I mostly think TikTok is a bunch of nonsense and massive amounts of fremdschämen and I will die before I ever do a stupid dance, lip-sync to a tired movie cliche, or relay an idiotic anecdote or keto recipe in a twee robot lady voice, BUT I just heard someone talk about trauma in a way that I’d never heard before and I will never forget.
How it’s not an illness but an injury, that it’s not our fault but it’s our responsibility to heal ourselves, and in this way, we hopefully do not bleed on people who didn’t cut us.
These are probably not novel concepts and the person was probably paraphrasing from something they read as opposed to sharing a personal epiphany, but whatever–I take inspiration whenever and wherever I can.
And if even one small helpful, useful, or valuable idea can be gleaned from such a cesspool of dumbness today, well, I bet there will be one tomorrow, too. Sometimes I think these sites and apps are designed to make us stupid(er) and (more) complacent, and I get such a thrill out of the people who cheat the system and do something smart with them.
And listen, I am not looking to shit on your good time. If you enjoy whatever, enjoy it. My opinion of your favorite thing means nothing. I’m just some person throwing some words into the void.
But if you’ve got some inspirational, informational, or edifying TikTok accounts that you learn from or which you find motivational or thought-provoking, please share them in the comments!
Today: a guest post from my Best Good Friend! If you’ve been a long-time reader of this blog, you’ll have seen mention of this exceptional human from time to time, my dearest friend in all the world, my ride or die, sibling of my heart, whom I have known and been perpetually awe-struck and inspired by for over twenty years now.
I am so pleased for many reasons that they have written this review to share with us, but mainly because one: I love their writing and I would love to see more of it (hint, hint, BGF!) and two: I love Love LOVE hearing about people’s passions and obsessions.
There are not many full-length reviews here at Unquiet Things and there is an appalling lack of Adam Driver-related content, but who knows, perhaps this could be the start of something! I don’t know what exactly. Don’t hold me to anything.
Anyway…take it away, BGF…!
It took 48 hours since I first experienced the fever dream of Annette to process it, to try and divine and parse my feelings and eke out a feeble attempt at committing words to virtual paper. But at the very least, before all else, a word of warning: Annette is not for everyone.
So, may we start?
This is a movie that I have been waiting to see for far too long. Over nine years in the making, it is my Holy Trinity of what most consider, in the kindest of terms, odd: written and composed by cult art band Sparks, directed by chain-smoking Frenchman Leos Carax, and starring Adam Driver: Fathers, Son, and Holy Adam. These are my biases. In my mind, it was to be a damn near religious experience of innate weirdness.
I have read many reviews by now, both before and after watching this film, and have been met with an inevitable divide spanning adoration to vitriol. The best commend Driver for his performance, most try to liken it to La La Land and A Star is Born, the bad force it through a woke lens of social media-friendly commentary, and at absolute worst, a mere rant of a middle-aged man who worked at Fox News for 10 years – I wouldn’t deign to call that drivel a review though.
But the wide range of divisive reviews illustrates this one common idea: this movie is not for everyone. And the more I try to explain it, try to prepare people for it, the more it feels like I am one of those snooty l’artistes gatekeeping a precious masterpiece of intellectual creation blah blah blah – almost trying to convince them not to watch it. So far, it has only emboldened people to want to see it all the more, yet bearing the expected and inevitable mixed results. Please believe me when I say with deep sincerity that I have only the utmost of good intentions. I want people to love this movie, but I know that most simply won’t. And that’s OK. But I have this misguided sense of duty to the Holy Trinity to tell a friend or strangers to see this film. Please ignore the fact that the movie literally asks the audience to do so as the credits roll.
If you haven’t heard of the band Sparks, have no idea what lurks in the band’s 50 years of bubbling just beneath the surface of mainstream pop culture musical journey, this musical may not be for you.
If you have never heard of Leos Carax, have no reference for French arthouse cinema, this film may not be for you.
If you are only familiar with Adam Driver’s more mainstream work, content to fill your fantasies with Saturday Night Live skits and lamenting the loss of Ben Solo (both of which I am excruciatingly guilty of), this experience may not be for you.
At the very least, one should prepare themselves by watching Edgar Wright’s documentary The Sparks Brothers, (which gives a good primer of what the music of Sparks is all about, without really telling you anything about Sparks at the same time), Leos Carax’s Holy Motors, to get a sense of the director’s style, and Adam Driver in… well, anything. Because it’s Adam fucking Driver.
Without any understanding of these things, there is a good chance you may not enjoy this movie. I suspect this was the case for the man who made a show of leaving barely halfway through the spectacle.
It’s risky to go into something like this with no context. If your tastes live solely in the mainstream (and there is nothing wrong with that!) you may find yourself armed only with references to current culture, and that would only be scratching the surface. And anyway, not everything needs to be dismantled through the lens of current events.
To blatantly steal one of the myriad text message conversations with one of my favorite wordsmiths and owner of this delightful blog (another bias I admit), “I think when writers are struggling to make sense of something they try and find an angle, and a lot of times that angle is how does this relate to people right now. I feel like current events might be the lazy way to go about it though.”
That said, there is a certain thrill to running headlong into something with no real context, or perhaps just an inkling of interest, enough to compel you into a theater in the middle of a pandemic. It is an achingly arduous feeling to have expectations completely subverted if not utterly destroyed into a beautiful mess. As one viewing companion noted, “It is an unpleasant thing to watch. I can’t stop thinking about it.” Said companion only had me as their guide, and I wantonly led them blindly into the A – B – Y – S – S, mostly for my own twisted pleasure of watching them watch the movie.
For those whose only draw to this movie is the raging force that is Adam Driver, there is plenty to slake your thirst. Driver spends a good amount of time in various states of undress, if that’s what you need. But you may find yourself curling in cringe as you watch your crush writhe maniacally on the ground, telling tasteless “jokes” as he jaunts across the stage in a garish green bathrobe and underwear, or pantomime tickling feet with his tongue. His commitment to the role is what truly shines, as expected, and his uncanny ability to at best make you sympathize with the devil, and at worst, relate to him, is unsettling and masterful.
Sure, there are other players in this sinful saga, each delivering powerful performances of their own: Simon Helberg’s depiction of The Conductor was a breakthrough moment, Marion Cotillard delivers the most realistic depiction of someone using a toilet while singing and smoking, and the gut-punching performance of young Devyn McDowell, who goes toe-to-toe with Driver, chewing the scene and Driver’s character up before spitting them out in a cathartic and harrowing harmonic release. But this is very much Adam Driver’s film.
For those whose interest is sparked by Sparks, I suspect there to be a split among you as well, as only hardcore fans claim to appreciate every twist and turn of their musical oeuvre from glam rock to glorious 80s synth-drenched pop to orchestral chant, and everything in-between. This is probably Sparks’ darkest musical foray, where several times during my initial viewing I found myself wondering, “who hurt the Mael brothers?” But their ironically literal humor and penchant for repetition is not lost.
The movie’s opening song lays out exactly what is to come. There’s singing and dying in minor keys, and yes, they’ll kill for you. Over and over again. It sets the stage, reminding you that none of this is real. These are actors putting on a show for you, a show in which the director not so kindly advises you to not react at all during the movie, and hold your breath until the end. Oh, and don’t fart.
Throughout the film it is difficult to reach any semblance of suspension of disbelief, it is all too surreal and yet NOT surreal enough. Somehow, the series of mechanical puppets depicting the title character of Annette and coital crooning just makes sense. It is a difficult film to reach into and break through. Seemingly nearly impossible to relate to, but daring you to try. It can feel as though it’s dancing on the razor’s edge of SNL satire, avant-garde cinema, terrifying reality, and sheer ridiculousness. At times it feels downright indulgent. It is meant to make you uncomfortable. It is a black mirror, reflecting the viewer’s own experiences.
At the surface, it is a convoluted social commentary of an age-old Hollywood story of star-crossed lovers, celebrity gossip, exploitation, abuse, toxic masculinity, the list goes on – take your pick.
If you dare to dive deeper. you may just find yourself dismantling your existential existence to the core if you let it. In one scene, Adam’s character Henry McHenry breaks the fourth wall after muttering that he must never cast his eyes towards the abyss before looking directly to the camera, and straight into your soul, as he scrutinizes his audience, finally murmuring “Lady, that’s quite an abyss you’ve got.”
As much as the story unfolds itself to you, it also leaves it up to you to synthesize and decode it. Did that really happen, or was it just a twisted fantasy? Who was this film made for? Why can’t I get these songs out of my head? Am I really turned on right now? Why did he become a comedian? Why do I hate myself so much? What’s your fucking problem?
This is where the true beauty of Annette can be found, and one that has so far been missed in every review I’ve read: it will give you as much as you’re willing to take, a choose-your-own-adventure of emotional exploration. There is no wrong way to view this film, even through the lens of disdain. Because as much as people love to debate art, and well, everything, it is my humble opinion that what makes art great is whatever moves you, in any way – if you have a reaction to it, if it makes you think about it, makes you feel something.
And if you’re open to exploring those feelings, great art can tell you a lot about yourself. If we can find any way at all to relate to Henry McHenry, it’s that we will be haunted day after day after day.
So I take back what I said earlier. If it was only one of the Holy Trinity to lure you in, or even none at all, Annette is something I believe everyone should experience, at least once, and I suspect most will get that chance when it hits the courtroom of America’s consciousness via Amazon Prime on August 20.
Annette, like all art, should be for everyone. But that’s wholly up to you to decide if you’re ready to cast your eyes upon the abyss.
Speaking of Sparks, I would be remiss if I didn’t share some of my favorite Sparks songs and albums. Their genre-defying career will surely offer something for everyone to discover and love. It’s difficult to curate a concise list, as I’m one of those fans who has never met a Sparks song I didn’t like, if not love. But if this is to be your introduction to the band, there’s perhaps no better place to start than a couple of their most popular and accessible tomes:
Kimono My House
The energy on this album is solid throughout. It’s fun and endearing and will have you belting along with each note with unbridled glee.
This electronic masterpiece was produced by the legendary Giorgio Moroder, otherwise known as the “Father of Disco.” You may think disco sucks, but I dare you to deny the infectious grooves and cheeky lyrics.
With hundreds of songs to choose from, it would be impossible to choose even a top 10. But I can, at the very least, share those songs that I always come back to time and time again. And I do so with no context.
And finally, I humbly submit some of my favorite songs from Annette, and I warn you not to listen to them until you’ve seen the film, as it will spoil it for you. Sadly, the released soundtrack is only a selection of songs, and some favorites are woefully missing. Here’s hoping a more complete collection will be released in the future. It’s also worth noting that the versions that appear on the soundtrack are different than what you hear in the movie. The soundtrack is of course produced and recorded in a studio, while the movie was recorded live on set.
This interview has been a long time coming! I initially met the Century Guild gang way back in July of 2019 –in a visit to Los Angeles detailed here over at Haute Macabre– when I traveled out west to hang out at that summer’s Oddities Market. Among a teeming throng of dark-hearted weirdos crammed together in a subterranean goth disco chamber (it wasn’t really, but that’s how it looks in my memory!) and an incredibly mind-boggling array of artisans and vendors, I somehow found myself making my way back to the beautiful oasis of the Century Guild booth, adorned and embellished with gorgeous Nouveau and Symbolist works, and which felt like a balm to my senses in the midst of a midnight maelstrom.
We had the loveliest chat, I purchased a gorgeously ominous Syphilis print, and promises were made on my part to feature them in an interview, as I was so absolutely fascinated by what this gallery/museum/archive is doing with the artwork they share through the books and prints they offer.
…and to sum up, two years later, here we are! Better late than never, right? I think so, anyway. See our Q&A below wherein we chat, about the contemporary relevance of 19th-century aesthetics and ideals, becoming more sensitive to the world around us through the myriad feelings that art arouses in us, and the importance of art in our quest for spiritual connection in a universe so vast, ageless, and unknowable.
Who/what is Century Guild and what is your aim? As part of that, your mission references creating “a bridge of understanding between the aesthetics and ideals of the late 19th century and the present.” Can you elaborate on that for those of us who may not be familiar with those aesthetics/ideals, and can you speak to their contemporary relevance?
Century Guild was founded in 1999 as an art gallery specializing in works from 1880-1920, with a focus on Art Nouveau, Symbolist Art and German Expressionism, and over the last 20 years we have expanded into a museum, archive, and publishing company. We began publishing books as a way to share the artworks in our collection with a wider audience and to foster an understanding of how the aesthetics and ideals from that time period are reflected in our society today. For example, every part of the contemporary art world has been influenced by the work of Alphonse Mucha, and we want to show our audience how and why that happened. Art Nouveau was based on the idea that Nature provides a powerful inspiration for aesthetics, and Symbolist and Expressionist Art were based on an idea that I think is well articulated in a quote from The Little Prince, “what is essential is invisible to the eye”. As it relates to these art movements, it’s the idea that suggesting something through dreamlike or nightmarish visuals is more powerful than a perfectly accurate representation.
What draws you to the particular style of art that Century Guild resurrects/represents in terms of Art Nouveau and Symbolist artworks? What is it that you hope people will learn or take away from these works?
For me, the artworks act as a doorway into awareness about ideas larger than the world I inhabit on a daily basis, especially the idea of being connected to Nature and to History: that people a thousand or a hundred years ago felt and thought very much, if not exactly, the same things that we do today. My hope is that by sharing these works we help others walk through that doorway. When people become sensitive to art that reflects an internal landscape, they look at other people and animals and recognize that they experience joy and suffering just as we do, and recognize how important it is to connect with society in a meaningful way.
I love how (in a 2012 interview) you compare the manifesto for the Art Nouveau movement to a treatment for 1999 Wachowski movie The Matrix; I think contemporary cultural examples like that really bring concepts into such sharp relief for people who are just realizing their initial interest in a style of art. I’m curious if, in the ensuing years since you made that comparison, there are any other moments in modern cinema that have the same feel/appeal for you?
That quote is referring to the inception of the Art Nouveau movement- artists at the time were certain that the manifestation of the Industrial Revolution in the mid-19th century meant that humanity was doomed to be completely disconnected from Nature, all because of something as seemingly innocuous today as a factory that was built on the outskirts of their small town, or something equally marginal when compared to today’s technological overlap. They were limited in the scope of their vision by the time period and had no idea how far it would go. Other modern creations that have the same sort of impact on me have been more forward-looking; the Invisibles graphic novels by Grant Morrison stand out as one example, and I think that the Wachowskis adaptation of Cloud Atlas did the same- they remind us that our understanding of humanity and Nature is even larger than we comprehend, and that we’re constantly on the precipice of some form of larger understanding. Which of course hearkens back to other schools of thought adjacent to the Art Nouveau movement; nothing is new, but just a spiral that moves upward and outward.
You currently work with contemporary artists such as Gail Potocki. What drew you to her work? What do you look for in such collaborations with living artists, or is this an unusual circumstance?
I met Gail back in the days before social media, on a bulletin board called ArtMagick. She would always reply if someone posted a question about Symbolist artists, and when we started chatting we discovered that we lived just a few miles from each other! Gail had mentioned that she was a painter, and when she showed me her work I was floored. Gail was the first artist I had met whose paintings could stand up in the environment created by the fantastic turn of the century artworks in the gallery, in fact, it actually eclipsed everything else in the room! The only other artist who I’ve had that specific experience with is Dave McKean. I love when an artist’s work connects with me in the manner of these earlier movements but takes the ideologies into a modern place. For example, later this year we’re stretching our aesthetic boundaries into more Modern and Folk territories with a book of contemporary art that I’m very excited about, titled Temple of Medusa.
I believe Century Guild’s most recent project/release was Le Pater, a series of mystical illustrations exploring occult themes; images about which the artist, Alphonse Mucha, described to a New York reporter as “the thing I have put my soul into.” This sounds like an incredibly heady viewing experience! Is there anything you might like to share about the project?
(And to backtrack, what is it about the manifesto for the Art Nouveau movement, this connection between art and nature and spirituality, that appeals to you on a personal level? And what is for you, a prime example of this manifesto and connection reflected in a piece of art?)
What appeals to me is the eternal quest of understanding what our larger spiritual universe is and how we fit into it, and a powerful example of this connection is explored in Alphonse Mucha’s Le Pater.
The hardcover that was published in 2019 is a massive tome; I designed it specifically to look like a book you’d see in an archaic library. The book presents Mucha’s Le Pater in its entirety and gives an introduction to mysticism and an overview of magickal ideas in aesthetic form. It examines occult thinking in art from Albrecht Dürer through the Salon de la Rose+Croix, and provides information that allows the reader to decipher the complicated symbolism in Mucha’s Le Pater artworks. Mucha was a devout Mason and student of mystical thinking, and his Le Pater artworks present a very modern, androgynous depiction of God that was celebrated in some quarters and censored in others. The complete artworks in Le Pater were impossible to see outside of museums before we published our book in 2019, so we’re really excited about the Kickstarter project we have going right now to publish the expanded paperback edition. Le Pater is one of the most important artworks of any era, and I cannot recommend this book highly enough to anyone with an interest in beautiful art or the occult.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: this question was originally posed in the beginning months of the pandemic]
I’m almost afraid to ask this question of anyone right now, considering the global pandemic we’ve all been experiencing, but is there anything coming up that we can look forward to from Century Guild? Any ideas percolating for future releases on the horizon, perhaps, when the world rights itself?
The expanded paperback edition of Le Pater: Alphonse Mucha’s Symbolist Masterpiece and the Lineage of Mysticism is the most important thing that we are doing in 2021- we all agreed that as the world rights itself there is nothing more important we can do as an institution than put artwork and ideas out into the world that foster communication and connectedness. The Century Guild motto is “Think and Read”, which is based on an emblem that Mucha created for the back cover of Le Pater. If people do those two things, the first fervently and the second meaningfully, the world can’t help but be a better place.
I’ve been putting off sitting down to write reviews of The Last Unicorn Collection from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab because I keep thinking to myself, “but I’ve got to find my copy of the book, first!”! I’m not sure why that was such an important prerequisite, it’s not like I was planning on reading it again (I’ve got too many other books I’m promised to!) Maybe I wanted to take a photo of it next to these perfumes for the featured image of this post. That probably would have looked nice.
Well, I took a moment today to search my shelves and as it happens, I don’t own a copy of The Last Unicorn. What I found instead is a paperback copy of Peter S. Beagle’s A Fine and Private Place. Did I ever own The Last Unicorn? Was it paperback or hardback? Where did it come from? Did I give it away? Was it among the items I lost in a flood in 2011, a month before I moved from New Jersey back to Florida? Does it even matter?
I don’t think it does. If I am being honest, my memories of The Last Unicorn stem from the movie, not the book–which was released in 1982, when I would have been six years old or so. And let me tell you, at that age, it scared the crap out of me. For many years after, if I thought about the film–which I tried not to–my sole recollection was of The Red Bull, a distressingly oppressive, lurid entity which was straight-up nightmare fuel (and to a lesser extent, also that talking skeleton!)
It took me many, many years to rewatch it. I must have been well into my 30s! But now it’s been part of my annual viewing every year since; it’s so beautifully crafted in that pleasurably melancholy way that I was susceptible to even as a child and encompassed fantasy both joyful and sorrowful, with heroes and quests, and there’s redemption and transcendence–all of those storybook things that I love best, have loved forever. My acceptance of and obsession with terrifying and monstrous things like the Red Bull was to come later!
Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab initially released their The Last Unicorn collection several years ago back in 2010. I purchased a few of the original bottles, but sadly, these too were things lost in the flood. I was elated to learn that some of these fragrances were released this past June and am so pleased to have the opportunity to revisit and reconnect with them once more. And the more I think of it, the more I do need to hunt down a copy and reread The Last Unicorn, looming TBR stacks be damned!
Mommy Fortuna (Honey, gunpowder, dried herbs and pleonectic, twopenny magics) Cheap carnival tricks and homemade horrors cobbled together with rusty nails and sticky, syrupy dark wildflower honey. The peppery smoke from an ashen pile of herbs at this poppet’s feet provides the wordless spell that animates it; once the vapors dissipate, it sleeps once more.
Schmendrick (sweet, raw tobacco leaves, chamomile, clary sage, meadow sage, Mysore sandalwood, sultana raisins, and caramel). I inhale this scent and my heart instantly hears “I know you. I’d be blind and I’d know what you are.” Schmendrick brings me to tears. An earthy, woodsy, deeply aromatic tobacco leaf, vanilla-y, apple-y chamomile, and a thoughtful, pruney musk.
The Butterfly (fuzzy brown tonka bean, golden amber, bergamot, nutmeg, and petitgrain) The Butterfly is fizzy and effervescent, somehow both airy and earthy, the petitgrain so lemony and peppery, and the amber so honeyed…they’re so sweet and playful together. In the bottle, it’s deeply loamy–that sweet, dark, earthy scent that I love so very much!– but on the skin, the scent lightens in such a strange way that has to do with the absence of shadow more than any direct brightness. It is velvety and opulent but it’s finery worn in jest. P.S. I hate to compare perfumes to other perfumes overmuch, it feels a little lazy, so don’t think of this as a comparison, but rather if you like X, you may dig Y. In the dry-down of The Butterfly, there’s some milky-musky-powderiness of an old, beautiful thing stored behind glass, that reminds me quite a bit of Antique Lace. Do with that information as you will!
The Last Unicorn (frosty lilac petals, iris pallida root, orris, violet leaf, white chocolate, coconut, wild lettuce, white sandalwood, white gardenia and oakmoss). This is a deliriously ethereal, gauzy, gossamer slip of a scent, with that wintry, woody orris and the aqueous verdancy of the lettuce, and the white quartz, snow-melt nip of chilled water with the tiniest bite of bitterness, the last drop in an icy chalice of sorrow. But there’s a carnal quality there, too, of worldly concerns and sensual delights, like…cupcakes. A mild cocoa butter creaminess and a milky nuttiness coalesce to form a tiny mythical gateau, a small frosted treat with a floral crumb, sprinkled with a scattering of star shards– that one might leave out to lure magical creatures… fairies or pixies… or even unicorns.
The Lilac Wood (ageless trees, everblooming flowers, brilliant grass, a flicker of fireflies, and soft shadows) There are so many *perfect* scents in this collection, but every time I sniff the uncanny geography of The Lilac Wood I think, ah, this, THIS is the one! Green sap and misty grass, peaceful, delicate moss, emerald ferns, and the wistful dreams of flowers in a patch of shade underneath the old ash tree with the lightning-riven trunk. This is so, so beautiful. I want to wear it with this dress, all the time.
Lindsey Lou (@the_sick_rose_ on Instagram) won a copy of The Art of the Occult several months ago and patiently waited for her copy. She conjured this fabulous photoshoot over on her account today and I was absolutely floored by her thoughtful lensing of my little book goblin and all of the nice things she said about it. As the title of this post asserts, it is PERFECT, and I am DEAD.
You can see the rest of the imagery over on her account and I highly suggest you take a peek. She has a marvelous eye for mystical details and her Instagram account is absolutely brimming with dark, magical imagery and energies!
Last weekend I spent time with both of my sisters, in the flesh, for the first time in over three years. It was only a long weekend and while there will never be enough time to mend the ragged holes of sisterly absence that continue to fissure our hearts, it did offer a temporary balm and the reminder that the blood bonds shared between these weirdos is pretty strong, and we’re gonna be okay.
On one of those evenings, we thought we might divine the answers to some of our most pressing questions with tarot cards that I most shamefully never use. I confess, I just like to look at the art! Tarot is something I’ve tried to learn about over the years, but I always find something more high-priority, more interesting, that diverts my attention. “One day…” I’ll probably still be saying about it, even on my deathbed.
But just because I’m not terribly knowledgeable about the practice, doesn’t mean I won’t shuffle a deck from time to time to see what the cards want to tell me. I interpret the images very literally and apply what I see to my question, and while that probably doesn’t offer much in the way of nuanced insight, it’s a place to start, right? And then I may consult a book or two because despite what I may have said, I still want to learn…I’m just not making much of a concerted effort. So we each pulled a card, had a think, and tried to come up with some possible ideas.
Mine was interesting. I didn’t have a specific question in mind, but among other things, the card that came to me indicated disappointment and the feelings that come when things go differently as you expected. Ooooof. That is something I struggle with. I always have. I have a desired outcome firmly (one might say “rigidly”, even) set in mind from the outset of a thing, and if things veer off course I become overwhelmed and frantic and despondent. Or… awfully sulky at the very least. I took this as a sign that this rigidity, this inflexibility, this sulky-sullen-glum-“nothing is ever going to be okay again” attitude I immediately take is something I need to look at. And come at the situation differently. Adjust and adapt and let go of attachments and all that sort of thing. I’m sure it has something to do with a “grateful heart.”
(If that sounds a bit snarky or snotty, I am sorry. Read a little further and you’ll find out why I am a little grumpy.)
In the week after our visit, I fell back into my regular routine and thought about that card periodically, but you don’t have to work very hard at adjusting your expectations while things are going well. I met a major book deadline, I submitted an article and I had bunches of plans and projects for the weekend. Then I learned that in the midst of our state not doing particularly well during this pandemic, setting new records–the bad kind– daily as a matter of fact, my boss wants me to drive to the other side of Florida and attend an in-person luncheon. Ugh! Really? Right now?!? Well, I like having a job, so I guess I’ll do that if I have to. I hadn’t been planning on it, but it will be fine. It will be fine.
The next day our AC stopped working. At the end of July. In Florida. Just…spectacularly awful timing. Two days later the AC repair guy was finally able to come out and have a look, and as it happens, the whole system is done-for. We have to get it entirely replaced…and it will be one-and-a-half to three weeks before they can even get started due to a parts shortage (and I just did a quick Google search to make sure I hadn’t imagined that portion of the conversation, but that’s real, it’s a thing.)
So. Not filming a little video for YouTube this weekend. Not making a blackberry cornmeal cake for Lammas. Or any of the other little kitchen or garden or knitting putterings or perfume testing or book research that I had hoped to do. Instead, we went out and spent close to $1000 on portable AC units to cool our 90 degree home to a more tolerable 82 degrees. And then we sat in front of those noisy machines and proceeded to do nothing for the next six hours before going to bed at 9pm on a Saturday night.
When I get overheated at night, I tend to have nightmares, and sure enough, at 1:29am this morning, I woke Yvan up terrified, because “the executive portraits were climbing off the walls and crawling into our bed.” So…21 more nights of that? Wheeeeee…!
That’s a cake I made two weekends ago. It’s a chocolate cake with an espresso buttercream frosting, and I was attempting to redeem myself for a chocolate cake I made a year ago for Yvan’s birthday, and which did not turn out so well. We couldn’t even get it out of the bundt pan (I think using a bundt pan was my first mistake) so we just spooned it right out of the pan into a separate bowl of frosting and it was delicious anyway. That was actually a good way to work with that disappointment, past-Sarah! Anyway, I thought I might give it another go and this one turned out beautifully.
The month before, I made a lavender and lemon verbena tea cake for the summer solstice. I can’t remember what recipe I used, but you could use these herbs in any tea cake or pound cake recipe and it would probably work out well! And this cake has nothing to do with learning lessons or letting go, but it was a nice picture!
This is a shawl I’ve knit once before. It’s a relatively simple pattern, but this time around maybe I wasn’t paying attention to how far along I was and I bound off a bit early. It’s tiny! You can’t get a real sense of scale from this photo, but I am fairly broad-shouldered and this should be quite a bit larger. I was so mad at the time, but I’ve simmered down, since. I guess it could work as a more bandana-like scarf? A shawl for one of my pixie-sized friends? A bit of gift-wrapping the next time I send a surprise or a treat to someone? I’ll work it out. It will be fine.
A quartet of meals from the past month which actually turned out great and about which I have no complaint:
Misfits Market is finally delivering to our area, so in between making a pot of slop on the weekend (“slop” being a catch-all for some sort of soup or stew or casserole we can reheat all week long) I’ve been reveling in making some fun weeknight recipes with the produce in the delivery box. So far there have been only a few squished tomatoes, but that resulted in the inspiration to make one of my favorite eggplant dishes, so that worked out, anyway!
When I first realized I had to scrap all my plans for the weekend, my first thought was “oh! well! I’ll just do a bunch of reading!” After all, Goodreads was just haranguing me because I am two books behind in my yearly challenge, and it’s possible that I think about books and I talk about books more often than I actually read them. So this was a great opportunity to get caught up, right? However, it became quite clear, very quickly, that in this heat it was impossible to lift my fingers to turn a page, let alone concentrate on the slippery words dancing in front of my eyes. That could also be due to the fact that I literally can’t see very far in front of my face. Or too close to my face. It might be time for bifocals or transition lenses or whatever. Anyway, I put the book down.
So…I have done a lot of nothing this weekend. Well, that’s not true. We ordered in nachos and drank very icy drinks and watched Fellowship of the Ring for probably the 250th time. That’s our “it’s the middle of the summer and it’s too hot to live” marathon pick, and the timing seemed appropriate.
As I’ve gotten older, I think I’ve been overcompensating for being told I was a lazy child, and in believing that, I became a teenager who was scared to even start anything because apparently, I was so lazy I’d never be able to keep up with it, and I grew into an adult with all kinds of anxieties about productivity and perfectionism and finally, in my 40’s, I think I have developed a fear of stillness. I say I’m someone who is laid back and go-with-the-flow, but I’ve realized that has to do with my relationships with others, and less with myself. I will tell you that there’s no rush, it’s not urgent, it’s no problem, don’t stress yourself out about it, but I don’t extend that same grace to myself. And so everything (from blackberry cakes and YouTube videos and blog posts to deadlines that I am actually contractually obligated to meet) has the same end-of-the-world sense of urgency. And while all of that does stress me out me out terribly…isn’t that “I’ve gotta do all the things or I will quite literally die!” energy still better than being the lazy person that everyone says I was? Hm, Sarah. Is it?
But I’m tired. And hot. And maybe I need a break. And maybe it’s ok that nothing from my to-do list gets done this weekend. And maybe that card and imagery and whatever all else is wrapped up in whatever I was seeking an answer for…was telling me that I need to examine some things I have been hanging on to for such a long time. Those old hurts and fears and issues don’t have to shape my every reaction and attitude and behavior for the rest of my life.
I am feeling the need to wrap up this missive. Despite those little AC units cranking overtime and doing their best, they are in other rooms, and my office here is a sauna. But to totally screw up that metaphor…I have run out of steam.
A gathering of death-related links that I have encountered in the past month or so. From heart-rending to gut-splitting (sometimes you gotta laugh, you know?) from informative to insightful to sometimes just downright weird and creepy, here’s a snippet of recent items that have been reported on or journaled about with regard to death, dying, and matters of mortality.
In August of 2017, I am pretty sure that Kjersti Faret of Cat Coven and I were within 5 feet of each other at the Salem Night Market… but I was too shy to introduce myself. I had been an admirer of Kjersti’s weird feminist magics in the form of art prints, decor, and soft, drapey tee shirts for some time, and I would loved to have told her how happy her witchy, whimsical, sometimes medieval-inspired creatures make my heart feel whenever I peek in at her new work. There’s always an element of fierce, feral joyousness to her illustrations that turns any spooky, serious, goth expectations you might have of this kind of art right on its head. It’s delightfully surprising while at the same time exploring fascinating facets of art history, queerness, and the occult, resulting in such a unique blend of tender oddball darkness and wonder.
Needless to say, I love Kjersti’s art and perspective and am delighted that she has answered a few questions for us at Unquiet Things today. See below for our Q&A where we ruminate on art-witchery and exploring the unknown parts of one’s self, the urge to create delicious weirdness measured against the bitter pill of capitalism, and the magic of setting aside time for one’s self amidst a hectic hustle.
Your imagery focuses greatly on your heritage, your queer perspective, the occult, art history, feminism, and of course–cats! How do these ideas and attitudes and points of view meet in your art?
I’m struggling to answer this question because I don’t really know. They just are such a strong part of me that I automatically include them. As I accept my queerness more, it flows into the work. If I’m reading more fairytales or mythology, they’ll seep into my work as well. Whatever I’m currently meditating on in the back of my mind is what goes onto the paper. I suppose because I use a lot of my personal work to explore unknown sides of myself, it just naturally comes out and drifts into my commercial work as well.
You describe yourself as an “art witch”–which I LOVE. If it is something you are comfortable speaking on (as I realize practice can be a very private thing!) do you consider your art and the creation of it to be your main magical practice or do you do magical workings outside of your artistic practice? Is it all very much tied together for you, or are they separate things, with their own corresponding rituals and such?
Yes, they are very tied together. I do some things separate from art-making, but it’s like 90% art-making. It’s either very meditative or very frenzied, depending on the day. Creating art in a frenzied way means I sort of set up my “safe space” (like opening a circle, if you will) and free myself up mentally. I put on specific music and go into a trance-like state and let the mediums – whether it’s graphite, gouache, ink or whatever – do the talking for me.
A lot of times I don’t know exactly what I will create, and it comes out spontaneously. Like I mentioned previously, I like exploring the depths of my mind to find hidden gems I may not have known before. Other times, I have a clear image of what I want to make that just “pops” into my head and it’s trial and error until I have replicated it in the real world. After meditating a bit this usually happens. I’ve been doing a lot more guided meditations lately and I get very strong visualizations for new projects after doing this. Sometimes I will start creating right away, other times I let it sit for a few days and make sure it’s worth pursuing.
I have a tendency to get very excited by a new idea and then run out of steam halfway through. I’m learning patience and that I have a limited time to pursue projects, so I can only complete those which demand to be made. It feels like performing a ritual to set an intention. That’s how I treat certain artworks I do. I am taking this intangible thing and giving it physical form. The process of making the piece also helps me internalize the concepts and/or process uncomfortable emotions.
Speaking of rituals, do you have any–either magical or mundane– that you engage in to set the mood for creating?
I have to listen to very specific playlists to get in the right state of mind. I am trying to get my consciousness to hit that sweet spot between intentional yet open to spontaneity and chance. Right now it’s movie/TV show soundtracks, which can range from Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, How to Train your Dragon to Outlander (basically fantasy music is perfect for setting the vibe, or anything by Bear McCreary). Or it’s a playlist I made filled with nostalgic pop songs circa 2012, because that was a very significant year for me. Also working at night is a special time for creating. I don’t get to do it very often because I like to sleep, but I will push myself every now and then to stay awake and create sometime, from like 12 – 2 AM, because somehow the world is quieter and more magical then.
This is a very specific question, I hope you don’t mind! You recently(ish) shared a little papercut goddess over on Instagram, which I believe you made for yourself. First, I love to see when artists keep their own work …I mean, maybe that happens more often than I realize, and just no one talks about it! I read somewhere recently, an artist on TikTok I think, how they asserted that artists have NO obligation to sell their work to anyone, and I think that’s a powerful statement and also something that doesn’t get discussed often.
But that’s not even the point of my question, I am getting sidetracked! You mentioned that this personal piece was not one goddess in particular, but rather an amalgamation of several favorites. I’d love to hear about your favorite goddesses/deities and how they inform and inspire your creative practice and even your life, in general…!
Oof, okay. Loaded question! I’ve always made art for myself. I think that’s how we all start, us artists, we love drawing in our childhood and if it gets encouraged, then you either pursue it professionally because you want a “job you love” or you do it on the side, eventually lose time because life happens and you stop creating. If you chose the “job you love” path, then you either focus so much on hustling commercial work that there is creative burnout for other work, or your “personal work” gets mixed up into your commercial work, and you are selling every bit of yourself to scrape by.
Can you tell I’m bitter about capitalism? Anyway, yes, this is all related to your question because I feel a split between my “professional” work over at Cat Coven and my “personal” artwork, which is that goddess piece. I love constantly growing and experimenting, but that is not encouraged when doing product work because you want to establish a recognizable brand. And while I do have fun drawing the things I do for Cat Coven, it is not necessarily what I would spend my time making if I didn’t have bills. I’d probably make a hell of a lot more weird inaccessible, existential art that would get maybe 10 likes on instagram.
The past few years I’ve really tried to get back into having separate personal work that feels fulfilling in my soul. I’ve dedicated my life to art because it is the language through which I can express myself best and understand the world around me. The only way I could practice it every day was by incorporating it into my job. When I draw things for Cat Coven, I am always tweaking and learning my style and getting better at drawing skeletons, cats, etc, which I can then use in my Important Work.
That being said, I am also in the process of rebranding Cat Coven to align more with who I am now and what I enjoy now as a 28-year-old, since I feel like a very different person than when I was in college and began my business.
Anyway, the goddesses! My “gateway goddess” was Freyja. I made one or two artworks years ago that were about her. I was drawn to her first because of my Norwegian heritage. Recently I’ve been drawn to Inanna and Ishtar. I don’t remember how they first captured my interest, but here I am. The “goddess” piece you referenced was mainly inspired by her. There’s a bit of Lilith in there too. I suppose it’s not just goddesses, because I was also thinking of Medusa (hence the snake hair), but any mythological archetype really.
While of course, I am always interested to hear about the work of your art and why you do what you do, I am also keen to hear about your rituals of rest and relaxation. How do you replenish your creativity and feed your soul when you’re not working on Cat Coven projects? It should be noted that this question is inspired by the joyful Renfaire photos of you and your wife that you sometimes share on social media, back when we could do such things 🙂
Haha, I’m glad you think I relax! Just kidding, I do and I am definitely getting better at it. It’s something that’s been a long time in the making. I used to have terrible work/life boundaries, just sitting on my bed in my first apartment after college, sewing tiny embroideries until midnight to put on Etsy. The past few years I began to align myself with my wife’s working hours, who works a “normal” scheduled job, which makes it easier to say “ok it’s time to stop working, go do a hobby or cook dinner or spend time with her.”
I’m also trying to take longer “European” lunch breaks. I call them European lunch breaks because the idea really got in my head after I did a residency in France a few years ago. Lunch was two hours, usually with a bottle of wine or time for a little nap. I don’t do the wine obviously, but I am trying to take time to read or go outside after lunch and enjoy the present moment. Also leaving NYC recently has made me feel calmer, as there is no rush of the city to make me feel pressured to keep going and going. That was part of our reason to move, as my wife and I both realized we are being worn down by the hustle of city life.
And yes, we enjoy the Ren Faire, or really any excuse to get dressed up in costume. Another benefit of being out of the city is that I finally have the space (garage and driveway) to do DIY house projects like sanding and painting a big bookshelf, so I am enjoying relaxing while I do other handicrafts I never had access to before. Also I can take BATHS!!! (We only had a shower in our previous apartment). Baths have changed my life (Shout out to Witch Baby Soaps).
What are some of your biggest inspirations currently that are finding their way into your art and practice?
I’ve really fallen for the Surrealists recently, something I think I was resisting for a long time because the famous ones can feel a bit cliché (like Dali) or overly churned into products (like Kahlo, which makes me sad). But I do really love Kahlo, Remedios Varo, and Leonora Carrington. Tove Jansson is my number one always, not just because of her art but also because of how she lived her life. She is my queer icon I look up to the most. Because of my Norwegian heritage, I have a very nostalgic attachment to anything Scandinavian, and these artists always warm my heart: Nikolai Astrup, Edvard Munch, Elsa Beskow and Theodore Kittlesen. Medieval art is always a favorite. Also, woodcuts in general, because the linework that the medium produces is so raw and overwhelmingly human (specifically when Kathe Kollwitz uses it and other expressionists).
I just learned that you have a Patreon! Can you tell us about what goes on over there?
Yes! It is mostly behind-the-scenes work or first looks for both Cat Coven and personal work. Also sometimes ramblings on different themes that are present in my art. I’ll also be sharing my new studio space there soon – it feels very vulnerable to share, so I don’t feel comfortable posting it publicly on social media. Some tiers also have download and print color pages, calendar pages and discount codes for CatCoven.com 🙂
At I’ll Follow You today you can hear our conversation covering everything from being the avenging angel of properly crediting supposedly anonymous artwork found online, why intros are the hardest part of the writing process, the arcane expectations of the publishing industry, being terrified of academics, reining in the tendency to be clever at the expense of kindness, and the Taurean ability to become more of one’s self while staying cozy at home.
I am so quick to proclaim “I’m NEVER going to do x/y/z thing!” And 100% of the time, I always end up eating my words. I was terrified at the idea of having recorded discussions like this and didn’t think I was capable of doing it, but this is the second one I have done this year (I have another scheduled this week) and I am…maybe…getting the hang of it?
A million thanks to Allison for having me on her podcast, for making me feel comfortable, for her marvelous questions, and for helping me to realize that these experiences are not something to dread, but to actually have a good time with!