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Guest Posts, Self Image, Self Love

Ugly Duckling Goes To The Prom

June 30, 2021
prom

by Emma Margraf

After four or five hits of pot on prom night, the hotel bed felt like the most amazing place I’d ever been. I was still in my discount-find dress with shoes kicked off and my date, James, was smoking his share of pot out of a small ceramic pipe. James was still in his suit shirt but without his jacket and tie. We were sharing a suite in San Francisco with two other couples. We paid for it with our part-time jobs and some contributions from our parents  after giving them a complicated argument for why this was a rite of passage they should support. The pot was James’s contribution – not part of the argument. I laid there wondering what I expected out of this moment – James and I were exes at this point – he was with someone new. He was with me because we had history, even though at the time I didn’t know what history meant.

I was certain my doctors wouldn’t be ok with the pot smoking, but I was young and, even with a number of chronic conditions piling up, it didn’t seem to matter. I would realize the direct consequences decades later.  My doctors were perplexed by my propensity for illness and injury and by my head size. I had to get a graduation cap special ordered.

My friends were in other parts of the suite with their boyfriends, and they all had muddied expectations as well. They wanted to lose their virginity, and also didn’t.  They’d pulled us off the dance floor, because of their anticipation. James and I lit up when the hits came on, goofing on dance moves and swinging each other around during the slow songs. I bristled at the way the photographer moved me around and told me to try and look pretty. I could hear James mutter to himself, come on man. So much of this didn’t feel as fun as it was supposed to be.

Come on man.

As we’d been walking into the hotel that night, James and I both noticed a look from a frenemy of mine. She used to copy my answers in Government class and somehow still get a higher grade. She called me an ugly duckling under her breath one day, thinking she was the smart one. I didn’t know she wasn’t at the time.

I was self-conscious about my dress. The only other formal dance I’d gone to was the year before, and my drunken father spent more money than was appropriate on a dress  I liked because it looked like Marilyn Monroe’s dress in that famous picture where her skirt flies up. This dress was more mainstream, a struggle to find, and one my friends liked. James turned me around toward a large mirror in the lobby and put his arm around me. It was the first time I realized that our outfits matched.

“LOOK at us!” he exclaimed, “I mean LOOK at US. We are FLY”.

He wouldn’t let up until I agreed that yes, we were fly. We were.

Doctors don’t ever tell you that you look fly. My doctors have always been sort of surprised when I even did normal things, like join the basketball team in seventh grade. When I did, I got unsurprisingly injured. The injury led to one of my favorite moments in my short sports career: too many girls on my team fouled out, so my coach put me in and told me to stay on our side of the court. When the other team came back with the ball I would be right there, arms in the air. It would be unexpected.

Doctors don’t talk to you about those moments. Doctors never ask you if you are going to prom. Or at least mine don’t. Sometimes I find myself trying to tell them I am normal. I am here. I am a person who lives a real life.

Come on, man.

My girlfriend Erin jokes that between me and our Great Dane, she loves big heads. She loves us both intensely, and it soaks into all of her daily choices. She came home one day from Costco jubilant, excited by a possible victory: she’d found a helmet, and she thought it might actually fit. I pulled it out of the box and put it on while looking at her hopeful face as she jumped up to push my hair into the sides of the helmet.

I love movement, and a helmet means that I can get on a scooter again, or an electric bike, or get my roller skates out. Wearing short shorts and a Star Wars shirt she’d given me for my birthday, I put on my skates and practiced in the house, smiling the whole time.

She and I have moves like James and I used to, only better. We have danced in the street in New Orleans and Las Vegas, but also in the Christmas aisle at Home Depot, where we bought a singing avocado that we dance to in our living room. We met in a Zumba class, where she was the teacher and I was the student. I fell totally in love with the way she taught us to Samba, the way she expected everyone to constantly improve, and most of all, the way she loved the music. It was thrilling.

After a few months of Zumba, I felt comfortable enough to move up to the front rows of the class, closer to the mirrors, with more of a spotlight on my body, my arms, my legs, my big head. I knew that some of the men who collected outside the door to watch us wondered why I would feel so confident. I knew some of the women in the class would feel that way too. I kept dancing.

“Don’t stop, make it pop, D.J. blow my speakers up

Tonight Imma fight ‘till we see the sunlight

Tik Tok , on the clock, but the party don’t stop no”

Our hands waved above our heads, back and forth as we strutted down towards the mirrors and backed up to our spots, singing along to a song sung by a woman twenty years younger than most of us. A song sung by a woman who would later sue her handlers to get her freedom back.

Leaving class one day to get water I heard a YMCA staff member telling a guy to stop staring at our class.

Come on, man. 

That guy, that look, that feeling —  like the photographer at prom, like a boss who said I was easy to get to know, like the frenemy who told me I was the Ugly Duckling. I didn’t get overtly bullied for my big head, mostly because I grew up in communities that took bullying seriously. But it was baked into our culture. When folks referred to mainstream kids, they didn’t mean me. Everyone knew I was in a wheelchair as a kid and you don’t bully someone who used to be in a wheelchair. And the big head isn’t her fault, you know? She’s sick.

Come on, man.

What the mainstream folks didn’t know was that the wheelchair protected me. I didn’t get conditioned to feel like I had to look a certain way or to be a certain way because the wheelchair made me a nobody to everyone except those that really loved me. I didn’t get invested in rituals like the prom because no one expected me to be a part of them. When I did participate, the narrow view of beauty that came along with the ritual felt like a shocking inability to see the whole world.

We’d spent more money than any of us had to spray our hair high, layer on makeup, and put on pretty dresses. That part had actually been kind of fun, all four of us girls moving in and out of the bathroom, trading makeup and curlers and hair dryers along with gossip. The terribly overpriced terrible dinner was the first of many I would pick at later in life at weddings and fundraising dinners, but I didn’t know it at the time. Then my friends wanted to leave early, cutting our dancing short, racing to their expectations.

And so this is how James and I found ourselves clothes on, laying on a hotel bed smoking enough pot to make up for the fact that we wanted to be dancing. The dancing was like the time on the basketball court, like roller skating, like Zumba. We talked and laughed about the awkward people at prom that were Not Having Fun and whispered about the occasional sniping we heard from the next room, where it didn’t sound like things were going well. I woke up the next morning in my dress, with a blanket pulled over me, James asleep on the couch nearby.

I was listening to Allison Janney on a podcast last year reliving some of her time on the tv show The West Wing twenty years ago, and she said she looks at her younger self and thinks that she had no idea how beautiful she was. Folks have always told me I looked like her. I’ve always thought she was beautiful. Were people making it clear to her that she wasn’t considered beautiful too? Are we the same? I think about her looks vs. her career and her life and I don’t long for her glamour, but I would give anything to spend time in the same room as Martin Sheen, to trade dance moves with Dule Hill. Dule Hill danced with Savion Glover on Broadway.

Erin and I now live in the country, across the street from an inlet that produces some of the most sought-after oysters in the world. She read an article about the science of oysters and champagne and why they’re paired. Soon, we’ll go down the street for the oysters and have some champagne delivered. If we feel so inspired, maybe we’ll put on dresses and have our own prom. We’ll eat at the farm table my dad made me using the discarded wood from a millionaire’s mansion’s floor and dance in the living room or outside on the deck, under the country stars.

Emma Margraf is a Northwest writer whose work can be found in Folks, Entropy, Chronically Lit and more. She lives with her girlfriend and her Great Dane on a small inlet in the forest.

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emma

Stories of parent/child relationships can be complex, and Emma’s Laugh, The Gift of  Second Chances, is no exception.  Convinced of her inability to love her “imperfect” child and give her the best care and life she deserved, Diana gave Emma up for adoption. But as with all things that are meant to be, Emma found her way back home. As Emma grew, Diana watched her live life determinedly and unapologetically, radiating love always. Emma evolved from a survivor to a warrior, and the little girl that Diana didn’t think she could love enough rearranged her heart. In her short eighteen years of life, Emma gifted her family the indelible lesson of the healing and redemptive power of love.

Read Diana’s ManifestStation essay here

Order the book from Amazon or Bookshop.org

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Anti-racist resources, because silence is not an option

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Guest Posts, Kindness, parenting, Self Love

Golden Repair: A Disfigured Mom’s Quest to Raise a More Loving Child

February 8, 2021
god

By Melissa Akie Wiley

She looked at my face with disgust. My infant daughter cooed. I had just placed the baby into a shopping cart when the woman first approached. A stranger. She came too close. Staring at my daughter.

“Your baby is perfect,” she said. “She looks like a doll.”

I thanked her and pulled the cart away. Then the woman looked up at me and froze. She was silent and scurried to her car, as if I might run after her. I stood in front of the grocery store with my daughter. The automatic doors opened and closed but I didn’t move. My baby smiled. Too young to know that she is beautiful but her mother is disfigured.

My daughter is 2 years old now. She has round blue eyes and blonde hair. Her face inspires joy. My face is lopsided and scarred. It was a dog attack. I was five. I am not afraid of dogs. People always seem more concerned about my feelings toward dogs than they do about me. I have had over thirty surgeries and they helped. But my face is instantly noticeable. And the world is bothered by asymmetry and imperfection. I am also part Japanese and part white. My skin is too pale and my hair is too dark. People tell me that my daughter is perfect and then they say she looks nothing like me.

I have never looked like anyone. Bi-racial and disfigured is a cocktail of isolation. In childhood, I left my hometown of Boulder, Colorado every summer to visit my Japanese grandma in Tucson, Arizona. One summer I begged her to take me to a crowded shopping mall to buy doll clothes. I was 7 years old.

“Did you see that disgusting girl?” a woman said then.

She was talking to her daughter and looking directly at me.

The girl met my eyes and glared. Her hair twisted in a tight braid. I dreamed of ponytails but didn’t dare wear my hair up. I looked at the girl’s flawless appearance and sank into shame.

“So gross. I can’t believe she even came out of her house. She’s going to give me nightmares. She’s a monster,” the girl said. She was my age and already this callous.

The mother hugged her daughter and shot my grandma a scowl.

Then she said, “I’m so sorry, sweetie. People should know better but she’s clearly with some immigrant nanny who probably doesn’t even speak English.”

We stood in silence with our doll clothes. I felt devastation that my grandma should suffer due to my deformity. I tried to wedge myself behind stacks of toys to prevent further commentary. My grandma adjusted her glasses with shaky hands.

“I am sorry I don’t speak good English,” she said.

That day she bought more doll clothes than she could afford. She had worked as a hotel maid and saved tips in the form of crisp dollar bills. She set this carefully preserved money aside for me. When we approached the counter to pay for the items, the cashier said, “what’s wrong with her face?”

“Nothing wrong with my granddaughter,” she said, in broken English.

Once I asked my mom if she was mad at God. We were sitting in my grandma’s backyard in Tucson. Looking at the night sky. It’s easier to talk about God’s failings in the dark.

On the day of the dog attack, she had only looked away for a minute. Long enough to drain noodles from a boiling pan. When she turned around, the yard lay covered in blood and my face was gone.

“No,” she said. “Because you are extraordinary. You have shown me what it is to live next to suffering and become truly beautiful.”

People ask how I survived. The answer is my mom.

I want to tell her that I am not mad at God because he gave me her, and a good mom is worth more than a pretty face.  I am thankful I learned this lesson in youth. When I still have more years on the earth with my mom.

Tragedy in childhood is a spiritual offering. Early redemption creates a fast track toward a more meaningful and grounded life. I shed the frivolousness of appearance, money, and status like a butterfly discards a cocoon. Because when the world rejected me, I sheltered only with the tender hearted and my own soul. And if we’re lucky, that is where we all eventually end up anyway.

My daughter will grow up with a disfigured mom.

On my daughter’s first day of Kindergarten, middle school, high school, and college, I will take photos of her and children will stare. After I am gone, they will ruin these moments of childhood by asking what’s wrong with her mom. I know this because these moments were taken from me, too.

I will want to stay in the car to spare her. But I will not. Instead I will show up for everything. And when we hear the comments, I will tell her that the Japanese have a word, Kintsugi, which roughly translates to golden repair. It is the Japanese art of taking broken pottery and patching it with gold so that the imperfection is illuminated instead of disguised. I will tell her that my mother’s love was the glue that made my flawed life golden. And my love will hold her together, too.

This pain will make my daughter kind. It will teach her that the world is unduly harsh because we are all more broken than whole. And she will learn that love is restorative and the only thing of true beauty. She will inherit this wisdom in childhood. When we are both still young enough to walk the earth together.

And when people ask, I hope she says, “There is nothing wrong with my mom”.

Melissa Akie Wiley is a public servant and fierce local government leader by day and a mother and writer by heart. She strives to infuse joy into all aspects of service by living with authenticity and resiliance. After overcoming a disfiguring childhood dog attack, Melissa committed to a life of repair and love. She holds a Master’s Degree from the University of Pennsylvania and lives with her husband, daughter, and dog in Denver, Colorado. She is the director of the nationally-recognized, Denver Peak Academy and is currently working on her memoir.

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We love this book for so many reasons! The writing is incredible, the story is important, and seeing what life looks like when you survive the unthinkable is transformative. If you haven’t already, pick up a copy of Sanctuary, by Emily Rapp Black. Purchase at Bookshop.org or Amazon.

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Anti-racist resources, because silence is not an option

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Guest Posts, motherhood, parenting, Self Image, Self Love, Women

The Pink Wig

July 24, 2020
wig

By Tricia Stearns

I have more regrets than Amazon has distribution centers. Still, one regret I do not have: buying a pink wig for my middle daughter.  At age 10, she was the self-appointed influencer for her brat pack, as well as her sisters. If she decided it would be cool to cut up their designer jeans and make them purses, they would have stripped and handed her the scissors.

While I chauffeured them through childhoods I wish I had experienced, Daughter Two commanded the CD selection for the ride to school and taught her sisters backseat dance moves to Brittany Spear. From fashion to food to music, she navigated her world as if she was the CEO of Me, Inc.

Her zest for extra-curricular activities kept me spinning a schedule of dance lessons, theater rehearsals and private singing lessons. I couldn’t count on child support, but I could count on the sun rising and a new performance idea from Daughter Two. Kitchen clean-up doubled as a re-cap of dance class or a reprise of the opening of “Newsies.” Bedtime stories were told with a theatrical flair and always included happy endings.

She scrimped her allowance to buy the acrylic pink bob only to learn that her school dress code banned wigs. After a few rounds of letters to the school board failed to change the rules, she threw it in the Prop and Future Halloween Costume bin.

When Daughter Two decided to wear the wig on a rare outing for pancakes, it did not surprise me. The smell of bacon and maple syrup thickened the air as our waitress sugar-pied us up, and we ordered. We gave no further thought to Daughter Two’s accessory, accepting the pink wig into everyday wear. However, pink wigs were rare in our southern suburb, and breakfasters’ glances soon fell into stares.

The girls and I folded our straws into pretend people and created a story, positioning the ketchup and salt and peppershakers as props. My voice rose trying to drown out the chatter from a four-top of older ladies going to a Baptist bake sale, or maybe on their way to bingo.

“I never.”

“…should know better”

“Bless her heart. ”

Daughter Two’s mouth pursed. She wiggled in her seat. She twiddled her straw.

She stared right back at them. She re-arranged her fork and knife on the menu.

“Why in the world…”

We started a new play; our straw characters already tired. Daughter Two surveyed the restaurant, meeting the looks of a family of four wearing matching soccer jerseys and the chatty ladies closest to us.

She slapped her napkin down and plowed by our waitress carrying a load of pancakes.

She’d be back, we assured the waitress who volunteered to keep her plate warm. We slathered on butter and syrup, and wondered about Daughter Two camping out in the toilet. Perhaps, there was a line.  Daughter Two’s chair sat empty. The glob of butter now melted over her pancakes, cold.

We found no line in the bathroom, just a weary traveler, adjusting her snowman sweatshirt, preparing to wash her hands. Outside a stall, I tried to coax Daughter Two with bathroom humor. The lady nodded toward the last toilet.

The girls and I shifted, peaking through the cracks. Daughter Two perched on the edge of the toilet, her blonde hair flattened, her small hands wringing the wig.

With eyes red and big tears raining, she declared she would never eat a pancake ever again, and to leave her alone. Forever.

“No pancakes for the rest of your life?”

“Can I have what you ordered?” asked Daughter Three.

“Hush.”

“Can I have your bacon?” asked Daughter One.

Elevator music looped, toilets flushed.  Women moved in and out, offering looks and opinions. “Yes, thank you.” “NO, thank you.” “Bless YOUR heart.”

My youngest squatted down in the corner of the bathroom, looking up and under the door begging Daughter Two to come out.

My mom genes kicked in. There was more at stake than a little restaurant embarrassment. I had to get it right.  I felt the weight of the moment: The rock of my daughter’s soul was tumbling down a dark hole and she might never be the same.

I needed time, to figure out how to pull the knife of doubt out of her heart, to stop the bleeding and convince her she could love the identity she created; at the bare minimum to re-enforce her natural strengths and beg her not to question her ability to pull off a fashion statement. She needed assurance it was okay to trust her truest self.  If she couldn’t trust herself then I had failed as a mother, as a fellow female.

No longer was I standing in the bathroom of an interstate pancake house. No longer were we just using a coupon for pancakes before it expired. I was kneeling in a forest next to a hole freshly dug by a beautiful human, my child. She had sunk into a deep space carrying her childhood comforts: cookies, nuts, a blanket. She smoothed out the tattered edges of her childhood lovey questioning her place in the world.

I looked through the crack of the door. Her puffy eyes met mine. And in that moment, she knew I knew that place, too. She made room for me under her blanket.

I wanted to tell her, it gets easier, but judgment is timeless. Judgment is a relentless foe. We all stood in silence. Swoosh, another toilet.

I knew when I gave birth to a bevy of girls what I wanted for them. I also knew it would be difficult to teach. I was still trying to figure it all out: How to be myself in a world ready to tell me who I ought to be.

The real battle, the battle for one female to get it right, was right before me.

“You know, I don’t know a lot, but I do know if you wear a pink wig, you will get stares,” I said, with a calm assuredness. I held her gaze through the crack of the door, leaning on the door.

“ You got to be ready for it. If you wear it, you can’t care.” I paused, not knowing what I was going to say next, praying for the right words to come out of my mouth.

 

“Wear it. Don’t wear it. You decide. But if you do wear it, wear it with guts.

But be ready. You do not need permission to be yourself.”

Stillness. We sat in stillness. No one walked in or out for a moment.  Daughter One sat down and grabbed Daughter Three’s hand. Moments passed into a future memory that I hoped would become a point of reference for my girls.

Daughter Two straightened and smooth out the pink wig and opened the bath room door. We walked out and into the world, feeling altogether different. Altogether better, all together.

Tricia Stearns has been published in Atlanta Journal Constitution, Bloom, Loose Change literary magazine, and wrote a weekly column for five years for  the Fayette Daily News. In this column, Tricia dcumented how she started a farmers market and built the largest community garden in the Atlanta metroplex. She is currently working on a personal narrative essay collection. Tricia can be found on twitter as @tstearns2014 and on instagram as @triciastearns.

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Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood, Self Love

Who Are You Now?

November 6, 2019
snow

By Jamie Della

I moved to the mountains nearly two years ago to be with Joey, my beloved mountain man. I wondered if I moved too soon, just a few days after my youngest son graduated from high school and went to live with his dad. I disassembled the nest, so how can I call it empty? I didn’t realize the purpose it gave me to keep a home warm and inviting. I didn’t know what winter would feel like.

I lay on my couch, under a blanket, looking out of the window at the white sky. The falling snow is easiest to see against the dark green mass of a broad spruce tree. They say it will snow all day, maybe even become a blizzard. It is the perfect day for a three-hour meditation, a devotional practice as part of the second year in a priestess training program. I am learning how to be still.

There had been no time for the loneliness that now surrounds me when I was racing through southern California traffic from work to my sons’ soccer games, then to Trader Joe’s to keep up with ravenous teen boys’ appetites. Now I even miss getting up before the sun to make my sons eggs and bacon before heading off to school. I miss hugging them in the morning when they were still warm from bed.

Occasionally, the snow that clumps on the spruce tree branches becomes too heavy and falls to lower branches. I wonder if the top branches feel inadequate for not being able to carry such a heavy load? Do they feel guilty for making another take on their burden? Of course not, I think. That’s just me who wants to carry more than she can. Or maybe that’s being a mom?

And as if on cue, the wind whisks away the fluffy snow in spirals. Yes. I understand freedom that comes from the wind. I have a gypsy’s wanderlust, happiest when rambling through a mountain meadow or on a road trip with an open map and the great wide world. Most of the vacations I took with my sons were road trips, going as far as I could, just like Eddie Vedder sings, “Gas in the tank is like money in the bank.”

And now I sit watching snowflakes. There was no space for isolation amidst the perpetual doingness and competitive drive to build a life of luxury in Orange County. Now, the nearest big box store is two and a half hours away, in another state. The grocery store is twenty minutes away, unless there is a white-out blizzard. There is never a reason to hurry and traffic means waiting for a car or two to go by. I live in a town of 700 people, who mostly keep to themselves, unless I want to hear how Jesus saved them. I don’t.

I miss gathering around the appetizers at family parties like a hoard of starving vultures and listening firsthand to the antics of my seven nieces and nephews. Usually someone in my family will call during the monthly birthday parties or holidays, but it’s not the same. You can’t tease your mom for drinking from your glass of wine or have a food fight with your sister over the phone.

I slow my breathing and remind myself that through my silent meditation I hope to build a foundation of peace, stability, courage, and creativity in the quiet of my own inner wisdom. I watch as the individual snowflakes fall. They say no two snowflakes are alike. Some snowflakes float in a rocking motion, like a boat on the sea. Other snowflakes are like pinwheels or the spinning girls at a Grateful Dead concert. Some snowflakes are long and irregular, as if they collected other snowflakes to them, like star-shaped, flying skydancers. Others look delicate, like the snowflakes my sister and I made as kids by cutting folded squares of white paper.

I think of the crystalline shapes that form when you speak to water. That must be life responding to the words. I wonder if it could, would the snowflake lament the conformity of being singular? Does the snowflake care that its uniqueness is not special or outstanding in the least? How can you be special if everyone is special? I can’t stand the idea. My chest tightens. I remind myself to breath. I think of all the things I have considered as outstanding, including my own parenting. The house suddenly feels too quiet and Joey won’t be home for hours. I get up and walk outside to the wood pile.

The snow blankets the land, erasing the contours of the earth, covering the sagebrush, bitterbrush, and our campfire pit. It rests in clumps on the thorns of the rose buses and the bare branches of the aspen trees. It has nearly buried my wrought iron writing chair and desk. I cannot see the 13,000-foot mountain peaks because of the white wall of snow.

This whiteness reminds me of the silver streak that begins at my forehead and has now reached the bottom of my long, brown hair. I am entering my winter years. The golden glimmer of my youth has faded like the leaves from every tree but the pines and spruces. Heads no longer turn when I walk in a room, and I realize that I no longer want that attention. It was an exhausting any way.

I grab four logs, walk back into our home, and carefully stuff the wood burning stove. The embers glow molten orange and the fire roars to life. I turn to gain heat on my back where I need the warmth to feel supported in this maddening world as I seek the best part of me.  In this moment of pure loving surrender, my heart and mind begin to open to the all blessings I have known and the ease of my life today. This is what I wanted after all.

I don’t have to fight for a parking space or work in a cubicle. I am not doling out punishments for breaking curfew or smoking pot. My sons are creating lives of their choosing and I am proud of their independence. I am in love and my mountain man loves me. I play with clay on my potter’s wheel, finding shape, trimming, firing, glazing. I slake my thirst from earthenware I have made. I take care of friends I haven’t yet met at our successful vacation guesthouse. I set out the rocking chair that once lulled my babies to sleep when the guests bring the wee ones. But, I don’t go so far as to make them chocolate chip cookies. I’ve learned to let go of some burdens and tend instead to the fire within. I feel the Goddess rise in my consciousness through the stillness. I am grateful for the quiet and content, I realize, for perhaps the first time in my life.

I return to the couch and pull up the blanket. I see a pattern outside, as if snow is choreographed as it falls from the sky. Each snowflake is part of a dance, like a ballerina who dances for the sake of dancing. Can we be like the snowflakes, living for the sake of being exactly who we are in the moment, no matter who is watching or keeping score? Perhaps. The idea feels right and fuels my desire to let my uniqueness stand out against the white blanket of winter, like words on a fresh sheet of paper.

Jamie Della is the author of nine books, including The Book of Spells (Ten Speed Press, October 2019), an “Herbal Journeys” column for Witches and Pagans Magazine and an essay in River Avenue Book’s #Me Too anthology. She has been published by Rebelle Society, Manifest Station, and SageWoman Magazine. She has been awarded Best Reference Book from the International Latino Book Awards, Book of the Month from Las Comarades para las Americas.

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Guest Posts, Making Shit Happen, Self Love

On A Scale Of One To Ten

February 25, 2019
10

By Lisa Todd

I’m in the kitchen making guacamole when Diana calls to me from the family room. “Hey,” she asks, “How are you doing today?” I sigh as I turn on the faucet and watch the water run over my hands while I thought. How was I doing?

I sighed again. “Well,” I started. “On a scale of 1 to 10, either 10 being the best you could feel and 1 being the worst you could feel, how are you feeling?” Diana said. We’d used that scale of 1 to 10 since her surgery 9 years ago (was it already 9 years ago?) when the nurses at the hospital would ask what Diana’s pain level was like. “How is your pain today?” they’d ask and I would cringe inwardly, thinking of the hardware recently installed in her to stop her vertebrae from twisting and turning into a painful S shape. Over the years, the pain scale took its place in our family vernacular. And now my daughter uses it today to check on me. I smile to myself at her kind heart, thinking not for the first time that I’m a lucky mom to have her in my life.

“I guess I’m at a 5,” I said, thinking about my day. One woman who spent 20 minutes reading instructions and asking me, “Am I missing anything?” after each step of the instructions. Another woman who didn’t like my instructions and so complained to her cohort leader that “the woman in licensure wasn’t giving me a straight answer.” The coworker who graciously spends part of her summer work hours helping me navigate my busy days and comes into my office to cry and rage about the stressful job she’s in. The stacks of licensure requests that stress me every day because I feel I’m not getting through them fast enough. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Self Image, Self Love

Love Is A Hell Of A Drug

September 20, 2018
love

By Jasmine Sims

You fell in love with the word long ago. You watched the movies and figured out that was something you wanted. You didn’t realize that you had, early on, fallen into an addiction that you’d spend your life looking for.

You looked for it in the eyes of your father. Prided yourself in being daddy’s little girl. You lived for his laugh and nod of approval like an addict. The mere acknowledgment of your presence and masquerade of acceptance was enough of a hit to keep you pushing until the next time. You didn’t know you were the daughter of a drug addict, because he hid it so well that you didn’t realize when you visited his friends and left you in the car you were at a crack house. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, love, Self Love

Love Letters

February 14, 2018
letters

By Molly Krause

My first husband’s handwritten earnest love notes to me are gone; Don’s barely legible nonsense letters taunt me from the manila file folder that I scrawled his name on the edge with a sharpie marker.

Don stumbled in daily to the deli where I worked making lattes and dishing up curry chicken salad. I was twenty-three, freshly divorced and spent the first half of my shifts reapplying lipstick and shaking off a perpetual hangover. Don was middle aged in sloppy slacks and stained shirts and half of his face pinched up as if stuck mid-sneeze. He sometimes drooled and drank more ice tea than I thought humanly possible, adding fake sugar packets that littered the table and floor.

One day he left without paying but came stumbling back in an hour later and left two wadded up dollar bills in front of me on the counter. “Sorry, Molly,” he said. A beam of sunshine came from the smile on the relaxed half of his face. I was surprised he knew my name. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Self Image, Self Love

Loveless at 34

July 12, 2017
garbage

By Shauna Lange

The day I found out I was having a heart attack, was a day like any other.  Other than the radiating pain in my arm and chest every time I moved, it was a fairly average day.  I smoked my two cigarettes on the way to work.  I typed my spreadsheets, drank my coffee, enjoyed some laughs with friends, binged at every meal, and smoked my last 2 cigarettes on the way to my second job.  Most importantly, I spent a good portion of the day internally bullying myself for every calorie, every mistake and bullshit excuse, with the good old stand-by “I’ll just try again tomorrow” – rationalizing every ugly moment.

Since complete self-loathing accompanies the decision to eat a few too many McDonald’s french fries, sans ketchup (to save some calories) you can only imagine my emotional state when the ER doctor came to me later that evening.  With a look of shock on her face, she told me that I was having a heart attack. As the tears streamed down my face, with a gaggle of hospital staff staring at me, paralyzed by my meltdown, I realized how truly broken I was.

I felt rejected by my own body.  How could it do this to me?  Stupid heart.  Lazy ass.  Ugly idiot. Fucking food addict.  I stayed up all night in the hospital in this state of anger and loss. I cried or I berated myself.  I sat there for hours and tried to figure out all the things I had done that lead me to that moment.  The years of poor eating and binging, the avoidance of exercise over the last year, the decision to take myself off my diabetes meds while putting myself on birth control to avoid my fear of pregnancy, all the way to the final cigarette I tried to have in the car as I drove myself to the hospital with pain shooting from my chest to my arm.

March 22, 2017 was my day of reckoning.  It was time to pay for my sins.  At 34 years of age, I was now confronted with the reality that all aspects of my life needed to change.  Each health issue needed to be addressed; each coping mechanism needed to be taken away and replaced with something healthy.  And while I had spent the last four years of my life making some healthy strides emotionally and physically, it was time to take off the kid gloves and dig into the mess.  Quit smoking, control my diabetes, exercise, and most importantly, finally deal with my compulsive eating.

I spent the first few weeks after getting out of the hospital lost.  For me, it’s been difficult not to blame my own actions for my heart attack.  “If only.”  The words circled around in my brain every day. While I was able to quit smoking and start exercising fairly easily, the food continues to be a struggle.  For the last 15 years, binging has been a way of life.  Food is used to celebrate or mask all emotion.  Hating myself for eating is an automatic response.  Choosing to eat poorly is easy, and frankly, safe and comforting.  Once that food is shoved into my mouth, an insult immediately follows.  With each bite I take, I berate myself, and imagine years of fast food piled on top of each other, an impenetrable wall in my stomach while the self-hate has created a wall around my heart so I feel loveless.  No love can get in, and no love will come out.

Where did my love go?  I don’t have problems expressing love, or cheering people up.  In fact, making people laugh is my favorite thing about life.  Making someone truly laugh is powerful.  So, why do I stop the love from penetrating my heart?  Where is my self-compassion, my patience, my own truth?  Even when people asked me how I was doing, I replied very upbeat and excited and made sure to reassure them that I was good.

I finally admitted to myself that I failed.  Not at losing the weight, or taking care of myself, or listening to the experts, or any of the shit the world throws at you.  I failed at loving my body, inside and out.  I became loveless at 34. “You gotta love yourself first” they say, right?  Fuck that. You have to love period. I realized that so often, I’m not actually sad or mad or angry.  I THINK I need to feel this way.  That my life should have some drama in it, or it’s not worthy.  But when I asked myself – “Worthy of what?”  – I came up with a lot of bullshit and decided enough was enough.  I admitted that while I can enlist the help of family, friends, doctors, nurses, nutritionists and therapists, they can’t do the work for me.  They can love me, and I can love them, but I still need to love myself.  This is starting to sound like an ad for masturbation….Let’s move on.

I admitted that regardless of the number on the scale, size of my boobs, the strength of my arms, the color of my nails, or the shininess of my hair, what is actually important to me are the beating organs that keep me alive. The gifts of the senses.  The ability to sleep and dream and wake up rested and ready to take life by the proverbial lady balls.  My body is not a garbage disposal, a punching bag, or a broken piece of glass. It’s fucking beautiful, in all its messy, fatty, sexy glory.

I may have a stent in my artery, but that just means I’m one piece closer to being bionic! I’ve got amazing bedhead.  I love my eyes, and sometimes I look at them in the mirror because the color is so unique.  If you ask me, my boobs are perfect.  I hate wearing a bra, and thankfully, my breasts are still a little perky!  My brain never stops, and while sometimes it’s exhausting, I love the constant state of randomness it’s in.

I’m learning to love the bloody, messy bleeding heart inside me.  I want to tear the wall down and build a nice soft pillow to protect it and keep it safe.  My heart is my queen, and she’s getting stronger every day.

I am beautiful, and I am fat. I have heart disease, and I am a diabetic. I am both complicated and simple.  I am love, and I am pain. I am loud and shy. We are all these amazing dichotomies and creations of our own choosing, and I am learning to embrace all the good and the bad, because I no longer want to be perfect.  I just want to be me, and as corny and cheesy as it sounds, it took breaking my heart to find the courage to accept that I want to live a life full of love.

Shauna Lange was born and raised in the Berkshires of Massachusetts. She has a BA in Psychology from Lemoyne College in Syracuse NY. While she dreamed of being a writer since she was a kid, it’s only been recently that she has allowed myself to write, and share it with the world. Shauna can be found on facebook and on instagram. She also loves photography, comedies, and the beach.

 

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Guest Posts, Self Love

Venus Envy

November 16, 2016
scale

By Michelle Riddell

A woman’s primary nemesis is a scale—not the bathroom variety, though its adversarial powers are fierce—I am talking about a balance scale, the kind whose likeness is etched in bronze outside a courthouse. The kind of scale that compares the weight of one thing to another and registers the slightest sliver of inequity by dramatically tipping its arm. A woman imagines herself standing alone in the little gold dish on one side of the scale. She is weighted, grounded, secure. She wins if she is more, and she is more only if the other side is less. Like a zero-sum game, the outcome is distributive, never integrative, never shared.

In the second gold dish, on the opposite side of the balance arm, stand other women. Women she knows, women she loves, women she has never met yet knows intimate details about. Women who hurt her feelings back in high school, women who pretend to be interested when she talks, yet can’t bring themselves to ask her about her life. Women who begrudge her success in whatever realm it may be: another pregnancy, weight loss, a promotion, a good manicure. Women who complain about her behind her back, or don’t invite her, or don’t bother to learn her name. Women she is “friends” with but who won’t “like” the pictures she posts of her daughter’s first tooth or her tenth anniversary. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Self Image, Self Love, Young Voices

Born To Be Bald

June 8, 2016
acceptance

Note from Jen Pastiloff, founder of The Manifest-Station. This is part of our Young Voices Series for Girl Power: You Are Enough. We are always looking for more writing from YOU! Make sure you follow us on instagram at @GirlPowerYouAreEnough and on Facebook here.

By Addie Newcombe

Many people have never heard of Alopecia Areata. It means you don’t have any hair. So the obvious million-dollar question comes up over and over again: if you could have your hair back, would you?

Many women answer yes, and that’s fine. But I offer a resounding NO! I do not want my hair back. Ever!

Yes, this puts me at odds with a lot of bald women, including the four profiled for a piece in the “Fashion and Style” section of the New York Times. They all wish they had their hair back because the emotional discomfort of being bald has not yet subsided—washing their insecurities clean.

Alopecia Areata is an autoimmune disease that attacks the hair follicles. It made me completely bald at the ripe old age of…six. That was fifteen years ago. Out of the 6.6 million people in the United States who have the disease, I have only met two people without hair—well, three including myself, but I’m still meeting parts of who I am. Not experiencing others with the disease has been extremely alienating. In a country with over 6.6 million people with my similarity, how have I only met TWO? Maybe I am wildly unaware of other people’s baldness or they are wearing hairpieces that are so life-like that I just don’t notice. I don’t think that is a bad thing, though. Anonymity is so hard to come by when you’re so physically different. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Self Love

Calculating My Worth

April 13, 2016
worth

By Jennifer Kathleen Gibbons

The Welfare office was depressing. This wasn’t a surprise; welfare offices are not known for their cheeriness or décor. The carpet was worn and tired, so much so I couldn’t tell what the original color was. All the clerks looked worn and tired. There were toys in one corner, with a Disney version of Alice in Wonderland book on the floor. On the wall was a television blasting Family Feud, Louis Anderson yelling “Survey said!” I wished Louis would come on down and do a routine in the office. They needed some jazz hands, some cheer.

I was grateful the TV was set on Family Feud rather than CNN, which was broadcasting coverage of the Lacy Peterson case all day/night long, along with horrifying images of Iraq being bombed. I tried concentrating on my Nick Hornby novel. I knew it was going to be a depressing experience so I wanted something funny to read. All I could think was what am I doing here? I should not be here. This isn’t me. I’ve worked since I was sixteen years old. Fifteen years later, I was in a welfare office. It made no sense. However, I was having no luck finding a job. An unpaid internship became hellish. I’d been sending resumes out daily, no luck. I’d gone through my skimpy savings. Welfare was the last resort. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Self Love

The Long Painful Road to Loving Myself

April 11, 2016
healing

By Dina Strada

“Sometimes you’ll just be too much woman. Too smart, too beautiful, too strong. Too much of something. That makes a man feel like less of a man, which will start making you feel like you have to be less of a woman.  The biggest mistake you can make is removing jewels from your own crown to make it easier for a man to carry.
When this happens, I need you to understand, you do not need a smaller crown—you need a man with bigger hands.” ~ Michael Reid

The first time I heard Michael Reid’s beautiful poem, it was read to me by my best friend in an intimate group and it resonated with me in a big way. I had often felt throughout my life that maybe I was too much… too much of something (independent, outspoken, honest, sensitive) that made me “not enough”.

The 2nd time I read it was when an old male friend of mine who has known me close to 20 years posted it on my Facebook wall recently. It resonated with me even more the 2nd time around because he knew what I have been through the past few years and his gesture in sending it reminded me to stay the course… and to not dim myself for anyone, including myself.

Prior to the last 2 1/2 years of my life, I would have argued that I was completely happy with myself and no longer felt that I was “too much” of anything. I loved my life and what I had made of it and felt pretty confident in who I was.

What I didn’t realize was that I had been stuffing down and not acknowledging this old story about myself that I’m “not enough”.  A story that only those intimately close to me would tell you existed and that it was actually running my life. Continue Reading…

Anxiety, courage, Guest Posts, Self Image, Self Love

Fix Me

January 27, 2016

By Timna Understein

This story is dedicated to Aidan, who thankfully has found the truth…that there is NO magic pill, and who has discovered his gift of writing, which is ultimately a way through. The song that should accompany this piece is entitled “Falls Asleep at the Wheel” by The Hissy Fits.

Once upon a time, there was a tired girl.  Well, really, it was beyond tired…she was exhausted at best…and pretty much all of the time.  After the first cup of coffee quickly exited her body (by 10:00 AM), the ability to function in a regular day, became a struggle, to say the least.  Example: Up at 6:45 AM, coffee, moderate exercise, shower…typical actions taken by many each and every morning, was followed up by the feelings of, “If I put on my make-up, I’m going to have to take a nap, or maybe I can do my make-up laying down on my bed…But if I do that, I’m not sure I’ll get up.”  She knew this could not possibly be normal, nor did she want to continue to feel this way…everyday!

Many attempts were made through out each day to not feel this way…to fix this..to change it.  These attempts could look anything like drinking 6 cups of coffee a day, to running to doctors to beg for blood work, to plead for information, to be heard.  But…to no avail.

There were times of acceptance about feeling this way, living this way.  No.  Actually, there were not.  Never acceptance, but rather a sense of defeat, of, “Yea, I guess this is how I will feel each day.”  But then, there were also times of hope.  Hope looked like this: a lab result of severe anemia, or a low, positive ANA with the possibility of an autoimmune disorder.  THAT’S hope?!?!  Jesus fuck!

Recently, the girl came to the conclusion (after 7 years of feeling like this, and having every test available in this country done) that this must “just be” fatigue.  Pure and not simple, fatigue.  Ok, fine.  Chronic fatigue.  Yay.  A name for it.  Good.  When there’s a label, then there’s the ability to research, seek solution, obsess.  And oh hell yes, that is exactly what occurred.

This process was swift, just the way a girl like this would prefer- the faster the better.  Urgent.  Make it go away fast.

One day, the girl asked her pharmacologically gifted son if he knew of a drug that helps with exhaustion, but is not a stimulant {insert fact that this girl is in recovery and can not touch a lot of drugs that others might consider}.  He mentions something the girl had never heard of.  Well, actually, she had seen a movie all about it, but didn’t know at the time of viewing, that this was the drug the movie was about (Limitless).

Provigil (Modafinil).  What’s THAT????  The girl dives into the endless praise for this drug, how it’s life-changing and amazing, with no side effects at all.  WAIT!  Life-changing?  That was all she needed to hear.  The quest was on.  Within 24 hours, the girl had a poster presentation showing her valid need for this drug, research to back her, and an appointment with her doctor…for the next day.  Whirlwind into Provigiland. Continue Reading…

beauty, Guest Posts, Self Image, Self Love, self-loathing, The Body

The Pretty Machine

January 11, 2016

By Melissa Carroll

When I was little I had an armada of Barbie dolls: Princess Ice Skater Barbie, Safari Barbie, Bikini Beach Barbie. My childhood bedroom was filled with legions of busty blondes. When I was little I was a nerdy girl with a big nose, a girl who got picked last in kickball and faked headaches to miss gym class. At home, when I chopped Barbie’s hair off, I loved the chunked slice of kitchen scissors against her plastic strands. Sometimes I stabbed my Papermate pens into her face to give her blue freckles. Sometimes I curiously examined her, took her pink Velcro dress off, and rotated her stiff limbs in their sockets, plucking out a leg or popping off her head to inspect the plastic bulb holding her impossibly beautiful rubber body together.

*

Certain women in Burma coil brass rings around their necks: slender, braced. The rings weigh down their collarbones, which gives the illusion of an elongated neck. It’s a delicate deformation, the hush of bone and blood.

In Mauritania women are force fed camel’s milk, they are fattened like calves for slaughter. Each brimming calabash promises a man.

Women of North America slice their faces open, peel back skin like almonds boiled in milk—thin, slimy, translucent. They cut their nipples open and insert bags of saline, they paint their faces, bleach their hair, they stick their fingers down their throats.

*

I’m in sixth grade, playing in my backyard with my best friend Carly. We’re inventing a rain dance, clucking our tongues, which looks very much like the chicken dance. This time I’m the shaman, pumping my fists in the air, howling vowels at the sky. We laugh wild, unbroken little girl laughs, loud and crackling.

This is before we learn to laugh while trying to look thin, to laugh and pose for anyone who might be watching. This is when our games are simple and our hair is tangled. We are on the cusp of puberty, when our bodies still belong to us. We have no idea that soon, any minute now, we’ll be fed to the American Pretty Machine, like a wood chipper, arms and legs and brains and hearts on the glittering conveyor belt.

The Pretty Machine materializes into plastic surgeries and celebrity gossip rags and eating disorders and an oil slick of self loathing. It pumps young girls with the idea that being sexy is the most important thing in the world, that looking good equals feeling good. Girls are sent, completely unaware, through the machine and come out the other side shellacked and lacquered, shell-shocked and pretty.

* Continue Reading…