To get to Hell,’ he says in a low voice, ‘they take you through America. There is a door behind a door.’
My partner and I read the dreamiest, most evocative experimental novel recently, A Door Behind A Door. Yelena Moskovich has created perhaps the ideal read for this bizarre moment in time: a loose-yet-considered dreamscape that pulls together the 1991 Soviet diaspora, Jewishness and identity, queer desires, a murder mystery, romantic and familial love, and micro- and macro-level power dynamics, with a sprinkling of incarceration politics thrown in for good measure. It is neither fish nor fowl nor good red herring – Moskovitch has delivered us a compact, fragmented fever dream that is just as much a novel as it is extended poem and expansive allegorical metaphor. Gradually you will feel increasingly unmoored from reality while simultaneously honing in on every word and sentence, so deftly does she utilize nuance and precision of language. A Door Behind a Door is utterly unlike anything I have ever read. Haunting, sexy, violent, and thought-provoking, pick up this novel and buckle up for the post (post?) pandemic read you didn’t know you needed.
This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting more musings!
Just before my birthday last summer I was out shopping and eating with friends in LA, and I stumbled upon a candle in a little shop that I kept coming back to. The vessel was a bright, shiny gold, with an artful label of all text. The scent was deep and woody, and the name? “Polyamberous.” The quip made me smile, as I always love a good wordplay. It took me a bit to decide between it and another candle I liked as a little gift for myself — I was apprehensive about making it mine, to be honest, in more ways that one. I finally said “yes” to it in my head, and as soon as it found a home on my nightstand, I felt seen. Yes, I was – I am – polyamorous. I wasn’t out to anyone but myself, and I wasn’t seeing anyone yet. But I felt like I had finally embraced this part of me.
The smell of amber and tonka bean is heady and rich, much like my life these days. I’m grateful and scared and learning and growing every day. What I am not doing every day, though, is asking myself, “what’s wrong with me?” Not anymore. And that, more than anything, is the true gift — a gift to myself that was long overdue.
Welcome to December, land of colder weather, warmer sweaters, and visions of sugarplums. Here is my wish list for this year – lovely items to give that special someone on your list, or maybe even yourself! After all, YOU are definitely a special someone.
Coach”s new Studio bag in green is everything I’ve been craving – an evergreen shade that takes me right back to the 90s (in the best way) paired with a sleek shape and classic brass hardware. Love love love.
Speaking of love, Pamela Love’s designs hit just the right sweet spot between edgy and classic, with an undertone of mythos I adore. My favorites are these pomegranate studs and heart-in-hand huggies, each sold singly. They’d be the perfect additions to my earring mix right now, plus they are made from recycled (and recyclable) materials. Style AND substance!
And speaking of the 90s, I am fully on board with the the chunky loafer resurgence. These are well-priced, beautiful, and this Alpine green shade would go with just about anything.
If you have someone in your life you’d like to spoil with incredible sleep, may I suggest one of these gorgeous velvet weighted blankets from Bearaby? Their eco-velvet is 100% upcycled, GRS-, STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX® and Fairtrade International certified, perfectly cozy, and oh-so-soothing to sleep under. Trust.
I couldn’t possibly do a December gift post without including my favorite winter candle of all time. This gilded white ceramic iteration of my beloved Frasier Fir candle is calling my name.
At the top of my list are gifts that do good, and you can’t go wrong with any of the gift items featured in the ACLU’s shop. My personal picks are this excellent civil rights calendar and this minty soft reproduction rights tee. Every purchase made supports the ACLU and allows the fight for our civil liberties to continue.
For the beauty lover in your life, a clean beauty set like this one from Ilia is oh-so-nice. I can’t get enough of their Balmy Tint hydrating lip balm these days, and this pretty set will have your mom or bestie looking glowy and holiday-festive in a flash.
Ideal as a stocking stuffer, cool-aunt gift for a teen (hello!), or hostess gift, these super-stylish bubble candles are scented with grapefruit – if you can bear to light them.
And finally, for the chocoholic in your life, this tasting set from San Francisco small-batch maker Dandelion Chocolate is everything. They visit each origin, work closely with their cocoa producers, and use only ethically sourced beans and organic cane sugar to make their confections. Indulgent deliciousness, beautifully packaged and ready for gifting.
Today, how about you give yourself a little boost? Cell phone affirmations, anyone? I saw this idea on Instagram several weeks ago and thought I would give it a whirl. In the screenshot I saw, the basic folder names on their home screen had been replaced with affirmations — so instead of “Finance,” my money apps folder now reads, “I am rich.” Gone is the “Games” label — now it says “I can play.” Health and medical-type apps proclaim, “I am healthy,” while social apps remind me that “I am connected.” House and home apps remind me, “I am sheltered.”
I’ve been thinking about these little phrases off and on over the last few weeks, curious to see if I noticed any changes to my outlook, and after a month or so, I think I can confirm a change for the better. More and more lately I have been feeling the collective societal clapback against “screen time” and media influence, to the point that Instagram can feel like too-guilty a pleasure, or playing a game on my phone to unwind feels like time I should use to do other things. While there are definite issues with too much time spent online, guilt for me was sometimes pushing the pendulum too far in the other direction. Reminding myself that “I am connected” when I go to open Instagram now reminds me that I am able to connect with a bigger world of inspiration and ideas, people and places. “I can play,” reminds me to approach games with that spirit – not as mind-numbing time wasters, but small opportunities for play amidst a busy day. And even though “I am rich” can feel a little wry when ye olde bank balance is low, it is also a great reminder that I AM rich, regardless of that balance — rich in love, in friends, in joy, and in opportunities.
As far as remembering to do affirmations or other such gratitude practices, this one seemed low-lift and easy. I didn’t have to remind myself to make time for something extra: I swipe my phone open all throughout my day, and there they are waiting. Maybe give it a try, even if it feels a little cheesy? You might just make yourself smile a bit more this week.
Sex. It’s personal in the most intense of ways. It’s beautiful and exhilarating and deeply unique to all of us. And it can be a theoretical minefield for those of us striving to be “good feminists.” With that in mind, I submit to you a pair of articles to ponder.
Sarah Resnick explores the push-pull of control and women’s desires in the context of Miranda Popkey’s début novel, “Topics of Conversation.” She asks us about the liminal space between the simplicity of embracing another’s authority, and assembling one’s own story as a means of control and therefore, power. Modern feminists are supposed to be in control, to know what they want, to not be afraid to ask for it, or to take it for themselves. But what if we want, sometimes, to give up control? What if, sometimes, that prospect is sexier than anything? Is that bad? Are we bad feminists? Resnick visits Amia Srinivasan’s essay, “Does Anyone Have the Right to Sex?” from 2018, asking whether feminism should have anything to say about desire at all, testing the lines between creating more binds for the people it means to liberate, and excusing patterns of desire that replicate broader patterns of oppression and exclusion. If a woman enjoys sexual submission, who are we to say she shouldn’t?
This conversation broadens beyond control and desire and asks the question of where and how our desires — often perceived to be innate and even perhaps immutable — are actually shaped to a certain extent by social conditioning. How much is our gravitation towards a certain “type” simply our own preference, for example, and how much is subconsciously ingrained racism? From perceptions of beauty and attractiveness to reevaluating our values, Schwartz takes us on a thoughtful journey that circles down to the idea that “maybe we shouldn’t worry too much about how to shift what we want but instead… recognize that we may be wrong about what we think we want, and embrace the possibility of wanting something different.” And then we loop back again to control: “Vulnerability entails risk… and sex is never free from the dynamics of power. That is what makes it scary, and also, sometimes, wonderful.”
As scary as it can be to probe and question our own desires and wants, clearly it can also be wonderful. From a place of discomfort or the kind of ambivalence Srinivasan encourages us to dwell in, perhaps we can find a more expansive version of pleasure — and of ourselves. And isn’t that the kind of liberation we want from feminism in the first place?
Read, ponder, and enjoy. I hope you find these selections as thought-provoking as I did.
On a less theoretical note, tomorrow October 2nd is a chance to mobilize and defend reproductive rights and a woman’s right to choose. Visit https://womensmarch.com/mobilize to find events near you.
Lately I’ve gotten sucked into the addictive black hole that is Facebook Marketplace. There is a LOT of random stuff people have for sale! It’s like thrifting, with the ease of search terms and the comfort of your own couch. Sometimes you’ll find a gem, sometimes you’ll find something quirky that appeals, and sometimes… well, you never know what you’ll find!
Last week I drove down to La Jolla to acquire a set of Postmodern Italian white lacquer dining chairs for my mom’s apartment, a find that she said “gave her all the feels!” They are beautiful and look great in her space. I (unfortunately?) have no need for new dining chairs. What I do need is about 5 extra rooms in my own house to satisfy all the designing and decorating I’d like to do. Not exactly an option at present, so instead I’ll do it virtually here with you.
I had to fight myself for days to keep from buying this pair of leopard print chairs. I. Have. No. More. Room. I debated what I could move or get rid of. I strategized. I planned and moved furniture around. I conceptualized. Then I sighed with regret and a little relief once I saw they had sold. Goodbye, beautiful chairs. We would have been good together.
This floral armchair is being sold as a pair, and while the print might seem a little dated, how cute and fresh would it be paired with a modern checkered pillow? And that funky table and chairs gave me pause as a set (and not in a good way), but how gorgeous would the table be painted glossy white? Major Kara Mann for CB2 vibes. It would make for a beautiful desk.
I also stumbled upon an L.A. listing for ten (!) William Morris dining chairs. At first glance, the cobalt and yellow with the ornate two-tone wood seemed like a lot of look, if you know what I mean. But if I had a big, stately dining room (and infinite money)? Green lacquered walls, a graphic Jonathan Adler rug, a modern/glam chandelier paired with a Milo Baughman burlwood table, and some abstract floral art with a sleek Danish vase? Now we are talking! This combination makes for a striking, bold, and eclectic dining room setup I’m swooning over.
It just goes to show you that a little imagination and a little bit of digging can yield some beautifully unique pieces for your home. Happy hunting/thrifting/digging/shopping, friends, and good luck!
For months I have been admiring the beautiful little altars Nichole of California Sister has been making. They are beautiful, and I loved the idea of a spot to gather inspiration, focus my breath, and put forth intentions. I’ve been watching and waiting for juuuuust the right one to come along and resonate with me. Ever a can-doer and also not entirely patient, this week I finally decided to try my had at making my own, and I am so pleased with the results.
For my little altar I scoured FB marketplace and then went thrifting, where I eventually found an inexpensive wood clock I thought I could repurpose for my own ends. I carefully took it apart, peeling away old gobs of glue and disassembling the clock mechanism, and then sanded the whole thing to help my paint adhere. Two coats of spray paint+primer did the trick, and then I hand applied gold leaf to the glass before back-painting it black to make for a decorative background for the top area of my altar. The piece de resistance was the leather-mounted lion’s head I repurposed from a cool old bottle I thrifted. He is my altar figurehead.
For me, the lion represents my fierce loves and fierce protectiveness and loyalty. The way I try to radiate light to the world around me. And the beauty I want to embody, like a big cat’s sensual grace. The items I have placed inside for now include:
a tiny handpainted Chinese bottle, to honor my family and my heritage
a little photo of my two dogs who have passed on, to keep them close
a smooth heart-shaped labradorite stone, for romantic love and also as a reminder to choose myself
a sweet-smelling votive, to be a light in the dark
a baby disco ball given to me by a dear friend many years ago, for friendship and memories
a fairy I’ve had since I was young, to remind me to dream
Thank you, Nichole, for your talent and inspiration. I’m not entirely sure yet what small rituals or practices will grow from this new little space of mine, but for the moment I’m content to focus, breathe, and enjoy. I brought in a single plumeria yesterday, just for the simple tiny joy of it. Right now, that feels like enough.