Serpentine

An unexpected bit of Promotion on the blog today:

Serpentine is now live on Kickstarter!

This collection of poems by Tara K. Shepersky features loads of full-page watercolor illustrations by me and gorgeous printing from our publisher, Bored Wolves. (You can even grab our first collaboration, Tell the Turning, as part of the campaign—not to mention a host of other goodies like postcards and special bookplates by calligrapher Amber D. Stoner.)

A selection of watercolor paintings from the book, Serpentine.

The book is a love letter to a particular river in Northern California, and to Tara’s peregrinations from north to south along various West Coast highways and byways over the course of her lifetime. Her work is contemplative, rich, tender, and full of love. It’s an honor to be in conversation with her words through watercolor. When describing the book, she writes:

Serpentine is blue and green: many shades, from cerulean to viridian to young-alder to haze-above-the-Pacific. She’s soaked with sun, even when the particular poem takes place at night or in deep shade. Sunshine permeates. Blooming permeates. Celebration permeates. Refuge permeates. Serpentine reaches out to help you shuck your anxiety and displacement. I hope Serpentine will turn out to be a strong companion for you, as she has been, for a very long time, for me.

Once again: HERE’S THAT KICKSTARTER LINK. This is a short campaign (just two weeks!) so I’ll be writing about it again with some more watercolor work before things wrap up.

Four Reading Rhymes

I’m washing my eyes with words and hoping something turns up that works as I’m moving forward.

Robert Eggers, on writing dialect for The Lighthouse

7. People pretend there are readers and non-readers. But there are just people willing to practice the patience necessary to get hypnotized, and those who quit before their eyes turn into spirals. To read is to welcome this hypnosis, await its arrival, then trust its direction.

Gabi Abrão


Life happened because I turned the pages.

Alberto Manguel, A History of Reading

Father’s Day 2023

A sketchy drawing of an old man with spiky hair in profile.

Drawn in Procreate with my finger while feeding my dad supper.

I keep trying to look—really look—at all of it: what’s not here, what’s still here, how his face changes when he’s tired or alert or confused or happy. I keep thinking about cartoonists who have been in this position before me and the drawings I’ve seen them do of the people they love at the end, when it feels as if there’s no other way to stay present.

I am trying to stay present.

Sometimes (like this week) that means staying somewhere else, using the mild distance of a local housesit to recalibrate my understanding of where we’re at. My fatalism wanes at a distance because when I visit I see more of him. My presence becomes a novelty, and he perks up at novelty. I get to err more on the side of what’s here than what’s not.

This, too, is a gift.

The Island

I wish I’d known at twenty-one, when I developed a chronic illness and became suddenly alienated from all my peers, that over the decades, one by one, all of them would come join me on my island.

Sarah Manguso, 300 Arguments

I come back to this quote a lot these days, thinking about it from the perspective of losing a loved one early in life, or becoming a caregiver, or any of the other life circumstances that hit us before we feel they “should.” It’s a weird construct, when you get right down to it. These things happen all the time, so what undergirds the idea that they’re aberrant?

I’m much further into reading Stephen Jenkinson’s Die Wise than I was a couple months ago. (Funny how I can’t crack into a book that gets too directly at my current lived experience while I’m right up close to it. I had to go to another state before I could find a way in. I’m hooked now, though.) As far as he’s concerned the undergirding is a sense of entitlement; this particularly North American obsession with individuality and control and comfort.

The book’s full of things I feel like I’ll need a long, long time to process.

Current Feelings (But Also Actually Past Feelings)

Exactly one year before I started drafting this post (which then languished for a little while, so technically now it’s more than a year ago, but whatever you get the idea) I wrote a short thread on Twitter about feelings and impermanence. I dug it up because I came across this photo and couldn’t remember what the hell I was doing that led me to group these little slips of paper in this kind of configuration. I’ve copied the thread verbatim below.

A collection of slips of paper, each bearing a word like resentment, shame, disappointment, urgency, anticipation, fear, or tiredness, sorted into columns.

“Did an exercise in therapy this morning where my therapist asked me to list all the feelings running through my brain/body on bits of paper. Spent the rest of the session sorting them into affinity stacks while we talked.

It got me thinking about Chronic Feelings vs. Current Feelings. These are current, influenced by the hospital visit this week, the slow return to stability after a trauma, my anxiety about understanding my family’s finances, an impending trip, a disappointing career decision.

The Chronic Feelings are things like anticipatory grief, professional burnout, climate anxiety, hatred of capitalism, Pandemic Fatigue. The stuff we’re all collectively steeping in that constitutes a full emotional plate on its own.

But to try and be present with the feelings in my body right NOW requires a different sort of lens. It requires understanding that all of this passes.

I get reliably down most afternoons. Eating lunch triggers a slump of despair and exhaustion that isn’t the end of the world. It’s rare that I feel dreadful while I’m having my tea and scrawling pages into my journal outside in the sun first thing in the morning, so whatever’s coming for me today will, at the very least, abate for a half hour tomorrow. This helps to remember.

I have many weird/bad feelings about Twitter but also I think a lot about the people I know on here who’ve been generous enough to share their complex emotional stuff over the years. Folks grieving in public, folks naming anxiety, folks sharing their affirmations. It’s important.

A big cornerstone of how I’ve carried myself online for years has been an emphasis on sharing clear, proactive, hopeful things. Sometimes I fear this season of my life is going to break that, because it’s HARD. But I do think there are still ways to approach it with that ethic.”


Weird to still be chewing on the same stuff a year later. Weird to still be in an endless rollercoaster of absurdity and grief with my dad. Weird, also, to see the cadence of tweeting transposed onto my blog. Writing like that doesn’t belong here! But also I engaged in it for so many years on that platform. Every container nurtures its own syntax.

A friend asked if I’d signed up for Bluesky and the wave of exhaustion I felt in response washed the flesh clean off my bones. It’s not just that Twitter seems to be continually on fire these days, it’s the broader truth that social media feels hollow to me now. The ADS! There are so many ads. Why did I ever put up with a space that was so aggressively trying to sell me things at every turn? (The answer is that it was giving me the Good Brain Chemicals when I interacted with people I care about, but these days I don’t post enough to get notifications, so I’m trading my attention for NOTHING! No wonder the shine has worn off.)

I’ve been thinking about this installment of Holly Whitaker’s newsletter ever since I read it a couple weeks ago. I haven’t even dug into the links, but the dislocation theory of addiction latched onto my brain stem and has yet to let go.

Our modern social arrangement, Alexander argues, means that we have to sacrifice “family, friends, meaning, and values” in order to be more “efficient” and “competitive” in the rat race. In this framework, addictive behaviors are adaptive responses meant to fill that void of meaning and purpose. Using substances can provide a temporary sense of community (with other users), purpose (to acquire the substance), and meaning (feelings of euphoria or calm from using the substance). Substance abuse and addiction help to fill the gaps in meaning and purpose left by modern society.

None of this is news to me, really, but the articulation slotted something into focus. Reflecting on consumerism as an addiction (or maybe….everything as an addiction?) this month has been a valuable touch point.

And then here I am hitting go on a reprint of my graphic novel! A product I must then sell! A product I might even sell on the premise that it will make people feel less alone! HNGNNNGNNHHGHHH.

(I was going to expand on stuff in that tweet thread in this post too, but I got sidetracked and now it’s time to make my dad his breakfast so I’m hitting post because there are no ads here and nobody needs to buy anything and it’s one of those days where I want to move to the woods and eat grubs for the rest of my life so byeeeeee)

In the Dark

Jacob wrote six very good sentences today about jealousy and being an artist. I needed them this morning because there’s nothing like moving back in with your parents and mostly disappearing from the face of social media and undergoing a massive gear shift in the trajectory of your career to bring up feelings of unworthiness and comparison; but that’s not what I wanted to write about.

The fifth sentence (“The purpose of an artistic star system is to undermine solidarity”) brought me up short because I interpreted “star system” as “constellation.” The constellation is one of my favorite metaphors for how creative people—all people, really—exist in the world. On these grounds his statement didn’t seem right at all. On second reading I realized he meant “star system” as “a system in which certain people are held up as shining exemplars while the rest fade into obscurity,” to which: absolutely yes. The dangers of worshipping celebrity.

I’m flying solo this week while my mum attends my godfather’s funeral in England, but I’m not really solo. We’re trying overnight caregiver coverage for the first time; something I advocated for because loss of sleep is infinitely more disruptive to me than structuring my days around changing my dad’s Depends and making him meals and bathing him and metering out the distribution of pills.

There are so many gifts to trying overnight care, but one of the biggest has been getting me back on my early to bed, early to rise rhythm. I’ve been waking up of my own accord at 5:30 or 6, feeling more rested than I have in months. It grants me a gift my dad taught me to love: an hour and a half of luxurious time to myself first thing in the morning.

Many of my happiest memories of being with him are around this time of day. In high school, we’d listen to Erik Satie on my boombox in the kitchen while he made me eggs. In middle school, we’d drive to the tennis courts at Libbey Park and hit balls back and forth under the amber sodium lamps until the sun came up. (Neither of us knew how to play tennis, but it didn’t matter.) Earlier still, I’d wake up to the sound of him tapping away at the keyboard with two fingers in the corner of the bedroom, writing.

Those hours felt like secret time. Sacred time.

I still treat it as such. This morning it was dark enough when I got up that didn’t realize the valley was shrouded in mist. Now I can see that the lawn outside my window is spangled with a galaxy of dew-soaked spiderwebs.

All this is to say that in the blissful hour I’d been granted this morning, I dove back into Recollections of My Nonexistence, Rebecca Solnit’s memoir. She writes a great deal about context, and the way subcultures and communities act as greenhouses for culture, so when I read Jacob’s post, the string layer came back online. Solnit writes:

In a way, this has been my life’s work, the pursuit of patterns and the work of reconnecting what has been fractured, often fractured by categories that break a subject, a history, a meaning into subcompartments from which the whole cannot be seen. […] The art of picking out constellations in the night sky has cropped up again and again as a metaphor for this work.

Elsewhere she quotes the poet Diane di Prima: “You cannot write a single line w/out a cosmology.”

I believe this with all my heart.

There is no content creation without context creation.

A Blaze of Kindness

The Terra Nova Expedition is the Millennials’ polar expedition. We’ve worked really hard, we’ve done everything we were supposed to, we made what appeared to be the right decisions at the time, and we’re still losing. Nothing in the mythology we’ve been fed has prepared us for this. No amount of positive attitude is going to change it. We have all the aphorisms in the world, but what we need is an example of how to behave when the chips are down, when the Boss is not sailing into the tempest to rescue us, when the Yelcho is not on the horizon. When circumstances are beyond your power to change, how do you make the best of your bad situation? What does that look like? Even if you can’t fix anything, how do you make it better for the people around you – or at the very least, not worse? Scott tells us: you can be patient, supportive, and humble; see who needs help and offer it; be realistic but don’t give in to despair; and if you’re up against a wall with no hope of rescue, go out in a blaze of kindness. We learn by imitation: it’s easy to say these things, but to see them in action, in much harder circumstances than we will ever face, is a far greater help. And to see them exemplified by real, flawed, complicated people like us is better still; they are not fairly-tale ideals, they are achievable. Real people achieved them.

I am leaping out of my chair and whooping and cheering and hollering about this passage from Sarah Airriess’s latest Patreon post. (The whole essay was released early for Patrons, so you can either become a supporter to read the whole thing today or just wait it out until it becomes more widely available in a month. Personally I’d recommend the former, because Sarah’s Patreon is one of the best around, but I’m biased.)

This talk originally accompanied the launch of The Worst Journey in the World, Vol. 1, Sarah’s graphic novel adaptation of Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s account of the Terra Nova Expedition. I’m holding my copy right now, and it’s one of the most beautiful comics I’ve ever seen. Again: my appreciation is probably heightened by the fact that I’ve been following along on Patreon for years as she’s shared the process behind every page, but even without that context it’s a beautiful, beautiful book.

A page from "The Worst Journey in the World" showing a view of pack ice from the rigging of a tall ship.
A page from The Worst Journey in the World showing two characters observing a beautiful sunset.

In the microcosm of caregiving, I’m learning this lesson over and over again: it isn’t the systems that make it bearable; it’s the people. It’s Gabriela texting to say she’s bringing over a rotisserie chicken. It’s Jim coming by in an hour to take my dad out for a visit to his favorite coffee shop. It’s Jen holding space for our cohort of young caregivers to show up and commiserate with each other over Zoom because she went through what we’re going through and wants to pay it forward. It’s Hayley texting a loving thought from across the country when I somehow need it most. It’s Sarah picking up my watch from the place in Ventura that I keep forgetting to stop at and then coming to help me build a bed frame. It’s also whoever left a free mattress in the parking lot behind Vons.

I think back on the way I lived through the first ten years of my career and it feels so different. I was bolstered and supported by community, it’s true. I was even asking them for help at every turn to make my books and my work possible! But somehow the ways I’m relying on others right now feel so different. I’m humbled so much more thoroughly by letting people in during this season of my life because it’s not just creative anxiety anymore. That’s peanuts. That’s easy.

This is the real shit.

It’s not freezing to death in Antarctica shit, but some days it feels real close. I’ve feared and loathed the thought of anyone seeing me like this for so long, but time and time again I see that people want to help each other. Or, at the very least, my people want to help me. And my dad’s people want to help me. And my hometown wants to help me.

I just have to let them in.

“If you don’t believe in god, say ocean.”

If queerness can be understood as a longing, a technology that allows us to glimpse something new that we sense before we can see it, a dowsing rod, a black light, then water might be the catalyst that dissolves our attachment to whatever is keeping us from it, from ourselves.

It’s very hard not to quote the entirety of this essay by J Wortham, which manages to articulate so many angles of my obsession with getting into bodies of water. I wrote a fair bit about my plunge habit when I first moved, but there were many more beyond what I covered. This week it was the frigid Pacific Ocean under a drizzly Santa Barbara sky, then the broad arroyo of the Ventura River, then Thacher Creek in Horn Canyon.

Thacher Creek rushing past sunlit boulders.

It’s been a winter blessed with unusual—almost unprecedented—amounts of rain.

Part of the reality of searching for queer respites is that they are fleeting, ever-evolving, a question without a resolved answer.

Their writing makes me think of Heraclitus.

"We both step and do not step in the same rivers. We are and are not."

Queer time is a sensate way of life, the kind treasured by people who perhaps understand with crackling urgency how circumstances can change in a moment, and the importance of pleasures that even in small doses can sustain you for weeks, months, years after the moment has passed. 

Both times I’ve been at Wayward (a decidedly queer space) I’ve swum more frequently than any other time in my life, and yes: those pleasures have sustained me for the last three years. The daily naked plunges in the lake woke me up after naps and started me off right on foggy mornings; they soothed and refreshed and coaxed and shocked. They gave me a touchstone of what it felt like to be fully embodied, fully held. Given the self-obliterating caregiving role I find myself in now, I’ve needed it.

This total immersion of my body into water, repeatedly, without fear, allowed for a total surrender of the illusion of separation between self and the natural world, the universe, whatever you want to call it. If you don’t believe in god, say ocean. Diving nude into the ocean in broad daylight, without fear of reproach, opened a portal to a higher consciousness. Ordinary, and then extraordinary. To be near the sea is to be humbled by its magnitude, to watch your priorities be reordered to its scale. What are self-consciousness, fear of the future, existential worries, to the ocean?

The last night we were on the island, after the main cohort of retreat attendees had gone, we hiked through the forest and over the cliff to the sea. After warming up by a bonfire on the beach, there was no more reason to wait. Two of us waded out into the freezing black water, stepping gingerly over beds of oyster shells until it was deep enough to paddle. I was shuddering and staring, willing and wishing, just about ready to turn around and admit defeat when I began to see it: the water beneath me erupting in stars, bioluminescence eddying around my limbs, all of it too beautiful to seem real.

Each time I allow myself to be enveloped, something is remembered for me: a place, a feeling, a fluency. I can’t always name it, but it’s too powerful to deny. It’s almost as if the parts of myself that have gone missing are recollected in water. 

The stars that night were glinting, and the bonfire on the shore waited like a beacon, but the brightest shimmer was running down my forearms, spiraling behind my palms, reminding me of everything I could be.

Hello, hello, hello.

A View (3)

A hillside covered in lush grass with a cloudy expanse of sky above it.

(Previously from this spot: 2022, 2021)

It’s been hard to get out of the house recently.

Our neighbor of 31 years died in February, followed by my godfather in March. They each meant very different things to me, but both occupied an archetypal permanence that’s hard to reconcile with death. And all grief is linked, isn’t it? This thread pulls on that one and so on and so on until the tapestry unravels and you’re left holding a mess of snotty string.

The last two weeks of my wall calendar are utterly blank. I’ve learned to read these gaps in my paper trail as markers of total emotional exhaustion (although sometimes they correlate with the thrill of a new relationship). In this case, I know the data is missing because I’ve been too tired to track whether I wore my mouth guard, too forgetful to know if I attended a Zoom meeting, too frazzled to write Morning Pages. Too much. Too much.

Last night I finally turned my phone all the way off and threw it behind the bookshelf. I buried my laptop in the couch cushions. I hid my iPad in the closet. I hucked all this technology out of my room because I was drowning in it, trying to get away from everything.

Instead, today, I walked. Not for long, but enough to remember what my legs are for. Enough to see how everything has changed from storm after storm of rich rainwater filtering into the hillsides since January. You can stick a finger in the earth and water pours out. Every divot in the trail is a spring.

We’ve passed the equinox. Life is coming back.

Moananuiākea

Hey! The gorgeous double-hulled voyaging canoe Hōkūleʻa and her sister ship Hikianalia are setting off on another circumnavigation!! LOOK AT THIS VOYAGE MAP!!!

A map showing Hōkūleʻa's voyage itinerary.

I’m heartbroken this year’s trip to Juneau falls a month before the launch date, but also so excited to see these upcoming plans. I hope I can catch the vessels when they’re further down the US coast. (If you’ve never heard of Hōkūleʻa before, it’s worth skimming through her history on the Polynesian Voyaging Society’s website.)

Here are some drawings I did back in 2017 when I got to visit Hawai‘i for the first time and fell in love with the history of wayfinding. (Ask me sometime about why Disney’s Moana is basically a true story.)

Three sketches of Polynesian canoes.