It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these little life updates, and as we’re sliding past midsummer, it felt like the right time to share some thoughts and recommendations with you all.

It was almost a year ago that I learned of my father’s passing. It was complicated. But whomst among us doesn’t have a complicated relationship with a relative? Both of my parents were complicated situations for me. My father and I hadn’t spoken in two decades, but his influence on my younger self during one pivotal summer in Houston still echoes through my life in unexpected ways. From word games that sparked my love for language to a treasure trove of Heavy Metal magazines that forever altered my perception of art and storytelling, those memories have become a strange sort of inheritance.

As this anniversary approaches, I’ve found myself seeking comfort in the small rituals of everyday life – tending to my garden, discovering new scents, and losing myself in music. It’s funny how the things we surround ourselves with can become anchors in turbulent times, isn’t it?

So, I thought I’d share some of these anchors with you today. A bit of this, a dash of that – the odds and ends that have been keeping me grounded and inspired lately. Consider it a belated midsummer offering of sorts, from my strange little world to yours.


I’ve got a bit of a confession to make – and it might surprise you! Despite my love for all things dark and spooky, my absolute favorite flower is… the sunflower. Not very on-brand for someone who writes about gothic literature and horror, and dark fashion, I know, I know. And I know you know. I struggle with this disparity a lot, and it spills over into this blog quite frequently.

There’s something undeniably magical about these towering golden giants, these brazen yellow blooms, their faces turned unabashedly towards the light. They’re like nature’s own version of a Rorschach test – to some, they might represent pure, unadulterated joy. To others, they’re a reminder of the delicious contrast between light and dark, a symbol of life’s stubborn persistence in the face of entropy.

Plus, let’s not forget their slightly creepy ability to track the sun across the sky. It’s like they’re a botanical army of solar-powered sentinels, always watching, always turning. Sorry, had to make it weird. So there you have it, friends. My not-so-dark secret is out. Anyone else out there have any unexpected favorites that don’t quite fit their usual aesthetic?


So: two-ingredient bagels.  No, no, no, I have not joined the ranks of the protein-obsessed gym rats or the preservative-phobic crowd, nothing like that. Sometimes you just want a bagel. Not those sad, freezer-burned discs masquerading as bagels from the grocery store. And definitely not the overpriced, underwhelming attempts at bagels that Florida tries to pass off as the real deal. Sorry, Florida (Bagel) Man, but you’re no Local New Jersey (Bagel) Man when it comes to bagels. And sure, I could spend hours crafting an authentic, complicated bagel recipe. But sometimes, you want a bagel without feeling like you’re auditioning for a baking show.

Enter the two-ingredient bagel: just flour and Greek yogurt. And seasonings and toppings, so it is not technically two ingredients, I suppose. It’s not terrible! It’s not going to win any awards in New York, but when the bagel craving hits, and your options are limited, it’s a surprisingly satisfying solution. I make extra to slice and freeze, and it’s a nice treat when you find a bagel buried at the bottom of the freezer underneath the frozen peas and the dubious pork chops!


I’ve always scoffed at the notion of seasonal fragrances. I wear what I want when I want! You can’t tell me nothin! Resinous incense and mossy stone castles and suffocating spices year round, please!

…Yet here I am, a prisoner of the merciless Florida hellscape, finding myself yearning for fragrances that offer respite from the relentless heat.

It’s not so much about capturing a bottled atmosphere as it is about survival. Those earthy autumnal and woodsy winter perfumes that once brought such cozy comfort and delicious decadence now feel like a weighted blanket in this sweltering humidity. They cling, they smother, they overwhelm – much like the soupy miasma of these endless summer days.

Instead, I find myself drawn to the ephemeral and the ethereal. I reach for scents that evaporate almost as quickly as they’re applied, leaving behind only the ghost of a proper perfuming. Fizzy floral effervescence, a fleeting joy in the sticky air. Crisp, soapy musks offer the illusion of a fresh start, even as the humidity threatens to undo their work. Citrus and ginger provide zingy, zippy zhuzh, their bright notes cutting through the muggy haze. And those elusive spa-like fragrances – all gauzy lavender threads and misty eucalyptus veils – conjure a spectral coolness that’s more memory than matter.

These aren’t summer scents in the traditional sense, with their sunscreen notes and tropical fruit medleys. They’re more like… olfactory air conditioning. These subtle, refreshing fragrances I once overlooked now feel like small mercies, in a season that shows no mercy.

Elizabeth W. Té smells like a gorgeous glass of Southern sweet tea

Eris Parfums Green Spell smells like a mossy malachite pennywort nightmare angel

Initio Musk Therapy is an Abercrombie & Witch spell of hot people smelling hot (thanks to @eaumg for most of that description.)

Origins Ginger Essence smells like how the chorus in June Hymn by The Decemberists makes me feel

Blue Quartz from HauteMacabre x Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab is a gentle summer lullaby of coconut milk, sandalwood, and lavender

Jones Road Shower is good mostly because it reminds me of BPAL’s discontinued Danube, which smells like sinking to the bottom of the coldest, bluest swimming pool on the hottest day of the year, and seeing the sun’s glimmer wavering through the rippling water and thinking ha ha ha, screw you, sun.

Kyoto from Comme des Garçons is actually my all-time favorite, number one, anytime, anyplace scent. It’s the scent everything has to measure up to, and so far, nothing has ever surpassed it. It smells like a cool shadowy prayer in a dark forest temple, and it is especially nice on brutal summer nights.


I recently traveled to Philly, where I spent a much-needed long weekend with my Best Good Friend. We, of course, did some urban exploration and perfume shopping and conveyor belt sushiing and some long drives in the countryside, and, weirdly enough, a surprise visit to Warby Parker for very gleefully ridiculous new glasses! (Ývan thinks I look like this guy in my new specs, but everyone else is pointing to her.) But the best part was just vegging out together, doing nothing. We basically barricaded ourselves in their living room for a solid 24 hours, binging the entire season of Loudermilk, decimating an unholy amount of Herr’s jalapeño popper cheese puffs in the process. My fingers are probably still slightly orange.

A blonde musician showed up in one of the later episodes, and it hit me: isn’t that the singer from the 2017 Twin Peaks: The Return? Isn’t that Lissie?! I was obsessed with that Wild West song, and then I was obsessed with her PERFECT cover of Danzig’s “Mother” forever, and now, thanks to this show about the misadventures of misfits in AA, I’m equally fixated on her song “When I’m Alone.” And also the beautiful kimono she is wearing in that scene!

The funny thing is, it’s over a decade old at this point. Isn’t it weird how you can re/discover music like that? One minute, you’re stuffing your face with cheesy puffs; the next, you’re having a moment with a song from 2011 that you never knew you missed out on way back when, but now you love it like you’ve loved it forever.

Anyway, I’ve been playing Lissie non-stop since I got back. It’s like my brain is trying to recreate that perfect moment of kinship, junk food, and unexpectedly poignant television.


In early 2020, the world is still blissfully unaware of what’s coming, and I am armed with a Google Docs spreadsheet and a mission. The goal? To immerse myself in the Stephen King universe – reading the unread, re-experiencing the familiar through audiobooks, and diving into television and film adaptations I’d somehow missed.

For 80s horror kids, he was practically a god. The master of terror, the guy who could make a clown in a storm drain or a voice in a closet the stuff of lifelong nightmares. But if I am being thoroughly, painfully honest – as an adult, reading him can sometimes feel like listening to your out-of-touch dad try to be “hip.” You love him, but occasionally, you just want to gently suggest he stop talking before he says something so embarrassing you could die.

That said, there’s still this undeniable magic to his work. It’s comfort food for the horror soul. When he eventually shuffles off this mortal coil, I’ll be devastated. More upset than when my own father passed. Stephen King’s been more of a constant presence in my life, for better or worse.

Anyway, I’ve been picking up the threads of this project lately, diving into the Mr. Mercedes books and related stories. It’s been… interesting. There’s still that undeniable King charm, the way he builds a world and populates it with characters that feel both wonderfully and uncomfortably real. I’ve always loved the way he writes the relationships–the interactions, the dialogue, the bonds– between siblings, for example. I first read IT thirty-seven summers ago, but I still get shivers when I think of Bill and Georgie Denbrough. But there are also moments where I find myself thinking, “Oh, Stephen King,  no…! When was the last time you talked to a 44-year-old woman? And have you EVER spoken with a Black teenager??”

So that’s where I’m at with the project right now. Detecting with Bill Hodges, solving crimes with Holly Gibney, and watching Stephen King try to navigate the modern world with varying degrees of success. It’s a strange experience, this literary time travel. Part nostalgic joy, part critical assessment, all wrapped up in the complicated emotions of revisiting a childhood hero with adult eyes.

As I sit here, writing these words, I’m acutely aware of the passage of time. It’s been a year since I learned of my father’s passing, a man I barely knew yet whose influence echoes through my life in unexpected ways. The games we played then shape the words I write now. The Heavy Metal magazines I pored over still influence my aesthetic sensibilities. And that tiny bird I cradled during the Harmonica Convention? Perhaps it was the first stirring of the caretaker in me, the same part that now tends to sunflowers and crafts imperfect bagels. Maybe that’s a stretch. Maybe I just like flowers and bread.

(Totally unrelated–I also like creepy antique dolls. The one above was a birthday gift to myself last month.)

As I navigate this midsummer, with its oppressive Florida heat and the bittersweet onslaught of memories, I find myself grateful for the small joys: the scent of lemon and ginger on my skin, the cackles shared over junk food and trash television, the rediscovery of a singer-songwriter that speaks to my soul. It’s funny, isn’t it? How life can be simultaneously mundane and profound, filled with both small pleasures and big questions. I’m learning that it’s okay to contradict myself sometimes, whether it’s in my fragrance choices or my relationship with authors I’ve loved since childhood.

As we head deeper into the feverish, overheated, and everlasting days, I’m looking forward to more unexpected discoveries. And Halloween! Always that.  Summer can fuck right off straight into the sun.

If you enjoy posts like these 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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Scowl, Annie Stegg Gerard, 2020, oils on wooden panel

You can’t imagine how thrilled I was when Annie Stegg Gerard permitted me to include sweet Scowl (above) in the pages of The Art of Fantasy: A Visual Sourcebook Of All That Is Unreal.

I mean, who wouldn’t be, just look at that face! Swoon!

In the book, the caption for the image reads:

“Annie Stegg Gerard has been painting whimsical illustrations from early childhood and her works encompass a wide variety of mediums, including both two and three-dimensional forms. Specializing in character design and development as well as a masterful atmosphere of enchantment, Annie creates unique images populated with enigmatic figures and lively creatures.

This transportive effect of emotion and imagination is undeniable, such as the dear little Scowl above, eyes gleaming sweetly, a tender paw adorably curled in mid-thought. A viewer can’t help but coo in delight at the thought of those magical toe-beans!”

The Gift, Annie Stegg Gerard


Moonlit March, Annie Stegg Gerard

Her paintings are like a gilded invitation to a secret greenwood garden party, gossamer confections spun from sugar and moonbeams. Every surface shimmers with the beauty of magics most decadent, the kind that offers gleaming jeweled fairytale fruits and secrets sleeping in the shadow of a raven’s wing.  I’m almost tempted to refer to her style as glamorous, yet, that word conjures associations of a distant chilliness and a definite, distinct lack of fun. Maybe even something a bit wicked.

Which couldn’t be further from the truth in the case of this artist’s creations! For all the romantic enchantments and radiant glamour of these scenes, there’s a disarming warmth. The faeries, with their benevolent smiles, wouldn’t dream of causing actual harm, and the woodland creatures, even the mischievous ones, seem more interested in puckish pranks than actual malice.  There’s a sense of merriment in the air, a joyous abandon!

A world that invites exploration without ever truly feeling threatening.

The Serpent, Annie Stegg Gerard


Journey’s End, Annie Stegg Gerard

Even the dragon chasing the thieving band of forest folk, arms loaded with loot and treasures, feels more like a scene from a whimsical ballet than a terrifying encounter. There’s a sense of playfulness, a twinkle in the dragon’s eye that suggests it’s all part of a delightful game.

On Velvet Wings, Annie Stegg Gerard


Changing Tides, Annie Stegg Gerard


Fire Wyrm, Annie Stegg Gerard

There’s a distinct lack of menace in Stegg Gerard’s worlds. Even the fantastical beasts, with their playful expressions and captivating forms, lack the bite of traditional monsters. And the monsters themselves possess a sense of playful theatricality. They’re not mean and nasty, they’re just playing a part! And everyone’s in on the delightful secret. Even the darkness seems like a friend.

Annie’s artistry is a marvel of light and color. There is warmth and sincerity embedded into every brushstroke. The colors themselves sing a comforting melody, a symphony of rose golds, soft blues, and the warm glow of sunshine dappling through leaves.  The beauty here is not cold and sterile but rather a living, breathing entity, one that radiates warmth and invites you to step into the heart of its impish revelry.

Rabbat, Annie Stegg Gerard


Moth Queen, Annie Stegg Gerard

The beauty, too, lies in the sincerity of her subjects, their expressions imbued with a soulful earnestness, holding a quiet wisdom of stories brimming with wild wonder and fierce, beautiful joy.  Their world is a shimmering celebration of the inherent joy in the fantastical, where the mythical and fanciful feel so utterly genuine that you could reach out and touch it, squeeze it in a big velvet-fuzzed, moth-winged hug.

But for all that innocent earnestness, it’s far from simplistic; it’s a captivating tumble of whimsy and earnestness, a world that echoes through and through with the thrum of a tremulous beating heart– making for a beauty that above all, feels real and true.

Find Annie Stegg Gerdard: Website // Instagram and see below for a further gallery of my favorites from this extraordinary artist.

Stolen Harvest, Annie Stegg Gerard


Festival of the Toadstool Dance, Annie Stegg Gerard


Enchantress of Avalon, Annie Stegg Gerard


Wish, Annie Stegg Gerard


Autumn Apprentice, Annie Stegg Gerard


Flortoise, Annie Stegg Gerard


The Cabbat Version 2, Annie Stegg Gerard


I’m Afraid You’ve Got Dragons, Annie Stegg Gerard


Penelope, Annie Stegg Gerard


Calico Calimander, Annie Stegg Gerard


Lady of the Vanir, Annie Stegg Gerard


The Boggart, Annie Stegg Gerard


The Coveted, Annie Stegg Gerard


If you enjoy posts like these 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!


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R. Graves, The Ghost Story; girl reading a ghost story, c. 1874.
R. Graves, The Ghost Story; girl reading a ghost story, c. 1874.

Have you ever stumbled upon a book that defies easy categorization? A story that blends genres in unexpected ways, leaving you both unsettled and strangely satisfied? I recently watched Elizabeth of Reading Wryly talk about the genres that define her taste on her YouTube channel, and it got me thinking about my own preferences and predilections.

Inspired, I decided to delve into my own bookshelf, unearthing a collection of contemporary tales that resonate with my peculiar tastes. These are the subgenres that keep me up all night, narratives that blend the familiar with the fantastical, the scholarly with the spooky, and the artistic with the unsettling. Think academia with a dash of the supernatural, secluded artists haunted by their creations, or media that becomes a chilling conduit for obsession.

These are all fairly contemporary titles, but obviously, stories like “The Yellow Wallpaper” or We Have Always Lived in the Castle, would probably be right at home on some of these lists. So, as always, when I make and share lists like this, if you feel there is something missing, I invite you to make your own! And I imagine it should go without saying, but I will say it anyway: I have indeed read every book on this list. I would never, ever recommend something that I have not experienced myself.

At any rate, see below for the hyper-specific subgenres that keep me turning pages…!

Engraving of a woman reading by candlelight by John Sartain, after a painting by Philippe Mercier. 1854.

The Academy of Shadows:  Imagine academia’s hallowed halls, cloaked in shadows and secrets, where intellectual pursuits intertwine with the arcane. These narratives tantalize with their blend of scholarly intrigue and subtle (or not so much) supernatural undertones. Bonus points for clique-y cults and catty mean girls.

  • The Secret History by Donna Tartt: A murder unfolds at an elite college as a group of classics students delve into ancient Greek rituals, their dark secret binding them together.
  • Possession by A.S. Byatt:  Two contemporary scholars uncover a hidden love story between Victorian poets through unearthed letters and journals.
  • Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo: A young woman who can see ghosts navigates the occult underbelly of Yale University, where secret societies wield dangerous magic.
  • Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas:  At an isolated, prestigious university with a dark secret, a rebellious student uncovers a shocking truth about the school’s true purpose.
  • The World Cannot Give by Tara Isabella Burton: A shy new student at an elite boarding school joins a cultish choir group led by a charismatic but dangerous leader.
  • The Lightness by Emily Temple: A teenager attends a summer camp where girls attempt to levitate, exploring the boundaries between reality and transcendence.
  • The Likeness by Tana French: Detective Cassie Maddox goes undercover as her former alias to lure out a killer whose victim looked eerily like Cassie. This painfully beautiful book is an atypical example of this genre, but I must insist.
  • The Cloisters by Katy Hays: A young art researcher at a gothic museum gets caught in a deadly web of ambition and intrigue surrounding a mysterious deck of tarot cards.
  • The Tenth Girl by Sara Faring: A young woman seeking refuge from a brutal regime finds herself battling a haunting presence at a remote Argentinian boarding school with a missing student.
  • Down A Dark Hall by Lois Duncan: The one that started it all! (For me, anyway!) A skeptical girl at a mysterious boarding school uncovers a dark secret behind her classmates’ newfound talents.

The Perilous Price of Artistic Refuge: Solitude breeds introspection, but in these narratives, it also invites unsettling encounters with the unknown. As artists and writers retreat into seclusion (or, sometimes, secluded retreats with a few other people) they find their creative sanctuaries infiltrated by eerie presences and mysterious occurrences. And murder! While this is not really an ordered list of favorites, “artist goes off to creation in isolation, weird shit ensues” actually IS my favorite!

  • The Writing Retreat by Julia Bartz:  A struggling writer competes in a deadly writing challenge at a secluded retreat hosted by a famous horror author.
  • Fake Like Me by Barbara Bourland:  A young artist, desperate to recreate her lost work, takes refuge at an isolated retreat shrouded in the mystery of a past artist’s death.
  • The Last Word by Taylor Adams: A reclusive woman’s negative online review of a horror author’s work spirals into a terrifying situation as she fears the author might be stalking her.
  • Wylding Hall by Elizabeth Hand:  Decades after a British folk band’s lead singer vanishes in a haunted mansion, survivors recount the chilling events in conflicting narratives. BIG TIME FAVORITE!
  • The Dark Half by Stephen King: A writer’s pseudonym takes on a life of its own, manifesting as a malevolent doppelgänger bent on revenge.
  • Dark Things I Adore by Katie Lattari: A former art student seeks revenge on her manipulative professor thirty years after a dark secret emerged at a secluded art camp
  • Green Fuse Burning by Tiffany Morris: A grieving artist confronts her family’s past and the unsettling secrets of a secluded cabin residency in the swamp.
  • The Centre by Ayesha Manazir Siddiqi: A discontented translator achieves fluency in a mysterious program, but grapples with the dark secret behind its success.

BONUS: A few films in this vein!

  • The Strings: Cut off from the world in a snowy hideaway, a composer’s quest for inspiration turns into a battle against a malevolent force.
  • Black Lake: A red scarf, a gift, and a curse. Aarya’s escape to pursue art awakens a terrifying entity – the Churail, a South Asian witch hungering for vengeance.

BONUS BONUS: The soundtracks for both The Strings and Black Lake are fantastically haunting in very different but equally marvelous ways

Félix Hilaire Buhot Liseuse à la Lampe (Woman Reading by Lamplight), 1879

Media Maledictions: Books, films, music—mundane on the surface, yet in these narratives, they become conduits for obsession, curses, and the macabre. These stories delve into the transformative power of art and media, blurring the boundaries between fiction and reality.

  • Experimental Film by Gemma Files:  A former film teacher investigating a lost filmmaker’s chilling work unleashes supernatural forces that threaten her family. ANOTHER BIG FAVORITE!
  • Night Film by Marisha Pessl: A journalist investigates the death of a reclusive cult filmmaker’s daughter, uncovering a world of dark rituals and macabre cinema.
  • Silver Nitrate by Silvia Moreno-Garcia A disillusioned sound editor and a washed-up soap star team up with a cult horror director to break a curse tied to a lost film infused with Nazi occultism.
  • Schrader’s Chord by Scott Leeds: Estranged from his dead father, a man inherits a record store and cursed vinyl that unleashes a malevolent force from the land of the dead.
  • Universal Harvester by John Darnielle: A small-town video store clerk stumbles upon disturbing hidden content on rental tapes, unraveling a sinister mystery.
  • The Club Dumas by Arturo Pérez-Reverte: A  rare book dealer hunts for a legendary text while encountering characters mirroring those from Dumas’s “The Three Musketeers.” You may have seen the film adaptation, The Ninth Gate.
  • Ringu by Koji Suzuki: A cursed videotape leads to a journalist’s race against time to uncover its origins and break the deadly cycle before it claims her life.
  • The Book of the Most Precious Substance by Sara Gran:  A down-and-out bookseller searches for a legendary sex magic book desired by the wealthy elite on a journey that explores dark desires and occult power.
  • Burn the Negative by Josh Winning: A journalist with a dark past as a child star in a cursed horror movie must confront the deadly remake and break the cycle.
  • Beholder by Ryan Lasala: A young art handler with the secret power to see the past in reflections gets pulled into a deadly conspiracy involving a supernatural entity and New York’s elite art scene.

BONUS: A few series in this vein…!

  • Archive 81: A cryptic trail of damaged tapes leads an archivist to piece together a filmmaker’s descent into the darkness of a hidden cult  
  • Deadwax: A vinyl tracker is hired by a rich collector to hunt a legendary rare record that has driven all its former owners mad

Unhinged and Unraveling: Women pushed to the edge, their sanity teetering on the brink, colliding with supernatural (ish) (esque) forces that challenge their perceptions of reality. These narratives delve into the complexities of female identity, power, and the eerie intersections of the mundane and the supernatural–of, if not specifically, supernatural, just weird shit in general.

  • Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder: A mother’s transformation into a dog leads to a surreal exploration of identity, motherhood, and the supernatural (and art!)
  • Bunny by Mona Awad: A graduate student infiltrates a clique of eccentric classmates, leading to a surreal journey into academia, identity, and bizarre rituals.
  • Mona by Pola Oloixarac:  A blunt Latina writer in California gets a chance to escape for a European literary award, but finds herself trapped amidst a pretentious competition, bizarre encounters, and a lingering threat of violence.
  • Mother Thing by Ainslie Hogarth: Desperate to escape a cruel mother-in-law’s ghost, a woman resorts to extreme measures to protect her husband and find a surrogate mother figure.
  • Mary: An Awakening of Terror by Nat Cassidy: A middle-aged woman returning home confronts repressed memories, disturbing visions, and a resurfacing serial killer.
  • Maeve Fly by CJ Leede: Ice princess Maeve embraces her murderous urges after a handsome stranger awakens a darkness within her. Thinks Weetzie Bat x American Psycho/Takashi Miike x Lana del Rey
  • Drive Your Plow Over The Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk: A reclusive animal lover in a Polish village becomes an unlikely detective, convinced she knows the truth behind a string of murders the indifferent police are ignoring.
  • Earthlings by Sayaka Murata: A woman who copes with a traumatic childhood and societal pressures by clinging to childhood fantasies seeks refuge in the mountains to reconnect with her alien-believing cousin and fulfill their pact to survive.
  • Paradise Rot by Jenny Hval: A hyper-sensitive Norwegian biology student navigates a strange, decaying apartment and a possibly unhealthy relationship with her enigmatic roommate.


If you enjoy posts like these 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!


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While the gothic aesthetic holds a certain undeniable allure, the label itself has never quite felt like a fit for me. The truth is, my love for all things gothy – the macabre aesthetics, the haunting melodies, the lyrical explorations of mortality – exists on a curious spectrum. While I find myself enthralled by the atmosphere,  I wouldn’t exactly say I identify as full-fledged goth.  I’ve written about this a lot!

Think of me more as a whimsical wayfarer, a will-o-the-wisp who flits along the fringes of your favorite hauntings, a connoisseur of the curious and the unsettling, a gentle weirdo with an affinity for shadows and darkness. Dark art, and darker music, and the darkest humor. And, of course…dark smells! Which I have somewhat already written about before: perfume of the dead // summer scents for those who shun the sun // scents for the dark

But! This is a topic I could write at least  dozen novels about and I do have quite a few goth/gothic-leaning perfumes in my collection. So here I am to share some more!

Ernst Haeckel’s Bats (1904)

Zoologist Bat is undeniably the strangest, most wonderfully unique perfume you will ever smell. Opening with a nearly overwhelming note of damp, primordial earth, both vegetal and mineral in execution, this immediately conjures inky caverns and pitch-black, damp limestone caves. The scent then morphs into something I can only describe as “night air and velvet darkness”; I cannot say how she has done this, I only know that it is the very essence of the vast, temperate midnight sky, the glowing moon high overhead. At this point, it becomes something quite different and–quite possibly–even more beautiful. Soft fruits, delicate musks, and resins lay at the heart of this enigmatic scent and combine to create a fragrance that lightly circles around the wearer to surprise them with a mysterious sweetness at the most surprising times. According to Dr. Covey, who has spent a great deal of time researching and studying bats, with this quality, the scent has succeeded pretty well in doing what she envisioned. This review is for the original 2015 perfume, but it has since been reformulated. You can still purchase the version I’m waxing poetic about, though; it’s sold over at Olympic Orchids as Night Flyer.

Tom Ford Oud Wood is a ghostly, glacial coniferous rosewood sandalwood melange of chilly, bitter, peppery woods. It is a tiny, sinister statue of a scent in an empty room where the temperature drops suddenly, with no explanation. The perfumed version of a little gremlin that appears in a haunting tale; one that skitters in the corners of your vision when the eye is focused elsewhere and inches eerily to your pillow when you’re at the knife’s edge of wakefulness and dream.

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 Bauhaus and Joy Division. This is discontinued, but it looks like you can buy samples here. Or you can buy a full bottle from me for $250 because I have an extra one!

bloodmilk x Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab Owl Moon A symbiosis of the moon and the magnificent night owl. A dark, rooty, sweet patchouli swirled with honey. A scent steeped in mythology and magic, Owl Moon opens with the blackest, earthiest patchouli (before learning of the notes, I actually thought it was vetiver!) and calls to mind cool, moist soil at the base of a pine tree through which all of the busy little night creatures slither and crawl, the pale, ghostly light of the moon glinting off their scales and wings. A yellow-eyed owl, perched overhead, meditates briefly before silently embarking on his nightly hunt; the sour, screechy scent of his nest, littered with rodent bones and pellets, serves as a warning nearby. This is the fragrance of potent night magics, rich and ripe with darkness and feral mysticism. The sharpness of the patchouli streaked with high-pitched honey combines to form an aura that is both graceful and grotesque, sacred and profane. It dries down to a spellbinding, narcotic musk within an hour or so, and I predict many a darkling will fall rapturously in love with this bewitching nocturnal perfume. This one is sold out for at the moment, but they have been known to restock.

Lvnea x Chelsea Wolfe Pêche Obscène is glorious– 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.


photography by the late Simon Marsden

Solstice Scents Estate Carnation is 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. This one may have been a seasonal or limited edition scent.

Arcana Holy Terror a blend of frankincense, deep myrrh, and beeswax candles, it smells of gentle resins, lofty sandalwood, and less of the fearsome spirits known to haunt certain long-deserted abbeys than it is curling up and reading about them in a horrid novel by the warm glow of candlelight.

Diptyque Tempo conjures an atmosphere of dolorous elegance, patchouli’s murky woods and dusky loam, with a wraithlike metallic chill and an herbal shiver of something green and strange simmering underneath. It carries a disquieting heaviness, the shape of a feeling impossible to give voice to; like having to climb into bed with someone and tell them they’re dead. It also reminds me of this passage from Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, “No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within… and whatever walked there, walked alone.” This is a patchouli that has walked the long shadows of Hill House, has become lost in the thick, unspoken secrets of its notorious halls, and suffered its mad face in the growing darkness. This is a twisted, haunted patchouli that has seen some shit, but all the edges of that unnerving terror have been blurred by the creeping of moss, the settling of dust, and the softness of time and memory, of unreality and dream.

Chapel Factory Heresy is the sharp green metallic floral of violet leaf, mingled with cool aromatic cedar, lofty sandalwood, and the smoked leather notes of vetiver; elements which alchemize into the austere elegance and kindred glooms of a dry, peppery violet incense. If you like the dark ambiance and nocturnal aesthetic of dungeon synth coupled with spectral visionary Simon Marsden’s black and white photographs of haunted ruins and moonlit abbeys, this is a transportive scent that will spirit you away to those eerie, ominous realms.

Beaufort London Terror & Magnificence This is the very gothest thing: tarry, leathery shadows, wet, stony paths leading into the teeming dark, and moonless midnights presiding over all. Like being enfolded by bat wings, encased in obsidian, enveloped in a stark abyss. A silent secret from the mouth of one just dead. This departed speaker whom no one hears is you.


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7 Jun

The Book of Love by Kelly Link Three schoolmates are returned from the dead and are tasked with finding out why in this marvelously absurd, weirdly beautiful debut novel from Kelly Link, who writes in the strange, dizzy, poetic, just-on-the-verge-of nonsense language of someone trying to describe their dream to you while they are still, in fact, in the middle of the dream. This is an author who writes like no one else today–or ever!– and when I finished the story, I found myself furiously weeping, thinking, take me back. I want to go back. (provided by NetGalley)

Thirst by Marina Yuszczuk. The streets of nineteenth-century Buenos Aires thrum with the throes of transformation as a vampire fleeing from Europe seeks refuge amidst the burgeoning chaos; centuries later, a woman grapples with her own mortality, her mother’s impending death a constant shadow. Through lush, exquisite prose reminiscent of Shirley Jackson and Daphne du Maurier, Yuszczuk navigates themes of fear, loneliness, and the haunting allure of immortality, and as the two women’s lives intertwine, desires ignite, and fate plays out in interesting and unexpected ways. Thirst is a captivating exploration of female agency and the stories that happen in the shadows between life and death–and I thoroughly look forward to exploring this darkness further with this incredible, new-to-me author. (provided by NetGalley)

Incidents Around The House by Josh Malerman is one of the freakiest books I have ever read in my life. I found myself forgetting to breathe as I read it and often realized I was literally crying because it freaked me out so badly. I will give a very, very brief summary. It is written from the POV of a child about a thing in her closet that’s been paying her visits. It wants to be “let inside” her heart. Soon, she begins seeing it in other parts of the home. And then, it is not confined to the walls of the family’s house…and eventually…other people can see it too. It’s a book that reminded me what it was like to be a child, and honestly, I felt being a child was very difficult. The overwhelming thing I recall from ages 3-10 is 100% “what the fuck is even happening right now?” And never knowing what’s next or, worse, what’s expected of me. And that’s freaky. I felt that way every second of my little life, and that made for a nervous, anxious childhood. To be fair, that’s how I feel as an adult, but now I’ve had nearly 50 years of experience acclimating to it. Reading this child’s story took me back to that unsettling place of vast uncertainty; sitting with the echoing reverberations of that anxiety through the lens of a monster/haunted house/demon story/possession story, rendered those feelings doubly alarming. I didn’t actually parse in the end what was happening/what had happened, and that’s fine. That’s perfect, actually. I feel like those alarming feelings of WTFery as a story is amping up are so infrequently sustained throughout the course of a book and all the way through the end– and Malerman has executed it masterfully. Isn’t it funny, though, how those things we fear so dreadfully, eventually become those fascinations that delight us? As a child, I hated never knowing exactly what was going on, and yet, as an adult, that’s the hallmark of some of the most excellent stories for me. (provided by NetGalley)

The Scent Trail by Celia Lyttelton whisks readers away on a sensory odyssey that crisscrosses continents and cultures, driven by her extravagant quest to concoct a signature perfume. Over two indulgent years, Lyttelton flitted through France, Italy, North Africa, India, Turkey, Yemen, and Socotra, cherry-picking ingredients with painstaking precision. The book teases with snippets of her personal journey but predominantly plunges into the intricate alchemy of perfume production, merging time-honored craftsmanship with modern techniques, and immersing readers in the rich tapestry of history and cultural significance behind each component. For a perfume aficionado, this tome is a spellbinding and exquisite delight, yet it remains jaw-droppingly unrelatable. It’s nearly impossible not to harbor an intense hatred towards this almost obscenely privileged woman.

Midnight Feast by Lucy Foley Perched on the precipice of the summer solstice, heiress/influencer/It Girl Francesca Woodland is poised to make certain the whole world knows about her newly renovated, ultra-luxurious resort, where the wealthy escape to get their chakras aligned, fondle energetic, vibe-rich crystals, drink local organic free range gluten-free juices and all sorts of other nonsense that gullible people with more money than sense are into. Her doting architect husband, Owen, is at her to side to ensure everything runs smoothly and continue work on the property. Despite their best efforts to present a perfect facade to the guests and the public, unsettling and disturbing things are happening around the resort. Is it the enigmatic stranger, possibly from Francesca’s past, who is slyly disguised as just another guest, ready to exact vengeance for some mysterious event that occurred 15 years prior? Could it be the villagers who were unhappy that Francesca had begun construction in the woods, taking down trees that were sacred to the community and part of their local legend and lore? Could it be Owen himself, who we soon learn is hiding secrets of his own? Told from multiple perspectives and dual timelines, we read as Detective Walker tries to piece together how the posh resort came to be a smoking ruin, with several dead in the fire. What strangeness happened on that solstice evening, and how does an incident from a decade and a half ago fit into this narrative? There’s not a single character in this story who is not keeping a secret–from the absolutely awful Francesca to her not-quite-what-he-seems husband, from vengeful Bella to the intrepid detective, to the hotel support staff to the villagers to the haunting entities in the woods–everyone here is a bit of a riddle, has an agenda, and fits into the puzzle in different ways. One of Lucy Foley’s finest stories yet.  (provided by NetGalley)

The New Couple in 5B by Lisa Unger Rosie and Chad, cash-strapped newlyweds, inherit a dream apartment in the opulent Windermere. But the glamour fades fast. Haunted by a spectral boy and plagued by the watchful eyes of the unnervingly knowledgeable doorman, Rosie delves into Windermere’s past – a grisly tapestry of deaths, accidents, and a history built on the embers of a burned-down church. The residents, initially welcoming, become threatening ciphers with hidden, possibly occult agendas. Rosie, already a bit of a haunted character herself, begins to lean into the past she’s been running from as she unravels the truth. I enjoyed the story right up until some key things were revealed; I don’t want to say anything potentially spoilery, but for all the supernatural buildup, the motives of the people behind the nefarious shenanigans are terribly, disappointingly mundane. (provided by NetGalley)

The Devil and Mrs. Davenport by Paulette Kennedy Paulette Kennedy’s The Devil and Mrs. Davenport  explores the quiet terrors of 1950s America through the eyes of Loretta Davenport, a young mother whose life spirals into a supernatural mystery. Set in Missouri, 1955, the novel intricately details Loretta’s struggle against societal expectations and her own emerging psychic abilities, which surface following a local girl’s murder. Supported by parapsychologist Dr. Curtis Hansen but opposed by her controlling husband Pete, Loretta’s journey is a riveting tale of self-discovery and empowerment amid haunting messages from the beyond.

The Drowning House by Cherie Priest  Two childhood friends return to their hometown upon hearing of the death of their beloved Mrs. Culpepper. Weirdly, the third of their trio, who had been the one to call and inform them of the old woman’s passing, has now mysteriously disappeared. And an old house has washed up on the beach! The fright is undoubtedly what killed Mrs. Culpepper, but the history of the house wreck and the circumstances surrounding its shocking reappearance is even stranger and scarier. The Drowning House starts strong with a storm-tossed mystery, and the childhood flashbacks add intrigue, weaving a connection between the house and a dark past. However, the characters, despite their history, felt flat, and the suspense didn’t quite hold throughout. I generally really enjoy Cherie Priest’s stories, but this one, even with its unique premise, didn’t work for me.(provided by NetGalley)

Poor Things by Alasdair Gray is a darkly comedic Frankenstein remix that injects irreverence and absurdity into the classic tale. Meet Bella Baxter, a captivating yet unconventional creation with a child’s whimsy, a woman’s wishes, and an absolute wild streak. The narrative unfolds through a dual lens: the pompous Dr. Archibald McCandless and Bella herself, offering a multifaceted exploration of female agency, societal constraints, and the battle for autonomy wherein Gray gleefully skewers Victorian propriety, taking aim at everything from class structures to scientific advancements.

Everybody Knows by Jordan Harper plunges you into the dark underbelly of LA’s glitz, where our morally compromised protagonists, Mae and Chris, find themselves embroiled in a dangerous game. Mae, a fixer for a PR firm, uncovers a scandal involving a high-profile client, while Chris, an ex-cop turned private investigator, gets entangled in a case with connections to a powerful crime syndicate. As they dig deeper, they realize their cases are intertwined, leading them into a labyrinth of corruption and deceit.

Rainbow Black by Maggie Thrash blends a chilling murder mystery with a moving coming-of-age narrative, all set against the backdrop of the 90s Satanic Panic. The novel follows Lacey, whose world is turned upside down when her free-spirited parents are wrongfully accused of satanic ritual abuse involving the children at their home-run daycare. With her parents thrown in jail, Lacey leans on her badass sister Eclair—until Eclair is brutally murdered. Thrust into the foster system, Lacey’s only solace is her friendship with Dylan. After years apart, they reconnect as teenagers, only to face another murder,  forcing them to flee to Canada. Fast forward several years, Lacey and Dylan, now under new identities and thriving in their careers, live in constant fear of being discovered.

The Invisible Hotel by Yeji Y. Ham A slow burn that transcends genre (though it is labeled as horror) The Invisible Hotel gives us glimpses into the surreal dreamscapes of an infinite hotel through the windows of Yewon’s suffocating reality. Yewon’s life is a tapestry woven with family distress: a mother fixated on ancestral bones, a brother stationed near a tense border, and a sister wrestling with her own demons. The cryptic hotel bleeds into her waking hours, forcing her to confront the unspoken traumas that have haunted generations. Yewon’s dreamlike haze can be frustrating to navigate, but I think it amplifies the story’s unsettling undercurrent. This isn’t quite traditional horror, but a queasy, uneasy exploration of grief, and the legacy of war on a family and community, and the fragility of self and identity in the face of these traumas. (provided by NetGalley)

How To Keep House While Drowning by KC Davis offers gentle, compassionate guidance for anyone overwhelmed by the chaos of everyday life, and looking to get a handle on things. Davis’s approach is empathetic, emphasizing self-kindness and practical strategies over perfection. Even if you’re not suffering from severe depression or have an ADHD diagnosis– maybe let’s just say you are easily overwhelmed and sometimes the world feels like it’s all too much–her insights create a nurturing space to redefine your relationship with housekeeping, making it an act of self-care rather than a source of stress.

The Angel of Indian Lake by Stephen Graham Jones I honestly don’t remember much about this final chapter of the Lake Witch trilogy, except holy hell–has ever a character endured more than Jade? I recall thinking more than once that this poor woman is so physically messed up and scarred that I don’t think her body could make it into another book, that would be even more unbelievable than more ghosts and monsters.

Diavola by Jennifer Marie Thorne Anna, a fed-up, burnt-out millennial with nothing left to lose, joins up with her family’s for their annual vacation, this time in the picturesque yet foreboding backdrop of a remote Italian villa.  As eerie nocturnal noises and unsettling local whispers unsettle the family dynamics, Diavola becomes a riveting exploration of loneliness, belonging, and the enduring power of family shittiness, in this ghost story blending dark humor with Gothic intrigue.

The Familiar by Leigh Bardugo Luzia, hiding her identity as a witch, struggles to remain unnoticed while working in a middlingly-grand household. Her quiet life is disrupted when she inadvertently uses her powers in front of her mistress, who thinks she can use this for some kind of social-climbing scheme–which draws the attention of both allies and enemies. As she becomes entangled with the brooding Santángel, a forbidden romance blooms. God, I hate romance. This book was not great.

The Kamogawa Food Detectives by Hisashi Kashiwai Tucked away in a Kyoto backstreet lies the Kamogawa Diner where Koishi and her retired detective father, Nagare, act as “food detectives,” unraveling the mysteries locked within forgotten recipes. With each bite, they conjure memories, mend broken hearts, and unlock the secrets to a happier future. This is a formulaic, but quick, fun read.

The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock  A parade of grotesques populates this Southern Gothic nightmare: from Willard Russell, a war veteran clinging to twisted faith, to the depraved couple, Carl and Sandy Henderson, who find their thrills in murder. Pollock doesn’t shy away from nastiness; his characters revel in it, leaving a trail of violence and broken lives in their wake. Yet, a strange poetry emerges from the darkness, making this exploration of humanity’s underbelly utterly horrifying and strangely beautiful.

A Better World by Sarah Langan The promise of a utopian escape in a near-future America lures the desperate Farmer-Bowen family to Plymouth Valley, a seemingly idyllic community. Initially snubbed by the townsfolk, the family eventually finds a tenuous “in” and begins to settle, but Linda is profoundly uneasy about her neighbors, the locale, and their traditions. As she delves deeper, unsettling truths about the community’s rituals emerge, leaving the family to question if this “better world” is worth the soul-chilling secrets it harbors or if the chaos of the crumbling world outside might be a preferable nightmare.


The Sleepwalkers by Scarlett Thomas Honeymooning on a storm-battered Greek island, Evelyn and Richard have the most desperately awful, toxic relationship I think I’ve ever encountered. I don’t think I will say more than that.

Water Shall Refuse Them by Lucie McKnight Hardy In the scorching summer of 1976, sixteen-year-old Nif and her family seek solace in a secluded Welsh village following her sister’s tragic drowning. As grief grips their lives, Nif turns to collecting talismans from the sun-starved land, delving into her own form of witchcraft. As they grapple with their loss, the village’s eerie atmosphere and its peculiar inhabitants seem to hold unsettling secrets. Amidst this haunting landscape, she crosses paths with Mally, a mysterious boy with his own secrets to unveil. This is described as Shirley Jackson-esque folk horror, and I would also add if you enjoyed Sarah Moss’s Ghost Wall, you’d probably like this one as well.

While We Were Burning by Sara Koffi Elizabeth’s seemingly perfect life shatters after her best friend’s mysterious death, leaving her floundering and leading her to hire Brianna, a poised and perceptive Black woman, as a personal assistant to help keep her sane and get her shit together. What starts as a professional arrangement evolves into an exploration of power dynamics and societal injustices as both women confront their own secrets and grief.

We Were Never Here by Andrea Bartz Imagine this: your annual bestie trip takes a horrifying turn when a violent incident in Chile leaves you entangled in a deadly cover-up. Sounds familiar? Probably not. Except it is for Emily, the protagonist–this is the second year in a row such a nightmare has unfolded. After fucked-up vacation number two, a distance is growing between Emily and the increasingly volatile Kristen, as Emily begins questioning everything – her memories, her sanity, and the very foundation of their bond.

The Resort by Sarah Goodwin Mila and Ethan, a seemingly perfect couple, find themselves stranded in a deserted, snow-blanketed resort after a wrong turn on their way to Mila’s sister’s wedding celebrations. Mila, desperate to not let her sister down yet again, soon realizes that her absence at the festivities will be the least of her worries, after a night sleeping in a frozen, dilapidated cabin…only to wake up and realize Ethan has disappeared.

Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark A nightmarish vision of the Deep South, where the white hooded figures harbor a sinister secret – they’re not just racists, they’re demonic vessels who thrive on hatred, using D.W. Griffith’s infamous film “The Birth of a Nation” to fuel their malevolent agenda. Maryse Boudreaux is a resistance fighter with a magic sword, a foot in the spirit world, and some seriously badass, brave friends, and she is truly unrelenting in her dedication to hunting these monsters and stamping out their wickedness.

Jackal by Erin E. Adams Liz Rocher reluctantly returns to her hometown, only to be ensnared by the sinister disappearance of a young girl in her charge during a wedding celebration. As Liz tears into the dark woods and the town’s unsettling past, she uncovers a harrowing pattern of missing Black girls, casting an eerie shadow over her own childhood memories.

Look in the Mirror by Catherine Steadman Nina, adrift in grief after her father’s passing, inherits a stunning vacation home in the Caribbean. But this windfall comes shrouded in mystery. The house itself, a gleaming glass and marble marvel, whispers secrets of her father’s hidden life. Meanwhile, Maria, a world-trotting nanny lured by the allure of wealth, takes a new position caring for a child in this very same paradise. As Nina peers deeper into her father’s past, and Maria encounters unsettling peculiarities in the opulent home, both women find themselves entangled in a weird and dangerous web of deception and shady business. (provided by NetGalley)

The Wishing Pool and Other Stories by Tananarive Due I was probably crying before I even finished the first page of this eerie collection; Tananarive Due just does that to me. Due’s stories are imbued with a profound sense of humanity, intertwining the supernatural with poignant explorations of loss, love, and the enduring power of hope. The Gracetown and the Nayima sections of the collection bring back locations and characters that readers will recognize from the author’s other works.


GORE-GEOUS by Alex West I already had a huge crush on Alex West from listening in to her discussions with Andrea Subisatti (on whom I also have a major crush–my capacity for crushing on brilliant people is boundless) on the Faculty of Horror podcast. But when I read these words in her recent book, GORE-GEOUS, my love for her grew to probably insane proportions: “Horror is a haven for me when the world feels too obtuse, moronic, or basic.” GORE-GEOUS is a profound exploration where personal essays intersect with film criticism to challenge societal norms of beauty, worth, and acceptance, wherein she adeptly observes, “Having narratives about the function of beauty shoved down our collective throats and having these ideas sold to us through endless products and treatments in a mindfuck.” In these pages, regarding issues of self-perception, self-worth, and internalizing toxic beauty and wellness culture, Alex confronts incredibly personal and also very relatable fears — which is a highly vulnerable and, I think, ultimately, empowering move– and examines it all through a horror movie lens. With raw vulnerability and incisive analysis, she weaves together personal anecdotes, film criticism, and cultural commentary to unpack the harmful messages we receive about beauty and how horror films can serve as a space to challenge these norms. I can’t recommend GORE-GEOUS enough.

Joyland by Stephen King College student Devin Jones seeks solace from heartbreak in a North Carolina amusement park. Aided by a psychic child and haunted by the park’s shadowy corners, Devin delves into Joyland’s dark past. This book had not even been on my radar, but the good people at Bad Books For Bad People had recently discussed it, and I was intrigued. My enjoyment of it was tempered, as it always is as the years go on, by thinking how old Stephen King is and how heartbroken I will be when he dies.

The Hunter by Tana French I love Tana French, but I have found her “Cal Hooper” series to be somewhat forgettable. In this second chapter, we return to the eccentric Irish village of Ardnakelty, where the American ex-cop Cal finds his newfound peace disrupted by the arrival of two outsiders. Johnny Reddy, half-feral teenager Trey’s long-absent father, rolls back into town like he owns the place, along with a stranger. Between them, there seems to be some sort of get-rich-quick scheme, and the rest of the town is soon suckered in on it. It was fine. I have already forgotten most of it

Society of Lies by Lauren Ling Brown When Maya returns to Princeton for her sister’s graduation, a celebratory weekend curdles into chilling suspicion. Naomi, it seems, has been entangled with the alluring yet enigmatic Sterling Club, and the whispers surrounding their exclusive inner circle hint at something far more sinister than scholarly pursuits. Maya’s investigation leads her back to a shadowy exclusive club and a past she desperately tried to bury. Brown weaves a tale of legacy, obsession, and the price of belonging, leaving you to wonder just what lurks beneath the polished veneer of campus life and also maybe glad that you decided on living at home and working part-time while going to community college. It may have taken you ten years but at least your ass didn’t get murdered. (provided by NetGalley)

Mystery Lights by Lena Valencia  is everything I want from a collection of short stories. Imaginative stories written in beautifully straightforward language (I want to say “plain language,” but that’s not quite it, I think what I mean is an “economy of prose” where every word is exactly what it should be, nothing more, nothing less.) Eerie vignettes in the American Southwest, stories with sinister intent, with menacing undercurrents –it’s not outright horror, but it flirts with it, it skirts the edges. A young girl gets separated from her family during a cave tour and doesn’t come back quite herself; a woman attends an influencer retreat along with other zealous obsessives deep in the desert; another woman is chased on a hot day by wild dogs, only to wind up in a creepy stranger’s car. These stories are haunting and uncomfortable, but only just–which is to say that they are definitely both those things, but they are handled so skillfully they almost seem like passing conversation, no big deal. These situations are not tied up with a neat bow, it’s almost as if we get a glimpse into these character’s lives for a moment, perhaps an afternoon or a series of weeks, just enough to become immersed in their strange, uneasy or distressing situations, and then the curtains are closed in our faces, as if the author is saying “well now, that’s all you get.” Well done. I think that’s just as it should be.(provided by NetGalley)

Worry by Alexandra Tanner  Set against the backdrop of Brooklyn’s urban ennui, it follows Jules and Poppy, two sisters mired in their privileged angst and neurotic crises. With its dry wit and supposed insights into modern life, the novel spins tales of aimless scrolling, pet dramas, and familial dysfunction. I felt profoundly disconnected from these sisters’ mundane dramas and longed desperately for a supernatural or speculative element, any sort of intrigue or mystery really, that could elevate the narrative beyond a novel-length AITA post.

Here One Moment by Liane Moriarty A seemingly ordinary domestic flight turns extremely weird when passengers learn the exact time of their deaths from a mysterious woman dubbed “The Death Lady.” As these predictions begin to unfold with disturbing accuracy, six passengers grapple with their own mortality. The story is a comedic exploration (but think delightful grandma humor) that gets into questions about fate, free will, and how we choose to live with the knowledge of our own finitude, while gradually unraveling the mystery surrounding The Death Lady herself. Liane Moriarty’s stories can feel a bit …saccharine at times? Or maybe what I mean to say is tied up too neatly with a bow at the end? But I think of her works as sort of an antidote to stories like Worry with all that hip, trendy millennial malaise– a vibe that is starting to feel really gross and profoundly boring. (provided by NetGalley)


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29 May

Zoologist Rabbit: Imagine a little picnic with your beloved stuffed bunny, the threadbare and shabby old thing with the missing eye and the unraveling stitches and the patch on its little belly where the stuffing has begun to leak through, the one you’ve loved so much and for so long that there is no doubt in your mind that it is the very realest rabbit. And picture the most realistic mud pie you ever made, so true to life in fact that when you took a crumbling bite of it, it actually tasted a bit like a lightly spiced tea loaf, gently sweetened, with a soft, tender crumb– maybe a seasonal apple or zucchini bread, but minus the actual fruit or vegetation. As a matter of fact, there’s little to no greenery in this scent at all, even the clover and the hay is more honeyed sweetness than grassy or botanical, and I do think that verdancy, that sense of green growing things, is what’s missing for me. This fragrance is less Peter Rabbit and more Velveteen Rabbit, right down to the well-worn cozy, cuddly fuzzy, snuggly skin musk of it– and as a matter of here’s a fleeting there-and-gone curious note that seems to be aiming for milky and creamy, but briefly veers a touch sour and unwell almost like a hint of baby spit-up. Like your beloved stuffed bunny that served as a faithful childhood repository for various ailments and was never quite fully sanitized. Despite its peculiarities and what it’s missing, it truly feels like a love letter to something sweet and cherished, and so far back in time you can never reach it again–and I think that’s ultimately what makes it so evocative – it’s the memory, how you felt in that garden and that friendship with your soft, sweet companion, filtered through the lens of childhood wonder and a love so fierce it transcends reality.

Two more collaborations from bloodmilk x Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab

Midnight Snowfall is a winter’s witching hour personified; Night Queen, shock of moon-pale hair glittering, cloaked in the dark unknown of ancient terrors looming beyond firelight, a creature born of the hush that descends upon the world as the last sliver of sun sighs into the dusk. Lunar dreamworlds, surreal shadow realms, secret starlit cities beyond time–limned in a single frozen glance, a soft, bitter stolen kiss, a phosphorescent lamentation of stars fading at dawn. The resinous nectar of champaca’s intoxicating warmth chilled by a shiver of pale, pearlescent moon flowers, swaddled, sticky, and senseless in a velvety oblivion of moonless night.

An olfactory altar to the transformative agonies of sloughing off your broken chrysalis, The Shedding Time is a fragrance that calls for a moment, alone and in the dark. The clove is feral and sharp, a twisty slithering coiling around your awareness, deep in the shadows; each successive sniff draws it closer to the surface. Clinging to the bitter autumn honey of the serpentine spice is the shriveled exuviae of phantom flowers–a scorched and skeletal bouquet of tuberose and honeysuckle, mingles with the dissolving tendrils of earthy incense smoke. A rosy glowing emerges, the faintest sunrise blush on the freshly exposed skin, that much more alive. The body unshrouded, the psyche reborn, a perfume to witness the beauty of becoming through the crucible of transformation. Kick aside your broken carapace and step out into the sun.

I’ve got a sampler set from Marissa Zappas, and I don’t know if it is just me, but are all of these scents really subtle and subdued? Today I am wearing Maggie the Cat is Alive, I’m Alive! and, firstly, I should confess that I’m not coming at this scent from a place of attachment to its inspiration. With the exception of an overwrought snippet or two, I have never seen Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. From what I gather, it’s a whirlwind of melodrama and histrionics and conflicted, tormented souls. And considering that, this fragrance is quite an exercise in restraint.

It is the olfactory equivalent of hushed whispers, fading echoes, and pale shadows further muted by weak sunlight. The champagne is a warmed, still echo in its glass, the effervescence long gone. A delicate tension simmers between the dripping sweetness of peach and ambrette’s intimate, powdery musk, all set against an understated backdrop of cool, elusive floral notes and the gentle, woody humidity of oakmoss. Maggie the Cat isn’t at all the piercing shrieking experience that I expected but offers an introspective, understated moment instead

The Cartographer Wasp from Paintbox Soapworks. While appreciating a fragrance on its own merits is always delightful, there’s a certain thrill, a code cracked, a secret unlocked when you can discern its inspiration. And this perfume absolutely sings its source: an olfactory homage to the award-winning short story “The Cartographer Wasps & the Anarchist Bees” by E. Lily Yu.

It initially unfolds with an autumnal chalice of warm, sweetened harvest grains – perhaps barley or oatmeal – generously drizzled with the forbidden warmth of stolen honey, strange tawny nectar, haunted with the dusky whisper of hidden hives in a lightning-scarred elm. This comforting porridge soon melts away, revealing a heart of soft, velvety, caramelized apricot resin and the airy musk of pear blossoms. As it lingers, the fragrance transforms into a rich yet weightless, creamy amber-vanilla essence. It becomes an intimate companion, close to the skin, and evokes the gentle murmur of bees nestled in the dark hush of winter, dreaming of sun-drenched fields.

Norwegian Wood from Folie À Plusieurs This is not actually the scent I ordered …I double-checked my receipt a dozen times in the past few days just because I always assume I am the one who is mistaken or wrong… but you know what? I’m okay with receiving what I got, and regardless of what I ordered, I like this a lot. Norwegian Wood is inspired by the Haruki Murakami novel of the same name, but I read that so long ago that I don’t recall a thing about it, so that’s not going to factor into my thoughts. So. While I do love the scent of a heavily wooded hinterland or an ominous evergreen Mirkwood Forest midnight–basically, a syrupy resinous coniferous balsamic dirge of a scent (think Norne from Slumberhouse or Dasein Winter Nights) this is…not that. Or, well, it’s sort of that, but remove all those associations with darkness and shadows and the macabre. Rather than the Huntsman chasing a terrified Snow White into the gloomy woods, this is instead the contentment of Snow White in a sun-dappled forest glade, surrounded by woodland creatures, a soft trembling faun on her lap, and a little bluebird perched on her finger. It’s the scent of weathered branches and leaves fluttering in the breeze, sticky sap and damp creeping moss, the faint sweetness of wildflowers crushed under your feet, the rosy golden musk of a sunbeam on your skin; it’s all of that, but it’s not overly sentimental or twee. Its the sheer, gauzy summer halo of a winter haunted forest emerging from a deep sleeping curse.

Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab The Storm While I am much usually much more expansive in my reviews, I am confident in saying that all you need to know is this scent is BPAL’s Antique Lace, those faded phantom attic-trunk florals, and the milky-musky-powderiness of cobwebby linens, caught up in the misty salt-air mystery and bitter cliffside botanicals of smugglers and shipwrecks on the windswept Cornish coast of Daphne du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn. 

Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab The Acrobats is the flushed exuberance of juicy-peachy apricot, its delicate brightness made unsettling with amber’s dimly glowing resins and the bitter tang of tannins. I don’t know if I am unduly influenced by the heart-rending painting upon which it was based, but it really does smell like a sweet memory tinged with unbearable sorrow.

I have two fragrances kindly sent to me by Noah from Amphora’s debut collection. Amphora’s offerings are “gay-hearted fragrances”, perfumes that are joyous, inclusive, and queer, and the first one I’ve got here, Sublimate, really feels like the utmost epitome of these sentiments. With notes of frozen apple, dried rose petals, candied violets, marshmallow, cashmere, and white musk, this scent is a disco ball piñata of Pixy Stix dissolving in a vat of liquid nitrogen, exploding into a supernova of candied campy Barbarellas. It is a technicolor cacophony of hyper-fruity absurdity, a celebratory sweetness that leaves your soul awash in glitter and makes you question the very fabric of reality, and truly, I think it is the penultimate recipe for euphoria. Primal Yell has elements of hot iron, cherry, and bitter almond in addition to patchouli, vetiver, and some other notes, and this is definitely the moodier and broodier of the duo. I definitely get that red fruit, but it’s swaddled in black velvet and furs, and encased in an ancient iron coffin. As a matter of fact, this is very much a blood popsicle shared between two very old, very chic, and jaded, too-cool-for-school vampire lovers. These fragrances, despite being wildly different from one another, share an underlying thread of a creator who is clearly having lots of fun– and who is joyfully inviting us along for the ride.

This Ember by Anka Kus As intrigued as I was by the idea of a fragrance inspired by the lore of the phoenix, this is less a solitary mythical firebird and more a gaggle of mean girls cackling at a sick burn. It’s the sort of ambery raspberry-smoky rose that I’m already disinclined to like, because I don’t love fruity florals, but there is something about this one that’s particularly smug and acridly unlikeable. It’s got the structure of a scent that aspires to an aura of power and allure, but it falls flat, it’s just a loud, saccharine veneer in the shape of a void where a personality is meant to be. And sure, you can tell me I need therapy for my high school trauma, but I swear I don’t even think about that stuff until a particularly awful perfume comes across my radar. This is one of those perfumes.

I got myself the Kayali fragrance sampler for my birthday as sort of a joke, which I feel a bit hypocritical for saying, as I am also someone who -most of the time- believes that if you are not doing something in earnest, then why are you even bothering to do it at all? I don’t feel good about the idea of enjoying things ironically, I’d rather approach things with genuine curiosity. So anyway, the whole reason I got the set was for a sample of Yum Pistachio Gelato, and the story for this is that whenever this scent was first released (sometime last year in 2023?) I recall that perfumetok was a bit in a dither about it for some reason…and not being all that plugged into perfume community drama, I wasn’t sure why, but I thought it had something to do with how influencers were talking or not talking about it, or maybe some people were butthurt about not receiving PR boxes? I don’t know, but I was curious as to whether the scent itself was in any way worth getting your nose out of joint about. It is not. This is a commonplace-smelling vanilla skin musk with the addition of what I think of as a sort of rancid shea butter sour baby puke element, something soft and creamy that’s gone all clotted and curdled. It’s not the worst thing I ever smelled, but if you didn’t receive a PR box about it, you no doubt lived through the ordeal of it and went on to smell better things.

I don’t think I know how to talk about Fantosmia from Jorum Studio, , so instead, I am just going to run their list of notes through my internal translator and speak them to you in my language. This is the scent of a leather armor repurposed into a stewing pot into which you stir the sticky sap of a wounded tree, the sour scrapings of the inner rind of a pumpkin, the last few crumbles of Transylvanian honey bread blessed by the holy sisters and studded with spirit-soaked dried plums, and a scant handful of musty seeds and peppery herbs. Stir over stones that haven’t seen sunlight in one hundred years and trap the cookfire’s ghostly smoke in a glass vial for after-dinner divinatory purposes. This scent is a cryptic recipe written in a forgotten tongue; I can almost decipher the symbols, but ultimately it remains a mystery, a riddle that I can’t solve. I can admire it, yet I can’t quite call my own.


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Over on YouTube today by request, I share some of my favorite tarot decks as a collector with an eye toward art (not a practitioner.)

In this video, I talk about why I collect tarot cards, four of my favorite decks, who I go to for my life-changing tarot readings, and some other extra fun tidbits, like if I were to commission a tarot deck, which artists I’d go to!

I really didn’t think I’d have much to talk about, but somehow this video is almost half an hour long! I imagine people think that because I have written about art inspired by the occult or arcane and esoteric practices, I myself am a practitioner of some of these things, but I am not, really. I pick up the odd tidbit of information here and there, but it’s something that fascinates me more in theory than practice. Just a heads up!

Mentioned in today’s video…

🗝 Sister Temperance Tarot 
🗝 Tarot of the Cat People
🗝 Aquarian tarot 
🗝 Phantasmagoric Theatre tarot (out of print, but you can find it for $$$)
🗝 Bohemian Gothic tarot
🗝 Oliver Hibert tarot
🗝 Leonora Carrington tarot
🗝 Poesis Oracle deck
🗝 Clunky Picnic Oracle deck
🗝 Leonora Carrington: Surrealism, Alchemy and Art
🗝 Pamela Coleman Smith 
🗝 My review of Mme Moriarty Misfortune Teller from BPAL
🗝 Ars Inspiratio collection from BPAL 
🗝 My review of Niki de Saint Phalle perfume
🗝 Caitlin McCarthy
🗝 Becky Munich
🗝 Anna Mond
🗝 Rebecca Chaperon
🗝 Alex Eckman-Lawn
🗝 Karen Kuykendall’s Cat People from the Outer Regions essay at Thespiai


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Darla Jackson, This will hurt me more than it hurts you

When I was in the sixth grade, around 11-12 years old, there was a girl who made me very, very angry. We will call her Mary Jo.

Our grade was sorted into color groups, which didn’t make sense at first until you realized it had to do with what you were learning, how you were graded, and so on. I was in orange, and there was also blue, red, and purple. Turns out the oranges were the smarties. The purples…not so much. Mary Jo was a purple. She was also very popular. And very mean.

Children were bussed in fairly early, and before classes would start for the day, I would sit outside my homeroom door reading. That and along with the the fact I read during class, at recess and lunch, on the bus going home, naturally I was thought of as a bookworm, but I never thought it was a bad thing. I was actually really proud of how much I read! And then one day Mary Jo, who was in some sort of after-school thing with one of my younger sisters, said to her something along the lines of “your sister’s a NERD.” And not in an admiring way. In really nasty way, like she was trying to shame my sister into feeling bad about who and how I was.

I could handle being picked on myself, but using my sister as a punching bag? I was INCENSED. I was also a weenie and not being a confrontational or violent person, I never did anything about it… but for years afterward, I dreamed about walking up to Mary Jo and without saying a word, punching her square in the face.

Incidentally, it was around this age that I began getting cat-called and harassed by much, much older men. Freaked out and furious, I would daydream, in waking hours, about punching their faces, too.

Darla Jackson, This will hurt me more than it hurts you

When I first saw Darla Jackson’s birdie knuckleduster sculpt, This Will Hurt Me More Than It Hurts You, all of that long-ago anger and fear came back to me, all at once. Darla’s work resonates with that feeling of childhood unease – the disconnect between the safe, sunny stories we’re fed of what being a kid should look like, alongside the complexities of the real world.

Says Darla: “A four bird knuckle duster is where Snow White meets GhostFace Killah in my head. Cute but intimidating at the same time, it’s meant to offer ideas of protection and self defense that are so often needed yet usually suspiciously absent in portrayals of women in popular culture (I’m looking at you Disney movies!). The title, “This will hurt me more than it hurts you”, is a reference to the fact that women are often criticized for standing up for themselves.”

It’s one of those rare works of art that hit me in the gut and the heart simultaneously, and I was thrilled many years later when she permitted me to include the work in my book The Art of Darkness: A Treasury of the Morbid, Melancholic, and Macabre. And truly, there there’s something undeniably dark about this implement of fairy-tale violence both cute and intimidating. It’s saccharine and savage in equal measure, a weaponized quartet threatening both cuddles and carnage.

This, in a nutshell, is the captivating world of Darla Jackson’s sculptures.

Darla Jackson, Lost // The Water’s At Your Neck


Darla Jackson, The Nothing

This darkness lurks beneath the surface of Darla Jackson’s work. Not a brooding, gothic kind of darkness, but a sly, knowing one. It peeks out from the wide, porcelain eyes of her creatures, often rendered in clay with a disconcerting softness. These aren’t the friendly innocence of Snow White’s forest animal menagerie – they’re vessels for complex emotions, silent observers of a world, creations that are equal parts charming and disturbing.  It’s a clever strategy – by using creatures as proxies, she avoids the baggage of human representation, allowing viewers to connect with the raw emotions on display, unfiltered by the pesky trappings of, well…people.

Darla Jackson, It All Comes Out Wrong Anyway
Darla Jackson, A Dangerous Expedition // A Damned Fine Game

A shaper of narratives with a knack for capturing vulnerability through the animal kingdom, she meticulously collects fragments of inspiration – a photograph, a song lyric, a fleeting observation at the zoo – and molds this wellspring of ideas together into a cohesive whole, unquiet critters and foreboding fauna that provoke and compel in equal measure.

Darla Jackson, CHAMBER XIX Bring the motherfucking ruckus


I was extremely intrigued by Darla’s little avian iron maiden, that to my eyes, looks like its spiky insides are caked with coppery dried blood. If you ask me, this is where all cat-callers belong. About this one Darla says:

“As a kid, I was always obsessed with medieval torture devices…I couldn’t wrap my head around how people could do something like that to one another. The same goes for how people treat one another to this day, verbally, emotionally… I suppose I’m very interested in how people treat one another and even more so, how people treat themselves, often being harder on themselves than anyone else could be.”

Darla Jackson, Counterpoint


Darla Jackson, CHAMBER I You are born, ok

Whether it’s a rabbit in a crow mask or winged things packing a punch, Darla’s sculptures remind us that vulnerability doesn’t negate strength. By embodying complex emotions in these animalistic forms, she invites viewers to explore their own vulnerabilities and grapple with the realities of the world, both beautiful and brutal. Whether it’s the memory of childhood bullies or the ever-present threat of harassment, these sculptures give voice to the unspoken anxieties we carry within, and with a little Darla Jackson-esque grit, we can all face the world, birdy knuckledusters at the ready, prepared to defend ourselves and rewrite the narratives that try to limit us.

Darla Jackson, A Place To Come Home To

BONUS! I always love to get to know the artists in my books as whole people, with lives and interests beyond their art (as incredible and fascinating as that art might be!) I am going to make more of an effort to include an extra little tidbit or two in these artist spotlights in the future, and starting today, I thought I would ask Darla about…perfume! Because OF COURSE.

According to Darla, these are some of her favorites!

  • Ok, so one of my first favorites is Bourbon by Hans Hendley. I was drawn to the idea that it was oak aged and made me think of an old fashioned, which is my adult beverage of choice. I am also very fond of his Amora but Bourbon has my heart.
  • Next is Smoked Jasmine Black Tea by Marissa Zappas. This one grabbed me and it smells deliciously sophisticated.
  • La Labo’s Vetiver is lovely and always the perfect answer when I’m not sure what to wear.
  • Imaginary Authors Cape Heartache’s combination of berry and pine makes me feel all the emotions.
  • Trompette 8 is my very favorite perfume. Made by Filippo Sorcinelli, it has all the smoky notes I want in a perfume and his packaging is always stunning. His Unum Laavs is amazing too.
Darla Jackson, How it feels (Tiger’s Eye Edition)


Darla currently has a collaborative exhibition, along with Paul Romano at Arch Enemy Arts…

LAMENT + BLOOM is the second installment of HOLD SACRED, a multi-part collaborative series. It is a collection of sculptures, installations, and paintings inspired by “the idea of what is sacred” while navigating the emotional aftermath of loss. Together, Jackson and Romano ask what thoughts, objects, concepts and relationships do they hold dear; what do they cherish and sanctify while “growing through grief?”

Find Darla Jackson: Website // Instagram


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Frederick Sandys, King Pelles Daughter Bearing the Vessel of the Sangreal, 1861

I recently shared the following on Reddit in (probably unhelpfully) answering someone’s question about a process for writing perfume reviews, and it occurred to me that it’s something I should share here as well. In case you ever wondered about my perfume review process or lack thereof!

Wrapping up with “Be true to yourself” is cheesy as hell, and I KNOW IT, but it’s the only way I can write about anything, and it’s the best advice I can give.

“I’ve been writing perfume reviews for almost twenty years, and when I saw your question, I had to admit to myself that maybe I don’t actually have a process. I’m kind of all over the place with it. It’s chaos.

Also, I realize that my reviews are probably pretty frustrating because I don’t really write them to be helpful to other people. Perfume reviews, for me, are more of a creative writing exercise than an attempt to paint a factual, by-the-numbers picture of my experience with a fragrance.  True, I do share them on review sites and various subreddits like this one, and if they resonate with someone, great!

I don’t write on a schedule, though I do try to write about fragrance every day. I might not always share it immediately or at all, but I am always sniffing things, thinking about them, and making little notes and connections for myself.

But –and I am being totally honest here– my perfume reviews are very much an example of “boy, she sure likes to hear herself talk, doesn’t she?” Ruminating on and rambling about perfumes as I do provides a more complete experience beyond the smelling of the thing, you know? I have to write about things to understand them, and as unaccommodatingly wacky as my resulting thoughts might sometimes be, it’s the process of writing them down that brings me to that understanding.

That said, as abstract or circuitous or as unhelpful as my perfume reviews frequently are, I suppose I do have some things I try to work into my reviews. Perfume notes? Not really. Thoughts on the perfumer or the house? Rarely. I might talk about how the notes translate for me (like tobacco usually manifests as stewed raisins, for example), and I might talk about whether or not I smell the perfumer’s inspiration in their creation, but as both a reader and writer of reviews who doesn’t care about the nuts and bolts of the scent, I write about it the way I would want to read it.

Which is to say…I want to know what the perfume made you feel. Don’t tell me it smells nice. What does that even mean? Is “nice” a yellow daisy on a crisp spring day? Is “nice” a sudden rainstorm on a humid summer night? Is it a lurid orange bucketful of teeth-rottingly sweet candy and a cheap, sweaty vacuum-pressed Frankenstein mask circa October 31, 1980, the only Halloween you can ever recall snow on the ground? Do those things summon a memory, unearth a dream, did they trip a nostalgia or a deja-vu wire in your brain? Do they smell like a story, forgotten lore, or some unwritten fable from the future that trips off the tongue as the notes unfold on your skin? That’s where I write from, and I guess I write for people who think along those lines.

I also keep a running list of book and film quotes, song lyrics, poetry, heck, even things I have heard Nigella Lawson say! She waxes poetic about food; I recall her referencing cauliflower’s “Victorian pallor” and “fat coral curls” of shrimp, “aubergine confetti,” and “flakes of terracotta,” and sometimes these descriptions of flavors and hues translate beautifully to scent!  I think these are all wonderfully evocative things to include in a perfume review. I’d honestly rather read that a fragrance reminds me of Mary Oliver’s words, “Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine,” than learn that a reviewer thinks x perfume smells like y perfume.

Will the way I talk and think and write about perfumes change? Sure! It’s constantly evolving as I collect life experiences and catalog more scents, and I can even track my flickering interests and fluctuating passions in my perfume reviews throughout the years. (One year there was a lot of Star Trek and Lawaxana Troi mentions, ha!) And I bet your perfume writing will change as well. Whatever your process ends up being, just keep it fluid, and have fun with it and above all, be true to yourself.”

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Just last month, right before I turned 48, I opened up an IRA. For you see, in all my years of working, earning a paycheck, and yes, sometimes even saving a bit of it–I had absolutely nothing set aside for retirement.

I am not going to beat myself up about that; for the entirety of my working life, I have been employed with very small businesses that did not offer a 401K, and up until a decade ago, I was mostly living paycheck to paycheck. Luckily, I did not have student loans to contend with (if anyone is curious, not that you need my credentials–I barely have an associate degree from a community college, and even that took me ten years!), and I did not have a car payment, because back in 2010 I bought a used little 2005 Toyota Matrix that I have driven into the ground. It’s still in our driveway today! And speaking of “us,” many years later, I am in a partnership where both of us have solid employment, and we were able to buy a house outright. Which I realize is a massive privilege. That major purchase, however, mostly drained our savings, and so we basically had to start from scratch two years ago.

And so last month, I was finally in a position to start putting some money aside for retirement. And that is when I realized that I know nothing about managing my finances. Especially when I read an article that said by 50 years of age, we should have a cool 600K in our retirement funds.

W H A T.

I don’t have 600K in that account! I don’t even have the tiniest fraction of that! I went to Facebook to consult the masses, and while some of you are doing great (yay!), most of you don’t have that kind of savings, either! Which was, on the one hand, nice to learn I am not alone, but on the other… I feel pretty anxious for all of us!

Enter my friend Hayley.

The TLDR; story is that Hayley makes soap and sells it on the internet (Ývan’s favorites from amongst her offerings are The Hermit and Heima, and I love her sugar scrubs for my feets!) But that doesn’t even begin to give you a glimpse into what a canny, creative, compassionate human she is. And a wise dispenser of advice! Hayley has a way of taking the practical sort of subject that it might pain you to think about otherwise, and she makes it not only palatable, but inspirational, and most importantly–she makes it seem doable.

Who better, then, to gently talk to us about …money? And you have to imagine I am saying the word “money” as an incensed John Mulaney does in that bit where his college is calling and wants MONEY. It won’t let me link to it but look it up because that tone is the way thinking about money makes me feel sometimes!

Even thinking about money is scary as hell and talking about it can be immensely awkward, so Hayley, I am incredibly grateful to you for writing the following for our Ten Things series. Especially as we are talking about money, and I didn’t even pay you to do this! You are a generous soul and I am so appreciative of all you do.


Ten Things About Money From Hayley Jay Croom

Confession: I am a fifty-something micro business owner, with a house & a car & all the trappings of adulthood. And I am, at this moment, fucking broke. I say this not out of some compulsion to overshare, but to make it super clear that I am just three raccoons in a greying meatsuit, and not some financial whiz with all the answers and none of the worries. I’m wading through this capitalist hellscape right alongside you. I have been broker than this before, and fully expect to be so again, and in between there will be some more money, and then it will be gone.

Unless we have incredibly good fortune, we’ll all struggle with money at some point in our lives. Money is fluid, capricious, and subject to all manner of unforeseen circumstances. But just because we’re struggling, it doesn’t follow that we have to panic.

There are lots of spooky scary things slinking in the shadows, but our money health doesn’t have to be one of them. If the thought of even thinking about your financial nuts & bolts is terrifying, here are ten things that might help. Let it be known that I am in no way a qualified financial advisor, nor should anything I write here be taken as financial advice. I’m just a weirdo who found some ways to make money less awful for myself. A LOT of the following assumes certain levels of stability and access to intangible resources that I know are not common to everyone. These are not answers to everyone’s money problems, just some tools that might help some of us.

All images from This Might Hurt Tarot © Isabella Rotman 2019


1. We carry our families’ stories about money, but we don’t have to accept those inheritances.

How our parents & other adults treated & talked about money as we were growing up has a huge influence on our own ideas and habits surrounding our finances. We can mirror our family’s patterns, because it’s all we know & it’s comfortable (even when it isn’t), or we can chase the polar opposite and find ourselves foundering in totally unfamiliar and sometimes just as dangerous financial waters. Our lives as GenXers, Millennials, and Gen Z are completely different from what our parents & grandparents experienced, and our available tools are as well. What worked for our families in the past is likely impossible now for us, & their advice, while maybe well-intentioned, can often get us into even more trouble. It’s up to us to do the work & find our own financial path through this modern wilderness.



2. Money is neutral, just one tool in our arsenal. So is credit.

Being rich isn’t an automatic win at life, & struggling with money doesn’t make us bad people. Wanting more money isn’t a moral failing; money is a necessary tool in modern western society, and we need to learn how to use it to create the life we want. If you’ve grown up in a household where money was a point of friction, it can be hard to see it as a neutral mechanism. Being broke can be frightening, but having money can be just as triggering when we don’t trust ourselves to make “good” decisions with it, or when we’ve seen money make monsters out of people. A lot of us with money trauma are set against using credit cards, or taking out loans, because the prospect of instant access to money we don’t have feels too tempting, or because we saw our parents abuse credit cards and pay the literal price. Credit can be tricky to manage, but can also give us breathing room, especially in the beginning of our money journey while we set up better systems for ourselves. (I want to take a sec to acknowledge that our current system of credit ratings is biased and deliberately manipulated to keep people playing the credit game for fear of losing access to the loan industry. But this is our market-driven dystopia, and we have to live in it for the moment, so let’s use the system in ways that lift us up without grinding other people down.)

3. Focusing on our own values & priorities makes managing our money more rewarding.

It doesn’t matter what we should be planning for & focusing on; if those things aren’t important to us, we won’t care enough to make them happen. The old model of buying a college education, buying a new car, buying a house, going on big vacations, is laughably far from reach for most of us, even when we’re making “grown-up” money, and not something we all categorically even want anymore, so it’s time we let ourselves stop chasing it. Instead, we need to focus our spending on the things that really matter to us, both the practical (safe housing, our preferred foods, transportation that gets us where we need to go) and the philosophical (supporting nonprofits, buying local, taking classes). Obviously, some things are nonnegotiables; we can’t just decide to stop paying off our student loans because they no longer speak to our hearts. But we can take stock of where our money goes and what we can change about that to make our expenditures less soul-crushing and more satisfying.






4. We have to look at everything before we can make it better.

Avoidance gets us in more trouble than anything; we have to be honest with ourselves about our habits & situation. Taking stock & laying out all of our expenses & debts is the first step to finding a way to make things work better. Here are two tools that I’ve used for the past few years, that have made a huge difference in my money awareness:

  • This dirt-basic Google sheet. Save a copy for yourself, and edit the categories to reflect what your own spending & income looks like. I have two of these sheets, one for my business & one for my personal expenses, and every dime I spend gets logged. It’s very analog, and yeah, there are plenty of shinier apps and programs out there that will auto import your bank information. But doing it manually, once a week, with a nice cup of coffee and a little treat, means I’m up close & very personal with my finances. It’s impossible to pretend that I’m not spending too much on restaurants & putting too little towards my savings goals. It makes me look at all of my bank and credit card accounts every week, so I’m rarely caught by surprise with overdrafts or late fees.
  • The free dashboard at Before Oh My Dollar turned me on to, I would throw haphazard amounts of money at my debts, like handfuls of mud at the barn door. It worked about as well as mud to get my debts paid off; I’d pay down a bunch, leave myself short on cash, and have to put charges right back on my cards to cover expenses. So setting up a plan where I could see how steady, planned progress could eat the proverbial mountain was amazing. It’s so much less appealing to just charge something or miss a payment when I can see how many more months that would add to my debt-free goal.


5. Your budget isn’t my budget.

Once we’re tracking all of our expenses & income, we can start figuring out a budget for ourselves; we can see our spending patterns, and start planning for them ahead of time, instead of scrambling to cover bills. If I know I typically always spend $50 a week on gas, it becomes easier to make sure I have that cash on hand. If we’ve decided that $400 a month is too much to be spending on going out, we can set ourselves a goal of only spending $300. A budget isn’t set in stone, even one we make for ourselves, and we’re inevitably going to have unexpected expenses. But having a framework for what we’re aiming to spend where helps us find room for things like bigger goals, savings, and retirement.



6. Make your money make sense for you, for now.

We don’t have to fix all of our financial puzzles right now. Chances are, there’s something in your current budget that isn’t ideal, or that you’re unable to do at the scale you want. Maybe your car payment is higher than you really feel comfortable with, or you’re not contributing to your 401k yet, or you can’t seem to save for a rainy day. Anything we do is better than doing nothing, so take $5 a week and stash it in a savings account. Set up a 1% withdrawal to your 401k. See if you can refinance your car loan to a lower rate. Starting with small steps and getting comfortable with those makes taking larger steps later more possible. We don’t need to have thousands of dollars in our hand to start changing our financial lives for the better.


7. Make your money work for you, for the future.

Despite what we grouchy GenXers have always espoused, working forever isn’t really an option or a goal for anyone. Refusing to save for our later years only makes them guaranteed shitshows, and foists stress and financial crises onto our families. Think about what later life might look like for you, & what you might have to account for, & work backwards. Use retirement calculators to figure out what you might already have in play, like Social Security & existing retirement accounts, and how much more per month you’d likely need. Utilize any & all 401k options offered through your employer (ESPECIALLY employer matching), or if you’re self employed, start a Roth or SEP IRA, the sooner the better. Again, we don’t have to throw thousands of dollars into these plans right away; every dollar we invest is a dollar more than we had.

8. Chase the dopamine.

This was the really transformative part for me – realizing that I LOVE crossing things off on lists & spreadsheets. So setting up my financial tracking with lots of boxes to check and visible, quantifiable progress reporting like made it super fizzy and something I now actively look forward to doing every week. Figure out what gets you excited & motivates you – stickers, pie charts, spreadsheets, body doubling with a friend; and automate what doesn’t – bill pay, automatic distributions, retirement contributions.

9. Don’t be afraid of the taxman.

Given the ever changing and arcane nonsense that is our tax code, messing up your taxes at some point is inevitable. But putting off filing only ends in tears & penalties, so we have to put our big people pants on once a year and do the proverbial thing. Take time every January to set yourself up for success by collecting W2s and tax forms as they come in the mail, look over the new 1040s before you start filing, & file for free online. Looking at last year’s tax return can show you what you need to have ready for this year. And if you really don’t want to manage it yourself, hire a qualified CPA who will take care of federal, state, & local returns, & help you make adjustments to ensure you don’t owe or overpay the following year. Unless you are actively trying to defraud the IRS, no one will come to arrest you if you make a mistake.

10. It’s okay if you hit a rough patch, just keep going.

Have I mentioned that I’m broke right now? Even with all my planning & utilizing all these great tips, I’ve had to put some things on credit cards and cut back on my savings for the past month or two. It happens. Inevitably we miss a payment, have an unexpected expense, lose hours, change jobs, & set ourselves back. That’s life, babes, not a moral failing on our part. But that also doesn’t mean what we were doing wasn’t working & we should just chuck it all. Take a deep breath, touch grass, and try again. Go back to #4, make some adjustments, and get back on your plan. It’s just money, & with a little effort, we can make it work for us. We won’t get rich, but we just might get by.

Find Hayley: Paintbox Soapworks website // Here Be Hedgewitches Substack

BONUS: Hayley mentioned some great financial podcasts to me in some of our chats, so I wanted to be sure to share them with you all as well! Meadowsweet Money // Oh My Dollar! // Planet Money

BONUS BONUS! Did you know that some of our favorite people have interviewed Hayley? Learn more about this savvy saponatrix at Allison Felus’ I’ll Follow You and Nuri McBride’s Aromatica De Profundis.

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