My Thoughts on “The Dark Archive” by Megan Rosenbloom

A few months ago I picked up The Dark Archive by Megan Rosenbloom. I’m a big fan of morbid medical histories, and when I saw its lovely cover I knew I had to borrow it from my local library. Like any good nonfiction book, it taught me things and got me thinking.

This book is a deep dive into the curious study of books bound in human skin or “anthropodermic bibliopegy.” It’s a fascinating book that goes into the methodology of distinguishing real human skin books from other animal leather books, the history of how these books came about, and the eccentric characters who made and collected them.

 What really resonates with me as a librarian and history nerd are the discussions around the ethics of preserving or destroying such controversial material. I fall into the camp of thinking all history is worth preserving. Destroying what we find distasteful is the same as trying to destroy the past. We can’t reckon with things that we no longer have evidence for. This is especially important to me a black woman living in these United States.

Human skin books bring up uncomfortable questions for the medical profession. Most collectors were physicians in the 19th century who also provided the material leather from the corpses they managed to (ahem) acquire. In most of these cases, they were deceased patients or cadavers dug up by the local resurrectionist through unsavory means. These bodies are often unnamed, forever unknown. Their DNA was processed and scraped out of what remained of them. But still they remain, these nameless people immortalized against their will, their skin viewed as simple material to increase the value of their own collection. Their value remains in the illicit nature of these acquisitions, not the life they lived or who they were.

I like books that make me think. Medical history and its adjacent studies tend to do it for me. They make me question how things are.

If you want a good history lesson on this morbid medical topic, I say you should definitely give this one a read.

Monday Musings: Trials of an Anxious Planner

I’ve spent the last several weeks coordinating this post. There’s a draft of this post written that I am right now in the process of revising. I don’t like the first draft so I’m trying something different. I’m trying to give you a glimpse into my thought process.

Since I didn’t think the post was up to snuff, I set it down to let it rest in the draft section. I busied myself with other projects. I have a major fiction project with a very involved outline. My chapters have bullet points and side notes of things to keep in mind. It’s so obsessive about the details that, after a certain point, it’s hard to look at because of how busy it is. I reference it for broad strokes and then write. New details pop up unaccounted for in the outline. I have to retroactively think about how this impacts the narrative.

I step away from writing. I start thinking about dinner: the food in the cupboards, the food in the fridge, and how do I make these things into a meal? But dinner is a long way off. There are work responsibilities, family responsibilities, and self-care responsibilities. I sketch out all these things into a planner that I sometimes adhere to.

I can spend minutes, hours, days, and weeks, silently thinking about things. I’ve made it an art form. From the mundane like waking up wondering what I’ll eat for dinner to the particulars of work training to my very own fiction outlining strategy—I plan.

I see my dedication to detail as an admirable trait most days but my tendency to perfectionism means most projects stop short. I get really excited about something and then drown in the details. Previous to this year, it’s what killed many a project I’ve been excited about. I consider what it’ll take to make something “perfect,” try to sketch out a plan, and lose steam because of how anxious I get considering the avalanche of minutiae.

Thoughtful planning can be the driver of creation but getting caught up in it can also suck the fun out of the very thing you’re trying to create. I’m in the valley between the peaks right now. I’ve spent so much time and energy planning things that the execution already has me exhausted.

And that’s okay. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself. I truly believe it but that driver to create makes me feel guilty for not wanting to do so.

I’m trying to slow down and roam the valley. The work isn’t going anywhere.

Monday Musings: Daylight Savings and The Great Confusing

Daylight Savings was this Sunday. I feel like I’m in some bizarro world where time has lost all meaning.

The changing of clocks somehow snuck up on me. I knew it would happen. Had it marked on my calendar even, but I’m still confused by everything. I woke up from my alarm yesterday, bleary-eyed, and wondering why the clocks were all wrong. I’m used to seeing the sun at six and found myself wondering why it was still dark at 7 this morning.

It doesn’t necessarily help that this is a ‘long week’ for me. Seven days of work, Saturday to this Friday. It’s not as bad as it sounds. I’ll survive. I don’t even feel it yet but that may be because I woke up with coffee this morning and I’m always more hopeful on Mondays. Tuesday will be my real test.

 

Recently, I’ve been wanting to get back into history again. This is a noted change from the romance book binging I’ve indulged in for the last few weeks. The Noble Blood podcast has given me good doses of royal history and I began a book about the world of early Hollywood around the time Howard Hughes came on the scene in the late 1920s (also by another podcaster, Karina Longworth of You Must Remember This fame). I’ve queued up several books from my library to also feed this need. I find that learning about the past offers comfort in our present.

 

In other not-so-concrete news, I’ve been giving some thought about my blog here and the content I’d like to share with you all. I’m a planner (sometimes to a fault) but my blogging schedule has more of a frenzied pantser energy. I like to build a consistent habit out of it, but that requires talking about things.

Blogging forces me to be more thoughtful about what’s going on in my day to day. I don’t like looking back on the week and thinking that if I’m not writing then nothing was done. It’s good to celebrate the little things and the changes in season.

Monday Musings: My Problem with Romance Novels

I’m a hypocrite. Or, maybe I’m just growing up.

Talk to me ten years ago and I would tell you that out of all genres of literature, romance was my least favorite. High school me liked the dark, pretentious, and overall tragic elements of media–the more twisted the better. Romance was fluff and cute. High school me couldn’t stand that unless someone dies at the end. Or if it was an anime. Clannad was one of my favorite shows but if you know anything about Clannad, you know it gets pretty tragic, pretty quickly.

Talk to me five years ago and I’ll freely admit that I have soft spot for Victorian novels with sweeping romances (Wuthering Heights comes to mind) and Young Adult literature where a central theme is finding out who you are and the blossoming of first loves. But in the same breath, I would tell you that adult romances just weren’t for me. Have you seen those ridiculous book covers? You know, the ones with well-oiled bare-chested men embracing swooning damsels whose collars were suggestively askewed. How could you take those books seriously? I’ve never read one but I know what you’re about (I say as I eye the bookshelf and point accusingly). I don’t mind if romance is an element of literature, I says, it just can’t be the main thing.

These observations were so…wrong. Yes, wrong! I was wrong! These last two or three years especially have had me looking for comfort in my media. I like a good challenging novel, a thoughtful artistic movie, but lately, I’ve been craving media kinder on my nerves. Something that I could enjoy without thinking about themes or the implication of a narrative in a larger cultural conversation. Something that would just make me feel good.

And do you know what I turned to?

I turned to romance novels.

I turned to media about two people who fall in love and, by golly, may even get a happy ending.

Rereading Lore Olympus has done more to improve my serotonin levels than anything else these last two weeks. In between violent deaths in the Jenna Moreci Savior Series, I was rooting for those crazy kids to fall in love. I picked up Beverly Jenkin’s Rebel and saw how intricate and sexy a historical romance could be. Right now I’m reading Red, White and Royal Blue and wondering how Alex and Henry will make their romance work being two very high-profile and highly visible bachelors in the realm of US politics and the British monarchy. It’s the food I need. It’s giving!

My assumption about romance books was wrong. Assuming that all romance novels were just two people making out for a book’s entirety was spectacularly narrow-minded. I’m ashamed to admit that. Even though I grew more open to other genres once I started working at my library, I never thought to read a romance until about a year ago. I still ran on the thought that romances just weren’t for me after not bothering to read them.

Are there any genres you eventually came around to after being a naysayer for years? Let’s discuss!

Monday Musings: Writing on Empty

I love writing. It’s an essential part of my daily life and my life would be incomplete without it.

At the same time, it burns me out.

Starting in late September, I’ve experienced a writing high that I haven’t experienced in years. I had my mojo back. In between then and January, I completed two novel-length projects and started revisions on one.

That hasn’t been the case these last few weeks. There’s a frenetic energy that accompanies a first draft. You get caught up in a story first written, get excited by its potential, and it’s a precious thing that gives you purpose every day. The initial drafting is one of my favorite parts of the writing process.

With a revision, however, you’re forced to examine the flaws of the first draft up close and correct them. My process is rewriting whole chapters: expanding scenes, questioning dialogue and character motivation, throwing in more flashbacks, putting a little more effort in worldbuilding, and the like. It’s fun at times, soul-crushing at others.

And these last two weeks, I feel like I’m fighting an uphill battle with motivation. My work has taken a toll on my energy after an extra-long week and, with the news being the news, my emotional reserves have been uniquely depleted as well. I have a schedule I’m trying to keep to maintain momentum but I’ve fallen behind. But I’m trying to be gracious with myself. I’ve learned that burnout is the mind’s way of telling you that it needs a breather.

Rather than force the issue, I take a break. I try to relax.

It’s easier said than done though. I fear not being able to pick up the pen again. I fear losing the momentum. I haven’t written like this in years (plural with an s!). That fear is always there. Even though I know from experience that a break is the best thing I can do for my creativity. Even though I know some of my best ideas come when I’m not thinking about my story. I recently read a Joan Didion quote that an author’s greatest fear after writing their first book is that they can’t write another and that this fear remains after the second, third, or fortieth book. It was more talking about ideas but I think it’s applicable here as well.

Regardless of my mood, I still try to write. Even on days I wake up and think that writing is the absolute last thing I want to do that day.

So here is what I do. I stick to my routine. I get up to dedicate my weekend mornings to writing. I open my story and see where I left off. I tentatively start writing something, give myself 25 minutes to find a groove. If I get into a rhythm (like on Saturday), I write until 1 and manage to crank out 2000 words (a win!). If I find myself unable to concentrate and looking for distraction (like on Sunday), I put the story away and promise myself I will try a little later after giving my head a rest.

The important thing is I never try to force it anymore. It shows in the work when I’m writing on empty. It’s painful to read and a nightmare to edit.

I’m trying to emphasize being kind to yourself when you lack the motivation or stamina to do things, especially when it comes to things you love. Breaks are a necessary component of the creative process. Never be afraid to indulge in them.

Thank you. I’ll step off my soapbox now.

Monday Musings: Voice in Writing

I spent some time contemplating voice. More specifically, I spent a lot of time contemplating my own voice in writing.

Writing through characters has always been easy for me. When coming up with a story, a character’s voice is the first that comes, then the premise, then how that premise might be executed. It develops the more I write it and evolves in ways I don’t expect. It’s very involved play-acting. The characters are my costumes and I interact with the world as they do.

As I describe this, my mind is brought back to the childhood stories I acted out with my sister. We spent countless hours in the day playing as our favorite Disney characters and inventing wacky scenarios that they had to puzzle their way out of. Writing helped fill that gap when we both grew out of it.

Writing as myself has always been a struggle. I’m a (near) daily diarist but when I push that voice to the public eye, it sounds awkward…not quite right. I’m not used to talking as me or the invented, highly polished version of me that I want to present to the world. Hence, why blogging is such a struggle. The voice stutters and falls flat.

I’ve had the idea, not for the first time, that I should come up with a character for this version of me. Surely, putting some artifice between myself and my writing persona would help me write as myself. It’s already there. After the retooling and editing, it’s baked in. The very act of effortless articulation a façade in its own right. You see that sentence before. I would never say that in real life.

It’s also possible I’m overthinking this like I do with most things. But a fair bit of practice goes into crafting a voice. It’s a patient endeavor. Historically, I’m not a very patient person but I can learn!

Music Appreciation: “Hey Moon” by John Maus

I’m 10 years late to the John Maus train but there is something so enchanting about this song. I credit it in planting the first seeds of my “Divided Loyalties” WIP, which has expanded into a hefty fantasy enterprise.

The synth beats that underpin this track are hypnotizing. John Maus’ vocals echo and lull the listener into a trance as he sings his ode to the moon. I like to think of it as a love song. A love song to the night, to dreams, to the slow and sweet passage of time.

A moment bottled and forever relished.

Favorite Lyrics:

Hey moon, it’s just you and me tonight
Everyone else is asleep
Hey moon, if I was to fall
I won’t fall so deep
Though I doubt I’m gonna
You can wake me up if you wanna

I learned while routing for info that this is a cover! Sounds like I got some more music to listen to!

So Currently…”Don’t Be Afraid to Be Seen Trying”

Let us try an experiment.

The following blog will have no pressure. It’s just you, me, and the thoughts that sit with us.

In years past, I’ve always set up “expectations.” I’ll write more, talk more, save more, go out more. Be less myself and more this fantastic super adult that’s got things figured out. Because adults have figured this out. Right?

If I can take no other lesson from 2020, it’s that very few of us know exactly what we’re doing. Especially since most of us had very little to do. The journey to adulthood is more about figuring out what you don’t know and trying to discover more. You may have bills, jobs, and currently unrealized aspirations but you see more truth in “The journey is more important than the destination.”

Tis the season of reflection, yes, but I have to admit (and past posts will tell you) that I have an obsession with reflection. Talking as me will lead to that or the bemoaning of the creative process in all its fickleness. (Please imagine me saying that last line swooning over an expensive chaise lounge. Gives it the voice I imagine).

So currently, I want no “expectations.” I want to be happy about the things I do and happy about the effort I put into things even if no one else can see it.

My motto for this year, courtesy of Youtuber Evelyn of the Internets, is “Don’t Be Afraid to Be Seen Trying.” I scribbled this line in my journal, notecards, a piece of paper I pinned to the corkboard above my desk. I’m a big believer in writing things into reality. At this point, I hope it’s etched into my brain matter and carved into my bones. You know, as you do.

I really hope you all had a Happy New Year and giving you some good vibes to help fuel your dreams and ambitions. I will not make any predictions for 2021 (Been there, done that, let’s not discuss it again) but I hope that we can meet the challenges it throws our way and that we come out better for it.

So Currently…4

Reassessing

What does productivity even mean in a time a COVID?

Whatever it is, it’s hardly applicable to my head space. It’s not welcome because it brings its dour cousins guilt and regret every time I settle into YouTube drama hole. They shake their heads and judge me silently. It’s easier to ignore them when caught up in the messiness of other’s lives.

My creativity, on the other hand, has been engaged in other pursuits. Mostly dusting off those old skeletons in my closet and dealing with the practical matter of clutter.

Clutter’s been my dirty little secret for the last few years. I keep a clean looking appearance but if you investigate the nooks and crannies you’ll find piles and piles of things stuffed everywhere.

My mind’s been consumed by it. What to donate, what to throw away, what to do with…? My every free waking moment spinning some variant of these questions.

I feel like a new person as I cast off old perceptions of myself. So my clothes I thought I’d rock with their frills, long sleeves, and melon necks. Paper bits I thought would mean something ten years out. Books kept on sentimental currency over genuine enjoyment.

Reassessing.

This is a journey that I don’t anticipate will end any time soon.

Together We Broil

The summer solstice is behind us and the season burns bright in all its splendor. 

Every morning starts with a mist. The dew of the night evaporating in the pinking horizon. By midday, the sun’s hot and heavy with humidity. Spring trees bend and brown under its gaze. The day rolls on slow and I find myself matching its pace. Just laying down and letting the sun further burnish the melanin of my skin. 

And the colors of the season. Plums and peaches hang heavy on the vine. Local supermarkets brim with multicolor peppers and squashes. Red, Orange, Yellow, and  Green. The weekly farmer’s markets are filled with the delicious smells of fresh fruit. The night air is cool with dew. Burning charcoal and hickory wafting in on the wind. 

There’s tons of reason to love the summer. 

But ultimately,  together we broil.


Back in the day, I used to hate summer. I liked being out of school but I just couldn’t stand the heat. Ironic since I am a summer baby. 

It’s still far from my favorite season but I’m finding myself appreciating the things I took for granted about it in years’ past. Summer mornings are definitely my favorite. I like seeing the colors of the sky as the sun rises. And the dew makes it so refreshing. Spring’s color comes out in full force and summer music plays on the radio. 

Since I’ve gotten really into cooking, I’m researching all the foods that are in season. I bought and tried fresh plums and apricots for the first time. My fridge is stocked with cucumbers, peppers, and zucchini. This week I hope to experiment with some Asian style cooking so wish me luck with that. 🙂

How do you all feel about the summer season? What do you like most about it? What do you least like about it?