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We Must End Period Poverty For All Women And Girls

September 10, 2020
period

By Rita Serra

I chose to backpack around the world as a 22-year-old, pierced-nosed, May You Stay Forever Young-tattooed, Hubba-Bubba pink, blue and purple-haired, flower child. Equipped with a degree in US history and ample youthful exuberance, I was ready to feel the unparalleled freedom of solo travel. My only armor for this eight -month endeavor was my blind faith in good vibes. What could go wrong?

Four months into my wanderlust pilgrimage, airport security procedures had become a mundane chore rather than a cause for stress. With off-handed indifference, I referred to the time spent waiting in lengthy passport control lines as, “the traveler’s tax.” As I stood in the diminutive security line of Lombok International Airport (LOP,) I was pleased to pay these meager taxes that evening.

Measuring forty-seven miles across, the tranquil island of Lombok, Indonesia is relatively untraveled by tourists compared to its neighboring island of Bali, allowing the landscape and pace of life to remain much closer to its organic form. The majority of Lombok consists of rural villages separated by large swatches of undeveloped land. Although LOP is the only airport on Lombok, a single terminal is apt for receiving all domestic and international fights.

I stood in line with a placid smile as I watched the female agents check every pocket of every traveler’s bag with a Swiss watch-maker’s precision. But then, like Isaac Newton and the infamous apple he took to the head, I was struck with a sudden realization that overtook my idle thoughts. In the top pocket of my backpack was a plastic bag that contained; a brick-sized stack of Laotian currency, US dollars, Euros, Cambodian Riels, anti-malaria medication, traveler’s diarrhea pills, and a smaller zip lock bag containing off-brand Advil. The lack of original packaging making it seem as if the Advil could be any drug. In my effort to maximize packing efficiency, I set myself up to look like a suspicious character while attempting to enter a country that regularly applies capital punishment to drug traffickers and drug dealers.

Light-headed, my mind went into a hazardous spin. I oscillated between berating myself for committing such a blunder and conjuring ill-fated visions of myself sitting in an Indonesian jail cell. Stress-induced sweat droplets rose to a beady line of attention along my brow. I pushed past these negative thoughts and began to practice my explanation. Yes ma’am I know this looks weird, but I purchased all of the Laotian money from a friend to save him from a bad exchange rate, as if my inherent altruism would help me out of this situation without issue.

My turn came and an Indonesian woman with soft brown eyes and dark hair pulled into a tight bun, started to rummage through my bag with silent diligence. Standing at 5 foot 10, I towered over this woman by nearly a foot, yet I felt as if I was small enough to fit in a front shirt pocket standing in her authoritative presence. I attempted to hold a pleasant, unsuspecting smile as I wondered if this agent would believe the reason for this money and various pills, some unmarked, was due to my naiveté and not because I was a drug dealer.

The agent used her thumb and right index finger as a pair of tweezers to pluck a tampon out of my bag. Mystified, she raised the tampon until it was even with her eyes and after a few moments of greater inspection, she inquired in English, “What is this?”

I surmised that it must have been unfamiliar packaging throwing her off, so I gave what I though was a simply yet efficient answer, “a tampon.”

The bewildered expression remained suspended across her caramel-toned face. I wondered if my bluntness had been misinterpreted as curt, but then it hit me; she had never seen or heard of a tampon before. A piece of my innocence expired as I explained to this woman, who was at least ten years my senior, what a tampon was and how it is used. Her cheeks pulled back like an accordion, forming elongated, vertical smile lines and the austere formality of her uniformed appearance melted away. With an enlightened sounding, “ahh” the woman placed the tampon back in my bag, forgetting to check the final pocket, and sent me on my way.

I walked through the sliding glass doors and was greeted by the hot, sticky, humid night air like an impassioned lovers kiss. I breathed out a sigh of relief, and inhaled sharply making my lips form a tight O as my mind unpacked what just transpired. What did this woman use while on her menses? Will this woman tell her friends about what she just learned? Her mother? Her sisters? Her daughter?

 I had never considered that a tampon was not basic knowledge for all women. I sat with this profound knowledge for some time, not knowing what to do with it. But the unanswered questions remained, so I launched into conducting research on women’s reproductive health among different countries. In doing so I came across the topic of period poverty.

“Period poverty” refers to the estimated 500 million women and girls around the world who lack the monetary funds and /or access to menstrual products each month. For a myriad of these females, the root causes and devastating effects of period poverty extend much deeper. In developing regions of Africa, Asia, Central, and South America there is a substantial lack of education about women’s reproductive health, what sanitary products are, and how to use them. This issue is often compounded by the absence of hand washing stations and other sanitation facilities, leading women and girls to not be able to manage their menses in a safe, dignified manner. Extending deeper for many women and girls, the crux of period poverty is caused by the long-standing cultural stigma that menstruating women are dirty.

Within numerous communities around the world, the topic of menstruation is taboo. Women in rural India are perceived as impure and unholy, leading to them being treated as lepers and banned from entering temples and participating in prayer during their menses. Considering that the overwhelming majority of India’s population are either devout Hindus or Muslims, two religions based upon praying multiple times a day, the act of menstruating is debilitating to Indian women’s daily lives. In Nepal, woman and girls are forced to undergo the custom of “Chhaupadi” in which females are ostracized from their family homes and made to live and sleep in cramped, window-less huts because they are seen as unclean while on their menses. Due to poor ventilation and snake bits, this practice has claimed the lives of many. Chhaupadi continues today, in defiance of a 2018 law forbidding the dangerous practice. For young ladies in Uganda, they feel they must hide their periods from their brothers and fathers for fear of crippling shame and utter embarrassment.

The disempowerment millions of females suffer through every month is marked by bitter irony because without the act of menstruating, the creation of life would halt all together.

Adding to the gravity of this gender inequality issue, is the fact that period poverty impedes girls’ educational endeavors and constricts their future prospects. Worldwide, millions of girls stay home from because they lack sanitary products and/ or fear becoming a social outcast. One in five American girls have reported staying home from school due to the inability to afford sanitary products. Across Africa, it is estimated that at least one in every ten girls will miss up to fifty days of school a year because of menstruation. These habitual absences cause girl’s grades to suffer and for them to fall behind their male counterparts. Even more damning is the fact that a multitude of girls will drop out of school because they are not able to adequately manage their menses. This is the case for at least twenty percent of girls in India.

Navigating the dust-kissed, stone streets of Morocco, I often happened upon a group of school children walking in their uniforms of white coats, casting the illusion that every one of them was a young scientist on the verge of discovery. In Luang Prabang, Laos I was always tickled to see a young lady zipping through traffic on motorbike with two of her female compadres riding side-saddle, (a feat much more difficult than they made it look.) Their long ponytails waved wildly like streamers in the wind, making them seem so free, despite their school attire of navy-blue jackets, knee-length grey skirts, and nylons.

Of all my carefree experiences interacting with locals, I most fondly reminisce on a day spent in Koh Rong, Cambodia on the beach with a cohort of travelers. Three Khmer children, two boys and one girl, stopped by our blankets after spotting our idol tennis ball. The kids ushered us to our feet by means of animated hand gestures and arranged us in a large circle. Captivated by the childlike-wonderment that marks the lighthearted days of travel, we played a laugh-filled game of catch for nearly an hour.

I occasionally look back with concern at the array of silly-faced selfies of myself and the little girl on the beach in Koh Rong. It is disheartening to imagine her, the girls on the motorbike, or the young ladies in Morocco, who bubbled with life and were free from inhibition, are now routinely filled with shame for simply menstruating. I cannot help but think about all the bright, young ladies around the world whose academic standings have slipped due to the constricting realities of womanhood imposed by their cultures.

Before traveling to Indonesia, I had never equated a tampon with freedom. Awareness is the first step in bridging inequality. From my experience in the airport, I became aware that hygienic products allow women the ability to play sports, receive a full education, work a steady job, participate in religious events, go about their daily life unencumbered, and to rise to the same playing field as male counterparts.

We have made great strides in America in the field of women’s equality and reproductive health thanks to the activism of Margaret Sanger and our other feminine predecessors. In 1960, the FDA approved the use of the pill as contraceptive which was a divisive issue at the time. Many women took the pill in secrecy, afraid of being outcast or labeled as promiscuous. After decades of continued activism, these same women now lead women’s gatherings with pride and conduct ceremonies that celebrate young ladies’ menstruation, and empower them as they cross the threshold into womanhood. Today young girls are taught about menstruation health in school and women have access to an array of contraceptives and sanitary products. Furthermore, there is a Red Tent movement sweeping the nation, where menstruating women and girls are invited to come together and celebrate their menses on a monthly basis. Nevertheless, we still have ground to cover in America when it comes to eliminating period poverty.

Ending period poverty is a matter of accepting and normalizing female biology.

One way to get involved in the movement is to vote. In recent years there has been a large push to remove the “tampon tax.” Although the FDA considers tampons and other menstrual products as medical devices, in forty states they are still subject to sales tax unlike other medical devices. For the women who live in poverty or work low income jobs, removing taxes on sanitary products would make managing their menses less of a struggle. Georgia House of Representative member Debbie Buckner, presented a bill in January 2019 that would make Georgia the eleventh state to remove the “tampon tax,” As of today, activists in Georgia are still working to have this bill passed. Scotland made history in February 2020 by becoming the first country to make period products free to all women.

Supporting organizations such as, Alliance for Period Supplies, is another way to get involved in this movement. This organization was founded by U by Kotex and aims at ending period poverty in the US. Support can be a simple as shopping for your own sanitary products. For every U by Kotex purchase, sanitary products are donated to women and girls in need through Alliance for Period Supplies. For people who want to go a step beyond, consider hosting a period supply drive. This is done by linking with your local allied program, (which can be found online through allianceforperiodsupplies.org) food bank or women’s shelter to distribute the collected products. This might be of particular interest to women who have stopped menstruating, but still have unnecessary sanitary products.

On the international level, donating to organizations such as WASH United or the World Bank is a way to help end period poverty. These organization partner with groups such as UNICEF, UN agencies, the Global Water Security and Sanitation Partnership, and other NGO’s to promote advocacy and provide menstrual hygienic management (MHM) education designed to empower woman and remove cultural taboo. They also provide woman and girls with hygienic products and improve conditions for women to manage their menses in a safer, more dignified manor such as providing clean water, constructing hand washing stations, and sanitary facilities.

Finally, spreading the word is a way to promote advocacy and transform period poverty into “period positivity.” Since writing this piece, I have begun discussing period poverty with my male roommates who have all been receptive to discussing the topic. May 25th – 31st 2020 is period poverty awareness week, by sharing stories on social media and using hashtags such as, #EndPeriodPoverty #EndPeriodStigma #WithUSheCan #eachforequal #NoMoreLimits and #MenstruationMatters, we can normalize the topic of menstruation.

As the torch is carried forward in the women’s health and equality movement, we must ensure some women are not getting left in the dark.

Rita Serra graduated from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill with a degree in US history with a special interest on the social and political moments of 21st century America. For two and a half years, Rita backpacked around the world, often solo, on a quest for human connection, cultural enlightenment, historical intrigue and natures wonderment. After her period of Rolling Stone Embodiment, Rita found herself in Northern California where she currently spends her days writing prose & poetry and farming.

Anti-racist resources, because silence is not an option.

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aging, Guest Posts, Women

Law And Yoga

September 6, 2020
lawyer

By Jennifer Lauren

I’m lying on the floor in the basement of the Washington Conference Center, my back pressed against my cork yoga mat, wearing Lulu Lemon tights. My feet are bare. I hope no one notices that the snowflake manicure I got before Christmas is starting to chip.

“Extend your left leg. Pull your right knee into your shoulder. Squeeze in to stimulate your right ovary,” the teacher says.

She’s teaching a workshop on “yoga for hormone balance” to 24 over-40 women, all of us lying on our yoga mats, seeking answers to questions we can’t articulate.

“Uddiyana Bandha …” Sanskrit for Kegels, where you pull up your nether-regions tight like you’re trying to hold in pee. “Transfer your attention to your ovaries, and release….”

Two dozen women release breath together. It sounds like a prayer. I translate, their thoughts are my thoughts:

We have everything. We should be happy.

I look out the window, where I see the bottom of the sky scraper next door. I had my own office, with a view, in that building. I was a lawyer. A really good lawyer. I wore designer suits and clutched Starbucks in my perfectly manicured hands. I was 27 and gorgeous and ready to take on the world.

At 41, I teach yoga and write novels no one has published yet. In December, just after I got snowflakes painted on my toes, I put my law license into inactive status so I could …. I’m not sure. Follow my dreams?

I didn’t realize my dreams would lead me to the basement of the Conference Center, focusing on my ovaries. Yet here we are, together.

Before 40, we were brilliant. Beautiful. Now we’re strangers to ourselves. We’ve tried acupuncture and green tea. Yoga and meditation. We quit jobs and took vacations and got divorces. But we still feel “off” in a way we can’t explain.

If we were men, they’d call it a mid-life crisis. We’d buy Porches and sleep with 20-year-olds. But we’re women. We can’t afford Porches because we’re paying for dance team and soccer tournaments. We have no time to sleep with 20-somethings because we’re doing laundry and driving our kids to Taekwondo.

“We’re tired, we’re cranky, we’re doing too much, but it’s never enough,” we say to our doctors. They offer us anti-depressants and tell us to find “me-time.” Go to therapy.

None of it works.

So we sign up for hormone balancing through yoga. We read the Goop website when no one’s looking, although we mock it with our friends. We immerse ourselves in the culture of Elizabeth Gilbert and Brene Brown. Follow your dreams. Manifest your magic. Love greatly.

But most of us have no idea what we want to manifest, much less the power to manifest it. So we flounder to find The Thing We Should Do. Maybe we leave good men. Maybe we sell everything and move to Italy, India, and Indonesia for a year.

Maybe we walk away from well paying, prestigious careers just as we hit our prime.

I was a lawyer. I argued in front of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and externed for the Chief Justice of the Washington State Supreme Court. I second-chaired three jury trials, all with eight-figure demands. We won them all.

At 27, I was on top of the world. At 40, I was buried beneath it. I never saw my babies, even when I went “part time.” When I was home I was on my phone, sure I was one missed email away from a malpractice suit. I watched my babies grow into tweens and teens after work, from the driver’s seat of our SUV.

I’d think, what’s wrong with me? I have it all! I should be happy!

But we aren’t happy: stay at home moms, doctors, preschool teachers, artists. We all stare down 40 and ask, what’s wrong with me? We joke about first world problems because we feel guilty admitting we are miserable in our prosperity.

We stare at our phones. At Facebook. Instagram. Twitter. We see the world fawning over British royals in size two suits and something called a “Kardashian.” We look down at our own thickening waists and download the newest couch to 5K ap.

We’ll be happy when we can run that mile/fit into that dress again/the kids go off to school.

Quit that job.

One gorgeous May afternoon, I left my pretty office with a water view behind. I decided I wasn’t a lawyer anymore.

I took yoga teacher training. I signed up for a writer’s retreat. I purposefully ignored the little voice in my head screaming, what the Hell are you doing?

My friends were jealous of the unimaginable indulgence of spare time. “You’re so lucky,” they said.

But who am I? I wonder. Who am I if I’m no longer a lawyer and my kids will be soon able to drive themselves to soccer.

When we were kids, well-meaning adults said we could do it all: career, kids, sexually satisfy our partner, size two jeans, a plush bank account of our own earnings. As we face middle age, it’s no wonder we’re neurotic. We’re all floundering, trying to find our place in a world where we are increasingly irrelevant.

We smile while making homemade gluten-free soy-free cookies after work for the fifth grade picnic at 11 p.m., work deadlines be damned.

We ask, why can’t we be happy?

We meditate. We take more vitamin D. We blame perimenopause, and try to balance our hormones through yoga.

We lie there, pulling our knees against our ovaries and visualizing and end to the unrelenting cycle of do, do, do. Be, be, be.

And we think: I’m so lucky. I have everything. I should be happy.

Jennifer Laures is a recovering trial attorney living near Seattle, Washington. Ever since she wrote her first masterpiece, The Creature, at the age of five, she wanted to be a writer. But life happened, sidetracking her with pesky bills and peskier, but well-loved, children. Jennifer has worked as an award-winning reporter at a nationally recognized newspaper; fundraising director for inner city schools; and civil litigator for 13 years. In May 2019 she quit her day job to write, teach yoga, travel, and chase her dreams. 

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, Politics, Women

Toile

June 22, 2017
toile

By Jennifer D Munro

“Chanel freed women, and I empowered them.” –Yves Saint Laurent

* * *

I advanced efficiently through Yves Saint Laurent’s explosion of color, crammed into the Seattle Art Museum like Auntie Mame’s walk-in closet: A green Pop Art dress with a bold pink heart over the entire bodice. A hip-length vest made of orange raffia fringe. An ice-blue bow-bustle big enough to cover even my derriere, though nothing in this exhibit would fit me except the mustard-yellow cape of the type worn by heroines flinging themselves off cliffs, melancholy about looking seasick in that color. A Chinese-red jacket.  “Lichen green and moss green chiffon” (from the gallery guide, as if I could tell the difference between lichen and moss greens). And the grids of white and primary colors and bold black lines of the iconic Mondrian (I assumed this was a dead artist and not a Star Trek alien or type of porch column) cocktail dress plastered on Seattle billboards to advertise this unconventional art show.

I’d had no desire to see this haute couture collection, but my friend Irene, equally unconcerned with style—her go-to is Value Village, mine is Sears—had surprised me by urging me to go. Shortly after the U.S. presidential election, we’d joined a peaceable demonstration at the lake we’d spent nearly 30 years walking around together in sweatpants and untinted lip balm. Irene’s hair has been white for almost as long as I’ve known her, though she’s not much older than I. Irene had attended the fashion designer’s exhibit right after the election, because, she said, “I needed to be surrounded by beauty.” Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, The Body, Women

My Body, My Country

December 16, 2016
country

By Deborah Kampmeier

1.
My body is in a rage, a fury, a storm of hate. So fucking sick of all this talk about uniting our country, about having compassion for Trump supporters. I don’t want to find common ground. I don’t want to build fucking bridges.  That’s like saying I have to marry my rapist and carry his fucking child to term.  I don’t care to live with my rapist.  I don’t care to ever see him again.  I do not want to open my door and invite my rapist to sit at my table or shove his cock back in my mouth or cunt or ass. No, I am not building fucking bridges.  Yes, build a fucking wall, but not between Mexico and me.  Between me and you mother fucking racist, anti-Semitic, xenophobic, misogynistic rapists, and the rest of you who condone them.  Stay out of my home.  I have no interest in sharing a country with you. Continue Reading…

Friendship, Guest Posts, Women

A Small Coin For Your Thinking

December 3, 2016
coin

By Liane Kupferberg Carter

“I’m kidnapping you to Italy and this time I’m not taking no for an answer,” my college roommate Pat announces.

Pat bought a vacation house in Umbria, Italy eight years ago, but my husband Marc and I have never visited. We aren’t able to travel together much because we have a developmentally disabled son. “You should go with Pat,” Marc says. “It’s the trip of a lifetime.”

Still, travel is a mixed bag. There’s the pleasure of it, of course. But there is always an undercurrent of longing and sadness too. I so wish Marc and I could travel together. And I feel guilty. Doesn’t he deserve some respite too? Why should I be the one who gets to go gallivanting?

“What can I bring you?” I ask him. “Gloves? A wallet? Wine?”

“An ancient Etruscan artifact,” he says.

“Right,” I say. “I’ll go digging up Pat’s back yard.”

Pat has invited three of her closest friends. None of us knows each other well.  “What if we don’t get along? What if the others don’t like me?” I ask Pat.

“Lynne and Eve said the same thing!” she says. “Do you think I would have put us together if I thought we wouldn’t click?”

So I pack, in my usual anxious way, for every contingency. A first aid kit. A four inch folding umbrella. An Italian phrase book. I’m the kind of girl who always remembers to bring the toothpaste. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Sexuality, Women

The Origin Of The World

September 29, 2016
sexuality

By Zoë Brigley Thompson

I start to like my father again when we are standing together looking at a painting. To begin, you would have to explain the place. The Musée D’Orsay in Paris was a railway station until 1939, and the great clock-faces on the exterior signal an obsession with timekeeping and travel. This particular painting is relatively small, and its intimacy is out of place under the arching glass roof where trains once ran. The museum is a public space and still has the feeling of a railway station with people hurrying to their next destination. In the middle of all this is a painting of a woman’s genitals, and my father and I are standing together in front of it.

I have just turned 18, and my father has brought me to Paris as a birthday present. Some years before, my father moved with his new wife to the central lowlands of Scotland, but he often rings on the phone. “Just hop on a plane and come over for a visit,” he says, but of course it is never that simple.

What my father does not know in Paris is that I am in a very precarious place. A few years before, I swore that I would never have sex again: my first experiences were that awful. Not long after that, I slept with my best friend just for the sake of it, to get it over with. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Women, writing

Our Becoming

September 23, 2016

By Carol Reedy Rogero

“There is no tidy end to any story, as much as we might hope. Stories continue in all directions to include even the retelling of the stories themselves, as legend is informed by interpretation and interpretation is informed by time.”  Garth Stein -A Sudden Light

The End. Those are two powerhouse words not necessarily written at the culmination of a book or story. Two words that elicit impassioned pleadings of “More, More” at children’s story-time. I can close my eyes and remember my own children reciting those words and then begging for a repeat of a favorite tale or questioning its end with a chorus of “what happened next”.  As an adult reader I’ve stared transfixed by the print on the last page of a book and felt an actual pang, a physical longing for more. I’ve ached for the adventure to continue, the pleasure to remain, the unanswered to be answered, the gutted feeling to dissipate and for the smile in my heart to keep radiating warmth.

Some stories have epilogues or sequels, but not all do. Or do they? Is there always a definitive point on that final page where there is no more that could or should be added? Fiction may often seem to have natural stopping points, resolutions or tidy endings but what about the narratives of our lives? What about the non-fiction realities we’re born into, exist in, grow and create in? While we may have lived, loved, and walked away, did those particular stories really end there? Have they been put to rest, packed away, buried or burned on a funeral pyre? Or do chapters of our narratives continue to live and breathe in hibernation? Are they continually regenerated and assimilated into our “becoming”? Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Women, writing

The Bits That Matter

September 12, 2016
funny

By Pauline Campos

I used to watch comedians like John Leguizamo and George Lopez in complete awe. While everyone else was laughing at the punchline, I was sitting there wondering what kind of hell had to be paid for penance back home for that last laugh in public. Either their families were just really understanding, lived under giant rocks, or somehow, these performers had learned how to honestly not give a fuck when it came to familial judgement. Forget Supermann. To me, the people who could write the words that needed to be written to share their truths in such a way that could draw in an audience of strangers and bring everyone together with laughter? These were the people I wanted to be.

Then I grew up and started writing seriously. I was self-editing myself too often, at first, and hating it. I wasn’t trying to make anyone look bad, mind you…just share my own truth and experiences. Sometimes it’s funny. Sometimes it isn’t. And it drove me crazy to keep taking out the good bits that I knew needed to stay in. These were the parts that brought it all together; the bits of my own story that my readers would be able to relate to. On the blog, it eventually became easy to just say FUCK IT and hit publish…no one reads I’m related to reads here, usually. Most times, if I have written something in which someone can identify themselves, named or not, I clear it with them first. Then I had to learn to pretend I had temporary amnesia every time I wrote a new advice column for Latina Magazine because relating with your reader about that time we were both The Other Woman tends to make for some awkward Sunday dinners with the Tias. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, memories, Women

Over-The-Counter Medicine

August 31, 2016
pharmacy

By Monica Drake

There’s no place more optimistic than a well-stocked pharmacy. Gleaming clean and rocking the high blast and buzz of fluorescents, everything on the shelves is there to save your life while it cushions your vanity. Crowded, tidy aisles scream, You can be healthy, strong and beautiful! When I was young enough to never need anything beyond an occasional shot of nighttime cough medicine—that sweet, Kool-Aid purple nurse in a bottle—but old enough to be out on my own, I had a job dusting cures, ringing up sales. We carried Epi-pens for anaphylactic shock, because even slight allergies can go seriously wrong. I read trifold pamphlets during the slower retail moments, making myself a student of human health. I learned that it can be the first exposure to an allergen, the tenth, or the hundredth time your body processes some unknown ingredient, in a kind of secret internal roulette, but every single second of the day there exists a slim chance: your immune system could kick into high gear and shut down your throat. It might start with an itch around your eyes or in your sweating armpits. Your blood pressure will drop, silently, and painlessly. That drop in blood pressure has the potential to undermine and weaken your brain’s decision making skills. Some people grow so cold they can’t stop shaking. It’s like a ghost has landed in their bones, when shock sets in. If you have it bad enough, your face can swell to twice its usual size. Then your cheeks sag into jowls and your eyelids get fat and you’re fifty years older than you were ten minutes before. Your skin will lump up in hives.

An allergic response can clog your lungs with fluid and swelling and then constrict your airways, cutting you off from your own life. This happens every six minutes, to somebody. If you’re fast and lucky, one jab with Epi-pen turns the whole mortal disaster around. You’ll be back in business! An Epi-pen can save your life. It’s a brilliant invention. A pharmacy has what you need.

Want to get high? It’s in the bins, drawers and vials. Time to sleep? That’s there, too. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Surviving, Women

Revolutionary Women: Breaking The Ties That Bind Us

June 22, 2016
women

By Nancy Arroyo Ruffin

When I was about 11 or 12 I saw my cousin Maggie get her face punched in by her husband in front of an abandoned gas station. It was a warm summer night and the normally loud Brooklyn neighborhood was uncharacteristically quiet save for two crack heads getting high down the block and a passing car that was blasting Slick Rick’s “Hey Young World” from the speakers. My mother, sister, aunt, cousin and I were walking home from the annual feast of St. Carmel eating zeppoles and recounting the events of the night. I don’t recall Maggie’s husband being with us. I remember him appearing out of nowhere like the boogey man in a bad dream. One minute we were strolling down the block, and the next minute Chucho was dragging Maggie across the filthy pavement. When she tried to fight back he put one hand around her neck and squeezed. He punched her so hard Maggie lost her breath for a few seconds. Her mouth was open, but no sound came out. She didn’t scream or cry.  She just floated midair, voiceless.  I stood there waiting for my mother and aunt to do something, to say something, but all they said was, uno no se mete en cosas de matrimonio, one doesn’t get involved in the business of a man and his wife.

Although the elements of abuse are universal, a person’s cultural background influences how individuals deal with abuse. What we grow up witnessing as children and how we’re taught to respond in certain situations serves as the foundation for how we will respond to similar experiences when we get older. Our culture, religion, and economic background affect our beliefs, values, behaviors, and how we deal with problems. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Health, Women

Endo

June 21, 2016
pain

By Janet Frishberg

Age 12: In the afternoons when I’m bleeding, I double over as I stagger home up the hill. I hold onto a telephone pole on the way to the white-walled apartment where my mom and I live, where I can sit on the toilet and cry, trying to imagine myself out of my body, writhing on the carpeted floor, wanting to find a place of comfort. I slouch at the computer console, my feet resting on its grey plastic side, crying and playing games to distract me from the pain. It feels like my insides are a room and someone is peeling off the wallpaper very slowly, with a straight-edge razor. In the quiet apartment, alone, I know I can scream or groan as loud as I want; everyone is at work. My mom and I go to doctors, more than two, less than five. They say, “That’s part of being a woman.” And, “Sometimes menstruation is painful. You’ll get used to it.”

The pain overwrites the past. It becomes difficult to remember my body from before my body is in pain. Continue Reading…

Girl Power: You Are Enough, Guest Posts, Women, Women are Enough

Together We Grew

June 20, 2016

By Kimberly Valzania

Hi ladies, women, girls. Listen up.

I know you.

I know that some of you have been abused your whole life, whether you know it or not.  Whether it was subtle and under the radar, or straight up violent. Abused in ways that you can talk about and ways that you can not. Because you don’t remember. Or because you do.

I know you’ve been harassed. I know that over the years you’ve been told what you can and can not do. What you are allowed to do.  You’ve been told by men and other women, too.  And you’ve even been lectured by yourself. You’ve second-guessed your decisions because of how other people feel.

You’ve been told you are too strong, too big. Or you are too small, too skinny. Too jiggly.

You’re too bossy, too bitchy. Too direct, too blunt. Too polite. Too vague. Too emotional. Too wishy-washy. You’re too demure, too quiet. You’re too loud. You’ve been told to tone yourself down at bit. Too much. Not enough.

Slut, whore, angel, girl next-door. Continue Reading…

beauty, Guest Posts, Vulnerability, Women

Together We Run

March 7, 2016

By Liz Fischer Greenhill

I am cut from the fabric of my grandmother, wild and crazy, spirited and dangerous. Unpredictable women we are, the kinds of women they send to sanitariums. Women who fall apart. Women who must take pills to be good mothers, who must fold our pretty legs under our skirts rather than slip them into leotards for dancing. Women like my grandmother and me, we love to dance.

I grew up hearing the story of how my grandmother left my young mother in a burning car and ran away for help. I grew up hearing that she was irresponsible, didn’t cook, was never around, not a mother. How she would fill herself on samples from the grocery store but never buy anything, her long lacquered nails plucking morsel after morsel. She answered the front door wearing only her stockings and brassiere.

I thought she was glamorous.

I’d seen other grandmothers like mine. With puffed up curls, coffee-colored eyebrows more paint than hair, grey roots shining from under their hairlines like a fallen hem. Beautiful women, grown larger with years, having lost their waistlines. That’s what she said, that she’d lost her waistline. Don’t let it happen to you, she warned, before I ever had a waistline.

I remember childhood crying fits at night in bed. My mother coming in, how she perched on the edge of my bed, her hand rubbing nervous circles on my back. My body shaking in heaves I couldn’t stop. Worry in her voice, sometimes we just need to cry for no reason.

 I think I had reasons. A fire burned inside me, hot coals in a clench of skin and muscle. It was nothing I could figure out how to say.

Gwendolyn.

My grandmother.

In my dream we are schoolgirls together, laughing in the courtyard, smoking cigarettes in the woods, skinny-dipping in the river. We roll our skirts up and our stockings down. We trim each other’s hair to pageboys, smack bright red lips to each other checking for an even kiss mark. We lie in the dirt and dry grass under a hot southern sky and sleep, straw hats on our faces, legs overlapping.

My grandmother was, as her children say, so aloof and excitable, so wacky and unreliable, perhaps she was unable to be a friend. I don’t want to think of her that way. I want to think of us together as teenagers. Growing to be young women together, confiding in each other our doubts and sorrows and wild panic, and helping each other not abandon our children. I want us to be friends who wet-nurse each other’s babies so that some days each of us can go wander a river, or stumble home from a party, or howl privately to the sky. We could have allowed each other to feel childless for long hours of the day, to feel pretty again and youthful, to remember desire.

I would have been at the births of my uncles, my mother, my aunt, I would have held her hand and looked deep into the scattered brown of her darkening eyes and said, Yes, you can leave. Yes, you can go when the baby comes, I’ll take care of it for you, you can go. And because I said it, because I gave her the open door, she would have stayed.

And when my child was young and I awoke in the cold horror of a nightmare—a stampede of animals turned my son to dust while I applied lipstick in a mirrorshe would have been there to pet my hair and dry my cheeks with the sides of her hands and laugh, Girl, you know you wish it and at the same time you don’t. It’s alright, we all do. You love him to death, that’s all it means.

If I’d had her there to say it again when I was often so worried I might leave the baby on the counter of the fabric store and step out into the city, carefree and light, strolling the streets, peering in windows and wondering at the world, the baby more forgotten than a button that popped off my coat. She would have brushed my fears away, easy as lint.

Alone in my bedroom, a small girl, shuffling a halo into the green carpet, my hands clamped over my ears, my eyes pressed shut. A frenzied panic in my chest. It started soft like a dozen or more radio stations clicking on, a low murmur. A jumble of sounds and overlapping voices getting louder, reporters relaying news of bombs and wars and death tolls, numbers rising. I couldn’t make it stop. Just had to wait it out, five minutes, ten minutes, twenty. Shut out the light and as much of the sounds as I could, clenched. Around and around the room.

Who could I tell? My mother couldn’t understand. Already, her frequent looks of concern slanting through me. The nerves reigned in her grip. All the yelling and slammed doors. Rug burn on my shins from scrambling up the carpeted stairs too fast, just to be alone in my room.

In picture albums, my mother is a brunette Shirley Temple with scabby knees and a gleaming toothpaste smile. Then, an adolescent as lovely as a swan, thin-necked, sweetly smiling, her tiny poodle skirt like an over-turned martini glass. In high school she is pretty in that perfect girl-next-door kind of way, short in stature, feminine, a brown bouffant, just a touch of eyeliner, lip gloss, a good girl. We would’ve run in different crowds if we were classmates. She, in sync with the cheerleaders, in uniform, belonging; me with the artists, in our tattered vintage clothes and unkempt hair, dreaming of a way out.

As a teenager I did not look in the mirror. I only did it if I had a purpose, but never for the sake of admiration. I was told I was pretty like my grandmother, but I did not allow the compliment to stand. I knocked it down and never looked long enough to form my own opinion—afraid it wasn’t true. Afraid it was.

I’ve seen pictures of my grandmother in a sequin leotard, in a line of women, elbows locked like paper dolls, dark-lips, arched smiles, one leg bent, one leg lifted, all in sync. My legs are shaped like hers.

If my grandmother and I had been young together we would have been like sisters—best friends, accomplices to each other’s silly crimes. We would have grown up together and then stayed together, moving to the same block, a strip of fence between our houses. We’d have made our husbands tear the fence down so there was nothing between us. We would have smoked cigarettes over black coffee and a fallen cherry pie and bitched about the neighbors’ triumphant cakes and their children’s spotless rompers, the women we knew unlike us—we, who prefer to read Sylvia Plath or jam a fistful of wildflowers into an old bottle, rather than slip rubber gloves into a sink of bubbles or mop the floor. We don’t bleach anything clean. We don’t iron any man’s pants. Our bathrooms are draped with our stockings just rinsed. We let our children run wild and cook one monstrous dinner for all of us to last as long as it can, so that in the evenings we can slouch in an armchair with a book in hand, or lay on the rug, legs swaying to a record spinning on the stereo. All summer we eat wild strawberries, licking the red stains from our fingerprints, and shoo away mosquitos from our bare legs. Winter evenings we bundle into matching scarves and walk hand-in-hand well past the first stamp of the moon, until we are surrounded by nothing but blackness and the smallest pricks of light that remind us somehow that we are not lost.

And when we lose ourselves, we help each other stay safe. We take each other’s children and mother them as best we can until the other is well enough to come stand in the house again.

And when she surfaces, we bend a fence around the other, to protect the fragile cracks while healing. Keep the men out, the children away, bring each other carefully back out to the starlight.

My grandmother, my love, I’m talking to you.

I came to you when my son was just a baby, do you remember? We saw you in the hospital and I bounced him on your bed and I told you all about him. I showed you each of his dimples and patted his fat hand to yours. I told you of his first words and his squinty smiles and the way his hand grasped for me in his sleep.

We came all that way to say goodbye, did you know?

In your apartment we found your jewelry, all the bracelets I mailed you from New York City street vendors, plastic turquoise and mother-of-pearl.  We gave away your aqua spiked heels, the ones you wore all the time with over-sized sweaters and  leggings, showing off your shapely legs. I wish I had them now.  I would have liked to have borrowed them, now that I’m a woman.

My grandmother, you have not known me as a woman. True, I was a mother when you died, but I was girlish, I was fighting forward with my eyes closed, I had not yet seen my own body in the mirror, had not stepped into the caste of my widened skin. The woman I would become hung around me like a ghost then.

I was using the word mother for myself, tentatively, and I would not call myself woman. A girl. What is in a girl that is lost in a woman?

Seated at her vanity, my mother, tucked in a towel, leaning close-in to the mirror, blow-drying her hair, spritzing hairspray, brushing her face with powder, lining her lips a sharp pink and coloring them in, dabbing at the quilted pillow of eye-shadow, a swipe of rouge, not too much, a touch of Shalimar to the wrist. Weddings, bar mitzvahs, services, dinners, funerals, over and over, layer upon layer. The same ritual since her dates and proms and cheerleading games and sorority parties. Through the crack in the door I watched her make herself into someone I did not want to be.

What does it take to be a woman?

What does it take from you?

My grandmother and I are the kinds of women who retain a certain girlishness as we age, coy and flirty, we thrive on admiration, we stumble through our schedules, cannot maintain routines.  Always changing, we are like kaleidoscopic colors.

Did she see it in me, I wonder, that same patterning, that wild impulse that leapt a generation and settled into me, linking us in a slip stitch. Granddaughter. Grandmother.

When you were my age now, grandmother, you were just out of the hospital and fragile still. Your long fingers pulled stems from tall black buckets at your job at the flower shop. I can see your eyes squint, lips frown, while you arrange a bouquet in a vase. Your painted nails pinch off the rose thorns. A ruffle of petals. The plucking of leaves. This one for a funeral. This one for a thank you gift. This one for a girl in the hospital.

What song plays in your mind while you hum? Do you think about the doctors, the white bed, the pills and machines? Do you remember how you were lost to your children?

I don’t want to follow you there.

This is a story that changes in my hands.

In the house, when my son comes to me, I wrap my arms around him. His head smells like wet sand and eiderdown. His fingers tap upon the stacked bones of my neck. That is the only sound in the room. His hands are beautiful. His feet are free. When our embrace is over I’ll cook him breakfast and we’ll walk to the market, the bookstore, and then we’ll come home.

Grandmother, I remember the smell of you, rose water and powder, the perfume that drifted onto my shoulders. The black curly mess of your hair. Liquid brown eyes. Dark. Rimmed in black pencil. The southern twang that whistled through your orange smeared lips. Your hands, browned by the sun, thick-knuckled like mine. Too many gestures. Fingers quick as birds. A jumbled of creases in the palm. We called you Nana.

You live in me now more than before.

Nana. In my dreams you are whole.

I see us as girls together, scrappy and mischievous in dirt-covered dresses. Playing toy soldiers and tin flutes in the dusty yard. Southern girls, girls who know to look down in public and look up in private, we were those girls.

Turn your back to me so that I can button your dress, slip the slim pearly shells into the tight little mouths that dot a line along your spine. Let me help you put yourself together, gather yourself. Turn around, let’s see your lips, give them one nice press and there you are.

Grandmother, my love.

Give me your hand.

Let us go back to the car—that car that burns eternal behind my mother’s round eyes—there is smoke, the heat is pulsing off the asphalt, the door handle is right there gleaming. Open it. Get the child. Get her out. Take her hand and I have your hand and together we run.

 

Liz_Fischer_Greenhill-IMG_6874

Liz Fischer Greenhill is a visual artist, a poet, and a nonfiction writer. She is also an acupuncturist who practices hands-on healthcare in Portland, Oregon.

Liz’s work has been published in The Rumpus, Gertrude Press, Nailed Magazine, The Collagist, Perceptions, Four and Twenty, Oregon East, The Dream Closet, and the poetry anthology Step Lightly. Her work is forthcoming in The Untold Gaze, a book of writing paired with the paintings of Stephen O’Donnell. Her 16 mm animated short, “The Loveseat,” showed in LGBTQ film festivals across the US and in Canada.  Currently an MFA candidate at Eastern Oregon University in Creative Nonfiction with Lidia Yuknavitch, Liz is working on her first book.

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Join Jen Pastiloff in Tuscany Sep 17-24, 2016. There are 5 spaces left. This will be her only international retreat in 2016 and is her favorite retreat of the year. Email barbara@jenniferpastiloff.com asap. More info here. Must email first to sign up.

 

The 12 Day Detox is here. Sign up now for the next cleanse on March 14, 2016. Space is limited. This detox comes at just the perfect time. Reprogram your body and mind as we move into the holiday season. This is your time of rejuvenation and renewal.This is not a juice fast, or a detox based on deprivation. Click photo to book.

The 12 Day Detox is here. Sign up now for the next cleanse on March 14, 2016. Space is limited. This detox comes at just the perfect time. Reprogram your body and mind as we move into the holiday season. This is your time of rejuvenation and renewal.This is not a juice fast, or a detox based on deprivation. Click photo to book.

 

Join founder Jen Pastiloff for a weekend retreat at Kripalu Center in Western Massachusetts Feb 19-21, 2016. Get ready to connect to your joy, manifest the life of your dreams, and tell the truth about who you are. This program is an excavation of the self, a deep and fun journey into questions such as: If I wasn’t afraid, what would I do? Who would I be if no one told me who I was? Jennifer Pastiloff, creator of Manifestation Yoga and author of the forthcoming Girl Power: You Are Enough, invites you beyond your comfort zone to explore what it means to be creative, human, and free—through writing, asana, and maybe a dance party or two! Jennifer’s focus is less on yoga postures and more on diving into life in all its unpredictable, messy beauty. Note Bring a journal, an open heart, and a sense of humor. Click the photo to sign up.

Join founder Jen Pastiloff for a special Mother’s Day weekend retreat in Ojai Calif, May 6th, 7th, & 8th, 2016.
Get ready to connect to your joy, manifest the life of your dreams, and tell the truth about who you are. This program is an excavation of the self, a deep and fun journey into questions such as: If I wasn’t afraid, what would I do? Who would I be if no one told me who I was?
Jennifer Pastiloff, creator of Manifestation Yoga and author of the forthcoming Girl Power: You Are Enough, invites you beyond your comfort zone to explore what it means to be creative, human, and free—through writing, asana, and maybe a dance party or two! Jennifer’s focus is less on yoga postures and more on diving into life in all its unpredictable, messy beauty.
Note Bring a journal, an open heart, and a sense of humor. Click the photo to sign up.