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Guest Posts, writing

Becoming A Brave Artist

September 29, 2020
book

By Chelsey Drysdale

I read his memoir in two sittings, watched his prerecorded online class, took a cozy afternoon workshop he led, and savored a rainy-day lunch across from him, surrounded by mutual writer buddies. To close friends, he was my “literary crush.” Single for eight years, loneliness my unflinching shadow, at 43 I believed the swift jolt of infatuation was resigned to memories. I basked in this fresh fascination because it reminded me someone new could still light me up.

When I handed him his book to inscribe for my mom on his book tour, he buried his face in the title page with a sharpie.

What the hell is he writing to my mom? I thought.

“When are we going to do this again?” he asked.

Any time you want.

He said he and his wife had a guest room in their house if my friend and I ever wanted to visit.

That’s a wonderful and terrible idea, I thought.

At home, I opened the book and saw these words: “Donna: I have a secret literary crush on your daughter. Don’t tell her!

***

I’d experienced chromosome-altering heartbreak, a sham six-month marriage, a gut-wrenching broken engagement, ill-timed encounters, and problematic flings. Scared of more loss, my subconscious demographic of choice is a man like him: a smart, creative father with a stellar sense of humor, tall, with dark hair, muscular but lean—and taken. Inaccessible men are the tantalizing cheese wedge poised on a trap. I wanted to know him, even if I couldn’t have him.

***

When I read the author’s inscription, my inner, dormant teenager emerged, ready to flourish on false potential. I danced around my studio, swinging my hips, snapping my fingers, singing a wordless, made-up tune.

I still got it, I thought.

I broke the words into meaningful segments, scavenging for crumbs on a trail to nowhere, nibbling tiny bites, wishing they’d provide nourishment. The word “secret” gave me chills; the word “literary” suggested he was a fan of my work; the word “crush” implied he felt a stirring in his belly when he saw me too; “don’t tell her” was wily because the message was for me.

I showed the dedication to a handful of girlfriends.

“Oh no he didn’t! Oh boy! Buckle up!” a fellow career single woman texted back.

“Oh, that’s adorable,” another friend said, having been a mistress.

“Dangerous,” my sister said, having been a wife.

His note propelled bawdy, unfulfilled fantasies for weeks—the perfect sidetrack to block any real chance for intimacy elsewhere.

***

While his memoir was a mesmerizing concerto, the author’s latest novel was wildly inventive. I read it inside three days, then devoured his other four with the same intensity. I starred words about the inevitability of isolation and relinquishing expectations about what life should be. I sat slumped on the hardwood floor sobbing for a boy ignored by his mother. I underlined phrases about truth and love at all costs. I shared my desolate bed with his tomes in an intimate act with no adverse consequences.

This is the kind of writer I want to be, I thought.

In recent years I’d been plowing through unending trepidation in a flurry, writing like a madwoman, angst cresting on publication days alongside rare pleasure. Before, I’d been consumed with an innate lack of conviction and debilitating fear of failure—the same lifelong anxiety that had led to unsolicited singledom and childlessness too.

After whittling an essay collection for three years, I was mystified by the ending. How was I supposed to finish a book about romantic love when I’d never retained it?

***

Motivated in part by increasing amorous reveries, the tug of creative kismet propelled me to email him.

“I’d be stoked to help you finish your essay collection,” he wrote. “Plus, I really dig that piece you published in WaPo. Double-plus, you have cool hair.”

“You had me at ‘you have cool hair,’” I replied.

We moved a racy tale from page 76 to page one, and we were off on a fruitful journey. Bonus: His editorial notes were delivered via video chat. On days we connected online, I awoke with childhood Christmas morning enthusiasm, ready to unwrap hidden treasures. I took extra time fixing my hair and makeup and made sure I didn’t wear the same shirt twice. I treated our cyber encounters like scholarly dates in an otherwise solitary existence.

During our meetings, I gazed at him on my laptop screen, admiring his handsome face and calming voice, relishing in his golden counsel. He read his favorite words of mine back to me in a measured tone that suggested they mean something. He said I wasn’t afraid to be “brazen.” He told me to “play up moral ambiguities” and be “fucking serrated.” My jaw dropped with recognition when he called three important men in my life a “triptych of superimposed happiness.” When I turned in a revision of chapter six, he said, “This is what Chelsey’s capable of. Every scene is dialed in.”

I floated two inches off the ground.

In eight weeks, we covered eight chapters. In the process, he became privy to private details and facilitated my emotional voyage on the page. All the while, my feelings for him grew stronger.

Is this like falling for your therapist? I wondered.

I addressed emails to the Book Whisperer, Fairy Godmentor, and Unicorn. Despite my fawning, he remained a professional, nonjudgmental friend. His book inscription proved to be an innocuous gesture. As a result, I adored him more.

Before our time was up, we mapped the rest of my manuscript, now a memoir.

I got choked up during our last online exchange.

“You don’t know how much this means to me,” I said.

“Are you going to make me cry on a Monday morning?”

“You’re a really special person.”

“We’re kindred spirits,” he said.

“That doesn’t happen very often,” I replied.

The absurdity is not lost on me the unattainable editor I chose to guide the unpacking of my love life is someone I wished, in an imaginary world of impeccable timing, played a starring role in it.

***

In the coming months, our contact was relegated to Instagram likes, retweets, and the occasional email. I felt special when he wrote, “Wanna hear a secret?” and told me about a book deal he wouldn’t announce for another four months.

When I was in San Francisco, he commented on an Instagram photo, “Maybe we can see each other this weekend!”

When we realized I was flying out as he was flying in, he emailed, “We’re like ships in the night.”

Months later, I finally hit him up for the coffee get-together he’d promised more than once. He suggested walking around the lake by his house. We hadn’t seen each other in person since the Festival of Books before our video chats. There we’d walked side-by-side to his signing booth, our arms draped across each other’s lower backs. I felt unanticipated electricity shoot through my hands.

Even so, I sensed a demarcation that protected the commitment he had for his precious family unit. I respected it. Yet, driven by curiosity and what I considered an extraordinary connection, I tested it anyway.

At the lake, alone for the first time, he gave me a stiff side-hug. Then we strolled the circular three miles slowly, discussing his recent career feats and the material I added to my manuscript post-mentorship. I told him an acquaintance’s recent seedy encounter I thought might work in his fiction. We laughed and locked eyes when he cracked a dirty joke.

At an opportune moment, I broached the topic I’d been stewing about for months: this essay. He hadn’t read it yet, but knew it existed. He’d emailed, “I utterly trust your talent and conscience. We are pals, and don’t worry…”

I didn’t think it was possible to feel this way about someone again, I told him at the lake.

“Then I met you,” I said.

He was quiet, staring at the ground as we walked.

“Meeting you gave me hope it’s still possible to meet someone else,” I said. “I realized I’m not dead inside after all.”

He laughed. “I’m glad I make you feel not dead inside!”

He asked if he could read the essay.

“Of course!” I said. “I want your approval. I’m terrified.”

He stopped to use a nearby restroom. Then I changed the subject.

After we finished circumnavigating the lake, I asked, “Do you have time for lunch?”

A knot formed in my throat, a familiar feeling of short-lived excitement giving way to unrelenting seclusion.

He declined and hugged me goodbye. When he pulled away, my hands slid down the arms of his black leather jacket, a natural motion meant to lead to the intertwining of fingers. He tensed. I froze and awkwardly gripped his forearms instead. Then he left.

When I think about men from my past, I envision a man-shaped cartoon-cutout in a brick wall where they’ve each leapt to a hasty escape, as if my gift is making men disappear, when really my brand of magic is orchestrating ludicrous, unworkable scenarios to set myself up to be snubbed as a way to reinforce the false notion I’ve long suspected: I’m not lovable.

This felt like that.

Back at my computer, I sent the author an earlier version of this piece. He’d made me feel safe. After I hit send, I no longer did. Now I risked feeling rejected as a person and a writer. I lost sleep.

***

After our last video chat, I stared at a blinking cursor, with six more chapters to rewrite. I panicked.

I can’t finish this book without him, I thought.

But I forced myself to trudge forward. I wrote as if he would still read what came out of me, his closing remarks echoing in my head: “I’ll be in the front row when you publish this book. Keep going keep going keep going…”

I began to trust my instincts as I tried to make sense of my past. Glimpsing my empty studio apartment, absent of all the men I’ve worshipped, I finally understood what it meant to be my own advocate. Succinct sentences were tiny miracles. Exploring secret scenes was freeing. The author no longer needed to commend my creation for me to see it was working. For the next two months, I wrote with an uncharacteristic determination and finished my manuscript.

But intrepid writers stumble eventually. A year later, when all publishing progress had stalled, and the author had read this essay without comment, whatever creative energy I’d tapped into ceased. I couldn’t write, and I began to question whether publishing my memoir was worth the agony of upsetting its unsuspecting participants.

I’ve dedicated much of my adult life to seeking validation through the sultry eyes of lovers gazing back at me. When I write, I substantiate myself instead. While the soft glow from my computer screen is no substitute for eye-to-eye moments shared with another human being, a self-directed liaison with words incites a confidence I’d only expected to have as a result of being one half of a duo. Conversely, when I don’t write, my self-esteem plummets, and my monkey brain goes into overdrive: You’re not good enough. You’re alone because no one loves you. Give up.

After months of immobility, I heeded the author’s earlier advice to finish this essay: “Get out of your own way. There’s no reason not to write more.”

***

I rebroke my heart to have an unforeseen love affair, not with a man, but with my manuscript. Publishing my memoir has to be worth it. Self-sabotage is a death knell, and writing is the road to contentment over which I have control. I can’t send a shout-out to my nonexistent husband for his undying support. I am unable to thank my unborn children for showing me the true nature of devotion. I can, however, render self-awareness my superhero trait. I will never be a mother, and I may never be a wife again, but I have become a brave artist.

If I ever fall in love again with an unattached man, I’m sure it will be a direct result of living an authentic authorial life, building my self-worth without another person’s adoration. Even on the bleakest days, as I work toward publication, I return to the same thought: Someday I will create the life I’ve always wanted, and I will deserve it.

Chelsey Drysdale’s essays have appeared in The Washington Post, The Manifest-Station, Bustle, Brevity, Ravishly, Green Briar Review, Black Fox Literary Magazine, Luna Luna Magazine, Reservoir Journal, Book Lovers: Sexy Stories from Under the Covers, and other international publications. She is a Best of the Net Anthology nominee and has been twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize.

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Guest Posts, writing

A Writer Changed My Life

May 4, 2019
writer

By Pam Munter

As a writer, I’ve been asked more than once: What book changed your life? My response is always the same: It wasn’t a book. It was a writer who never wrote a book. I wish I could say she was my hero but I barely knew her. Sometimes the most surprising act of kindness can transform a life.

Her name was Clara McClure and her family lived in a white clapboard house across the street from us on eucalyptus-lined Hartzell Street in then-middle-class Pacific Palisades. It was the late 1950s, long before the dawn of cultural feminism. This was the era of “Ozzie and Harriet” and “Father Knows Best” the traditional family unit writ large. Nobody was a stranger in our neighborhood, full of stay-at-home housewives, including my mother, who frequently met in each other’s homes in the mornings after the husbands and children were gone for the day. They’d drink coffee, smoke their cigarettes and talk about family members and other neighbors who weren’t there. Continue Reading…

Call for Submissions, Guest Posts, writing

Call for stories: The Extraordinary Project

May 28, 2018
call
Manifest-Station Contributor Suzanne Clores has a call for stories:

That one secret moment when something truly otherworldly/extraordinary happened. You heard a voice. You knew a friend’s future. You saw another type of being. You dreamt a terrible or wonderful truth about your health no doctor had told you. What was it? Did you teach yourself to forget, or does some part of you remember?  I want to hear your story, no matter how mysterious or fuzzy or clear. At least once we’ve all had a moment like this, then stared at the stars or stayed up at night asking questions about why we’re here. Are we all connected (yes!)? Do my actions matter (yes!)? Do I have guardians or guides or invisible forces coming to my aid (I don’t know! Maybe!)?

The Extraordinary Project is a highly produced podcast devoted to exploring our questions about these invisible worlds, a journey into our deepest and most personal perceptions. No need to be witchy or precious or certain or believing in any way. Whether you’re a yogini or meditator or crystal carrier or pizza loving wine enthusiast, your story matters. I’d love to hear you tell it. Please contact: Suzanne.clores@gmail.com.

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Guest Posts, writing

On Authenticity, Life, Writing, and Those Hairy, Tooth-filled Teratomas

February 11, 2018
teratomas

By Heather Candela

Was it the bible or the bard who said there’s nothing new under the sun? Either way, it’s gospel truth. Beautifully original is impossible. Especially living in today’s world. The world of social media, where I realize every day that even if I think I’ve gone and done something worthwhile — baked something bodacious and beautiful; written something poetically profound; experienced some sort of mommy enlightenment – I’m knocked back down to my rickety reality with a single swipe of my Instagram. I’m barely hanging on, and I definitely can’t compete.

Take, for example, Joanna Gaines’ perfectly appointed farm house sink, tiny bean sprouts perched prettily all in a row on the ledge behind it. Planted by her daughter. My girls, they planted seedlings once. They mildewed and drowned in their own Dixie cups. The seedlings. Not my daughters. I did manage to keep them alive. So there’s that. And they are currently beautiful and independent and flourishing, even if their little bean sprouts never made it. So, yeah — there’s that. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, writing, Writing & The Body, Young Voices

Yesterday I Bled Brown Blood: Writing The Future

May 17, 2017
venus

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 Demetra Szatkowski

I hand you my pain one piece at a time
sometimes all at once
messy unsure convolutedness
And you make sense of it

and hand myself back to me

healed

***

Venus in my first house. Venus in my house of self. Venus saying, who are you, how do you relate to yourself, how do you see yourself, how do you let others see you.

Today I woke up and bled brown blood. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Truth, writing

Escaping Loneliness

May 10, 2017
loneliness

By Michael Wayne Hampton

“Loneliness, and the feeling of being unwanted, is the worst poverty.” – Mother Teresa

Introduction:

I’ve felt an essential loneliness throughout my life, and from the time I was a child I’ve struggled to feel the safety, understanding, and love that I imagined could be found in emotional closeness of others. Whether this defining emotion for much of my existence has its roots in a childhood where I often felt disregarded, out of place, threatened, and alone, in my neural biology living with Bipolar II, a psychiatric disorder which leads 17% of those it impacts to commit suicide, or is the result of all the unnamable psychic forces which shape one’s life is hard to quantify or define clearly. What became clear was that the continuation of this all-encompassing grief, as severe depression for the initiated moves far beyond sadness, had escalated to not only threaten my life, which it had nearly taken before, but had grown to the extent that I was left to either submit to the waves of hurt which battered me, or find a way to live and create. At the midpoint of my life survival, rather than living, had become purposeless and too much to bear. The comforts of religion, the rational accounting of all I have to live for, did nothing to inspire me to do more than live out each day distracted by work of social media until the night came where I could drink my sense of self away to sleep. In the last six month my ever-present loneliness, the sense that I was worthless and unloved, threatened not only my life, but my ability to create art, which in many ways I cared much more about than my own life. To move beyond the aching of questions unanswered, the silence that never left, the ghosts I carried, I turned to books to study how to exist. Stoic philosophy, social psychology, and Eastern religious traditions helped me form, and continue to form, a framework to evolve into a person who can do the work he felt he was born to do without the necessity for external support or acclaim. It’s a work in process, multi-faceted, and includes a number of various but cohesive personal lifestyle, physical, and psychological processes and projects, but in this essay I will focus briefly on the nature and impact of loneliness on the artist’s life, how ancient philosophy, theology, and modern psychology can aid an artist in moving past their personal loneliness no matter its roots, and present concrete principles that can be incorporated to escape the sense of loneliness toward the goal of better engaging in creative Flow states. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, writing

Butterfly of the Moment

March 22, 2017
writer

By Liane Kupferberg Carter

After graduate school I drifted into a glamour job as a publicist for a well-known book publisher, where they paid me a pittance to write press releases and book jacket copy. It was fun for a while, until I went to my high school reunion and someone said, “I thought by now I’d be reading about you in the New York Times Book Review.”

“No,” I said, cringing. “I’m the publicist who makes sure other writers books get reviewed there.” I’d been editor in chief of our school yearbook; my poetry had been published in the school literary journal. My classmates remembered me as a writer; I was the one who’d forgotten.

So I signed up for a fiction writing class at the New School in Manhattan with an instructor who’d once written for the New Yorker. I’d never written short stories before. I turned one in; the next week, he returned it with a note: “I have several strong feelings concerning the story’s marketability. Rather than go into them here I ask that you telephone me so that we may discuss those possibilities.”

He wanted my permission to give the story to his agent, Candida Donadio, a name I knew from my work in book publishing. She was legendary, a hard drinking, potty-mouthed, tough old broad who’d been the agent of her generation, representing Thomas Pynchon, Mario Puzo and Phillip Roth. I felt like a fraud. I’d written exactly one short story. But I told the instructor yes.

A week later Candida sold the story to Cosmopolitan magazine for the dazzling sum of $1500. She invited me to a celebratory lunch at the Russian Tea Room. I’d pictured her as a cultured, elegantly dressed older woman; the maitre d’ showed me to a table where a short, heavy-set woman with hair coiled in an unfashionable bun atop her head sat chain smoking.

“Why you’re just a baby,” she rasped. We shook hands. I could barely breathe, let alone eat. I was kneeling at the altar of literature. All through lunch she fed me publishing tidbits. The first book she’d ever sold, she said, had been a novel by Joseph Heller called Catch-18. They changed it because Leon Uris was already publishing a book called Mila-18. “He switched it to ‘Catch-22 because Oct. 22nd is my birthday,” Candida said.

What was I doing there? I was an imposter. This was a fluke. Should I come clean? “You know,” I ventured, “I don’t have a body of work to show you yet. This is my first story.”

She cackled. “You’re full of shit,” she said. A month later she sold my second story to Cosmopolitan.

It’s not supposed to be this easy, I thought. And of course it wasn’t. Over the next few years I wrote several more stories, amassing a collection of encouraging rejection letters from the New Yorker and the Atlantic. Each Christmas I sent a gift box of fruit and cookies to Candida’s office. “You’re a honey for thinking of me, and I send you in return good wishes for the New Year in which I hope to see a novel by L.C.,” she wrote.

I produced that novel. Candida hated it. She returned the manuscript to me with a note so crushingly painful it still makes me shudder. It ended, “I regret so much. And after all the years of pears and cookies. Lordy!!”

Eventually I scraped myself off the floor.

Even if I wasn’t a novelist, even if the most high-powered literary agent on the planet told me I was full of shit, I was still a writer. Isn’t a painter still an artist even when no one buys his canvases?

“It is necessary to write,” Vita Sackville-West said, “if the days are not to slip emptily by. How else, indeed, to clap the net over the butterfly of the moment? For the moment passes, it is forgotten; the mood is gone; life itself is gone.”

I still fill the days with words, because I cannot imagine doing anything else. Writing calls me home — to myself.
ketchup+is+my+favorite+vegetable-Front+Cover+090915+reduced
Liane Kupferberg Carter is the author of the memoir, Ketchup Is My Favorite Vegetable: A Family Grows Up With Autism (Jessica Kingsley Publishers.) Her articles and essays have appeared in the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, Brain, Child, Brevity, Literary Mama, and The Manifest-Station. For more information, visit her website at https://www.lianekupferbergcarter.com/, follow her on Facebook athttps://www.facebook.com/LianeKupferbergCarter/ and Twitter at @Lianecarter.

 

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Guest Posts, writing

Writing About Us

March 6, 2017
writing

By Kathleen Harris

In my freshman year of high school, I’d written something that my English teacher deemed “exceptional.” I was called to her desk after class, and praised for my creativity. A kind and encouraging letter was sent home to my parents as well, highlighting my potential.

I’d been writing since I sensed the pull of words — somewhere around age 4. Not short stories, of course, but angular, awkward attempts at words — and their accompanying stick-figure illustrations — to highlight my frustrating attempts at communication. In our Queens apartment, my mother would find torn envelope flaps, seventies singer-songwriter album sleeves, and my parents’ own high school yearbooks, all adorned with my pencil-scratch efforts at language.

As a child, I knew that words could be soft and loud. Words hurt, and they healed. They allowed me to escape into books containing bright, colorful pictures, and enabled me to get lost in the mystical lyrics printed on double-fold album covers. I’d take stacks of books to my Raggedy Ann-covered twin bed, hugging them to my small chest and leaping over the sharks I thrilled myself into believing were swarming in the churn of parquet bedroom floor below. I was on a life raft, safe in my room, happily adrift with words. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, writing, Young Voices

The Broken Container

December 13, 2016
container

By Raisa Imogen

Last year, I was in Paris during the terrorist attacks, and I don’t know how to tell that story. Similarly, I don’t know how to tell the story about Trump’s recent election. But there seems to be a strange and shivering thread between the two events. Both violent, painful, chaotic. Yet Paris was somewhat contained. This election is not, the common mantra being: “we just don’t know what’s going to happen.”

We tell stories to make meaning of trauma, to contain pain so we can better examine it and give it value. But sometimes we are in such distress that the container cracks. We can no longer write or speak in the same way, we can no longer contain the pain or carry it comfortably.

Paris: the cherry glow of sirens, the bitter cold, windows slamming shut, a vacant Eiffel tower. Alternatively: my friend who calmly held my hand, the family member who made a quiche, a café filled with people drinking champagne the next day.

Either it becomes a story of horror and fear, which you’ve already heard, or a story of healing and bravery, which feels mawkish and insincere.

I think we dislike narratives which exist in gray, uncertain space. We want them to have logic, to land on one side of a binary — tragedy or comedy, conflict resolved or broken open, a character whose biggest desire is fulfilled or wrenched from them completely. Climax, falling action, resolution.

But trauma, especially when it first occurs, isn’t a neat and tidy narrative. Sometimes there is no narrative at all.

The New Yorker recently featured a piece where sixteen writers weighed in on the election. As my friend Marie Scarles observed, “There are so many different versions of why Trump won, and so many ways for us to imagine the future. Should we pay more attention to poor whites? To Muslims? To women? To LGBTQ? To racists? To immigrants? All seem urgent, but none can be held as the be-all-end-all.”

We are searching for a straightforward answer, an immediate ending so this can be over and done with.

After the election, hunched over my carrel in the library and unable to write, I got a text message from my father: “Trauma turns us into animals, which means story-telling turns off. We revert to fight, flight or shock.” But sometimes, maybe our storytelling tendencies shutting down is a good thing. Maybe it allows us to survive. Narratives can be healing, but they can also be dangerous.

By attending to many different perspectives, perhaps a new story will eventually arise, something both nuanced and messy, something which contains many strands. Perhaps it will be a story of hope, but a particular kind of hope, which Rebecca Solnit describes as, ”an ax you break down doors with in an emergency… [it] should shove you out the door.”

For now, we are living in uncertainty. The story is that there is no story, at least no singular one. Which means there is no singular conflict, no one resolution. I wish I had a coherent story to tell about Paris, but I don’t. For me, the container is still broken open, as it is now for America post-election. This means we must listen to each other, and listen carefully.

raisa-tolchinsky

Raisa Imogen was born in Portland, Oregon, grew up in Chicago, and is currently studying at the University of Bologna in Italy. Her poetry can be found at www.raisaimogen.net and at The Kenyon Review.

 

Join Ally and Jen Pastiloff for an intimate online course about what it means to be a woman at this time. Space is very limited. Course runs Jan 12-Feb 9, 2017. Click the picture to sign up or to get more info on the course and its perks!

Join Ally and Jen Pastiloff for an intimate online course about what it means to be a woman at this time. Space is very limited. Course runs Jan 12-Feb 9, 2017. Click the picture to sign up or to get more info on the course and its perks!

 

 

Join The Manifestation Retreat: Manifesting Under The Tuscan Sun. June 17-24 OR Sep 9-16. Email retreats@jenniferpastiloff.com or click the picture above.

Join The Manifestation Retreat: Manifesting Under The Tuscan Sun. June 17-24 OR Sep 9-16. Email retreats@jenniferpastiloff.com or click the picture above.

Guest Posts, writing

Notes On Not A Memoir

October 2, 2016
memoir

By Janet Clare

The black hearse crossed in front of our car on the way to my first chemo appointment. “Think it’s a bad omen?” I asked my husband, “like a black cat?”

That was nineteen years ago so it wasn’t a portend of things to come. I was, and remain, one of the lucky ones. And, don’t worry this isn’t a cancer-survivor memoir. This isn’t even a memoir. I didn’t have a rotten enough childhood to write a memoir. Not perfect, mind you, but it wasn’t a locked-in-the-closet, raped-by-my-father, thrown-from-the car by a drug-addled-mother kind of upbringing. No alcoholism, no overtly deviant behavior. Misunderstood? Certainly. It was the ‘60’s. Everyone was misunderstood.

It was a time of long hair and dark clothes, of seriousness and hopefulness, unrest and social progress that we innocents thought would never end. The world was expanding and we thought it would go on forever, and ever better. A time when some of our dreams for a more civilized, humane and liberated country actually came true. We never imagined fifty years later it would all go to hell. It seemed impossible. But at some point our country put on the brakes to enlightenment and skid to a frightening stop. Then backed up and went the other way. But this isn’t a treatise on political angst, either. 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, writing

Guidelines For Submission

July 13, 2016
writing

By Katie Lee Ellision

When an essay I had written about my father was accepted for publication in 2013, I decided on a rule for letting him know about it. I would send him a finalized copy of the piece before it went live or to print–not so that he could decide whether or not it would be published, but just so that he knew what I had written and where it would be. I thought this was fair to both of us. So when I got the final from the editor, I called my father up, though we hadn’t been speaking much at that point.

I won’t spend time on the details about why my father and I hadn’t been in regular touch—that’s a much bigger story I’m writing. What I do want to talk about–and for a long time I couldn’t talk about anything else–is his reaction and its effect on me and my writing.

When I called to tell him about the publication, he was congratulatory and eager to read it.

“So…” he said, “is this about you and me when you were a kid or…?”

“Just read it, dad,” I said, and he said okay. Continue Reading…

Converse-Station, Guest Posts, writing

Converse-Station: Maggie May Ethridge and Zoe Zolbrod

May 10, 2016
writing

Welcome to The Converse-Station: a dialogue between writers. I read an advanced copy of Zoe Zolbrand’s book, The Telling, and I couldn’t put it down – This writing is fantastic and the book deserves the praise it is receiving. So when Maggie May Ethridge approached us about publishing an interview between her and Zoe, I was over the moon with excitement. Here is their conversation. Enjoy. xo Jen Pastiloff

When Zoe Zolbrod sent me her new memoir, The Telling, I couldn’t help but have the impression I knew what this story would be like; it’s a story of childhood molestation, and there is often a narrative that goes along with the subject. I was wrong. It’s a narrative Zolbrod has done her best to shake free of: you can feel in the writing how she again and again strives to tell the story true, tell it as it really was for her. This isn’t the same as telling something factually, of course-journalism is very different than a creative retelling of a true experience. This isn’t journalism, this is literature.

Zolbrod’s The Telling takes the reader through her experience being molested at age four by an older cousin who comes to live with the family, moving through her teen years, her twenties, and then into her adult married life as the mother of two young children. This timeline is very effective, illuminating the way that something profound yet baffling can seep into a life without overtaking it, so that Zolbrod wondered if she was over or under-emphasizing the effect the molesting had on her. This open curiosity drives many of the best passages in The Telling.

This is the subtext, the subconscious, the present and past and how they blur and move from underneath the pen that tries to press them down, the child as memoirist vs. the adult as memoirist, the way the rest of life that has nothing to do with one specific event still seeps into the picture, because nothing is life stands alone, an island, unaffected by all other choices we make. If that were true, we wouldn’t bother healing.

As I talked with Zolbrod, I reflected that often memoirs on sexual abuse are so difficult to read that I can’t read them twice. I read The Telling twice. The way that Zolbrod puts forth her abuse alongside her young twenties, alongside her adult, mother self, allows the most painful memories to have context and relevancy for her entire, empowered life as a woman, and not feel like a single knife, stabbing again and again through the paragraphs.

Zolbrod’s story is not only emotionally resonant, it surprised me as a reader by also being simply a good story. Zolbrod also happens to write sex exceptionally well, and from an empowered point of view that I don’t see reflected in our culture enough. Zolbrod unabashedly enjoyed sex, and writes with all the gusto, flavor, passion and joy of a great food writer, delightfully extolling the virtues of rolling orgasms and hyperfeminine men. Zolbrod goes after life, and you can feel this urgency in her sentences, including sex, men, female friendships, family relationships, art, literature, travel, food; we are taken along for the ride with an insightful, honest, tender yet definitely straightforward guide.

You can buy The Telling now.

Ethridge: What does your writing history look like?

Zolbrod: I have a novel that came out in 2010 called Currency. I worked on that novel over a decade by the time it came out. I’d also had a few short stories come out, and I have a MA in writing.

Ethridge: What made you decide to move to non-fiction?

Zobrod: I wrote some essays and liked writing in that form, but I really thought of myself as a fiction writer. When I started to promote Currency, I started a blog and wrote a few essays, and I found so much satisfaction in writing about topical issues and writing from my own point of view and connecting with people over my shared experience. I published some essays at The Nervous Breakdown and they had a thriving comments section and that was very satisfying…to be able to sit at your day job and connect with writers. I got more in the habit of writing personal reactions to things, and I found that I was writing often about sex crimes, because I was having such a strong reaction to them. Particularly when the crime of Jerry Sandusky was in the media, that he had abused all these boys and turned a blind eye. I wrote an essay on Jerry Sandusky and revealed in two or three sentences about my own experience…I was shaking and terrified. I don’t know what I expected, but I got incredible support. It felt ultimately liberating to say this out loud and be met with support and not scorn or disbelief.

Ethridge: What made you decide to write about your whole story?

Zolbrod: I was revisiting the material already, mulling it over, particularly some old journals. I wanted to put the energy I felt around it into a novel, and this is also at a time where I wasn’t doing very much writing because I was adjusting to parenthood. It became clear that the essays I was writing had more energy than the fiction. I was trying to code the truth, and I realized that the power was with the personal experience, and I should follow that instinct.

After that, I’d carve out time to write, and sometimes I just couldn’t. There are so many ethical concerns, so many blocks, so I spent a year or so not doing much writing at all. And then what happened, I don’t know- I just decided I’m going to do this, I have the right to do this.

Often ‘writing as therapy’ is used as description for an insult, but I think for me it actually was in some way, powerful, and I think that the writing is good, and it was very meaningful to me to be able to feel some of these emotions that are very hard. I didn’t want to dwell, but ultimately it was really beneficial to me to feel some of those emotions.

Ethridge: How did you work through your ethical and other concerns with writing about your molestation?

Zolbrod: At first I was really defensive, in particular I thought about the cousin who did this to me, and then thought about him going to prison “If you don’t want someone to write about him being a sex offender, don’t molest children” and I thought, “He’s on the sex offender registry, and that is something that anyone can find in google.” But then…it’s iffy. Other people can be implicated…I changed names, I tried not to psychologize anyone else, or assume what they were thinking or feeling, I only included things I thought were core and necessary to the core of my story. I think my biggest asset was that my father is such a generous person, and he gave me his blessing despite the fact that I was talking about some really difficult things. Things he’s not proud of or happy about- he’s a wonderful person.

I gave my father the chance to read it in final manuscript, and I told him I’d consider altering anything he couldn’t live with, and he didn’t take me up on that offer. He didn’t want to effect the editing process, and he’d deal privately with anything that would make him wince.

Ethridge: What was your experience as a reader of memoir before this? What were your influences writing The Telling?

Zolbrod: I hadn’t been a memoir reader before writing The Telling. I was probably contaminated by the view that memoirs are ‘uncool’ or less literary, which I think had effected me without doing my own examination. But as I entered this territory there were a few that I came to love, and I now I do love memoirs. There’s a lot that can be done with the form- Vivian Gornick, Fierce Attachments, was one of my early guiding lights, about her relationship with her mother. Something about it really freed me. It alternates between a more current voice and the past, which is something I do. I love The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch, I learned a lot from that, The Adderall Diaries, Another Bullshit Night In Sex City, Claire Bidwell Smith’s Rules of Inheritance, and recently I loved MOT by Sarah Einstein.

Ethridge: Did you have a plan, an outline when you began writing, or were you just writing it as it came out?

Zolbrod: I had a some kind of plan before I began writing the book…Vivian Gornick’s essay ‘The Situation and The Story’ helped me think about how to write my book. I always knew I wanted it to be a braided narrative, with several different timelines, I knew I wanted to structure it around the times I told. I felt fairly confident in the structure, it came to me, I worked hard but I never veered from the basic idea of interweaving these time frames. Trying to get the research in there, I wrestled with it a little bit. Early on I knew I wanted to include the research.

Ethridge: It was very effective, the way you used the varying stages of your life allowed me as a reader to have some kind of breathing room, so that I could read about the molesting and not feel like I had to run from the book. Sometimes books about really hard things are difficult to finish, no matter how good the writing. Your story was absorbing, had a wonderful narrative.

Zolbrod: One of the things I’ve talked about elsewhere… who wants to read about a child being abused, like you’re bringing something toxic into the world. So it really means a lot to me that you felt what I was trying to do. I want people to know that this is an empowering book, an adventure.

Ethridge: Do people reach out to you about being sexually molested after reading your book?

Zolrbod: Yes. One the one hand it makes me sad, but it is something of a comfort that I was less alone that I thought. So many of us have this experience, so few of us talk about it. It’s kind of a conversation stopper, so even if you don’t feel like you’re hiding it, there aren’t many places to discuss it. I feel badly whenever I learn that someone has had an experience like this in their own life, but also I feel a little less alone and I think other people feel less alone too. We can compare experiences, and how common thy are, feeling less isolated. I’d love for people to feel more seen,  hopeful.

 

Ethridge: As you wrote The Telling, did you have an idea of who you were writing to?

Zolbrod: I think I wrote the book for myself, for when I used to read, looking for some reflection of my experience and I didn’t find it. I hope to offer that for someone else who might find it useful. I hoped to dispel some myths about child sexual abuse…everytime there is a case in the news, there’s so much misunderstanding about who is vulnerable, who does these things. I’ve seen in my own community when a child can spot some warning signs and know something is inappropriate and disclose what is happening before…I hope the book can aid in that.

Ethridge: Did writing about your molestation change the way you address this subject with your own children?

Zolbrod: The writing and research I did around the book affected the way I talked to my kids. Something I wouldn’t have realized, we can periodically ask our kids as part of a conversation about bodies and privacy, you can ask “Has anyone ever tried to touch you there?” Giving children an opening to say something, an opening that wouldn’t have occurred.

It’s part of our story- it doesn’t have to be the whole story.

Zoe Zolbrod is the author of the memoir The Telling (Curbside Splendor, 2016) and the novel Currency (Other Voices Books, 2010), which was a Friends of American Writers prize finalist. Her essays have appeared in Salon, zoe-zolbrod-portraits-by-elizabeth-mcquern-oct-2015-1b1Stir Journal, The Weeklings, The Manifest Station, The Nervous Breakdown, The Chicago Reader, and The Rumpus, where she is the Sunday co-editor. She’s had numerous short stories and interviews with authors published, too. As a public speaker, she’s given talks at universities, workshops, and conferences on topics such as narrative voice; the differences between writing fiction and nonfiction; balancing paid work, parenting, and writing; child sexual abuse; and writing about trauma.

Born in western Pennsylvania, Zolbrod graduated from Oberlin College and then moved to Chicago, where she received an M.A. from the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Program for Writers. Aside for periods of traveling in Southeast Asia and Central America, she’s almost always worked full time, making her living as an editor of comic books, text books, and other kinds of books and educational materials, despite her difficulties with spelling and proper nouns. She lives in Evanston, IL, with her husband and two children.

Me,eyebrowsup!

 

Maggie May Ethridge is the author of the memoir Atmospheric Disturbances: Scenes From A Marriage (Shebooks, 2015), a poetic remembering of her marriage as it was before and after her husband’s diagnosis of bipolar. MME has work in Guernica, The Rumpus, Marie Claire and many others. Her novel Agitate My Heart is in last edits. You can find her at Flux Capacitor.

 

 

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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.

 

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.