.In and Out of the Dark.

Hi, hello, welcome back.


I’ve spent a lot of the last month not doing things.

I’ve been not writing.

not smiling.

not keeping in touch with my friends.

not sleeping.

not staying awake.

I’ve been not caring about things that should matter.


The thing everyone talks about in the midwest but no one really adequately warns you about is how dark it is here. No one tells you Chicago can get cold in the middle of the day, when just a moment ago the sun was out and you just for a second thought maybe spring might be coming. Dusk came too early in the winter; the shadows creeping far closer than I thought they could.

The spring equinox arrived, her hair greasy and long. The torch she carried was but a tea candle, flickering in and out as she stumbled toward the horizon. She raised her head a little ways toward me and we locked eyes.

“It’s too cold here.”  Lowering her gaze, she splashed like snow slush onto the bitter concrete. Persephone has kept to herself ever since.

Someone found five hearts in a dumpster near my work the other day. An offering perhaps; someone desperate for the sun to come home.

Beltane is just around the corner. I write this letter to you in the dark, surrounded by candles to entice her. I hope the fire burns bright this time around. I hope the warmth comes home. I hope they find whose chests those hearts belong to.

.Thank You, Kind Stranger: Mustard Packet.

This is the start of a new (hopefully ongoing) addition to my blog. “Thank You, Kind Stranger” documents the random acts of kindness sent my way by strangers I meet. I hope you enjoy these sweet little moments.

Yesterday, I got off the red line on the Chicago L Train at 1:40 p.m. and being hungry headed to the Jewel across the street from where I work to grab a quick lunch. After a brief moment of confusion (the sandwiches weren’t near the deli where I expected them to be), I picked out an Italian sub, checked out and sat down at the window counter to eat.

Biting into the sandwich I was a little disappointed to see that no condiments had been put on it before being wrapped up for purchase. This wasn’t the fault of the deli; I need to add my own condiments but as I was crunched for time. Having already spent a fair deal trying to find the sandwich in the first place, I decided to accept the sandwich as was and continued munching.

Suddenly, a packet of mustard appeared in front of my face. I turned to see an older woman holding it out to me.

“Here. This will make it taste better,” she said with not so much a knowing smile but a knowing “life sucks sometimes, take the mustard” glance. I smiled, thanked her and took the packet. Squeezing it onto the bread certainly improved the otherwise bland assortment of meat and cheese significantly. I thanked her again as she got up to leave and went to work with a warm feeling in my chest.

Thank you, kind stranger.


It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything. Since my last blog post I’ve done the following things:

  1. Started a job I love
  2. Told my partner I love him
  3. Taken deep breaths
  4. Began writing for the Harry Potter Alliance
  5. Travelled to Chicago for the first time
  6. Gasped
  7. Slept a little too late
  8. Missed deadlines
  9. Nearly left the world… twice
  10. Been pulled back from the brink by strong women… twice
  11. Loved a friend deeply
  12. Appreciated my boss for his empathy
  13. Appreciated my friends for their understanding
  14. Left the job I love
  15. Rested my drunk head against the window of my best friend’s car
  16. Folded clothing
  17. Filled out a change of address form
  18. Screwed the lid of my father’s urn on too tight
  19. Driven to Nebraska
  20. Failed to scatter his ashes
  21. Driven to Iowa
  22. Driven to Illinois
  23. Braved Chicago traffic
  24. Added garage door keys to my key ring
  25. Became a foster dog mom
  26. Decided where dishes should go
  27. Stocked a fridge
  28. Cried alone
  29. Cried with my partner
  30. Gotten a new job
  31. Worked out at a new gym
  32. Taken my dogs for a walk
  33. Forgotten poop bags
  34. Ran
  35. Watched my partner graduate from college
  36. Met his parents
  37. Met his siblings
  38. Eaten Chicago thin crust pizza
  39. Unpacked
  40. Taken a nap
  41. Taken a walk
  42. Taken a deep breath
  43. Taken a break
  44. Comforted my love after a nightmare
  45. Woken up early to start writing again
  46. Exhaled

.The Last Jackalope.

Some of you may know that my college, Santa Fe University of Art and Design, is closing its doors this week. As I write this, I’m sitting in the lab where Jackalope Magazine used to meet every Thursday.  I had to walk around to the back of the building and ring a bell with the hope that someone would be inside to let me in. Luckily, a friend was printing out some last photos and answered the door. Now I’m at my old desk where I wrote, agonized over and published 75 articles on the life of this now empty campus and the surrounding Santa Fe area. It feels surreal sitting here. I may be one of the last people to do so.

I didn’t expect myself to feel so emotional about the school ending. I’m not sure why. I think perhaps I didn’t expect to feel so sad because I spent so many of my years at this school angry and frustrated. There were times I hated this place, where I wanted to leave. However, sitting here now for the last time, I can’t help but mourn. I loved my professors here. I loved writing for Jackalope Magazine. I love the stories I told here. I’m filled with a longing I can’t totally describe. I guess it’s a kind of nostalgia, but not for what was here, although I miss that, too. I feel a desperate cling to the atmosphere of this place, a longing for somewhere to come back to, somewhere to feel nostalgic, a location to feel proud of where I’ve been. It’s hard to know there will be nothing left when I leave for the last time.

I want to thank Jackalope Magazine for making me the writer I am today. I need to thank Julia Goldberg for being a constant source of mentoring and support and for giving me a kick in the butt whenever I needed it to move forward. I need to thank Tony O’Brien for making me laugh and inspiring me to do my best. I need to thank both of them for letting me cry in their offices when my brain felt like it wasn’t working right anymore. I want to thank the students who also wrote for Jackalope, for curling over desks and typing furiously, for filling this room with so much joy, for sharing the heartache and the discoveries. This room will always stick with me and I want to thank it, too. It’s the room I called home, my safe touchstone every week where I knew I could feel some sense of clarity. This is the space I’ll always think of as SFUAD.

I don’t know how to end this post because I don’t know how to end my time here. I think what I need to say is goodbye and thank you. I’m grateful for one last moment to sit here and write, one last Jackalope sit-down to tie the whole thing off. It feels good to end things in this room.

I love you, SFUAD. Thank you.



.On the Right Side of Midnight.


you are asleep, my love

and i am on the eye-fluttering side of awake.

it is raining here

tap, tap, tapping on my eyelids

like the whispers i sometimes listen to at night.


i’d like to listen to your whispers

on this side of midnight

the tap, tap, tapping of your raindrop fingertips

on the slope of my sleeping—or almost sleeping—spine.


i want to blearily blink my gaze out

the morning window at the summer rain

sliding slick and hot and sizzling down the glass.


i want to roll over on the other side of midnight

and coo each other back to sleep.

“not yet, not yet. dream a little longer, my love.”


the hot sun comes soon enough— not soon enough—

but i am asleep in your head while the frost thaws

on opposite sides of midnight

hoping, praying, spellcasting

that this will be enough.


.A Spell Jar for Protection Through Self-Love.

So this is probably a good time to tell you that I’m somewhat of a witch.

Okay, no, calm down. It’s not like that. I don’t boil and brew up evil potions or turn people into frogs (Yet. Don’t @ me.) I practise a very old religion known as Wicca, which falls under the Pagan umbrella of beliefs. It’s a little complicated but basically, I use stuff like herbs, stones, candles, and other tools to set intentions in my life. I don’t necessarily believe that there’s a direct correlation to the spells I cast and the outcome of my life (I’m something called an agnostic witch) but it gives me some comfort and a feeling of control to do so.

One thing I really love doing is spell jars/pouches. These are intention charged items that I use as a touchstone to remind me of my goals. One spell jar that I’ve made recently is really helpful when it comes to recovering from emotional abuse. I carry this little vial around with me to keep myself calm when I feel like my boundaries aren’t being respected or I feel particularly anxious. I wrote the spell recipe out for a friend of mine who was struggling and thought I’d share it with you, too.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • A vial or pouch small enough to carry with you but large enough to hold everything. I like little vials with cork stoppers, but anything will work.
  • A piece of rose quartz
  • A piece of tiger’s eye
  • Cinnamon
  • Rosebuds
  • Lavender
  • 1 pink candle
  • 1 black candle

Perform this spell during the full moon for optimum effectiveness, but really, this will work whenever the moon is visible.

Put all the ingredients into the container and leave it out at night in a place where the moonlight will hit it. The next night, lay the container underneath the two candles and light each one. After a few minutes, pick the jar up and hold it to your chest. Close your eyes and visualize a pink bubble surrounding you. You are safe inside of this bubble. Feel love and protection filling you up from our toes to the top of your head. Smile to yourself. You deserve this feeling of love and security. When you feel full of this feeling, open your eyes and seal the jar shut with the wax from both candles, chanting “I reclaim my heart and protect it from future harm.” Blow out the candles and give the jar a little squeeze whenever you feel drained or unsafe. You can also carry it with you and recharge it under the moon as needed.

You can charge other items similarly to bring you different feelings! Want to feel sexy on a first date? Take your favorite tube of lipstick or your favorite jar of cologne, hold it to your heart and visualize the same thing. When you’re done, use the same incantation and hit the town! You can do the same thing for an interview by charging up a piece or jewellery or a necktie with the intention of confidence or prosperity. Throw in some jade or a green candle to really focus in on what you want. Having these little reminders can be a big help!

I carry this little jar with me whenever I feel kind of empty or if I’ll be around someone who drains me. It doesn’t really matter whether you believe in magick or not. Having something to remind you of your self-love and inner strength can help you feel more secure in a difficult situation. I find that even though I don’t really believe that lighting a candle will get me a job or make someone back off, the ritual still helps me feel less anxious. I hope it helps you, too.


.What I Learned at The Granger Leadership Academy.

I can’t believe it’s been a month since I attended the Granger Leadership Academy in Tucson, AZ. The four-day activism conference was truly a life-changing experience. I met so many incredible people and learned so much not only about activism and leadership, but also about myself and my own needs and boundaries. I’ve taken the month since to really reflect on what it was about GLA that was so transformative for me and now I want to share those reflections with you.


Grace Gordon speaking at the Granger Leadership Academy opening ceremony. Photo by TK Lee.

Stop apologizing for taking up space.

If there’s one thing I took away from GLA, it’s the fantastic speech that my fellow student speaker Grace Gordan gave. Grace is an amazing actress and unapologetically bold which is exactly what she carried during her talk. She brought to our attention just how often we people apologize for taking up space, especially women and AFAB people. We find ourselves saying sorry for things that aren’t actually our fault or necessary. Talking to a co-worker often begins with “Sorry, can I speak with you for a moment?” Emails begin with “Sorry for taking so long to respond,” when it hasn’t even been a day.  Grace described a moment while grocery shopping where a woman merely walked past her and felt the need to apologize for doing so. She turned to the woman, absolutely perplexed because she hadn’t actually done anything wrong and reassured her that it was fine. 

At the end of Grace’s speech, she challenged us to do two things during the weekend. Firstly, we needed to resist the urge to say sorry when the situation didn’t call for an apology. If we needed to get past someone we would say, “excuse me.” If we needed vent  about something that was bothering us instead of saying “Sorry, I’m talking so much,” we’d say “Thank you for listening.” Anytime one of us slipped up and said the s word, we’d smile knowingly and ask “What are you apologizing for?” and with a laugh, the lesson was learned.

Secondly, Grace wanted us to build some of our confidence during the weekend. Since we often downplay compliments given to us, we were challenged to instead respond by saying, “Thank you, it’s true!” It might feel a little egotistical, but in the safe space of GLA, it was an opportunity to internalize the positive comments given to us instead of dismissing them outright. It was an incredibly empowering exercise. I felt good, confident, sexy even, looking someone directly in the eye after receiving a compliment, thanking them for the sentiment, and confidently accepting it as fact. “Why yes, I am a boss-ass-bitch. Thank you, it’s true.”

While my track record with not apologizing has wavered a bit since leaving GLA, I’ve tried to stay committed to changing my words when it comes to asking for what I need. The other day I didn’t hear my friend’s grandmother when she said something from the other room. The s word nearly slithered out of my throat before I stopped, swallowed it down, and responded with, “Can you say that again, Grammy? I couldn’t hear you.” It’s made a tremendous difference in my confidence level.

People are genuinely still willing (and excited!) to support small artists.

When I was packing for GLA, I decided to bring five copies of my book Interrobang with me. I contemplated ordering more to bring but then thought, “Nah. There probably won’t be a lot of people who want to buy it and I’ll just end up sad, lugging them all home.” I decided I would give one to the Apparating Library (a book sharing/donation system that the HPA hosts) and then if I could sell the remaining four, cool, but I wouldn’t make a big deal out of it.


The Apparating Library! Photo by TK Lee.

Turns out, I sold out of copies in one night. After my speech, I had multiple people come up to me who wanted one. When I sold all four, more people came up to me later wanting to buy it at the open mic. I was flabbergasted! I told them I didn’t have any left and then they wanted to know where they could find it online. One person even offered to pay for shipping to the UK! I felt so honored and validated as a writer that so many people genuinely wanted to support my work. I quickly gave them my card and then posted a link to my Lulu page on the GLA Facebook group. A few weeks later, I got a message from my new friend Christie, who bought my book online after the conference.  “Hey, I just finished your book! It was so great. My fav piece has to be the one with the lizard 🙂 loved it!!!” The fact that she took the time to let me know she enjoyed my work means so much to me, especially as a small artist.

The money I made from selling books went directly to support the other artists that were at GLA. I bought a copy of Wizards in Spacea literary magazine that sponsored the open mic at GLA. It’s an incredible collection of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction that made for perfect reading material on my long drive back to Denver. I was then lucky enough to support the funding of their third and fourth issue on Indiegogo, which is now fully funded! I also bought a zine from WIS founder Olivia Dolphin, some Hogwarts gender identity pins from Jackson Bird, and some of the HPA merch available as gifts for my friends back home. It felt good to take the money I had made from my art and put it back into the community that was supporting me. It might seem like mainstream media has an iron grip on consumers, but deep down people are still willing to support small artists.

Owning up to bad behavior is always better than pretending it didn’t happen. You always have more to learn.

Before I attended GLA, I was always scared to own up to my own microaggressive behavior. I worried that if I brought the issue up, it would just be reminding the person of how I’d hurt them and only hurt them further. Instead, I would often put my head down and hope the whole thing would blow over. I knew this is a really bad way of being an ally, but my fear of confrontation (and honestly, my fear of admitting I was wrong) got in the way of owning up to my mistakes and apologizing. I went to GLA with my main goal to learn how to be a better ally and break this habit of just not saying anything for fear of more hurt and anger. I got a really good lesson in this when I approached one of the keynote speakers after the Wizard Rock show. I’m sharing this story not because I’m proud of it, but because I think it was important in my development as an ally and maybe it will be a lesson for someone else, too.

Gabriella Cázares-Kelly is an educator, activist, and a member of the Tohono O’odham Nation. She spoke passionately about some of the issues facing her community and other Native American communities: poverty, racism, suicide, food insecurity, and the threat of culture and language loss. She has an incredible magnetism when she speaks and her words moved me to tears. When I saw that she was speaking at GLA, I wondered if she was familiar with the work of Standing Rock artist Canupa Hanska Luger, who I interviewed last year during a visit to my college campus. If she wasn’t familiar with his work, I wanted to talk to her about the artist I loved and who she might be interested in checking out.

I’m not going to say what I had meant to say when I walked up to her to ask if she was familiar with his work, because it doesn’t really matter what my intention was. What matters is the negative impact I made and why it wasn’t okay. What I said was along the lines of “You’re native. Do you know this other native person?” Oof.

I winced the moment the words came out of my mouth. That was not at all what I had intended, but like I said, it didn’t matter what I had intended. The microaggression was already hanging in the air between us and I felt awful. I was supposed to be an A+, gold star activist. I was supposed to be woke. How could I have made that microaggression?? The conversation reminded me that I am far from perfect when it comes to my own prejudices and learned behavior. I still have a lot to learn (and unlearn).

The next day, Gabriella was giving a talk about microaggressions and how to be a good ally. I decided that I would approach her before her talk and apologize. I wouldn’t try to clarify. I wouldn’t use the words “but” or “actually.” I would own up to my behavior and hope she would accept the apology. I was lucky that she did, but I would have understood if she didn’t. Just because I was apologizing didn’t mean I got a gold star or that I was guaranteed forgiveness. It didn’t make me a good person. It just meant I was learning. She gave me a hug after her talk and said, “Now I get to know Charli!” I’m really grateful to be able to get know her, too.


Myself speaking at GLA! Photo by TK Lee.

Your time and energy are too important to spend on toxic people.

I recently had to end a friendship that wasn’t healthy. For a long time, I had been riding out my sad, angry, uncomfortable feelings around them because I feared what would happen if I left. I let them use me for networking opportunities. I let them not pay me for my work. I let them barge ahead when I said no to something. I let it go when they threw a tantrum over me not giving them my undivided attention and then asked me why I was mad when they decided not to talk to me for weeks. I had been willing to put up with the behavior if it meant I wasn’t going to lose them. I valued having the trademark “best friend” more than my own self-worth. This was before I attended GLA.

I can’t pinpoint a moment when I realized I was in an unhealthy relationship. I can’t tell you when it was that I decided to step away from this person in order to put my own needs first for once. It wasn’t one particular panel or a specific lesson I learned at GLA. I think GLA just gave me the confidence to know that I was worth more than what this person was willing to give me. GLA gave me the security to know that walking away from someone who had been hurting me for a long time wasn’t going to destroy my life; it was going to resurrect it. I left GLA, tied up a few financial loose ends with the person, and then unfriended and blocked them on Facebook. I felt at ease for the first time in months.

If you are in a relationship (platonic or romantic) that is making you miserable, it is absolutely okay to cut ties with that person. You don’t owe them an explanation. You are allowed to just leave. They’ve hurt you long enough. Don’t put any more time or energy into someone who is actively making you suffer. You are worthy of the respect they are not giving you. ❤

I have a lot to learn from Slytherin House.

I am a Hufflepuff. I value loyalty, hard work, friendship, and kindness. I try to be kind and put other people first whenever I can. My friend Sam calls me the “Huffle-lest of the Puffs!” However, we Hufflepuffs have an unfortunate tendency to let people take advantage of us (see above). We want to help people so much, sometimes we forget to look out for ourselves. We trust easily and cast our friendship net really wide. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can lead to some codependent behavior.

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My team’s wisdom for the weekend. Photo by Charlotte Renken.

One of my favorite talks at GLA “Hogwarts Houses and the Heroine’s Journey” was from Heroine Training’s Xandra Robinson-Burns. Xandra is a brilliant Gryffindor with a passion for self-care and minimalism. Her website Heroine Training has tons of really great advice and reflections about how “own your own story” and be the heroine of your own life. Xandra is the reason I got a Passion Planner (which seriously changed my life and you need to get one. If you use the code XANDRA10 you can get 10% off and help out an awesome small artist! Bonus!)


Xandra’s talk was focussed on how we can use the Hogwarts Houses to achieve our goals. Gryffindors challenge us to dare to dream. They help us visualize our goals and what we want out of life. Hufflepuffs help us to act on our goals and to get vulnerable with our purpose. They allow us to set intentions and work hard to get there. Ravenclaws are about readying our minds to achieve our goals. They inspire us to seek out information and pull from lots of different sources, including people in our own lives. Lastly, Slytherins. Slytherins get a bad rap at Hogwarts. They’re often seen as evil people who step on others to get what they want. This isn’t really true. Slytherins have a lot to teach us about living our legacy, forming tight communities, and asking for what they need. Slytherins aren’t afraid to take up space. They’re firm in the boundaries and don’t let people take advantage of them. They also never apologize for who they are, because they take pride in being unique!

I think these are really important qualities to have. I’ve always struggled to set my own boundaries and make my needs heard. I decided at GLA that while I’m a proud Hufflepuff and I will continue to be kind, loyal, and determined, I’m also going to take a letter out of Slytherin’s potions book. Cutting toxic people out of my life was the first step in creating firm boundaries that matter to me. While I’m still learning, I’m trying to utilize Slytherin’s unapologetic confidence to achieve my goals.


GLA was an inspiring four day adventure. I met some of the most incredible people (one of which I’m now dating <3) and I learned some really important lessons. I’m grateful to GLA for making a space where I could learn from my mistakes, accept that I am still learning, and also celebrate and utilize my strengths to make the world a better place. I was able to take pride in who I am as well as own up to parts of myself I need to work on. I’ve grown a lot in just the few weeks since. I’m really proud of who I’m growing into. I can’t wait until next year.


… Charlotte

The First Dot.

Wow. I’ve been wanting to say that to you for a long time now. It feels good.


I’ve tried blogging on and off for years, but I never felt like I had the right format/timing/platform/idea/whatever other bullsh*t excuse was keeping me from really starting and staying. Previously, I worried that I wouldn’t be able to stick to a schedule when it came to posting or that I didn’t have enough interesting ideas that warranted a blog. I worried my ideas didn’t connect enough to have them all under the same project and then I got overwhelmed by how many project ideas I had. I worried that I wouldn’t be able to do blogging right. So I just didn’t. I let perfectionism paralyze me and kept ideas mostly to myself unless I was given an outlet in which to share them. I’ve written for several online publications including Jackalope Magazine and Hush Comics. I’ve spoken at events like the Granger Leadership Academy and Santa Fe Art Institute’s SFAI 140 series. I’ve even published my own book! However, all of these projects have been extrinsically motivated. I wrote for those publications because someone was depending on me. I spoke at those events because I didn’t want to let anyone down. I published my book because it was part of the requirements for my degree. All of these projects were things I really wanted to do and was excited about, granted, but were it not for a deadline or someone breathing down my neck, I might not have done them.

When you have depression, it’s hard to motivate yourself to do things for the sake of yourself because deep down you think you’re a piece of sh*t and therefore, you feel like you aren’t allowed to. I’ve come to the realization recently that this just isn’t true.

Firstly, I am not a piece of shit. PHEW! That feels good to write. Say it with me:


I bet if you found this blog, you needed to hear that, too. It’s okay if you don’t believe it yet. There are days when I don’t either, but after a life-changing weekend at the Granger Leadership Academy and a LOT of Facebook unfriending, I’ve come to the realization that I’m actually pretty cool and I do deserve to do things for myself. They might not be perfect, but I deserve to give myself permission to do them.

Secondly, I have a lot of cool stuff I want to show the world and the only thing that is getting in my way is *cliche alert* me. All of my life I’ve been collecting little tidbits of ideas and wanting to share them, but I’ve always been so scared they wouldn’t be received well or I wouldn’t have enough energy to do them the way I wanted. Well, no more! I’m gathering the dots and putting them here where I’m hoping to eventually connect them. This is an idea borrowed from Amanda Palmer’s book The Art of Asking, which I highly recommend if you’re an artist who is struggling to believe they can art. Palmer talks about how she collects dots– ideas, inspiration, what have you– from her life and then eventually she finds a way of connecting them into a full piece of work.

I have a lot of things I want to share. I have a lot of things I want to do. They aren’t all necessarily connected except to say that I want them out in the world. So that’s what this blog is about. This is me gathering dots from all over my life and drawing lines to connect them. Some dots might live all on their lonesome, but that’s okay. They can be their own little ecosystem. All that matters is that I get those dots out there and I encourage you to do the same. Don’t worry about establishing a brand or keeping “on message” with your dots. I’m inviting you to share them, whether they connect to other things or not because chances are, you’ll see the big picture you’re drawing someday, but if you never start you’ll never know what that picture looks like.

Here are some of the dots you can expect from me:


ijflkhjsdlhdljhsdlgjhsdlgjhldjghsdlgjhsdljhsdljghsd .organization tips

ljsdflhsdl;shdl;jhsdfl;djshlsdj .scripts

sldkjsdlhsdlghsd .videos


lkshfljlksdhjfljsdhlsadhgl .self-help



lhsdlfjhsdljhweourhkhweljhrljwe.mental health


Some of these dots might connect. For example, I might write a .poem about .mental health and from there write a .script for a .video .essay and use it to promote a mental health organization (.activism) that I care about. Or I might just take a .photo, post it to Instagram, embed it here and that will be it; one little dot, proudly standing on its own.

Regardless of how the dots connect, I hope you enjoy the journey.


… Charlotte