Hi! It’s been a while. Grief and some other things have had me tired. Here's what's been up:
My band Trippy Hearts and I released an album this year and I’m quite proud of it. I’m waiting for the vinyl to be pressed – due to Covid it’s taking a bit longer than expected. But when we got the test pressings I cried because I was so overwhelmed – it was a dream come true! And don’t get me started about hearing myself on the radio for the first time!
Currently I’ve let lots of beings and help and poop into my heart and my very personal book and my psyche. I have adopted three cats since our dear boy Oliver passed a couple months ago (tomorrow would have been his sixteenth birthday). I have a new social worker and psychiatrist to help me with the anxiety precipitated by grief around losing my niece and my cat in December. And I hired a book coach. Everybody is helping me! I might have to clean litter boxes two to three times a day, but the love is worth it.
The nice thing about having three new cats (besides love and delight) is D I S T R A C T I O N ! ! I’m finding distraction helpful for anxious thoughts (though I’ve got more of a handle on those thanks to my social worker).
One of the amazing things about cats, therapy, coaching is that it all feels synchronistic and meant to be. I mean, it could very well all be a function of my privilege – I don’t want to forget that. But, for example, the social worker and psychiatrist fell in my lap because I was calling my medical oncologist (I still have one of those because of my DCIS treatment and current medication). I was advocating for myself to be able to have a diagnostic mammogram as my annual screening because it seems I always get called back for another and an ultrasound (dense breast city over here), and last year I had to wait like a month to get in for the additional screening, even though they had “seen something.” So, I spent a month curled up in a ball in my amygdala. I was determined not to let that happen this year.
While chatting with the nurse she very kindly said I deserved not to be majorly anxious months in advance of my routine screening and would I like to talk with the psychiatrist. I was like, “Yeah, OK.” My first call was with one of the social workers on staff and she was so helpful I wept my heart out after.
I have a therapist. He is good. But he is expensive, doesn’t take insurance anymore, and the best work I’ve done with him has been EMDR, which you can’t do virtually. And I’m not comfortable going into his office yet. (I cannot WAIT for my vaccine. OMG.) So I decided to take a break from him and have been talking to this social worker every week. And get this: because I am a patient at St. Luke’s Cancer Institute, she is free. I mean…
I feel very grateful to get to talk with her. She’s giving me so many tools to work with and to know which tools are right for whatever state I’m in. I think over the past month my anxiety has lowered so much.
That’s what’s been going on! I have been actively grieving and taking care of myself and working on writing and music and loving on my pets and my husband and my friends and family. And beaming that out to the world.
And I’m beaming it out to you now!
If you feel like it let me know how you’re doing, too.
Oh, and if you want to check out my band's album you can do that here on our Bandcamp page!
But also you can hear it on Spotify or wherever!
I was a judge’s pick in this (very) short fiction contest at Boise Weekly (I got the news the day my dear cat Oliver died). Reading it tonight on the internets. Words and storytelling have been helping me during this very intense time (personal and public), as always. Reading and writing.
This post is almost as long as the story itself (one hundred and one words short!). But here's the story:
She was visiting to see if she could be a wife and mother to him and his kids.
Everything in the bathroom leaked. But he had laid out tiny toiletries for her – toothpaste, moisturizer, deodorant. Her face flushed at his care, until her eyes stung with shame.
“He deserves better than me,” she thought, steeling her eyes in the mirror to pretend for a few hours.
The next day she drove away while he and the kids feigned cheer playing soccer with a deflated ball in the snow.
Her hair still smelled like his house when she climbed into bed later.
I’m not going to pour any of the clichés into your face about 2020. They’re all true.
I’m here to say, hello, sending you so much love from my tender heart to yours to close out that year (<-- side-eye) and ring in the new. Please, please, let there be some shift. For a gal who doesn’t really pray I’ve prayed a lot this past month, especially.
I wanted a shift so bad, actually, that I was already crying at like 12:05 A.M. Pressure!
To be fair:
I lost my twenty-year-old niece in early December, suddenly. And my dear cat died three weeks ago, also unexpectedly. It has been a TIME. Lots of tears. But also, I’ve felt very held. I feel lucky to have the support I’ve had and the concentric circles holding up a corner with me so that I can then support inward toward my sister and her family.
And I felt like it was important to reach out here, too, and say, hey, whatever you’re feeling right now or have been going through – it’s OK. I mean, I know you know this, but sometimes it just helps to hear it.
On the subject of release to close out that year: My therapist said to me once, “Don’t think of naked people jumping on a trampoline.” Thought of them, didn’t you? Yeah. Because, he says, when we put things in the negative, we’re still focusing on them. But I think it’s helpful to think of what we want to release. Like, personally, I want to let go of being steered by the anxious, vigilant part of me that doesn’t want any more loss. I want to let go of giving my power away and making up stories about what other people think of me. I want to let go of binary thinking that, like, I must either be totally spiritual or an atheist. Long story on that one, but it came to me recently during a wonderful somatic healing session with my friend Krista Kujat.
On new perspectives: One of the things I learned this week is that we’re so often in leadership mode. And that is great. Yes, let’s please share our knowledge and lead by example and teach. But also, I realized that sometimes it feels really good to have someone you trust tell you what to do for a bit. I like this in the form of a yoga class, for example, and when the COVID times are over I plan on taking a pottery class. Pottery is something sensual and I don’t have to be good at it. The bulk of the things I spend my time doing I feel like I need to be good at, because they are somehow tied to my life’s purpose. That’s kind of a lot of pressure. So, what if I could do a few things that I could totally suck at and just, like, communicate with the clay? That feels like some major luxuriating. A byproduct of which would be I’d get my mind off my writing and music long enough for them to develop in the subconscious. Like, it’s GOOD for our purpose for us to be off purpose sometimes. Purposefully. ;-)
Anyway, I’m rambling now. But I just wanted to reach out across the ethers with a few things that have been top of mind and heart lately. And yes, they are disparate but connected, and I think that’s OK. We’ve already become super resilient with expansive hearts last year (and many years prior). I’m not going to put a bunch of pressure on myself to like GIT ER DONE.
I’m glad to report that even with staggering loss we can still use our voices and create the beauty we want to create. That flower is always going to grow out of the sidewalk crack.
How about you? Feel free to reply to this email to let me know how you’re doing or drop me a comment on my website. What’s your flower growing out of the ass-crack that was that year?
This is a video I directed for my band Trippy Hearts’ song “Flaming Gold Piano.” It feels right to release it on the full moon on Halloween 2020. It is from our album Lacewing, which was recorded and mixed by Z.V. House at Rabbitbrush Audio in Boise and mastered by Mell Dettmer at Studio Soli in Seattle. The video was filmed mostly at Hulls Gulch in Boise and stars my bandmates and me: Stephen Samuelson, Brent Heiner, and Hyrum Haeberle. I'm playing the Rhodes electric piano, my current favorite instrument.
“You can’t pay a fire to stop / And we call its power in now”
Here’s to the fire in our hearts that cannot be paid to stop, the destruction of old systems, and the beauty (I hope) that can only grow after the flames of destruction.
I wrote the lyrics to this song while feeling despondent about the current state of the U.S. and the broken mirror that we elected as a "leader." And how it didn't particularly surprise me when you see that pic of him sitting at a piano with his now-wife lying on top of it in a gold room. I remembered the piano being gold, like Elvis', and I thought, "OF COURSE this is who we put in power." Full disclosure: I think the piano was actually white. Doesn't really matter, though, if the whole thing were in ashes.
I created these shots of a fire poppy for the end, which only blooms after major fires:
I feel like Ned Ryerson in Groundhog Day, mentioning over and over what a dooooooozy everything is. Because it is. I had an old acquaintance tell me I hated my race the other day because I suggested white privilege is a thing. She wrote, “#mentalillness,” “fucking insane,” etc. And went after me for suggesting those of us with generational and amassed wealth have any responsibility. It was ugly. I unfriended her.
And “unfriended” is a whole other topic for another day – it's a pickle of a thing that we live in a world where our lexicon is embedded with shit like “unfriended,” because we are are in the Land of Zuckerberg, which was originally conceived to rate the hotness of his classmates. “Fruit of the poisonous tree” comes to mind these days again and again as well, even if it’s a legal term. It feels like it applies.
SO! While I’ve been doozy-ing it up over here I’ve also been trying to intentionally take the antidote to the doozy. Antidotes, really, because it is a cocktail of doozy-busters, such as working out every day, meditating twice a day, naps when needed, connecting with my peeps, somatic healing, therapy, spending as much time as possible outside just BEING, taking FB off my phone, leaving my phone out of the bedroom at night, dreaming up ways to ritually sacrifice my phone. And ice cream.
I’ve also been doing this practice lately as recommended to me by a favorite quantum healer and human in general. You write, “I see and feel ______” and fill in the blank with whatever future you want for the world we’re building. You write these visions three times in the morning, six in the afternoon and nine before bed. Yes, I am still taking action steps in the now, like signing petitions, spreading the word to get people to vote, having important conversations, sending letters to my senators, giving money to worthy causes, reading and learning, amplifying marginalized voices, etc.
I am also writing things like, “I see and feel a government chosen by and working for the people.” Or, “I see and feel a renewed earth living in harmony with her inhabitants.” And, “I see and feel systems built on compassion and practical measures to take care of those who need it the most.” Or, “I see and feel timelines and trauma healing.” Stuff like that.
And then I feel into those things and actually envision them as well. No, I don’t one hundred percent know that it’s working. I also don’t know that my vitamin D and green smoothies are working. But I know it feels better to go to bed at night with “I see and feel equality for ALL” in my sights than whatever the doom scrolling in the Land of Hot-or-Not Zuckerberg brings in.
Sending you love from my Howski of Sutkowski (and Heiner, because my husband and I are moving through this together). To the Land of You. May we get to remember our own home vibration FIRST and then see what we want to build from there.
So don't just stand there, bust a dooze. ;-)
JK. I know you're not just standing there. Even though just standing there or lying there or languishing in shredded cheese would all be perfect reactions to the dooze-fest as well.
This is an exchange I had with an old acquaintance on FB, on a post a shared about Trump's paying only $750 in taxes. Another friend was saying she was sad that a bunch of our old friends with whom we grew up were still supporting him, even after children in cages, blatant racism, how he's bungled COVID and so many have died as a result, etc.
Of course my husband came immediately to my defense, fucking guns a-blazin'.
I unfriended and blocked this old acquaintance.
But this is also true of me:
I mean, I was the one who blocked her. 😂😂😂
But still got to get that say in. Honestly, though, it's an important say.
My original response to "Very successful old friends..." was much more inflammatory than what I ended up saying. And yet she came at me. I don’t blame her for getting angry. But what she threw at me was not mine to hold, so I really just watched as her rage chunks flew by.
I purposely said “generational and amassed” wealth to leave room for her amassed wealth that she undoubtedly made on her own. I have no qualms or arguments there. But we did both grow up in wealthy white families. This isn’t an indictment. It is what it is. Also, my crusade is not to hate on people with generational wealth. That would be wildly hypocritical. However, I personally feel it’s important to reach down the ladder of privilege to help those who need it the most, especially when you’ve been so lucky financially. Black people have a hard time amassing generational wealth because the system is rigged against them. Lest we forget that people are still paying the traumatic price for their ancestors being forced here so that we today can have our stuff our stuff our precious stuff. To me it’s just about a responsibility of both being on this planet and being an American. I also feel it is a scarcity mindset to believe that helping someone else have an opportunity takes away from your own wealth and opportunities.
It is illuminating that my mere suggestion of the existence of white privilege means I “hate [my] own race.” And it is “insane.” I don’t hate my race because I want better for all races. Again, I also benefit when others are lifted up. To me, this response is full of glaring racism. The delusion of white supremacy is showing.
I also find it disturbing that this is someone who runs a Creole/Cajun restaurant. I'll just leave that right there.
“#mentalillness” insults me (obviously) and makes light of mental illness. This is just...gross.
I can only hope that white people continue to wake up to their own place in the delusion of white supremacy. For their own benefit of getting free from it. But, more importantly, for the benefit of everyone who is not white. Like, to not die.
I think often about what a friend has said about the US having a sort of Stockholm syndrome. This rings so true to me. This idea that "we're the best we're the best we're the best I did this all on my white own because we are the damn best I'm gonna ride this thing into the ground burning all the way guns a blazin' flags a flyin' USA USA USA USA USA!"
BUT THIS TRUTH: "No one is free until we are all free." -Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
[EDIT: As I see all of this together with the graphic, I want to address something. I’m not promoting a certain kind of white women’s tears, which can be very dangerous to POC and have caused the destruction of Black bodies. This was not my intention, but impact > intention. Also, please do not process feelings down the ladder of privilege if you can help it. So rather than delete this graphic I figured I would address what was feeling off here, which I created.]
After seeing a “Fuck Your Feelings/Trump 2020” flag the other day when we found ourselves accidentally in the middle of a Trump rally, I realized I differ from their ethos (if you can call it that) in more ways than I thought.
I have been feeling into my feelings lately. Or, rather, when I feel them, I let them through. Because I’ve seen the effects of people stifling their feelings, and it’s not pretty. As evidenced above by that Trump flag but also the misery it ultimately can cause on a practical level, physiologically.
“Fox News causes bladder cancer,” a healer I love said to me once, only half-joking.
I decided recently that nothing is wrong because I have a lot of feelings. A pandemic and a revolution is a feelings-y time. This is a time where so much is happening, of COURSE we’re having a ton of feelings. And we are tired. Look, as someone who has experienced a fair amount of grief, THIS is how grief feels. We can get through it, but we have to feel a lot of it. AND THAT IS OK. Because we care. Because we love each other.
I know it is a very confusing time, too. And so, going inward is a HUGE part of the work. And then taking breaks to go outward. I know, it’s like, all over the place. But this is an all over the place time, is my point. We gotta go all over the place. And feel all over the place.
The other day I was standing by my books and crying my eyes out because of the state of the world and it just came over me: “Hey, this is OK. You’re going to feel better as soon as you’re done with this cry. Nothing in you is WRONG because you’re FEELING so much right now.”
And guess what? I was right. That voice was right.
It said: “What if feeling is one of your superpowers?”
“Wow, that would sure shift my perspective about how I’m existing,” I thought.
“No shit,” it replied.
You can’t escape your feelings, so why try, especially since feelings are there to help us?
“Feelings are a genuine path to knowledge” – Audre Lorde.
So how about this:
M A K E L O V E T O Y O U R F E E L I N G S
How about them honey-crisp apples, sugar?
Also – the feeling in your body only lasts like ninety seconds (this is science, not just Sutkowski. And yes, grief is different, of course). When we keep replaying the same narrative in our thoughts, the feelings get reignited and reignited and reignited (and it feels so bad). So, I get it. Like Chidi on The Good Place I know what it feels like to have a mind that often sounds like a “fork in a garbage disposal.” But my mind sounds less like that than it used to, you know why? FEELING. And working with my thoughts.
So, peeps can go ahead and deny each other’s feelings or feelings in general or whatever. But I’m going to feel mine. I’m going to have compassion for others’ feelings, too, especially during a time of collective and individual grief, pandemic, revolution, the rise of fascism, etc. No bigs.
Yeah, anger is a tough one for me, and I feel it bubbling up now. But I’m going to work with it. Anger is when my scads of Kali-Ma arms sprout out, and I sign ten-thousand petitions and give money where it’s needed and check all the places where I can help, and then I settle in and, well, help. It’s one of the places from which I write and music springs.
SO! Please, make love to your feelings. The patriarchy doesn’t want you to. Doesn’t that seem like a good enough reason? Also, your body wants you to.
Disclaimer: I know some people need medication, and this is in NO WAY suggesting people do not take their meds or that everything can be fixed by feeling feeling feeling our way through all on its own. We live in a rich and varied landscape of consciousness and brain matter, and we’ve all got to find our way through in different ways. But I am with you and your feelings as well, my peeps.
So, had any moments lately where you’re like, “Hey, maybe all this feeling is actually exactly where I’m supposed to be right now”? Or “CRIPES I’m so sick of all this feeling”? I’m here. I’m feeling it, too.
Yesterday started with donuts, ended with tacos and had white supremacy in the middle. America.
On our way to pick up dinner last night, we found ourselves in the middle of a Trump rally spanning throughout Ann Morrison Park, down Americana Boulevard, and around downtown Boise, with so many cars we couldn’t tell where it ended or began. Some were honking, and there were excited children with American flags in the back of pickup trucks. Tons of Trump 2020 flags, “Keep America Great,” and that kind of thing.
“Fuck Your Feelings / Trump 2020,” one flag said.
And there were Confederate flags. Tinging the whole thing with the blood of enslaved people and the blood of generations of descendants and the violence through which many of those people were conceived. That’s what I see anyway, not willing to compartmentalize. I don’t care if not everyone had Confederate flags. You’re involved in a thing with Confederate flags, that’s the flavor. That’s a flavor that takes over everything by the nature of what it represents. You can’t have it both ways. And here in Idaho, you can’t argue “heritage” when talking about that sign of hate (not that anyone should). It’s just a straight-up symbol of both hate and the delusion of white supremacy.
I felt sick to my stomach.
“Please don’t get in a fight when you go get our tacos,” I told Brent. “PLEASE.”
While I was waiting for him, two young women were walking down the sidewalk with signs against Trump. I popped my head out the window.
“I’m with you!” I said. “I just want you to know that!” My heart was racing as I watched Trumped-out truck after truck drive by.
“Thank you!” one of them said. “I love your hair.”
“Thank you. I love your everything. You’re very brave to be down here in the middle of this,” I said. “I didn’t know this was going on – I’m sick to my stomach.”
“Well, at a rally, a woman without a mask got in my face and pushed me down,” one said. “And she said, 'I hope you die of COVID.’”
“I am so sorry,” I said. "That's horrible.” And I wasn't surprised because a friend of mine was similarly assaulted at a rally, too. White supremacists punched her in the face and dragged her to the ground, ripped her phone from her hand (yes, ripped — she had a wristlet attached to it). The guys who assaulted her had Nazi SS patches on their clothes and Nazi tattoos. They called her a “disgrace to [her] race.”
“That’s why we’re here,” she said. “I don’t care what your politics are. Just don’t be racist, don’t be homophobic, don’t be violent—”
“My wife,” the other young woman said. I could see the pride on her face, even under her mask.
“Well, thank you for being down here,” I said. “And stay safe.”
I keep thinking of my Uncle Mac who fought the Nazis during World War II. His plane was shot down over France and he was rescued by a young woman. He lived in her friends' attic until the war was over and had to pretend he couldn't hear or speak when German soldiers came through. He also worked for the USPS and was very exacting about how the American flag flew on the post office. I wonder what he would have thought about all this.
I saw Brent coming back to the car. Someone stopped him on the sidewalk, and my heart skipped a beat. And then I recognized it was our friend who works at the Record Exchange. They pretended to hug from six feet away. My breath settled.
“You’re not going to like this, but I almost got in a fight,” he said when he got back in the car. Of course, this made my heart race again because we have laws here in Idaho that allow you to carry guns pretty much everywhere.
“I told a guy he was a Nazi and a piece of shit, and he came back at me with, ‘Biden is a child molester,’” he said. "And that I'm lucky I'm not getting beat up."
“I’m not mad at you, and I agree with you, but it scares me,” I said. “Any one of them could have a gun and just shoot you. I can’t, like, trust that they aren’t going to get violent considering how little they seem to value life.” At the very least they are in some deep denial, which isn't surprising when you're part of a society built on white supremacy.
“We have that sign in the house that says, ‘Silence during injustice is complicity,’” he said. “Honestly, I was thinking of that. And that I’m not going to just stand there and not say anything and let them think I’m OK with it all.”
We texted a few friends on the way home, and one of them wisely said:
“Fascism necessitates rampant nationalism.”
I thought of something else he recently said about how so many people in the US have a certain strain of Stockholm syndrome, always saying how “great” the US is, not realizing how un-free it actually is. I’ll leave that right here.
I don't have some message of hope with which to tie this up. I mean, seeing that couple was a glimmer of it in the midst of that. I got choked up seeing those two physically small people holding up their signs walking into the red sun of the burning West.
Sisters of Mercy's “Lucretia My Reflection” came on the radio, which was an apt soundtrack to drive home to. It has been one of my favorite songs since I was a teenager, newly-tinted as my adrenaline simmered in my fingertips, driving by the energetic juggernaut of nationalism still lining Americana Boulevard on the way home:
“I hear the roar of a big machine
Two worlds and in between
Hot metal and methedrine
I hear empire down
I hear empire down
I hear the roar of a big machine
Two worlds and in between
Love lost, fire at will
Dum-dum bullets and shoot to kill, I hear
Dive, bombers, and
In the rear window of the car in front of us was a "Black Lives Matter" print – one I recognized as having been printed by my friend Brittany, because I have one, too. It helped to see that. But how chilling that that message is still one of protest in this country. Let’s do better.
Just gonna leave this right here.
I've been reading Kaur's new book, See No Stranger: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love, and this has been reverberating in my head. It gives me hope.
For months, I have been in a weekly sound healing class with one of my teachers, Jolene Star, and it has been magic. This month we're working with the energy of the solar plexus and I reflected on the question Who Am I:
I am light. No matter what else is going on, I am light and can easily tap back into my inner pillar, column, tower of light – connection to the Divine and pure unconditional love. I am THAT.
I am a model of possibility for that as well – being light in any circumstances. Being an alchemist and taking the experience of life and sharing it through writing and music. I am the nature of unconditional love and continue to discover more. Just as the mountain has the nature of the mountain, etc. The oak has the nature of the oak. But each unique to itself.
Through my writing I am already healing generations forward and back. Through the writing itself. I don’t need to fret or hurry or worry because it is happening. Because I have always SEEN and have learned to communicate what I see through the written word, it is, in and of itself, MAGIC. Healing. Revealing. I shine the light that I am on what I see and through this mind, heart and hands, I heal with it. Myself and others.
The very act of my living is alchemy. Through my senses and through my spiritual and physical system. I am here to create but I also must remember, I experience, and so I am here to experience.
What if, instead of looking at your high emotions at times as a problem, a bump, a glitch, you realize that feeling is one of your superpowers? When you wretch with tears of compassion you are helping process our collective grief. You’ve chosen to lift up a corner of our collective grief and you are composting it. You are processing it. Generations forward and back. Because we are all family. So stop worrying that you’re not contributing enough – you are metabolizing collective grief. Now just make sure to do your job to let it through and out.
Clearly I’m also a channel because that last paragraph was all in second person. But I knew that already too! Haha. Thank you, my guides, spirit out for my highest good, loved ones who have passed, star tribes, earth mother.
I am multifaceted like the crystalline being I am. I am a light being, a star being, an earth being, a sun being, a moon being, a muse being, a word being, a music being. Human, spirit, heart. By my very being I lift all beings.
I breathe. I recalibrate. I shine. I love.
Who are you? I bet if you stop and think about it you'll find there are many places where you can give your human self a break and celebrate your spirit self for all the work they're doing. What do you think?
It's me, Jennifer Bernice (rhymes with "Furnace": it was my Granny's name) Sutkowski
• More details about my writing here.