By Jen Pastiloff.
Yesterday someone asked me if I was pregnant based on a photo they saw of me. She asked if maybe she missed my Facebook announcement about it.
Nope. There was no announcement. Nope. I am not pregnant.
I wanted to say I’m just fat, I guess. But I know I’m not fat and I only wanted to say that to make her feel bad for asking so I didn’t say it. I just said that I wasn’t pregnant and asked why was she asking. She said it must have been a bad angle in a photo.
In the past I would have had a breakdown after a comment like that. I would have grabbed at my stomach and tried to pull the fat off in handfuls. I would have rushed into the bathroom and gotten up close in the mirror to scrutinize any lines or wrinkles on my face as if they were all of a sudden in direct relation to my weight. One imperfection would become every imperfection.
Then I would have paced around my house thinking of all the ways I would lose the weight starting the very next day. Defeated and horrified and humiliated. One comment from someone would have pushed me over the cliff and I would have landed in a place called Panic with no food or water, and the only sound my own thoughts on repeat. You are so fat. You look pregnant. See, someone even thought so. You are so fat. You look pregnant. See someone even thought so!
I’ve had it happen a few times in the past. Someone asking me if I was pregnant. For the record, I have never been pregnant (not yet.) I was in New Jersey and I ran into my first boyfriend’s uncle and he asked me if I was pregnant in a cul-de-sac in Cherry Hill. I was standing by the bar at the restaurant I worked in West Hollywood waiting for a cocktail and a girl asked if I was expecting. You see, I remember them all.
Oh, the things that get stuck. I can’t remember books I love but I can remember anytime someone has suggested I had gained weight. I can remember insults and hurts like they are lyrics from a favorite song.
There was this guy who came in the Newsroom, where I worked. Damn girl, they been feeding you. He actually said that as he reached for my stomach. He tried to touch me as he hurled that insult at me like I was some animal in a cage. Like I was someone he felt he actually had a right to touch. It was all I could hear for days: Damn girl, they been feeding you. As I put food in my mouth: Damn girl, they been feeding you. As I waited on customers: Damn Girl, they been feeding you.
Yesterday when the girl asked me if I was pregnant my heart did a little hop in my chest and I wrote about it on Facebook, but the truth of the matter was that I didn’t care all that much. Am I getting old? Am I getting wiser? Do I care less? Have I recovered 100%? Am I just tired?
Maybe all those things.
Life isn’t that simple . There are usually no just-one-thing answers for things. Yes. No. Maybe. Some. Because. Enough. Always. Never. There’s usually a caveat.
Right now a friend of mine is going through a tough time. He’s dealing with some hatred being directed at him. He asked me how not to take it on, how to let it go. What’s the work? he asked.
Picking myself up from my own recent heap on the floor, I suggested that there wasn’t just one way nor was there just one clichéd answer which sounded like a cliché in itself. I suggested that he must do whatever it takes.
Isn’t that how life works, though? You have to do whatever it takes. To heal, to love, to let go, to be a parent, to stop torturing yourself, to get out of bed. Whatever it is you are dealing with, and do not be fooled, we are all dealing with something.
There’s a line of thinking in the spiritual world which states that nobody can make you anything or something like that. You know, no one can make you depressed. No one can make you sad or angry or happy, etc.
Do I think it’s the truth? Sometimes. Do I think it’s a lie? Yes, sometimes.
Life is not just one answer. Maybe. Sometimes. Enough. Always. Never. It’s complicated. Because. No. Yes.
Tony Hoagland tells us in Personal, one of my favorite poems, what many of the books are telling us not to do. Get in it. Get messy. Take it personal. Be affected.
Don’t take it personal, they said;
but I did, I took it all quite personal—
the breeze and the river and the color of the fields;
the price of grapefruit and stamps,
the wet hair of women in the rain—
And I cursed what hurt me
and I praised what gave me joy,
the most simple-minded of possible responses.
The government reminded me of my father,
with its deafness and its laws,
and the weather reminded me of my mom,
with her tropical squalls.
Enjoy it while you can, they said of Happiness
Think first, they said of Talk
Get over it, they said
at the School of Broken Hearts
but I couldn’t and I didn’t and I don’t
believe in the clean break;
I believe in the compound fracture
served with a sauce of dirty regret,
I believe in saying it all
and taking it all back
and saying it again for good measure
while the air fills up with I’m-Sorries
like wheeling birds
and the trees look seasick in the wind.
Oh life! Can you blame me
for making a scene?
You were that yellow caboose, the moon
disappearing over a ridge of cloud.
I was the dog, chained in some fool’s backyard;
barking and barking:
trying to convince everything else
to take it personal too.
I took it personal when she asked if I was pregnant. For about a minute. Not so personal that I slumped on my carpet in a heap as I hit myself in the face. Not so personal that I didn’t still lick the mayonnaise off my spoon. Not so personal that I thought for more than 2 seconds about being fat. I took it for what it was which was a person who was probably doing the best she could who probably didn’t think the question through before asking it.
What I did do was have an epiphany, as my friend Elise Ballard would nod approvingly at, that I was beyond this.
I was done with taking things so personally.
One of the great lines by Mary Oliver is in When Death Comes. It’s the last line of the poem and she says I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world. I think about that a lot as I tiptoe my way through life trying not to knock lamps and books off the table as I claw my way through the dark. But I do. I make a mess. I knock everything around and leave it a little messier than when it was before I entered.
I want to have lived. Having said that, I want to decide what gets my goat. I want to decide what makes me fall on the floor in a heap and I’ll be damned if it’s going to be someone asking me if I am pregnant because I look fat in a photograph.
So, how do you not take on the hate of someone else? How do you not let everything affect you?
Let’s be honest. Sometimes you do take it on and sometimes it does affect you. The thing is, if you pay attention you can look deep into those things and ask Why is this affecting me so much? And what now? And what now?
Then, one day, after you’ve done the yard work and you’ve looked so far deep into your own soul (if such a thing can be looked into) that there’s nothing left to surprise you, you find that you aren’t all that affected anymore. That you remember you might have been affected at one time but that there’s nothing left to latch onto so you write a poem about it or go on a walk or do some yoga or watch a little t.v but you do not end up in a heap on the floor trying to pull your own skin off.
And then sometimes you still fall into a heap on the floor or sit on the bathroom counter and get in real close to look at your face and cry. Until you don’t. Until you make fewer things that important.
The grey area is this: you will want to make things important, you will want to take some things personally. Otherwise what are poems about? What is music about, and books and art and love?
It’s the choosing in which things.
You can’t take it all on or you would never get up off the floor. You would never stop muttering the words Damn Girl, they been feeding you (which I forgot until I started this essay.) You would watch everything you ate and disgust yourself with your own self loathing. But you don’t do that. You get older and wiser and all the other not-just-one-thing answers as to why you stop taking things so personally.
Life isn’t so simple as you know if you live here in the same world I do. You have to put your flag down and draw a circle and inside that circle put all the things you love. Your favorite memories and people you cherish and art and poems and all the rest. When something tries to slide into the circle that you didn’t put there, you have to give it some serious thought whether or not it can stay. (You do get to decide, remember.)
I don’t know how you release the hatred of someone else, or how you let go of something hurtful someone has said. You just do. Eventually.
Keep drawing circles and every so often check in and see what has snuck in when you had your bent over reading an email. If you find your circle is filled with things people have said about you or ways in which you hate yourself, here is my advice, which comes of course, with a grain of salt. Pick up your flag and replant it. Carry that unwieldy flagpole straight across the world if you need to and draw a new circle and make it smaller so less crap can come in.
Maybe that’s what happens? We start making our circles smaller and tighter, so that as we get older there are less leaks. So that maybe there are less cracks in what we have built for ourselves along the way.
Jennifer Pastiloff, Beauty Hunter, is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Check out jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up: South Dakota, NYC, Dallas, Kripalu Center For Yoga & Health, Tuscany. She is also leading a Writing + The Body Retreat with Lidia Yuknavitch Jan 30-Feb 1 in Ojai (2 spots left.) She tweets/instagrams at @jenpastiloff.