Wherein I am mostly a giant bummer and I tell you about some things that made me feel a little bit not so bummed…
2018 was a mixed bag of good and bad, exciting, and dull– but it’s that ratty, worn-out bag that has unsightly rips and tears, and annoying holes that important things are always falling out of; that catch-all sack you’ve stuffed in the back of your closet, that you don’t really love–in fact you actively loathe and resent it– but for reasons strictly between you and your therapist, you can’t seem to permanently thrust it firmly in the trash can.
My bag is by a universal, omnipresent label called “anxiety” and it is an ugly model which probably everyone has some variance of, and one that I hope, personally, to find discontinued at some point in my life. (I got mine in the mid-80s; I imagine it’s a bottomless, patchwork, acid washed denim satchel. It’s ugly as hell.) This dumb, metaphorical nonsense bag has kept me from fully enjoying the good stuff this year, because it’s always whispering to me from its distressed canvas depths to fear the bad stuff that is just lurking around the corner or looming above my head.
Despite my fucked-up bag of anxieties, however, I actually did a thing or two this year, and I might have even had fun whilst doing so! There was a trip in the spring to Seattle to attend the wedding celebrations of our beloved Sonya; a handful of visits to Philadelphia to spend some fabulous quality time with my Best Good Friend; I feasted my eyes upon the astonishingly beautiful Met Heavenly Bodies exhibit and survived the surreal, hallucinatory dream of Sleep No More; I challenged myself to read 100+ books, I knit the most complicated thing I’ve ever attempted, and of course I wrote a number (100+!) of articles, essays, profiles and interviews for both Haute Macabre and my personal blog. It was a busy year! I didn’t let anxiety stop me from doing things…I just hemmed and hawed and was, in general, a big weenie about most of it. That’s progress, right?
It was the reflecting on my frets and fears and how I cope with them on a daily basis that was the impetus for this year-end list of needful things, though I cannot wholly take credit for the idea– Heather Jean Skalwold contributed a guest post, in a similar vein, to my aforementioned personal blog earlier this month: “The 10 Things That Got Me Through 2018.” I was similarly inspired by reading Megan Devine’s It’s OK That You’re Not OK: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand, where at one point, and I am paraphrasing and distilling the thought quite a bit here, she talks about the small things, not even necessarily tangible things, that help one cope. The things that induce calm in your heart while the rest of your world is in turmoil. The things, however small or seemingly inconsequential, that may relieve worry or distress in some small degree, or introduce a modicum of peace and stillness when everything feels like it is falling apart. I guess that’s the theme for my Needful Things line-up, below: a few things I employed or enjoyed during the latter half of this year that made life feel just…better. Maybe not good, or great, but better, when I thought my bag of anxieties was going to swallow me whole.
Have I told you how much I hate showering? Bathing in general? I do. It’s the worst. I’m your grubby scumbag friend, it’s true. I oftentimes have to trick myself into washing up and as part of that, I tempt myself with delectable bath time treats. Right now I’m going back and forth between soaps from Paintbox Soapworks; Mandinka, a gorgeous blend of spiced honey, carnation, sandalwood & rich saffron, and Rice Pudding, with notes of creamy basmati rice cooked long & slow with vanilla-scented condensed milk & cinnamon sticks. As well as a few soaps from the powerhouse dream-team collaboration of soap mavens B. Perry Studios (you may know Brooke from your long time love of Villainess Soaps) and the brillant Julia from Arcana Wildcraft. From their Dangerous Places collection, inspired by locales that are shrouded in mystery and legend, I have been soaping myself lavishly with Vatican Archives, scented with inspirations of honey from the Papal apiaries, Roman figs, Atlas cedarwood, smoky frankincense and myrrh, crimson musk, black musk, and smudgy parchment musk. It’s pretty amazing.
Waking at 5am.
Ooof. I know. At 5 o’clock in the morning it’s just ever so much easier to burrow down into the warm oblivion of your blanket burrito, but I have found that the hours between 5am-7am are the most calming, least stressful portion of the day for me. Why? Because it’s an ungodly hour of the morning and most people are not monstrous enough to call you on the phone during that time. I work from home and while I realize that’s a pretty cushy set up, my 9-5 gig is more likely an 8-6er (and sometimes later, and also weekends). My phone is always ringing. These people always want something from me, and they have no boundaries when it comes to “personal time”. It’s a bit of a gilded cage, though, and my qualifications outside of what I currently do for a living are a little…lacking… so I am probably not going anywhere anytime soon. Not to get into day-job specifics or anything like that, because as we all know, day-jobs are boring and dumb! As HP Lovecraft is supposed to have said, “What a man does for pay is of little significance. What he is, as a sensitive instrument responsive to the world’s beauty, is everything!”
At any rate, I need those precious hours of quiet time before the world regains consciousness, in order to still my mind and gird my loins for the day ahead. Sometimes I’ll go for a brisk walk to get the blood pumping and the brain working (I do my best brainstorming when I’m taking my early morning constitutional!) Or I may curl up on the sofa to read a book, or work on a knitting project. I definitely do not start checking emails or plugging into the world just yet. This is time just for me, to do the things I like to do, uninterrupted, sans any other obligations. Responsibilities don’t even come into picture during this time.
If this sounds like something you’re into but your bed is calling to you with it’s dreamy, quilted siren song, there’s a few things that I have found that help me.
-One: you need a really good reason to get out of bed that early. For me, it’s my “leave me the fuck alone!” time. For you, it could be different. But without that thing of great importance to you, driving you to plop your warm toes on the cold floor while it’s still dark outside, it’s probably not going to happen.
-Two: I wash my face and do my whole skincare routine as soon as I get out of bed (unless I’m going on a sweaty walk first.) There’s something about splashing cold water on my face that is nicely rejuvenating, and then going through the six or seven steps of cleansers and toners and serums and gels and whatever else, that gets your brain whirring, just a little bit, as you go through your morning ablutions.
-Third: is coffee because of course it is. Two coffee things I am enjoying right now are Banshee + Cinder’s Brazil Single Origin Arabica Coffee, and these mushroomy coffee packets that I had my doubts about, but they’re actually quite good.
If you want to hear a little more about waking up early in the morning, here’s a video by vlogger Amy Landino that covers a few things I mention here, and more. I realize she may not be everyone’s cup of tea (I’m not even sure she’s mine and tbh I find most vloggers awfully obnoxious) but I did find watching this 12 minute video to be pretty validating of some things I already do. Bonus: if Amy Landino is your cup of tea, you should give this video a watch wherein she mentions a particularly bad habit that I myself didn’t realize I was even doing, and how to be more conscious of not doing it. Ok, that’s the last time I will mention a vlogger, especially one who may espouse positivity practices. BAD VIBES ONLY, OK? And P.S. I don’t own that thing that I just linked to, but I do have several of her other designs!
(The image of the glimmering unicorn tree is my neighbor’s yard, at 5:30am, any given day of the week.)
Aakasha & Fraktura are two clothing designers that, at this point, comprise about 95% of my wardrobe. Their flowy, minimalist dresses, tunics, and kaftans, with simple, striking silhouettes, can be dressed up or down, run up to sizes 5XL (and Aakasha may run in sizes even larger) and most importantly, they are the perfect background to display all my baubles and jewels. Both brands are located in Bulgaria and sell items are that are rather similar, but I’m perpetually spotting unique styles that one shop has and the other doesn’t, so I’m continuously purchasing from both. My favorite pieces, if I had to choose, is this linen dress from Fraktura and this long tunic dress from Aakasha. I’ll often pair them with my favorite leggings. When I am stressed out, the last thing I want to think about is how tight my jeans are, so I cannot tell you how much easier it is to clothe myself in a few key pieces from either of these shops. It frees up my brain to fret about other things!
When I am frazzled and fretting, one thing I like to do is light a few candles around my personal space and then sit and knit, or read quietly, to soothe my panic-stricken brain. Sometimes I am so worked up and distressed, though, that the worry of forgetting to blow out a candle and then going to bed with the candle lit and subsequently burning the house down around me in my sleep becomes just one more concern to plague me. In recent months, when find myself in a mindset that lends to …shall we say…”escalating anxieties,” I have been using a few forms of flameless illumination in place of old-fashioned, die-in-a-fire candles.
One: a glowing moon orb that I’d originally seen advertised on Instagram, but I’m not actually the sucker who bought it (it was my partner); but anyway, no one actually got bamboozled (moon-boozled? bam-moonled?) because this thing is so pretty and low-maintenance and easy to use. There are basically two settings: a cool, luminous, silver-shadowed sphere and a warm, golden glowing globe. All you have to do is tap the bottom to turn it on/off and switch between the two, and that’s it! Nothing complicated about it to trigger any angst or unease. I believe you can get multi-colored versions of this lunar luminary as well, but I really don’t need all of those rainbow options. Also… too many options are another thing that makes me nervous.
Two: a decorative lantern with a flame effect LED candle; I had originally seen this flickering “candle” whilst out shopping with my Best Good Friend at Terrain last year, and while at the time I admired it and thought it looked really neat, I don’t normally buy that sort of thing for myself. As an aside…it’s weird, right? Where we might draw the line about things we will purchase for ourselves? I assign this sort of value and judgement on things all the time, and I can’t even really articulate the delineation. Although I suspect if it is any way useful…and boring…I don’t want to spend my own cash money on it! As it happens, though, one of the best sort of gifts you can receive (at least in my opinion) is the kind of thing you wouldn’t necessarily purchase for yourself, but one which you know would be a smart thing for you to own. BGF, obviously being a gifted mind-reader, presented me with one of these lanterns for the winter holidays this past year. SCORE! I can’t find the exact model on Terrain, but the version I have linked to above on amazon is very close.
Folks who have been internet-friends with me for a long time may recognize this glamorous dame, whose eerie, enigmatic visage was a substitute avatar for my own face for many years, in many online haunts, because I was too timid to use my own.
I first found the image on Netflix, in 2006–back when people had searchable netflix profiles and you could lurk around and get excellent movie recommendations! A thumbnail sized mystery, upon which I immediately fixated, deeply fascinated; it was the user icon of a stranger who had tastes “85% similar to my own.” I sought its source for years and had almost given up, when, in 2009 I found her in the @nypl digital archives and discovered her name: Maria Germanova (née Maria Nikolayevna Krasovskaya-Kalitinskay), of the Moscow Art Theatre. This fantastical image is from The Blue Bird, (L’Oiseau bleu ), a 1908 play by Maurice Maeterlinck, in which she portrayed (what I can only assume) is Russia’s most outrageous witch-fairy. You can read about my discovery at that time over on ye olde tumblr.
When I learned that I could buy a print of my beloved sorceress, I was over the moon, my heart was glad to bursting! But then, while at the height of my raptures, tragedy struck, when I realized that I could no longer find her on the NYPL website. A melancholy misery took hold. Or, if we’re reigning in the melodrama a bit (it’s a challenge, though), I got a severe case of the mopes for several months. I was saved shortly thereafter when Jess at bloodmilk contacted me and shared that she had and found her again (thank you!) and, without delay, I placed an order for an archival print. Since fitted in an ornate and stately frame, Mme. Germanova moodily stares down at me from the far wall of the office, as I write, or knit, or daydream while I’m supposed to be working. It’s a fabulous arrangement, and every time I see her face it cheers me immeasurably to think of our strange relationship, which began as an unknown enigma, and has evolved over time to constant, comfortable companionship.
Other things that soothed my heart in 2018: fancy nails // a new welcome mat // seeing my favorite people wear the things I knit // haunted dolls (always!) // collaborations between my favorite artists and artisans // nightswimming in midsummer // finding and acquiring the strange things I pined for as a child // loading up on new books whilst traveling // ren faire friends // re-creating some of my late granny’s recipes // pie-in-the-sky project goals // receiving letters from dear friends // Derry Girls // Poorly Drawn Lines // Aggretsuko socks // Umami Ninja // super cute cooking tongs
The lipstick and the ring in the feature photo are DEFINITELY needful things and I wear them both all the time: Smashbox “Kale My Vibe” is a gorgeous venomous green that boosts my confidence when I am feeling particularly timid and the lunar landscape ring from Chase & Scout has such a lovely heft and grasp to it, it feels like the moon is giving my finger a giant bear hug… and yeah, that sounds a little weird, but it’s a remarkably soothing sensation.