The Newsletter Thingy

The Sybarite Newsletter: Withering on the Vine

As Martha Stewart says, “when you’re through you’re through.”

Adeline Dimond
Sybarite
Published in
7 min readDec 17, 2023

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Grape Vines and Fruit, with Three Wagtails, Bartolomeo Cavarozzi, ca 1615–18 | Metropolitan Museum of Art, Open Access Program

I’m going to try real hard not to turn this newsletter into a therapy session, but it’s gonna be tough.

I recently read a blog posts about memoir — one of those harangues in bullet-point form in which a writer tells other writers how to write — and the blogger said that if you write memoir to process your pain, it will inevitably be terrible. Oh, and unpublishable, because of course this was a blogger blogging about how to get published. If the blogger had ever been published herself, would she still be blogging?

Anyway, I was like, What? How do you write memoir or personal essays without processing pain? Would a personal essay be interesting if it was a meditation on joy? Is joy even interesting?

To me, joy isn’t really interesting unless it’s deeply unhinged (which is, of course, what Sybarite is all about) or if it’s a reward after having gone through hell. But joy that results just ’cause you’ve made all the right decisions, and are somehow otherwise magically blessed is mind-numbingly boring. For instance, I have a friend who is trying desperately to be a life coach; she has a podcast and one of those Instagram profiles in which she spurts out weird platitudes about how to crush life, while also selling liquid collagen through some sort of MLM.

But in real life she lives in a small condo with her second unemployed husband (how do you write that? He is her second husband and like her first husband is also unemployed) and she has a dark brown leather couch pushed against a wall painted turquoise, and I think that color combination tells you everything you need to know about her, and the type of joy and success she’s peddling.

Anyway, this edition of the newsletter is going to be about processing pain because you are all my therapist now, in part because you are a captive audience but also because my actual therapist said something yesterday that made me feel worse. Some therapist.

The backstory: it’s my birthday on Wednesday, and I took a few days off to go float in mineral hot springs in the desert. While turning 53 shouldn’t be a big deal, I felt like I deserve a break this year, something pretty and soft and beautiful. I’ve gone to this resort several times over the years, because there is nothing like hanging in hot water during the winter solstice.

Every time I’ve gone, someone has come with me. The last time I went in 2021 eight people — eight! — went with me, but this time no one could. Fine, I thought, I’ll go alone. I’ve traveled by myself several times, including a few weeks through Iceland after I passed the bar. I figured I could spend the alone time writing, reading, and just control-alt-deleting my whole life: the smoking, the drinking, the bad choices in men.

But then I started to dread it. I imagined the last time I went to Palm Springs by myself; my friend had given me a gift certificate to one of those hipster hotels with no restaurant, and I felt sad while I sat by the pool and ate the overpriced dinner and cocktail I ordered through Uber Eats. I was enraged by the traffic when I drove back to Los Angeles, and it wasn’t a reset at all. I came back home with the same acne, same anger, same sadness, not transformed at all.

I also knew I was going to miss Fish, even though he’s the most fucked up dog I’ve ever had. No amount of love or expensive training will keep him from trying to throw himself out of window to kill anyone who walks down the street; no amount of love or expensive training will stop him from lunging at other dogs on our walks. To pull him back from the brink I have to plant my legs and activate my core, so my abs are getting a workout, and I guess that’s nice.

But unlike my last two unfucked up dogs, Fish sleeps with me every night, all night. And while I’m sure this will become a problem if I ever get busy with a guy again, ever since my dad died having Fish in my bed has been the one thing that’s comforted me. Sometimes he curls up like a little fiddlehead, sometimes he stretches out like a flying squirrel, but he’s always there and I can reach over and hold his paw and he doesn’t pull it away. He doesn’t care if I snore, or if I gasp for breath in my sleep, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep in a hotel bed without him.

So I canceled. I thought I was being good to myself, gentle with myself, which was an unusual move for me. While I can’t honestly say that I push myself often, I definitely berate myself when I don’t. This time, I thought I was being nice to myself by not only not going, but also forgiving myself for not going.

But of course, as with all decisions, there was the inevitable ricochet effect. The next day the radio reported that the desert was 77 degrees during the day, low 50s at night, the perfect temperatures for floating in hot water, and I started to regret it and feel like a loser. What was I going to do with my days off work, which are so hard to get these days? Watch TV and go through the stacks of paper that still pile up with bills and notifications about my parents?

Yesterday, I told my new therapist about all of this. I wanted him to congratulate me on being gentle with myself, but guess what? That’s not what he said. He said I should have pushed myself and gone. He said that pushing myself out of my comfort zone would be helpful in therapy, because we could “see what comes up.”

Unsurprisingly, the self-flagellation started in earnest after hearing that. My plan after therapy was to get my eyelashes done, go home and take Fish on a huge hike, and then food prep for the week. What I did instead: got my eyelashes done, came home and drank bourbon and smoked cigarettes.

I thought about how I’m not who I used to be, and not in a good way. I love horses, but I’m not hanging out with them. I love painting and collaging and gardening, but I’m not doing those things. I love going to farmers markets, but I’m not going. I love cooking, but I’m not. I love hiking, but guess what? Also not happening.

I’m basically withering on the vine. It’s not depression exactly, it’s more like there’s just no more fruit.

Then yesterday I scrolled past a MasterClass Instagram ad for their new offering with Martha Stewart, and I clicked on it. I’ve been a fan of Martha’s since the early 90s; by all accounts she’s a nightmare to work with (or is she just a woman?) and yet she’s unparalleled in making things beautiful just because, and that’s why I love her.

While she was in prison she made crab apple jam and dandelion wine, and that’s the defiance I need, especially now. In the ad, Martha said something about always evolving, always trying new things, and then summed it up by quiping in her strange New England accent, “When you’re through, you’re through.”

When you’re through, you’re through.

I kept repeating this to myself as I chain-smoked yesterday. I don’t want to be through, so today I’m going to take Fish to Griffith Park, and will just hope and pray that we don’t get arrested, and that the nature and the fresh air and inevitable ab workout will tire us both out, and I’ll come home flushed and tired, ready to make this zucchini thing which is truly a secret weapon. Put it on fish, on couscous, on pasta, eat it straight out of the pot.

Speaking of pushing yourself, this week Sybarite has two new stories on travel. Geo Snelling is back, writing about his dreamlike dives in Saipan, during which he swam out of his comfort zone more than once. My therapist would be proud of him.

And please welcome new writer The Happy Hag, who writes about old churches in Sweden. I was especially taken with her story, not only because I’m an unabashed Scandophile, but because no one talks enough about the way the Swedes paint the inside of buildings. As the The Happy Hag notes, these paintings are often inside of churches, but I’ve always been taken by the paintings inside of Swedish homes, which were made overly and complicatedly pretty just because. Martha would be proud.

But for some reason I can’t find examples to show you this type of painting. I just spent a good thirty minutes online trying to find examples, but the Internet just led me down a rabbit hole of Etsy advertisements and Pinterest pages. The only example I can think to show you is from this scene in Midsommar in which Dani runs away from watching her boyfriend screw someone else, and then cries in a big beautiful painted room with a group of gals. (Men, amiriite?)

As always, Sybarite is looking for new work, stories about travel and food and cities and fashion and other pursuits of pleasure. If you have brown leather couch pushed up against a wall painted turquoise and you think you’ve got a really great piece about how to increase your efficiency or find the love of your life, we (meaning I) don’t want to hear it. But if you’ve found the perfect red lipstick, we (meaning I) definitely do. You can read more about how to submit here.

Off to hike,

Sybarite-in-Chief,

Adeline

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