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Constellations No. 5
It's been a while.
Hello and Welcome to Constellations No. 5 —
This newsletter should have made its way to you seven months ago, but life had other ideas. As you might know, I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer in March of this year (I wrote about it in June). Since then, time, along with every other aspect of my life as I knew it before, has moved in disorienting and unpredictable ways. So, here we are.
When not in the grips of a chemo fog in the last six months, I have thought often about how one frames a creative life; about what is changing in me while my body does the difficult work of being treated for cancer; and of course, what my world will look like in the years to come. This experience comes with a new reality–the one that we all live with all the time, but until we are forced to, try to give little heed. Anything can happen at any moment. We have control over nothing.
When I started treatment in April I remember thinking in terms of before and after (before cancer/after cancer, before chemo/after chemo, etc). But now that I’ve been in it for months, a new metaphor feels more apt: the window. I once lived and looked out of the other side of the window; now I live and look from this side. At times I worry I won’t be able to go back to that lovely other side where I resided for so long. My best guess is that from now on, I live in and look through both sides of the window at once.
For that reason, the new logo for Constellations is my illustration of the window (above). You’ll see it associated with the newsletter on its new home on Substack, and in your inbox when it arrives throughout the year (more on that below).
Today is Autumn’s equinox, and my first newsletter of 2023. This day contains equal parts daylight and darkness. Holding these extremes alongside of one another is another way of looking through both sides of the window. I hope you’ll join me in the paradox.
Thanks for being here, friends.
Constellations is now on Substack!
If you’re a current subscriber, nothing changes - Constellations will remain a free quarterly newsletter and will continue to go straight to your inbox. To make sure it does not end up in your spam folder, please add this address to your contacts. I also recommend downloading the nifty Substack app to your devices. I’ve been testing it out this summer and really enjoying it.
I am collaborating with Farm Club again on their annual illustrated calendar benefitting Leelanau Conservancy’s Farmland Preservation Program! This project is near and dear to my heart, and directly supports the Conservancy’s crucial work in Leelanau County. Stay tuned here and on Instagram for 2024 calendar pre-order details, coming soon.
WILDSAM’S NORTHERN MICHIGAN PURSUITS BOOK
An illustration project I worked on for the first part of 2023 came into fruition in June with the release of Wildsam’s Northern Michigan Pursuits book. I loved having the opportunity to illustrate this book about the area where I now live. It gave me ample excuse to learn about parts of Northern Michigan life that were new to me. I admire Wildsam’s approach to making travel guides which includes asking thoughtful questions about current issues in each location and including honest responses from local contributors. Check out/purchase the Northern Michigan pursuits book right here.
THE BOARDMAN REVIEW
Earlier this year I was invited to contribute an essay to The Boardman Review’s Spring 2023 issue. I wrote about the many ways I have come to define home, and how my family and I landed in Northern Michigan a few years ago in the midst of the release of my book, Why We Cook: Women on Food, Identity, and Connection. It was an honor to reflect in writing on this monumental period of my life and share it. Back issues can be purchased right here.
IN MY KITCHEN LATELY
The extent of my cooking this summer was arranging a lush summer fruit plate, and making a big batch of ratatouille preserves for the freezer. But, by far the best things happening in my kitchen lately have been the beautiful, bountiful meals made for my family by friends and family in the last seven months. These meals have fueled our survival through this dark time, lending more meaning than I have ever known to food and cooking as a conduit of friendship, community, love and shelter.
While not cooking, I have been enjoying reading Alicia Kennedy’s book, No Meat Required, which came out in August. The book is everywhere I look right now, and for good reason. Kennedy covers the history and cultural context of veganism and vegetarianism from various angles including its radical history, gender politics, and its shift into mainstream culture and capitalism. She explores each thread of the topic with killer research, and prescient questions that made me think hard about the choices I make every day in consuming and eating. Highly recommend!
A BRIGHT LIGHT
While paging through a deep backlog of New Yorker magazines, I got hooked on a lovely essay, originally published in 1948 by Vladimir Nabokov, about his infatuation with butterflies and moths. Of his childhood passion turned lifelong obsession, he writes, “I discovered in nature the non utilitarian delights that I sought in art. Both were a form of magic, both were a game of intricate enchantment and deception.” Nabokov also lent his vast knowledge and collection to the American Museum of Natural history, where he volunteered as an etymologist. His letters and specimens remain in the care of the museum to this day. (Take a peek at his collection in this video from the AMNH).
The essay is magnificent, but its final paragraph reads differently than the rest; it is gentler than the rest of his maximalist detailing of species and biographical fact. Since reading it, I haven’t been able to shake his description of memory’s way of traversing time into crystalline transcendental present:
“I confess I do not believe in time. I like to fold my magic carpet, after use, in such a way as to superimpose one part of the pattern upon another. Let visitors trip. And the highest enjoyment of timelessness–in a landscape selected at random–is when I stand among rare butterflies, and their food plants. This is ecstasy, and behind the ecstasy is something else, which I cannot explain. It is like a momentary vacuum into which rushes all that I love, a sense of oneness with the sun and stone, a thrill of gratitude to whom it may concern, perhaps to the contrapuntal genius of human fate or to the tender ghosts humoring a lucky mortal.”
You can read the whole essay right here.
A POEM FOR THE PRECIPICE OF AUTUMN
Contradictions: Tracking Poems, XXVIII by Adrienne Rich This high summer we love will pour its light the fields grown rich and ragged in one strong moment then before we’re ready will crash into autumn with a violence we can’t accept a bounty we can’t forgive Night frost will strike when the noons are warm the pumpkins wildly growing the green tomatoes straining huge on the vines queene anne and blackeyed susan will straggle rusty as milkweed stakes her claim she who will stand at last dark sticks barely rising up through the snow her testament of continuation We’ll dream of a longer summer but this is the one we have: I lay my sunburnt hand on your table: this is the time we have