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beauty

beauty, courage, Guest Posts, healing, Inspiration

This Space

October 5, 2015

By Sarah Miller Freehauf

I once filled this space, this body, this dispensable cavity with food—rows of black and white cookies & TV & bedtime. I once filled this space, this body, this dispensable cavity with pills & space where no food was allowed to touch. I once ran on a treadmill for three miles in this space, this body, this dispensable cavity. I moved 200 pounds of this space, that body. After—a man came to me with a smile and asked how many miles did you just run? A man came to me with disbelief and asked how many miles I just carried that big space, that big body, that big dispensable cavity.

My mother used to say you better watch it. My father used to tap and smack our bellies and call us belly-women and I hated him in that moment though loved him deeply every other. My brother used the toothbrush more often than I did. My brother used to feel the praise of coaches and mother and father on how he was trim and good and how that boy body was all Midwestern man. My brother was worse off than I. He ate salad, he dispensed it, he ate salad, he moved his large baby fat ridden teen body until some man at the gym said something to him in disbelief—something that sounded like you are good.

I kept running and moving that space of mine and eating things of the earth and everyone in disbelief said how many miles did you just run? How many pounds did you manage to rid? Everyone in disbelief including the man at the gym and our father and my brother—skinny and in shape and everyone proud of him—everyone in disbelief asked how many miles and pounds did that space, that body, that dispensable cavity rid?

And then because that space is dispensable, because of shame, because of fat stored in a place that it is supposed to be, because everyone in their disbelief—I cut my chest. I let a man cut my chest, I let a man remove, in his disbelief, eleven pounds of fat. I let everyone say in disbelief—your body looks better, looks good, looks healthy, looks small. And this body still has the anchor scars and the cookie scars and rotted esophagus to prove that all the disbelief was believable.

And now I run and men watch. And now I run and my mother says good. And now I eat things of the earth and others say how.

Now—I run. I move my body, my space, my figure, my form and most days it is still not enough. But my body moves and that is good. The moving is mostly enough.

Freehauf-headshot

Sarah Miller Freehauf is the Founding Editor of Teenage Wasteland Review–a literary journal just for teens, Editorial Assistant for Divedapper, a reader for [PANK], former Managing Editor for Lunch Ticket, and recently received her MFA in Poetry from Antioch University, Los Angeles. More importantly, she teaches high school English and Creative Writing in the Midwest. Her most recent creative work can be found in Stone Highway Review & Poemeleon.

 

 

Join Jen Pastiloff at one of her Girl Power Workshops or On being Human Workshops by clicking here.

Join Jen Pastiloff at one of her Girl Power Workshops or On being Human Workshops by clicking here.

Ring in New Years 2016 with Jen Pastiloff at her annual Ojai retreat. It's magic! It sells out quickly so book early. No yoga experience required. Just be a human being. With a sense of humor. Email barbara@jenniferpastiloff.com with questions or click photo to book. NO yoga experience needed. Just be a human being.

Ring in New Years 2016 with Jen Pastiloff at her annual Ojai retreat. It’s magic! It sells out quickly so book early. No yoga experience required. Just be a human being. With a sense of humor. Email barbara@jenniferpastiloff.com with questions or click photo to book. NO yoga experience needed. Just be a human being.

 

beauty, Guest Posts, Inspiration

The Fat Girl’s Benediction

October 1, 2015

**A note from Jen: A version of this essay was originally published on one of our favorite sites, “The Rumpus.” We are thrilled to share it here, with all of you.**

 

By Tabitha Blankenbiller

On the morning I’d had enough of my body, Twitter was quaking over Colleen McCullough’s obituary. It stated that the wildly accomplished writer was “plain of feature, and certainly overweight, she was, nevertheless a woman of wit and warmth.”  Who knew someone could be full-figured and brilliant? My friends were livid. I was disgusted. And I was panicked. What if I careened off the road, right now, in these revolting stretchy pants that aren’t fooling a goddamn soul? Let me die painfully, shamefully, without kindness or honor. Don’t let me die fat.

As I roller-coastered through the backroads, I tried to remember the last time I was in a house of God. Not since my last visit to the United Methodist Church of Wilsonville. Forgive me father, for I have sinned. It has been 1,011 days since my last confession.

Two years since my last visit and nothing about the church’s Tuesday night Weight Watchers meeting had changed. The same woman who had taken my information four years ago still stood behind the multi-purpose room’s kitchen counter. On these Tuesday nights, us Eaters Anonymous members shuffled in with our weekly food trackers. We made whatever sacrifices we could: unzipped boots and kicked off sneakers, running to the bathroom to purge ounces from our bladders. The truth flashed onto the scale, evidence of a “good” or “bad” week. The line corralled next to a table selling dinner plates with patterns depicting proper meat-to-starch-to-vegetable ratios and serving spoons to ensure you only scoop half a cup of brown rice (white rice is evil). Miniature scales to make sure you did not accidentally grab four ounces of almonds instead of three. Keep on track. One day at a time. Continue Reading…

beauty, Binders, Guest Posts, Humor, Owning It!, Self Love

The Other Plastic Surgery.

February 16, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Sara Bir. 

There’s a face I’m sick of seeing, and it’s not the rearranged mess of a scandalized Hollywood star. It’s a face I confront in every reflective surface—the bathroom mirror, the screen of my smartphone if I tilt it just so. Perhaps this face may even appear superimposed on that of a celebrity of a certain age, if I pause while zipping along through my Facebook feed.

“What the heck happened?” I think in shock, every single time, because the face glaring back at me does not match my memory of what my face looks like. The skin at the corners of eyelids and lips is creased, slack; the purplish sacks under the eyes are increasingly puffy and swollen, almost like bruises. My nose, which has always been large, is gleefully launching into a mid-life growth spurt, veering off-center to one side and becoming bulbous and shiny, like Santa’s.

This is the other plastic surgery. It’s the kind that rearranges your face in totally unexpected ways. This surgeon of mine should be taken to court, I grumble, but I didn’t hire him. Or is it her? Perhaps they work as a husband-wife team, the practice of Mother Nature and Father Time. They are certainly not exclusive; in fact, it’s impossible not to get a referral. And they’re quite generous with appointments, happy to work your countenance over again and again. They really don’t make any compromises, those two. Try as you might, these practitioners will always be in your health network.

 

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.

 

The handiwork of Drs. M. Nature and F. Time is understandably a concern for anyone whose career demands fresh, fussed-over faces. Thank god I’m not a glamorous media figure, because even without a long, expensive vacation to Camp Nip’n’Tuck, the shifting topography of my head is, to me, as startling as Renée’s, or Madonna’s, or Kenny’s, or Nicole’s.

That’s because the face I unfailingly expect to greet me from a mirror is perhaps circa 1999, or maybe 2004, or maybe not from any specific era of my life except an idealized past. Who knows what I’m idealizing, because, at a still-spry 38 years, inside I feel more confident and sorted-out than I ever did when my skin cells still had snappy elasticity. After a few seconds adjusting to the very human lady blinking back at me in those oh-so-unbeautiful morning minutes after rustling out of bed, I just sigh and call a truce.

I went to my husband for a sympathetic ear, and also to gauge the waters of our marital relations. Alas, my vigilant team of plastic surgeons also did a number on my breasts and abdomen. The stomach is quite fit if I flex it, something I only do if I’m scrutinizing my profile under the unflattering florescent lights of a dressing room. Otherwise, the unflexed tummy flesh and skin are rubbery and malleable, like Silly Putty. As for my breasts, once I stopped nursing my young daughter, they vanished; my cup size is essentially –AA. This is the one session with Mother Nature and Father Time that’s made me feel youthful, because now the only place I can find bras that fit is in the little girl’s section at Target.

Still, men like boobs. One evening, at bedtime, I worked up enough courage to ask my husband, “Are you still attracted to me even though I’m so different now?”

“What?” he said, distracted. I’d disturbed the constant, anxious reverie about his receding hairline. As if he has time to think about where my boobs went! Isn’t that what internet pornography is for?

So I dropped it. In fact, no one seems to notice the havoc my plastic surgeons have wreaked on my face. Sometimes, if I go months without running into a friend, they’ll even say, “You look great!” And I, in turn, am pleased seeing their glowing, radiant selves, and I don’t even think about scrutinizing their expanding pores or multiplying crow’s feet. Maybe that’s because their faces are not stretched in high definition across a television that spans an entire wall in our living room. Maybe because the energy inside someone when you see them in person has so much to do with how you perceive the physicality of that face.

While trapped in the snaking line of the express checkout at the grocery store yesterday, the cover of a Prevention magazine caught my eye. “Stop aging!” the headline blared. I’ve flirted with capsules, lotions, and masks, and I can vouch that it’s not humanly possible cease the steady march of the Other Plastic Surgery. We all know there’s really only one way to stop aging, and that’s to die. I’d rather keep on living, with this ever-dynamic face. I found it looks years younger when I don’t scowl at the mirror.

 

servicesSara Bir is a chef, food writer, and usually confident parent living in Ohio. Her essay “Smelted”, from the website Full Grown People, appears in Best Food Writing 2014. You can read Sara’s blog, The Sausagetarian, at www.sausagetarian.com. This is her second essay on The Manifest-Station.

Do you want the space and joy to get back into your body? To get into your words and stories?  Join Jen Pastiloff and best-selling author Lidia Yuknavitch over Labor Day weekend 2015 for their 2nd Writing & The Body Retreat in Ojai, California following their last one, which sold out in 48 hours. You do NOT have to be a writer or a yogi.  "So I’ve finally figured out how to describe Jen Pastiloff's Writing and the Body yoga retreat with Lidia Yuknavitch. It’s story-letting, like blood-letting but more medically accurate: Bleed out the stories that hold you down, get held in the telling by a roomful of amazing women whose stories gut you, guide you. Move them through your body with poses, music, Jen’s booming voice, Lidia’s literary I’m-not-sorry. Write renewed, truthful. Float-stumble home. Keep writing." ~ Pema Rocker, attendee of Writing & The Body Feb 2015

Do you want the space and joy to get back into your body?
To get into your words and stories? Join Jen Pastiloff and best-selling author Lidia Yuknavitch over Labor Day weekend 2015 for their 2nd Writing & The Body Retreat in Ojai, California following their last one, which sold out in 48 hours. You do NOT have to be a writer or a yogi.
“So I’ve finally figured out how to describe Jen Pastiloff’s Writing and the Body yoga retreat with Lidia Yuknavitch. It’s story-letting, like blood-letting but more medically accurate: Bleed out the stories that hold you down, get held in the telling by a roomful of amazing women whose stories gut you, guide you. Move them through your body with poses, music, Jen’s booming voice, Lidia’s literary I’m-not-sorry. Write renewed, truthful. Float-stumble home. Keep writing.” ~ Pema Rocker, attendee of Writing & The Body Feb 2015

Featured image courtesy of Timothy Krause.

beauty, Guest Posts, travel

The Greatest Country on Earth.

November 21, 2014


beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black
By Jill Moffett.

My flight landed in San Francisco on Halloween night. I had $300 in my pocket. I was alone. It was a warm evening, and I paid $12 for the shuttle to take me to my destination. I spoke to no one. Outside the van window I saw fat nuns in silver boots, pink-haired girls on roller skates, a pair of vampires with blood dripping down their jaws and a 200-pound Rainbow Brite in a tutu. Everything sparkled and I wondered about the future.

I was 25 and alone. I had left Montreal that morning because I had to. I was run out of town by my own bad habits. I drank too much, I slept with too many people, I let my untreated depression get the best of me. The streets of the city seemed haunted now, every place I went held memories of bad behavior or an unbearable sadness. I left because it was the place where my boyfriend had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, had locked me in the apartment while he talked to a dead telephone, and threatened to throw my off the balcony if I tried to leave. I left because the last apartment where I had lived was too dark and too quiet. It gave me nightmares to live alone. Besides, in Montreal it was cold all the time.

I was raised to believe that to be a grown up was to leave where you had come from without looking back. You did it out of necessity. Leaving your home was like growing three inches over summer vacation when you were a teenager, painful and completely out of your control. After high school graduation I’d gone to Ireland with my best friend, hoping to connect with my roots. I though maybe I’d move there. But it wasn’t like I’d imagined. My grandmother didn’t answer her phone, my aunt was welcoming but harried, overwhelmed by the demands of her two young children. The guidebook told us to visit the Aran Islands, and we obliged. One night two drunk men we’d ignored in the pub that evening climbed through the window of the isolated hostel where we were staying, hunting for us in our beds. I left the country the next day and returned to Ottawa, the city I called home. It wasn’t really home though. My parents had moved five hours away two weeks after graduation.

Continue Reading…

5 Most Beautiful Things, Awe & Wonder, beauty, Delight

Better Than Magic.

August 6, 2014

by Jen Pastiloff.

I watched this adorable old man cross the street by my house just now as I was running. It took him a lot time. He had a walker. I stopped running and waited for him.

“Can I ask you a question? What made you happy today?”

Silence.

Me: Do you speak English? Where are you from?

Him: I am Armenian.

Me: What made you happy today?

He laughs. He’s got all his teeth.

Continue Reading…

And So It Is, beauty

Personal Story in 100 Words.

July 15, 2014

Personal Story in 100 Words by Elissa Wald.*

Earlier this week, I was filling out an application for freelance work at a copywriting agency, and one of the sections said: “Tell us your personal story in 100 words.”

My answer was this:

“These are the aphorisms I live by. I wrote them all:

Suffering doesn’t build character; the resolve to wrest something redemptive from suffering is what builds character. Bitterness might be justified but it’s never attractive. You don’t have to feel the right thing, you just have to do the right thing. Lust makes us all ridiculous. The human heart is very perverse. Be as generous as you can: it’s the most selfish thing you can do. Ritual is at the center of spiRITUALity. Love letters are the point of life. With the right light, any window can become a mirror.”

 

*Note from Jen: What would your personal story be in 100 words? Post in comment section below.

 Elissa Wald is the author of "The Secret Lives of Married Women" (Hard Case Crime), "Meeting The Master: Stories of Mastery, Slavery and the Darker Side of Desire" (Grove Press), and a novel, "Holding Fire: A Love Story" (Context Books). Her work has also been published in several journals and anthologies, including Beacon Best of 2001, Creative Nonfiction, The Barcelona Review, The Mammoth Book of Erotica, Nerve: Literate Smut, The Ex-Files: New Stories about Old Flames, and Brain, Child Magazine.

Elissa Wald is the author of “The Secret Lives of Married Women” (Hard Case Crime), “Meeting The Master: Stories of Mastery, Slavery and the Darker Side of Desire” (Grove Press), and a novel, “Holding Fire: A Love Story” (Context Books). Her work has also been published in several journals and anthologies, including Beacon Best of 2001, Creative Nonfiction, The Barcelona Review, The Mammoth Book of Erotica, Nerve: Literate Smut, The Ex-Files: New Stories about Old Flames, and Brain, Child Magazine.

Jennifer Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Her work has been featured on The Rumpus, The Nervous Breakdown, Jezebel, Salon, and more. Jen leads her signature Manifestation Retreats & Workshops all over the world. The next retreat is to Ojai, Calif over Labor Day. Check out jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up: SeattleLondon, Atlanta, South Dakota, NYC, Dallas, Tucson & The Berkshires (guest speaker Canyon Ranch.) She tweets/instagrams at @jenpastiloff.

image courtesy of Simplereminders and Bryant McGill.

image courtesy of Simplereminders and Bryant McGill.

Beating Fear with a Stick, beauty, Guest Posts

Hold It All.

June 13, 2014

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Ally Hamilton.

When I was 12 years old a guy grabbed me on my way to ballet class. I was walking in the same door I’d walked in for years on West 83rd Street, with my hair in a bun, and my tights and leotard under my jeans, and this young guy walked in ahead of me. The door opened right onto a narrow, steep staircase. At the top of the stairs to the right was the ballet studio. I could hear the piano. I can tell you, even at 12, or maybe especially because I was still so young, I had a vibe. An intuition. I remember the feeling of something being off, and I probably did exactly what he’d hoped I would do. I passed him on the right and started racing up the stairs. But he grabbed me from behind and put one hand over my mouth and another between my legs and told me not to move and that he wasn’t going to hurt me. For a minute I froze. Panicked with the taste of tin in my mouth. Fear undiluted. His hand over my mouth as he started fumbling with his jeans, and all I heard, like an explosion inside my head was, “NO”. Not that I understood exactly what he was trying to do, just that animal part of me, of you, of all of us, that part knew. And then I bit his hand and screamed and threw my elbow into his ribs as hard as I could. He let me go immediately. I don’t believe he expected a fight. I faced him, still screaming, tears and adrenaline and a racing heart, and backed up the stairs, right hand, right foot, left hand, left foot, fast. I remember his face, and I remember being shocked that he looked as terrified as I felt. Eyes wide so I could see more white than anything. He took off down the stairs and when I saw he was out the door, I turned and raced/crawled up the remainder of the staircase as fast as I could. I busted into the office, hysterical, unable to speak, but the guys there, the dancers, they knew. I just pointed and they took off, and three girls who were in the company ran to me and held me until I could speak. Not that I could fully make sense of what had happened. They weren’t able to catch up to the guy, and I don’t know what happened to him.

I share this with you because it exists in this world, and because it happened. Clearly, it could have been a lot worse. I hope it was never worse for someone else who didn’t scream, or couldn’t fight. And I hope he found the help he desperately needed. I believe if someone had photographed my face and his as we stared at each other, they would have looked incredibly similar. I believe he was as shocked and sorry about what he’d done as I was. He looked like an animal with his leg caught in a trap. There are people who are deeply troubled, who need help but don’t get it. Because they fall through the cracks. Or are able to hide their pain from the people closest to them. Or maybe those people are in denial. I don’t know what his story was, but I’d be willing to bet it wasn’t a good one.

The reality is this world can be incredibly violent, but it can also be achingly beautiful. If you want to be awake, you have to hold it all. I’m not a fan of this amazing pressure to be positive every waking minute of the day. Not everything is positive and light. Some things will rip your heart right out of your body with no warning and no logic. People who demand that you be light every minute are running from their own shadow, and it’s only a matter of time before it bites them in the a$$. My thoughts did not create that experience, it was completely outside my frame of reference. There are people who would point to karma, or God’s plan, or everything happening for a reason. I don’t know about any of that for sure, and neither does anyone else. What I do know is that sometimes horrendous things happen to beautiful people. Maybe someday it will all make sense and maybe not. Until then, the truth is we live in a world with darkness, and incredible light. To deny one is to forsake the other. It’s not about being positive, it’s about being authentic. Open. Real, raw, vulnerable. It’s about understanding sometimes you will be so scared out of your mind you’ll crawl up a staircase backwards, not even fully knowing what you’re racing from. And sometimes you will be blinded and amazed by all the beauty, all the gifts you’ve been given, the taste of gratitude like sugarcane in your mouth, and the feeling of sunlight like it was poured directly into your heart. Don’t worry about being positive. Just be awake. Hold it all.

Sending you love, for real. Ally

photo by the talented James Vincent Knowles

photo by the talented James Vincent Knowles

Ally Hamilton is a Santa Monica-based yoga teacher and writer whose work reaches hundreds of thousands of yogis around the world via her online yoga videos and social media following. She’s the co-creator of YogisAnonymous.com, a premier source for online yoga videos, which has been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Vogue Magazine, Self Magazine, Shape Magazine, CNN and more. She’s the mama of two amazing kids and one energetic Labradoodle.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station and creator of The Manifestation Workshop: On Being Human. Up next is Vancouver (Jan 17) and London Feb 14. Click here. 

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being.

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.

Click to take any of Jen Pastiloff's online classes at Yogis Anonymous.

Click to take any of Jen Pastiloff’s online classes at Yogis Anonymous.

Contact Rachel Pastiloff for health coaching, weight loss, strategies, recipes, detoxes, cleanses or help getting off sugar. Click here.

Contact Rachel Pastiloff for health coaching, weight loss, strategies, recipes, detoxes, cleanses or help getting off sugar. Click here.

Join Jen Pastiloff in Atlanta March 7th. Click the photo above.

Join Jen Pastiloff in Atlanta March 7th. Click the photo above.

beauty, Guest Posts, Inspiration, Owning It!, Self Image

I Like This Picture of My Cellulite: A 19 Year Old’s Journey To Self-Acceptance.

June 4, 2014

Dear Readers, Jen Pastiloff here. The post below was written by a 19 year old student. I love that I have teens following the site! I am developing a series for young writers to express themselves to accompany my new book “Girl Power: You Are Enough.” It is my great honor to be a platform for these beautiful voices. We want you to be heard. We are listening. See you all next workshop And at the workshop for girl- Girl Power: You Are Enough, which launches in September, 2015. Make sure you are following me on instagram and snapchat at @jenpastiloff!!

IMG_6719And I Like This Picture of My Cellulite by Victoria Erickson.

1d274906138129-today-cellulite-140617-blocks_desktop_medium

A Young Woman’s journey to self acceptance and appreciation.

Now, I’m not the cute blonde on the left but rather the more prominent, jean-jacket covered, cellulite charging, woman to the right.

And the first thing I thought of when I saw this picture was how HAPPY I look: I’m jubilant, radiant, fresh home from my first year of college and ready to celebrate with my hometown best. And I should’ve stopped there. It could have been enough to admire the photograph, to rejoice in the photographer’s ability to capture the joy and carefree art of two friends catching up after a year apart. It should have been.

But instead, I let my subconscious take over. I let that little voice in the back of my head tell myself that “I wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t enough…or rather I was TOO much. I let the brainwashing, nerve damaging thoughts seep in and overwhelm my mind, allowing the thoughts to poison my spirit. My mentality went from You look HAPPY!! to Yeah, you look happy…but why? you’re fat. Followed by, don’t believe me? Just look at that lump of cellulite you call a leg take over the shot and deplete the image of any beauty there may have been.

And the smile faded.

The disgusting part? I let it. I let my stomach sink, my chin drop, my eyebrows furrow, and my spirit shrink. I let the negative thoughts brew until they reached a dangerous boiling pointing as I asked myself Why didn’t the photographer just edit that out?! and What should I do?! As I wondered if it would be best to try to edit the cellulite myself, crop the picture from the waist down, or just “hide” the photo from my timeline all together?

A lot of distress and worry over a photo. A photo that did nothing more than capture the image presented before itself. And that’s when I realized, when you look at this photo, you might see the sorrow of imperfection, the impression of one (or two) many visits to the all-you-can-eat-University cafeteria as I did at first glance.

Or rather, you might see a young woman jubilant with friendship and conversation as I have now chosen to.

That’s the wonderful part! I decided that it is what I -independent, strong & mighty me-decide to see, feel, and believe that counts.

Because I’m nineteen and I’ve had enough. No more to comparison and emotional affliction. No more distress caused by preconceived notions of body image. No more to any of it.

So what did I do? I decided that I loved the picture. I decide that it was a wonderful snapshot of my friendship and that image truly captured the essence of a rain kissed stroll- flaws and all! And most boldly, I decided to share it.

That’s right. I decided that I love this honest and flawed picture so much so that I am going to embrace it, celebrate it, and yes, share it. Because I decided I would fight my demon and embody it because I didn’t -and don’t- have the time or energy to let it wear and tear me down anymore. Because it’s not important. And more so, because I hope when you look at yourself, whether in reflection or spirit, you do the same.

Because we’re better than that.

And because it’s actually ok to look at a photo and say yes, “I like this picture of my cellulite.”

rain-edit-1

 

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Photograph referenced in article, taken by Atiim Jones Photography

Victoria Erickson is studying Journalism, Art History, and Studio Arts at the University of Iowa. As a student journalist and becoming adult she is trying to the find the balance between learning and leading.

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

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the sunflowers! Sep 17-24, 2016. Please email info@jenniferpastiloff.com to book. 

 

 

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

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

 

beauty, Guest Posts

The Way of the Backer. By Eiren Caffall.

April 16, 2014

The Way of the Backer: Kickstarter and the Power of Artistic Failure

by Eiren Caffall

“You know,” I told my friend when I called her, “Kickstarter is kicking my ass. I have no idea how to talk about why I make art.”

I was trying to finish funding my new record, managing a Kickstarter campaign with a $4,000 goal, when the freakout kicked in and I started calling people until I found someone who would let me lose it on the phone.

I had just realized that the pitches I was making every day were pointing out a horrible truth: when it comes to justifying myself as an artist, I am incoherent. It had suddenly become clear to me that I had no idea how to tell family, friends and strangers that they should back my music or my writing when, by every cultural measure we use (grants, sales, press coverage, earnings) I have been a spectacular failure.

Away from Kickstarter I am proud of what I make, I remember that I have shared stages and bandmates and radio airwaves with some celebrated musicians, a few legit places have published my writing. I am part of a community of artists who work under the radar of a culture that may, once in a while, pick one of us out of the pack and move us higher up the ladder. I am email-friendly with people who have been picked like that, they return my calls sometimes.

But as far as mass culture is concerned, me, down here, below the radar, spending over a decade making work that few people see, I’m failing.

I am third-generation art Boho, and kind of used to seeing artists struggle. I am sometimes the whiniest one in the room about that failure, since I’ve seen the generational toll it takes. No one else bitches out loud if they can help it. The soup we all swim in sucks, we’re all frustrated, and we try to keep that to ourselves, if only to preserve our dignity.

“The music business is a toilet,” my drummer said to me this summer. Yup.

But he said this to me in a quiet room, and I was the only one who heard him. Because admitting how hard this is might, itself, look like failure. So we say that things are going fine, talk about good gigs and small successes and ignore the big picture and the fear that comes with it.

All that changed as soon as I pressed the “launch” button on my Kickstarter campaign and admitted that I couldn’t make it on my own anymore, that no label was coming to the aid of my career, that I couldn’t pay for the record I had just finished.

Kickstarter is huge these days, and it can be problematic for so many reasons. It is marketing disguised as grassroots grant-making, and backlashes towards artists that game the system are legendary. Issues of access and need come in at every door that Kickstarter opens. But it is also so ubiquitous in the arts community that people talk about it in an offhand manner: “Well, if no one wants to put the record out, we’ll just do a Kickstarter for it,” we say to each other.

Since grants and government programs for the arts (not to mention the revenue streams that used to come with putting out records) have dried up, we dive towards crowdfunding as if it is the last crumb on an empty table. And it kind of is. Last year Kickstarter famously gave more money to artists than the NEA.

And Kickstarter’s grey-market economy genius is that it lets people feel like, when they pledge, they are not only validating someone’s work, but supporting them person to person. The pledge makes one part of the work, you are a backer.

But that’s where my trouble started, because to be good at Kickstarter, I was finding, you had to be able to stand in front of what you’d made and invite people to back you, personally, as if what you make matters, as if you had never thought of failure for one moment, at any step of the process.

And I was not good at that.

With five days to go the campaign was only at 30%; it was failing.

“You never even said your name in the video,” my friend pointed out to me on that fateful day when I called.

And in my head I answered, “I know, I was ashamed.” My Kickstarter campaign launched me into a shame spiral so deep that for a while there, though I continued to spew cheerful boosterism at the internet, dripping with thinly-veiled panic, I could barely answer the phone when friends called, because I didn’t want to admit that all this hustle was making my confidence fall apart.

This year, I have been thinking about failure, a lot.

This year I lost my house to foreclosure. This year I finally worked again after a long time without work. This year my ex-husband moved in with his younger girlfriend, and my older boyfriend decided that, no, he would not like to move in with me.

At the beginning of that phone call, when she asked me how I was, I’d said, trying to sound offhand and light, “Enjoying my exercise in public failure.”

“You can’t talk about it like that. Confidence breeds confidence, success breeds success,” she’d said back. A veteran of the Kickstarter wars herself, my friend was not agreeing with the system per se, just doing her best to remind me of its limitations. “I mean,” she said, sensing she was losing me, “the process is about letting people experience how much you love the record, the system asks for that. And you love your record, let people see it.” I knew she was right, but I wanted to tell her that I might be a lost cause.

The whole time I was pitching and pitching, thanking backers and asking for more, teaching myself Mail Chimp and updating Twitter and posting new content and sending new videos out into the world I was also thinking about a last conversation I had with my father.

He had a genetic kidney disease, Polycystic Kidney Disease, PKD, and in my family it hits early and often, like those proverbial Chicago voting scams. Until my father had two kidney transplants, ten additional years of dialysis, and made it to the ripe old age of 64, every member of my family for generations beyond counting, was dead by 40.

At 22 I was diagnosed with the same thing.

And when I was 29, and had just finished a record, my father finally started to die. An infection gained from his first transplant had morphed over years in his system, and by the end he was riddled with a weirdo cancer that was invading his body cavities, eating up his lungs one day, bloating his stomach the next.

My parents had divorced seven years earlier and my father’s family was all dead and I have no siblings, so it was me in the hospital room with him, holding him steady when they took a twelve-inch-long needle and inserted it into his belly to get samples of the pale, eerie liquid that was filling him up. It was me sleeping next to his hospital bed on a cot when he hallucinated and tore off all his clothes in the middle of the night.

And it was me sitting next to him when he said to me one lucid afternoon, “I wish I hadn’t been such a failure.”

I argued with him, can’t remember what I said now, but I told him I’d always admired his life.

An autodidact and bohemian from his teens, he’d been at jazz clubs in the Village before he could legally drink, lived in a loft in Soho with a swing in the main room, dated waitresses at Max’s Kansas City. He’d married my pretty mother, worked with her on blue movies, and been a camera man on a Yoko Ono picture. He had hung out at the Factory, been friends with Alice Brock of Alice’s Restaurant fame, taught himself to make flawless Shaker furniture and fly-fish and track pheasants.

I’d always thought he’d been remarkable. I’d always thought he’d lived the life he’d meant to.

Sure, we were dirt poor, and we moved all the time, always at the mercy of landlords. Sure, my mother had left him, and he’d always undersold his work. Sure, at 64 he rented a shitty room from a creepy guy and worked as a museum guard and was about to die and leave his only child holding the bag.

But he’d seen things, he’d done things, and I thought he didn’t regret anything.

When I told him he’d had an amazing life he said, “Thanks, Kid, but I never did know how to make anything out of that.”

I’ve had an amazing life, too. I’ve mothered a remarkable son, been well-loved, and I’ve made songs I feel so damn proud of I can’t believe they are mine sometimes. This last year I’ve been writing a novel, and it hasn’t felt like writing, but like being held in someone’s hand and told a story that I get to take down. I spent my high school years with remarkably safe and kind and smart people, then stumbled into a music scene so devoid of negative competition that I have come out of my years of playing in Chicago with collaborators and colleagues that I both adore and trust, people who were, at the moment of my crisis, falling all over themselves to tweet and Facebook and shill my record, my little record, because, they believed in it, in me, and couldn’t understand why it wasn’t doing better.

But I could.

Somewhere in the heart of every ask I made was a core of shame so deep that I couldn’t get around it in the pitch.

I don’t know why I am here, and making things, and other people are not.

Kickstarter structures itself as if you, the artist, are talking to a potential backer. This person, the avatar for your audience, sits behind the imaginary shell of the crowdfunding forum, and according to the Kickstarter language, they are silently sitting out there asking, Why, why do you need the money, why do you make the stuff, tell me what is it for?

And if I am being honest I want to say this to the imaginary backer behind the shell:

It is because I am not dead yet. I am 42 and I am not dead yet, and I can’t think of anything else to do with myself to cope with that. I went through horrible things, and I do not trust the world, and I cannot pretend that I am confident in it, or myself, or you, or the possibility that we will make it, or that what I am doing matters. I would make this art if no one was watching at all, because I don’t know how else to survive, and if you want to be a part of it, fine, but I will do it either way.

Putting out your art is always a trick of walking on water, proclaiming your human frailty, using your body, your spirit, your talent to convince people that telling your own naked story matters, that it makes people more whole.

But in my heart, I remain dubious, worried that, though I know I have felt saved by art during dark hours, there are people, sometimes including myself, for whom art is not nearly enough.

All that beauty and joy he’d found in art didn’t matter to my father completely at the end. It didn’t make his last months much better. And although all that I can do with my own life is play music, write things down, try to make something beautiful and scary and true, I do not know how to do a dance that will convince you on the open stage of public opinion and competition that it matters.

I personally don’t like competition, it freaks me out, and I have grave doubts that it has any place in the creation of good work. Competition in its platonic ideal can make people work harder, sure, but in the real world, the failure that comes with it can do more than make artists tongue-tied, like me; it can cripple people so they stop producing at all.

For some of us, when we fail at art, even if that failure is only in the marketplace, we feel that failure as a deep failure of self. We all have a list of our art heros that seemed to crumble under the pressures of the marketplace. It is a trope as old as time, right? The Artist, Too Sensitive for This World.

Which I generally think is crap.

Artists are some of the most fucking tough people you will ever meet. The arts require an exceptionally high level of vulnerability if you want to do them well, and the emotionally sensitive people who are drawn to that – or compelled or called or forced by fate – have a better chance of coming with some other baggage that makes the vulnerability really tricky. Most of us get tougher through handling that dichotomy. Some of us can’t.

Kickstarter asks artists to subvert just that cultural assumption. It asks us to present ourselves not as different from the mainstream culture, not as subversive to it, but as part of something: a community of people who want us to succeed.

If you talk with Kickstarter alums, many will confess that their biggest backers were the families that still can’t quite understand why they make the art in the first place. They love them, so they help them, and Kickstarter facilitates that by showing these artists as successful, proud marketers of themselves. They are not subversive in their promotional online videos; they are confident. Kickstarter’s shiny website confers legitimacy and glow.

Kickstarter asked me to set my art up as separate from myself, to profess confidence in the project and store vulnerability away, as buried as I could make it behind the spin I was putting on the work itself. I couldn’t let anyone in on my fear of failure or I’d spook the herd.

My one random concession to trying to draw the herd closer was a mid-campaign video ramble I posted to my Kickstarter page as a remedy. This one about Ernest Shakleton, the slog of the epic quest, the importance of holding on to art in the face of great loss. Not particularly cheerful spin, and, as my friend later pointed out, it might have been a good idea if at least one of my video appeals hadn’t mentioned death.

Shame tugged at me when I sat down to write, and it came out through my fingers in the words I typed for every social media post and email. People could smell it, the herd spooked, the pledges dried up. I started to consider finding a straw backer, just to get me out of the whole thing.

Then, the Friday before the close of the campaign, a huge pledge came in from distant family friends that closed part of the gap. A total surprise. A deus ex machina. And, just like that, the campaign was 80% funded.

Suddenly, it had momentum.

People wanted in.

Within days, the rest of the money followed. Success bred success. Confidence bred confidence. People wanted to be a part of something that looked like it wasn’t failing. By the last day, nearly the last hour, me and my whole band and all my friends flogging Facebook like it was an NPR pledge drive, we made it to 101% of the goal.

“See,” my friend told me, “it worked. You just had to show people that the project was already a success.”

We had a great rock show, we thanked our backers from the stage, and people went home happy with the end of the story.

Then I stopped answering the phone again. Because telling people how happy I was that the campaign was funded was almost worse than asking them to pledge. Because in every conversation I managed not to avoid, I had to pretend that the funding let everybody participate in validating my work.

But, you know, it didn’t. Kickstarter didn’t validate a thing.

The hole in my heart, and the shame in my gut were still there.

Winning by those standards at first felt like another kind of failure. I couldn’t make my peace with a simple idea: for most of us that use Kickstarter, getting to a funding goal has nothing to do with the art, and everything to do with the community we are part of.

I can stand in the spotlight of Kickstarter, honestly invisible, maybe failing, as an artist, and still let it work its backer magic on me, validating what I do because, mostly, I am loved by a circle of human beings who know me well enough, and love me deep enough, to pony up money for my project, not because they love the work, though some do, but because, at bottom, they love me.

That’s what Kickstarter doesn’t tell you when you start. That for the majority of us asking for help to fund our work, the process becomes a referendum not on the work, but on us.

At first, that made me feel much more shame, the kind that comes with realizing you that your fan base is mostly made up of people who have bought you a drink at one time or another. But now, now I think I’m OK with learning what Kickstarter had to teach me—that being loved by people who will back you when you are invisible is probably better then being funded by adoring strangers who know you not at all.

Or, it may not be better for your art, but it probably is better for your soul.

Because the long game that making art requires is a highwire act of letting yourself be seen. Spin rarely belongs in that work, the work it takes to be messy and true and alive in front of people and allow them to judge you and what you have made. You must court shame every day to do that work well, always hoping to be backed just as you are.

When I told my dad on his deathbed that he hadn’t failed, I had believed it to the core of my being, and there wasn’t a hole in my heart when I said it or a lick of dishonesty.

I was immersed in love for him, love that was there to drive past his shame. He told me he was a failure, stood emotionally naked in front of me, showing me that he was afraid, and human and devastated, and I responded with love. I told him that he was enough, that I wanted him to keep going.

I was backing him, imperfect as he was. I was seeing him.

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Eiren Caffall is a musician and writer living in Chicago. The great-granddaughter of an Episcopal Bishop, she is the daughter of a geophysicist and a Beatnik Shaker Acolyte. She has always dwelled in the places where art, spirit, aesthetics and science meet. She writes songs, fiction, personal essays and meditations on spiritual life during global climate change, focusing on heartbreak and grace – the tricks of memory that help us survive and the wisdom that comes whether we like it or not.

You can purchase her latest record, Slipping the Holdfast, on bandcamp, and see examples of her writing on Tikkun Daily, on her blog The Civil Twilight Project and at her website www.eirencaffall.com. Her essay “And Now Witness the Ending, Beautiful and Terrible” was published in Doug Fogelson’s book The Time After alongside the work of Derrick Jensen. She is currently at work on her fourth album and first novel. She lives with her son Dexter, where they spend most of their time articulating skeletons and beach combing.

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Jennifer Pastiloff is a writer living on an airplane. Her work has been featured on The Rumpus, The Nervous Breakdown, Jezebel, Modern Loss, xojane, among others. She’s the founder of The Manifest-Station. Jen’s leading a weekend retreat in May to Ojai, Calif as well as 4 day retreat over Labor Day in Ojai, Calif. All retreats are a combo of yoga/writing for all levels. She and bestselling author Emily Rapp will be leading another writing retreat to Vermont in October. Check out her site jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up is Seattle and London July 6. (London sells out fast so book soon if you plan on attending!)

Beating Fear with a Stick, beauty, Books, cancer, courage, funny, Guest Posts, healing

Shit Happens. To Everybody.

February 13, 2014

My Road Trip to Kripalu by Joules Evans.

A few months ago I was up late counting sheep, when some shit I’d been dealing with must’ve hit the ceiling fan over my bed and started splatting all over the sheep, spotting them like 101 Dalmatians. Which kinda felt like a spoiler alert to the sleeping game I was trying to win. So I stopped counting shitty sheep and I prayed a little. Which is probably what I should’ve been doing about my shit in the first place instead of kicking it around a bit, and then, kicking myself for making such a mess. I’m assuming we all know how messy metaphorical shit can get when you kick it around. Now, I know I’m not supposed to go assuming, but I figure it’s legit in this case, since there’s no such thing as a shit vaccine. I don’t think there is a sequel or grown-up version of the children’s book, Everyone Poops. But I could see it being called something like, Everybody is Full of Shit. Well, at least, I know I am, on a pretty “regular” basis.

Anyway, after all of that ruckus I sort of pulled it together a bit. I wasn’t in the mood to go back to counting sheep quite yet so I woke up my computer, and Googled: “yoga, writing, cancer, retreat” to see where it would lead. Yeah, that third word is some of the shit I was dealing with. The first two are a couple of ways I try to deal. And the last word sounded like a good thing to do when you’re up to your sleepy eyeballs dealing with your own shit.

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poster by Jen’s friend Karen Salmansohn. Click to connect with Karen.

Google threw down an article Jen wrote for LIVESTRONG called “7 Reasons To Go On A Yoga Retreat”.  No shit.  This was my introduction Jen Pastiloff and her Manifestation Retreats. It didn’t take me long, after falling head over heels into the lovely vortex that is Jen’s tribe, from the Gateway of that LIVESTRONG article, to Facebook stalking her, and then staying up all night watching her YouTube channel, to realize (become enlightened;) that Manifesting is aka Making Shit Happen, in Jen speak. Which, translated, meant that of course I had to go. I hadn’t tried manifesting my shit before so I thought I’d give it a “swirly”.

I’d already practically nodded my head off, agreeing with her 7 reasons I should go on a yoga retreat. As if, in fact, my body was, literally, saying YES. So I booked the next available Manifestation retreat, which meant packing up my shit for a road-trip to Kripalu in January. I don’t usually buy gifts for myself but this was a gift I needed to give myself. I saw it as the perfect diving board into 2014—a gift, which, 5 years ago when I was diagnosed with cancer, I never even imagined. It was time to re-imagine, cast a vision, set course, and dive in. Head first. No tiptoeing about it.

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When I first walked in the door, I had a pretty intense moment of truth. I didn’t know anybody. And, I’m actually super shy. Luckily I have blue hair, so I don’t think anybody noticed my knees shaking like green Jell-O when I walked across the room like Gumby and plopped down to join the tribe 40 women sitting in a circle, like lotuses blooming. As bold a display as it was a beautiful bouquet.

“If you knew who walked beside you at all times on this path which you have chosen, you would never experience fear or doubt.” Jen kept repeating this quote as we went around the circle introducing ourselves to one another. Over the weekend we got to know who walked beside us. We unrolled our mats, unpacked our shit, turned it on its smelly ear in down dog, wrote down the bones, made them dance, shared our stories and our dreams, tore up our excuses, became friends, and each other’s fans. We spent the weekend as beauty hunters, making lists and lists of our #5mostbeautifulthings. This is one of the most. fun. games. EVER. We shared our beautiful things, but we also shared our shit—because love is messy like that sometimes, but that doesn’t make it any less beautiful.

Shit happens. To everybody.  Except when you’re constipated. And then you just sit on the toilet reading Leaves of Grass for what feels like forever; meanwhile shit’s just taking its own sweet time while you’re sitting there waiting for the shit to go down. Oh, shit’s gonna go down. And sometimes it’s going to hit the fan.

Shit happens. But so does beauty, and what if it hits the fan? Does it leave a beauty mark or make a beautiful mess? Sometimes you get dealt a shitty hand but sometimes you double down or play a wildcard and beat the dealer. Sometimes you’re up shit creek but at least you’re on a boat. You may not have a paddle, but at least you’re sipping red wine in your flippie-floppies with your girls on deck. Anything is possible. Even making good shit happen. Which is pretty much what a Manifestation Retreat, what Jen Pastiloff, is all about.

Post road trip to Kripalu, I’d have to say, that the shit that drove me there, and the beauty I came away with, are two sides of the same coin. I put so much pressure on myself to not waste this gift of life, but to hopefully leave a beauty mark—that I was here. This is what keeps me up in the middle of the night. I put so much pressure on myself not to waste a second of the gift of time that I’ve been given, but to spend myself, paying forward the gratitude I feel all the way down to my yoga toes—by making it count that I was here. This is what keeps me up in the middle of the night. I don’t ever want to take for granted the gift of a single breath, but sometimes I forget to breathe. This is why I drove to Kripalu. I don’t ever want to take for granted the gift of a heart that beats, or forget what it beats for. This is why I drove to Kripalu.

Jen summed it up best when she wrapped up our time together with these words, this mantra: “At the end of your life, when you say one final ‘What have I done?’ let your answer be, I have done love.”

#iamlove

That’s all.

(Except for the part where I express my gratitude to Jen, Kripalu, and the tribe. Peace, love, and namaste. *bows to your unapologetic awesomeness. Xoxo.)

About Joules: I’m a Christ follower. I wear a pink bracelet that says survivor. I think cancer is a bitch. Been there. Done that. Had to buy a new t-shirt. But… I also think God is good. He’s been good to me. I just finished writing a book: SHAKEN NOT STIRRED… A CHEMO COCKTAIL about the cancer chapter in my life. Right now I’m in the midst of editing it and pursuing publication. I’m having the time of my life. I am an INFP. My hub is an INTP (also Buzz Light-year by day.) We have three ridiculous amazing kids who wake up and make me feel blessed. We call them “the Redheads”. After 16 years of homeschooling, we’ve all graduated and I’ve since retired my red pencil and grade-book. Between college, mission trips, internships and world travels, are three all in the process of divebombing out of our cozy little nest aka “the Evanshire” and stretching my apron strings till they snap. Next fall we will singlehandedly be keeping afloat the University of Cincinnati. I love my fam, Vineyard Cincy, writing, red wine, black coffee, good books, cooking, the smells of my hub’s pipe and freshly cut grass, star-gazing (clouds and sunsets too), peanut butter and chocolate, Shakespeare plays, long walks, long talks, playing Scrabble and tennis, popcorn and a movie, traveling, following my Redheads following their dreams…. I don’t like anything besmirching my peanut butter.

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Jennifer Pastiloff is a writer based in Los Angeles. She is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Jen will be leading a retreat to Ojai Calif (where Joules will also be!) over Labor DayAll 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. A lot. Next up is a workshop in London, England on July 6. Book here.

beauty, Guest Posts, Self Image

Teeth.

January 18, 2014

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By Kate Hill Cantrill.

My eight year-old nephew, who is an Arab Israeli, thought I looked like a farm girl when I wore braids.

“Why do you wear your hair like that?” he asked. “I don’t understand why you’d want to look like a farm girl and you do with your hair like that, and your big teeth, and your spotted face.”

“Big teeth are better than no teeth,” I said. He covered with pursed lips his missing front ones.

Later, he poked his finger into my nose and asked me why I had no babies.

He and his two brothers came to America every summer to visit their mother’s side of the family. She and their father had met when they were both studying in Germany. The oldest boy planned to be a football star; although when the football star was in America he said ‘soccer.’. He would never speak English to an Arabic speaker, or vice versa. He learned early on that there are differences in this world, even though sometimes those differences perplexed him. In his Bedouin village in Israel all the married women had babies, and he didn’t mind really, he said, but he did wonder why I was married if I didn’t want babies. I told him it wasn’t that I didn’t want them; I just didn’t want them yet.

“What are you waiting for? You’ve been married since I was a baby. You’re old.”

“I’m thirty-five,” I said.

“Yeah,” he said. That’s what he was talking about.

I told him I didn’t know what I was waiting for. He scrunched his face. This didn’t satisfy him; this was not an explanation he could chronicle in his head. He still had questions, but then he said he didn’t care anyway because if I had babies I couldn’t ride upside down roller coasters with him at Hershey Park. Maybe I could, but I’d have to find a sitter and I’d get tired a lot faster.

I believe I confused them. In their world girls were girls until they were mothers, but I was neither. Even when they came to visit America they came to Mennonite country Pennsylvania, where men did men things and women did women things; and these women things, for the most part, included having multiple children by they time they were thirty. It meant, for the most part, eschewing fashion for comfort and making other arrangements that enabled them to be anyone’s mother at any time it may be needed. A man craved a sandwich? Here was a mother. He needed his shirt cleaned? A mother. The childless daughter-in-law didn’t eat meat and therefore required a large bowl for the salad? Mother. Get your own bowl, the three boys must have thought. And wipe this steak sauce off my face while you’re up.

When I went for a run they asked, what for? You’re just going to get fatter anyway—look how big your arms are! I told them it was muscle, which it was, and then I flexed.

“Feel my guns,” I said.

“Those aren’t guns,” the oldest one said. “I’ve seen guns and I wouldn’t touch them even if they were guns.”

“Why not?”

“Because you’re a girl,” he said. “Sort of.”

They were frenetic thinkers. One day the younger one pushed the heels of his palms into his eyes and declared that it was impossible to think of nothingness—true nothingness meant nothing: no air, no god, no blinks, no thoughts. The boys’ mother, my sister-in-law, who was fairly quiet like my husband and the rest of her family, laughed and mussed his hair and said her boys were growing up to be like Arab men—always talking, talking, talking—like they were jacked up on coffee and couldn’t keep their mouths from uttering all of their thoughts.

I wondered, though, if these seemingly pointless ramblings were really indications of my nephews’ extremely high intelligences, like in a cross-cultural philosophical sense that was way, way over my head. I wondered if their demand for answers regarding differences in ways of living was simply forced upon them by circumstance.

I was wearing a blue tank top and cut-off blue jeans and turquoise earrings one morning and the youngest one, the third nephew, walked up to me, flicked at the bottom of my shirt.

“Tell me you don’t like blue,” he said. “Just say it.”

I didn’t know what I was waiting for, exactly. Money? A book deal? Something that defined me before I was defined by my children? My mother fought to find herself after she birthed me and my two sisters; back then it was the renegade thing to do—find ways to separate yourself from your children—but to me, and to my sisters, it was painful. Find yourself, make your mark on this world before you have children—it’s what I thought my mother’s life had taught me, and I had always been grateful for the lesson. Although I didn’t believe I understood the number of years that might take, that search for oneself, that search for the spot on which one’s mark should be made.

Now that she is gray and soft, my mother says that children often point women in the right direction, but that felt wrong to me—using children as trail markers. I feared it might not happen either. I feared I’d simply lose myself, happily, inside of their needs. I did enjoy sitting next to my nephews, smelling the play in their hair, watching them kick at the dirt and wonder aloud how a bear’s teeth could reveal its age. They had just learned this and were going to talk to their dentist father about it when they got back to Israel.

“We have the biggest house in the village,” the youngest one said. “It gets dusty but not as dusty as other people’s tents do. The wives are always sweeping, sweeping, sweeping.”

I cringed, bit my tongue with my front teeth.

“You’re my Uncle Scott’s wife,” he said, as if he noticed my teeth pressing down.

“I’m married,” I said, “but I’m not a wife.”

“What?”

Never mind, I said. That was stupid.

This one was the most affectionate of the three, but when his brother jammed his finger into my nose, clenched his teeth and asked again about no babies, this one tried to copy him but missed and poked my eye. It hurt but I didn’t know how to react until later when I decided that I should have grabbed their hands and taught them something about manners; but I didn’t really know my place there, and truly I was too distracted by their questions, and all the many questions that followed that one: why? why not? when? who are you?

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Kate Hill Cantrill’s writing has appeared in many literary publications, including Story Quarterly, Salt Hill, The Believer, Blackbird, Quick Fiction, Mississippi Review, Swink, and others. She has been awarded fellowships from The Corporation of Yaddo, The Jentel Artists Residency, The Virginia Center for Creative Arts, and the James A. Michener Foundation. She has taught fiction writing at the University of Texas, The University of the Arts, and The Sackett Street Workshop. Kate’s first collection of short stories, Walk Back From Monkey School, was recently published. She lives in Brooklyn.

All of Jen Pastiloff’s upcoming events listed here.

beauty, Grief, Guest Posts, healing, loss, love

The Weekly Countdown.

January 10, 2014

By Megan Devine.

I relive our last week again and again.

Every single week is a count-down. Every Monday is that Monday, the day you came home from Colorado. The day I left work to pick you up at the airport, even though you insisted you would be fine to walk, with your orange backpack and new Tevas, happy to be walking. Every Monday is your first Monday back, going to dinner. You are so excited to see me. We sit together on the wooden bench, you showing me photos on your phone: here is the place where we stopped to look out at the mountains below. Here is a shot of the cabin where I stayed. Here is the old truck they used to drive around the ranch. And look, babe: I knew you’d appreciate this one – look, it’s a mummified antelope. It’s been dead in the desert so long. I knew you’d want to see the bones.

Every Monday, I live it again, sitting there in the pizza place, wondering why I am distant and tired. Wondering if it is just food, just needing to eat. And I look at you, feel your body close to mine, and I know it’s just the food and the long day, and the clients, and all of everything. Because you, you here next to me, hearing the joy in your voice, the affection in your touch, this is where I want to be.

I live it again every Tuesday, as we both return to work. As I call you from the awful discount store on my lunch break, wondering if I should pick up plastic glasses, since you keep breaking the heavy glass ones on the hard tile floor. “No,” you say, “No. We’ll be purging stuff and packing soon anyway, no sense getting anything new.” We’ll be moving soon.

On Wednesday, each Wednesday, I forget what that Wednesday held. We talked, we worked, we had our life. I relive living that, even when I don’t remember what we did.

Every Thursday, that Thursday, you are here on the couch, your work day still not done, our computers propped open on our laps as you ask me to help you format your new invoices. The cat climbs up in your lap, shoving the computer aside. On Thursday, each Thursday, I relive our closeness on the couch, how much easier it is now to help you with computer things, your old tech-defensiveness gone. Just a by-product of goodness, I think then, and I think again. We are so happy now, so comfortable. Things are going well. So many good things coming.

On Friday, you are working late, you’ve said you’re working late. But you call just as I am going to the grocery store, and you decide to come along. We buy mint chip ice cream, laundry detergent. Dog biscuits, greens, ribs. We buy a roasted chicken, because it’s late, and we haven’t eaten yet.

At home, I start dinner – leftovers, fajitas – while you climb in the shower. I cook peppers and sing. You come out, that last Friday, our Friday, warm from the shower, in your light blue long sleeved shirt that shows your muscles, your indigo sarong around your waist. You wonder why I waited to chop the onions – “they would be done by now,” you say. And I stop. Smile at you. Say, as we’ve been working on: “you are always particular about your onions. I guess I figure it’s easier on me to delay dinner, to have you irritated with my not making a decision, than it is to hear your disappointment. To have you wish I’d done it differently.” You smile. Lift an eyebrow. You say, “yeah, you’re right. I do do that.”

And then we stand, at the counter, your back to the window, and you fold me in your arms, still warm and damp, my head on your shoulder, in just that right spot. And we breathe. Our bellies matching. The firmness of your abs against me, your arms tight around my back. We stand. That Friday. That Friday I re-live. That place I want to be.

On Saturday, each Saturday, this always only Saturday, I am up first. As I wait, I watch the two of you, still sleeping, the long galley view from where I sit: me in the kitchen, the dog in the living room, you in our bed, all of us in a row. When you’re up, we make breakfast. We discuss the books we’ve each just read. Your mother calls. We all do the happy dance about your son turning 18 in three days. “We’re almost there!” your mother says. “I have three days to go,” you say, “don’t jinx me yet.”

And Sunday comes. Sunday keeps on coming. It arrives every week. Every week I live it all again. The previous days, the eternal warm-up, the countdown, that last time, the last.

On Sunday, you say, “bring or wear water shoes, we’ll go to the river with Bo.” We have breakfast at our usual place: fried green tomato BLT, pancakes, hash. You hold my hands across the table. You say, “I’m sorry I’ve had to work so much. I promise, after this week, we’ll have a normal life again. I’ll take weekends off. I’m sorry I’ve been away from you.” As we leave the diner, you trip on the flopping, separating edge of your new shoes. Hands on your hips, forehead creased, long deep irritated sigh. “We’ll take them back, babe. It will be alright,” I tell you. I tell you about your broken shoes which may or may not have gotten stuck on some reeds, holding you down in the hours to come.

This Sunday, every Sunday, we go back and pick up Bo. Bo who dances and squeals and paces waiting for the door to open, waiting for us to bound into the car, waiting for the river to open up in front of him. Waiting for us to play. We drive to the river, windows open, your arm out the driver’s side, Boris’ head wedged between your shoulder and the door. That Sunday, right now, you ask me how most dogs die, having never had one of your own before. We talk. We’re us. I tell you some dogs know it is their time, and they wander off into the woods. You smile. Scratch his head. You say, “that’s how you’ll get to go buddy, just walk off when you know.”

I live this every week. Every week the countdown. Every time we touch. Every time we talk. Every day, the last day. Not knowing anything except us and love and sunshine, and our plans, and what we expect to come.

Every Sunday, right now, you carry our chairs through the woods. Every Sunday, right now, we wade through the high water that has covered the forest floor. Every Sunday, this Sunday, right now, we play, up to our waists in pine-needle-filled dark water, throwing the ball for the dog. Every Sunday, I worry. I look for Boris when he disappears. And every Sunday. Every Sunday, right now, you call to me from the water’s edge, saying, “don’t worry about him here babe, he’s in heaven.”

Now, you turn away from me again. Now, that Sunday, every Sunday, now, you turn away from me again. Right now, Boris has come back, and he and I are playing in the woods. Now, right now, sitting on the couch watching the numbers tick on by, now, right now, you come up for air and cough. On Sunday, and Sunday, every Sunday, I wonder if you need some help. On Sunday, I turn away, refusing to think that thought. And now, right now, this Sunday, that Sunday, here I am, looking back as you call out. Looking back. Here I am. And now, right now, there you are, holding on to the top of a tree, trying hard to keep your grip. And now, right now, here I am, running in to the water after you.

And now, right now, here I am, running in to the water after you.

My name is Megan Devine. I’m a licensed psychotherapist, writer, and teacher. I’ve spent my life learning and sharing what I’ve learned. None of that mattered when I suddenly became a widow at the age of 38: normal life at breakfast, whole new world by lunch. What I do now is different than what it was before that day. Or maybe, it’s the same thing in a whole different form: I listen. I hear what you’re carrying. I help you find ways to carry it that are most true to you. I help ease the loneliness inherent in this path by walking with you: not changing your reality, but helping you to bear it. Honor it. With a combination of validation and practical tools, I help you live the life that’s asked of you – with as much peace, grace, and integrity as you can.

Megan Devine is a writer, licensed psychotherapist, and grief advocate. She’s the author of the audio program “When Everything is Not Okay: Practices to Help You Stay in Your Heart & Not Lose Your Mind,” available on her website, www.refugeingrief.com. She writes for the Huffington Post, and the grief support site Open to Hope. You can talk with Megan directly ~ just click on the toolbox page on her website to find out how.

beauty, healing, loss, poetry, writing

It Comes Down To This.

December 8, 2013

By Jen Pastiloff.

It comes down to this: there are fathers everywhere.

Look. There’s one. And another. You just missed one! Right there, there’s one. And here. They’re everywhere really, the fathers.

And they always will be everywhere.

Here’s one- proudly thanking everyone for coming to his daughter’s baby shower, first grandchild, so proud. Maybe there’s one sitting in a jail cell, picking his fingers, his feet. One’s holding the hand of his little boy, Watch out, it’s crowded here, hold tight. Herds of them driving down the highway in the rain, never coming back, not while it still matters, anyway. And it’ll always be that way. The everywhereness of them all.

You will look up and the world will be a sky of fathers, men puffing cigars will fill the air, men in droves, men with daughters. Everyone will be a father pulling out a picture of his first grandchild to show the world Would you look at that? Would you just look at that?

You will look up and notice, and you may be the only one who notices, that the sky has been replaced with these fathers, and also the banks and the streets. There will be nothing else.

It will be all you see at times.

It comes down to this: whatever you are missing will suddenly appear to be back in the world, its own cardiovascular system of pain, forgotten until you realize that as much as it’s back in the world, it will always be just beyond your reach.

You will notice it everywhere like when you start to notice pregnant women everywhere or how many blue cars are on the road (They are everywhere! Would you look at that? Would you look at that?) Your heart, once again a closed fist. A hand open, flat and rough, its lines suggesting “long life and contentment with love life”. But the heart line is missing.

The hand curls and touches the heart and they meet but do not understand what the meeting means and why it feels like a part of each is missing.

It comes down to this: your pain in waves, it turns, leaches on to things. Years of your life, for example. Your pain wraps itself around whole years like a tentacle and won’t let go until you understand that it is the organ of touch, so you reach out and touch it and then, only then, it slithers off, as if all it needed was to be noticed.

*

I was at a baby shower not too long ago where the girl was having her first baby. Her father stood up to make a speech and looked over at her big belly with a swell of the chest, a Look at my little girl. Look at us.

I was thrilled for her and yet tears, (where are these coming from?) Tears in my egg whites and arugula with the chicken picked out of it. I will never have that as I pour salt on the eggs. Why whites? Why no yolk? I need more yellow here and all of a sudden fathers everywhere showing off their pregnant daughters. No women are even in the room anymore. The eggs, in fact, have turned into little fathers. Would you look at that? Would you just look at that?

The pain comes in waves. The initial shock of loss. The teenage years angst. The reduction of it all to poetry.

Then, the loss of what is yet to come. The mourning of something that hasn’t even occurred yet.

It comes down to this: we recognize when possibility has been eliminated.

When there is never a chance of this or that, we know it, and our hearts mourn something that doesn’t even have a name yet. I’ll never have that and yet I am sad. I am devastated. I can’t go on. I am ruined.

More salt on eggs. Presents being opened. Fathers all over the world, clapping.

*

It comes down to this: you find cracks in the pain and slip into them. You can live there, at least for a while, from that place down low, the place of I am untouched by loss until you get to a baby shower and you notice that the crack has sealed up, the cement has pushed you up and out in the world again and you are in the middle of it all, fin-footed as a seal, unable to move, so you too clap.

Would you look that that? Would you just look at that?

Somebody loves us all, says Elizabeth Bishop in her poem Filling Station.

Oh, but it is dirty!

–this little filling station,

oil-soaked, oil-permeated

to a disturbing, over-all

black translucency.

Be careful with that match!

 

Father wears a dirty,

oil-soaked monkey suit

that cuts him under the arms,

and several quick and saucy

and greasy sons assist him

(it’s a family filling station),

all quite thoroughly dirty.

 

*

Oh, but it is dirty! This pain, you think, is dirty. How dilapidated, how old! How worn-out, how broken down, how enough is enough of it all. How dirty my pain is, how me-centric, how grimy. How many poems I have written of it, how many eggs, how many cracks in the sidewalk.

I remember one of my own father poems, one of the many (hundreds) I’d written when I was 19 years old at Bucknell University where I had a poetry fellowship.

                                               TO MY FATHER, AFTER HIS DEATH 

I knew that you weren’t really dead.

That if I kept looking, kept driving,

I’d find you.  

Didn’t think it would be here though,

that you’d be pumping gas

in Kansas.

 

You still smoke.

I can tell.

The way your shoulders hunch over

gives you away.

When you push nozzles into canals,

into the backs of cars,

you heave, your shoulders roll.

Your stomach reaches closer to your back,

toward smooth pink scars.

You look smaller,

shirking into yourself like that.

 

Silently pumping gas, coughing occasionally,

scratching your sunburned bald spot.

 

I watch you from the shoulder of I-70

through dead bugs on my windshield.

There is a small convenience store

attached to the gas station.

You enter it,

and when you emerge

I see the bulge in your pants.

You’ve bought Kools: your brand of cigarettes.

Stashed them in your front hip pocket,

next to an Almond Joy.

 

I see you still

squint, smoke,

have bad posture,

eat Almond Joys.

 

Quiet as ash,

you in the Kansas of Colorado,

one foot almost in each state.

 

The moment you noticed me

must have been when

you straightened your back up,

crushed your half smoked cigarette

and smiled.

 

But you know I can’t come any closer.

 

I can’t pull into the station,

roll down my window and touch your face.   

*

The facts are what remains: gas stations, baby showers, cigarettes, candy bars- Hell, all of it, will be the things that remind me of my father.

Loss doesn’t occur in a vacuum. These losses exist out in the world and sometimes in a plate of eggs. Sometimes, when you least expect it (and I hope for all of our sakes that we aren’t always expecting the worst) we will crumble at the site of a see-saw, a beard, a Pepsi. I wish it wasn’t a fact. I wish that you and I could go on and pour salt on our eggs and clap with the rest of the people and that we wouldn’t feel a thing. Not even a twang.

But that would be a lie. The things that shape us are where the beauty resides.

 

 

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Jennifer Pastiloff, Beauty Hunter, is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Check out jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up: South Dakota, NYC, Dallas, Kripalu Center For Yoga & Health, Tuscany. She is also leading a Writing + The Body Retreat with Lidia Yuknavitch Jan 30-Feb 1 in Ojai (sold out) as well as Other Voices Querétaro with Gina Frangello, Emily Rapp and Rob Roberge. She tweets/instagrams at @jenpastiloff.

 

Click to order Simplereminders new book.

Click to order Simplereminders new book.