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:
This is the moment. I’m aligned with the sun, the moon and the earth. Whether the eclipse really does anything to shift us isn’t really the point — kind of like whether the tarot card is really a mystical tool for divination. The power to change is in us and we can decide to do it at any time and these are catalysts. I just happen to feel that when the air turns cool because the moon is blocking the sun it is a physical reminder of life’s preciousness and the greater truth of the cosmos — it’s a chance to pause and look up to what is bigger than we are, rather than running around like chickens with our heads cut off in the emotional muck of the patriarchy and its emboldened weirdos.
Monday morning I was in that in between sleep and awake time and was thinking what I want to slough and what I want to keep: Slough — self doubt, self attack, giving shits about what other people think, flimsy boundaries, old ways, old writing and falling back on that... Keep + build: confidence, love, who I am in the world, continuing to gather my tribe, courage, more writing, art and sharing that, connection to the muse, honoring myself and my connection to what's true and beautiful, loving up on the beautiful connections I already have.
I am really excited for the eclipse and using the energy to continue to shift and solidify what I want and what is good for the world and slough what I don't want. Oh, and, you know, feeling into ushering in the new world by seeing and sensing the connection of the cosmos and what we all share and the TRUTH of that as opposed to the construct/illusion of patriarchy and our systemic bullshit and being mindful about that. No bigs.
I’ve been too quiet lately. I have been so tongue-tied around our world. After the white supremacist attack in Charlottesville I was doing some pretty intense emotional triage at home as my husband was very distraught. I appreciate his sensitivity and it’s one of the things I love about him the most. But it sometimes makes things harder during major times of strife because I have to deal with the strife and those effects and then the emotional fallout from said strife. People are talking a lot these days about the mental and emotional load and I just raise my hand and say, “Me too.”
Then there is the mild self-hatred that comes from white privilege and that I should just shut up because I don’t have anything worthy to say and white people have said enough. So I clam up out of unworthiness and trying not to contribute to the noise and YET — it is important to note — that clamming up is really just fear of not getting it right. Saying the wrong thing. Seeing how unfixable all of this feels. And it’s also the very clamming up that has contributed so generously to our current situation where we have a hard time talking about race, etc. The foot goes in the mouth and yet so many who have no idea what they're talking about just spout and spout. That scenario doesn't make a whole lot of sense.
I roll around in the mud of the scope of another three and a half years or whatever it will be with this asshole in office and the emboldening of domestic Nazis. It seems insurmountable sometimes and I want to move to another country and then I'm like, “Oh, right, humans are there, too.”
Then my dear writer-sister and heart-centered-flaming-arrow of social justice, Sara Alvarado, sent me a newsletter this morning that recently moved her. In this piece Kelly Diels writes about how now is NOT the time to clam up:
"This is not the time for those of us who are committed to justice and doing The Work to pull back or be less visible.
“This is not the time for us to voluntarily make less money or invite deprivation and struggle into our businesses and payrolls.
“This is the time for us to do MORE of what we were already doing.
“As a collective, we need to amass even more influence and power and money.
“We need to train and influence more people.
“'You will not replace us.’
“WATCH US DO EXACTLY THAT.”
BOOM MUTHERFUCKING BOOM.
She goes on:
“Now is not the time for you to be less visible.
“Now is not the time to turn down the volume on you and your work.
“Now is not the time to take a revenue hit or voluntarily struggle.”
OK. So I’m getting out the oil can and lubing up this squeaky mouth — that was supposed to be a reference to the Tin Man and how I feel rusty right now but it kinda came out sounding gross. But then we need some humor right now, too, yes?
So here are some things I’m doing:
It's me, Jennifer Bernice (rhymes with "Furnace": it was my Granny's name) Sutkowski
• More details about my writing here.