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Pocket of Joy: Vintage Spring Jackets

Happy spring jacket season! I love rotating clothes in and out of storage with the changing seasons, and I also love "shopping" my collection of vintage outerwear from my own youth, from Before Times secondhand shopping trips, and from my mother-in-law when she moved to Florida. I have a vivid red wool bathrobe-style coat and a quirky beige trench that I bought in the 2000s, a worn-in classic denim jacket, an antique WWI-era dress jacket of green silk, and a few leather pieces from the '60s and '70s. I've taken many of these to the dry cleaner and the tailor over the years for repairs and maintenance, which I'd much rather do than replace whole garments with brand new ones. There's something exquisite about the combination of that fresh-new feeling of taking out new-season clothes and the comfy-old-friend feeling of a garment with lots of history. I feel good about the environmental impact of not buying new things, and I also really like well-constructed,

Pocket of Joy: Using April Fools' Day as an Excuse to Stay Under a Blanket on the Couch

Ha! Nobody likes this stupid day. If it's still April Fools' Day when you're reading this, consider saving yourself a lot of trouble by logging off everything, shutting off your phone, and hiding under a blanket for the rest of the day. You can't trust anyone or anything you see or hear online today. Today, it feels nice to read a book or watch something prerecorded, like an old movie or TV show. Then tomorrow, you can plug back into the world to watch and read about all the incredibly hilarious pranks you missed. After a year filled with so much death and shocking news and mental health degradation, I can't even imagine what kind of prank would be harmless this year. Hey, we learned last year that it is not only possible but deeply pleasurable to skip major holidays . So why not skip this stupid little one too? This is the second April Fools' Day of the pandemic, when many of us have a good chance to avoid social interactions without being missed. Isn't th

Pocket of Joy: Last Snow

Every kid-at-heart celebrates the first snow of the season, but what about the last snow? My newish boss, who immigrated from Canada, recently expressed disappointment that the winter snows here in Michigan had already ended by March. The seasoned Michiganders on staff assured him that our last snow almost never happens in early March, even if we get a false springtime that brings flowers into bloom. Usually there's at least one more blizzard that bestows enough snow and ice that we can play in it one more time. We never know exactly when to expect that random last chance, after it looked like winter was over, to use the new skating rink downtown or slide across a frozen puddle one more time. Its fleeting joys can only be captured by those who stay ready. It's easy to get excited about a fresh blanket of snow when it means Christmas is coming. But honestly, here in Michigan, a hearty blizzard might also crash Easter Sunday. (Above, my daughter is threatening the weather w

Pockets of Joy

As we enter the second year of the pandemic, we should all agree on two things (besides the science of hygiene and vaccination, obviously): that this situation is truly awful, and that it has never been more important to cultivate little pockets of joy in our lives anywhere we can. The light at the end of the tunnel is dim and seems to keep moving, sometimes closer, sometimes farther away. Even the rollout of vaccines is being undermined by new virus variants that are riding the waves of spring fever to whip Michigan up into the country's hottest of hot spots for rising infections. Herd immunity feels like a pipe dream around here, especially because almost half the population still says they will refuse to get a vaccine. And children won't have a vaccine this year at all, so families with children won't be able to socialize safely with other families (without masks and social distancing) before the end of this year at least. My daughter already knows that she'll probab

Pocket of Joy: Welcoming "Misfortune" on Friday the 13th!

Tomorrow is another Friday the 13th, and my family is looking forward to it! Mostly that's because it's also our cat's fourth birthday, and we're going to have a party for her involving cardboard boxes and bouncy balls. But also it's because we have a darkly occult sense of humor at our house. We enjoy thunderstorms, campy horror, Halloween, Billie Eilish, and Lil Nas X. We have always celebrated, rather than feared, Friday the 13th--unlike the gentleman who walked into my husband's shop yesterday to let him know that the world would be ending this Friday! It is a joy to have that tradition in place now, when we are all dealing with some heavy misfortunes that started before this year's Friday the 13th and will continue afterward. Climate change, violence, pandemic, etc. There is an excess of truly bad fortune in the world right now, and it's a real bummer.  But it's good to be able to laugh at bad luck and disappointment, whether anticipated or expe

Pocket of Joy: Starting a Shiny New Project

Oh, the buoyant thrill of a sparkly new idea! Ooh, the giddy joy of starting in on it--like planting the first footprint on a blanket of new-fallen snow, or drawing the first line on a clean sheet of paper, or sweeping the first brushstroke of slick, wet paint across a wall! Of course, it takes follow-through to manifest a dream through the sweaty, dirty, messy middle of any big project. But when you know you can do it, you can hold onto that shiny new feeling to sustain you all the way to the finish. Here I am chiseling away at the remains of my old kitchen back in the spring, when my new kitchen lived only in my imagination. My husband and I have been working on our kitchen (with my parents' help early on) for four months now. Our summer has been a marathon of hard, sweaty, dirty work littered with setbacks, frustrations, and frequent changes of plans--including the decision to redo our main bathroom at the same time, while we're at it! Anyone who has repaired or remodeled a

Pocket of Joy: Coming Out

Happy Pride Month! Has it ever been a better time to come out? Lil Nax X has died for our shame, descended into hell on a stripper pole, and slain the devil with his lap dance. Tig Notaro has conquered the undead and possibly usurped Kate McKinnon as most badass comedic lesbian paranormal action hero, which is now A Thing. "Schitt's Creek" has normalized pansexuality and revived America's faith in all kinds of enduring romantic love. Elliot Page has freed the trans man nips in joyful thirst traps on Instagram. After a year in quarantine, drag queens Trixie and Katya have become everyone's imaginary best friends. And my Instagram feed is sprinkled with videos of happily married, openly HIV-positive Jonathan Van Ness doing the happiest gorgeous little back flips. Kids today have all of these pop culture examples of people of every gender identity and sexual orientation living their best lives, creating joy and sharing it with others. Sadly, the danger in coming out

Pocket of Joy: Sunny Days with Dark and Stormy Nights

We need both sunshine and rain to survive, all of us--all people, all animals, all plants, all life on Earth. And when we can learn to enjoy changeable weather and seasons with a flexible attitude and a readiness to take advantage of whatever comes along, we can weather the storms of life--metaphorically speaking. Literature helps us to envision pleasures we've never experienced as well as terrors and hardships we've never faced--in the safe, pillowy world of our own imaginations. Reading literary fiction makes us more empathetic and resilient when we encounter situations we've read about in real life. Dark fiction inoculates us against shock and despair in the real world. Writing fiction has therapeutic benefits as well. Way back when I used to participate in NaNoWriMo , I learned that a good author must behave like a fickle, brutal god of the ancients--setting up trials and tribulations for our beloved creations just to watch them fight their way through. My writing compa

Pocket of Joy: Entering the Flow

Over the past year, much has been written about how entering into a flow state with an immersive hobby can protect us from the negative effects of a life-disrupting disaster like a pandemic. When the world outside is out of control, it can be lifesaving to find escape and release inside of our own minds. As a writer, I can get into my most intense state of flow by writing long fiction. When I wrote my last novel, Leirah and the Wild Man , I felt possessed. I lost myself so completely in the narrative that when I went back and read some of the pages I had written, they surprised me. I remembered something like having a dream about the contents of the story but not actually coming up with those particular words.  During the writing process, I experienced sudden storms of inspiration that drove the story in unexpected directions but never totally off course. I learned to trust these moments and open my mind's sails, and my story grew more complex and nuanced and wild without losing t

Pocket of Joy: Fine Art and Divine Castoffs

Many years ago, my husband and I had a local friend in art school who created many weird and wonderful things, some of which turned out to her satisfaction and many that did not. Her output in both categories exceeded what she could keep or sell, and so we benefited from the opportunity to collect and hoard her (sometimes slipcast) castoffs. I always prefer an imperfect handicraft to a factory-fresh decor item, and I appreciate the special, limited-time window of good fortune of having a generous friend in art school, so I accepted many more functional pots and ceramic artworks than I could possibly use or display. Some I distributed to other friends; some I put away in the garage and cycled them into the kitchen as items to replace other items that got broken; some large and bizarre items I tucked away in the garden shed for over a decade, where they have obtained a weathered, mossy patina. And now that my husband and I are renovating our home, the time has come for those pieces to li

Pocket of Joy: Michigan Seasons

Michigan's four seasons can be dramatic, especially as climate change progresses, but I've learned that I just can't quit them. Their rhythm is embedded in my soul. Without them, I feel adrift.   When I was young, I had that itch of wanderlust that comes naturally to young people everywhere. Although Michigan boasts some of the most beautiful landscapes on Earth, I needed to see what else was out there. I longed to sample the nuances of other cultures, other kinds of lives, other fields of human experience. After I traveled and spent weeks or months at a time in faraway places, I realized that getting far, far away for long, long spans of time and coming home again was the only way I could fully appreciate the place where my roots had formed.   My husband and I agreed: It was ourselves that needed to expand and grow and change in order to put down deep roots in the first place we had ever learned to take for granted. We married young for our generation, at 23 and 24, and al

Pocket of Joy: Indian Food

I have adored Indian food since I first tasted it at a fine Indian restaurant as a young adult. And I loved it so much that I wasn't content only to keep coming back to that restaurant (though I certainly did that); I wanted to learn how to participate in the alchemical art of Indian cooking.  Indian food isn't just a full bouquet of sensory pleasures, it can also be exceptionally healthy . Like the Mediterranean diet, traditional Indian food packs in a variety of whole grains, fresh ingredients, vegetable proteins, and immune-boosting herbs and spices. It's also very labor-intensive and complex, requiring quite an arsenal of spices and herbs, some of which can be hard to find outside of specialty Asian markets--but, for me, the time and investment are so worth it! And shopping at Asian markets is a delight. Realistically, made-from-scratch Indian food is not something I can have every day. I can't afford Indian restaurant meals of the quality I prefer very often, and I

Pocket of Joy: A F* Sh* Stack of Cookies

Life's simple joys include a casserole dish filled with cookie-topped cookie bars. When you or someone you love needs to be celebrated or comforted, consider rising to the occasion with a f*** sh** stack of gooey, home-baked cookies. Here is the basic recipe in the form of spoken word art and interpretive dance: https://vimeo.com/13897452 . They aren’t fancy. They aren’t too pretty to eat. They’re just a thicc luxury, like a pile of heavy blankets with a layer of toasted, shredded coconut in the middle. I made this “cookie casserole” with a recipe from an old, worn book that my late grandmother gave me as a child, perhaps because she recognized that we both shared the love language of butter. I remember her describing decadent desserts as “gorgeous” with a beatific glow. Sadly, my grandmother struggled with various addictions, including her sweet tooth, and her life was cut short by diabetes complications. So when I carry on the tradition of making a gorgeous f*** sh** stack of sug

Pocket of Joy: Laughing Off Bogus Critics

Beware the false devils of other people's anxieties, insecurities, and petty jealousies that they try to project onto you. If you hear negative messages about yourself repeatedly, especially from people who are very significant to you, like your parents or closest friends, they can worm their way under your eardrums and hijack your own inner voice with their damaging scripts. Once internalized, they can sound like fundamental truth, but they lie as shamelessly as the false angels of your ego do. Don't listen to those who fear your competition because they feel threatened by your talent, your passion, or your persistence. Don't listen to those who would betray you just to keep you down in the crab bucket that they themselves are too afraid to escape. Don't laugh with people who are laughing at you in a mean way. It's healthy for your friends and mentors to keep you humble with constructive criticism, friendly ribbing, and gentle teasing. It's good to maintain yo