Browsing Tag

beauty

Guest Posts, love

Reading “Justine” in Milan

April 14, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Louise Fabiani

The sea is high again today, with a thrilling rush of wind. In the midst of winter you can feel the invention of spring. A sky of hot nude pearl until midday, crickets in sheltered places, and now the wind unpacking the great planes, ransacking the great planes…. –Lawrence Durrell, Justine

 

I am forty-four, married a decade, and in love with another man, a man I haven’t seen since we traveled together in Italy 17 years ago.

The matchmaking skills of a search engine brought us together last year. In a flash we re-established whatever had sizzled between us for four days in our late twenties. In my e-mails, I found myself echoing the quirky grammar and imaginative allusions of his Danish English, as if they were creative prompts. Those exchanges proved that we spoke the same language. A kind of intimacy, distance be damned.

Back and forth went the e-mails. Forth went a few of my letters and packages; nothing back from him. We conversed by phone a few times. We discussed meeting up in a few months.

It was all very cyber-Romantic.

Before long, a pattern began to emerge. He would let more and more time elapse between replies, and those messages appeared less intense, more perfunctory. He gave me the impression that he was overwhelmed by everything between us, maybe—as a therapist theorized—even scared. Of his own feelings or of mine? The most likely scenario: I no longer amused him. The responsibility of soothing and placating a clearly love-sick former travel mate outweighed any semi-illicit excitement she provided. We still spoke of meeting, in his Sweden or my Montreal, or somewhere neutral, but we both knew it was always too much to ask of the stars to grant us time and courage. They have more deserving people to line up for.

He vanished. I languished. For months. Not even a Christmas greeting from him.

So that is why I am here, six months later. I’ve taken a two-month trip back to Italy. Not to retrace our youthful steps (too painful). Not to forget about his most recent incarnation (impossible). Just to be in Italy. Isn’t that enough? Continue Reading…

Eating Disorders/Healing, Guest Posts, Self Image, The Body, Women

On Being Naked.

February 17, 2015

 

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By Christine Molloy.

I have always felt awkward in locker rooms. I mean, REALLY awkward. So much so that since I left high school, I have not changed my clothes in one. This is pretty impressive considering how many gym memberships I have had and that in the last several years of going to my current gym, I have been in the gym pool hundreds of times.

I had a strategy for these pool trips though. First of all, I live five minutes from my gym and yes, that is as awesome as it sounds. So I would towel dry off, throw some ratty clothes on over my suit, and head home. Maybe twice I went down to the locker room to use the toilet. Maybe.

In the dead of winter, when it was too cold to do that, I would switch to another form of exercise and just not deal with the locker room issue. However this winter is much different because I have been battling foot injuries in both my feet and on top of a nasty autoimmune illness, the pool is really the only good exercise I can get at the moment. And, I enjoy it. I especially enjoy the hot tub before and after!

The locker room at my gym was recently renovated and has two showers and three or four toilet stalls. There is a sauna, lockers, and benches. That’s it. Which means there are no changing rooms, unless you use the shower and it is rare for one of those to be open. And here is where we get to the root of my problem with locker rooms:

People will see me naked.

Hey, we all have our hang-ups.

There’s no changing room, no cubicles, not even a more secluded corner of the locker room to tuck away my less-than-perfect body into. Total exposure of a body that many times, I even have a difficult time looking at. One that has the dreaded apple shape, cellulite, and just stuff hanging everywhere. You know how women start to complain about how as they get older, their breasts begin the downward descent into hell and they miss their perky boob days? Yeah, not me. My boobs started at the place that most women dread going to.

I know, I know. I have had people tell me that the other people in the locker room are so focused on themselves that they are not even bothering to look over at me. They are all thinking about their kids or pre-planning their work day in their head. I think that is true for some, but I am not buying that explanation for everybody. People are curious. It is just human nature.

I have not always hated my body and even now, I don’t always look at it in a negative way. But I definitely need more balance and more positive self-talk. This body has seen me through some serious shit and on two different occasions, brought me back from the brink of death. This is the body that has survived cancer, round after round of prednisone and so many other toxic medications, a daily battle with an autoimmune illness, a heart procedure, blood clots in my lungs, and a neurological condition that almost paralyzed me. After going through these experiences, you have to garner some respect for the body that gets you through day after day; but I still criticize my body. I think that is probably the main reason why I do yoga; by doing poses, it helps me focus on not only my strength, but also on the life force inside of me. Yoga reminds me of what I am capable of and the good that my body can do.

But it does make me wonder, when exactly did this start for me? That feeling that my body wasn’t good enough? That I wasn’t good enough? I do know with absolute certainty that there was nothing in my childhood that made me feel ashamed of my body. According to my mom, as a toddler, it was hard for her to keep clothes ON me! And in my household growing up, being naked was not a big deal. We all walked naked from the bathroom to our rooms and back and once the teenage years came for me and my brother, the walking became a fast streak! And a T-shirt for me. As a kid, neither one of my parents every pressured me about losing weight and I was never told that I was ugly by either one of them. Even well into my adulthood, my dad has never mentioned one word about my weight or my eating habits, although on occasion he has tossed a positive compliment my way when a weight loss has been noticeable. Dad, you did well!

Continue Reading…

beauty, Binders, Guest Posts, Humor, Owning It!, Self Love

The Other Plastic Surgery.

February 16, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Sara Bir. 

There’s a face I’m sick of seeing, and it’s not the rearranged mess of a scandalized Hollywood star. It’s a face I confront in every reflective surface—the bathroom mirror, the screen of my smartphone if I tilt it just so. Perhaps this face may even appear superimposed on that of a celebrity of a certain age, if I pause while zipping along through my Facebook feed.

“What the heck happened?” I think in shock, every single time, because the face glaring back at me does not match my memory of what my face looks like. The skin at the corners of eyelids and lips is creased, slack; the purplish sacks under the eyes are increasingly puffy and swollen, almost like bruises. My nose, which has always been large, is gleefully launching into a mid-life growth spurt, veering off-center to one side and becoming bulbous and shiny, like Santa’s.

This is the other plastic surgery. It’s the kind that rearranges your face in totally unexpected ways. This surgeon of mine should be taken to court, I grumble, but I didn’t hire him. Or is it her? Perhaps they work as a husband-wife team, the practice of Mother Nature and Father Time. They are certainly not exclusive; in fact, it’s impossible not to get a referral. And they’re quite generous with appointments, happy to work your countenance over again and again. They really don’t make any compromises, those two. Try as you might, these practitioners will always be in your health network.

 

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. Yoga + Writing + Connection. We go deep. Bring an open heart and a sense of humor- that's it! Summer or Fall 2015.

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. Yoga + Writing + Connection. We go deep. Bring an open heart and a sense of humor- that’s it! Summer or Fall 2015.

 

The handiwork of Drs. M. Nature and F. Time is understandably a concern for anyone whose career demands fresh, fussed-over faces. Thank god I’m not a glamorous media figure, because even without a long, expensive vacation to Camp Nip’n’Tuck, the shifting topography of my head is, to me, as startling as Renée’s, or Madonna’s, or Kenny’s, or Nicole’s.

That’s because the face I unfailingly expect to greet me from a mirror is perhaps circa 1999, or maybe 2004, or maybe not from any specific era of my life except an idealized past. Who knows what I’m idealizing, because, at a still-spry 38 years, inside I feel more confident and sorted-out than I ever did when my skin cells still had snappy elasticity. After a few seconds adjusting to the very human lady blinking back at me in those oh-so-unbeautiful morning minutes after rustling out of bed, I just sigh and call a truce.

I went to my husband for a sympathetic ear, and also to gauge the waters of our marital relations. Alas, my vigilant team of plastic surgeons also did a number on my breasts and abdomen. The stomach is quite fit if I flex it, something I only do if I’m scrutinizing my profile under the unflattering florescent lights of a dressing room. Otherwise, the unflexed tummy flesh and skin are rubbery and malleable, like Silly Putty. As for my breasts, once I stopped nursing my young daughter, they vanished; my cup size is essentially –AA. This is the one session with Mother Nature and Father Time that’s made me feel youthful, because now the only place I can find bras that fit is in the little girl’s section at Target.

Still, men like boobs. One evening, at bedtime, I worked up enough courage to ask my husband, “Are you still attracted to me even though I’m so different now?”

“What?” he said, distracted. I’d disturbed the constant, anxious reverie about his receding hairline. As if he has time to think about where my boobs went! Isn’t that what internet pornography is for?

So I dropped it. In fact, no one seems to notice the havoc my plastic surgeons have wreaked on my face. Sometimes, if I go months without running into a friend, they’ll even say, “You look great!” And I, in turn, am pleased seeing their glowing, radiant selves, and I don’t even think about scrutinizing their expanding pores or multiplying crow’s feet. Maybe that’s because their faces are not stretched in high definition across a television that spans an entire wall in our living room. Maybe because the energy inside someone when you see them in person has so much to do with how you perceive the physicality of that face.

While trapped in the snaking line of the express checkout at the grocery store yesterday, the cover of a Prevention magazine caught my eye. “Stop aging!” the headline blared. I’ve flirted with capsules, lotions, and masks, and I can vouch that it’s not humanly possible cease the steady march of the Other Plastic Surgery. We all know there’s really only one way to stop aging, and that’s to die. I’d rather keep on living, with this ever-dynamic face. I found it looks years younger when I don’t scowl at the mirror.

 

servicesSara Bir is a chef, food writer, and usually confident parent living in Ohio. Her essay “Smelted”, from the website Full Grown People, appears in Best Food Writing 2014. You can read Sara’s blog, The Sausagetarian, at www.sausagetarian.com. This is her second essay on The Manifest-Station.

Do you want the space and joy to get back into your body? To get into your words and stories?  Join Jen Pastiloff and best-selling author Lidia Yuknavitch over Labor Day weekend 2015 for their 2nd Writing & The Body Retreat in Ojai, California following their last one, which sold out in 48 hours. You do NOT have to be a writer or a yogi.  "So I’ve finally figured out how to describe Jen Pastiloff's Writing and the Body yoga retreat with Lidia Yuknavitch. It’s story-letting, like blood-letting but more medically accurate: Bleed out the stories that hold you down, get held in the telling by a roomful of amazing women whose stories gut you, guide you. Move them through your body with poses, music, Jen’s booming voice, Lidia’s literary I’m-not-sorry. Write renewed, truthful. Float-stumble home. Keep writing." ~ Pema Rocker, attendee of Writing & The Body Feb 2015

Do you want the space and joy to get back into your body?
To get into your words and stories? Join Jen Pastiloff and best-selling author Lidia Yuknavitch over Labor Day weekend 2015 for their 2nd Writing & The Body Retreat in Ojai, California following their last one, which sold out in 48 hours. You do NOT have to be a writer or a yogi.
“So I’ve finally figured out how to describe Jen Pastiloff’s Writing and the Body yoga retreat with Lidia Yuknavitch. It’s story-letting, like blood-letting but more medically accurate: Bleed out the stories that hold you down, get held in the telling by a roomful of amazing women whose stories gut you, guide you. Move them through your body with poses, music, Jen’s booming voice, Lidia’s literary I’m-not-sorry. Write renewed, truthful. Float-stumble home. Keep writing.” ~ Pema Rocker, attendee of Writing & The Body Feb 2015

Featured image courtesy of Timothy Krause.

Binders, Guest Posts, Life

Requiem for a Fallen Catholic.

February 12, 2015

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By Trish Cook.

Confession

I hate going to church. Especially funerals. I am only here in the hopes that my presence will comfort a hurting friend, not because I believe in this bullshit.

Sit, kneel, stand, cry.

Remember how losing a parent is like a having a body part amputated. How long the numbness where they used to exist lasts, how searing the pain is once the feeling returns. Remember why, ever since my dad died decades ago when I was twenty-four, I havent been able to sit through a religious service without getting angry, teary.

More pomp, more circumstance, more hollow promises.

Prayto whom, I do not knowthat my friend John, who has just lost his father and is the reason I grudgingly sit, kneel, stand, and cry today, finds comfort where I no longer do.

Wonder, as I have so many times since my own fathers funeral: Why would a loving God let us walk the earth so wounded? Lie so battered? Allow us to become so bruised, each and every one of us?

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. Yoga + Writing + Connection. We go deep. Bring an open heart and a sense of humor- that's it! Summer or Fall 2015.

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. Yoga + Writing + Connection. We go deep. Bring an open heart and a sense of humor- that’s it! Summer or Fall 2015.

  Continue Reading…

Eating Disorders/Healing, Guest Posts

Why I’m Fat.

January 21, 2015

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By Martha M. Barantovich.

Someone has written the opening scene of a horror flick.  Slowly they pan the camera back and forth and find that one thing out of place in the abandoned, dust covered room.  The doll with no head, lying face up, arms stretched out, as if reaching for a hug.  And in the background is the slow pulse of music that sets the tone.  It just moves the watcher ever so slowly, creating a sense of angst.  You’re not sure why you feel the angst, you just do.

The sound of a hum.

Just below the surface, between my skin and my essence, like an internal itch I’ll never reach is where it lies.  For as long as I can remember, it’s been there.  It’s an internal noise.  A buzz, a hum, a constant vibration.  It has taken me forever to recognize it and name it and look at it and feel it.  My whole life has been attached to and driven by the noise.  My whole life has been a search for the name; like a miner hoping to make it rich. And that really is the crux of it.  The naming and the feeling.  Because I have finally found THE WORD.  THE WORD that I need to face so that we can change the dance.

We will get there.  To the naming and the feeling. But in order to name, I have to peel away the layers.  The thick, imbedded layers that need to be torn back and examined and turned over and squinted at and sniffed and held and hidden away in shame.  Over and over and over again.  This is how I always seem to do it.

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 2016 Manifestation September 2016. Email barbara@jenniferpastiloff.com. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being. One spot left.

Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Inspiration, Men

Dear Me: A Beautiful Letter To A Man’s Younger Self.

November 21, 2014

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By Peter Tóth.

Hi Peter,

It’s me, your 36 year old self.

How are you doing?

I’m writing to you from Nottingham, UK. Yeah, I know, you might want to ask how did I get here. But that’s not important. I’m here as a result of many decisions, almost all of them still unmade by you.

It’s shortly before 7 in the morning and I’m sitting on a George Street bus stop, waiting for the Nottingham City Transport bus line number 10, going to Ruddington, where I work. You haven’t really worked yet and I cannot lie to you that it’s always great, but work is good, it will be good for you. You’ll meet many people at work and/or while working. People are good. It takes an effort to convince myself of that sometimes, but I truly believe they are.

But I’m not writing this letter to tell you what I’m doing, what you’ll be doing in 20 years time, because even if you would somehow read this letter, you probably wouldn’t become exactly who I am now anyway, as you would hopefully read this carefully and you will avoid some mistakes that I have made. Although it’s these mistakes that got me where I am, doing what I do and I neither can, nor I want to complain about it, so let’s cut this hypothetical bullshit of what would, or wouldn’t be.

I won’t be telling you what to do and what not to, what I decided to tell you is this: Whatever you’ll be doing, just enjoy it more, enjoy it as much as you can. I’m looking back and I don’t think I regret doing anything. I also don’t regret not doing anything. But what I regret is not fully enjoying what I was doing while I was doing it. Not being completely present, focused. Not paying attention. Not being in love with what was surrounding me, not being in love with what’s within myself.

Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Letting Go

Summer in Canaan Valley.

November 15, 2014

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By Jean Kim.

On an early summer day in 1988, PJ, our neighbor’s cat, went on a rampage.

Earlier that morning before the rampage, I had seen an adorable baby bunny frozen with fear, on the ground near our front door and next to some blooming azaleas. I’d never seen one so tiny, a fuzzy brown bundle you could fit in your hand but perfectly shaped. Its dark eyes were as still as its body, as they stared out in bewilderment.

The air was fragrant with June blossoms; it was the first truly warm day of the year, and it seemed everyone and everything in our suburban neighborhood was rousing to life. I had turned 14 a couple months earlier. Mom was gardening and said she’d seen another baby bunny.

Our amusement quickly turned to horror. PJ, a golden tabby, often strolled across the street to our yard. We noticed him darting around more quickly than usual. I heard my mother suddenly yell at him and try to chase him back. She waved a shovel. But it was too late.

Mom told me to wait in the open garage. (Overprotective as always, she still thought of me as a young child.) She scurried about the yard and was carrying something in her arms. She came over, and I saw she was holding two of the bunnies.

She said, “They’re the only ones left. There were more, but he ate them.”

Continue Reading…

Beating Fear with a Stick, beauty, Guest Posts

Hold It All.

June 13, 2014

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Ally Hamilton.

When I was 12 years old a guy grabbed me on my way to ballet class. I was walking in the same door I’d walked in for years on West 83rd Street, with my hair in a bun, and my tights and leotard under my jeans, and this young guy walked in ahead of me. The door opened right onto a narrow, steep staircase. At the top of the stairs to the right was the ballet studio. I could hear the piano. I can tell you, even at 12, or maybe especially because I was still so young, I had a vibe. An intuition. I remember the feeling of something being off, and I probably did exactly what he’d hoped I would do. I passed him on the right and started racing up the stairs. But he grabbed me from behind and put one hand over my mouth and another between my legs and told me not to move and that he wasn’t going to hurt me. For a minute I froze. Panicked with the taste of tin in my mouth. Fear undiluted. His hand over my mouth as he started fumbling with his jeans, and all I heard, like an explosion inside my head was, “NO”. Not that I understood exactly what he was trying to do, just that animal part of me, of you, of all of us, that part knew. And then I bit his hand and screamed and threw my elbow into his ribs as hard as I could. He let me go immediately. I don’t believe he expected a fight. I faced him, still screaming, tears and adrenaline and a racing heart, and backed up the stairs, right hand, right foot, left hand, left foot, fast. I remember his face, and I remember being shocked that he looked as terrified as I felt. Eyes wide so I could see more white than anything. He took off down the stairs and when I saw he was out the door, I turned and raced/crawled up the remainder of the staircase as fast as I could. I busted into the office, hysterical, unable to speak, but the guys there, the dancers, they knew. I just pointed and they took off, and three girls who were in the company ran to me and held me until I could speak. Not that I could fully make sense of what had happened. They weren’t able to catch up to the guy, and I don’t know what happened to him.

I share this with you because it exists in this world, and because it happened. Clearly, it could have been a lot worse. I hope it was never worse for someone else who didn’t scream, or couldn’t fight. And I hope he found the help he desperately needed. I believe if someone had photographed my face and his as we stared at each other, they would have looked incredibly similar. I believe he was as shocked and sorry about what he’d done as I was. He looked like an animal with his leg caught in a trap. There are people who are deeply troubled, who need help but don’t get it. Because they fall through the cracks. Or are able to hide their pain from the people closest to them. Or maybe those people are in denial. I don’t know what his story was, but I’d be willing to bet it wasn’t a good one.

The reality is this world can be incredibly violent, but it can also be achingly beautiful. If you want to be awake, you have to hold it all. I’m not a fan of this amazing pressure to be positive every waking minute of the day. Not everything is positive and light. Some things will rip your heart right out of your body with no warning and no logic. People who demand that you be light every minute are running from their own shadow, and it’s only a matter of time before it bites them in the a$$. My thoughts did not create that experience, it was completely outside my frame of reference. There are people who would point to karma, or God’s plan, or everything happening for a reason. I don’t know about any of that for sure, and neither does anyone else. What I do know is that sometimes horrendous things happen to beautiful people. Maybe someday it will all make sense and maybe not. Until then, the truth is we live in a world with darkness, and incredible light. To deny one is to forsake the other. It’s not about being positive, it’s about being authentic. Open. Real, raw, vulnerable. It’s about understanding sometimes you will be so scared out of your mind you’ll crawl up a staircase backwards, not even fully knowing what you’re racing from. And sometimes you will be blinded and amazed by all the beauty, all the gifts you’ve been given, the taste of gratitude like sugarcane in your mouth, and the feeling of sunlight like it was poured directly into your heart. Don’t worry about being positive. Just be awake. Hold it all.

Sending you love, for real. Ally

photo by the talented James Vincent Knowles

photo by the talented James Vincent Knowles

Ally Hamilton is a Santa Monica-based yoga teacher and writer whose work reaches hundreds of thousands of yogis around the world via her online yoga videos and social media following. She’s the co-creator of YogisAnonymous.com, a premier source for online yoga videos, which has been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Vogue Magazine, Self Magazine, Shape Magazine, CNN and more. She’s the mama of two amazing kids and one energetic Labradoodle.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station and creator of The Manifestation Workshop: On Being Human. Up next is Vancouver (Jan 17) and London Feb 14. Click here. 

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.

Click to take any of Jen Pastiloff's online classes at Yogis Anonymous.

Click to take any of Jen Pastiloff’s online classes at Yogis Anonymous.

Contact Rachel Pastiloff for health coaching, weight loss, strategies, recipes, detoxes, cleanses or help getting off sugar. Click here.

Contact Rachel Pastiloff for health coaching, weight loss, strategies, recipes, detoxes, cleanses or help getting off sugar. Click here.

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

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

5 Most Beautiful Things, Jen's Musings, travel

Jen Pastiloff’s London Adventures.

February 19, 2014

By Jen Pastiloff.

And did you feel it, in your heart, how it pertained to everything? And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for? And have you changed your life? ~ from The Swan by Mary Oliver

I took on a new private client in L.A., which I don’t really do anymore, and I gave her an assignment. Send me your 5 most beautiful things every day was the assignment. She said that she would but asked if I would send mine back for posterity.

I lecture about my 5 most beautiful things project in all my workshops and retreats, but I’d kind of fallen off the wagon of writing them down myself.

So here I am in London. Trying my best to be a beauty seeker. A relentless beauty hunter. What better way than to jot them down in my typical rambling fashion? So I will. I’ll post them. My musings, as it were. And it may interest you, and it may not. But hey, my eyes are open. Maybe you’ll be inspired in some way to look at that guy next to you, the one with the plaid shirt and the cane, the one with the really long fingers and bushy grey eyebrows and see something beautiful in him. But even more than how beautiful it is the way his right foot rests on the leg of the table and his hands cover his eyes as if he’s about to cry, it’s the beauty of the moment and how full it is and how it will never ever be again. Because look, already it’s gone.

So I will attempt to jot down my beautiful things everyday. I’ll do my best to post them somewhere. For posterity. Sometimes more than five. Five was just a number I thought was doable. Tweetable. A number we could all manage. Oh, only 5 beautiful things? Easy. I got this.

Shoes and tubes and kids. Here’s a beautiful thing (although it’s perhaps more than one solid thing): I was on the tube wearing my fancy-ish sneakers- the ones with the studs and chains. They’re blue leather, and besides the few coffee stains on them from too much wear, they make me feel good. The tube was crowded so I shared the pole with this little girl of about about 5 or 6 years old. She had on heart socks with gold-tipped sandals and I thought the contrast between her little fancy foot and mine, with the yellow pole in between, seemed artsy. And ironic. So I took a picture.

I showed her and she approved. I took a second photo. (Just in case.)

photo copy

She had a mini-pencil in her hand and started to write in the air. I asked her to write her name. She did, although I’m not sure what it was because from my vantage point it was backwards. Plus, I am not sure she could even spell.

I imagined her writing poems in the air.

She stuck the pencil in her mouth and hid behind her mom’s leg.

My husband noted that I was good with kids. “Pasti.” He calls me Pasti, short for my last name Pastiloff (which I kept,) “Pasti, you’re good with kids.”

“Yea, for 5 minutes,” I replied.

I said I was sort of envious of people who’d gone through it all already. Who had kids and didn’t have to go through the whole rigamarole and shlepping of being pregnant.

“We’re old,” I reminded him.

We went to a Whole Foods on Kensington High Street (so American of us!) and I ordered a jacket potato with tuna. The lady behind the counter opened the potato and stared blankly at me. “Tuna,” I reminded her.

“We are out of tuna. Have the beef.”

“I don’t eat meat. I ordered the potato because I wanted the tuna,” I said as she threw away the potato. (I would’ve eaten it if I would’ve known she would chuck it.)

I told her to make me a veggie burger instead.

“May I have mayo?” I asked.

I think I might have rolled my eyes a little when she said that they had no mayo. Anywhere. In the whole of Whole Foods. I felt very American again.

I wished to have the little heart-footed girl’s pencil with me at that moment so I could write my name in the air.

The veggie burger was old, like a hockey puck made from lentils.

I ordered a chardonnay to wash down the dryness as I watched for children with cute shoes or pencils and other beautiful things.

**

I tried to change my flight coming home before I even got here. I won’t have enough time I thought. Eight days is not enough. Which is absurd, really. It is enough but it’s like when food comes and I’m hungry- It won’t be enough to fill me up, as if I’m Oliver Twist or grew up as some street urchin who never had enough food. (To be clear, I always had enough food except when I was starving myself and that was by my own volition.) I’m not going to have enough: a common refrain. Virgin Atlantic told me that to change my flight to come home the day after I had originally booked would be 5,000 pounds. My ticket was only about 1,300 pounds so I could fly back and forth, LAX> Heathrow 4 times with that cost. I declined the switch. I tweeted Virgin Atlantic that I was terribly #disappointed in their #service and how #ridiculous it was (as if my tweet would make a difference.) It just seemed outrageous to me. 5k pounds!?! Anyway, we get this flight attendant and it was like the Virgin Atlantic gods were trying to make up for my dismay.

He’d walk up to our seats with this shit-eating grin and pull things from behind his back like some kind of magician in the sky. “Here, here’s the good stuff, from upper class,” he’d say as he handed my husband a tumbler of some very fine scotch and me a nice pinot noir. He did it a few times too. He kept coming over to chat with us and couldn’t get over the fact at how familiar I seemed to him. “Well, I’m famous on the internet,” I joked. He asked when my return flight was and when I told him February 23rd, he squealed, “The 11 am flight? I’m on that!”

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And so I felt happy and that things were right in the world again and that I owed Virgin Atlantic a follow-up tweet. And I kind of imagined that with him flying back and forth, LAX> Heathrow 4 times might not be so bad. He’d have kept me amused and liquored up on that 4 times roundabout. And that was a beautiful thing.

At my workshop on Saturday in Hammersmith there were a bunch of Americans and two of them were flight attendants for United. They said they always, no matter what, find someone to over-serve. I was happy we’d been those people on my flight. We made the cut!

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**

My workshop. More than 50 people in a city- Hell, in a country- I don’t live and have never taught. As I was talking about the 5 most beautiful things, a rainbow appeared and someone (it was actually one of the flight attendants) interrupted me to point it out. I tried to take a picture, but the minute I did it disappeared. That’s beauty for you, isn’t it? You can’t capture it. You’ve got to pay attention to it, yes. Let it move you, yes. But to try and hoard it or hold on to it? Well, you’ll stand there empty-handed and wishing for a ship that’s already sailed.

It was there though, that rainbow, and it appeared just as I was telling those 50+ people about the most beautiful things project like it was a nod to what I saying, an agreement- yes, there’s beauty everywhere, it seemed to say, and everyone saw it as if it only existed for us right then in that moment. Who knows, maybe it did?

It was a beautiful workshop. Who knew the Brits were so open? Maybe it was a sign- the rainbow at the beginning of the workshop? Or maybe it was just them. Maybe it’s just who they were. I guess not everything needs to be explained away.

photo

**

Last night after I sat in Le pain Quotidien off Kensington High Street for hours doodling This is the world. You are a person in the world. The world is full of pain. Each pain has it’s own singular kind of beauty and other weird poemy lines on the colored pieces of paper they had at the table, I stood on the sidewalk and tried to poach their wifi.

photo

They had closed (I actually didn’t notice they were putting chairs on tables because I’d been so into my work) and I had no way to get ahold of my friend who I was meant to meet. So I stood outside in the cold, in front of the closed café and stole their wifi. She’d said they were going to go somewhere near Sloane’s Square but I had no idea where nor how to get there. I finally gave up on trying to get in touch with her and decided to take a bus towards Sloane’s Square. I really really had no idea where I was going but I was happily lost, partially because I saw the Whole Foods I’d been at earlier and a bunch of shops that I recognized (as if that was somehow a compass) and partially because I felt the itch to write and what that happens I become like a thief, using anything for inspiration. So the man I asked how to get to Sloane’s Square? He’ll show up somewhere, here, or in a poem or story. Wait- here is.

He told me which street to turn left on then right then walk this way then, here is running after me. How sweet, he’s running after to me to tell me he’s given me the wrong directions. He goes on and on and I’ve lost him after about 4 seconds but I listen as best as I can with my deaf-ish ears and his accent and smile. He says, “Got it?”

“I’m going to take a taxi,” I say.

He howls as if it is the funniest thing he has ever heard.

**

My taxi driver was lovely. He kept asking me if I was tired. “Long day?’ he asked. I was yawning a lot.

“No, not really. I was just staring at the computer screen for a long time.”

And I thought about all the pain the world, and how maybe I should put my seatbelt on as I slid across the backseat, and how maybe he had his own singular pains and how maybe they were beautiful.

The Battersea Bridge- the lights on the bridge lit up the sky and I almost took a picture, but then I remembered the rainbow. So I just held it there in my eyesight first, then in my heart, and finally in my imagination, where it will change a bit, with time, and perhaps with this beer I am drinking in this pub in Putney as I write this. Because things change once we claim them as ours, don’t they?

I put my seatbelt on. A few minutes later we arrived at the Overstrand Mansions in Battersea where I’m staying. I got out and muttered the words tube, beauty, taxi, lights, man, lost, bridge, and wondered what would happen if I tried to string them together.

 

Jen will be back in London for a Manifestation Workshop: On Being Human on Feb 14th. Book now as their are only a few spots left.
waiting for my beer in Notting Hill on Portobello Road today

waiting for my beer in Notting Hill on Portobello Road today

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.

Jen Pastiloff is back in London for ONE workshop only Feb 14th. Book by clicking poster. This is her most popular workshop and space is limited to 50 people.

Jen Pastiloff is back in London for ONE workshop only Feb 14th. Book by clicking poster. This is her most popular workshop and space is limited to 50 people.

beauty, Guest Posts, Self Image

Teeth.

January 18, 2014

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black

By Kate Hill Cantrill.

My eight year-old nephew, who is an Arab Israeli, thought I looked like a farm girl when I wore braids.

“Why do you wear your hair like that?” he asked. “I don’t understand why you’d want to look like a farm girl and you do with your hair like that, and your big teeth, and your spotted face.”

“Big teeth are better than no teeth,” I said. He covered with pursed lips his missing front ones.

Later, he poked his finger into my nose and asked me why I had no babies.

He and his two brothers came to America every summer to visit their mother’s side of the family. She and their father had met when they were both studying in Germany. The oldest boy planned to be a football star; although when the football star was in America he said ‘soccer.’. He would never speak English to an Arabic speaker, or vice versa. He learned early on that there are differences in this world, even though sometimes those differences perplexed him. In his Bedouin village in Israel all the married women had babies, and he didn’t mind really, he said, but he did wonder why I was married if I didn’t want babies. I told him it wasn’t that I didn’t want them; I just didn’t want them yet.

“What are you waiting for? You’ve been married since I was a baby. You’re old.”

“I’m thirty-five,” I said.

“Yeah,” he said. That’s what he was talking about.

I told him I didn’t know what I was waiting for. He scrunched his face. This didn’t satisfy him; this was not an explanation he could chronicle in his head. He still had questions, but then he said he didn’t care anyway because if I had babies I couldn’t ride upside down roller coasters with him at Hershey Park. Maybe I could, but I’d have to find a sitter and I’d get tired a lot faster.

I believe I confused them. In their world girls were girls until they were mothers, but I was neither. Even when they came to visit America they came to Mennonite country Pennsylvania, where men did men things and women did women things; and these women things, for the most part, included having multiple children by they time they were thirty. It meant, for the most part, eschewing fashion for comfort and making other arrangements that enabled them to be anyone’s mother at any time it may be needed. A man craved a sandwich? Here was a mother. He needed his shirt cleaned? A mother. The childless daughter-in-law didn’t eat meat and therefore required a large bowl for the salad? Mother. Get your own bowl, the three boys must have thought. And wipe this steak sauce off my face while you’re up.

When I went for a run they asked, what for? You’re just going to get fatter anyway—look how big your arms are! I told them it was muscle, which it was, and then I flexed.

“Feel my guns,” I said.

“Those aren’t guns,” the oldest one said. “I’ve seen guns and I wouldn’t touch them even if they were guns.”

“Why not?”

“Because you’re a girl,” he said. “Sort of.”

They were frenetic thinkers. One day the younger one pushed the heels of his palms into his eyes and declared that it was impossible to think of nothingness—true nothingness meant nothing: no air, no god, no blinks, no thoughts. The boys’ mother, my sister-in-law, who was fairly quiet like my husband and the rest of her family, laughed and mussed his hair and said her boys were growing up to be like Arab men—always talking, talking, talking—like they were jacked up on coffee and couldn’t keep their mouths from uttering all of their thoughts.

I wondered, though, if these seemingly pointless ramblings were really indications of my nephews’ extremely high intelligences, like in a cross-cultural philosophical sense that was way, way over my head. I wondered if their demand for answers regarding differences in ways of living was simply forced upon them by circumstance.

I was wearing a blue tank top and cut-off blue jeans and turquoise earrings one morning and the youngest one, the third nephew, walked up to me, flicked at the bottom of my shirt.

“Tell me you don’t like blue,” he said. “Just say it.”

I didn’t know what I was waiting for, exactly. Money? A book deal? Something that defined me before I was defined by my children? My mother fought to find herself after she birthed me and my two sisters; back then it was the renegade thing to do—find ways to separate yourself from your children—but to me, and to my sisters, it was painful. Find yourself, make your mark on this world before you have children—it’s what I thought my mother’s life had taught me, and I had always been grateful for the lesson. Although I didn’t believe I understood the number of years that might take, that search for oneself, that search for the spot on which one’s mark should be made.

Now that she is gray and soft, my mother says that children often point women in the right direction, but that felt wrong to me—using children as trail markers. I feared it might not happen either. I feared I’d simply lose myself, happily, inside of their needs. I did enjoy sitting next to my nephews, smelling the play in their hair, watching them kick at the dirt and wonder aloud how a bear’s teeth could reveal its age. They had just learned this and were going to talk to their dentist father about it when they got back to Israel.

“We have the biggest house in the village,” the youngest one said. “It gets dusty but not as dusty as other people’s tents do. The wives are always sweeping, sweeping, sweeping.”

I cringed, bit my tongue with my front teeth.

“You’re my Uncle Scott’s wife,” he said, as if he noticed my teeth pressing down.

“I’m married,” I said, “but I’m not a wife.”

“What?”

Never mind, I said. That was stupid.

This one was the most affectionate of the three, but when his brother jammed his finger into my nose, clenched his teeth and asked again about no babies, this one tried to copy him but missed and poked my eye. It hurt but I didn’t know how to react until later when I decided that I should have grabbed their hands and taught them something about manners; but I didn’t really know my place there, and truly I was too distracted by their questions, and all the many questions that followed that one: why? why not? when? who are you?

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Kate Hill Cantrill’s writing has appeared in many literary publications, including Story Quarterly, Salt Hill, The Believer, Blackbird, Quick Fiction, Mississippi Review, Swink, and others. She has been awarded fellowships from The Corporation of Yaddo, The Jentel Artists Residency, The Virginia Center for Creative Arts, and the James A. Michener Foundation. She has taught fiction writing at the University of Texas, The University of the Arts, and The Sackett Street Workshop. Kate’s first collection of short stories, Walk Back From Monkey School, was recently published. She lives in Brooklyn.

All of Jen Pastiloff’s upcoming events listed here.

beauty, healing, loss, poetry, writing

It Comes Down To This.

December 8, 2013

By Jen Pastiloff.

It comes down to this: there are fathers everywhere.

Look. There’s one. And another. You just missed one! Right there, there’s one. And here. They’re everywhere really, the fathers.

And they always will be everywhere.

Here’s one- proudly thanking everyone for coming to his daughter’s baby shower, first grandchild, so proud. Maybe there’s one sitting in a jail cell, picking his fingers, his feet. One’s holding the hand of his little boy, Watch out, it’s crowded here, hold tight. Herds of them driving down the highway in the rain, never coming back, not while it still matters, anyway. And it’ll always be that way. The everywhereness of them all.

You will look up and the world will be a sky of fathers, men puffing cigars will fill the air, men in droves, men with daughters. Everyone will be a father pulling out a picture of his first grandchild to show the world Would you look at that? Would you just look at that?

You will look up and notice, and you may be the only one who notices, that the sky has been replaced with these fathers, and also the banks and the streets. There will be nothing else.

It will be all you see at times.

It comes down to this: whatever you are missing will suddenly appear to be back in the world, its own cardiovascular system of pain, forgotten until you realize that as much as it’s back in the world, it will always be just beyond your reach.

You will notice it everywhere like when you start to notice pregnant women everywhere or how many blue cars are on the road (They are everywhere! Would you look at that? Would you look at that?) Your heart, once again a closed fist. A hand open, flat and rough, its lines suggesting “long life and contentment with love life”. But the heart line is missing.

The hand curls and touches the heart and they meet but do not understand what the meeting means and why it feels like a part of each is missing.

It comes down to this: your pain in waves, it turns, leaches on to things. Years of your life, for example. Your pain wraps itself around whole years like a tentacle and won’t let go until you understand that it is the organ of touch, so you reach out and touch it and then, only then, it slithers off, as if all it needed was to be noticed.

*

I was at a baby shower not too long ago where the girl was having her first baby. Her father stood up to make a speech and looked over at her big belly with a swell of the chest, a Look at my little girl. Look at us.

I was thrilled for her and yet tears, (where are these coming from?) Tears in my egg whites and arugula with the chicken picked out of it. I will never have that as I pour salt on the eggs. Why whites? Why no yolk? I need more yellow here and all of a sudden fathers everywhere showing off their pregnant daughters. No women are even in the room anymore. The eggs, in fact, have turned into little fathers. Would you look at that? Would you just look at that?

The pain comes in waves. The initial shock of loss. The teenage years angst. The reduction of it all to poetry.

Then, the loss of what is yet to come. The mourning of something that hasn’t even occurred yet.

It comes down to this: we recognize when possibility has been eliminated.

When there is never a chance of this or that, we know it, and our hearts mourn something that doesn’t even have a name yet. I’ll never have that and yet I am sad. I am devastated. I can’t go on. I am ruined.

More salt on eggs. Presents being opened. Fathers all over the world, clapping.

*

It comes down to this: you find cracks in the pain and slip into them. You can live there, at least for a while, from that place down low, the place of I am untouched by loss until you get to a baby shower and you notice that the crack has sealed up, the cement has pushed you up and out in the world again and you are in the middle of it all, fin-footed as a seal, unable to move, so you too clap.

Would you look that that? Would you just look at that?

Somebody loves us all, says Elizabeth Bishop in her poem Filling Station.

Oh, but it is dirty!

–this little filling station,

oil-soaked, oil-permeated

to a disturbing, over-all

black translucency.

Be careful with that match!

 

Father wears a dirty,

oil-soaked monkey suit

that cuts him under the arms,

and several quick and saucy

and greasy sons assist him

(it’s a family filling station),

all quite thoroughly dirty.

 

*

Oh, but it is dirty! This pain, you think, is dirty. How dilapidated, how old! How worn-out, how broken down, how enough is enough of it all. How dirty my pain is, how me-centric, how grimy. How many poems I have written of it, how many eggs, how many cracks in the sidewalk.

I remember one of my own father poems, one of the many (hundreds) I’d written when I was 19 years old at Bucknell University where I had a poetry fellowship.

                                               TO MY FATHER, AFTER HIS DEATH 

I knew that you weren’t really dead.

That if I kept looking, kept driving,

I’d find you.  

Didn’t think it would be here though,

that you’d be pumping gas

in Kansas.

 

You still smoke.

I can tell.

The way your shoulders hunch over

gives you away.

When you push nozzles into canals,

into the backs of cars,

you heave, your shoulders roll.

Your stomach reaches closer to your back,

toward smooth pink scars.

You look smaller,

shirking into yourself like that.

 

Silently pumping gas, coughing occasionally,

scratching your sunburned bald spot.

 

I watch you from the shoulder of I-70

through dead bugs on my windshield.

There is a small convenience store

attached to the gas station.

You enter it,

and when you emerge

I see the bulge in your pants.

You’ve bought Kools: your brand of cigarettes.

Stashed them in your front hip pocket,

next to an Almond Joy.

 

I see you still

squint, smoke,

have bad posture,

eat Almond Joys.

 

Quiet as ash,

you in the Kansas of Colorado,

one foot almost in each state.

 

The moment you noticed me

must have been when

you straightened your back up,

crushed your half smoked cigarette

and smiled.

 

But you know I can’t come any closer.

 

I can’t pull into the station,

roll down my window and touch your face.   

*

The facts are what remains: gas stations, baby showers, cigarettes, candy bars- Hell, all of it, will be the things that remind me of my father.

Loss doesn’t occur in a vacuum. These losses exist out in the world and sometimes in a plate of eggs. Sometimes, when you least expect it (and I hope for all of our sakes that we aren’t always expecting the worst) we will crumble at the site of a see-saw, a beard, a Pepsi. I wish it wasn’t a fact. I wish that you and I could go on and pour salt on our eggs and clap with the rest of the people and that we wouldn’t feel a thing. Not even a twang.

But that would be a lie. The things that shape us are where the beauty resides.

 

 

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Jennifer Pastiloff, Beauty Hunter, is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Check out jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up: South Dakota, NYC, Dallas, Kripalu Center For Yoga & Health, Tuscany. She is also leading a Writing + The Body Retreat with Lidia Yuknavitch Jan 30-Feb 1 in Ojai (sold out) as well as Other Voices Querétaro with Gina Frangello, Emily Rapp and Rob Roberge. She tweets/instagrams at @jenpastiloff.

 

Click to order Simplereminders new book.

Click to order Simplereminders new book.

 

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

And So It Is, Awe & Wonder

So Much Depends.

August 12, 2013

By Jen Pastiloff

Let’s say it’s like this: He leans over to talk to me. We’re at an airport. Let’s say we are at an overpriced fish place in the Los Angeles International Airport. Flight’s been delayed five hours. Imagine that both of us traveling to the same place: Sioux Falls, South Dakota. He leans over to tell me he’s been married 58 years and that he and his wife normally share dinners and would I like half of his? He lost 4 of his fingers on his right hand 45 years ago on a rotary lawn mower, has an adopted son who is 6 foot 10 and he’s a Christian. He told me to keep talking to God before he passed me half his trout.

He told me he’d “just met so many nice people at the airport.” He’d been there since 6 am. It was now 6 pm. While I was huffing and puffing at all the time wasted he was looking around for the miraculous in the mundane, in the faces of people searching flight status boards or shuffling through security, begrudging the fact that they had to take off their shoes or remove their laptops.

When I told him I was a Jew he grasped his heart as if the fact was astounding enough to actually pain him. One of our neighbors was Jewish and they were just the most wonderful people, he’d said. I laughed (it reminded me of when someone says “I like gay people. I have a friend that’s gay) and told him I wasn’t a practicing Jew. He reminded me that I was one of God’s chosen. I wondered if there were any Jews in South Dakota but didn’t ask him. I knew there was at least one family, his neighbors, The Wonderfuls.

I drank my wine as I watched him carefully cutting his fish and smiling as he scrolled through his cell phone (a Blackberry.)

The man has on this light red raincoat and as my red wine slides down the back of my throat, I think of William Carlos Williams:

so much depends

upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
 chickens.

He leans toward my table. This is a picture of my beautiful wife.

So much depends on how we react to things.

His fingers, for example. How did he react 45 years ago when he was showing his father the newest features on the rotary lawnmower and the blade just sliced his four fingers off like they were irrelevant as dead grass? Nothing more than meat under a glass case at the butcher’s. Hurry, I’m a rush. I’ll take a pound of American and a pound of provolone. Slice it thin, please.  He told me that when he’d lost them he quickly had to learn to laugh about it. I guess I’m going to have to learn to pick my nose with my left hand now.

I didn’t react well to the flight delay. I’d felt entitled and ornery. Ornery is a word that makes me think of old people but my hair is greying (not for much longer, I swear) and I had my glasses on and a face free of any makeup, so I felt like an old person. An ornery old person. Sometimes with my hearing loss, I would mistake horny for ornery. I tend to imagine each word containing parts of the other, like distant relatives.

Doesn’t this airline know how busy I am? Huff. Don’t they know I am trying to write a book proposal? Puff. I made a stink and rolled my eyes and couldn’t believe I had to wait. The flight was meant to leave at 2:40 pm (it didn’t leave until 8:30 pm.) I even thought about going home and canceling my workshop in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

I couldn’t cancel the workshop. People were driving 14 hours from Canada! They were coming from Minnesota! I couldn’t cancel simply because I had to wait a few (okay, 6) hours at the airport. I got my meal voucher from Allegiant Air. (I had also never heard of this airline before this trip. For good reason, apparently.) The meal voucher was for eight dollars which made me chuckle. because really, what can you get for eight dollars besides a half glass of wine or two Snickers bars and a pack of gum? With 8 dollars  (okay $7.69) I bought a New Yorker magazine so I could read the latest by Joyce Carol Oates and a story on the Steubenville rape trial and Twitter. (When did the New Yorker get so pricey?)  I took my eight dollar voucher and with a huge chip on my shoulder, a chip weighing as least as much as a small man, I headed to a restaurant to sit and sulk.

So much depends.

So much depends on where we are. Where we are born. Where we park our asses down to eat a meal. Where we sit to write. Where we lay our head at night. Where we find ourselves on a map changes the course of everything, and whether it’s literal and full of pushpins and highways and mountains, or an emotional one, you better believe that life is an exercise in mapmaking.

I get led to a table for one. There are two men on each side of me, also eating alone. Let’s say I get led to the bar. It then becomes a whole different story. The map is then green instead of red, perhaps.

So much depends on so much.

I was content on being pissed about my wasted time, all the while wasting more time. I got no writing done, no reading done, nothing productive to speak of. So when this older man leans his body towards mine and says something I can’t really make out but which sounds like something to the effect of I’ve been married for 58 years, you know, I smile.

Here, an opportunity for you to connect. Here, someone to talk to. Here, someone offering you his food. Here, some fish.

A red jacket. A red wheelbarrow.

So much depends on where you look.

I loved him immediately. He became my grandfather, my priest/rabbi, my meal ticket, my companion, my cartographer, my reminder to pay attention. He also wore hearing aids (like me! He also became my twin!) He was my fellow conspirator against the hearing world. I heard this story about a man who, after 40 years, finally got a pair of hearing aids, he told me, and ever since he’d had to change his will twice, he laughed. I’d thought he was going to tell me that the man gave the hearing aids back because not hearing had been better.

So much depends.

The fact is, when you can’t hear well you have to pay attention. Closely. You see that lady three tables over licking her fingers and although you can’t hear the slurp, you imagine the suck and the little quack it makes, and the man across from her? You see him eating his chicken sandwich without chewing even though his back is to you. You can tell by the way his jaws move from behind. You can see all this while your ears prick for any sound at all, and, when no sound arrives, your eyes scan the room and notice every painful exchange, every empty gesture, every goddamned chicken finger being picked up and put back down by every child in the world.

There’s nothing you can’t see when you can’t hear so you have to be really careful where you sit or you will see it all.

So much depends on where you sit.

His name was Dick and the thirteen year old in me wanted to laugh when he told me his name. He said dick! Haha, he said dick! He gave me his card and wrote down my name on the bottom half of his own meal voucher for eight dollars, which he tore off and put in his front pocket, next to a pen. Would we ever see each other again? Let’s say: no. Let’s say we leave it at that.

And that that is enough. One of those rare moments in life when we say I don’t need more than this.

The having had it happen. The exchange of two human beings in an airport enough to sustain you for a while. Let’s say that’s the case here.

He pays his bill and shakes my hand. I have a styrofoam container of fish sitting in front of me like a gift and I will remember him by it. The man who gave me half of his dinner. The man in the red jacket with the missing fingers.

He leaves his jacket behind so I reach over and grab it. I drape it over the back of my chair knowing I’ll see him on the plane and can give it to him then. I’ll carry the fish he gave me in one hand and his red coat in another.

For a few minutes I feel calm, as insular as a cave, as sturdy as the land I would soon be visiting in the southwestern part of the state of South Dakota. I am as protected as the Badlands I would be at in just two days time, that rugged terrain I’d dreamt of seeing again ever since I first saw them at 18 years old on a cross country drive I took in a mini-van. Mako Sika, translated as “land bad” or “eroded land”, my beloved Badlands, which beckoned to me with their otherworldliness and various personalities (how human of them!) I was part of them and no one could come close to me in the safety of my red vinyl jacket. I was on the interior.

My insides warm from wine, the red jacket a heart on the back of my chair, holding the world in place. Knowing it’s there enough to keep me sane.

So much depends on a red jacket.

Ah! You found my jacket, he rushes back up to my table.

So much depends.

Yes. I was keeping it safe.

Let’s say it ended like that.

We finally boarded the plane. A few rows up, he sleeps, while my legs shake uncontrollably (too much wine and coffee and too little sleep) and I rest my head on the shoulder of a stranger.

Do you mind if I lean my head on your shoulder?

The stranger was on his way back to Iowa. Football scholarship. Young. Polite. Kind. No, I don’t mind. Lean on me, he says.

So much depends on where you sit.

So much depends.

Let’s say two days later I am standing on the edge of the world, at Pinnacles Overlook right by Route 240 at The Badlands National Park, and let’s say I wished that right then and there I could ask that man in the red jacket if this is what he meant by talking to God?

**This essay is dedicated to Melissa Shattuck for having the chutzpah to get me to South Dakota. And to Dick, naturally. Red wheelbarrows. All of them.

(a p.s. to the story: after I posted about it on my Facebook, through the serendipitous nature of the universe, a woman commented: “The man in the red jacket is my dad!”)

Find the miraculous, even in the mundane.

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Dick. The man in the airport.

Dick. The man in the airport.

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Jen will be back in South Dakota May 28th for one workshop. Click here to book.

 

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