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?

…or support me on Patreon!



Add Comment

Your comment will be revised by the site if needed.

Discover more from Unquiet Things

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading