Note from Jen Pastiloff, founder of The Manifest-Station:
This was not easy. This is not easy. I had one spot to give away to our retreat (and yes, we will do it again next year as this is our third year leading the Vermont retreat.) I had one spot which then turned into FOUR, thanks to various generous donors including Lidia Yuknavitch, Amy Ferris, Elizabeth Quant and three others.
And yet and still, we have 70 essays to get through. You read that right: 70. In just a few days, 70 essays piled in.
I sat reading through all of them with eyes spilling over. I was so moved that I decided I could not stop here. I would keep giving and finding ways to be of service. My teacher and mentor, Dr. Wayne Dyer, passed away last week- that was his big message. How many I serve?
I intend to carry on that legacy.
I decided I could not stop at these 4 spots to Vermont so I am giving away 3 spots to my New Years Retreat in Ojai, California as well. Nothing makes me feel better than to do this.
I also have 20 spots to give away to my Girl Power: You Are Enough workshop for teens next weekend in Princeton and NYC. Ten available for each workshop. Email me for a spot. I want girls who could not afford the cost to be able to attend. Here are the details. Please note: the Princeton workshop is 13 and up and the NYC workshop is 16 and up.
And yet and still, there are so many others that were not chosen. There was not one essay that didn’t move me. There was not one essay that did not want me to push through my computer screen and embrace the woman who wrote it. Not one. I had a team helping me as I could not do this alone. I think we need to remember that more often: we cannot do this alone.
How bold one gets when one is sure of being loved.
Adina Giannelli has been notified and will be attending the retreat with Emily and I next month in Stowe. She is over the moon. The retreat is sold out. Congratulations to Jena. I hope you all will be moved to share this. I know I was.
At the end of my life, when I ask one final, “What have I done?” Let my answer be, “I have done love.”
Love, Jen Pastiloff
My name is Adina Giannelli, and I am submitting my essay “Dayenu (It Would Have Been Enough)” for consideration for the retreat Jen and Emily Rapp are offering in October 2015. It is no hyperbole to say I’m in love with them both, so I’m beyond excited for the opportunity that presents itself, and for whoever is the recipient of this fantastic opportunity.
A bit about me: I’m a writer with no money who lives in western Massachusetts with my 3.5 year old son Samuel. My writing has appeared in publications including Salon, the Washington Post, and (of course) The Manifest-Station (“How to Have a Dead Child, The First Five Years” and “How to Love a Stranger”). Again, I’m blown away by the work of Emily and Jen alike and I would be thrilled to attend their upcoming retreat, which I cannot independently afford.
Thanks to you all for this tremendous opportunity. I am humbled and grateful and wish you all the best as you carry forth to identify your contest winner.
Dayenu (It Would Have Been Enough)
By Adina Giannelli
For more than eleven years I do not have a body—but then I get my period. I do not tell my mother, a drug addict who spends most of her days remotely, building a dependency from behind her bedroom door. She is thin from drug use, her low weight aided and abetted by a steady intake of coffee, cigarettes, and the diet pills I steal from her underwear drawer. In this drawer, she stores boxes of off-label laxatives, energy tablets, appetite suppressants shrouded by slips and lace lingerie I’m not sure she ever wears. My mother hides the diet pills as she stashes food away in her bedroom, and whenever the door is unlocked, I sneak in and take both.
But I do not scout around for tampons or pads to lift the way I stole Little Debbie cakes and diuretics from my mother’s bedroom drawers. The day I get my period, I steal nothing. The blood streaming down my strong legs is sin enough. I do not call for help. I intuit, based on past experience: my cries will go unheeded.
Instead, I turn a washcloth into a makeshift barrier and walk a half-mile to the nearest convenience store. I scour the limited selection of menstrual products, settling on a marked up package of Always that put me back seven dollars, a small fortune for an eleven year old in 1994. It is my first experience with price gouging, my first lesson that if you’re going to be a woman, it will cost you. They’re for my mother, I lie to the clerk as I count out change from my babysitting money to pay. I realize then that I am marked: fumbling for quarters in a dingy corner store, bloody washcloth wedged uncomfortably between chafing thighs, and hoping that no one can see.
My mother learns of my affliction more than two years later, when I unexpectedly deplete my cache. I am thirteen and no longer comfortable with a washcloth as a menstrual stopgap. Grudgingly, I ask to borrow a tampon.
Go to the store and buy some pads, she said, tampons are for women. When did you get your period?
Listen, I said, I’ve been a “woman” for two years now only you’ve been too fucking high to pay attention.
I’d been using tampons the entire time, for nearly as long as I’d been pilfering diet pills from my mother’s undergarment drawer. She had not noticed either.
By the time I ask my mother for a tampon, my weight and moods swing wildly, one of the many indignities of puberty. I have developed breasts and hips and ass and thighs I never asked for, drawing constant attention from men, who leer and grope and attempt to lure me. At the time I assume they don’t realize how young I am. In retrospect, I see: perhaps they do.
I try to craft my body as a fortress, to render myself hard and retreat into an impenetrable shell—to steel and steady myself against rough hands, cold touches, forced entries and departures. But I cannot seal myself off completely. So I fashion myself as a witness, an invulnerable observer, capable of dissociating and processing everything that happens to me as if another person entirely.
Although I vacillated between starving myself and eating massive quantities of food, I had no sense of urgency about my body, its abilities and its contours. I never thought myself fat or thin, attractive or unattractive, pliant or compliant. I never contemplated how it looked in a mirror, in a sundress, naked or in a photograph. I had no consciousness of how it felt running through a field or under the stream of a hot shower, floating in an ocean, or writhing between clean sheets. My body was always a means to an end, hardly mine, tenuously connected to the person I was. The only thing that connected me to it was the notion, imperceptible but nevertheless omnipresent that it could never be enough. Still, I had no body image to speak of. You cannot have a body image when you barely have a body.
I handle my body’s impulses as a matter of fact, forcing myself into physicality as a means of staying grounded. I ran for months on a fractured ankle, demanded unmedicated childbirth, went without food for days, all as a matter of safekeeping—to see if I could feel something. But when men forced themselves upon me I slipped out of my body like a nightdress, yielding quietly to all advances. I felt nothing, and this was my way to survive.
Years pass and my manipulation continues. I exercise more than I should, or not at all; eat massive quantities of food, all day long, or never. I drew my body taut, gained weight, lost weight, hovered around 160 and then 115 pounds, then 160 again, my body billowing in and out like the drum of an Italian accordion. At my lowest weight my abs still lack washboard definition, but my ribs jut out in their stead. My period ceases and my clothing hangs from my hips in bags. I am pleased by the aesthetic, but it’s ultimately unsatisfying. The number doesn’t matter. I still feel nothing.
Eating or not eating does not keep me in my body, so I turn to men whose words or weight will meet me there. I catapult back and forth a slingshot. Drawn to masculine men with hard bodies and harder hearts, I sought love through sex and found no matter my moves, my stance, my strategy, I could not fuck my way into men’s hearts, any more than they could fuck their way into mine.
I spend twenty years looking to be brought back, to feel something, anything. And I craved affection, approval, a love I thought would materialize if only my frame succumbed to the pressure I exacted upon it. The love I sought was bound up in sex, and this was bound up in my weight, the dimensions of my body, the implicit judgment I sought from others to keep me in check, to make myself real. But the reality never materialized, weight loss brought sex no more than sex brought love, and none of it made me real. My body had nothing to do with it. The love I was looking for would come when I realized I was enough.
When I met Gil I felt everything. I was still a mess of a person, but he was different, and I was ready. My body (145 pounds) was strong and healthy and capable. After years of self-inflicted violence I am in another place. We meet just after Passover, a Jewish holiday of commemoration. He has the most beautiful eyes I have ever seen. After the Seder, he sings Dayenu, a traditional Passover song, which translates from the Hebrew as It would have been enough. As in: if G-d had only brought us out of Egypt and not levied judgments against the Egyptians, it would have been enough. If He had carried out judgments against Egyptians, but not their idols, it would have been enough.
I cast no aspersions against Egyptians or their idols, but I’m starting to believe: it’s that way with me too. Maybe, finally, after years of self-inflicted suffering I can see: whatever happens, whatever shape the future holds, whatever is to follow the here and now, there is a gift in what already is.
Hebrew has no present tense for the verb “to be”, Gil explains to me while we’re lying in bed one night, the language functions differently in that way, I don’t know why. But I can see—there is no need. Your being is self-evident, manifested in and by and through your very existence. You don’t have to declare anything—it’s sheer redundancy to mark the thing itself. It’s another way of saying you are enough.
So dayenu. If I only publish small essays here and there, but never write a book, it would have been enough. If my body stays steady at 145 pounds, if I never fit again into a size four, but just battle my body in small ways, I would have been enough. If I forgave myself but not the men who touched me against my will, it would have been enough. If I only forgave my mother for her sicknesses, and not for the abuses that resulted therefrom, it would have been enough. If I only master sufficient Hebrew to tell Gil’s mother in the one language she knows I love your son—that too, will have been enough. And if I tell Gil I love him only by the way my body slips across his in the night, the low murmur I make as he pulls me closer toward him, I will have been enough. I have not found the words—perhaps I’ll never find the words. But I can see what I am manifesting.
A writer and teacher whose essays has appeared in publications including Role Reboot, The Manifest-Station, Salon, and The Washington Post, Adina Giannelli lives and works in Western Massachusetts with her son Samuel. She is currently at work on her first book.