LOVE this TedTalk from the woman who changed my attitude about my own writing (for the WAY better), Book Mama Linda Sivertsen!!! Love love love this woman. Such a brilliant idea for making your life so much better and getting out of time debt. And seeing your dangerous patterns so you can call yourself out on it.
"I had been so blind. I wasted time in unhappy relationships and wasted more time trying to make sense of them. My patterns didn’t change because you can’t change what you don’t see."
And then...COLOR changes it all. <3
I just spoke with my dad for Father's Day. He and my sisters are out to dinner/lunch in Rochelle Park, NJ eating littlenecks and drinking wine and Johnny Walker Black on the rocks and passing around the horseradish.
He wanted to know what I'm up to and was very pleased to hear I've been working on music and melodies have been coming to me.
"A woman I trust told me to ask for Archangel Gabriel's guidance," I told him, "and I did and got like three great ideas right in a row and a melody."
"Gabriel. That is marvelous," he said. He was thrilled, I'm sure, because this is the closest I've come to religion over the past several decades. Also, I grew up going to and receiving all the Catholic sacraments at Saint Gabriel's church (St. Gabe's for short), which he still attends.
St. Gabe has been our homeboy for a long time. (And even though I don't consider myself Catholic anymore, I do call on an occasional Archangel. Gabe's all about communication and music and writing and birth and adoption, so I feel pretty connected to his copper-lit goodness. He's pretty femme, too, which I appreciate.)
"You're my special girl, you know?" my dad asked. Which he often does these days. The dementia has made him very demonstrative with his love.
When he hands the phone to my sister Nancy I hear him say, "The BEST," which he often tells me: "You're the best."
"He just said, 'She's the best one in the family,'" Nancy told me.
"I'm sorry," I said, laughing and cringing a little. "It's just because I'm away."
"Don't worry," she said. "He tells me I'm his favorite plenty these days, too." And we had a good laugh about it and then talked more about music and some ideas we want to work on.
Some years ago I started addressing postcards and envelopes to my dad, Ernie, as "The Ubiquitous Ernst." His name is Ernest, but we've called him "Ernst" over the years as a term of endearment. "Ubiquitous" just came floating in from the ether. And the funny thing is now his love is ubiquitous, There is a lot of it to go around. It wasn't always that way. There were times when it seemed no one was his favorite and no one was good enough. So it doesn't make it any less sweet to hear now, we are all the favorite.
I woke up in the middle of the night last night with chest tightness — I pulled myself out of bed, sprayed FES Flowers Post-Trauma Stabilizer into my mouth, rubbed DoTerra Peace oil onto my pulse points and breathed through it.
The anxiety was from lying there trying to come up with a defense for why I don’t want to do a certain thing, reach out to a person, so that I could explain it to a veritable stranger who told me I should do those things. From my pillow, I crafted the reasons why, I apologized, I placed responsibility on myself for things I have never done, feelings that I had nothing to do with fostering.
This is the old me. My husband helped me see that this morning.
“This is the old people-pleasing you. You are also a rule follower,” he said.
“YES!” I slapped myself on the forehead (gently, lovingly, because I love myself). That makes total sense. The old me thought she needed to explain herself to everyone. I am doing exactly what Danielle LaPorte talks about in White Hot Truth! Slipping into the old way — where I want to open my heart so wide it’s raw, just to prove I’m good, and let people take up whatever kind of residence there at their behest, regardless of whether it’s impeding the function of my internal organs or my own growth.
“NO!!! NOOO! NOOOOOO!!!” My inner self-loving person who has become less enmeshed screams at me. And therein lies the conflict and the chest-tightening at five in the morning.
And it reminds me of one of the many times someone let a shop door slam on my niece, who is 4’11”.
“Sorry,” she said to the clueless perpetrator.
“You didn’t do anything,” I said loudly, my ears hot. “Why are you apologizing?”
“Someone had to,” she said.
I can so relate to this. When things are emotionally jagged with someone I always feel like someone has to smooth it out. Being a peacemaker, that’s usually me.
“Tar baby,” my therapist has said to me many times. Meaning — you can put your hands all in a dramatic situation, but you’re just going to get tar all over yourself. Think before you swoop in. So that’s what I’m doing. And it had me up at the ass crack of dawn because the old people pleaser wants to run in and slather someone else’s tar all over my body. And current me is like, “You have a book proposal to finish! And other family to support! And your own energetic trajectory to follow! Quit with your self sabotage, resistance, messiah complex, enmeshed family conditioning and now, to top it all off, tight chest and lack of a good sleep.”
From the genius White Hot Truth:
“You will experience sharp and surprising pangs of self-hatred on your way to self-respect. This is what happens: you’re morphing beautifully and certainly into your assured self. You’re less critical, more embracing, and, just as marvelously, you are expressing yourself more purely. You’re really becoming YOU, through Love. You are Loving yourself into fullness.
“And then you slip into the old you for an interminable minute. Something triggers you, and you revert to that former, rougher, or wimpier version of yourself. You try to get something done with your old tricks and tactics—and then you extra extra hate yourself for it.”
OMG YES. Wimpier FO MF SHO.
And then DLP goes on to explain how, instead of hating yourself, love that sweet person. Have compassion. I keep getting this message again and again. From Martha Beck, to the medical medium I talked to the other day, who said to counter every self-attack with the mushiest “I LOVE YOU” I can muster. Break down the defenses of the ego by inviting everybody up on the sweetest lap for hugs and kisses and smothery motherly love.
Another thing the medical medium and I discussed is that my mother was probably molested (something I had suspected and that was gently alluded to, but never confirmed). It all clicked: Oh, hey, I have all this weird shame around sex, but it’s not from anything that happened to me. I’m carrying my mom’s stuff. I mean, yeah, I’ve had some lowdown cheater boyfriends, but no one has ever done anything sexual to me without my true consent. (And I don't think the momentary phalanges-phallus contact with the singer with the foot fetish counts.)
My siblings and I didn’t talk about what had happened to my mom except someone may have touched her breasts at some point when she was young. We all felt shame around so many things, in part because we were told to. And I started trying to “fix” my mom at a very young age, but never quite knew why. My love was good enough. I might not have been able to fix her, but who can fix anyone? So then to find myself about to go down another road of trying to fix and smooth un-smoothable others…NO THANK YOU!
I think at this point in my self-loving life I’m going to keep living by example. I’m going to keep my vibration high and keep my hands out of tar babies, even if someone tells me I shouldn’t. And I’ll have conflict here and there because of that. Oh well.
There might be a lot of overgrowth on certain roads of communication but I have no gate up nor have I ever erected one. And to me, that is actually quite loving.
“Here’s the white hot Truth: Loving yourself doesn’t guarantee that you will be Loved by others.
“As a self-celebrating, self-respecting individual, you might really annoy some people. You WILL annoy some people. You will annoy a LOT of people. You will be misunderstood—perhaps thought of as arrogant. You may be uninvited. When you Love yourself enough to say, 'This is acceptable in my life and this is not,' you will become unacceptable to other people, especially those who tend to push against your boundaries. (You will also become a magnet for real Love and respect, so don’t dillydally with the haters.)”
BOOM. God, I love this woman.
You know when you have those moments where you’re like, “I'm here to learn”? Yeah. I am a sensitive soul who has often processed other people’s feelings through her own body (not anymore). And what a boot camp of a learning ground I find myself on with my old dad and the trickle down of all that DNA. To navigate out of the knotted rope obstacle course of other people’s feelings with my own oft-quiet voice not only intact but singing to high heaven, well, it’s been no small feat. And I welcome and thank the lesson I had early this morning.
A Czech friend once told me “Sutkowski” means “knotty.” Yah, no shit. Knots are tough and really hard to unravel sometimes but knots are also strong as this sometimes stoic Slav.
Today the escapist in me has spent too long on the internet looking at absurd clothes. I found these thigh high psychedelic sequin tights, for example, that I cannot find any good reason to buy. But they’re on sale from $110 to $88! What a bargain!
Maybe a giant Monarch butterfly wing cape is a better choice? That one is only $45 and could certainly be used to keep the sun, the people, the malaise out of one’s face? Eh, it attaches with a choker and I already wore my fill of those in the ’90s.
This website, Dolls Kill, has the best ridiculous clothes, perfect for the most insidiously trendy festivals of the season. They even have intricate rhinestone appliqués for your face and every size and shape of glitter imaginable. And of course all the pasties you could ever shake a nipple at. I bought a friend of mine a pair of poop emoji ones. What? They were on sale! Never pay full price for #2.
Or if wearing really small things like pasties isn’t your speed, maybe wearing really big things is a better plan? I also found sunglasses from Quay Eyeware so big you can cover your whole cheeks (but not quite as big as those giant joke ones), a behemoth yellow cropped sweatshirt with bell sleeves from The Ragged Priest and mom jeans so high you may as well be nursing your waistband. Pair all that with some mermaid glitter lashes and/or a fishnet face cover and some hologram platform boots from Demonia and you’re all set (and all sweat, likely, because baking all day in the festival sun is hot. Like temperature hot, not Paris Hilton “hot”).
It’s been a long time since I had anything made of holograms, but I’m no stranger to the prism. I had a silver hologram skirt once made of some kind of plastic (probably full of BPAs, but I only consider that now that I’m in my 40s), some orange prismatic booty shorts, and glasses that had winking hologram eyes in the lenses. Those glasses, however, weren’t as cool as these Heart Attack Sunglasses by My Willows, which feature “black side chains that hook behind yer ears with black tourmaline crystals hangin’ down at the bottom.” Be still, my heart (shaped sunnies).
The sunglasses rabbit hole alone is enough to make me believe I’m in the “Telephone” video with Lady Gaga and Bey. From half-lidded cream color ones with cacti and crescent moons, to biohazard ones with spikes.
The old romper standby, however, is always a classic choice. Little pleases me more than seeing someone in a really cute one piece shorts number or jumpsuit, knowing she’ll have to get naked to use the Porta-Potty. As I giggle through my rainbow dust mask and third-eye-bedecked sunglasses. Might I suggest the more practical (but still impractical) “play set.” Still matchy-matchy, but shorts and a top. If we’ve learned anything, it’s that convenience is key. Winky-face.
Jenn Sutkowski wishes you a rainbow-hued and totally impractical festival season. And always use (sun) protection. Find her getting prismatic and being glad she appreciated without appropriating all these clothes and accessories at jennsutkowski.com (uh, here...Duh. This Full Frontal column appeared first in the Newport Mercury.)
Here I am reading this week's column -- about flower essences! I've been MIA the last few weeks due to dealing with some anxiety and family things, which I'll get to later. In the meantime, here are some things that have been helpful.
After having an anxiety-ridden time of it (most of my life), including a good old-fashioned anxiety attack last week — bully for me! — I’ve been amassing a list of helpers and non-helpers. Which you may or may not follow, because, if I knew how to get rid of this chest-tightening friend, I wouldn’t have it anymore, right?
Here’s what happened: Since I’m hypersensitive these days to my body’s weirdnesses, I started asking myself why I couldn’t take deep enough breaths after singing and feeling winded. This began a spiral in my head: “Can I breathe enough?” And then I got dizzy and next thing you know I am in the bathroom trying to calm myself down.
Watching the new Starz series, based on Neil Gaiman’s novel, “American Gods,” didn’t help. I know people are going nuts over this show. I think it is just a toughie to adapt in a way that actually feels satisfying to the viewer, as currently it is very episodic. But, I thought to myself, anxiety attacks AND erections on television are on the table of my life now? Yeesh. (Ian McShane, however, as Mr. Wednesday, is magic.)
Other things that probably don’t help: caffeine, blood sugar spikes/plummets, crowds, but mostly the fear of fear (as my therapist has explained can turn a sporadic anxiety attack into panic disorder).
I sprayed Fear-Less by FES Flowers into my mouth and it helped, I think. Who knows? It’s a combination of essential oils and flower essences that are to help with panic and the like, such as red clover, mountain pride, California valerian, Oregon grape, mimulus, rock rose and green rose.
“Composure and containment when challenged by fear, anxiety or panic,” it says on the bottle. I’ll have what she’s having.
If you aren’t already hip to the flower essence tip, basically it’s known as a vibrational essence of a flower or plant (or, in some cases, trees, rocks, gems) mixed with water and brandy, traditionally. Usually the plant is left in water in the sun, but the possibilities are endless, including “no-pick” essences, etc.
Flower essences in general are my jam. I have gotten a few custom ones from a woman in North Carolina — Purifoy Spirit Essences. I also love Bach’s Rescue Remedy and FES Flowers’ Yarrow Environmental Solution. Yarrow is amazing for boundaries, if you’re into those sorts of things.
Herbs rule (chamomile, holy basil and lavender are some faves), provided you don’t have any medication interaction. Always check with your docs. This is why flower essences are sometimes a better choice. You can use the flower essence of St. John’s Wort since it is merely a vibrational imprint of the plant without it messing with your hormonal birth control or hormone-manipulating meds, whereas using the actual plant or a tincture is contraindicated.
Also helpful: Acupuncture, lying on the yoga bolster, yoga in general, massage and distraction. And going easy on yourself. Like the flower, we get to be simultaneously thriving and delicate.
Jenn Sutkowski realizes that moving across the country in the same year as having a cuckoo diagnosis might also be contraindicated. Certain music is helpful for that, too. She wishes you lavender essential oil-scented calm. Find her handling it at jennsutkowski.com.
This Full Frontal column appeared first in the Newport Mercury.
My mother was thoughtful and kind and so beautiful people would stop what they were doing to look at her. But she wasn’t a snob about her looks, either — that was part of the beauty. And everyone wanted to be near her. Her friends and siblings and anyone who knew her talk about how special she was, even now. A pic of Jeanne comes up, you’re going to see a lot of deserved praise. And her dying too young also adds to how exquisitely her presence was wanted.
My mom was also terrified a lot of the time — she had what I would consider an invisible bear chasing her and sometimes she would fall because she was trying to move too fast. My dad blamed the slick soles of her jewel-toned suede loafers, but I always saw that bear, just out of sight to everyone except my mom.
I keep repeating that anxiety is a legacy I don’t want to repeat. I’ve written it in many places. I take the cute little bag of the aspects of her I want to keep and shoo away the things I don’t want from hopping in there. It all comes back to not really having control over anything. So I can shoo and carry, but what’s going to happen will. I’m her daughter, I’m me, trusting in the mystery can be so hard. Having control? Cute.
Look, floating out in the cosmos with no discernible means of control might go against all today's popular ideas about manifesting, etc. But I’m sick of that noise. And growing up in a household where controlling the world with your brain was the order of the day, I think it’s better for me to continue to learn to let go.
Anyway. Enough about all that. I’d like a pure moment about my mother. Mom, what would you like me to share about you? That I was kind. That I cared too much about the way I looked and in the end wished I hadn’t. That I was a good mom. That I made you grilled cheeses and cinnamon toast and open faced pot roast sandwiches happily. That I love you so so so much and that you’ll always be my baby. That when you did reiki training to honor me on the 10th anniversary of my death the women in your group cried because they felt how much I loved you, because we can still feel it. That feeling is real and will always be real. Just as real as the invisible bear, I ask? More real than that asshole. What a bird.
I love you, mom. I will always write about you. But you were too — there isn’t a right word — and all of your humanity and the love gleaming at you coloring you, too, and maybe I’ll get a few film frames right here or there and for a second get the light moving through the picture. Either way, like you did, I will always try to get it right.
As the nuns sing in The Sound of Music (which my mom so patiently tolerated again and again): “How do you catch a moonbeam in your hand?”
I set myself up with a scad of blog topics every year and write them in my planner. 26 ideas will take you through a whole year if you do one every other week. Thanks, Marie Forleo, for that tip (and for letting me gaze upon your beautiful hair. I’m totally not a creep. Obsessed).
I think it’s funny that this week’s topic happens to be “current obsessions,” because my therapist just emailed me to make sure I’m not obsessing too much. I was expecting to write about some great chocolate I’m super into these days or a book I’m reading or how I used to have a gross love for fat free sour cream and talked about it A LOT. But it looks like I’m writing about anxiety again. As much as I love various creams of varying fatness.
The great news is I am feeling better. The annoying news is I had an anxiety attack on Sunday night. My allergies (I think) are making it weird to get a full breath (though truth be told today I feel awesome — could be that our cat got good news at the vet for the first time in a few weeks and $2000 later).
I was having trouble singing a song without getting winded on Sunday night and it put me into a yucky tailspin. I then started getting really weird and obsessive about it and dizziness set in and then I went and pooped. And there was a grasshopper in the bathroom, about which I was like, “Hey, I gotta look up what the grasshopper animal totem means.”
The grasshopper can be all sorts of things. I’m choosing not to think it’s about pestilence, but instead like good omens, fertility (creative, hopefully), etc. Leaps of faith, innovation for me!
My therapist told me the fear of fear is what takes a regular old run of the mill anxiety attack (normal, common) and turns it into a panic disorder. She told me to distract myself. So that’s what I’ve been doing (among other things). I feel normal again (well, I never feel exactly NORMAL because I’m a big freak), or normal for me. I’ve always felt it’s the conspicuously “normal” people you need to watch out for, but more on that another time.
Luckily I’ve been sleeping well, the last few glasses of wine I’ve had at dinner have been the best damn wines of my life. In fact, it reminds me of when Joan Didion would go to the women’s prison and come out and the doors would slam behind her and she would ravenously eat a hamburger and drink two gin and tonics. My Monday night Chardonnay felt like the best decision I ever made.
Also this, from Didion’s “In Bed”: “The migraine has acted as a circuit breaker, and the fuses have emerged intact. There is a pleasant convalescent euphoria. I open the windows and feel the air, eat gratefully, sleep well. I notice the particular nature of a flower in a glass on the stair landing. I count my blessings.”
“Convalescent euphoria.” I think of it every time something goes screwy in my person or I’m being tested or having blood drawn. I exhale with the heft of a Terry McMillan screenplay and my only worry is that I’ll become addicted to the convalescence and create neural pathways devoted to me feeling something has to be wrong and chasing the high of it turning out right. But I won’t. Someone who does that would make an excellent character, though.
Speaking of Joan Didion — Joan is always one of my obsessions (I wrote my thesis on The White Album and Slouching Towards Bethlehem), and my current obsession is this amazing Saint Joan Didion prayer candle I got from this shop on Etsy.
And, because it's inescapable, on the back of the St. Joan candle is a quote about mortality. But I guess that’s what I signed on for when I became a devotee of Didion’s work and, maybe more important, a devotee of life. Which includes death. And anxiety attacks. And potentially sick pets. But, luckily, hamburgers and convalescent glasses of wine as well. I’m willing to go there to be here.
Postscript: I'm happy to report the battalion of tests I had yesterday at my new primary care clinic came back all normal. Thyroid test all good, EKG clear, lungs clear. It's all in my head! Well, I do have allergies, I think. But it was super helpful to have the doc look at me and talk with me about potential help for anxiety. I'm going to keep an eye on it, but not stare at myself like a weirdo under a magnifying glass. Ah, our beautiful brains.
I heard a thing on the local NPR station recently (in Boise, Idaho) about the market for women’s concealed carry gun accessories. Makes sense. Most gun accessories up until now have been designed by men, so even if they’re marketed for women, they haven’t been quite right, and women are all, “Where do I put my gun?” At least according to these female gun enthusiasts. Who wants to exercise their second amendment rights looking like number two?
Concealed Carrie (named after fashion-forward Carrie Bradshaw of “Sex & the City”) was created with this in mind: “Why should women be forced to compromise fashion for function?” I agree. There is even a “Will my firearm fit?” section on each product’s page. If I had to choose, I would carry the Crocodile Print Leather Hobo with the little gun holder inside, and the bra with holster seems pretty practical, too. But, alas, I don’t have a gun. Should I not tell people that? I wonder about that kind of thing these days. After all, it would not be so weird to think I might have a piece considering I grew up in a town in New Jersey with a lot of mafia and now have a house in a state that allows people to carry concealed weapons.
I’ve seen my father-in-law’s guns, guns belonging to certain family members, have had numerous chats with libertarian acquaintances, and my brother once tried to get me to buy a little lady gun. But I think as far as I’ll go is to learn how to shoot. And carry my pepper spray (in pink, of course), which, luckily I keep remembering to take out of my purse before I go through airport security. Maybe I shouldn’t tell people I have that, either.
What should we keep quiet about how we’re armed to keep safe and how much should we share? I grew up in a pretty paranoid household, where my parents didn’t like to show other people their cards (or guns or baseball bats), where I was always told to never let people know I was home alone (I guess that’s pretty standard), and home alone I rarely was. A golf club still sits next to my dad’s front door — just in case.
I think well-made weaponry is beautiful and can be art. I’ve drooled over more than one small knife, inlaid with rubies and abalone shell and the like. Who doesn’t love a sword? Or a saber? But then I’m more of a “pen is mightier” gal. My husband does have a wonderful collection of kitchen knives that he keeps sharp enough to lob off a finger. I mean, his main purpose in keeping them that sharp isn’t to actually chop off anyone’s body parts (as far as I know), but it could happen. Probably not what smiles-a-plenty chef Michael Symon had in mind when he created those knives.
Looks like I wrote a whole piece about weapons without one snarky comment and meant it. That’s probably as close as I’m going to get to a bullseye for the foreseeable future.
Jenn Sutkowski just fell in love with Netflix’s “Samurai Gourmet” and wishes she, too, could channel her own “masterless samurai” to help navigate life’s weirdnesses. Find her slicing and dicing at jennsutkowski.com.
This Full Frontal column was first published in the Newport Mercury.
I used to watch everything that made my adrenals go crazy: shows about ghosts and murder and mafia brides. People screaming for various reasons, generally. And I wondered why I didn’t feel good. After sleeping like a kitten in a garbage bag soon to be tossed off a cliff into the sea (read: not well), I decided it was time to avert my gaze from housewives, or anything with the preface “real,” or “paranormal” for that matter. (But if “Paranormal Amish Housewives” becomes a thing, all bets are off.)
It’s so easy to get into the habit of neglecting our own creative work because we’re scared, and television is the perfect avoidance-teat at which to suckle indefinitely. So I seriously reassessed my viewing habits and adjusted accordingly. But I do love some television, and now try to limit it to that which makes me feel decent. “Treehouse Masters” and “Beachfront Bargain Hunt” bring me that “Calgon, take me away” feeling. There are the exceptions, like “The Leftovers,” “House of Cards,” and “Black Mirror,” which make me feel gross, but they’re high-quality enough to pass my filter.
Of course there’s the Duffer brothers’ “Stranger Things,” which most people have seen, but if you haven’t and you enjoy Winona Ryder, throwbacks involving a ragtag bunch of kids on bikes (think “The Goonies” in the dark), and monster mysteries, then check it out. I like this show so much I’ll likely watch the first season again (on Netflix) before season two arrives in October.
I recently fell in love with “People of Earth,” a TBS sitcom about a support group for people (“experiencers”) who have been abducted by aliens. If you’ve ever heard conspiracy theorists or alien-enthusiasts talking about “reptilians” (i.e. that so many presidents and famous people are reptilians, etc.), you’ll see that creator David Jenkins gets it completely right, tongue planted firmly in cheek. Ana Gasteyer is hilarious, Wyatt Cenac (“The Daily Show”) is spot-on as protagonist Ozzie, and you can’t help but fall in love with the rest of the ensemble — and the aliens, for that matter, who suffer the same bureaucratic crap humans do. This show feels so good and manages to be just scary enough at times. Major heart here.
Donald Glover’s “Atlanta” blew my mind. It is the smartest, funniest thing I’ve seen in a long time, and pokes at race in a super fresh way. IMDb summarizes: “Two cousins, with different views on art versus commerce, on their way up through the Atlanta rap scene; ‘Earnest ‘Earn’ Marks,’ an ambitious college drop-out and his estranged cousin, who suddenly becomes a star.” Just watch it. I fell in love with Glover on “Community,” and am consistently wowed by what he creates, from this stellar show to his music project, Childish Gambino. Can’t wait to see him as Lando Calrissian in the Han Solo “Star Wars” prequel.
For now, a show needs to surprise, inspire, and feel like a warm bath to garner my attention. That is until the next “Breaking Bad” comes along. But Heisenbergs aren’t born every day.
Jenn Sutkowski still asks around about Teresa and Joe, Carole Radziwill and The Countess, Kyle and Kim, NeNe and Phaedra. Find her looking maybe too hard at another screen at jennsutkowski.com.
This Full Frontal column was first published in the Newport Mercury.
It's me, Jennifer Bernice (rhymes with "Furnace": it was my Granny's name) Sutkowski
• More details about my writing here.