Note from Jen Pastiloff:
Katharine Coldiron attended the retreat I just led with Lidia Yuknavitch, my beloved sister, teacher, and friend. Writing & The Body. It was the second one Lidia and I did in 2015 in Ojai, California, and we are planning another in 2016 for April 8-10th. Must email email@example.com asap as this retreat sells out FAST. Stay tuned here for future workshops and retreats. You can sign up for classes with Lidia here.
By Katharine Coldiron
We need a new word for “roar”. There needs to be a special verb for how Jennifer Pastiloff sounds when she’s teaching, when she’s commanding us (like a petite, beautiful Patton) to be enough, to be a human thank-you, to be love. To say yes. She shouts, but she’s not angry; she screams, but she’s not hysterical. She roars, but for me that verb has connotations of red-faced men with berating baritones. Jen roars like a woman. Like a lioness: the fiercest mothersisterdaughterlover to be found in any jungle.
All weekend I listen and obey. I am enough. Vinyasa. I am a human thank-you. Warrior II. I am love. Crescent lunge. Open your arms, shine your heart out into the green valley. Vinyasa, downward-facing dog, child’s pose. I say yes.
I don’t cry when I tell a story I’ve never told anyone, a story from the dead swamps of middle school when I did a shitty, shitty thing. I don’t cry when I explain about the year that I slowly starved, or the bizarre food-hoarding that followed once I was on my feet. I don’t cry when I talk about the thing that happened in 2004 that wrecked my capacity to form friendships with women for the next, oh, eleven years. It’s not a pride thing. I just don’t cry for my stories this time.
On Sunday I grin wide in Warrior II with a face full of my own rain. The room echoes with hitches and heaves and sobs and boohoos, and it’s all so gorgeous, this breaking down and letting go that’s occurring all around me. I came here stable and happy, unsure about some interior things but not quite needing to manifest transformation. I’m 33 and my Jesus year, finishing its orbit around the sun, has been a minor passion, a closed struggle with a pleasanter ending than the Nazarene’s. Yet the beauty of the uncocooning butterflies around me is staggering. And it makes me weep. I weep for you, for you, for you and you and you, my darlings. Don’t shell over again. Show your wings. You are enough. I am love.
On Monday, in the midst of Warriors, Jen is saying yes yes yes to nouns and participles galore. Yes to feminism. Yes to beauty. Yes to dancing. One of these wonderful yeses she roars is “Yes to women!”
And I lose it. I cry. I cry for me, Argentina, for the first time all weekend. My nose runs and the tears fly in an arc as I wheel down from reverse warrior into another vinyasa.
Part of why I trundled off to a women’s college in 1999 was to try and do better at making women friends. It didn’t work; I just went down the road to the coed college and made friends with dudes instead. Neither of the two sister-friends I’ve loved are in my life anymore. I don’t have a best friend, not the whatever-whenever-secret-language kind I see in movies and memoirs.
Bluntly: I can’t seem to connect with women. They’re too busy, or they live in other cities, or they just aren’t that into me, or in the middle of us getting to know each other they have babies and make a whole different set of friends. It hurts, but I’ve tried to shrug it off. I can’t believe it’s my fault; even though not making women friends is a genuine pattern for me, I can’t find an intersecting spot among all these failed friendships where some flaw of my own resides.
So I’ve been a little wary, all weekend, of this sister-bond that’s been going on between us. My insecurity has crept like an ocelot along the edges of my joy, growling that they all like each other more than they like me and the lovefest is proceeding with me on the outer edge of everyone’s affection. Because I don’t do well with women. I never have. I don’t know how to do it. Men are easy, because everything’s out on display. Their emotions and priorities are like animatronics in a theme park: moving, but only a little, in proscribed shapes. Women, meanwhile, arrange themselves like government org charts, byzantine and iterative, and I find it impossible to ask “Who the hell is your boss, anyway?” without the result that the askee stops answering my texts.
“Yes to women!” Jen roars. Yes to women, my brain echoes. The waterworks spin up creakily, like sprinklers that have sat in the baking sun all day. I’ve tried to say yes to women. They’ve said no to me. I’ve stood outside the circle where the girls are chattering about makeup and boys and I’ve tried to pretend there’s a space for me in there but there isn’t. I’m a woman alone among women, and that’s who I am.
“Yes to women!” Jen roars. But this weekend I haven’t felt alone. This weekend, despite the insistence of the insecurity ocelot that it can’t be so, I’ve been told that I’m loved. Repeatedly. And I’ve talked relentlessly to women who nod like bobbleheads, yes I’m listening and I’m right there with you. I’ve felt the opposite of alone, whatever that adjective is. Together? Communal? Hugged? Is this what women friends are supposed to feel like? Why have I spent so much time not having them?
“Yes to women!” Jen roars. I complain about people in L.A. being flaky, and feeling like I have to do all the work of a friendship, but it’s work I’m willing and able to do. I’m scared to reach out because of the terrible thing in 2004, but I’ve grown scar tissue in that place and I can shrug now instead of crying. I’ve always believed in the power of women, in a love which could crack the earth, but only to a point and only in the abstract. At this moment I’m believing it as if I’m Joan of Arc having a vision of God.
“Yes to women!” Jen roars. My heart roars back. Yes.
Katharine Coldiron’s essays and fiction have appeared in Role/Reboot, the Southern California Review, Monkeybicycle, and elsewhere. Her many jobs have included yoga teacher, pizza deliverer, library page, paralegal, and hummus-squirter. She lives in California and blogs at The Fictator (fictator.blogspot.com).
Below are some pictures from the Writing & The Body Labor Day weekend Retreat.