Browsing Category

Guest Posts

Guest Posts, Heroes, Making Shit Happen

An Airstream and a Dream: An Invitation

January 17, 2019
fresh

By Tina Porter

When I can’t give money, I try to find ways to give something else—like amplification.

Fresher Together and Chef Fresh’s Airstream and a Dream campaign are one of my current obsessions. From the GoFundMe campaign page, here is the best description of what Fresh’s dream is:

Fresher Together is a collaborative food project for healing, economic development, training and retreat. I look forward to sharing more info about this new project very soon including the launch of the website. Fresher Together Farms will focus on mushrooms, culinary and medicinal herbs, and foundational flavorful alliums and other produce items and aromatics (i.e. garlic, shallots, onions, leeks, ginger, etc). This farm plans to be a chance for economic development and skill training and development for those in community that need it most. The farm will not only grow food but develop value added products that also allow an opportunity for culinary and product training in addition to farming. We look forward to drastically minimizing waste by not only offering fresh and dried products, but also drinks, tea blends, sauces, and other items.

But here’s what you may not know about Chef Fresh: they are a self-described math and science nerd who graduated from Northwestern with a degree in biomedical engineering, but always knew food was what was pulling them forward. (BTW: Fresh uses both she/her and they/them pronouns so understand that I am using all here on purpose.) Continue Reading…

Divorce, Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood

Seven Cupcakes

January 14, 2019
cupcakes

By Sara Reyfield

Seven is an odd number. It’s also prime.

“Hi, baby!” I greet my son warmly, as if doing custody exchanges at the police station is totally normal. Just like prime, odd numbers – this is our normal. It’s where shit like this happens when you have a restraining order against your ex. When things are bad enough, he’s not even allowed in the police station, so I get the pure sarcastic joy of my former in-laws every other weekend. That’s also what happens.

“How was your birthday party?” I ask, while getting a weekend’s worth of dirty clothes shoved into my arms. And cotton candy. And McDonald’s bags. And the packages of cupcakes that I had packed with care on Friday afternoon. Seven cupcakes: one for my son. One for his grandmother, one for his grandfather. Two for his aunt and uncle. Two final ones: one for my son’s dad, one for his stepmom. Continue Reading…

cancer, Guest Posts, The Hard Stuff

An Irreverent Cancer Primer—Help Can Be a Four-Letter Word

January 10, 2019
cancer

By Mara Buck

“Nothing succeeds like excess.” Oscar Wilde
“Less is more.” Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
“Nobody survives like a smart-ass.” Mara Buck

Life is a combination of infinite causes and incalculable effects, each effect becoming the compilation and accumulation of its own unique history, yet stubbornly we continue to seek out the potential “easy-way-out-one-size-fits-all” solution. Unfortunately this seldom works—or works for long. We humans are tribal, invariably depending on the collective wisdom of the tribe to care for us, but no single answer proves the best answer for everyone.

There are no easy answers for dealing with cancer either—no rules. Cancer is as individualistic as the person whose cells are multiplying out of control, as distinctive as a smile across a luncheon table, as personal as a phone call in the night, as alienating as a closing door. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood

Poop, a Story

January 8, 2019
poo

By Hannah Shreim

Once upon a time, in a Home Depot parking lot, my nephew had a poo. No, this was not a ordinary poo. This was a poo of nightmares. The yucky, sticky, awful color, way up the back poo. He was 4 months old at the time and this was mine, and my sisters first experience with a nightmare poo like this one. As we gathered the appropriate equipment to handled the nightmare poo, the crying begun. And you guessed it, this was not the sad whimpering sound  of a poor child covered in a normal poo. This was a howl, a I’m not ok, scream your bloody head off kind of cry. The kind of cry that makes people stare, and judge and the situation much worse.  And this is where the other crying started. Not from my nephew, from my hard as nails big sister. She’s was a new, first time mom sitting in the trunk of her car, with a screaming poo covered baby. This is where the laughing started. Not from my sister or my nephew. But from me. The single, care free, in charge of nothing human. This is where my heroism kicked in and took hold of my poo covered nephew to finish the job and offer useless information to my sister about not caring what others people think, and how you need to get more rest. And how the situation wasn’t that bad, and how we were grown woman who could handle anything. And of course that crying was stupid.  Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, loss

Partenza

January 6, 2019
partenza

By Kate Solovieva

partenza
[noun]

Italian.

  1. Departure, leaving
  2. Take-off
  3. Sailing of a boat

Within a couple of days of finding out about my impending miscarriage, I stop meditating. Not consciously, not on purpose. Yet… the first thing I do in the morning is no longer the five or ten minute session of just being, just sitting there. Instead, I go back to my default bad habits – pick up my cell phone, scroll through social media feeds, be entertained, be distracted.

Avoid, avoid, avoid.

Is it so unreasonable to NOT want to sit in these feelings?

This sucks.

Forgive me, if I do not want to focus on this right now. It sucks plenty, even without sitting and focusing on how much it sucks.

And so meditation falls by the wayside, and with it, morning reading, and with it, morning writing. My journal goes unused week after week.

For someone who does not like emotions, being told to sit with them is not unlike being told to sit in a swimming pool slowly filling with water.

“Relax!”, you are told, as the water is creeping up your ribs, and squeezing your chest.

“Sit with it”, as the water is filling up your ears, and mouth. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts

On Permission

January 3, 2019

 By Varsha Tiwary

Permission: the act of allowing, to enable or grant something; the right or ability to do something that is given by someone who has the power to decide if it will be allowed or permitted.

In India, the first thing children learn at school is how to ask for permission.

“May I come in Maa’m?”

“May I go to toilet. Maa’m.”

By age seven, children also understand that going to toilet is a code phrase for all kinds of things for which permission is verboten. So if you want to go out to play, loiter or eat you say you want to go to the toilet. When older, if you want to go out on a date, you seek permission to attend a birthday party of a same sex friend.

Well versed in the lexicon of  seeking permission, my fifteen year old daughter is endlessly fascinated by the relative absence of the concept of permission in American High School life. Initially it befuddled her.

When she asked her classmates, who to ask, to change a class, she was greeted by amused smiles.

‘You don’t have to ask, just go and tell the counselor what you want, she will sit with you and work something out.”

She also learnt within the first ten days, that though rules are to be followed, permissions must be self given. You want to step out of the class, pick up a pass and go. The teachers do not complain to parents if a student is not following the rules. They sit with her and discuss the problem and it’s implications, which she is considered adult enough to handle. There are no permissions required for what and how to wear, how to sit, how to comport, for the way they keep their hair, or the footwear they prefer.

When her friend got an ‘E’ in four subjects, the teacher told her she needed to put in extra work on them and maybe she should meet her after class to chalk out a plan? There is hardly any shaming, naming, ordering; the staples of Indian School life. Yet the responsibility is placed irrevocably and unmistakably in the student’s court.

In India, this whole business of asking for permission seeps into our DNA so much, that even when we are adults, having no dotted line to sign or a chalk marked boundary, not to cross, we are overcome with doubt. We tend to look around, who to ask? What if this is not allowed?

On the River Road crossing, a man stands every evening with a placard, “Trump is an Idiot.” I often give him a thumbs up and he goes wild, waving and blowing kisses. High school students sporting backpacks adorned with “Not my President” badge wait for a bus  and wave back at him.

My mind shifts to Delhi. Angry saffron Gods and cow protection bumper stickers. Ruling party flags fluttering from car hoods of vehicles. Dissent stickers exist only in dreams. Adulating T.V channels. If levels of ordinary, everyday dissent is a barometer of rigidity and authoritarianism of leadership, than Trump lags behind woefully, no matter how hard he is trying. Not for lack of effort on his part, but because he is hamstrung by a culture which is fundamentally allergic to seeking permission. It wouldn’t occur to ordinary Americans to ask for permission to differ, for permission to speak up.

In a feudal culture, even one which wears democratic ribbons, like India, everyone is wired to face read the King before they open their lips. People are so well –versed in the language and subtext of authoritarianism that they weave compliance in their behavior, much before it is sought. The most important ability of the King is the power to withdraw all kinds of permissions. Permissions are not self given, but achieved by proving loyalty. At an individual level, to refrain from dissent is self preservation.

Silence saves skin. Voluble support of rampaging Authority is even better. It insidiously lets you abrogate to your craven self, all kinds of permissions. Instead of counter- opinion, we see loud visible expressions of   support for the King, to maximize approval points. The tooters of the horn can mainline on all practical permissions of day to day life by having the system favour them. They can also open the pandora’s box of darker permissions; of speaking their ugliest most unconscionable thoughts aloud, and revel in the fear on the faces of the powerless. The smug comfort that derives from bowing before a flexing muscular authority. The way selective rights are a balm on picayune self esteem of those who need a reason for their failures. A permanent denial of conscience becomes the ultimate permission of the morally corrupt.

***

The biggest, sweetest thrills of my college years came when I flouted tyrannical authority. At that time, in my town, Chandigarh, the dictat of Punjab militants ran. All women were required to dress decorously, as defined by militants. Those who had to keep rule of law, either looked the other way or were too busy with more important things than to prevent men from shaming women who did not stick to the dress code. Overnight the vibrant campus was over-run by flocks of decorously dupattaed women, heads covered, going around demurely on the campus. Several incidents of erring women being slapped and abused were reported and it put us on an edge. Many women and many professors sided with the militants, saying this was one good thing being done by them.

Me and my friend Ruchi, lived for the adrenalin rush of evenings, when we both rode our bicycles, throwing all the “not alloweds” to winds. The keepers of culture having called it a day, we raced out wearing forbidden jeans and tee-shirt, hair open, heads gloriously uncovered. Only when we had cycled up to the lake and jogged on the Chandigarh lake front in our indecorous regalia, did we feel fit enough to return and breathe again the cloying air of the women’s hostel. Many years later as a professional and a homemaker who took up Krav Maga classes in Delhi, I was still the one to roll my eyes and snigger at a woman who innocently declared on the first day that she was in the class as her husband had allowed her to join it to regain her figure after child birth. Permission seeker, my antennae buzzed, unkindly. Yet, for all the cool defiance, the pretenses of autonomy, I too have always internally sought permissions for doing things that were most important to me.

Like writing. For interminable years, I belittled what I wrote as mere scribbling in journals, a frivolous thing. For the world thought so. It was a hobby, an entertainment. Certainly not as meaningful and valid, as writing an audit report, a project report or a manual of Office procedure. May be, because it was not my day job and there was no one to rate and mark and assess me for that. Even though writing animated me and was meaningful to me, I forever looked for an outside authority, to be able to step outside my closet of secret writer. Everything else, housework, children’s homework, husband’s lunch was more important than what I wanted to do, but for which I could not give myself permission.

I was a woman from the same patriarchal, permission seeking culture and despite my insistence to be otherwise, I had so internalized permission seeking that for a long time I could not summon up courage to do what I needed to. I required company, which I think is just another way of seeking permission; to step out and embrace my singularity. Only a fortuitous friendship, a mental holding of hands with a like- minded woman enabled me to take the first timorous steps in the world of writing. Like those cycle rides to the lake front, the free fall into creativity was its own reward and once in it, I looked askance no more.

In a permission seeking culture, everyone, but most dangerously, women, who are subject to even more rules, become their own censors. The self which becomes either a withdrawer of permissions, or seeker of licenses, cannot create art. What after all is creativity, if not all the freedom, with all the responsibility of granting to yourself the inner permission to explore and experiment, without having any set destination, a defined, profitable outcome? To feel the feelings that you thought were inappropriate? To voice opinions that you know are not approved? To wear wrong ideas as openly as you would a wrong dress?

At the High School Art Show in American High School, four halls are arrayed with rows upon rows of triple hinged screens, the kind that are used as room dividers in hospital wards. They act as display boards for a dazzling variety of art, oil canvasses, water colors, mixed media, sculpture, installations, digital art, photography; the show is one long celebration of freedom to experiment. Some of it is good. Some is awful. In fact it is the bad ones that fill me with most wonder. In the school back in India, one of Delhi’s top schools, anything less than excellent would never be displayed. Artistic excellence was pre-defined and only what met the standards would be deemed fit to display.

How would anyone learn to re- define excellence then? The display boards may look good, but the artistic spirit shrivels up. What all could happen if all children everywhere were permitted to jump off the boat called permission?

Varsha Tiwary, currently on sabbatical from her nine to five job; writes short fiction constantly to make sense of people and events around her. Her works have appeared in DNA-Out of Print, 2017; Kitaab, Muse India, Basil O’ Flaherty; and are forthcoming in Gargoyle press, Jaggery Lit and The Wagon. She lives in Washington DC.

https://www.amazon.com/Being-Human-Memoir-Waking-Listening/dp/1524743569/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1539219809&sr=8-1

Jen’s book ON BEING HUMAN is available for pre-order here.

 

Join Lidia Yuknavitch and Jen Pastiloff for their WRITING & THE BODY RETREAT. Portland April 5-7, 2019. Click the photo above.

 

Contests & Giveaways, Guest Posts

How Not To Be An Asshole & “On Being Human” Giveaway

December 22, 2018

By Jen Pastiloff

I literally do not know how to not be an asshole I just own the URL www.DontBeAnAsshole.net. I think the answer is by being kind. Will you do something obscenely kind for someone today? Please let me know. In honor of my bday (it just passed so thanks for the wishes!) I do love you. I tricked you with the how to not be an asshole though. I am not sorry. Getting people to read things is hard. Meh. Continue Reading…

Christmas, Guest Posts

Donald Trump Can’t Stop Me From Saying “Merry Christmas”

December 22, 2018
merry

By Amy Doyle

During my twenties, I signed cards and saluted acquaintances with the slogan, “Happy Holidays!” Saying “Merry Christmas” in the nineties in New York City felt retrograde, even though I was a Catholic. It lacked the carbonation of “Merry Christmas,” but “Happy Holidays” accommodated everyone: my Jewish friends, who were many, my Muslim students, my agnostic neighbors (the former-Catholic-future-Catholics), and my one atheist friend, who was too busy reading to take notice.

The truth is, none of them noticed. They were neither offended nor impressed whether I said “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays.” But I trudged on with my forward thinking, sterile greeting for a few more years until discovering that speaking in my mother tongue, saying “Merry Christmas” with all its emotional density, was a radical act of love, connection, and, maybe, political resistance to conservative efforts to control the narrative of who we liberals are. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Writing & The Body

Her Own Beast

December 19, 2018
animal

By Natalie Singer

Once there was a girl who had a wild animal. She had never touched the animal but she knew deep inside her body and her soul that it was hers. She didn’t remember when she first understood she had an animal, maybe she was 12 and it was her first summer away at sleeping camp and she stayed in a canvas tent on a metal cot made up with a sleeping bag and old threadbare floral sheets that felt soft when she rubbed them between her fingers with three other girls including one named Frankie who peed her bed. Frankie peed her bed but she also showed the girl how to peg her jeans tight around her mosquito bitten ankles and hide her candy in a lockbox under the cot so the counselors wouldn’t find it and how to whisper late into the night without getting caught while the July rain drip drip dripped on the dirty canvas roof of the wooden platformed tent. Maybe she met the animal then, that summer, at the summer camp in the mountains with the tents among the pines. Continue Reading…

Chronic Illness, Guest Posts, parenting

Little Elephant

December 12, 2018
elephant

By Amy D. Lerner

You know the story of the blind men and the elephant? They’re trying to figure out what this creature is in front of them. Each of the men feels a different part of the elephant, the trunk, the foot, the tail, and describes the elephant based on only that one part. They each come up with wildly different ideas about what an elephant is, and not one of them sees the big picture, the whole elephant.

My elephant is only 3 feet tall and 35 pounds, yet this story is still true.

Like many people, I make up stories and make metaphorical leaps, from an elephant to my four-year-old daughter, without even thinking about it. My mind is a runaway steam engine—I can’t help thinking of that image—and metaphors are the coal.

“The way we think, what we experience, and what we do every day is very much a matter of metaphor,” write George Lakoff and Mark Johnson in Metaphors We Live By, the seminal book on thinking in metaphors that was published in 1980. We tend to speak and think in metaphors without being aware of it and without stopping to think about how our metaphors are guiding us, but they are, Lakoff and Johnson insist.

Studies have shown that by thinking about the story of the blind men touching the elephant, it’s as if I’m actually touching the wrinkled and rough skin of an elephant. In other words, metaphors are stored in the same part of the brain as the things they represent: the idea of kicking the habit stimulates the same motor area of the brain as kicking a ball does. Metaphors are deeply embedded in our minds, and they’re linked to the most basic human functions. Continue Reading…

Family, Guest Posts

The Colors of Her Life

December 10, 2018
musicals

By Mackenzie Kiera

Lights.

You share two things with your dead grandmother: death and musicals. That’s all you have in common. Had. Since becoming pregnant, you’ve been thinking about her more and more. The weight of her disease falls on you, coils around your heart, tightens and reminds you of your own mortality.

You remember her easiest when you sit with Papa’s cologne bottle in the corner of your bathroom and inhale the dark pine scent—him, you miss. He was the grandparent you visited and called and loved. You were the granddaughter he doted on, bought ice cream for, took to UCLA to see Shakespeare, picked you up from school if you were sick and Mom couldn’t get you.

Her? She was in the background with rules. Things you couldn’t play with. Cabinets you weren’t allowed to open, soft drinks that were hers and hers alone. She always had dark chocolate ice-cream bars, salted potatoes chips, baby carrots and ripe, cherry tomatoes. String cheese. Tiny sandwiches. You’d watch as she spread the mayo on her sourdough bread thinly, gave it some lettuce, turkey and a slice of white precut cheese. Things she could just grab and never binge on, but sometimes she would just need something. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Holidays

The Christmas Tree That Saved My Parents’ Marriage

November 30, 2018
tree

By Julienne Grey

Right before my mother died, she wanted to give me a gift. “I want to give you something,” she’d said. “Anything you want. Something special. What would you like?”

Surrounded by family photos and irises and loving cards from the years, in the room she’d chosen to die in, I wasn’t thinking of gifts. That week she’d been dipping in and out of consciousness. She’d glimpse a photo from her Mykonos honeymoon and say, under the influence of morphine, “It’s beautiful being here on this island.” I’d smile back and say, “Yes, it is.”

What did I want? I wanted my mom alive, alert, awake. But that wasn’t something she could give for much longer. And I didn’t want to make her sad. So instead I said, “Can I have a puppy?” Imagining a sweet little bichon or a shih tzu was the only thrill I could imagine in that room. But when I looked up, my mom had already fallen asleep. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Trauma

MY GHOST BODY’S THOUGHTS

November 29, 2018
ghost

CW: This essay discusses sexual assault and eating disorders

By Cyndie Randall

“Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable.”
– Fred Rogers

“Survivors feel unsafe in their bodies. Their emotions and their thinking feel out of control.”
– Judith Lewis Herman

The carpet was bitter this morning. It jammed itself between my toes – the first resistance – and burned the skin on my knees like tiny pin pricks.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

I never say “Amen” without remembering the empty, sweaty hands I’ve held in countless circles of healing.

Several complex galaxies were pushing on my back by the time I stood up, each so heavy that I went looking for my daughter and apologized to her immediately.

“Why are you sorry, mama?”

My body told me I’d be crawling back into bed after tea, so I answered her by giving an advance on the second apology.

The third one came a few hours later – “Oh my! Sorry!” The clock read 1:30 p.m. and I was still wearing a tattered nightgown when her friend bounced up the driveway and to our door. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts

Deacon & Garrett

November 26, 2018

Hi, everyone. Jen Pastiloff here. I run the site with my beloved Angela Giles. I wanted to share the following post for a few reasons.

One, it’s been a year since Crystal lost her boys and I wanted to honor them on this day. Two, I started a scholarship fund called The Aleksander Fund, for a woman who has lost a child to attend one of my retreats. Last year, right after Crystal’s boys were killed, her friend reached out to me and nominated Crystal.

Crystal attended my Tuscany retreat this past September and we grew close. She shared the following post on Instagram and, with her blessing, I am reposting here. Tomorrow is Giving Tuesday so if you’d like to donate to The Aleksander Fund please click here. It is my great honor to do this work even though it is so, so hard. I will never look away. I got you, Crystal.

 

Please leave a comment below for Crystal as she will read them all.

Continue Reading…