Two lovely pieces of feedback on the blog in very different mediums recently: a tiny, encouraging email from Rob right after my last entry and the sweetest postcard from Piper that arrived in my PO box sometime in June (but given the way life’s been going I didn’t manage to stop by and discover it until well into July).
Maybe it’s because blogging is often a much quieter affair than posting on social media, but I love these little blips and boops of connection. They hit harder than comments and likes and reblogs. They feel more personal. They remind me to reach out and email people (or write them a card!) when their work strikes a chord.
I had cause to do this recently with Ursula Vernon, whose work I’ve been following since I was in middle school. She’s been sharing some very vulnerable comics about dealing with breast cancer and I thought “My god, if not now, when?” It’s been over TWENTY YEARS and I’ve never taken the time to tell this person how much discovering her website and her comics and her delightfully eccentric illustrations meant to me as a weird tween without a lot of artistic friends. It’s an impossible gift when someone’s been a fixed point in your creative community for that long.
It reminds me that even if social media is crumbling around us, people can endure. The impressions we make on one another outlast the silos and the buyouts and the implosions.
But it’s good to come out and say so every once in a while.
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.
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.
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.
Hey! The gorgeous double-hulled voyaging canoe Hōkūleʻa and her sister ship Hikianalia are setting off on another circumnavigation!! LOOK AT THIS VOYAGE MAP!!!
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.)
Back at the start of March I uncovered this cookbook in our overstuffed kitchen shelf. It’s incredibly upsetting, even for something designed in the 60s.
NOBODY WANTS THAT ON A BOOK ABOUT FOOD.
But the original text, I should mention, is from 1939. And when I cracked it open I was surprised to find that the illustrations were incredibly cool.
Look at those lines! So stylized! So energetic! And the compositions!
Turns out the interior artist is one Mathurin Méheut (1882-1958), a French painter I’d never heard of before. When I went searching for more of his work, I found a treasure trove. Méheut had spent two years before WWI working with naturalists at the Roscoff marine biology station—a collaboration that resulted in twoenormous volumes of gorgeously-depicted marine life.
And, to my immeasurable delight, both of them are available online via RISD’s library.
I love stumbling on illustrative work like this. It feels so modern! There’s a level of stylization that really reminds me of Jemma Salume’s animal studies.
I also can’t help thinking about the work of Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka, the father-son team known for creating the most exquisite glass models in human history. Their success lay in capturing the shapes and colors of marine invertebrates at a time when methods of preservation typically left specimens looking like so much indistinguishable mucus.
This octopus? GLASS.
This cactus? ALSO GLASS.
Unreal. (And well worth a visit if you ever find yourself near the Harvard Museum of Natural History.)
In the process of writing this post, I learned that Leopold fell in love with marine invertebrates in 1853, when the ship carrying him to America was becalmed for two weeks near the Azores. His wife and his father had just died within a few years of each other. The trip was something of an escape.
I think about him, adrift and grieving in the middle of the ocean, with nothing to do but stand on deck in the night and pay attention.
Hopeful, we look out over the darkness of the sea, which is as smooth as a mirror; there emerges all around in various places a flashlike bundle of light beams, as if it is surrounded by thousands of sparks, that form true bundles of fire and of other bright lighting spots, and the seemingly mirrored stars.
Stumbled onto this page on my local library system’s website while looking for a way to request a graphic memoir about care homes and learned about something magical: ZIP BOOKS.
It does my heart good when I yell about library stuff on Twitter and lots of people share the tweet. The Internet being hot for libraries gives me faith in society. Although it’s also rough that the library’s website is so labyrinthine that I had to stumble onto this program by accident. I wish every library had a website as functional and fancy as a startup meditation app.
(I really liked The Library Book by Susan Orlean.)
Haven’t been blogging because my brain is really excited about thinking in images right now and also I can’t seem to muster the follow-through, so this is one of those “done is better than perfect” posts.
Since launching The Right Number in 2020, I’ve become more and more aware of the ways people are using phone lines in creative projects. There’s services like Dialup, where you can connect to strangers for live conversation, and SARK’s Inspiration Line (a formative one for me), but there are two new ones that I caught this week and needed to put next to each other:
My friend Anis, who happens to be the current Poet Laureate of Oregon, is running a phone line this month where you can dial every day to hear a different poet read you one of their poems. It’s lovely.
For poetry: 503-928-7008
My friend Shing, who happens to be A MENACE (and brilliant creator of the absurd), just launched an existential horror phone sex hotline. You will definitely not be speaking to any live humans if you call, but you will probably shudder and then laugh and then shudder again. Make sure you Press 8 for aftercare!
I lost track of how many plunges I took last year, I just know it’s been a minute since I marked the two little wavy lines on my calendar that indicate “Had the opportunity to get in a body of water and took it.”
Wait, no, I do remember the last time: New Year’s Eve!
Oh man, it was frigid and perfect and early enough in the morning that I just got to the river and stripped down and flung myself in and then screamed and jumped up and down and dried off and walked home as the sun was rising.
Anyway, all this to say that I dropped James at the airport yesterday and then immediately took myself to the beach next door (Santa Barbara, you outrageous creature) and Got in The Sea. We’ve got a horrible heat wave on this week, but the wind was also blowing somethin’ fierce so I didn’t stay in long. Still: every time I take those first strides across the sand, feel the water on my thighs, mutter to myself until I can’t deny it any longer and plunge under—it’s like I’m coming home to a part of myself I didn’t know was missing. And the more I come back to it, the more it works. Every return heeds the voice in my head that says “You want this. You’re made of this exuberance. It will enlarge you.” while ignoring the one that says “You don’t have a change of clothes. It’s too cold. Ew, there’s seaweed.”