Cold Blooded Old Times
During my writing group’s virtual write-in today, my dear friend Casey Erin Wood mentioned that this super moon is supposed to be the end of a cycle that began in 1999-2000 and that it might be helpful to journal on that cycle and where we are now. This kind of blew my mind, because at the end of 1999 my mother died and recently I finished my book, which is quite a bit about her death. That book is with my mentor now and getting ready to go out to agents and publishers. So, yeah, reflecting makes sense.
Oh, wait, year-wise, this is really the proper Mike Myers flashback reference...
What is weird is that I applied this face oil this morning that I used to use back in the early aughts. Bindi face oil for the pitta dosha, with rose and other essential oils. At that time I was depressed. I had just lost my mom and I was lonely in Boston. And my sister Nancy had recommended this soothing oil. It is one of the things I can remember as being part of the start of my own deliberate self-care.
Where does this scent take me? In 1999-2000 I wasn’t the powerhouse of self-care and luxuriating I am now. A lot of the time I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing. My freezer was full of hamburgers and Lean Cuisines. The red-boxed Weight Watchers Smart Ones were the real treats. If I had fruit it went moldy. I had too much stuff. I watched episode after episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. I reached out to people on Craigslist who were looking for musical collaborators. I tried out for this guy’s rock opera and didn’t get it. I met another guy who wrote a song about Linus (it was pretty cute, actually) and left that meeting from his loft apartment in Harvard Square with a springy step. Yes, I went to a stranger’s apartment in Harvard Square. Luckily, he was fine and not a predator. But even so, we ended up not working on music together for some reason. And of course you don't have to work on creative stuff with anyone who isn't a predator (tell that to my twenty-five year-old self).
Traipsing through the square to some guy’s apartment made me think of my older, shittier (I think) attitude. I used to think people who walked through life not being deliberate about their movements, as I had been taught to be, were like that cartoon baby in a construction site from Tom & Jerry, crawling from swinging beam to swinging beam, saved only by chance and the wind blowing the right way and never noticing how on the edge of peril they are, constantly. But I was one hundred-percent that baby. Even though I felt like Tom, holding people up. I guess we all are that baby and Tom, in a way. If we don’t think we are, we’re probably fooling ourselves.
Speaking of “fooling,” the image of the baby and traipsing around and ambling willy-nilly through life makes me think of The Fool tarot card. We might think, oh, cute, The Fool. Aren't you darling. Head-pat. But we all tend to know we need a little bit more of The Fool energy in us. We sneer, but we secretly want to be like that. We don’t want to have to be so responsible all the time.
I love that I felt completely safe going to a stranger’s apartment. Happily, I was safe. But we are in a different time now. I felt safe because I had been safe in the past. But today we are more connected. We feel each other’s pain. We say #metoo. All the dirt is coming out. Shit is bubbling up (that's disgusting, but you know what I mean, also, the bubbling shit behavior is disgusting). And we are finally looking at each other’s wounds and knowing that as long as she has wounds I have wounds, too. Our connection to each other has deepened. In part because we see tremendous injustice and refuse to stand it.
I often think of shared trauma — how women share a “trauma past” because women have been repeatedly traumatized. Systematically. Even though I was not molested I have body and sex shame because my mother had body and sex shame. And I remember my Granny telling me once about when one of my uncles was conceived when her husband was very drunk. It wasn’t even a consideration to say “no.” She did not tell me that last part. She just told me matter-of-factly, like, it's what you do, like putting on socks or peeling a potato.
Yesterday would have been my Granny Bunny Mikus’ ninety-eighth birthday. I just looked up her obituary from 2010 and a wave of grief came over me. I’ve been having this feeling a lot lately that life is just so damn precious. LIFE! You are like a sweet kitten! Let me hug you and pet you! With ill family members and my dad in the hospital for pneumonia (pee-nemonia, he used to jokingly call it), I try to hold onto the preciousness of life, my family, my friends, my husband, my cat. I think of how my dad was so tough to be around in 1999 and 2000 as he ineptly grieved my mother and was terribly mean to me. And how now, with dementia, he's always telling us how much be loves us. Even today my sister said texted:
"He's saying we are all loved, fine, adorable, and that he's doing his best without favoritism because we are all great."
All this from the hospital bed. I mean, it's a total turnaround. I feel bad he's not feeling well (and I'm concerned about him), but I'm in awe of how he's handling vulnerability, when at the beginning of this cycle he was handling it not well. He was handling grief and vulnerability like it was a poisonous viper that he was throwing at me.
I sit here right now and listen to a bird chirping and it always makes me feel better. Sweet, soft life kitten.
This lovely woman who makes me flower essences had posted on Instagram about allowing her tears to flow as part of her self-care. I think this is wonderful. After I was diagnosed with DCIS in early 2016 I decided that I would let myself cry a lot more. I mean, I'm not at cafes ordering coffee and blubbering, but I let it happen when it happens. Like putting on socks or peeling potatoes. Funny how our own tears are a thing that need to be allowed, yet only two generations ago in my own family so much more that others did to us was allowed. Hell, even in this generation. We're finally getting to the point where it's safe to say #metoo and "don't treat me this way" and "no."
Sometimes I feel like I’m out in the wind, in the desert, having experienced the losses I have experienced, but I'm out there with these fellow travelers whom I don't personally know but can easily connect with based on our losses. It’s hard to explain. It feels like the buffers are gone. I grew up with so many buffers, so sheltered, so cushy and comfy. Also, people used to wince when I talked about losing my mother, probably because I was still so raw around it. And these days I’ve talked about it so much that I’m almost used to it. It’s my story. And I’m sharing it now — it’s been alchemized into something useful, as in a book, that hopefully will help others feel less alone. It helped me to tell it.
I have been thinking a lot about this mediation I did in a workshop led by Sam Bennett last weekend. Sam had us get in touch with our blocks. Whatever is blocking us. And mine was a big, old, brown book of my old stories, other people’s expectations of me, pictures of me playing piano, the time everyone hated me when I was sixteen. And when Sam asked what the block has to teach us, it immediately gave me this:
“You get to use your stories. They don’t get to use you.”
Whoa. I cried when I heard that. Thanks, book block, whose actual size ended up being that of “The World’s Smallest Bible.”
And speaking of using my stories, one of the other things I was doing in 1999-2000 was sitting up in the loft in my apartment on Sumner Road in Cambridge, tucked under an eave, at the desk I bought from one of those unfinished furniture stores and stained myself, with the gigantic old PC, with some tea and a candle burning, starting my first blog on Diaryland. The blog that got me my columnist position that just ended this year. The blog that gave me a refuge from so much. I got to be unapologetically goofy (one of my favorite pastimes) and write about the pop culture I was consuming and religion and whatever the hell I wanted. I have even gone back to Diaryland a few times to post because I know no one will read it and it feels like being on a luxurious radio station all to myself.
One incredibly beautiful thing about being in my forties is that even though I know I’ll suffer more hardships, I also know that I am in good shape, mentally, physically, emotionally. I take great care of myself (with a few slippy things I could use to clean up, like I drank too much wine on the plane last night). I have strong roots and a strong trunk and flourishing leaves. I mean, obviously that’s a metaphor. I’m not an actual tree. I feel differently than I did in 1999-2000. Back then I felt depressed and exposed. Now I feel joyful and like I want to share.
It’s also hilarious that I’m reflecting on that 1999-2000 time, because here we are back in our house in Cambridge, Massachusetts (we flew in from Boise yesterday) and I am looking back at a time when I returned to Cambridge after my mom died. I’ve finished the book. I’m closing the book that is the big, old, block filled with my old stories and I’m shelving it for whenever I want to use it, instead of it using me.
I have amazing women in my life — most of them creatives — and I don’t feel lonely like I did when I popped into a stranger’s apartment, searching for someone with whom to make music, create something. I feel heard now. And I feel healed, too. I mean, let’s be real, there’s always more healing to do. But I feel…SOLID.
And I love that girl that I was eighteen years ago. And I’m so glad she started writing again (gosh, I feel like she was cleverer than I am now). And I’m so glad she kept trying to make music (even though most of those times were signing onto other people’s projects instead of trusting her own — but remembering this just makes me really strong in my convictions that my own work is worth it).
It was all the winter and spring-scented messiness that got me where I am now. The meandering path. The “what the fuck am I?”
And the answer, all of these years later:
I am me. Using my stories.
My Shadow Wants a Baby
My new therapist brought up shadow work during our first two sessions. Maybe because I come off as a little Pollyanna she thought, “What horrors are lurking under this person’s surface?” I wonder that, too, sometimes. I made music with a guy for a while who wrote on his blog that when you scratched my surface there was something “vain, black and monstrous" there. I’m still waiting to see whatever that monster is inside me emerge, however (and I really hope it’s not like that five-foot worm someone was housing after eating raw salmon on the regular). He did see me eat some McDonald’s french fries once (and he wrote about that, too — I think the word “piggy” was used), so hey, monstrous it is.
I am gentler with myself than old enemies have been, so I lovingly delved into some shadow work recently — looking at rejected traits and how we project them onto others — and came to the conclusion that my shadow wants a baby. Which is funny, because most people’s regular ego/consciousness (I should look up what this is called) is the part that wants the baby. But for me, wanting a child is a rejected trait. I’ve decided I’d rather create art, hold onto my hard-won autonomy, and save having kids for another life, while maybe eventually teaching some people writing and letting my maternal energy go there.
The idea with shadow work is to start by seeing where you get mad or what triggers you in others and then trace what is mirrored there in your own rejected traits. I noticed I was getting irritated with some children being around and yes, I felt guilty about it. I was getting annoyed at a baby crawling across the floor of my doctor’s office to go bang on a water fountain. My inner huffy Muffy came up, wondering, how could this parent just let the kid crawl up so close to that door that could open at anytime? And then I felt the instant flush of shame for not first being compassionate. But this gave me a lot of goodies to chew on in shadow work. Like, oh, my shadow wants to take up space. My shadow wants to literally create more of my DNA through additional humans in the world because this is a miracle and people seem to do it like it’s nothin’ and it has been a huge question my whole life that I’ve just sort of sublimated for other things. And the ability to “just do that” is a rejected trait in myself.
I also notice how little bandwidth some peeps with young children have (because: young children! Of course! It is and should be the main focus of one’s life when that’s what one’s got going on!). And how they can go large time periods without communicating with friends because they are in the shit most of the time. But since I’m in my own bubble and not in the shit, I explored how my shadow wishes it could go weeks without even giving an extra thought to what someone outside of my sphere might be needing/thinking/wanting. I think too much, perhaps, about how others are feeling, how my communication might be affecting them, and one of my rejected traits is not worrying at all, not having guilt, and just letting ‘er rip, whatever “‘er” might be — kids, going incommunicado, going commando, going Lando Calrissian, what have you.
And now is the paragraph where I let you know that my true heart — my conscious, regular, this side of the consciousness situation (as opposed to The Upside-down) — wants my people to create and nurture their families and live their familial dreams. I have compassion for my friends and for the people with children I see out in the world. It’s the hardest job and the most miraculous. And my shadow wants it. But I don’t.
So I’m just going to go on letting my shadow want a baby and checking in with myself. And this shadow work is something else. Hey, it’s nearly biblical — it’s like quite clearly taking the log out of your own eye before pointing out the speck in someone else’s. Deal with your rejected traits before you poke at the thing in someone else that is really your rejected trait your shadow wants to express. And then when you start to integrate it, it’s like a whole new you. Or at least a whole you. Even better. Which is really what we want. Whether or not we’re having kids.
So here’s to wholeness and listening to the shadow. Hey, it’s an improvement over not listening and then, say, snapping out on an innocent kid at the doctor’s office. Not that I’d ever do that. I don’t think. Thank god for therapy. And for not being a psychopath.
Thank god I’m not a psycho
Don’t kill stuff and think it’s right, so
I’ll keep going my way
And giving my shadow space to say:
“I want a baby”
“I want to scream”
Because it gives big-me
Space to dream
This is getting pretty cheesy
I get played out
By “Bottles Up” by Jeezy
My shadow definitely wants to pop bottles and live the pinky ring/mini chopper/teleprompter lifestyle. Here's me gently rocking out (with a cold) to Jeezy:
Oh, hello, old familiar feeling. Like that old boyfriend who always chewed cinnamon Trident and the second I’d get into his orbit again (a few more times than I’d like to admit) I’d be like, “Oh, this again? OK, guess I’ll go with it.”
IThat was twenty years ago, but today I’m talking about the feeling of being in limbo. It had been a while since I’d drifted upon its oddly fuzzy shores where there’s not a damn thing to do. BUT — there is also ANYTHING to do. Anything you want.
I made a concerted effort some years ago to change my life. No bigs, right? One of the things that helped the most was being in inadvertent limbo. We were having our bathroom remodeled and the contractor fucked up so we were stuck out of our house for two months one summer. I was livid. But I also was pushed into limbo, literal dislodgment, and that ended up dislodging me from being stuck. I started playing music again and it was the veritable beginning to getting creative again, following my inner star. I should write that contractor a thank you note. Well, not so fast — he also totally fucked up our drain installation, which we found out when it broke several years later and had to get replaced for $$$$.
Anyway! Less-than-attentive and disorganized contractor notwithstanding (also it was my fault for hiring a bar buddy to redo part of my house — I know, I know), being in limbo is so useful if you let yourself go and float there. It’s like hotel time. During hotel time I always get so much done. I reedited half my book in the mornings on vacation in Seattle in October.
One of my close friends was dislodged recently for a week (and not sure when she would get back into her house) due to some housework that would cause fumes that would be no good for her baby. And she got so much done! Of course she is naturally a get-up-and-go-er, but I loved seeing how excited she was in the midst of the dislodgment.
So why am I feeling bad about limbo today? Why do I find myself needing to majorly solidify plans, manipulate everything into perfect symmetry on my desk, fridge, face, hair, husband? Probably because I’m ready for the next steps. I’ve laid the groundwork. Let’s go. But also I have laid the groundwork and now I can relax. Sort of. Choosing between relaxing and cleaning/fixing everything is funny. Hey, all my linens are clean as a whistle and I’ve WD-40d the front door and oh, hey, do I hear a squeak somewhere…?
If I let myself ease into it, limbo is not a bad place to be. I love the “and” between things. The liminal space, as it's called. This is why, when I relax and look around me, I actually enjoy airports — it’s the place between places. Everyone is off to somewhere else. No one lives there. There is a freshness to this energy (even if airports are also the place where you get stuck, etc.). If we detach from our traditional ideas about airports and the in-between we might find some value there. Should I go sit at the airport? Nah, that probably won’t make me less antsy.
So, while in limbo, I like to take the creative bull by the horns. This past week I’ve organized two albums’ worth of songs I recorded over the last few years. That’s something.
I’d like to switch gears for a second, however, because my husband just came in and interrupted me while I was writing and now I have totally lost my train of thought. Usually I can swim back down but today I am tired due to being weak from some food poisoning a couple nights ago. This is my own bad. I keep making the mistake of wherever I am putting my desk out in the open. Like, why do I do this? Resistance? I’m so mad at myself.
And now I am in even more limbo because I can’t even finish this piece in a way that makes sense or is satisfying. And I have a headache. Sucks.
I guess just ending it thusly makes as much sense as anything else. Limbo!
I’m going to walk away from this post and come back in a few days.
Here’s my few-days-later assessment: After I wrote most of this I lied down with the cat, let myself not write, talked to my husband and then had that great cry where I found the depths of my little inner child who is so scared of both my success and failure. When I let her have a voice (and to come shooting out my eyeholes) I instantly felt better. It felt really good to let her out of limbo. And hey, maybe I would not have found her and let her have a voice if my outsides (limbo-mania) didn’t match where she was.
So, hey, limbo is valuable. If annoying and completely frustrating. But, as my therapist says, “Don’t push the river.” Which is attributed to Barry Stevens, an old Chinese proverb, and a couple other things. Whatever. I’m just going to go with it.
It's me, Jennifer Bernice (rhymes with "Furnace": it was my Granny's name) Sutkowski
• More details about my writing here.