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Binders, Dear Life., Guest Posts, Relationships

Dear Life: I Need Help Navigating Bouts of Depression.

February 27, 2015

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Welcome to Dear Life: An Unconventional Advice Column.

Your questions get sent to various authors from around the world to answer (and please keep sending because I have like 567 writers that want to answer your burning questions. Click here to submit a letter or email dearlife@jenniferpastiloff.com.) Different writers offer their input when it comes to navigating through life’s messiness. We are “making messy okay.” Today’s letter is answered by the wonderful Naomi Elana Zener.

Send us your questions because there loads of crazy authors waiting to answer ‘em. Just kidding, they aren’t crazy.

Well okay, maybe a little. Aren’t we all? xo, Jen Pastiloff, Crazy Beauty Hunter. ps, see you next weekend (3/7 and 3/8)  in Atlanta for my next workshop!

Join Jen Pastiloff in Atlanta March 8th. March 7th sold out. Click the photo above.

Join Jen Pastiloff in Atlanta March 8th. March 7th sold out. Click the photo above.

Dear Life and the wonderful people reading this,

I am used to navigating through life through and with heartache. The past 8 years were full of relationships with heartaches. They have created my darkest moments and have thus been the creations of my lightest moments. I am finally done with them, and I am depressed. I don’t have anything to complain about, except for missing my family sometimes, who lives across the ocean. I feel like I have no purpose and no direction, and I don’t know where to start. I crave adventure and meaning in life. I love to inspire and help people, but I can’t do that unless I can help myself. I want adventure, and I want to be excited about life, but these bouts of out of the blue depression are starting to get old and I do not know how to navigate through and out of them.
Please help.

All the love,
Elly

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Join founder Jen Pastiloff in her signature workshop in Philly. Space is very limited for the April 12th workshop! Just be a human being-no yoga experience required. Click the Dhyana Yoga logo to book.

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Dear Life., Guest Posts

Dear Life. How Do I Stop Trying To Save Everyone?

February 23, 2014

By Elizabeth Crane.

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Dear Life!

Welcome to the newest installment of The Manifest-Station. Dear Life: An Unconventional Advice Column With a Spin.The questions get sent to various authors from around the world to answer. Different writers offer their input when it comes to navigating through life’s messiness. Today’s question is answered by author Elizabeth Crane. Sometimes the responding author will share their name, sometimes they choose not to. Have a question for us? Need some guidance? Send an email to dearlife at jenniferpastiloff.com or use the tab at the top of the site to post. Please address it as if you are speaking to a person rather than life or the universe. Need help navigating through life’s messiness? Write to us!

Elizabeth Crane answers today’s DEAR LIFE.

Dear Life,

I play the same cycles over and over in my life. I’m sure everyone does to some degree. The part I continually find myself is that of caretaker. And it has finally begun to exhaust me and I also believe led to cancer in my body. Yet every time I swear it is the last time, I do it again. Upon reflection I see that taking care of another is the only place I feel I matter. The only time in my life I feel I have a purpose. Truth be told, it’s the only way I think people love me. I did it with my siblings. I’ve done it in nearly every friendship I’ve ever had. I did it with my mother. And I even did it with my abusive father. For some reason, no matter how poorly he treated me I felt sorry for him and would do what I could to take care of him. At 16 when I worked full time while going to high school helping to support my single mother and hoping to save for college, I even snuck my own money into his wallet after I knew he had gambled away his rent money.

Cognitively, I can see the cycle and how it all began. But I simply cannot seem to find a way to stop playing that role of the person who give up my dreams, my hopes, my wants, my needs for anyone else’s happiness. Maybe it’s that I simply cannot understand how someone can love me if I’m not doing something for them or supporting them in some way.

I do not mean to appear “poor me” at all. I take responsibility for putting myself in this position and for thinking this way. But how do I stop?

Thanks, K.

***

Dear K.,

You got this. Feel free to scroll to the end if you’re in a hurry, because the solution is super simple and even though it’s long-term simple, it’s still really good. (Is change ever not super slow? I like to think I’ve changed a lot since the days twenty years ago when I was in my apartment alone, feeling sorry for myself, wondering how not to think that the world was generally against me and so why bother – which is very much not the way I think now – but that was a long-ass process that involved a whole bunch of continued effort on my part.)

Before that, though, you said something sort of off-handedly that is sort of a bugaboo of mine, something very much along the lines of things my mother (who died of cancer) used to say. You mention that you believe this behavior led to cancer in your body. I know that there are those who hold very strong beliefs along these lines, and in a sort of general way, I don’t think there’s harm in looking at how our beliefs create our existence and where we can create new, more positive beliefs. HOWEVER. Sorry, sometimes I just get capsy. However.  To me, this kind of statement implies blame. And I just can’t get down with that. I don’t know about you, but I’m the sort of gal who’s inclined to blame herself for all kinds of things I’m not actually responsible for, and to take on blame for something like an illness – seems not only unhelpful but soul-damaging. So I’d personally like to relieve you of that. There’s so much that’s not known about cancer, all kinds of cancer. My mother was a vehement non-smoker her entire life, wouldn’t come within ten feet of a smoker if she could avoid it, and when she was 63 she somehow still died of lung cancer (there are different kinds, and this kind is more common than is known about, and is not caused by smoking or second-hand smoke). A ridiculous number of people on my mother’s block had some form of cancer all around the same time. Our world is polluted. That’s but one possible contributing factor. I’m not a scientist, don’t write me letters about this, people. I’m just saying there are all kinds of studies and actual sciency-things out there that explain where cancer comes from, and I’m on board with science. Do I also believe in the power of the mind? Sure I do. But not in this way. I can’t. Because it basically means that significant numbers of the people I’ve loved and/or been related to have created some kind of awful illness in themselves; my dad died of Parkinson’s Disease and nobody had a more cheerful disposition than that guy. So… I can’t urge you strongly enough to let that idea go. There are lots of caretaker-types out there who don’t have cancer. It just doesn’t add up. I’m not judging you. What I want is for you to not judge yourself.

So, to the primary topic – caretaking: By way of my own experience, I did this in my own way with a close friend for over fifteen years. This was a friend who I related to, who was super bright and funny and who helped me very much at a difficult time in my life, and who, when I was down, was tremendously compassionate and always knew the exact right thing to say.

But a dynamic existed between us, one that took me many years to become fully conscious of, wherein – I was sort of recreating an unhealthy pattern that had existed in my relationship with my mother. I’m talking about emotional caretaking. My mom was given to emotional extremes, and the primary lesson I took away from that as a kid was to avoid conributing to that at all costs. My purpose in life as a kid was largely “prevent Mom from crying.” I was a six-year-old Executive Assistant in the Department of Crying Management. And it was a job I sometimes assigned myself in my adult relationships. So while I might not be any kind of – chicken-soup maker or financial supporter (hahahahahahaha) or drop everything and come over-er, I have been known to tell you what I think you want to hear, and it turns out that this can be incredibly damaging. It’s dishonest. I too, have in the past wanted to be loved so much that I not only sacrificed who I was, but harmed others. And I wondered that same thing – could anyone possibly love me if I wasn’t doing something for them? It turns out the answer to this is a million times yes. Better, we don’t even have to understand why; we only have to accept it. The unconditional love of friends sustains me beyond measure. My friends are not saints. They’re beautiful, flawed people, like me, and they loved me until I learned to love myself. Those people exist for all of us, especially if we know where to look. And I happen to know exactly where you should look!

In any case, whatever fault I once believed lay outside me, the first thing I have to do is take responsibility for my part, and you have already acknowledged that you’ve done this, and that’s huge.

Here’s where the slow/simple part of the solution comes in. It’s called Al-Anon. That’s it, that’s the whole thing. Absolutely, a good therapist in conjunction with this can also be of great help. But this is what Al-Anon is all about. How to create boundaries, to say no when it’s appropriate, to learn how to take care of yourself and create healthy relationships with people.

I wish I had a speedier solution.  But I can offer you this one assurance based on my own experience.  This can absolutely change, and I look forward to hearing about it.

~Elizabeth Crane.

Elizabeth Crane is the author of the story collections When the Messenger Is HotAll This Heavenly Glory, and You Must Be This Happy to Enter. Her work has been featured in McSweeney’s The Future Dictionary of America, The Best Underground Fiction, and elsewhere.

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Please note: Advice given in Dear Life is not meant to take the place of therapy or any other professional advice. The opinions or views offered by columnists are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed physician or mental health professional. Columnists acting on behalf of Dear Life are not responsible for the outcome or results of following their advice in any given situation.

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Jen Pastiloff is part of the faculty this year at Other Voices Querétaro. It is a vibrant, multi-faceted writing program in Querétaro, Mexico. Focusing on both fiction and nonfiction, as well as on the ins and outs of contemporary publishing. Application: We're keeping it simple! Admission forms and letters of recommendation are not required. Please email Gina at ovbooks@gmail.com or click photo above. Also on faculty are authors Emily Rapp, Gina Frangello, Stacy Bierlein and Rob Roberge.

Jen Pastiloff is part of the faculty this year at Other Voices Querétaro. It is a vibrant, multi-faceted writing program in Querétaro, Mexico. Focusing on both fiction and nonfiction, as well as on the ins and outs of contemporary publishing. Application: We’re keeping it simple! Admission forms and letters of recommendation are not required. Please email Gina at ovbooks@gmail.com or click photo above. Also on faculty are authors Emily Rapp, Gina Frangello, Stacy Bierlein and Rob Roberge.

 

Click to order Simplereminders new book.

Click to order Simplereminders new book.

Dear Life., writing

Dear Life: Who Are My Peers?

February 12, 2014

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88Welcome to Dear Life: An Unconventional Advice Column.

Your questions get sent to various authors from around the world to answer (and please keep sending because I have like 567 writers that want to answer your burning questions. Click here to submit a letter or email dearlife@jenniferpastiloff.com.) Different writers offer their input when it comes to navigating through life’s messiness. We are “making messy okay.” Today’s letter is answered by Angela G. Patel, who also is an editor for this site (and one of my closest friends) and… who is attending my Writing + The Body retreat in a couple weeks with author Lidia Yuknavitch! The retreat is sold out but email info@jenniferpastiloff.com to be added to wait list.

Send us your questions because there loads of crazy authors waiting to answer ‘em. Just kidding, they aren’t crazy.

Well okay, maybe a little. Aren’t we all? xo, Jen Pastiloff, Crazy Beauty Hunter. ps, I will see you in Vancouver in a couple weeks! My first workshop there! 

 

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being.

By Angela Giles Patel.

Dear Life, 

Men We Reaped, Jesmyn Ward’s remarkable memoir, an extended exploration of the deaths of five young black men in a Mississippi community (including Ward’s own brother), caused me to look anew at my own life, which also has been marked by trauma: Sudden loss of a parent at a young age; chaotic adolescence culminating in pregnancy and marriage at the age of 18; a marriage marked by violence and drug abuse (my husband’s); an acrimonious divorce followed by a decade of custodial interference; single parenthood in a hostile urban environment; poverty; emotional instability; the experience of 9/11 as a resident of New York City; life-threatening disease; the sudden loss of an adult child; and now the recurrence of life-threatening disease. Yet I am white, well-educated (MFA from a major university), well-spoken, and, for now, after many years of struggle, financially comfortable. So people assume—and I generally do not set them straight unless I know them very well—that I have led a relatively easy life. Largely because of the trauma in my life, I stopped writing for many years, only recently picking it up again and finding great solace in the process.

The question that plagues me? Who, exactly, is my peer group? White people of my educational status and socioeconomic station seem to lead suchcharmed lives in comparison. Yet who else available to me has the literary insight to give me the feedback my writing needs? Because of the lag between my MFA experience and my return to writing, I have lost touch with my teachers. And while I generally felt supported and valued by those teachers, I felt like a fish out of water when it came to the other students.

I recently moved out of New York City to a much smaller city in a different region of the country. In my new town, I have spent time in a critique group with other writers, all of them younger than me, some of them with children still at home, most of them married, all healthy…. And while they have been generous and insightful in many ways, as I continue writing I feel the lack of an essential understanding, and I feel increasingly that the poems and other writings (fiction and nonfiction) I am excavating from my traumatized interior are burdensome to them and impinge on the happy lives they are trying to build and maintain. I don’t think it’s a matter of age, although I am sure that age plays a role (I am in my mid-50s). Most writers in workshops are relatively young. Older writers with the skill to offer literary criticism tend to be 1) successful already and, hence, unlikely to be interested in offering criticism on a regular basis, and 2) ready to settle back and not work (or network) so hard, having already established connections with other writers and artiststheir age.

My question really is an existential one in this era when the fortunate can afford to isolate themselves from the unfortunate—and usually prefer to—and tend to be fundamentally uncomfortable hearing about difficult life experiences. Yet, I feel very strongly that the unfortunate often have extraordinary insight into the true nature of this earthly existence—but very few avenues for expressing it. I don’t know how I would have survived, emotionally and intellectually, without books by writers like Jesmyn Ward, Viktor Frankl, Sylvia Plath, and others that reflected my own inner experience.

Somewhere there must be good writers who can offer feedback without feeling uncomfortable about difficult subject matter, who have the personal and artistic integrity to see the intrinsic value of such subject matter, and who can offer literary criticism without trying to psychoanalyze the writer in the process (a common problem). How do I find them?

I know it is important, in the meantime, to continue writing. I know someone else’s response shouldn’t be the dominant reason one writes. And yet it is hard to continue over time without a peer group and without feedback. One can only get so far on one’s own.

Thanks for the chance to pose my question,

Aspiring Writer

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Dear Aspiring Writer,

The comfort you have found in writing is quite familiar to me and you are absolutely right, there is great solace in the process. As writers we have to write, even when it hurts. And there comes a time when every writer has to decide if they want to share what they have written.

Clearly, you are at the stage with your work where you want your voice to be heard, but I am not convinced that you are looking for peers. I am even less convinced that the peers you think you deserve exist. Your criteria is stringent and exclusive, and by that I mean terribly narrow. You dismiss younger writers because they are inexperienced and can’t relate to your work, and you dismiss older writers because they are above putting in the time you think your writing deserves. You want to have people who can relate to your pain read your writing, but they need to be of a certain class so that they can offer you “literary” feedback. No matter how good your writing is, and I have no doubt it is good, you have whittled your potential peer group to a nub.

Here’s a thought: stop looking for a peer group and start looking for a tribe. Look for people who connect with your soul, not your experiences. Put together a group that can give you a variety of opinions. Don’t dismiss feedback because it isn’t literary enough, some of the best feedback you will ever get will be a gut reaction rather than a clever assessment. Honest feedback will tell you when you are being self-indulgent, so here is some honesty: you need to look at why you want people to interact with your work. If it is to congratulate you on what you survived, that’s fine but you need to own that and not hold unsuspecting readers accountable. If it is to get feedback on the quality of your work, you need to own that as well, because it takes a heavy dose of humility to have your painful experiences rejected, trust me on that one.

If you are writing for more than you, if you are writing because you feel diminished if you don’t write, if you are seeking to hone your craft, then absolutely get your work in front of people however you can. Go to readings, check out a local indie bookstore for author events, ask booksellers about book clubs and writing groups. There are also a number of online forums for writers. Stanford has a decent writing program that covers most genres. LitReactor has classes as well as reading groups. You get the idea.

Be prepared though, the hardest part of getting feedback is really listening to the feedback. You need to be humble enough to hear what is being said, grateful enough to listen to the finish, gracious enough to be grateful, and brave enough to reflect on it. Believe me, it’s not easy. Rejection hurts, especially when it is a rejection of your own experience and pain. But it happens. Often. Never forget that you can learn something from everyone you share your work with. As you form your tribe, feel free to send a sample of your work to “Dear Life” and I will be happy to chime in.

All the best,

Xx Angela

 

Please note: Advice given in Dear Life is not meant to take the place of therapy or any other professional advice. The opinions or views offered by columnists are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed physician or mental health professional. Columnists acting on behalf of Dear Life are not responsible for the outcome or results of following their advice in any given situation.

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