“You had a chance to write about KARAOKE and you wrote about something I could line my birdcage with,” wrote one of my early critics. Hey, at least my first column was useful for sopping up bird shit.
When I first started writing my weekly column I got a whole slew of intense feedback. That very first column, which was called “Karaoke etiquette: Stink responsibly,” chronicling my adventures as a karaoke host, garnered the above bon mots as well as an in-bold 30-point-font email from the president himself of the American Karaoke Association telling me all the ways I was wrong and how I wasn’t treating the art form with the requisite respect.
I tried to write back to these early critics, but eventually gave up and took my email address off my column (for nearly ten years) and asked my editor not to forward me any feedback unless she thought it was interesting or important. Even going back through my emails now and finding those old barbs makes my stomach turn. But it turns a lot less than it used to.
Sensitivity is that one-two double-edged gift-sword for artists. I’m glad to say, with more doing and writing and being and sharing, I no longer weep when someone wants their birds to shit on my work (“What kind of birds?” might enter my mind). It doesn’t feel good, but it’s not debilitating anymore, either. Of course I’m 41 and it would be nice to give even fewer shits at this point, but here we are.
The other side of the criticism coin is being the critic. Which I also have been (and am). I haven’t been doing as much of it lately, but I wrote a lot of film criticism and reviews for the Newport Mercury. And, to be honest, I always feel a little weird about it. Do I want to stand on the sidelines and critique other people’s work — people who are out there DOING it? Or do I want to be the one DOING it? The answer is DOING it. And I try really hard to celebrate the work others are doing and never to let my desire to be DOING it cloud my judgement or poison my criticism.
I’ve noticed, too, that Facebook has become (or has always been) either critical or confessional. I prefer confessional, because enough with everyone being up each other’s asses for this thing or that thing. For having a “been there done that” attitude toward all things art. “It’s been done” is one of my least favorite sentences uttered by humankind. I always say, “Yeah, having eyes has been done, too, but you know what? I’m happy to be derivative in that respect so that I can see [, motherfucker].” Of course criticism about our society and how we can treat each other better is always welcome. I guess it’s always a matter of where it’s coming from, right? Intention informs and colors everything.
Here’s a poem I wrote a while back after seeing someone alienate himself again and again with his unwavering and unrivaled coolness:
“Upon a Mountain of My Own Good Taste”
Upon a mountain of my own good taste
Gold, paintbrush, into a corner crag
It makes me feel like a god
My tongue is my lightning bolt
You don’t like what I like
You’re not worthy to climb
You like Taylor Swift?
We all start to forget who likes what and requirements to climb each other’s mountains
I stand in immovable protest to anything mediocre
I stand in immovable protest to anyone mediocre
I stand in immovable protest to anywhere mediocre
Anything but that which fits
I’m starting to forget what’s allowed up here
And my mountain starts to become
So, I guess my point is, I’m trying to DO more CRITIQUE less. And I’m trying to see the fear inside the non-constructive critic because that is a fear I also harbor.
I think this is related — Archbishop Desmond Tutu writes, “Ultimately, forgiveness is a choice we make, and the ability to forgive others comes from the recognition that we are all flawed and all human. We all have made mistakes and harmed others. We will again. We find it easier to practice forgiveness when we can recognize that the roles could have been reversed. Each of us could have been the perpetrator rather than the victim. Each of us has the capacity to commit the wrongs against others that were committed against us. Although I might say, ‘I would never . . .’ genuine humility will answer, ‘Never say never.’ Rather say, ‘I hope that, given the same set of circumstances, I would not . . .’ But can we ever really know?”
And Australian musician Courtney Barnett sings, “If you can’t see me / I can’t see you.” Same diff.
What’s the difference between a critic and a trampoline? People take off their shoes before jumping on a trampoline. (That’s an old ukulele joke I slightly amended for our purposes.)
I’m glad I caught myself not going to therapy after we picked up to head across the country to Boise. Now I’m having phone sessions with my longtime therapist and it’s the better plan. Especially since both she and my primary care nurse practitioner have told me it’s perfectly natural to have PTSD after having cancer.
What’s silly, though, is I do this thing where I’m like, “Oh, my cancer was so small. Oh, PTSD? Pshhh. What about soldiers? What about people who’ve REALLY experienced some shit?” As I am 100% sure you already know: this is not fair to do to myself.
As I keep saying, we’re in a weird time, not every single moment has to be an actively teachable one, we could use to be gentler with ourselves, we would never speak to friends the way we speak to ourselves. Simmer down now.
“Your day at work sucked because YOU suck,” never would I ever say to even someone I actively dislike.
I didn’t get this post out two days ago. That doesn’t mean something is wrong with me. Or that I’m shirking all the beautiful privilege I have while others wither in squalor and I actively make their lives worse by…oh, I can’t even finish the sentence. Because it’s just silly.
I’ve taken a good break from Facebook (newsfeed at least) and I feel better. I recently unfriended and blocked this guy I used to know because, to put it simply, I want to be around kind people. He had criticized something I posted about being exhausted by pop music, saying it was the height of first world problems. He wasn’t wrong. But my adrenals were already overworked because of PTSD. And then I felt guilty for having PTSD. Jeez.
But even the well-meaning memes alone can take you down! I saw this Buddhist one the other day about manifesting and how you’re actively creating your reality (sure) and that very thought you have is bringing you more of that thing (you know the gist). I’m fucking sorry, but I don’t need the extra new age guilt, as my therapist calls it. I’m going to be thinking about some cancer I had last year and how to prevent future cancers and I refuse to buy into that little meme’s message that I’m bringing more of it into my life. So, screw you, meme.
I’m for manifesting — don’t get me wrong. I just don’t need the shit end of that manifesting stick when I’m in the midst of working through some crap. And other poopoo and stick metaphors.
The thing, too, is I’m pretty fine. Good even. I have great tools for cutting the cycle of association and anxiety when it comes. Cutting the anxiety is the first thing. Breathing it out of my body. I can then come back to the associative thoughts later if I really want (like, “Oh, what if I’m wheezing while exercising because I have lung cancer, not because my allergies are horrible — are my allergies normally this bad?” Those kinds of associative thoughts. Fun).
So! I’ve been getting out into nature, playing music, napping, watching as much Rupaul’s Drag Race as I can, dreaming and scheming about what kind of garden we might have, and thinking about some lovely places to visit. Oh, and I’ve been exploring the "beach goth” music genre on Spotify. Beach goth, where you been all my life? The answer is…inside my heart.
Here's one of my favorites so far: Summer Salt.
I'm also pretty obsessed with this song by The Growlers and the feeling it evokes of aching to get out of a city that no longer speaks to you. We saw them at Treefort here in Boise last month. They were my introduction to beach goth being a thing.
I was thinking the other day how I'm doing some of the same things to self-soothe I did when I was a teenager, like lighting candles and writing in my journal while listening to (beach) goth music. Because I got this.
And again, I just want to reiterate that I'm well. I think talking about it really helps. Lady Gaga and Prince William inspired me heartily a few days ago with this video of them discussing the feels.
And all that, my friends, is presently where I'm at. I write this to you from my backyard, with the warmth of the high desert sun on my back. I'm gonna eat something and get an iced coffee (but not a giant one -- made that mistake yesterday). And I'm going to let this post end without any real satisfying closure. Because in this case, that seems like the right plan.
Here I am reading this week's Full Frontal column, "A Soft Spot for Purée." I thought it would be fun to, you know, get EXTREME on something considered so gentle as soft foods.
As a kid I coveted Judy Jetson’s floating diary DiDi that would talk back to her with a salty, laissez-faire rasp in the voice of Selma Diamond on the TV show and later Brenda Vaccaro in the movie. I loved Rosie, of course — the robot housekeeper — but DiDi was revolutionary. I know a lot of people who could use a DiDi in their lives, as well. Especially since health insurance should get crappier and therapy is barely covered under most of the current plans. Disaffected robot therapists for everyone!
My favorite current robot, however, who is much more useful and isn’t just for indulging our most selfish needs and whims, is Resistbot. Resistbot will send faxes to your Senators and Congresspeople via your text, first asking what you want to say, allowing you to edit, and then showing you a screenshot of the fax. It’s resistance in style. I like using Resistbot in conjunction with Your Daily Action — Daily Action will text you a task every weekday for a suggested call to Senators and Congresspeople and will autodial them. I like to take that daily task to Resistbot.
You text “RESIST” to 50409 to get Resistbot to send you a text asking for your name and zip code to identify your Senators. And you can text “DAILY” to 228466 for weekday actions. And of course there are humans behind both helpers — Resistbot is run by a group of volunteers and Daily Action is run by Creative Majority Pac, a group of artists, musicians, and writers trying to keep politicians accountable.
But it’s not just looking future-forward that can help us during these times. I find it fascinating, for example, that several of the cornerstones of “Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda” come directly from seeing the efficacy of the Tea Party’s methods resisting Obama.
Chapter 1: “How grassroots advocacy worked to stop President Obama. We examine lessons from the Tea Party’s rise and recommend two key strategic components: 1. A local strategy targeting individual Members of Congress (MoCs). 2. A defensive approach purely focused on stopping Trump from implementing an agenda built on racism, authoritarianism, and corruption.”
Yes, we can learn from each other. Perhaps not in the ways we would like or expect, but staying flexible should allow our evolution and progress. Through our inflexibility, robots and fascists might ruin everything.
Our current futuristic convenience tools may not be a pill that contains an entire meal in it like the Jetsons get to have, but that sounds kind of gross anyway, doesn’t it? I do love Elroy’s spray-on raincoat and their circular house that can be raised instantly into the air to avoid weather systems. We’ll probably be needing those given the potential effects of the rollbacks of environmental regulations and climate change skeptic Scott Pruitt’s appointment to head the Environmental Protection Agency (and Trump blocking things that Pruitt does support, like Great Lakes Restoration Initiative). Who knows what the future holds?
Jenn Sutkowski loves Short Circuit and WallE and R2D2 and BB8 and K-2SO and Data and Mr. Roboto and Sean Young’s Replicant and everyone in “Westworld” and wishes them sweet dreams of electric sheep. And C3PO needs DiDi more than anyone. Find her ingratiating herself to cyborgs at jennsutkowski.com. (This Full Frontal column appeared first in the Newport Mercury.)
I used to listen to this song over and over on the jukebox in our basement. And I loved it as much as it scared me. Maybe modern man/woman/person has in his or her DNA the fear of being taken over by robotic overlords. Our creations will out-run, out-live, out-govern us, in a pedagogical nightmare (too heady?). Until then, I'll enjoy them helping me resist a sack of yuck in the Oval Office! Maybe that's one of the things we love about robots: they seem like better versions of us -- they don't poop, they're not dictators (or ARE they), etc. -- and they make us feel like gods until we destroy them (or they destroy us). Humans. We're hilarious. Maybe I'll expand on this at some point. For now, this sack 'o humanity will rock out to Styx. XO
It's me, Jennifer Bernice (rhymes with "Furnace": it was my Granny's name) Sutkowski
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