During my writing group’s virtual write-in today, my dear friend Casey Erin Wood mentioned that this super moon is supposed to be the end of a cycle that began in 1999-2000 and that it might be helpful to journal on that cycle and where we are now. This kind of blew my mind, because at the end of 1999 my mother died and recently I finished my book, which is quite a bit about her death. That book is with my mentor now and getting ready to go out to agents and publishers. So, yeah, reflecting makes sense.
Oh, wait, year-wise, this is really the proper Mike Myers flashback reference...
What is weird is that I applied this face oil this morning that I used to use back in the early aughts. Bindi face oil for the pitta dosha, with rose and other essential oils. At that time I was depressed. I had just lost my mom and I was lonely in Boston. And my sister Nancy had recommended this soothing oil. It is one of the things I can remember as being part of the start of my own deliberate self-care.
Where does this scent take me? In 1999-2000 I wasn’t the powerhouse of self-care and luxuriating I am now. A lot of the time I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing. My freezer was full of hamburgers and Lean Cuisines. The red-boxed Weight Watchers Smart Ones were the real treats. If I had fruit it went moldy. I had too much stuff. I watched episode after episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. I reached out to people on Craigslist who were looking for musical collaborators. I tried out for this guy’s rock opera and didn’t get it. I met another guy who wrote a song about Linus (it was pretty cute, actually) and left that meeting from his loft apartment in Harvard Square with a springy step. Yes, I went to a stranger’s apartment in Harvard Square. Luckily, he was fine and not a predator. But even so, we ended up not working on music together for some reason. And of course you don't have to work on creative stuff with anyone who isn't a predator (tell that to my twenty-five year-old self).
Traipsing through the square to some guy’s apartment made me think of my older, shittier (I think) attitude. I used to think people who walked through life not being deliberate about their movements, as I had been taught to be, were like that cartoon baby in a construction site from Tom & Jerry, crawling from swinging beam to swinging beam, saved only by chance and the wind blowing the right way and never noticing how on the edge of peril they are, constantly. But I was one hundred-percent that baby. Even though I felt like Tom, holding people up. I guess we all are that baby and Tom, in a way. If we don’t think we are, we’re probably fooling ourselves.
Speaking of “fooling,” the image of the baby and traipsing around and ambling willy-nilly through life makes me think of The Fool tarot card. We might think, oh, cute, The Fool. Aren't you darling. Head-pat. But we all tend to know we need a little bit more of The Fool energy in us. We sneer, but we secretly want to be like that. We don’t want to have to be so responsible all the time.
I love that I felt completely safe going to a stranger’s apartment. Happily, I was safe. But we are in a different time now. I felt safe because I had been safe in the past. But today we are more connected. We feel each other’s pain. We say #metoo. All the dirt is coming out. Shit is bubbling up (that's disgusting, but you know what I mean, also, the bubbling shit behavior is disgusting). And we are finally looking at each other’s wounds and knowing that as long as she has wounds I have wounds, too. Our connection to each other has deepened. In part because we see tremendous injustice and refuse to stand it.
I often think of shared trauma — how women share a “trauma past” because women have been repeatedly traumatized. Systematically. Even though I was not molested I have body and sex shame because my mother had body and sex shame. And I remember my Granny telling me once about when one of my uncles was conceived when her husband was very drunk. It wasn’t even a consideration to say “no.” She did not tell me that last part. She just told me matter-of-factly, like, it's what you do, like putting on socks or peeling a potato.
Yesterday would have been my Granny Bunny Mikus’ ninety-eighth birthday. I just looked up her obituary from 2010 and a wave of grief came over me. I’ve been having this feeling a lot lately that life is just so damn precious. LIFE! You are like a sweet kitten! Let me hug you and pet you! With ill family members and my dad in the hospital for pneumonia (pee-nemonia, he used to jokingly call it), I try to hold onto the preciousness of life, my family, my friends, my husband, my cat. I think of how my dad was so tough to be around in 1999 and 2000 as he ineptly grieved my mother and was terribly mean to me. And how now, with dementia, he's always telling us how much be loves us. Even today my sister said texted:
"He's saying we are all loved, fine, adorable, and that he's doing his best without favoritism because we are all great."
All this from the hospital bed. I mean, it's a total turnaround. I feel bad he's not feeling well (and I'm concerned about him), but I'm in awe of how he's handling vulnerability, when at the beginning of this cycle he was handling it not well. He was handling grief and vulnerability like it was a poisonous viper that he was throwing at me.
I sit here right now and listen to a bird chirping and it always makes me feel better. Sweet, soft life kitten.
This lovely woman who makes me flower essences had posted on Instagram about allowing her tears to flow as part of her self-care. I think this is wonderful. After I was diagnosed with DCIS in early 2016 I decided that I would let myself cry a lot more. I mean, I'm not at cafes ordering coffee and blubbering, but I let it happen when it happens. Like putting on socks or peeling potatoes. Funny how our own tears are a thing that need to be allowed, yet only two generations ago in my own family so much more that others did to us was allowed. Hell, even in this generation. We're finally getting to the point where it's safe to say #metoo and "don't treat me this way" and "no."
Sometimes I feel like I’m out in the wind, in the desert, having experienced the losses I have experienced, but I'm out there with these fellow travelers whom I don't personally know but can easily connect with based on our losses. It’s hard to explain. It feels like the buffers are gone. I grew up with so many buffers, so sheltered, so cushy and comfy. Also, people used to wince when I talked about losing my mother, probably because I was still so raw around it. And these days I’ve talked about it so much that I’m almost used to it. It’s my story. And I’m sharing it now — it’s been alchemized into something useful, as in a book, that hopefully will help others feel less alone. It helped me to tell it.
I have been thinking a lot about this mediation I did in a workshop led by Sam Bennett last weekend. Sam had us get in touch with our blocks. Whatever is blocking us. And mine was a big, old, brown book of my old stories, other people’s expectations of me, pictures of me playing piano, the time everyone hated me when I was sixteen. And when Sam asked what the block has to teach us, it immediately gave me this:
“You get to use your stories. They don’t get to use you.”
Whoa. I cried when I heard that. Thanks, book block, whose actual size ended up being that of “The World’s Smallest Bible.”
And speaking of using my stories, one of the other things I was doing in 1999-2000 was sitting up in the loft in my apartment on Sumner Road in Cambridge, tucked under an eave, at the desk I bought from one of those unfinished furniture stores and stained myself, with the gigantic old PC, with some tea and a candle burning, starting my first blog on Diaryland. The blog that got me my columnist position that just ended this year. The blog that gave me a refuge from so much. I got to be unapologetically goofy (one of my favorite pastimes) and write about the pop culture I was consuming and religion and whatever the hell I wanted. I have even gone back to Diaryland a few times to post because I know no one will read it and it feels like being on a luxurious radio station all to myself.
One incredibly beautiful thing about being in my forties is that even though I know I’ll suffer more hardships, I also know that I am in good shape, mentally, physically, emotionally. I take great care of myself (with a few slippy things I could use to clean up, like I drank too much wine on the plane last night). I have strong roots and a strong trunk and flourishing leaves. I mean, obviously that’s a metaphor. I’m not an actual tree. I feel differently than I did in 1999-2000. Back then I felt depressed and exposed. Now I feel joyful and like I want to share.
It’s also hilarious that I’m reflecting on that 1999-2000 time, because here we are back in our house in Cambridge, Massachusetts (we flew in from Boise yesterday) and I am looking back at a time when I returned to Cambridge after my mom died. I’ve finished the book. I’m closing the book that is the big, old, block filled with my old stories and I’m shelving it for whenever I want to use it, instead of it using me.
I have amazing women in my life — most of them creatives — and I don’t feel lonely like I did when I popped into a stranger’s apartment, searching for someone with whom to make music, create something. I feel heard now. And I feel healed, too. I mean, let’s be real, there’s always more healing to do. But I feel…SOLID.
And I love that girl that I was eighteen years ago. And I’m so glad she started writing again (gosh, I feel like she was cleverer than I am now). And I’m so glad she kept trying to make music (even though most of those times were signing onto other people’s projects instead of trusting her own — but remembering this just makes me really strong in my convictions that my own work is worth it).
It was all the winter and spring-scented messiness that got me where I am now. The meandering path. The “what the fuck am I?”
And the answer, all of these years later:
I am me. Using my stories.
It's me, Jennifer Bernice (rhymes with "Furnace": it was my Granny's name) Sutkowski
• More details about my writing here.