Browsing Tag

grandfather

Guest Posts

When Love is a Prayer Only Partially Answered

August 17, 2015

By Laura Kiesel

The love of my life so far was not the man I spent nearly a decade of my life with, from my early twenties through my early thirties–the one who went with me to my mother’s memorial service and then only a few months later stood beside me by my grandmother’s deathbed and then held my hand at her funeral. It wasn’t the man who accompanied me to surgery and then fainted while watching a nurse prick me with a needle for a blood sample, sending an army of medical staff into the room who collectively shoved me off my gurney so they could place my unconscious boyfriend there and feed him oxygen.

No, the love of my life was not the man who told me in the sunset year of our relationship that he would never marry me and from whom I finally moved on.

The love of my life was instead the man who picked me up from my grandfather’s funeral five months later one balmy August afternoon in eastern Long Island.

It was my grandparents who really raised me, so essentially my grandfather was my last true parent. He was also the only one who partook in my rearing who never called me a curse word or raised a hand to me, the one who made sure I never starved.

After the rest of the funeral procession left, I sat alone on a stone bench in a lacy black dress with a sweetheart neckline that was slightly too sultry for a funeral, but that I couldn’t resist wearing to impress the man I had spent so many years pining after. I knew my grandfather wouldn’t have minded. He had always been very fond of Brian, referring to him as my “very nice gentleman friend.”

I hadn’t spoken to Brian in about eight years. It was my ex who unwittingly brought Brian back to me, by finding and returning an old journal of mine that had been slated for the recycling bin after I moved out of the apartment we shared for several years. Scribbled in the back of that journal was Brian’s old address, his parent’s address. I sent a postcard in the mail and three days later he called me.

We started speaking on the phone again every night, as though no time had passed. Brian begged me to visit him, but I didn’t think I could find the time, nor was I sure it was a smart idea. Yet very soon after, as if my grandfather had willed our reunion himself, he died and was buried in the veteran’s cemetery the next town over from where Brian lived.

Brian and I met my senior year at college shortly after he transferred in as a junior. In him, I instantly recognized something kindred. We were both foreigners even in our native towns, individuals marked by melancholy, our souls too soft to take society’s callousness for any extended period. Yet every time I dropped heavy hints about my feelings, Brian evaded me or changed the subject, making it clear he didn’t share them.

Instead, I forced myself to focus on men who actually returned my romantic affections, eventually losing my virginity to someone else that year. But even then, Brian was the one I would always write bad poetry about when I returned to my dorm room.

Brian and I actually didn’t become very close until I had already finished school.

The summer after I graduated from university I was caught up in some sort of surreal post-partum. Having given birth to a Bachelor’s degree and not knowing what I should do next, I instead sulked around the small college town singing my post-BA blues to anyone who would listen. But Brian’s ear was the one I sought out the most, in his little shack on campus where he signed out tennis rackets to posh post-grads for his summer job. I would visit him almost every day, sitting for hours on a metal folding chair and sweating inside that little shack as it baked under the searing July sun. During that time we also traded books and CDs, and talked about our fears and frustrations, about what we wanted for our futures.

When fall arrived, I decided to postpone my plans to move to Massachusetts until after the New Year. Brian and I spent many mornings and evenings at the diner those months, devouring pancakes and milkshakes, with him always picking up the tab with his father’s credit card. At night, we would joyride into the mountains and back into the village and then sit parked in his car, sharing stories with our faces backlit by streetlamps and an icy sliver of moon.

It was Brian who helped me move my meager belongings from New Paltz to Amherst. After he finished bringing my heavier stuff into my new apartment we sat side by side in his Jeep where he sighed sadly.

“I can’t believe you’re really leaving me,” he said.

But he did not ask me to stay.

I was worried the distance would cause our friendship to fade, but we became even closer after my move, our daily talks on the phone as much a given as the sun rising. He called them his creature comfort and later on, when his depression became so bad he needed to move back home and go on heady mix of medication, he said it was one of the few things that kept him sane.

The first time he told me he loved me (as a friend, of course), we had already known each other for over two years. He sang Sea of Love over the phone to comfort me while I wept bitterly over a rejection from a PhD program.

My sobs softened to nothing. For several seconds after he finished the singing, all that could be heard over the line was the both of us breathing.

“I love you, Laurie,” he finally said.

There were only a few people in my life who had ever called me Laurie. My grandparents, a couple of close friends from high school, my ex and Brian.

When Brian pulled up to the cemetery gates the day of my grandfather’s funeral, I barely recognized him. He was over a hundred pounds heavier and had a grizzled beard. As I settled into shotgun, I felt my heart sink in my chest in disappointment. Maybe the spark inside me for him had died after all.

We drove along in relative silence until we passed a fruit stand and he asked if I wanted an apple, to which I snorted a derisive no.

“No fruit for Laurie,” he said with a wink. And then, referring to my once infamously insatiable sweet tooth: “We need some pancakes…with some fudge on them.”

I laughed for the first time since my grandfather died and immediately fell in love with him all over again.

A few nights before the funeral, Brian had called me while drunk and declared that one of his biggest regrets was that we had never dated in college, that not a week went by where he did not ponder my whereabouts and the path his life might have taken had we wound up together.

“I’m available now,” I said.

We started dating–if dating is what you can call near-nightly episodes of hushed phone sex followed by frenzied declarations of love. Considering the millions of minutes of our lives spent on the phone with each other, I suppose it’s fitting that this was how we consummated our romantic relationship. By the time he visited Boston and we finally kissed for the first time, Brian knew my desires more intimately than any other lover ever had.

In her poem Admonitions to a Special Person, Anne Sexton wrote “To love another is something like prayer and can’t be planned, you just fall into its arms because your belief undoes your disbelief.”

And so it was with us: I submitted more fully to the force of our love than I ever had to anything. Continue Reading…

Family, Guest Posts

The Investigation

June 21, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Melissa Barker

“Mother, do you see these ‘tars’ up in the dark sky?”

“Yes, dear.”

“I think God is very kind to put little ‘tars’ in the dark sky for us to see.”

Ethel B., “The Mother’s Book”, February, 1912

 

August, 2000

The stars were obscured the night we put my Grandfather’s ashes into the ocean.  A scrim of cloud was pulled over the sky.  We made our way down the path choked with sea grass, pummeled by wind, hunched, three of his children now ragged in their own middle-age. His two youngest children were missing.  The twins, my father and his brother, their lives a pattern of twining and unwinding, had both fallen deep into the rabbit-hole of addiction as their father grew still, leaving their sister the burden of care.  Then my father and his twin fled overseas to put themselves back together.

The third generation was also present:  my cousins and I, a whole strand of us, a few spouses, and even a few children, the fourth generation.  There were fifteen of us in the third generation, all of us adolescents and young adults, the youngest nineteen, the oldest, if he were still alive, would be nearing forty.  Most of us showed up to try to dredge up some kind of uncomplicated emotion. Shouldn’t we have felt sad?  A few of my older cousins tried, lifting their heads up into the night, telling stories, but most of us couldn’t find anything to say.  The emotion was so complicated that it became dumbed down, numbed out, and when we lifted fists full of our Grandfather’s ashes and they swirled around us, unwilling to blow down to the ocean and dissipate, insisting on stinging our eyes and dusting our hair, I felt nothing.

He was mostly harmless to us, once removed.  By the time we knew him, he was bent over a cane, his bald head crusted with patches of keratosis that clung to his scalp like barnacles.  But even in this incarnation he possessed the ability to wield his full grown children this way and that, together, against one another, a grown-up version of playing dolls or putting children in a basement and forcing them to fight, the difference being, as adults, they could no longer feel the strings.  Now they moved under the illusion of their own volition.  By the time my Grandfather died, my father and my favorite aunt were no longer speaking to one another.  My father abandoned his whole family while his father was dying.  He disappeared into the ether of addiction and then he went across the world to put himself back together. This was part of the fall-out. Continue Reading…

Binders, cancer, Family, Guest Posts

Of Mice and Snow.

February 6, 2015

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By Mackenzie Cox.

It’s strange to think that Papa had sixty-five years of a life before me, because in my life, he was the fourth person to hold me.

Dad.

Mom.

My sister.

Papa.

Since he died, I’ve mourned as if I were some other person. I don’t really feel grief until it’s all consuming.

It’s a strange kind of yearning; not necessarily wanting my grandfather back, but more, being sad that he was ever cold, or lonely or hungry.

But above all, I mourn for a piece of himself he lost in France.

In the snow.

He had just turned eighteen when he was drafted into World War II. He wore glasses and weighed one hundred thirty pounds. Within two years, Papa was awarded a Purple Heart and a medal for “Courage Under Fire.” He was one of 500,000 American soldiers in the Battle of the Bulge, which put him in the city of Ardennes, France.

When I was little and learned that Papa had been in a war, I asked if he had killed anyone. He told me:

“Oh, hon, with the glasses I had to wear, I couldn’t see two feet in front of me. I had no idea what I was shooting at.”

Years later, I was reading Night by Elie Wiesel. Papa and I always talked about books. When I mentioned this one, he said something along the lines of,

“Those poor devils, they looked like skeletons.”

“Were you there?” I asked.

“I watched them come down from the hill,” he said. As to which hill, which concentration camp, I have no idea. I wish I had asked, but the way my grandpa looked, suddenly sunken into himself, his arms folded over his belly, I knew he wanted to change the subject. I loved him, so I did.

I do know that the American military liberated four camps. The one closest to the Battle of the Bulge was Buchenwald. It’s an alien feeling, imagining that my grandfather was one of the men to liberate Buchenwald. He would have been nineteen.

I want to ask him, “What happens to your soul Papa, in places like that? Did your innocence fall off of you? Or did it melt away with the snow?”

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being.

 

*

My soul, my innocence, shattered. I stood in pediatric oncology with my family. I heard the doctors tell my sister that my 2-year-old niece had cancer. The sky above me cracked, gave way. It fell in sharp, dagger-like pieces exposing a black void. Unfair and untimely death was suddenly real. My niece was hooked up to an IV with chemicals dripping into her tiny body. I held the pieces of sky in my hands, not sure what to do with them.

My sister’s baby.

Gone. My naiveté. My innocence.

At some point, it happens to all of us.

*

Papa and I had one of those relationships where we just gravitated towards each other. We were amazed by each other. We adored each other. In every picture we are in, one of us is staring at the other, smiling.

He was there for every holiday, every birthday, every big moment. He had my first essay titled “Papa’s Dumb Boat” framed. He hung it on his home office wall, along with my other achievements, like the ceramic plate I colored in preschool. He titled the plate “A Vision in Purple” and displayed it, also, in his office. It’s like he’d been waiting for me and couldn’t believe we had found each other in this life. He always greeted me by saying, “There she is!”

*

My best friend called me. His voice was almost indiscernible. I rushed out of Geology lecture. Any strange number on my phone almost always turned out to be Sean, calling from Iraq. He was one of many Marines deployed during the Iraqi War.

Through sobs, he told me his friend had just died in his lap. Whatever Papa lost in French snow, Sean lost in Iraqi sand. I curled up in the corner of the hallway, mourning with him.

My best friend.

My brother.

“He looked just like me,” he said. “It could have been me. Same haircut. Same uniform. Mac, there wasn’t a difference between us, except that I was next to him.”

He would have been killed if he had stood one foot to the left. Just one foot to the left. It was gone. I was there with Sean. I wish I could have been there with Papa.

*

I couldn’t have been more than four. Grammy was making dinner. Papa had carried me upstairs to where Grammy kept her collectable mice.

They were simple. Just little cloth mice. I was only allowed to play with them if Papa played with me.

Papa would let me pick a few to play with and we would lie flat on the bright orange carpet and act out silly, mice-like stories together. Playing with Papa was special. He changed voices for each mouse and created dramatic plot lines that were appropriate for the costumes the little collectables were wearing. If it was a pirate mouse, Papa would say ‘shiver me timbers’ while covering one eye. If it was a mama mouse, she would be kind and attentive. Always running around the other mice asking how their day was. Afterwards we would eat dinner and watch the only movie I had at their house: Tiny Toons Summer Vacation.

When I graduated from college, Papa and Grammy picked out the mice with which I’d played with the most and sent them to me along with Tiny Toons Summer Vacation, as a graduation present. Eighteen years later, he still remembered.

That routine we had was special to him and he knew it was special to me too. We were special to each other.

*

There is a place. Some of us have it. My husband calls it a spider web. You feel something touch your web and it shakes your world. Your dreams go surreal and you wake up tired because you feel like you were out there doing something. You have the wind knocked out of you. You fall. You smell things that aren’t around you. When Sean collapsed in Iraq from exhaustion, I collapsed in my parent’s driveway from nothing. When a taxi hit my husband I went home from work with a blinding migraine. My life. Call it what you will. This is a part of me. People to whom I am close somehow ‘trip’ my web.

It works both ways.

People find me. Something inside me that’s deep and old recognizes them. The ones who find me tend to be very, very ancient souls. They find me. And we hold hands. For days, they stay in my head. No drugs, no weird séances or prayers needed. If I’m trying to reach someone, though, it helps if I am in that in-between space of awake and asleep.

It’s not a place for the living to be. It’s a place of echoes and memories. You can slip into a memory to talk to a friend, a relative, living or dead. But if you’re going back to the corporeal world, you only have a little bit of time before you must return.

*

It took Papa two years to die from lung cancer. One day in January 2014, Dad texted me from Papa’s hospice bed, letting me know that ‘it’ was finally close. Still, he wouldn’t let go. For days, we waited. He grew weaker, holding on. Waiting. I had visited two weeks prior. Papa and I had held hands and spoken a few words. But the person in the bed, the skinny person with a slowing brain wasn’t my grandpa. The grandpa I knew was always reading a book, doing a chore, eating too many sweets. This frail, skinny person, I simply did not know.

He was past his time. I asked Dad if they needed me. He told me to stay put. He said,

“Sweetie, he’s not here anymore. You stay where you are. Concentrate on school. I love you. We’ll have a wake or something in a year.” My family and I are not religious people. The most important thing to us was that Papa found peace. That his ashes were next to Grammy’s.

So we waited.

I didn’t sleep for days. I wanted Papa to find peace. I was feeling that deep hurt, when you know someone you love is suffering. I sat down to rest my eyes. I had to reach him. I had to tell him that he could go. In that place, where we are all connected, we can find each other. I could find him. I could see him. I could tell him to let go. I closed my eyes and searched.

*

I knew where he would be. He would be at our convenience store. When I was tiny and he was younger, we would go there, sit on our favorite bench, eat vanilla ice cream on cones and talk about what the clouds looked like. My feet wouldn’t touch the ground yet and I’d be wearing a baseball cap my dad had hurriedly shoved my hair underneath.

I found myself like that again. I found myself in Jelly Shoes and a frilly, white summer dress. I found myself unable to touch the ground with my feet.

I heard him.

He called to me from the parking lot.

“Hey! There she is!” He clapped his hands once before opening his arms wide, waiting for the flying leap. I gave it my all because it had been a long time since I was four and I missed being held by him. We hugged tight. The clock was ticking. I couldn’t hold my four-year-old form for long.

By the time Papa put me down I was already a preteen with dark eye makeup. Somehow he had dark hair. I had never seen him with dark hair.

He was getting younger while I got older. He was closer to death, to being born again, while I was still somewhere in the middle.

“You need to go,” I said through tears. It was just us, outside the store with the setting sun turning the sky orange and yellow.

“Oh, I’m fine, hon,” he told me.

I told him he wasn’t fine. That he was getting worse. I told him what he was living in; grown-up diapers, a nursing home and that Grammy was already gone. I told him his skin was paper-thin and he couldn’t even hold a toothbrush. I told him it wasn’t going to improve.

“You have to go. You need to leave.”

He just had to make that final leap. He needed to understand. I couldn’t hold my form any longer. The living, the truly living, are not allowed in that place, that web, for long.

He assured me he would go, but not quite yet.

He was getting younger than I had ever seen him, his 30’s, his 20’s. I changed height, weight, gained years, lost years, trying to stay with him. He held me tight over his large belly, which for some reason never shrank.

He hugged me at every age I have ever been.

He hugged my life.

When we let go, he was old again, getting older. The web was shaking, vibrating. A spider was approaching. It was time to go.

“Please Papa, you need to go soon. You’re not happy. I know you don’t want to, but please, let go! Don’t be afraid. I’ll love you forever.”

“I’ll go soon. I’m so proud of you, sweetie.” I told myself not to reach for him, to not make a move or cry because that might make him stay longer for me. I couldn’t stop my arms from reaching out anyway.

The spider grabbed me. It had me by the ankles and was dragging me back to the world where my real body was. I was twenty-six. Papa was old again. His white hair was back, along with his favorite grey sweatshirt and jeans. He walked heavily back to our bench, to watch a final sunset and imagine pictures in the clouds. Maybe he wanted to remember me the way I used to be, one last time.

*

When I was in in high school I wrote an essay called “The King of Clouds.” It was the last essay of mine Papa had framed in his office. Every time we spoke he would look at it, and tell me he was reading it. He loved reading about the clouds even though we had lived it together.

“Just beautiful, Mac. Just beautiful.” He meant the writing. Before he died, I received a letter from him containing a check for thirty thousand dollars. In painful, scratchy handwriting he scrawled, “This is for your school. I am very, very proud of you and I love you a bunch. Merry Xmas. Papa.”

There’s a reason why this was so profound to me. All through my childhood my grandma would re-gift me. I’d get a sweatshirt obviously too small for her. My favorite stuffed animal, Tiger, is only mine because Grammy gave it to my sister, who turned it down. Grammy wrapped it back up and gave it to me the following year.

Papa, on the other hand, snuck me Barnes and Noble gift cards.

He bought me books.

And school.

Reading and writing. He knew me. He knew me before I knew me. With Grammy gone, and Papa on his deathbed he was finally able to do what he had been waiting for: to give me everything I wanted. He was my King of Clouds.

*

I woke up to Mom calling my cell phone. I was back in my body, exhausted, puffy eyed. She told me,

“Papa died early this morning.” I told her I knew, because I did.

“I found him, Mom.”

“Did you?”

“I told him he could go.”

“I’m glad, sweetie. He was waiting for you.”

Was he really? He had said he was going to go soon. I found him at night and he died in the early morning. Someone else must have taken him the rest of the way to wherever we go. Whatever our souls turn into.

Who was he waiting for?

He was my fourth person.

Dad.

Mom.

My sister.

Him. I would have been waiting for him. Were his first three people already gone? Maybe he was waiting for others. Others I never knew because I only knew him as a beloved grandfather. I didn’t know him for most of his life.

*

Grammy passed away first. Papa and I stood at the threshold leading to my grandmother’s wake. We were holding hands. Maybe he offered to escort me. Maybe I held my hand out for him. Or maybe we had just been holding hands. My husband opened the doors for us, my cousins followed awkwardly. But it was him and me. The pair of us. Together.

He allowed me to lead him through the crowd of people. Old women in black approached my Grandpa, saying the usual things.

“God’s plan.”

“She was so special.”

“We’re so sorry.”

To each of them, he held up my hand, showing them how much love and support he had and said, “I’m in good hands.”

He was.

*

I mourn in the most honest way I can. My mind understands that he was old. He had lung cancer. This was expected and not a tragedy. This was a natural passing of life. I tell myself that, and a large black cavity that masquerades as anxiety grows inside of my chest. It isn’t until I’m closing in on a panic attack that I realize I need to cry.

I hope the person who saw his innocence melt away in French snow was there to take him the rest of the way. Who saw him after I did? Who did he wait on our bench for?

It’s moments like that, moments I wasn’t there for that make me selfishly jealous of anyone who ever knew him before I did.

I want to find him, so many years ago, shivering in French snow, stinking of piss and blood. I want to find him and hold his hand and let him know that no matter what he sees, no matter the repercussions, he’ll be a great grandpa. That after he sees those poor devils come down from that hill, after he suffers in a hospital, receives medals for it and lives for another forty years, he’ll have a granddaughter. And they’ll ‘play mice’ together.

I want to be there with him.

Be cold with him.

Be afraid with him.

But I can’t. He wouldn’t know to look for me there. It’s not where our story started. I envy the person who was special enough to take him the rest of the way. I mourn for the bits and pieces of him I never met. Never will meet. I mourn for the pieces that fell off of him along the way.

Somewhere in the snow.

Mackenzie Cox is an MFA candidate at the University of California, Riverside.

 

Join Jen Pastiloff, the founder of The Manifest-Station, in The Berkshires of Western Massachusetts in Feb of 2015 for a weekend on being human. It involves writing and some yoga. In a word: it's magical.

Join Jen Pastiloff, the founder of The Manifest-Station, in The Berkshires of Western Massachusetts in Feb of 2015 for a weekend on being human. It involves writing and some yoga. In a word: it’s magical.

 

Join Jen Pastiloff in Atlanta March 8th. Click the photo above.

Join Jen Pastiloff in Atlanta March 8th. Click the photo above.

Featured image courtesy of: paraflyer 

 

death, Family, Guest Posts

Little Black Dress: A Resurrection.

January 28, 2015

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By Amy Tsaykel.

In the midst of a glaring summer, I see only black. I’m striding through aisles of colorful, racked clothing that normally might provide hours of distraction—but today I am focused. Not even my girlfriend who part-times at the outlet mall can regale me with her usual gossip. I’m on a mission, I explain, for a funeral dress.

I must be absolutely perfect for my grandfather.

Granddad was 91 years old when he decided to stop treatments for leukemia. Precisely according to his wishes, hospice was called, along with the longtime family minister and his five children. We all agreed that he was lucky to pass so quickly. Grace, dignity, and good fortune—the hallmarks of Granddad’s life—reigned until the very end.

Mom called me to deliver the news and was, amid her mourning, surprisingly pragmatic. She and her siblings had (per their father’s wishes) already been sorting his belongings. What did I want, she asked: hand tools? whiskey tumblers? One of his paintings?

“Clothes,” I replied, without hesitation. Why?

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being.

Continue Reading…

death, Guest Posts, loss

Feeling My First Goodbye

January 20, 2015

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By Alana Saltz.

I wasn’t sure my grandfather was going to be aware of what was going on when I read to him from my novel. As I share the words I’ve written, he laughs at my narrator’s self-deprecating humor twice, and that’s how I know that he understands me. After I finish, he struggles to find the words to tell me what the story is about.

“The girl is very…it’s…very internal. It’s mel…mel…”

My sister and I take guesses at what he’s trying to say. Melancholy? Melodic? He shakes his head no. I never find out because he trails off and stares up at the ceiling. I hear the churning of the oxygen machine, see the silent face of Clifford on the TV screen, the show on mute.

Finally, just when we think he’s asleep again, he says, “You have a gift with words.”

I smile and say, “Thank you.”

Three hours later, I’m sitting in the front lobby of the hospice, watching the sun set over snow-covered roofs and bare trees. I’m thinking about how my grandpa barely knew me, only saw me once or twice a year when I visited St. Louis, yet he supported my dream to tell stories and have them heard. He helped me pay for grad school so I could study writing. But I’d never shown him any of my work until today.

There’s a whir of sliding doors behind me. Murmurs of nurses and patients down the hall. Clean couches, bright lights, my mother beside me talking to someone on the phone and complaining about his treatment, the sky dimmer, deeper, darker.

Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Inspiration, Men

Dear Me: A Beautiful Letter To A Man’s Younger Self.

November 21, 2014

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By Peter Tóth.

Hi Peter,

It’s me, your 36 year old self.

How are you doing?

I’m writing to you from Nottingham, UK. Yeah, I know, you might want to ask how did I get here. But that’s not important. I’m here as a result of many decisions, almost all of them still unmade by you.

It’s shortly before 7 in the morning and I’m sitting on a George Street bus stop, waiting for the Nottingham City Transport bus line number 10, going to Ruddington, where I work. You haven’t really worked yet and I cannot lie to you that it’s always great, but work is good, it will be good for you. You’ll meet many people at work and/or while working. People are good. It takes an effort to convince myself of that sometimes, but I truly believe they are.

But I’m not writing this letter to tell you what I’m doing, what you’ll be doing in 20 years time, because even if you would somehow read this letter, you probably wouldn’t become exactly who I am now anyway, as you would hopefully read this carefully and you will avoid some mistakes that I have made. Although it’s these mistakes that got me where I am, doing what I do and I neither can, nor I want to complain about it, so let’s cut this hypothetical bullshit of what would, or wouldn’t be.

I won’t be telling you what to do and what not to, what I decided to tell you is this: Whatever you’ll be doing, just enjoy it more, enjoy it as much as you can. I’m looking back and I don’t think I regret doing anything. I also don’t regret not doing anything. But what I regret is not fully enjoying what I was doing while I was doing it. Not being completely present, focused. Not paying attention. Not being in love with what was surrounding me, not being in love with what’s within myself.

Continue Reading…

Beating Fear with a Stick, Fear, Jen Pastiloff

There Is Never A Right Time For Anything.

December 5, 2013

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By Jen Pastiloff.

My grandfather’s mother was raped by her stepfather or uncle (no one can really be sure) when she was fourteen. They lived in rural Illinois, and, at fourteen years old she had her first baby, my grandfather’s brother Sonny. A year later she had my grandfather, Donald. I’m sure it wasn’t a good time to have a baby, either one of them, yet she did, and my grandfather is still alive, plugging along. No one was any worse for the wear. She then had another son, George, a few years after my grandfather.

Never a good time.

There’s never really a good time for anything. There’s always going to be something. Something in the way, someone coming to visit. Someone leaving, someone showing up, the weather, the football game. your mother. Death. Whatever it is, there will always be something saying Wait! This isn’t right! Do it later. Not now. Now is not a good time. Now is bad.

And yet. And still.

She was fifteen and a mother to two babies in Effingham, Illinois and I am sure she didn’t say This is a good time to be a mother. She was raped and no longer a child. It was 1925 and what was she supposed to do? My great grandfather married her, a pregnant fourteen year old, and they started a life.

And they started a life.

That’s what it’s all about isn’t it? Starting a life. Sometimes you find yourself in the midst of one and you think I don’t remember starting this, yet here I am and sometimes you literally have to wake up and say It’s time. Despite everything pointing south, I must go north.

People keep asking me how I did it. How I went from A to B, from waitressing and being stuck for so many years to doing what I do now? I woke up and decided I’d had enough and despite the timing being utterly horrible, I was going to go for it. And even though I had no idea what it was, and some days I am still not sure, I kept rising to the coffee pot and looking into the cup and you know what? It spoke. It said things like What are you doing? Who do you think you are? And you know what I did? I gulped it down quickly and drank cup after cup until it stopped talking and I no longer had to hush it. If it did decide to speak again, I would ask it Who do you think you are, asshole? I am bigger than you. You don’t exist. You don’t get to tell me what I can do. I created you in my imagination. And then finally the coffee started agreeing with me as if it saw the sense in what I was saying. Sometimes it was the eggs who spoke or the wine or the customer at the restaurant but always it was I who got to choose who I listened to regarding my life and my own personal clock.

The timing is never right.

Don’t believe me? Go ahead and name some perfect times for things. There’s always going to be a something in the way and it’s always going to be up to you if you swallow the coffee or just stare into it like it has something to say about this or that.

There will be people, too. People will remind you how bad things are and how bad of a time this is. Much like the coffee or the eggs, you have to look those people in the eye and say You may be right but I am going to do this anyway. And if you decide not to, which is ever as much your right, just make sure it’s because of what you want to do and not what the coffee and eggs want you to do. Sometimes you have to think of the other people as coffee and eggs or you would never get anything done, you’d be so busy listening to their mouthless, albumen, over-caffeinated voices.

I have often thought that the timing of the earth is off. Maybe I have just experienced too much death for someone so young and the only way to justify such loss is by explaining it away with a problem in the earth’s rhythm and cadence.

Maybe it’s like everything else. Maybe it’s the coffee and the eggs and everything else.

Maybe the timing is always just right and it’s up to us to decide if we keep going or not. I’ll take mine sunny side-up, please. Coffee black.

My grandfather’s youngest brother George had a wife named Bernice who had been a longtime employee of General Electric. George, in the words of my grandfather, had been a con artist. Of course my grandfather clarified that he was joking. Duly noted Pop, I said. Got it. A joke. Bernice got a nice pension from GE when she retired and with it she bought George a new Dodge Dakota pickup truck. This was in 1997. I had just moved back to California and dropped out of college, although at the time I was calling it taking a semester off even though I think I knew somewhere in the knowing part of me that I would never return to NYU. Something would always come up. The timing was never “right” to go back.

Bernice bought George the truck and he’d decided to take it out onto the country roads. My grandfather specified country roads, not highway which made me think of that James Taylor song, Country Road.

I guess my feet know where they want me to go

Walking on a country road.

Take to the highway won’t you lend me your name

Your way and my way seem to be one and the same, child

Mamma don’t understand it

She wants to know where I’ve been

I’d have to be some kind of natural born fool

To want to pass that way again

But I could feel it

On a country road.

My grandfather’s brother George had been at a stop sign in big new truck when some other guy in a truck (they knew each other, it was a country road and all) plowed into him and sent his new Dodge Dakota into an embankment. His neck snapped and he died. Just like that. Six months later Bernice died when she had a hemorrhage in her groin and the hospital couldn’t stop it.

Never a good time.

Although I think it might have been. Probably better that she went right after him and, most likely, inevitable.

My grandmother died two years ago and the last year of her life she spent on a used hospital bed in their dark living room in South Philadelphia. She couldn’t walk up the stairs to go to the bathroom so she and my grandfather spent nearly a year without moving from that front room off the kitchen.  All the bathrooms in the old South Philly row houses are upstairs, which I find oddly private- you’re walking in on something holy like dirty laundry and toothbrushes. These rickety old stairs lead up to the bathroom and the whole house watches you go like you’re leaving for a trip. I’m just going to pee guys. It’s okay.

After she died, my grandfather still kept that makeshift hospital bed in the living room and used it as storage for over a year. Never a good time. There’s always something getting in the way of getting rid of it. He finally did get rid of it, sold it for twenty five bucks, and what small amount of light that room allows for returned as if it was the start of something.

She was probably better off if she’d never recovered from the stroke because what life did she have for that year or so in that bed with all her sores and darkness? But hey, she didn’t get to decide. She didn’t get to say This probably isn’t a good time for me to stay alive. She just did it without question, and, without much grace.

There will always be something to stand in the way. To tell you No, absolutely not. This is not right. You mustn’t. If you wait for things to speak, they will. Even the eggs. Even the coffee. Everything has an opinion. You know what they say about assholes and opinions. Everyone’s got one.

I have started to go off all anti-depressants. I am still on a small dosage because the timing had never been right to go off 100%. That 30mg keeps me affable enough; it stops the train wreck inside my brain, the flatness of mornings, the circle walkings, the scribblings. There was always something in the way of me going off sooner even though I talked about it often. I’m going to stop taking my meds soon, I’d announce as if people cared. But I didn’t- I was always busy or I was going somewhere, I was leading some retreat, I was in a class, I was tired, I had headaches.

I’ve finally realized that timing is an invented thing, an inherited trait, and that along with your native American roots and your penchant for sleep and for coffee, you will have inherited the ability to create the life you want for yourself.

You think that when my great uncle George was cutting down logs to sell to the whiskey companies to make their barrels that he thought what a great time it was for him to be splitting open wood, to crack into black walnut trees? No, he just did what he had to and kept going until one day his truck rolled into an embankment and even then he thought to himself just before he died I have had a good life.

Don’t wait for the coffee or the eggs or the shmuck in the front row to tell you how it is. You’ll wait your whole life and then end up in an embankment with a heart full of sorrow and I could have done it betters.

I don’t know what time could have been better for me to embark on this weaning off my meds adventure. Perhaps next year. Perhaps last year. Maybe never.

My grandfather jokes and says that his brother was a con artist, but the way I see it, time is the con artist. The con artist telling you that this isn’t a good time, that you should wait. The right time will never exist. Like so many of the things we think are perfect and in the end turn out to be just some scrambled eggs and a hot cup of coffee.

Join Jen at a writing retreat in Mexico this May!  Jennifer Pastiloff is part of the faculty in 2015 at Other Voices Querétaro in Mexico with Gina Frangello, Emily Rapp, Stacy Berlein, and Rob Roberge. Please email Gina Frangello to be accepted at ovbooks@gmail.com. Click poster for info or to book. Space is very limited.

Join Jen at a writing retreat in Mexico this May!
Jennifer Pastiloff is part of the faculty in 2015 at Other Voices Querétaro in Mexico with Gina Frangello, Emily Rapp, Stacy Berlein, and Rob Roberge. Please email Gina Frangello to be accepted at ovbooks@gmail.com. Click poster for info or to book. Space is very limited.

 

All of Jen Pastiloff’s events listed here. Next up: Dallas, Miami, New Years Retreat, Kripalu in The Berkshires of Massachusetts, Tuscany Retreat.

Join Jen Pastiloff in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the sunflowers!

Join Jen Pastiloff in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the sunflowers!

Click to order Simplereminders new book.

Click to order Simplereminders new book.