Friends, I haven’t got a thoughtful intro for this 2020 year-end version of Needful Things. It was a crappy year. Today I am sharing with you a list of things, sometimes small, or mundane, or banal things, that made it better. To coin a phrase from Maika, “fingers, toes, and tentacles crossed” that 2021 will be a little easier on all of us.
Glasses Wipes. I have written before on how I thought, as a human person, in many ways I just had to suffer. I am not going to get into that too much right here, right now, but it’s definitely something I finally recognized in myself and have been attempting to work through.
This is perhaps a small, piddly example, but hey, did you know you didn’t have to resort to cleaning your greasy glasses on your sleeves and shirt-hem? Did you know that they make lens wipes specifically designed for this very purpose? I don’t think these are the most eco-friendly thing I could be using, but I’ll be honest with you–early on in 2020, I decided I was going to do my best with regard to environmentally sound practices and living sustainably and all that, but as it turned out, this was not the year to make myself nuts about it. If there was something that added to my comfort and quality of life, I am not going to be too hard on myself about not it not fitting into a low-waste lifestyle. And having clear, unimpeded vision through the glasses that I use to you know, actually see stuff, seems like a baseline level of comfort and well-being.
However, on the topic of sustainability and small things and doing your best. Last time around I mentioned switching out our paper towels for reusable Swedish dishcloths. Today, I have a few more swaps to share with you. I have switched over to reusable cotton rounds instead of cotton balls and silicone storage bags instead of Ziploc baggies or whatever it was that I was using before. And I realize it is certainly not a novel idea–but it is new to me–everytime that I chop vegetables for salad or soup or a meal, I throw the scraps in one of those bags, and keep the odds and ends in the freezer, and at the end of a week or two, I’ve gathered up enough for homemade veggie broth.
Here’s a loose recipe: throw all your scraps in a roasting pan and put them in a 400-degree oven for about half an hour. Throw those nicely browned scraps in a big pot, cover with water, toss in a few bay leaves, and simmer for an hour or so. Strain the soggy veggies from the resulting broth (and compost them if you like) and store the resulting liquid in the freezer when you need surprise broth! Like for this amazing vegan lentil curry or this vegan mushroom macaroni stroganoff--I have been making both of these almost once a week for the past several months, and you can’t go wrong with either. Note: I am not a vegan. I just love playing in the kitchen and making all kinds of food taste as incredible as possible!
Exercise Leggings I hate to exercise and I hate that I am even adding these to my list of year-end things, but I recognize that our bodies need movement, and even if I were just sitting around in the dark like a potato rooting in the dirt while wearing them, these are still superb leggings. They are stretchy but not saggy, supportive but not restrictive, and they are ultra-comfortable. Paired perfectly with Michelle Paver’s Dark Matter (the audiobook version) for several evening walks around the neighborhood, a story so gripping and immersive that, lost in its ghostly arctic thrall, I tripped over a curb, narrowly missed smashing my face into the asphalt, and lay there in the road, stunned…while I continued listening…comfortably in these leggings! And for what it’s worth, my favorite exercise shirt has been this Raise Some Heck tee from Tyler Thrasher.
Grand Brow Serum I think the highest recommendation (or at least the most valuable one) you can give to a beauty product is to say, “hey, it works.” This isn’t quite so helpful for say, hardware or appliances, where just that fact that it’s working is where you start from, with how well or effectively it works the base level foundation from which you build out your assessment. But with beauty products, if it is doing what it says it will do, whether that is reducing wrinkles, soothing redness and inflammation, erasing pores (with all of this cosmetic obliteration, how are we not faceless phantoms?!) then I’m pretty happy with it.
My poor besieged brows were overplucked in the 90s and never quite recovered. I mean, I know it sounds a little crazy, but I don’t even remember the last time I plucked my eyebrows. They never filled back in, and furthermore, I don’t even get any of those pesky strays that you usually have to clean up once a week. It’s been slow progress, but I am pretty sure I am seeing results with this serum. It’s not inexpensive though –and somehow I dumped most of the first vial out all over my foot — so it’s been a bit of an investment. Pictured here with my favorite Gudetama barrettes which I can actually wear now that I have chopped all of my hair off, and a safety razor that I’ve been using to cut down on my plastic razor usage.
Star Trek: The Next Generation. My partner and I geek out about different things. I fall on the spooky end of the spectrum with my love for scary movies and ghost stories, but I also love mythology, fairy tales, and epic fantasy. He and I meet in the middle with this passion for myth and fantastical tales, but then he veers off into the science fiction/space odyssey, science and technology end of things. So while I have seen Star Wars, for example, as that’s the sort of epic hero’s journey fantasy that I have always gobbled up, I have never seen a Star Trek, and quite frankly, I thought I just didn’t care. I had already made up my mind that it was boring and dumb. He grew up on it, adores it in all of its iterations and has been trying to get me to watch it for years, and in early 2020, I finally committed.
…And I have loved every second of every episode …even the silly ones! Especially the silly ones! I loved its thoughtful tone and stories examining or critiquing our society through the lens of other forms of life, which were ultimately an exploration of what it means to be human, And though I have a clear favorite character (DATA 4EVER), I adore each of the crew members for myriad reasons, both logical and illogical, that I could probably fill a ship’s log with. Now I am not about to be telling you why you should watch a highly-acclaimed, much-beloved show that is over 25 years old at this point. You’ve probably watched all seven seasons multiple times by now and are yelling, we KNOW, Sarah! We TOLD YOU SO. So you did. Now I know.
Simon Hanselman’s Crisis Zone Hanselman writes characters and situations that are appallingly bleak AND hilarious, heartbreaking and revolting. I am convinced this cartoonist has no equal in terms of both piercing your heart and coaxing forth that wobbly, awful feeling you get in the back of your throat just before you know you’re going to barf. In March 2020, as the planet began to enter lockdown, Hanselmann decided that what the world needed most was free, easily accessible entertainment featuring his cast of degenerates, Megg, Mogg, Owl, Werewolf Jones, and the rest of the gang. As the Covid-19 pandemic continued to escalate far beyond our expectations, Crisis Zone intensified along with it, in real-time, with daily posts on Instagram. Crisis Zone’s mission was to amuse the masses: no matter how horrible and bleak everything seemed, at least Werewolf Jones wasn’t in your house.
I have not really been interested in seeking out or listening to new music this year, which makes me a bit sad, because I used to live for it. At one point in time, I would put together a new mix/playlist almost every single week over on 8tracks! Then again, that was nearly a decade ago, and I think my life has changed quite a bit since then; I haven’t got that sort of alone time to fill, and aside from that, life just got busier in other ways, too.
So what have I been listening to this year? A lot of TV On The Radio, who I’d only ever obsessively listened to one song before, and it occurred to me this year that, you know, they’ve probably created other ones. Again, this is probably not a new thing for anyone (my sister: “uh yeah, Sarah, I’ve been listening to them for over a decade.”) but their music, with its elements of folk song, gospel, African music, trip hop, punk and progressive rock, just felt especially urgent and vital to me this year. My first love will always remain my best love, though: “Wolf Like Me”, is and remains a masterpiece, and it’s opening lines felt especially prescient this year:
Say, say, my playmate
Won’t you lay hands on me
Mirror my malady
Transfer my tragedy?
Extra credit goes to Heilung, a sort of experimental neo-folk band who I’d been sleeping on, and whose music sounds like it’s coming from an ancient bonfire in a dream or a memory that beats in your blood, as well as Pye Corner Audio, whose majestic, cinematic electronica evokes sci-fi soundtracks, dystopian futures and the woozy sound of haunted dance floors, and who actually did have a new offering this year. And as that really savage AI Spotify analysis-quiz-thing pointed out, I sure did listen to it a lot.
12 Months of Monastery Soups Pam Grossman mentioned this book over on her twitter sometime over the course of the past year and I instantly became fixated on acquiring a copy for myself. I was all set to share here that every single soup I’ve tried from this collection –ranging from cream of lentil to chickpea and sausage, to tomato florentine–was absolutely divine, however, I did make one last week that I was not totally wild about. Orzo soup with peas and mushrooms. It had amazing flavors, with garlic and shallots, white wine, and the herbs of a bouquet garni…but those soggy peas and mushroom bits just didn’t work for me. I bet it would be amazing different add-ins, though! So yes, do you need a soup book? This is that lovely book.
Writing prompts. I do try to write a little bit every day. I definitely try not to make a big deal of it, because if my nerves get wind of the fact it’s a big deal, they’ll wimp out and then no writing gets done. Whether it’s jotting down snippets of my nocturnal adventures in my dream journal, finding the perfect words for a Facebook or Instagram caption that ends up being four paragraphs long and realizing that I should have saved it for a blog post, taking the a few moments to write out a heartfelt note to a friend or even a few less moments to compose a pithy twitter post–I’m always scrabbling to get my thoughts scribbled on the page. But sometimes…the thoughts just aren’t there.
I have been finding writing prompts extraordinarily helpful when this happens. Two current sources for this are some of the exercises, practices, and rituals from Lisa Marie Basile’s The Magical Writing Grimoire and the month-long daily prompts from Megan Devine’s self-guided Refuge in Grief course. I’ve been doing one a week, because I can’t really commit the time to doing it every day, but I think with writing…or sorting through your grief… you can’t stress too much about it, you just work it into your schedule however feels good to you. I have also lined up Esme Weijun Wang’s Rawness of Remembering: Restorative Journaling Through Difficult Times…in case I run out of things to prompt me! Well, you can never have too much inspiration, I guess.
Downsizing. I am not minimizing, exactly, but I am beginning to let go of things that I no longer connect with, or that feel unnecessary or that feel like “too much”. For example, I had so many tarot decks I wasn’t using, but I mean, who am I kidding, I don’t really “use” any of them– I just like to look at the art. My interpretations of the imagery are rudimentary and hilariously literal. If the tower shows up for me, I might think, “Ah. Don’t fall screaming through any open windows!” If it’s the seven of swords I turn over, “Oh no! Someone’s stealing my bladed weapons!” Sorry to all the people who have ever asked me for a reading. Wow. Would you have been disappointed. Anyway, with that in mind, I’ve slowly been divesting myself of these many decks. Early this year I had about fifty. I was down to forty five. Then…I bought two more. It’s a process!
Believe it or not, I am doing the same thing with my jewelry. I know! Old dragon-hoard Sarah is coming off some of her glittering loot! I’ve finally accepted that massive rings look ridiculous on my weird baby hands, and so now they are all sitting around unworn and gathering dust. And if there’s anything I hate, it’s dust. But I also refuse to dust. So that means it’s the dusty things that I need to get rid of. That’s Sarah-logic, for you. Somewhat related and strangely enough, ever since I chopped all of my hair off, I have felt myself drawn to gold jewelry, which I never much cared for until now. The only gold pieces I have are a few hoop earrings from my mother, and a ring from my grandmother, both of whom have passed. Lately, I am finding that these are the only things that I want to wear. I looked in the mirror the other day and realized I am more or less wearing my hair the same way that both of them did when they were my age. Is that a YIKES moment? At one point in time I might have thought so, but now I am not so sure. If this is a small way for me to be close to them, then that must be how I need to feel right now, and I am just going to go with it.
Also, to bring this section back to needful things, I will tell you that the two tarot decks I have purchased while I was meant to be purging are the wildly magical Leonora Carrington tarot from Fulgur, and the expressive delights of the Fantastic Menagerie tarot, with illustrations by J.J Grandville, from Baba Studio (pictured above with a sock I am knitting, and knitting, of course, is a perpetual needful thing. Needle-thing! Knitful thing! Ok, I’m done now.) Both of these artists I have included within the pages of The Art of the Occult–so how could I not add their stunning oracular visions to my collection? And of course, I will end with a Needful Thing in the neediest, greediest, grabbiest sense of the word: this little crescent diamond necklace that just arrived the other day. I was looking for something small and delicate for daily wear, and this tiny moon is just the thing.
Miscellaneous things of the needful variety:
Little altars everywhere // fresh house slippers // coffee table check-ins // Astralbath Yarns // comfort reading from childhood // 5AM alone time // teeny tiny bud vases // my two favorite antiquing temptations: Roses and Rue Antiques and Dark North Craft & Curio // stupidly expensive but perfectly mustard colored tee-shirt // Blue Lotus Chai // Fairyland Cottage on YouTube // dumpling night featuring rewatches of Cowboy Bebop or Miyazaki films // copper bells // Saturday morning trips to the ocean // the best incense burner // a perfect sparkly vessel for my creation // every single book that I read this year, good, bad, or otherwise. Thanks for making a crummy year even slightly better, my beautiful bookfriends!