Trigger warning for this post.
I keep meaning to mention what it’s been like here in Boise. One of my friends was assaulted at a rally recently (if three weeks ago is “recently” these days). White supremacists punched her in the face and dragged her to the ground, ripped her phone from her hand (yes, ripped — she had a wristlet attached to it). The guys who assaulted her had Nazi SS patches on their clothes and Nazi tattoos. They called her a “disgrace to [her] race.”
There have also been reports of white supremacists looking through the scopes of their guns (reported by witnesses as “automatic guns”*) as they point them at BLM protestors and other random people. From the shelter of a parking garage.
They are not afraid to be visible. Trump is their guy and he’s proud of using violence and FORCE against people who disagree with him politically. Why shouldn’t they? According to them, women (and anyone) supporting their fellow [Black] citizens deserve to be beaten. Probably worse.
It stands to reason that other people who still have Trump as their guy are either in deep denial, deep hate and desire for the destruction of their fellow citizens, or still steeped in the anesthesia of living in a white supremacist culture. Or still are valuing “my money, my money, my precious money” over human life. (I mean, I’ve been saying forever — why would you support the candidate endorsed by the KKK? This seems so beyond obvious.)
That’s what I’ve got for now.
ALSO (caveat because I'm posting to FB): I’m not looking for a bunch of jokey comments or whatever on this (not that I’d expect that), I don’t really have much to answer Qs or whatever, just feeling and sharing, you know, how it feels to live in this culture at this time.
[*”Ugly semi-automatic rifles,” I’ve been told is closer to the truth than “automatic guns;” (when I posted this to FB) and suddenly a post about humanity becomes a post about semantics. Which is also interesting and telling, IMHjournalisticO. But details do matter.]
Do what makes you want to live. Do what brings you joy. This is not some pat BS. What you do for yourself raises other people — because we are one. And I’m sure you’ve seen how intensely horrible so much is and I’m just not going to give in to the forces that feed off my despair.
Yes, grieve and feel the feelings. Tears don’t mean there’s a problem or that you need to deny them.
I went to pick up iced coffees today (with a mask) and was listening to the Beastie Boys XM Radio station. It made me want to live. Not that I didn’t want to live before, but it made me remember my own life force and the things that make me want to live. (I just read a thing yesterday a friend sent about suicidal ideation and US culture. Asking if we’ve ever *really* valued life, collectively. Waking up to this, as some are for the first time, can also trigger your own trauma.)
So get the support you need (let me know if you need help figuring out what that might look like). And for the good of humanity (and yourself) decide you want to live and do things that encourage you to remember your life force. What are those things? Let’s make a list so we can refer to it when the despair monsters start to eat our brains.
I have more people's eyeballs on what I share over on my Instagram, so I've been putting more energy where it will get more traction over the past month especially. I have been amplifying the voices of Black people in my stories and I've also been corralling my stories into three categories: Solidarity, (Un)Learning, and Sovereign Vision. If you want to look through those stories to find some phenomenal people to follow and to learn from, please feel free. Just please be respectful in their virtual spaces.
I’ve been thinking about this quote a lot. I spent most of June reflecting and excavating my own conditioning and amplifying the voices of Black people. I will continue to do that. And I will also take this note from Toni Morrison and keep creating with an eye, ear, heart, spirit and mind to elevate that which and whom I can.
It occurred to me while meditating today that this pandemic is kind of like a psychedelic trip for the planet. While my experience with psychedelics is limited to one mushroom trip in college, I saw and felt enough to draw this comparison.
First of all, we’re seeing on a visceral and undeniable level the interconnectedness of all people and the earth. Here we are. So many of us are social-distancing in order to protect ourselves and our fellow humans, those immunocompromised and falling within the most susceptible groups. We see how what we do affects individuals and the whole, from the other side of the world to our own families.
While we’ve been hunkered down, we have also been reaching out to each other more, if you’re like me. I’ve been Marco Polo-ing with several close friends and staying in touch with family via text and telephone. We have technology during this pandemic, which wasn’t the case with most other past pandemics.
Just yesterday I was on a Zoom call for a course I’m taking and one of the women’s enthusiasm about the paradigm shift we’re experiencing was more infectious than the virus. I felt instantly better and vowed to lean into people and myself more and reach out and share.
We have to get grounded in ourselves first and foremost. This, for me, has been an inward journey – which really just continues an inward journey I’ve been on for years. I’ve gone inward, yes, for my own benefit, but also so that I can be more effective in serving and being a balm. (She’s a total balm balm ;-)) This thing is gonna last as long as it's gonna last and we are along for the ride. We're going to keep with it and each other.
I dreamt this morning about being on a rollercoaster with my besties. It was a rollercoaster that went all through the theme park. We were, however, paying more attention to each other than the rollercoaster and what we were discussing, which was music. We were talking about the gentle way Trish Keenan delivered her vocals and the overall message of her band, Broadcast, and how she didn’t hit anyone over the head with it. Their music is an invitation. Trish died of pneumonia from contracting Swine Flu in 2011. This seemed appropriate to the dream and the situation.
In the dream, every once in a while, we would scream, about to ride into a family getting ice cream or a wall, but the car we were in always righted us, even though it was scary. So we’d scream and then we’d go back to talking about music and how healing and amazing art is. We’d link our arms and focus on each other. And we'd scream again when we needed to.
This seems like an important message for me to remember and share. There will be twists and turns, like an acid trip or a rollercoaster and we do not know what’s coming yet and our eyes are open pretty wide, like pinwheels, and we just need to ride it, keep connecting, and take care of ourselves and each other. Nobody is going to turn into a glass of orange juice.
When I took my mushroom trip in college I remember my roommate was really scared. I saw her sitting on the ground and she appeared to be cloaked in the darkness of her own fear. I invited her to sit with me and we talked about her fears precipitated by growing up Catholic. As the Charlatans UK played on my stereo, we rode out the scariest and most emotional parts of the trip together. I felt what she felt, she felt what I felt. I held tight to the feeling that we were good, things were OK, and wanted to share that vision with her, which she took in sip by sip. Eventually we arrived at a place together where we saw the divine feminine and it was pretty beautiful. Now, I’m not suggesting COVID-19 is going to take us to the divine feminine, though I do think we feel the interconnection of Mother Earth. So, yeah, in a way, yes, it is doing just that. And it’s all through our connection with each other. Our systems are broken but we are taking care of each other.
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer some years ago my sister sent me a psalm. And being actively not religious I was like, “A G-D PSALM?!?!” She also was like, “Hey, this is a psalm, not trying to push religion on you, just thought this might help you where you’re at.” It did. It was about how we should not look up ahead at the mountain range and worry about how we will traverse it. We should keep walking, know that there might be a way around it or through when we get to it and to trust that instead of going the whole way in worry. It doesn’t make sense to freak out about what is to come potentially and try to figure out how to handle that now emotionally.
OK, of course on a practical level we are being as prepared as we can and, like, checking in on each other, paying attention to numbers, doing the World Health Organization’s Five:
“1 HANDS: Wash them often,
2 ELBOW: Cough into it
3 FACE: Don't touch it
4 FEET: Stay more than 3ft apart
5 FEEL: sick? Stay home”
Also, we get to be scared and we get to be strong. What I have been noticing is how bolstered I have been by friends, family, community, etc. So let yourself off the hook. If you’re scared, lean on someone, if you’re feeling strong, offer your steady energy for people to entrain to. Breathe and laugh with your people. And know sometimes you’ll cycle through feeling sad or scared or strong at any given time. That is OK and the way things are.
My wonderful acupuncturist back east, Sheila Fay, was so helpful when I was doing radiation.
"Sometimes I feel like I'm meeting this huge, yang hospital machinery energy as a warrior queen," I told her, "and sometimes I'm just like the softest, squishiest incarnation of a tired, tender woman," I told her. "How should I meet this energy? How do I go in there for my highest healing? Which way should I be doing it?"
"Both," she said. "However you feel on any given day and that gets to change even within a day. Be the warrior queen and the soft, squishy yin body. Whatever feels right."
OK then. And that is exactly what I did.
I was talking with my friend Emily Taylor (one of my fellow dream-rollercoaster riders) a while back about my mushroom trip and she brought up the fact that how in American culture, we don’t have guides for our psychedelic experiences. That we often have to step up as those guides for each other. It occurs to me we can do that now, too. As our “leaders” are inept we are now more connected than ever, and I see so many of you stepping up as leaders and sharing where you are. It is so valuable.
However you're doing is great. You don’t have to use this time to be super productive. I would invite you to go inward, get quiet, listen for the stillness, and, as Glennon Doyle puts in her new book Untamed (and Kristen Bell sings in Frozen 2, Emily also brought to my attention): Listen inward and do the next right thing.
We’ll ride this together. We’ll do our due diligence. Keep on truckin’.
Thank you for reading. And I'm here if you want to talk or need a hug from afar. How are you? How's your heart?
In light of my blog post yesterday about my/our creations being babies, too, I want to be clearer and more inclusive/expansive and say that my/our creations, in fact, do not need to be remotely compared to babies at all in order to be valued. There are similarities, yes, and if it helps us to look at things that way, great. BUT ALSO, we do not have to look at it that way either. We make what we make and completely separate from the idea and reality of children those things get to exist, be valued, be celebrated. I do not have to put a headband with a flower on it on a record I make in order for it to be valuable. So…continued nuances.
More importantly, though – just get in there and write and make stuff and sing if you can (I do not take lightly the tremendous privilege it is to do any of these things either). I could pick at the intellectual machinations of it all day and I could be instead writing/tickling the plastics at the Rhodes. So, off I go. XO
My OBGYN has a zillion pictures of babies he's delivered all over his office (his practice is called "Idaho Stork," after all, as he is very birth-centric). I think my pic should be on one of those boards, too, since he'll be removing my uterus and I'll be pregnant with my own creativity from here on out.
Our best friends from Boston were here for a week in January and we savored every moment. We recorded songs we’ve been writing together back and forth (in our band, East Witch West). We had friends over and everyone played music and we deepened our sense of community. We often birth cool stuff together. We foster tremendous growth and healing whenever we’re together, too.
On the second day of recording, I had a transvaginal ultrasound in the morning because I have been having breakthrough bleeding and the medication (tamoxifen) I’m on can cause uterine cancer, so I always get very anxious whenever this occurs (and my doctors say I have to get it checked out EVERY. DAMN. TIME).
So I discussed with my (much-adored) Nurse Practitioner and decided to have my uterus removed April 3 (send me love) because I have fibroids that are most likely causing the bleeding. Abby drove us and Emily went to the office with me. And then we had lunch of chicken confit and went to record. It was a big day of big choices about my seat of creativity.
What’s interesting to me about the timing of all of this is that I’ve been thinking a lot over the past year about how writing and music are my children. I am not having biological children of my own. And I believe there will be even more room for my energetic children, if you will, without a uterus that gives me a lot of trouble and pain and anxiety. (Smooches, uterus, don't get me wrong.)
When Liz Gilbert’s Big Magic (which I love) came out she was on a show talking about how she doesn’t like when people call their books babies, and threw her own book on the floor, saying you can’t do that with a baby. This sat funny with me because as women our creations are often automatically downgraded in importance, culturally, unless those creations are, in fact, children.
Also, you could throw a baby on the floor, but you shouldn’t. The beautiful book you put so much time and effort and vulnerability and tears into also shouldn’t be thrown on the floor. And, in my opinion, nothing called Big Magic should ever be thrown on the floor. I have reverence for my and your creations even if they did not come out of our wombs of flesh.
I mean, sure, you won't be jailed for throwing your book baby on the floor. But still. Maybe a touch more reverence? (There are some things of which I'm reverent, it's true.)
And here's the thing, too: motherhood is redunks amazing. I am in awe every day of how my friends and family mother and how they give birth and what they go through to adopt. It is truly a huge accomplishment on an earthly and cosmic level for which I have a hard time finding words. But also, I think women's accomplishments that aren't children are so often devalued. And to that I say: NOPE!
So I am looking at my hysterectomy as further stepping into my own power and who I am. I am also privileged to be able to make this choice.
I am grateful that I’ve been able to follow my heart to Boise, even though it hasn’t always been easy, and I haven’t always known what the eff I’m doing. But I’ve wanted to play and write music since I was a child, and I don’t think I’d have written and recorded so many songs of which I’m proud without being here. I can see a chain of events and choices that led me to this moment, including my friends who are family visiting and writing with them and birthing our creations.
It is some of the biggest magic and I would never throw it on the floor.
What is also pretty damn special is that my friend Emily who was here in January is coming back to help me during my surgery and make me broth and hold my hand. It just occurred to me that she is a doula. The part of me that's been repeatedly poked by feminine conditioning and the messages about "what women are for" and, and, and...just took a deep breath and straightened her spine. I get to have a doula for my hysterectomy.
What are you pregnant with? I'm sending you love for that.
Also...ha! This cracked me up:
I had a pretty intense, musically-related spiritual experience yesterday morning. I was looking at my cat, singing The Flaming Lips’ “Do You Realize??” to myself. This song is a sacred touchstone for me. If I hear it in public I almost feel like someone has pantsed me and I’m standing there naked-assed, because it always makes me instantly cry, and we all know how vulnerable it can feel to weep in public.
Here's the song if you want to hear it:
So, I’m singing this in my head to my cat. I’m even like, “Hey, I should make an Instagram story of Oliver and put that song on it, but I’m going to stop procrastinating and go do this Qoya movement ritual instead.”
Rochelle Schieck created Qoya as a means to get back in our bodies through moving however we’d like. It’s a combo of yoga, dance, shaking, shadow work. And powerful. Always. It helped me through breast cancer treatment by letting me get into my body more. Every time I do it I cry – which is one of the ways I know its potency.
As I lie down to stretch as instructed, the second song starts to play. And what song do you think that might be? Only moments after I am singing it to my cat, “Do You Realize??” starts. Wayne Coyne sings me everything I need to hear and remember about the world and the music itself lifts me. I projectile cry. And laugh. Because I recently had been asking the Universe to give me a sign I’m on the right path. Here she is, in her technicolor glory.
Now, I get worried I don’t put myself in the world enough, but I hold myself back because of perceived future possible bullshit that doesn’t actually exist. And as I lie there listening to Rochelle tell me to stretch and Wayne Coyne singing to let my people know I realize life goes so fast I also realize this: they both created this beauty, their art; and their contributions have changed the trajectory of my life. They believed in what they were doing more than they were worried about critics when they put their great works in the world.
I mean, it would be hilarious if it weren’t tragic, how much we hold ourselves back from sharing our gifts, ostensibly robbing people of those gifts' healing properties.
Then I went to therapy today and did EMDR around old trauma.
“How about for this last segment you picture yourself at the age which holds that particular pain, as a teenager,” my therapist said, “and see her dancing or twirling or whatever she wants to do and watch her grow. And I’m going to find that song and play it, OK?”
“OK!” I say. “But I’m going to totally ruin my eye makeup.”
“Good!” he said.
And it was very sweet. It was one of the sweeter things a therapist has ever done for me.
So here I am, offering my vulnerable and real gifts to you, my heart, my words, my love of song. And hopefully, you will find something of value in it that catalyzes your heart to create and trust, too, or get over the fear long enough to know what you have to offer is not only worth offering but that it is pertinent you do. We can heal each other incrementally, with song, with modalities, with words, with a phone call. And wowza, as we know, humanity has some healing that needs to be done.
I know this message isn’t just for me. Let me know what you’re burning to create and release. Or just go work on that thing and let it be free to do its own healing work.
I want to be writing and witnessing my tenderness and the tenderness of all while this full moon/eclipse is happening.
I witness with radical self-compassion the sticky places in myself that still cry out to be mothered. And then I mother them with that self-compassion. The new way is choosing new thoughts – yesterday my sister was talking me off the medical PTSD ledge and she was telling me about a workshop she took where the teacher said, “You can’t choose your first thought, but you can choose your next thought.”
I have been working on that: choosing thoughts instead of being a victim led by my animal brain. Like instead of “I don’t want to die! Oh no oh no oh no!” I choose “I can handle whatever comes my way, I always do.” That precipitates a far different feeling in the think-feel-act cycle (which I’m studying).
I witness our world. Our sweet earth. And I throw my heart-salve on it, even though it feels hopeless sometimes. But I see that the more I get centered in myself with radical self-compassion the more I can send love instead of despair.
This isn’t about “love and light,” though. This isn’t sending some arbitrary BS from inside a pair of blinders. This is a continuation of work that we must do – to see where those less privileged than we are need help and providing it. Tied up in that work is the unraveling of our own unconscious biases and turning them inside out. But more importantly, the helping, the listening, the amplification of others’ voices and the compassion.
And I’ve noticed if we don’t actually have compassion for ourselves how can we then be compassionate toward others? But then also compassion for ourselves must not be used as excuse not to help others – if this is done it is fragility disguised as compassion.
We continue to dismantle the old, which unfortunately isn’t old enough to be extinct yet. While precious creatures do go extinct. There is a sharp unfairness to that. But intellectualizing it adds to the injustice because that is from a place of privilege.
So I will keep at it. I will keep centered in the heart. I will keep anchored in my home vibration so that I can help where I can help. I work at it.
And at this moment, while the full moon lunar eclipse happens in Cancer – which is The Mother – I will mother myself and send my motherly energy out to the planet. I have my own weird reproductive funniness happening right now, so it’s perfectly apt. (Wanting to not have children, still needing to keep my parts for their benefits, but getting scared whenever my period is weird because of my medication, and then changing my thoughts around that.) So I mother myself from this place of not wanting to be a biological mother but being able to hold a lot of maternal energy.
I anchor into myself and my heart and remind myself of my dreams. I want justice for those who don’t get it. I want a dismantling of white supremacy and all the structures and systems it has created – which are many and far-reaching.
I also want to create – I was going to say selfishly, but then I mothered myself and corrected myself. I have wanted to be a musician and writer since I was a child. I have had the great fortune of getting to be both of those things. I am sure my benefitting from white supremacy and white privilege has contributed to that. But I also know that art is healing, music is medicine, writing saves lives. And so I will not go silent and stop the things I’ve been so privileged to be able to do. I will share.
My heart is coherent with my brain. What I seek is seeking me, to quote Rumi. And I am fine. I am safe I am loved. I am safe I am loved. I choose love, I choose creating, I choose anchoring into myself, I choose my home vibration, I choose trust, knowing that sometimes I will be shaken and maybe even feel derailed, but I will keep with my heart. And let hard things be part of it. But also remain in the quantum field of possibility of perfect health and being a voice that soothes and protects and lifts up and reaches down the ladder of privilege, too. Not in a savior-y way, in a responsible “I am doing my work in the world and this is part of the work” kind of way. Amplifying voices.
Practicing being in my home vibration will be an invitation to my people who are already seeking me and finding me. And I know that sometimes there are barbs and stings due to other people’s thoughts about whatever. And that has nothing to do with me, even though it will feel like it does sometimes. And it will take a bit to recover sometimes. But that is OK. We can do hard things. I’ve been through other shit, I can take that, too.
But that is not my main objective. Being me, creating, helping, healing with the tools I was given and continue to develop. I trust that the work I’m doing on my memoir will be enough.
I will decide I am enough without ANY of that. Without any work to be done or music or writing. And I can be motivated still to manifest those gifts on the physical plane without feeling I need them to be worthy. I am already worthy. This is a practice and I will keep practicing.
I will keep taking impeccable care of my body – OK, I have a voice that’s like, you eat too much meat and not enough vegetables. OK, funny voice – you’re not The Voice. You’re one of the dicky voices. Guess what, yeah, I hear you, sweetie mean girl. You deserve love, too. You do. So I’m sending you love, too. We can be a big old field of self-compassion poppies right now. Good work, all. I love you and thank you.
We are practicing intergenerational healing. That is what is happening. Our thoughts do not define us, but they can become a personality, but I am changing my thoughts for healing. Everything I am doing is in benefit of seven generations before and seven following, whether or not I have biological children. I am healing for myself, those around me, those before me, those after me, the earth. I do this because my heart and gut say to do it. And that it’s the right thing.
I am open to recalibration where necessary. But I am solid.
I choose: Courage, Mastery, Trust, Self-Compassion, Embodied, Rhapsody, Home Vibration. Not just for 2020 but beyond.
“Earlier on, I feel like I was trying to polish some of the humanity out.” -Sam Beam, Iron & Wine
I put that quote on last year’s vision board as a reminder not to do that. I used to do that with music a fair amount. I didn’t mean to, I just catered to perfectionism without even realizing I was doing it. I would over-polish and create a sound that seemed like it was produced in a vacuum. (Of course a lot of people actually likethis kind of sound – hello, autotune – but I do not, so I do not want to over-polish. We have enough robots vying to be Capitalism’s “Best” Whatever.)
The past few years I’ve let myself be a lot more vulnerable with music. I polished, but I kept my humanity front and center. And on a meta level, my ego had a hard time with things moving slower than I would have liked. But I kept at it and fell more deeply in love with making music again.
I also started a new draft of my book a little over a year ago. I began studying Marion Roach Smith’s approach to memoir writing (she has a book called The Memoir Project, is a book coach, and teaches several excellent classes). I got wise about my book being about one thing, what my central argument was (the universal meaning), the transformation for which the reader was reading, and just generally streamlined the whole thing. I worked and worked and worked, showing up, typing away, creating puzzle pieces that I hoped were fitting.
Then I did a few more drafts. I let in an excellent editor. And realized with her feedback that I had polished a lot of the humanity out. My draft, with some distance, reminded me of that painting of Jesus that lady tried to so lovingly restore and instead created a soft, out-of-focus mess. Not that my previous draft was a masterpiece. But I loved it so hard I smoothed out some things that still needed to be sharp.
I tried so hard to streamline and make everything be on-theme (including new pieces to show me finding my voice) that I eliminated a lot of what was giving the whole thing breath in the first place. And, as my editor pointed out, if my book was about my family, I ought not neglect to mention my sisters for almost three-hundred pages. Though I think my sisters might be more comfortable with their absence on my pages – but that’s a subject for another time.
It is a tremendous privilege to get to be a writer.
“Take pride in making it better and better. Let it take ALL the time. It’s artistry,” said Linda Sivertsen (mentor, Book Mama, host of The Beautiful Writers Podcast) on one of my writing group’s coaching calls.
But before I heard that I went a little into victim. I was like, “Oh man, I’ve been working on this for four plus years, when will I ever be done?” The answer is: I don’t know. And that is OK. But I’m willing to keep improving it (not, like, perfection-improvement, but real improvement).
Making beautiful things is a balancing act. Because on one hand we’re not even supposed to judge the work (I have a hard time with this one and for now am not totally detached from “how” my work is. I love thinking about it too much to be a true creative Buddhist about it. Yet). And on the other hand, it’s work, and if we want, we must do our due diligence to make it the best it can be. So this can be a bit of a finger trap.
I also realized I needed to write that smudgy-poorly-restored-Jesus draft to lead me to the nextdraft, which I’m working on now. Since I am a human person, I can breathe humanity back in. And to be fair to myself, I did not polish allof the humanity out. My first scene is bonkers aces, I think. It doesn’t even tweak my Imposter Complex to say that.
So! I will keep working at it. Four years after starting this book I’m glad to say I was ignorant of how steep my own learning curve would be writing memoir because now I’m a bit better at this longform. (I’m far more used to writing in short-form bites, having written a 500-word column for twelve plus years.) Most importantly (not that this is the hierarchy-of-importance Olympics) I love doing it. I love my writing cave.
Have you polished the humanity out anywhere in your life for the old siren song of perfection, streamlining, staying on-theme? Accidentally making soft-focus Jesuses with the impossible heft of your passion for something? Where has it led you? I don’t think there’s any chance of resurrecting that Jesus painting, perhaps ironically, but our work gets to live to see another day.
It's me, Jennifer Bernice (rhymes with "Furnace": it was my Granny's name) Sutkowski
• More details about my writing here.