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Converse-Station, Guest Posts, Interview, Jen Pastiloff

Best-Selling Author Caroline Leavitt Interviews Jen Pastiloff.

August 27, 2014

By Caroline Leavitt.

This is an excerpt from interview I did on the incredible Caroline Leavitt’s site. I am still giddy about it. Pinch me! Here’s a teaser…

I first heard of Jennifer Pastiloff because everyone on Facebook was talking about her essay on dealing with her hearing loss. It was so brave, so beautifully written, that I wanted to talk to her. Jennifer also is the creator of Manifestation Yoga and Karaoke Yoga (how fun does that sound?) and she runs writing and yoga retreats. I’m so thrilled to have her here. Thank you, Jennifer!

CL: What sparked you to write such a brave essay now?

 Continue Reading…

Converse-Station, writing

The Converse-Station: Laura Bogart Interviews Antonia Crane.

July 17, 2014

Hey there, Jen Pastiloff here. I’m the founder of The Manifest-Station! Welcome to the newest installment- The Converse-Station: A place where writers interview writers. (Thanks to author Elissa Wald for coming up with that name.) I am so excited by the idea of this series, I can hardly stand it. The readership on the site is so high that I figured it was time for something like this. Today’s interview is between two incredible writers: Laura Bogart and Antonia Crane. Enjoy! 

Laura Bogart: I first discovered Antonia Crane’s writing on The Rumpus, where she established a regular presence as an interviewer and essayist. Her work is unparalleled in its sensitivity to the power and nuance of language in conveying the richness of human experience—other people’s and her own. She’s unflinching on the page: Her love and her pain appear in equal measure, and often intertwined. Her passion, and, most importantly, her compassion, inspired me in my own writing; as I re-read her essays about survival and grace, I felt as if she was somehow right beside me, whispering encouragements with a sweet and knowing tone.

When I was finally fortunate enough to meet Antonia, and to connect with her as a writer and a friend, I found that she was as generous and as beautiful in person as she is on the page. That generosity and beauty is in full bloom in her new memoir, Spent. Cheryl Strayed, writing as Dear Sugar, once described her first novel as a second heart pulsing in her chest—and there is no doubt that Spent is Antonia’s second heart. It’s dynamic and raw, thrumming with blood and ticking with electricity. Spent follows Antonia from a girlhood defined by curiosity about the world beyond her small town, and into that world beyond: a world of sex and drugs and rock n’ roll—and also friendship, sisterhood, rebellion and, above all, love. No matter where Antonia’s life takes her, the love of her life is her mother, and that love transcends everything, even death. Spent is ultimately the story of that love.

Laura Bogart: One of the things I love the most about your book is the final chapter, which announces, without apology, that your book won’t be ending the way that the other stripper and hooker memoirs that disappoint you always end: “neat, tidy, heteronormative, and buttoned up. They end all Pretty Woman and diamond-ringed and Pottery Barned, with the damaged girl who finally found Mister Perfect.” Since your book deliberately bucks the Disney Princess “redemptive arc” that these books hew to, what would you say the main narrative – and emotional – arc of your book really is? Did you always know what it would be, or did it emerge through the writing process? Once you found it, what choices did you make in your writing to help give it life on the page?

Antonia Crane: When I wrote it, I didn’t consider narrative arc at all. After a lot of feedback, it became clear that I needed to inject one. I did not know what the book would be. It began as fiction but then I abandoned fiction and wrote about the fact that my mom had died after a battle with cancer and this brutalized my heart. I could not get rid of it, so I kept writing about it—especially what happened to her strong body. I also kept writing about sex work as a way to learn how to go on, survive and live and love again without my mom. That was the emotional arc of my book. Separating those two things: her cancer and my survival, was like trying to separate a river. She went septic. So did my narrative. I could not have written another type of ending because this was the ending that I had available to me: One that insisted that I bear the weight of survival without my mom and no one was going to save me from that specific pain. No one was going to carry the weight for me or rehabilitate me and that is no goddamn fairy tale.

LB: You’ve already written such a wealth of material in terms of personal essays, interviews, and your Rumpus column. It seems to me that essays, interviews, and pieces for columns have a sort of natural structure, whereas a great sprawling, tentacled beast like a book doesn’t have that natural structure in place. When approaching a larger work like a memoir, how did you determine the structure? Did you have a few core moments you knew you’d have to write toward? Or did you just let rip and see where the connective tissues were?

AG: “Great sprawling, tentacled beast” is a great, accurate description of what it’s like to sculpt work into any kind of cohesive book. I cut huge parts of my life out of the book in order to be of service to the arc. I didn’t want to derail and distract the reader. For instance, I lived in Bombay, India when I was fifteen as part of an international exchanged program and that’s possibly the singular event that shaped my identity, but it made no sense for the book. Also, many of my love relationships read as anecdotal encounters so I had to nix those. I needed to have a couple of real love stories with a beginning, middle and end, so I kept Ian, Adam and Beata, but the most intense love story was the love between my mom and I. Also, I toyed with time because I needed to let go of absolute accuracy in order to allow the reader to step to the rocks to the next place. Time and memory are murky places and in order to be of maximum service to the emotional truth, I moved some things around.

LB: To me, the real animating force of Spent is the relationships between women. There is romantic, sexual love between women, but also a sense of solidarity between the women who work together in the clubs. And the book is, above all else, a love story between a mother and daughter. The book delves so deeply into your struggles with body acceptance, and yet, in the flashbacks and dream sequences with your mother’s voice on the phone, she’s talking about the foods she’s finding at the farmer’s market, especially the squash. This strikes me as being powerful shorthand for her role as a nurturing, nourishing force in your life. Was this emphasis on the bonds between women deliberate? And if so, how did you work to delineate the different types of relationships between women in the book?

AC: Hearing my mom talk about being a little girl in her family always made me sad. She was much smarter and more accomplished than anyone expected and she seemed to never get the recognition or support she longed for. The men in her family were neglectful and abusive. She was a terrific cook and enjoyed having a girl to celebrate being a girl with. We shopped for makeup together and I made her laugh with my ridiculous dances. In some ways, I think the book celebrates being a woman and at the same time, echoes the same struggles my mom had finding peace in her body, family and life.

LB: The scene that resonates the most with me as I read and re-read Spent is the scene when you and your stepfather honor your terminally ill mother’s wishes for a death at home by performing euthanasia. How did you prepare to write that scene emotionally? Were you at all worried about any legal repercussions, and if so, what kind of research/investigating did you do before crafting scene?

AC: No, I didn’t prepare emotionally at all. I can’t imagine how that would be. I cried in public and wrote it out to the end. I was messy. I had to find a way to write about her death but it became also about mercy and tenderness and rage. Death is final and quiet but it’s also about what and whom we are left with and the impossible necessity of moving on. I handed in my final draft to my publisher, Barnacle Books, and asked about the legal issues. My publisher’s attorney was not concerned but it did not sit right with me so I met with an attorney who happens to be a personal friend. We discussed things like first-degree murder and the worst-case scenarios. He asked me some hard questions about who was in the room, who was in the building and were the drugs procured or administered? We discussed the legal risks and I rewrote my prologue with that in mind.

LB: The other thing that really strikes me about that scene is that it’s rendered very matter-of-factly; I think a lot of other memoirists might have been tempted to overly sensationalize that scene, and, indeed, to make it the “hook” of their memoir. Can you talk about the decision to position that scene where you did, and to treat it so directly?

AC: Death is universal so everyone can identify with it, but it’s also deeply profound and personal. It was absolutely necessary to write that scene where it fell and how it was. The only way I can describe how I wrote it is by knowing I did not write it alone. I had many teachers. Steve Almond frequently urged me to scrape the glittery metaphors from my sentences and to “tell it straight.” In one of her lectures, Cheryl Strayed said, “Be more than a little bit brave.” So I had to skin myself alive and show the death how it happened and how that was to be in the room and see her transition to death. Anna March has a post-it on her computer that reads: “Does it hurt yet?” I think of that post-it when I write a scene that seems impossible to write. If it doesn’t hurt yet, I dig until it hurts more.

LB: What advice would you have for someone who’d just decided to start writing about her life’s experiences? What counsel do you have for someone who wants to be honest and fair about their experiences, even when that may mean writing something less-than-flattering about someone close to them? How can people protect themselves emotionally while mining difficult territory?

AC: I don’t believe in protecting myself emotionally at all. The writing I love the most is not self-protective at all, but completely naked and full of heart. When writing memoir, someone is always going to get hurt or insulted and no one is going to be flattered, especially not the narrator. The funny thing is, it’s never the ones you think will be angry at all, but the ones you were not writing about in the first place. I would advise to not change any part of your story because of someone else’s comfort level or opinion. Just write.

LB: I’ve already read Spent twice and I want more! What is next on the horizon for you? Will you be releasing another memoir any time soon?

AC: I have started new work and I have no idea where it’s going. After 25 years, I’m writing about living in India as a teenager and how it was to be an outcast surrounded by lepers.

Antonia Crane

photo of Antonia Crane by Josh Cleanser
Antonia’s site: http://antoniacrane.com/ and a link to her book on Amazon.

IMG_3887 (768x1024)

Laura Bogart is a Baltimore-based writer whose work has appeared in Salon, The Rumpus, The Nervous Breakdown, Prick of the Spindle and Spectre (among others). She’s currently at work on a novel tentatively titled Your Name is No.

 

Jennifer Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Her work has been featured on The Rumpus, The Nervous Breakdown, Jezebel, Salon, and more. Jen leads her signature writing/yoga Retreats & Workshops all over the world. The next retreat is to Ojai, Calif over Labor Day. Check out jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up: Seattle, Atlanta, South Dakota, NYC, Dallas, Miami, Tucson & The Berkshires (guest speaker Canyon Ranch.) She tweets/instagrams at @jenpastiloff. 

The Converse-Station, writing

The Converse-Station: Gayle Brandeis Interviews Alma Luz Villanueva.

June 2, 2014

Hey there, Jen Pastiloff here. I’m the founder of The Manifest-Station! Welcome to the newest installment- The Converse-Station: A place where writers interview writers. (Thanks to author Elissa Wald for coming up with that name.) I am so excited by the idea of this series, I can hardly stand it. The readership on the site is so high that I figured it was time for something like this. Today’s interview is between two of my friends, two women I look up to tremendously. Both have appeared on the site already. Gayle Brandeis (her two pieces on the site went viral) and Alma Luz Villanueva. Both of these women are fierce. THis is an honor. Smooches, Jen.

“A Continuous Dream”: An Interview with Alma Luz Villanueva by Gayle Brandeis.

Alma Luz Villanueva is a visionary. She dreams her own world into being, as both a writer and a woman, and empowers others to pay deep attention to their own dreams.

I’ve known Alma for 15 years–she was my mentor in the MFA program at Antioch University, Los Angeles, where we are now colleagues and, more importantly, friends. When I was her student, Alma would have me write questions for my characters and put them under my pillow, sure I’d have more clarity in the morning (she was right!); unlike many writing professors, she encourages her students to write our characters’ dreams, a practice which often breaks our stories wide open. I love how dreams have guided the most profound decisions in her life, including her move to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico several years ago. A few months ago, she dreamed of me in a white gown and said she knew it signaled a powerful transformation. I ended up needing major surgery not long afterwards; I told her later that I thought of her dream often while I was in the hospital–I was worried it meant I was going to die, and I kept telling myself to be open to whatever transformation might be waiting for me, even if it was the greatest one. Alma told me that she had sensed I would be close to that edge, but she didn’t want to interpret the dream for me–she just wanted to give it to me whole, to let it reveal its own truth. That is the great beauty of Alma as a teacher–she opens important doors within her students and gives them the courage and freedom to explore what’s on the other side. This woman is brimming with, glowing with, hard-won wisdom.

I have the great pleasure of seeing Alma every June and December at the Antioch MFA residencies, and always look forward to the shamanic rattle she brings to the faculty meetings, her eye-opening, heart-opening seminars, and our traditional Thursday night dinners together, full of the most nourishing conversation. This June, we’re planning on pina coladas, and maybe dancing, to celebrate dreams and transformation and friendship.

Alma has been a literary force for decades. She began publishing poetry in the late 1970s, when she won the University of California at Irvine’s Chicano Literary Prize. She has since released eight books of poetry, including Planet, which won the Latin American Writers Poetry Prize, and the forthcoming Gracias. Her four novels include The Ultraviolet Sky, which won an American Book Award and is listed in 500 Great Books by Women, and Naked Ladies, which received the PEN Oakland Fiction Award. Her latest novel, Song of the Golden Scorpion, was published by Wings Press October, 2013.

Song of the Golden Scorpion tells the story of Xochiquetzal, a 58 year old woman whose dreams lead her to San Miguel de Allende, and her passionate connection with Javier, a 34 year old doctor. Their 12 year affair is deeply erotic but also reaches beyond the body, and the book is ultimately a story of healing on both a personal and cultural level.

I asked Alma a few questions about the novel over email.

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GB: You mentioned to me that male reviewers have issues with Xochiquetzal’s sexuality. Could you speak about this a bit? Was your decision to write about a 58 year old woman’s sexuality a political one in any way? Also, I know that sometimes you require your students to write about sex. Could you talk about why you feel exploring a character’s sexuality is important for a writer?

ALV: In a sense it was ‘political,’ as in it’s normal for a 58 year old man to be with a 34 year old woman- 24 year difference, as it was with Javier and Xochiquetzal. I recently read an interview with Joan Collins who’s 80 years old…her husband is 48, so a 32 year difference. She was asked the secret of her marriage and she responded, “Sex, sex, sex.” Then about the age difference, “Well, if he dies, he dies.” I laughed so hard, that spirit. And so, although there was a ‘political’ slant to these lovers, it ultimately was simply human. To be human is to be sexual/sensual/alive…I encourage my students to explore their character’s full humanity (as you know haha). And so, I think men, as in all cultures, still don’t want women to claim their full humanity/sexuality- yet they want us to continue to have babies, replenish the next generation. I say, GROW UP. And I say this as a mother of three grown sons, all feminist men. Male writers are expected and encouraged to express, write within their full humanity, their sexuality. Think of Junot Diaz, for example, and he’s a Latino who won a Pulitzer Prize for his novel, ‘THE BRIEF WONDROUS LIFE OF OSCAR WAO.’  A woman, and a Latina woman, would not be celebrated for her full humanity, her sexuality with no censors, on the page. But this is true for all women, no matter their ethnic/cultural group- that ‘mother/whore’ curse we must continue to challenge as whole human beings. We became mothers from our own desires, hungers, ecstasy. And if we choose not to be mothers, our desires, hungers, ecstasy remain intact. Our own.

GB: Because I’ve known you for so long, I recognize parts of your own story, your own life, within this novel. I’m curious to hear your thoughts about autobiographical fiction. How does fiction and life flow together for you? Did you set out to braid your own story into this novel, or did it slip in unexpectedly?

ALV: Fiction as life is a continuous dream, with a lot of work involved (haha), as well as much pleasure/joy. This novel isn’t ‘autobiographical fiction,’ as my characters, as in ALL of them and there are many, took over. I didn’t consciously choose to include some of my experiences in Bali, for example, but at the moment of la fictive dream, my dream and Xochiquetzal’s dream merged, and I liked it. So did she, so it stayed. The characters have to agree or forget it. I know many novelists include their own experiences, so I’m certainly not the first, or the last. I think of two of my favorite novelists I loved before I ever wrote- Colette and Herman Hesse, who wove in their own life experiences with their characters. And so, I have never been an Israeli Commando, Ari…or a Mexican drug lord, Pompeii…or a Japanese woman roaming the world planting peace crystals to honor Hiroshima/Nagasaki, Ai… or a Hopi-Taos flute playing man, Hank, and more. All characters in this novel, whom I had to dream with to know who they truly are.

GB: You weave a lot of poetry into the novel–Neruda, Rumi, your own/Xociquetzal’s–and the prose itself is deeply informed by poetic conventions: repetition, rhythm, etc. I know you also have a new book of poetry, Gracias, which you’ve called the novel’s twin, about to be released. How does the process of writing poetry differ for you from writing fiction, and how do the two crafts feed one another?

ALV: I was brought up by my full blood Yaqui grandmother Jesus Villanueva, who came to the USA from Sonora, Mexico, in her early 30s. She never spoke English so I was her translator at clinics, welfare offices, banks etc- she taught me ‘dreaming’ from the time I could speak. And then she taught me poetry, told me wonderful/terrible stories. As a writer, I was a poet first (I’ve published eight books of poetry), although I always loved to tell stories…I think of the traveling Native story tellers, perhaps in a past life with beautiful tattoos. Their tattoos symbolizing dreams, stories. I have some but probably not as many as I should to keep up with my dreams, stories. And so, I always begin with the Dream…I’ve kept Dream Journals for over forty years and return to them often to re-member. The gift. The map. The Dream guides my life first, then I’m led to poetry, and poetry finally guides me to stories, the written version, fiction. The fictive dream. Poetry is my mother tongue, and although I write in English mostly, it’s always sung/echoed in Spanish, my grandmother’s chanting Yaqui language. Her morning prayer/poetry to the Child Sun, her rattle…the first sound I heard when I woke up. Then we shared our dreams over hot chocolate, pan dulce.

GB: Your book is full of scrumptious sounding food, which helps amplify the earthy sensuality of the novel (I love the mango “surgery”, and all of the other delicious feasts that Xochiquetzal and Javier share.) Could you talk a bit about writing about food? Also, I remember reading a review of The Ultraviolet Sky that said something like “What’s with all the omelets?”, and there are quite a few omelets in this novel, as well. As an omelet fan, myself, I have to ask–are omelets a specialty of yours, and what’s your favorite kind?

ALV: As with sex/sensuality, the pleasure, and necessity, of food are to me hand in hand, mouth to mouth. They naturally come together when I write those moments- sense-uality. One of my favorite omelets is the ‘chorizo omelet’: Saute some chorizo, to taste, in a pan a few minutes, add red bell pepper, onion, garlic, simmer a bit more, covered. Then I add two eggs for one human, 4 eggs for two… break the eggs in a bowl, add some milk/almond milk, sprinkle basil, beat, and pour on top of chorizo/vege mix. Then add slices of Oaxaca cheese, my fave, or any cheese you like…over that some spinach, chili flakes, a bit more basil, and simmer until omelet is done with lid on. Keep lifting the omelet to see if it’s browned/cooked, and cheese melted, spinach cooked, YUMMY. I top it with fresh mango salsa, or store bought is fine. A glass of chilled chardonay, or champagne- at the end cafe con Kahlua, cinnamon on top. Here in Mexico, before you eat, you’re blessed with ‘BUEN PROVECHO!’ When I first moved here, total strangers would pause, lean in and yell this, making me jump. Now I wait for the blessing.

GB: Your book is also deeply spiritual, exploring Buddhism, Hopi ritual, Mayan mythology, the creation of the Energy Child, etc. It’s rare for novelists to tackle matters of the spirit the way that you do–are there any novelists you’ve been inspired by who explore spirituality?

Any words of advice for writers who wish to bring matters of the spirit into their own work?

ALV: I love Herman Hesse for his spiritual quests within his novels- I think of ‘SIDDHARTHA,’ but all of his novels include the spirit quest. Again, I read him before I wrote any fiction and he gave me ‘permission’ to think/write with spirit in mind (I fully realize now). Alice Walker’s fiction has that hallmark of spiritual writing- her ‘THE TEMPLE OF MY FAMILIAR’ a spirit journey to the very beginning, stirrings of humankind on our planet. Louise Erdrich’s ‘THE PAINTED DRUM,’ a spirit journey of ancestors, dreams, within Ojibwe, Native reality. I always return to the truth of Spirit- that all true spiritual paths/journeys are one journey. Which is what ‘SONG OF THE GOLDEN SCORPION’ brought me to, this truth. “We wed ourselves to the Mystery, not to conquer it or be conquered by it, but to greet it.” Inuit wisdom  If we, as poets/writers, approach spirituality in this Spirit, we’re always welcomed home.

GB: In the novel, you write “The tendency of her spirit wasn’t strange here, it was daily life. It wasn’t ‘magical realism’ (she hated that literary gringo term, as though the reality of millions was simply a fairy tale, a ‘myth’); no, it was just the reality, the human spirit. Unedited.”  Do you feel that your work is often fighting against gringo literary convention? Could you talk about what it means to you to write as a woman of color?

ALV: The first time I heard the term pathetic fallacy in regards to one of my poems in my MFA workshop (years ago), I almost punched someone. ‘Pathetic fallacy’ to whom…if you’re raised within a culture, a way of being, that honors the Dream, the spirit alive in all living things, even stone, water, stars, the center of our Earth, and that they speak to us (even if we can’t hear, cease to hear); the so-called Western Canon does NOT speak for those who can still hear this on-going song, music, poetry, voice of wild wisdom that surrounds us daily, nightly. Blessing our lives and our dreams. As a woman of color, I can only write from my own truth, voice, vision, while listening to the voice of wild wisdom as deeply as I possibly can.

GB: I know dreams play a vital role in your life and in your fiction. Could you talk about how dreams inform your process as a writer, and how they influenced this novel in particular?

ALV: Since I’ve already answered this in previous questions…and I love your deep questions, Gayle. From the beginning dreams (literally) hauled me into the fictive dream of this novel, as I was trying NOT to start/write this novel. I was dreading the long journey of the novel, that long pregnancy to ‘the end.’ Javier and Xochiquetzal came together in a dream…a ‘wide screen’ dream, taking up all the space…and they just stared at me, into me, through me. No words, but their eyes fiercely, yet lovingly, said, “Surrender,” and I did. Surrender. Wrote the first scene, which I tried to place further on in the novel numerous times…a very erotic scene, their first time together sexually. Every time I did this, they refused to appear within the fictive dream, the novel, and I could hear them laughing, very loudly. The scene remained the opening scene, and we…all of my characters…continued on to the end, six years later. Scene by scene. Dream by dream. I got ‘lost’ a few times in the 454 pages- not ‘logically’ as I could refer to my notebooks, but emotionally/spiritually. I simply couldn’t find IT, how to continue. Then one of my characters would appear in a dream. This happened most crucially toward page 300, and Javier appeared on the ‘wide screen’ of my dream, those eyes, and said, “I don’t need a map, only blood.” I continued to the end. Something released. That surrender.

GB: Xochiquetzal tells a story about a Balinese healer she met who keeps an eagle chained. When Xochiquetzal asked the woman why she didn’t set the eagle free, the woman asked “What is freedom, Madam?” (an encounter that I know you experienced in Bali, yourself.) In one scene, many of the characters answer that question for themselves, so now I must ask you: what do *you* think is freedom, Madam?

ALV: That healer’s question lives in my DNA, my dreams, and sometimes my answer is, “To see a hummingbird in flight….To see an eagle spiraling toward the sun…To hold my great-grandchild for the first time, that sweet human weight…To dive into my sacred glacier lake in the Sierras…To sleep on the Mother Rock there, no fear…To wake up to the stars singing so loudly and the lake singing in harmony…To see endless branches dripping with dreaming monarchs…To hear the young boys sing monarch songs as they laugh with such joy, here in Mexico…To see the vulnerable wonder in their parents’ eyes as they offer me food, these caretakers of the miracle of monarchs, these trees…To witness Madre Mar, her great heaving dance… To hear the laughter of my grown children and grandchildren…To dream the ancestors…To dance just cause I feel like it and as weirdly as I wish to…To cook wonderful food and share it, and to be fed juicy mangos…” And I see all of this is rooted in love/loving…”What is freedom, madam?” To exist within the rainbow, the spectrum, always changing…storm, sun, rain, snow, tears, laughter, pain, joy…always love. Listen.

 

Alma.

Alma.

***

Gayle Brandeis is the author of Fruitflesh: Seeds of Inspiration for Women Who Write (HarperOne), the novels The Book of Dead Birds (HarperCollins), which won Barbara Kingsolver’s Bellwether Prize for Fiction of Social Engagement, Self Storage (Ballantine), and Delta Girls (Ballantine), and her first novel for young people, My Life with the Lincolns (Henry Holt), which won a Silver Nautilus Book Award. Gayle teaches in the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Antioch University and lives in Riverside, CA, where she is mom to two adult kids and a toddler, and is winding up her two year appointment as Inlandia Literary Laureate. Connect with Gayle here.

gayle-brandeis-author-photo

Jennifer Pastiloff is a writer living on an airplane. Her work has been featured on The Rumpus, The Nervous Breakdown, Jezebel, Salon, among others. Jen’s leading a long weekend retreat to Ojai, Calif over Labor Day in Ojai, Calif. She and bestselling author Emily Rapp will be leading another writing retreat to Vermont in October. Check out her site jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up:  Los Angeles, SeattleLondon, Atlanta, South Dakota, Dallas. She tweets/instagrams at @jenpastiloff. Join a retreat by emailing barbara@jenniferpastiloff.com.

 

And So It Is, Beating Fear with a Stick, writing

Tips and Ass. By Amy Ferris.

April 23, 2014

Tips And Ass. By Amy Ferris.

talk about ONE song bringing back a flood of memories.
rubberband man

welcome to my memory.

once upon a time, like many, many, many years ago, i danced topless for one night.

years ago.
years.
ago.

for one night.

i was working a temp job which i got from a temp agency, and i was asked by the temp agency to not return to my temp job as in “don’t ever, ever come back.”

long story. bad experience.
i also waitressed.
then the restaurant closed.

it was the universe telling me i needed to expand my horizons.
you know, be bold, audacious, be big, huge … jump.

leap. go for broke.

the thing i loved about waitressing was the tips. i loved that at the end of the night i had cash. a tiny little wad of cash. and so, i thought, “geez… what kinda job can i get with tips?”

after a few weeks (okay, maybe days) of trying to find another waitressing job… (waitressing was HOT back then, and most folks i knew waited tables), a bulb went off. albeit, a dim one…

“i know, i’ll try topless dancing.”

before you go to the whoa, whoa, whoa place — dancing topless is in a completely different (okay, slightly different) category than say stripping, and/or lap dancing. you needed an agent to get a topless gig. my very first, and only ‘dancing’ agent, was right out of central casting: heavy-set, her lids coated with baby blue eye-shadow. a long strawberry blonde wig. she was tough, she was crude, she said “youse” a lot, and …

… she got me a job dancing topless at juniors in brooklyn.

juniors in brooklyn i asked with excitement? are you kidding me, juniors… oh my god, you got me a job at juniors in brooklyn? i was so excited, i could barely contain myself.

no, no…no… not that juniors, whatdya nuts? she said, this a joint, a bar, a small little fucking bar… that’s a famous cheesecake place.

hmmm, i said really two places in brooklyn named juniors? that seems kinda … you know, weird.

you want the job she asked cause i have other girls dyin’ fuckin’ dyin’ to dance.
tips and a meal. that’s what you get. tips and a meal.

TIPS!

this juniors was a small corner dive bar in brooklyn, honest to god, just a couple of blocks from hell & high-water.

and for the record: i didn’t wanna be a ‘professional’ dancer. just as i never wanted to be a professional bowler. it’s just, i loved dancing, and i figured, what the hell, i’ll make a few bucks… a few of my friends – okay acquaintances – were dancing topless at night, and going on auditions during the day. i was young. i was wild. i was adventurous. i was also a size 3, and was very happily & thoroughly delighted to be a size 32 A cup. i was small. i was firm. and no, i could not twirl my breasts counter clockwise to save my life. but there i was – a ton of make-up, my long curly hair falling in front of my blue mascara-ed eyelashes – dancing, shaking, trying desperately to be sexy, while dancing on top of – THAT’S RIGHT, ON TOP OF – the bar in HEELS as the song rubberband man played over & over & over & over again on the juke box.

i was sweating, i was dancing, and yes, yes…i was a freak show with royal blue mascara dripping down my hot pink cheeks.

i was one of three girls dancing that night.

the two other girls – women – had 8 x 10 framed glossies in the front window, with x’s and o’s and kisses, their names signed on their glossies. their breasts were big, huge, and man, could they twirl. holy shit, could they twirl. they could bend and twirl and these women wore sequins and pasties, and their hair was sprayed and didn’t move. not one inch. not one hair on their head moved when they danced the night away.
they did not sweat.
their names were barbie & sissy.
they were professional dancers.

they made a lot of money that night. they were able to grab the bills – and yes, hold the bills – between their breasts. in their cleavage. and then they would twirl & dip & dance with the money. they laughed & twirled, and they could sing along with tito puente.

i had no cleavage.
i made no money.
i didn’t give a shit about rubberbands.
and i didn’t know who tito was.

i had to borrow money to get home.

barbie & sissy went on to sell their sequins thong’s and pasties on e-bay. they made a fortune.
and, yes, they probably even collect residuals from their breasts.

my agent fired me. she called me and told me that since i couldn’t pick up the cash with my cleavage i had no future in topless dancing.

hmmm, i thought, let me see if i can do something with this useful information and so…

… i learned how to pick up pens & pencils.

and that’s how i got my first literary agent.

 

Image

Amy Ferris: Author. Writer. Girl.
blog: www.marryinggeorgeclooney.com
Book: Dancing at The Shame Prom, sharing the stories that kept us small – Anthology, Seal Press (2012) co-edited with Hollye Dexter
Book: Marrying George Clooney, Confessions From A Midlife Crisis, Seal Press (2010)

*****

Jennifer Pastiloff is a writer living on an airplane. Her work has been featured on The Rumpus, Salon, The Nervous Breakdown, Jezebel, Modern Loss, xojane, among others. She’s the founder of The Manifest-Station. Jen’s leading a weekend retreat over Labor Day in Ojai, Calif. All retreats are a combo of yoga/writing for all levels. She and bestselling author Emily Rapp will be leading another writing retreat to Vermont in October. Check out her site jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up is Seattle and London July 6. (London sells out fast so book soon if you plan on attending!)

 

5 Most Beautiful Things, Guest Posts, I Have Done Love

It’s Everything. By Elizabeth Crane.

September 22, 2013

The following piece was a submission for my #5mostbeautifulthings contest last June. The idea being that we walk around actively looking for beauty, and then, share our findings with the world. Okay, by world I mean the world of social media. But still. It’s a beautiful exercise which truly opens the channel for, not only creativity, but for life itself, because what else is there really, besides paying attention? 

Elizabeth Crane Brandt is a beloved American author and, most recently, my pen pal. Yes, you read correctly. Real. Life. Letters. Gasp! 

She has a tremendous ability to weave words right into your heart and to leave a little something there: a scarf, or note, an imprint of love.

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five most beautiful things today (which is not yesterday or tomorrow)

by 

Elizabeth Crane

1)  My dog’s snout and paws.  This will have to be one thing.  Very often they are seen together.  After seven years, it only just dawned on me that I take pictures of these two parts of him just about every day.  It may seem at first glance like these pictures are largely similar, but if there weren’t nuances, I’m sure I wouldn’t keep doing it.  The snout and paws of today are not the snout and paws of yesterday; today is not yesterday, tomorrow isn’t today, and what if, after he’s gone, I didn’t have all these daily photos to look at from the beginning?  Maybe I’m writing the story of my dog, one snout and paws photo at a time.  More will be revealed.  Snout and paws.  One beautiful thing.

2) My dad’s old barn that just fell down.  I can’t.  Even.  It just happened yesterday; I found out this morning.  I feel like I may as well be under that very pile of boards right now.  We’ve known it was coming, there was a hole in the roof the size of a bathtub, but that barn was a symbol of everything beautiful about my childhood, and there was more than plenty representing what wasn’t.  (Google: NYC 1960s-70s and I promise one of the first three choices will have ‘gritty’ or ‘dangerous’ in it.  There was plenty of beauty there too, but the danger went a long way to canceling that out for me when I was six and eight.)  (Also: cross-reference item # 1 here, as regards number of photos taken/subtle nuances – I do not live in Iowa, but I have taken countless photos on each trip I’ve made there, and I am, now that the barn is partway to the ground, gladder than ever that I did.  Though I’d kind of just like to have it put back the way it was, if requests are being taken.  Not the deal, I know, but I’m in the denial phase of grief.)

3) The piles of letters and emails my dad wrote me over the years from the time I was about eight (parents divorced, Dad lived in Iowa, we lived in NY), encouraging me to be a writer, telling me what a great daughter I was.

4) The sky out the window of our little Brooklyn apartment.  There are some buildings below that sky that I could take or leave, as well an old smokestack (were I given a magic set of paints, I would take out the two taller buildings behind the smokestack but leave the smokestack in, I would leave the rusty sloped roof of the old church in front of the smokestack, which is nicely framed on either side by a street full of trees that are lush from the rain we’ve been having all week, and then I would also maybe erase at least the top floor of building directly across the street, and/or paint in a family counselor for the parents in the window across the way who are relentlessly yelling at their beautiful little boy who obviously just doesn’t want to go to church this week).  The fact remains: you can see a whole bunch of sky from the sofa.  It’s good all times of day.  It’s good in the morning with the first cup of coffee and at dusk (we face west) it’s a whole bunch of those gorgeously moody dusk-time colors that make me feel like everything crummy is going down with the sun, that it’s all getting reset, that the world is good and right.

5) How my husband looks at me.  It’s everything.  It would be pointless to try to describe it, but somebody looks at you like this, they must, and if they don’t today, they will tomorrow, I’m sure of it.

 

For more on Elizabeth check out her site: elizabethcrane.com

Also, although I swore I would never do another contest,  I should stop swearing), I am. This one is themed #iHaveDoneLove.

Follow me on instagram at @jenpastiloff for details. It will involve pictures (why I chose Instagram as the platform) as well as writing. My favorites. You can win a spot at my next retreat over New Years in Ojai, California. The hashtag will be #iHaveDoneLove

At the end of your life, when you say one final “What have I done?” let your answer be: I have done love. 

Thanks Elizabeth. You did. Love, that is.

xo jen

Daily Manifestation Challenge, Inspiration, poetry

Your Story.

October 21, 2011

Imagine a room.

In that room place a typewriter on a desk

and sit a chair at that desk.

Sit down on this chair and type out the words:

Prologue.

The click clack of keys

takes you back to before

you were who you think you have always been.

Imagine you write the words:

This is the story of an amazing life.

Scoot the chair in a little closer.

There, now you have better light.

Tuck your feet under you and continue.

Imagine a door to the room.

The door opens and someone asks you

if you have finished your story yet.

Without looking up from the typewriter:

I am starting over

you tell them.

Chapter One.

This is the story of my life.

This is the story of an amazing life.


I wrote this poem today to go in conjunction with todays Daily Manifestation Challenge® which is ” what story can you stop telling yourself that isn’t true?” ~JP 10/21/11

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