Browsing Tag

binders

Binders, Compassion, Guest Posts

Evangelist of Joy

December 12, 2016
dog

By Devra Lee Fishman

“Whatever you do, try to keep Mabel off of the furniture at the hospice.  We are struggling with that at home so we need to be consistent everywhere she goes,” my brother says on a rainy, matte gray Friday when he stops by my house to hand off the puppy he is raising for the Guide Dog Foundation.  Mabel bounces toward me all paws and wagging tail, an evangelist of joy wrapped up in fur, spreading her own sunshine on this gloomy morning.

Mabel is a 3-month old Golden Retriever/Labrador mix with a coat the color and feel of corn silk. During the next year or so that she will live with my brother’s family, Mabel will go everywhere they go – supermarkets, restaurants, theatre, sporting events, even airplanes.  Their goal is to make sure that she has good house manners and is comfortable in any social situation before she returns to the Guide Dog Foundation for intensive job-specific training.

I need to reinforce the behaviors that my brother’s family instills in Mabel and I take the responsibility seriously.  I do not want to be the reason she struggles with, or falls behind in, her training, so I thank my brother for the tip and lift Mabel into my car. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, healing

Learning to Mother Myself

November 22, 2016
snake

By Megan Galbraith

I sat on the stonewall outside my studio, reading Rebecca Solnit’s The Faraway Nearby, and thinking about how excited I’d been to get far away from my family. I’d been awarded a glorious month-long writers residency in Ithaca, NY from The Saltonstall Foundation. It was my first residency and I had no idea what to expect. What to bring? How to handle the silence? What if I couldn’t produce anything?

It had never occurred to me that I’d miss my family. I thought I’d craved solitude, but a month inside my own head was taking its toll. I was swept up in self-doubt and jumping out of my skin. I missed my husband, my boys, and my stepdaughter. I missed the dogs that I’d cursed daily for their endless silent pleading, “let me in, let me out, let me in, let me out.” I didn’t know how to be still with myself because it seemed there was so little stillness at home.

I looked up from the book and noticed a delicate snakeskin pinned beneath dead daylily leaves in the dirt to my left. The snakeskin was preserved in its entirety, from head to tail, not a rip or a tear. Its mouth was open as if it was mid-strike, and I could see the dark jeweled ovals where the snake’s eyes had been. It was nearly two feet long, a garter snake most likely, and the perfect embodiment of the reptile itself rendered like a tissue-thin sepia-toned X-ray. Continue Reading…

courage, Guest Posts

Going Away, Again

June 24, 2016
leaving

Part 1 of this essay was published at: http://www.themanifeststation.net/tag/melissa-ballard/

By Melissa Ballard

 One Month Before Going Away

  1. Think about going away. Do this without your stomach churning, your heart pinching, and your limbs tingling because you have found a daily medication that helps your brain function the way it’s supposed to, without sedating you or making you feel light-headed. And now, finally, all the other things you’ve done to manage anxiety including, but not limited to: therapy, meditation, yoga stretches, and positive-self talk are really working.
  1. Look forward to going away. Remind yourself it’s something you want to do, will most certainly enjoy and, anyway, worrying in advance serves no purpose, as you know. While it’s true you still prefer being at home, it’s nice to have a change of pace, and who knows what you’ll discover.  Remind yourself that for much of your life, and especially the last six years, you’ve known these things in your head, but you haven’t been able to feel them in your body.

Continue Reading…

Binders, Guest Posts, Yoga

The Gift of Breathing

April 4, 2016
yoga

By Kirsten Palladino

Rainy Sunday mornings are right for praising life with yoga. My first session of the season is going resplendently well. My body isn’t arguing with me as I thought it might—a dedicated yoga class hasn’t been on the calendar in 10 years. A twin pregnancy and decadent, indulgent food in a metropolitan city as a restaurant editor have enabled me to eat recklessly.

Through death and abandonment, my original family of four shrank to one in the course of just a few years. I have grief-gobbled myself into a puffy caterpillar form, minus the legs. Finally, I’ve earned the mockery of the high school girls calling me an elephant, a quarter-century too late.

But my body is strong and limber today, giving me what I need. Hips opened wide after delivering two darling boys in one night—finally, I birthed a living child; full healing lungs breathe in deeply instead of screaming and gasping after a 15-year childhood stint of sucking on the cancer sticks (family legacy).

As we move through our positions, I hear my therapist’s words in my head: “Inhale deeply through your nose as if you’re trying to smell freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. Then breathe out of your mouth so strongly as if you’re trying to blow out birthday candles across the room.” In. Out. Mindful breathing. Here we go. Continue Reading…

Binders, Guest Posts, healing

This Is Your Brain on Knitting.

February 6, 2016

By Bernadette Murphy 

The New York Times recently focused on all the ways handcrafts like knitting and crocheting offer health benefits – from reduction in daily stress and to giving knitters a sense of purpose, to weight control, and even staving off a decline in brain function as we age.

Many have speculated that knitting itself constitutes a genuine meditative practice, something I was curious to explore. In the more traditional forms of meditation, those typically associated with Eastern religions, meditation is defined as a state of “bare attention.” As Ron Nairn puts it in What Is Meditation? meditation is “a highly alert and skillful state of mind because it requires one to remain psychologically present and ‘with’ whatever is happening in and around one without adding to or subtracting from it in any way.”

According to Psychology Today, the physical act of meditation can consist of sitting quietly and focusing on your breath, a word, or a phrase; the meditator may also be walking or standing.

The image we all carry of a person tied into lotus-position knots, sitting in a candlelit, incense-choked room, hands held upward, saying “ohm” in a low, sonorous voice may be a limited construct. There are countless ways, it seems, to practice meditation.

Researchers agree that the practice of meditation has untold health benefits–improvements that can be gleaned from as little as ten minutes of meditation (or knitting) on a regular basis. These benefits include increased alpha waves (the relaxed brain waves) and decreased anxiety and depression. Researchers at Harvard Medical School used MRI technology to monitor participants’ brain activity and learned that meditation activates the portion of the brain responsible for the autonomic nervous system (the regulator of bodily functions outside our conscious control) including digestion and blood pressure “These are also the functions that are often compromised by stress,” Cary Barbor reported in Psychology Today. “It makes sense, then, that modulating these functions would help to ward off stress-related conditions such as heart disease, digestive problems, and infertility.” Continue Reading…

Binders, Dear Life., Guest Posts

Dear Life: I Can’t Get Unstuck

February 5, 2016
advice

Welcome to Dear Life: An Unconventional Advice Column. Different writers offer their input when it comes to navigating through life’s messiness. We are “making messy okay.” Today’s letter is answered by Jonna Ivin.

Please note: Advice given in Dear Life is not meant to take the place of therapy or any other professional advice. The opinions or views offered by columnists are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed physician or mental health professional. Columnists acting on behalf of Dear Life are not responsible for the outcome or results of following their advice in any given situation.

~~~~~~

Dear Life,

I could go into a very long story to preface my question, but it feels more like complaining to me, so I am just going to cut to the chase and be as brief as I can.

I grew up in a pretty dysfunctional family and had a childhood where I was required to be on my own emotionally much of the time. I had to grow up very quickly, and questioned my worth and validity and had strong abandonment issues as well.

As an adult, life has been challenging… in my relationships with my dysfunctional family, at times even estranged. For years, and still today, my husband and I struggle with financial hardship, and along with that, difficulties in our marriage.

Every day, for most of my life, has been a struggle to survive in some way. I am all too familiar with the “fight or flight” response and an abundance of cortisol pumping through my system, with a constant reminder around my midsection. I’ve always had my head down working to make ends meet, or been waiting for the next shoe to drop, or the next obstacle to fall in my path; so… I have never really gotten to a point where I can make a plan, or set goals, because I have always been struggling just to survive and take care of the immediate needs of our family and juggle our finances. At one point, someone very near and dear to me told me that some people are just meant to work really hard. It crushed me because I always felt like I did my best, but my best wasn’t good enough.

And sometimes I feel like an ass, because I know there are people with much greater challenges, but I have this strong feeling in my gut of wanting to make this world a better place, for everyone, and I can’t even manage to keep my own family secure.

On top of that, around extended family, friends and acquaintances, I am always acting like everything is ok, compensating with a “go with the flow” attitude, but I feel like a liar and a fake, because what I really feel like is a failure—as a mom, a wife, a friend, a daughter.

In addition, after pretty much losing my shit completely just about a year ago, having the worst time getting out of bed, crying every day, getting to work hours late daily, and being completely withdrawn, I finally went to the doctor and went on meds for depression and anxiety. I know, shocking after reading my history, right?

I really want to be truly happy, and to be able to experience life and be present—for myself AND my husband and children. We all deserve that at the very least. I want to be able to do things that make me feel joy and fulfillment and awareness. I want to have my own hobbies and interests, but I don’t have the time or money, and feel guilty investing those things in myself, even though I know it’s absolutely necessary. I have thoughts and ideas that are whirling around my head, but I feel I don’t have the time or ability to sort them all out and make them materialize.

My biggest concern, worry, fear, is that I am just going through the motions and all the stress has desensitized me over the years and I am numb and lacking emotion and passion (and I am a very passionate person when fully involved). When I do have down-time, I sit, I sleep, I hide, I worry, and I feel guilt and shame—that’s the depression that creeps in. I try: I start eating healthy, going to the gym, opening bills—but I don’t maintain. It’s like I am my own worst enemy, that I don’t deserve happiness or success. These are feelings that go back to my childhood and it’s a constant battle.

I read and watch self-help info all the time, have tried using planners, lists, etc. I give friends advice and support that I know I should follow myself. I know, I know, I know… but what I need to do is act, but I’m stuck, scared—scared to death of fucking things up even worse than they are. And even though my husband and I are a “team,” I feel this incredible amount of pressure on myself. I am in my late 40s and I’m tired after a lifetime of struggling and surviving, but I also know that time is passing quickly for me and my loved ones.

I have made several friends and connections over the last year or so, and I have had brief encounters with joy and my passionate side again. These experiences have made me realize:

Surviving is just not enough for me—this much I do know. I need to stop, reset, and start to set goals and plans for myself first, and then for our family (with my husband) and I just have no idea where or how to start.

Warmest regards,

-Survivor Mom

 

Dear Survivor Mom,

When I first read your letter, I thought: I know this woman. I’ve been this woman. On certain days I still am this woman. Not only do I hear you, I feel you. I know what it is to be so deep down in your bones tired that it hardly seems worth trying anymore. So as I write to you, know that I am writing to myself as well, and I thank you for the opportunity to work this through. I don’t believe you and I are alone in feeling this way. Actually, I know we are not. So let’s hope that with your letter and my response we can create a space for others to join the conversation and see if maybe we can all make our way down this road together. I’m willing to take that first step if you are.

Let’s go back for a moment and then we’ll move forward.

When I was a child I thought that God was an old man in the sky with a long beard and robe, much like Santa Claus. He watched down on us and doled out rewards to those who were good and punished those who were bad. With this always on my mind, I tried hard to be good and prayed often. I prayed my mother would quit drinking. I prayed we wouldn’t move around so much. I prayed that we wouldn’t always be poor. And as the years passed with all of those prayers going unanswered, I came to the conclusion that God must not like me very much. What other explanation could there be? I was following all the rules and yet I watched as those around me thrived while I stayed stuck in survival mode. Yes, there could be only one conclusion. God played favorites and I wasn’t picked for his team. It was a belief I carried in my heart well into my adult life, and like you I kept my head down, waited for the other shoe to drop, and remained stuck.

Over the years (after lots of therapy, Al-Anon, and spiritual searching), I slowly began to see God in a different light. I started to realize there wasn’t an old man in the sky giving and withholding at random, deciding willy-nilly who was worthy and who wasn’t, and I wondered if maybe God was, in its purest form, simply Life. This opened up a whole new realm of possibilities, because Life doesn’t care if we are good or bad. Life doesn’t care if we are rich or poor. Life doesn’t care what our childhoods were like. It doesn’t care if we are a human, or a tree, or a dog, or even a single microscopic cell. All Life is concerned with is that we live. This is our destiny, our single job. To live. Not merely to exist but to live.

So how do you do that?

You start at the beginning and you plant the seed.

Find something that brings you joy and do it. It’s the joy of doing that ignites the spark of Life within us. It can be anything. Whatever it is you love to do—gardening, painting, solving complex math problems, walking dogs, jogging. Whatever that thing is for you, do it. Do it every day even if it’s only for an hour. You deserve at least one hour a day to focus on yourself. Everyone deserves at least that.

If you don’t know what brings you joy, then take the time to discover it. You don’t need to go out and spend a lot of money or buy a bunch of stuff. Start small. Go slow. Read about the thing that interests you. Talk about it with others who share your interest. Get books from the library or go online. All that matters is that you start to feed your inner life. Do it selfishly for no other purpose than it makes you feel more alive. If you keep doing this thing you love a little every day, something amazing starts to happen. Life begins to recognize itself within you. It becomes drawn to you. And then it expands, bringing with it more Life.

But. But. But…

Ah, the dreaded but. I want to start a business, but I don’t have any money. I love to bake, but I don’t have any time. I want to switch jobs, but I’m scared. I want to join a writing group, but I’m nervous, anxious, depressed. With each but we add another layer of quicksand. We announce our dream and then immediately crush any possibility of bringing it to fruition with but. Nothing we’ve stated before the but holds up. It’s washed away with a single word. I say, get rid of the word and replace it with and. I want to start a business, and I don’t have any money. I love to bake, and I don’t have any time. I want to switch jobs, and I’m scared. I want to join a writing group, and I’m nervous, anxious, depressed.

Now we have something to work with! We humans have a marvelous capacity to do two things at once. We can join a writers group and be nervous. We can take the steps to start a business and work on our finances at the same time. One doesn’t have to preclude the other. By replacing but with and, we separate the two issues, and neither has power over the other. Start noticing every time you use the word but and replace it with and. Wanting to find your passion is no longer tied to the struggles of your life.

When I decided I wanted to write a book (this was my seed), I had no idea where to begin, so of course the ego part of my brain—the part that strings random thoughts into a continuous loop twenty-four hours a day—took over. It told me all the reasons I could never write a book. I wasn’t educated. I barely graduated high school. I didn’t have contacts in the publishing world. If I even finished the book, what would I do with it? Who would even want to read it? Who was I to even think my story was interesting? I was a nobody, and nobodies don’t get to write books.

And just like that I was done before I wrote a single word. No one stopped me. I did that all by myself. Life didn’t stop me. A pile of unpaid bills sitting on a dusty desk didn’t stop me. My friends, my family, they didn’t stop me. I stopped me

Luckily for me, the seed had been planted, and it kept itching at the far corners of my being, so I thought, “Well, it wouldn’t hurt if I read a few books like the one I want to write. You know, just to see.” Nothing in my life had changed. I was still poor. I was still keeping my head down and waiting for the other shoe to drop, but I went to the library to check out some books anyway. I read a few and I thought, “Well, it wouldn’t hurt if I jotted down a couple of ideas. I won’t show them to anybody.” Again, nothing in my life had changed. I was still poor and I was still waiting for the other shoe to drop, but I jotted down a few ideas anyway. Some of those ideas expanded into a few paragraphs. Some of those paragraphs turned into a few pages… I’m sure you can see where I am going with this.

As those pages turned into chapters, something interesting started to happen. I was spending more time thinking about my book and less time thinking about my crappy life. I was still working two jobs. I still didn’t have a pot to piss in, but that was no longer my first concern. I sought out others who were interested in writing and joined a writing group. I came across a non-profit organization that trained people to facilitate writing groups, and I joined. I went through their training process, and was given my own group to facilitate. Life began to recognize itself within me and it was expanding. Opportunities I didn’t even know existed were showing up—not because I felt compelled to chase them down, but because I had found something I was interested it, something that was bringing me joy. I didn’t have to do anything. I wanted to do things because they held interest for me. This nobody had finally found her voice.

What I’m telling you has nothing to do with setting goals, making plans or, as you said, “making the world a better place.” It’s not your responsibility to make the world a better place. That’s too big! No one person can do that. It’s your job to live. It’s your job to seek out joy and then follow where Life leads you. My book didn’t make the world a better place, but when letters from readers started coming in, I saw that by sharing my story I had made a difference for some. That’s our job. Find what brings you joy, what expands your Life, and then share that Life with others.

It all begins with you. You have to be the one to tell Life what you want to pursue. How else will it know how to support you? Think of that friend who is often upset, but when you ask what’s wrong they shrug and say, “Nothing.” You’d like to help but you can’t because you don’t know what they need. Now imagine Life tapping you on the shoulder and saying, “What do you love to do? What is your passion? How can I help you live a richer, fuller life?” What will your answer be? Will you shrug Life off or will you plant the seed?

One thing. One hour. Each day.

And then watch as your Life expands.

Headshot

Jonna Ivin is the founder of STIR Journal. She is the author of the memoir Will Love For Crumbs, the humorous coming-of-age novel, Sister Girl and the crime thriller 8th Amendment. A passion for helping others find their unique voice led her to volunteer as a workshop facilitator for Write Around Portland. Jonna is currently working on a new online memoir writing workshop that will be available in the spring. Jonna can be found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/jonna.ivin or followed on twitter as @jonnaivin. She also can be found at http://www.jonnaivin.com/.

 

 

Join Jen Pastiloff in Tuscany June 17-24, 2017 by clicking the photo above. Please send an email to retreats@jenniferpastiloff.com letting us know why you would like to attend.

Binders, Guest Posts

Listening.

February 4, 2016

By Michele Filgate

 

I.
To not know sound is to know it, because sound is all I’ve ever known. The not knowingness of it is what I live inside of; where I explore. My fingertips on the insulation that keeps the world from being too loud. The acoustic foam is spongy; my head is like the recording studio below my childhood bedroom, where my father spent countless nights searching for answers inside of the vibrations of percussion and loud guitars.

Listen to me, anyone says. And I can’t remember what they’ve just told me. Their voice brooms through my mind, pushes the dirt and dust from one side of my head to the other.

That’s because I’m seduced by the possibility of silence; something I see as evasive and confrontational, sure, but with the possibility of eroding my uncertain self, until I’m as smooth as a stone. Even when telling myself to focus on the space between the noises around me, I am afraid of those spaces. I hide behind noise.

A screen door opens and slams shut in my mind, over and over and over again.

But there are some sounds I squeeze myself into; I want to be held hostage, I want to be blindfolded so that I’m surrounded by nothingness; opened up by sudden thunder outside of my window, clean rain bouncing off of the peeling deck, hissing, warm, cloud tongue on earth, dirt becoming saliva.

My sneakered feet on the pavement one of those hums I suck on. Because sweat and breath and ground take me away from the void of sameness and stillness. I take air like someone who stayed underwater for too long, greedily, hungrily, as if it’s what will save me. During a run, I kite myself down sidewalks and up sloping hills. I am the wind and the stillness, I am the tug on the string. I am also the tree I get stuck in. Continue Reading…

Addiction, Alcoholism, Binders, Guest Posts, Intimacy, Sex

Facts of Life

October 15, 2015

By Carol Weis

You discover your daughter has learned the facts of life. She is only seven when this profound experience occurs. Your husband has taken over this duty you thought would be yours. One your mother never shared with either you or your sister. You’d find out from your cousin when you were both nine. An image that would repulse you for a very long time. Your anger and grief about losing this right of passage with your daughter, your only child, becomes just another sticker in your already thorny side.

Sex is a thing that is hard to think about. It was your husband’s last straw, and one you have no interest in sharing with anyone but yourself. You occasionally flirt with guys at AA meetings, with no intention of going anywhere with it.

A habit that lingers from your drinking years.

And then the day comes in therapy, when it seems that your therapist might be at her wits end with both of you. She suggests you go on an overnight date, away for a night without your daughter, sleeping in the same bed without having her around.

It’s not that you haven’t tried a version of this before. Since your separation, you’ve slept overnight at his apartment, with ground rules about sleeping in the same bed. If he makes advances when you feel you’re not ready, he has to respect what you say. You’re more like a brother and sister right now, laying next to each other in your parent’s double bed.

His attempts at intimacy are always turned down. Continue Reading…

Awe & Wonder, beauty, Binders, Gratitude, Guest Posts, Inspiration

How To Sleep Alone

October 14, 2015

By Mallory McDuff

First, make your bed every morning, so you can anticipate the ritual of pulling down the quilt and sheets at night, just as you look forward to opening a beer while cooking dinner after work. If possible, sleep under a bright-colored quilt that has sentimental value, surrounding you with memories that tilt your dreams toward love.

To be more precise, sleep under a quilt hand sewn by your mother in the classic pattern “Grandmother’s Flower Garden” with hexagonal patterns repeated in bright pastels and primary colors. The quilt defies you to slump into depression and has graced your bed for the past 10 years.

Before she died at the age of 59 years old, your mother sewed those hexagons  – her first quilt ever – while you were busy having a baby, going to grad school, and sleeping with a man on a futon, under a tapestry from Goodwill.

But now you sleep alone under her quilt, and you cherish every hexagon, even the ones that are frayed around the edges, torn cotton from where your two daughters have jumped onto the bed, revealing white bunting underneath, like rabbit tails poking out where they shouldn’t be.

When you make the bed each morning, you think about finding someone to repair the quilt, maybe Lupe, the talented tailor and photographer who goes to your church. But you never call him. There’s always a more pressing task, like getting kids to school, grading papers, cooking dinner, and then it’s time to go to bed again. Continue Reading…

Binders, Guest Posts, motherhood

Dance, Mama

September 26, 2015

By Irina Dumitrescu

When I first traveled for work after becoming a mother, my toddler son asked my husband: “Is Mama dancing?” As far as he knew, when I was not at home, I was in one of my dance studios. The funny thing is that I am only an amateur dancer, with moderate talent and skill. But I wasn’t dancing to entertain anyone those days. I was dancing to live.

Becoming a mother nearly killed me. That sounds melodramatic, but it’s true. It wasn’t the birth, although by the fourth day of labor I was sure I would die in that Dallas hospital with my baby inside me. I have the fortune of living in a time when women can labor naturally for days without painkillers, push for hours, and still come out alive and with a healthy child. Cut up, slightly out of their minds, but alive. No, it was the months that followed that drove me to the edge. The trauma of the birth, sleep deprivation, plus the stress of an international move from Texas to Berlin meant I had to fight hard not to hurt my son or myself. Continue Reading…

Grief, Guest Posts, The Converse-Station

The Converse-Station: Megan Devine Interviews Author Jessica Handler

September 24, 2015

Welcome to The Converse-Station: A dialogue between writers. With the site getting so much traffic (my Facebook page is reaching over 18 million people) I can think of no better way to utilize that traffic than to introduce the readers to writers I love. The dialogues created within this series have stayed with me long after I’ve read them on the page. Enjoy. xo Jen Pastiloff

By Megan Devine

Jessica Handler and I have been following each other around. We belong to secret societies of writers together, and we quote each other to our respective students, me in my Writing Your Grief courses, and Jessica in her Writing the Tough Stuff workshops. Her book, Braving the Fire: A Guide to Writing About Grief and Loss, helps writers make the often-arduous shift from writing personal things to writing personal things that resonate with the larger world story. So it only made sense when the editors of The Manifest-Station asked whom I might interview for the Converse-Station: Jessica was my first and only choice. We share a fierce love not only for well-told stories of love and loss, but for the evolution of craft we see in our students. What follows is an excerpt of a much longer – and more heavily laden with expletives – video discussion we had earlier this year on what it takes to teach, and to write, with both skill and sensitivity.

 

Jessica Handler:  So you and I have been online friends now for a year probably.

Megan Devine:    I think so.

JH:                        Yeah. This is cool. Well, you are who I thought you would be. You look like who I thought you would be. You sound like the person I imagined.

MD:                     I think that’s good.

JH:                       Yeah, it is good. It’s nice when someone you’ve been reading turns out to be exactly who you think they are. So what are we doing together today?

MD:                     We’re talking about writing. Specifically, we’re talking about the practice and process of writing about grief and loss.

JH:                       Well cool, I’m a big fan of The Manifest-Station. I know about it because I’m a fan of Emily Rapp, and I think Emily has been involved a fair amount. That’s how I got introduced to TMS, and I follow it, so this is fabulous.

MD:                     Yeah, it’s pretty fantastic.

JH:                       And this interview is giving me a break from grading papers, so God bless you for calling.

MD:                     This is my break from reading, too. I just opened a new writing session, and it’s only day two, so this is my break from reading all of the new students. I take the first several days just to hear their voices, get to know their stories.

JH:                       You’re talking about your Writing Your Grief course, right? Man, I remember being part of that. It was amazing to watch, during the session I was in, to read all of their words. And you, you just hold this space for all of them. And that’s something that we should talk about in terms of teaching the material we teach. People have asked me about how we handle all that pain, when one teaches writing about grief or trauma, which we both do. I mean, we’re not doing counseling sessions here. How do you take care of yourself in the face of all that pain? We ask our students to write about places that hurt. How do we make that separation from drowning in other people’s very legitimate issues when we can’t live this way all the time – we can’t just keep our eyes on that pain constantly.

MD:                     Yeah. It’s a really tricky balance. I can’t spend 5 and 6 hours inside my students’ words the way I used to. I have to do it in smaller chunks.

JH:                       As teachers, and also as witness to other peoples’ pain through their writing, how do we parcel this out, break things into chunks? I work really hard to do that. I also make sure that students know that I’m not a therapist. It’s like – I understand how you feel, believe me, but I’m not here to be your therapist and to have you rant and rave about that time that you or so and so did that thing. We’re in an interesting quandary with this, I think. We want to allow students their own truth, and give them space for their voice, but I can’t let a writing course become group therapy. It can’t be a place where they just vent and process. I don’t know about you. I just make that distinction very, very clear in every class. How do you do this?

MD:                     It’s a little bit different for me, because I am a therapist. But when I’m teaching writing, I’m not primarily in there as a therapist, and the writing courses aren’t therapy. One of the things you and I do, in our respective courses and workshops, is make these really safe spaces. We make these containers to hold so much pain, so much grief, so much story. Even without it becoming group therapy, how do you care for yourself in that? How do you care for yourself, being the one who maintains the container for others?

I moved to a new state last year, and I’m meeting all these new people. These new people ask me what I do, and I tell them I write, teach, and counsel on out of order death – accidents and illnesses that shouldn’t happen. Their faces fall. They stammer for a moment, and then invariably say things like, “I couldn’t do that. How do you listen to that all day long?” That’s a legitimate question. What do you do as a holder of space?

JH:                       I’ve asked my therapist this too, about her job, and her life, when you listen to people all day long, some of whom make you crazy and some of whom really resonate with you – how do you go home and not take it out on your partner, your dog, your cat, yourself? Honestly, I forgot what she told me. I don’t know. How do I do it? I make very sure in workshop that people understand that we’re here to talk about the craft of writing: to work with the sentences, the metaphors. I have to repeat that a lot, depending on the people in the workshop. Sometimes I find that the thing that really hits the hardest is when we do a free write, or we do something where they dig really deep. They come up from that writing and they’re a little shaken. That’s fine. That’s what I want. If people cry or if they go oh my God I didn’t realize that this was about that, that’s good. I use time for people to step out, to take breaks once they’ve found something deep. I’ve found that everybody who’s in these writing workshops is very helpful and comforting to each other, but they respect the limits of the space.

In most cases people come to me wanting to write, but I have had some people who seem to come to me needing an ear. And you and I have some different roles, but that’s not what I’m really there for. It’s not a place for processing grief itself. I’ve been in one situation where I’ve asked someone to leave. In a polite way I had to say, “I don’t think you’re ready for this right now.” Just because we’re writing about grief doesn’t mean this is the place for all of your grief. We’re talking about writing. I teach writing.

I think if I keep pushing that, and making those parameters really clear, that helps me and it helps them. Particularly if I’ve got ten people and nine of them want to write, but one just needs to cry or process. They are very appreciative of my holding that space, keeping it well-boundaried and focused on the craft. It helps me too because… well, just recently I was reading again from Invisible Sisters. I’ve gotten used to reading from it, but because my mom just died a year and a half ago, the section where I talk about what would happen when my parents age suddenly became newly difficult. Here my mother is gone, she’s already aged, and died. That passage in Invisible Sisters became hard to read. My work still affects me. So to do it, to read it without falling into my own actual sadness, I create a hologram of myself in my head. Does that make sense?

MD:                     Absolutely.

JH:                       It’s the person, it’s a performative me as opposed to the me, me.

MD:                     Yeah, there’s a hybrid there where what you’re speaking is true and it’s your truth. You view it from a practiced distance so you can use your voice. In a sense, you have to step out of the story so you can tell the story. Continue Reading…

feminism, Girl Power: You Are Enough, Guest Posts, Women

Yes To Women. Post Lidia Yuknavitch & Jen Pastiloff’s Writing & The Body Retreat.

September 23, 2015

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 info@jenniferpastiloff.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.

And then.

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. Continue Reading…

Binders, Guest Posts, Relationships, Sex

Meditations on Desire

September 23, 2015

By Caroline Kessler

 

It scares me sometimes how automatic my body is. When I get too drunk, body takes me home, puts my hands and face under warm water, plucks my contacts from my eyes. Sometimes body remembers to brush my teeth but not always.

They’ll tell you that drinking will kill your liver and that’s probably true but not-drinking will kill a different part of you. Not drinking means I don’t get the stories like when I was studying in India or working in Poland or daydreaming on a train through Hungary—the stories of meeting someone new, picking them up, having them pick me up.

The drinking will say, go for it! Do it all, it doesn’t matter, you charming thing. The drinking will say you’ve never looked this gorgeous, your hair all crazy and your dress all short. For a while, the drinking makes me sharp but then it makes me slow. Slow tongue in my mouth, thick against my teeth, words clanking around like cans in a gutter.

_________

One summer during college, I live in Warsaw, where I have an airy studio apartment all to myself and I can walk to my non-profit job. It is the first time I have ever lived alone and I bask in doing whatever I want.

There is a bar near my apartment frequented by ex-pats, which is where I first meet Daniel. We mumble through an attempt at an introduction: bardzo mi miło / nice to meet you. I give in and switch to English and it turns out he’s fluent and half-Jewish, nearly six feet tall but with bad posture so he doesn’t tower over me. He wears a black motorcycle jacket although he doesn’t drive a motorcycle. We don’t talk about our Jewishness but it is there, the wandering-exiled-questioning-impulse.

His speech is strange, full of language from all the other places he’s lived, Miami and Glasgow and Aalborg. He says what’s the crack? as a greeting and throws around that hurts like silver teeth a lot. When I find out his first language is Danish, I make him speak to me, enjoying the flawless music of it, even though I don’t understand a thing. While he talks, I wonder if I could be with someone who wasn’t able to speak their first language with me—would we ever truly understand each other?

After six years of medical school in Warsaw, he claims he has only learned useless Polish. What could be useless? I say. Let me listen to your lungs, his voice emerges over the din of the bar, first in Polish, then in English. Pozwól mi słuchać płuc. I study his broad shoulders and slight belly, his dark jeans and shiny European shoes. He is attractive enough, I decide. This is the moment when everything shifts.

We leave the bar for a nearby fountain, a block of quiet, because I said I was tired of being in the bar and he is going along with what I’m saying, how I’m gesturing. We decide to keep drinking. He ducks into a small store and I wait outside, feeling too indecisive to be surrounded by merchandise in a language I can’t read. He emerges with a plastic bag nearly breaking with beer bottles. I try to give him a few folded złotys but he refuses, waving them away like it’s silly I’m even offering. We settle near the burbling water. I got a sampler, he says, because you should try a bunch while you’re here this summer.

We keep talking, and he drinks quickly, picking up his third beer while I’m still on my first. The drinking urges me onward: this will make things easier. When he pauses, I put my hand to his breastbone, trying to figure out where his lungs are, huge and honeycombed.

Later, when we are in bed, I put my ear to his chest. Pozwól mi słuchać płuc. I say to his cavernous face, open your mouth. Turn over. He does—and then, he lifts me off of him, pushes my arms open until I am airborne.

Early the next morning, on the tram heading back to my apartment, tiny purse resting in my lap, the sun is blinding. I press my shoulders into the crease of the window. What am I doing? I ask the looming H&M billboards, the massive Palace of Culture and Science, the plastic orange seats in front of me.

_________

After college, I move to San Francisco and I meet so many men. They are everywhere, in their flannel button-downs and hooded sweatshirts, on their bikes or in their cars. I feel surrounded by masculinity. One night, my friend E. and I are at Zeitgeist in the Mission, having abandoned our guy friends we were with earlier that night, at a Shabbat dinner. We sip beers at the only open table, which is near the speaker, so we have to shout over the punk music.

She tells me about the different people she’s dating, the co-worker she’s in love with, her housemate who she “loves” and is moving out soon and I’m curious—so what do you really want? I shout.

Her eyes open wide, so genuine. I just want to love someone, she shouts back. The desire is the hands on a watch, pointing directly to the hour, minute, second.

Continue Reading…

Binders, Guest Posts, motherhood

In My House

September 22, 2015

By Stephanie Land

When we moved to Montana, Jesse stopped calling Mia for months. We had our own place in this old house next to downtown and we’d go for walks to the park and the river. Then he called to say he’d moved to Portland and had a new job which meant regular paychecks. He said a judge would make me move to Portland if I tried to get more child support. He said the money they garnished from his pay and sent to me kept him from living his life the way he wanted. It kept him from pursuing his dream of opening a bicycle shop. It kept him from cross country bike trips. He made over a thousand a week and I got seventy-five. He called and said he couldn’t afford her visit that summer. He couldn’t figure out how to pay for childcare and feed her and pay support and pay rent. He’d told her he’d buy a big girl bike and teach her how to ride on two wheels. The training wheels stayed on her bike at home. I couldn’t convince her to try.

When we moved into our new apartment last fall, I gave her the big bedroom. She hung pictures of her dad all over the walls. She’d done this in the past, hanging the one in the red frame in particular. The one where we’re both smiling in our hooded sweatshirts. He has his arm around me and I’m leaning in. Mia’s sitting in my lap, looking at us. I might be imagining it, but I can see the uncertainty on her four-month-old face. We’d just come from another useless counseling appointment where Jesse confessed he wasn’t attracted to me. He said it like that, out loud, in front of another person. He said he kept seeing this girl riding her bike around town. The girl was skinny and shorter and had a style of dress that he liked and he wanted to be with her. Not me. “The girl on the bike” would be his new phrase. As in “you’re not the girl on the bike.” As in “I want the girl on the bike.” I’d leave the picture where Mia hung it for a while before I moved it back to a slightly hidden somewhere by her bed. Continue Reading…