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Ghost Lives.

November 27, 2013

I had my nervous breakdown behind the restaurant where everyone went out to smoke once the tables had their food and seemed to be as happy as they would ever get during a meal.

It was that little secret cove for the smokers that I found salvage in, oddly enough. I leaned against that red brick wall and slowly slid down it onto dirty butts.

My chest heaved. About a hundred years passed and I started to drown in cigarette butts. There were millions of them and they were smothering me with ash and nicotine and lipstick stains and sticky bird shit that also had been on the ground. There might have been bubble gum too, but when you are drowning you don’t pay attention to anything except oxygen and that is what I couldn’t find anywhere. Somebody help me my brain told my mouth to say but my mouth was drowning and closed.

Nothing came out except the word Enough.

Enough waitressing. Enough guilt. Enough anorexia. Enough pretending I don’t have a hearing problem. Enough numbing myself. Enough sleeping to numb myself. Enough eating to numb myself. Enough starving to numb myself. Enough drinking to numb myself. Enough saying what I don’t want instead of what I do want. Enough sex with people I don’t love or even like very much. Enough living in the past. Enough worrying about the future. Enough wearing 6 inch platform shoes because I feel being short means I am inadequate.

Enough self-hatred.

To read the rest of the essay click here.

**Published on The Rumpus.

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Beating Fear with a Stick, Inspiration, my book

I Am Not Afraid.

January 9, 2013
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It was the theme of my yoga class this morning. Let’s remove them, I suggested to my beloved class. Their eyes got wide and afraid which I understood very very well.
 
They looked at me as if to say I just wanted to do a couple of downdogs and sweat, why do you have to do this shit, lady?
 
Of starting a new book. Of finding a partner. Of writing. Of becoming a yoga teacher. Of having a baby. Of leaving a partner.  Of traveling. Of quitting a job. Of getting a job.
Of being happy.
 
Those types of Things.
 
But then. But then, I will have nothing to hold me back. The afraid eyes widened.
 
May whatever is holding me back reveal itself. May I have the courage to release them, I suggested to the room before we took our first Ohm.
 
How scary it is to have nothing to hold you back anymore, to be so unencumbered. It is a thing of power and most of us are scared of power in the way we are scared of what we don’t understand: love, aging, death.
 
I was afraid to let go of my label of “anorexic.” Then who will I be? Anorexia was my set of crutches and I walked around town with them under my arms, and a small little limp, just enough to handicap me when it came to making a move in any direction whatsoever. I will not let go of these crutches I demanded as I slept walk through my life. They are mine!
 
I was not above beating people with them either. Anyone who came to close to taking them away from me. These are my Things That Get In The Way. Nobody can touch them! as I poked the offender with the soft end of the crutch. Gently, so it wouldn’t hurt. They would know I still loved them but that they could not take my crutch away.
 
What things get in the way of the small pleasures that wait for you when you wake up in the morning? Before your eyes can focus on the lampshade or on the other body in the bed, what things enter your mind as if they belong there? What heavy objects knock about in your chest before you even put your jeans on?
 
The things that get in the way are often real things, ordinary things, things that you will forget as soon as you sit down and bite into your sandwich. Then there are the things that are not ordinary, that are so not ordinary in the way that they have caused you to stop and take inventory on your life as you know it. 
 
For example: your baby dying, as is my friend Emily Rapp’s baby, a very real and horrendous thing to have to wait for. It will part the sea of you. One side of you will be on the shore with your baby son, and the other side of you immersed in the sea itself, drowning fast but not fast enough. What is getting in the way of you and your baby is a very real and unspeakable thing and you can’t even move, you are that split in two. Both drowning and not drowning at the same time.
 
Then there are the things that get in the way which are soft and malleable. And still very precise. They know exactly when to get you. They will leave no stone unturned and will leave you to bleed there on the table if you don’t pay attention. They know that right there, first thing in the morning, before your eyes can focus on the lampshade or the other body in the bed, that there’s the best time to get you. They know they can make you scared of what is going to happen to you, of what will people think, what if you can’t have a baby, what if this isn’t what you really want?
 
And your eyes start to come into focus and nothing looks like same. The carpet, the sink, the wall, the other body in the bed. You touch everything to make sure you are awake, and of this you can’t be certain. If you were awake wouldn’t it all make sense?
How you are right where you should be and that there can be no question of that because there is no other option. You were never not here. You were never not going to lead this very life. There is no alternative. As much as you try, you will never be able to wake up and have had a different history. You will always have turned right. You will always have chosen this.
 
So why doesn’t it make sense?
 
Because things have gotten in the way.
You have to grab them by the throat and let them know that you are not afraid. Say it: I am not afraid.
 
Two weeks ago, before I got my glasses in London, I dreamt I’d gone blind. In the dream, I’d felt around for things I would recognize, corners of tables I knew from bumping into them, people I loved and their shoulders and noses. Their smells. I was scared that darkness would be all I would know anymore. As if my own skin were falling over my head in a black hood.
I couldn’t remember what anything looked like in the dream. As if along with my sight, all of my memories vanished too. What a sunset had looked like or my father’s face.
Slowly, it seemed years passed in this dream,  I became unafraid. I started to remember what things had looked like. And they looked more beautiful then they had in real life. The sunset was the kind you swear you’ve never seen anything like it, not ever and my father’s face was real, and he was breathing, his nostrils flaring a little with each exhale. 
 
I’d woken up sweating and cold in our hotel room, but as soon as my eyes started to focus on the lampshade and the other body in the bed, I realized what the dream had been about.
 
That I was not blind. That I could see. That is what the dream meant.

And as soon as I say I am not afraid there’d be nothing in the way.

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Beating Fear with a Stick, loss, my book

Who’s Going To Want Me?

January 6, 2013

Who’s going to want me?

So much of it all boils down to that, doesn’t it?

Who’s going to want me now that I am _____. Put whatever you want in the blank. Go ahead.

Now that I am: Fatherless. Fat. An orphan. Old. Broken. Divorced. Handicapped. Widowed. Left. No Longer Have Perky Tits. Deaf. An Amputee. An Athiest. Sober. A Alcoholic. Lonely. Honest. Motherless. Childless. With Children. Ugly. Bald. Go ahead, put your word in.

You may wake up one day at 5:33 in the morning and shoot up out of bed as if from a nightmare where your car was flying off a cliff and you may find yourself once again muttering those words. Who’s going to want me now that I’m dead?

You’re not dead though. You woke from the dream. See, you are sitting right here, your head matted with sweat, the back of your neck hot and cold at the same time and you are reading these words and nodding along and you are very much alive.

There’s this line from my favorite Robert Lowell poem, Night Sweat, the last line of the poem:

If I cannot clear the surface of these troubled waters here,

absolve me, help me, Dear Heart, as you bear

this world’s dead weight and cycle on your back

He wrote about having nothing to write about, a variation on the good old Who will want me is Who will read me? How much dead weight we carry. Look how much.

My friend Steve Bridges died last year. His sweet little maid found him on his couch like he’d fallen asleep watching television. She’d tried to cover him with a blanket at first until she realized what the reality was. I don’t ever wish that I’d been her that morning, covering Mr. Steve with a Mexican blanket only to realize that no matter he’d always stay cold.

She’d worked for him for years, they’d sat in his kitchen while she cleaned and he wrote and laugh and laugh and she’d loved him. So when she realized he wasn’t sleeping but dead, her sweet little heart must have stopped and I would wager a bet it has been beating a little differently since that morning. Perhaps that thought came rushing at her one morning in her own bed, Who’s going to want me now? Who will make me laugh in their kitchen? 

When he died, I kept teaching my yoga classes, but I would have to turn around so that my back faced the class. I would cry and then wipe the tears and tell them to take a vinyasa or do child’s pose. Sometimes I just let the tears fall because the truth of the matter is that they expected nothing less than for me to take him right into class with me that week. They commended me for my willingness to show them my suffering and heartache because they had felt it too, and sometimes we actually need to remember that feeling, that raw my gut is ripped out feeling so we wake the fuck up. We all woke up that week or two after he died.

Steve and I hadn’t known each other terribly long. Oh, but we had. (Isn’t that such a yoga teachery thing to say?) We had known each other our whole lives so when we met it was not a thing. He started coming on my retreats and I referred to him as my brother and he referred to me as his teacher, his agent, his sister, his friend. We loved each other, we did. With Steve, I never felt the ghost of Who’s going to want me now? 

Yes, I am married. It’s beyond that even. It’s a cellular level instinct that goes way behind the logical, the rational, the explainable, all the way to the center of the Earth where it pierces and shrieks.

He listened to me. He saw me in a way few others have ever seen me. When he died, that shriek howled from the depths of the world and knocked me over, right in the middle of the street. It was impossible. Impossible that he was dead. I tried crawling my way through the dirt and mud towards that sound coming from below but I was stuck, reeling from the explosion, I was stuck. I couldn’t get him back.

Before he died, the last conversation we had actually, was in Mexico. It was the last day of my retreat and we sat eye to eye as everyone else took pictures of themselves doing various yoga poses below on the beach. He told me that he wanted a family. He said something to the effect of I can’t leave the earth without having a child. In the movie version, I will insert some foreboding music there so we know its foreshadowing and that he will never ever have a child. We should know this when the music plays and the two people sit eye to eye above a Mexican beach as happy as they’ve ever been with such a knowing that the Who’s Going to Want Me Now? is so far in the past, because, to have found a tribe like this, nothing could ever go wrong, all was good in the world. All was safe.

I didn’t get over his death but I kept going. It’s what we do. Someone dies and you keep going. That is Choice A. Choice B is you die. I did not die nor did I want to, to so I kept going. Eventually I felt a little less sad because, Time, that ruthless beast, does that. It softens you in some places and that the same time ages you and hardens you but mostly it dulls the pain. Believe me on this. If we remembered all our visits to the dentists and all our heartbreaks with clarity we would have rotting mouths and we’d all be alone in our rooms watching The Bachelor.

This morning I popped up at 5:33 in the morning. I am on England time so it is 8 hours ahead. I popped up and Who’s going to want me now clamored me over the top of the head. I was reading an article on The NY Times about the incomparable George Saunders’ newest book. He is 54 and started publishing at 37. I thought: Oh, Ok, Good. I’m ok. I am around that age.

But then.

I have not published anything yet. No books, no short stories. I am Saunders age when he wrote his first book and what have I done so far? I have been a waitress for decades and now a yoga teacher and here it is. Drumroll, it’s coming: Who Is Going To Want Me Now?

Right over the fucking head like a bat.

I am not looking for advice. I am talking about a deep guttural voice with a trajectory to nowhere that I have to conquer on my own like I am in a battle zone. And I am. With my life.

I do not know who will want me. I can let that stop me and not write my book and not try to publish it or I can write it and have a deep knowing that someone will take it and if they don’t, they don’t. I will then keep going. I will not use it as some sort of empirical proof to say See? See? No One Wants me.

Every time someone has left me (there’ve been two major ones, three if you count my father), I have questioned who would ever want me again as if they were the only two men on the planet and I was an untouchable.

Someone did want. Many did. Not just men and not just sexual. You are reading my words. You want me. But screw all that. Here’s the kick in the pants I was talking about the other day: I want me.

Most days. Most days I want me and from there I go. I go from there armed with my self-love and my husband and my indefatigable urge to write write write.

Then there are days like today where I wake up and my heart has fallen out and rolled somewhere under the bed next to some old birthday cards and a shoe. I have to crawl around in the dark and move through some dust, but I find it and screw it back in. It happens. It’s bound to do that once in a while because there is some ancient agreement I must have signed long ago before I knew I was signing it. I ripped up the agreement but there are days when the memory of the signature is strong enough to stop me in my tracks and have me say to myself Just Who Do You Think You Are?

Finally I am getting to it. The point. Who do you think you are? Go back to your blanks. Fat, Legless, Manless, Childless, No Longer Young, whatever it was you signed to on that contract, I want you to scribble it out. Get a black magic marker or some other stinky kind of pen and scribble it out at least a hundred times. Then, leave it blank.

You think 38 years old sums you up? You think divorced says it all?

You can’t define yourself in a word. You are a world, Dear Heart.

 

 

 

 

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A little clip of Steve and I.

Inspiration, loss, love, my book

You Came to Ride The Train.

January 3, 2013

These vehicles vast like the hollows of a secret stuffed in a wooden leg ignite in me something. I can’t name it yet. But I’m on the train, I’m moving. Just because I can’t name it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exists. Beauty I’d like to call it but that seems simple.

The saddest family I have ever seen sits across from me. A man, Pakistani or Indian maybe, with each of his children on either side of him, an arm around the boy and an arm around the girl. He leans over and kisses the little girl’s braided head. She is tall and leggy, maybe ten, maybe twelve, hard to tell, she is so long. The boy is older. They both have downcast eyes. I make up a story. Their mother has just died. I want to fix it. I offer chocolate. It’s all I have. The girl looks up and smiles, and then they all smile, and with a semi-Birtish accent the father says she doesn’t take chocolates. I joke and say Good thing, you shouldn’t take candy from strangers anyway. Plus, I think to myself how the chocolate has brandy in the middle and what was I doing trying to get some kids drunk on the tube in London, anyway?

But I’d wanted to do something. What happened? Why were they so huddled and sad? my mind asked and searched and dug at their broken faces. The heaviness lifted when the father leaned over to kiss the girl’s head, and also when I offered my paltry alcohol filled chocolate. A spark of life flew into the girl’s eyes and the darkness faded for a moment. Not the kind of darkness you would associate with evil or even depression but rather the kind of darkness that comes from riding the train all night without your mother. The cheap black plastic comb sticking out of the backpack that used to belong to her no longer has meaning. It can be anybody’s comb. Get that comb out of here. I hate that comb. Where is my mummy’s comb? all vacillating at once in her face like they were all true statements and questions. (They were. They are.) The kind of darkness that comes with the realization that there is no point in your father carrying around that comb in his backpack except to feel like your mother might sweep down and grab it, and you could all see her one last time, even if it is one second, that would be enough, even one half of one second, while she grabbed the comb and vanishes one last time. So he keeps it sticking out of the backpack front pocket for everyone on the train to see and when no one is looking he picks it up and carefully wipes it down. There is even a darkness in the movements of his eyes, his hands, the comb itself even, the kind of darkness that says You can keep riding the train as long as you want my beloveds, I am never coming back. 

Or maybe it wasn’t that at all. Maybe something entirely different happened. They all looked up though, when I got off the tube at Putney Bridge, and they all waved. I had wanted to stay with them and make it better. Whatever it was. There was a grief so stinking it almost knocked me out when I sat down across from them. I recognized it immediately. I’d known it before. I’d had that thickness of the throat, the turning of the stomach, the looking down for so long at a dead person’s comb that I forgot where I was going. The staying at the waitressing job for 13 years because I was scared to move in a any direction. The riding of the train all night. The clinging to someone, anyone really, so I felt like I hadn’t disappeared into the ether like people were capable of doing.  So what do you call that? 

That which tugs at your coat and scarf and all your winter England layers and says: Look at me. What do you know of this?

I know you, you say with your chocolate offering and whatever gesture you can muster, and for the brief moment before you get off the train, their world is safe. One stop and their world is un-cracked and whole. One stop. One milli-second. One half a second. Until  longer periods of time lapse and they are able to look up and get off the train for stretches of time they can’t even imagine at this point. Not during this dark hour.

What do you call this? Beauty? Humanity? Connection? Knowing?

Inspiration maybe?

Who knows.

What it was on that train exactly, I do know know. But I do know the pits of Hell when I pass through. And I can’t stay. But I can offer a chocolate truffle. I won’t stay. I refuse. Sorry. I may have to go there again in my own world (most of us do) but for this stint, I am not staying. I am just passing through.

I will offer what I can.

Today at the British Museum, my husband and I went and looked at some of the ancient Egyptian antiquities. There was this skeleton. I crouched down onto the floor and got up close, I mean really, really close, so I could see his eyes. His teeth (he actually still had teeth) and his fingers all curled up like he hadn’t been relaxed at all when he died there on the sand. The plaque said that it was the sand that had preserved him and that once tombs came along, bodies stopped being preserved in this way. The man looked so sad. He was in a glass display, curled up their on the floor and however many thousands of years later, he still looked so desperately sad. I crouched down and thought if I could only offer him chocolate he might get up and walk on out of that horrible box. His one hand up around his face like he was protecting himself and his other hand was curled up by his side. His whole body in a fetal position. Man, I get you, I wanted to tell him.

I’ve been there, curled up like that, in my darkest hour. I’ve been a ghost.

But I returned. To the land of the living. Here I am now. Look at me, I whispered, or wanted to, through the glass.

I didn’t get stuck in the sand or put in a box on display or have my pain frozen on my face for the rest of time like you did. And I’m sorry for that. Whatever your pain was. 

I guess that is what it boils down to. Call it what you will. Connection, inspiration, beauty, grace. It’s feeling what others feel as if you are one beating heart without getting your own me me me in the way. It is knowing something at the core of your being and being moved by that without having it define you or immobilize you. It is saying I understand you, Family On The Train. I get you, Dead Egyptian Man.

Maybe it is just called Understanding.

That’s all we ever want most of the time, isn’t it. Understand me.

Please?

Search trains and faces and coffee shops and your house and the blue sky and the grey sky and poems and people with their selfish hearts and their big What can I do for you hearts and whatever it is that you decide to call it, this thing which I cannot truly name, tell yourself that to become a part of it all, this beating mess, is what you must do. That to go out and touch the sleeve and the comb and the heart of another is what you came here for. You didn’t come for the pie. You came for the gut wrenching love and loss and joy and pain and when you see it in another, you get it. You recognize it.

You came to ride the train.

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And So It Is, Mindwebs, my book

Every So Often The World is Bound To Shake.

December 28, 2012

Elizabeth Bishop knew it.

The roaring alongside he takes for granted,

and that every so often the world is bound to shake. 

I know it.

I know how sometimes you walk along and the pavement lifts up, right from under your feet, how it flips you in the air and you land on your head, your pockets empty, your hands cut from bracing the fall. I know how sometimes you walk along on the shore and it just reaches out and swallows you up, just like that. A mess of foam and salt and saliva and spit and you never even know what happened until you cough up sea and sand as you lay facing the blue blue sky in a land that all of a sudden feels unsafe and unknowable. I know how sometimes you walk along the dirty road  and the earth simply cracks in half, taking you with it and how it is dark and wet, and, until you come back up, and even then, you are unsure what happened. How the shaking even started.

You’ve been told the world is bound to shake but until it did you didn’t believe it, you simply strolled along as if you were unscathed.

You were never unscathed.

How can you defend yourself against this shaking? you might wonder.

You can’t. What you can do is armor yourself good. Stockpile your life with people who make you feel fantastic and lovable and books and favorite memories, even those memories you’ve changed and bettered with time. And all those disappointments you’ve suffered? Well, those aren’t armor. Not exactly. Those disappointments were shaking that’s already happened, the world shook for you during those moments and whether or not you realize it: you’ve already had practice.

If you are reading this, at one point in your life, you have lost someone, you have had your heart broken, you have not gotten something you’ve wanted, someone’s died, someone you love, most likely. If none of these things have happened yet, they will. Not a morbid thought. Not trying to scare you. Just telling you what Elizabeth Bishop told you in 1965 in Sandpiper:

The roaring alongside he takes for granted,

and that every so often the world is bound to shake. 

The world is bound to shake. It is. It cannot stay still. So, you’ve experienced some shaking already and maybe or maybe not it ill shake again. Armor yourself good. Buy extra paper towels and canned beans and flashlights and don’t get stuck in the hole. Crawl your way out with the flashlight and the friends who make you feel fantastic.

I was in 8th grade. We had moved back to New Jersey after living 4 years in California. My mom had left her second husband (whom I had hated and then grown to love, as is expected from any young girl who had lost her father and seen another man step in, faking it.) My mom had left him and we’d moved back to New Jersey and I wanted to kill myself. I hated the idea of New Jersey more than I hated New Jersey. It was cold and lame and stupid (hey, I was in 8th grade!) One day, my friend Jen from California (cool, awesome California!) called to tell me that my mom’s soon to be ex-husband (the stepfather I had finally grown to love and then left) had killed someone. Someone we knew. In self-defense.

The earth spilt in half and I fell in.

It couldn’t be possible. Someone I knew and had begrudgingly loved had taken a gun and shot someone in a door jamb. This can’t be I whimpered, swimming in mud and roots down in the rabbit hole. It would be. It did happen and I came out of the rabbit hole with braces (clear on top, metal on bottom) and begrudgingly started to like (maybe even love, just a little bit) New Jersey. The I did it in self-defense second husband of my mother really did do it in self-defense and eventually got out of prison. On good behavior. We wrote letters while he’d been there. I looked at them while I sat on the toilet, a teenager with braces and an ex-stepfather in jail. He got out and then a few years later, the sea came up and took me out again. The world shook another time when I got the call (me, again me, I get the news delivered to me yet again!) that the ex-stepfather died in his sleep. Quietly and without noise, he’d let his body slip somewhere else and for a moment when the sea swept me up, when the earth shook, I saw him. I saw him and asked him Why Why Why Why and he just hugged me and said You’ll find your way.

I cried and cried when he died, unlike my own father’s death ten years prior when I could barely mutter I don’t care for fear that if I did, the world would never stop shaking.

So I cried and cried and eventually the hole sealed up and the wave spit me back out and the dirt bloomed some flowers and I made my way back into the world, armored with all of it and none of it at the same time.

A feather on the ground. Pick it up. Put it in your pocket. Let it armor you good. Go ahead. You will find your way.

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Inspiration, my book, Owning It!

The Undoing of Yourself.

December 2, 2012

The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are. ― Joseph Campbell

My original ancestors must have been beautiful.

I have traced of them, healed scars, visible only after being pointed out. And I don’t usually point them out, just so you know. There’s one on my neck, however, that I am pointing out to you. A red line that looks like a hickey until you look closer and ask. I was 16 when I had it removed and the last thing I remember is them asking me Do you have a boyfriend? I didn’t at the time and I thought This is not working! The anesthesia is not working and I am going to feel when they cut into me and

That was that. I woke up and the lump that I had ignored for years was gone and along with it the diseased lymph node that had been living in my neck for as long as I could remember, and, which I ignored profusely until a guy I was (sort of) dating, that way you “date” when you are 15 and 16, wrapped his arm around my shoulder and touched my neck. He asked me what it was which made it real. Until then, I could pretend it was my imagination but as soon as he said Baby, what is that lump on your neck? I went into a panic. I am going to die. Oh my God, am I going to die?

The way we can ignore something and let it silently torture us and not until another points it out do we acknowledge the realness of it. I am making this up. This is not real.

This is not happening.

There’s also less visible ones like the one on my head where the point of an iron came down after my cousin bit me in the thigh. I didn’t feel it until I saw the iron lying on the floor next to me, on top of all the dirty laundry. Then I got scared and cried and thought I was going to die with all the blood on the leggings and underwear and socks.

I remember riding on the back of a bus, going from Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, where I had a fellowship at Bucknell University, to Philadelphia where my boyfriend would pick me up with my own car. I had lent him my car because I wouldn’t need it for the month I was at my fellowship but sitting on the back of that empty bus I wished for my sweet car. If I’d had one wish it would have been to have my little grey Volkswagen Fox so I wouldn’t be so swallowed by the night pressing its black body into the morning in those towns. I could tune in to the road or the traffic or nothingness but there on the back of the bus I saw how darkness never let up, just kept pressing down. The buildings so used to that darkness that any light made them cringe and sink further in. They would turn their tar faces from the sky and droop bloated toward their floors. I saw myself in them and couldn’t stand it. The ride felt like it was 17 hours. I hated those buildings.

I sat on the back of that bus and thought of my ancestors and of my Bubby and my father. And Shetland ponies. How they’d been trained to trudge in coal mines, through dark damp spaces, weight on their small backs, taking fast uneven paces and how they’d been used to it. I imagined the sound of their steps. (What else was I to do on that million hour bus ride?) Hooves hitting hard ground and how they must have sounded like the tongues of sewing machines, clicking to my mother, keeping her company as she worked all night in basements, the television on mute. My mother with pins in her mouth, fingers pinching the fabric in place.

I thought about what coal mining could do for me as I sat on the back of that bus, not being able to drive or change the radio station. What else could I do?

The lift, descent of a hammer, breaking open dark parts of the earth, splitting what’s solid. Cracking. The pattern of days. Falling into one another the way all things without change tend to.

The original ancestor of these ponies gradually grew over centuries, changed forms over and over, emerging from swamps to enter coal mines. Like him, I could adapt to living in muck I thought. To traveling and feeding in marshes and swamplands.

I could get used to anything. 

And I have.

(Ask me what it’s like to have gotten used to hearing loss.)

I too have changed forms. Emerged from dark wet tunnels, basements, buses.

Capable of all kinds of change.

My ancestors were short and stocky, at least on my father’ side, and I see parts of me when I look at old photos. My hands are thick and I notice this more often than I care to admit as I am adjusting someone in my yoga class, in savasana, my hand over their heart. How can I have such ugly hands? until I feel the person’s chest heave remining me of my task at hand which is simply to be here, be here now. Be the net. Be the love. No one cares if you have fat little hands or long hand-model fingers in this moment. Be here now.

My ancestors knew me as I rode on the back of that bus all those years ago, perhaps even rode along with me, a few rows ahead. Just as they know me now. They have built me and formed with me with discarded pieces of heartache and hardship and love and geography and food.

My grandfather on my mother’s side (the only one I have ever met) is obsessed with our genealogy, making maps and taking trips to town to visit the Native American Tribal Center. He is a proud Native American and I always sort of scoffed at his pride. Ok, we are related to Pocahontas. Okay, Pop I would say as a teenager.

I get it now though. This privilege of understanding, of unscrewing your limbs and draining your own blood in search of answers and questions. This undoing of yourself to find the us and the we. 

This What has built me? looming every time you react in a way that surprises yourself or breaks your own heart.

In the afternoon of my life ( I am not sure if that is a thing or if I am even there. I may be in the morning or the twilight or the night but I sure like the way it sounds. So.) In the afternoon of my life I realize now why I turned away for so many years.

I did not want to know.

I did not want to understand why a certain sadness found its way into my face in photographs, why I am inexplicably drawn to a certain stories and people and moments in history. Why being Jewish and Native American and all of it felt like one big Who gives a shit as I counted the grapes I would allot myself for the day.

If I knew where I came from I would be accountable. I would have to turn my face upward and take on the challenge. As it stood, I did not want to know so I kept looking down until I was underfoot and broken.

I am not my past.

But I want to know. Were I came from. Whose blood courses through mine? Who in my family was in the Holocaust? Was my grandmother’s brisket really all it was cracked up to be? Does addiction really run in my family?

(Many. I am not sure. Yes and yes.)

I will not be defined by it but I will look upon it as a duty, this privilege, before I let it was away and disappear like it never existed.

My dad and I at the Jersey shore.

My dad and I at the Jersey shore.

Inspiration, my book

The Yes Within You.

November 12, 2012

We write to remember.

Perhaps that’s why I never kept a journal, why I never wrote things down. I didn’t want to remember. Why now as I sit down to write this book which has been gnawing at every gnawable part of me, I am berating myself for not remembering the details. How could I not have kept journals? How will I remember what I need to say? I can’t even remember to meet someone for lunch.

This is how: I will dig deep in my imagination, into the Cave of Remembering so I can share with you any insight I have as to how I have transformed my life, in both little ways, and very very big ways. In all the ways I can describe from my memory and all the ways I can allow myself to admit to.

This journey hasn’t always been pleasant, as most of us know when it comes to journeys. Sometimes long and arduous and filled with sketchy characters and other times free of turbulence and sprinkled with long wine-filled dinners and belly laughs. We also know this about journeys: some go as planned and some suck because your passport gets lost and you miss the train or the plane and your boyfriend dumps you before the trip even starts.

As I begin to write this book I think about what inspires me. What it really feels like to be inspired. The sensations in my body, the way my skin feels hot and my heart becomes a train in my chest. The way I sweat just on my upper lip and I feel as if I drank two espressos.

I am inspired by the human spirit. By people who have overcome adversity of some sort. By the triumph of will. By grace and by possibility. By struggle. By art. By connection. By loss. By love. By touch. By sadness. By death. By laughter.

Perhaps we are all inspired by these things. Why when we see someone with no legs win a race or someone with a fatal disease face the day with an attitude we could only dream of possessing, it makes us want to jump up and down and reclaim our humanness. Yes, yes I am part of that race! I belong to humankind that produces stories such as these!

On some level, we all are up against something. Some people have a leg that has been amputated, some have a baby who is dying, some have a rare genetic syndrome or are deaf, some just feel very lost in a sea of people who know what they want or pretend to know what they want. Some can’t make up their mind even when it comes to whether they want salmon or pizza.

I recognize that quality, that Yes in a person when life should be screaming No. We want to be part of that Yes. We want to be reminded that the Yes is within us.

 

By Jenni Young of course.

 

I had no idea a few years ago that I would ever be seen as “inspiring” as some of you have lovingly said. (It’s still very surreal.) I had no idea that I wouldn’t be taking orders for eggs for the rest of my life. I am not sure what else to call myself, and frankly, it doesn’t matter what I call myself. I gave that notion up recently.

The constant naming of things. The calling of this or that and how much weight we give each particular name. The notion that it actually matters what we do for work, that it defines us in some way. The notion that who I was when I was a waitress is any different than who I am now. I had no idea back then when I was serving veggie burgers that a few years later I would be sharing my story with the world and traveling with it. That I would be helping young girls overcome eating disorders or connecting with other people who were hard of hearing.

What I am saying is: I had no idea I would become a vehicle for hope.

We all have that potential within us. To be vehicles. What kind of vehicle do you want to be, is the question.

How many times do I take for granted the effect I am having in the world? How many times do you? How many times a day do I feel redundant or small?

It’s not always easy to acknowledge ourselves, that sometimes it feels like we are jumping out of a plane. Hell, it feels like we are being pushed out of the plane.

How often do you stop and say Holy Shit, my words are having an impact on someone? Who I am being in the world is directly affecting someone else’s life as well as my own?

Now, you may not curse as much as I do. I hope you don’t because I am like a dirty sailor, but, curse words or not, get clear on the fact that who you are being today, right now, in this very moment is not irrelevant.

You never know who you are affecting.

You never know how you are affecting them.

So just know.

Just know it somewhere deep in the knowing part of you. Keep being exactly who you are and keep being better at it every day.

That’s all you can do.

Despite losing my father, my life line, at a very young age, despite battling depression and an eating disorder and hearing loss, I learned to hear my heart for the first time. I learned to listen to the calling that was my life. I learned to be better than I used to be.

I don’t claim to know a lot.

I know what happened to me and the choices I made which got me to where I am now. I know what hurt and what made me soar with delight.

I know now who I am and my only hope in telling my tale is that you too will begin to listen to your own heart. To the beating which is whispering Yes Yes Yes.

photo ny Jenni Young of course

healing, loss, my book, Things I Have Lost Along The Way

Chicken Bones In The Throat.

November 9, 2012

The things that get lodged in us.

Those that need dislodging like a chicken bone in the throat.

How some things get stuck. And others, not so much. Other things in their own river-like way flow through us and by us and if it weren’t for a photograph we might forget them completely. (My 20’s! Certain men I’ve dated! 7th grade! Books I have loved and forgotten.)

Things that get stuck: certain sentences and the way someone looks at you, the beat of a song whose words have long since vanished, the way it felt to be young, how your father died.

Last night as I was working on my book I called my mom to ask her some questions about my dad and how he died. I wanted to know precisely the cause of death and which drugs he took and exactly how many cigarretes he smoked a day. I wanted the facts as if the facts can turn into something soft and malleable, as if they can change if you hear them enough. They do, don’t they?

I thought my dad died of a heart attack until one day when I was 13 my mom told me that he’d had a stroke. From 13 until last night I’d thought he’d had a stroke. My mom said last night that it was not a stroke at all. Oh, the confusion. How did he die, dammit? I need to know exactly what went down on that night in July, 1983.

So Mom says it was this mouthful of ugly words: Atherosclerotic Coronary Artery Disease.

Which is caused by blockages which can be caused by the unfathomable amount of cigarretes he smoked daily or the speed he took. Same thing Whitney Houston died of.

Then Mom tells me this bit of news which is now forever stuck and will not be dislodged. Ever. She told me that the hospital had told her he had vomited and choked on his own vomit and that was how he died. Offical autoposy said, however, Atherosclerotic Coronary Artery Disease.

I want to unhear this.

Is it possible to do this? I, of all people, should be entitled to this gift with my profound hearing loss. It must be how my friend Emily Rapp felt when the doctors told her that her son Ronan had Tay Sachs Disease and would die.

It’s a mistake! This shouldn’t be! This was an accident. This wasn’t any “meant to be” bulllshit yogis are so fond of saying. The way I see it, this was a f*ck up.

Just whose f*ck up, I am not sure, nor do I want to guess, but it was definitely some kind of mix-up. I mean, choking on vomit and dying? How can this be fair at all? One minute you are in your bed watching an episode of M*A*S*H on tv and the next your are drowing in your own bodily fluids? In what world can this happen?

How can death be that easy when life isn’t? 

To dislodge means to leave a place previously occupied. This is what happens with death.  (I imagine.) You dislodge yourself from your body. And that’s that. If it weren’t for the things that stuck, things like your smell, or rather the smell of an old leather wallet and how it has become your smell, and your sheep’s laugh, that high cackle and how it would run around the room before it landed back in your throat. Other things that stuck: the song You Are My Sunshine keeps you here, maybe not in body but certainly in heart because that’s where the pain is when the song is heard, no matter when or where. That rusty dagger is stuck in the heart since you used to sing that song every night, and maybe that isn’t a bad thing because certainly some things need to get stuck in us or we might forget who we were.

I asked my mom to send me an email with all the facts she could remember being that most of mine are old and broken down having been told so many times since I was eight years old that they lost their functionality sometime around 1990-91.

Another sentence that stuck:

He used up his body.

How can I make that sentence go away? What is behind the sentence is more what I want to go away and that is the reality that my father used up his body in a way that suggested that the novelty of it was over, that the use of it was no longer needed, that in essence it was worth nothing. That it was trash. What else do you think of when you hear those words, which are nothing short of true: he used up his body. Depleted. Bankrupt. Drained. Empty.

So things get stuck in me. Maybe because I am a little bit obsessive. But aren’t we all?

What gets stuck are the things that shock me back into breathing, that slap me in the face until I realize this fact: It could be me.

How easy it is to do really. To let yourself slip.

No, maybe you don’t smoke and maybe you don’t do any drugs but maybe you talk to yourself in such a way that it chips at you day after day until there is nothing left. Until you are used up.

Maybe the things that get stuck are there so we pay closer attention to the facts. Had my father, I doubt he would have killed himself. Oh, you think he didn’t kill himself in some way? Look closer.

I revise my earlier statement about wanting to dislodge these things. I will never be able to unstick these thing and that is fine. You want to know why? Because I am writing a book and my greatest wish is for at the very least a few things to be stuck so I can remember long enough to get them on paper.

Secondly: some things must always be stuck in me so I remember that I am not unfailing. As painful as some things are and as much as we want them to not have happened, they did. They will always have happened.

They existed somewhere in the world, in some space time continuum, and they are some small molecule of us, even if they happened to our ancestors before our birth. The way we react to the world is in drect relation to the stuck things within us.

The way we listen to a song. The way we fall in love. The way we look at our children. If we even have children.

All of it.

The stuck things make us who we are. They help us remember where we have been.

by Jenni Young of course

Beating Fear with a Stick, my book

Fear of Flying

September 24, 2012

Here I am in the air, headed back to Los Angeles from Atlanta. Having internet in the sky is still a novel idea to me and one that makes me feel like a wizard wedged in between 22D and 22F.  I’m a word wizard up here, a magician in the clouds and yet I feel like I have nothing to say. Like I have said it all. Some days are like that. I am a vessel of ideas and words and firecrackers and other days, a body in a chair, a body in the car, a body going through the motions.

So I post on Facebook and say: I’m going to write a post from the plane. What Should  write about? And I acknowledge that I am distracting myself from writing my book. #Distractingmyselffromwritingmybook.

Someone tweets me that I should write about fear of flying and another procrastination.

Procrastination, well I wrote the book on that one, so surely I could write a blog about it. But, fear of flying? I am not scared of flying.

Not anymore.

Or so I thought.

I used to have heart palpations every time I was on a plane and there was turbulence. I thought for sure that my time was up, I was dying, this was it. Then, I started to fly more and more and one day you wake up and that fear is gone. The things we get used to! People dying. People leaving us. Flying! Wi-fi in the air! We can get used to anything.

With time.

I started to think about it as I sat here in my middle seat (which I grumbled about of course, because in my mind I should be flying first class.) I don’t know why I think that but I got offended when they changed my seat and stuck me here in the middle as if they should have known better. Then I got over myself. For the most part. I still don’t like it but I have wi-fi. There’s that.

I am sitting here squashed and thinking about fear of flying and I realize that I am scared still, of heights, of expanding past what I think I am capable of.

I was in Santa Fe a couple weeks ago visiting one of my best friends you’ve heard me talk so much about: the writer Emily Rapp. Now Ms. Rapp is one of the best writers, living or dead, I have come across so when I am around her, well, I feel more like a real writer. Whatever that means. So I am with her in Santa Fe, Emily and her dying son Ronan (he has the incurable Tay-Sachs Disease) and she says something about me being a writer. I can’t remember what but I do remember I said I want to be known as Jen the writer not Jen the yoga teacher.

I realize that. My dharma, my purpose, my calling, whatever hippy dippy or non woo-woo word you want to use for it, well, I am not sure teaching yoga is that for me for me. But who decides?

Does it matter what I am known for?

These are all questions I ask myself as I buckle into my seat and get ready for take-off because you know once you are soaring there is little you can do to change what is behind you. Even though I have spent most of my life thinking I can change the past, and alternately, living there.

Does it matter if I am known, period?

It does if I want to write a best-selling book. So where is it? I write daily. Where is my book? I write blog after blog and some that I really love but my book is the the thing in the sky I am scared of. What if I write it and? There are a million ways to finish that sentence.

What if I can’t finish it?

All the what if’s are like turbulence and here I am up in the air trying to balance a cup of coffee. It keeps spilling and I have to refill.

What if I tell the story of who I am and they see me?

Who is “they”?

The fear of flying is so great that it sometimes keeps us grounded. Wayne Dyer has this great saying which I may butcher but it goes something like: Flight wasn’t discovered by  contemplating the staying on the ground of things.

So why are we so scared of flying?

I think it boils down to death. We are scared we are going to die. We are going to crash. (It feels somehow blasphemous to be writing about crashing and death while sitting on a plane.)

Let’s break it down?

How can I crash with my book?

I can expose myself. I can write a flop. People might hate me.

Okay, there’s that.

So what?

So what?

I need to do it anyway. My calling ( I imagine a deli and a man behind the counter calling my number) is to be a writer. A connector. A communicator. A healer. All of it. So yes, I use yoga to get my people in the room. I also use writing. I use whatever I can, whatever method I can travel by. Sometimes, in NYC, I take the bus. Look, I will get there how I need to get there unless my fear of flying debilitates me so much that I stay locked in my room playing on Facebook.

Why are we scared of success? Why do we need to apologize for it? (Okay, read: me.)

Usually when I saw we I mean me. I can only ever talk about what I know.

This I know: I am here in the sky in a chair and I am ready to tell the story of who I am. I am not scared of this plane crashing oddly enough just of my own light allowing to live the life I want. And why is that scary?

It comes down to worthiness.

I am a writer. I am flying. Look, I haven’t crashed yet. It’s only my fear of it which is keeping me filled with anxiety white fingernails.

Is the fear real?

You tell me.

I will tell you this. All of my fears originate in my mind which is a breeding ground for trouble. I love my mind but i will be damned if I have it control me and my piloting skills.

I am flying this motherf*cking plane.

I am a writer. We are what we say we are.

I am flying.

**Love to hear your thoughts below. Who are you? Where are you scared of flying? Of your own light?

** as a side note, my book agent came to my sold out workshop at Pure Yoga in NYC last week and every person went up to her and told her how excited they were to read my book. There’s that.

Hearing Loss, loss, my book

Investigating Loneliness.

September 16, 2012

I was in a yoga class a couple weeks ago, and my teacher, Annie Carpenter, kept using the word investigate to cue us in the poses.

Investigate the backbend.

I liked the idea of being a detective when it came to my backbend, to the way my foot felt on the mat. I liked the way this verb felt in me, the way it rolled around and ended up in so many different landscapes. I planted the seed of investigation and what came up out of the earth of me was:

Investigating loneliness.

The old couple that lived next door to us for years in New Jersey, Kay and Jerry and how she got hit by a car in front of the church across the street and never came back from the hospital, staying there for months before she finally died of some complication. How he died of loneliness. How I think it must not be that hard. I’m investigating that.

Sometimes I sit in my apartment and get stuck there. Literally stuck. The quicksand of my desk chair. The sinking mud of my bathroom mirror.

The phone rings and the texts come in, the emails. All of it with its own little rythym of relevance: Pick me up! Answer me! Call me back! Go here! You should do that! I stare at it them like little soldiers, these little missives and misfits and messages and patiently wait for it all to stop. Mesmerized by my ability to want to turn it all off, to make my nearly deaf ears a little more hushed. Noiseless as shock, I sit at my desk or in my bed and wrap myself in a feeling close to nothing.

What is this feeling? I have so many things to be done, so many people to call back, so many things I have let slip between the cracks of my mind and yet I can’t move.

Everyone is laughing and I might join is so as not to look stupid but I have no idea what they are laughing about, their muted laughs frogs in throats. I might as well be floating on a piece of bark at sea with nothing but the clothes on my back and my thoughts to keep me from drowning. I have no idea what you are laughing at! I scream in my head as I laugh along, my hearing loss incapable of disguise. That feeling of laughing when you have no idea why everyone is laughing, that’s a kind of loneliness I want to tell you about also.

How can you feel lonely when you have so many friends, when you are always around people? I imagine on my computer screen after this blog post, being sent in an email from someone feeling sympathetic somewhere. On the bottom, in the comment section below, platitudes like: You are never truly alone!  You may feel lonely but you are never alone! You are so loved.

I was in Santa Fe a couple weeks ago eating at Pasquals with my friends, the writers Emily Rapp and Chris Abani. We were chatting about the difference between sympathy and empathy. Emily’s baby is dying so these types of conversations are normal over Huevos motuleños. (This dish includes banana on top of eggs and while at first I thought the idea horrifying, I came around once I tasted Emily’s.)

Chris and Emily were saying that with sympathy people make it about themselves. Whereas empathy is truly about you, whoever you are. Makes sense. I agreed. That’s why sympathy doesn’t feel authentic, why it’s rejected like a banana on an egg. I don’t want sympathy.

I want a: Yea! Hey, I know what you mean. I have felt that as well. I get it. I understand.

That’s it. Enough said.

You can’t fix it. There is no fixing. I am investigating all the ways I feel lonely in a crowd,  what it feels like to be amongst the world and also completely not in it at all.

The thing is, I like being alone. I prefer it. I struggle to leave my apartment. I would rather read a book or write than go out and I have been this way since childhood. But much as I am investigating my backbend, I am looking into the intricacies of my aloneness and how it keeps me in my head and what a bloody bad neighborhood that really is.

I just read something by Iyanla Vanzant where she said “Who are you? Is not meant to be a question. It is meant to give pause for reflection. Who are you without whatever you hold on to?”

It is not meant to be a question but rather to give pause.

That’s what I am doing with this particular case, in my detective work, in my investigations. I am giving pause. I am not looking to solve the mystery, per se, but to look without judgement at the areas of my life I have hidden or buried.

I feel lonely often because I can’t hear. It’s a lonely world when you can hear sounds but have no idea what they mean.

So I understand how Jerry died shortly after Kay was hit by the car in front of the church because surely she was the only one who understood his sounds and what they meant.

What I have found in my investigation thus far is this: loneliness is the place we meet our hearts. And we hear our hearts for the first time. The beat slows down, the accelerated beat ceases and there is no panic or sadness or isolation only connection and  a deep knowing that you have waited your whole life for this.

In that moment, The Lonely Ones send their hearts out into the world to love and be loved, and maybe they will get broken, maybe not. But for a few minutes in the life of that heart there is nothing else but other hearts and their is a linking up which if you listen closely to it says the word Finally.


my book

What It’s Like To Really See.

August 26, 2012

It’s like a fisheye view where you can see everything at once: your whole future, unrelenting and nimble. As quick as an idea forgotten before its spoken.

You can see it all mapped out: irreversible veins raised and ready for puncture.

The geometry of your life: blue, ingrained, vainglorious.

It’s like how your eyes can adjust to things after an eyeful of sunlight, the inside of an apartment or a book. How you can see part of the moon when it isn’t really there anymore. That hanging sliver, white as pearl on black. It’s fullness still faintly visible: an illusion. The whisper of its former body. A palsied arc, the fingernail piece of moon that hangs like it’s missing something of itself, waiting out it’s own cycles.

I understand as I arch the small moon of my lower back, pressed into a groove of a kayak afloat in the Pacific Ocean just north of Santa Monica that: All things converge into this one point.

This point where past culminates with present and future and time stops thinking about what to do next.

Everything floats as time takes a breath and lets you live for the first time in your life without the words Something else must be done. My life isn’t enough the way it is.

Maybe my father is somewhere in Malibu, fishing and alive as ever. Maybe all I get with the people I love are minutes, or, at best, a week well spent, a Friday afternoon, a bottle of wine in a garden.

Can I ever truly understand that no one stays with you forever?

That yes, the reflection will be there again, your face will still be in the medicine cabinet mirror in the morning, but that so much will have come to pass and you won’t even know it as you scuff the floor in your tired socks and sit down to cereal.

 

healing, Inspiration, my book

Hunting For Unicorns.

August 26, 2012

By Jen Pastiloff.

When I was a kid I was obsessed with unicorns.

I had this big unicorn book, a coffee table kind of book with shiny pages that felt smooth when I ran my hands over them. Again and again, smoothing over my unicorns. I would pick up the book and smell the pages. It had this new book, magazine-like smell that I couldn’t get enough of. I would pick which unicorn was my favorite. Some days it was the white one on the beach in a place I imagined to be Australia, others it was the two unicorns in the field of flowers.

One day someone told me they were just horses with a horn glued on their heads. I refused to believe this. I would pick up the book and bring it closer to my eyes and inspect. I couldn’t see any evidence of forgery. They must be real.

When I was 7 I had a diary with a picture of unicorn on the front. I put a felt sticker of a unicorn on the front and inside were 7 unicorns stamped in pink ink. I opened the diary recently to see that it said: I ripped out the pages before these because I wrote dumb things. This was in 1985. I looked closely and indeed they were frayed edges like the pages had been yanked out! What had I said?

Those pages floating in the Garbage Can of Dumb Things somewhere in 1985. In 2012 they would be in the Stream of Profound Things. I would look back at them and say: How fantastic! Look what I wrote when I was a kid. Look how thoughtful I was. Or: Look how much pain I was in. Whatever I had written I would look back upon it with awe and fascination and would use it as science and fact. It would help me uncover the mystery of why I was the way I was and it would give me material for my book. But I threw those parts of my life away. The “dumb parts.”

How may dumb parts of my life have I thrown away altogether?

How many have you?

What could I have said that I thought was so dumb?

When my father died I refused to cry. Maybe I wrote that I felt sad and then regretted that so I ripped it out? Being vulnerable was never easy for me. I thought it dumb to show how I felt. That it meant I was weak.

I will hunt for my old pages. I will search for those words. The basis of the unicorn myth perhaps arose because at one point people literally hunted for them. They searched in field and forests, calling out in the dark to these fantastical creatures. It was believed that it really existed somewhere at the edge of the known earth. Thus the mythologizing began.

So the hunt for the unicorn was much like my hunt for my pages. I am sure they existed. I believe that they exist somewhere at the edge of the known earth and that if I call to my ripped out pages in the dark edge of a forest, they will return. They will enter my sleeping mind, a unicorn made real by determination, and when I wake they will be there again like they never left. There will be no gaps in my diary, no holes in my memory, no unknown unicorns.

What is legend? What turns into memory? Which pages have you ripped out of your life thinking they didn’t deserve to exist? Which unicorns?

I wish I knew what happened to that beloved unicorn book. If I close my eyes I can still feel how smooth those pages were. It’s funny which things our memories choose to hold onto. Which sensations, which pages, which books, which people. Sometimes I would take those pages and rub them against my legs or my face like a talisman. I would let their magic wear off on me like the cold end of a rabbit’s foot or a lucky penny. The pages were always cool as if they lived in a separate magical world. No matter what the weather was in my room the pages stayed cold as snow.

I stopped believing in unicorns and I gave the book away. Or I threw it away in The Garbage Can of Dumb Things. I stopped believing that things would work out for me, that good things would last and that unicorns were a real part of the world.

A real part of the world. 

Real parts of the world were: my father’s death, we were moving away from New Jersey, I knew how to spell antidisestablishmentarianism (I would tell you this upon first meeting you and proceed to spell it), I had a red Huffy bike.

Not real parts of the world were: My father, unicorns.

I couldn’t remember what the book was called for the life of me until today. What I could  remember was how it smelled and which unicorn was on which page. So today I googled: Unicorn coffee table book from the 1980’s and what do you know? There it was! My beloved book. Unicorns I have Known. 

I am thinking back on all the unicorns I have known.

All the magic I have witnessed and then denied it’s very existence? All the miracles I have forgotten about or simply ripped out of my life like the pages of a diary, as if they were irrelevant or symptoms of stupidly. Symptoms of believing in magic.

How dare I believe in magic? I thought. Look where it gets you, you stupid Unicorn, I yelled.

I would like to be able to say that I believe in magic again.

I am getting closer to that truth. I am still out here wearing a headlamp, searching for unicorns after having given up on them for years. The thing is, about these unicorns, about this kind of magic: it will wait. It will be there to greet you with such a powerful surge of light that you will need take off your headlamp and sit down under a tree as you watch the light spill across the forest of your life like it had been there all along.

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

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

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.

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.

my book

Details of A Life.

August 23, 2012

I can’t remember the details of my life.

They go by, a fast car, a blur, a streak of blue or grey, a whiff of hair out the window, something out of the corner of an eye, not so much seen as remembered.

I am writing a book. An outline, my old friend, the big editor in NYC tells me. An outline? How do I outline my life? Do I get a piece of paper and draw a thin line of across it, a faint streak in charcoal or pencil outlining the places my heart has stopped beating for moments in time, tracing the years my eyes closed and opened again? An outline.

Birth. I was born. It was cold. December. Philadelphia. I came two months early. Just before Christmas I entered the world, a purple storm. I have been told that as my mother pushed me in a carriage one day in South Philadelphia, a woman spit on my head. I don’t remember this but I have been told the story so much that I think I remember this. This is the danger of being told stories. You start to think the story is the truth. And it might have been. But really, who knows? Who knows. The woman could have easily not spit on my head or called me ugly, or she could have spit on me. Either way I am not remembering the actual saliva and feeling of hatred dripping down but the rather the words have imprinted on my memory creating their own little room. Replete with a bed and a desk and a typewriter.

My sister was born. We moved to New Jersey. Across the bridge to South Jersey where people were moving. We moved to a street called Drexel Avenue. I remember that. I remember the store across the street from our house had a PacMan machine and a Frogger video game. You could buy things and put them on your tab at this store. I was a little girl, maybe 6 or 7, and I could walk in, play PacMan, get a pound of American cheese thinly sliced, and a hard pack of Kools for my father. I could just tell the man who owned it, Kirk, to put it on our tab. He left egg nog on our doorstep at Christmas. Now do I remember these things because I was there or because I wrote poems about them? Either way, here they are, in the outline on this Etch-A-Sketch of my life.

My dad dies. It’s 1983. Still a faint outline I am working on here, you must rememberr. Maybe it’s in chalk, pencil, something light. We aren’t at his funeral, my sister and I. We were somewhere but since I never wrote a poem about it, I don’t know where. Did we disappear, two little girls slipping into a crack in time long enough for a funeral for a very loved man to be held? Maybe. I do not know where we were. I will have to leave that out of my outline.

See the thing is, when writing a book, you have to have notes to look back on. I took no notes. My notes are in my head and my head is as unreliable as a sock.

Every sock I own has gone missing, leaving it’s partner in a ball with nothing to do but sit and wait. Eventually you get so desperate that you take that lone sock and put it with another lone sock, if it’s lucky. But you can’t count on that. Sometimes that sock sits forever by itself, sulking because it’s by itself and can’t understand what that means.

I am relying on my memories and my imagination. I know we write to remember and maybe I just do not want to remember. Maybe that? Maybe I am lazy. Maybe I forgot. Maybe I thought I would remember.

Don’t we all?

I am not sure the answer but I do know that it’s time to do this, to finally answer that calling that has been with me since I was a kid living in that house on Drexel Avenue in Pennsauken, New Jersey. And yet, here I am at a loss. How do I begin? What do I call upon? How can I do this?

Where does everything go? I yell at the computer.

Everything that happened to me, every person, every book I read, every toothache, every conversation with my dad, every triumph and heartache, every pizza: where is it, where are they? They happened. They existed.

I thought I would remember.

Maybe that’s why I never journaled. But shouldn’t I be able to call upon them in a moment’s notice? Don’t they belong to me? Don’t they work for me? Where have they gone?

Where has my father’s laugh gone: that laugh that creeped up the vents into our room and made us giggle because it sounded like a sheep? Where has that sound gone? Is it floating around somewhere in space where I can go capture it in a bottle and put it by my computer so when I need to describe it I can unscrew the lid and listen. Oh, how I would listen!

Perhaps that is how we keep going. If we remembered every detail we would never hold someone’s hand again, we would never kiss again, or go to the dentist. But does the forgetting mean that we can’t call upon it when needed. Can I sit quietly and remember the details of my life as they happened so I can write them on paper and send them out in the world?

After my father died and we moved to California we were happy. For a while. Then we moved back to New Jersey. Things are a blur here. I was hungry all the time in high school, I remember that, but I can’t remember how the hunger felt as it ate my stomach, that high I had as I felt empty, empty and more empty. I was so empty I remember thinking I wasn’t in the world anywhere but I must have been because here I am, still here. I can’t really remember that emptiness.

So I will have to sit quietly and beg the details to come back. I will bribe them. I will be nice to them and I will pay attention to what they tell me.

The details of my life are intricate and complicated and at the same time easy and wonderful, sad and happy, full of mistakes and fuck ups and moments of Yes. 

I spoke to someone on the phone this morning. My friend, Jimmy Knowles, someone gifted in too many ways for one human to be gifted, and he said, for the third time to me: Take notes during all of this. Take notes.

So what’s my problem? Why can’t I? What is my aversion to seeing the details of my life as they happen scrawled in chicken scratch in front of me like a grocery list, milk, bread, you are born, someone loved you, coffee, you became a yoga teacher, rice, you write a book.

I will face the details. I am no longer scared to look at them rather than simply try and remember them. As much as I think it is harder to write them as they happen, the opposite is true. It is much harder to try and remember someone you loved that died too soon rather than looking back at the words you wrote about their smile, their bald spot, their love of waffles.

It’s much harder to try and make it up.

How much we must make up.

How many details to stay alive.

The awesome Simplereminders.com made this poster for me!

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