Binders, Grief, Guest Posts, healing, Little Seal, loss

Cartography for Mourners.

March 2, 2015


By Emily Rapp. 

The power of grief to derange the mind has in fact been exhaustively noted.

– Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking


Maps to Anywhere (Numerous)

I hate maps. I can’t read them, understand them, interpret them, or follow them. I have a whole drawer full of maps and pop-up, fold out street guides for various cities, and although I take them with me when I visit these places, I never consult them. Instead I tote them around in my shoulder bag, my purse, my backpack, and ask people on the street for directions.


Map to a Funeral (Hidden)

It is mid-winter in downtown Chicago, and my parents, sitting in the two front seats of a rented mini-van, are huddled over a paper map. Exhaust billows in gray and black streaks past the windows. Commuters look shrouded and miserable, hurrying over frigid sidewalks in the rapidly fading light. I’m in the back seat with my ten-month-old daughter Charlotte, who is strapped in her car seat, babbling and cooing. She doesn’t know this is a terrible blizzard in rush hour, or that someone – my father’s mother, my grandmother – has died. We are driving from Chicago to Pontiac in a storm that feels as thick and relentless as the sound of the word blizzard on the radio, which is turned up high. People are frenzied, worried and watchful, the way people love to be about extreme weather conditions.

My grandmother has died at 93 after refusing food or fluids for two weeks, which is some kind of record. My son, at three years old, lasted only a few days with the same restrictions. Ninety years difference – a literal lifetime – between their ages at death. I struggle to understand what this means or how to absorb it, but generate no cogent thoughts.

Beyond the city limits the interstate is a blur of red and blue emergency lights, car blinkers switching on and off in irregular patterns that compete with the holiday hangers on who leave their Christmas decorations up after the new year. The drivers in the cars stopped on either side of us are reading newspapers spread out over the steering wheels or tapping into their phones, having given up changing lanes. One woman is slumped over, face in her hands, weeping.

My daughter poops her diaper, and I unstrap her from her safety restraints and change her in the unmoving car. My parents are bickering. My brother is waiting at the airport. We’d gone to Soldier’s Field to see the Aquarium, but ended up looking at twenty-year old exhibits of stuffed animals: antelope and bears in permanent yawn, taxidermy tails stalled mid-air. I crammed us all into a photo booth in our last fifteen minutes, because I had an enormous glass of wine for lunch and because we need to laugh.

“We should never have gone.”
“Who could have known we’d get stuck in a blizzard.”

This conversation continues on endless repeat, my parents trading lines between them until I threaten to throw the diaper into the front seat if they don’t change the subject. “Don’t think I won’t!” I shout, and feel like a teenager on vacation with her parents: petulant and trapped, self-righteous and unhappy.

We make it to O’Hare and pick up my brother and my nephew. My dad argues with the security guard, telling her that the airport is designed to be confusing. I tell him this is certainly not true. Through the open van door I toss Charlotte’s diaper into a curbside trashcan.

An hour from O’Hare, far from any lights, wind, snow-thick, swirls white and erratic over the roads mainly clear of cars but still treacherous. My dad drifts between lanes, floats across medians. “You’re fucking scaring me!” I shout when he crosses a road without looking in both directions. My brother glares at me for cursing in front of his ten-year-old son.

We stop at a town outside Chicago, at a sports bar, where six men wearing orange vests sitting at a table turn to stare at us when we walk through the door. We have been in the car for nearly ten hours. When I tell my friend Gina, a native of Chicago, where we ended up for dinner, she tells me she’s lived in Chicago her entire life and I’ve never even heard of that fucking place.

A waitress accidentally spills a beer on my father’s lap.

“This day is shitballs,” I tell him, and hand him a stack of napkins.

“Yep,” he agrees, but he’s laughing. He leaves the apologetic waitress a generous tip.


Map to a Church (Unnecessary)

The route to my grandmother’s funeral service is a straight line from the hotel to the church down a road lined with two-story houses, all fenced yards and large wooden porches, the sidewalks stacked on both sides with fresh snow that blows away in sporadic blasts of arctic wind to reveal weeks-old snow covered in soot, stamped with boot and paw prints and pieces of dog shit. The church is near the town lake, where a group of geese huddle together looking stunned and miserable on ice the same color as the wall of cold sky that seems almost low enough to touch the frozen water. I think they’re geese. I know they’re not ducks. I’m not a poet. I don’t know my birds. I don’t know an elm from a poplar. I’m a little bit better with flowers. I know a blue spruce because there was one in my yard in Santa Fe, and it was the one pop of color on the gray winter day two years ago when my son died.

“Don’t they migrate somewhere warmer?” I ask. “Those geese or birds or whatever?” Nobody answers me. At the church, my brother and his son leap out of the car and sprint across the parking lot. The frozen lake reminds me of another frozen lake in Minnesota where I spent one weekend listening to Joni Mitchell records and writing bad poetry (I didn’t know my birds then, either) with a group of college girlfriends; another frozen lake in Wisconsin where I watched five continuous hours of CNN on the first anniversary of 9/11. Both events seem whole lifetimes ago, memories connected to my current life by delicate filaments that show their strength in the strangest moments.

I pick my way across the parking lot with a bundled Charlotte in my arms. Inside people are milling about in front of a funeral board: pictures of my grandmother as a young girl on the farm, on a horse, in the early 1940s with my father in a cute suit, standing in front of a flat white house, with her parents, who are expressionless and shaped like barrels.

My grandmother was cruel to me, and I am not sad that she is dead. I feel like 93 is a pretty good run. She was rarely sick. She had friends and was comfortable.

My dad speaks first, and he tells the congregation that his mother once told him that he could have searched the whole world over and he never could have found a better wife. This is for my mother, to whom my grandmother was also cruel.

The minister gives a dorky eulogy about salvation that doesn’t happen “in the big city,” but instead in “a little church in the prairie.” His language feels vaguely pornographic to me, all this talk of being “chosen” and “choosing,” and my grandmother saying yes to God, again and again she said yes. I can’t stop thinking, sitting in the back pew nursing my child where nobody might happen to see my breast, that there’s no way this guy voted for Obama.

The only time I feel moved is when my second cousin’s husband sings a solo, halting and occasionally off-key version of Beautiful Savior at the lectern. He struggles through all of the verses without looking up. In front of him, on a table decorated with flowers, my grandmother’s ashes are in a simple black box.

After the funeral we eat fried chicken in the church fellowship hall. My grandmother’s sister introduces me to a man who is clearly suffering from dementia.

“This is Emily,” my great-aunt says. “She wrote a book about her baby who died.”

“Who are you?” he asks. “Did somebody die?” He looks around the room. Someone is slowly releasing a Jell-O mold onto a plate in the kitchen. A woman in an apron dumps more chicken into a bowl on the buffet table.

“My grandmother died,” I say. “Lois died.”

My great aunt is frustrated. “Listen,” she says, tapping the table in front of the man.

He looks at her, then at her hands. “Yes? Who are you?”

“I’m Emily,” I say.

“She’s a writer,” my aunt continues, “and her first book is all about…well,” she says, and flaps her hand in the air. “You tell him how you was made wrong.”


Map to the Body (Shameful)

In 1989, I buy a dress from the J.Crew magazine using the money I make working at the call-in catalogue order center for the Cabela’s hunting magazine. I earn a handful of dollars per hour to sell camouflage pants and bows and arrows, canteens and sleeping bags and fishing rods and tents. “Do you want a deer drag with that?” is a question I ask at least ten times during my shift, as they seem to be perpetually on sale for $19.99.

My dress, which arrives in a plastic mailer that seems fancy to me, having never ordered anything from a catalogue before, is a cotton mock turtleneck dress that falls to mid-calf in a green color that matches my eyes. It cost $50, which is a lot for me at that time. I am fifteen. I still wear a wooden leg. Around my neck I hang a variety of clunky cross necklaces in bronze and silver and faux gold that I buy from a woman called Franca who owns a pawn shop and who often makes me jewelry fashioned from spoons – rings and bracelets, and so I wear these, too. I live in a small town in central Nebraska, which is unpleasant. Our house, too, is unpleasant, with heavy blue curtains and very little light in the main rooms. When we buy the house a realtor tells us a story about the previous owners – about their bratty kid who used to spray his urine all over the laundry room, which is something I never stop imagining while I fold laundry or dump soap in the washer or shake the mud from my winter boots in that closet-sized space. In that house I spend a lot of time in the basement, and I would like to sleep there, make it a teenage-girl den full of secrets and books, but I am still afraid of the dark, and so I sleep in the tiniest room next to my parents’ bedroom in case I wake up in the middle of the night and think I see ghosts, which happens occasionally.

That morning of the debut of the green dress, I spend a lot of time putting Clairol Hot Stix in my hair, applying Jean Nate body splash to my neck and powder puffing my face with Maybelline shimmer powder. I look good, I think, and more womanly than I ever have. Curves have arrived, and with it, new interest from new people. There is a boy in my science class whose attention I want in particular. As I walk down the stairs, my grandmother is passing through the hallway. I stop and wait. She looks me up and down and says, “It sure is a good thing you’re smart.” I skip breakfast that day, and every day after for nearly ten years.

The boy in my chemistry class does notice me. He says, “you wear that dress well,” but I turn my head away and don’t believe him. I will never go out with him now, although I know that’s what he wants to ask me to do.


Map to a Fantasy (Switzerland)

A few weeks after the green dress comes in the mail, I send away for brochures for Swiss boarding schools. I can’t escape my body, but maybe I can get out of Nebraska. I don’t make this connection at the time, but I spend hours staring at the bucolic images of green rolling hills and the lit windows of dormitories set against snow-tipped mountain ranges at various “academies.” I don’t remember how I researched the names of these places, only that they began to arrive in the mailbox with fascinating foreign stamps and a moldy smell to the envelopes – information that had traveled far, through places and stopping points I could not imagine.

I start my campaign to be sent away with my dad, in the morning, while he shaves. I sit on the sink and hold the brochures up.

“Just think,” I say. “I’ll have one of those dogs with the barrels around his neck.”

“I don’t think every girl gets her own dog,” he says, glancing briefly at the brochure.

“How do you know? Have you been to Switzerland?”

“On our honeymoon.” He looks at me.


“What’s the tuition?”

“What’s that?” I ask. “Why would anyone pay to go to school?”

“Well,” he says, running the razor underneath the faucet. “That’s exactly what I’m talking about. Anyway, why Switzerland?”

Outside the Nebraska spring is already weighted by the promise of a humid, buggy summer. “I hate this place,” I say, which he already knows, and which is as true as anything I’ve ever said.

“I know,” he says, putting his razor in the drawer. “But it’s 1989! We’re getting ready for a new decade. The 90s will be awesome.”

“Don’t say awesome, Dad. You’re too old and it makes you sound like a dweeb.” I hop off the counter.

In this scene my dad is five years older than I am now.


 Map to a Friendship (Switzerland)

In 1998, when I’m 22, I work for a Swiss-based relief organization. In Geneva, where I don’t have my own dog but instead have my own spacious, light-filled apartment where I have drunken dinner parties and take long baths in my claw foot tub, I meet the woman who becomes my best friend. Her name is also Emily.

One weekend she and her boyfriend travel to Lake Contamines to hike and they don’t come back. They are an entire day late. This is not like either of them, and they have asked me to do something – “What?” I asked, and we all laughed – if they don’t return at the expected time. I pull out the map, look at the kidney shaped lake, the thin red lines stretching away from it, all the possible paths. My friend is expert at reading maps. She and I spend many weekends walking in the Jura, chilling bottles of wine in snow drifts, smoking cigarettes over coffee in the morning as we plan that day’s route, shuffling onto buses with enormous backpacks and filling them up with glass jugs of French white wine that cost no more than the number of francs you usually carry in your pocket.

I call the emergency number written on a sticker on the phone in my apartment and communicate in my stumbling but well-accented French. “Missing,” I say, “my friend is missing.”

“Your heart is missing?” the dispatcher responds in French, and then, switching to English as the Swiss often do when faced with a not-so-great French speaker. “Is this a joke?”

It isn’t, but I hang up and call my friend’s parents near London, who call someone they know who can call the right person to figure out where my friend and her boyfriend have disappeared to. They are found coming down from the mountain, dehydrated and exhausted, shaken up but okay.

Four years later Emily marries Paul in a purple dress with fresh flowers in her hair. As they ride away from the ceremony on a tandem bike, struggling to make it go, a whole crowd of us laughing, I take a picture of them. I keep it for years – the matching looks on their faces the image of happiness, a couple well-matched.


Map to Shame (Indiscriminate)

The only time you feel anything but pity for your grandmother is one afternoon when she calls you, hysterical. It’s 2003, and you’re in Texas learning to be a writer (you hope), sitting on your porch with your ancient St. Bernard dog, and you’ve had a margarita and so you decide to answer. Plus, you’ve been writing for two days without speaking to anyone. She’s just found a friend of hers dead in her apartment. You imagine a floral nightgown, a woman’s white hair in rollers, her feet in fuzzy slippers. You met the woman once; she had a pot of Pond’s Cold Cream on her bathroom counter. The deep singularity of this image makes you want to cry. This friend was dead on the toilet, slumped over, exposed. “I don’t want to die like that,” your grandmother says, and she sobs so loudly that your half-deaf dog lifts his head and sets it down again, and in this moment you understand her.


Map to an Old City (Spain)

My son has been dying for a year and I haven’t slept, on this August afternoon in 2011, for about four days. I have many important things to say, weird energy that explodes into images, ideas, poems, whole chapters that spool out of my head as if I could roll the ideas across the long stretch of wood floor in the room that is mine for two weeks at this artist’s residency. I’m scribbling on napkins, paper coffee cups, books that aren’t my own and that will be re-shelved in the residency library with my manic notes scribbled inside. I feel no shame about this; I just can’t stop writing. This need outweighs any other – sleep, food, conversation. I do jumping jacks for an hour; I take triple the usual dose of Xanax; I drink glass after glass of homemade wine. I still can’t sleep. My brain is splitting; my body is on fire.

I know I should be at home, staring at my son, making the most of every moment I have with him, but instead I’m hypomanic in an old farmhouse near Mojacar, a white, hilltop city near Almeria in southern Spain. The days are hideously hot, the nights a bit better with the cross-breeze in the room but I don’t ever relax. I read Kafka’s letters, I read stacks of poetry books, I write until my fingers tremble and cramp. I wander the stretch of dirt road in front of the farmhouse, singing arias to myself. None of this is normal, and I know it.

I call Emily in London and tell her that I’m losing my mind. I call from the single phone box in the farmhouse, dropping euros into the slot, my voice echoing through the empty kitchen, even at a whisper. I ask her to come and visit me because I’m scared. The night before I almost screamed at the owner of the house, a snobby Danish woman who held court about the superiority of her culture for an hour. I was rising out of my seat to tell her off when she yawned and said she had to go because it was important to get ten hours of sleep. I’ve never hated someone so much in my life, I tell Emily. And I don’t even know her. Help me.

 She comes to Spain and she helps me. When she sees me coming down the road on this August afternoon she looks shocked. We drink wine, smoke cigarettes, drive along the coast, and that night I finally sleep in the air-conditioned hotel room.

“Look after yourself,” she says when she leaves.

The night she returns to London, I sit outside with the Israeli poet who is also staying in the farmhouse. He is direct and argumentative, which I appreciate. We look at one of the art installations left by a visual artist, a tree made into the shape of Jesus, at the highest part of the highest hill. Below this prominent tree, the highway buzzes with traffic.

“Not a cross, though,” he points out. “It’s kind of weird to see Jesus hanging from an actual tree that’s not shaped like a cross. Or maybe not hanging but standing.” He lives in Jerusalem. He knows his crosses. I once waited in a long line to touch the stone where Jesus’s body was supposedly washed after it was taken from the cross.

“I guess that makes it art,” I say, and wonder if that’s true.


Map to a Cross (France)

While I’m living in Geneva I travel to Taize, an ecumenical monastery in France, where I take part in a silent weekend retreat. The idea is to eat and drink silently as a way of honoring God, which is something I’m interested in doing at the time. French Girl Scouts air kiss in the frigid bathrooms each morning without saying a word, the crisp white collars of their uniforms twitching. I lie on my bunk. I zone out during Bible study. Brother Roger, who started the community, has a calm voice and soft eyes.

At night the cross in the center of the dark room seems to float, covered in candles with skinny flames that shift and snap. Now we can sing, and we do, the same Kyrie over and over, on endless repeat. People cry and shift in their seats. Jesus Jesus remember me remember me in every language.


Map to Nowhere (Readable)

My friend from graduate school has a photographic memory and reads maps in his head. He takes a picture of streets and avenues and then spins the image, like a wheel, in his mind.

“Should I take Lamar?” I ask.

It’s 2002 and we’re in Austin, Texas, and I’m driving us to a hot yoga class, which seems like an odd thing to do in 95 degree weather with a heat index of temperatures last known in hell, but this is the summer when my friend and I have made a pact: we write for eight hours, do yoga, and then go to the movies. We drink a lot, too – smoothies after yoga, wine after the movies. The road shimmers; trees (live oaks, I think) look lumpy in the heat.

“Give me a minute,” he says, spinning the map. “Okay, go south.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I say.

“Turn left,” he says, laughing.

That night’s movie is about a group of girls who are sent to a horrible convent where they are abused by sadistic nuns. They are told they are shameful hussies that will amount to shit. The girls’ out-of-wedlock babies are taken away from them, and nobody takes pity on them when their lactating breasts ache to the point of bursting. In one scene, a girl is having her head shaved, but the nun is getting parts of her scalp, too, she’s so rough, and blood drips from the girl’s head.

My friend is upset and feels sick. He says, “I think I have to leave.”

“We can go,” I say. I put my popcorn container on the empty seat next to me and touch his shoulder. “There’s nothing keeping us here.”

After my son is diagnosed with a terminal illness, I will be given a cocktail of anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications and therefore must stop nursing him. I lie on my bed with aloe leaves on my straining breasts, and think of the girl in that film.

Take me from this, I say out loud into the silence of my bedroom, to nobody.


Map to a Graveyard (Destroyed)

This happened to me, although it feels unreal:

You fucking cunt, he writes to you a week after the two of you stood over your son’s dead body in his crib. He tells you that your heart is deformed, your spirit black. He knows just the right language to use. I hope you have a baby and your baby DIES. He has scattered your son’s ashes in a place he swears he will never reveal. YOU WILL DIE NOT KNOWING, he promises. Other things are written in the email, unbelievable things, and it is sent to 100 people in your email address book. He’s hacked your account, and a few hours after you read this, you begin receiving messages from strangers in Nigeria and Kiev, all writing, you imagine, from some dirty internet café with strong coffee and dusty, rotating ceiling fans. You want to be my good Christian friend! Please send bank routing number and praises to God! The calls from your friends start flowing in as well, the cell phone beeping and buzzing like a crisis, like someone has just died, but Ronan has been dead for two weeks. People are sickened. You think your son’s father might kill himself, this missive is so outrageous, so extreme, and you call someone to check on him. He is still alive. You try to make him write a retraction, you consult a lawyer, you cry and weep and vomit. Your editor received the email, your agent, the contact people at all the bookstores where you will read from the book about your son. You tremble with a fear that cannot be identified, perhaps the fear of the wrongly accused, although of course you have wronged him or you would still love him and you would not be divorcing him. Still, you wonder, did I deserve this? You think not, but you’re not sure, and you ask everyone you love if you do. They all say no. You try to believe them. A few hours later you appear on a live television program and tell the world that he was a good father. This part is the truth. What you don’t say: you were not a good husband. You are a closed book of a man.

On the day your son died, you stood next to this cold, hard man, and took his hand. He shrugged it off. He put a hand on your son. If you could relive this scene, you would punch him in the mouth, lock him in the closet, and tell him the truth: Ronan chose to die with me, asshole. And we waited for an hour to call you. I was with him that whole time, I didn’t want you near me, I never want to see you again.

You are afraid to leave the apartment where you are staying with the love of your life, your true husband who will be the father of your daughter. The rooftops and buildings along Fifth Avenue blur in the out of season snow and you are afraid. You do not reply to the email. You feel like someone has tried to kill you. You worry that if you walk on the streets of this city you will be assassinated.

Your therapist warned you, almost two years earlier, that you were being bullied, that you were being too nice to your son’s father. You ignored her warnings, and now you regret it.

You don’t take your daughter to the grave plot to see your grandmother’s ashes interred in the ground. It is subzero and windy in that graveyard in the prairie, no trees to block the wind. Later your brother tells you he’s never been colder in his life, and the two of you went to college in Minnesota. Your mother will tell you that when your great grandmother was buried forty years earlier it was too cold to break ground and they couldn’t lower the casket for several days.

On the drive home from the funeral, just you and your daughter alone, you wish for a drive-through liquor store but don’t see one, and are too terrified that if you stop for a bottle of wine you will run into someone your parents went to high school with, which happened the last time you were here. You and your daughter sleep on your backs for three hours, in your coats and layered sweaters, arms over your heads, in the hotel room that smells like orange disinfectant and dirty socks.

That night you drive to another horrible town in this horrible part of the cold world to have dinner with your uncle and aunt. Last summer they lost their house to a tornado. All that’s left is the brass pendulum from the clock that stood in their front room and that you remember well. The clock striking time when you stayed up all night playing cards with your cousins; family portraits taken in front of it and pressed into books that disappeared into a cone of wind and dust and thunder. The pendulum, encased in glass, is mounted on their wall. What’s left of the life lived in a house that no longer exists.

Much later you hear that your son’s father has moved to a new city and is taking anger management classes. Good luck with that, a friend writes to you when you tell her. And remember, she says, Ronan is in your heart forever, and you can visit him anytime you like.

Driving with your brother, your parents, your nephew and your daughter 60 miles back to the hotel after dinner, you realize you will never have to visit this place again. No more trips to the farm, no more bad meals at the all you can eat diner with an enormous plastic bull in the scrappy yard out front. No more of this place, not ever. You realize why the novel you set in your parents’ rural farm hometown never worked. You cannot try to tell the story of a place that you do not love.


Map to a Murder (Switzerland)

In 2005, at the age of 90, Brother Roger, the founder of Taize, is murdered by someone identified as “mentally ill” in the press releases about the event. Someone strolls through the candlelit meditation room during the evening prayer and stabs him in the heart.


Map to Multiple Murders (Derry, Northern Ireland)

“It was a sharp day.” This is what Michael tells me when he describes the day of January 30, 1972, when 14 British civilians are shot dead in the street. It’s summer, and I’m in Derry to research a novel that will not crack open for me until my temporary derangement in Spain.

I walk and wind my way through the dark streets. I order packs of cigarettes from machines in pubs. Summer is an incendiary time. There is in uptake in urban violence. Bonfires and parades happen daily, flaring through the streets.

Michael drives me up and down the parade route. He stops the car at a section of the city’s medieval wall.

“You would have known a lot of the people who died,” he says. “All of us, you know?” 

Map to Love (New Mexico, London, New York)

My daughter is learning the value of treasure. She finds tufts of lint, little rocks, sections of string, dollar bills, and puts them in her right fist and carries them with he as she crawls around the house, talking to herself. There’s a stack of journals by my bed that she likes to flip through, taking out mementos and letters, photographs and receipts. I find these scattered under the couch, under the bed, on her changing table.

One morning I open the long fingers of her tiny, sweaty fist and find the map drawn by my friend Emily to her house in London. It’s a very detailed map. The post box is labeled, as is the church, every street, other landmarks, and there’s an arrow at the starting point, and an arrow at the end of the line, which goes down each street exactly until it stops at her home on Keston Road. My friend knows how easily I get lost.

I meet her and two other friends in New York City on the anniversary weekend of Ronan’s death. My true husband, the one I’m married to now, the father of my child, sends over a bottle of pink champagne, with love from New Mexico. It is Valentine’s Day. At the end the waiter tells us that he has also paid for our meal. We all squeal like teenage girls who’ve been passed a note saying yes I like you.

I will never know where my child has gone, but I know where I am, in a café with people I love, and I am loved.

I’m happy, in this moment, that I don’t do maps, because there’s no way I would have believed anyone who had said this is the way. The only way to travel this route was to be lost, asking everyone I met, wherever I happened to land, where am I?




A former Fulbright scholar and graduate of Harvard University, Emily Rapp is the author of the books The Still Turning Point of the World and Poster Child: A Memoir, in addition to many essays and stories in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Bark, Bellevue Literary Review, The Sun, Body + Soul, StoryQuarterly, Good Housekeeping, The Manifest-Station, The Texas Observer, and other publications. She is the recipient of a Rona Jaffe Writers’ Award, a James A. Michener Fellowship at the University of Texas-Austin (Michener Center for Writers), and the Philip Roth Writer-in-Residence fellowship at Bucknell University. She has received awards and grants for her work from the Fine Arts Work Center, the Jentel Arts Foundation, the Corporation of Yaddo, and the Fundacion Valparaiso. She has taught writing in the MFA program at Antioch University-Los Angeles, where she was a core faculty member, the Gotham Writers’ Workshop, and UCLA-Extension. She is currently professor of creative writing and literature at the Santa Fe University of Art and Design. She is at work on a novel. She leads writing & yoga retreats with Jen Pastiloff in Vermont. Email to book or click here.

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 Sep 17-24, 2016. 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! Must email to book. 



March 13 NYC! A 90 minute class for women, girls and non-gender conforming folks (we encourage teens 16 and up) and all levels that will combine flow yoga, meditation, empowerment exercises, connection and maybe, just maybe, a dance party. This will be a class to remind you that you are enough and that you are a badass. It will be fun and empowering and you need no yoga experience: just be a human being. Let’s get into our bodies and move! Be warned: This will be more than just a basic asana class. It will be a soul-shifting, eye-opening, life-changing experience. Come see why Jen Pastiloff travels around the world and sells out every workshop she does in every city. This will be her last class before she has her baby so sign up soon. Follow her on instagram at @jenpastiloff and @girlpoweryouareenough.   Jen is also doing her signature Manifestation workshop in NY at Pure Yoga Saturday March 5th which you can sign up for here as well (click pic.)

March 13 NYC! A 90 minute class for women, girls and non-gender conforming folks (we encourage teens 16 and up) and all levels that will combine flow yoga, meditation, empowerment exercises, connection and maybe, just maybe, a dance party. This will be a class to remind you that you are enough and that you are a badass. It will be fun and empowering and you need no yoga experience: just be a human being. Let’s get into our bodies and move! Be warned: This will be more than just a basic asana class. It will be a soul-shifting, eye-opening, life-changing experience. Come see why Jen Pastiloff travels around the world and sells out every workshop she does in every city. This will be her last class before she has her baby so sign up soon. Follow her on instagram at @jenpastiloff and @girlpoweryouareenough.
Jen is also doing her signature Manifestation workshop in NY at Pure Yoga Saturday March 5th which you can sign up for here as well (click pic.)

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  • Reply annie March 2, 2015 at 8:27 am

    “I don’t want to die like that,” your grandmother says, and she sobs so loudly that your half-deaf dog lifts his head and sets it down again, and in this moment you understand her.”


    Emily. I hate the internet because I can’t look into your eyes and just tell you thank you for writing this. ALL of this. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.

  • Reply Barbara Potter March 2, 2015 at 11:38 am

    Wow Emily Wow!!!

  • Reply Treva Draper-imler March 2, 2015 at 4:35 pm

    Wow doesn’t cover it. It isn’t enough, but it is what I have. Wow!

  • Reply Amy Ferris March 2, 2015 at 5:37 pm

    thank you.

  • Reply Natalie March 2, 2015 at 5:59 pm

    wow. I will read again. wow. Thank you. Wow. love

  • Reply From the outside … | Ugly Pies March 4, 2015 at 11:29 am

    […] all the pieces of her life were so beautifully mapped (please read this if you get a chance–Cartography for Mourners). But it wasn’t just the writer I connected with, but also with my friend Kelé, who posted […]

  • Reply This is Not a Map | Soul Sustenance March 13, 2015 at 3:08 pm

    […] It is, however, a brilliant and timely cartography for mourners. […]

  • Reply Mihaela March 15, 2015 at 3:47 pm

    Awesome writing. Thank you. I love this website,always something captivating to read.

  • Reply Rachel April 2, 2015 at 1:05 pm

    Thank you. I am so sorry for all the hurt, and so grateful for what you have made of it.

  • Reply Aine Greaney April 16, 2015 at 3:32 pm

    What stunning writing. Bravo.

  • Reply Mein Name November 22, 2015 at 3:01 pm

    It appears that you are friends with the owner of this site. Consequently, I think this comment will be short lived, if it appears at all.

    What struck me were the passages relating to your son’s father. I do not have direct experience in losing a child, but I have close friends who have, and much like you, the marriage did not survive the loss. This, one can understand.

    Memoir is history re-written to serve the memoirist, and while I do not know you or your son’s father, this seems to be what you have done. Your son’s illness was a tragedy, one that left you taking a triple doses of Xanax and reeling around a writer’s retreat in Spain. This, it seems, is okay, a normal reaction to tragedy (and truly, I think it is). But your son’s father, it seems, is not allowed to fall apart in a like manner, despite suffering exactly the same pain and loss you have suffered.

    Especially hurtful was the passage describing your little boy’s death. As I read it, you waited until the child passed before calling his father, and then when this ‘bully’ did not respond to your physical expression of sympathy by your son’s death bead, you explode with rage claiming this poor child picked you to die with, and not the ‘bully’.

    That is an awful thing to say. The boy made no choice at all. Your son died when he did not by choice but because that was when his little body shut down. That it happened to be with you was sheer chance. Had he died with his father and not you, would you then claim the boy died with this man in order to spare you pain? Or inflect it on his father?

    I don’t know anything of your history with this man, but really — his son dies surrounded by you and presumably your family (and your ‘true’ husband?) and he is only called after the fact to view the shell that was his much loved child, and he is not allowed to be angry that he was denied the opportunity to be with this child as he left this world? It seems to me his not telling you where the child’s ashes are was done in direct retaliation for you not telling him the child was passing from this world and allowing him to be there. And for not giving you a hug, or something. His harsh words are not to be forgiven or put into context of coming from a man who has suffered a huge, heart-tearing loss? But all that you do is permissible?

    You felt such pain that a massive dose of Xanax could not counteract it and that is okay, but this man is not allowed to be similarly deranged by the long illness and death of what is presumably also his only child, a child you seem to indicate he was a good father to and loved very much?

    This man’s actions were not very nice but it seems as if you are saying it was okay for you to act out in any way but there was some code, some straight line he was to follow and that he did not made him a bully. He was in the same agony you were, but he is not forgiven for not being the perfect person and following a script you have written for him in your head?

    I wish you and your son’s father peace and harmony in your separate lives.

    • Reply Jennifer Pastiloff November 22, 2015 at 3:06 pm

      First of all, why the fake name and email? Since, as you say, you have no idea of what went down, or of the father’s story, you should leave it at that. She did not rewrite history. I was there every step of the way. And what would I gain by rewriting history that wasn’t mine to begin with? Thank you for taking the time to read this brave piece. I will pass on the well wishes as she does not read comments. I had to since I had to decide whether to approve or decline.

  • Reply Manifesto Research: Part one – Sophie Wilkin June 20, 2018 at 4:38 pm

    […] The Manifest-Station. (2015). Cartography for Mourners. Retrieved from: […]

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