Discover more from small magic
a spell for becoming
plus squid wisdom and tree mysteries
The place where I lived was not safe. For a long time I joked about it, because it was the only thing I could think to do: Yeah, heat and humidity make my illnesses so much worse. Good thing I live in a swamp! or Headed to CVS to pick up a prescription. If I get stabbed while waiting in line,* tell your dog I love him. or Sure, this place is hell on earth, but the restaurant scene is top-notch.
This is what humans do in terrible situations: first we suffer, and then we adapt, and then we forget that circumstances could ever be different. I spent years deflecting and minimizing the danger I was in because I earnestly did not believe I had any other options. I felt as though my needs were so specific, so legion, and so unreasonable that no place on earth could possibly meet them. Kate, my therapist said, there are so many places you could go. The life you want is completely possible.
Late at night if you pass her house you’ll see candlelight in the windows.
She was right, of course. I’d become so accustomed to daily peril that I forgot there were other ways to exist. And it wasn’t just me. When I told people I was leaving, the most common response was some variation of Wait, we can do that? Even my doctor began musing aloud about starting a new life far away, someplace where her daughters could play safely outside.
She walks with her headphones in, singing.
My days were crammed with work and survival and the mind-scrambling logistics of a long-distance relocation. But at night, I was learning to dream. At the top of a journal page, in sky-blue ink, I wrote The Person I Will Be in Maine. I closed my eyes, pictured my future self, and began taking notes: how she moved, how she spent her time, how she occupied space. Her place in the community. Her favorite tea (seaweed, obviously) and private rituals.
She does not plant anything, but blesses other people’s gardens as she passes, and waters the cushions of moss that spring up outside her house.
She wears rings. Thin rings, so fine they’re almost invisible, and one large one, a silver curl around her finger like a shield. Bent from an old spoon.
The neighborhood black cats take turns sleeping by her front door.
Twelve sky-blue-filled pages later, I noticed an iridescent flickering in my peripheral vision. The future self I’d meticulously detailed was there beside me, albeit in faint, shimmering phantasmal form. Even as a holograph she looked steady, self-possessed. She looked content. She looked calm.
My magical future self elbowed me good-naturedly. Come on, dude. We can do this.
Her house smells like the woods. Sometimes she does, too. Sometimes she smells like wet leaves or crushed berries. Sometimes she smells like cloves, or roses after the rain. Always there is a whiff of cold, salty air and kelp.
She will read your cards, but she will not tell your fortune. She will ask you hard questions instead.
She talks to her house. She talks to everything.
I dig out my old journal and revisit the list, as I do each year, and cry a little, as I always do. The tears are grief for my past self, who felt so trapped and afraid, and sorrow for the ample suffering I now know was still to come. And the tears are gratitude, and amazement, and relief—because so much of what I dreamed for myself has come true. Because I saw it, named it, and moved toward it.
Three and a half years ago with shaking hands I’d traced the outline of a confident, eccentric sea witch in the air. Now I rest in that outline, growing more solid (but no less shimmery) with each breath.
Once in a while, she teaches a class.
She writes poems and essays, but does not feel compelled to rush them into the world.
She has nearby friends and neighbors she trusts.
She has her beach, her forest, her neighborhood birds.
She asks for help when she needs it.
Not everything I imagined has come to pass. Some of the list items are still in progress and some have been deferred by illness, injury, and the pandemic. Other items just simply aren’t who I want to be anymore. The happiest version of myself I could imagine in 2019 was, after all, still a product of my trapped-animal mind. But bright sparks are fizzing again at the edges of my vision. A new phantom is taking shape. I love her already.
other things i’ve written
Speaking of swamps: For The Last Word on Nothing, I wrote about the mystery of the cypress knees.
A poetic rerun, in case you missed it: Squid give good advice.
tenderness toward existence days
CW: food mentions in this section.
The theme for August’s wacky observances is Bossy Holidays.
Sneak Some Zucchini Onto Your Neighbor’s Porch Night (tonight!)
Spoil Your Dog Day (10)
Chant at the Moon Day (15)
Eat a Peach Day (22)
National Ride the Wind Day (23)
International Read Comics in Public Day (28)
And your too-good-to-be-a-coincidence double days:
National Bad Day AND National Bao Day (22)
International Strange Music Day AND Knife Day (24)
(Ok, fine. That second pairing isn’t any kind of coincidence. I just liked both holidays and had to include them somewhere.)(KNIFE DAY?!?)
meet me in the clouds
Are you on Bluesky? I’ve just arrived and am trying to find my people. Let’s hang out.
*Violence was not uncommon at my pharmacy. Or my grocery store. Or my Metro stop.
Portrait by Lin Kuczera from our photoshoot in January 2020, just a few weeks after I started writing my list.
Thanks for reading all the way to the end. I’m so glad you’re here.