Oh, July. Dealer of fermenting heat fevers and the slow insensibility of sweat-death. Purveyor of seasonal ennui and summer malaise. July, my old nemesis. I see you have returned again.
I could do now what I have always done; ignore its presence and live in resentful unease until early autumn, when hurricane season begins in earnest. Cracked plastic blinds drawn weakly against the ruthless light of the sun, central AC cranked low and fans straining at their highest speeds to combat the boiling temperatures and ponderous humidity. Pretend it’s not there at all, none of it; if I don’t see July and all of its overheated, inflamed offerings, well then, perhaps July, in turn, does not see me.
I am not so certain that this is a strategy that’s been working very well for me. Though in the moment it might feel nice to root myself in the darkness like a pale, weak mushroom with a fondness for diet coke, crunchy snacks, and horror novels…after several weeks of this, I begin to feel unbalanced and generally unwell. And so, I have been considering the thought of meeting my brutal summer nemesis head-on…and deliberating on what such encounters might look like for me.
Into my daily-doings I am trying to incorporate –without hemming or hawing or overthinking them– the implementation of those things that…while I might not love doing them…they are the things that benefit me and my overall wellness in the long term. Some people talk about that concept as being the ultimate form of self-care, but if you’re not into discussions of self-care, I suppose you could just look at it as being the responsible adult in your relationship with yourself and doing what’s best for yourself even when you just don’t wanna.
Exercising when I’d rather be cozy on the sofa reading, eating something nutritious when I’d rather be eating greasy junk, waking up early and having time to start the day on my own terms instead of sleeping in and rushing to be at my desk on time, making that appointment to get my mams grammed or my parts poked at, instead of putting it off because I feel fine and I really hate making phone calls. Doing the thing I am dreading RIGHT NOW and getting it out of the way so I can get on with my life, instead of ignoring it and letting the dread and doom build to unsustainable levels. I am not perfect and I don’t always get it right (and honestly sometimes four margaritas is a perfect amount, and I don’t care what future Sarah has to say about it) but this is one of the biggest changes I have been trying to make for myself.
So this year when summer-cellar-potato-sprout-me started to feel sickly and strangely heartsick in July, I met the month, halfway, under the sun and in the shade of the dusty, gingery spice of the riotous crepe myrtle blossoms and had a good think about it. While I hate being sticky and overheated and I really dislike the blinding glare of the bright summer sun in my eyes…what I do love is the lovely fresh air and moving myself through it. It makes me sad that I can’t throw the windows open and let the breeze in at this time of year, and I can’t take my evening walks around my neighborhood without coming back to my house tomato-faced and soaked through with my own sweat and stink. So the windows remain closed to the elements and I cease moving much at all. But I need those breezes and I need those walks to feel good. To feel like myself!
One thing I must constantly remind myself of is that I don’t need to suffer, needlessly. I do not have to be the conductor in my own choir of personal misery. I have written about this before, how discomfort and suffering are somehow wrapped up for me in my lifelong sense that I was somehow invisible. But I am here in this world, and a real person stares back at me every day from the mirror. And what I am saying here, is, that as a flesh and blood human going outside to parlay with the sun…I maybe need to stop being so stubborn and wear something appropriate instead of a suffocating swath of head-to-toe opaque material in the darkest shades of black.
So …as of last weekend, I began wearing shorts for the first time in over two decades. The pair pictured above was sent to me in a Stitch Fix box five years ago and I’m not sure why I kept them because they didn’t fit very well and I knew I wasn’t going to wear them. I stuffed them into the furthest recesses of that one dresser drawer that I never rummage through, or really, even ever open at all, and forgot about them for several years.
It would be an extreme disservice to myself to say that these shorts now “miraculously” fit. Miracles and mystery have nothing to do with it. For a year and a half now I have been working quite hard at moving more, and really examining why I eat, what I eat, and how I eat, and though it is a slow process (and I wouldn’t have it any other way) my clothes are starting to fit better, and I am just feeling better in general. At any rate, these shorts are the Kut from the Kloth brand, and I know it is a stupid name, but I really do love them. I wore them outside to water our plants earlier this week, and I felt a breeze on my legs for the first time in a very long time. This is going to sound cheesy and melodramatic but that movement of air on a scrap of skin that usually never sees the light of day felt like an epiphany and I nearly wept.
Ever since the spiritualists in Cassadaga nudged me* this past January about exploring my interest in herbalism, I’ve been trying my hand at growing and gardening various things. I’m not one to do a lot of reading on a subject before I embark on things such as this; I know if I do, I will quickly become overwhelmed and then probably become too intimidated to even begin. Instead, I start with something small and try to learn as I go, reading and finding answers when I encounter a question, or when something doesn’t seem to be working.
Now, I feel compelled to share that this is not the first time I’ve ever had a little garden. But in the past whenever I grew frustrated, I usually just gave up and let things die. I didn’t really examine what I had done wrong, I didn’t try different techniques in attempting to right the issues, and I didn’t feel much of an attachment to what I was doing. I think this may be because I was not learning anything, and perhaps more importantly, I did not have any encouragement. I’m currently living with someone who is as delighted as I am by green and growth and gardening, and I am almost certain that having a partner in crime for such things increases the enjoyment as well as the possibility for success. Especially if that partner is more patient and persistent than you when it comes to finding solutions for garden problems. This is not to say that you need another person for success and enjoyment of your endeavors! You are quite capable, and quite enough. And I am too, I am sure. I just know that someone else to geek out with over your sprouting seedlings sure doesn’t hurt, either.
And so, I wore something comfortable and cool and I walked outside to do something I enjoy. It seems so simple when I say it like that, doesn’t it? The July sun doesn’t seem so vexing and villainous when I am enthralled, watching the traffic jam of sleepy-drunk bees in my sunflowers, or when I am held spellbound by the sweet scent of lavender on my fingertips. The sweat dripping into my eyes isn’t such an intensely personal affront when I am pruning mint and oregano to make something interesting with, or digging little holes to drop delicate basils cutting into, to hopefully take root and thrive. For a moment or two, I almost feel a sense of camaraderie with that brilliant blazing day-star, burning and boiling its path across the July sky. I guess in spending time now working in concert with something I’ve spent so long bitterly avoiding, I am learning that I, too, can grow.
Fear not! All of this growth is not just confined to the back patio explorations and schmaltzy personal development! Our front porch is turning into a jungle and there are green things vining and growing (and probably wilting and rotting) on all of the indoor shelves, as well!
Of course, despite this seeming summer truce, I could never neglect the one space that has always been there for me, no matter what the weather out of doors or inside my heart is doing. Kitchen adventures are still happening!
I harvested and dried some mint, basil, oregano, for cooking purposes; as well as some thyme, which I added to a batch of creole seasoning; I picked some chive blossoms and made an infused vinegar; I pickled some watermelon rind last weekend (it’s kinda underwhelming) and I began a sourdough starter, which if I am being honest, smells a little disgusting. Like a belly button infection. And before you ask me how I know what that smells like, I will point you to the 17-year-old Sarah with the ill-advised bellybutton ring.
I made Joshua Weissman’s sandwich bread (good); the buffalo tofu from Sarah’s Vegan Kitchen (excellent) and several recipes from the Southern Vegan cookbook, to mixed results. Typically everything I make by this cook (it’s the person who runs the Rabbit & Wolves blog!) is excellent, but the jury is still out on the Reuben sandwich and the kale carbonara pasta. They weren’t…bad? But they weren’t great? However, from this same book I also made the chili smashed potato salad and both myself and the person I fed it to while we watched the LotR trilogy for the eleventy-fifth time thought it was perhaps the finest potato salad we had ever eaten. I have no doubt that Samwise Gamgee would agree.
I do have to be real about my newfound positive relationship with the July sun. It’s still dreadfully hot. I do have to escape indoors from time to time! And strangely enough, it’s not so hot that I don’t want a pile of scratchy wool yarn on my lap?
A few weeks ago I was nearly this far in my progress on the Carlina sweater when I decided that I’d thread some yarn through the live stitches, take the work off the needles, and try it on. It was…enormous. I ripped it all back to just below the motifs, jettisoning weeks worth of work in the process, switched to smaller needles, incorporated matching decreases every few rows to hopefully reign in the girth as I worked my way down again, and just this evening I bound off the body and tried it on.
It is…still enormous. Are there lessons to be learned here? Yes? Will I learn them? Most assuredly not. I would not swatch again and I will continue to never swatch!
For YEARS now, I have been meaning to dive into the Artist’s Way. I have begun the morning pages and the various tasks, but I’ll admit, I am not super consistent. Anyone else want to do this with me? We can check in on each other and gently try to hold each accountable? Let me know in the comments!
I am re-visiting Toni Morrison’s Beloved, because it’s been since my junior year of high school that I read it, and that was…a long time ago. As a teenager wrapped up in her own head and her own problems, I didn’t have the attention to give it that it deserved, and even if those mental spaces were functioning at 100%, I am not sure how much of it I would have really understood anyway. I also intend to dig into Hangsaman by Shirley Jackson because I just watched the deliciously savage Shirley a few weeks ago, and I believe it was supposed to have been set during the time she was writing this novel. Also this vintage paperback indicates it was at one point $1.50 and wow I think maybe I overpaid by a lot.
I finally got around to watching the incredibly interesting and remarkably insightful Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror; I’d heard it mentioned over and over in the last year or two by folx whose tastes and thoughts I really trust, and after watching it, my only regret is that I took so long to do so. One of the films mentioned immediately caught my interest– Eve’s Bayou, a southern gothic family drama with a plot incorporating magic and memory, and a moody atmosphere and aesthetic that could have been coaxed from a poem or a dream. To recommend it as a creepier Steel Magnolias with a Flowers In The Attic Vibe isn’t really fair, because at its core, it is a beautiful portrait of black identity and female awakening.
Two other things I recently watched and also recommend, but for very different reasons, are two series that are on Netflix right now. Both are short, with between 6-10 episodes, but that is where the similarities end. One is The Babysitter’s Club, and the other is Ju-on: Origins.
When I was 15 or 16 years old, I had for years been on a steady diet of Stephen King, Anne Rice, and multiple re-reads of The Exorcist. My youngest sister and subsequently our middle sister began reading The Babysitter’s Club series, and I suppose I must have started sneaking copies from their rooms at that time as well, perhaps in an unconscious effort to feel a bit closer to them. I have very fond memories of those books! This series is such a surprise and a comforting delight. I don’t know why I say “a surprise”–I watch and love things probably intended for younger folks all the time! It stays true to the spirit of the original, embracing friendship and empowerment of young women, but it’s also updated to be more diverse and inclusive. If the ending of the She-ra remake (which I also thoroughly ador(a)ed has left a hole in your heart, you could do worse than give The Babysitters Club a watch.
And Ju-on: Origins. Wow. Not much to say about that, but if you’re feeling nostalgic for what I think of as the Golden Age of Japanese horror, then do a binge of this. Think a slightly dialed down Takashi Miike plus a bit of David Lynch? Forbes called it the worst Netflix original series, but maybe they just don’t know genius when they see it. Maybe I don’t either! So as always, take my opinion with several grains of salt, but if you watch it, let me know what you think.