Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, You gotta help me with this lying man. Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Things went so wrong and now we need a plan.
I only meant to frighten him, I never meant to do him in, Now I don’t know what we should do, Jolene. You know he had us seeing red, The rest’s a blur, but now he’s dead, It was a crime of passion, this I swear to you, Jolene.
He got upset when we accused Him of two timing me and you, And I think the neighbors heard it all, Jolene. Philanderers should get their due, But now it’s up to me and you, And we’re gonna need a lot more bleach, Jolene.
Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, We gotta find a place to put this man. Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, You grab those sheets, I’ll go get the gas can.
As long as we don’t drive to slow, We’ll make it down to Mexico, We’ll be in Tijuana by the break of day, Jolene. We’ll dye our hair, we’ll change our names, Nothing will ever be the same, But maybe it’s all for the best, Jolene.
Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, You gotta help me with this lying man. Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, We’ll make a brand new start in a new land. Jolene, Jolene.
I guess I technically wrote this unasked-for sequel to Dolly Parton’s song, but the fact is that I woke up with it in my head more or less fully formed. I do love a good murder ballad. This feels a bit like what would happen if “Jolene” met The Pierces “I Shot my Lover in the Head” and slightly ramps up some of the lesbian overtones many people have read in the original song.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, my partner was less than stoked that this fell out of my head. He was pretty good-natured about it, though.
My partner and I go antiquing pretty frequently. This isn’t necessarily out of any real desire to collect antiques, so much as it is the desire to support the local economy and also own furniture that isn’t particleboard. Some antique shops are very curated and fancy, while others are more… eclectic, shall we say.
Anyhow, if you’ve ever spent enough time in an antique shop, you’ve probably passed by at least one thing that you could absolutely picture holding the soul of a tubercular Victorian child. These are those things, ranked in order of how likely I think the potential ghost inside is likely to go all Annabelle on someone:
5. The Blinded Bride.
This is actually just a rad piece of outdoor sculpture, to be honest. It’s eerie, it’s evocative, and I love it. The artist who makes them, Shara Banisadr, is very cool. She was neatening up the area around the sculptures, and talked to us briefly about her work. Their faces are made of old vinyl records!
This wire lady also has friends:
I could probably see this particular piece in a setting like Bloodborne or Elden Ring, but I really think she’s more likely to be kind of sad versus actively murderous. Unless you try to hurt her or steal her blindfold, then she would absolutely wreck you like a Mike Tyson made of fishhooks. Truly the luxury model of potentially haunted object. I’m absolutely going to invest in one of these ladies once I have sufficient outdoor space (or a window that directly faces my neighbors, either or). I feel like they’d be good companions for all of the Isabellas.
Murderghost probability: 10%
4. The Courteous Wig Stand.
There’s something about her I dig. She reminds me of the women in 50s ads for housewares. The small, vague smile and wide eyes speaks of a kind of brittle, exhausted politeness. It’s the same expression and energy I had back when I worked retail, and I can appreciate that.
She’s probably not malevolent. You’re much more likely to turn around in a darkened hallway and see her hovering four feet in the air behind you, glowing faintly and slowly rotating. Somewhere, a distant, echoey voice like wind over an open grave will whisper, “Do you need help finding anything?”
There’s no saving you if she runs out of Valium, though.
Murderghost probability: 30%
3. The Fading Child.
There’s a certain sad-yet-focused intensity in this kid. The level of detail in their face, coupled with the strokes almost the exact color of dried blood, creates an image that’s at once aesthetically pleasing and extremely unsettling. They look vaguely displeased about something, and I’m pretty sure they think that’s my fault.
This is basically the exact kind of picture you see as a haunted object in movies. A mansion burns down, or cracks and crumbles like the House of Usher, and all that’s left is this kid. Staring. Subtly frowning. Lightning cracks the sky, and their brow furrows ever so slightly.
I don’t think the child is likely to murder anyone directly, but I refuse to believe that they haven’t been associated with a series of “accidents.”
Murderghost probability: 50%
2. The Tragic Hound.
Don’t let the puppy eyes fool you. This is absolutely haunted, and absolutely just waiting for you to let your guard down.
See the hints of red in the eyes? The way they seem to follow you around the room?
This painting absolutely houses some kind of Shadow Hearts-style monster. Like, I don’t know, an evil mailman. Notice how even the shop owner placed him behind several objects. It’s because they know. Do not gaze upon the full glory of the tragic hound, lest it pursue you for an eternity.
Saturday, my partner and I went antiquing. Though I keep a short running tab of vintage/antique objects I’m looking for (brass candlesticks, salesman’s cases, small wall mirrors, picture frames), we shop like magpies. Our collective style could best be described as “maximalist,” but I feel like that implies a level of cohesion and intention that your average corvid probably isn’t capable of. The only unifying theme is “stuff we like.”
Usually, it goes like this: One of us sees a thing. They point it out to the other. We name it and freewrite an entire backstory for it. If it evokes enough emotion, we’re probably going to try to bring it home. We’ve done this with everything from live plants to… Well, I’ll get to that in a minute.
There’s a spot in Kensington, MD, that’s antique shop upon antique shop. It’s one of the places we like to hit up periodically, just to walk around and browse. Sometimes we find some neat stuff, sometimes we just end up making up stories about the people in old portraits. It’s always a lot of fun either way.
When we walked out of one shop, we passed through a small alleyway between two buildings.
“Stopstopstop. Don’t move,” my partner said.
“There’s a boy,” he pointed to a little huddled mass of feathers. It took me a bit to spot him: a house sparrow, sitting in the middle of the pavement. Something looked off, so I approached him cautiously. When he didn’t try to fly away, my heart sank.
“I… don’t think he’s gonna care if I move.” I bent down and held my hand out. He startled a little, but still didn’t fly. I gently stroked the patch of black on his chest and looked him over — ruffled and broken feathers, one eye squinched shut, a skinned patch on the top of his head, and a dazed expression.
We crouched near him as we called wildlife rescues, though I had my doubts. Sparrows aren’t native here; they’re even considered invasive agricultural pests. Would a rescue even take him in? If they did, was there anything they could do? Nobody picked up at the various numbers we called. I also knew it’d be a bad idea to try to take him home and nurse him back to health, especially without a way to keep him secluded away from both of the cats.
Carefully, I scooped him up in my hands and carried him to the shade of a bush. It wasn’t much, but there were bugs to eat there and he’d be out of the noon sun.
A bit later, when we were eating at deliCLUB, I jumped up. I had a water bottle and a small quantity of yellow cake with buttercream… Not ideal, but maybe it’d do.
“I have an idea,” I said.
A few minutes saw us on our hands and knees under the bush, carefully pouring out some water into a bottlecap and breaking off tiny bits of cake. I knew it wasn’t the optimal diet for an animal that’s doing poorly, but I know I also probably shouldn’t’ve eaten my weight in lime gelatin when I was in the hospital, either. We nestled the bottlecap in the mulch around the bush’s roots, and made a little pile of cake crumbs (sans frosting) beside it. I didn’t see him try to eat or drink, but I didn’t want us to hang around too long, either. He’s a wild animal, scared, vulnerable, and possibly in pain. No matter what we did, our presence was going to cause more stress to an already highly-stressed creature. Without a better way to care for him, we left him in the safest place we could find with a little food and water.
Torn about the decision to leave him behind, we finished up and headed home. This time around, we’d picked up a silk top, a floor-length silk robe, ornate chopsticks, a typesetter’s drawer, and a folding screen.
I mean, I guess it’s a folding screen, though the words “folding screen” don’t really do it justice. It’s a hand-carved, painted screen made to look like medieval art. We don’t know if the artist intended to depict a specific person or just generally evoke the feel of medieval-to-Renaissance period portraiture, but they repeated her carved portrait eight times. I call the woman Isabella, because she just looks like one to me. In some, Isabella looks amused. In others, bemused. In one, vaguely sad. In a couple, angry. These don’t seem to be intentional on the artist’s part, just the product of subtle differences in the grain of the wood. The natural texture produces a furrow in a brow, the subtle downturn of a lip, or the course of a tear down a carved cheek.
My partner spotted the screen in a corner and pointed it out to me. I was immediately intrigued. (Baffled, also, but mostly intrigued.) I’d never seen anything like it before and doubted I would again. It gave me flashbacks to this fantastic couch I’d spotted in a thrift shop once years ago– a Neo Rococo-style chaise longue in polished mahogany, upholstered in ochre crushed velvet with silk fringe. It was the most beautifully bonkers piece of furniture I’d ever seen, and I’ve always regretted not buying it when I could. I didn’t want that to happen here.
A little haggling and a few minutes of rearranging things and figuring out how to fold seats down (why are the levers in the trunk?), and we were headed home with the screen in the back.
When it comes to objects I own that are potentially haunted, I feel like this has the highest probability. As soon as we got it/her/them home, I immediately lit some incense and fumigated everything we brought in.
“If this object houses a malevolent spirit, you need to get the fuck out. If you’re cool, you can stay. Repeat: No evil spirits. If you’re neutral or benevolent, you can hang. If not, leave my house now!”
I keep hearing footsteps and the rustle of taffeta, but I’m sure it’s nothing.
More pictures once I’ve placed their majesties in a suitable spot.
I have spent my entire artistic career making things for private collections and not entering shows. Part of this is due to anxiety, but most of it has to do with my very strange relationship with attention.
Anyway, I decided it was time to suck it up and apply to one. I did, I got in, and now you can see some of my work at The Torpedo Factory in Alexandria, VA. This particular show is running until June 5th.
Honestly, I feel good. Validated. Like I accomplished something. It was easier than I expected, too.
When I was little, my dad (whose cooking repertoire largely consisted of pancakes and frybread) would get these boxes of premade sugar cookies with printed reindeer, Santa, and snowflake designs, and little tubes of icing. We’d spend an afternoon decorating them and, even if the cookies themselves were always kind of stale, it’s a memory I look back on fondly. We also made snowman ornaments out of wire and beads, and all kinds of stuff. My dad was always pretty good at extracurricular tiny child-type activities.
I was pretty surprised to hear that my partner had never decorated cookies for the Yuletide season before. I’d never made a gingerbread cookie from scratch in my life, but I like experimenting. So, armed with Kanan Patel’s eggless gingerbread cookie recipe from Spice Up the Curry, I set out to make us some gingerbread men.
There was only one problem. Seeing as how I’d never baked a gingerbread man before, I didn’t have any people-shaped cookie cutters. I also wasn’t about to individually freehand a troupe of gingerpeople.
So we made gingercryptids instead.
Honestly, the cookie recipe was perfect. I used einkorn flour, and didn’t have to make any adjustments to get cookies that were crispy outside, chewy inside, and substantial enough to hold up to a whole lot of decorations. The dough started out crumbly, coming together after the butter managed to melt a little. The cookie cutters are from Kato Baking Supplies on Etsy. They’re actually for fondant, but, with the exception of losing an odd chupacabra spike or two, worked out just fine. We chilled the dough, rolled it out, cut the shapes, preheated the oven while we chilled the shapes again, and they didn’t spread at all. Perfect!
(Featuring Salaryman Chupacabra, Ugly Sweater Nightcrawler, and Sprinkle Hotpants Nightcrawler.)
It’s one of those things that you don’t usually find out you’re good or bad at until you actually have to do it. Not many skills translate, you know?
Let me back up.
I’ve been in the grip of another bout of what I call ennui, what my psychologist calls cyclothymia, and what some people refer to as “bipolar III.” Maybe it’s the change in seasons, maybe it’s the fact that I’ve gone without one for awhile and my brain realized it’d neglected to kick me squarely in the face lately.
So, when my partner mentioned that he was going to go help a friend with an art project by throwing flour in an abandoned place, I reacted with the kind of excitement typically reserved for golden retrievers with overactive bladders. Art! Abandoned places! Throwing things! Friend! You couldn’t construct a sentence more designed to be catnip to me unless you added banana cream pie and ponies. He asked if it was okay if I tagged along, and the answer was yes. Rad!
We drove out to a neighboring town. Between traffic and an early sunset (4:52 PM, which is a bullshit time for a sunset in my opinion) we ended up skipping the abandoned spot and going to someone’s house. I met his friend (who seemed very cool) and the photographer (also cool), and then we helped set things up for the shoot. She was going to be the model, and my partner and I would be throwing flour from outside of the shot.
The photographer handed us two small bags of flour, and asked if we wanted to practice on a tree in the corner of the yard. I was a bit perplexed by this. You take the flour, you throw it. How hard could it be?
Hard enough for me to fuck it up repeatedly, is how.
I tried tossing a handful of loose flour, which fluttered in the almost nonexistent breeze and never made it to its target. I tried squeezing it together into a little clump, so it’d stay together and be easier to throw. It flopped and fell with a disappointing paff.
Being defeated by a bag of flour was not helping the ennui.
I also realized that I have literally no idea how to socialize anymore. The photographer was the first person I’d shaken hands with in three years. I approached every opportunity to converse like an overeager and terrified college student defending a thesis.
It was actually a lot of fun. The pictures seemed to turn out well, despite my struggle to properly flour the model. The weather was nice — cool and a little breezy, but not cold enough to make shooting outdoors unpleasant (I still felt bad for my partner’s friend, though. I was comfortable in pants, boots, and a jacket, but she couldn’t exactly wear any of that for the photos). The photographer was very helpful and understanding.
Now, I’m eating a homemade chocolate chip Belgian waffle. So I guess you could say that flour and I are even.
We’re at the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, when things often paradoxically feel even colder and grayer than they did in the middle of winter. So why not have a holiday?
Celebrating Imbolc in a city doesn’t really have much of a resemblance to how it’s done traditionally, especially now. There is no lambing season here, and nobody’s gathering. There’s no well here to pray around, nowhere to offer coins or clooties.
I had a small ADF-style ritual, with a glass prep bowl for the well, a small cauldron for a hearth, and my cypress knee for a tree. I offered a bit of blackberry cobbler, fresh from the oven. to Brigid. I put on some Ani DiFranco and read aloud from Jarod K. Anderson’s Field Guide to the Haunted Forest.
When you were born, your enthusiasm was a red flame atop a mountain of fuel. As you age, the fuel burns low. No one warns you. Yet, with intention, you can learn to feed that warming fire long after the fuel you were born with is ash on the wind. Be kind to yourself. Learn this.
They say cut all the wood you think you will need for the night, then double it. Cut it during the daylight when fuel seems irrelevant. Dead limbs hanging low, sun-dried, hungry for fire. The night can be longer than we expect. The wind can be colder than we predict. The dark beneath the trees is absolute. Gather the fuel. Double it.
“The Wood,” Jarod K. Anderson
I’ve never been much for poetry — writing it, I mean. I recently read an article on creativity whose title I forget. (I was one of the ones that calls everything a “hack” and measures it in terms of boosting productivity.) It was mostly forgettable, but there was one bit that stood out: the idea of creating within limits.
Humans build at right angles. We have a sense of geometry, of corners, walls, inside, and outside. If we have rules to play within, we can create amazing things. Strangely, this gets harder when those limits are removed.
I know poetry has rules, I remember spending days on iambic pentameter, sonnets, and rhyming couplets in school. I remember cutting pieces of construction paper into diamonds, to enforce the structure of a diamante poem, lines meant to swell and taper from top, to middle, to bottom. I think I have a harder time with it, though.
Visual art is easy. I can grasp the limits of color mixing, knowing how to blend things so they don’t become muddy, to work wet-on-dry or wet-on-wet, to layer fat and lean. I can see the underpinning geometric shapes. It’s simpler to perceive. I don’t really get poetry the same way.
So, I offered my baking, played someone else’s songs, and read someone else’s poems.
My offerings were accepted. In exchange, the spirits of nature offered me the things symbolized by The Magician (confidence, creativity, manifestation). My ancestors offered my the things symbolized by Justice (cause and effect, balance, fairness). The Shining Ones offered me… also Justice. It looks like I need a lot of it.
Sometimes, they know me better than I know myself. I know my life hasn’t been balanced lately. I let this lack of balance serve as an excuse for not creating things, largely because I find the prospect intimidating. I haven’t been writing as much. I haven’t been painting as much. I haven’t even been taking as many pictures.
I cracked open a root beer and hallowed the waters of life. I asked the Kindred to bless and imbue it with their blessings and advice, so I might be able to internalize and benefit from it as much as possible.
It’s hard to really find the impetus to kick myself in the ass. To tip the scales and rebalance things. To tap into the confidence to keep from making excuses for myself. Hopefully this helps.
Yesterday, literally the same day that I posted that tarot reading, I got a bit of disappointing news. I don’t want to get into the details, but it turns out that an artistic opportunity that I’d been pretty excited about isn’t going to happen for me. C’est la guerre. Even amid fulfillment and happiness, it’s a bit much to expect everything to be a slice of fried gold.
Still, understanding that fact doesn’t really banish the bad feelings. Here’s what did, though:
I set a timer.
I gave myself ten minutes to be completely self-indulgent in my complaining. After that, the grumpling grace period was over and I had to keep quiet about it. This serves two purposes:
It keeps me from dwelling on whatever’s bothering me.
It keeps me from becoming insufferable to absolutely everyone around me.
Don’t get me wrong, though. I use this time. I flop dramatically on furniture. I go full Howl’s-Moving-Castle-goopy-wizard. I get to feel my feelings, I can be cartoonishly whiny until I laugh at myself, and other people won’t secretly wish they could lock me in a dumpster.
I did some agitation pedaling.
My partner calls it “having the zoomies.” I call it having more energy than I know what to do with. Sometimes it’s from anger or annoyance. Sometimes it’s boredom. Sometimes, it’s because I ate four bowls of cereal for dinner.
Either way, ten minutes of furious living room biking usually sorts it out decently well. I work myself up to my top speed, and hold it as long as I can — all while mentally focused on a goal I have. When I get to the point where I can’t sustain it anymore, I release the energy toward that goal.
Sweat is also cleansing. Sweating can be a sacred act. There are reasons why so many cultures have traditions built around inducing a good sweat.
Singing along to Turisas is entirely optional, but it helps.
I took a bath (with friends).
(No, not human ones. I don’t think any of them would talk to me afterward.)
When it comes to spells to fix a disappointment, I think they should be spontaneous. It’s not really the time to go worrying about moon phases or astrological timing — if you have needs, fulfill them. Emergency magic performed from the heart can be just as effective as a meticulously planned ritual.
Water is the element of emotions. It’s cleansing. It’s healing. It’s a great way to kill some time doing something that’s objectively good for you. It was late at night, so I didn’t have the energy to make myself a full-on brew, but I do pretty much own my weight in various teas. I boiled some water, added two bags of peppermint and one of chamomile, and asked for their help.
“Peppermint,” I said, said I, “I feel like complete ass and would like that to not be a thing anymore. Peppermint, clear my energy from all that’s dragging me down, and, with chamomile, fill that space with luck and prosperity.”
I held my projective (dominant) hand over the vessel, and did the energy thing. When I felt that it was good enough, I asked the brew if it was ready.
“If this be done, and done well, push my hand away from the vessel.”
(Fortunately, I felt the familiar little energetic “push” against my palm. I don’t think I had it in me to sit on my bathroom floor and troubleshoot this spell.)
I poured the brew in a bath full of warm, fresh water, dumped in an unmeasured buttload of Trader Joe’s $1.99 sea salt, stirred it with my projective hand, and called it good. As soon as I stepped in, feeling the silkiness of the water, smelling the fragrant peppermint-and-chamomile steam curling up from the surface of the water, I began to feel better.
I also had a bright, unmistakable vision of a wolf’s face when I closed my eyes, but that’s probably going to take some further research.
I followed the advice I’d been given in the first place.
There’s a lot to be said for the idea of conceptualizing things as happening “for” you instead of “to” you, though that can be tough to remember in the moment. Personally, every setback I’ve ever experienced — every call I never received after a job interview, every breakup — has always led to something better within the space of a few weeks, like clockwork. I don’t force positivity on myself, and you shouldn’t either if you’re really not feeling it, but I try to keep this track record in mind.
Anyway, all of this is to say that, when the sun is shining and everything’s going great, sometimes a minor bump in the road can seem bigger than it is. Tarot readings function as more than a prediction and an energetic snapshot of your life. They’re also advice. Yesterday’s advice was to celebrate, spread joy, and not let my emotions overrule my discernment. I have a lot to celebrate (I sold a painting recently! I can hike longer trails! I did a bunch of paid writing!), I’m hoping this post might be helpful to someone else who’s feeling the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, and, logically, I know this disappointment will pass and be forgotten before long.
I turned it around.
Creativity is deeply personal. When you put yourself into what you make, it’s hard not to take rejection pretty hard. Most of the time, though, that rejection has nothing to do with you — because creativity is so personal, there’s no accounting for what people want. What I consider my best work is almost never as popular as the things I’m not nearly as attached to.
Similarly, this situation in no way impugns me as a person or a creative force. So, worn out from pedaling, freshly minty, and completely called out by my own tarot deck, I went to varnish some paintings.
I don’t want to suggest that vigorous cycling and a bath are the way to deal with, say, a house fire, the loss of a loved one, someone stealing your car, or a loved one burning down your house and stealing your car, but these techniques can help shift the energy around the things that occasionally show up to heck your day apart.
So, if you missed the livestream on Canvisi, I went on around 1 PM.
Well, I was supposed to go on at 1 PM, but, having never done a livestream before ever in my life, I had no idea how they work. This was absolutely no fault of the person running the stream, either — he was very helpful, professional, understanding, and kind. I, on the other hand, barreled in at 1 and immediately launched into my introduction with the vocal cadence of a hyacinth macaw on PCP.
I saw him gesturing toward his ears, and I realized that, despite the amount of Zoom calls I’ve been on, I have no idea what I’m doing. Also my phone was muted.
Fortunately, there was some intermission music to cover for me while I figured out why my setup wasn’t relaying sound properly and tried to get my heart rate somewhere below “hummingbird.” Eventually, everything was good to go.
Honestly, streaming was kind of fun. My lighting was less than ideal, because my studio’s set up to have great light for painting — video, not so much. I managed to cover most of what I wanted to in the time I was allotted, and I didn’t forget to plug my various sites and social media. Score!
I’m actually considering getting back into making time-lapse painting videos. Maybe streaming on YouTube. That’s something for another day.
If not, I’m going to be part of Canvisi‘s artists stream! I’ll be talking a bit about how I got into my particular artistic niche, then giving a few demonstrations on incorporating gold leaf and other metallic elements into artwork, and showing a few new, never-before-seen pieces. It’ll be fun and — if you’re a chemistry nerd like me — hopefully pretty interesting!
I also have a ton of new stuff up on my shop. There are original paintings, jewelry, and a selection of wands made of Arkansas quartz and naturally-shed deer antler. They’re all pretty cool, if I do say so myself.
So, come join me and the other artists on Canvisi’s livestream, and maybe check out some new art.