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Family, Guest Posts, Home

I’m Not from Here

October 23, 2016
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By April Vazquez

I can’t tell if my husband’s unmarried cousins are lesbians.  Three or four of them put pictures of themselves on Facebook with other girls, faces pressed together, with posts about their undying love.  But in this country, where women friends hold hands in public and dance together at parties, I’m not sure what it means.

I’m the only one angry that the house is in a state of perpetual dust and chaos because the builder, Raúl, doesn’t work on Mondays…  or other days, sporadically and without notice.

I can’t understand why to get residency here I’m required to provide a letter from the Consulate verifying my citizenship when, at this very moment, the Immigration official making the request is holding my United States passport in his hands.

I can’t make out why my two-year-old’s shoe was stolen within five minutes of falling out of the stroller outside the the park.  I know the shoe was stolen because when I went back for it, the lady who sells food there told me she saw another woman pick it up, but what I don’t understand is why, what she thought she could do with it.  Or is the impulse not to let anything–anything–go to waste so strong that it extends even to one tiny shoe? Continue Reading…

Family, Guest Posts, Home

Home

August 18, 2016
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By Pam Munter

It takes some planning to get into the correct lane for the right turn off busy Sunset Boulevard to Hartzell Street in Pacific Palisades but I’ve been doing it since I was 16 so it’s automatic for me – even now. Hartzell is one of the “alphabet streets,” part of a grid developed early in the history of the Palisades, all of which were named after the founding Protestant missionaries.

I haven’t lived there in more than a half century. But whenever I’m in the area, I feel an irresistible cosmic pull to make the pilgrimage to the house where so much of my childhood and adolescence unfolded, the repository of my earliest self. Now when I drive the four blocks up Hartzell to the house, I hardly recognize the street. Almost all the cute little bungalows in this formerly working class neighborhood have been converted into multi-story McMansions. Luxury cars are parked on both sides of the street, allowing only one car to move through at a time. Gone are most of the prolific eucalyptus trees that proudly stood guard, no longer flooding the area with their rich, herbal redolence.

The house has been updated over the years but many of the external changes were accomplished much earlier by my handyman father – filling in the front porch to create a dining room, adding a large wing with a bedroom, bath, laundry room and garage. Subsequent owners have had a better eye for landscaping, which was an area that never interested my father.

Whenever I make that right turn on to Hartzell, I feel my heart start to race. It unfailingly takes me by surprise. When I was coming home to visit from college, it was due to hungry anticipation for a square meal. After I married and drove cross-country from Nebraska for vacations, it was longed-for relief from the fatigue. But even now I feel that jittery twinge of – what could it be – anxiety? Apparitional dread? Continue Reading…

Family, Fear, Guest Posts, Home, Women

Not Now, Not Yet: An Essay on Aging and Eccentricities

December 7, 2015

By Terah Van Dusen 

I want to cry. No, I am crying. I want to scream, “Listen here, family—no more going crazy. Not now, not yet. No more cancer. No more tranquilizers for widows. No more meth for the good time guys.”

When I was a little girl, they brushed my hair until it was cotton soft. They bathed me and powdered my skin with white dust out of a yellow vintage disk. When I napped, I would wake and eat one of those orange crèmesicle pops from the freezer. I was pampered and lifted up as a child by my two great aunts who served as mothers—then released back into the wild where I lived with my father.

It was the ease of a single father home. Harmonious. There was plenty of solitude and we owned two pet rabbits named Snow White and Rhada.  We hauled our water up in buckets from a spring at the end of our unpaved street. There were cassette tapes and I had the boom box all to myself. There were long days of lounging and reading and dancing alone, my father working outside. There were quiet father-daughter dinners lit by kerosene lamps. There was dreaming of my far-off long-lost mother and sometimes crying. There was the youthful yet wise knowledge that that was normal (crying). There was the thinking that everything was going to be OK—it was what I’d been told, time and time again. There was being told I could become anything I wanted to be. There was being lied to. There were underlying addictions. There were dreams…and as I grew older there were dreams that were dying hard and fast. It wasn’t pretty.

I am almost thirty now and I am angry. Everything is not OK. I am torn—to lie or not lie to children? Luckily, there are few around, so I need not be worried that one might ask me “Can I really be anything I want to be?” or “But it’s all going to be okay in the end, right?” Hopefully I won’t ever have to say: “No, chile, actually shit gets worse. Much worse. Much, much worse. The mind gets worn like an old shoe. One day you find that you’re just trying to hold it all together. You will never, ever be an astronaut. Or even a manager of anything. You might not even be chosen for marriage. You may become obese or addicted to internet porn, likely both.”

My great aunts husbands both died early on and do you know where that leaves a woman whose greatest strength and ability was to nurture? It leaves her wandering aimlessly with a tray of refreshments with nobody to offer them to. It leaves her facing her own self, which she is not accustomed to doing. It leaves her tripping over somebody else’s clean, folded laundry that’s been sitting there for years. It leaves her in a large, old home with old man drawers and neckties and an old man’s favorite snacks gone beyond stale in the cabinet, a recliner still situated in the corner, a used faux-leather neck massager, a stack of old man Time magazines, bi-focals, a framed photo of an ex-wife, who died of cancer. I am telling you a sad story about old people who used to be very, very beautiful. Beauty queens n’ shit. Car models. Upper management gone crazy or ill. The fate of all of us. My job: to write it down. My job: to not lie to children.

I am the great niece. I tip toe in the shadows. I notice all the shrines and the way my one aunt still talks as if my uncle is sitting right there with us. Take away the men and the children and you get an old woman who used to be a damn good woman and wife but is now so shamed by her belongings, tea cups and sweaters and what not, that she sanctions off entire parts of the house with big heavy curtains and clothes pins. She covers tables full of piles of mail and paperwork with plastic picnic table cloths and when the lightbulbs in the chandeliers go out, she doesn’t replace them. But I get it. All of it. All of these “things” made perfect sense for a family, for a mother, for an aunt. But not for a widow. To say my aunt has a hard time letting it go would be putting it lightly—the mansion is her shrine to her past. But I love her and respect her maybe more than I do the other women. Because she is kind. She is the kind one. She is the crazy one, but she is the kind one.

On my drive down the Oregon coast for a weekend Mother’s day visit with my great aunts, I get to thinking I hope she didn’t sanction off my room. Not that it has any of my personal things in it—although it does have a few: a piggy bank, a Barbie coloring book, a flower crown from when I was the flower girl in a wedding. My dad has a bedroom down the hall. My other aunt occupies the loft bedroom. My deceased great uncle Ray still has a room too, adorned with elk décor and plaid.

My room is all white lace curtains, teddy bears, rose patterned bedspreads, paper dolls and ballerina slippers. It reeks of that innocent girl that I maybe possibly once was—if I stretch way back into my memory. Someday I will inherit the wooden four-post bed and the vintage stationary desk. A small framed photo of me is displayed on the nightstand—I am in the third grade, wearing my favorite Disney sweatshirt, I am smiling and hopeful. I haven’t been beaten down yet. (Though I have been beaten down a little.)

I scour underneath the bed for a box. I’m looking for a slip of paper on which I wrote a long time ago in kid-scratch “I want to be a Writer or a Dancer when I grow up.” Alarmingly, I cannot find the paper—but instead of getting bent out of shape I calmly tell myself that paper or no paper, I still want to be a writer. And maybe someday I will be.

I pull the large, blank-page artist’s sketch pad I write from out of my suitcase, kick off my pink slippers, and crawl into one of my many childhood beds. I intend to write about pointing fingers—at each other and at ourselves. I intend to question: why did it get so hard after the men died? Shouldn’t it have gotten easier? Less housekeeping, dick sucking?

I thought it would be a good idea: a reunion with my women kin. But I’ve got my grandmother who is the eldest and though she has really got her head on straight, she’s quick to judge, she’s somewhat of a sloppy drunk, and she tells me the same stories from my childhood over and over and over again. And whenever someone else is talking she’ll whisper to herself “Oh get on with it,” while smiling a fake smile and bouncing her leg impatiently, waiting for her turn to talk. “Be nice!!” I finally snap back at her, “I am talking now.” Then I regret it—cause… surely nobody would talk to their grandmother this way.

We’ve got our younger aunt who has fought cancer twice now and might be facing a third diagnosis in an altogether new part of her body. She’s beautiful. She smokes. I thought she would’ve quit by now. A quiet confession: I smoke too. But surely I’ll quit. Surely I’ll quit before I get cancer.

We’ve got my great aunt, the one I’ve told you about, who is so isolated in this old house and so fucking eccentric that she might genuinely be going mad now—for the first time I witness her throwing objects at the wall in anger or, in the middle of a task, throwing a stack of papers up in the air and just walking away.

She can’t. They can’t. They can’t go crazy. They can’t get cancer. Everything will be OK in the end is the biggest crock of bull I think I’ve ever heard. I want to scream NOT FAIR. NOT YET. NOT AT ALL. PULL YOURSELVES TOGETHER!
These are the women who taught me how to floss my teeth, how to say “So very nice to meet your acquaintance.” These are the women who told me when I got boobs, “There are a lot of wolves out there,” with a head nod and a knowing eye and I knew they were talking about men. And boy were they right. This made it easier to meet a man, think “Wolf” and just walk away. These are the women. These are the women. You can’t. You can’t take them yet. I’m not yet thirty. I’m still quitting smoking.

As the ladies carry on in fragmented, tortured conversation, I sit on the floor and cry. I try to stop but I can’t. I try to be strong like I will have to when they’re not only crazy and drunk but bedridden too. I am the child. They are the mother. We don’t want to go crazy. We don’t want to lose each other. We don’t want to be unappreciated, and then died on. We don’t want to be cheated on, and then died on. But we don’t want to be victims, either. We don’t know what we want exactly, but we know what we don’t want. And yet with every year we face the inevitable—the house clutter, the mind fucks, the cancer. I feel it too. I get it.

The younger aunt hugs me before bedtime, she holds onto my shoulders and whispers with great conviction “I know, growing up sucks.” I feel a hard sob rising up from my core. Suppressing it sends a violent tremor from my feet to my head. “I don’t cry at home,” I tell my aunt reassuringly, “I must be PMSing or something.”

I wonder where my strength ran off to, where all of our strength is hiding. Maybe it just…ran out. Maybe it died. Or maybe it’s hiding behind all the life stuff—the tea cups, the sweaters hung over the backs of chairs, the lace curtains and vintage bureaus, the magazines, the pinstriped button downs of old, dead uncles, the bottle caps, bottled waters, dusty, the driftwood, vintage aprons, and “art supplies.” Maybe it’s in that one closet. Or in the other one. Maybe we put it “somewhere extra special.” It’s bound to show up somewhere. We ask ourselves, “When was the last time you saw it? And where?”  We laugh and drink and poke fun at each other slash snap at each other. They won’t last forever…but at thirty I feel like I will. How can I be this far gone this early on? Do you just feel crazy when you’re around crazy people? Are we just artists? Is this what it is to be eccentric?

No more going crazy.

Not now, not yet.

Too soon.

again

Terah Van Dusen is a writer and aspiring memoirist. She is the author of two self-published books: Poems by a Horny Small-Town Gal and Love, Blues, Balance: A Collection of Poetry. She has been published in two anthologies by Cool Waters Media in Chico, California. Terah lives in Eugene, Oregon and writes the blog Bohemian Dreams at terahvandusen.wordpress.com.

 

Ring in New Years 2016 with Jen Pastiloff at her annual Ojai retreat. It's magic! It sells out quickly so book early. No yoga experience required. Just be a human being. With a sense of humor. Email barbara@jenniferpastiloff.com with questions or click photo to book. NO yoga experience needed. Just be a human being.

Ring in New Years 2016 with Jen Pastiloff at her annual Ojai retreat. It’s magic! It sells out quickly so book early. No yoga experience required. Just be a human being. With a sense of humor. Email barbara@jenniferpastiloff.com with questions or click photo to book. NO yoga experience needed. Just be a human being.

 

 

Join Jen for a weekend retreat at Kripalu Center in Western Massachusetts Feb 19-21, 2016. Get ready to connect to your joy, manifest the life of your dreams, and tell the truth about who you are. This program is an excavation of the self, a deep and fun journey into questions such as: If I wasn’t afraid, what would I do? Who would I be if no one told me who I was? Jennifer Pastiloff, creator of Manifestation Yoga and author of the forthcoming Girl Power: You Are Enough, invites you beyond your comfort zone to explore what it means to be creative, human, and free—through writing, asana, and maybe a dance party or two! Jennifer’s focus is less on yoga postures and more on diving into life in all its unpredictable, messy beauty. Note Bring a journal, an open heart, and a sense of humor. Click the photo to sign up.

Join Jen for a weekend retreat at Kripalu Center in Western Massachusetts Feb 19-21, 2016.
Get ready to connect to your joy, manifest the life of your dreams, and tell the truth about who you are. This program is an excavation of the self, a deep and fun journey into questions such as: If I wasn’t afraid, what would I do? Who would I be if no one told me who I was?
Jennifer Pastiloff, creator of Manifestation Yoga and author of the forthcoming Girl Power: You Are Enough, invites you beyond your comfort zone to explore what it means to be creative, human, and free—through writing, asana, and maybe a dance party or two! Jennifer’s focus is less on yoga postures and more on diving into life in all its unpredictable, messy beauty.
Note Bring a journal, an open heart, and a sense of humor. Click the photo to sign up.

The 12 Day Detox is here. Sign up now for the next cleanse on November 30th. Space is limited. This detox comes at just the perfect time. Reprogram your body and mind as we move into the holiday season. This is your time of rejuvenation and renewal.This is not a juice fast, or a detox based on deprivation.

The 12 Day Detox is here. Sign up now for the next cleanse on November 30th. Space is limited. This detox comes at just the perfect time. Reprogram your body and mind as we move into the holiday season. This is your time of rejuvenation and renewal.This is not a juice fast, or a detox based on deprivation.

courage, Guest Posts, Home, Life

The Country Estate

October 3, 2015

By Stephanie Couey

The “Country Estate” is my home for five months.  I move in a few days after opening the lid of my then roommate’s white Cuisinart rice cooker, and having my face engulfed in a buzzing red swarm of fruit flies.  We fight about it.  I’m not even sure why.

My then-boyfriend, a jack-Mormon, picks me up in his dad’s work truck and listens as I vent about the fruit flies and the lingering trauma.  He highlights the fact that the roommate’s name is Sarin, the same as that of a lethal gas.  I don’t want to go there, and I’m not sure if I feel dirtier from the flies or from the fight, or from something else.

It is winter, and Nampa, Idaho is draped more in ice than snow.  The Country Estate, as we call it, is right next to an out of commission steam locomotive on its tracks, an enormous block of sculpted charcoal.  There is a silo so close by that we refer to it as “our silo” each time we drive back to the house.

The Country Estate is massive, yet chintzy.  It is an all-white two-story, in a style somewhere between colonial and warehouse.  The ceilings are made of porous tile, the living room, as well as the kitchen, is lit by fluorescent beams, and the floors are of ill-fitting linoleum bubbling up near the walls.

Me and my few things settle in upstairs, in the jack-Mormon’s room with muted green walls and a twin bed.  Heidi and Zeniff, the other inhabitants, aren’t home when I “move in,” but this isn’t the kind of house where people mind.

We call it the Estate because it is anything but.  We call it the Estate because it is surrounded by varying animals: goats, chickens, turkeys, and llamas.  We call it the Estate because we know it does not belong to us, but that we, for now, belong to it.

Here there is order.

The Jack-Mormon’s dog shits daily in front of the washing machine.

Each night we make tofu stir-fries with ingredients from local underpaid farmers and nearly-expired packs of tofu from Winco.  I introduce the jack-Mormon to Braggs Liquid Aminos, and he introduces me to putting a glob of peanut butter directly into the sizzling tofu and vegetables, letting it disperse into thick velvet liquid.

He’d come up behind me and breathe a gust of pot smoke down my shirt, his hair greasy.  We’d eat sitting on the floor with Zeniff, with numerous open beers, a bowl, and a guitar.  I cry during the Leonard Cohen songs, always in the same moments, ones like, “she broke your throne and she cut your hair,” and neither boy makes fun of me.  There’s something about being raised Mormon that makes them both sentimental in a way that respects crying.

In the time I live here, my grades slip a little, like they did when I was nineteen and aimless, but now I realize I wasn’t just aimless.  I realize I was comfortable.  And here I am again.  Comfortable.

At my first home, in California, I didn’t want to move forward because I didn’t have to, just as I don’t have to in this house, with the jack-Mormon, in Nampa, where it costs nothing to live and everyone’s family and everyone’s church is within a ten-mile radius, so no matter how much you’ve shunned any of them, home is never a variable, and at the time, the “Estate” is not a variable.

In this house, the jack-Mormon shaves his chest hair and legs with my Venus razor.  He holds me on the ratted couch as we watch the Elephant Man and Beach House music videos on repeat.  When his dad shows up, the jack-Mormon hides his stash, and I talk about my grades, my Honda Civic’s mileage, and my parents’ health.

Never does this feel like sinking, though I suppose it is.

We go for runs when the ice melts.

We sometimes go to parties in Boise, his being dirtier and druggier than the ones I’d been going to before we met.

We buy sodas up the street across from a carniceria, and when asked if we have the munchies by our attendant, I respond with eyes as red as stop signs that we have “the thirsties.”

Mostly though, we stay in.

I write a lot on a laptop with no internet connection.  He asks if I’m ever writing about him.  I say, “not really.”

We color in Little Mermaid coloring books, letting Ariel and Eric be us.  I squiggle some stretch marks over Ariel’s cleavage, write, “feed me” on her stomach, and give her more tired eyes.  Then it’s pretty close.

I ask myself what it is any of us really strive for, much like I did at age fifteen, only now with the presence of pure contentment I’d never had after youth.  If we are loved and fed and comfortable, isn’t that enough?  We are warm, healthy, creative, making music, writing, drawing, exploring and re-exploring Nampa.  Can we keep this contentment going?  After years on and off of anti depressants and in and out of therapists’ offices, “contentment” in itself is a swinging sunlit hammock – just enough motion, just enough light.

The Country Estate is my home for five months.  In the midst of asking myself questions about striving versus stagnation on a daily basis, the jack-Mormon gets arrested, after numerous other offenses, for driving under the influence of heavy doses of his father’s Xanax.  He is sent away without warning, his dark yellow urine left un-flushed in the downstairs bathroom, Apple Jacks spilled on the kitchen counter.

His family throws me a small birthday party with Reeses Pieces cupcakes, and I see the final Harry Potter movie with his nephew.  I begin to eat meat again, knowing the absurdity of my former lover upholding vegetarianism while in jail.

I move back to Boise.  I become president of an on-campus association, and I consider graduate school.  I write poems.  Sometimes I just speak poems on my long walk from home to campus.

I visit him in jail, past the fields of livestock and corn, until I don’t.

I stop asking the questions about contentment, and start once again asking the questions about identity, distinction, money, forwardness.  I stop asking about here or there, and decide that it’s all here.  I go from unceasingly gray to black and white.

When I later drive through Nampa and pass the train tracks, I see our old home, our silo, our rickety porch with half smoked cigarettes between the boards.  Perhaps this was a temporary distraction, but maybe it’s all a distraction.  I see the steam engine, black and still, and I drive on, newly obsessed with motion.

Stephanie Couey is an MFA poet and teacher at University of Colorado-Boulder. She is from Riverside, CA and Boise, ID.

Join Jen Pastiloff at one of her Girl Power Workshops or On being Human Workshops by clicking here.

Join Jen Pastiloff at one of her Girl Power Workshops or On being Human Workshops by clicking here.

Ring in New Years 2016 with Jen Pastiloff at her annual Ojai retreat. It's magic! It sells out quickly so book early. No yoga experience required. Just be a human being. With a sense of humor. Email barbara@jenniferpastiloff.com with questions or click photo to book. NO yoga experience needed. Just be a human being.

Ring in New Years 2016 with Jen Pastiloff at her annual Ojai retreat. It’s magic! It sells out quickly so book early. No yoga experience required. Just be a human being. With a sense of humor. Email barbara@jenniferpastiloff.com with questions or click photo to book. NO yoga experience needed. Just be a human being.