Browsing Tag

hope

Guest Posts, Miscarriage, Pregnancy

The Day Before You Will Be Born

January 29, 2018
pregnancy

CW: This essay discusses miscarriage.

By Anna Burgess Yang

Dear Baby,

This is it. The day before you will be born.

I sometimes feel guilty for my feelings toward you over the past nine months.  Detachment, fear, anxiety… that these will hurt you in some unforeseen way in the future.

How could I avoid these feelings?  When we lost your sister, Nelle, at 21 weeks of pregnancy, I thought that I would split open with grief.  We had no answers as to what happened – why I inexplicably lost a baby after two previous uneventful pregnancies with your older brothers.  Without any reason, we were told that we could try again right away.  Then we lost your sister, Iris, not even six months later.  Going through labor and delivery, twice, to give birth to your sisters when they had already left the world were the worst experiences of my life.  It traumatized me.  Continue Reading…

Current Events, Guest Posts, Hope

My Idols Are Dead and My Enemies are In Power

January 1, 2017
idols

By Meghan O’Dea

Two days after Christmas a fellow author posted to Facebook an image of unknown origin I had seen before. A pale hand, female, dangles a thing white cigarette between calves wrapped in black pantyhose, bent at an insouciant angle. The smoke from the cigarette wraps around the subject’s right hand, a gold band around her middle finger. Below a caption, in a yellowy sans-serif font, introduced by a hypen like a subtitle or Emily Dickinson poem, the quote at a tense angle. It reads: “— My idols are dead and my enemies are in power.”

It was, coincidentally, the same day that Carrie Fisher died. My friend, the author, posted the photo before the news broke that Fisher’s heart attack some days before had resulted in her passing. But it summed up well a year in which so many idols died, from those of my childhood (Richard Adams) to those who inspired my teen idols (David Bowie) to those I had little sense of connection or references to (George Michael). The image appeared four days after I showed up at my parents’ house with a suitcase, face still puffy from crying over the end of a relationship I had thought would end in marriage.

Around the time that I had been dreamily listing out the songs I would like to make up the soundtrack to my wedding, Leonard Cohen passed away. At the time, Cohen’s was one more in a procession of celebrity deaths and personal losses that had marked the almost two years I had been with my former partner, a series of blows that took a subtle, steady toll on a new love. The much-beloved cat, hit by a passing car. The friendships faded and fraught, just when they seemed the most needed. My mother’s mid-life crisis, set off the previous summer when I had spent three months at my grandfather’s house and unwittingly stepped into a tight woven trap of family tensions. The mounting pressure and humidity of the political climate, like the Tennessee summers of my childhood just before a storm comes screaming in off the plateau.

Despite living my whole life in the South, I had never seen so many Confederate flags as I had that summer in western New York, so close to Canada I had brought my passport along in my bag. The stars and bars lined the porches and truck bumpers in that sleepy Rust Belt town for weeks after Dylann Roof’s massacre in Charleston. In hindsight it’s hard not to imagine they heralded Trump’s victory, the coming appointments of Steve Bannon and Jeff Sessions.

It had been so strange to explore a brief, unfamiliar sense of romantic happiness in the midst of what often seemed like the world falling down around our ears. But there were those before us who had survived equal or greater tumult. The very elders who were dropping like flies were a testament to what had changed and what had endured since before we were born.

Cohen had been first introduced to me by another former lover, who had played me “Anthem” in a moment of crisis, and unwittingly given me several minutes of of balm to the inevitable heartbreak. There is a crack in everything. That’s where the light gets in. As I drove to the gym after hearing of Fisher’s passing, the strains of Cohen’s baritone drifted by chance out of the local radio tower, through the speakers, and soaked into the worn upholstery. Everybody knows the good guys lost. Everybody knows the fight was fixed. The poor stay poor, the rich get rich.

In a year of endless losses, the partnership in which I’d sought solace became one more unexpected casualty. There was the subtle toll my mental health had taken on my lover’s, the way my history seeped into our present. There are, as Cohen and Fisher and so many others know so well know, cracks and fissures that may let light enter, but which even love cannot fill or heal.

The day after Christmas, the night before Carrie Fisher died, I watched one of my very favorite movies, Meet Me In St. Louis, for the umpteenth time. After I fell down a rabbit hole of re-reading articles and essays on Judy Garland’s life, along with the inevitable mention of the scandals that she felt defined her.

Then the news broke that Fisher had died, and in a way it was all so beautiful in its synchronicity: the timing of finding myself attuned to the parallels and lessons of these two extraordinary women’s lives. They each lived through mental illness, weight fluctuations, disappointments in love, the pressures of their professions, and the burden of existing in a system that was not made for or kind to them.

There are the women you want to be— the women you idolize and wish you could inhabit. And then there are women like Garland and Fisher, whose lives are not exactly enviable, but who have shown that life does not have to look any particular way to be considered a success. Moods shift, bodies fluctuate, lovers come and go, careers rise and fall, times change. It is art, intelligence, and sheer presence that endure. There are the women you learn from.

It was a year that tore us down, and stripped so much away. The year that has become infamous in the lore of internet memes and obituary sections. Yet so many of our fallen idols left behind last works of startling beauty and darkness and celebration. Fisher revisited her younger self in The Princess Diariest from the perspective of one who views youth as something to survive, not maintain. Bowie spoke of resurrection on Blackstar. And Cohen left us with an accusation, a dare, in the title of his final album: You Want It Darker. Perhaps I did. Perhaps we all did, and that is why the world is in the state that it is in. Perhaps this is simply a season we must walk through.

My idols are dead. My enemies are in power. The man I thought I would marry did indeed, in the words of Cohen, dance me to the end of our love. And yet I stand here hopeful. There will always be lovers and enemies, work and slow songs, black nights and bright ribbons. These things unfold endlessly around that which is both ephemeral and enduring, that which is ceaselessly reborn. In the face of all this loss, I am writing again. It is here and now, when so much has faded and changed, when I feel the most certain and strong. I have learned that in the middle of the darkness and tumult, we will always have ourselves.

Meghan O’Dea is a writer and editor who just completed a masters in Creative Nonfiction at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. She writes primarily on space and place and the meaning of home. On the weekends she is the homepage editor for Fortune Magazine. She has been published in Washington Post, Fortune, Huffington Post, Hello Giggles, ink&coda, and has an essay forthcoming in The Rumpus.

What’s Jen Pastiloff’s workshop all about anyway? It’s about being human. Connecting. Finding your voice. Not being an asshole. Singing out loud. Sharing your fears. Bearing witness. Telling your fears to fuck off & fly. Listening. Moving your body. Laughing. Crying. Finding comfort. Offering comfort. Letting go. Creating.
Next one after this is NYC Feb 4 at Pure Yoga West. You don’t need to be a yogi at all. Just be a human. Click photo to book.

 

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, loss, Pregnancy

Choices

December 4, 2016
survive

TW: This piece discusses medically necessary termination of pregnancy

By Leslie Wibberly

A while ago, a friend and colleague received some devastating news. She and her husband were expecting their second daughter, and at over three months into the pregnancy they had assumed everything was fine. A routine ultrasound unexpectedly revealed multiple birth defects and a tumor, called a terratoma, attached to the base of the baby’s spine.

They were told they could choose to terminate this pregnancy, as the effects of those birth defects were not clear. Or, they could try to carry the baby to term and hope that surgery might be able to correct the problems.

As she shared her news with me, her despair carefully but not completely masked, I was brought back to the moment many years earlier, when I had received similar news. A tiny tsunami of nausea intermingled with terror and regret, flooded my body.

My first pregnancy was planned, but happened sooner than expected. Exhausted from full time work and a year of studying for a post-grad certification, my body was not in peak condition. My husband and I had fully intended to start trying for a baby once my exams were over, but the universe was impatient and so conception was precipitous.

We were overjoyed none-the-less, and I did what assume every mother-to-be did. I bought parenting books, baby-name books, maternal vitamins, I started to worry about never sleeping again, and I prepared to say goodbye to my thirty-something pre-baby body. Continue Reading…

Grief, Guest Posts, Hope

When Despair Tried To Settle

November 23, 2016
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By Melanie Brooks

On a Sunday morning in June, when my sixteen-year-old son reported the news that a gunman had walked into a nightclub in Orlando, Florida, pointed his assault rifle at a festive crowd of people dancing to a Latin beat, and gunned down over one hundred of them, killing forty-nine, I felt it. An unseen hand reaching into my chest, grabbing my heart, and squeezing. Hard. Its fingernails punctured, leaving behind aching wounds.

The ache intensified with every new photograph or video of victims fleeing the horror of the scene, every interview with family members who learned their loved ones were among the dead, every narrative of a beautiful life taken, every media brief on the ongoing investigation that solidified the gunman’s motives of terror and hate.

There was an enticing drag to the hate that pulled at me in the days that followed, and my anger flared. Targets for my fury, the ones that crept into my social media feed or sought sound bites on the news, weren’t tough to find. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Hope

Detangling the Knot

September 1, 2016
hope

By Jennifer Rieger

People close to me know that I have psychosomatic reactions to stress. Many do, but sometimes mine are downright bizarre. When I found out I was pregnant, I kept getting these muscle spasms… in my face. As I studied for the Praxis Exams, I had a relentless burning sensation in my left boob. When I was writing my Master’s thesis, my tongue felt like it itched, for weeks. A few years ago, my work kept getting rejected by every publication I sent it to, and the blood vessels in my left eye burst causing a two-month scary zombie eye. My students couldn’t even look at me! I contend with these nuisances, but my typical reaction, and I believe the one most common to normal individuals, is the lump I get in my throat. It’s different than my stress symptoms though. I imagine it as an intricate little ball of nerves woven together in times of sadness and pain—when life is too much to bear, and I can’t seem to find the right words. A little bit of wine, but not too much, can provide temporary relief. Overindulgence usually results in one pathetic alter-ego that even my husband, God love him, cringes to deal with. The one thing that really helps globus—the proper medical term for Jen Rieger’s imaginary, but very annoying, lump—is time. Ah, time, that selfish, fickle bitch that quickens at every lovely occasion and halts at every boring and difficult moment of life. The knot has appeared at sudden moments of sadness, or even weeks later causing me to run to the doctor’s office in a state of hypochondriatic frenzy crying, “It’s cancer, isn’t it?” It’s there when loved ones pass, when my own child is sad, and when favorite graduates leave me.

It reappeared this summer just by watching the news. Continue Reading…

Abuse, Grief, Guest Posts, healing

Things the Missing Would Tell You

December 12, 2015

Trigger Warning: This brief essay deals with child abuse.

By Keema Waterfield

Halfway through my first pregnancy I imagine my mother, age 19. She is unwed, the weight of my future self putting a bend in her back, widening her hips. The ghosts of her childhood trail behind her like lost buttons: all those years with her brother, the powerlessness, the shame, the guilt, the angry mother, the denial. That black place the hurt goes, overflowing. A baby sister she can’t protect looking at a lifetime of worrying at those same choppy waters.

How my mother’s heart must have ached at the thought of me.

It isn’t hard to imagine.

My own ghost is a man we knew by the name of Ray, but whom we later learned was wanted in fourteen states, give or take. He had one eye and a gun, both of which he laid on me in my top bunk somewhere around my third birthday, his pants around his ankles. Mom away for a few days, picking up furniture. My baby sister in the bottom bunk making a noise in her throat that no person of sound mind could hear without offering comfort.

I think of Ray when I hold my growing belly on dark mornings after another visit to the bathroom. I think how ponderous the shape of sorrow is. How little it takes to upend a childhood, like a table on its side: dishes broken, food soiled, water glasses emptying themselves onto the hardwood floor.

At dinner now the table is upright and the lamplight has grown reluctant listeners, but there is still a world of missing children out there. Missed. Misused. If you’re lucky and some part of you makes it back people tell you slow down, be a kid, but the missing learn early that childhood is a mercy only sometimes granted, and dessert is offered only to those who suffer gently.

I’ve been thinking about silence lately, how much it makes me want to break open all the windows in the world and scream. Because I know now what my mother knew then: the missing don’t have a say.Keema_Waterfield-Author_Photo

Keema Waterfield is a 2011 MFA grad from the University of Montana’s nonfiction program. She has been published in Pithead Chapel, Redivider Journal, Understory, and the Anchorage Press. The title essay from her forthcoming memoir “Inside Passages”, won the 2011 Cross Genre Award at Mason’s Road.

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

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

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

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

Compassion, Guest Posts

The Audacity of Hopelessness

December 5, 2015

By Leta A. Seletzky

I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for Ebola. When I mentioned this to my mom, she laughed. I laughed, too. It’s a dramatic statement, but that doesn’t make it untrue.

Ensconced in my vacation home near Lake Tahoe in summer 2014, I followed the news reports about a Liberian man who arrived by air at Lagos, Nigeria’s Murtala Muhammed International Airport and collapsed. He was surrounded by people, some of whom tried to render aid. Shortly thereafter, the man died of the Ebola virus, but not before infecting other people in Lagos—he was Nigeria’s index case. The virus, which had previously gained a foothold in other parts of West Africa, went on to claim over 7,000 lives in the region by the year’s end. My children and I were Lagos residents, but we were fortunate to be “stranded” in our vacation home during the crisis.

***

Have you ever watched a calamity unfold with such grim assurance of the worst possible outcome that you drew perilously close to siding against hope? It’s not the same thing as explicitly wishing for the worst to happen. Rather, it’s believing that to have hope is foolish—and maybe even counterproductive.

Last summer, I was beginning to feel that hope in Nigeria was counterproductive. I had moved to Lagos, the country’s economic capitol, in April 2013 with my husband and our two young sons. My husband was working for an oil company. I was raising our boys, playing tennis, and planning vacations as my framed law degree sat in a cardboard box in our townhome’s attic. We had a driver, a gardener, a stewardess (the local term for a nanny or housekeeper; in our case, she was both), and a steward (the male version of a stewardess; in our case, he came to our house twice a week to chop vegetables).

I had arrived in the country with great hopes for a meaningful and joyous experience. Having spent the previous two years in southwestern Kazakhstan, with its somber apartment blocs and merciless winters, lush Nigeria looked like paradise for the first couple of months of living there. Strangers on the street in Nigeria actually smiled and spoke to me instead of shooting me a surly stare. The standard greeting is a hearty “You are welcome!” Fat ripe fruits hung from the branches of trees I couldn’t identify alongside teeming urban streets. The first time I saw a Traveler’s Palm, I imagined Adam and Eve walking amidst its luxuriant, fan-like fronds. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Inspiration

See Me In September.

September 11, 2015

By Beth Levine.

I’ve seen a few sunrises since the days when I eagerly picked out my first-day-of-school outfit or packed the car to the roof for the ride back to college. So why, when September rolls around, do I still feel that rush of expectation, of the excitement of new possibilities? While most people are grabbing at the last BBQs of summer, I am eagerly anticipating getting back into action. For me, New Year’s isn’t in December–it’s Labor Day.

It is coded into my DNA that September means getting back to school and friends, and picking out new clothes, pencils, erasers and books. (Yes, I know, I am dating myself. These days it would be new iPads and laptops.) The smell of new textbooks and the knowledge that the path of my next nine months lies within them. Would my teachers be nice? Who was in my classes? But most of all, when I was a school kid, September was the time when the slate of the previous year was wiped clean and there was the chance to start all over. Maybe this was the year I wouldn’t feel like a monstrous dork, maybe this was the year (dare I say it out loud?) a boy would notice me and the world would recognize my immense genius. Hey, why not think big? Anything was possible.

Continue Reading…

Binders, Guest Posts, Life

Requiem for a Fallen Catholic.

February 12, 2015

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By Trish Cook.

Confession

I hate going to church. Especially funerals. I am only here in the hopes that my presence will comfort a hurting friend, not because I believe in this bullshit.

Sit, kneel, stand, cry.

Remember how losing a parent is like a having a body part amputated. How long the numbness where they used to exist lasts, how searing the pain is once the feeling returns. Remember why, ever since my dad died decades ago when I was twenty-four, I havent been able to sit through a religious service without getting angry, teary.

More pomp, more circumstance, more hollow promises.

Prayto whom, I do not knowthat my friend John, who has just lost his father and is the reason I grudgingly sit, kneel, stand, and cry today, finds comfort where I no longer do.

Wonder, as I have so many times since my own fathers funeral: Why would a loving God let us walk the earth so wounded? Lie so battered? Allow us to become so bruised, each and every one of us?

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. Yoga + Writing + Connection. We go deep. Bring an open heart and a sense of humor- that's it! Summer or Fall 2015.

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. Yoga + Writing + Connection. We go deep. Bring an open heart and a sense of humor- that’s it! Summer or Fall 2015.

  Continue Reading…

Grief, Guest Posts, healing, loss

The Other Side of Loss.

January 21, 2015

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By Rene Denfeld

I come from a family of suicides.

My older brother killed himself by eating pain pills and then putting a plastic bag over his head—just in case. My mother followed a few years later, willing herself out of this world. Cousins, siblings, nephews: dead. Even those who survive often bear the marks or memories of trying.

When someone you love kills himself or herself—and when it happens over and over again, as in my family—suicide becomes as ordinary as crossing the street. It becomes your hand on a glass of milk. It becomes you opening the mail, you going for a walk: see that bridge? See that truck? It becomes the freeway ramp you recall your brother made his first attempt to kill himself, driving the wrong way, desperate for collision. It becomes the plate of food you look at and see your mother, denying herself until she literally starved to death, a gasping skeleton clutching your hand in a bed, so devoid of fluids she could not cry.

When the people you love kill themselves, it becomes a common thing, a normal thing, and an everyday you-could-do-it-too thing. It haunts you. It asks, why not you? What gives you the right to survive? Continue Reading…

Grief, Guest Posts, healing

Madonnas.

January 6, 2015

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By Mark Liebenow.

I can’t take the damn lethargy today, and rather than drag around the house on my day off grieving my wife, and feeling bone-assed sorry for myself, I try something new. I haven’t done anything new since she died nine months ago.

Driving to Lake Merritt in Oakland, I sit on a bench, and give myself permission to enjoy the warm sunshine. I still feel guilty if I enjoy anything that Evelyn no longer can, like I’m betraying her by not wearing hair shirts and eating gruel. It sounds illogical, but not much makes sense when someone you loved with all your being is ripped away. She was only in her forties.

Evelyn used to come here on her lunch breaks, and being here helps me feel close to her. Normally Northern California is rainy and cold in early January, but today the sun is out and it’s in the seventies. I lean back and watch the world stroll by in its urban variety, and remember how it feels to smile.

Two young boys chase each other around the palm trees, playing hooky from school. An older man dances as he jogs along to music on his iPod. A woman in a black and yellow dashiki walks by looking proud, and several mothers with young children point out the palm trees, seagulls, and the mallard ducks. The mothers remind me of Ev’s compassion. Although we had no children, she took care of her friends like a mother — sending notes of encouragement when they didn’t get the job they wanted, talking to them on the phone late at night when they were depressed, and going to console them when a parent died.

writing-course_pageheader_825x200_alt2 Continue Reading…

Family, Guest Posts, healing, Holidays

Dead Christmas Trees, Brain Injuries & Finding The Beauty.

December 29, 2014

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By Karen Pyros-Szatkowski.

When I lived in New York City after college, too many years ago, I’d be so saddened the weeks following Christmas walking by apartment buildings seeing the discarded, used up Christmas trees piled in front, waiting to be picked up by the garbage collectors. I was in no way a tree-hugging, save-the-earth activist back then, but for some reason, these trees, some still with tinsel on the branches, made me view the city as a morgue and a feeling of hopelessness and helplessness and despair would replace the holiday happy from a few days before. The trees of all shapes and sizes, some tall and skinny, others short and more full, ugly Charlie Brown trees, and beautiful prize worthy ones, whatever fit into the lives of the former owners’ apartment spaces, had now served their purpose and lay, most of them without bags, on the cold New York City sidewalks, atop their own fallen needles. They were once connected to and nurtured by the earth, then worshipped and adorned with beautiful decorations… a proud centerpiece in the apartments, the holiday, and now tossed out like garbage. Actually, that’s exactly what they had become. Garbage. Although I never, ever, bought a real tree after my first Christmas in New York, I certainly don’t make any judgment on those that chose the natural over the unnatural; that’s not what this is about. I know that for every tree cut down, others are planted and farms grow trees just for Christmas pleasure. It is not a moral choice for me; it’s an emotion. I know real trees look much more beautiful, fully decorated, than the artificial ones, and I do love the smell of pine, but the memories of those discarded trees piled many feet high like dead bodies awaiting their disposal left too much of an impact on me, too much of a sadness, not because of the waste, but because of the abandoned love. From the pedestal to the street. Beauty completely stripped to nothingness. Life to death.

I’ve been feeling similar emotions recently, but not due to Christmas trees. I feel so much pain and sadness, all around me and not all mine. Being so easily connected through social media and website magazines, Damon’s story has reached out past the community in which we live to a much larger audience. Because of this, I’ve been connected to many new friends and reconnected to many old friends, so many of whom are affected either themselves or through family members by traumatic brain injury, death, or just horrible diseases. In our pre accident life I never would have crossed paths with most of these people. In our pre accident life I would never have been able to so deeply feel their pain. So many have reached out to us to share their own stories, looking both for inspiration from our journey and hoping to add support to theirs. Continue Reading…

Abuse, courage, Guest Posts

The Seat: On Domestic Violence.

December 9, 2014

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By Candace Roberts.

“Somehow I’ll manage to get through this day, too.” I thought to myself. It was a Monday. I had a full day of blocked lecture hours ahead of me. Ancient Greek History—8:30-10:20a.m., Women and Law—10:30-12:20 and Buddhism—12:30-2:20pm.

“Please, God, let this go by quickly.” I said under my breath. I knew it wouldn’t though and the day’s forecast was adding to my anxiety.

Seattle has flippant weather, sometimes. People that don’t live here usually have a grim view of the Northwest. No thanks to the media, Washington has the reputation of a dreary, depressing, state with consistent downpour. One day I’ll write about the beauties of this weather as they are magnificent and are never given enough credit. But this Monday’s ambience lived up to all of Hollywood’s generalizations. There wasn’t a break of sunlight as it was January and there was a constant airy midst that throughout the day would, at random, turn nasty for a minute. What a little tease, pouring for just a minute. Aside from the rainfall, it was freakin’ cold to the bone.

I looked around and saw that almost everyone, at least the girls anyway, were dressed like me- going for the standard wardrobe pick for Seattle winters. Ugg boots sloshing about, velour sweats tucked in, and a big Northface rain coat with the hoodie tied up under neck. No matter how rough the night before was for the typical college girl, no one really cared about committing fashion faux pas because no one wanted to feel the cold rain. Oh yes, and everyone was bookin’ it to class as fast as they could without looking like that one idiot actually running. Let’s be realistic, we have all been “that guy” before and probably not for the last time either. Whether we were running or not, it was the combination of wet, cold Seattle winter and sweaty college kid that inevitably created a class room environment that was simply gross.

Seated and feeling a hot mess in my unbearably hard, public University, sad excuse for a desk-slash-chair, I realized that the dang chair was actually kind of a problem underneath my bum. Early Greece at 8:30 am was not on my prioritized list of troubles, in fact I don’t remember a single thing that was said in class that day. My body was there…my mind was not. It was traveling methodically through the day that lay ahead of me. This day of scheduled sitting.

“Okay 570 minutes of class—did it before, I can do it again. Forty-five minute commute to work,—same shit, different day…totally do-able. Sitting in my wheelie chair at work for 5 hours— you’re getting paid, deal with it.”

My self-talk that day was not inspirational. It was hardly the usual positive vibe I mentally set myself up with, but it was completely necessary because I needed to distract myself. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, healing, Inspiration

Hope By The Numbers.

January 17, 2014

By Carmen Calatayud

Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out. ~Vaclav Havel

Plain brown hair in pigtails with light-blue cat glasses, the kind with silver stars in each corner. That’s what I looked like in grade school, and if you’re wondering about the cat glasses, well, it was the late 60s and early 70s. If you met me then, you would have thought my life was full of hope. I lived in an upper middle-class neighborhood. I went to a Catholic school and got a good education. We had plenty of the necessary stuff, like food (Mrs. Paul’s fish sticks, tater tots and Twinkies) clothing, and the non-essentials: board games and shelves filled with books.

There was one major hitch: my dad was crazy violent and I never knew when he would explode.

Dad’s explosions equaled yells, screams, face slapping, punches to the shoulders and a belt he pulled from the top, thin drawer of his Ethan Allen-esque dresser. The dormant brown and black belts were curled into stiff snakes that laid next to each other.

During the fourth grade, when my weakness in math became clear, my father tutored me at the dining room table for two to three hours a night, yelling at me and slapping or punching me each time I got the answer wrong. I have a habit of leaning to the right whether I’m sitting or standing, and I finally figured out that this is because my dad punched me on my left side during these tutoring sessions. Every night that school year was a one-sided war I lost. My mother was usually doing laundry downstairs and acted as though she didn’t hear what was going on. A few times when my screams were impossible to ignore, she came upstairs and asked my father to stop. Please, that’s enough! By that point I was shaking, sobbing, and bruised.

Each morning, we pretended that nothing had happened. Pretending to be normal became my ritual, and the ritual developed into a mask. Wearing the mask is so ingrained as a facial habit that I don’t even realize how much I look like a manikan in the display window at Sears.

In high school, I suffered through freshman algebra and got a D for a final grade. I hid my report card that June, terrified of what my dad would do. When my mother told my dad—without warning me—that I had hidden it, he came to my sky blue bedroom and asked to see my report card. I was standing in front of the dresser, the off-white one with grey and blue birds painted on it.

Well of course, I lied, and said that it hadn’t come in the mail yet. That lie triggered one of the worst beatings he gave me. My arms and legs were covered with welts and blue bruises from the blows of his hands and belt. I imagined that these bruised looked different than the usual ones. I watched them turn purple, the royal purple of an Arizona sunset. Struggling to recover in my bedroom, my mom came in to soothe me, or so I hoped.

“I’m gonna call the police. I’m gonna report this abuse,” I said quietly to my mom. At 14, I was starting to access chunks of anger in my brain and body.

“C’mon, it’s not that bad.  You’ll be fine,” she said. Yes, I hoped that she’d agree with me, that she’d sit next to me with her arm around me as I made the call. Existing in my skin in that moment, I half-expected a bone to pop out from the pain. But nothing popped and I began to focus on the hope that in 4 years, I’d escape.

So back to math. I received a B in sophomore geometry without any help. Because geometry used shapes, words and phrases, it was easier to grasp. That year I was free from my father’s beatings and screaming, at least about my grades in math.

By my senior year, I was faced with taking trigonometry. I opened the book and knew I was reading hieroglyphics. After getting Cs and Ds on the first few quizzes I felt hopeless, but then my friend Grace offered to tutor me. Grace had a talent for math and science, and the thought of someone helping me who wouldn’t scream or hit me was wild. After several tutoring sessions with Grace, our class had a test, and I received an A-. I chuckled inside at this miracle and the reaction on my classmates’ faces. Margi scrunched her forehead and whispered, “YOU got an A-?” The truth was that Grace worked hard to help me, and I had studied hard. I could do this.

About a month after getting that A-, I dropped the trig class without telling my dad or my mom. Yeah, I quit. I knew I didn’t need it for college, where I planned on majoring in English or Communications. I realized that I no longer had to prove my math skills. I could do well if I really had to, given that I put intense energy and time into studying, but now I could say no more. I was free.

With that decision at 17, the fear I experienced the first time I saw a number line above the chalkboard in kindergarten started to dissipate. The fear of my dad was dissipating, too. I hoped that if I moved away from math and what it symbolized, maybe I could move away from my father and the memories of purple bruises and brown belt blows.

That I can do anything in this life that’s connected to math—which usually means paying bills—is something I now count as an achievement. At times I had high hopes that I would conquer math. I would stand at the math mountaintop after a long, arduous climb, glowing with sweat, and plant my flag. I would show everyone that I could master numbers.

My hope for math has changed. Now I hope that I can respond gracefully instead of react or shut down when numbers arise in my life.

My hope for my life has changed. Now I hope that those long-faded bruises will give me the strength to offer kindness—or at least a goofy-looking smile to everyone I meet.

Hope is a lens that we look through, and if we look far enough we see Faith. Actually, Hope and Faith are sisters.

If hope is your watered-down version of faith for now, so be it. Even if your way of coping right now is what others may call false hope, fine. You can’t lose hope. It’s still here, in a precious little box on your nighttable and mine, quietly waiting for us to open it.

Hope is the beginning of healing. And yes, it makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.

Carmen Calatayud's first poetry collection In the Company of Spirits was published in 2012 by Press 53. In the Company of Spirits was a runner-up for the Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets. She’s a Larry Neal Poetry Award winner. Her poetry has appeared in various journals and anthologies, including Beltway Poetry Quarterly, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Cutthroat: A Journal of the Arts, La Bloga, PALABRA: A Magazine of Chicano and Latino Literary Art and the anthology DC Poets Against the War. She’s a poet moderator for Poets Responding to SB 1070, a Facebook group that features poetry and news about Arizona’s immigration law that legalized racial profiling. Carmen is a mind-body psychotherapist in Washington, DC, and her memoir is in progress. Visit Carmen online at carmencalatayud.com.

Carmen Calatayud

Carmen Calatayud’s first poetry collection In the Company of Spirits was published in 2012 by Press 53. In the Company of Spirits was a runner-up for the Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets. She’s a Larry Neal Poetry Award winner. Her poetry has appeared in various journals and anthologies, including Beltway Poetry Quarterly, Borderlands: Texas Poetry ReviewCutthroat: A Journal of the Arts, La Bloga, PALABRA: A Magazine of Chicano and Latino Literary Art and the anthology DC Poets Against the War. She’s a poet moderator for Poets Responding to SB 1070, a Facebook group that features poetry and news about Arizona’s immigration law that legalized racial profiling. Carmen is a mind-body psychotherapist in Washington, DC, and her memoir is in progress. Visit Carmen online at carmencalatayud.com.