“The X factor in all of this is a degree of perseverance that you must have. You’ve got to pursue,” Tom Hanks says.
Linda Sivertsen and Danielle LaPorte recently interviewed Tom Hanks for my favorite podcast, the Beautiful Writers Podcast, to discuss his new book, Uncommon Type: Some Stories. The clacking of his vintage typewriter is music to my ears, as are the goodies he shares on perseverance:
There are people out there “that are wicked talented and creative but they’re waiting for permission to do it or they’re waiting to be invited into the process. They’re waiting to be asked or they’re waiting to be discovered. And that’s not the way it works. You have to pursue twenty-four hours. You’ve always got to be thinking of it, you’ve always got to be thinking of a story, you’ve always gotta be thinking of creating your own outlet for the stuff that is inside you. And it doesn’t matter if it goes anywhere. You know, it’s funny, my daughter, who is a screenwriter, she stumbled upon this reality...if she works really hard and makes it as great as she could possibly make it, it doesn’t actually have to become a movie for her to benefit from the work that she’s done — she’s gotta get paid, you know, that’s nice — but just completing it from the beginning to the end is a reward in and of itself that gives her all the satisfaction in the world.”
Well, I sure needed to hear that. Thanks, Hanks. And it reminded me I had written a thang about sweet Hanks a few years ago that I’ll share here.
My niece sent me the best thank you note I’ve ever seen and I’ve been musing about Thomas Jeffrey Hanks ever since.
I had a fantasy today about meeting Tom Hanks. What would I do? I usually don’t get too star-struck, though I think for Tam Honks (thank you, Fey-Poehler for that nickname) I would make an exception.
I’ve loved you since Bosom Buddies. I had a Steiff kangaroo I named “Kip” after you in Bosom Buddies. I think your character on Bosom Buddies is why I have a strange and maybe slightly fetish-y attraction to drag queens.
My husband suggested if I met the man I just sing the song from Big:
Shimmy shimmy cocoa puff, shimmy shimmy rock
Shimmy shimmy cocoa puff, shimmy shimmy rock
I met a girlfriend — a Triscuit!
She said a Triscuit — a biscuit!
Ice cream soda pop, vanilla on the top
Ooo, Shalita, walkin’ down the street, ten times a week
I meant it, I said it, I stole my mama’s credit
I’m cool, I’m hot, sock me in the stomach three more times
Yeah, that would go over better. I love everything about Big. All I wanted was to stand out the top of that limo with you set to Billy Idol’s “Hot in the City” and then jump on the trampoline with you. I also wanted to play chopsticks on the grandest of pianos in FAO Schwartz with you.
How about that moment at the end of Captain Phillips when you’re with the medics and you break down because you held it together for so long and to save the lives of your crew and keep a strong face? That was incredible. It made me cry, a lot. It was such a real moment. Thank you.
Forrest Gump? Are you fucking kidding me? I think Steve Schuler, who did a lot of around-the-house work for my parents when I was growing up, said it best: “Forrest Gump has EVERYTHING.”
Philadelphia, The Green Mile, Toy Story, You’ve Got Mail, Splash?!! Motherfucking SPLASH!!!
A League of Their Own. The Money Pit. The Burbs. WTF.
Dipping your toe in the Coen brothers water with The Ladykillers. Sleepless in [GDMF] Seattle. And don’t get me started about Saving Private Ryan (which spawned the best porn spoof name I’ve ever heard: Shaving Ryan’s Privates). Come on.
All the while — being NICE. God I HOPE Tom Hanks is as nice in real life as he’s seemed all these years. Maybe it’s best I don’t meet him. But I want to. Not in, like, a stalker-y way. In a I-want-you-to-dress-like-a-woman-and-I’ll-wear-a-mermaid-tail-and-break-glass-with-my-voice-while-jumping-on-a-trampoline-and-we’ll-share-a-box-of-chocolates-while-following-where-feathers-lead way. Yeah… WAY less creepy.
Hanks for the memory
Seattle afternoons, high-pitched mermaid poons
Money pits, pirated ships and 1930s prison goons
How lovely it was
Hanks for the memory
Of boxed chocolates and tiny corn, shaving Ryan's porn
Woody for kids, those Klopeks and The DaVinci Code's Catholic scorn
How lovely it was
Hanks for the memory
Partnered up with Hooch, or rocking one red shoe
The mispronounced “Oneders” in the cute That Thing You Do
How lovely it was
Hanks for the memory
AOL’s “Hello,” you thought of Jenny so
Volcano Joe, perdition roads, volley-bros (<-- that one's a stretch) before hoes
How lovely it was
Ah, Tom. This week I give thanks for you. And writing, the Beautiful Writers Podcast, the Beautiful Writers Group and all of my beautiful fellow writers in it, my husband, my cat, my family, my sweet friends, art, beauty, music, love, drag, the truth, and the click-clack of the keyboard under my fingers. Yes, holidays can be a whole lot of bullshit, but being grateful and making a note of it fills me with more delight than nibbling tiny corn at the Rainbow Room.
Many of us struggle with the idea that we’re adding to the noise when we share our thoughts and feelings about the state of the world. We often pull back because we feel there are more qualified people to say what we think needs to be said. And while there are people more qualified in some ways to do some of the things, we are the only ones who can say it exactly as we can say it. And that makes us super qualified to say a lot of the things.
And also, the people who don’t care about whether they’re qualified at all are sure out there spouting it out. Our considered, measured and passionate ideas are much needed by some. If nothing else than as a reminder that our atmosphere is not completely made up of the hot air of ignorant humans.
You’ve heard it a million times by now, right? The way you say your truth is the exact way someone out there needs to hear it. (Marie Forleo just said it today on the current episode of MarieTV.)
I’ve got a major gripe with the old refrain: “It’s been done.” This is something said by humorless people who are afraid to create anything. Because beneath the stinging surface it sure does let one off the hook. If it’s all been done we can just roll around in the mud of our own despondency. Doesn’t that sound pleasant? When I get a butterfly in my stomach because someone says “it’s been done” I remind myself: hey, so many people have had eyes before me, but I’m sure glad I have eyes, too, regardless of how derivative that might seem. Boom. Done.
So we kind of have to employ our inner bitch to get through some of this. Yes, there is a lot of noise, yes a lot of things have been done, but I’m going to trust myself and my desire to create more than I’m going to listen to those disembodied voices (most in my own head, by the way) saying I’m unworthy, why bother, there’s already too much noise.
Here I am in this point in time. Here you are in this point in time. Here we all are now. Oh, Michael Hutchence — popping into my head with the lyrics to INXS’ “Need You Tonight”: “All you got is this moment / Twenty-first century’s yesterday / You can care all you want / Everybody does, yeah, that's OK.”
While I’m not going to ask you to slide over here and give me a moment, and I’m not sure if your moves are “so raw,” but I do have to let you know, you’re one of my kind. And if there is something about you that makes me sweat it is that you are out there in the world doing it. Or in your cave doing it (that’s where I like to do it). Keep at it.
Recently I fell in love with Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile’s joint album, Lotta Sea Lice. The title alone should tell you they’re not taking themselves too seriously. They recorded the album in eight days spread over fifteen months while they had enough time to be in the same place at once (Kurt's from Philly, Courtney's from Melbourne and they both tour extensively). It is precisely that they gave themselves room to breathe on this album and did not force perfection before creating it that is what’s so great about it. It is a breath of fresh, sometimes-goofy air and tender, with an expected vein of blue mold running through side B: The goofiest song on the album is called “Blue Cheese,” which Kurt Vile wrote most of when he was a teenager.
“BLUE CHEESE!” an audience member yells when we’re watching Courtney and Kurt play at The Moore Theater in Seattle (with The Sea Lice, an all-star band including Sleater-Kinney and Wild Flag’s Janet Weiss on drums).
“Alright,” Kurt says. “Let’s get this over with.”
I so feel his pain. In the sense of, like, I made this thing, it’s only OK, but it’s out in the world now. But there is something so charming and free about the song, because it was perhaps flippantly written, that it allows all of us listening to let out a big sigh. Let our shoulders drop. Because for a few minutes we’re not scribbling out ways to be better or more worthy in our heads or erecting justifications for making any noise at all in the world. It is of value. The fact that we’re even considering whether what we have to say is of value at all, in my opinion, proves it is. Not that we have to prove it. But hey, welcome to my spiral of brain activity. I’m glad I’ve got one, whether or not it’s obsessing (which has, oh, my baby, been done and done and done and done and done).
A moment of respite from our brain machinations during the wildly goofy "Blue Cheese" makes the song something pretty special, however much Kurt, the creator of it, feels otherwise. You know -- it's a metaphor for what we're talking about here. (Audience breathes sigh of relief thanks to the quirky singularity of a song while artist berates self for said song being an imperfect creation.)
Also, how much do I love this line (from their song “Continental Breakfast”): “I walk like a bruised ego along shorefront property un-owned to me / But I'm feelin' inferior on the interior don't ya see.”
I think that ties it up pretty nicely. See, they are literally talking about feeling small. I feel like that’s always a good place to start. If you’re afraid of making noise, write about that to start. I promise you this gal right here (and so many artists we love) will be able to relate big time.
Here's the official video for one of the singles off Lotta Sea Lice. And, like Courtney, I do cherish our intercontinental friendships and would love to talk it over continental breakfast with you. "Somewhere on this sphere, around here."
(By the way: "Kurt and Courtney have partnered with Plus 1 so that $1 from every ticket goes to support the ACLU and their work defending and protecting our individual rights and liberties." Daw, I love these guys!)
The irony of the “#MeToo” situation — where (mostly) women are sharing their experiences of having been sexually assaulted, violated, etc. — is that the people who are sharing are not the ones who should be feeling shame or carrying this burden. But due to our bullshit social and cultural constructs, in which women are devalued because of fear of their power (that’s the stem, in my opinion), it is the people who have been violated who are feeling shame. And yet, these men, the people who have perpetrated all of this bullshit, are just nebulously out there, not feeling shame at all. The reality is that what THEY have done is shameful, but because of our bullshit culture, it is the people who have been hurt by them that then feel the double sting. And then, AND THEN, the TRIPLE sting because they then, if they can find it in themselves, have to come forward and share.
ONCE AGAIN women are carrying the mental and emotional load, including where it comes to sexual assault. Let that sink in for a second. Please.
I wonder about all the men who have perpetrated these crimes. They’re just out there. I think about so many women I’ve known who have been violated and not only haven’t believed each other, but also have been silenced by friends because “the guy is already so troubled.” BOOFUCKINGHOO.
I’ve unfriended and blocked most of my friends’ abusive partners/boyfriends/ex-husbands and guys who have harbored rapists. Most of them. And yet, because we are in the culture we are in, people just get to float around as if nothing has ever happened and women ONCE AGAIN are left holding the bloody fucking stick and the trauma. How is a man not traumatized that he could be such a monster as to abuse someone? How? Because our culture harbors him? Probably.
So where are the #metoo men that caused the necessity for everyone’s “#metoo”? “I took advantage of a girl because she was too drunk. #metoo.” “I blamed the woman for sex with me she didn’t want because she was wearing a short skirt. #metoo.” “My parents taught me I could take whatever I wanted in this world, because that’s what American men do, so that’s what I do, including women and having sex with them. #metoo.” “I knew my friend raped my female friend but I let it go and told my other friends to let it go because that’s what you do and the women are the ones who have to carry the burden of everything always so let’s just let them continue to carry the burden and I’m a dude so I’m just going to go eat some chips I guess. #metoo.”
So, basically I feel like this — I’ll share my #metoo (and have). But what about you, perpetrators? I’ve carried part of a burden I had no hand in creating other than existing. Where’s your big, strong masculinity now? Can’t carry a little burden a tiny woman carried all on her own without you (that you caused)? Didn’t think so. What should I do? Perhaps refuse to continue to carry this burden. So that’s what I’m deciding. Get it off me.
And this isn’t all just about rape and dominating women. It is about toxic masculinity and men dominating each other. Ever work in a professional kitchen or have someone you love work in a kitchen? It might seem hilarious to some people to show their dicks to each other all the time, or show their dicks to one guy, or whatever. But you know, that’s a big fat #metoo, in my humble opinion. We need to shift. (Luckily restaurants are starting to make this shift.) And yeah, I see you, and I know who you are, dick-presenters and ass-grabbers and scrotum-fondlers. Your way is dying, and I bet it feels really bad to you, too, and like, “Oh no, people who don’t want to be touched without consent are taking over my kitchen.” Sound familiar? Yeah, awfully similar to wanting to keep people “not like us” out of here. Because: #toxicmasculinity and #privilege.
One positive thing out of this shitstorm of a presidency is that, similar to Whack-A-Mole, I think because so many of these violating assholes feel emboldened by having a leader who grabs women “by the pussy,” etc., is that spotlights are being shone on almost each and every one of these assholes and society is starting to no longer accept the old way — which was rape her and tell her to shut up and then she shuts up; if she doesn’t shut up, drag her name through the mud, ruin her life and make it seem like it was all her fault. Disgusting. Redundant, yes, but I needed to say it.
Here is the reality, cleaned of the societal conditioning: the abused is not the one who should feel shame. We feel shame because we have been told we should feel shame. This is a construct that has existed for a long time but is squarely NOT the reality. Yes, that shame feels real and hurts and ruins lives, but it is NOT based in anything real other than a hegemonic ball rolled through the ages. For example, we know witches were burned because men were afraid of their power and most of us place no shame on those women — how about no shame on us? How about seeing it for what it is? No. More. Shame.
When I was growing up my dad used to gripe often about how Bing Crosby’s son wrote a book about how Bing was abusive and how those were lies. Now, I’m not calling anyone a liar or an abuser (I wasn’t there and I have not read Gary Crosby’s Going My Way), but the book caused a feud between the brothers as well as big time anger from Bing fans everywhere. To me it is of interest because I always knew I would write a book about my dad (and him not being very nice to me) and now I have. And I wondered if he always knew, too.
“If any of you ever write a book about me, tell it to my face first,” my dad once bellowed.
But now my father has dementia. It’s a large part of my book. When I tell him I’ve written about my mother and my childhood and our family he says, “That’s great, sweetie.”
So — things change. If we’re lucky/unlucky/what-the-fucky.
There are several schools of thought on what to do about writing sensitive material about real people. The conclusion I’ve come to, for the most part, is that no one cares. I’ve heard it from several different writers I trust, including my mentor, Linda Sivertsen. No one gives a shit about what we’re writing. Our friends, for the most part, aren’t going to read our books. Hey, maybe if you live in a really enmeshed family, your peeps will read your book. But mine have only recently read mine (and I don’t know if any of them have finished it).
Here’s the thing — be respectful and be honest. Now, I’m not suggesting if someone was horrible to you that you should not share that. SHARE THAT. Do it. That’s the “be honest” part. But I’m talking about the smaller stuff. For example, I was editing my book and came across a part where I said one of my childhood friends was known to tell a fib or two. On this new editing pass that even seemed too much. So I added “innocent”: “…known to tell an innocent fib or two.” Because she was seven years old and if she read it now I would not want her to think I was calling her a liar. She’s grown into a wonderful woman and deserves respect.
Then there are the moments I’ve written about, like the ex-boyfriend who bit my arms and took up all the emotional space. I wrote honestly about that. And the narcissist in him will probably be thrilled I wrote about him at all. So I’m kind of doing him a favor. At least that’s what I tell myself when I think about him reading an honest account of our relationship. Because it’s a little scary.
But to get back to respect and honesty: to me, capturing to the best of my memory/knowledge what happened in my life and who was there is one of the cornerstones of good writing. I’ve seen writers embellish descriptions of people to make their writing seem “cooler,” and I’m always like, “WHY?!!!” To capture the truth of someone is huge. They say never work with children or animals because their naturalness will upstage you every time — the same goes for writing true characters. Making up characters is awesome (and obviously what you do in fiction most often), but you can also get a lot of emotional mileage out of just capturing someone on the page to the best of your ability.
Of course there’s that scene in the Netflix show The Crown (which I love) where Winston Churchill (John Lithgow) freaks out because his modernist portraitist captures the age and decay of his person. And the painter tells him he painted age and decay because he saw age and decay.
Joan Didion writes, “writers are always selling somebody out.” Yeah, that’s true. So, we deal with it. We breathe through the sensitivity that arises as we sell our people out on the page. But, like, let’s not make ourselves think we have more power than we do. I return to: no one cares. So like that dorky old “dance like no one is watching” (which is, admittedly, pretty good advice), write like no one cares. Because they don’t. It might feel like they do, but they don’t.
Ok, but like that’s not totally true either. The other night I was reading a piece from my book to my husband (for the first time in the two years I’ve been writing it) and he suggested I do not use a loaded religious word because it is secret and LDS people might get pissed at me. While I actually think this is kind of hilarious I decided to change the end of the piece and remove the word. The word wasn’t really doing much anyway and I wrote a better ending. So that’s a thing to think about: everything is an opportunity for improvement in your work. Don’t delete everything, but get creative and see what comes up. Consider an alternative to “my brother is an asshole,” for example. See where the writing takes you.
And then there is the piece about protecting (perhaps abusive) people about whom we’re writing, which I’ve discussed with several writing friends. It’s such a common scenario to find amongst writers, I think, because so many of us found a voice on the page when we felt like it wasn’t safe to have one in real life. So many of us are struggling with just letting ourselves have the freedom to tell our truth.
Here is what I do know: it is healing to get these stories on the page. The scared inner child doesn’t have to be the loudest voice, but she does need some tending to. My therapist has told me to put my hand on my stomach and say, “Shhh shhh.” Let that little inner scared kid know we’re here, and that we’re in the NOW and not THEN. And sometimes he/she does take you over and you just need to cry at the keyboard. But know you are giving her a voice, which is so often what she needs (and what we need). And maybe that’s scary, too, because it’s new.
My niece’s wedding hadn’t even started and I was tearing up. Because look at my sweet father’s back-of-the-head! So much vulnerability there. Yes, all the clichés are true about him getting older and having Alzheimer’s: he’s smaller, he seems older when I see him every few months, will what’s going on in that head remember me next time? He also kind of leans to the side these days and looks at his hands. He rarely initiates conversation, whereas he used to be the first one spouting about politics or whoever in our family was persona-non-grata at any given time.
He cried while he sang me “Happy Birthday” this year.
Luckily it was such a relief to move to a softer place with him that I let a lot of that old stuff go. Writing a book about a lot of it has probably been helpful, too. Writing heals, what up.
It was looking at the above photo that started the second wave of waterworks (the day of the shooting in Las Vegas). Earlier in the day I had read a post from The Nelson Treehouse Family (Treehouse Masters is one of my favorite shows ever) in which they wrote, “In times as dark as these, it can be difficult to keep hope alive. For this, we look to the trees as a reminder that resiliency and strength can be found if we continue to reach for the light.” Their tenderness helped me move into my tenderness.
I went to a beautiful Yoga Nidra workshop that night (dragged my feet, too, because I was, as my old roommate Shannon used to say, in my hidey-hole). But I showed up and the teacher, Caitlin Lanier, invited us to breathe, relax, settle our bodies into the earth, and go to a place that is pure consciousness. It felt so chill (except when my stomach gurgled and my sweet body threatened to fart, but luckily I grew up Catholic so my sphincter only allows farts out in public if I’ve just had a colonoscopy. Side note: I really appreciated when I had my colonoscopy last year that they had a white noise machine in the recovery room — I would have liked to have known this before when I was stressing that I’d be creating a whole bunch of brown noise in front of a ton of people in a gallery-quiet room).
I got home from my Yoga Nidra class and while casually scrolling through Instagram saw someone had liked the photo I took of the back of my dad’s head. So I looked at it again, zoomed in to take in the gentle curve of his ear, and then cried again.
The next morning before I woke up I had a nightmare that there was a shooting in the supermarket I was in. The supermarket was having a party and everyone had wine. I was hemming and hawing about whether to drink (as I often do, post-cancer, because the docs only want you to have three drinks a week) and my sister Karen was like, “Just get yourself a bottle of wine.” I went looking but they had only recently restocked the rosé and it was room temperature. So I found this other “reserve” section, that some markets have. A guy I knew from high school was in there. He is developmentally disabled and I instantly hoped I had never been an asshole to him back then. In my dream he was struggling with his jacket, so I went to help him. He did not want my help. It must have been because I was an asshole, I thought. Even in my dreams I can’t leave myself alone.
I found a bottle of satisfactorily chilled white wine and started toward the register as I caught in my peripheral vision two guys with guns. Oh shit. As fast as I could I climbed down the two carpeted stairs in front of me and tried to squeeze under a display shelf as the sound of a machine gun bang-bang-bang-bang-bang-bang-banged so close to me. I knew they were too close for me to get away. But at that moment I also remembered I was dreaming and rolled my eyes back in my head to wake up (that is my patented wake-up technique — feel free to use it).
All of this is connected through vulnerability. I could tie this all up and say hey, we’ll still be vulnerable because there is strength in that. This guy who feel so powerless (assuming I know anything about perpetrators) and shoots out two windows in his fancy-ass hotel room and then kills lots of people is the coward. Obviously. Someone wrote about how this is clearly white privilege. I think it does illustrate an extreme example of the anger and fear a person who has normally been “in power” feels when his seat of said power is being threatened. We’ll know more in the coming days and months. Even if we don’t want to. There is no sense-making in the senseless.
Speaking of — I also woke up thinking about how people say “everything happens for a reason” and how irritating that is when you’re witnessing a massacre, or hurricanes destroying entire islands, or Tom Petty’s daughter raging back at Rolling Stone for reporting her father dead before he was. Reason? What’s the reason? There is a reason WHY these things happened, like this guy is horrible and mad and our gun laws suck, we’ve been destroying the environment and climate change seems to be responsible for super storms, bad reporting. But the idea that everything that happens is being held up by magical birds like Snow White’s bathrobe is just another way not to feel the depth of what’s happening. Sure, we can make meaning later, and find the picture that the broken pieces make, but I don’t believe that all the pieces were placed here by God into a box emblazoned with a Thomas Kincaid painting we get to see if we just look hard enough and place everything together as its been intended by God’s golden jigsaw.
People get sick. Massacres happen. Our gun laws suck. We’re destroying the planet. Our president doesn’t care about anything but money. Major religions have been letting us down for centuries and the minor ones are often cults.
When my therapist’s husband died she said someone told her, “Well, it’s for the best. He’s in a better place.” He had been killed in a car accident. They had two young sons. “For the best”? Are you fucking kidding me? So, you can believe things are “for the best” and “everything happens for a reason,” but please try to do better when you comfort your people going through said things. Listen.
“We’re here to learn” isn’t something I’d say to someone who’s just lost her husband either. But at least thinking that way speaks of a bit more agency and suggests we have to do something. Sing for our enlightenment supper. Of course then when you pick through those feelings your fingers start pulling up on chunks of emotional cement (in my opinion). Because it all starts to feel really hopeless.
“More guns!” “All lives matter!” “People just need to treat each other better. ALL people.” “Fuck the planet.” “Get over it.” And how about if we didn’t hold our heart like a fist?
We can look to Australia for how after the 1996 Port Arthur massacre the government restricted the availability of guns and then the number of gun-related homicides and suicides dropped by 59-65%. So…we can look to that. But it doesn’t feel like anything is going to happen.
So, like, in Las Vegas, where were the good guys with the guns that gun enthusiasts say will protect schools and the like? If good guys with guns prevent bad guys with guns from shooting everyone, where were they?
As Caleb Keeter from the Josh Abbott Band (who were playing at the Route 91 Harvest festival that day) says, “I’ve been a proponent of the 2nd Amendment my entire life. Until the events of last night. I cannot express how wrong I was. We actually have members of our crew with CHL licenses, and legal firearms on the bus. They were useless.”
One country musician changing his mind on gun control per 58 people dying is not a sustainable ratio. It’s a start. Maybe he will touch more people and they will wake up to the idea that the last thing we want is a machine gun to kill deer, etc. Clear shots = better meat. So, why does the average (or deranged) citizen need access to these weapons of war?
I mean, I don’t have access to nuclear weapons and I’d be in big trouble if I did. The average citizen isn’t supposed to make bombs. Why? Bombs do less damage than an automatic weapon! Oh, right. Money. Smith & Wesson. The NRA. Bombs don’t make anybody any money.
And yet we are so terrified of legalizing marijuana! If we care so much about money (that “if” is used really loosely) we should be head over heels for legalizing marijuana. This country could make so much money! But of course guns keep us scared, whereas marijuana might make you a little paranoid (and usually of cops or the government). If we’re scared, we’re pacified. Not to start sounding like a conspiracy theorist, but if the the theory fits…
Look, I’m just wildly speculating now. This whole thing started out about vulnerability. About my father’s head. I wrote all this and then I started listening to the Wu Tang Clan (because I originally named this post “Protect Ya Neck.”). I tried to figure out how I could weave in Wu Tang with all this and it just started making me think about the prison industrial complex and legal slavery. And that I can’t make sense of it all. So I’ll ask some questions instead.
We need intersectional feminism, but how? We need to let go of our white privilege, but how? We need to improve our gun laws, but how? We need to treat the environment better, but how? We need cops to stop killing black people for no reason, but how? We need to have a safe place to be vulnerable, but how? We need to totally reset our whole prison situation, but how?
I guess since I can’t figure it out right now I’m not supposed to. Again — trying to make sense of the senseless. I’ll gather my people to my bosom. I’ll protect the necks and heads of those I love as much as I can as well as my own. I’ll protect the heads and necks of my fellow people as much as I can — those I don’t know yet. I’ll boom out my feelings when I can. I’ll put my nose to my inner wrist and feel its softness and smell the oil-blend I rolled on earlier my sister sent me. I’ll remember I exist.
When I get super anxious sometimes it’s best to get super micro and/or super macro in my perspective. The other day I got really big picture on my shit and just remembered the simple fact that we exist. Here, now (oh shit now I have Jesus Jones in my head). But yes. We exist. I exist. I exist. That is the reality. And that even though we can be major piece of shit dingleberry assholes who kill and destroy and lie and fuck up (I’m not making a great case for our existence) we DO EXIST. It is the thrust of the life-force that is strong. David Sedaris wrote a piece about trying to drown a mouse and how hard it was because the body’s will is to survive. It’s the mind that makes us want to die. But the body’s reality is existence. Of course until it dies, yeah, yeah, I could go down an entire other anxiety hole there. BUT my point is — we WILL gasp for air if its taken away. We exist. Somehow this is comforting to me during hard times.
I like to think of myself out in the cosmos, amongst the stars, existing. Maybe because out in the stars that’s all there is. We haven’t fucked it up yet. We’ll figure out how, eventually, I’m sure. But a lot of us will really care about not fucking it up, too. That’s something, right? For now, however, I’ll exist here on earth and when I can, naively hope for the best. At least I’m not always preparing for the worst (like I used to), for my own sanity, even if it could be my own privilege that allows me some respite. But that is what I want for all of us. The privilege of life — which some people don’t understand doesn’t seem like privilege because we simply exist. But to people whose lives are threatened on the regular (and come from generations whose lives have been threatened on the regular) just living a simple, safe life seems like a right they’ve never been afforded.
I just had a thought — if your friend was hurting really bad about something — say their child was just killed, you wouldn’t be like, “ALL people whose children were recently killed are sad.” If your sister broke her leg you wouldn’t be like, “Oh, but I have a hangnail, and that hurts, too.” Or maybe you would. If you were an asshole. So — how about don’t be an asshole. Look in the face (or the back of the head) of your fellow humans and try to hear their experience. I know it’s hard and I know it hurts, which is why it’s way easier to say all things happen for a reason, all lives matter, etc. Why do we buy this when it’s said by Spiderman’s Uncle Ben (or John Cumming or the 1793 French National Convention), but not in our real lives: “With great power comes great responsibility”? Let’s just try to be a little more responsible. I’m trying and failing a lot of the time. But sometimes in the moment deciding not to hold our hearts like fists is the best we can do — and maybe that’s good enough because it allows us to really see each other.
Grateful I got to write my column for 12 1/2 years and grateful it is ending now. And that I got to do the ending well, that it taught me how to find my voice and practice and get better and fast. And that I learned to get more confident at it and stopped worrying if I was good enough.
Grateful the Cambridge/Boston era taught me its lessons/my lessons. All my schooling there — literature, film, screenwriting. Grateful for the education. Grateful for amazing meals, a warm bath of socializing and blurred edges and comfort after my mother died and post 9/11. For my apartment and getting to be creative there, start a blog, hone my voice. Grateful for learning what to avoid creatively, like signing on to other people’s projects b/c I didn’t trust my own.
For my young adult years, going to college, loving, my first real true love relationship, the authenticity and integrity of feeling in heartbreak, the true connection shared.
For meeting and forging a real life with Brent, the ups and challenges we shared there. The beautiful cats we loved and had to help usher into the next life.
For forging true friendships that continue to blossom.
For my enriching yoga practice that blossomed there thanks to finding Jenn F's classes.
Grateful for the gorgeous retreats and finding my heart center again and learning to TRUST it.
For the challenges, being scared, scaring myself, learning what I want and DON’T want, who I want to be and DON’T want to be and who I want to be with and don’t want to be with.
For learning it would never quite be “my place,” and that I could never quite get it to care about me and what I do the way I would like to be cared about. And, as such, allowing me the relative anonymity to get as creative as I wanted. Yes, I felt stuck a lot, too, but that also taught me how I don't want to feel.
For the fun times — like running karaoke, drunken nights, beach times, dinner with peeps, playing SUC shows (especially the daytime ones) and feeling connected to the community.
For the east coast upbringing and its responsibility for my sharp wit and also the lessons about softness.
For the grace running through all of it, how life gently showed me the way, met me where I was, urged me along.
For the lessons of last year [I basically yadda-yadda-yadda’d the cancer — but that’s what I’m talking about here]. And for seeing that the culture of entitlement and ambition is an illusion — real for those people, sure, but not aligned with my truth.
For the walks by the Charles River, dips in the sea at Crane, full moon skinny-dipping at Walden, Gardner Museum, The MFA, Fenway, BU, oysters.
Getting to just “be” for a while. As long as it took.
Thanks to my homegal/love/writerly buddy Casey Erin Wood and her Ruby Slipper School of Magic for this prompt and mentioning gratitude for the endings. It really helped me to seal the old chapter with some gorgeous melted wax and a heart signet.
What are you putting the seal on? I highly recommend taking a mindful moment to appreciate where you have been and how much there is to be grateful for within that and where you are now because of it.
As I’m listening to Chani Nicholas’ solar eclipse course she asks, “What is leadership?” She goes on to ask: "how do you want to lead?" I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I just finished reading Danielle LaPorte’s White Hot Truth, in which she writes about being your own guru. Yes.
Then the other day I read three successive things talking about Johnny Depp, Joss Whedon and Louis C.K. treating women questionably at best. The guy I wanted, the guy I thought I could be, and the guy I aspired to learn from. Heroes, we call them. But could the universe tell me more strongly that we need to be our own hero? And as women, each others’ heroes as well (and that’s not just for cis-women). Because day after day gnarly ropes of bullshit shit keep getting exposed and it’s becoming clearer that we’re the ones to bring ourselves and each other clarity and strength.
“Are you leading with heart? Are you leading with anger?” Chani Nicholas says. “And talking about being collective. The old ways don’t work. The dinosaurs are having their last hurrah and we need a new way of doing leadership. And we are all leaders, right?…We are starting a new chapter or being course corrected or some things are beginning and some things are ending…this is a chance to reset ourselves.”
I’ve also been thinking about the Marie Kondo-ing of it all (The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing). How when you get rid of a lot of what no longer sparks joy (be it old furniture or defunct "heroes"), it allows you to see how much the things you actually love shine. And then you get to honor those things. And to me it’s not just about material things. It’s about relationships and where you put your time and energy. I got rid of a lot of furniture, for example, that was passed down to me from my sister and parents. It was great of them to help me furnish my house so we could recycle and reuse and I didn’t have to spend a bunch of money. But as I am getting older and stepping more fully into who this person is, I realized I not only get to make choices for myself, but it is imperative that I do. What do I want? Gotta make a lot of choices on the hero's journey. Some as silly as "do I want this chair?"
I spoke to a close friend the other day and she was talking about transforming the old mishegas into something useful. To dig into one’s old junk and trigger points and whatnot and, like an alchemical process you might use to smelt metal, create useful gold. Create something beautiful from which others will benefit. I love this. Big beautiful heroes and heroines wielding the golden scepters of our own old wounds. How does that sound? Pretty good to me.
So what do you think about leadership and being your own hero? I’m wishing you the best best best at bypassing the bullshit constructs of our society and feeling the power and clarity of your heart — because that, my friend, is what is real.
[This week my final column came out. It is bittersweet, but feels good, too. Without further ado, here she blows (I don't think it blows, actually. Ha! I'm proud of my Mercury writing. Was just trying to do a nautical thang)]:
When I started writing this column 12 years ago (when the Mercury began as a free weekly tab) I would send a copy to my dad every week. He would write me notes or we would talk about it on the phone and he would suggest I be less sharp-tongued sometimes or tell me he enjoyed an insight or two. It’s a weird end-of-era time for me, as this will be the last Full Frontal column since I’ve basically moved across the country and it makes it hard to write about things going on locally. But a piece of my seawater-steeped heart is always in Newport.
So much has changed. I don’t send these to my dad anymore (his dementia prevented him from reading much) and the last time I spoke to him on the phone he was asking his nurse if he was at her apartment. She assured him he was home.
“I built this house?” he asked her. “She’s saying I built this house.”
“Yeah, dad, I think you’re at your house in Saddle River,” I told him.
Things move exponentially quickly it seems, once you’re there. There is an album by Seam called “The Pace is Glacial.” I think about this fairly often. How you don’t realize how much things have changed until something big happens. Or you go away for a while. I’ve been thinking a lot as well about Thomas Wolfe’s book title “You Can’t Go Home Again.” It sure feels that way and in ever-broadening circles.
Anyway, maybe all of that is abstract and me simply spinning off into the ethers. Which I guess is pretty typical. A concrete thing is I’ve loved writing this column. Nico Ecenarro has done a beautiful job illustrating my ramblings and my editor, Janine Weisman, has indulged the living sh*t out of me week after week. Everyone should be so lucky to have someone like Janine willing to publish you and to let you learn and grow. To say, “this is worthwhile,” by putting their hard-won energy and sharp eye on it and making it better. Especially when you write about poop and boobs as much as I do.
Ah, then there is all of the music and getting to write about the folk and jazz festivals! And the now-defunct Newport International Film Festival gave me a place to ache in the dark and be moved and inspired by other people’s art and work. Experiences I will lovingly hold and take with me as I explore the next chapter of my own creative expression.
I wish you all the feeling of freedom I’ve felt writing here. I wish the ability to express yourselves and the space to feel what you need to feel through whatever avenue of creativity you so choose. My prayer is that with the dissolution of this column some of what I’ve felt — the joy and getting to be whomever you are whenever you need to be — might dissipate into the air and you might get to breathe in some of those magic particles. Because here I’ve been able to be me, visible and vulnerable, and I wish you the same.
Jenn Sutkowski may still occasionally find herself on the pages of the Mercury. She thanks you for your time and energy and she thanks this very space, page 4, and all it has meant to her. Find her doing other stuff (and wishing you health and more than wealth: love) at jennsutkowski.com. (This Full Frontal column originally appeared in the Newport Mercury.)
When I was diagnosed last year with DCIS breast cancer (stage zero — woot woot) I had a bit of a freakout, then looked around my house. I thought of Lily Tomlin in The Incredible Shrinking Woman, which was one of my favorite movies as a kid. All the chemicals and products she came in contact with created a magic slurry that turned her small and then she lived in a dollhouse. As much as I was obsessed with living in a dollhouse when I was wee, thinking I had contracted cancer perhaps from my environmental junk was not living the dream.
In one fell swoop I gathered up all the plastic and recycled it. What about these perfumery supplies, I wondered? I had heard synthetic musk was one of the worst endocrine disruptors and since my breast cancer was hormone receptor positive, who knows?
This is what you do, you probably know (at least if you’re me and grew up believing you could fix things with your mind). You go through all the ways in which you could be responsible for your current situation and then figure out a way to fix it. But then you also probably know that one of the hugest lessons in dealing with cancer is learning to dance with the unknown and probably couple with it, too. Because it’s sticking around for the long haul.
I knew not to go down the internet rabbit hole in the midst of this scary situation. That is a lesson I learned from having bedbugs a bunch of years ago and reading everything I could and flipping out and putting all my shoes and jewelry in the freezer in plastic bags. I went overboard and still felt like I had no control. That really sucked for someone with control issues.
But over the last year I’ve found ways to do better things for myself without getting manic or insane about it (most of the time). Recently I discovered EWG (The Environmental Workers Group) and how you can enter products into their website to find out how good or crappy they are for you (and find EWG-approved items). Yes, this is admittedly a bit of a slippery slope. But I feel a lot better knowing what I’m putting on my body isn’t full of chemicals. I also started getting my makeup from a shop called Follain based in Boston (and on Nantucket). They have a restricted ingredients list and a strong ethic.
I also have a friend who started a website called Be Home Well, where she has curated a great family of products after doing tons of research — everything is nontoxic and sustainable. It’s a pleasure to shop there. When she started it there was no one-stop shop for this kind of thing.
I learned that looking at cleaner living through the lens of self-care rather than a hustle to fix everything makes it doable. And do things one thing at a time. Because stress is arguably as deadly as anything you’re using in your house.
Jenn Sutkowski is not as much of a major eater of cheeseburgers as she used to be but is still an eater of cheeseburgers. Not that cheeseburgers cause any problems at all. Find her seeking magic burgers to cure all at jennsutkowski.com. (This Full Frontal column appeared first in the Newport Mercury.)
Brief but spectacular indeed.
PBS NEWSHOUR | Brief but Spectacular ft. Bryan Stevenson | PBS:
It's me, Jennifer Bernice (rhymes with "Furnace": it was my Granny's name) Sutkowski
• More details about my writing here.