Hi guys, Jen Pastiloff here. I don’t post my own stuff too often these days, but these videos, holy Wow, mother of all cups of coffee. Please do yourself a favor and take a few moments and watch these videos. Please. One of these women is a Holocaust survivor. Their friendship is so utterly inspiring to me that it brought me to my knees. I want to have that kind of love. It’s an honor to the guest speaker again here at Canyon Ranch. What a great honor and privilege. Thanks for watching and sharing these videos. May we all listen more. May we all pay attention to the stories inside of us and inside of others, because, do not be fooled, we ALL have one to tell. Listen. This is beauty hunting.
By Jean Klein.
A few weeks ago I was involved in a conversation about challenge. I was quick to say I don’t feel the need to be in competition with anyone. I later realized I was wrong. I need to challenge myself everyday to be the best person I can be. To love, care, and respect everyone. To be gentle, and kind.
So one of my challenges to myself this Thanksgiving is this: To contact family and friends that I will not be able to see for the holiday by phone. To TALK to them, to tell them you love you. To LISTEN to them. To hear their voices.
While I understand social media and text has its pros and cons I believe we have forgotten what it is like to speak to each other and listen. We, myself included are to quick to message someone, post something on their wall, or tweet. Or, just send a quick text.
I want to challenge everyone to take a few minutes this Thanksgiving to pick up your phone, not to post, tweet, or text, but to CALL someone. Call your friends or family members. Let them know you are thinking about them and that you love them. Continue Reading…
Hey there! Jen Pastiloff here, I’m the founder of The Manifest-Station. Marika, the author of this piece, won a spot at my Manifestation Retreat in Ojai last summer based on her writing! It is such an honor to publish her here again. I am excited to announce that Good Morning America just contacted me after they saw this story on my site! And People Magazine And MTV and The Today Show and my goodness, it keeps on coming…It was an honor when I was on Good Morning America and was able to raise awareness for Prader Willi Syndrome (which my nephew Blaise has, as well as autism.) I am thrilled to see what this will all do for autism awareness. Go Julian! Thanks to Justin Timberlake for being such a star! A class act! If you are using this article please make sure you credit/link The Manifest-Station.
*Update: This post got The Manifest-Station awarded the “Freshly Pressed” Award! Brava, Janine! Jen here. I have a broken foot as many of you know, so I am giving the site all my attention right now. I am over the moon with the posts these days! Pinching myself! Today’s essay is one I hope you will read and share and help me make viral. This is so well-written, so important. Anyone, and I mean anyone, who has known abuse- you are not alone. And you don’t need to stay. Janine Canty, you blew me away with this beautifully nuanced and heartbreaking piece.
I Am A Woman Who Survived. By Janine Canty. Every October I wear a purple ribbon. It represents women who have lost their lives to senseless violence. It represents men and children who have lost their lives to senseless violence. It represents people who died too young, with most of their words still inside them. It represents the empty place at a table. It represents a voice forever silenced by familiar hands. It also represents endurance and survival. It represents the years I endured. The seventeen years I survived inside the basement apartment, and on a floor in my Mother-In-Law’s den, and in a pretty little brown house affordable because it was in a flood zone, and in the blue house with the failing septic system. That little piece of ribbon represents the times I was too afraid to speak. Or move. Or cry. Or breathe. That little piece of ribbon celebrates the me I grew up to be. I earned that ribbon. I love that ribbon, and I hate that ribbon. It reminds me that we live in a world capable of beauty, and brutality. It reminds me of a hunger that can’t be curbed or controlled. It reminds me that I want my granddaughters to grow up believing that hands are gentle, and strong, and wonderful. They are things designed to caress, and to hold. They are designed to build foundations, and to express oneself with chalk, and ink, pencil, and crayon. To immortalize childhood in clay. Hands are not weapons. They are not a punishment. They are not something to be afraid of. They are not something to flinch from .I want them to grow up, and have homes where they never have to be afraid. To speak. Or move. Or cry. Or breathe. I want them to grow up to have partners who make them feel valued, and beautiful. I want them to look in the mirror, and see something besides despair. Or fear. I want them to see, and feel, taste, and experience their own beauty. I want them to believe in that beauty. Every October I stand with strangers, and with friends, and neighbors. I stand with policemen in the dusk, and the rain, and the wind. I walk alongside people with similar stories. I carry a candle in the dark. Sometimes I speak a strangers name. Always I cry for someone I never met. Every October I remember that I’m free and I’m alive, and I am humbled at what a simple gift it is to open my eyes in the morning. I am amazed at the sound of my own laughter. I am in awe at the singular joy found in hot water, and at the bottom of a shampoo bottle. After you’ve lived in the dark, the long lines at WalMart, and a walk through the supermarket, are friggin’ adventures. Like dancing under the rainbow. Every October I am a little older, and hopefully a little wiser. I look in the mirror, and the broken woman that I was, the one who walked down that driveway,in November of 2000, she’s a memory. She’s all about the things that happened to me. The woman in the mirror, the one you see at Wal Mart, and the dairy bar, and laughing over a med cart in the nursing home, she’s who I am. Who I became in spite of all the damage, and because of the damage. She’s all the parts that survived the run through fire, and came out on the other side, with new, unblistered skin. Every October the question inevitably comes up. The question I hate. The question I am beginning to think has no answer. “Why did you stay”? I’ve discussed this. I’ve sat on the nightly news. I’ve talked to the newspaper. I’ve talked to countless women and even a few men on a hotline. I’ve stood at a podium in the State House, and addressed legislature. I am a woman who survived 17 years with an abusive man. I am a woman who loves words. I am told I can be an eloquent speaker/ writer/ person/ whatever. I am not eloquent when it comes to that question. I don’t know why your daughter/sister/ niece/ cousin/ brother/ son, stays. I don’t know why some people grow up with hatred where a heart once was. A rage that overtakes the soul. I don’t know why people hurt people. There’s fear. I know about fear. Everybody who’s ever seen a spider, or a snake, knows fear. Everybody who’s ever stood up to speak in a crowded room, knows fear. Anyone who’s gotten married, given birth, or started a new job, has strapped fear on like an apron. Anyone who’s ever found an unexpected lump in the shower, knows what it is to sit in the shadows, with the icy fingers of fear. Fear of the unknown. It’s a biggie, right? Fear is a mountain full of mean. Fear freezes, and cripples, and destroys. Fear sucks. Fear is power and heat. If fear could be bottled, cancer would be cured, and there would be no more war. Every October I put on a purple ribbon, and I hope for something better in my world, and in yours. I hope that one person somewhere, just one, will understand. One person will see, that if they are being terrorized within the four walls of their home, it’s as much a crime as a mugging on the street. I hope for more education for teachers, and volunteers, and the police force. For judges, and employers, Parents, and children. Victims and survivors. I hope for someone more eloquent than I, to explain this in a few simple words. I hope for just one person to believe that they don’t deserve to close their eyes beside fear each night. They don’t deserve to wake up afraid of what the sunshine in a new day will bring. Every October it’s 1978 again. I am 13, and in a brand new town. I have eyeglasses, and a haircut that I hate. I have a little sister that could give the breck girl a run for her money. I want thin thighs. I want to be able to jump over the hobby horse in gym. I want to grow up to be a writer. Or an actress. I want to be everything I’m not. Confident and beautiful. I want to live in New York. My first kiss from a boy hurts. My skin turns angry colors underneath his hand. He demands a kiss, and I obey without thinking about it. Because my arm feels like it’s going to snap. Because I am afraid in a way I have never been before. Because I am 13, and I don’t know any better. I don’t see things like respect, and self love as viable options for myself. Afterwards, he laughs. Maybe this is just the way boys are. Maybe this is normal. Maybe I’m as abnormal and weird as I feel at 13. I am addicted to the ABC Afterschool Specials. They talk against drinking, and drugs. They warn about strangers touching you in a private place. Everyone gets a happy ending in 45 minutes. What’s not to love, as the credits roll, and the Bee Gees sing “How do you mend a broken heart”? It’s 1981. I have acne to go with my chubby thighs. I’ve never conquered the hobby horse in gym. Crowded locker rooms, and scratchy towels that smell like other people’s sweat, are never going to be my thing. I’m courting an eating disorder while scarfing down Town Spa pizza. I want to live in Europe. I want to drive a sports car with the top down. I want contact lenses. I want not to be sixteen, with chubby thighs, and acne. The boy next door plays the guitar for me, with deceptively gentle hands. He tells me I’m beautiful. I believe him, as I nurse bruises his teeth have left against my mouth. I have seen my father on his knees. I have seen my parents ready to kill one another over a can of flat beer. I have seen my father in handcuffs, and packing a suitcase. I’ve seen him walking away, and I’ve seen him coming back. I am never getting married. I am never having babies. It’s 1983. I am 18. I put on a borrowed wedding dress. I walk down the aisle, towards the boy next door. I’m carrying a bouquet in shaking hands, and a baby in my belly. My mother has stopped crying long enough to put on a kick ass purple, Mother of the Bride, dress. She looks stunning. She also looks cold and dazed. My sister is crying softly beside me. She tells me how romantic it is, as she holds my bouquet while I’m sick. She asks me if she can have my stereo and posters. She asks me what it feels like. I ask her to shut up. My father puts down the Rosary he’s held for 3 weeks, to walk me down the aisle. He looks like he’s craving that flat beer. I’m just enough of a Catholic girl to understand that I disappointed Jesus by having condomless sex before marriage. I’m just enough of a Daddy’s girl to be devastated at the look on my Father’s face during our shared, silent, march down the aisle. I am 18. I am married. I have never cooked a meal. I have never driven a car. My sister is barely 15. She dances too closely with the 20 year old best man. she catches the bouquet, and finds herself lost in her first pair of brown male eyes. My groom has been drunk since 10 am, when he drove to the church listening to David Bowies “Modern Love”. His arm was dangling out a window. An early December sun was in his eyes. My future was nearly derailed by a rusted out red Chevy running a light. Later, he gave thanks under an altar as he kissed me. He tasted like Listerine, and Michelob, and Copper. It’s 1989. I have 3 beautiful babies. I have bruises, but they’re in places only I can see. I have a voice growing rusty from lack of use. I answer to names you wouldn’t call an animal. He tells me I’m ugly and fat. I believe him. I don’t have a split lip or a broken bone to show a doctor. This is so clearly not the Farrah Fawcett, “Burning Bed” depiction of abuse. I believe it’s not abuse. My children who’ve never known any other life, believe it. My parents live with it. The few friends I’ve held onto from high school, are driven away by it. My world has diminished to the size of a small bedroom in the back part of my husbands childhood home. I still don’t drive. I don’t yet have a high school diploma. I don’t have friends. I have fear, and 3 beautiful babies, and bruises in places only I can see. It’s 1989, and I’m pregnant again for the fourth time in 5 years. I am 6 months pregnant. I am fat and slow, and I disgust him. I am never fast enough for him. His arm catches me across the chest. Later he’ll say it was an accident, and he never means to get that upset. None of it will matter. All that will matter is the chair I fell over. An ugly green chair, with a rip in the vinyl. Stuffing poking out like cottage cheese. I could be as fat and awkward as the day was long, and maybe, just maybe, that was why my little boy died inside me. None of it mattered after I saw his sweet, silent, face. My little boy died, and he took my belief in happily ever after with him. My baby died, and I hated myself. I hated my husband, and that ugly green chair, and that arm. It’s 1995. We return to the little blue house with the failing septic system. We’d been younger in that house. Calling naivety happiness. How I needed to believe it could be. We ate moose track ice cream out of green Tupperware bowls. We had returned to a familiar place, as different people. Fear lived beside me as unseen as a mosquito in a windstorm. Crippling, freezing, powerful fear . It didn’t show up all of a sudden, it didn’t announce itself with fireworks. It was quiet and insidious. Like mold. It was stale air, and molecules. It wasn’t to be questioned, it just was. I carried fear like a tired child. It was as much a part of me as my arms and legs, and my lazy eye. You can’t play the game if you don’t know what the rules are. You can’t question yourself when you’re constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop. When all you’ve known is fear, fear becomes love.. When the body begins dying, the heart turns into a selfish Mofo. It pulls the blood away from the extremities. It hogs all the blood. So that it can continue to beat. So that it can survive. The body becomes colder. It becomes numb. As a medical person, today, I call that mottling. Back then I wouldn’t have known enough to call it survival. My body was amazing, as all bodies are. It allowed itself to become numb. I became numb, I survived. It’s 2000, and something. I’m working in the nursing home. I’ve rediscovered parts of myself I’d forgotten all about. My love of words, and writing. My love of card games, and scrabble, and walks in a warm rain. I am a work in progress. Forgiving myself is still a jigsaw in the making. It’s October. I put on a purple ribbon. I sit on the evening news. People call me brave because of the crap I’ve been through. People called me brave, because I didn’t lay down and die, but at one point I wanted to. I wanted to lay down and die. I wanted to cease existing. I wanted to cease hurting. That’s what strong armed the fear. That’s what numbed me, and then brought me back. My desire to die was where I found my will to live. That’s where I found the capacity to love myself. To forgive myself for things that were beyond my control. That’s where I found the strength to walk down that driveway. Don’t ask me why I stayed. I can’t answer that. Don’t ask me why your sister or neighbor, or friend stays. I can’t answer that. Not in black and white. Not in simple words. It’s individual to the person. Like hair color. Do I suspect fear? The all knowing, all powerful, crippling, freezing, fear? Yeah. I suspect it hides behind the curtains. It keeps company with the shattered dishes. The broken dreams, and the bruises no one else can see. Don’t ask me why I stayed. Ask me why I left. Then put on a purple ribbon, and carry a candle beside me in the dark. My name is Janine Canty. I have been writing since age 11 when a teacher told me I had “talent.” Writing has always been a tonic for me. Being published is a pretty little dream I keep tucked away in a safe place. I am not a professional writer though the passion for it has stayed with me like a campfire. I make my living as a CNA- Med Technician in a busy nursing facility in a tiny Northern town almost no one has ever heard of. I dabble in blog writing, and all things Facebook. I fail at tweeting. Jennifer Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Her work has been featured on The Rumpus, The Nervous Breakdown, Jezebel, Salon, among others. Jen’s leading one of her signature writing/yoga retreats to Ojai, Calif over Labor Day in Ojai, Calif and she and bestselling author Emily Rapp will be leading another writing retreat to Vermont in October. Check out jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up: Seattle, London, Atlanta, South Dakota, NYC, Dallas, Tucson. She tweets/instagrams at @jenpastiloff. To submit to The Manifest-Station email firstname.lastname@example.org. Next workshop is London July 6.
The Way Things Overlap by Deb Stone.
January 10, 2000 was my daughter’s eleventh birthday. It was also my neighbor girl’s funeral. She was 23. That morning I decorated our home with balloons and streamers, wrapped gifts in bright paper and twisted ribbons. That afternoon I dressed in black and wore my hair in plain black clips. Joy and grief, sometimes they overlap.
At the funeral, Crystal’s brother Josh said that he and his sister had been so frightened when they were taken from their mother that she laid on the floor in the bedroom of her foster home and whispered through the heat vent so he could hear her voice. Some years later—I’m not sure how many—our neighbors adopted them. At Crystal’s funeral, her adoptive mother sang You Are My Sunshine. Where did she find the courage to sing? How did she have the heart to welcome a birthmother she had never met to a funeral where the daughter they shared lay in an open casket.
Hello and good-bye, sometimes they overlap.
I’ve been a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for twenty years. I coach and mentor new CASAs, and I teach some of the training courses that potential volunteers attend. As a trainer, I try to impart a sense of urgency on behalf of the child’s need for permanence in a timely manner, but also, the importance of family ties. Most new CASAs, whether they know it or not, come into training believing that they are going to help children who come from bad homes get adopted in good homes. I was no exception. As a new CASA volunteer, I wanted to right wrongs. To ensure children’s needs weren’t ignored in the service of parent’s rights. I had no college degree, no little letters behind my name like the rest of the professionals at the table, so I made it a point to know the case.
Diagnoses? I could rattle them off.
Dates of incarceration? Those too.
I knew how many fires the four-year-old set. I knew the words each sibling used to describe what Daddy had done: Penis. Pee-pee. Snake. If you gave me a soapbox, I’d mount it faster than a circus seal could balance a ball. I dug into the parent’s past, pressed social workers to do more, agitated attorneys who were protecting the parent’s rights. I was the voice of the child. Right?
Knowledge and ignorance, they overlap.
I have friends whose parents were vicious drunks, drug addicts, or hopelessly depressed and unresponsive parents. Friends whose fathers, brothers, or grandfathers put their fingers in private places. I have friends who were beat. Abandoned. They share their stories. Sometimes I ask, “Would you have been better off in foster care?”
They stare at me. Maybe they think so, but no one has said yes.
Most of these friends still send their mom a Mother’s Day card. Arrange for holidays with their historically abusive dad. They believe their family was worth having, and keeping, despite the abuse or neglect.
You don’t need twenty years experience to understand that 99 out of 100 foster children want to go home.
Separation and belonging, they overlap.
On my daughter’s eleventh birthday, I kissed the corpse of the neighbor girl who used to babysit my children. In the evening, our family sang Happy Birthday and shared in the wonder of being eleven. We talked about how you always think you’ll have another birthday, only someday when you never even know it, you’ll be having your last slice of cake.
My sons told us about how fun it was when Crystal babysat. They had water fights inside the house. They roasted marshmallows in the woodstove and caught the couch on fire—just a little—then rubbed dirt on the brown spot so I wouldn’t know. They played in-and-out-the-window tag, which explains why the screens on the windows sometimes seemed off kilter.
My birthday girl said her favorite thing about Crystal was how she never made you feel small. “Even though I was littlest,” she said,” She always let me drink from a big cup.”
Making people feel small is a specialty with child welfare systems. Nobody intends it, but when an agency sets out to prove that a parent can’t keep children safe, nobody highlights the parent’s best moments. They itemize what’s gone wrong. If the Court determines that the state has jurisdiction, the social workers set out to help the parents change while the children remain in foster care.
CASA trainees always struggle with the idea that vulnerable children may return to parents with marginal skills. We have an official term: minimum sufficient standards. What does it mean? Nobody can say. It’s a marshy area that falls below the community expectations for parenting, but above the line where children are unsafe. That gray area varies from case to case.
“The biggest worry I have,” said a trainee, “is how I’ll feel knowing the child I care about is going from a life where they have better opportunities to a minimally adequate home.”
I might have reminded her that research shows that children usually benefit from being in their family of origin. “It’s not about you,” I could have said. “Your feelings aren’t part of the equation.”
Instead, I said, “You know the videos on social media that illustrate someone overcoming insurmountable odds? Like the girl who broke her leg in the middle of a softball game and couldn’t run on her own two feet. The opposing team carried her around the bases. You know how that makes your heart catch in your throat? How it makes you believe in the potential good at the core of every human being?”
Imagine you have a friend whose partner left her. She’s been so depressed she can’t get out of bed. Sometimes she drinks too much. Her kids have learned to fend for themselves. On the day that someone knocks on the door for a welfare check, she’s still drunk from the night before. The children cling to their mom as the social worker tells her they are taking her children. Your friend stands on the porch and sobs as her children are buckled into a state car. She doesn’t know where they’re going. She doesn’t know when she’ll see them again.
Imagine CASAs interviewing your family and friends for all the things that have gone wrong in your life. Imagine having your worst parenting moment made public. Your worse fight. Your lowest point. The saddest, most shameful things you’ve never even told your best friend. Imagine standing in front of a judge while those things are being discussed. Imagine your family and friends in the courtroom listening to it all.
Shame and hopelessness, the way they overlap.
Imagine a phoenix rising out of that. Witness a parent suffering through withdrawal. Earmark the day that parent becomes employed. Congratulate the parent when she convinces a landlord to rent her an apartment. See a parent ride three city buses each way to visit her child for an hour. See a person rise up out of wreckage. It can make your heart catch in your throat. See them stand in front of the judge while you attest that things have changed for the better. Not perfect. Better.
Know that if this parent can change, anyone can. You. Me. Those places in us we hide in shame? We can stop hiding. We can forgive ourselves. We can move on. Maybe we won’t be great, but we’ll be better. Maybe not even good, but better. Believing in others is ultimately about believing in yourself.
Failure and redemption.
Worry and hope.
The ways our lives overlap.
Deb Stone’s writing has appeared in STIR Journal, The Oregonian, Portland Tribune, Portland Upside, and Clackamas Literary Review. Her essay “Mr. Potato Head’s Secret Life” was selected for Portland’s 2014 inaugural Listen to Your Mother show. She has essays in The Truth of Memoir: How to Write about Yourself and Others with Honesty, Emotion, and Integrity and Stepping Up: Stories of Blended Families. Deb has been a birth, foster, step, and adoptive parent to over thirty children, a Court Appointed Special Advocate for another two dozen abused and neglected kids in foster care, and provides training to child advocates, social workers, and parents. She is seeking representation for her memoir Mother Up. Follow Deb on Twitter @iwritedeb. She met Jen Pastiloff in Portland at The Writer’s Voice Workshop with Suzy Vitello and Lidia Yuknavitch.
Jennifer Pastiloff, the founder of The Manifest-Station, is a writer living on an airplane. Her work has been featured on The Rumpus, The Nervous Breakdown, Jezebel, Salon, among others. Jen’s leading a long weekend retreat to Ojai, Calif over Labor Day in Ojai, Calif. 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: Los Angeles, Seattle, London, Atlanta, South Dakota, Dallas. She tweets/instagrams at @jenpastiloff.
By Rachel Pastiloff.
If I close my eyes and think hard enough I can almost remember the house. Almost. I can’t remember if it was brown or green. Maybe it was brown with yellow trim. I do remember the chain link fence in the back yard, and the rabbit hutch my Poppy made for us. I wish I could remember more. I just said to a friend this past weekend, “I wish I had a photographic memory,” but then realized that would probably be a curse.
I still dream of those days. The ones that happened before July of 1983. Maybe I could go under hypnosis and while in a trance bring a Polaroid camera with me. I had a Polaroid camera once. It was pink and I loved the instant gratification. I would take my Polaroid and snap a photo of all the moments from January 15th, 1978 until July 15th, 1983.
I have a snapshot of the day my daddy died. I have that moment etched in my brain. Chinese checkers, shag carpet, curse words and fist slamming, sirens, strange men, family arriving. I remember all of that. The den where I was held captive as they took Mel, my dad, away on a stretcher. I snuck away and caught a glimpse of his lifeless body. I had no idea it would be the last time I saw his beautiful face, although it did not look beautiful on that stretcher, blue and dying.
In the weeks before he passed my mom and dad had “the talk” with my sister and me. It was the “we are getting a divorce talk.” I remember the bedroom and the bed we sat on with its putrid ugly yellow sheets. My father had an armoire that held all of his “cool” stuff. Probably the same place he placed his drugs, the ones that would weeks later rip him out of my life. That talk would leave an imprint on my life.
I carried it around with me like a 200-pound appendage.
My last memories of my father were of him saying, “You can have Rachel and I will take Jennifer.”
A few weeks later he died. I carried the burden of his poison laced words with me, the words that a five year old hears, in five-year-old comprehension.
- You don’t love me?
- Why don’t you want me?
- Why won’t you take me?
- I am unlovable.
For years I’d ask my mother why?
Why didn’t he think I was worth taking, loving, or keeping? She always made excuses for him. None of them ever took it away.
His words became my inner voice.
I am a mother now. I have the choice now. As I read the post on Facebook it knocked me over.
“How you speak to your children becomes their inner voice.”
I couldn’t breathe when I read it.
I have to make sure that their inner voice is one that says: I am loveable. I am wanted. I am smart and kind. I am heard. I am special.
This is a challenge as the mother of one child with a rare genetic disorder and autism, and another child with ADHD and a mood disorder. It’s a major battle sometimes to remember to breathe, and sometimes, just to conquer minute by minute of the day.
I have not been the most gracious mom over the last six months. I am depleted in every possible definition of the word. I have had more than my fair share of ugly mom moments, last night being one of them. I was yelling and pounding my fists, scaring even myself. Watching myself as if I were in a movie, looking at my little one stare at me as if I was a monster.
Those moments pass and we are fine, but what is the ripple that I have created inside his voice pool? Rachel, your words become their inner voice.
Your words are what they hear when they lay their heads on the pillow and fall into their dream state. I finally had that epiphinany.
“Epiphany,” the book written by Elise Ballard. I bought it and kept wondering when my epiphany would come. I want it to be profound and earth shattering. I want the world to feel a mini earthquake when my brain finally gets it.
That isn’t even close to what happened. Instead, I lay in my bed last night and told myself to just breathe in and just breathe out, over and over again. I remembered that Facebook post I read.
I want my voice to lift my children up. I want my voice to inspire my children everyday so much that they think to themselves, “I am so lucky, I have such a good life.” I want my voice to be the thing that lights a fire in my children, and keeps them going even when it hurts. I want my voice to be the one they hear in their dreams that tells them, you are so loved, you are so wanted, you are a special gift, and you are love.
My sister Jennifer often says: At the end of your life when you ask one final “what have I done?” Let your answer be “I have done love.”
At the end of my life when my children say their good bye to me they will say, She did love. She gave me my voice.
Rachel is a native of Philadelphia/South Jersey. She currently resides in Atlanta with her husband and two young sons, ages 7 and 4. In 2009 Rachel’s oldest son was diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder called Prader-Willi Syndrome, with a diagnosis of autism to follow shortly after. The diagnosis was traumatic and forever altered the course of her life. Rachel has made it her mission to educate the world about children who have special needs and their parents. In her spare time between doctor’s appointments, therapy sessions, and the normal stuff everyday parents do, she writes a blog RachelPastiloff.com. Rachel is also a yoga teacher and a health coach in Atlanta. She received her training from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. Her passion for food, nutrition and wellness are her biggest passion. You can find her on Facebook, instagram at @rachelpastiloff or assisting her sister Jen at one of her retreats around the world.
By Jen Pastiloff.
“My belief is that when you’re telling the truth, you’re close to God.”
On a winter day in March 2013, I met my friend Robert Wilder in the lobby of the Inn of the Anasazi in Santa Fe, where I had slept the night before. I’d stayed in the hotel room of my friends from L.A., who, coincidentally, also happened to be in Santa Fe. My friend Emily Rapp’s son Ronan had passed away from Tay Sachs on February 15, and the memorial was chosen for that particular weekend.
Robert asked how I knew my friend. I told him that I met her because she took my classes, but that we had become friends.
Robert’s a fantastic writer and a high school English teacher. (He calls his students High Schooligans, if that gives you an indication of his cool-teacher status.) The Robin Williams in Dead Poet’s Society kind of teacher, the kind you appreciate much later upon looking back at who formed you, at who maybe taught you to really love books and writing and expressing yourself. My “Robert Wilder” was Mrs. Lifshey in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, whom I remembering running into when I was getting my hair done for my senior prom. I had been trying on a rhinestone pair of earrings, and she spotted me as she sat getting her own hair highlighted. She bought me the expensive fake diamond earrings “anonymously” that my mother couldn’t afford at the time. (My mom knew and didn’t keep it anonymous.)
Robert and I sat on the leather sofa in the lobby of the Inn of the Anasazi, and he asked me, “Is it hard to be friends with your students?”
I’d rather think of them as my tribe. Or not-studenty students.
But yes, it can be hard, I suppose.
Like being a person in the world can be hard or being a daughter or a wife can be hard. Like how anything you love can be hard.
Here’s why it can be hard with my not-studenty students: I am afraid to expose myself and have them see that I am a regular person who gets depressed and thinks she looks fat sometimes and drinks too much coffee and wine and doesn’t always walk the talk.
I write about it, but there is a difference in writing about it and then actually having someone see you in the flesh as the youest you there is.
My belief is that when you are telling the truth, you are close to God. So says Anne Lamott. Yet and still, my paper creates a chasm, a separation. A wall between me and everyone else in the world. There is a distance between the reader and myself, even when I am being my most vulnerable and truthful.
There is a little bit of Us and Them when you are standing in front of a class. You are in a glass case, and although everyone can hear you, no one can really get in. There is a you can’t really see me even though you think you can.
When you are with someone in person over lunch, that distance is minimized, and then there they are, right up in your face, their eyes all over you, their minds making up stories and facts.
A couple months ago, I went to Atlanta to see my sister and nephews and to lead a workshop. My sister mentioned to me that she had said something to my friend (who had started as a not-student student) something about me always being on my phone.
I was horrified.
I told my sister that she should have not said that to this person. That it made me look badly, and that I had an image to uphold. (Ha!) Me always being on my phone suggested that I wasn’t present, that I was full of shit. How dare she say that to someone who takes my classes? She felt badly and said that she thought this person and I were really close friends. “We are.” I said, “But still.”
There is no but still.
The distance was zippered up, and there was no space between us anymore, and it’s true I look at my phone too much. It’s an addiction. I didn’t want that side of me exposed because, in my mind, it was bad enough I was friends with my not-studenty student, but now they would see all my faults and that I was full of sh*t, and they wouldn’t be my student or my not-studenty student and, possibly, not even my friend.
(Oh, the stories! The stories!)
I was terrified I would become some sort of fallen icon. As teachers of any kind, we’ve all had people become fixated or obsessed and tell us How Amazing We Are, and then, one day, they get bored or decide you are a Real Life Human Being, and you never hear from them again.
I was terrified that someone who sees me as an inspiration would realize I look at my iPhone too much and that I don’t pay enough attention and dismiss me.
But it’s only hard when I make it so. Yes, it is hard for me to be friends with everyone. (I am not special in that truth.) No one can be there for every single person nor should they be. I can’t go to everyone’s play or show, but there are indeed some people that I meet because they take my class or read my writing whom I know I want to have a glass of wine with. It is incidental to me that we met through my yoga class or my retreat or my blog.
Why should I be any better than them or put myself on a pedestal because I teach them how to do a downdog or because they read an essay and feel inspired by something I said?
The only time it’s hard is when someone puts an unrealistic expectation on me or when I try to make everyone happy. I can’t do that. (I’d like to remember more often that I can’t do that. I’d like us all to remember more often that we can’t do that.)
Everyone in my life is my teacher. You. You reading this. Everyone. (We should all recognize this more often.)
I want to do better.
I want to do better than yesterday, at least. I want to be more present and not look at my phone so much and never to gossip and all the rest, but the people who learn from me are pretty clear that I am not a guru or saint.
Yet, I also want to live a congruent life. That is what it really boils down to. My belief is that when you’re telling the truth, you’re close to God.
ABTTT. Always Be Telling The Truth.
If someone takes my class and then we become friends and they decide they no longer want to take my class because the boundary has been crossed or because I curse or don’t do enough of my own yoga practice, well then, so be it. What can I do? They come; they go; they come again, and all the while, I am here ABTTT or doing my best version of it.
My belief is that when you’re telling the truth, you’re close to God.
The truth is that I can’t be friends with everybody. (Neither can you.) Nor do I want to. (Neither can you. Trust me.) Nor do you want to. So get over it. Not possible.
I can love as best as I can, and I can keep teaching and writing, but I cannot be friends with every single person who takes my class or reads me. It’s not humanly possible, and that’s okay. The people pleasing days are falling away, and the days of ABTTT are coming fast and hard.
So what does it matter if someone takes my classes and also eats pancakes with me? It doesn’t. It would matter if I was a vastly different person on paper or in class that I am in “real life,” but I am not.
They are people. I am people. The same.
Most of the people in my life now entered via my yoga classes or my writings. I say Thank God for the not-studenty students who have turned into beloveds. Thank God I found you.
As I was getting on the plane (you guessed it, I wrote this from the airplane), I saw an old man reading an even older looking book called You Should Only Be Happy.
(Oh, that awful “should” word. There it is again.)
The book was written by a Jewish man and, from what I could gather, was a lot about Jewish culture. I started talking to the man, and he was a Jew from New York who now lived in Santa Fe. I chuckled as he held my hand.
I said, “So are you part of the Tribe?” (an oft-asked question Jews sometimes ask one another), and he looked at me and said, “Isn’t everybody?”
So, is it hard to be friends with my students? Yes and no and everything in between.
Aren’t we all human? Isn’t, as my new airport friend put it, everybody part of the tribe. Isn’t everybody?
You Should Only Be Happy. Always Be Telling The Truth. Stop Looking At Your Phone So Much. Pay Attention. Drink More Water. Honor The Dead. Drink With Loved Ones. Eat Bread Baked By Your Friends. Have More Sex. Read George Saunders. Do Some Yoga.
Look, I don’t know about any of the above. What do I know, really? The only thing I know for sure is that telling the truth is everything.
The following piece was a submission for my #5mostbeautifulthings contest last June. The idea being that we walk around actively looking for beauty, and then, share our findings with the world. Okay, by world I mean the world of social media. But still. It’s a beautiful exercise which truly opens the channel for, not only creativity, but for life itself, because what else is there really, besides paying attention?
Elizabeth Crane Brandt is a beloved American author and, most recently, my pen pal. Yes, you read correctly. Real. Life. Letters. Gasp!
She has a tremendous ability to weave words right into your heart and to leave a little something there: a scarf, or note, an imprint of love.
five most beautiful things today (which is not yesterday or tomorrow)
1) My dog’s snout and paws. This will have to be one thing. Very often they are seen together. After seven years, it only just dawned on me that I take pictures of these two parts of him just about every day. It may seem at first glance like these pictures are largely similar, but if there weren’t nuances, I’m sure I wouldn’t keep doing it. The snout and paws of today are not the snout and paws of yesterday; today is not yesterday, tomorrow isn’t today, and what if, after he’s gone, I didn’t have all these daily photos to look at from the beginning? Maybe I’m writing the story of my dog, one snout and paws photo at a time. More will be revealed. Snout and paws. One beautiful thing.
2) My dad’s old barn that just fell down. I can’t. Even. It just happened yesterday; I found out this morning. I feel like I may as well be under that very pile of boards right now. We’ve known it was coming, there was a hole in the roof the size of a bathtub, but that barn was a symbol of everything beautiful about my childhood, and there was more than plenty representing what wasn’t. (Google: NYC 1960s-70s and I promise one of the first three choices will have ‘gritty’ or ‘dangerous’ in it. There was plenty of beauty there too, but the danger went a long way to canceling that out for me when I was six and eight.) (Also: cross-reference item # 1 here, as regards number of photos taken/subtle nuances – I do not live in Iowa, but I have taken countless photos on each trip I’ve made there, and I am, now that the barn is partway to the ground, gladder than ever that I did. Though I’d kind of just like to have it put back the way it was, if requests are being taken. Not the deal, I know, but I’m in the denial phase of grief.)
3) The piles of letters and emails my dad wrote me over the years from the time I was about eight (parents divorced, Dad lived in Iowa, we lived in NY), encouraging me to be a writer, telling me what a great daughter I was.
4) The sky out the window of our little Brooklyn apartment. There are some buildings below that sky that I could take or leave, as well an old smokestack (were I given a magic set of paints, I would take out the two taller buildings behind the smokestack but leave the smokestack in, I would leave the rusty sloped roof of the old church in front of the smokestack, which is nicely framed on either side by a street full of trees that are lush from the rain we’ve been having all week, and then I would also maybe erase at least the top floor of building directly across the street, and/or paint in a family counselor for the parents in the window across the way who are relentlessly yelling at their beautiful little boy who obviously just doesn’t want to go to church this week). The fact remains: you can see a whole bunch of sky from the sofa. It’s good all times of day. It’s good in the morning with the first cup of coffee and at dusk (we face west) it’s a whole bunch of those gorgeously moody dusk-time colors that make me feel like everything crummy is going down with the sun, that it’s all getting reset, that the world is good and right.
5) How my husband looks at me. It’s everything. It would be pointless to try to describe it, but somebody looks at you like this, they must, and if they don’t today, they will tomorrow, I’m sure of it.
Also, although I swore I would never do another contest, I should stop swearing), I am. This one is themed #iHaveDoneLove.
Follow me on instagram at @jenpastiloff for details. It will involve pictures (why I chose Instagram as the platform) as well as writing. My favorites. You can win a spot at my next retreat over New Years in Ojai, California. The hashtag will be #iHaveDoneLove
At the end of your life, when you say one final “What have I done?” let your answer be: I have done love.
Thanks Elizabeth. You did. Love, that is.
If I Do, Then It Will. That was the name of a game. How it went was like this: If I lose 20 pounds, then I will be happy. Or my father will come back. The people who have been lost to me will reappear like they’d been out having massages or dinner, perhaps just stepping in from the cold, Hello Jen! We’ve missed you. You look so thin.
If I am a good person then it will fix me. If I do, then it will.
I have notes scattered throughout all my old college notebooks regarding the rules of this game. Don’t eat. Be good. Do your work. Run for one hour.
The game never worked. If never preceded then. In fact, it usually precluded it. I starved myself and instead of the desired effect of being happy, I became a zombie. I’d sleep walk through my days and eat in my sleep. I hated myself. The revenant never woke. My life never became ordered like I’d imagined. I was a bad person and as soon as someone found me out, that’s it, I’d be done. I was a game-player, sleeping-walking and night-eating my way through my pathetic life.
The game is so tempting. It’s like gambling. This time I will win and it will all be different! This is the last time.
The truth is that there is no reward system.
You do or you do not and it’s all for naught. There is nothing waiting for you.
There is no If I do, then it will so you must do and do, or not do, for whatever reasons you have or don’t have, and not because you think there will be any sort of prize. Let me be the last to tell you, there won’t be.
The game I invented will break your heart.
No one comes back from the dead. And no matter how skinny or fat you are, you are there, right there. See yourself? That’s you. You. You are the same you. The pain doesn’t disappear unless you take it by the throat and talk to it. It does not go by way of bribing. The game does not work. The game sucks.
There is no game.
You must do things because you love.
The other night I read on Facebook that an old friend, a man I’d known casually for over 15 years, had been evicted and was homeless. He’d written that he desperately needed somewhere to sleep that night. My husband was still in London but I couldn’t not do anything. I’d called the friend, who is 70 years old by the way, and offered him my couch. My husband wasn’t happy, as I’d knew be the case, but I’d made a choice.
It was an awkward two days. He is 70 and I actually don’t know him that well.
I did it out of love. I saw someone who said I am desperate and I said I am here.
All of the times I was playing The If I Do, Then It Will game it was never out of love. It was out of necessity. I was so miserable that I was willing to gamble anything to find pockets of happiness no matter what I had to bet.
Often I would forget to breathe and then I’d spend the next few breaths catching up on the last ones so I was always behind a breath or two like someone that seemed desperate for air.
Like someone who was always almost dying.
So I took my friend/aquaintance in knowing there was no guarantee after this. That is what the game was about, isn’t it? Guarantees.
If I starve myself, then I can achieve things.
All I hoped to achieve by taking him in was giving him a bed for two nights. Much to the chagrin of my beloved husband, who was not at all happy with me, although he thought I was kind and compassionate. He didn’t want men in the house that he didn’t know when he wasn’t there. Which I get. And to which I still say You would have done the same thing.
Look, I can’t see that someone is desperate and walking the streets when I have a couch. Someone I know. It’s colder in L.A. then I can ever remember. The low today was 39 degrees in Santa Monica. I couldn’t let him just wander.
My friends said they could have.
We all went to dinner the other night (as the “homeless” friend was at my apartment without me being there, in fact) and they claimed they probably wouldn’t have done the same thing. I told them that they would have.
That’s how our hearts our wired: To care. To hurt. To bleed. To fall in love. To want to play the game of If I do, then It will because that game is meant to bring happiness. The goal is always May I be happy.
Most of us anyway.
I promised my husband that when he got back my friend would be off the sofa and I’d kept the promise. I can’t take my friend’s plight on but my instinct is to want to fix and help and heal and offer my sofa.
The revelation I had when I stopped playing my game of If I do Then It Will, was that what I operate from a place of love, there are no guarantees beyond this moment.
There’s the: Here’s my sofa.
There’s the: Here, have nice hot shower.
There’s the: You need a couple bucks?
There’s the: I love you. What can I do for you?
There the: I am doing this because I love myself now not because I think someone who has been dead 20 years will rise back up or I will suddenly be free of sorrow. It’s because I love myself now, in this moment. Not because I am waiting for a prize for being good.
If you or ever ever catch ourselves doing any of these things for any other reason than I love you or I care about you or I just want you to have a warm bed and maybe a hot chocolate then look in the mirror.
When you get to the mirror, reach out. Touch your face. It will be flat and cold as mirrors are. It will look like you but it won’t at the same time. You must know that beyond that glass, if you were to break it, is nothing. You are not there.
You are here.
So, fuck the mirror. Reach up and touch your face. And close your eyes.
What you feel is the face of someone who knows that no matter what is done, unless its done from love, it might as well be undone. Feel your own face. If you don’t love it by now you better realize that the game doesn’t work. That there is no prize. That you doing this, that, or the other thing won’t bring you a new face or a new heart or a new anything at all.
That if you do anything at all it must be for this.
What is this? you might ask. Or maybe you already understand.
This is love.
This is it.