Browsing Tag

brave

depression, Guest Posts, Pregnancy

Not Waving, But Drowning: Pregnancy & Depression

February 25, 2016
depression

By Anonymous

As I idly looked at the prescription bottle of sertraline, I realized that one of the light blue warning boxes on the label read: Third trimester use can cause health problems. Discuss with your doctor or pharmacist. My third trimester started yesterday.

Since adolescence, depression has been a presence in my life. When I say depression, I’m talking about the kind that is clinically significant enough to warrant a low dose of antidepressants, but never interfered with my life to ruin a job or school. When I am overwhelmed with responsibilities or work, I take on more. And fulfill all of my obligations. Well, I might add. But when I got the news about my fertility last January, I went off my antidepressant, thinking I would get my body as “healthy” as possible for conception.

I made the decision to become a single mother by choice after getting the news that my ovarian reserve was very, very low. This pregnancy was planned meticulously. I had always wanted to be a mother, fiercely and desperately.

Things went well, until I started progesterone for the second half of my cycle every month for a luteal phase defect. The progesterone caused dark moods, irritability, and depression. Then Clomid gave me mood swings. When I got pregnant, I had to take an even higher dose of progesterone, twice a day, for the first 13 weeks, in order to improve my chances of keeping the pregnancy. That, along with the stress of not knowing how my family would respond, caused me agonizing, crippling anxiety and depression. Constant nausea and bone-crushing fatigue beginning at 6 weeks only added to my depression.

Arriving at my 20 week ultrasound and OB appointment by myself, the tech exclaimed, “All alone?” I said yes, and climbed up on the table. I was more interested in the actual fetal anatomy than any cute pictures – which, to be honest, I didn’t fawn over, nor did I think were cute. In the waiting room, another patient was there, along with her husband, her parents, his parents, and various brothers and sisters, poring over their ultrasound pictures. My pictures were folded up in my bag, and all I wanted to do was go home and sleep.

Continue Reading…

cancer, Eating Disorders/Healing, Guest Posts, healing

As I Disappear: My Battle With Anorexia During Cancer Treatment.

May 15, 2014

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black

By Kathleen Emmets.

“She’s so thin,” I say to myself as the familiar sense of envy creeps in. I notice her jeans billowing around her legs and am filled with self loathing. “How did I allow myself to gain the weight back?” In the past year, I have gained 25lbs and hate the sight of myself in a mirror. These thoughts would be somewhat normal for any woman to think, I guess. Most women I know have issues with their body. Except I know it is beyond fucked up for me. See, I’m sitting in Sloan Kettering Cancer Hospital for my two month check up, and that woman I’m staring at, well, she’s undergoing chemotherapy; just like I’ve been for the past three years.

Somewhere in my mind I know these thoughts are wrong. That’s a lie, actually. These thoughts are completely normal to me. I just know they would be perceived as wrong by others, so I say nothing. When I was first diagnosed with Stage IV cancer in 2011 and the doctors were running a battery of tests on me, I saw on my chart that I fell within the normal weight range for my height. I always have. But charts be damned. In my mind, I’ve always been fat. “Well”, I said to my sister as I was about to begin chemo, “I’ll finally lose those stubborn ten pounds I’ve been struggling with for years.” “That’s looking at the bright side,” she replied. Clearly we not only share genes but also a morose sense of humor.

As the months passed, my weight slowly began to drop. It wasn’t too drastic initially though. I would hear other patients complain how they couldn’t keep weight on and, like in the movie ‘When Harry Met Sally’ I half jokingly think, “I’ll have what she’s having” But, there is nothing funny about this, I know. I was fighting for my life and yet…and yet…I secretly loved to feel my bones protruding. In bed alone, I would run my hands across my jutting hip bones with a sense of relief. I stood in the mirror looking at myself naked and thought, “I’m finally skinny.”

When I was prepping for a surgery where a pump the size of a hockey puck would be placed under my skin to delivery chemotherapy directly to my liver, I asked the doctor if it would be very noticeable. He said because I was so thin it would definitely show but wouldn’t be too bad. After he left the room I turned to my husband and said, “Did you hear that? He said I was thin.” My husband just stared at me as I gave him a half smile.

I began to shop often. It was a thrill to get a size XXS, to see my clavicle deep and hollow. I embraced this thinness. Even as I was losing my hair. Even as I was throwing up and paralyzed by the chemo induced neuropathy. I found my hands sliding over those jagged hip bones again, following the curve on my concave stomach. It was the one bonus I found in cancer treatment.

Two years in, my medication was switched up. This new pill regime didn’t make me sick, didn’t cause me to lose my appetite. Slowly, my weight crept back up. My breasts became full again, my stomach a little more rounded. “Fuck”, I thought, “I can’t get fat again.” My size 2 jeans became a size 6. The weight came back at a steady pace. Once again, I could pinch my hips and feel skin. I began my food deprivation technique again. An egg for breakfast, lettuce for lunch, fruit for dinner. 2lbs gone…5lbs gone…8lbs gone. Yes. It’s working. I’m back in control. Except, I’m not in control at all. And this time, people are taking notice. At dinner my husband asked me why I wasn’t having bread, or meat, or much of anything really. “You’re spiraling again,” he said. I went home and dropped to my knees on my bathroom floor in a fit of tears. How can I continue to hate this body? The body that successfully fought off cancer. The body that brought my wonderful son into this world. The body that has been caressed and made love to. How is it that I am still here in this place of self loathing?

I have dug deeply over the past three years. I’ve gone on spiritual journeys, meditated with shaman, prayed to saints. I’ve done the work to deal with the cancer, but not with the real issue, which is why do I continue to hate myself? How is it that someone who fought so hard to live, still just exists in a body that she despises? What was this all for if the internal struggle continues to be unbearable? I am living while so many of my friends have died from this disease. I am cancer free while so many still fight. And yet…and yet…my mind still whispers toxic thoughts. “Be small,” it says. Small is safe. Small means I’m in control. And after three years of having limited control over my body, it’s nice to be in the driver’s seat; even if I don’t know where I’m headed.

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Kathleen Emmets is an avid music lover and yoga enthusiast. She believes in seeking out the good in all things and being her most authentic self. Her articles have appeared in MindBodyGreen, Do You Yoga, themanifeststation.net and Elephant Journal. She writes about her experience with cancer in her blog, cancerismyguru.blogspot.com. Kathleen lives in East Norwich, NY with her husband and son.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above!

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat Sep 17-24, 2016. Email barbara@jenniferpastiloff.com.

 

Join Jen Pastiloff in Atlanta. Click the photo above.

Join Jen Pastiloff in Atlanta March 19th, 2016. Click the photo above.

funny, Guest Posts, R Rated, Self Image, Sex

When the Man Talks to Me about My Lady Parts. *R Rated.

February 16, 2014

**This humorous essay by author Heather Fowler has strong sexual content and is R Rated. If you have no interest in that…stop reading right now. Seriously. I have every intention of providing a space for women to keep it real. (For everyone, really.) This a light, frank, body-positive post. Proceed with a sense of humor please 🙂 And I bow to Heather for being so bold. We had a great conversation where she brought up the fact that women aren’t allowed to really talk about their own genitalia without causing a stir. So, here ya go… ~ Jen Pastiloff, Founder of The Manifest-Station.

~

When the Man Talks to Me about My Lady Parts by Heather Fowler.

I can’t help it.  I’m excited.  Who knew I had something so great?  It is with extreme enthusiasm that he engages this topic.

As for me, during this engagement, I’m agog by my own former underdeveloped awareness. I can be forgiven. We often undervalue the things right under our navels. I mean, I know I’ve taken pleasure from this anatomy variously in my past, without even recognizing how important this particular part can be. But he specifies criteria like a pussy aficionado.

He doesn’t mind when things get wet and impromptu.  He is a fierce explorer. Fierce!

Now, his opinion should not be discounted because he is actually an expert in this field, belonging to a Harley gang and all.  This means he’s had lots of pussy.  He has enjoyed it as a meal and a la carte.  I like a man who talks the walk.  He squeals he has had more than one at once.

Several of them, many times. We discuss.  “Tell me about your sexual past,” I say, because I am a role-bender that way, intrepid.

When I reflect deeply, I recognize that his interest in pussy is parallel to the interest of a guy who loves sports statistics. Maybe this one keeps statistics.  He certainly knows about his bat.

Why did I do this?  Not sure, but here’s the good part: Usually, I’d pay for analysis from this level of “expert in the field,” wherever research is needed.

But I got lucky, and with this level of lucky, I don’t have to pay.  I pull the sheet up and wait.  I am covering my boring breasts, which he largely ignored. I smile, trying to be innocuous.  I’m about to understand my pussy, really get the lowdown, articulated from a guy’s point of view, probably for the first time.  This is huge.

I tremble. I have to be humble. I look away.

I hope I don’t look too curious because, sometimes, that puts guys off.  Nope.  He still wants to talk about it.

“Some women just had too much,” he says.  “They can’t feel a thing.  Not like you.  Yours is still sensitive.  And you have great padding in the back.”

“Oh,” I say.  “Right. Padded ass. That’s good.” But I nod, intrigued.  “Go on.”

No one has ever spoken this frankly.  I examine his hair, that blond stuff on his head.  It is long in the way that motorbike riders enjoy, since their hedonism extends to the wind at play.  Everything is play. I think about washing the sheets.

“And some women are hard down there,” he says.  “Like a plank.  You can bruise your hipbone on that.  And sometimes you can’t go that deep.  Some women have what’s like a slit, hard to push into, and other women hang loose and open all the time.” He mentions to me that a condom might have skewed his view of this pussy, my pussy, a little bit, but it was still good.  He says I couldn’t possibly have experienced it like he does.

Right, I’m thinking. It must be like that freckle on one’s face that becomes rather insignificant in light of the whole face.  I have a whole face.  A whole body.  But he is a pussy specialist.

“Would you say these things if it was bad?” I ask. “I mean, go on like this?”

“No, of course not,” he says.  “Then I’d just say nothing. I’m not a total cad.”  He kisses me like he thinks I’m cute.

I am not cute like he imagines.  I am pondering how it would feel to experience my own pussy, from the exterior, with nerve endings, by inhabiting two bodies at once.  I wish I could bodysnatch him and enjoy being both of us.  I get lost in this fantasy.

“It was great, great,” he says. “And so I could just sneak in here and help you out,” he says, pulling at a tendril of hair near my face.  “Like I’m the rogue character in one of your novels.  I could be your bad boy.  Does your pussy squirt?”

“I haven’t thought about it,” I reply, neglecting to mention that I don’t write romance novels.  “I’m not down there, you know, watching.  Does squirting imply a sort of specific distance?  Does it involve a quantity of fluid? Maybe you can tell me.”  I do like the idea of having a bad boy, especially one who so appreciates my pussy.  But if I want a bad boy, I want one with mad skills, one who cannot be denied.

He smiles, petting my head, and I say, “If you gave me five or six orgasms a session, that could be worthwhile.  But we’d have to be monogamous for fluid-bonding.  We could build to that.”  I’m thinking that’s a low bar for taking on a bad boy, if he doesn’t plan on nurturing or taking out the trash.

His face falls.  Maybe he thought two or three was really big shakes.

For me, it’s not. Two or three is an introduction. Nonetheless, from this exchange, I realize I have an excellent, frequently underutilized pussy.  This is a subject to ponder.  How can I do better for my pussy? Why, and for how long, must my organ remain underutilized?

He asks what I think about his dick.  “It’s fine,” I say.  “Good.” But I have no new remarks to issue here.  What does one say when one means, “Truly average.  A decent size.  Not too large?” but knows these comments won’t go over well.  I think about saying, “Your dick is important to me insofar as it functions well when we are engaged in romantic exchanges, aided by outings and interpersonal connection, though I would not be upset if it wasn’t functioning, provided I loved you enough.”

I determine he is too bad boy to appreciate this distinction.  “You have a good dick,” I conclude, going for minimalist.  When he leaves that day, I think:  I won’t remember it.

Later I examine my pussy as if it is not attached to me and think about other women.  Do they know how great their pussies are?  How underutilized? Someone should tell them.

This someone might be him.  Then again—he might not know enough.

I’ll be a crusader for the femme O.  Look out world, I got this.

***

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Heather Fowler is the author of the story collections Suspended Heart (Aqueous Books, Dec. 2010), People with Holes (Pink Narcissus Press, July 2012), This Time, While We’re Awake (Aqueous Books, May 2013) andElegantly Naked In My Sexy Mental Illness (Queen’s Ferry Press, forthcoming May 2014). Fowler’s People with Holes was named a 2012 finalist for Foreword Reviews Book of the Year Award in Short Fiction. This Time, While We’re Awake was recently selected by artist Kate Protage for representation in the Ex Libris 100 Artists 100 Books exhibition this February at the 2014 AWP Conference. Fowler’s stories and poems have been published online and in print in the U.S., England, Australia, and India, and appeared in such venues as PANKNight TrainstoryglossiaSurreal SouthJMWWPrick of the SpindleShort Story America,Feminist Studies and others, as well as having been nominated for the storySouth Million Writers Award, Sundress Publications Best of the Net, and the Pushcart Prize. She is Poetry Editor at Corium Magazine and a Fiction Editor for the international refereed journal, Journal of Post-Colonial Cultures & Societies (USA). Please visit her website: www.heatherfowlerwrites.com

writingrefractedJennifer Pastiloff is a writer based in Los Angeles. She is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Jen will be leading a Retreat in Costa Rica at the end of March and her annual retreat to Tuscany is in July 2014. All retreats are a combo of yoga/writing and for ALL levels. Read this post to understand what her retreats are like. Check out her site jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Jen and bestselling author Emily Rapp will be leading another writing retreat to Vermont in October. `
Book Excerpts, Guest Posts

Excerpt of “A Life In Men.” A New Novel By The Incomparable Gina Frangello.

January 28, 2014

Excerpt of A Life in Men By Gina Frangello.

Three Honeymoons

(CANARY ISLANDS: GEOFF)

What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open. —Muriel Rukeyser, “Käthe Kollwitz”

On New Year’s Eve, 1994, she didn’t think she’d make it to ’95, but here it is almost spring, and she is not only still kicking but feeling inconceivably fresh off another overseas plane ride and holding a fruity welcome drink in the main house of the most luxurious resort she’s ever seen. Its architecture resembles that of a turn–of–the–century village, as envisioned by a partnership of Travel and Leisure and Gaudí. Instead of one big hotel, approximately twenty “villas” dot the elaborately landscaped gardens like mini fairy–tale castles, all squat turrets and shiny tiles and pastel shutters. Instead of outhouses or vermin carrying bubonic plague, the place is so clean that Mary would feel perfectly comfortable licking the floors.

“This looks like someplace Snow White would hang out if she had a price on her head,” she whispers, and she and Geoff laugh into their drinks, intoxicated by their shared delight at the absolute lack of authenticity. They will be on Tenerife for a week, and their covert plan is to never leave the premises of the resort. In their first few days, they stroll the gardens, eat gourmet meals or quick snacks at their choice of restaurants, read novels and drink on the private beach, and then go back to their villa to make love until they are exhausted enough to sleep, only to wake and do it all again.

Geoff calls this a “no stress” vacation. No backpacks, no flooding bathrooms, no hitchhiking. “I don’t want to see you while I’m at work,” he tells Mary, meaning at the hospital. Over their first shared paella he informs her, “I’m going to fatten you up.”

Imagine a man saying he wants his woman fat! Envisioning a fuller swell in her breasts, her thighs brushing one another when she walks, Mary orders a third margarita — plus crème brûlée.

“No more slumming in the third world for you,” Geoff says later, as they float aimlessly in their personal Jacuzzi, sprinkled with fuchsia flower petals, the aroma deepened by steam, so that the air is thick and perfumed like an opium den. “I’m going to make you take it easy if it kills you.”

Then he grimaces.

Places to make love at the resort abound. The hammock on the hill, late at night when no one is around. Their Jacuzzi, Mary lying on her back outside the tub, droplets chilling on her body, while Geoff, standing inside the water like a statue of a Greek god, thrusts his hips, her legs slung over his shoulders. The crevices of the garden, on all fours behind bushes, peacocks gazing on. Mary and Geoff sneak around like children, looking for new places to copulate. A deserted chaise longue at sunset, while the rest of the guests are at the dinner seating. “This is what I wanted to do to you on that chair in Plati Yialos,” Geoff says, diving between her legs. For a moment the ghost of Plati Yialos — of Nix’s nude body hurling itself into the surf — hovers, but then Geoff’s tongue sets to work, sun looming above the water before dropping under, a giant yolk falling into a bowl, and Mary’s back arches and her thighs grip Geoff’s head and muffled voices in the distance only spur them on.

If happy families are all alike, the only thing more homogeneous still is a happy couple. See Mary and Geoff lying poolside with the other young men and women, all paired off like animals marching onto Noah’s ark. Pretty, tanned twentysomethings chatting around the bar, swapping meet–cute stories (Mary and Geoff’s always wins) in their various German, English, American accents. If Mary coughs now and then, even pulls out an inhaler, nobody seems to notice. If she disappears into the villa for a stretch of time to do her PT, surely everyone only assumes she and Geoff are in there swinging from the proverbial coital rafters.

Or maybe that is too simple. Mary’s lungs are still suffering the aftershocks of her Mexican infection; her daily life continues to revolve around time–consuming physiotherapies; now that she lives with a pulmonary specialist, she is less able than ever to forget about her illness. Geoff even does bizarre things like invite his supervisor, her longtime physician Dr. Narayan, over to their house for dinner, and insists on calling him by his first name, Laxmi, though Mary blushes every time, and lives in perpetual fear that the elderly man who has handled her lungs since she was seventeen will now accidentally encounter a pair of her thong underpants or, say, her vibrator while visiting.

She knows that her current bliss cannot be explained away as her feeling “exactly like everybody else” suddenly, but precisely the reverse. To be in such normal love, while simultaneously cognizant of her own difference, makes it seem that the bond she and Geoff share must be deeper, more profound or extraordinary, than bonds shared by the other, regular couples at the resort. Yes, for the first time since high school, Mary has been granted entry to the Normalcy Club, but this time undercover. She and Geoff are complicit in their pretense, so that the average itself has become exotic: every ordinary moment carries an electrical thrill.

Is this finally “happiness”? she wonders. Is this what she always craved? And if so, how long will it last?

On the fifth day, guilt–tripped by the other couples who rave about the casinos and discos in the touristy Playa de las Américas section of the island, Mary and Geoff venture outside the walls of their resort and head for the beachy boardwalk. But despite a dearth of American tourists in the Canary Islands (mainly because most Americans have never heard of them), it turns out that Germans and Brits are just as adept as any ugly American at co–opting a place until it becomes a Fort Lauderdale – like strip mall, complete with fish–and–chips joints, bratwursts, and endless pints of beer, with neon signs and fat senior citizens in sensible shoes. Bombarded by gaudiness, Mary and Geoff scurry past the casino, the dance clubs with wildly pulsating 1980s tunes shaking the sidewalk, the bars in the big, glitzy chain hotels, bypassing the crowds. They amble along the rocks
that line the beachfront, until they once again reach seclusion. Mary takes off her clothes and Geoff looks around nervously but then removes his, too, and they do it up against some rocks that poke and scrape their skin but provide good foot leverage for Mary, since usually she is too short for them to have sex successfully standing up.

Mission accomplished, they hurry back to the idyllic world of their resort.

This, then, is love. That elusive bird that managed to fly forever out of Mary’s reach even in the great cities of Europe and the African bush. That state of being or beast or concept, impossible to pin down, that had started to seem to her a great, mythic hoax — or if not that, then some salve for the simpleminded, not worth its hype. But how underrated, joy. How incompatible with everything she thought she knew of life. In real life your boyfriend ditches you the moment you get sick; in real life planes explode in the sky; in real life your long–lost father is a polygamist shaman. Now, only two months in, Mary is a zealous convert to love and its attendant happiness: an optimism junkie.

She never wants to go back.

On their last night at the fairy–tale resort, they dine in its five–star restaurant. There is only one seating per each evening’s three–hour affair, and you have to dress for dinner. Mary and Geoff wait in the cigar lounge for the seating, sipping cognacs. Geoff has put on what Mary’s father would call a sports coat, and he looks so handsome her brain hurts. At twenty–eight, he is less muscular than the boy she met years ago in Greece (he says he was on crew back then), but his new spindliness becomes him, has taken the macho edge she distrusted in Mykonos off his appearance. He looks kinder now, more vulnerable in his beauty. Sometimes Mary thinks Geoff looks like an actor cast to play the role of himself in a film; his face is too pretty to make sense in the context of a Cincinnati hospital and seems more Hollywood’s idea of what a “good–catch doctor” would look like. His dark hair falls softly in a curve over his eye, making him look like a boy in a 1980s band, sans the eyeliner and with his square jaw for a dose of masculinity. Mary is pretty sure every woman he encounters would like to fuck him, though Geoff says this is ridiculous; he has slept with fewer than ten women, her included. Still, she sits in her strappy black dress next to him, euphoric. This is my boyfriend. This is my life.

At dinner, they order the catch of the day, filleted tableside. They drink a sauvignon blanc from South Africa, which Mary is relieved is dry. She doesn’t know much about wine but recalls having had a sauvignon blanc with Geoff before and its being distastefully sweet. Geoff explained that this has to do with where the grapes come from and in what region the wine is made, but sauvignon blancs seem to come from all over the place, and she cannot keep it straight. He claims it’s his favorite white wine, although Mary finds this perplexing, since it never tastes the same. However, she likes that Geoff knows about wine. It seems a grown–up thing to know about. It makes him seem the antithesis of Joshua or of Mary’s parents. It seems an obscene, glorious luxury to be genuinely invested in the idiosyncratic taste of a grape and to have protracted discussions on this topic without the slightest tinge of irony.

“Look.” Geoff points toward the entrance of the restaurant. “There’s Olivier.”

Mary turns her head. Olivier is what they call the Frenchman who wears a skimpy black Speedo at the pool, his penis coiled like an enormous snake inside. They do not know his actual name, the penis being too terrifying to permit small talk, but Mary, Geoff, and all the other couples have been laughing about him for days. What is he doing here all alone? What is his story? Is his penile bulge fake? Mary watches him enter the restaurant in a loose–cut suit, no woman on his arm. It seems entirely reasonable to suppose that perhaps Olivier exists only for their amusement.

“We should have toasted,” Geoff says, and Mary has to turn away from Olivier’s grand entrance to look at him again. “To our last night in Tenerife.” He raises his glass.

She picks up her own to clink and drink. And there it is.

The reasonable conclusion to all her happiness.

When Mary sees the ring, she does not feel shock. She and Geoff have been together only since the New Year, but still Mary finds she expected this, not only in general but tonight. She thinks maybe she should gasp and clap her hands to her mouth or offer another dramatic gesture of surprise, but all she can do is smile.

“I should have gotten your number at home before you got on that ferry,” Geoff says, not for the first time. “I knew I’d never forget you — I was already in love with you.”

“I want to have a baby,” Mary blurts out. She knows she should be worried that this admission, or at least her timing, will make her sound some combination of unhinged, pushy, and desperate. But she is not worried. It feels perfectly reasonable to conclude that worry has been banished now, too, along with shock and loneliness.

Geoff beams. “Of course! I want that, too!”

“But,” she begins, unsure why she is suddenly compelled to play devil’s advocate to her own desire, “pregnancy could make my health decline. What if I were to leave you with a young child? You’d be saddled for the rest of your life, and I wouldn’t be there to help. It might make it harder to have a full career and to, like, find another
wife.”

Geoff gapes at her. “Another wife? Are you nuts?”

“Well,” she stammers, “I mean . . .”

The ring is at the bottom of the glass. Geoff glances at it nervously, as if he has suddenly realized that maybe it wasn’t the best idea, chucking it in there while she was scoping out Olivier. All at once he picks up the glass and drains it in one gulp, sticking his man -fingers into the delicate bowl of it and fishing out the ring, thrusting it forward at Mary. “I want you to listen to me,” he says, sliding the wet diamond onto her finger. “Your FEV values are amazing for your age, you have a milder gene mutation — I think you’re going to live for a long, long time, Mary. And as far as a baby goes, I’d never want you to do anything you weren’t comfortable with, but studies are showing that women with good pulmonary function don’t usually decline from pregnancy — some show that women who have children actually live longer. Plus, when the pancreas isn’t affected, as in your case, a transplant could someday offer an entirely new lease on life, where you’re not sick anymore at all.” He gets out of his chair and comes over to her side of the table. For a moment Mary thinks he will get down on one knee, but he is too dignified for that, too full of midwestern reserve, and merely crouches next to her chair. “Look, I’m not kidding myself — I know there are no guarantees. But if I were ever to lose you, the only thing that could make it even slightly bearable would be if I were raising our child and still had a part of you in my life.”

If they were in a movie, this is the part where Mary would begin to cry — where she would fling her arms around him and shout, Yes! to the cheers of the other restaurant patrons. But she is too numb with relief to even speak. She cannot cry. She cannot even feel, precisely, except for an enormous wave of letting go, of surrender. She looks down at her ringed finger and nods, unable to meet Geoff’s eyes. He hugs her tightly, and she wraps her arms around him and hangs on, thinking of the first day he brought her back from the hospital to his condo, and the way she wondered at her lack of nervousness or even, precisely, lust, when they fell together onto his bed. She felt, in contrast, as though they had already been making love for years and had returned to each other after an involuntary absence. For the first time, nakedness seemed neither a costume nor an escape route. Above Geoff’s bed was a framed Nagel print, and abruptly Mary cackled and said, I didn’t realize we were back in 1986, so Geoff, naked with his hard–on bobbing up and down, had stood on the bed, taken the picture from the wall, and put it inside his closet. “I guess since my decorating skills are so awful, you’re just going to have to move in and save me from myself,” he said, and although he had not even been inside her yet, the deal was done. She had already resigned from her job in Columbus and was unlikely to find a new teaching job before the fall, but the very next day Mary took the art she’d acquired in France, Japan, Kenya, and Mexico and, clutching the emptied travel tubes to her chest, spent five hundred dollars having it all framed.

“Hey,” Geoff says, standing quickly, discreetly, before the other restaurant patrons start to stare, “maybe we should come here again on our honeymoon.”

“I can’t believe it,” Mary whispers. “I was just thinking that.”

Click picture of book to purchase.

Click picture of book to purchase.

Gina Frangello is the author of three books of fiction: A Life in Men (Algonquin 2014), Slut Lullabies (Emergency Press 2010) and My Sister’s Continent (Chiasmus 2006).  She is the Sunday editor for The Rumpus and the fiction editor for The Nervous Breakdown, and is on faculty at the University of CA-Riverside’s low residency MFA program.  The longtime Executive Editor of Other Voices magazine and Other Voices Books, she now runs Other Voices Queretaro (www.othervoicesqueretaro.com), an international writing program.  She can be found at www.ginafrangello.com.

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Jennifer Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Jen is a writer and retreat leader based in Los Angeles. Check out her site jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Jen and author Emily Rapp will be leading another writing & yoga retreat to Vermont in October. 

And So It Is, Guest Posts

Taboo.

January 23, 2014

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-blackBy Andi Cumbo-Floyd

I heard my mother swear exactly one time.

My brother and I wanted to go to the pool on a blazing summer day. We were already in the back of the Chevette, our legs sticking to the vinyl, and Mom was in the driver’s seat.  I cannot remember what Jeremy and I were badgering her about – going sooner, staying longer, more snacks? – but she lost it a tiny, tiny bit.

“Damn it!” She slammed the door and went inside.

Jeremy and I sat in the car for a long time. I probably cried. In time, she came back out and drove us to the pool.

Swearing was taboo in our house. Even now, when I say “shit” in front of my dad, he winces a bit. . . and then gets that furrow of disapproval between his gray eyebrows.

My parents were quite open to most anything – I shaved my head in 7th grade – no reaction; I never had a curfew, just times my parents asked me to be home; no subject was ever off-limits in books. But swearing was not something that happened in the Cumbo home.

It was a taboo certainly carried over from their devout, somewhat conservative Christian faith and from their generational expectations – polite people just don’t swear.

***

Fuck taboos. I hate them.

I hate the way they make people feel small and tiny. Limited.  Controlled.

I hate the way they are wielded like weapons at dinner parties – in polite conversation, we don’t talk about politics, religion, or money – or touted on blogs as the guidelines for being invited in – “swearing is unnecessary.”

I hate the way that people judge each other – and themselves – when people “air their dirty laundry” as if sharing our pain is somehow violating the limits of proper etiquette.

No.  No!

I believe in hanging it all out – the shit stains and the blood marks and the semen etched by love and loathe into the sheets. Because when we hang it all out, the air gets in and opens it up, opens us up.

Because when we show ourselves, even the inky, burnt parts we normally keep turned inward, we heal.  We breathe again.

***

Someone surely is going to say that there are limits to what we should share and when. . . . and I don’t disagree . . . at least not with the idea that we can be wise about what and whom we open up to.

I do, however, disagree with the “should” because “should” is an agent of control that comes from someone other than ourselves.  “Should” is that pesky, belittling voice that silences us because it is almost never coupled with “breathe” and “rest” and the honest touch of a warm hand.  “Should”- and its brother “should not –  are the voices that shout, not the ones that caress.

I am a Christian. I have been taught for almost four decades what I should and should not do, what it is to be “good” and what it is to be “bad.”  More often the lessons on “good” washed over me like silk that flowed to other people – the girl who was prettier, thinner; the boy who read his Bible more; the woman who always smiled – but without fail, the “bad” sunk into me like acid, leaving my skin intact and burning into my skeleton.  The “should” sticks.  The “good” doesn’t.

So I have found my way past the “should” and “should not” to the space beyond that, where God, in all God’s goodness, whispers love and hope and the kind of forgiveness that is about moving forward not miring down.

***

My mother died from cancer just over three years ago. Even when she was in agonizing pain, she didn’t swear.  She didn’t complain.

I wish she had. I wish she’d let loose with every expletive that came to her as the cancer wracked her body.  I wish she had screamed out the blood that was murdering her minute by minute.

But she didn’t.  She spoke love to us even then.  “I love you . . . ”

Every day.  Every day, I am grateful that I was raised in a family where love overcame everything. . . even the taboos we taught ourselves.  Every day, I’m glad my father’s brow just furrows when I swear . . . and that then, I feel his calloused, soft hand on my shoulder as he whispers, “I’m so proud of you.”

Andi Cumbo-Floyd is the author of  The Slaves Have Names: Ancestors of my Home. She blogs regularly at andilit.com, and you can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

 

All of Jen Pastiloff’s events, including Tuscany and Mexico, listed here.

Join Jen at a writing retreat in Mexico this May!  Jennifer Pastiloff is part of the faculty in 2015 at Other Voices Querétaro in Mexico with Gina Frangello, Emily Rapp, Stacy Berlein, and Rob Roberge. Please email Gina Frangello to be accepted at ovbooks@gmail.com. Click poster for info or to book. Space is very limited.

Join Jen at a writing retreat in Mexico this May!
Jennifer Pastiloff is part of the faculty in 2015 at Other Voices Querétaro in Mexico with Gina Frangello, Emily Rapp, Stacy Berlein, and Rob Roberge. Please email Gina Frangello to be accepted at ovbooks@gmail.com. Click poster for info or to book. Space is very limited.

courage, Guest Posts, Video

The Bravery Tapes.

December 13, 2013

The Bravery Tapes.

By Jens Erik Gould.

 

Why bravery?

It helps build a better world. It’s inspiring to watch people doing acts of courage in the face of adversity. It shows us the resilience of the human spirit, and inspires us to be brave in our own lives. This can be powerful because it stirs up the emotions and moves people deeply.

The problem is that we often don’t examples of bravery even though they’re all around us. People do acts of courage on our streets, in our office buildings, in their cars as they pass by. They’re everywhere; yet we don’t know it. Bravery Tapes aims to uncover these stories and acquaint people with them in a moving way, so that they will be inspired in their own lives. Even if someone makes the smallest change in their lives, it’s worth it. That’s growth.

Take a look at the most recent Bravery Tapes episode (below) that was released this week.

Ted Wiard had the classic, all-American life: he was a schoolteacher and tennis pro who married his high school sweetheart and had two beautiful daughters. Then in a short time period, his brother, wife, mother-in-law and two daughters all died. It was tragic. Ted could no longer bear the pain and had thoughts of ending his life. But he found the courage to turn everything around and use these awful experiences as fuel to help others. In beautiful Taos, New Mexico, he opened Golden Willow Retreat, the country’s first treatment center dedicated to grief and loss. Hopefully people will see this video be inspired to be better in they’re lives.

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Jens Erik Gould is a journalist, singer-songwriter and creator of the web series Bravery Tapes. He is currently TIME Magazine’s main contributor from Los Angeles, and has reported from over a dozen countries for The New York Times, Bloomberg and National Public Radio. Bravery Tapes has been featured in the LA Times, TIME and Huffington Post. As a musician, Jens has released three albums, has performed in multiple countries and performs regularly across Southern California. His most recent record “Guns Down” was released in 2012.

Guest Posts

At My Worst.

July 19, 2013

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black

By Amy Roost.

Jennifer Pastiloff’s work has inspired me to be more authentic in my own writing. Below is my bravest piece of writing yet. It will be published in a local newspaper on Thursday and they have the rights to it for 10 days afterward. I need to tell you a brief story about how it came about:

A young women (a former high school classmate of my son) was killed at 4am last Thursday morning when the car she was a passenger in was t-boned by a fire truck. An open container of alcohol was found in the car and the driver (who survived) was a 44-year old man. If you’re interested in the details, you can access it thru this link: http://www.pomeradonews.com/2013/06/20/one-killed-when-fire-truck-vehicle-collide-in-poway/

What disturbed me was not just the tragic end to a young woman’s life but the comments at the bottom of the article about the accident, essentially blaming the victim and showing great insensitivity toward the girl’s family.

This column was inspired by the reaction of some in our community to her death and it is dedicated to her memory.

 

AT MY WORST By Amy Roost.

At my worst I drove my car when I’d had too much to drink; I called my kids names; I had an affair.

At my worst I let my ailing aunt’s phone call go to voicemail; I yelled at a customer service representative for a company policy she had nothing to do with.

At my worst I drove without insurance; I tattled on my brothers; I brow beat an employee.

At my worst I gossiped about friends; I stole a rabbit’s foot from 7-11; I pretended I’d read a book when I hadn’t.

At my worst I didn’t brush my kids’ teeth for a week; I played hooky from work; I yelled obscenities at my husband.

At my worst I made my children late for school so I could stop at Starbucks for a coffee; I talked during a movie.

At my worst I drove with bald tires; I didn’t send a sympathy card; I got in the “15 Items or Less” line when I had twenty items.

At my worst I failed to pick up after my dog; I had an abortion; I went on vacation instead attending a dear friend’s funeral.

At my worst, I jumped a long line at a freeway exit ramp; I stole money from my dad’s coat pockets.

At my worst, I looked the other way when I saw a mother slap her child in the grocery store; I told a white lie for having missed a friend’s birthday party.

When I meet my maker, I’m sure I’ll have some ‘splainin’ to do. Who knows, I might even be sent back for a “do over” or reincarnated as a tick? However, if she’s been paying attention, my maker will know that, at my best, I was loving, tolerant, understanding and kind.

Marilyn Monroe once told an interviewer “I’m selfish, impatient and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I am out of control and at times hard to handle. If you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best.” The same applies to me. My life is full. Full of mistakes. Full of love. Full of gifts. Full of catastrophe to paraphrase a term coined by the stress-reduction and mindfulness expert Jon Kabat-Zinn.

Full catastrophe living does not mean disaster–it means living in acceptance of the whole of life, saying yes to the enormity, the full range, of our life experience. There are major crises in everyone’s life. And, yes, there is death and disaster. But there are also all the good deeds and offerings that, along the way, add up.

There are fires and floods, open containers of alcohol in your child’s car and strained marriages. There are pregnancies that go horribly wrong and also children who won’t clean their room. Refrigerators that leak. Jobs that are menial and bills we can’t pay. There are lovers and there are lonely nights. There are crushed expectations. Melted eyeglasses. Traffic. Toothaches. At our best we respond well to these tests. At our worst, not so well.

Those who know me well, and who know that at my best I have contributed value, would never condemn me based solely on what I did at my worst, nor would I them. They would accept that none of us is perfect, we have all been at our worst and we have all been at our best. As such we are all human and works in progress. Hopefully, we learn from the worst growing in strength and wisdom. Hopefully, we can stop ourselves before condemning another’s worst and instead dance together through this full catastrophe–dancing each other, as Leonard Cohen would say, “to the end of love”.

 

 

 

airport skepticismHer multi-dimensional suchness, Amy Roost, is a freelance writer, book publicist, legal and medical researcher, and vacation rental manager. She and her husband are the authors of “Ritual and the Art of Relationship Maintenance” due to be published later this year in a collection entitled Ritual and Healing: Ordinary and Extraordinary Stories of Transformation (Motivational Press). Amy is also Executive Director of Silver Age Yoga Community Outreach (SAYCO) which offers geriatric yoga teacher certification, and provides yoga instruction to underserved seniors.

 

The Manifestation Workshop in Vancouver. Jan 19th. Book here.

The Manifestation Workshop in Vancouver. Jan 17th. Book here.

 

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above.

Guest Posts, healing

Confessions of an Imperfect Life.

November 9, 2012

This is another follow-up post to The “What Happens When You Admit Out Loud That You Are Scared” post by my anonymous blogger. If you haven’t read it yet, click here and read it before you proceed.

Ok, now we can proceed.

She is no longer anonymous. Her name is Katie Devine. And, based on the outpouring of love and support she has started her very own blog called Confessions of an Imperfect Life.

 

I asked her how it felt to have been so open and vulnerable and this is what she said…

Two weeks ago, after an amazing Manifestation retreat in Ojai, I sent Jen an email expressing my frustrations about not being able to open my heart fully at the retreat–or in my everyday life. It revealed feelings I had never expressed, in words I had never written or spoken out loud. Jen posted it anonymously on her blog, asking the question “What Happens When You Admit Out Loud You Are Scared?”. It was my heart, raw, open and exposed.

So here’s what happens, if you’re me:

PANIC: Holy crap, what did I just do?!?! What is everyone going to think?

(Immediately after)

RELIEF: I don’t have to keep this all inside. I don’t have to be “strong”. I don’t have to be alone.

(Immediately after that)

SUPPORT. COMPASSION. EMPATHY. I am NOT alone.

LOVE.

LOVE.

LOVE.

The outpouring from strangers, from friends is almost overwhelming. People I have never met offering hope, insight, hugs, and love has humbled me. I could never have imagined the kindess of strangers would turn towards me in such a powerful way. It has, quite literally, changed my life.

The other thing I have learned from this experience? Not everyone understands. Some friends I have opened up to prefer fun Katie, who entertains with crazy stories, and doesn’t cry at dinner in the middle of a restaurant. Who are uncomfortable knowing that there is another layer buried beneath. And it’s sad. But then there are the friends who know to hug you while you are crying at dinner, admitting that you have problems with food and you still can’t even really say the words out loud, who make you feel like it just might be worth it.

This is just my first step. I have started blogging to try to work through some of these issues, but I have not yet shared my blog with many of my closest friends or any of my family members. I haven’t even been able to post a link to my Facebook yet. I’m working towards living more openly with everyone in my life. I will get there.

 So what happens when you admit out loud that you are scared? As one reader so astutely and eloquently offered “life softens”. And it has. Conversations have gone deeper, interactions are more thoughtful. Not having my guard up all the time has given my head the space to really listen, my heart the room to really love, and my soul the freedom to begin to heal.

Thank you. For encouragement, for acceptance, for advice, for love. I read every reply many, many times and have imprinted them on my brain and on my heart forever. I hope that I can someday impact someone else’s life the way each of you have impacted mine.

Please connect with Katie and follow her blog here.

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