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Letting Go

Guest Posts, Letting Go

Summer in Canaan Valley.

November 15, 2014

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By Jean Kim.

On an early summer day in 1988, PJ, our neighbor’s cat, went on a rampage.

Earlier that morning before the rampage, I had seen an adorable baby bunny frozen with fear, on the ground near our front door and next to some blooming azaleas. I’d never seen one so tiny, a fuzzy brown bundle you could fit in your hand but perfectly shaped. Its dark eyes were as still as its body, as they stared out in bewilderment.

The air was fragrant with June blossoms; it was the first truly warm day of the year, and it seemed everyone and everything in our suburban neighborhood was rousing to life. I had turned 14 a couple months earlier. Mom was gardening and said she’d seen another baby bunny.

Our amusement quickly turned to horror. PJ, a golden tabby, often strolled across the street to our yard. We noticed him darting around more quickly than usual. I heard my mother suddenly yell at him and try to chase him back. She waved a shovel. But it was too late.

Mom told me to wait in the open garage. (Overprotective as always, she still thought of me as a young child.) She scurried about the yard and was carrying something in her arms. She came over, and I saw she was holding two of the bunnies.

She said, “They’re the only ones left. There were more, but he ate them.”

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cancer, Guest Posts, Letting Go, motherhood

A Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Mother/Daughter Bond.

September 22, 2014

By Lockey Mitten Maisonneuve.

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As she lay in bed dying, Marlene told her daughter Kathy, she could see a door opening, beyond it she saw flowers everywhere, Marlene said “it was beautiful.” Kathy whispered “it sounds like you have a beautiful place to go with a lot of people who love you waiting for you, it’s okay to go.”

I had the privilege of participating in Marlene’s final days on this earth. I would go to her house and help her through guided meditations. She liked the full-body scan kind with white light covering her entire body. At the beginning of one of our first sessions, she was weeping and wouldn’t make eye contact with me. She just kept trying to hold it together. I finally said “if you are trying to not cry in front of me, it’s not working, just go with it.” She did. She allowed herself to cry as she settled in to meditate. I guided her through, she wept, I reminded her to breathe, she relaxed, I guided, she became soft.

After the meditation, she was a bit frantic about needing to write letters to her three adult children and her grand children. She was in too much discomfort to write, so I offered to write the words she spoke. As I wrote the words she needed to say to her children I understood how loved her children are. After we completed the letters, we sat quietly for a moment.

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death, Grief, healing, Letting Go

This Broke My Heart. Please Read & Share & Remember This Incredible Moment Is All We’ve Got.

June 8, 2014

I just got this email and my heart is breaking. I met Tiana when she came to my April Dallas workshop.

We’ve got to be here now, guys. Nothing is guaranteed. Ever!

We all know this. We know it but we forget sometimes, don’t we? I do. That something can just happen in the blink of an eye and like that- all is changed. I want Tiana to feel that a million people are wrapping their arms around her. I believe in the power of social media. For things like this. She will be checking this and reading the messages to her. Let’s do this. Leave her comments and share this please.

Also: go hug someone you love a little longer. Say I love you.

Please post a note for her below as she will read it. This was the email she sent me this afternoon, shared with permission:
“My name is Tiana Harris. I was in dallas, came from Oklahoma. We met in the parking lot. I lost my husband last week in a car accident. He rolled his jeep on his way to work. Just an ordinary day and then the wind stopped blowing. It’s Oklahoma, it never stops. It was still for three stagnate stifling days. I swear he took it with him. He was a Gemini after all. This is so confusing, there’s this extreme sense of emptiness and loss. I feel it with every breath. Every time I walk into a room I expect to see him, or to hear his voice. I stand at the sink and anticipate his hands or lips on my neck. But it doesn’t come and it’s not going to. Through this tragedy I’ve realized what an amazingly beautiful tribe I have built for myself. The outpouring of love has been completely overwhelming in the best possible way. Thank you for your inspiration. I’m finding my feet and I’m still beauty hunting. I appreciate your writing, I appreciate your rawness. Thank you for sharing yourself. Love, T”

 

*You can also post a comment for her on my Facebook page under this picture.

 

 

 

 

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Jennifer Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. She fiercely believes in the power of a tribe. Let’s show Tiana what love is RIGHT NOW.

Guest Posts, Letting Go, The Hard Stuff

Waiting for the Grassy Drop. By James Claffey.

April 21, 2014

                                         Waiting for the Grassy Drop

“Oh, he loved his mother / Above all others” (“The Great Hunger” by Patrick Kavanagh)

We drive the seventy-five miles to my father’s grave and my mother barely says a word. Through towns and farmland once so familiar she’d list each one and its inhabitants, the names dropping like musical notes. No more. Today, all she says is, “Ah, I don’t remember any of this. I must be addled.” My heart cracks a little more.

We pick our way back from the grave, treading carefully to avoid someone else’s resting place. Clouds scud by over the mossy, bird-shit stained gravestones and my mother stumbles as she navigates the grassy drop to the path. I catch her fall and bear her weight, realizing the next time I visit this blasted patch of earth might be to bury her beside my father. “God bless you, Son. You’re very good,” she says.

No. Not really. I’m not very good at all. Far from it, if I am honest with her. I left home and twenty-one years later return to witness my mother’s descent into a childlike state of bewilderment and uncertainty. The signs were there eighteen months ago when she tripped over a trouser press in her bedroom and gashed her hand. It was three days before she had it looked at by a doctor. An accident, she said. No, she didn’t lose consciousness, she said. No, she didn’t lose consciousness, she insisted when the doctor pressed her on the matter.

You’d have to have known my mother to know her strength. Raised four boys and a husband who was, for all intents and purposes, a fifth boy. He couldn’t boil an egg. Mow the grass? No problem. Domestic duties? You must be joking. After raising us, she took care of him in the aftermath of a terrible car wreck. Started a small business selling apple tarts and cakes to local shops, until some jealous neighbor shopped her to the health department. She marshaled our father through his medical appointments, his drinking, and his flailing nightmares.

Since my father died of a stroke fourteen years ago she has lived alone, independent, taking care of herself on her own terms. I call her every Sunday. The conversation rarely wavers from a well-oiled script—the weather, “How are the family? How is work? The words turn in on themselves, repetitive patters of paisley print. She asks, “Are you happy to be back teaching?” And three minutes later, “Are you happy to be back teaching?” And again, “Are you happy to be back teaching?” The repetitiveness is ominous. Her short-term memory is in tatters.

She no longer cooks: this, the woman whose baking and cooking was the talk of our friends and relatives for most of her lifetime. The cousins and aunts and uncles who’d show up every year just before Christmas to collect their cakes and puddings and couldn’t stay for tea because of a million excuses are long gone and never visit. The fridge is a museum of hard-caked milk in jugs, of meat gone off, of bread with mold, of decay and ageing.

There is evidence she no longer bathes, either. The week I’m home, the shower in her room never gets used, nor the bath in the landing bathroom. I sneak into her bedroom and check her washcloth for dampness and use. Best I can figure is she’s dabbing her body with the wet cloth every few days. Her clothes, too, are dirty, unwashed, recycled. I do three loads of laundry for her, making sure to dry them on the rickety clotheshorse in the spare bedroom. The fastidious woman who took so much pride in her appearance has been shut inside another version of my mother, a living Babushka doll.

For as far back as I can remember, mother solved with alacrity the Sunday Observer Crossword for forty years. Every time I arrive home we pass the paper back-and-forth, solving the last few clues together. This time the grid is a blank slate. I fill in a few clues to get her started and pass the paper her way. Two days later only my handwriting is on the checkered grid.

I can’t say I didn’t see it coming. The phone calls from my brothers warned me, “You’ll be shocked at what you see.” Not really, as my weekly phone calls, or Skype time with her tip me off to the changes afoot. I ask her what she had for dinner at my brother’s house. “Chicken,” she says. He interrupts and corrects her. Not chicken. Chorizo. Her once-strong mind, her sharp-witted remarks, her caustic comments on various topics are now faded tapestries in a room no longer accessible to her.

I see myself in my mother; the genetic code of her side of the family is strong in me. I have her family’s famous ears, as do my son and daughter. I put my daughter to bed each night, reading her a bedtime story, giving her the “double cuddles,” she asks my wife and I to bestow. My toddler cried her eyes out when I got on the bus for LAX and my heart gave way. “You go see your momma?” she asked me before I left. “Yes, my love, I go see my momma…” I didn’t finish the sentence. I wanted to say, “Yes, I go see my momma, and it might be the last time I get to see her alive.”

What I see when the door to her house opens is not my mother. Is my mother? My mother is not my mother. Not the mother I want. Where has she gone? She has been replaced by this diminished, bird-like imposter. I try to draw her into conversation about her life, my brothers and their families. She sits in her armchair, smoking cigarette after cigarette. A distant look on her face. She is there, but not there. I am bereft; witnessing her withdrawal from this world, seeing this woman who used be the rock our family clung to, reduced to shards.

The truth is unknown. Over coffee with my brothers we speculate. Willful decision to withdraw? A series of mini-strokes? Dementia? We don’t know. Tests on Thursday: brain scans, angiograms, EKG, MRI, the lot. Maybe there’ll be answers. She has an inhaler for the emphysema and smokes like a fucking chimney. Did the doctor tell you to cut down on the cigarettes, I ask. “Ah, no, he didn’t.” Of course, the doctor said cutting back would be a good idea, but that cutting them out at her stage of life might be depriving her of one of her few pleasures in life. Irish doctors, I suppose they know what they’re doing…

She tells the doctor at the Royal Victoria Eye & Ear Hospital when we go in to have her eyes checked that she’s addled, too. She also tells the Romanian receptionist we make her six-month check-up with: “I’m addled.” Code for bewildered, confused, unsure, and unable to remember. All I want to do is go home to my wife and daughter and cry. I’m addled, too.

Her pills are displayed on the kitchen counter. Seven boxes, and three bottles of eye drops in the fridge. The names and the directions confuse me, so I can only imagine what they do to her. “I don’t know whether I’m coming or going,” she says. Several times a day I ask if she’s all right and she answers the same each time, “I don’t know if I’m coming or going.” She sits in her chair, smoking. Silk Cut Blue, the long ones. The cushion and the carpet around her feet bear the burn marks that have us so worried she’ll burn the place to the ground one of these nights. Grandchildren refuse to enter the house because of the smoke, and one tells my brother to shower immediately he returns from her house.

We meet again, my brothers and I, at a local coffee shop, to have a conversation we never imagined having. Talk of living power of attorneys, of long-term care, of nursing homes, of unimaginable scenarios we surely only thought happened to other people. Amazingly enough, for a quartet that rarely agrees on anything, we are in consensus about how to move forward with my mother’s care. We all agree that maintaining her independence for as long as she is able, and of reasonable sound mind, is what is best. If, or when, she becomes a danger to herself, well, that’s another conversation to be had.

My mother and I sit in front of the television; her breathing a shallow wheeze of short, swift inhales and exhales. I picture her lungs, 80-90% useless, blackened from seventy years of smoking. The specialist spotted her breathing issues straight away, declared her to have “emphysema.” Strange, how her regular GP never said a word about her breathing. Bloody nationalized medicine and its inept purveyors.

At night, her bedside alarm clock beeps incessantly, the snooze button malignant and disruptive. I try to fix it for her, but she shepherds me out of her bedroom. The alarm keeps going off every ten minutes, and after two nights of this fiasco, I take the batteries out and hide the clock in the spare bedroom.

Two weeks later, back in the smoke-free house on the avocado ranch in Southern California, I realize it’s as if the alarm clock was displaying the same repetitive pattern as my mother does when I speak with her on the telephone. If only the answer to her problems were as simple as replacing the batteries inside the clock. There’s no replacing her batteries. All that remains is to tell her I love her, ignore the repeated questions and answer them as if each instance is the first time of asking. If we’re lucky we’ll travel home at the end of the summer so her grandkids can have a few memories of their Irish grandmother before she deteriorates further.

I see my mother in my children, I hear her voice on Sunday phone calls, and I write my stories and novels with the love for words and literature she gave me when I was a young boy. She is in all my stories, standing over the actions of my characters, a witness in a manner of speaking. And I too am a witness, to the playing out of her dénouement. All I can do at the end of the day is bear witness, say, “I showed up.” All else is beyond my control.

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Claffey hails from County Westmeath, Ireland, and lives on an avocado ranch in Carpinteria, CA, with his family. He is the author of the collection, Blood a Cold Blue. His website is at www.jamesclaffey.com.

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Jennifer Pastiloff is a writer living on an airplane. Her work has been featured on The Rumpus, Salon, Jezebel, The Nervous Breakdown, among others. She’s the founder of The Manifest-Station. Jen leads The Manifestation Retreat/Workshop: On Being Human all over the world. Next up: a weekend retreat in May to Ojai, Calif as well as 4 day retreat 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 is Seattle and London July 6 and Dallas. (London sells out fast so book soon if you plan on attending!)

Guest Posts, Letting Go, love

Prop Love. By Jordan E. Rosenfeld.

February 14, 2014

My first serious relationship was forged, not in lust or booze, like most of my college friends, but in furniture and household goods. “Martin” and I moved in together at the end of our Freshman year, built a checking account on the flimsy foundation of financial aid checks and subsisted on Bisquick pancake batter and big dreams.

For the first five months of living together we slept in a pile of sheets and blankets on the floor lusting after bedroom sets we couldn’t afford and dish settings to match.

“There’s no way I’m taking help from your parents,” he insisted. Having not yet met his family or laid eyes on his childhood home, I didn’t understand his stonewalling. But I was not too proud to take help on the sly, my parents peeling off cash like dealers, to buy a few necessities and blend them in slowly so he wouldn’t notice. There was a grimy romance to our deprivation. My attitude was partly from having grown up in Marin County, California, where, no matter that one of my parents’ income was Welfare provided and the other from illicit sales, my grandparents still had to bail us out. I wouldn’t fully appreciate Martin’s origins for many months to come.

Meanwhile, Martin got a job on campus cleaning dorms that first summer and came home with abandoned items while the supervisor looked the other way. We gained an electric can opener, a good cutting knife and eventually our first bed, a rickety, bent-spring mattress set, stained and smelling faintly of ammonia.

While these were hardly luxury items, they were the glue we needed to paste together the edges of our flimsy union.

Martin dressed like a J.Crew model, in tightly-fitting, sleek fabrics, groomed himself impeccably, and kept his clothing and possessions in tightly controlled order that corralled my naturally slovenly tendencies into cinched up squares. I imagined that his childhood home reflected this image. “I think you’ll be surprised by my house,” he said as we eventually made the four hour drive up to misty redwood country. I prepared myself for grandeur that would put to shame all the apartments and tiny two-bedroom houses I grew up in: a sprawling ranch-style home with Spanish tile and big bay windows, an acre of land flanked by the area’s famous ancient trees.

When he pulled into a weedy, pot-hole strewn patch of dirt where three cars, badly rusted and ravaged for parts, and a tiny, listing shack of a house sat like some apocalyptic roadhouse, I wondered if we were stopping for directions.

His father was a diabetic emphysemic who still smoked several packs a day as though in defiance of death; his mother’s lips crimped in around words she bit back as her three other beefy sons cracked “fag” jokes at Martin for his trim, clean presentation, and gripped the flesh on my arm proclaiming, “Try not to crush her when you crawl on top of her.”  After a weekend in the house I had to hang my clothes on the apartment porch for a day before I could even wash the tobacco stench out of them.

Martin was odd man out, ashamed of his roots, and it made me want even more to give him the material façade he so desperately craved.

By Sophomore year, we both took jobs that paid more than minimum wage, a whopping $6/hr, and moved into a “cush” apartment—that is to say, a two-bedroom with a roommate, where we were no longer privy to our neighbors’ explosive toilet habits. For a brief time the new place itself was material enough to keep us happy.

When things got rocky near the end of our first year because my “take it all to therapy” desire to process feelings clashed with his “button up your shame” stoicism, he surprised me with a turquoise blue Mustang; she looked good, but her alternator went out on long-distance journeys. In it we traveled (and broke down) to places Martin’s neglected inner child needed to go: Disneyland (blew a tire), Universal Studios (dead battery) and the Drive-Through Tree in Humboldt—which we could not drive through because it was closed.

When our roommate moved out six months later, the empty space unbalanced us. As a temporary fix we bought plastic bathroom sets printed with sea shells; a comforter—which sadly provided little comfort; and pre-fab paintings of the sun and moon—which we’d already stopped being for each other—to hang over the new stereo system.

To fix the disparities between us, after new outfits and sets of dishes and cookware did not turn us into The Beav’s parents, Martin upped the ante: a trip to Italy.

Martin became unusually affectionate as the trip neared, returning home after special forays to the mall for trip-related “surprises”—mainly new travel-friendly clothing for himself and tchotchkes like leather luggage tags and a money purse that screamed “I am a tourist, steal this” to me.

Two days before we left, though I found it quite by accident, I discovered the travel pouch contained more than traveler’s cheques and passports; a bulky box-shaped something holding what girls are taught to sell their souls for.

Holy fuck, I thought.

I spent our first week in Rome watching him gauge the quality of light and the photo-worthiness of his profile against the Coliseum versus the Pantheon. I was sure it would take place at the leaning tower of Pisa, or outside that powerful symbol of God-sanctified unions—the Vatican. Or maybe at one of the sweet street-side cafes where he glowered over clenched jaw when the waiters flirted with me.

By the time we reached Venice, halfway into our trip, I had the urge to drag the box out of his pouch at night, slip the ring on and simply flash my hand at him in the morning.

I also thought of losing him in a crowd of tourists and hitchhiking around Europe for some summer fun of a variety that did not make me feel like I was already married.

Yet I let myself be led onto that gondola, wrinkling my nose against the putrid smell of those otherwise lovely canals (a detail not featured on any travel literature). I watched him survey the scenery, imagining his thoughts—Near Casanova’s home? Nah too obvious.

As we neared the final stretch of the ride, I felt him fumble in his pouch at my side while I pretended not to notice. He turned to me with the smile of a man who has just bought a wide-screen TV.

He flipped open the box. I know he said the words but they are lost in the white noise of my shock. I gasped.

A diamond!

fucking diamond?

I had told him in no uncertain terms that I didn’t like diamonds, even less the solitaire—that universal symbol of possession. I liked pinkish tourmalines and muddy agates, jewels that still resembled the earth they came from.

Yet, with two weeks remaining on the trip, I slid on his ring like a yoke, faking a smile while daydreaming about going home with the gondolier.

The next morning I woke with a weight around my finger that gradually looped around my entire body until I was dragging cement feet through Venetian streets.

Noticing my sagging demeanor, Martin went on a purchasing frenzy, picking up iconic trinkets we could barely carry—a glass knockoff of the Rodin sculpture The Lovers; a Venetian urn and a Murano glass necklace. These were props to convince at least one of us that in setting the stage with all the right items, we could pretend that our love had a life-time guarantee like the leather couch and the display case that housed tiny precious things our hearts couldn’t hold.

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For eight months after he proposed, the ring snagged on clothes and scratched red lines into our flesh in bed at night. Rather than a diamond, I wore a dangerous claw that tore at the seams of our life.

When we’d been engaged nearly a year, my high school girlfriend, Rain, came to visit me while Martin was off playing indoor soccer.

“So are you excited?” she asked, holding my finger up to the light as if to assess some odd fungus I had acquired.

I prepared to speak the words in my head, the practiced ones that I said to everyone who asked, “Of course.  Marriage will be great!”

What I actually said was, “I don’t think I’m ready to get married.”

Rain scanned my material paradise and then focused her wide blue eyes on me. “Hmmm,” she said.

“What do you mean, hmmm?”

“Oh nothing,” she said, stroking her own long fingers as if to point out how unencumbered they were. “I’m just glad I asked. It sounds like you have some thinking to do.”

Those two sentences bulldozed the paper set of my relationship. Twenty years old was too young to cinch myself to a man who would go silent on me for three days at a time if I pissed him off or questioned his judgment. A man whose ex-girlfriends from high school had a funny way of turning up in person and on the phone just to “see how you’re doing.” A man who felt threatened by my writing in my journals—my most sacred personal act. I feared that I would become just another fixture in our home, a polished, perfect wife unit who completed the bedroom set or the new kitchen.

Still, Martin and I didn’t break up instantaneously; after all, it takes more than a day to demolish a house. I slowly moved the things that were unequivocally mine to a new apartment, saying I needed a little last-chance independence. We dated once a week under the pretense that nothing had really changed, the way we had built our prop life in the first place. Yet each time I stopped by for a “date” there’d be a new pile of our carefully curated stuff, like surgically-removed organs, waiting for me on the table.

“You don’t want those?” I’d ask, lifting kitchen towels and matching Tupperware.

He’d shrug. “I thought you did.” Suddenly it was no longer clear what belonged to whom, or why it had ever mattered.

The set of our romance grew bare, but we hung in there.

Until I tried to give back the ring.

“Don’t fucking insult me!” His strong jaw was rigid with rage.

I might as well have said ‘Your money’s no good here anymore.’

“But we’re not getting married and you spent money on it.” I felt it was a fair gesture.

He glared at me. “Nothing was ever good enough for you.”

For me? For me? I never wanted all this fucking stuff, I thought but didn’t say. I was merely the prop girl, trucking in goods, ticking off items on a list to make him happy. Only I hadn’t realized it until then.

It was clear that more than just the engagement was over. Still, I was stuck with the piece of jewelry that barely measured an ounce yet weighed me down like a mattress. I could feel it deep inside my jewelry box like the Princess and the pea, hear a metallic pinging in my inner ear whenever we were in the same room.

I could think of only one solution.  I went to the grounds of the University at the edge of the duck pond where he’d once seduced me with a necklace and murmurings of how different I was from other girls. Though I hadn’t ever liked it I felt sorry for the ring, for how it had failed to keep Martin and me together. How it had never had a chance to sit on a married girl’s finger and never would. I threw it into the pond and imagined its slow descent to the mucky bottom. It wasn’t a gracious end, but at the time I was thinking like a serial killer: if neither of us could keep it, then no one should have it.

With only a hiccup’s panic after it arced through the air, relief hit me like a cold sweat as it slipped into the dark water. Only the ring had disappeared; I was still here.

Jordan Rosenfeld is the author of the novel Forged in Grace, and the writing guides Make a Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time, and Write Free: Attracting the Creative Life (with Rebecca Lawton). Jordan’s essays and articles have appeared in numerous magazines, and she teaches via online writing courses and webinars. She has two writing craft books soon to be released with Writer’s Digest Books: A Writer’s Guide to Persistence: A Toolkit to Build & Bolster a Lasting Writing Practice (Spring: 2015), and, with Martha Alderson, “The Plot Whisperer,” Deep Scenes: Plot Your Story Scene-by-Scene through Action, Emotion & Theme (Fall, 2015), the material of which will be taught at their first annual WriterPath.com Retreat. Her first romantic suspense novel (pen name J. P. Rose) Night Oracles, releases Spring, 2014. www.jordanrosenfeld.net.

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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 in Costa Rica at the end of March and her annual retreat to Tuscany is in July 2014. All retreats are a combo of yoga/writing and for ALL levels. Read this post to understand what a Manifestation retreat is. Check out her site jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Jen and bestselling author Emily Rapp will be leading another writing retreat to Vermont in October. A lot. Next up is a workshop in London, England on Feb 15th. Book here.

Grief, Guest Posts, healing, Letting Go

How Dare You?

January 15, 2014

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By Gayle Brandeis

1990

Bali Belly is kicking my ass.

I blame the fruit ices. They had been so refreshing, those glittering mounds of mango and passionfruit and papaya snow. They had been so artfully arranged in their large glass bowl, decorated with spears of pineapple and sprigs of mint. I had just neglected to ask whether the water for the ice had been boiled. I don’t know why I overlooked it; I love the word for boiled—rebus. I love the word for water–air. I am paying the price for being so remiss with my words. Now my language training is expanding to include words like sakit perut (stomach ache), kentut (fart), and bau (bad smell).

I am in Bali to study the local dance and music; my eyes and wrists have grown more flexible while learning the graceful, twitchy pendet, my ears have acclimated themselves to the jangly gamelan instruments. I’ve fallen in love with the green terraced rice fields and the cheeky monkeys and the women holding three foot tall offerings on their heads and the tempeh satay with peanut sauce. It is my final semester at the University of Redlands; I chose to travel to the island for my study abroad with a group from the Naropa Institute, a Tibetan Buddhist college out of Boulder, CO. For about a week, while most of the group begins their day with sitting meditation, I begin (and fill and end) my day squatting over the pit toilet in my outdoor bathroom.

I share a stone bungalow with three women—my roommate Celia is a healer, with a specialty in releasing trauma from the body; next door are Rebecca, an herbalist and former midwife, and Angela, a nurse. If I have to be sick in Bali, at least I am surrounded by the right people.

The Naropa folks leave to attend a cremation ceremony, but Angela stays behind to act as my guardian angel. Every time I stumble out of the bathroom, or drift out of sleep, I find a small gift on my bed stand—a fresh bottle of Sprite, a sprig of flowers, a bendy straw, a mini Paddington bear clipped to the handle of a mug.  Rebecca—who, to my continual amazement, has one brown eye, and one half-brown, half-blue, split down the center–introduces me to the pleasures and healthful properties of ginger root tea. And Celia–well, Celia saves me.

She climbs inside the mosquito netting around my bed one day when I am feeling feverish and fretful, and kneels beside me. Light pours through the window cut into the stone wall, filling her curly hair with fire. The air is humid as a mouth. She puts one hand flat on my stomach. I flinch.

“You’re carrying a lot of pain in there,” she says, her British accent an instant balm.

“I was sick as a teenager,” I tell her, blinking back tears. I watch a lizard climb through the window, skitter across the wall. “I spent a lot of time in the hospital.”

“For what?” she asks. I can feel heat pour from her hand, through my shirt, through my skin.

“They thought it was Crohn’s disease, but that turned out to be a misdiagnosis. I found out I have porphyria a couple of years ago.”

I don’t tell her that after I started getting better when I was 15, I pretended to be sick for almost an entire year more. Being sick had become a safe thing for me, a way to stave off the real world. I haven’t told anyone about my deception, not the boyfriend I’ve been living with for two years; not my sister, who had had her own teenage health issues and is the person I am closest to in the world. Certainly not my parents–especially not my mom, who had turned being the mother of  a sick child into a vocation, a calling. My year of fake illness is my deepest, darkest secret.

“You have a lot to release,” Celia says. I really start crying then, but she continues, her voice as calm as ever.  “I know you’ll probably want to have a baby some day, and you won’t want to have so much negative energy stored up in your belly. The baby wouldn’t like that.”

I nod, sniffling. My period is a week late, but I haven’t said anything, haven’t been ready to confront my own suspicions. I will find out a week later that I am pregnant with my first child.

“I’m going to lift my hand,” she says, “And I want all the bad stuff in your belly to lift up with it. You don’t need it anymore. Let it go and trust in your body’s ability to heal itself.”

I close my eyes. I feel her hand rise from my stomach. My diaphragm bounces like a trampoline. I feel a space open near my solar plexus. I feel the pain and shame of those earlier years begin to dribble out, then stream, then shoot into the monsoonal air like a sprinkler, a geyser, a fine gray spray.

2013

Celia’s name appears in my inbox and my heart does a happy flip. Other than a brief visit in New York about 10 years ago, I haven’t seen Celia since Bali, haven’t heard from her in ages.  Crazy how time has passed; my eldest son, the one in my belly in Bali, is now 23, my daughter almost 20. and my baby from my second marriage is just about to turn 4. Celia is going to be in Southern California visiting friends, she writes. She saw my essay in The Rumpus about my mom’s suicide and is wondering if we might get together.

I desperately want to see Celia, but life has me off kilter and overwhelmed. My house was recently burglarized, and I’m dealing with the clean up and insurance and police reports, along with some medical issues and other general chaos, and I am unable to write back right away. By the time I finally do, she’s almost ready to leave for the Bay Area.

“I’d love to give you a healing session as a wedding present if you have time,” she writes; she had read about my new marriage in my essay.

“My husband and I are actually separated now,” I tell her. I could use that healing more than ever.

The last few years have been deeply disorienting–within a two year period, I  divorced my first husband, moved two times, was laid off, got pregnant in a new live-in relationship, got married, moved again, gave birth, lost my mom to suicide one week later, lost my mother in law to a sudden heart attack less than four months after that, moved for a fourth time when we bought and renovated a house, and started to quietly loathe my new husband. I slowly and subtly fell apart during this time, so subtly that no one realized it was happening, not even, maybe especially not, me. I only started to feel like myself again when I began to correspond with a man who lived across the country, a writer who dazzled me, who ignited a deep and ardent longing in me, a man who professed to be mad about me, as well, although he cautioned that he had nothing to offer, that he was not in a place where he could disrupt his solitary life. I heard this, but I didn’t. I asked my husband for a separation; I told myself it wasn’t because of this other man, that there were plenty of reasons for the separation, and there were, but I was a creature driven by desire–it was my engine, my headlights, my GPS system. I was practically levitating with it. I arranged to meet this man in another city, where we spent five sweet and intense days together. I shouldn’t have been surprised when he grew distant afterwards–he had all but predicted it–but I was. I flailed around like a wounded animal, dredging up all of the grief I had pushed underground–grief for my mom, for my aging dad, for both marriages, for shattered illusions (sometimes the hardest things to let go). I’m still flailing a couple of months later.

I juggle some things on my calendar so I can drive out to San Diego to see Celia before she leaves town. As soon as I find her friend’s house and she walks toward me, time folds in upon itself. Her soft British accent brings me right back to Bali, to black rice pudding for breakfast and the jangle of gamelan music and funeral processions running zig zag through the streets to outfox the demons who can’t turn corners.

Celia’s hair is now a pale coral orange–”I have help”, she smiles when I remark upon it; my hair is threaded with white. Both of our faces show signs of the two decades that have passed, but I would never guess she is almost 70, 25 years older than me. We are still ourselves, still the same women who whispered to each other through mosquito netting so many years ago.

Celia heats up some mung bean soup she had prepared the night before, an ayurvedic soup golden with turmeric. She slices up radishes and tomatoes and celery for a simple salad, douses them with olive oil and lemon. She toasts some bread in the oven, fries up some daikon, grabs a little pot of roasted garlic. We eat our lunch, delicious, outside in the lovely backyard garden and catch up, laundry draped over the backs of our chairs to dry in the sun. I tell her about my recent diagnosis of Crohn’s disease, how strange it is to have that disorder pinned to me 30 years after the first diagnosis and subsequent fake illness (which I finally reveal to her) and talk of misdiagnosis, especially since my symptoms are wildly different now. My mom had painted a large canvas titled “It Was Not Crohn’s Disease” as part of a triptych in the mid 90s. When the porphyria I was diagnosed with at 18 also turned out to be a misdiagnosis a few years ago, my mom didn’t believe me–she even called my doctor to make sure the tests had really been negative. She had her own narrative about my illness, about the family’s illnesses, the rare disorders she thought we all suffered from–porphyria, Ehlers-Danlos. Around the time of her suicide, she had been working frantically to finish producing a documentary she called “The Art of Misdiagnosis”, centered around her paintings about her family’s supposed maladies.

“You’ve had so much to deal with,” Celia says, and the concern on her face makes me realize that yes, yes I have. Maybe I shouldn’t feel so guilty about being so upset lately–feeling weak, feeling like I don’t know anything about life or love; feeling like I don’t know anything at all. I think back to when I graduated from the University of Redlands in 1990, five months pregnant. My dad had asked me what I had learned in college, and I imagine he was expecting me to say something about literary theory or the like, but I told him “I’ve learned three things: stay in the moment, keep my senses open, and don’t take myself too seriously.” I had been so sure at the time that I had learned everything I ever needed to know, that if I could only remember those three things, I’d be happy the rest of my life.

We drive out to the park her friend recommends by the harbor. As we pull into the lot, my mind takes me up the coast to the harbor in Oceanside where we released my mom’s ashes, where they had plumed underwater like mushroom clouds. We find a stretch of grass that seems fairly quiet, and Celia lays out a shawl for me to lie down upon, my purse as a pillow. I settle onto the fabric, the grass crackling beneath it.

I imagine we’re going to focus on my belly, the way we did in Bali, the site of so much illness and stress, but her hands keep being pulled like magnets over my chest.

“What’s going on here?” she asks, and I find myself aware of a constriction I hadn’t noticed before, or maybe have grown so used to, I don’t notice any more. I inhale and my ribs contract, as if they don’t want me to take a deep breath.

“Wow,” I say. “I had no idea my chest was so tight.”

“How would you describe it as an image?” she asks, and a board surfaces in my head, in my chest, a heavy gray board set firmly over my heart, weathered like driftwood but solid as slate. The board I had erected against my husband, against my own grief. Somehow I had been able to open my heart recklessly, lavishly, to this other man, but I had kept it closed off to myself. Her hand stays there, sending light and heat, and I can feel that board start to soften, can feel the pain and love I’ve trapped beneath it start to pulse and breathe as tears start to stream.

We don’t have much time–I have to race back to Riverside soon to pick up Asher at preschool–but Celia packs our hour with one profound revelation after another, saying things like ”Your mother claimed ownership over your body; it’s time to take it back” and “You had a contract with your mom–you need to identify it so you can break it”. She tells me that part of this contract was colluding with my mom over my illness as a teenager, that pretending to be sick is how I was able to survive.

“Your mother is still hovering around you,” she tells me, and part of me is skeptical about this, about such things being possible, but the trees above us are full of crows–I’ve associated crows with my mom ever since her death, ever since my sister and I pulled into her driveway for the first time after she hanged herself and a crow swooped right over the windshield, as if in welcome or in warning. I remember the time a week or two after she died when I was lying on my side, nursing my new baby, and I felt a hand press upon my left shoulder. There was no one else in the room, and I knew it was my mom, that she was asking for forgiveness. I wasn’t ready to give it to her. I shrugged my shoulder to knock her away.

Celia puts her hand on my left shoulder just as I am thinking about this. “She’s right here,” she says, sending shivers through my whole body. “You’ve been carrying her on this shoulder all your life.” That shoulder has always been lower than the other one; my shirts tend to slip off on that side, Flashdance style. “It was part of your contract with her.”

My hands and feet start to tingle.

“I think I’m hyperventilating,” I tell her, remembering a time shortly before I left my first marriage when I was curled on our bed, crying so hard, I hyperventilated; crying so hard, I couldn’t move my tingling hands.

“I think you know what you want to do and you’re just scared to tell me,” my husband had said, and he was right, he was so right–I knew I wanted to leave, but I couldn’t admit it out loud to him yet; all I could do was sob my body into uselessness.

“People often experience tingling during a healing,” Celia tells me. “It’s energy being activated.”

Breathe into it, I tell myself. Don’t be so afraid. Don’t knock her away this time. Celia’s hand is still on my shoulder, sending warmth that radiates all the way down to my hips.

“What is it you want to say to your mom?” she asks, and I want to say something loving and forgiving, but the words that come barreling out of me, straight from my gut, words I had never thought to say before, are “How dare you.”

“Yes,” says Celia, and the tears pour and the same words keep coming out of me, louder and stronger each time. People are walking by now–I can hear them on the grass–but I don’t care. I keep saying, over and over again, “How dare you. How Dare You. HOW DARE YOU!” and Celia keeps saying “Yes”, encouraging, the way the man I fell for said “Yes, baby, yes, baby, yes” when I started to come.

The words finally stop. I lie on the shawl breathing heavily, my entire body tingling now.

“It’s time to let her go,” Celia says quietly. “It’s time to return to your true nature.” She asks me to imagine I’m holding a knife, that I should use it to cut the invisible umbilical cord that still ties me to my mom. I start to plunge the knife toward my own belly–a hari kari of sorts–but then she clarifies that I should sweep it over the front of my body, slicing the knife above all the chakras. I feel an especially deep tug as my hand travels over my pelvis, severing my mother from places she never should have been.

When I am ready, Celia helps me up and hugs me back into the world.

“Thank you,” I tell her, but the words don’t feel strong enough. How can you thank someone for softening the board over your heart? For helping release a burden you’ve carried all your life? For resurfacing just when you need her? For saving you again, almost 24 years after she saved you the first time?

I don’t have the same youthful hubris I did when I thought three aphorisms would spare me from sadness. I know I am not healed forever, absolved from pain for the rest of my life; I know I will still grieve for my mom, that my heart will still try to protect itself. Still, I feel both lighter and more grounded than I have in a very long time, more clear inside my body. And when I turn my head, I am stunned by the ocean; it looks more beautiful than ever, specks of my mom glinting in the waves.

book-of-live-wires-cover

Gayle and Celia, the day of the healing.

Gayle and Celia, the day of the healing.

stripes

Gayle Brandeis grew up in the Chicago area and has been writing poems and stories since she was four years old. She is the author of Fruitflesh: Seeds of Inspiration for Women Who Write (HarperOne), Dictionary Poems (Pudding House Publications), the novels The Book of Dead Birds(HarperCollins), which won Barbara Kingsolver’s Bellwether Prize for Fiction in Support of a Literature of Social Change, Self Storage (Ballantine) and Delta Girls (Ballantine), and her first novel for young readers, My Life with the Lincolns (Holt). She released The Book of Live Wires, the sequel to The Book of Dead Birds, as an e-book in 2011.

Gayle’s poetry, fiction and essays have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies (such as Salon.com, The Nation, and The Mississippi Review) and have received several awards, including the QPB/Story Magazine Short Story Award, a Barbara Mandigo Kelley Peace Poetry Award, and a grant from the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund. Her essay on the meaning of liberty was one of three included in the Statue of Liberty’s Centennial time capsule in 1986, when she was 18. In 2004, the Writer Magazine honored Gayle with a Writer Who Makes a Difference Award.

Gayle teaches in the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Antioch University and lives in Riverside, CA, where she is mom to two adult kids and a toddler.

Jen Pastiloff will be up next in Vancouver (Jan 17th) and London (Feb 14th) with her Manifestation Workshop: On Being Human. Click here to book any workshop. 
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.

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

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

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

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

 

Guest Posts, Letting Go, loss, love

Blue Is The Color of Sad.

December 17, 2013

Blue Is The Color of Sad. By Amy Ferris.

 

She must have a window seat.

This, she promises, is her last phone call for the night, reminding me one more time, it must be a window seat. I tell her I will do my best, the plane seems awfully full, and since it’s a last minute booking, it might be hard. “If I tell you I want a window seat, get me a window seat.”

This phone exchange was not long after her being diagnosed with moderate stage of dementia. She had some scary moments – unsettling, jarring, and horrifically confusing moments.

A Bat Mitzvah in Scarsdale, New York spurred her into a travel frenzy – wanting desperately to go, stay for few days, and see her family – her sisters, her nieces and nephews. I managed to work it out so a car service (a very kind man who lived on her street) would come and pick her up, drop her off at the JetBlue terminal, and make sure there was no seen or unforeseen problem. I paid the guy to wait an extra half-hour. She was still driving at that time, having just rammed her car into a fire hydrant. A glaring sign that she should never be behind the wheel ever again. “It came out of no where,” she said, “One minute I was sitting there, minding my own business, and the next minute, there it was, crossing the street.” What do you say? Really? “Ma, it can’t walk, a fire hydrant doesn’t walk.” You say nothing, but think plenty. I thought, “Oh shit, it’s really not so far downhill.”

I call the airline, JetBlue, and speak with a reservation agent, who had just the right combination of humor and sympathy and could not have been any more cordial or kind. She promised they will do whatever they could to accommodate my mom, but she needed to remind me that the plane was in fact full, and hopefully someone will be able to move if there was not a window seat available. I ask her if there is a ‘companion’ person who can help my mom get settled. Help her with the boarding pass, and the other unexpected frustrations that may arise. Yes, she says, someone will help my mom. I can only hope and pray for my mother to come ‘face to face’ with kindness. I think of all the times I gave up a window seat for an elderly person, or a pregnant woman, or a wife who wanted to sit next to her husband. I am hopeful, based on my own generosity, in situations like those.

She is picked up at the designated time. She is standing outside her condo with her suitcase and an overnight bag, having packed enough clothing for a month. “Maybe I’ll stay for a few extra weeks, “ she tells me the night before when she lists off all the clothing she’s bringing. I can hear in her voice something I never heard before: loneliness.

She gets to the JetBlue terminal, she checks her suitcase outside with baggage claim, and – I am told by the neighbor/car service driver – hands a crisp ten dollar bill to the lovely bag handler, telling him he is a lovely, lovely kind man. He deeply appreciates her gesture. Little does he know that the remaining eight or so crisp ten dollar bills that she has tucked ever so neatly in her wallet will make their way to others who smile, offer her hand, let her get ahead in line, help her with her carry-on. She makes her way up to the counter, where a ticket should be waiting for her. Yes, there is a ticket, but she must go to the gate, in order to try and get a window seat. This gives her great joy.

She goes through the whole scene – again, I am told by the neighbor/car service guy – the taking off of her shoes, the removing of her belt, the telling a joke or two about her hip replacement, and how it reminds her of the old days in Las Vegas when someone won at the slots, it was a sound filled with ‘good wishes.’ “No More,” she says. “It’s a phony sound, it has no heart. Gimme back my shoes.”

The car service guy cannot go any further with my mom. The rules. The companion person from Jet-Blue now meets her, thankfully.

There is no window seat available. She has an aisle seat. It appears that no one wants to give up a seat. I am horribly sad by this lack of generosity for this old, frail woman, and dare I say, embarrassed, because this old frail woman is my mom. This is where I get to envision the whole crazy scenario. My mother throwing a shit storm of a nut-dance, hauling a racial slur at the African American flight attendant, and then, if that wasn’t enough, causing another passenger who was somewhat overweight to breakdown and cry. “You know how fat you are, you should have your own zip-code.” The administrator later told me on the phone, it was like an unstoppable chaotic ruckus. I am sad. I tell her that my mom has dementia. It comes and goes, but mostly it’s coming these days. I give her all the broad strokes, my dad had died, she’s living alone, we know, we know, it’s time to get her settled, she’s stubborn, she’s independent, and there’s the whole question of what to do now? Move her, or does she stay? And she’s always been much more strident and righteous and defiant. Not going gently into the good night. Not one iota.

She leaves the airport, and manages to get back to her condo by renting a car, even though she is forbidden to drive. I would just love to meet that Avis rental person who gave my mom a red Mustang to tool around in.

She calls me in hysterics. She wants me to fire every single one of those nasty, bitchy flight attendants, and pilots. And the co-pilot, he’s as much to blame. And where is her luggage? Her goddamn luggage? I bet they stole it. They stole it and you should fire them, the whole lot of them. I find out from the very cordial and patient rep, that her luggage is on its way to New York. I am in Los Angeles on business; my brother is at a birthday celebration on Long Island. Nether one of us expected this hailstorm. I try to deal with the airport bureaucracy and arrange for my mom’s luggage to make its’ way to Fort Lauderdale within 48 hours, barring no glitches.

My mother refuses to speak to anyone. She feels duped and lied to and the fat girl should have gotten up. “My God she took up two god-damn seats.” And then she said, “I always, always have to sit at the window.” Why, I ask her, why? She hangs up on me. Typical. Some things never change.

We moved my mom to New Mexico where she was about to start living in an assisted living home. Good care. My brother researched, and found a lovely place that would make her feel just like home. I managed to get her a window seat. As the plane revved up it’s engines and was about to take off, my mom took my hand and squeezed it, staring out the window – watching the plane disappear into the gorgeous white clouds – and after a few long, long, moments, she turned to me, and said: “Up hear, in the clouds, I can dream all I want.” Then she pointed to two clouds, almost inter-wined, and she said with such joy: ‘See that, see that, they’re dancing together. You can only see this kind of magic from a window seat.”

It’s was here that my mother had always been able to see and feel and imagine clouds dancing, forms taking shape, lovers kissing, the intertwining of souls, and as her hand pressed up against the window, she could feel the kindness of Heaven.

amy_ferris
Amy Ferris: Author. Writer. Girl.

Book: Dancing at The Shame Prom, sharing the stories that kept us small – Anthology, Seal Press (2012) co-edited with Hollye Dexter
Book: Marrying George Clooney, Confessions From A Midlife Crisis, Seal Press (2010)
And So It Is, Inspiration, Letting Go

Can of Worms.

September 16, 2013

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88

By Jen Pastiloff.

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

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

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

Have I made peace? Yes.

But still.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I regret not writing things down.

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

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

Maybe that too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All roads lead to China, right?

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

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

I don’t know. Who cares the percentage?

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

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

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

**

Do I wish some things had been different? Sometimes.

(Don’t you?)

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

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

Do I always think that way? No.

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

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

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

You take what has happened and you make a life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What a can of worms is right.

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

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

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

We can scatter all the ashes of our regrets.

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

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

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Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being. Yoga + Writing + Connection. We go deep. Bring an open heart and a sense of humor- that's it! Summer or Fall 2015.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being. Yoga + Writing + Connection. We go deep. Bring an open heart and a sense of humor- that’s it! Summer or Fall 2015.

And So It Is, Letting Go

And Then It Was Time To Let Go.

June 19, 2013

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Jen Pastiloff

And then it was time to let go.

It should be the name of a season. Or a day of the week, at the very least. Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and Then It Was Time To Let Go.

And then it was time to let go and I felt my arms floating back to the sides of my body like weightless things and all that I had been clutching fell onto the floor where I watched them fight a little then give up, as things tend to do.

I’ve been on this mission to get on Oprah. Her SuperSoul Sunday show. At my last retreat, the transformation was so profound, the connection was so deep, I knew: Oprah must know of this work. I couldn’t think of anyone else with the utter scope and reach of Oprah.

I wanted Oprah. I decided it. I made it so.

I told everyone and a campaign was started and people were tweeting Oprah and her people and I could feel the buzz of This is happening in the air, at least through the ether of the internet. And that buzz felt good. It felt like the excitement of your dream hanging between you matter and you don’t matter.

Everyone wants to think they matter.

And don’t they? Doesn’t that guy that hangs out in the parking lot of Whole Foods with the sign that says Anything Helps matter? Even though you can’t look at him anymore because he’s been there for years and come on, it’s been years, why don’t you have a job, Man-In-Whole-Foods-Parking-Lot? But he matters and we give him food or a couple bucks or maybe not, maybe nothing, because we have been giving him money and food and guilt for what seems to be too long and he has had that same sign for years and then it was time to let go.

But he does matter.

He matters. Maybe he had a wife once or a kid and a house with a broken door and a job at this store that sold tiles, but who knows, we’re busy, there’s a line of cars trying to get out of the parking lot and if everyone stops and rolls down their window to give him their version of anything then everyone will be late and the traffic will get jammed but be not mistaken; he matters.

When our dreams hover right there at that spot where they feel as if they could go this way or that, and, this way means: I’ve made it, I am somebody. And that way means: I am invisible, most start pushing for this way. For the I made it. I matter.

I decided to let go of the Oprah thing because I realized that if it was going to happen I had to let it go. And then it was time to let go.  Winter, spring, summer and then it was time to let go.

I am not sad nor do I feel stupid for asking everyone to help me with this dream although I had a few seconds of Who Do You Think You Are, You Don’t Matter this morning.

Imagine if we all regretted everything we pursued? We’d be in a lake of regret, swimming in shit.

To be unattached, untethered to outcome. To be swimming in the truth of who you are versus the idea of who you are. What you hear when you swim the illusion of who you are: You are worth something. You did it! You won! You are the best!

I get attached to things.

I’ve had this sofa for over 15 years. My mom had it custom made in the mid 90’s and it got passed on to me.  It was my prized possession and almost everyone I know has slept on it, cried on it, had sex on it.

The thing is, this couch is old now and the cushions are deflated and sitting on it is a lumpy experience which leaves me angry. I wish we had more money. If we had more money, we’d get a new couch. If we had more money we’d matter.

Money = matter. Money = mattering. In our minds. Deep in the recesses of our cavernous minds we have created this lie.

So my friend offers me her couch because she is moving. It’s a nice couch too. After months of planning and going back and forth on if it would be worth it because to get out current couch out we have to throw it over the balcony due to its size. We agree to take the friend’s sofa so we hire some guys whom we pay one hundred dollars and two Bud Lights to in order to move it (throw it over balcony) for us.

They put the old sofa in the alley after they strip it of the cover and cushions.

I’ve had anxiety all day.

Did I make a mistake? Was my old couch better? What have I done? Does the new one even look good in our apartment? I’ve fucked up. Again. I want my sofa back. 

I went to the alley and three young kids were smoking weed on it. Should I try and bring it back up to the apartment? Have I abandoned my child? This couch was like  a child. What have I done?

I sat on the new(er) couch and I felt my arms floating back to the sides of my body like weightless things and all the things I had been clutching fell onto the floor where I watched them fight a little then give up, as things tend to do.

Goodbye old sofa. I’m going to let the guys enjoy smoking weed on you. It’s time. I am not going to try and get you back.

And then it was time to let go.

We matter with our signs asking for anything at all and our pleas to Oprah and our dreams. We matter as we climb the stairs to our apartments and adjust to the shock of a new sofa sitting there and how sitting down on that sofa will feel awkward at first then comfortable and then finally, there’ll come a time when we won’t remember anything else but the way this feels. (Was there ever anything else?)

Our memories are so short-termed like that once we let go.

How do you know when it’s time to let go then? When that particular season is upon us?

You know because your arms get heavy. Something sits in your chest and you can’t name it but you find yourself clinging to it as if it is a nameable thing.

All those heavy objects knocking about in your chest.

There’s not much we need to hold onto. It takes ages to realize the sofa is on its last leg. It takes lifetimes to realize that all the accolades and all the signs we carry, that they don’t mean much.

Then it was time to let go.

 

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

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

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being. Yoga + Writing + Connection. We go deep. Bring an open heart and a sense of humor- that's it! Summer or Fall 2015. It is LIFE CHANGING!

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being. Yoga + Writing + Connection. We go deep. Bring an open heart and a sense of humor- that’s it! Summer or Fall 2015. It is LIFE CHANGING!

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

Forgiveness, Jen Pastiloff, Jen's Musings, Letting Go

When You Finally Forgive.

December 29, 2012

I suppose almost everyone who writes is afflicted some of the time by the suspicion that nobody out there is listening ~Joan Didion

**

Its like this: You get on the bus, you get off, you get on. Its red. Its blue. It doesn’t matter what color it is.

It’s trudging along down the Putney High Street in London. Its speeding down the expressway in New Jersey. You’re on it. That’s the point.

You’re on it and you are always getting on and getting off and taking bags unless you have none but the day you have none hasn’t happened yet, so you get off or on with your bags and you find a seat and you go where the bus takes you. Again and again.

You didn’t know when you got on (not at first, anyway) where the bus was going. But when you see the other passengers, when the lady next to you tells you she talks more, I talk a lot, since my husband died. He was 82- you know. You know exactly where this bus is going.

You tell her: It’s ok. That you will listen.

So you listen.

Here’s what she says: We were married a long time, four kids, nine grandkids. He had an affair, twice. I forgave him. You ever forgive someone like that? Do you know what it’s like just to outright forgive someone like that?

**

There was the time in ninth grade when you walked in and your best friend was kissing the guy you were sort of dating (but totally loved!) and you forgave her. That same guy, whom you reunited with ten years later, after seeing a video camera on his desk the whole two weeks you stayed with him in Philadelphia, you nervously suggested: Why don’t we, you know, video ourselves the last night I’m here? Then watching the tape he sent in the mail (in the mail!) and Oh My God I can’t believe I’m watching this and then realizing that the last night wasn’t the last night at all, but the first and the second night and every night thereafter.

He’d recorded the entire two weeks without your knowledge. A fluke that you happened suggested it that last night. But what if you hadn’t suggested it? He would have still been recording you those other nights and what then? A betrayal you don’t know about- a betrayal nonetheless. Or is it?

If a betrayal falls in the forest and no one knows, does it make a sound? If he records you having sex without your knowledge and you never find out, not when you are thirty, or forty, or say, even on your death bed- does it affect the natural order of things? Have you been betrayed if you know not of it? Does the betrayal still exist?

It was your idea he’d said, you wanted to do this, when you confronted him with all the gumption you possessed in your late twenties. And you forgave him, but you didn’t really, you didn’t know what else to do, you’d never done anything like this before and maybe this is the punishment you got for wanting to be intimate with someone you thought you (totally!) loved by fucking in front of a video camera. Maybe this is what you got? All your kisses and blow jobs recorded without your knowledge and maybe you didn’t forgive at all but rather, stuck that little VHS tape in your back pocket so you could throw out the window of the bus, down into the river? Maybe you didn’t think you had a right to be angry, or that you deserved to have a voice? Maybe you thought you were the one that had to say I’m sorry? So many maybes when we look down the barrel of the past.

Watching yourself on that dumb mailed VHS tape and thinking: That is me.

That is me and that is me, and right there? That is me, without me knowing its me. 

What an asshole, you think.

You have permission to throw him down the river, although with time the asshole-ness will fade and you will shake your head at the outrageousness of it all, and the I can’t believe I got that upset-ness of it all. He will still be an asshole although he may be less of an asshole now that he has kids and has grown up a bit, but that is neither here nor there, is it? He betrayed you and you forgave him, but not really. Not fully, not until you throw him from the bus in the rain and watch the stupid VHS tape drown in the dirty river while people watch and wonder what did that chick chuck from the bus window?

And you think that if they knew you were throwing away anger and resentment and betrayal and not speaking up for yourself and drunken sex that they would understand and clap there on the sidewalk but the truth is that there are no people- no one really cares, they are all too busy fussing over their own scandalous sex tapes and lies and misgivings, and in fact, you threw nothing from the window at all. You just stuck your head out for a little air.

 

Then there was the woman your father was screwing. Before he died. She’d done it with other men as well. You knew. So young, seven years old, and you knew. You know her name (but you won’t say it, not so many years later, not here,) because she probably has her own grandkids now, it was so long ago. She could be like the woman sitting next to you on the bus, for all you know. She could be chatting up a stranger on a bus, trying to talk to anyone who would pay attention. Isn’t that what most of us spend our lives doing anyway? Someone please listen to me? Pay attention.

She started like a cold. No big deal. Then all of a sudden, a full blown flu, like a I think I need to leave my wife and kids flu except that isn’t how you and your mom and sister are left. You are left in the he dropped-dead-in-the-middle-of-the-night-by-choking-on-his own-vomit kind of left.

You forgave that. At least his death.

The woman, the affair, and let’s face it, his death- they’re still with you on the bus with all your other shit.

**

On the way to London my suitcase cracked. The airline damaged it and claimed responsibility. They offered to replace it and send over a new suitcase. I was tempted to say: No, I don’t want to take anything back. Let me leave it all. Every last thing. All my dirty underwear and sweaters and mismatched socks. Who needs it anyway?

My husband: Babe, you need it. You need a case.

Literal, logical, loving husband.

I told the woman all of this on the bus. The beautiful black woman who was 80 but looked 50. The woman whose husband had been with her all of her life (but cheated twice that we know of) and had just died. And now she was left talking and talking and who was listening to me now? she often asked no one in particular, in bank lines and bus stops.

 

New suitcase came. Black with purple satin inside. Like I was royalty. My old case was orange and plastic with wine stains from when a bottle of red wine cracked in it in Paris. It was ugly and stained. And broken. But hell, if I wasn’t sad to see it go. How I wanted to fix it, salvage it, and drag it on and off every bus for the rest of my life.

The old woman on the bus says: Take your shit back with you. Take what you need. Leave the rest.

I lean over and touch her nonchalantly. She’s real.

She says: Get off.

This is your stop.

Or maybe she didn’t say that. Maybe she didn’t say any of that. Maybe it was just time.

 

The Manifestation Workshop in Vancouver. Jan 17th. Book here. No yoga experience required. Only requirement is to  be a human being.

The Manifestation Workshop in Vancouver. Jan 17th. Book here. No yoga experience required. Only requirement is to 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.

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

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

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

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