Hi hi, friends,
A few weeks ago I went to a presentation on setting up a practice of ancestor veneration at Asheville’s local witch store. The talk was tied to Samhain, which, if you’re not familiar with it, is a festival with roots in Celtic traditions that represents “a time to reconnect with our ancestors, and honor those who have died.” Samhain falls next week, on October 31. (This article explores how it relates to and is distinct from Halloween.) The marvelous witch Byron Ballard was giving the talk, and I’d gone in part so I could record it for my friend Maud Newton as research for her book on ancestry and in part for a project I’m brewing up here (more on this soon!). And, too, when is it ever a bad day to go to your local witch shop, sit on a folding chair in the back room, next to the sales room with its heaps of incense and fiddly trinkets and candles and cellophane packets of mysterious clumped ingredients, and listen to a marvelous witch tell you how you might set up a little offering table or shelf to honor your grandmother and the other beloved departed in your family. Answer: it’s never a bad day for this.
The store’s in an old rezoned house on a busy corner. There were maybe seven of us there for the talk, sitting in our semicircle of metal chairs. An alterations place is located upstairs and every so often a mechanical thunk would come through the ceiling, the punch of buttonholes being put in: Thunk… thunk… thunk. From the narrow window behind me I could feel the sky shifting from twilight to dark. At the end, a few people shared questions and stories, and this included one person describing for the rest of us all the tumult and mayhem caused in her family across generations by women given the name Eugenia. “The dramatic Eugenias” is how she referred to them, and they live in my head now as a fatiguing but dazzling lineage.
Also, all this time, I’d been pronouncing it “Sam Hain,” like it was a character in a Western—the old cowboy squints and says, “looks like Sam Hain is back in town”—when it’s “Sowen.”
Then I went home and cried my eyes out rewatching Coco. Have you seen Coco? I thought everyone had but a few friends recently told me they hadn’t. So I’m mentioning it! The movie is set on the Day of the Dead—that is, another October 31st festival about honoring one’s ancestors, and it’s resplendent. Like, as perfect as anything can be without offending the gods. It’s still streaming on Netflix, too.
Back in June, Jia Tolentino wrote a love letter to Coco that sums up what makes it so meaningful to watch right now, beyond the delights of its story and the beauty of its animation. She writes that Coco is “a definitive movie for this moment: an image of all the things that we aren’t, an exploration of values that feel increasingly difficult to practice in the actual world.” The movie, she continues, is “about borders more than anything—the beauty in their porousness, the absolute pain produced when a border locks you away from your family.” Rereading her piece just now, it was odd to see the news stories to which she’d linked to illustrate her point—this week’s news has been such a reprise.
Anyway, here is your recommendation: watch Coco this weekend!
Right now, in this letter, I’m sharing links from the time I was on hiatus. (We’re coming near the end of that pile.) In honor of Coco and Samhain, a few favorites on the theme of family, origins, and thinking about our pasts:
• Angela Chen on “the stories we tell about ourselves and why they matter.”
• Keith Gessen on “why I taught my son Russian.” This essay is so deep charming and funny.
• A piece by Mayukh Sen on a cookbook written by Sameen Rushdie in the 1980s. Sameen is Salman Rushdie’s sister, and her cookbook was “modelled, in part, after what the siblings ate as kids growing up in an affluent Muslim household in nineteen-fifties Bombay.”
SHARE WITH ME YOUR OLD AND HAUNTED LINKS
A last thing that I thought might be fun: Do you have any favorite old Internet links that you go back and reread now and again? A couple examples: I’m haunted by this 1996 New Yorker story by Joanna Greenfield about being attacked by a hyena; and then this week, I got the joy of introducing a client to “My Baby? My Baby Seems So Smart But Also I’m Worried About My Baby,” which is, eep, from 2010. (That article’s corollary: “My Book? My Book Seems So Smart” etc.)
If you have something like that—let’s say anything published before 2018—send the link with a little one- or two-sentence explanation to me by hitting reply (or email me at blackcardiganedit at gmail dot com) by Tuesday. If I get enough, I’ll gather ’em all up for a special “beloved old link-ghosts of the Internet” edition of this letter on Halloween.
if you watch Coco be sure to hydrate,
Black Cardigan Edit