My mother was thoughtful and kind and so beautiful people would stop what they were doing to look at her. But she wasn’t a snob about her looks, either — that was part of the beauty. And everyone wanted to be near her. Her friends and siblings and anyone who knew her talk about how special she was, even now. A pic of Jeanne comes up, you’re going to see a lot of deserved praise. And her dying too young also adds to how exquisitely her presence was wanted.
My mom was also terrified a lot of the time — she had what I would consider an invisible bear chasing her and sometimes she would fall because she was trying to move too fast. My dad blamed the slick soles of her jewel-toned suede loafers, but I always saw that bear, just out of sight to everyone except my mom.
I keep repeating that anxiety is a legacy I don’t want to repeat. I’ve written it in many places. I take the cute little bag of the aspects of her I want to keep and shoo away the things I don’t want from hopping in there. It all comes back to not really having control over anything. So I can shoo and carry, but what’s going to happen will. I’m her daughter, I’m me, trusting in the mystery can be so hard. Having control? Cute.
Look, floating out in the cosmos with no discernible means of control might go against all today's popular ideas about manifesting, etc. But I’m sick of that noise. And growing up in a household where controlling the world with your brain was the order of the day, I think it’s better for me to continue to learn to let go.
Anyway. Enough about all that. I’d like a pure moment about my mother. Mom, what would you like me to share about you? That I was kind. That I cared too much about the way I looked and in the end wished I hadn’t. That I was a good mom. That I made you grilled cheeses and cinnamon toast and open faced pot roast sandwiches happily. That I love you so so so much and that you’ll always be my baby. That when you did reiki training to honor me on the 10th anniversary of my death the women in your group cried because they felt how much I loved you, because we can still feel it. That feeling is real and will always be real. Just as real as the invisible bear, I ask? More real than that asshole. What a bird.
I love you, mom. I will always write about you. But you were too — there isn’t a right word — and all of your humanity and the love gleaming at you coloring you, too, and maybe I’ll get a few film frames right here or there and for a second get the light moving through the picture. Either way, like you did, I will always try to get it right.
As the nuns sing in The Sound of Music (which my mom so patiently tolerated again and again): “How do you catch a moonbeam in your hand?”
I set myself up with a scad of blog topics every year and write them in my planner. 26 ideas will take you through a whole year if you do one every other week. Thanks, Marie Forleo, for that tip (and for letting me gaze upon your beautiful hair. I’m totally not a creep. Obsessed).
I think it’s funny that this week’s topic happens to be “current obsessions,” because my therapist just emailed me to make sure I’m not obsessing too much. I was expecting to write about some great chocolate I’m super into these days or a book I’m reading or how I used to have a gross love for fat free sour cream and talked about it A LOT. But it looks like I’m writing about anxiety again. As much as I love various creams of varying fatness.
The great news is I am feeling better. The annoying news is I had an anxiety attack on Sunday night. My allergies (I think) are making it weird to get a full breath (though truth be told today I feel awesome — could be that our cat got good news at the vet for the first time in a few weeks and $2000 later).
I was having trouble singing a song without getting winded on Sunday night and it put me into a yucky tailspin. I then started getting really weird and obsessive about it and dizziness set in and then I went and pooped. And there was a grasshopper in the bathroom, about which I was like, “Hey, I gotta look up what the grasshopper animal totem means.”
The grasshopper can be all sorts of things. I’m choosing not to think it’s about pestilence, but instead like good omens, fertility (creative, hopefully), etc. Leaps of faith, innovation for me!
My therapist told me the fear of fear is what takes a regular old run of the mill anxiety attack (normal, common) and turns it into a panic disorder. She told me to distract myself. So that’s what I’ve been doing (among other things). I feel normal again (well, I never feel exactly NORMAL because I’m a big freak), or normal for me. I’ve always felt it’s the conspicuously “normal” people you need to watch out for, but more on that another time.
Luckily I’ve been sleeping well, the last few glasses of wine I’ve had at dinner have been the best damn wines of my life. In fact, it reminds me of when Joan Didion would go to the women’s prison and come out and the doors would slam behind her and she would ravenously eat a hamburger and drink two gin and tonics. My Monday night Chardonnay felt like the best decision I ever made.
Also this, from Didion’s “In Bed”: “The migraine has acted as a circuit breaker, and the fuses have emerged intact. There is a pleasant convalescent euphoria. I open the windows and feel the air, eat gratefully, sleep well. I notice the particular nature of a flower in a glass on the stair landing. I count my blessings.”
“Convalescent euphoria.” I think of it every time something goes screwy in my person or I’m being tested or having blood drawn. I exhale with the heft of a Terry McMillan screenplay and my only worry is that I’ll become addicted to the convalescence and create neural pathways devoted to me feeling something has to be wrong and chasing the high of it turning out right. But I won’t. Someone who does that would make an excellent character, though.
Speaking of Joan Didion — Joan is always one of my obsessions (I wrote my thesis on The White Album and Slouching Towards Bethlehem), and my current obsession is this amazing Saint Joan Didion prayer candle I got from this shop on Etsy.
And, because it's inescapable, on the back of the St. Joan candle is a quote about mortality. But I guess that’s what I signed on for when I became a devotee of Didion’s work and, maybe more important, a devotee of life. Which includes death. And anxiety attacks. And potentially sick pets. But, luckily, hamburgers and convalescent glasses of wine as well. I’m willing to go there to be here.
Postscript: I'm happy to report the battalion of tests I had yesterday at my new primary care clinic came back all normal. Thyroid test all good, EKG clear, lungs clear. It's all in my head! Well, I do have allergies, I think. But it was super helpful to have the doc look at me and talk with me about potential help for anxiety. I'm going to keep an eye on it, but not stare at myself like a weirdo under a magnifying glass. Ah, our beautiful brains.
I heard a thing on the local NPR station recently (in Boise, Idaho) about the market for women’s concealed carry gun accessories. Makes sense. Most gun accessories up until now have been designed by men, so even if they’re marketed for women, they haven’t been quite right, and women are all, “Where do I put my gun?” At least according to these female gun enthusiasts. Who wants to exercise their second amendment rights looking like number two?
Concealed Carrie (named after fashion-forward Carrie Bradshaw of “Sex & the City”) was created with this in mind: “Why should women be forced to compromise fashion for function?” I agree. There is even a “Will my firearm fit?” section on each product’s page. If I had to choose, I would carry the Crocodile Print Leather Hobo with the little gun holder inside, and the bra with holster seems pretty practical, too. But, alas, I don’t have a gun. Should I not tell people that? I wonder about that kind of thing these days. After all, it would not be so weird to think I might have a piece considering I grew up in a town in New Jersey with a lot of mafia and now have a house in a state that allows people to carry concealed weapons.
I’ve seen my father-in-law’s guns, guns belonging to certain family members, have had numerous chats with libertarian acquaintances, and my brother once tried to get me to buy a little lady gun. But I think as far as I’ll go is to learn how to shoot. And carry my pepper spray (in pink, of course), which, luckily I keep remembering to take out of my purse before I go through airport security. Maybe I shouldn’t tell people I have that, either.
What should we keep quiet about how we’re armed to keep safe and how much should we share? I grew up in a pretty paranoid household, where my parents didn’t like to show other people their cards (or guns or baseball bats), where I was always told to never let people know I was home alone (I guess that’s pretty standard), and home alone I rarely was. A golf club still sits next to my dad’s front door — just in case.
I think well-made weaponry is beautiful and can be art. I’ve drooled over more than one small knife, inlaid with rubies and abalone shell and the like. Who doesn’t love a sword? Or a saber? But then I’m more of a “pen is mightier” gal. My husband does have a wonderful collection of kitchen knives that he keeps sharp enough to lob off a finger. I mean, his main purpose in keeping them that sharp isn’t to actually chop off anyone’s body parts (as far as I know), but it could happen. Probably not what smiles-a-plenty chef Michael Symon had in mind when he created those knives.
Looks like I wrote a whole piece about weapons without one snarky comment and meant it. That’s probably as close as I’m going to get to a bullseye for the foreseeable future.
Jenn Sutkowski just fell in love with Netflix’s “Samurai Gourmet” and wishes she, too, could channel her own “masterless samurai” to help navigate life’s weirdnesses. Find her slicing and dicing at jennsutkowski.com.
This Full Frontal column was first published in the Newport Mercury.
Change the channel
I used to watch everything that made my adrenals go crazy: shows about ghosts and murder and mafia brides. People screaming for various reasons, generally. And I wondered why I didn’t feel good. After sleeping like a kitten in a garbage bag soon to be tossed off a cliff into the sea (read: not well), I decided it was time to avert my gaze from housewives, or anything with the preface “real,” or “paranormal” for that matter. (But if “Paranormal Amish Housewives” becomes a thing, all bets are off.)
It’s so easy to get into the habit of neglecting our own creative work because we’re scared, and television is the perfect avoidance-teat at which to suckle indefinitely. So I seriously reassessed my viewing habits and adjusted accordingly. But I do love some television, and now try to limit it to that which makes me feel decent. “Treehouse Masters” and “Beachfront Bargain Hunt” bring me that “Calgon, take me away” feeling. There are the exceptions, like “The Leftovers,” “House of Cards,” and “Black Mirror,” which make me feel gross, but they’re high-quality enough to pass my filter.
Of course there’s the Duffer brothers’ “Stranger Things,” which most people have seen, but if you haven’t and you enjoy Winona Ryder, throwbacks involving a ragtag bunch of kids on bikes (think “The Goonies” in the dark), and monster mysteries, then check it out. I like this show so much I’ll likely watch the first season again (on Netflix) before season two arrives in October.
I recently fell in love with “People of Earth,” a TBS sitcom about a support group for people (“experiencers”) who have been abducted by aliens. If you’ve ever heard conspiracy theorists or alien-enthusiasts talking about “reptilians” (i.e. that so many presidents and famous people are reptilians, etc.), you’ll see that creator David Jenkins gets it completely right, tongue planted firmly in cheek. Ana Gasteyer is hilarious, Wyatt Cenac (“The Daily Show”) is spot-on as protagonist Ozzie, and you can’t help but fall in love with the rest of the ensemble — and the aliens, for that matter, who suffer the same bureaucratic crap humans do. This show feels so good and manages to be just scary enough at times. Major heart here.
Donald Glover’s “Atlanta” blew my mind. It is the smartest, funniest thing I’ve seen in a long time, and pokes at race in a super fresh way. IMDb summarizes: “Two cousins, with different views on art versus commerce, on their way up through the Atlanta rap scene; ‘Earnest ‘Earn’ Marks,’ an ambitious college drop-out and his estranged cousin, who suddenly becomes a star.” Just watch it. I fell in love with Glover on “Community,” and am consistently wowed by what he creates, from this stellar show to his music project, Childish Gambino. Can’t wait to see him as Lando Calrissian in the Han Solo “Star Wars” prequel.
For now, a show needs to surprise, inspire, and feel like a warm bath to garner my attention. That is until the next “Breaking Bad” comes along. But Heisenbergs aren’t born every day.
Jenn Sutkowski still asks around about Teresa and Joe, Carole Radziwill and The Countess, Kyle and Kim, NeNe and Phaedra. Find her looking maybe too hard at another screen at jennsutkowski.com.
This Full Frontal column was first published in the Newport Mercury.
Someone should make bunches of bananas that ripen one at a time. Come on, Monsanto. If you're doing weird shit to our agriculture, might as well make it awesome, practical, convenient. Isn't that what got us into this whole American food mess in the first place?
I was going to call on Neil deGrasse Tyson, Bill Gates and Stephen Hawking. DO MY BANANA BIDDING! Not really. Bye now.
It's me, Jennifer Bernice (rhymes with "Furnace": it was my Granny's name) Sutkowski
• More details about my writing here.