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Young Voices

Guest Posts, The Body, Young Voices

To the Moon and Back

October 9, 2017

Note from Jen Pastiloff, founder of The Manifest-Station. This is part of our Young Voices Series for Girl Power: You Are Enough. We are always looking for more writing from YOU! Make sure you follow us on instagram at @GirlPowerYouAreEnough and on Facebook here.

By Hannah Guay

The day I decided to get a tattoo was rather spontaneous. The idea, of course, wasn’t. I had planned on getting one for almost two years before I finally went through with it. Some of you might be thinking, “Who let her do this, doesn’t someone have to sign for you?”

The answer is yes. My dad did.

Most parents might not do that, but after losing my mom, the decision was easy. I just needed a little help from my sister. Sunday morning I woke up around 10:30am and texted her. She called Freak Show Tattoo and made an appointment for 6pm. The rest of my day consisted of getting ready and sitting around impatiently until 6 o’clock. As soon as it seemed an appropriate time to leave, my dad and I piled into the car. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Young Voices

The Lonely Soda Can

July 19, 2017
soda

Note from Jen Pastiloff, founder of The Manifest-Station. This is part of our Young Voices Series for Girl Power: You Are Enough. We are always looking for more writing from YOU! Make sure you follow us on instagram at @GirlPowerYouAreEnough and on Facebook here.

By Daniella Pozo

The other day I was waiting for the train, minding my own business and worrying about my hair. It was puffy and frizzy and I was convinced that everyone was judging me for me. Hell, I was judging myself for it. After I gave up on trying to make it seem like I didn’t just wake up, I started looking at the people around me on the platform as I usually do.

There was a man in a colorful jacket, glasses and short cropped salt and pepper hair. He looked lively even in his old age and I guessed that he was listening to jazz in his ear buds. There was a little boy and a woman with him. He had on a black coat and a hat with cartoon characters on it. I could tell he was a sweet boy because he kept smiling and going on about how much he loved the women accompanying him. There was a woman with wet curly hair and a black bag in her hand, concentrating hard on her Snapchat stories and selfies.

When the train came I sat next to the Snapchat-crazed women and her annoyingly loud videos. I popped in my headphones and started listening to The Killers. I stared at the nose piercing of the women in front of me. Mentally comparing the nose ring size and shape to that of my sister’s. Continue Reading…

Friendship, Guest Posts, Young Voices

Let the Dead Things Go

June 21, 2017
prince

Note from Jen Pastiloff, founder of The Manifest-Station. This is part of our Young Voices Series for Girl Power: You Are Enough. We are always looking for more writing from YOU! Make sure you follow us on instagram at @GirlPowerYouAreEnough and on Facebook here.

By Allison Nowak

In the children’s book Le Petit Prince by Antoine Exupéry, The Little Prince is journeying far from his home asteroid, hoping to find understanding. He makes his way to earth and meets someone who shares a life-changing lesson.

The Little Prince has realized at this point in the tale that his asteroid rose, with whom he is in love, is just like the other roses he has discovered on earth. She had told him she was special, unique; but it is not true. The Prince feels distraught and confused. Just then, The Fox appears.

Hoping for relief from the pain, The Little Prince asks The Fox to come play with him, to which, The Fox replies: “No, I cannot; you have not yet tamed me.”

Curious and confused, The Prince probes at the meaning of to tame: apprivoiser.

“‘It is an act too often neglected’, said The Fox, ‘It means to establish ties.’”[1]

*

Christine was a very bubbly person. She had a sparkly, charming smile and that platinum hair, blue-eyed combo our culture so very much adores. On her best days, she would slip into clean-dyed American Eagle jeans, tucked into chestnut-colored riding boots, and a long, knit cardigan. I used to tell her she looked like a Christian Country singer. It made her laugh. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Young Voices

In the Palace of Marriage and Commerce

June 14, 2017
palace

Note from Jen Pastiloff, founder of The Manifest-Station. This is part of our Young Voices Series for Girl Power: You Are Enough. We are always looking for more writing from YOU! Make sure you follow us on instagram at @GirlPowerYouAreEnough and on Facebook here.

By Meghan O’Dea

For a brief period in my mid-twenties, I worked in an office in the middle floor of what had once been Chattanooga, Tennessee’s grandest department store. It had mostly been renovated into a hip, loft-vibe open office space full of glass and saturated off-primary paint colors, but my favorite part of the whole outfit was the old bridal salon in the far back corner of the building. The plasterwork was crumbling, revealing the lathe beneath, and the pieces that still clung to the studs and timber were covered in beautiful white and silver mylar wallpaper. Huge plaster cornices crowned the ceiling, and slender, simply ornamented columns held up the floors above, converted to expensive condominiums. I loved to stand amid the dirt and debris on the scarred hardwood floors, imagining away the old pool table and cardboard boxes and discarded desks and imagine the space in its heyday, full of chiffon and satin and tulle, the women walking away with candy-striped hat boxes and the sent of lilac and lavender in the air.

It was, by some metrics, the best job I’d ever had. I loved to get dressed in the morning and feel that I was putting on work clothes not just because it was required, but because the position deserved sleek pencil skirts and smart blouses. I loved to hear my high heels clicking on the marble lobby floor in the morning, and that I was able to take an elevator up to my floor. It was the soft echo of affirmation. Finally, there was the morning latte and the after-work martini, the downtown job. I took my credit cards out of my wallet and put them in my underwear drawer. I had managed to purchase a house the summer before, and now I actually felt I could afford it. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Young Voices

Self-Care at the Hibachi on Hixson Pike, Because Sometimes You Just Can’t

June 2, 2017
text

By DeNeisha Stewart

“Girls night tonight! Me and A’Lauryn were thinking Hibachi at seven. That okay with you?” Kaylor asks. She stands at the changing table to take care of the second to last diaper of the day.

“That way we can get the rice to absorb some of the alcohol. I have to tell you about what happened with Brandon. She pulls Sophia off the table, making sure to keep on her glove to cover angry, red patches from the Hand, Foot, Mouth rash that Sophia has on her upper arms.

“Yes! Hibachi definitely works for me. Matter of fact, I’m gone get a Mai Tai to go with it after the week I’ve had. Between these summer classes and these kids and their diseases, I need a few drinks,” I say. I turn my head to look over at the seven kids watching ABC Elmo on the Ipad.

“Jacob, what did I tell you about hitting your friends? You use soft touches or you keep your hands to yourself.”

“Go find somewhere else to play,” I walk with his little fingers curling around mine to the library center. I plop him down dramatically in the child size blue chair and hand him Hands Are Not for Hitting.

“I definitely need a drink.” I say under my breath as I tilt my head back to rest next to Maxie, the green painted dragon, Kaylor drew on the wall. I lift up my left hand, roughly rubbing my forehead to dig into my eyebrow bone.

“Jesus Christ, Jacob, sit on you bottom in the chair. You know what, fall if you want. I don’t care.”

I hear my phone signaling a text message as I bend down to pull my black skater skirt up past my calf. After I finally get it up, tucking it firmly under my breasts, I see a notification from my granny, Dora, and then I notice the time, 7:00.

Shit, I’m already late and I really need tonight. Granny’ll have to wait.

I scramble to grab my black, low top Vans from under the desk chair; I sit down to slide them over my ashy feet as I stand to swipe the baby oil gel off my shelf. Squatting down, I quickly dab on some gel on the skin exposed to nosy eyes.

Picking up my keys, I look around, trying to remember something I’m forgetting. I grab for my purse on the foot of my bed and it falls, spilling stuff everywhere. Shit!

I slam stuff into my bag and toss is over my shoulder. I hear a PING as I rush through the living room and kitchen, running through the stench of my roommates’ leftover dead chickens and old breakfast tacos.

I really wish their mamas taught them how to take out the trash.

I notice the elevator closing, and I yell out for however was in it to hold it as I rush to get in. As the elevator, starts to sink towards the parking garage, before I open the text from Granny.

June 11th 7:10 pm
Text from Dora Hunter
He’s Dying. Dyson is dying.

“What?” I say to aloud, brows sitting low, nearly closing my eyes. What’s she talking about? I hear the rustling of fabric on jeans when the person in the elevator turns to be with a raised eyebrow.

“Nothing,” I say.

7:11
What’s wrong with the dog?

7:11
Text from Dominique Stewart
What happened?

I hop in the car, lip the ignition, and immediately put it in reverse. I plug in my IPhone to the auxiliary, cutting the bass up all the way, before I switch gears, I scroll to find the playlist I want before I look again at the text message, as I sit idle in the middle of the lane in the garage.

7:12
Text from Latonia Harris-Stewart
What’s wrong with him, ma?

Looking at my mother’s text message,

Thank God Ma is handling it.

7:12
Text from Latonia Harris Stewart
Ma?

I hit 40 in the 25 on Bailey Ave. merging left to hop on the highway to get to Ichiban: The Japanese Steakhouse in Hixson, TN.

7:14
Text from Latonia Harris-Stewart
MAMA? Text back or answer the phone. One.

On the highway, I hear another Ping. I reach down blindly; I pick up my phone hoping it is a text from my granny. Swerving close the street, I hear my tires bumping along as I cross over into the other lane by accident, jumping back over when I hear a car horn behind me.

“Shit!”

Thank you Jesus no one was there.

7:18
Text from Kaylor
Ok. Hurry up. A’Lauryn wants to know
about Brandon and I have to tell you guys at
the same time. Plus, they won’t seat us till you get here.

I look down at my phone quickly, sending out a text out a reply before I get to the turnpike. PING. Glancing down, phone in my hand I see another text from my grandmother. I wait to reply as I straighten the car, hitting 60 to try to merge as the car behind me speeds up to avoid letting me on.

You thought. Always want to speed up after the fact.

7:30
Granny? What’s wrong? Has he been sick?
Did a car hit him or something?

Finally at Ichiban, I hop out of the car to meet my co-workers.

I see Kaylor and A’Lauryn, sitting next to each other one, phones in hand. Probably Snapchatting.

Hey. She is going to seat us now. Come on! Snapchat can wait. Kaylor, you have to tell us about Brandon. What did he do this time?” I say.

I look over at A’Lauryn grey contacts under her false lashes, “How you been, Love? I haven’t seen you in a while. You still observing at the elementary school?” I ask.

“It’s good. I am working with 3rd graders at Brown right now. Still shadowing the teacher,” A’Lauryn replies.

“Do you like it?” I ask.

“Yea, its ok. I think I like high school better than elementary though. Yesterday, one of the little fuckers had the nerve to call me a bitch. And too my face, at that,” she says.

“Seriously, what did you do? ” I ask.

I hear her starting to respond as I sit down to the table for eight and hear another PING. I reply to the waiter, “Yes. Can I have water, please? With a lot of lemon?”

7:55
Text from Dora Hunter
I think it was cancer. He is has not been himself
the last couple of months. Not been eating.
He’s been sleeping a lot. That is just not my Dy-Dy.

“So, Kaylor what happened with Brandon?”

“Y’all my grandma’s dog is dying and she’s been texting me about it for almost an hour now,” I tell them.

“Really, what’s wrong with him?” A’Lauryn asks.

“She just texted me that she thinks it some type of cancer. Apparently he’s been sick a while. just never knew. He was fine when I saw him in March.”

“That’s so sad. I would be at home sobbing if Jim was dying of cancer,” Kaylor says. She looks over at me. “I bet your grandma is doing the same. How long has she had him?”

8:12
I’m sorry, Granny. Are you ok?

“He is about 8 years old. A Cocker Spaniel,” I tell her. “How long do they live on average, I wonder?”

“Google is your friend, my dear.” A’Lauryn says.

Typing Cocker Spaniel in my phone, I pull up the wiki page. “It says they live from 12 to 15 years. Well, shit.”

I look up to the waiter standing over me, before I give him my order, “Yes, can I have the steak and shrimp with fried rice? And can I get Broccoli and Mushrooms added to the other veggies? Thank you.”

I hear a PING.

8:23
Text from Dora Hunter
I am fine. Going to spend a little more time
with Dy.

“A’Lauryn, how is the boyfriend doing?”

This could not have happened at the worse time, I think to myself as Kaylor and A’Lauryn Snapchat the sashimi the waiter just dropped at the table.

I take my chopsticks and grab a piece of yellowtail and dip it into the soy sauce.

“So, Brandon?” I say, looking over at Kaylor, “What happened?”

“Hold on, I need to order a drink first,” she says. She raises her hand to get the waiter’s attention. “Can I get a Heineken and a lime, if you have it?”

“I want a Mai Tai.” “And, a vodka and water,” A’Lauryn and I say before the waiter can speak.

8:23
Ok, Granny. I’m out with friends, but
definitely let me know if you need me.

“I.Ds,” the waiter ask, hand out as we dig through out purses for wallets.

“So, basically, when I went home to Nashville, last weekend Brandon shows up on my mother’s front door step, high as a fucking kite on some molly trying to talk to me. We broke up like six months ago and ultimately, he end up busting the front window out of my mother’s boyfriend car when he tried to get him to leave. Anyways, the police showed up and he started crying a shit before the police could even ask us what happened. Then…”

8:36
Text from Dora Hunter
K.

“Sorry it’s my grandma again,” I let them know, rubbing the grease from my full face of make-up off my phone.

“So, what are you going to do about Brandon? Did you step-dad press charges?”

“Naw,” Kaylor says, “I told him not too.”

“Why, I would have had his ass arrested so fast. He disrespecting your mama’s house, that shows his lack of respect for you,” I tell her. “Don’t you think so A’Lauyren? That shit is mad disrespectful.”

8:38
Text from Latonia-Harris Stewart
Ma?

20 minutes later, the chef comes to the grill, steak, chicken, shrimp, scallops and veggies on the cart in front of him.

“Ok, people how do you want these steaks cooked?” he asks.

“Can I get that rare, please?”

“Rare?”

“Yes.”

“Ok,” He picks up a piece of raw meat from his cart and moves it towards my plate. “Here you go. It’s still mooing for you.”

8:52
Text from Latonia Harris-Stewart
Do you need me to come over there
with you, ma? Is someone with you?

Laughing, I say, “Toss it on that grill for about a minute and I’ll take it.”

He replaces the steak and begins to spread some oil over the grill.

“Ready? Watch your eyebrows people,” he says.

9:03
Text from Latonia Harris-Stewart
Let me know if you need me?

“Ok. People, I have sauces. Mustard Sauce?”

I shake my head, “No, thank you.”

“Hot Sauce?”

9:03
Text from Latonia Harris-Stewart
Ma?

“No thanks.”

“Ginger sauce?”

9:03
Text from Latonia Harris-Stewart
Let me know if you need me? Alright?
I’m serious.

Looking at him, A’Lauryn and my head shift side to side, as Kaylor says, “Please.”

“Ok, Folks. I have that white sauce for you.”

We all nod our head yes. “Please,” I say. “Can I get both trays of white sauce?”

I hear another PING.

9:03
Text from Latonia Harris-Stewart
Dora Hunter? Are you ignoring me?

Damn, Grandma, respond already.

I pick up my glass and take a sip.

Well at least Mama is trying tot take care of her.

The waiter then serves the fried rice and veggies. “Ok. So you wanted that rare, right?

I nod my head, before I dip my mushroom into the white shrimp and mayonnaise sauce.

“Hmmmm… Yummy,” I shift in my sit doing my happy food dance; lips puckered, shoulders rocking up one side at a time. I take my chopsticks and grab another piece, mouth open wide.

Thank goodness, Mama has her. I hate for my grandma to be sad, but I need tonight to happen. 

 9:17
Ma, HAVE YOU SPOKE TO GRANNY?
She hasn’t replied to me.
She hasn’t said anything.

I hit send, then moan as I take my first bite into that rare steak covered in that white shrimp sauce; my happy dance continues.

Then, ten minutes later, I hear a PING.

9:25
Text from Latonia Harris-Stewart
Yes. I am sitting over here with her now.

9:31
Multi-Media Message from Dora Hunter
“Goodbye, my friend. Dyson. I love you. Goodbye.”

I gag on a bite of steak as I realize what I am looking at. Oh My Shit, Grandma. I am looking at the photo she sent with her voice recording.

I see a picture of Dyson lying there. Head resting on a white towel, eyes blank and devoid of that teasing joy that he gets when he sees my granny’s face. White fur blending into the sandy brown coat. I can’t believe he is gone, but…but… wait! Why in the world am I looking at a picture of a dead dog?

“Hold on y’all. Remember about my granny’s dog? Look,” I say as I turn the phone around so they can see the picture and hear my grandmother’s words.

“Shit, Nesh. She is sounds so sad,” Kaylor says.

“Really? So looking at that ain’t weird at all for you?”

“No, her dog died. She’s upset. Its understandable,” Kaylor tells me.

“Fuck that, that was gross. I definitely need another drink. I can’t deal,” I murmur, as I look behind me to catch the waiter’s attention. “Can I please get another Mai Tai, extra rum?”

“DeNeisha, what’s wrong with you? I’ve never seen you like this,” A’Lauryn ask.

“I have two papers due in three days and I haven’t started with either. Then those sick kids and their ‘I don’t see their sickness’ parents. It’s exhausting. So, all I want to do is get drunk and forget about all of that for a couple of hours, “ I say, “ And plus, I didn’t even like the dog that much anyways. He was always knocking the trash over to dig through it and scratching up the carpet when I closed him out of my room and guess who get in trouble for the carpet being fuck up? My ass. He was just annoying and needy and I wasn’t here for that, but my grandma loves him. He kept her company when granddaddy is gone over night driving for Old Dominion, so I can see why she is sad, just maybe not tonight, ok?” I pick up my drink, place the straw between my lips and sip until it’s gone.

“DeNeisha, you are so rude,” A’Lauryn sighs, “Be nice sometimes.”

“You should you know. Be nice, I mean.  But come on let’s hop to.. I got a bottle of vodka and Crown Royal in the freezer. We can find ourselves in those,” Kaylor says, “ I have to tell yall what else happened that weekend after Brandon left.”

Two o’clock, the next afternoon, I roll over to rub the crust out of my eyes, and I can taste the sour remnants of puke as I yawn and feel the familiar pulse of nausea in my belly. I grab my phone and notice twelve new text and my eyes focus in on the last one.

June 11th 10:28 p.m.
Text from Dora Hunter
We are going to bury Dyson in
the backyard at 12. We are suppose
to say a few words so, I hope you can be there.

Jeez, why is she so dramatic? Ok, DeNeisha. Apparently, you are being rude. Let’s stop! Hold on! Think… Take a breath! DeNeisha, we are going to play nice. Let’s call granny and see if she is ok.

“Hello.”

“Hi, Love. Sorry for calling so late. You alright?” I ask her, voice rusty from rounds of drunken karaoke.

“Yes.”

“I am sorry about Dyson,” I say as I yawn once more and wince from the smell, “I hate for you to be sad.”

DeNeisha is a senior the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga studying Language & Literature alongside Creative Writing. Growing up, she found herself exploring the fictional worlds of J.K Rowling and Nora Roberts as a way of escaping into a world that was more liberating than her own. While adulting, DeNeisha immerses herself in the hysteria of toddlerhood as a childcare teacher. When adulting is over, DeNeisha likes to devote herself to a delicious meal and the occasional adult beverage. This is her first publication.

Join The Manifestation Retreat: Manifesting Under The Tuscan Sun. June 17-24. Email retreats@jenniferpastiloff.com or click the picture above.

 

 

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Beating Fear with a Stick, Guest Posts, Young Voices

Glow in the Dark

May 22, 2017
afraid

Note from Jen Pastiloff, founder of The Manifest-Station. This is part of our Young Voices Series for Girl Power: You Are Enough. We are always looking for more writing from YOU! Make sure you follow us on instagram at @GirlPowerYouAreEnough and on Facebook here.

By Cristy Shaner

For the first twelve years of my life, I went to bed afraid. As a child I was always squinting at shadows, searching for something sinister in the dark, feeling certain that soon I would be hurt, irreparably and forever.

I was afraid to close my eyes because I believed something might reach out and touch me when I wasn’t looking. I only succumbed to sleep after hours of staring at the ceiling, and sometimes not even then. Occasionally I would stay up until pale daylight broke through my bedroom curtains, and then, finally feeling at ease, I would rest. I knew, on some level, that my fear was nonsensical, but that didn’t stop me from fearing. Instead I kept quiet and clutched terror to my chest like a treasured secret—I was all alone with it, and that was all I knew. I grew up believing the world was a dangerous place, especially when plunged into darkness. I dreaded the unknown for so long it became a force of habit: everything was either a threat or a trick.

I fall asleep in the dark easily now, but I rarely sleep through the night. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, writing, Writing & The Body, Young Voices

Yesterday I Bled Brown Blood: Writing The Future

May 17, 2017
venus

Note from Jen Pastiloff, founder of The Manifest-Station. This is part of our Young Voices Series for Girl Power: You Are Enough. We are always looking for more writing from YOU! Make sure you follow us on instagram at @GirlPowerYouAreEnough and on Facebook here.

By Demetra Szatkowski

I hand you my pain one piece at a time
sometimes all at once
messy unsure convolutedness
And you make sense of it

and hand myself back to me

healed

***

Venus in my first house. Venus in my house of self. Venus saying, who are you, how do you relate to yourself, how do you see yourself, how do you let others see you.

Today I woke up and bled brown blood. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, poetry, Young Voices

Three Attempts at Being Coherent

April 5, 2017
relic

By Sun Rey

referendum.

Was there ever a space where my body was nothing but a placeholder?
That when I wrapped my lips around your tongue, the depth of my flesh was nothing but a barometer: certain pigment, certain
pressure.

Should she do the same, would there be a difference? Is there a difference between two brown queer girls? Or is the space we occupy tied up so tightly by Tiny Minority status that we are fossilized as we are breathing— you can’t tell the difference between a Hindu and a Muslim— I keep hearing you say “oh wow i’ve never met anyone like you!”— you can’t help touching my hair— you spread the baby oil across my bumpy skin with gloves on— i mean—
you saw who i was didn’t you?
you saw who i was you didn’t
just line up the faces i’ve been collecting into neat cornrows:
tall, gay.
brown skin, hairy arms.
arab name, black hair.

Let me pray to my many-fingered God
that you didn’t just mean to choose me as a relic. Continue Reading…

Awe & Wonder, Guest Posts, Young Voices

It’s (Not) All The Same To Me: On Gender, Language, and Death

March 8, 2017
gender

By Beatriz  L.  Seelaender

Death  is  a  woman  in  Portuguese.  She  is  still  a  skull  under  a  charcoal  cloak,  holding  a  list  and  a  scythe,  but  she  is  a  woman.  It  is  strange,  isn’t  it,  what  one  can  take  for  granted  as  fact  just  by  plain  language.  That  Death  is  a  He  in  English,  and  wiser  and  less  cruel  and  sharper,  still  somewhat  unsettles  me.  There  is  some  sort  of  slight  wrongness  in  it.  No,  Death  is  not  a  He.  My  Death  is  not  yours.  There  must  have  been  some  kind  of  mix-up.  My  Death  is  a  straight-up  gal.  When  my  time  comes,  she  will  tell  me  I  did  good  in  life,  all  things  considered,  and  hug  me  like  a  grandmother.  Then,  she  will  kindly  strangle  me  into  oblivion-  because  kindness  is  necessary  in  death,  and  it  is  women  that  are  forgiving  and  kind,  and  that  is  why  death  should  be  a  woman.

There  used  to  be  a  comic  book-  there  probably  still  is,  since  it  wasn’t  so  long  ago  that  I  was  a  kid-  featuring  the  adventures  of  Mrs.  Death.  Despite  her  not  being  the  main  character  in  the  comic-  that  honour  had  been  given  to  the  character  who  in  English  translations  is  renamed  Bug-a-boo-,  Mrs.  Death  did  get  a  lot  of  solo  stories.  While  I  am  not  quite  sure  why  a  children’s  comic  would  invest  in  dark  humour,  the  stories  were  personal  favourites  of  mine.  One  of  them  features  Mrs.  Death  losing  her  list  of  errands  (aka  people  she  should  kill  today)  and  killing  completely  random  people  to  make  up  for  it.  There  was  another  where  she  accidentally  offed  the  homonym  of  the  actual  man  she  was  supposed  to  take.  On  top  of  it,  she  had  to  deal  with  a  staggering  amount  of  typos  (we  are  led  to  believe  that  the  big  guys  up  there  do  not  really  care  about  Mrs.  Death,  who  has  to  perform  all  of  their  grunt  work  and  isn’t  payed  enough  for  it).  All  in  all,  they  did  a  good  job  of  having  kids  learn  about  death  as  an  inoffensive  old  lady  waiting  for  retirement.  In  a  lot  of  ways  having  this  image  of  death  is  more  comforting  than  that  of  an  arrogant  shadow  of  a  man  as  it  is  typically  conveyed  in  English  stories.  On  the  other  hand,  perhaps  it  undermines  the  seriousness  of  the  subject.  Oh,  well,  parents  should  not  let  their  kids  learn  about  death  from  comics,  anyhow.

I  can  only  conceive  of  Death  the  man  as  patronizing:  he  takes  pleasure  in  toying  with  people.  His  blood  is  icy  blue  and  he probably  hates  Death  the  woman  for  doing  better  than  him  at  the  slaying  business.  But  neither  one  of  them  can  die,  really;  it  is  their  greatest  tragedy.

It  wasn’t  until  my  teens  that  I  came  across  Death  as  a  He.  Because  articles  are  neutral  in  English  I  had  never  really  thought  about  applying  gender  to  things  in  English.  Although  perhaps  that  is  a  lie-  I  am  not  entirely  sure.  It  is  possible  I  just  kept  on  looking  at  things  gendered  according  to  how  I  knew  them  in  my  native  language.    There  was  reluctance  to  admitting  that  perhaps  things  in  their  fundamental  nature  weren’t  as  blue  and  pink  as  the  world-  but,  then  again,  neither  was  the  world,  and  we  still  see  it  that  way  nonetheless.

While we do have an “it” in Portuguese, it is hardly ever used as subject in sentences. We use he or she for everything, dead or alive; or never alive. If we really have to say “it”, we simply use the verb; the subject is assumed as it. We don’t say that it rained; we simply say “rained”. We don’t say it’s weird; we simply say “is weird”.

The rest of the time we refer to things the way Aesop referred to animals- he, the stapler and she, the copy-maker. We also refer to animals that way, as you probably must have guessed by now. And all those its, then, come alive.

See,  up  until my meeting with Him, Death,  it  had  been  very  simple to me-  a  table  and  a  chair  and  a  bed  and  a  house  were  female-bound.  And  there  were  things  like  school,  History  and  art  that  were  referred  to  as  female,  too.  At  least  death  is  not  alone,  then,  and  they  are  not  alone  in  death;  these  other  words.  Word  is  also  preceded by the feminine article,  in  Portuguese.  Forks  and  mattresses  and  napkins  and  hats  and  the  radio  and  peaches  and  candy  were  all  male-bound  things.

Some  of  us  even  got  confused  at  times;  I  remember  once  at  school  when  a  peak  number  of  students  using  the  wrong  article  for  “lettuce”  inspired  a  gender-bound-articles test,  but  it  didn’t  change  anything.  People  were  surprised,  surely,  that  lettuce  was  a  She-  a  couple  of  weeks  later,  though,  everyone  was  still  using  the  wrong  article  for  lettuce.

(I  don’t  know  why,  though;  lettuce  is  so  clearly  feminine,  being  a  leaf  and  all;  and  leaves  being  feminine,  too)    (Leaves  and  flowers  and  most  fruit)    (Except  for  peaches,  but  we’ve  been  over  this  already)    (Now,  I  wonder  why  in  Brazil  all  seasons  are  male  but  spring)    (It  cannot  be  just  because  of  the  flowers)    (It  would  be  sort  of  misogynistic,  if  it  were)  (In  Germany  all  seasons  are  male-bound,  even  spring)  (But  in  German  nothing  is  at  it  should  be)

I  want  to  try  out  an  experiment:  I  will  give  you  four  words  and  you  tell  me  what  your  immediate  thought  as  to  what  their  ultimate  gender  is;  ready?  Knife,  Life,  Book,  Fox. 

It  has  just  occurred  to  me  that  I  picked  “knife”  as  the  first  word  because  of  a  poem  by  João  Cabral  de  Melo  Neto  titled  “The  School  of  Knives”.  In  Portuguese,  this  word  is  preceded  by  the feminine.  Most  sharp  things  are-  blades  and  daggers  and  scythes,  too.  In  the  poem  de  Melo  Neto  takes  this  a  step  further  and  compares  women  and  knives,  in  a  sort  of  sensual,  femme-fatale  way.  God,  I  hate  this  word;  femme-fatale-  there  is  a  song  by  The  Velvet  Underground  under  this  title,  and  it  is  pretty  catchy;  and  I  hate  myself  for  enjoying  it.  Anyway,  knives  are  not  necessarily  female  until  some  sort  of  personality  and  explanation  as  to  why  it  is  female  is  imposed  to  it.

In  Spanish  knives  are  male-bound.  The  argument  for  knives  as  male  could  be  just  as  compelling  as  that  for  a  femme-fatale  definition;  knives  having  the  potential  to  be  used  for  gratuitous  violence  (traditionally  male)  as  easily  as  they  are  able  to  deliver  beautiful  and  entangling  performances  of  precision  in  clean,  lustful  cuts:  this  last  one  is  epitome  of  the  femme-  fatale  ideal;  to  destroy  and  look  good  doing  it.  There  is  also  something  about  gluttony  and  lust  merging  together  here  in  the  Portuguese  embodiment  of  the  knife,  especially  in  de  Melo  Neto’s  poem.

I  propose  we  look  at  this  not  as  an  instance  of  misogyny,  or  perhaps  as  more  than  an  instance  of  misogyny.  I  know  it  is  very  easy  to  go  the  way  of  saying  we  need  to  stop  gendering  everything-  but  there  are  many  variables  going  into  this  discussion.  For  one,  the  qualifier  of  gender  in  articles  is  not  promoting  gender  stereotypes  directly  or  even  indirectly-  all  of  them  are  entirely  arbitrary.  I  don’t  think  anyone  ever  thought  to  themselves-  knives  are  definitely  ladies,  so  let’s  use  this  article  when  referring  to  them.  The  problem  came  after-  it  came  in  the  form  of  explanations  as  to  why  things  were  the  gender  they  were.  See,  the  way  gender  roles  are  distributed;  one  could  arguably  make  a  point  for  something  as  dull  as  a  desk  either  as  masculine  or  feminine  simply  by  selecting  a  specific  set  of  characteristics  that  matches  the  stereotypical  definition  one  wishes  to  defend.  That  is  obviously  because  like  people,  things  also  have  characteristics  deemed  feminine  and  masculine  inside  them.  All  you  have  to  do  is  choose.

Let’s  talk  about  the  Life  with  a  capital  L.  I  think  most  languages  in  use  of  gendered  articles  (that  I  know  of,  obviously)  see  life  as  female;  the  exception  being  German,  in  which  das  Leben  marks  a  neutral  noun.  Surely  you  would  think  this  is  a  sign  of  female  emancipation-  the  plural  in  German  taking  for  once  the  shape  of  the  female  pronoun  being  a  step  in  the  right  direction  as  well-  but  I  wonder  how  much  of  it  is  actually  a  sign  of  social  progress  and  how  much  is  just,  you  know,  just  something  random  about  the  German  language.

When  you  take  a  closer  look  at  it,  in  fact,  it  is  hard  to  find  direct  correlations  between  the  use  of  gendered  articles  and  intolerance  rates  in  a  society.  Were  that  the  case,  one  would  expect  a  country  such  as  Poland,  speaking  a  language  which  allows  one  to  drop  pronouns  and  exempt  of  articles,  to  be  the  beacon  of  freedom  by  now.  Moreover,  the  Norwegian,  known  for  their  inclusive  social  measures  and  individual  liberties,  speak a language  featuring  article  qualifiers.  I  do  not  intend  to  make  a  study  out  of  this,  and  I  am  sure  there  are  many  more  variables  involved,  but  this  goes  to  show  problems  like  this  can  hardly  ever  be  traced  back  to  one  simple,  obvious  cause.

But  this  is  getting  too  derivative  (you  can  tell  by  the  excessive  use  of  parenthesis)  (not  aesthetically  pleasing)  (are  there  things  unaesthetically  pleasing?)  (Well,  there  are  pleasant  things  that  aren’t  aesthetic  and  there  are  aesthetic  things  that  aren’t  pleasing)  (And  then  there  is  the  anaesthetic,  which  makes  you  numb  to  painful  and  beautiful  things)  (I  hope  not  all  beautiful  things  are  painful)  (But  I  don’t  have  any  answers  now)  (Come  back  later)  (We  are  experiencing  connection  problems)  (Try  turning  your  brain  off  and  on  again).

Oh,  there  you  go.  I  feel  fine,  don’t  you?  Would  you  like  to  return  to  where  we  were  before  the  whole  thing  became  a  mess?

Now,  as  I  was  saying,  the  best  we  can  do  with  gendered  articles  is  look  for  clues  that  could  help  us  fight  the  feminist  crusade,  or  whatever  you  want  to  call  it.  Instead  of  ignoring  or  denying  their  existence,  we  should  take  a  look  at  what  sort  of  symbols  they  promote,  intentionally  or  not.  We  think  about  what  cultural  differences  stand  out  in  a  place  where  death  is  a  woman  and  a  place  where  death  is  a  man-  and  the  different  interpretations  of  death  that  may  come  from  it.  We  ask  people  who  speak  in  neutral  languages  to  gender  things  for  twenty-four  hours,  so  we  can  see  what  role  is  predominant  and,  most  importantly,  what  kind  of  justification  is  used  for  the  answer.  We  get  Intel  on  the  rationalizations  made  in  the  back  of  our  minds,  and  discover  potential  new  ways  to  break  down  gender  roles.

In  self-indulgent  speculation,  I  am  thinking  the  reason  why  Life  is  “female”  in  so  many  languages  is  because  life  is  brought  to  us  by  our  mothers.  Thus  life  we  associate  with  women  and  water  and  fountains  of  water,  because  all  these  things  symbolize  fertility  and  birth,  and  rebirth  as  well.  Goddesses  of  fertility-  Hera  and  Freya  and  Isis  and  Parvati  and  even  the  Virgin  Mary  if  you  look  at  Christianism  as  a  religion  with  multiple  focuses  of  adoration-  are  generally  also  associated  with  symbols  such  as  dawn,  death,  and  abundance,  because  fertility  could  also  mean  a  good  harvest.

While  I  do  get  why  some  goddesses  of  life  are  also  patrons  of  death,  it  is  still  strange  to  look  at  these  concepts  together,  as  dichotomies.  Everyone  likes  the  idea  of  going  full  circle,  but  I’ve  yet  to  see  someone  capable  of  making  one  with  their  hands.  Still,  it’s  a  nice  idea.  Idea;  yet  another  she.  I  guess  it  has  something  to  do  with  the  muses.  The  muses  are  also  inevitably  female,  because  the  artists  are  usually  male.  As  for  you,  female  artists,  there  isn’t  as  high  a  demand  for  male  muses  that  we  feel  compelled  to  change  the  rules.  But  I  guess  men  would  feel  undermined  in  the  role  of  muses,  don’t  you  think?  Well,  you’re  right,  not  all  men.  All  men  who  keep  saying  not  all  men,  though;  those  are  precisely  the  men  I’m  talking  about.

You  see,  there  is  a  deeply  rooted  notion  somewhere  in  there  that  an  artist  must  tame  his  muses.  Even  if  an  idea,  then,  is  a  she,  the  framing  of  ideas  will  definitely  be  male.  The  word  book  is  preceded  by  the  male  article  in  Portuguese;  in  German  it  is  neutral;  it  never  is  a  woman.  These  are  only  far-fetched  conjectures,  half  joke,  half  real;  but  inside  every  false  sentence  there  must  be  a  little  bit  of  truth.  That  of  men  taking  credit  for  women’s  ideas,  after  all;  is  hardly  a  new  trend.

The  discussion  gets  even  more  complicated  once  we  introduce  animals  into  it.  They  are  the  closest  thing  to  non-human  gendering  experienced  by  the  English  language;  just  take  a  look  at  the  Perry  Index  of  Aesop’s  Fables.  Snakes  and  foxes  are  male,  storks  are  female.  What  is  interesting,  however,  is  not  the  gender  imposed-  though  this  time  one  could  question  its  arbitrariness-  but  how  this  translates  into  people’s  mind  sets:

All  of  those  animals  are  female  in  Portuguese.  It  is  even  difficult  for  me  to  conceive  of  an  animal  as  peculiar  as  a  male  fox.  We  don’t  even  have  a  male  alternative  for  it.  Once  we  get  to  snakes,  it’s  even  worse.  I  recently  saw  the  animated  version  of  The  Jungle  Book  with  my  little  cousin,  and  I  was  convinced  they  had  redubbed  the  old  voices,  because  in  my  mind  that  python  was  a  lady  python.  I  can  only  assume  that  as  a  child  I  found  the  idea  of  there  being  a  male  snake  so  outlandish  that  I  blocked  it  completely.

It’s  not  like  I  didn’t  know  there  was  a  male  snake-  I  just  thought  them  unimportant.  They  were  not  allowed  to  talk  for  the  species.  They  were  not  allowed  to  represent  it.  Think  about  what  kids  think  sometimes;  the  thoughts  kids  have  are  a  rare,  clear  perspective  of  a  place  you  have  been  in  for  too  long;  life.

(They  will  take  some  funny  things  for  granted)  (And  question  what  you  have  taken  for  granted  without  noticing)  (When  you  play  with  language  you  feel  like  being  a  child  again)  (Your  brain  is  a  clean  slate  again)  (You  are  innocent  again).

There  are  other  places,  you  know;  outside  of  the  sky;  there  is  even  a  sky  over  the  living  room  ceiling.

If  someone  were  to  paint  clouds  on  my  ceiling  on  a  blue  background;  if  I  were  to  fall  into  a  state  of  hypnosis,  well,  I  wonder  what  I’d  be.  Maybe  I  shouldn’t  wonder.  There’s  way  too  much  randomness  in  this  world  for  us  not  to  aimlessly  wonder,  though.  It’s  what’s  keeping  us  from  crashing  onto  our  false  skies.

Author of the novel “De Volta ao Vazio” (in a rough translation, “Emptiness, Revisited”), Seelaender is a student of Literature at the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil.

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Abuse, Guest Posts, Relationships, Young Voices

Swing

February 8, 2017
swing

Note from Jen Pastiloff, founder of The Manifest-Station. This is part of our Young Voices Series for Girl Power: You Are Enough. We are always looking for more writing from YOU! Make sure you follow us on instagram at @GirlPowerYouAreEnough and on Facebook here.

CW: This essay discusses abusive relationships.

By Laura Zak

Nana had a swing in her backyard. And Dad said once it was fresh white, back when he was a boy, running off in the woods to see which of his friends could pee the farthest.

And when I was thirteen, the paint flaked off under my fingernails. And sometimes I let my fingernails scratch the metal just to hear them screech.

And my younger sister Jessica and I used to swing and eat Klondike bars. And Nana would squeeze herself between us, her feet skimming the ground. And once she told us “Girls, you never let a guy hit you.”

And I laughed because I thought she was joking.

That was five years after Britney released “Hit me Baby One more Time.” Nana still hated Britney for her song. We ate Klondike bars and Nana told us that if some guy ever tried that, just say: “listen bub, see my finger? See my thumb? See my fist? You better run.”

And my laugh was fresh white paint. Of course, Nana. Jessica and I knew better than to let guys pull back their fists, let them swing.

And I don’t know why Stanley kicked Jessica out that night. We were both living in Lubbock, our hometown, and she called, asking if I would pick her up. Her voice shook. She was only eighteen.

And I did pick her up, of course I picked her up, I ran out to my car, barefoot, jacket flying open. And my hands didn’t work well putting in the keys. And the street lamps were heavy and parking lot held more emptiness than anyone could bare as I drove fast fast to his apartment.

Jessica waited under a carport. Her eyes were small, her eyes were scared.

When I hugged her, she thanked me for picking her up. When I asked if she was okay, she said she was fine. She never said why she had all her clothes in her backpack or if this was the first time.

At first Mom and Dad liked Stanley okay. I met him when Dad cooked us all eggplant parmesan. Stanley was seventeen. He wore a button up shirt. He said lots of yes sirs and no ma’ams.

Jessica had told us he would be bringing his baby and he did. The baby’s eyes were small, her eyes were scared. She cried and cried and cried.

And once he left, Mom said told me she didn’t like how Stanley was not-even-graduated and had a baby. And I knew what Mom meant was not-even-graduated and no-ring-on-his-finger with a baby.

The first time she and Dad did it was their wedding night.

And when Jessica and I were fourteen, fifteen, we bought V-rings and promised we’d stay virgins until our wedding nights. And I know now the V-rings weren’t born for our minds alone.

But I don’t know when Stanley changed. When he went from being that sing-song motion on the backyard swing, to nails and nails and nails making the metal screech.

And once Dad made shrimp pasta for dinner. And Jessica and I stood in the kitchen, the fan ticking off its rocker.  And I remember the light spinning on her face. And under her eye, a yellow bruise.

And I asked her what happened. She said she fell going down the stairs.

And she’s never been good at lying. But I believed her because falling was too cliché, as unbelievable as Britney really asking some guy to hit her again.

Because, of course, Nana. Jessica and I knew better than to let guys pull back their fists, let them swing.

And one night at Nana’s house, Jessica locked herself in the bathroom. She thought everyone was sleeping. I heard her go and my eyes opened wide like street lamps. I was scared. So I snuck out of bed, crept to the bathroom door.

And her crying stopped my feet. And I listened to her cry, her sobs holding more emptiness than I could stand as she begged Stanley to take her back. Please please please please please, she said. Over and over and over.

I know there were many times she cried in a bathroom, please please pleasing Stanley not to break up with her.

And I still don’t know how or why they finally did break up. If she left him or if he kicked her out for good. I was in Costa Rica, living in a house fenced with barbed wire and glass, when Mom told me. When I came home, Jessica only told me they’d gotten a restraining order.

And once Jessica and I were dancing at a club called Heaven. Across the bright, drunken faces, she saw Stanley. Jessica said “we have to go now.” And we did.

And once, years later, Mom said “he almost killed my baby girl” and her lip shook.

And once, years later, under the fan blades and the light, Jessica told me that Stanley beat her. Sometimes it was just because she took too long putting gas in the car.

And I don’t know how to ask Jessica about the rest. So our silence rocks back and forth between us. And there are no streetlamps. Just an emptiness we’ve learned to stand. And my imagination colors in all the empty space with dull metal and broken glass.

Laura Zak calls Lubbock, Texas her homeland. She now lives in Moscow Idaho and has realized the most striking similarity between Lubbock and Moscow is their respective spots in their respective state’s panhandles. Laura enjoys to cook with pans that have handles, is in her third year at the University of Idaho’s MFA program studying creative nonfiction. If she had to describe her writing, she would say that she’s interested in exploring sexuality, desire, play, and magical worlds.

 

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death, Guest Posts, Young Voices

And Then I Remember What You Said, a Letter to My Brother

December 31, 2016
lucky

Note from Jen Pastiloff, founder of The Manifest-Station. This is part of our Young Voices Series for Girl Power: You Are Enough. We are always looking for more writing from YOU! Make sure you follow us on instagram at @GirlPowerYouAreEnough and on Facebook here.

CW: This piece discusses the aftermath of suicide.

By Emma Tait

December 31, 2016

Dear Ollie,

I know you know this holiday season is hard for me. But still, I need to tell you how I’m feeling, how I’m feeling about how the holidays this year, the third year since you have been gone. Please don’t take this the wrong way, I know you are looking out for me, in the good big brother kind of way.

I am always catching glimpses of you out of the corner of my eye, seeing men that look just like you, sometimes I even hear your voice. Every time this happens my breath catches in my throat and for a split second I glance around hopefully, as if I live in a different world where there is a possibility of us running in to each other on the street on our ways home from work. In a parallel reality this would be our life. You would have lived. You would have stayed in Vancouver and we’d see each other all the time. This parallel reality still lives in my head, and sometimes when I “see” you I pretend with all my hear that it is so. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, The Body, Young Voices

What Happened To Your Hand?

December 14, 2016
amputation

Note from Jen Pastiloff, founder of The Manifest-Station. This is part of our Young Voices Series for Girl Power: You Are Enough. We are always looking for more writing from YOU! Make sure you follow us on instagram at @GirlPowerYouAreEnough and on Facebook here.

By Julia Betancourt

I wasn’t going to talk about my residual limb when I visited my kindergarten teacher in her classroom. At least, not until a small blonde girl came and tugged on my skirt while I was greeting my former teacher, Ms. Restrepo.

“What happened to your hand?” she asked.

“Oh,” I replied. I stared at my left arm, which extended to just below the elbow—the “hand” she was referring to, nicknamed “Army,” meaning little arm. “I was born like this,” I said, lying to her because I didn’t want to go into the extraneous story about the accident. I turned to face a boy and his three friends.

“Does it hurt?” he wondered. I shook my head.

“How can you write?” another child yelled.

By this point in time, I noticed that most of the class had gathered, and they were all asking me questions I didn’t want to answer. However, I couldn’t just tell the children to leave me alone, because they were six. Furthermore, if I told them to leave me alone, they might be afraid of other people with amputations. Based on their curiosity, most of them probably hadn’t even seen anyone with a limb difference. Whatever I did now could potentially affect the way they thought about amputees for the rest of their lives. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, writing, Young Voices

The Broken Container

December 13, 2016
container

By Raisa Imogen

Last year, I was in Paris during the terrorist attacks, and I don’t know how to tell that story. Similarly, I don’t know how to tell the story about Trump’s recent election. But there seems to be a strange and shivering thread between the two events. Both violent, painful, chaotic. Yet Paris was somewhat contained. This election is not, the common mantra being: “we just don’t know what’s going to happen.”

We tell stories to make meaning of trauma, to contain pain so we can better examine it and give it value. But sometimes we are in such distress that the container cracks. We can no longer write or speak in the same way, we can no longer contain the pain or carry it comfortably.

Paris: the cherry glow of sirens, the bitter cold, windows slamming shut, a vacant Eiffel tower. Alternatively: my friend who calmly held my hand, the family member who made a quiche, a café filled with people drinking champagne the next day.

Either it becomes a story of horror and fear, which you’ve already heard, or a story of healing and bravery, which feels mawkish and insincere.

I think we dislike narratives which exist in gray, uncertain space. We want them to have logic, to land on one side of a binary — tragedy or comedy, conflict resolved or broken open, a character whose biggest desire is fulfilled or wrenched from them completely. Climax, falling action, resolution.

But trauma, especially when it first occurs, isn’t a neat and tidy narrative. Sometimes there is no narrative at all.

The New Yorker recently featured a piece where sixteen writers weighed in on the election. As my friend Marie Scarles observed, “There are so many different versions of why Trump won, and so many ways for us to imagine the future. Should we pay more attention to poor whites? To Muslims? To women? To LGBTQ? To racists? To immigrants? All seem urgent, but none can be held as the be-all-end-all.”

We are searching for a straightforward answer, an immediate ending so this can be over and done with.

After the election, hunched over my carrel in the library and unable to write, I got a text message from my father: “Trauma turns us into animals, which means story-telling turns off. We revert to fight, flight or shock.” But sometimes, maybe our storytelling tendencies shutting down is a good thing. Maybe it allows us to survive. Narratives can be healing, but they can also be dangerous.

By attending to many different perspectives, perhaps a new story will eventually arise, something both nuanced and messy, something which contains many strands. Perhaps it will be a story of hope, but a particular kind of hope, which Rebecca Solnit describes as, ”an ax you break down doors with in an emergency… [it] should shove you out the door.”

For now, we are living in uncertainty. The story is that there is no story, at least no singular one. Which means there is no singular conflict, no one resolution. I wish I had a coherent story to tell about Paris, but I don’t. For me, the container is still broken open, as it is now for America post-election. This means we must listen to each other, and listen carefully.

raisa-tolchinsky

Raisa Imogen was born in Portland, Oregon, grew up in Chicago, and is currently studying at the University of Bologna in Italy. Her poetry can be found at www.raisaimogen.net and at The Kenyon Review.

 

Join Ally and Jen Pastiloff for an intimate online course about what it means to be a woman at this time. Space is very limited. Course runs Jan 12-Feb 9, 2017. Click the picture to sign up or to get more info on the course and its perks!

Join Ally and Jen Pastiloff for an intimate online course about what it means to be a woman at this time. Space is very limited. Course runs Jan 12-Feb 9, 2017. Click the picture to sign up or to get more info on the course and its perks!

 

 

Join The Manifestation Retreat: Manifesting Under The Tuscan Sun. June 17-24 OR Sep 9-16. Email retreats@jenniferpastiloff.com or click the picture above.

Join The Manifestation Retreat: Manifesting Under The Tuscan Sun. June 17-24 OR Sep 9-16. Email retreats@jenniferpastiloff.com or click the picture above.

Guest Posts, Relationships, Young Voices

House of Mirrors

November 9, 2016

Note from Jen Pastiloff, founder of The Manifest-Station. This is part of our Young Voices Series for Girl Power: You Are Enough. We are always looking for more writing from YOU! Make sure you follow us on instagram at @GirlPowerYouAreEnough and on Facebook here.

By Premala Matthen

“You’re just like me,” my mother tells me.

Sometimes, rarely, I see her face when I look in the mirror. But I am often asked— by friends, by classmates, by strangers on the street —if I was adopted. I know why they ask, but she pretends she doesn’t.

“Nobody can tell you’re not white,” she says to me. It feels like a lie. “Everyone thinks you’re southern Italian.”

The dissonance is paralyzing.

As an adult I read parenting books, even though I don’t have children. I am convinced that I need to re-parent myself, though I don’t know why. My breath catches when I read: a child needs a mother who is attuned to her. She needs a mirror, so she can see who she is.

Sometimes I see my face when I look at her. When I am four, I decide that I am a writer, and she helps me send my story to a publisher. She makes me feel like the rejection letter is just as exciting as a publication would have been. Real writers get rejected; I am a real writer now. I’m nine when my first poem is published. She makes me feel like the world has been enriched by my words. Continue Reading…