further into the story we delve into) is a former musician of formidable talent who has abandoned her passion for the piano after her beloved parents are in a terrible accident. The story opens as she is struggling in NYC, living in a cruddy basement apartment with crappy roommates, barely eking out a living, let alone earning enough money to pay for her parent’s rehab facility. She is then offered the opportunity to work at Holistik, a boutique selling wildly coveted, expensive–and perhaps experimental– products and services to beauty, age, and wellness-obsessed celebrities. The story is a beautiful meditation on grief, family, and beauty itself. And while it skewers the cult of beauty in a surreal and, I might even say satirical way –it also feels utterly, gorgeously sincere. The writing is lyrical, but it doesn’t veer purple. And the story is at turns beautiful, horribly grotesque, and very sad. If you like the imaginative strangeness of Mona Awad’s books, the crusty, bodily grossness of Otessa Moshfegh, or if you enjoyed the weirdness and WTFery of A Touch of Jen by Beth Morgan, then you may dig this one. Magical realism, alternate reality, speculative fiction? I don’t know what you call these stories, but if you gravitate toward books like this, Natural Beauty will be a favorite.

Maeve Fly by CJ Leede: Oh my god. Imagine a love letter to Los Angeles, written by a savage, sociopathic Weetzie Bat; a Takashi Miike film inspired by a series of Lana del Rey songs; a main character who is a Disney Princess channeling Patrick Bateman. Imagine there is also a reference to “Werewolf Bar Mitzvah” in these pages. You guys–the perfect book really does exist.

Lonely Castle in the Mirror by Mizuki Tsujimura Middle-schooler Kokoro is shy and struggling and has not been to class in quite some time. Her classmates are bullying her, and what begins as anxiety and fear about going back to school becomes a phobia about even leaving the house at all. Her parents are frustrated and are seeking out alternative schooling options, but for the time being, they allow Kokoro to stay home while they work during the day. One afternoon, a portal appears in her bedroom mirror, and she enters to find herself in a castle …where six other kids her age have apparently found their way as well. They learn they have some interesting things in common and were summoned for a reason, but they only piece it all together over the course of getting to know each other and becoming friends. I loved this magical, heartwarming story, and guess what! It’s a movie, too!

Mary: An Awakening of Terror by Nat Cassidy was a title that had been languishing in my TBR pile for a year or so. Turns out that middle-aged, menopausal Mary is probably my all-time favorite character and I am sorry I waited so long to get to it! Hot flashes are one thing, but grotesque hallucinations, losing time, and homicidal urges? Mary’s pretty sure something’s not quite right but of course, her doctor just pooh-poohs her concerns. I know I haven’t said much but don’t want to say anything else and risk having said too much! This book is gross and fun and you might think “What business does a man have writing about a middle-aged woman?” I thought that, too. Make sure you read the Afterword.

Children of Paradise by Camila Grudova: I guess didn’t write a proper review for this one, but there’s not much to tell, plot-wise.  A young woman begins working at a historical cinema and becomes part of the insular little group that works there. I think this weird, crusty little slice-of-life story was my very favorite of 2023. A recommendation from my best bean Sonya, who has three incredible short stories (one here, one here, and one here) published this year. Actually, forget everything I said above. Sonya’s stuff is by far and away my favorite.

Some of my favorite perfumes this year …

✹ Lvnea’s PÊCHE OBSCÈNE is a glorious fragrance, but what I mean is glorious in the way that something monstrous and magnificent stalks the dead zone of night, by stealth and in the dark. This is peach, irradiated and ashen and grown over with moss and broken bird’s nests and salted against curses, curls of ferric iron to both ward away and contain within. A peach more lore and legend than it ever had life, a peach whose shadow looms uneasily far beyond its ruined flesh. Juices corrupt with the grave dirt of vetiver and patchouli and oozing with osmanthus’ strange leathery/jammy incense, Peche Obscene is an undead lich of a peach, and it is absolutely, terrifyingly, bewitching in the way that all delicious forbidden things are.

Corfu Kumquat from Aedes de Venustas: In a small Greek village built on the slopes of the island’s highest mountain is a quietly atmospheric little ghost town with only two or three permanent inhabitants. One of them is a kumquat that never fully ripened, too sour and pithy for marmalade and liqueurs, too small and strange to be of much practical use. Perhaps it was overlooked. Perhaps it forged its own little path in life. It’s now the local guide for the village, steering tourists hither and yon along cobblestone roads, sharing historical anecdotes and eerie legends, and finally depositing them at the gift shop once the excursion has concluded. As the crowd disperses, it reaches into its pocket for a cigarette and lights up in the cool shade of an ancient stone cottage, exhaling smoke through its citrus peel pores, whirling and curling in satisfying vaporous salt-air swirls, while catching glimpses of the sun glinting on the sea through the undulating mountains.

Noire Encens from Mad et Len POV: you are a brooding pencil, prone to bouts of melancholia, that only scribbles at midnight and has only ever been used to draft architectural sketches of gargoyle-adorned gothic cathedrals and crumbling medieval monasteries and Baudelairian poetry and you listen to a lot of Cold Cave and Chelsea Wolfe. This one is discontinued, but you can still get samples here.

Tomie from Black Phonix Alchemy Lab: Tomie crawls beneath your skin, a slithery jasmine-amber-flecked marzipan cotton candy ghost musk of a scent, but not a fresh, hot carnival cone of the stuff–rather, the soft, sticky filaments of floss caught in your uniquely self-scented hair at the end of the night. And maybe a bewitched and bothered someone is bizarrely compelled to snip a few of those sweet, tangled tendrils while you’re sleeping because they’re an absolute psychopath, and maybe when you wake up in the morning the scissors are gripped in your own hands, the sultry tresses are tucked into your own little etched sandalwood box, and maybe, perhaps, the psychopath is you. Utterly obsessed with yourself.

Green Spell from Eris Parfums: This perfume is as if a celestial being of 100% chlorophyll descended from the heavens, its wings a crushing flutter of many leaves, broad and flat, delicate and curled, waxen, rubbery, pliant, radiating every variation of veridian. In a voice like seeping moss, like eroding rock, like insect wings disintegrating into the earth, it whispers to you, “Like, be not afraid, or whatever.” It’s the endless trailing succulent stem of a bittersweet pennywort patch through the soil until you reach a darkly massive gnashing malachite rootball nightmare. You awake with emerald scratchings on your palm and jade lashings of fern in your teeth.

Estate Carnation from Solstice Scents: A deeply gothic glamour amber, a musky murky chypre-adjacent fragrance that smells simultaneously like the figure in the white nightdress running from the manor house with the lone candle lit in the window at midnight and the surprise succubus that this figure is secretly possessed by–it’s all the iconic tropes of Avon Satanic Romance novel, and it’s perfect.


Favorite music and movies…

✹ I listened endlessly to the harrowing dreamy southern gothic bleakness of Ethel Cain’s Preacher’s Daughter, and also a lot of the drowning disembodied coldwave of Molchat Dolma (another Sonya rec, probably from ages ago, but I am slow) and the chilly melancholic The Strings soundtrack. was finally released (the movie came out in 2020 or so!) I also listened to Chelsea Wolfe’s hauntingly atmospheric “Dusk” single approximately seventy gazillion times.

✹ I watched very few movies because of all the reading I was trying to do, but in October, I recall seeing Evil Dead Rise, which was genuinely freaky as hell. And also Images, which was definitely not new, but rather a hazy 70s-era gem–strange and surreal and utter perfection. Also, the Deadloch series on Amazon Prime, following a string of murders in a small, extremely weird Tasmanian town, described by its creators as “Broadchurch but make it funny.”

Favorite social media…

✹ Booktubers Reading Wryly and Jen Campbell where I get tons of book recommendations and wonderful reviews brimming with nuance and insight. And this Azerbaijani couple, just going about their daily business of gardening and cooking on their country life blog. There are chickens and rabbits and flowers and bumblebees and breads and meat buns, and it’s just a gloriously peaceful thing to watch.  The Wolf In Lace on TikTok, whose dark fashion finds will grow your wardrobe and break your band account’s spirit. Joyceful Tingles, whose ASMR videos are a batshit delight. Two other Instagram accounts that purely just make me happy are the silly little illustrations of clunky picnic and the acerbic whimsy that is existential crisis cakes, baking the sentiments of bittersweet human experience into neon-frosted dreams.



Stuff and things: 

The Clio Cushion I hate to wear makeup, and it is the only foundation-type thing I will ever wear again. As a matter of fact, the only thing I order from Sephora anymore is a vitamin C serum. Tell me what you swear by, so I can quit them for good!

The Huskin Bee tea, is a mix of black and puer teas with crystallized ginger and apple pieces from Old Growth Alchemy that we enjoy for our afternoon tea break.

✹ These oversized amber wine glasses from Viski

✹ The Bata dress in a Rorschach print from Oseiduro.

Lauren Rad’s lovely sock patterns (I knit at least 10 of them in 2023!)

✹ Tinctures and balms from Banefolk

Le Bon Shop boyfriend socks (these are a forever favorite, I mention them every year)

✹ These Japanese bath salts are also an every year, every time favorite and that has not changed.

Weird Liza’s Colorama coloring books for turning your anxiety into art

✹ This French press looks very nice and keeps your coffee hot for a long time. This is NOT cheap, but even Yvan (who really balked at the price) admits it’s one of the best purchases we’ve ever made.

✹ This soda water and vinegar drink is SO GOOD, and it’s a cheat because I found it on December 31, 2023… but does it count if I wished I’d found it sooner?

✹ This Totoro airpod case sparks joy

✹ This little soy sauce dispenser

✹ This fancy glass cloche match holder thing and this “10 minute aroma incense matches” and  this incredibly frivolous wick trimmer.

Pretty picture frames from Simon’s Shop. These are inexpensive and really pretty.

✹ These extremely cozy joggers & even cozier slippers

✹ This colorful braided area rug which really tied the whole parlor together

My favorite new kitchen apron

Vintage Asta cookware I was influenced by this cozy coffee account on TikTok that has a certain pan in every video, and it took me a while to find out what they were called, but I eventually found them and I cook with them literally every day now.

✹ A pretty new quilt for the bed

✹ Hinoki-scented nail and cuticle oil

✹ The Luxelift pullover bra from Knix really helped with some body dysmorphia that I didn’t even know I was carrying around with me. It looks like they updated it and are calling it the Revolution bra now.

✹ I don’t think I purchased a lot of new jewelry this year, but I continue to love my rings from Flannery Grace Good, my necklaces from Bloodmilk, my earrings from Alexis Berger, and I really love this Forget Me Not pendant from Seance.

✹ There was also not a lot of new art other than a stunning piece from Luciana Lupe Vasconcelos,  some antique pieces from Roses and Rue, AND a new treasure from Handsome Devil Puppets which we have been conspiring on since 2020 and is arriving to me TODAY!!!

Turtlenecks, I would cover every part of my body with a turtleneck onesie if I could, but the logistics for peeing in that getup are pretty dicey, and I have a tiny bladder, so it’s never gonna be a viable option. I prefer to show as little skin as possible–not for prudish reasons, but rather, I guess as I’ve gotten older, I have reached the conclusion that my body is absolutely no one’s business.

You ever hear people say things like, “Why do you wear such shapeless dresses? You should show off your figure!” Fuck that. I don’t owe my body to anybody, in figure-flattering clothes or otherwise. And fuck “flattering,” too. Life’s short. Be comfortable. I’ll wear my turtlenecked potato sacks, and you can keep your mouth shut because what I wear and how I wear it and what my body looks like under my clothes is none of your goddamn business.

As you can tell, I feel pretty strongly about this. But also, I love turtlenecks because I wear my wear up a lot and my neck gets cold. I like these thin ones from J. Crew for layering and I have a few obnoxious floral prints from brands like Scotch & Soda. They’re all sold out for now, but I just saw this one from another brand, and I think it’s calling to me…



Recipes and such…

✹ Soup for breakfast:  I am a savory breakfast person through and through. Whatever you’re going to try and tempt me with–french toast, pancakes, waffles, cold cereal, yogurt and fruit, smoothies with the works–it’s all a hard pass for me. I don’t have a sweet tooth in general, but in the mornings, the thought of something sweet makes me want to barf. My perfect breakfast would be a lightly toasted (but ideally fresh and just warm, not toasted) everything bagel with scallion cream cheese, lox, capers, onions, tomatoes, all that stuff. My second favorite breakfast would be inspired by traditional Japanese breakfasts: a piece of grilled fish, a rolled omelet, a bowl of soup, some rice, and various pickles and assorted veggies.

Using the latter as a jumping point, I paired it down to just the soup portion, and over the course of the year, I have fine-tuned how I make it. Water and soup stock powder, lots of veggies, a protein, and maybe a starch. I really like zucchini, cabbage, bok choi, Japanese eggplant, and enoki mushrooms, but often, I’ll just toss in whatever I have lying around. If I have it in the fridge, fresh corn is extra lovely! For protein, I’ve added shrimp, mini scallops, tofu, or marinated pork belly, or if I have them in the freezer, these little wontons are particularly nice in the broth. Sometimes, I’ll throw in a few chewy rice cake tubules, or maybe serve a bit of rice and pickles on the side if I have extra time, but most of the time, we just slurp our soup at our desks when we start the work day.

I should note that the above is my summer recipe, but when the weather gets colder, I like my soup spicier. All the extras are the same, but I will include whatever kind of kimchi I have on hand, along with the water and hon dashi, when I get the pot of soup started.

✹ Pasta or gnocchi with a creamy gochujang sauce, you can find variations on this recipe everywhere, but I like it with spicy Italian sausage,  lots of garlic and lacinato kale

✹ I’ve been making this kani salad a lot lately! One recipe calls for adding tobiko or masago as well as furikake, and it adds a good texture. I serve it over rice with pickles and soup on a summer morning. Speaking of pickles, we ate so much of this Filipino cucumber salad this year

✹ Early last fall, I made this French apple cake, and as someone who doesn’t really even like cake all that much, I’ll tell you what. This is the best cake I have ever eaten.

✹ I remembered to make cardamom buns for Christmas this year, and they turned out so beautifully. I know they are regularly thought of as a Swedish teatime treat, but I think it makes such a lovely offering for a winter holiday breakfast or brunch.



Stuff that is not things…

The idea of doing the bare minimum when you don’t want to do anything at all.  Sometimes, you just have one of those days where you wake up and think, “I don’t wanna!” The air feels heavy, your bones creak like haunted floorboards, and even the thought of brushing your teeth seems monumental. It’s on these days that “the bare minimum” whispers like a really benign and actually pretty wise devil on your shoulder.

Yes, it’s a phrase often frowned upon and seen as synonymous with apathy or laziness. But I think critics miss the crucial point: the minimum means putting forth the least amount of action and energy necessary to get the desired output (or something very close to it.) It’s not about doing nothing, it’s about doing just enough.  Don’t want to work on your story or write that essay? Write a sentence and walk away. Don’t want to exercise? Pace around the house for 5-10 minutes. Don’t want to cook dinner? This is one that makes me feel particularly guilty, even though it’s just me and Yvan. Bagged salad mix and frozen chicken tenders, then. For housework, take care of whatever is bothering you that you can actually see. If you can’t see it, it can wait (unless it’s a gas leak or something, but obviously, you’re the best judge of what’s happening in your home.) If it’s work-work, do the things that can’t wait until tomorrow. Do just enough to keep the wheels turning, the bills paid, the body fueled. Enough to not crumble, to maintain a sliver of forward momentum.

It’s a pragmatic choice prioritizing self-preservation, and on days like these, that’s as good as it gets–and that is totally fine.

Doing things for future-Sarah. This is going to sound so corny and annoying and maybe like advice that your parents would give you. But there are probably readers amongst you who are young enough to be my children, so I guess I should just lean into it. Also, this will sort of sound somewhat the opposite of what I just wrote in the above bullet about doing as little as you can get away with doing.  But hear me out.

Ok, so you know those times you’re staring at a mountain of dishes in the sink after dinner in the evening? And you want to read or watch Netflix or literally anything else instead of cleaning that up? Just do the dishes. Tackle it and get it done and over with. Future-you at 6 am in the morning will thank you for it when you walk into a clean kitchen and don’t have to face a sinkful of nasty, crusty lasagna pans and salad bowls when you’d rather be getting coffee started. I don’t know of any other examples that resonate as strongly as the dishes, but whatever the thing is that’s worse to face in the morning? Look out for future-you and do that thing now. This is something I have resisted for years, and what it took was looking at future-me as a completely separate person from present-me and pondering on how I will go out of my way to make other people’s lives easier, but not my own. But if future-me is actually “other” from me, well, that’s another person, and so it’s second nature for me to want to make that other person’s life less complicated than it has to be. Which is wild because that’s a complicated way of coming to what should be a foregone conclusion.

Realizing that I love reading. Not books. I mean, yes, of course– I love books! But I love what they represent, the stories and knowledge and promises they hold. The physical medium of books themselves…? Maybe not so much. I mean, I can appreciate their beauty and their solid heft in the hand, absolutely, but I do not feel the need to HAVE them. Last year, with the exception of some nonfiction, poetry, and titles that a few friends wrote, I purchased fewer books than any year in recent memory. Out of the 220 books I read, less than 20 were physical copies–most of them were digital copies from the library or digital ARCs from Netgalley. Realizing this, I am now beginning to downsize my own collection. If it is on my shelf and the possibility that it will be reread is very low (which, if I am being honest, is most, if not all, of the fiction on my shelves) then I am either going to donate it somewhere or sell it on Pango. I’ve already got a little shop set up! (Pssst…there’s a current 10% discount running!) I think I’d rather save my shelf space for reference material and art books. And knick-knacks, probably.

Getting back into dream journaling For many years, I used to wake every morning and hunch over my pages, scribbling images and impressions of dreams from the night before fast-fast-fast before they’d fly out of my head. Somewhere in 2021, in the midst of house-moving chaos, I just…stopped. But I recently began immersing myself in the pages of Naomi Sangreal’s Little Hidden Doors: A Guided Journal For Deep Dreamers, and it’s really inspired me to get back into it! My dreams run from the mundane (back on the line at Checkers making hamburgers at rush hour and wondering why they haven’t paid me in 25 years) to the ridiculous (last night Matt Berry whispered the word “tumescent” in my ear) and I like to remember and linger on all of it!

…and slightly related to the above in terms of journaling: I have tons of lovely blank journals that just feel too pretty to write in, especially if I am not using them for something special and splendid and perfect. But that’s silly and I want to fill those blank pages,  so one by one I have been using them as “idea journals.” Once a day, I open a page and write down an idea. It could be some passing impressions of a perfume, a particularly good line of dialogue from a movie that struck a chord with me, or menu ideas for Sunday dinner. Whatever! Could be messy or magical or mundane or massively ridiculous. No pressure or polishing. Just a few scribbles a day.

Rediscovering poetry Poetry is another thing I’d kind of just given up on. I mean, on one hand, I’d never truly “give up” on poetry! Gosh! But on the other, I’ve been pretty unimpressed with the handful of collections I’d read in recent years, and was feeling ambivalent about the offerings of contemporary poets. Until I started taking notice of the poetic things and snippets of poetry that people tend to repost and reshare on social media. I don’t mean the Rupi Kaur-type stuff; that’s not really my bag, and I don’t want to be mean about it, so that’s all I will say. But more like, well, how many times have you seen Laura Gilpin’s breathtakingly heart-breaking two-headed calf poem reshared? Or quiet hitching, stifled sob of Wondrous by Sarah Freligh? Or definitely not as weepy as the other two, this one by Nanao Sakaki? I thought to myself that if I love these poems by these three particular poets so much, wouldn’t it make sense to read the collections that they came from and perhaps some of their other works?  It did make sense, and it definitely rekindled my enthusiasm!



If you enjoy my reading roundups or if you have ever enjoyed or been inspired by something I have written, and you would like to support this blog, consider buying the author a coffee?





[Blog subscribers, please note: if you received an extra email notification about this blog post, it’s because there was a glitch during an update,  and the blog was down for a while. The backup restored everything right before this post was published. I am reposting it and backdating it, and you’re probably going to be notified that this is “new,” but it is not! Many apologies!]

I am glad you all are here with me today. Here, at the end of all things. Ok, ok, no need for Mount Doom melodrama; it’s only the last monthly gathering of perfumes for 2023! If you missed any of the previous 150 fragrance reviews over the past year, you can find them here: November + October // September // August // July // June // May // April // March // February // January

A sizable portion of these (64, I believe!) were fragrances from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab. You can find a few individual scents mentioned from month to month, but if you are looking for reviews of their major seasonal releases, you can find them here: 2023 Lupers // 2023 Weenies // 2023 Yules

Dirty Amber from Heretic is a warrior queen’s anthem, a grit-kissed growl of bergamot and juniper, teeth bared against the dawn. Geranium, wild and bruised, clings to cracked leather armor, frankincense, a smoldering altar to forgotten gods, hangs heavy, the acrid bite of cassia bark a whispered curse upon her foes. Tonka’s honeyed siren song of stolen pleasures is cloaked by a bitter, swirling fog of labdanum and myrrh. Cypress and patchouli, the musk of untamed forests, bind her to the earth, roots digging deep into forgotten bones of empires. And then, the heart of the storm erupts: fossilized amber, a guttural roar, a scourge of scorched starlight trapped in the golden opulence of sun-baked tears. The fragrance of a lineage steeped in fire, a war cry echoing through ages, of monsters fallen and kingdoms claimed. Dirty Amber is the scent of a Frazetta goddess, eyes blazing with the wild light of a thousand moons, a blade poised at the throat of destiny. This is beauty that bleeds, stains your skin, marks your bones, and etches its story into the air you breathe.

Corpalium from Marlou is the chilled earthen blooms of a sunless, subterranean iris, wrapped in a velvety feathered cloak of woodsy musk and honeyed, balsamic smoke. It’s a dark bird of myth, a single ebony plume plucked from flame, an unblinking amethyst eye, crystalline and plum dark under the cobweb veil of the pale winter sun’s sweetness. This is heart-stoppingly stunning, and I don’t think I have anything in my fragrance wardrobe quite like it.

Tom Ford’s Ébène Fumé with its incandescent glowing cacophony of sunset woods majesty, spider-pronged and prickly tines of moody-fiery black pepper, and the mystical ambiguity of palo santo’s piney/licorice/camphor vibe is a brazenly beautiful scent, perilously intense, and all-consuming. Smoky, regal, and fearsome, a tiger queen who set her kingdom on fire rather than see it fall, the incense burned on an altar of protection, invoking darksome saints with flaming swords. Desperate, dangerous prayers granted in gorgeous and terrible ways.

 Harvest Mouse from Zoologist, and I think this is one of the most fantastical fragrance transitions I have ever experienced. Right out of the bottle, it is a charming chamomile cutie, like a honeyed hay Hamtaro, but then it immediately shows you its big brave, beautiful heart, formidable and fabulous, a heady vanilla resin benzoin, swoony forested balsam and mystical oakmoss owl-masked creature by Lily Seika Jones.



Mad et Len Noir Encens POV: you are a brooding pencil, prone to bouts of melancholia, that only scribbles at midnight and has only ever been used to draft architectural sketches of gargoyle-adorned gothic cathedrals and crumbling medieval monasteries and Baudelairian poetry and you listen to a lot of Cold Cave and Chelsea Wolfe.

Spirit Lamp by DS& Durga (currently unavailable as a perfume, though you can purchase the candle) is a fragrance that evokes a forgotten corner of a botanical garden where a baleful spirit of untamed wilderness thrives unchecked. The initial impression is a thick, oily green, not of manicured lawns, but of some swampy primordial reed, the smell of an extinct past that’s closer than we often care to think, its roots tangled in the earth, its leaves exuding an acrid herbal musk. This greenness isn’t fresh and invigorating; it’s greasy, thick, and almost suffocating. As the scent unfolds, a metallic tang emerges, the scent of rust or singed copper wire, a chilling counterpoint to the verdantly depraved heart. It’s a perfume that evokes images of forbidden rituals and forgotten practices, a potent concoction brewed in the cauldron of nature’s darkest corners.

While the notes listed for Mad et Len’s Apocalypstick, violet, rose, mint, (I thought I saw macadamia listed somewhere?) sound like a pleasant enough combination, what the perfume smells like to me is a village of small children infected with a vast malevolence of pure evil. This cloying candied floral doesn’t just tiptoe on the precipice of sweetness and decay; it’s not just a playful saccharine innocence masking a sinister undercurrent of rot. It is an immediate and overwhelming assault of viciously poisoned sugarplums stuffed with razorblades served to you by sticky fingers and pale faces with sharp teeth. It lingers, sickening on the skin like a toxic premonition, like a perpetual stain, an indelible mark of repulsion.

I’m thinking about how Bramble from Herbcraft embodies a sentiment that profoundly resonated with me from the very moment I heard it, even though the person who brought it to my attention was one of the worst people I’ve ever known. Poet Katherine Mansfield wrote: “The mind I love must have wild places, a tangled orchard where dark damsons drop in the heavy grass, an overgrown little wood, the chance of a snake or two, a pool that nobody’s fathomed the depth of, and paths threaded with flowers planted by the mind.” Bramble is a striking example of how that mystery, that unknowing, may well be your undoing. Its initial whispers weave a narrative that mirrors Mansfield’s words, with the emergence of a subtle green element reminiscent of a somewhat ineffectual hedge. A verdant barrier to deter trespassers, it’s a feeble guardrail that ultimately fails to conceal the allure of what lies beyond—a little wood gone to seed, a snarled and shaggy thicket beyond which fallen leaves whisper deathly secrets, and the air hums with a mordant mockery of life. At its heart is a rose steeped in shadows, kissed by the nightmares of midnight berries, each crimson petal undead and undying. Every step closer in an attempt to inhale its fragrant aroma feels like tempting a fate more terrible than you can comprehend, and yet your feet move forward unwaveringly.

“THE YEAR WAS 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren’t only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else.” What perfume were they wearing? Kurt Vonnegut Jr. never really got into that in his satirical dystopian science-fiction short story “Harrison Bergeron,” but I suspect it was Them, by Neandertal, a fragrance distilled to its most minimal, stripped-down DNA. A radical exercise in simplicity, a deliberate erasure of complexity. It’s very essence, a complete and total absence. A void, a vacuum, a nothingness. Olfactory egalitarianism in a bottle, where no note dominates, not a single note is even discernable. Wear it not to make a statement, but to embrace the scent of unadorned equilibrium—a radical olfactory utopia where no note rises above the others, and every aromatic expression is rendered equally silent.

P.S. now is probably a good time to remind you that I have a Patreon where I talk about perfume-related things that you might not see here (including the snarkier stuff, heh!) There are also giveaway opportunities and a monthly scented missive in your mailbox from yours truly!

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