Greetings, friends—I hope this belated Bottleship finds you well. It’s a rare, misty sort of day in my hometown of Ojai, California—a place that was very nearly wiped off the map by wildfires last December. In addition to the chaos that’s been plaguing our national news cycle, the last couple years have held a lot of tumult for my family and our home. The events of last Christmas got under my skin in ways I didn’t fully grasp until I was facing the prospect of returning for the holidays this year.
I started dreaming of a wishful alternate reality every night: dementia, droubt, debt—all reversed. All gone. I’d wake and believe my own fantasy for hours before the truth caught up and the dread came down and I grew ever more twitchy about the visit.
But then I arrived to find all our long-overdue renovations complete, and the influence of a more stable routine evident in my father’s behavior, and now I don’t know how to describe the lightness I feel. This deep, deep relief. There is no longer a gaping hole in the kitchen floor. No more black mold in the sitting room. No more cracks in the plaster, or water cascading out of the freezer at irregular intervals. The infestations—earwigs, rats, ants, you name it—have abated. I make it sound like a nightmare, but I love this house, even if (or perhaps because) we never had the money to keep it in good shape. One wet childhood winter, when rain poured through our shoddy kitchen ceiling into multiple pots and pans on the floor, I pirouetted in and out of each—delighted to be puddle-jumping indoors.
We’ve always lived here with a loving, resigned sense of the absurd. How else could we endure?
Admittedly, even as the house stands pristine and polished from its recent appraisal, my mother and I are still racing around placing puppy pads and wrestling with packs of Depends, guarding against the urinations of two geriatric cats and one incontinent, absent-minded dad. But instead of it being the final straw between us and total meltdown, it’s a hoot. We laugh a lot. We lie on the bed and waggle our legs in the air and collapse into helpless fits of giggles. We talk about how much we love each other. How grateful we are to be together. How miraculous it is to still have this house.
The sudden release of so much anxiety is leaving me slack and giddy. I waver from room to room, struggling to believe that for the first time in three years my foundation isn’t undergoing some kind of radical upheaval. The sun still turns the mountains pink at dusk the way it’s done since I moved here at three years old. The damp earth, dusted with neon shoots thanks to recent rain, smells as it always has. This doesn’t solve everything, but I am reminding myself to seize joy where I can find it against the backdrop of our tumultuous, flawed, beautiful world.
On that note, some things I’ve found meaningful over the past month:
Beth Duckles, a Portland-based researcher and ethnographer, shares questions that can help reframe our lives according to the principles of permaculture. (Growing up with my fair share of hay bale structures and worm bins, this rang delightfully true.)
- If you, like me, are in a state of extreme self-reflection during this season, I highly recommend using a guided workbook like YearCompass or Unravel Your Year for digging through the themes of 2018 and setting some intention for the year to come. I’m coming up on my third year of following this practice, and I love it a lot.
- Oliver Jeffers’s Dipped Paintings hit me right in the heart when I watched this mini-documentary about their creation. (My rave fave theatrical production from 2017, Derek DelGaudio’s In & Of Itself, had a similar theme of relying on community testimony to transmit meaningful experiences. How do you weave ritual into sharing your creative work? Have you ever made something exclusive or fleeting? Who got to see it?)
- Christina Tran’s ongoing open letter projects (Dear Beloved and, previously, Dear Daughter) always move me. Her most recent entry tackles commitment, curiosity, and faith—exactly what I needed to hear when I read it. (I also loved this zine, created with local Portland organization APANO, about political engagement, and the fact that her house has its own Artist Residency program.)
- My interview with artist, cyclist, and adventurer Tessa Hulls is now available to listen to for free on SoundCloud. Tessa’s work is magnificent and powerful and I want everyone to know about it. Start with this comic about rage and then just go browse her website.
- Finally: I’ve given my Patreon page a facelift! There’s a brand new introduction video courtesy of my pal Chris Higgins, and I’m trying out a new feature that rewards loyal Patrons with treats in the mail after a certain stretch of time. Folks supporting me at the $10 tier will receive nerdy nautical stickers in the spring, and Patrons at any level will be receiving a PDF of all my sketchbook work from 2018 as a gift at the end of December. Come and join us, won’t you?
Wishing you all strength and love for the year ahead,
P.S. Here’s a holiday card.