Thank God, the Universe, the molecules, the muck, the light, all five food groups, whatever I pray to in my more atheistic moments, and The Muppets' Gonzo (whatever he is) for comedians.
Here I am reading this week's Full Frontal column, "Under the laughs," about some of my favorite comedians and what they're up to. Because we need it and them! And I may or may not show off my Black Milk leggings in a wee pre-reading can-can.
(What I say unintelligibly at the beginning is basically “I’m wearing a crown and I’ll tell you where to get it below here.")
Horace and Pete
The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo
I'm Just a Person
Tig Notaro Live
Black Milk Leggings!
Apple aura quartz crown from Crystal Eclipse Crowns!
Hair color by Libby Schultz at Native Salon!
Misty Mountain tapestry by Danielle Noel!
My friend Casey Erin Wood (Casey, you're just going to have to deal with figuring prominently in my blog) sent me this Danielle LaPorte #truthbomb after our retreat in Carmel together: “Say what your soul needs to say.” Seems easy, huh? Not always easy. Often not easy. Especially when the thought that you might get slammed for using your voice to its full lung-busting capacity was reinforced at home and at school, from boyfriends to friends to dads.
And yes — there were people who wanted to hear the voice, too, like Miss Haigh — the music teacher — and the art teacher, French teacher, English teacher (not too shabby — good company). But the tiny part of us that keeps us from sharing our voice with the world, from saying what our soul needs to say, doesn’t really hear Miss Haigh and Mr. Cevoli. She hears angry dad and mean boyfriend.
But this is not an “oh, woe is me and I hate lots of people” post. My point is — what a magic gift to get from someone. Something that says “Use your voice,” “Share who you are,” “Speak it from where you keep it,” or whatever.
Can we, as a collective of feminists and fucking awesome women, rent a helicopter (or, like, launch some helium balloons with notes inside) and drop those messages all over little towns or somewhere we know young girls populate? Or, better yet, just random in-the-mail gifts of notes that say “Please speak up — your voice is amazing”? Maybe this seems super Pollyanna (frankly I don’t give a shit). But I think it could be helpful. What can we do here? You are brilliant people — please don’t hesitate to share if you think of anything.
I’ve gotten many incredible gifts. A super sentimental handmade photo album from my friend Kristin, the perfect ukulele from my husband, a huge “God Bless Our Pad” framed needlepoint from my sister, certain friends covered in stardust from the universe, this moment of quiet from my dumb ass forgetting how time zones work and having an extra two hours to spare. Oh, the gift of life from my parents. No bigs.
The best gift I ever gave myself continues to be Linda Sivertsen’s Carmel Writing Retreat. Talk about being encouraged to use your voice! I read my work out loud to six talented and wholehearted women, floored at how they received it. They made me see myself and that I am good enough.
For a long time I had thought, “Oh, I’m a good writer. But am I good enough?” (The age old question.) And if you don’t believe you’re good enough (at anything), well, fuck. That said, you’re always going to have that inner voice that is all, “Not good enough.” Which might be, ironically, what got me to a place where I actually became good enough (at writing, anyway), because I kept trying to improve. Weird, right? BUT when I think about it, it was the *doing,* not the voice that said “Not good enough” that made me better. Because the voice that said “Not good enough” also kept me on the couch in front of the TV numbing myself out on Real Housewives for more years than I’m comfortable admitting.
Well, that was a long paragraph.
Anyway: Gifts. Treating your people like they are the gift is a good place to start. Giving people the gift of permission to use their voice, whatever that might look like, is huge. It can change the trajectory of lives. It has certainly changed mine.
Beautiful tree, right? It’s bullshit. It’s a dead, flaccid tree that constantly sticks me with dead pine needles every time I turn the dead thing's lights on. Looks shiny, though.
A dead tree full of bombast and glitter seems appropriate this year.
Look, I am leading with my light. But sometimes that means wading through muck. Getting pricked. Dealing with the fact that people you love didn’t think it was a big enough deal that their candidate was endorsed by the KKK. “What more do you need?” I ask. Nothing more could convince a person when they’re more concerned about keeping their tax payments low and sticking it to The Liberals. Gotta stick it to someone, I guess.
So we continue to deal. Things are angry in my house. Or, I should say, my husband is angry at the election results. I guess I’m angry, too, but I don’t have a good model of a relationship where two people get to be angry. We continue to discuss this and we continue to share our feelings. (But not before I started losing my voice, which is not a road on which I wanted to continue. Amazing, of course, how the moment I spoke up the scratchiness went away.)
This year has been fucking hard. I had cancer. Life is short and, therefore, I want to wrangle as much joy as possible. So when my husband is angry it’s extra-difficult. But I told him I can understand where he is coming from without subscribing to the exact size and shape of his feelings. I can empathize without going down a codependent rabbit hole (though it can be hard). I figured writing about it, like everything, is the best way.
Here are some feelings: It doesn't seem fair that people I know, women included, voted someone in like this. My uterus literally ached when this shit happened. But I know that means we need to stand up and lead with the light, tell our stories, honor each other. My friend Casey Erin Wood wrote a beautiful piece called “She isn’t going to lead the change, YOU are. Here’s how.” Fuck yes. So that’s where I’m trying to be.
And share. Which is why this is here. This is why these words are here.
I think of being a kid and knowing I was equal. I never questioned it. I’m a girl — I knew that. And I knew that my worth was actually just as much worth as anyone else's. And then I went to high school and some of that was eroded by fellow students and shitty boyfriends. Maybe I’m not so great, I wondered? Maybe something is wrong with me? I internalized that. I continue to unravel it.
Then I went to college and was surprised that even on “the writers’ corridor” we had some sexist shit (surely we’re past this societally, I thought). That a dude friend of a dude friend would make sexist comments about a female friend and the dude friends would tell us gals to be quiet, we're crazy, don't complain, that we’re taking things too seriously or sensitively. As fellow writers they should have been begging for the perspective of our sensitivity. Which is why now I have a slew of sensitive women writers around me — the strongest people I’ve ever known.
And I listen to and honor all the women I know who have been marginalized (which is MOST OF THEM — ALL OF THEM, PROBABLY). It’s sad that it’s a big deal that I haven’t been raped. That I was lucky enough to escape my earlier years without being raped. And from where I’m standing, “one in three” does not seem like a large enough number to be an accurate representation (what with all the backlash for speaking up and so many keeping understandably quiet about it). Even if you weren’t raped, you are related to someone who has been.
I think the archetype we want right now is this goddess, Kali. Look at her with the head of the patriarchy! And, like a true conservationist, collecting its blood! And literally trampling! And her prayer (here’s part of it): “Oh Mother, your existence is itself energy, The Para-Shakti Ambe Maa / You dwell everywhere, you are the auspicious Jagadamba, the bestower, the Mother of all / May there be victory in your holy name.” More of that prayer here.
I heard Linda Siverstsen interview her friend Guru Singh recently on the Beautiful Writers Podcast talking about these shit-ass (my description) times. And how we’re in the death throes of the patriarchy (I was so glad to hear him say this, because this has been my suspicion as well, in those exact words — good sign). That when something dies it gives one last tremendous effort — an asshole president and all its trappings are part of that. And that we truly are moving forward and making a lot of progress — but things seem really bad right now (with dicks at the helm) because it’s the last ditch effort.
Guru talks about how he’s preparing for the new world instead of focusing on the current junk and its death throes. Oh, I am trying so hard. But first I have a lot to work through and unravel. A lot of which seems un-unravel-able. You know what I mean.
“Tongue-tied and twisted, just an earthbound misfit, I.” Thanks, Rogers Waters (and the boy who wrote this to me in a letter when I was young.) Learning to fly, indeed.
One of the many noteworthy things Guru Singh says in the interview is that in our culture, men created a fake world, and have kept women out for generations — they know if they let women in, women will see this fake world and their fake world will crumble. And crumble it will. So — it’s only a matter of time. Like the dead tree that continues to stick me with pine needles every time I crouch down to turn on its lights, the fake world that’s been built by exclusion is dying and sticking us hard and reminding us of and triggering every time we’ve ever been stuck. It can flash its lights and its costumes and its colors but if you touch it — it crumbles.
So here’s to the watching it crumble, here’s to speaking up when it sticks us, to not flinching too hard when all the little pricks break off in our cardigans, and here’s to responsibly, like the conservationists we are, colorfully (if not quite as effortlessly) as Kali, and strong — like almost every woman we've ever known — putting that dry old thing out on the curb when it’s time. And it's damn near time.
Thanksgiving bolstered me, not only with succulent fowl, but with family. My husband and I visited his folks in Pocatello, Idaho, and we had a fantastic time. The reason this is of note is everyone’s been edgy around holiday communiqué because we just elected the most contentious candidate of our lifetime. (Sure, I trick or treated at Nixon’s house, so there’s him, of course. And to satisfy your curiosity — Nixon handed out gold pens emblazoned with his name and autographs, which I quickly smeared with my finger checking for authenticity.)
When a group of both liberal and conservative people can get together and peacefully enjoy each other, we’re in good shape. I was concerned I would be crapping out not pushing my own agenda or something, but being real and authentic is also about being with the people you love and getting along.
And get along we did. The kids were adorable, as always. The one teen hung with the adults the whole time and scoffed that we didn’t already know to Google anything to which we might have a question. The little ones were sweet and affectionate and the 6-year-old kept cracking me up with his comedic timing and card tricks.
We climbed out past Brent’s parents’ fence, trekked through muddy spots and sage brush, and took family photos out in the wild field, as we haven’t before, yellow grasses swaying and mountains in the background. I want to use that as a metaphor for what we did for each other — venturing out past where we are usually comfortable — but I realized we were doing what we do: focusing on the time we have together.
Others haven’t been so lucky, though. A lot of families, from what I’ve heard (from mostly strangers), haven’t been willing to climb out past their fences. They’ve stayed firmly stuck, and have even built their fences higher, telling their daughters and sons who are in same sex-marriages not to attend the holidays, or to take the Clinton sticker off their car or don’t visit at all lest the neighbors think lower of the parents. Sad, fearful.
Choosing to draw stronger lines around their differences, these people are ensuring they incur more loss. It’s likely, being that stuffing down sadness means anger isn’t far behind, they’ll use that loss as an excuse to hate anything that doesn’t fit within the confines of their narrow psychological property. And all they’ll get is more loss. Choosing to care what a neighbor thinks over caring for a person you birthed seems woefully counter-intuitive. But I guess that’s what you get when you take pride in ignorance.
I feel so fortunate to have family that loves me and that I love right back. Whose natural state of being is to climb out with me and smile and put our faces into the wind and share. And put up with my strong opinions (which I kept to a minimum, because we’re all coming from a place of wanting more love for everyone). Luckily we all choose love.
Jenn Sutkowski is more ham than turkey. Find her pigging out and fowling up at jennsutkowski.com. (This byline is here because this Full Frontal column first appeared in the Newport Mercury.)
As above, so below. (Just as in, like, here I am reading what you just read.)
Oh, also, of course as I'm getting myself to the computer to post this and send out a newsletter with such heartfelt sentiment my husband is regaling me with a barrage of why he dislikes Christmas. Like, a lot. So, ebbs and flows, my friend. Ebbs and flows.
Feel bolstered this holiday season? Have a lovable humbug in your life? When life gives you humbugs, make humbug hamburger helper! Or something...
My sister texted me this fortune a couple days ago because she knew I would relish it more than pork dumplings: "Be patient! The Great Wall didn't got build in one day." I know some fellow lovers of grammar who would lose their shit over this. In fact, I’m even going crazy over whether to use “who” or “whom” in that last sentence. And then I read the dreaded comments on a page where a blogger explains “who” and “whom” and it proves my point: people can get downright nasty about grammar. Which always cracks me up, because in the spirit of being what one considers “proper,” one is impolite — politeness being one of the cornerstones of properness! Ugh!
Anyway, the reason I bring it up is because one day I started embracing bad grammar, spelling, etc. Not for myself, oh no, and not for most things I read. Because I do like a clean sentence (however much my run-ons might tell you otherwise). But a stray and glaring mistake makes me happy sometimes. I marvel at the fact that something so obvious made it to print. And what I love most about it is this: it’s messy and it gets to be and there it is, hanging out for all to see. Something we humans (especially the literarily fastidious ones) don’t often get to be or do. A wayward or weird word is a reminder that messiness is OK. No one was killed over someone saying “The Great Wall didn’t got build in one day.” Oh shit. At least I hope no one was killed over it.
I grew up, as many did, having to fit into a certain box matching my hair, eyes, skin color, constructed by my parents and their morals and my parents’ parents and their morals, religion, what the neighbors might think, and other pleasantries. A huge reason why I became a writer is my dad would grammatically bat my mother and me around. If we didn’t say a sentence exactly the way it should be uttered he would grimace and interrupt (again with that impropriety emerging while trying to impose properness): “What do you MEAN, ______ ___ ____?” he would bark, inserting our offending words. I would defend my mother: “You KNOW what she MEANS.”
When I was sitting with the blank and filling page I had time to construct my thoughts. I could find just the right word so I could express myself and, if need be, spar.
The fact that my father now has dementia and can’t remember words a lot of the time is also strange and ironic (is it ironic? Darn you, Alanis Morrissette, I can’t remember half the time). Don’t-cha think? ;-)
So! A reminder that we humans get to be messy is a gift.
But as a writer I also always want to get better and cleaner. I want to have more and more impact. I want to be true. And no amount of practicing my own messiness or fitting myself into a box of my or my ancestors’ making on its own will make my writing better. Nose to grindstone, listening, taking it in, being true, not trying to be cooler than I am, coming from the heart, and reading. I’m sure I’m missing 12 other things.
For reading — that’s easy. Here are some of my favorite writing books (that would make great gifts — and since you can’t buy people the freedom of messiness, books are helpful):
Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg kills me softly with its song on every page. It’s a reminder that the craft is the most important thing when you’re a writer. The process of writing. Sure, it’s nice to have people love your work and to be recognized, she says. But if you pin your self worth and hopes on that you’ll never be satisfied. You and the page are the BFFs. And Goldberg. Because she’s wonderful.
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron is one of my favorites (even if I’ve never been particularly successful taking myself out on artist dates). Morning Pages — three pages longhand in the morning, brain-dump style, nothing pretty — are ridiculously helpful. I notice when I’m doing them consistently I’m better at all the things I love to do, from writing to music. I’ve always liked to take Cameron’s rules with a grain of salt, and cherry-pick what works for me. My friend who bought me The Artist’s Way well-meaningly told me Morning Pages were to be done before doing anything else with your day. I mistook that to mean before you speak to anyone, before you have coffee, before you have your constitutional. It took me several years to come around to The Artist’s Way because of this. So, if you do buy it for someone, be careful about imposing your own rules on the gift. Your friend might miss out because of the pressure. This creativity stuff gets dicey.
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King is a great read, whether or not you’re a fan of his other work. It’s a clear and vivid vision into an artist’s method and life, and it helps you cut the bullshit from your own work. He even touches on how to write about defecating (however briefly), which I find refreshing (big surprise). Yes, it’s hilarious.
The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield is my bar-none jump start get over yourself and do your fucking work tome. That makes him sound like an asshole, though, and he’s not. The War of Art happens to brilliantly allow you to see Resistance as the entity it is, accept it, move forward. It helps you get serious enough about your creativity that you can stop being so precious about it and stop wasting time you could be spending on doing your work in the world. I can’t stress the importance of this book enough.
The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr made me consider writing and carnality in a totally new way. It made me take so many notes for my own work. And hot damn, it is written so hotly. I love it. I could quote the whole damn thing. Karr does not fuck around.
Karr: “…the self-aware memoirist constantly pokes and prods at his doubts like a tongue on a black tooth.” I can’t tell you how often I reference that black tooth. In writing, I tongue it. In life, I try not to. So there’s more room for tonguing it in my work.
Anything by Joan Didion, but namely The White Album and Slouching Towards Bethlehem are teachers of the highest caliber. Reading Didion taught me how to get inside editing. She taught me how to find just the right word. She is way cleaner than I’ll ever be, but I am way cleaner than I ever would have been because of her. If that makes sense. Even thinking about Didion while writing makes me feel like a hack. The vestments of holy men wish they were as smooth and clean as Didion’s work. But first they’d have to trudge unflinchingly into the emotional muck as she does. You don’t get that clean without getting really dirty first with the murkiest sludge of humanity.
And we’re back to messiness being a gift. What are you giving this year? What if we all wrote things for the people we love? I'll start:
You are lovely, yes you are
You make me feel like Darren Star
And the Sex & the City gals rolled into one
From writerly Carrie to Sam's sexy fun
You make me feel like a simpler time
When all I had to do was write and rhyme
This year has been tough, but there's no shame
Together we can embody the lyrics of "Fame"
("I want to live forever! I want to learn how to fly! High!" and so forth...)
Hey, thanks, Kat from LaCroix! "Loved your article on LaCroix. It's going up on our site.
Send me your address. We will be sending out holiday cards w/ a coupon."
Don't mind if I do!
It’s getting cold in here, so put on all your clothes
It is getting so cold, I wanna put my clothes on
Hey, man! Happy Decemburrr! I thought I’d share a few of my favorite cold weather activities now that I’ve accepted the diminishing light and am no longer adjusting by listening to songs in minor keys while I do yoga and weep. Yay!
Stew. I love my husband’s delicious stew. I tried to get him to start a place called Lou’s Stews (we call each other “Lou” often), but that sounded too much like “Loose Stews,” which seemed gross, so I’ll just have to be one of the lone recipients of his bowls of hot heaven. And the public can be damned or continue to suffer in silence with chain stews. (Are “chain stews” even a thing?) Anyway — chicken and white bean is a tremendous comfort. Thanks, chicken! Thanks, beans! Thanks, Lou!
Fire. I just had a chat with the chimney sweep’s scheduler and hot damn is she ever busy. I guess everyone in Boise wants to have a clean flue now that December has wrought its frosty heft upon us. I guess I’ll just have to wait until the end of the month. In the meantime…
Hot tub. This is new to me. I did not grow up with a hot tub and I joked that everyone in Idaho had hot tubs and now it seems I’ve created a very cozy self-fulfilling prophecy. We are in the midst of week one of having a hot tub (which we got on “Idaho State Fair pricing” — how Western is that?) and I love it.
Light visor. This is how I deal with my Seasonal Affective Disorder while looking like an accountant from the future.
And, just like that photo shows, getting silly is my number one way to get through the winter months. It’s probably my number one way to get through just about everything. That doesn’t get us off the hook from feeling the feelings. But it will do.
As silly as I like to get, the weeping during yoga might not be over quite yet. We’ve got a few more months of hard-nippling and we’ve only just begun. But I’m doing something right in the yoga department, as evidenced by my cat below, who loves my trippy yoga room. Can you believe the sweet wonder that is this tapestry from Danielle Noel who made my favorite tarot deck (Starchild)?
What are some of your favorite cold weather activities? Favorite stews? Do you like to put your body in hot water? If I told you you had a nice one would you hold it against me? See? I felt a little draft on my legs and I had to get silly. Do you do yoga and weep? Too much? Too soon?
It's me, Jennifer Bernice (rhymes with "Furnace": it was my Granny's name) Sutkowski
• More details about my writing here.