Maika is again joining me for this Winter installment of Stacked! And for more Maika-related goodness, be sure to listen in on their Pages & Portents series over on TikTok, wherein they share bibliomantic reveries, passages divined from books chosen at random from their mysterious shelves, on a daily basis.
The Houseguest and Other Stories by Amparo Dávila – This slim volume of short stories caught me by surprise, which is silly because it was showing up on numerous recommended reading lists not too long ago. Meanwhile it’s been patiently biding its time in my to-read stacks for a couple years. Shame on me. These are intensely disquieting and unnerving tales deceptively dressed in mundanity. It’s what you do not see or are not permitted to see that’s truly disturbing here, along with narrators you cannot trust, and the sparest settings that allow your mind to freely dress them in whatever ways haunt you best. I’ve seen Dávila’s writing likened to Poe, Leonora Carrington, Shirley Jackson, and Kafka, and that all rings true for me. This is the first collection of Amparo Dávila’s work to be translated into English. I dearly hope it’s not the last.
And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe by Gwendolyn Kiste – This is exactly what I want from a short story collection: intensely creative and vivid tales that are equal parts weird fiction, horror, and deep feels woven together with lyrical, evocative writing. It always feels like a cop-out to say this in a review, but the less you know about these atmospheric stories, the better. Let each one be a dark new experience for your imagination, your mind, and your heart.
The Rust Maidens by Gwendolyn Kiste – I was so taken by Kiste’s short stories that I immediately sought out another of her books. This novel was every bit as creative and beautifully written as the stories in And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe. I’d call it a dark fantasy meditation on loss, grief, and change. Our narrator, Phoebe, tells her tale both in the present-day as a 40-something woman, and back when she’d just graduated from high school and something very very strange began happening to other girls in her class, including Jacqueline, her cousin and dearest friend. Set in an Ohio town whose fate is tied to the existence of a dying steel mill, the atmosphere is heavy with grief and dread, but also an inescapable, bittersweet wonder. What happens to the Rust Maidens is visceral, horrifying, heartbreaking, and beautiful, and decidedly unlike anything I’ve read about before. And as I read, I found myself hoping that someone will option this to adapt as a miniseries or movie, if only because I’d love to see just the right SFX team bring the metamorphosis of the Rust Maidens to life. This was one of those stories that I worried might not stick its landing as it developed, but I was as satisfied as I was emotionally spent by the end.
In the Forest of Forgetting by Theodora Goss – I love how many dreamy and quite short short stories were packed into this book. It felt like a vivid feast of dark fantasy, dark fairy tales, and magical realism. Reminiscent of Angela Carter and Kelly Link. Surreal and unsettlings, enchanting without ever being saccharine or twee. I’d read another volume in a heartbeat.
The Seep by Chana Porter – I really enjoyed this queer sci-fi novella – about the softest alien invasion of Earth by The Seep, a hive mind species that merges with nearly every lifeform on earth, including most of humanity creating a seeming utopia – but I was very frustrated by it all the same. Everything I liked best about it – The Seep itself, the Seep-related technology and the way humans interface with and utilize it – only came in tantalizing glimpses and all-too-brief descriptions. On one hand, I appreciate how The Seep and its (their?) technology are technically secondary to the story itself, which is the journey of a trans woman who loses her wife and, secondarily, their shared community to divergent paths in the Seepified world. However none of that would’ve happened without The Seep, so the fact that we get so tormentingly little of it left me feeling unfulfilled by the story. Had this novella been part of a collection of stories or ongoing series set in this world, meaning I’d learn more about The Seep and Seeptech with each tale, that would’ve made this story able to stand on its own better for me. Nevertheless, it’s fascinating, poignant, and beautifully written, and I will gladly read more of Chana Porter’s work in the future.
Beneath the Sugar Sky (Wayward Children #3) by Seanan McGuire – I think there are currently 7 books in this ongoing series, which means I’m way behind. But I’m not in a hurry and I thoroughly enjoy how, each time I start a new Wayward Children story, it feels like I never left that world, but without the tedious hand-holding exposition that some authors employ to make sure you’re caught up on previous events in their series. I love the combination of melancholy and hope that permeates these imaginative, wonderfully queer books, whose characters are bereft outside of their respective magical worlds, yet refuse to stop searching for their respective ways back, and in the meantime find true kinship and relatably imperfect friendship with each other. If you were one of those kids who ever imagined a world made of sweets, this particular book is both a dream and nightmare come true. That is, for as much as the experience of reading a book you consider to be a lived experience.
I thought I’d also mention some books I’ve been leisurely snacking on while reading things like all of the above, because some books are begun, steadily read, and finished, while others are best visited, tasted, and inhabited intermittently:
My Heart is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones If you were the weird outcast kid who grew up loving all things horror then you may see pieces of yourself painfully reflected in Jade, the tough, traumatized main character in Stephen Graham Jones’ My Heart is a Chainsaw, a love letter to horror if there ever was one. And I know, I know, everyone says that about this book, but it’s so true. Jade, a graduating senior, lives in a nowhere town, has a go-nowhere job, and lives in an internal world of slashers and gore and horror as a self-preservation in dealing with her abusive father, absent mother, and creepy predators everywhere she turns. Jade, convinced that the beautiful new girl in town is a “final girl”, fixates on this character, and in the wake of several murders, becomes increasingly obsessed and excited as she believes that she may be living through a real-life slasher movie in her own town. SGJ’s books are bleak and require a fair bit of patience from a reader, but man are they worth it.
Flowers for the Sea by Zin E. Rocklyn A harrowing fantasy of fate and power and vengeance that reads like “Rosemary’s Baby by way of Octavia E. Butler”, along with some Lovecraftian elements and a desperate mythology all its own, this was a quick, brutal read that I began and finished in the course of one afternoon. Survivors from a flooded kingdom struggle alone on an ark, among them the ostracized, despised Iraxi, pregnant with a child that might be more than human. This is the author from whom a few years ago I purchased my “support black women who write weird shit” tee-shirt and it’s one of my favorites and now she’s out there publishing magnificently weird shit and I am thrilled.
The Girls Are All So Nice Here by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn I keep getting sucked in by books like this, even though I know better. Another tale of people in their late 20s-early 30s looking back on something mysterious and murderous that happened during their time at university. And YES, on the surface, I love these plots, but it’s the characters that populate the stories that make a huge difference to me. Are they weird and prickly and have incredibly peculiar interests? Great, gimme gimme! Are they people who are desperate to fit in and be popular and it’s just a bunch of dreck about trying to be liked by everyone while desperately praying that no one sees what a pathetic loser they are? Ugh! I need more books about pathetic losers finding their own people and being fun, sociopathic pathetic losers together and then also add some murder and mystery, and that, for me, is *chef’s kiss.*
Hummingbird Salamander by Jeff Vandermeer Have you been dying to get into Jeff Vandermeer’s brain-bending weird fiction/eco-horror, but were perhaps intimidated by his non-linear games with time and sometimes abstract storytelling to really give it a shot? I feel like Hummingbird Salamander might be “Vandermeer-lite”, and maybe a good place to jump in. It’s still got those familiar themes of nature, power, and persistence, sand ecrets and isolation, but the structure is almost that of a detective noir mystery and it may be easier to follow along. A security consultant, “Jane Smith,” falls down a paranoid rabbit hole of eco-terrorism conspiracies and illegal wildlife trafficking after a barista chases her out of a coffee shop to hand her a random envelope. Vandermeerity ensues.
The Shape of Darkness by Laura Purcell Stricken by an illness that has left her fragile and vulnerable, Agnes Darken struggles to provide for her elderly mother and her beloved orphan nephew Cedric. As the age of the photograph dawns in Victorian Bath, Agnes’ business as a silhouette artist is dwindling, and money is ever more scarce. When her silhouette clients start turning up murdered, Agnes, frantic and terrified, consults Pearl, a young spirit medium. Laura Purcell’s stories are always evocative with rich descriptions and historical details, whether its spiritualism and silhouette making as in this tale, or prisons and phrenology, as seen in The Poisoned Thread (also titled The Corset.) Wintry and eerie and immersive, they are all wonderfully haunting tales for curling up on a chilly evening. Although! I will say that the first of Purcell’s books that I read, The Silent Companions, will forever remain my favorite.
A Touch of Jen by Beth Morgan I first saw this title recommended by Roxane Gay sometime last year. And when Roxane Gay shares reading suggestions, my ears perk up. The kind of story I’ve taking to internally referring to “MFA nightmare-induced weirdness,” A Touch of Jen is about an awkward couple who is weirdly obsessed with one of their former coworkers. They stalk her on social media, they roleplay as her in the bedroom–it’s a little creepy. After running into her they somehow garner an invite as guests on one of her group trips, and things between the couple begin to splinter and fracture as they both become more obsessed in their own, separate ways. In addition to interpersonal weirdness and fucked up relationships, there are self-help cults and actual supernatural things going on in the story (or at least we are led to believe there are) and this is just weird and fun. If you liked Mona Awad’s Bunny, I think you will enjoy A Touch of Jen.
I do love a good putter. I might suggest I am in fact the Queen of Puttering. I can draw a chore or a task or an errand out for a good length of time, and I enjoy taking my labors slowly. But there’s something to be said about getting all the stuff that you need to do, even the stuff that you want to do, out of the way early in the day to clear up your schedule so that then you can do absolutely nothing.
I hate the term hack. So let’s call this something else. Call it whatever you like! My trick is this: wake up as early as you can handle on a Sunday morning and get everything done in X amount of time. After that, the day is yours. On days when I’m really out of sorts, but I know having done something will make me feel better, I give myself an hour. On days when I’m more motivated and energetic, I might say, “ok, I’m up, it’s 7am, I will give myself till noon to do all of the things I can fit into that time, and then I am DONE!”
Last Sunday I was up by 6am, I scraped my overnight-risen sourdough into a boule and into the refrigerator for a cold ferment, I soaked some dried black beans, I dumped all of the vegetable scraps into a pot to make broth, I made two Pullman loaves of white bread, I pinned out a shawl, I started the black beans on their all-day cook, I folded laundry, and I made a chopped salad for lunches during the week. I made two casserole dishes of mac and cheese. I tried a new thing, a Japanese paper marbling technique called suminagashi. And at noon I called it quits and then I read and watched movies for the rest of the day.
All of these were things that I actually wanted to do! I just…didn’t want to spend all day doing them (although trust me, I could draw even one of those things all day long) because I also wanted to be cozy and curl up with some stories. This is my compromise.
I’m a bit of a bean snob. I get a little upset when I see people dump a can of plain, unseasoned black beans on top of their nachos to float on top of that beautiful river of molten queso like a bunch of little mouse turds. COME ON! Cook them properly! This is my tried and true recipe, although you can really adapt it and make it your own. It makes for the most delicious and flavorful pot of beans and you if you try it, we can possibly be incensed together when the mouse turds inevitably show up in someone’s vegan nacho Instagram reels.
The chopped salad is a thing I’ve been seeing all over TikTok, it’s basically some veggies in a vegan green goddess type dressing, chopped up all tiny and you scoop it up with tortilla chips. Here’s an interesting variation that includes tahini and feta, which looks good! Anyway if you don’t want to click any of those links, do this: chop up a head of cabbage, a couple of cucumbers and some scallions. Blend up a shallot, a cup of spinach, a cup of basil leaves (I would use more spinach and less basil next time), the juice of two lemons, 1/4 cup olive oil, 2 Tbsp rice vinegar, 2 cloves of garlic, 1/3 cup nutritional yeast, and 1/4 walnuts. I also added a fresh jalapeno! It really made for a lovely lunch throughout the week.
I’m trying to eat less by the clock, and more just when I feel hungry, and less “proper meals” unless I really just feel like it. Sometimes at lunch or breakfast I really just want a snack, not a whole big thing. So I’m trying to pay attention to that! And then sometimes I actually do want a whole big thing, so I am trying to plan for that ahead of time and have things like macaroni and cheese already on hand.
Doing new things is hard! Especially if you see your less-than-perfect first attempt and you tend to beat yourself up about what a moron you are, a dumb-dumb who can’t ever do anything right. So sometimes it’s just easier to not try at all. At least you didn’t fail, right?
Yeah… me too. It sucks!
I have been interested in the art of suminagashi for some time now (here’s a nice video if you want to see how it is done.) One of my sisters got me a little starter kit for Christmas or my birthday sometime in the past year or two, and I stashed it away immediately and have been afraid to even look at it ever since.
I finally gave it a try. I would say “I’m not sure what prompted me,” but I am pretty sure it was Yvan, and I tell you what–it is really good to have an objective party with no attachments to the outcome egging you on and keeping you accountable. Even if it is just to say “are you really gonna let that nice gift your sister got you collect dust in the corner?!”
It was fun. It was fun! I HAD FUN. I can’t even believe it. Dripping that ink in the water, watching the concentric circles grow, and slowly swirling it to watch the patterns change and evolve was meditative and lovely. If you are a scaredy-cat like me who wants to be creative but doesn’t know how and you want to do an art but you don’t know where to begin, I highly recommend giving this suminagashi kit a try.
So…why was I trying to get all this stuff done and clear up my afternoon? Because I have been dying to watch Woodland Darks and Days Bewitched and I knew it was a three hours long documentary! And I also know it takes me twice as long to watch a thing as the thing actually runs…so I really needed to clear some time on my calendar, ha.
If you are a folk horror enthusiast, this is an outstanding resource. It is so well-researched, so beautifully crafted, so very worth every second of that three hours you spend with it. And there are so many films mentioned that I had never even heard of, my goodness! Luckily, some thorough soul has put together a list of every movie referenced in Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched, so now we can work our way through all of them.
In the meantime, unrelated to anything, and I know you didn’t ask, but let me leave you with the best piece of advice I have ever come up with:
“It may well be one of those days when the devil’s gonna try and show you his butthole every chance he gets, but friends the secret is …you don’t have to look”
Outremer’s Vanille is a profoundly vanilla-y vanilla. It’s nearly a straight-up, high-quality, really lovely vanilla extract, with a rich, balsamic, warmth, and some pleasant plastic butteriness. A little lump of vanilla waffle cone incense stored in an empty tub of vanilla frosting. There aren’t any weird twists or turns, it’s a fairly linear scent from to finish. I think this is the first thing I would recommend to a vanilla fiend who doesn’t want any funny business with their vanilla fragrance.
So, Synthetic Jungle: Imagine a rain-soaked stroll, grey streets, grey sidewalks, grey, colorless people. A flash from the corner of your eye, a vibrant raincoat with an unexpected print featuring the lush, layered exuberance and verdant cacophony of the imaginary jungles of artist Henri Rousseau, an artist who had never left France to see real jungles. His inspiration came from Paris’ botanical gardens, zoological galleries, and from geographic illustrations in prints and books. This is dizzying descent of a scent, an aromatic Stendahl Syndrome, conjured by someone who fully knows this jungle sprung forth from the depths of dreams. It is a clashing, chaotic chypre and white floral canvas, aswirl with sharp, woody oakmoss and the crisp springiness of lily of the valley and the intense, acrid greenery of galbanum. Wrapped in a plastic rain slicker and rubber wellies.
Stella from Toccais a fragrance that I have probably received about a million samples of over the years and which I have been strangely resistant to trying. I was convinced that it was going to be a really boring, conventional sort of scent, though I’m not really sure what I was basing that on. Probably because the majority of these samples came from Sephora, and on the interesting-o-meter, most perfumes from there score pretty low for me. Stella…is not necessarily bland or boring, but I will say it’s not my thing. It’s very pretty, in a starter-scent way. I don’t mean for young people, necessarily, but I don’t not mean them, either. Maybe just for someone who doesn’t yet know what they like. A sparkling fruity-floral with notes of milky peach Calpico and blood orange San Pellegrino and watery freesia that dries down to the scent of what I recall teenage girls spritzing in the bathroom between classes to freshen up, a sort of citrusy-powdery-soapiness. Before it reaches that point though, it’s got this soft, shimmering watercolor quality that reminds me of certain pieces of contemporary fantasy art: flowers and fairies and young maidens and probably a unicorn just outside the canvas, yet to be coaxed forth by an innocent and guileless hand.
Gris Charnel from BDK Parfums is a scent that I find confusing and disappointing. Mostly, I think I am disappointed in myself, for not having read the perfumer’s inspiration for the fragrance. Some dribble about two tourists whose glances cross paths, they dance until dawn and then slip away for an intimate encounter. Yawn. I got bored and checked out several times just now while trying to sum that up. Now if they slid through a portal into an Edward Allan Poe story while they were making out in a dark alley, then I could forgive myself for getting thrillingly suckered in by the copy (and to a lesser extent, the darkly poetic name, which I feel somehow tricked me into thinking it was something that it was not.) It must have been the notes I was excited for then, which mention black tea, fig, and cardamom essence. That sounds really lovely. But I’ve tried this several times and I don’t sense any of that loveliness. Instead, it’s a bit like a low-end tea sampler that includes selections with various unspecified “fruit flavors” but in reality, no matter which one you brew up, all they taste like hot Kool-Aid water. And there’s a weird, acrid smoky element that hovers unpleasantly, like charcoal heated air…so imagine smoking hot Kool-Aid water in your hookah. Even if I pretend an olde-timey goth poet was smoking that hookah, it’s still a bit of a dud.
Chris Rusak’s Beast Mode is a scent that I don’t hear a lot about from the hoi polloi, but I’ve heard enough from niche bloggers that I consider perfumista royalty to pique my interest. Exactly what I heard about it, I couldn’t tell you. I guess the name itself stuck with me. The site describes this fragrance as a “minimalist weirdo. A creature of deception. Perfume nerdery” and while I don’t actually know anything about this perfumer, I will say that this nondescription captured my imagination and which evolved into a little crush. The sort of obsession that you develop on someone you glimpsed on the subway reading a dog-eared copy of a book by your favorite author, in this case, let’s say creepy Japanese manga artist Junji Ito, and then you had a series of unsettling dreams about them, so you wrote an ode to this stranger in the local alternative paper’s missed connections section. And like Japan’s most successful and lauded horror author, Rusak has injected an extraordinarily potent amount of weirdness into this scent. Beginning with a mundane peek into the spice cabinet, you are subjected to a surreal descent into madness featuring fenugreek’s uncanny curried maple syrup-ness, a dry, itchy tingle of salty musk, an enigmatic spike of aniseed, and an oily conflagration of black pepper. I can’t make heads or tails of this scent, and as a matter of fact, I like to imagine it as a many-headed, rattle-tailed beast, much like its very name. It’s truly one of the most eccentric and singular fragrances I have ever sniffed and I stand in admiration of its sublime strangeness.
I have had so many people ask me about Thin Wild Mercury over the past year that I was starting to think I had been living under a rock or something and somehow some long-standing beloved cult favorite had passed me by. I don’t like to be the last to hear about something good! But here I am and here we are. So I understand this is a line of fragrances telling aromatic fables of the iconic spirit of Los Angeles. I know very little of Los Angeles, other than I traveled there once, and during that time I visited an incredibly bizarre and disturbing cat sanctuary in the middle of the desert. I also had a nervous breakdown in an Air BnB. Believe it or not, those two situations were entirely unrelated. So, Chateau, 1970. A bastion of old Hollywood and notorious celebrity hideaway, this olfactory ode to the Chateau Marmont mentions wilting roses, crisp linens, and vintage wood furniture and I do think all of that comes across. It’s an incredibly languid scent, like Lana del Rey in front of her vanity singing in a sleepy, drunken drawl into her mirror about how her moon is in Leo and her Cancer is sun, which if you ask me is a very weird way to phrase that thought. There’s dreamy indolence to this scent, moments frozen in time, captured in a Polaroid picture, dust motes floating forever above a lone rose in a chipped vase just beyond the mirror’s cloudy reflection, never settling on the bloom. A powdery musk of memory of a night that never really ended, a faded photograph that belongs to no one anymore, wrapped in tattered linen and quietly slipped under a shabby fringe of carpet in a shadowed corner of an old bungalow.
I have some more brief impressions of Thin Wild Mercury’s offerings. And strangely, they’re all food metaphors and comparisons. Classic Taurus vibes, here, always! Whisky, 1969 is a heady combination of woody, musky oakmoss and a smoky sort of umami. Like …spiced loamy lichen wildness and leather and soy sauce that’s also a little nutty and boozy. It’s weird but it works. Laurel Canyon, 1966 with its zesty orange rind and warm, peppery clove and honeyed, almost chewy amber note is on the opposite end of the spectrum, a bit like a spice cake with a thin, sugared citrus glaze. Zuma, 1975 is a salty, grassy, sandy gremolata with bitter citrus and woody herbs served atop some fresh-caught marine delight just outside the sniffing range of this scent. I’m not saying it’s fishy, or seafoody or even …foody, but there’s definitely a sense of an almost palatable salinity
I’ve received so many samples of Andrea Maack’s Coven from Luckyscent over the years and for some reason I can’t recall any of my previous thoughts on it….which I interpret to mean that it never really impressed me as especially good or bad. This time, however, it’s really left an impression. With notes of soil and moss, Coven is meant to embody a shadowy woodland walk, and I think it’s clear the results are pretty divisive. One reviewer notes, and I am paraphrasing here, that it smells like dumpster juice. My own partner thinks it smells like an exploded car battery. I can’t deny that there is a sickly sweet rot at play here, like the dark shadows of Dol Guldur slowly encroaching the Greenwood forest as the feral wizard Radagast the Brown watches in horror while the vegetation blackens and decays before his eyes and many of his beloved animal friends are sick or dying. As it dries, the whiskey becomes apparent, and a strange, sour cumin note emerges to combine with the mossiness and the sense of black mold and mildew and it conjures a sort of hungover Witch-King of Angmar, badly in need of a bath.
Tom Ford’s Ombre Leather is a fragrance I both weirdly like and I don’t like and I can’t make up my mind. The new car leather scent is front and center, like you literally just slid into the seat of some posh, luxury vehicle to take it for a test drive. The smarmy salesperson slithered into the passenger seat next to you and they are wearing that screechy-sweet jasmine scent from Tom Ford that you really despise and at first you want to roll down the windows but you can’t figure out how they work so you just give up. But somehow the syrupy musk of the jasmine alongside the smooth, slightly bright, slightly animalic leather is a striking combination. But the two notes never really meld, they sit separately for the duration of the scent’s journey, and much like that trip twice around the car lot with the stranger that you’re not going to buy the car from anyway, it’s ultimately an awkward ride.
Mizensir’s Celebes Wood is a scent I love, but I think I love it more for someone else. This is a frou-frou boozy woodland party of a fragrance. A dozen rowdy princesses gather in the forest at midnight, all glitter and glamour and flowing hair and dazzling tiaras and ballgown pockets stuffed with cakes and confections and clutching jeweled flasks of sweet, strong liqueurs that cost half a kingdom to procure. There’s gossip and gifts and drinking and dancing and sweet kisses and secrets under the moonlight. And these princesses aren’t sleepwalking or under a spell, they’re alert and more alive than they’ve ever been, women with agency and autonomy and a vision for the future that will shake the very foundations of their world, because it doesn’t involve pleasing parents or marrying princes or making themselves or their dreams small or hiding their hearts’ truest songs. So…yeah. That kind of party. This is a sumptuous ambery scent, opening with a sweet, spiced swirling of almost effervescent sparks, like someone tossed cinnamon and cardamom on a flame, and when the embers die there is a deep, rich heart of tonka bean and resinous labdanum and something a lot like patchouli, but creamier, and less earthy. It’s beautiful and on the right person it could be devastating, but somehow it’s not me.
Dragonfly from Zoologist is a scent that apparently I’ve been sampling for so long I’m left with only fumes. But I’m not sure that I need a full bottle. I don’t own many scents like this…which is not to say it’s incredibly unique, because I’m not sure that’s the case. It’s a sort of gentle, watery floral musk with cherry blossom and peony and sweet, powdery heliotrope. While it’s nice, it’s quite pretty even, I’d definitely put it in the aquatic category… and I don’t love aquatics. Even one as wearable as this. I guess that’s what I mean when I say that I don’t have many like it. I’m sure there are lots of things that smell similar, I just couldn’t tell you what they are because I don’t wear or typically even sample them! I’ve read that dragonflies thrive in fresh, clean water and I think there is something of that purity that comes across in this scent. Purity is such a fraught term and so I hesitate to even use it, but that is the first word that comes to mind, and honestly, now that I have said that, you know who I can imagine wearing this scent? The brave and ridiculously sweet Laura Lee from Yellowjackets. This scent is perfect for this character. [Note in including the link just now, I realize that they have reformulated the fragrance. This review is for the original formulation.]
Maya from Tocca is a scent that I bought on a whim a few months ago when I was grabbing a few travel-sized scents from Sephora. Tocca scents generally don’t work for me and this one is no exception. They are all, or at least the one I’ve tried, these ridiculous fruity-florals that remind me of somehow of Edible Arrangement fruit bouquets. I don’t care for fruity florals but I don’t think this is a bad version of one. With top notes of black currant, violet leaf, and some underlying jasmine and rose, it’s a bombastic burst of jammy, patchouli-cloaked fruit, and musky florals, and it was driving me nuts because it reminds me so much of a scent that I used to wear in my late teens, when I first started taking classes at community college. The reason I remember this is because our cat peed on my bookbag and I tried to cover it up with this particular fragrance and 15 minutes into class I realized with a sinking heart that my solution was not working, so I gathered up my stuff and left and was too embarrassed to ever return. That scent was Tribu by Bennetton. I just checked the scent notes and it also lists black currant and violet leaf, jasmine, and rose. It does not of course list cat pee from one Leroy Parnell, our Siamese cat at the time, but in my memory Tribu and screechy, skanky cat piss are inextricably linked. Maya does not share that aspect with it. It’s just a run-of-the-mill fruity-floral. It’s fine. A touch of cat pee might make it more interesting, though.
Megamare from Orto Parisiis an absolute Atlantean kaiju of a fragrance. A massive, mysterious sea beast, a preternatural creature of divine power, wrapped in radioactive seaweed, rises from the unfathomable depths of an otherworldly ocean trench to surface in the middle of a typhoon. Tsunamis wreak havoc around the globe, saltwater instantaneously soaks every surface, a strange cloud of mossy musk forms, algae blooms, visibility drops to zero within seconds. At the vortex of this calamity is MEGAMARE, a gentle creature cursed with a hulking stature and an immensely briny, brackish odor that can be detected from other planets, other dimensions. It takes in the citizens of the world in a sweeping glance of its kaleidoscopic cyclopean eye and thinks “fucking hell, these humans are garbage” and disappears into the abyss never to be seen again. But its unearthly DNA changed the very essence of the seawater, and from every place a drop fell that day, a strange aromatic blossom appeared. And so history will never forget the vast flowering of judgment, the day of Megamare.
Baccarat Rouge 540 from Maison Francis Kurkdjian is a fragrance that no one ever talks about and that certainly no one’s ever heard of. That’s sarcasm. But I have to pretend that this is a thing that has flown under the radar, or else I’m going to have a hard time reviewing it. I mean how do you talk about a scent like this without saying the same thing a zillion other people have already said? (See that’s a thing about me. You can like my writing. You can love it. You can absolutely despise it. All of those are fine with me. What is *not* fine is when someone says that I sound exactly like someone else. That’s what makes me mad and sad and actually hate myself a little.) What *is* fine, sometimes, is smelling like someone else. Maybe a zillion other someones. This is one of those times. Baccarat Rouge 540 is not a heavy scent, it’s not especially complex or nuanced, and there’s not much in the way of projection. It’s not a masterpiece. It’s not especially unique. Sometimes you don’t want those things, though. You don’t want a weird, challenging, avant-garde artsy scent. Sometimes you want to put on a soft, cozy sweater that has a vague hint of a perfume that you wore last week still clinging to the fuzzed-out neckline. A caramelized spun sugar candy floss half-remembered dream of a scent, with a creamy-clean core of barely detectable cedar and a halo of glimmering jasmine fairy dust. That’s Baccarat Rouge 540. It’s hardly there and there’s not a lot to it. It’s a thoroughly enchanting, and outrageously expensive skin scent, But… it’s good. And sometimes that is good enough.
Zoologist’s Chipmunkis a chipmunk who is a CEO of some mega-corporation that’s actually a front for some shadowy organization that has been around for centuries and whose fanatical leadership is trying to open up a portal to another world and bring forth a demon god whose emergence on earth will usher in the end times. By which I mean it’s a cool, woodsy forest breeze, and something that smells earthy and dry, like the metallic tang of cold rocks, and of the nocturnal furry musk of creatures you wouldn’t want to meet in the dark. There’s nothing warm or sweet or cute or chipmunk-cheeked about it. It smells…ominous, somehow. These are oddly hollow woods, cursed groves, silent and strange, wherein a twitchy-tailed, beady-eyed, rodent cyborg chipmunk is conducting a mandatory board meeting of imminent doom.
October’s Table from Hexennachtis a collaboration with Alyssa Thorne photography and inspired by a piece of moody floral photography of the same name. From the notes listed, what I immediately pick out is the smoked vanilla and caramelized marshmallow, autumnal spices, kindling branches in the form of a sort of apple-y wood, and soft, honied beeswax, which they note is vegan. This is every bit as lovely and cozy and warm as you would expect, there’s the most interesting and delightful aspect of it that I can’t match to any note, but there’s an underlying something that skews it slightly off. Sitting near a chilled window late in the evening as freezing rain ices the streets outside. The lamp casts a soft glow, you’re wrapped in shawls and blankets, you’ve got a steaming mug of something strong and sweet, and a treasured collection of ghost stories in your lap. You’re ensconced in the comfort and safety of your lovely home…and yet. The wind moans softly through the trees, rattling the branches, skittering their skeletal wooden bones across the roof, like clacking dominoes of the dead. The lights buzz and flicker intermittently, and each time they dim, the shadows in the room lengthen and darken and grow. You realize with a feverish swoon and a start that you’ve been holding your breath and your heart is pounding furiously. In between each throb and thrumming beat is where the haunting riddle of this scent lies.
Hildegard’s Cakes of Joy(spelt, nutmeg, clove, and a dollop of honey) I’ve long loved me some Hildie and was super jazzed to see Atlas Obscura post a recipe this past autumn for her “cookies of joy.” I then recalled that I actually own a book of her recipes and remedies and when I peeked inside, sure enough–there’s the recipe! So of course, now that I’ve got the instructions along with an inspirational scent, I think she’s giving me all the signs that I need to make these cookies. The scent itself is that of grainy, honeyed sweetness and it did indeed bring a joyful smile to my face. I’m usually not a fan of nutmeg (I suspect it is harvested from the underside of the devil’s dingleberries) but the spices in this fragrance are so smoothly measured and sifted that I can’t even pick it out. And what began as a rich, baked kitchen scent is eventually suffused with light and radiant warmth, it’s like a stained glass dream of a cookie. As you can see, I did actually make the cookies and quite frankly, they are the best cookies I have ever had in my life.
The Garden of Shut-Eye Town (lavender twined with passionflower, breeze-touched sways of wisteria, lemon balm, cowslip, poppy, and star-sparkles of chamomile) Every time I sniff this I get something different and then everything I thought I smelled begins to go fractured and unfamiliar. At first, it’s a sort of spiced lavender, but not spices, exactly, more like a well-seasoned salty, peppered lavender. But I also get a soft floral coconutty apricot something-something from it? And also a lemony-ozone musk? There’s a lot going on in Shut Eye Town and it’s all so varied and interesting, I wonder if anyone gets any actual shut-eye. A line from a book I just read has been stuck in my mind recently, “the nest of a hummingbird, high in a hemlock.” For some reason this scent conjures that vision for me.
Gingerbread, Vetiver, and Black Teaat first I thought this was a slice of soft ginger cake and lemony black tea, but the more this wears it becomes a gingery-peppery pfeffernusse cookie with an iced lemon glaze.
Crystal Gazers (white musk and yellow frankincense, black plum, neroli, verbena, and green cognac) A crystalline, sparkling fruity-floral, that dries down to a soft creamy almond musk.
Violet Fog (orris root and white sandalwood bruised by violet petals, champaca attar, and smoked lavender) So, weird story! In early December I posted a photo on Facebook of a cocktail I had created one evening, consisting of the following recipe that I had just made up to go with a new gin I was trying: “Measure with your heart: gin, orgeat, lime, crème de violette, sparkling water, butterfly pea flower tea.” It was lovely and tasty and I christened it a “Violet Fog”. I had no idea that there was soon to be a Violet Fog in the Yule update! Synchronous serendipity through the psychosphere!
Violet Fog the fragrance smells of crushed candied violets, starry midnight ozone, musky darkness, and going in an entirely different direction, here’s a thought. One of my favorite books of poetry is The Ink Dark Moon: Love Poems by Ono no Komachi and Izumi Shikibu, Women of the Ancient Court of Japan; I feel like Violet Fog is the base from which many of these poems could be aromatically interpreted. There’s something of late-night longing and loneliness wrapped up in this combination of notes that perfectly evokes the sadness and solitude of these poets’ writings.
Sugar Cookies with Extra Sugar there are no notes listed for this one, only that “this perfume is ridiculous, ” and if by that they mean “this perfume is ridiculously incredible” then, ok, I absolutely believe that. In the bottle, it’s a Royal Dansk Danish butter cookie (a combination of the piped vanilla ring and the heavily sugared pretzel-shaped one) but as it wears, it’s less buttery baked good and more a sublime candied vanilla musk. With sprinkles! Sugar Cookie Satyris a crumbled tin of those cookies combined with feral, virile, earthy musk and ALL of the aphrodisiac after-dark spicy-spices and formed into inappropriate shapes with highly NSFW cake pop molds.
Scientific, Occult, and Inexplicable(The bronze, brass, iron, glass and polished wood of Victorian scientific instruments obfuscated by a swirl of incense and a spatter of ectoplasm) A sense of detached antiquarian speculation that is somehow minty/mentholated-adjacent without any actual mintiness, cool and frosted, with an unsettling metallic tang and an added undertone of unease. This is a scent that causes a weird, unsettling feeling, almost like the olfactory equivalent of infrasound, frequencies so low that they’re inaudible to humans, and which can cause symptoms of uneasiness, fear, and chills down the spine…and which are sometimes linked to perceived paranormal experiences!
Gingerbread Limoncello Is somehow magically dense and chewy AND fluffy. Moist, light, and cakey old-fashioned gingerbread scented with warm spices and a kick of freshly grated ginger for contemporary palates and topped with both a sweet-tart lemon glaze AND velvety clouds of lemon cream cheese frosting.
Alischereshasa (an imp’s worth of Alice stuffed into a 5ml of Rakshasa plopped into Scheherazade’s mother bottle). In the spirit of turduckens and piecakens, the Blaps labbies have metaphorically stuffed imps into 5mls into motherbottles in order to make a series of absurd combinations. I get a lot of rich, fruity-resinous red musk and honied rose from this one, tempered by a milky sandalwood. A rosy-golden-hued fairytale of a fragrance. Separately, you know that invisible imp of the perverse who sits on your shoulder and tells you to do the thing that you know you shouldn’t do? Midwarkust(an imp’s worth of Darkness stuffed into a 5ml of Midway plopped into Lust‘s mother bottle) is an exuberant scent of candied devilry and jammy-juicy ambrosial wickedness and that’s exactly what this diminutive low-level trickster smells like.
Second Sight(lilac-dappled beeswax, champaca smoke, and agarwood) buttery, tangy ether; spreadable honeyed ectoplasm. Something like coconut oil and sour milk? But also a grassy vanilla. So different than I thought this might smell! I feel like this is some sort of precognitive coconut jam, rich and aromatic, and you want to slather it on warm toast, maybe a thick, sweet slice of Japanese milk bread.
Sugarplum Snow White There is definitely a part one and a part two to this scent. It opens with a deep plummy-fruitiness that’s also somehow a bit aquatic. Sort of a saucer of candied plum compote floating in the clear, blue depths of a fountain. End scene. With no preamble, Snow White’s subtly sweet, creamy iced rice milk is present, just a small, simple glass of it with the tiniest dollop of whipped cream on top. No sign of plums or fruit. This really is like two very separate, scents in one! Sugar Plum Snake Oil is quite the opposite in that there is an immediate melding of the glittering Queen of the Kingdom of Sweets with that heady vanilla musk and it evolves into an enchanting spun-sugar-shard incense.
The Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab Yule collection of midwinter perfumes are currently live and available for purchase. As this is a limited edition series, sample sizes imps are not available for Yule 2022.
For many years now I have been obsessed with the sublimely ridiculous cover art for ‘Geisterjäger John Sinclair’ (Ghosthunter John Sinclair), a pulpy German horror detective fiction series wherein Sinclair, a Scotland Yard chief inspector, tirelessly battles all kinds of undead and demonic creatures. Apparently, he is the reborn soul of both King Solomon and Knight Templar Hector de Valois. Wow!
These covers feature all manner of bizarre and tawdry evils, from vampire nightclubs to skydiving ghouls to horror discos–and it turns out that the artist responsible for some of my freaky favorites is Catalan painter and illustrator Vicenç Badalona Ballester (1929-2014.) From 1973 until his retirement in 2007, Ballestar produced an incredible number of covers for these books — nearly 1,000!! — and later went into fine art, where via his published books he became a renowned instructor of watercolor techniques.
“Aesthetically speaking, the world that Ballestar created for the duration of his career belonged to the 1970s and early ’80s. His paintings are populated by figures that could have stepped out of an advertisement from the era, if their faces weren’t etched with fear at the horrors they confront. With his broad palette and use of light, Ballestar derived a garish Pop pleasure from sinister darkness in a way previously found only in Roger Corman’s legendary Edgar Allan Poe films starring Vincent Price, where terror joined forces with Technicolor.”
I’ll confess, I have never read a single John Sinclair story. I almost can’t bear to. What if they are not as much fun as the cover art? But when I am feeling down or bummed out, I treat myself to translations to the various synopses for the stories, and their garbled silliness never fails to make me laugh:
“He was a legend of evil. No one knew if he really died or just lost. Most of Kansas residents just wanted to forget about him anyway. But as twelve tourists simply disappeared, he was remembered again. Suddenly fear passed away, and one sentence went round: ‘Sheriff death is back… “
“When Mike Prentiss and Cindy Mallory are just on their way home from the old castle disco, they pass by a closed cemetery.” Mike finally persuades his girlfriend to follow him to enjoy the togetherness there a little more uninterrupted. But for a long time, the silence on the ancient God’s sucker does not last, because suddenly the two of them are attacked with a sharp knife by a spritual woman… “
Anyway, as usual, this post is just an excuse to show off some favorites from an artist whose works I dig. Enjoy!
On the first day of 2022, we revamped my desk setup, and it’s a pretty exciting thing. This monitor is enormous and yet I have so much more room on my desk! For knitting! Er….I mean… writing, of course!
For our second project, we kept it small. Small wins are great, too! As a matter of fact, I think this was a day full of small wins. I cleaned the bathroom too, and for someone who has been avoiding this task for six months, this is maybe actually a major win.
So, anyway, this second project…
I am very easily influenced and I’ve been seeing these home coffee stations all over TikTok and YouTube. I love the idea of dedicated spaces for things and so I wanted one, too! Often they feature a slew of Torani syrups (blech*) and a Keurig (also blech**) and various trays and baskets and shelves that I’m assuming someone bought specifically for this purpose.
But we decided we’d just make do with what we could find around the house. It’s not a very sophisticated or “aesthetic” display with regard to the elegance of the configuration or the beauty of the containers, but whatever–we didn’t have to spend a cent to do it!
It’s not perfect, but already the area feels less cluttered, and just…more intentional, I guess? While I’m not a “serious” coffee person and don’t know much about coffees or beans or preparation techniques, I suppose you could say I take the enjoyment of my morning coffee somewhat seriously, so this seemed like a really nice thing to do for the new year. Just a little project, with really lovely results.
In this spot, we have our french press, our hand-grinder, a little frother, a Moka pot, a whole bunch of teas and sweeteners, some coffees, and a little matcha bowl and whisk. Also, a Fika book, which I got two years ago and haven’t made a single thing from, so I think that might be my challenge to myself this year. Prepare one fika treat per month!
How do you arrange your various little spaces? What bite-size projects might you work on for substantial results? And do you have a little coffee/tea station? I wanna see!
I went to bed at 9:30 on New Year’s Eve last night. Why not? We had no party, no guests, no one to please but ourselves, and we were sleepy after a few sips of sake and big bowls of sour, spicy kimchi stew.
I awoke in the darkness this morning, unable to sleep any longer. I read some poetry and finished a project. I had intended to finish seaming the toes on a pair of socks that I had been working on (and hoped to finish in the last hours of 2021, but it’s just a few stitches, so whatever.)
We greeted the dawn by the ocean with hot coffees and watched a woman in a long white dress and a guzheng posing for a photographer in the sand as the tide rolled out. Now the day is ours. I am tidying my office and making plans and marveling at my new computer set up, a gift from my sweetie of inconceivable technological magics which allows me to store my work and personal laptops out of sight and switch between the two on this one enormous screen! It’s much bigger than it looks in this photo!
I don’t have any resolutions for 2022. I don’t think I even have any goals. Just keep doing my best, I suppose.
I do have some thoughts on the energy I want to bring with me this year. The gorgeous brilliance of these two paintings, above, is endlessly inspiring to me to live beautifully (I don’t always know what that means, and it’s a sentiment that’s always changing) and I think this beloved and oft-revisited poem by Mary Oliver, below, captures the spirit of wonder and active compassion that I want to wake up and walk with throughout the oncoming days.
I want to continually be dazzled. By the world and the light and the mysteries–and all of the flaws and imperfections, too.
The Ponds (Mary Oliver)
Every year the lilies are so perfect I can hardly believe
their lapped light crowding the black, mid-summer ponds. Nobody could count all of them —
the muskrats swimming among the pads and the grasses can reach out their muscular arms and touch
only so many, they are that rife and wild. But what in this world is perfect?
I bend closer and see how this one is clearly lopsided — and that one wears an orange blight — and this one is a glossy cheek
half nibbled away — and that one is a slumped purse full of its own unstoppable decay.
Still, what I want in my life is to be willing to be dazzled — to cast aside the weight of facts
and maybe even to float a little above this difficult world. I want to believe I am looking
into the white fire of a great mystery. I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing — that the light is everything — that it is more than the sum of each flawed blossom rising and fading. And I do.
One thing I will never tire of is hearing about people’s favorite things! Hopefully, if you are reading this, you feel the same.
Below are a few things that I have either been enjoying lately or relying on throughout the year. It was a weird year, and I have a feeling that things are only going to get weirder. I’m not sure if I want to say “get weirder before they even out” because most of the time I don’t think that’s possible anymore.
But it was a weird year in good ways, too. I wrote my second book (just working on image permissions at this point!) and I just signed a contract for my third. I was interviewed on four podcasts despite swearing up and down that I was never ever going to be on a podcast! I started a little TikTok account after proclamations that I hated TikTok and that I WOULD NEVER! Chances are, if I say I’m never going to do something, the universe will present me with a reason or an opportunity to do that very thing within the next 24 hours. I never learn my lesson! (According to this logic, all lessons be learned by tomorrow??)
Anyway, 2021 was a mixed bag. I’m still here. I’m glad that you are too. In honor of mixed bags, here’s some stuff. Just a total jumble of things, no theme tying anything together, and everything mixed up in no particular order!
Celestial Seasonings Fast Lane Tea. I haven’t drunk Celestial Seasonings teas since I was a kid. Nothing wrong with them, I guess I was just seduced by the variety of options available nowadays and never bothered to revisit them. But I had several boxes of their Fast Lane tea – a lightly spiced black tea- thrust upon me, and it’s actually very good. I think there may be an extra kick of caffeine in it, and the spices are very subtle, more of a fragrance than a taste, and it’s a really lovely treat in the afternoon with the Silk “oatmeal cookie” Oat Creamer. We’ve taken to having a mid-afternoon tea break and treat around 2-3 pm most days and this is really perfect for that. Serve with a cardamom bun or a slice of lavender tea bread!
Lavido Hand Lotion I already love the thick, nourishing version for feet, and this mildly musky coconut-scented hand cream is perfect to keep at my desk.
Jadeywadey180 I love watching videos where people are pampered. Massages, scalp scratches, even chiropractic videos! And of course, facials and skincare treatments. On Jadeywadey180’s channel, she once mentioned that you really need to massage your cleanser into your skin for at least 30 seconds for it to even begin to be effective. Now I don’t know if that’s true and I am not here to debate anyone, but I did start doing that and it feels amazing, so I think that’s reason enough to continue.
Molton Brown Geranium Nefertum shower gel is not exactly similar to my stupid expensive favorite Oud Wood shower gel from Tom Ford but they’re on similar wavelengths. A sort of rich, woody scent, balanced with moss and fig, perked up with pepper. It’s a dashing ghostly scoundrel of ascent and at $32 it’s still not cheap for a bottle of squirty shower shit, but it’s also not Oud Wood’s $75 price tag.
Some pieces from Universal Standard: these Universal Standard Stephanie wide leg striped pants which are sort of replacing my linen Swayers from STATE the Label because they are falling apart and for some reason, STATE refuses to make more of these plain black pants. Come on, guys! Pretty please!? Also, these bike shorts, which honestly are sort of amazing. From the fit to the feel to the side pocket for my phone, they are excellent. I also picked up this waffle-knit lounge set in a dusty rose-lavender-oatmeal color, and it’s comfy and cozy as heck and I strangely love this light neutral color and am looking for reasons to incorporate more of it into my wardrobe.
Here’s that color again, sort of! I was gifted an older Apple Watch from my BGF after they upgraded to a newer version, and I surprisingly loved it. It was a nice opportunity to try it out before making that sort of investment, and I probably would have just continued using it, but it wasn’t really charging very well, and it wasn’t super responsive after awhile. I purchased a new one and I was going to get a lavender band to accompany it, but somehow I ended up actually liking the band that was included with it. Sarah of 2017 would be aghast. *waves to old-Sarah from across time*
Le Bon socks I first saw these last year in Rachel Symes New Yorker gift guide in 2020 and I pooh-poohed them because I am obsessed with cute socks, and these are … not that cute. But my kawaii animal and anime character socks are often cheaply made and then and fall apart and I’ve been rethinking about what it is exactly that I expect from my cozy foot tubules. The socks from Le Bon are a bit utilitarian-looking in muted colors, no bright novelty prints here. But they do offer an extremely soothing sole swaddle, so I’m sold.
When I walk for exercise my toes flail and flounder aggressively, which results in holes being poked in the top of my shoes. Someone suggested to me that I need sneakers with a wider toe box, and after doing a little research (you know, reading like 2.5 reviews) I decided upon the Topo Athletic Zero Drop Magnifly 3…which I think is actually a running shoe, but that’s fine. Or at least it seems to be fine. I don’t know, I am not a shoe or foot or much-of-anything expert! They’re really comfortable and they’ve held up quite well. I purchased these in June and nary a toe hole in sight! With the previous pair, I’d managed to breach the top of the shoe in less than three months, so this is good news.
This adorable little glass cup is just the sweetest thing and makes me unreasonably happy. I had a tiny matcha latte in it one day and a little whiskey soda the next evening. Wheee!
Then there is this neutral color open-front cardigan from Cotton Emporium that’s getting pretty ratty because I wear it nearly every day. With dresses, with jeans and old metal or horror tees, with my pajamas when I wake up on a chilly morning–I wear it with everything. Does it go with everything? Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves, no one said that. I originally got this one from Stitchfix but I am fairly certain it is no longer available. This is the exact one that someone was selling over on tradesy a while ago. It’s really nothing special, just perfectly worn-in, and somehow both lightweight and cozy. Another piece that has been getting a lot of mileage these past few months is this mustard-colored tunic dress from Toast.
Recipe inspiration from two unlikely places: Nami’s YouTube channel & The Salad Lab on TikTok. Nami is a single woman living in Japan and her 20-30 minute videos often follow her over the course of a weekend while she documents the meals she prepares, tidying her home, small crafts, and occasional peeks at her neighborhood grocery shopping trips or visits to cafes to meet up with local friends. I usually watch this while I am knitting a simple project (it’s subtitled, so I partially need to pay attention!) and I love to see her go about her quiet, creative days. I especially enjoy Nami’s imaginative approach in the kitchen, where she often cooks simple meals using unexpected combinations of ingredients. In The Salad Lab, saladologist (I made that word up) Darlene “creates fabulous salads every day” and it’s exactly what it sounds like. A brief minute or two long video of some disembodied hands making a variety of salads. I love salads! So I get a lot of ideas here, too.
Also, I learned that you can shred chicken in your kitchen aid in less than 30 seconds with the paddle attachment. Now granted, I didn’t spend a lot of time shredding chicken with just two forks and elbow grease–that’s too much work!– but now that I know that I don’t have to do it that way…!
Sopor from Twilight Alchemy Lab is a pillowy sleep blend with notes of lavender, vanilla, chamomile, and blue tansy and its gentle, aromatic lullaby has earned a position of prominence on my nighttime dream shelf.
Ok. So. While these two fragrances I’ve chosen to share here are not exactly my *favorite* scents this year, they are the scents that surprised me the most with how much I’ve enjoyed them. Also, I realize that I often write about perfumes that are not easily accessible; they’ve either been discontinued, or they’re prohibitively expensive, or hard to get one’s hands on, for whatever reason. I thought instead I might mention two fragrances that are fairly easy to find and accessible– in terms of purchasing a bottle, and also that neither of them are really challenging scents. I’ve already written reviews for both Hanae Mori and Glossier’s You, but I will share them both below again, in case you missed them!
I first learned of Hanae Mori on a blog that I was pretty obsessed with, back in the early 2000s. This person wasn’t a perfume enthusiast or fashionista, or even a popular blogger as far as I could tell…she seemed to be a gentle quiet weirdo, like me. She had a goth Betty Page bob and she did something in tech and updated sporadically about her little Seattle apartment. I thought she was the coolest. When I began to really delve into fragrances a few years later, I recall her mentioning this one in passing, and so sought out a sample. I was disappointed at how ordinary it seemed. Twenty years later I quite disagree with past me! Hanae Mori is a perfectly lovely woody vanilla and creamy, milky musk with hints of dusty dried grass and the airy green tang of blackberry leaves. A lot of reviewers mention fruit, but I don’t get any of that at all. If you enjoy the sweet comfort and nostalgic 90’s whispers of Vanilla Fields or the bitter Miss Havisham melancholia of Fleur Cachee, I’d say this scent falls squarely in the middle and I am surprisingly obsessed with it.
Glossier’s You is a scent I really had no intention of ever buying, but then my curiosity got the best of me. A minor point: I hate this bottle, it’s dreadful. It looks like a small pink blandly Cronenbergian lump of quivering flesh. I can, however, get over that, because as it turns out and much to my surprise…I actually really love what’s inside the horrid skin sack of a bottle. It’s possible that I had very low expectations because I don’t like any of Glossier’s other products and also because I am maybe a snob. But I really don’t mind being wrong! Okay, I am a Taurus and I hate being wrong! But I make an exception for perfume. You is a wonderful melding of this chilly, ghostly delicate iris musk and a warm, woody, sturdy peachy amber quietly enveloped in a crystalline psychic glow of pink pepper and you kind of wonder how these notes got together but then you think of Sailor Neptune and Sailor Uranus and it all just makes perfect sense. Yes, this is a queer classic anime power couple of a scent and I absolutely adore it.
Books. Always. Words have always been my dearest, staunchest companions, and this year I read a lot of good ones! I challenged myself to read 50 books this year, which I realize is not a lot for people who tend to read a lot, but I surpassed my goal at a current number of 55 and if I can finish Stephen Graham Jones’ My Heart Is A Chainsaw by the end of the day, it will be 56! (I probably won’t.) My two favorite from this year are books that I inadvertently read back to back and which have some similar themes in common: death, loss, grief, and food: Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner and The Astonishing Color of Afterby Emily X.R. Pan.
Music: I’ve been remiss in recent years in keeping my ear to the ground for new and incredible music, but I will say I’ve been immensely enjoying Japanese Breakfast, both their newest release, Jubilee and basically everything else, too. And lots of Matt Berry, of course.
Watching: Both the ridiculousness and stunning costumery of The Great and the dreamy absurdity and upsetting realism of Atlanta. We also just binged S2 of The Witcher, which, although I enjoyed it, it kinda seemed like we were playing the video game this season. Do I need to read the books? Hm.
At just 12 hours until 2022, I am attempting to watch a handful of horror/esque/ish/adjacent movies I meant to watch before the end of the year. I have seen In the Earth, Possessor, and Censor(my favorite so far) and I am going to try and fit in Last Night in Soho and Titane before the night is over. Wish me luck!
I have glamorous aspirations, but in reality, I am pretty much the opposite of glamour. Despite all the makeup I have lying around, I barely wear any of it, unless I am going to make a little video for YouTube (which …isn’t that often), or else I have to leave the house for a special occasion. Which is also not often, or ever really, nowadays. On a daily basis, the only thing I do after morning skincare stuff is sunscreen and the most minimal of eyebrow stuff. I basically just want to make sure they are all going in the same direction, to be honest with you. I’ve been using this brow butter and styling gel from Saie, and it’s ok. It does the job. I think I just really like the packaging.
I do try to sneak a little glamour in with some daily jewels and the magics of the Face of the Oracle pendant from Atelier Narcé have been clasped around my neck more often than not throughout the week.
Paintbox Soapworks is a perpetual favorite in our household. Here are some of their wintry offerings that we are currently enjoying…
Honorable mentions include: my library card, which has really gotten a workout this year in accessing their digital collections // Stasher silicone bags which have been great to help with cutting down on plastic baggie usage (and another shoutout to Swedish dishcloths as a paper towel alternative!) // all of the friends, family, and acquaintances who have checked in on me during what I feel have been several near meltdowns over the past few months // finally accepting the idea that at 45 years old I don’t have to suffer unnecessarily, and maybe medication for depression and anxiety is an option worth exploring…I have been on it for 4 days now, go me! Better living through chemistry! // art and poetry, always // Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings which was a perfect superhero movie // on a related note, I am happy to see that Michelle Yeoh is just about everywhere I look nowadays, and I don’t think I have ever been as excited to see a movie as I am Everything Everywhere All At Once
Before the year ends, I thought I’d share one last perfume post! Below are reviews of a few of the things I have been sniffing lately…
In Frederic Malle’s Musc Ravageur there’s a strange, sullen plastic note wrapped around a dark, animalic vanilla that doesn’t care what anyone thinks and laughs at its own jokes and sometimes it laughs so hard it pees itself a little, and yeah, you can actually smell that aspect of Musc Ravageur too, in the form of an almost fermented amber note. It’s both rich and sour in an offbeat way that borders on off-putting…but for all that, it’s not a terribly complicated scent. I think we might consider this a perfume that is hard to get to know, but easy to love. Do I relate to this scent a little too deeply? You could say that, sure.
Tenebrae from L’Artisan’s Natura Fabularis line which I believe is meant to conjure association of ancient forests and sap infused incense and all sorts of evergreen enchantments, but I’m not sure that the promise of those wild, wintry woodlands translate as such for me. Imagine peering at those shadowed and frost-tipped treetops through the glimmer of a crystalline orb; a misty vision initially vaporous and shrouded, coalesces into startling clarity. Tenebrae is the fragrance anointing those liminal moments as they move from uncanny and indistinct to recognizable and unmistakable. The scent of letting your eyes become unfocused as you attempt to discern the pattern of things. And once you think you’ve got it, that you’ve zeroed in on it, that you’ve figured it out, you’ve lost it entirely–because that was never the point. Let slip the glass ball from your fingers, let it smash to the floor in shards. Gather them, crush them, devour them. The blood on your tongue reminds you what you took from the vision was wholly your own. You don’t need anyone to tell you what the forest smells like. Ok, but really: cedary woods and thorns and brambles and the not-greenness and possibly not-quite-wholesomeness of small green berries overlooked by winter birds, and all of the versions of fairytales you’ve pieced together in your imagination to construct what a grand forest must look like, and then you grew up and threw those dreams in the river, but retrieved them later in your cronage and burned them as a sort of frizzled and foggy incense.)
Poudre de Musc from Parfums de Nicolai is all shimmering, gossamer aldehydes and soft, musky rose, and a gorgeous arrangement of sandalwood and orange blossom that a particularly artsy florist composed. It lights up a room with scintillating conversation, it’s both lively and restrained, people would invite it to parties and no one would ever give it funny looks or call it “extra,” or say, “,man you were acting weird last night.” Mothers-in-law would love it. It would never ever forget its mother-in-law’s birthday, as a matter of fact, it probably calls its mother-in-law once a week to say hello. Objectively, it is beautiful. It’s perfect on paper. But it makes me feel awful about myself because those attributes are all of the things I am not.
Fleurs d’Oranger from Serge Lutens is everything lush and lovely and radiant about a little bottle of orange blossom water, right up until the time I add it to a cold drink or a confection, thinking how exquisite it will taste and then realizing, uggghh… this literally tastes like a mouthful of perfume. Fleurs d’Oranger is the extreme version of that ill-fated swallow, all syrupy narcotic, summer damp, fleshy-musked florals, balmy honeyed jasmine, and tuberose, intensified by cumin’s bitter, polarizing pungency.I adore the scent of orange blossoms and enjoy this interpretation more than most. It’s heady and heavy-lidded and hypnotic whereas many others have a lighter, somewhat “clean” aura. I’m fairly certain that the deliciously cunning and charismatic Lady Sylvia Marsh, immortal priestess to an ancient snake god in Ken Russell’s trippy 1988 horror film the Lair of the White Worm, wears this exact scent and as she goes about her days, heartily seducing and eating men, looking fabulous, and enjoying herself tremendously.
I’ve been trying my sample of Squid on and off for the past year, hoping to find something different in it. It still does not wow me. But it’s not terrible, either. I’m typically really impressed with Zoologist’s myriad creations and from this scent I expected something that shares a kinship with the moody, murky, and mysterious nature of this creature, or at least the slithery and inky perceptions of it? But I’m finding it overall an oddly crisp aroma, like freshly snipped sweet green herbs, coupled with a vanilla salt aspect very similar to Tokyo Milk Dark’s Arsenic, and the added subtle floral zest of pink pepper. It’s pleasant enough, but it’s not terribly interesting, and it certainly doesn’t evoke the squidly wizard vibes of the label illustration. Now if that artful cephalopod depicted, say …an executive admin who gets you to sign an office birthday card? I could have tempered my expectations appropriately. This is less marine monstrosity from the deep and more Angela from The Office.
Burberry Hero is marketed as a men’s fragrance in a marvelously ridiculous advertisement with Adam Driver but I try not to think of perfume in terms of gender, so you won’t hear me discussing whether something smells masculine as opposed to feminine. Which I am sure that some people find frustrating and my response to that is “so what?” There’s better and more interesting and exciting ways to think about and talk about the art and application and aesthetics of fragrance than filtered through the construct of gender. Despite all that high-minded talk, I’m not sure that there is actually any sort of exciting way to talk about Hero.
I’m tempted to share my thoughts on the characteristics I find appealing in my platonic ideal of what a hero is supposed to be, but that’s just the thing, isn’t it? Heroes come in all shapes and sizes, and I believe (or at least after school specials and Saturday morning cartoons have taught me) that anyone is capable of rising to the occasion and performing a heroic feat. And maybe that’s the problem here; I feel like this composition while pleasant enough in a crisp-cedary-breeze way and a sunny-sweet-mild-citrus-slice-in-a-glass-of-sparkling-water way, is one of those scents that, in trying to appeal to everyone, becomes awfully bland and nondescript, lacking in any amount of charm or charisma.
I wore it for a few hours and what I am left with is a sour tannic powderiness, with a weirdly aquatic translucence. Like an Arnold Palmer powdered drink mix stirred in with too much water and poured over an excess of ice, and piped in through the vents of a day spa, I guess? This is a fragrance I would prefer as a scented dry shampoo or some form of quick refresh, so I can see it working in certain circumstances. Circumstances being you’re on autopilot and you want to put in the minimum amount of hygiene-related work but you also don’t want to be smelly, so admittedly the bar is really low for this situation. My main stumbling block here is that they went with Adam Driver to market this perfume to us …and I am inclined to imagine Adam Driver as more deliciously, overwhelmingly, bombastically stanky than the milquetoast reality of Hero. (The best thing about Hero is that it inspired THIS! My BGF made marvelously silly video!)
I am having an interesting moment with Bee from Ellis Brooklyn. Which is to say I don’t hate it. I almost even like it? This is strange because typically gourmand scents aren’t my thing. I want to smell like a mossy bog witch or bioluminescent flora on an alien planet, or mottled parchment poetry penned by a lovelorn bookbinder. And honey is such a weird note, with its aromas both attractive and repellent, that ambrosial golden syrupy floral note that eventually devolves to the pungence of a filthy feral flower urinal in the height of August. Bee is not a super realistic honey, which is fine with me, I don’t want realism in my perfume anyway. It’s a floofy, poofy vanilla and sandalwood marshmallow dusted liberally with dehydrated buckwheat honey and clover pollen and layered with this dark, balsamic rich woody rumminess that’s not quite rum and at all, and it took me a few days but I worked it out. At its heart, Bee conjured the sweet, full-bodied warmth and vaguely fruity tobacco notes of a hot cup of rooibos tea. I don’t often want to smell like this, and I don’t even like rooibos tea, so isn’t the sort of thing I could wear every day… but I think I can appreciate that it’s a really lovely offering that gives you something a little different than what you might expect from it.
The copy for The Bewitching Yasmine from Penhaligon’s Portrait collection is kind of silly in a Regency romance sort of way “Yasmine’s sights are set on London – and a suitable match. Her fragrance is a voluptuous affair: jasmine, incense, oud. A celebration of all that is gloriously sensual. Who could resist?” But the musky shadows of this deliriously poisonous confectionery fairy tale floral reads less like a novel of manners and more like a New Wave Czechoslovakian gothic drama through a slightly sleazy and heavily decadent 1970’s lens. And if in that word salad of melodrama you sussed that I am obliquely referring to a gloriously wicked character from the 1972 film Morgiana, then we are obviously besties. If you’re not keeping up, that’s okay, we’ll visit another point of reference. Imagine the vanilla-dusted amaretto-spiked jasmine and sassafras latte of Dior’s Hypnotic Poison and lock it in a psychedelic velvet carpet bag with oud’s bitter earthy fables, and the strange otherworldly poetry of cardamom incense. Bury the satchel for one hundred years in an abandoned cliffside cemetery, dig it up, air it out, and the resulting fragrance is The Bewitching Yasmine. Or, back to Morgiana–although the actress who played the jealous and vindictive Viktoria was singularly, splendidly perfect, and no one could ever replace her…imagine the divine tackiness of Peggy Bundy in that role? That is the very essence of Penhaligon’s The Bewitching Yasmine. This is a fragrance somehow both luxurious and trashy. What do we call the intersection of these things? Self-indulgent? Sinful? None of those really feels right. And there’s something not quite right about this scent, too–maybe that’s why it’s so much evocative fun.
Kenzo Flower is a scent that I’ve never quite understood the fascination with. It’s like someone took a chorus of iris and violet and rose and other cool powdery florals that one might think of as refined and restrained, delicate and graceful, and they said to these bashful blooms–”hey guys, can you tone it down a little? We’re trying to concentrate here!” And they kept toning it down and dialing it back until what is left is the faintest, barest echo of a scent. Kenzo Flower is the olfactory equivalent of white noise. Or walking away from a conversation and realizing that you don’t recall a word that was said…because the person talking to you was just that boring.
Tauer Perfumes’ L’Air du Désert Marocain is a fragrance I have been puzzling over for nearly fifteen years. When I first sampled it, I was very taken with vanillas and gourmands–which seems very unlike me now, but I guess my palate and preferences have changed quite a bit! I liked the sweeter end of the scent spectrum at that moment in time, and so this was much, much too dry for my tastes. Today it is still dry, at least, in the initial moments: a sandstorm of dusty woods and salty winds, swirling with cool, bitter spices and the earthiness of baked clay. Then, a crumbling, vaguely medicinal incense, a strangely smoky and herbaceous amber. And underneath, surfacing at odd intervals only to disappear and reappear as if some hallucinatory mirage, there is a strange sweetness reminiscent of honied rum, delicate white chocolate, and soft nougat studded with rich dried fruits. It is in this space, the me of 2006 inhales a deep, confectionary lungful and finally gets it. The me of today, wrapped in the hazy veil of this cult-favorite composition is finally impressed, too
I was not super consistent in creating videos for my little channel in 2021 so I thought I’d squeak in a quick one before the year ended. This one I call: “look at all my sparkly shit!”
I have such a hard time sitting in front of a camera and thinking up things to talk about, thoughts to share, observations to make. Writing comes much more easily to me than speaking, and so I typically would record a bunch of footage, script out what I’d like to say, and then record some voiceover. But that’s all A LOT of work. And also, typically, a massive amount of overthinking. And while it will naturally end up being more organized and thoughtful and articulate, well…that’s not how I actually sound in conversation, now is it? And I did actually want some of these videos to be chatty and casual like you’re just having a little visit with your friend. So I hope that’s how this one turned out, and I would like very much to just get over myself and my self-consciousness and do more of these in the new year!
In the meantime, I hope you’ll have a watch and like and subscribe and comment and all that other stuff that you’re supposed to say when you make a YouTube video!
In this video, the following jewelers and shops are mentioned…