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And So It Is

And So It Is, Guest Posts

Taboo.

January 23, 2014

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-blackBy Andi Cumbo-Floyd

I heard my mother swear exactly one time.

My brother and I wanted to go to the pool on a blazing summer day. We were already in the back of the Chevette, our legs sticking to the vinyl, and Mom was in the driver’s seat.  I cannot remember what Jeremy and I were badgering her about – going sooner, staying longer, more snacks? – but she lost it a tiny, tiny bit.

“Damn it!” She slammed the door and went inside.

Jeremy and I sat in the car for a long time. I probably cried. In time, she came back out and drove us to the pool.

Swearing was taboo in our house. Even now, when I say “shit” in front of my dad, he winces a bit. . . and then gets that furrow of disapproval between his gray eyebrows.

My parents were quite open to most anything – I shaved my head in 7th grade – no reaction; I never had a curfew, just times my parents asked me to be home; no subject was ever off-limits in books. But swearing was not something that happened in the Cumbo home.

It was a taboo certainly carried over from their devout, somewhat conservative Christian faith and from their generational expectations – polite people just don’t swear.

***

Fuck taboos. I hate them.

I hate the way they make people feel small and tiny. Limited.  Controlled.

I hate the way they are wielded like weapons at dinner parties – in polite conversation, we don’t talk about politics, religion, or money – or touted on blogs as the guidelines for being invited in – “swearing is unnecessary.”

I hate the way that people judge each other – and themselves – when people “air their dirty laundry” as if sharing our pain is somehow violating the limits of proper etiquette.

No.  No!

I believe in hanging it all out – the shit stains and the blood marks and the semen etched by love and loathe into the sheets. Because when we hang it all out, the air gets in and opens it up, opens us up.

Because when we show ourselves, even the inky, burnt parts we normally keep turned inward, we heal.  We breathe again.

***

Someone surely is going to say that there are limits to what we should share and when. . . . and I don’t disagree . . . at least not with the idea that we can be wise about what and whom we open up to.

I do, however, disagree with the “should” because “should” is an agent of control that comes from someone other than ourselves.  “Should” is that pesky, belittling voice that silences us because it is almost never coupled with “breathe” and “rest” and the honest touch of a warm hand.  “Should”- and its brother “should not –  are the voices that shout, not the ones that caress.

I am a Christian. I have been taught for almost four decades what I should and should not do, what it is to be “good” and what it is to be “bad.”  More often the lessons on “good” washed over me like silk that flowed to other people – the girl who was prettier, thinner; the boy who read his Bible more; the woman who always smiled – but without fail, the “bad” sunk into me like acid, leaving my skin intact and burning into my skeleton.  The “should” sticks.  The “good” doesn’t.

So I have found my way past the “should” and “should not” to the space beyond that, where God, in all God’s goodness, whispers love and hope and the kind of forgiveness that is about moving forward not miring down.

***

My mother died from cancer just over three years ago. Even when she was in agonizing pain, she didn’t swear.  She didn’t complain.

I wish she had. I wish she’d let loose with every expletive that came to her as the cancer wracked her body.  I wish she had screamed out the blood that was murdering her minute by minute.

But she didn’t.  She spoke love to us even then.  “I love you . . . ”

Every day.  Every day, I am grateful that I was raised in a family where love overcame everything. . . even the taboos we taught ourselves.  Every day, I’m glad my father’s brow just furrows when I swear . . . and that then, I feel his calloused, soft hand on my shoulder as he whispers, “I’m so proud of you.”

Andi Cumbo-Floyd is the author of  The Slaves Have Names: Ancestors of my Home. She blogs regularly at andilit.com, and you can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

 

All of Jen Pastiloff’s events, including Tuscany and Mexico, listed here.

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

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

And So It Is, courage, Delight, Guest Posts

How To Self-Promote Without Being an A-Hole About It.

January 19, 2014

By Jolie Jenkins.

A couple days ago, in the frozen foods aisle of Trader Joe’s, I was approached/cornered by a woman in a faux-fur leopard coat, black ugg boots, cat-eye glasses and a giant, platinum, frizzy halo of hair. She pointed an acrylic nail at me and leaned in.

“Because you have an orchid in your cart, I’m going to give you a bookmark,” she said. “Do you like books?”

I blinked and stammered a few seconds, taking it all in and trying to process what was happening. I had no idea what purchasing orchids had to do with deserving bookmarks but I couldn’t deny that I liked books. She had me there.

“Yes,” I replied. “I do like books.”

I must’ve answered correctly because she reached into a wrinkly plastic sack and produced a large, glossy bookmark.

“Put it in your purse.” She ordered, handing it to me. Then she shuffled away, likely toward more orchid/book lovers.

I glanced at it, perplexed. Upon further inspection I realized she was an author and the bookmark was an advertisement for her book. Here is a choice excerpt:

TOO OLD TO BE A HOOKER, TOO YOUNG TO BE A MADAM

A Novel inspired by true events is a racy fantasia. It’s a vivid portrait of April Moon, the charismatic Jewish American temptress born and bred in Beverly Hills, seduced by the lure of Laurel Canyon. Join the original flower child and her extra wannabe starlet party princesses on their journey of dangerous liaisons with the bold, the buffed and the beautiful. Antonio, the cross-dressing, Eurotrash mambo king from Madrid, a combination of a stallion and a pit bull; Diva Boy, an outrageous disco dolly; her certifiable rich mother; Christopher, the eccentric artistic director perv whose family tree is soaked in gin; Lust, a bizarre porn star; and a jock named Patrick, the hot hung eye candy from Orange County. You’ll share April’s bizarre adventures as a stunt girl, her experiences inside of a trendy drug and alcohol rehab center in Malibu, a psych ward, and a Mexican jail.

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Well. I can’t say that I’m not curious about April’s journey (a Jewish American temptress in a Mexican jail?!), but what struck me most curiously about this whole encounter was this woman’s ballsy brazenness at putting herself out there. It was remarkable.

I’ve never been a fantastic self-promoter. There’s something about the look-at-me!-ness of it all that feels impolite. The irony is not lost on me, being an actor (who also has a blog, hello!). But It’s one thing to perform in the moment and another thing to talk about it to others and ask them to watch you. In certain ways, I really have to make a concerted effort to put myself out there and even then, a part of me cringes. Maybe it’s because I personally know certain actors who go way overboard on the self-selling (narcissism, anyone?) and it makes me tremendously itchy. I never want to elicit that response in others. It is show business, though, as they say, and that means if you want to get a job, you do have to think about how you are seen and how you are showing up.

I’m not just talking about plugging your TV appearance on Facebook, although that’s part of it (that’s the easy part). I’m talking about energetically taking up space, being unapologetically ballsy. And figuring out how to do that without being a jerk. Frustratingly (to me), those narcissistic actors I just spoke of have tremendously successful careers. It feels like they’re being rewarded for being assholes. All this has me thinking: is there a way to show up big, retain and celebrate your own authenticity, and (gasp) be happy and kind along the way?

My teacher/boss/friend Lesly doesn’t necessarily think so. Her most successful clients share what she calls ruthlessness and that just sounds so abrasive to all parts of me. What I think is fascinating about this quandary is that (show business or otherwise) we’re talking about selfishness. Too little and you’re an apologetic soul, living out of fear and worry. Too much and you’re an entitled jerk who’s gross to be around. It’s also about flexibility. The Diva who claws her way to the top runs into a snag by not being adaptable. She expects people and circumstances to revolve around her. The too-adaptable wallflower shrinks into smallness or gets taken advantage of. The right amount of malleability is vital for success and happiness. Lots of rules about how things need to be make it hard to enjoy yourself, whether you’re experiencing what you believe “success” to be or not. It makes contentment super slippery and conditional. I want to have goals in my life and go after what I want, but flexibility has to play a part to let the definition of happiness be moveable. Mainly because I’ve tried it the other way and it’s freaking uncomfortable.

Whether actors or not, maybe we could think about indulging in Self-promotion with a capital S. Promoting and celebrating our higher, most authentic Selves, thinking BIG in the vastest sense and not just for personal gain. Maybe we can try on some entitlement in terms of being committed to our own (flexible!) happiness. And perhaps ruthlessness has a place in cultivating an unyielding, unapologetic commitment to follow heart and gut, to hell with what anyone else thinks. And hopefully by having those intentions, the things out there in the world that we want to experience will be drawn to us. And we don’t have to be jerks to get them.

Bonus: this kind of light-shining benefits not just self but the collective too. True story: on my way home from Trader Joe’s, while stopped at a stoplight and trying to read my new bookmark in the dark, I saw a guy standing alone on a street corner with an actual, live sparkler in his hand. Just standing there, doing figure-eights and twirling it solo while it burned and sputtered. He seemed to be purely doing it for self-satisfaction but for those few fleeting red-light minutes, did it ever make me smile.

IMG_5588IMG_5605Sesame Avocado Relish

serves 2-3

This dippy spread was born out of a need to feed three hungry women at a rehearsal. It was such a hit (and snarfed so quickly) that it is now a rehearsal requirement due to its severe habit-forming properties. And it like, totally made us better actors.

1 perfectly ripe avocado, halved

gomasio to taste (or plain sesame seeds)

brown rice vinegar

lemon

sea salt

olive oil or toasted sesame oil

Cross-hatch the avocado and scoop out the diced pieces into a bowl. Sprinkle with brown rice vinegar (start with about 2t), the squeeze of a quarter lemon, a drizzle of either olive oil or toasted sesame oil and a shake of gomasio. Taste. Depending on your palate and the size of your avocado, keep adding more acid/salt/gomasio as you go. Serve with raw veggies, atop salad, with chips (maybe fried wontons!?), smashed on toast, etc…

xoxo

jolie

P.S.  Do you like monkeys and/or Lorenzo Lamas?  Check out this commercial I did!*

*she said, unapologetically but with authentic boldness:)

P.P.S.  4 awesome things that relate:

1. After I wrote this post I came across this Agnes DeMille quote and almost fell outta my chair.

2. Remember: your playing small does not serve the world!

3. No one is gonna pick you. Pick yourself.

4. This for fun:)

jolie_3
Hi:) I’m Jolie. I’m a working actress living in Los Angeles with my husband and pooch.

Do you know what it’s like being an actress in Los Angeles? It’s simultaneously:

insane,
fun,
bizarre,
harrowing,
exciting,
maddening,
riveting,
and boring-as-hell.

Not unlike your Grandma taking you to have the expert photogs at K-Mart work their portrait magic after dressing yourself in a rad 80s outfit (see above).

When Show Business is good, it’s really good. But when it’s been a while between jobs, you’re so desperate for a creative outlet that it’s not uncommon to pin all your hopes and dreams on, say, a small guest-star on a CSI:MIAMI episode, fully believing that it will express all you have to offer as a creative entity. This can only end badly. Especially if you’re shooting all day on a small, musty boat getting tangled split-ends and active rosacea from the whipping, salty wind. 

After many years and many CSI:MIAMI moments, I made a concerted effort to take all my eggs out of one basket and spread them around: I learned the true value of having a hobby. I took up knitting and couldn’t stop. I always liked to cook so I enrolled in a 20-week cooking course. It was such a relief to find other things to enjoy. And in both cases, having a desire to create something and then see it through to an end result was tremendously satisfying. I didn’t have to wait by the phone for my agent to tell me I could. Feeling bolstered, I started writing more, tweaking recipes, documenting my experiences in the kitchen and out in the Crazytown that is Los Angeles.

I love to act and play other people but Joeycake is all me.  

**

Jennifer Pastiloff is a writer based in Los Angeles. She is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Jen will be leading a Retreat in Costa Rica at the end of March and her annual retreat to Tuscany is in July 2014. All retreats are a combo of yoga/writing and for ALL levels. Read this post to understand what a Manifestation retreat is. Check out her site jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Jen and bestselling author Emily Rapp will be leading another writing retreat to Vermont in October.

And So It Is, Guest Posts, Making Shit Happen, Manifestation Retreats

Are You Full Of Things That Aren’t Serving You?

January 13, 2014

One of the women from my last retreat wrote this, and, with permission, I am sharing. 

*                                                           *                                                      *

Okay, I am not a writer or a poet but I am compelled to put in writing the changes already taking place in my life not 48 hours after closing circle of Jen’s retreat. Going into the retreat this past week, I was stuck. Really, really stuck. Scared of connecting with anyone because I already felt completely depleted.

Isolation was the only thing that felt safe.

I found this retreat because I was looking for space to find my true authentic self again. Throughout the retreat thoughts, images, and a feeling of who I was “before”, started to emerge.

Jen’s words “begin again”. Jen asking “How will you serve?” Her words “what do you need to let go of?” These stuck in my mind and I found myself unable to sleep thinking about them.

Then Jen said something life changing thing for me, “You have to let go of things you don’t want to make space for what you do.” It clicked.

I was full of things I needed to let go of leaving no room for the things I wanted. I am kind of amazed her words stuck like they did considering at the time I was trying to keep up with the whole Vinyasa’ing thing. But I heard her and I watched others let go of their fear and then I felt myself begin to let go of my own.

I could then begin to hear what my heart had been saying all along, “I want connection”, “I want my purpose to be revealed to me”, “I want to use all of my gifts.” I hit Fawntice’s gong on the New Year’s Eve and sent it that sound, that vibration out -knowing opportunities for connection were all ready on their way.

Which brings me to yesterday morning….

Scouring Facebook for more photos from the retreat, missing my new friends already, I noticed a post on a local mom’s board from a 17 year old girl who is due to have a baby girl in 3 months.

She posted, asking for help. Clearly scared, with no job and only a few baby clothes. She was asking for any used baby items to help her prepare for the baby admitting she didn’t really even know what she needed. I smile a deep soul smile. Jen’s voice “how will you serve?” echoed. Not even 48 hours after the Manifestation Retreat and in front of me on the computer screen was an opportunity for connection.

Of course I could just donate baby things since I have a 6 month old baby girl. But I also have gifts. I am a trained birth and postpartum doula but I have never used the training.

I wrote her and offered all the baby essentials I have to give but I also offered support. I offered love and connection. She was thrilled and was willing to meet today. There are so many excuses I could have and would have given myself for not reaching out in this way, I am a recent single mother to 3 kids under 5, I don’t have business cards and should go to school and get more training first. More schooling and a complete website with business cards, tend to be my favorite excuses.

But reaching out is beginning again, it’s letting go of fear and it is one way I can serve someone else. So I did it.

Jen reaching out to me, and a room full of beautiful others inspired me to reach out.

**

I was going to end this here but what happened today at the meeting with the girl was so moving I have to share.

I spent an hour with her at a coffee shop just talking. It took an hour of letting her talk to get to her real problem. She doesn’t have a safe place to live and she doesn’t have enough food eat. It was midday and she had not had food since lunchtime the day before. I could tell she didn’t want me to know this. She went from being in AP classes, playing 3 sports, performing spoken word poetry and running girls empowerment workshops to doing independent study because she didn’t have enough money to take the bus to school and eat.

I started with getting her lunch and a bag of groceries. Next up: cooking classes and diaper changing 101 at my house. This girl was meant to be in my life. She’d realized we crossed paths at a bus stop 3 months ago and had a short conversation.

I didn’t need a website to connect with her and make a difference. I just had to let go of my shit and say yes.

Thank you Jen and each one of you for putting me in a place where I could open my heart to this girl. It is just a small thing, but it’s the beginning.

This is going to be a great year.

IMG_1171

To learn more about retreats with Jen or to book one, click here. https://jenniferpastiloff.com/Yoga_Retreats_With_Jen_Pastiloff.html.

And So It Is, Eating Disorders/Healing, Guest Posts

Penance.

January 5, 2014

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-blackBy Gina Frangello.

The second semester of my senior year of college, I developed a phobia of unopened packages of food.  Unless someone else had eaten from the package already, I suspected it would be poisoned, like the Tylenol tamperings of my youth.  The only item I remember being exempt from this phobia during that period of time were the Snickers bars I ate for lunch in the psychology building two or three days a week.  Clearly, the candy bar dropped out of the vending machine wrapped, and yet not only did I consume it, I don’t think it ever actually occurred to me that it might be poisoned.  I had no anxiety about my Snickers bars, which is even stranger since I was also suffering from a functional eating disorder that had me hovering constantly at just under 100 pounds, and calories were a major preoccupation of mine.  I suppose I ate so little otherwise that the Snickers bar was no cause for anxiety.  It was accompanied by a Diet Pepsi and was very likely the only solid food I took in on those days.  Although I was a borderline anorexic, I took cream in my coffee and (at that time, which mystifies me now) preferred revoltingly sweet drinks like white Russians and pina coladas and Malibu and pineapple juice.  Since I drank eleven cups of coffee a day, so that my hands always had a slight tremor and I had to balance books on my lap while reading or they would vibrate around, and my friends and I went to the Madison bars at least four nights per week, I suppose my calorie needs were being met; I never dipped below 98 pounds, even though I vaguely wanted to.  I wasn’t quite 5’2” and I was definitely “skinny,” but not to the point of a clinical anorexia diagnosis.  Not, unlike my sorority friend, Trish, to the point of getting into Disney World at the “under 12” price or ending up hospitalized.  My body was essentially the same shape it is now, just a more narrow version; I still had curves in my tiny black skirts.  When my roommate Deb tried to express concern over my weight, I assumed she was just jealous (the absurdity to this is evident to me now, given that Deb had an astonishingly good, healthy figure, and that she could no doubt see on a daily basis what a wreck I was), so I asked her kind-of-boyfriend if he thought I was too skinny, just to hear him say no right in front of her.  What he actually did was ask me to turn around so he could look at my body more carefully, and what I actually did was get up on the table of our booth at the Kollege Klub, our usual hangout, and turn in a slow circle.  Then he said no, and Deb sulked, and I was what passed, back then, for “happy,” which all too frequently seemed to involve making someone else feel crappy so that I could, for an instant, feel good.

My fear of unopened packages of food was a narcissistic fear, of course.  It wasn’t as if, if I saw my roommates about to eat the first bagel of a package, I would jump up yelping with anxiety, fearing they were about to drop dead on the floor.  It wasn’t that the prospect of other people’s death-by-poisoning was of no concern to me—I loved my friends with the intensity many only-children do, despite whatever bitchy antics I may have committed vis-à-vis turning around on bar tables for the approval of their boyfriends.  Rather, it was that it seemed self-evident to me that this fear of contaminated food was wholly unreasonable unless I was the one about to put it in my mouth.  I believed, on some level, that the food would only be contaminated if I were the one to consume it.  That I understood how preposterous this was did little to allay my fears, similarly to the way I would believe—maybe still believe in my weaker moments—that airplanes are only destined to crash if I am aboard them.  This phenomenon is what some of my addict friends would later describe to me as “believing you are the piece of shit at the center of the universe.”  The belief that you are special, even if in a perverted, self-loathing and warped way.  That God or the fates or other people are somehow focused enough on your existence and on your self-perceived shortcomings or sins, that the very laws of the universe and world events will be altered just to punish you or teach you a lesson.  My boarding the plane will cause it to go down.  My eating the first bagel in the bag will cause it to be poisoned, but if Amy or Deb chows down on the bagel, of course it will be fine.  I have spent more than twenty years trying to understand this belief, yet still its finer points elude me.  Did I believe that my actions literally caused a shift in the linearity of Time, and an altering of past events (i.e. crazy psychopathic criminal bursts into bagel factory and sprinkles arsenic on this particular package…but this only happened if I actually take a bite)?  My brain cells were consumed by counting calories and worrying that God would send me to Hell for being a slut, even though I didn’t believe in Hell exactly.  Or—surprise—I didn’t believe in Hell for “other people.”  If one of my equally slutty girlfriends had expressed this belief to me about herself I would have laughed at her, hugged her, and advised some kind of deprograming from the misogynistic beliefs of the church.  I didn’t attend any kind of services and didn’t believe in anything the Catholic church I’d been raised in stood for and took Women’s Studies classes and instructed one of my roommates, who’d never had an orgasm, on the proper masturbatory techniques and sent her into her bedroom and told her not to come out until she’d come.  I smoked pot every day and picked up guys most weekends and left my underwear in Chicago cabs and was in an “open” relationship with a British guy who did things like pack condoms right in front of me when he was taking a trip to Greece—a fact that bothered me not in the least since I aspired to be some cross between Anaïs Nin and Sabina from The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and monogamy clearly did not fit in to this glamorous picture.

My terror of unopened packages of food—and the fact that sometimes I could not eat all day if I didn’t organically encounter something other people were already eating that they wanted to share with me—did not much fit into this glamorous image of my future either, but it admittedly made it much easier for me to keep my weight down.

The adage that whatever fucked up, self-destructive habit or belief system we hold on to must be working for us on some level or we’d let it go, in my experience, has always been true.

It’s hard now, in retrospect, to pin down the extent of my diffuse spiritual anxieties in those days.  I had gone to Catholic school, the kind of blue collar, old world place where the principal—a former nun—did things like spank kids with the Bible, and if the class misbehaved, our teacher told us we were all going to Hell.  I spent a great deal of time standing in corners for my “big mouth” and my inability to sit still in my chair and keep my feet on the floor.  I had the highest test scores in the class, and was often told by my peers (not always in a good way) that I was “smart,” but I never won any of the prizes for academic achievement given at the end of the year, which the teachers baldly admitted was because I didn’t know how to behave properly.  Conformity was prized far more highly than a certain innate academic giftedness, the point of which was unclear anyway, since no one in my neighborhood had ever gone to college or had any type of profession that required critical thinking, and there was no reason to presume I would be any different since no one had ever been any different.  It’s fair to say that it was even a gesture of care to try to teach me to conform and behave the way a girl was expected to behave, because these were the ingredients the Catholic school teachers knew of that led to a smoother future.  My father, out of similar feelings of care, urged me to the point of badgering to stop reading and writing endlessly on the couch and instead “go out” and hang with my cousins and the other popular girls on the corner, where I might attain a boyfriend and some status, hence making my future brighter.  In those days—until I was fourteen and placed into a selective enrollment high school far away from my neighborhood and essentially “got out” four years before I would physically move away for college—reading and writing were viewed as self-destructive habits.  The Catholic school girls were meek mice who folded their hands on their desks and chewed their tongues whenever they had a desire to speak out, but the public school girls were brash and tough talking, prone by seventh grade to getting high before school and blowing twentysomething guys in exchange for drugs.  They represented a spectrum of possibilities among which I fit nowhere.  I wanted to be Joyce Davenport from Hill Street Blues, and wear sexy business suits and keep my last name.  I had a vague sense that I wanted to have a lot of sex, but the guys in my neighborhood were terrifying and stupid.  The other kids said I was probably a lesbian, and though I knew that wasn’t “it,” whatever I was felt even harder to place.

I wrote on brown butcher-block paper, which my mom bought because it was the cheapest and cut for me by hand.  By the time I was 15, I had four “novels” of 300-400 pages each.  I hid them, not letting even my devoted mother read them, because I was ashamed of what a freak I was, scribbling stories about people who weren’t real instead of partying in someone’s mom’s basement and getting myself a gangbanger boyfriend.  And yet I kept writing, even though it appeared counterproductive to everything I knew.  The self-destruction of my participation in my own social ruin “worked for me” on some level, even if I couldn’t place it yet.

In an Afterschool Special, the crazy girl who is afraid of unopened packages of food would get help somehow, would have an epiphany and heal.  But in real life, we often have no idea what we’re healing from.  Kids I had grown up with had been brutally physically and sexually abused, had lived in apartments overrun with roaches where they were often left alone while their mothers hung out in bars and went home with men, had fended off the advances of their mothers’ parade of boyfriends, had—in a few cases—been murdered in gang violence or simply by crazy, enraged neighbors.  Although I had grown up in the middle of all that, none of it had ever happened to me.  My parents were nice people.  We were below the poverty line, but there were only three of us and we always had enough to eat.  My mother took me to the library every week and read books aloud to me.  I had gotten out and here I was at a Big Ten college, having studied abroad in London.  I had a sophisticated British boyfriend who sent me tapes of cool music and accommodated my vision of myself by packing condoms in front of me.  I had scads of friends, who didn’t judge me as harshly as I may judge my former self, as we were all only twenty-one and they had their issues too.  I had a massive case of Survivor Guilt.

I stopped going to class.  Crowded rooms gave me panic attacks.  Sometimes, just walking on a street teeming with other students, my limbs would go completely numb and I would stop being able to breathe.  I’d take off my shoes and feel the cold pavement against my feet, and this would help me enough to get me home to my apartment, where I would smoke a joint and listen endlessly to Depeche Mode or Miracle Legion or Janis Ian in my bedroom.  Sleepless in the middle of the night, overcome with clawing hunger, I would masturbate in an attempt to tranquilize myself to sleep.  When I would end up in front of the open refrigerator, scouring for something my roommates had already eaten, I would sometimes permit myself a quarter of a blueberry bagel or one carrot or a slice of turkey, and I would go back to bed hating myself for my weakness and figuring I would grow up to be fat like my mother, who made no secret of the fact that my father had stopped having sex with her after I was born.  I would be fat and nobody would want me, which had been true in my youth but somehow I had been okay with it then.  If in the morning, the scale said 100, I would starve myself for two days or go on Slimfast.  On the rare occasions I made it to class, the wooden lecture hall seats dug into my prominent tailbone, and my friend Trish and I made jokes about bringing pillows to sit on, and then she started really doing it, but I didn’t go to class often enough to bother.  One day Trish ended up in her car in the middle of the night, where she kept her food so she wouldn’t be tempted to eat in in her apartment, stuffing her face at three a.m.  She weighed less than eighty pounds, and finally she snapped and started sobbing, saying aloud to herself, Do you want to die?  Do you want to die?  She lives now in San Diego with a husband and a son who has a lot of allergies, but demons are never banished that easily.  You push them out of the top floor of the house into the basement, and you can still hear their voices through the pipes but you refuse to give them free reign anymore.  You learn to chew and swallow even though you think the ingestion of nutrients will turn you into your mother or whatever it is you fear being.  Trish was a virgin, a more “classical” anorexic than I was—she looked like a child and feared sexuality and being pursued.  She wore her child’s body like armor until it nearly killed her.  I don’t know what happened to her when she was younger, but I know that in my neighborhood and most of the world, having a child’s body doesn’t protect a girl from much of anything.

I took a psychology exam, the day after a bad trip where I’d gone into a kind of shock and had tremors for most of the night, and in response to a question asking about what major theory Freud formed in Paris, I wrote, “Freud never went to Paris.”  This cracked me up for weeks.  Somehow I got a B on the exam.  It was the first semester in awhile that I hadn’t made Dean’s List, but I still got my diploma with a good enough GPA to apply to grad schools.  My creative writing professors called meetings with me and recommended journals where I should submit my work, though I never, to my recollection, sent to any of them.  Instead I moved to London, where I would be a maid at a hotel and a bartender, under the table, and live in an almost-squat with eleven men from all over the world, most of whom were drug dealers, although they were also some of the most nurturing men I will ever know. I would wander around Battersea Park, so ravenous from fasting that the world seemed both jaggedly sharp, yet faraway and surreal at once; stars popped before my eyes dizzily as though I were only steps away from seeing visions.  I’d lie on park benches and tell myself I was doing penance.  Penance for what?  I was in love with one man and living with and fucking another, but that wasn’t quite it.  My sins ran deeper than that in my own imagination.  Maybe my crime was being in London to begin with, when most of the girls I’d grown up with never even got as far as the other side of the city where I went to high school.  Maybe my crime was still being alive.  Every time I boarded a plane, I was certain God would rectify that problem.

I had shunned all the partiers and dealers in my old neighborhood for years, making a social outcast of myself, and been the first person in my family on either side to go away to college, just so that I could—in a different country—live among drug dealers, tending bar like my father.  The irony wasn’t lost on me.  And yet I had come to realize I was no Joyce Davenport.  Even with a part-time bartending job, I often showed up late or called in sick.  I couldn’t keep track of money, and preferred just putting it into my rucksack and letting my male companions pay for everything, or throwing my paychecks into a communal pool.  One of the men I lived with was an amateur photographer; another had friends who were starting a literary magazine.  They also had friends in prison for murder, which seemed ordinary to me.  I knew I couldn’t stay in London forever, but this static world, this hybrid of my youth and vaguely boho-artistic fantasies, felt safe.  Finally, I moved to rural New Hampshire for the boyfriend who would become my husband.  He was pursuing his PhD, and simply following him gave me the illusion of movement and change, without requiring me to do anything myself.  I moved into the house he shared with other grad students and I waited tables and nannied (both rather poorly) and cried so often it remains a miracle he didn’t break up with me.

This had been going on way too long to accommodate any Afterschool Special by this point.  A year passed, then another.  I got into therapy, though it didn’t help much since all I did was lie to my therapist.  I once ran into her on the street and—although this violates the ethics of what you’re supposed to do if you run into a client in public—she said an enthusiastic hello to me.  I had no idea who she was.  I’d been her client for eight months, but I never even looked at her, really.  I was looking at myself: at how to construct the Me I wanted her to see.  I was fighting another invisible enemy, like God.  I’d gone into therapy to get control of my life, but once there I wanted my therapist to like me.  I handed her pictures of who I thought a likable woman might be.  It never occurred to me that a likable person might be someone who would recognize her on the street.

When you’re the piece of shit at the center of the universe, you aren’t a person exactly, but more importantly neither is anyone else.  The world is merely your audience, the way God was my imaginary audience.  The rest of the world exists just to confirm your belief in what a shitty, punishable person you are.  What a special person you are in your horribleness.  In a world of Hitlers and Milosevics and Dahmers, your awfulness can rewrite the past of the bagel factory; your awfulness can bring the plane down.

Three years passed this way.  Pulling my car over to the side of the road during legendary New Hampshire snowstorms, hyperventilating and numb with a panic attack, afraid the car heater must be poisonous and would kill me.  Driving the rest of the hour home with my windows down, the heat turned off, and ending up with chilblains, the doctor telling me how strange it was that I had this eighteenth century malady, and my feigning confusion, How could I have gotten this?

I got an MA in counseling during those years; I got engaged during these years; I wrote the first draft of what would become my first published novel during these years; I traveled extensively.  It’s easy to look back on a messed up time in our lives and say, Who was that?  But many of the things I did were the things I would keep on doing for the bulk of my adult life, even after unopened packages of food and car heaters and churches looked innocuous again.  Various things add up to change: a chiropractor who put me on a hypoglycemic diet, and within two weeks my anxiety issues and my breathing problems had stopped.  Starting a grad program in writing, and feeling for the first time in my life that there was somewhere on the spectrum of possibilities where I might actually belong.  Moving back to Chicago, and coming to grips with the city I grew up in, on new terms.  Reading a shitload of books on theology, initially in an attempt to reconcile with the Catholic church, and emerging realizing that I am an atheist, and that my spiritual crises, such as they were, were always partly about trying to swallow a system that made no inherent sense to me, and my guilt over that because abandoning my religion was just one more puzzle piece of my youth I was throwing out the window of a moving car, so that I could never come together again as the person I’d once been.  One day you live in a state of acute crisis, unable to walk down a crowded street without having to take off your shoes to feel the earth beneath your feet, and then it is three years later, and maybe you have just gotten too fucking exhausted to keep carrying on that way, and you just don’t do that anymore.

Do you want to die? my friend Trish asked herself alone in her car.  Do you want to die?

I didn’t have to come as close to dying as she did to realize I wanted to live, but maybe it took longer.

The other day, my father, who is ninety-two, and with whom it would be accurate to say I haven’t had an in-depth conversation in years, suddenly said to me, on his return from the hospital: “All those times I used to try to get you to go outside and run around with the other girls—Jesus Christ, was I an idiot.  I didn’t understand that you knew what you were doing.  I didn’t understand that you were going to have a completely other kind of life I just couldn’t imagine.”  His words meant more to me, even after all this time, than I maybe want to admit.  And yet the truth is, I was acting blindly too.  I was simply a different kind of animal than the people around me, back then.  There was less “choice” involved than perhaps I wanted to tell myself.  My writing and reading were less “heroic” acts of rebellion, and more simply my nature, my evolutionary survival skills, no different from the way Martha Cruz ran around the playground every day as though it were a track, or the way my best guy friend, Hector, picked endlessly at his own scabs, opening and reopening them until they scarred, biding his time until he could come out of the closet.  The belief I held, back then, that I was somehow the only one who needed something different was part of an old mythology.  Unhappiness in captivity doesn’t make anyone special, and maybe getting out doesn’t either.  Maybe it took my father validating my choices to realize that he—by not being an addict or an abuser or a criminal; by contributing his particular genes my way—was as much a part of the pastiche of my choices as I was.  Shift everything just that much to the left, and who knows where I would be now?

I am a writer now, living that “different life” neither my father nor I could imagine.  I’m also a mom of three, living in the Midwest, and my life doesn’t resemble Anaïs Nin’s much more than it does the coffee clutch ladies in their housedresses from my youth.  Life is a work in progress, and part of being a writer is listening to the voices from the basement.  Letting them drift up to you and clearing a space at the table.  Learning not to hate yourself for surviving, but not to hate the self you were to survive either.  Maybe not giving up on being “special” but rather realizing that without the abiding belief each human being has inside of our own uniqueness, there could never be art, there could never be love, and that part of the fundamental task of humanity is to truly see the pieces inside those around us that make them special too.  These days, I sit on planes reminding myself that the universe doesn’t care whether I’m aboard—that I’m not at the center of anything—and yet that doesn’t abdicate me from acting as though I can make some kind of difference.  I still usually need a benzo to board a plane, but I’m working on that.  If I never get there, that’s okay.  Sometimes, we feel static for a very long time, and then suddenly, we’re somewhere else instead.  Movement may not always be progress, but, like art, I’ve come to believe that it has a beauty for its own sake.

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Gina Frangello is the author of three books of fiction: A Life in Men (Algonquin 2014), Slut Lullabies (Emergency Press 2010) and My Sister’s Continent (Chiasmus 2006).  She is the Sunday editor for The Rumpus and the fiction editor for The Nervous Breakdown, and is on faculty at the University of CA-Riverside’s low residency MFA program.  The longtime Executive Editor of Other Voices magazine and Other Voices Books, she now runs Other Voices Queretaro (www.othervoicesqueretaro.com), an international writing program.  She can be found at www.ginafrangello.com.

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

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

 
And So It Is, Guest Posts, Making Shit Happen, Manifestation Retreats, Tribe

Making Sh*t Happen: The Experience of a Lifetime.

January 2, 2014

New Year #MSH by Martha Meyer Barantovich

photo by Linda Hooper

photo by Linda Hooper

A perfectly perfect day.  A perfectly perfect time of year.  A perfectly perfect opportunity for relaxation.

It would seem that flying to LA and driving the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH for all the cool kids) while watching the sun set into the water was a brilliant idea.  Ojai, California was the backdrop for an amazing retreat with Jennifer Pastiloff, of the New Jersey Pastiloffs and of Karaoke Yoga/Manifestation Workshop fame.  I had signed my beloved husband Joe (heretofore “My Lobster) and myself up for Jen’s Inaugural Manifestation New Year’s Retreat.

I walked in feeling like I was hanging onto my last ounce of sanity and left more than transformed, with enough life changing memories and lessons that will stick with me forever.

Broken, Battered, Bewildered and Beautiful.

Walking into a room full of strangers, on my 47th birthday, and trying to express in a circle what it means to be at a Manifestation retreat (where people come to “Make Shit Happen”; hashtag #MSH), is like being dropped into the middle of Siberia. In the middle of winter.  With no coat.  And no Russian. And no vodka.

Like whoa.  Who does that? Who decides at the end of the year that they are going to allow themselves to be ripped open and peered at by strangers? Who decides that spending their birthday with the unknown and the unknowing would be a the way to celebrate life? Who gathers in a space during football bowl season without a TV or a sports bar? Me. And My Lobster. And everyone else there too it seemed. Because we had to.  Because, as Jen repeated (she does this a lot…repeats…and repeats… so you’ll get it, I mean get it, no, I mean really get IT), “like attracts like”.

So there we were 40 some odd strangers who were broken and battered and bewildered and beautiful. This is my observation that came from the self talk in our opening circle. We had collectively broken up, gotten back together, changed jobs, changed life statuses, changed coasts, moved in, moved out, retreated before, manifested before, worked our way to just being, and some just showed up because that’s what they needed to do. We needed to speak our truth (notice the little t) so that we could start “drawing to us” our desires/manifestations for 2014.  We had to open the door to our souls just a little and let a little light in and a little darkness out to get things rolling.  And let me tell you.  When you are broken and battered and bewildered and beautiful, it only takes a speck of sand on your mountain of shit to start the avalanche of healing.  Deep soul healing.

What are you manifesting? What are you doing to be inspired? How are you setting up your life to experience “Joy for NO Reason”? And we begin.  We OM.  I mean we really OM.  I love to Om. (Side note…not the OM that you may read about that involves half naked women and pillows and such).  I could drop and cross my legs and close my eyes anywhere and OM from the depth of my soul because the sound and the connection and the vibration totally rocks my world.  Imagine a room full of broken, battered, bewildered, and beautiful people letting their walls fall and OMing from the depths of their soul.  Together.  In a room that has nothing but positive, radiant energy in it.  And you’re sitting almost knee to knee with strangers creating a vibration that moves through the rafters towards heaven and bounces off walls and to you and ….wow.  I wanted to hold on to that sound forever. Like a musical snapshot.  I don’t ever want to forget the power that was in those voices.

Because I knew that I had come to a place that was going to heal me and my broken, battered, bewildered, beautiful self.

I needed this so I could get out of this horrible place in my head that I have been in since January 7, 2013, my quit smoking (again) day.  I’m coming up on my 1 year anniversary.  My lungs are happy, my skin is happy, my family is happy, My Lobster is happy, society is happy, everyone I know keeps telling my what an awesome thing it was to quit smoking.  And it has sucked.  Everyday for the past 359 days has sucked. There have been varying degrees of suckiness, from lying on a bed in the fetal position with a knife in my hand just wishing I could die to just feeling generally meh. Quitting smoking, while making everyone else in the world happy has made me miserable.  It was the last thing I had to hide behind.  It was my thing that removed me from uncomfortable situations, that allowed me to separate myself from the crowd, that allowed me opportunity to disconnect for a while, that occupied my time and my thoughts, that generally just owned my life.  Good God.  I was owned my nicotine (that is an absolute breakthrough in those words…never said that before or even thought it).  And in its own sick way, nicotine and cigarettes saved me.  They were ALWAYS there for me.  They ALWAYS protected me.  You need to know that because I was left alone. When the cigarettes left I was exposed.  And naked.  And vulnerable. And I didn’t know how to do any of those things.  Because, let’s be honest…who messes with the chick who smokes and is built like a linebacker? Ya….nobody.  And I liked it that way.  For 30 of my 45 years I was safe and protected and ok.  And then, just like that, I wasn’t.  And how I made it to my 47th birthday is beyond me.

 

If it Jiggles, It’s not finished.

And so the whirlwind manifestation retreat comes barreling at you…stampeding straight towards you.  There’s no time to think, there’s only time to be real and authentic and to SHOW UP.  You don’t have time to question or judge or be concerned or worry or shoulda/coulda/woulda about anything.  Because you open yourself up by calling forth your #MSH (manifestation/desire) and BAM Jen is taking you on the ride.  Cat/Cow, downdog, crescent lunge, hiya, warrior 1,2,3, breathe, sigh, inhale, hands to prayer, repeat the mantra, 6 more times, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat.  Sweat, start to cry.  Listen to the music.  You’re moving collectively, individually, in your own space and in others and you’re concentrating and calling forth and meditating and oh my GAWD…Why am I fucking crying again? Is it this song? Is it Jen’s words on repeat? Is it the moving? The space? the breathing? STOP.  DROP.  “PICK UP YOUR PENS”….what? I can’t breathe woman…can’t you see me heaving with emotion and trying to catch my breath after the 174 vinyasas you just made me do? Can’t you tell that I’m in no condition to write a goddamn word…oh…and I have to answer questions as I write? And dear …what…? I’m not the only mess in the room.  There are sniffles and heavy breathing and silence…as I am surrounded by people who are being authentic and vulnerable and honest and raw and true and sad and joyful and amazing and not finished.

We are all just getting started on this part of the journey and Jen is forcing us to confront ideas and realities that are amazing and painful and beautiful and awesome and ridiculous and…..huh??? Did I just hear my name? Oh you want me to share out loud with these people my raw truth that just came from, I swear, the center of the earth.

I am

What people say I am: giving, kind, joyful, caring, a good teacher, friendly, fun. What I say: fat, not worthy, not good enough (I am sloppy crying at this point), useless. The truth is I am a caring, giving, enthusiastic supporter who will take on the giants for others but is afraid to follow through with the little things. I can’t breathe at this point.  I’m pretty sure I have snot dripping everywhere, but I feel so free because the truth is: I never take stock of the Truth. Truth with a capital T, not a little t.  I think that I mostly allow the little t to fake represent the big T.  And so I’m not done.  I’m still jiggly, like the ganache baking in the oven that isn’t ready (I’ll be glad to share the amazing insights from Caspar Poyck at another time).  It needs more time.  And whoa again….jiggly is ok.  It’s like more than ok.

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Caspar Poyck

It’s awesome and freeing and beautiful and I think I’m experiencing “Joy for No Reason”.

And I’m pretty sure that I want this feeling to last forever.

Vulnerability is Sexy

And this goes on and on and on and we breathe and move and listen and sweat and stop drop and pick up our pens and write and share and laugh and cry and do it again and again and again.

And looking back it was over in a minute.  But while there it was like this roller coaster that has these little dips and I’m like “Ok..this is cool…not too scary, not too safe” and I can’t see in front of me so I don’t know what’s coming and then the car turns a corner and    dropsofastyoucantthinkastowetheryoushouldscreamorcryorvomitorhitsomeoneordieorliveorgetofforstayonorahhhh

and you laugh.  This laugh that sounds like someone has lit you on glitter fire and filled a room with butterflies and chocolate fountains and all the things that make you fill loved and safe and wonderful and joy.  And in that first second I think, “Do I deserve this?” And Jen comes up with another one of her Jen-isms like, “Choose love” “Let go of fear” “Be Fucking Awesome” and the feeling of love and letting go and being awesome is so overwhelming I just want to open my mouth and scream and laugh and burst forth and hug strangers (oooohh…that’s big…cause Martha don’t like strangers in her space), and tell people how beautiful they are.  And I know it wasn’t just me that felt that, because I watched people who were sitting hunched over in our opening circle look up and smile and lift their hearts and breathe deeper. And I saw people who don’t cry, cry.  And connect.  And love.  And open.  And blossom.  And share.  And be vulnerable.

And after every class and writing session I think, how can I possible do anymore of this? How can I not? 

Begin Again

And so I leave California and head back home to Miami, to reality, to my life.  And I’m full. Full in my soul. And connected to a tribe.  And I’m full of love for these wonderful people who have been a part of a change.  An individual/collective change that is going to individually/collectively make 2014 amazing.  Because 2013 is gone.  The rock that caused the flat isn’t important.  What’s important is to change the flat and move on.  And find your true self.  So I leave you with these manifestation retreat insights:

  • Drink good wine.
  • Eat good food.
  • Laugh.
  • Love deeply.
  • Have an energetic clearing.
  • Attend a yoga class.
  • Move your energy around with sound bowls.
  • Hit a gong.
  • Listen to nature.
  • Sit in a chair as the sun rises and stare at nothing and at everything.
  • Take pictures.
  • Dance.
  • Sing.
  • Write.
  • Share your story.
  • Don’t box people up so that you feel better.
  • Let go.  Open up.  Be free.
  • Get your fingers dirty with your food.
  • Write a love note to yourself.
  • Look someone in the eyes as they speak so you give them your undivided attention.
  • Make new friends.
  • Be real and honest.
  • Put down your phone.
  • Thank someone who loves you for loving you.
  • Be vulnerable.  Good grief.  Be vulnerable.
  • Share your gift(s).
  • Manifest your Lobster or your dream job or money or time or whatever you need.  Hashtag #MSH.
  • Say thank you aloud and to things and ideas and life.
  • And when you get a chance, find Jen on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or the web and join a room full of strangers with shit piles just like you (because there are no accidents) and manifest.  Inspire yourself to be inspired.  Everyday.  Bring your hands to prayer. Place them in front of your heart. And repeat when necessary “I am worthy”

Because if I am worthy, so must you be.  

by Martha Meyer Barantovich (click to connect with Martha.)

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May retreat! Join Jen Pastiloff in Ojai, Calif this May for a life-changing weekend retreat. May 8-10th. No yoga experience required. Just be a human being.  Click photo to book.   "Here’s the thing about Jen Pastiloff, folks. Here’s the revolutionary thing. She listens. She listens with an intent focus, a focus that follows your words inside you. Because she has hearing problems, she watches your lips as you speak, and she plucks the ash of your words from the air and takes it inside herself and lays it beside her heart, where before too long your words start beating as if they were strong, capable, living mammals. And then she gives them back to you. Boiled down, this is the secret to Jen’s popularity. She can call what she does Beauty Hunting–she is for sure out there helping people find beauty. She can start a campaign called “Don’t be an asshole” and remind us all to stop a second and please, please, please be our better selves. She can use words like attention, space, time, connection, intimacy. She can ask participants to answer questions like What gets in your way? What stories are you carrying around in your body? What makes you come alive? Who would you be if nobody told you who you were? All of that is what it is. But why it works is because of her kind of listening. And what her kind of listening does is simple: It saves lives." ~ Jane Eaton Hamilton.

May retreat! Join Jen Pastiloff in Ojai, Calif this May for a life-changing weekend retreat. May 8-10th. No yoga experience required. Just be a human being. Click photo to book.
“Here’s the thing about Jen Pastiloff, folks. Here’s the revolutionary thing.
She listens.
She listens with an intent focus, a focus that follows your words inside you. Because she has hearing problems, she watches your lips as you speak, and she plucks the ash of your words from the air and takes it inside herself and lays it beside her heart, where before too long your words start beating as if they were strong, capable, living mammals. And then she gives them back to you.
Boiled down, this is the secret to Jen’s popularity. She can call what she does Beauty Hunting–she is for sure out there helping people find beauty. She can start a campaign called “Don’t be an asshole” and remind us all to stop a second and please, please, please be our better selves. She can use words like attention, space, time, connection, intimacy. She can ask participants to answer questions like What gets in your way? What stories are you carrying around in your body? What makes you come alive? Who would you be if nobody told you who you were? All of that is what it is. But why it works is because of her kind of listening.
And what her kind of listening does is simple:
It saves lives.” ~ Jane Eaton Hamilton.

The 12 Day Detox is here. Sign up now for May 25th cleanse. Space is limited. This detox comes at just the perfect time. Reprogram your body and mind as we move into the new season of spring. 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 May 25th cleanse. Space is limited. This detox comes at just the perfect time. Reprogram your body and mind as we move into the new season of spring. This is your time of rejuvenation and renewal.This is not a juice fast, or a detox based on deprivation.

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. It is LIFE CHANGING!

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. It is LIFE CHANGING!

And So It Is, I Have Done Love, Truth

Do You Tell The Truth?

December 26, 2013

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black

By Jen Pastiloff.

“My belief is that when you’re telling the truth, you’re close to God.”
Anne Lamott

On a winter day in March 2013, I met my friend Robert Wilder in the lobby of the Inn of the Anasazi in Santa Fe, where I had slept the night before. I’d stayed in the hotel room of my friends from L.A., who, coincidentally, also happened to be in Santa Fe. My friend Emily Rapp’s son Ronan had passed away from Tay Sachs on February 15, and the memorial was chosen for that particular weekend.

Robert asked how I knew my friend. I told him that I met her because she took my classes, but that we had become friends.

Robert’s a fantastic writer and a high school English teacher. (He calls his students High Schooligans, if that gives you an indication of his cool-teacher status.) The Robin Williams in Dead Poet’s Society kind of teacher, the kind you appreciate much later upon looking back at who formed you, at who maybe taught you to really love books and writing and expressing yourself. My “Robert Wilder” was Mrs. Lifshey in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, whom I remembering running into when I was getting my hair done for my senior prom. I had been trying on a rhinestone pair of earrings, and she spotted me as she sat getting her own hair highlighted. She bought me the expensive fake diamond earrings “anonymously” that my mother couldn’t afford at the time. (My mom knew and didn’t keep it anonymous.)

Robert and I sat on the leather sofa in the lobby of the Inn of the Anasazi, and he asked me, “Is it hard to be friends with your students?”

I’d rather think of them as my tribe. Or not-studenty students.

But yes, it can be hard, I suppose.

Like being a person in the world can be hard or being a daughter or a wife can be hard. Like how anything you love can be hard.

Here’s why it can be hard with my not-studenty students: I am afraid to expose myself and have them see that I am a regular person who gets depressed and thinks she looks fat sometimes and drinks too much coffee and wine and doesn’t always walk the talk.

I write about it, but there is a difference in writing about it and then actually having someone see you in the flesh as the youest you there is.

My belief is that when you are telling the truth, you are close to God. So says Anne Lamott. Yet and still, my paper creates a chasm, a separation. A wall between me and everyone else in the world. There is a distance between the reader and myself, even when I am being my most vulnerable and truthful.

There is a little bit of Us and Them when you are standing in front of a class. You are in a glass case, and although everyone can hear you, no one can really get in. There is a you can’t really see me even though you think you can.

When you are with someone in person over lunch, that distance is minimized, and then there they are, right up in your face, their eyes all over you, their minds making up stories and facts.

Or not.

A couple months ago, I went to Atlanta to see my sister and nephews and to lead a workshop. My sister mentioned to me that she had said something to my friend (who had started as a not-student student) something about me always being on my phone.

I was horrified.

I told my sister that she should have not said that to this person. That it made me look badly, and that I had an image to uphold. (Ha!) Me always being on my phone suggested that I wasn’t present, that I was full of shit. How dare she say that to someone who takes my classes? She felt badly and said that she thought this person and I were really close friends. “We are.” I said, “But still.”

But still.

There is no but still.

The distance was zippered up, and there was no space between us anymore, and it’s true I look at my phone too much. It’s an addiction. I didn’t want that side of me exposed because, in my mind, it was bad enough I was friends with my not-studenty student, but now they would see all my faults and that I was full of sh*t, and they wouldn’t be my student or my not-studenty student and, possibly, not even my friend.

(Oh, the stories! The stories!)

I was terrified I would become some sort of fallen icon. As teachers of any kind, we’ve all had people become fixated or obsessed and tell us How Amazing We Are, and then, one day, they get bored or decide you are a Real Life Human Being, and you never hear from them again.

I was terrified that someone who sees me as an inspiration would realize I look at my iPhone too much and that I don’t pay enough attention and dismiss me.

But it’s only hard when I make it so. Yes, it is hard for me to be friends with everyone. (I am not special in that truth.) No one can be there for every single person nor should they be. I can’t go to everyone’s play or show, but there are indeed some people that I meet because they take my class or read my writing whom I know I want to have a glass of wine with. It is incidental to me that we met through my yoga class or my retreat or my blog.

Why should I be any better than them or put myself on a pedestal because I teach them how to do a downdog or because they read an essay and feel inspired by something I said?

The only time it’s hard is when someone puts an unrealistic expectation on me or when I try to make everyone happy. I can’t do that. (I’d like to remember more often that I can’t do that. I’d like us all to remember more often that we can’t do that.)

Everyone in my life is my teacher. You. You reading this. Everyone. (We should all recognize this more often.)

I want to do better.

I want to do better than yesterday, at least. I want to be more present and not look at my phone so much and never to gossip and all the rest, but the people who learn from me are pretty clear that I am not a guru or saint.

Yet, I also want to live a congruent life. That is what it really boils down to. My belief is that when you’re telling the truth, you’re close to God.

ABTTT. Always Be Telling The Truth.

If someone takes my class and then we become friends and they decide they no longer want to take my class because the boundary has been crossed or because I curse or don’t do enough of my own yoga practice, well then, so be it. What can I do? They come; they go; they come again, and all the while, I am here ABTTT or doing my best version of it.

My belief is that when you’re telling the truth, you’re close to God.

The truth is that I can’t be friends with everybody. (Neither can you.) Nor do I want to. (Neither can you. Trust me.) Nor do you want to. So get over it. Not possible.

I can love as best as I can, and I can keep teaching and writing, but I cannot be friends with every single person who takes my class or reads me. It’s not humanly possible, and that’s okay. The people pleasing days are falling away, and the days of ABTTT are coming fast and hard.

So what does it matter if someone takes my classes and also eats pancakes with me? It doesn’t. It would matter if I was a vastly different person on paper or in class that I am in “real life,” but I am not.

They are people. I am people. The same.

Most of the people in my life now entered via my yoga classes or my writings. I say Thank God for the not-studenty students who have turned into beloveds. Thank God I found you.

As I was getting on the plane (you guessed it, I wrote this from the airplane), I saw an old man reading an even older looking book called You Should Only Be Happy.

(Oh, that awful “should” word. There it is again.)

The book was written by a Jewish man and, from what I could gather, was a lot about Jewish culture. I started talking to the man, and he was a Jew from New York who now lived in Santa Fe. I chuckled as he held my hand.

I said, “So are you part of the Tribe?” (an oft-asked question Jews sometimes ask one another), and he looked at me and said, “Isn’t everybody?”

Isn’t everybody? 

So, is it hard to be friends with my students? Yes and no and everything in between.

Aren’t we all human? Isn’t, as my new airport friend put it, everybody part of the tribe. Isn’t everybody?

You Should Only Be Happy. Always Be Telling The Truth. Stop Looking At Your Phone So Much. Pay Attention. Drink More Water. Honor The Dead. Drink With Loved Ones. Eat Bread Baked By Your Friends. Have More Sex. Read George Saunders. Do Some Yoga.

Look, I don’t know about any of the above. What do I know, really? The only thing I know for sure is that telling the truth is everything.

Up next for Jen Pastiloff’s workshops are: annual New Years retreat in California, Vancouver, London (UK), Atlanta, NYC, Dallas and more. 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.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above.

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

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

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And So It Is

Life Is…

November 19, 2013

I read a poem this morning in class. A girl came up to me after and kind of batted at her eyes, “That poem was so sad. Ugh.” She was in a little fight with herself not to feel any sadness. “It was beautiful though, wasn’t it?” I asked her. Yes, she said. But, sad.
This past weekend, a woman in my workshop hesitated to read something out loud, because she explained with a mouthful of guilt, “It’s sad?”
She said it as a question, as if I’d have to give her permission to share this sadness, as if her own sadness would be powerful enough to corrupt our perfect, happy, flawless lives.

Life is sad.

Life is sad, I’d said, and it’s also awesome and fucked up and whimsical and has moments of joy and pain and laughter. But it’s sad sometimes.
I wonder why we bury that so much.
Life is not just one thing.
And sometimes yes, it is sad.

Thanks Jenni Young of Simplereminders.com for making this

Thanks Jenni Young of Simplereminders.com for making this. Feel free to share.

And So It Is, Manifestation Workshops, Video

Walk Around With Your Head Up Your Ass & You’ll Have Smelly Hair.

October 24, 2013

Do you make up stories about people? We all do it at times. We assume things. Today’s video is a challenge to NOT make up stories. I mention Howard Godnick, who I met at my NYC Manifestation Yoga® workshop, as my latest messenger. Here is the video I talk about in the vlog where Howard accepts a Courage award and talk about why he always has to wear black shades https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8D297fuWKSA. He reminded me how important it is to stay present rather than to make sh*t up. I constantly get stories made up about me with my hearing loss; it’s easier for people to assume I ma not paying attention. Thanks Howard for reminding me. Watch my video and his youtube vid and share them both if inspired xo www.jenniferpastiloff.com

And So It Is, Awe & Wonder, Beating Fear with a Stick, Guest Posts

Tell Your Story.

September 27, 2013

Tell Your Story.

by Danielle Orner.

*

            As I walked to the stage, I realized I was still tipsy. My pulse thundered in my ears and I could only see the path to the pool of light surrounding the mic. Since the moment the MC read my name, I’d gone blind to the features of all the people around me – most of whom were younger and all of whom had an effortless, artsy cool I’d never quite mastered. My friend had suggested we meet at the restaurant where she moonlighted which ended up meaning unsolicited samples of exotic martini flavors. For a light weight like me, all those sips of jalapeno and chocolate flavored gin added up.

I made it to the microphone. I cleared my throat. We had waited on the sidewalk for nearly an hour to get in. The tiny black box theater was so packed that people had to sit cross-legged on the stage. Every inch of the room, aside from the spotlight in which I stood, was filled with activist, musicians, students, homeless people, and dreamers who had come to hear poetry. So, I opened my mouth and began my first spoken word performance.

I signed up to read because I was in awe of the young people who devoted their Tuesday nights to raising their voices. Here in Los Angeles, we are saturated with stories. The billboards remind us over and over of what heroes ought to look like and who’s tales are worthy telling. Online, we are drowning in the minutia of near strangers’ lives. In the midst of this constant recycled chatter, there are voices daring to speak raw truths. This courage is of utmost importance because stories form the perimeters of our lives. Whether we are aware of it or not, the stories we tell frame our thinking. As Jack Kornfield observes, “sacred traditions have always been carried in great measure by storytelling: we tell and retell to see our own possibilities.”

When I spend time working with children, I notice how deeply our narratives build our world. Children are still learning the stories, still questioning how the outcomes, still believing they can end in a different way. You can clearly see the scaffolding of socialization in kids where it has already be cemented over and accepted by adults. Kids will stare in wonder at my prosthetic leg whereas adults have already learned pity or embarrassment. Kids can still dream about what it might be like to be part robot.

A five year old recently informed me and my girlfriend that she has girlfriends that she doesn’t kiss. We could see her fact checking the world against what she had heard in fairy tales and seen on the Disney Channel. Princesses are supposed to be pretty and wait for princes. Recently, a friend also sent me a touching video where an Italian toddler explains to his mother why he doesn’t want to eat animals. Children show us that most of what we take to be “the way things are” is simply a network of stories. This is the reason so many religions remind us to have the minds of little children – not because children are innocent but because they ask questions. They say why, why, why to everything and are not afraid to add their own embellishment. They haven’t learned yet to be afraid of their own voice.

The Hindi tradition teaches that in the womb infants have one song, “please let me not forget who I am.” Once they are born, the song changes to “Oh, I have already forgotten.” We must find the inquisitiveness of a child to question our stories and the bravery to make new ones. Every major social change began with a person being willing to say: this is how it is for me.  Brene Brown, a researcher who explores the importance of vulnerability, reminds us that the original Latin definition of courage is to “tell the story of who you are with your who heart.”

So, do you need to be a writer or poet to make your voice heard? No, there are so many ways to bring our true story to light. Paint it. Journal it. NPR does a beautiful program where they record “ordinary” people talking about their lives. Record tales for your grandchildren to listen to one day. Take time to write or call or chat with loved ones and skip right over the pleasantries. Better yet, ask someone to tell you a true story.

I’m currently in the ridiculously difficult process of attempting to write a memoir chronicling my journey from being diagnosed with cancer at age 15 to surviving a decade of recurrences only to find yoga, become a vegan, get divorced, and come out. In the sheer terror of realizing one day people might read these very vulnerable confessions, I’ve taken to telling stories to my girlfriend’s dog.

It started as a joke at first. I’d sit on the couch and say, “Once upon a time, there was a dog named Coco.” I thought it brought me comfort because it reminded me of how my mom used to read to me and my four brothers every night. We’d all curl up around her after our baths and listen to tales of strange heroes. To this day, I know my strength comes from the books my mom carefully chose about brave girls and soulful outcasts.

Yet, as I continued telling the sweet stray about where she came from, I began to tear up. My girlfriend arrived at the shelter minutes after Coco sunk her teeth into the man trying to adopt her. After a life of abuse, Coco was scared and mistrustful. My girlfriend said she didn’t mind that Coco was broken. At the time, my girlfriend also felt broken and alone in a city far from her family while struggling with all that life had dealt her. The story ends with the broken girl and the broken dog teaching each other slowly that it is okay to love.

I tell this story over and over to the sweet puppy who can’t understand because it is a good story about how even when we feel wrecked and weak we can find healing. It reminds me that even when we feel unlovable and unfixable we still have something to give in this imperfect world.

Whether you whisper it to your sleeping child or turn it into a song, find your own very true “once upon a time.” And listen carefully to all those stories other people are telling you and to the ones on loop in your head. Do the deserve to be there? Or is it time to take the princess out of her tower and into the woods on her own quest? The best kind of tales are the ones that remind us we are both amazingly individual and undeniably connected. Like millions of unlikely heroes all stumbling around on our own dark paths, our lanterns become the pinpricks of light that create constellations. Each voice is needed to tell the story of the whole – the story we forgot at birth about who we really are.

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Connect with Danielle on Facebook here.

And So It Is, Inspiration

I am Interested.

September 24, 2013

I am interested in inspiring, not fluff. In truth, not bullsh*t. I am interested in the way certain words string together in a seemingly impossible way to create a disarming sentence. The kind that makes you sit down and give pause.
I am interested in the fantastical, as long as it is fantastic, and in poetry and science alike. I am interested in science that reads like poetry, or rather, finding the poetry in it. In every molecule. In every discovery. I am interested in history, even if it’s recreated for the reader’s pleasure, as long as it is written well enough that you slip into belief and stay there for the duration.
I am interested in the quiet in back of words, in what is hidden behind what is said, the quiet stubbornness of the details. I am interested in imagination, not in regurgitation. I am interested in freshness of voice and “Holy Hell, that is risky. But it works” kind of stuff.
I am interested in originality. In the bold rather than same old. I am interested in poetry and fiction and stories of the heart, not in fingers counting ways I can lose 5 pounds. I am interested in anything that moves me, challenges me, breaks me. Not in anything that patronizes, manipulates, insults. I am interested in unique and brave, not mimicry and safety. I am interested in getting lost in words, ending up in Asia or Bali.
I am interested in things that make me recognize myself or parts of myself and all of humankind at once with the sleight of a hand, with a paragraph, with a metaphor, with skilled use of adverbs. Whatever it takes, I just want to be taken there.
I am interested in literature, but also in things unable to be categorized. I am interested in zero self-consciousness. I am not interested in anything so concerned with itself that it constructs a false self to sell. I am interested in risk-taking. I am interested in what speaks for itself; words so right that nothing needs to be done except nod and keep reading.
This is what I am interested in as a reader, and, as a writer.
I do not care for the nonsense, until it is beautiful nonsense. I don’t want the preachy or overly sentimental or the try-too-hards. I want what is pure creation or pure hard work or pure inspiration, just not what is pure contrivance.
I want to be touched and shook and grabbed.
I don’t want lists unless they make me a better human. Even then, they ought to be distinct, and, at the very least, funny as Hell.
I don’t need a lot. Or maybe I do.
Maybe I want everything.
I want the writer to have given me everything.
As the writer, I want to give everything.
I want words that send me to the moon.
I want what we all want, really.
To be shown what beauty is. What love is. What inspiration is. What the power of language and words can do.”

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Want a chance to attend my nest retreat free? Follow me on Instagram at @jenpastiloff. All details here. 

And So It Is, Inspiration, Letting Go

Can of Worms.

September 16, 2013

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By Jen Pastiloff.

I’d been wanting to write a piece on regret, it’d been sitting in the back of my mind somewhere between the piece on our baselines of happiness and the piece on my second stepfather going to prison for murder (self defense!) so when my sometimes therapist said we are going for a life of no regrets here, Jen, remember? it seemed like just the right set of words to distract me into a Yea, yea right no regrets. Which reminds me.

Which reminds me. I’d like to write that piece right now so we no longer have to talk about having kids and if it’s the right time and how I should just start trying so that I live my regret free life with as relatively few regrets as possible. Because what if I wait until January like I want to, so I can still lead my Italy retreat, and I have a hard time conceiving? Will I be mad at myself that I didn’t start trying sooner? Will I regret it? I am done with such conversations for now so I will write a piece on the internalization of regret instead, the I’m sorries, the I wish I did it betters, the If I could do it over agains. Anything but this decision. I’ve just gone completely off my meds and quite frankly, I liked myself better on them. I’ve heard people say of their alcoholic spouses or parents, that as crappy as life was with them, they sometimes liked them better when they were drinking. (I’ve heard that. Not often. But I have. Maybe just in a movie.) I liked myself better on cymbalta. That 30 mg kept me affable enough, it stopped the train wreck inside my brain, the flatness of mornings, the circle walkings, the scribblings. I’d like to have any conversation but this one about babies since right now I am not on great terms with myself and I’d like to not have one more thing to regret so I think I shall write that piece now.

I know it’s not the thing to say in the yoga world, which is where I reside in many people’s minds, but I would be lying if I said I had no regrets. Telling my dad “I hate you” and then having him die a few hours later. I kind of regret that.

Have I made peace? Yes.

But still.

I also regret not writing things down. China? I was there? Really? Prove it. Pull out documents. Words. Poems. Fragments of words. Anything.

I visited silk factories? Those men selling crystal rock candy in all sorts of shapes and sizes on big sticks as they froze on their rusty bicycles, I smiled at them as I took their photos?

I have a box of pictures I look through every couple of months to remind myself of the places I have been, the people I have known.

If it weren’t for this box of photos, honestly, I am not so sure.

I watched the old men in Beijing practice tai-chi, their breath circling the air as if it was in tune with their chi. Wait, that was me? Breath that hovered or flowed, breath that faltered and fell to the ground. (I have photos of this, otherwise I might be making these memories up for the sake of this essay.)

Despite the photos, I still wonder if I am making things up. Perhaps I am. Perhaps we always are.

I sat on a bus while some other NYU kid boycotted going to wherever we were going that winter day because, as he said, we were “exploiting the people.”

I ate rice, nothing but white rice for weeks, because I was terrified of gaining any weight. I had no idea what was in any of the food and it didn’t seem to be worth the risk at the time. Trying something new? No way, I’d rather starve. So hungry, all I thought of was food and getting warm so I paid little attention to the Chinese monks we visited, the bridges I stood on, the shows I saw, the house boats of Suzhou. Thank God for pictures. Real life film photos too! (Film. Remember film?)

I regret not writing things down.

I had brunch with a friend last week who told me that her boyfriend has a tattoo that says “Write it Down.”  I thought how if I got a tattoo, it would say that. That or my dad’s name. Maybe both. Write it Down Melvin. (Wreck It Ralph. Has that kind of ring to it.)

My other friend, the one who hooked me on this sometimes therapist, suggested that maybe I didn’t need to remember.

Maybe that too.

Or maybe I remember and don’t remember at the same time. We all do that to some degree, don’t we?

And then there’s this to consider: maybe I do remember all of it. Every single thing. Every word, every hurt, every pancake. Maybe it’s all up there, somewhere. In boxes or files, hiding under the shitload of unnecessary information I ingest daily via Facebook and the internet. Quivering in a corner, waiting to be resuscitated.

I’ve convinced myself that if I had written down more of my life then I could prove it. This happened. I was here. I existed.

Writing it down would make it factual, a thing in the world, measurable and unchangeable. There would be no revisionist history if I wrote more down.

Here, let me go check my records. Wait, let me research that in my stacks. Nope, didn’t happen. Wasn’t there. Didn’t exist. Not in the notes.

Back to the regrets: not finishing NYU? F*ck yes. (When I told my dean at the time, a man I worked for and who was more like a father to me (at least in my mind) than anything, that I was “taking a semester off”, he told me NOT to go to L.A. He was adamant that I would lose a brain cell for every year I was there. Been here 15 years now. Too many brain cells to count.)

Those few regrets are mine. I own them or they own me or something in the middle. When my brain is trying to rewire itself, when it’s scrambling to reconfigure itself after five years on selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors, those regrets are hanging on my wall next to a photo of me standing at the Great Wall of China.

Those are the regrets I am willing to share right now. The deep dark ones stay with me until I am ready to send them out into the world.

For brevity’s sake let’s leave it at those, since they tie in to the others, since they tie into, perhaps, all regret. Maybe all regret is intertwined. Maybe when you unlock one piece of the regret puzzle, the rest slip away like they never existed. Or, they start to make sense. Here, this piece fits nicely in here and voila! the puzzle is finished finally. Let’s take a picture of it, all our hard work, all the years leaning over the dining room table putting together misshapen pieces. They finally fit. We finally understand.

Anyway, regret is complicated. It’s a puzzle in its own right.

All roads lead to China, right?

I still live a rich full life and am happy a good 87% of the time (give or take.)

I lied. I am probably happy more like 78% of the time (give or take.)

I don’t know. Who cares the percentage?

I am as happy as I can be most of the time. How’s that?

Which reminds me. I want to write piece on the baseline of our happiness. We can vary slightly from this line but mostly don’t we stay about as happy as our own baseline? The idea is frightening, if you ask me. To someone who deals with depression, it’s a terrifying idea to ponder.

It’s like the body. The body always knows what it wants. Where it wants to be. You can work out until you are blue in the face and count your calories, but eventually, your body comes back to its “happy place.”

**

Do I wish some things had been different? Sometimes.

(Don’t you?)

A couple of those things I can. I can go back to school (and I may! I applied for a writing fellowship based on the advice my friend, the author Emily Rapp.) That’s a start.

I suppose I have no regrets if I think “just look at where I am now though. If I hadn’t done x, or y or said z, none of this would have happened.”

Do I always think that way? No.

I understand that philosophy and I agree with it. Mostly. But who knows?

Maybe I would have said I love you to my father before he died and the guilt I carried around with me like an extra limb would have found someone else to latch onto? Maybe I would’ve stayed at NYU and went on to get an MFA in Iowa or somewhere and maybe all the things I had written down would be books out in the world. Who knows?

Mostly I like to think of the things that have happened as having had happened so that I can be where I am now but I don’t know if that is the truth or rather something we invented so that we didn’t kill ourselves with the “what ifs.” Because the what-ifs can kill you.

You take what has happened and you make a life.

Still. Maybe it’s the neurotic Jew in me, maybe it’s the part of me that likes suffering.

The idea of regret is tricky, it holds you hostage in the past, it fills you up with more questions than can ever be answered in seven lifetimes. Regret is different than shame too. Regret is that thing in the back of your heart that feels like a lump, swollen and imaginary at the same time. Impossible to locate. Always there. Cancerous.

I wonder if I will fall a couple of notches down the rungs of the spiritual ladder by even having this conversation.

Truthfully, I don’t care. (How liberating it is to say that! Try it.)

I’d rather be human and filled with faults then a shit talking saint who pretends that bad things never happen and regret doesn’t exist.

Why make people feel they need to lie about them? Oh, no, I have no regrets, not a one. I am enlightened and then hiding under the bed, sniveling in shame at being so unlike everyone else and their regret-free lives.

To be clear: I don’t want to dwell in my regrets. That would be like taking a bath in my own shit every day. I do want to know, on a human, guttural level, if such a thing exists: a regret free life.

I want to know of other’s regrets. I want to know that it’s okay to have a couple or more than a couple, as long as you are moving forward, putting one foot in front of the other, living life in the best way you know how.

I suppose I am thinking of all this around Yom Kippur, a day when Jews atone, although that means little to me, having abandoned my Jewishness after my father passed. Most likely I am questioning these things as I think about bringing children into this world.

I am equal parts – wait, I should stop myself here – I am about 30% (give or take) spiritual teacher and 70% (give or take) neurotic writer. I do my best to have a foot in both worlds, but sometimes the writer, the one who digs and questions and overthinks, overtakes the other one.

Someone posted on my Facebook page, when I opened this dialogue, that if you have no regrets you haven’t lived long enough.

I found myself up late reading all the comments people posted about regret.

I regret getting lost on my way to Malibu beach with my younger brother who wanted to see it. He died in an accident years later. It’s a weird regret, but it’s really the only one I have.

Frequently I imagine going back in time and getting to my kid’s magic show on time, before he actually did the magic trick rather than just after. The kid no longer cares, but I re-do that day in my mind quite often.

Regret…after beating breast cancer (at the age of 43 with 3 kids at that time, one in elementary, one middle and one high school) I have such regrets not documenting my journey better, not taking more pictures with my bald head (I think I have one), not writing down what I went through, the ups, the downs, the nausea, the deep to the bone pain, the confusion, the sweet nurses, the doctors who scared me (with their superior attitudes), the doctors who didn’t, what my kids were going through, what my husband felt, the highs and the lows. I continued working, kept being the homeroom mom, the wife, the daughter who didn’t want her heartbroken and in denial parents to see how sick and tired I actually felt, and tried to keep things as normal as possible for everyone I Loved. Now 3 years later I look back, and think, WOW, it’s like it never happened (besides the fact that I never completed my reconstruction, and don’t have nipples!) I went through this extraordinary journey, (the worse thing to happen, and the best thing happen to me) I was superwoman who overcame the Kryptonite, I want to shout to the world, I SURVIVED! But short of lifting up my shirt and showing my deformed breasts, everyone, (but me) seems to have moved on and forgotten….Sorry, didn’t want mean to write a manifesto, not that I ever want to go through breast cancer again….but I guess I don’t want to ever forget either…..how weird is that?

I regret each time I screwed up, and then failed to learn from it. So many people harmed needlessly. I regret taking so long to embrace myself. I have never regretted loving anyone, even when it was one-sided.

Wow, Jennifer. Thanks for sharing. Never thought of the importance of writing down or speaking about our regrets. And after reading some of the ones shared here by many people I can relate to many of them.

Oh, Jennifer. What a can of worms. I can’t.

What a can of worms is right.

I saw this poster today on Facebook as I was writing this which said that the secret to happiness is having a bad memory. Maybe that’s why I never wrote things down? If I don’t write them down then they won’t have existed and I will have nothing to regret and I will be happy. Maybe I was trying to trick myself into happiness.

I know regret exists. Whether it got written down or not. The level of living inside of the regret however, varies, depending on your own can of worms. I don’t want to live with the worms. I just want to understand my regrets enough to write of them. To look someone else in the face and say I understand you, I understand your regretting not making it to Malibu that time with your brother, before he died in the accident.

Let’s go now. To Malibu. We can go together and throw roses into the ocean like we did when that stepfather of mine, (the one who went to prison) died. We can throw rose petals into the water and watch the waves take them away. We can say goodbye, having finally acknowledged their existence. We can get on surfboards and float out on our bellies. We can float out as far as we like.

We can scatter all the ashes of our regrets.

To say that regrets don’t exist is a lie. To say we aren’t able to let them go is another lie.

To say that somewhere in the middle is where most of us reside is the closest thing I have come to truth.

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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.

And So It Is, Inspiration

Boxed In.

September 5, 2013

I want to remind you of something you might already know. Or maybe you knew and forgot. Or maybe you never knew. Here is it: Do not put yourself in a box.
That goes for other people putting you in a box, as well. And if they insist, then bust on out of that box. Do not feel like you need to stay there.
You don’t.
And if you do, it will be by your own volition.
I led a retreat this weekend. A “yoga” retreat. Let me tell you, there wasn’t that much actual “yoga” done. Don’t get me wrong, the whole retreat was as yoga as yoga gets, but as far as the poses go, we didn’t do that much asana.
Sometimes, when I go into fear mode, I worry about the fact that so many people think of me as so many different things (Jen their yoga teacher, Jen the writer they follow, Jen the person I googled and found when I typed in “yoga retreat”.) Then, everyone arrives and the transformation is so complete, so profound, and I remind myself that it doesn’t matter what I am called.
What I do speaks for itself.
Same goes for you.
My dear friend, Caspar, is always the chef at my Ojai retreats. He is also an incredible musician and singer (among many many other things) so I asked him to come and sing to the group with his guitar. People wept. It was that beautiful.
Up until that point he was “chef.”
It was a gorgeous reminder that we don’t need to be labeled or put into boxes, that we can let ourselves shine no matter what our title is or is not.
I don’t know what you’d call my retreats. I don’t know what to call myself, and truthfully, it does not matter.
I am creating my own niche in the world. I hope you will consider doing the same.
When we feel that we need to be in a box or we need to be labeled it is usually, and this is purely speculation, fear running the show.

“What if I don’t fit in? I better do what everyone else does.
What if they don’t like me? I better conform.
What if no one comes? What if people think I am crazy? What if it doesn’t work? What is people say “who does she think she is?”

Keep being yourself unapologetically.
Be kind, do your best not to hurt anyone, love often, but be true to who you are. If you want to sing and you are an accountant, start singing dammit!

As I let go of the idea that I have to be “yoga teacher” (in quotes) I allow for inspiration.
Be boundless guys.

Get out there and roam. (That’s me speaking directly to your soul.)

Love, Jen Pastiloff, writer, yoga teacher, leader, coffee drinker, wine drinker, reader, poet, aunt, amateur photographer, slob, social media junky, friend, daughter, wife, inspirer, over thinker, yogi, sunset aficionado, human being.

Thank you Simplereminders.com

Thank you Simplereminders.com

ps, I have decided that I am indeed doing a 3 day retreat to Ojai over New Year!! Email barbara@jenniferpastiloff.com to book.

And So It Is, Awe & Wonder

So Much Depends.

August 12, 2013

By Jen Pastiloff

Let’s say it’s like this: He leans over to talk to me. We’re at an airport. Let’s say we are at an overpriced fish place in the Los Angeles International Airport. Flight’s been delayed five hours. Imagine that both of us traveling to the same place: Sioux Falls, South Dakota. He leans over to tell me he’s been married 58 years and that he and his wife normally share dinners and would I like half of his? He lost 4 of his fingers on his right hand 45 years ago on a rotary lawn mower, has an adopted son who is 6 foot 10 and he’s a Christian. He told me to keep talking to God before he passed me half his trout.

He told me he’d “just met so many nice people at the airport.” He’d been there since 6 am. It was now 6 pm. While I was huffing and puffing at all the time wasted he was looking around for the miraculous in the mundane, in the faces of people searching flight status boards or shuffling through security, begrudging the fact that they had to take off their shoes or remove their laptops.

When I told him I was a Jew he grasped his heart as if the fact was astounding enough to actually pain him. One of our neighbors was Jewish and they were just the most wonderful people, he’d said. I laughed (it reminded me of when someone says “I like gay people. I have a friend that’s gay) and told him I wasn’t a practicing Jew. He reminded me that I was one of God’s chosen. I wondered if there were any Jews in South Dakota but didn’t ask him. I knew there was at least one family, his neighbors, The Wonderfuls.

I drank my wine as I watched him carefully cutting his fish and smiling as he scrolled through his cell phone (a Blackberry.)

The man has on this light red raincoat and as my red wine slides down the back of my throat, I think of William Carlos Williams:

so much depends

upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
 chickens.

He leans toward my table. This is a picture of my beautiful wife.

So much depends on how we react to things.

His fingers, for example. How did he react 45 years ago when he was showing his father the newest features on the rotary lawnmower and the blade just sliced his four fingers off like they were irrelevant as dead grass? Nothing more than meat under a glass case at the butcher’s. Hurry, I’m a rush. I’ll take a pound of American and a pound of provolone. Slice it thin, please.  He told me that when he’d lost them he quickly had to learn to laugh about it. I guess I’m going to have to learn to pick my nose with my left hand now.

I didn’t react well to the flight delay. I’d felt entitled and ornery. Ornery is a word that makes me think of old people but my hair is greying (not for much longer, I swear) and I had my glasses on and a face free of any makeup, so I felt like an old person. An ornery old person. Sometimes with my hearing loss, I would mistake horny for ornery. I tend to imagine each word containing parts of the other, like distant relatives.

Doesn’t this airline know how busy I am? Huff. Don’t they know I am trying to write a book proposal? Puff. I made a stink and rolled my eyes and couldn’t believe I had to wait. The flight was meant to leave at 2:40 pm (it didn’t leave until 8:30 pm.) I even thought about going home and canceling my workshop in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

I couldn’t cancel the workshop. People were driving 14 hours from Canada! They were coming from Minnesota! I couldn’t cancel simply because I had to wait a few (okay, 6) hours at the airport. I got my meal voucher from Allegiant Air. (I had also never heard of this airline before this trip. For good reason, apparently.) The meal voucher was for eight dollars which made me chuckle. because really, what can you get for eight dollars besides a half glass of wine or two Snickers bars and a pack of gum? With 8 dollars  (okay $7.69) I bought a New Yorker magazine so I could read the latest by Joyce Carol Oates and a story on the Steubenville rape trial and Twitter. (When did the New Yorker get so pricey?)  I took my eight dollar voucher and with a huge chip on my shoulder, a chip weighing as least as much as a small man, I headed to a restaurant to sit and sulk.

So much depends.

So much depends on where we are. Where we are born. Where we park our asses down to eat a meal. Where we sit to write. Where we lay our head at night. Where we find ourselves on a map changes the course of everything, and whether it’s literal and full of pushpins and highways and mountains, or an emotional one, you better believe that life is an exercise in mapmaking.

I get led to a table for one. There are two men on each side of me, also eating alone. Let’s say I get led to the bar. It then becomes a whole different story. The map is then green instead of red, perhaps.

So much depends on so much.

I was content on being pissed about my wasted time, all the while wasting more time. I got no writing done, no reading done, nothing productive to speak of. So when this older man leans his body towards mine and says something I can’t really make out but which sounds like something to the effect of I’ve been married for 58 years, you know, I smile.

Here, an opportunity for you to connect. Here, someone to talk to. Here, someone offering you his food. Here, some fish.

A red jacket. A red wheelbarrow.

So much depends on where you look.

I loved him immediately. He became my grandfather, my priest/rabbi, my meal ticket, my companion, my cartographer, my reminder to pay attention. He also wore hearing aids (like me! He also became my twin!) He was my fellow conspirator against the hearing world. I heard this story about a man who, after 40 years, finally got a pair of hearing aids, he told me, and ever since he’d had to change his will twice, he laughed. I’d thought he was going to tell me that the man gave the hearing aids back because not hearing had been better.

So much depends.

The fact is, when you can’t hear well you have to pay attention. Closely. You see that lady three tables over licking her fingers and although you can’t hear the slurp, you imagine the suck and the little quack it makes, and the man across from her? You see him eating his chicken sandwich without chewing even though his back is to you. You can tell by the way his jaws move from behind. You can see all this while your ears prick for any sound at all, and, when no sound arrives, your eyes scan the room and notice every painful exchange, every empty gesture, every goddamned chicken finger being picked up and put back down by every child in the world.

There’s nothing you can’t see when you can’t hear so you have to be really careful where you sit or you will see it all.

So much depends on where you sit.

His name was Dick and the thirteen year old in me wanted to laugh when he told me his name. He said dick! Haha, he said dick! He gave me his card and wrote down my name on the bottom half of his own meal voucher for eight dollars, which he tore off and put in his front pocket, next to a pen. Would we ever see each other again? Let’s say: no. Let’s say we leave it at that.

And that that is enough. One of those rare moments in life when we say I don’t need more than this.

The having had it happen. The exchange of two human beings in an airport enough to sustain you for a while. Let’s say that’s the case here.

He pays his bill and shakes my hand. I have a styrofoam container of fish sitting in front of me like a gift and I will remember him by it. The man who gave me half of his dinner. The man in the red jacket with the missing fingers.

He leaves his jacket behind so I reach over and grab it. I drape it over the back of my chair knowing I’ll see him on the plane and can give it to him then. I’ll carry the fish he gave me in one hand and his red coat in another.

For a few minutes I feel calm, as insular as a cave, as sturdy as the land I would soon be visiting in the southwestern part of the state of South Dakota. I am as protected as the Badlands I would be at in just two days time, that rugged terrain I’d dreamt of seeing again ever since I first saw them at 18 years old on a cross country drive I took in a mini-van. Mako Sika, translated as “land bad” or “eroded land”, my beloved Badlands, which beckoned to me with their otherworldliness and various personalities (how human of them!) I was part of them and no one could come close to me in the safety of my red vinyl jacket. I was on the interior.

My insides warm from wine, the red jacket a heart on the back of my chair, holding the world in place. Knowing it’s there enough to keep me sane.

So much depends on a red jacket.

Ah! You found my jacket, he rushes back up to my table.

So much depends.

Yes. I was keeping it safe.

Let’s say it ended like that.

We finally boarded the plane. A few rows up, he sleeps, while my legs shake uncontrollably (too much wine and coffee and too little sleep) and I rest my head on the shoulder of a stranger.

Do you mind if I lean my head on your shoulder?

The stranger was on his way back to Iowa. Football scholarship. Young. Polite. Kind. No, I don’t mind. Lean on me, he says.

So much depends on where you sit.

So much depends.

Let’s say two days later I am standing on the edge of the world, at Pinnacles Overlook right by Route 240 at The Badlands National Park, and let’s say I wished that right then and there I could ask that man in the red jacket if this is what he meant by talking to God?

**This essay is dedicated to Melissa Shattuck for having the chutzpah to get me to South Dakota. And to Dick, naturally. Red wheelbarrows. All of them.

(a p.s. to the story: after I posted about it on my Facebook, through the serendipitous nature of the universe, a woman commented: “The man in the red jacket is my dad!”)

Find the miraculous, even in the mundane.

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Dick. The man in the airport.

Dick. The man in the airport.

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Jen will be back in South Dakota May 28th for one workshop. Click here to book.