In the Pixies' "Levitate Me," Frank Black sings, "Elevator lady, elevator lady, elevator lady, elevator lady, lady levitate me."
Yes. I've needed some serious lady levitation this month and inspiring ladies have been everywhere, from YouTube to my very own band practice. (In "Levitate Me" Frank Black goes on to sing "He kicked a baby" but I'm talking about loose interpretation, y'all. Though November sometimes makes me feel like I'm that baby being kicked by feels, as they say.)
November is always a tough time for me. My Mom died on the 23rd in 1999. But my husband's birthday is the 24th, which makes it hard to stay in depresso-anniversary-land. So I appreciate that. Quit yer groveling, Sutkowski! So I did.
This month I let myself Scorpio the hell out of everything -- Scorpio is my watery, emotional rising sign. I've delved into my shadow side and exposed things to light that had been heretofore unexpressed. Something about turning over the darkest stone, exposing it to the light, and all will be revealed. I don't remember the exact phrasing of this cool thing I learned in an old beloved class, Sacred Drama. (We actually used tarot cards to inspire journal entries in that class. How cool is that? I'm looking at you, Stephen Geller. While I'm doling out the inspiration-praise -- you are a magical professor.)
Anyway, some of my greatest touchstones during this time have been green juice, yoga, and the external support of some wise women.
I stumbled across this mesmerizing video by Teal Swan (has a better name ever existed?):
I love this Teal Swan video for so many reasons (even just the superficial ones, like her off-the-shoulder fuzzy sweater) but I think there is so much wisdom in it. And I may or may not be attempting to change the molecular structure of my drinking water with love. Like ya do.
And then I also took a long walk on an unseasonably warm day and listened to this beautiful solo radio show my homegirl and soul sister Kristin Swarcheck did recently about vulnerability, which I highly recommend. Click up on it.
Have you heard the Beautiful Writers Podcast yet? Amazing! It's giving me major magical moments, from Liz Gilbert to Mary Karr and so much in between that's been blowing my mind it's practically atomic. But that is not remotely surprising when it's helmed by lady love (and my mentor) Book Mama Linda Sivertsen and "The Desire Map" and all glorious-things-creator Danielle LaPorte. These ladies have nothing short of changed my life (seriously). They are the gifts that keep on giving.
Additionally, as I am always inspired by my homegirls, I fell in love with my Somerville Ukulele Club bandmate Ashley Holtgraver all over again as she performed this song she wrote on the "Mystery Science Theater 3000" Kickstarter telethon. Check out how awesome she is! I just love this gal! (She also happened to design the logo for my perfumery, which is, arguably, the best thing about my perfumery next to the perfume and is probably at least just as good as the perfume.)
Could that be any sweeter?
And as my bandmates and I get ready for our show at the Somerville Armory on Tuesday, I also found unexpected inspiration from Mariah Carey in a bit she and Jimmy Fallon and The Roots (and a bunch of really cute kids) did like three years ago (I'm aware there's an Adele one of these going around now but I'll return to the OG). Dare I say I'm getting into the (goddamn it) Christmas spirit? EFFFFFF.
Ok, FINE. More feels. Bring on the Lindt truffles.
This is a piece from my upcoming book
Nurses’ sons are the new farmers’ daughters: totally uninterested in you, muses, long fingernails under which a lot of bullshit might get stuck.
That’s not really fair — the only bullshit was that the nurse’s son didn’t like me back.
Why did I wear all purple to go out with the nurse’s son the same week my mother died? I liked that outfit. Purple velvet pants and a v-neck short-sleeved lavender sweater. That night I was gonna party like it was 1999 (because it was).
Why did I go out with the nurse’s son the week my mother died? Lonely. Looking for true love.
Why did the nurse’s son go out with me the week my mother died? Curious? Obliged? Looking to show off his fingernails? Looking for true love? No, not that last one, to my dismay.
My mother had lovely home nurses when she was sick and one of them talked about her son with me fairly often over hand-washing and hand-wringing. I was working on my Master’s Degree, he had his Master’s Degree, we were both musicians, our moms kind of worked together (if you squinted your eyes and pretended his mom didn’t sponge-bathe my Mom). I knew random things about him like that he never felt quite as smart after he had spinal meningitis but was still very, very smart, his mother assured me.
He called and invited me out and we met at a bar in Ridgewood — the town where I was born! The town where my Mom died! The town where I kept looking for meaning! — and he talked to me about beautiful, sad folk singer Nick Drake and we discussed the genius of Jeff Buckley. He had long fingernails on his right hand for fingerpicking the guitar. He was wearing a black turtleneck, about which, I want to say, snarkily, “of course.” But whatever — I’m sure he was having quite the enriching experience taking a girl out whose mother just died. What a brave soul! He knew how to dress for the occasion. That’s more than most people could say. That’s more than I could say in my velvet pants.
We one-upped each other with our good taste on the jukebox (as much as that jukebox’s contents would indulge us) and drank a bunch of beers. It felt really good to be out with him. It felt like a spot of brightness at the frozen end of November to be doing something other than sitting in the house or going to the mall with my friend, Kendra, or trying to make out with my ex-boyfriend and crying.
Oh yeah — so the high school ex-boyfriend who threatened to drink the carpet shampoo actually showed up for me by coming to my Mom’s wake. He would also check in with me to make sure I was OK, which was what I really needed.
He peered around the funeral home, those sharp Argentine-via-Staten-Island eyes resting on my mother’s body and families of people with whom I went to high school.
“How are you?” he asked. “I would be hiding under the chairs right now.” And, naturally, that pang of familiarity where you feel like the only two people who understand each other made me want to make out with him. Which I did, driving to his apartment one of those nights that all started to bleed together. And he was wearing the Egyptian musk fragrance I always wore (“to smell like you”) and chewing cinnamon Trident like he always did and after a few reels around the fountain, if you will, it was too much and he agreed as I cried.
Why couldn’t I be one of those awesome film protagonists who, as Peaches says, fuck the pain away? In some bathroom or something to later regret and then later-later, when you’re much older, you don’t regret it at all? (You know, as long as you’re using protection and all that.) Oh right, I grew up Catholic. But why couldn’t I, then, be more like John Waters, who has said “Thank God I was raised Catholic, so sex will always be dirty”? That’s the stuff wet dreams are made of.
So back to the nurse’s son and my little grief-filled heart pinning my hopes and dreams on him in a bar in New Jersey.
“Maybe I’ll get the next love of my life out of this situation and losing my mother. Maybe that’s how dreams come true.” Beer talking, but God, I wanted the fantasy to be possible. I just wanted someone comfortable to lay my heart into.
“Let’s not try to turn this into anything other than what it is,” he said, our breath in clouds in the frosted Ridgewood night, hugging me and leaving me there. I’m still not quite sure what it was.
I went home and listened to a lot of Nick Drake — I got him out of this rendezvous and he aligned perfectly with the wet blanket pressed over everything. And even though I never saw him again I liked this nurse’s son because it gave me something to romantically focus on. They’ve done studies where they show how people who have their hand stuck in a bucket of ice water are able to endure it longer if they swear or think about sex — this guy was momentarily my similar point of focus while I had my hand in the ice water bucket of grief. He was also something to write really depressing songs about. And that moved me somewhere — at least into some creative expression. Muses sometimes come in unexpected boxes. Just not mine.
While we're all thinking and talking about what's happening in the world and witnessing Paris it’s the most important time to get really clear on what we want our world to be. What we want it to look like for the future. Because the people who are perpetuating this violence and murder seem to be really clear about what kind of world they want.
So this is the kind of world I want:
Where we make choices from a place of love more often than a place of fear — ideally all the choices.
Where we decide not to hold our hearts like fists. We open our hearts and we try to see where people are coming from.
That we manage to make choices now that will help us evolve in a way that utilizes the global community that exists through the Internet, etc. That we become more empathetic and connected from a place of love and curiosity instead of fear.
That even if we believe something — rhetoric — we choose to think for ourselves. That we think beyond our doctrines and rhetoric. That we use these amazing brains as much as we can to question, empathize, and love.
If we utilize this global community and look beyond our rhetoric and don’t hold our hearts like fists it will be impossible to paint entire groups of people with a paintbrush of “evil” or “out to get us” and we will know that most people are just trying to get along and live tenderly within their groups of humans and family.
That when we stand within fear we act from love anyway and know that is courage.
That we know courage is to open your heart.
That we know to think more is to open your heart.
That if we subscribe to rhetoric that has something to do with saviors or beings of love that we adhere first and foremost to the love and know that if our doctrines say we’ll be tested know that the greatest tests can sometimes be the day to day ones, when you get to choose whether you’ll be curious instead of hateful towards people who look different from you.
That we look to nature and know that the difference in our DNA from plants, for example, is so little, that how different can we humans really be from each other?
To know that our words have impact that ripples like throwing a rock into a pond — that as we search our bodies for how our actions make us feel, that we act from a place of tenderness instead of “what can I get out of this” or “I’m scared so I’ll do this” or “I hate all ____.”
That we acknowledge that above what our brains know there is a collective consciousness where we’re all connected and where all knowledge flows.
To know that if the human brain is capable of such atrocities it is also capable of the opposite and equal, which, because it is a much higher vibration, will win out every time. But we have to choose to use our brains and hearts this way. Basically be the change..
Practicing tolerance is not enough — we must celebrate each other.
That's what I have for now.
Let's use this time to get clear on what kind of world we want to live in. Write it down. Let the future know. It can't hurt. Maybe even the thrust of deciding this will have some impact in the world. What kind of world do you want to live in?
(I'm posting this old Full Frontal column from 2006 as a #TBT, after my best gal Abby brought to my attention a very similar piece that is, admittedly, way more detailed and researched,)
Upon finding a recipe online for “Montigott,” I decided it was time to quit simply complaining to my friends and take my crusade to the street! Or at least here.
I was looking for a simple casserole or cassoulet recipe for the slow cooker, maybe something homey and cheesy like tuna noodle, you know, and I stumbled on Montigott, posted by some lady. Montigott, it turns out, is a favorite of this woman’s family, and a recipe she received from an Italian friend perhaps thirty years ago. One uses sausage – pork preferably – tomato sauce, cheese, a whole bunch of other stuff. The recipe actually looks kind of good. Looks like the classic Manicotti to me!
So here’s the thing – I can almost promise that this domestic goddess wielding “Montigott” is from the tri-state area. Jersey, probably, possibly Long Island. There is a very strange phenomenon there, whereupon stepping across the invisible barrier between the tri-state and the rest of the world, one experiences and may even be taken over by a mandatory bastardization of the Italian language.
“Muzzadell,” my father says, “is how the Italians say it. Vinny says it like that.”
“Vinny’s food is delicious, Dad,” I say, daydreaming about the delectable tagliatelle with shaved black truffles at Vinny’s fantastic restaurant. “But his being from New Jersey trumps his Italian heritage where language is concerned.”
My father won’t budge. No matter how much I tell him that Italian is all about pure vowels. Unlike we dirty-tongued Americans, Italians wouldn’t let a diphthong contaminate the almighty round tone.
I was at a friend’s boyfriend’s house a few years ago while they attempted to make fresh pasta. He was from Long Island. The constant mutilation of Italian words as he asked his girlfriend for ingredients nearly put me over the edge.
“Give me more riggott.” “Give me some muzzadell.” “Maybe next time we can make Manigott.”
I freaked out and started yelling the words he was saying: “Riggott! Muzzadelle! Manigott!” Luckily they just thought I was being weird, shouting things in excitement.
My sister and I have taken to dropping the last syllable of all Italian words in protest, and in order to show how arbitrary it is to do so. We no longer listen to the dulcet tones of Pavarotti, but can’t get enough of that Pavarott’s tunes. We order Peetz from Natall’s and drink Pinot Greej.
Now that others get a view into Jersey (without having to actually go there, ewww!) via “The Sopranos” I fear this problem will grow impossibly huge. The day I heard Tony Soprano refer to some leftover spaghetti as “cold pahst” I shed a tear for the almighty Italian vowel. I rue the day when Midwesterners will complement their flat “a” by dropping that last syllable, adding a “g” where it doesn’t belong.
Of course, the upside with the whole Sopranos thing is that maybe some people from other parts of the country will quit saying “eye-talian dressing.”
Jenn Sutkowski credits her old singing teacher, Maria, for shining light on the marriage between Italian and vowels. Maria’s home was a haven away from the dropped syllables and hard “g.”
Postscript: It's a dialect. For more, see this New York Times piece that was written a couple years before mine, explaining that Italians (in Italy) won't correct people and are glad when people try to speak the language, even when they mangle it.
From the above article: "And Gregory Pell, an assistant professor at Hofstra University who teaches Italian, said that because of the way double consonants were spoken, such as the double 't' in manicotti, Americans might not clearly hear the last 'ee' sound. When New Yorkers drop their endings, he said, 'it's become a new word and its own version.'"
It's me, Jennifer Bernice (rhymes with "Furnace": it was my Granny's name) Sutkowski
• More details about my writing here.