By Jenn Sutkowski | Mercury | Full Frontal
At Daniel Webster Farm Day in Marshfield, Massachusetts, there are angora bunnies to pet and they’re not even jumpy. There are tan and smooth beeswax candles for my candelabra from the beekeepers. There is an owl show run by a husband and wife team, both in embroidered owl vests, who try to warn the children to stay out of the center aisle lest owl pellets be visited upon them (they take the high road and neglect to mention what razor-sharp talons could do to human skin). Another husband and wife team let me taste all of their homemade (and ridiculously low-priced) jams, and I leave with jars each of delectable raspberry lime, carrot cake, peach orange ginger marmalade, and Grammy Sutton’s red pepper jam (find Sommers’ Bounty on Etsy).
A band of women which I’ve recently joined plays a set and we get some thoughtful compliments, including from a blacksmith - which seems like an omen of good tidings somehow. Sure, it’s the chimney sweep who’s considered lucky but I’ve only been complimented once before by a blacksmith, so it seems special.
Also - please don’t call a woman’s husband “Daddy.” Just don’t. Especially as relates to cash, or if you’re a man selling something to a woman who doesn’t have cash on her. My husband is not my “Daddy.”
“Daddy’s always got the money,” says the man selling the natural soaps as my husband opens his wallet.
I briefly consider not buying the soaps and rose salve after several “Daddy” comments. But I really want the soaps. Am I letting myself down, as well as all of the feminists who’ve come before me?
Now every time I soap up with my sudsy cake of oatmeal fir-needle-orange made by a woman named Hortense I’ll think of her husband who called my husband “Daddy,” I’ll think of calling my actual father “Daddy” when I was a little girl, also present in the shower will be Betty Friedan, and Gloria Steinem. It’s going to be a busy cycle of ablutions and should probably be a movie, in which my father and the soap-seller learn a few pointers about feminism.
Possible responses to another man calling your man “Daddy”:
Call-out, Betty Draper style: “Does your wife call her female customers’ husbands ‘Daddy,’ too?”
Inner world-weary drag queen: “Honey, my Daddy is eighty-three. I’m four years older than my husband. Does he look like my Daddy to you?”
Due-diligent feminist: “My father had better be standing behind me or else what you’re saying is pretty sexist.”
Mae West: “Where’s this Daddy you’re talking about? I could use a few more clams, see?”
Out-weirding him: “Whoa, do you and your wife have, like, freakish parental sex nicknames for each other? Kinky.”
Shopaholic: “Oh, poo. I’ll just take the damn soaps.”
I won’t let a little unintentionally sexist attempt at humor ruin an otherwise beautifully-rounded day of autumnal bliss. This city girl needs to relax.
Jenn Sutkowski is now thinking about candelabra, and that perhaps Liberace could pull off calling someone’s husband “Daddy.”
Printed and posted in The Newport Mercury Wednesday October 29, 2014.
A close friend did a reading for me with her new German oracle cards - Kipper Wahrsagekarten. They’re similar to tarot but more like Lenormand, which don’t have as loose interpretations as traditional tarot. I asked whether I should self-publish or look for a publisher with all of the contracts, etc., that go with it. Looks like I should self-publish.
I am especially grateful for this moment of clarity even if just for a suggested direction. My husband and I are among the most indecisive (least decisive?) people on the planet. Choosing an egg-style at breakfast is a small triumph to be relished. So to have something as daunting as publishing somewhat sorted out - at least in a nebulous way - makes my future feel less murky.
I think often of something Sylvia Plath wrote about choices and a fig tree with withering fruits:
“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn't quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”
I sit in Ms. Plath’s withering fig crotch a lot.
And then I think of the band Rush and the only lyric I can remember that must have settled into my brain while some ex-boyfriend played them on his car stereo: “If you choose not to decide you still have made a choice.” You know what, Rush? They don’t call you “prog” for nothing.
See? Clarity can come from the most unexpected places.
There are far worse things in which to be knee-deep. But trying to compile a lot of my own writing is definitely not a one-sitting task.
By Jenn Sutkowski | Mercury | Full Frontal
As a witchy gal prone to fits of fondling my crystals, reading tarot cards, and throwing bits of lace around, like so many other women of my ilk, I have a love/hate relationship with shows and films about witches. On one hand it is titillating and fun — these strong women creating magic I can only dream of, at once beautiful and then a deep caricature of themselves, not unlike the haunting visage of Ann Margaret, pitching her body to and fro in “Bye Bye Birdie.”* Because what’s a teenage girl blossoming into womanhood if not a witch-of-the-hips?
But then these programs about witches are infuriating, because they suggest a strong woman shorthand: that they turn brittle, unable to hold relationships, that they end up drunk and changed on power, that they turn wart-ridden and green with the toxicity of that power, or at best, envious of the pink and innocent, and at worst, hunger for the flesh of those innocents, like the nearly-blind witch in “Hansel and Gretel.”
With some exceptions, our best hope for rooting for these witches is when one enacts revenge against someone more evil than them, like against Jack Nicholson in “Witches of Eastwick,” or turn an annoying brother (played by Joshua John Miller, who was already creepy from being in “River’s Edge”) into a dog in “Teen Witch,” or is Fairuza Balk as a child (“The Worst Witch”) but not Fairuza Balk as an adult (“The Craft”). If they’ve flayed someone horrible, like Willow (Alyson Hannigan) does to Warren (Adam Busch) in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” because he’s killed Tara, but then ends up going to magic rehab, we like that, too.
In these films, basically the only thing worse than a woman with powers is a really bad guy. So are these films misogynistic after all? Do they suggest that the character of man is inherently crappier? Or do they tell us that a woman’s best-case scenario for beating an evil guy is by having powers that don’t actually exist? Sorry, ladies — you’re still screwed. To be fair, it varies from film to film. We’re humans. Everybody sucks. Happy Halloween! Time to explore our shadow selves.
Speaking of crappy guys, “The Wizard of Oz” and paying “no attention to that man behind the curtain” was revolutionary at the time not just because it popped into technicolor, or may have had someone hang himself (or a turkey) near the yellow brick road, but because it was so freaking weird. It’s still bizarre as hell. There’s nothing like it. But that wizard, and the fact that he’s all talk, is such a perfect denouement if we’re reading it as a film about women. Who’s the best witch in Oz? Well, it’s Dorothy of course — she had the power the whole time, clicking those fabulous heels. The Wicked Witch of the West is too wizened, and Glinda is an overly-pink confection of feminine innocence. Dorothy is literally wandering around with a fever and she’s doing it with grace and passion. And, she’s Judy Effing Garland.
Jenn Sutkowski should report that as she’s writing this a spider careens in from nowhere and climbs over her laptop. Greetings and salutations.
*“Bye Bye Birdie” is not about witches but it does contain Shriners and their fezzes are magic.
Printed and posted Wednesday, October 22, 2014 in The Newport Mercury.
How many times do you have to ask to be taken where you want to go? A lot of times? And then you still don’t get to go? Me neither.
I once thought I saw a really big bird but then, strangely, it wasn’t all that big as it got closer to me. It brushed right over the top of my head as it flew and then kept going to I don’t know where. And I thought, that bird gets to go wherever it wants. It has to find its own food and stuff but it also just gets to go. Because it can fly. And maybe it doesn’t have a house. So it gets to trade all of that in for being able to fly wherever it wants. And I’m stuck at home and my brother won’t let me go with him to the pizza place with his friends. I would totally take my brother with me.
So the bird has to find his own food and in return he gets to go wherever he wants. I know there is at least a twelve-pack of hotdogs in the chest freezer in the garage. I could just get those on my way out. Those would last me for awhile, I think. And by the time I’d be hungry they’d be thawed. I could get pretty far on one hotdog every time I felt like eating something. Really felt like eating, I mean. Not like my brother and his friends who just shove all the pizza in their mouths. I would really sacrifice. We just learned that word - sacrifice. You give something up in a way for something you care about. I would give up eating a hotdog exactly at every moment that I wanted one to be able to prolong the time I get to live like a bird. Without the flying of course.
I picked up one of that bird’s feathers after it flew over my head. I smelled it. It smelled like the sea, way more than I thought it would because we were near the mountains and there isn’t sea for hundreds of miles, I think. That’s what my parents tell me anyway. The sea is far. Far too far for that bird to smell like it, as if it had just taken a dip. But also that bird doesn’t have to take baths. So my guess is that it flew all the way from the sea and because it doesn’t have to take baths it still smells like where it came from.
I don’t know if I would make it all the way to the sea if I took it easy on the hotdogs and just had one every time I was truly hungry. If there are twelve hotdogs in there and I ate one every three hours I could make it pretty far, I think. That’s twelve times three, which equals thirty-six. I could make it for thirty six hours at least and then probably a while farther because I wouldn’t be hungry again for at least three hours. I should maybe reconsider and have a hotdog every four hours. Then I could get much farther. If teachers knew what they were doing this is how they would teach math. A kid trying to figure out how long he could be on his own and have control over his own life, like a bird, would pay more attention to the numbers because it means how long he could get away from the people who are making him mad and not doing what he wants. Teachers, take note.
Anyway, I don’t know if I’ll try to do the hotdog/bird thing yet but just knowing I can feels good to me. My brother can go have his stupid pizza with his stupid friends. I’m learning about the world and how to survive. Someday he’ll be coming to me when he’s gotten all fat on pizza and his friends don’t want to hang out with him anymore. And it will be good that I had this time to figure out how many hotdogs it would take to get far enough away that it might feel like something big is happening. Even though I’m mad at him now I would let my brother come and we could both live like that ocean-smelling bird that flew over my head, even if it was only for a couple of days.
Driving to take the car to get serviced today (a sentence I hope not to have to write again for a long time) I was thinking about how people say shit is “derivative.” It’s irked me for a long time. What I think is beautifully ironic about calling something derivative is that it is in and of itself a completely unoriginal and derivative critique. Find something original to say in your pursuit of disdain.
Some original criticisms to get things moving: “It’s too orange.” At least that’s intriguing. “It reminds me of the way skunk smells.” We’re getting somewhere. “It’s like rubbing up against some boobs, enjoying yourself, and then realizing it’s your Mom.” Weird.
Additionally - are we entitled to expect the creative minds that be to conjure up what we deem fit? No! So my advice to the callers of “derivative” is to make their own damn original work. Jazz yourself instead of sprawling out on the chaise lounge of your own entitlement and waiting for someone else to jazz you. And yes, I am aware of, and am employing, the alternative (and original) definition of “jazz.”
And my eternal answer to the shutdown that flinging the word “derivative” causes: Having eyes is derivative, too, but I’m sure glad I do.
It's me, Jennifer Bernice (rhymes with "Furnace": it was my Granny's name) Sutkowski
• More details about my writing here.