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Family, Guest Posts

Only in My Imagination?

June 22, 2020
jimmy

By Jackie Bivins

When COVID-19 hit, life as we knew it came to an abrupt end.  We shifted from a “go-go-go” lifestyle to a complete stand-still. With so much time at home while quarantined, worries and fears can be overwhelming. Will this ever end?  If so, what will the world then look like? There is so much speculation about the “new normal.” But the reality is that it’s unknown; no one can define or predict what havoc or healing exists in our future.  As a result, so many of us are seeking comfort in the past. We are looking to our memories for a sense of stability, joy, and reassurance.  We are looking to the time when the future felt beautiful, unlimited, and full of possibilities.  Remembering what it was like when we were safe in the cocoon of those halcyon days can allay that middle-of-the-night panic.  It is, at the same time, a wonderful opportunity to share our stories, the very things that connect us with others.

 This is one of mine.

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As a child I had an imaginary friend named Jimmy Raspberry. I would picture him sitting next to me on the forest green sofa when I watched tv, or helping me arrange the brightly-colored food packages from my prized cardboard grocery store, or watching me as I played board games like Candyland, Checkers, or Parcheesi –all made for two, or at least more than one.

Jimmy was tall with curly, raven-colored hair. He smiled often and his hazel eyes always held a twinkle. He was never cross, nor was he ever too tired to play. He seldom argued. With Jimmy, I was less alone. I was bolder.

The fantasy I most enjoyed enacting with Jimmy started with us tiptoeing into my parents’ room. Jimmy would stand sentinel as I took my mother’s pale blue suitcase from the bottom of her closet then started to carefully pack a lemon-yellow chiffon cocktail dress, a long tan full skirt made of stiff and quite wrinkled cotton, and a lime green silky blouse. I loved my dress-up box full of Mama’s discarded clothes, and these were my most cherished items. Sometimes Jimmy would suggest I pack the camel-brown clutch bag or remind me to include the red wool jacket.

Once done I would drag that suitcase through our ranch-style home. Jimmy would offer to help but I always refused. I knew I was strong enough to do it myself. The game was to pretend Jimmy and I were embarking on a grand expedition. That meant going somewhere, anywhere.

The reality is that during my childhood our small family of three — Mama, Daddy and me — rarely ventured far from home. When we did it was to see the same old places. Vacation time meant driving from our home in Rockville, MD to visit relatives in and around Richmond and to spend time by what native Virginians always called “the rivah”, no matter which of the state’s five rivers it was. I never brought Jimmy along on these trips because they were too boring. Instead, I would spend those car rides day-dreaming that we were finally on our way to a destination that involved neither swimsuits and fishing rods nor relatives.

My mother was a typical housewife of the 1950s.

Monday was wash day; white fluffy sheets and pink and green striped towels came first, followed by a cavalcade of shirts, pants, pjs, and underwear.

Tuesday was ironing day; Mama would never miss a wrinkle as she skillfully maneuvered that shiny metal contraption around all the buttons on Daddy’s dress shirts.

Wednesday was dedicated to the kitchen; Mama routinely scoured every surface, washed down all of the appliances, and mopped the checkered linoleum floor, although most of the time none of these were in any need of cleaning. Wednesdays were also when Mama would reward herself with a whiskey and soda before starting to cook dinner.

Thursdays and Fridays were for the rest of the house, beginning with the den and the seldom-used dining and living rooms. Mama would drag the mint green Hoover canister vacuum from room to room, intent upon sucking up non-existent dirt. She dusted any surface she could find, arranged magazines on the coffee table exactly one inch apart, and scrubbed the bathrooms so hard the smell of Ajax lingered for hours.

Periodically Mama gave herself permission to deviate from that routine. On those days we would drive to Congressional Plaza, an L-shaped outdoor shopping center on the other side of town.  Mama loved to visit J.C. Penney’s, or “the Penney’s” as she liked to call it. She didn’t care much about buying clothes, but enjoyed browsing, occasionally picking up towels, sheets, and other knickknacks for our house.

Woolworth’s was another frequent stop. Once there, sewing notions; hair products; personal care items; housewares; and, various “as seen on tv” gadgets vied for her attention. We would take a break at the luncheon counter for an ice-cold frothy Coke, or “Coca Cola” as my southern relatives called it.

The shopping trips ended with a visit to Cartwright’s stationery. Mama was always on the lookout for greeting cards. To her, maintaining good manners meant sending the proper card, whatever the occasion. Family members and friends came to expect them from her on holidays others would fail to acknowledge. St. Patrick’s Day? Mama was ready. Fourth of July as well. She loved Halloween, so that was when she excelled with cards funny or “scary”.

For Christmas, Mama would begin selecting cards in October. Shortly after Thanksgiving she would spend several hours a week at the kitchen table with the cards splayed out in front of her. She couldn’t just address a card and send it out, no!  She had to write a lengthy, detailed note for each one. Mama wouldn’t have liked the current trend of standardized, Christmas letters.  She would have found them rather cold and distant. She personalized the messages for each intended recipient.

Mama set high standards for herself, and she found security in maintaining her routines.

Most days Mama would start cooking dinner at about 4:30 in the afternoon. Daddy’s day at Washington Technological Associates, where he managed a large group of machinists, officially started at 8:30 a.m. and ended at 5:00 p.m., so Mama planned for a 5:30 dinner. I would help set the table and place the hot dishes down. Just as we were finishing, Daddy would drive his white and black two-tone Oldsmobile down the driveway.

Except on Fridays. That was a special day. Fridays we alternated between dinner at Howard Johnson’s or McDonald’s. To me the food at Howard Johnson’s seemed bland and mediocre, but Mama loved their clam rolls and Daddy always appreciated their ice cream cones. McDonald’s, newly opened and thus a novelty, was my preference, with its juicy cheeseburgers and salty fries. That was until the Italian spot, Luigi’s, opened downtown. On summer evenings as we drove by with the car windows rolled down, we could smell the appetizing aroma of garlic wafting out. My parents eventually expanded our Friday night rotation to include Luigi’s, with its red-checkered table cloths and wine bottles with colorful wax drippings.  They also added Shanghai’s Chinese, where a tall golden dragon beckoned us to enter.

Just past my seventh birthday my parents decided that on Fridays, and Saturdays too, I could stay up until they went to bed, which was usually around 11 p.m.  Determined not to miss a single thing, I would curl into the scratchy plaid La-Z-Boy lounger where the aroma of my Daddy’s Old Spice aftershave always lingered. It was comfy, too comfy. I would struggle to keep my eyes open, lulled by the sounds of the tv and my parents’ muted voices.

One Friday night was different.

I had changed into my purple flannel pjs and taken my usual spot. Mama was wearing her blue and white striped robe, and she’d settled into her favorite chair next to the tv. Daddy, in crisply pressed pjs, was in the midst of one of his nightly series of solitaire games.

Just as my eyelids started to droop, I heard Mama say, “I think it’s time we took Jackie to New York City.” What?

This startled me given our usual travel plans. Mama was also prone to having a shot or two, well maybe more, of Seagram’s 7 on Friday nights so I wasn’t sure if it was the whiskey talking or not. I had barely absorbed her comment when Daddy then looked up to say, “Okay, we can go next weekend.” What!

Once Daddy started playing solitaire, he glanced frequently at the tv but rarely talked. This made his acquiescence even more surprising. Whaaat???

My mother’s suggestion promised new horizons far beyond what my imagination had ever conjured up.  Jimmy would definitely be joining me for this adventure.

Today Rockville, Maryland is a sprawling suburb. Back then Rockville was a sleepy southern town. The county courthouse, more than 150 years old, dominated the downtown landscape.  The Villa movie theatre, our only nearby cinema, showed films that had long since disappeared from screens in more metropolitan locales. Pumphrey’s Funeral Home was the area’s fanciest house. It adjoined Chestnut Lodge, the mental hospital for the rich and famous. Both of Henry Fonda’s wives were treated there; so was F. Scott Fitzgerald’s wife Zelda. Whenever one of the patients escaped a siren blared so loudly it could be heard throughout the town. That was the biggest excitement Rockville proper had to offer.

Where we lived, about eight miles beyond the city limits, was even sleepier. Dairy farms dotted the rural landscape; horses and their riders would trot down the roughly paved roads; houses were set far apart; and, it was at least a thirty-minute drive to the nearest grocery store.

Before settling in Glen Hills, the name of our suburb of a suburb, we had looked at numerous homes, including several located in lovely neighborhoods that were at least within the “city” limits. While my parents found fault with the size of rooms, the workmanship, or some other aspect of these houses, I felt an immediate sense of belonging within their walls. I wanted so badly for my parents to say “yes” to any of them.

They had other ideas. When they discovered Glen Hills, they were seduced by the opportunity to build a home customized just for them and quickly purchased a plot of land there. When they told me of their decision, that we would be moving to the country, I wanted to throw a tantrum, but I silently cried instead. Even all these years later I can envision one of those houses I loved, nestled on one of Rockville’s prettiest tree-lined streets.

From as early I can remember, before I was a flower girl in my Aunt Joyce’s wedding, still so shy that the experience is almost obliterated from memory, I knew I wanted more.

Before I envisioned being a member of the Mickey Mouse Club and memorized all the names of the Mouseketeers, I knew I wanted more.

Even before I understood how letters formed words that told stories, I knew I wanted more than country life offered.

I wanted street lights, nonexistent anywhere around us, that could help me navigate unexplored pathways. I wanted sidewalks, squares or rectangles uniform in their symmetry, instead of having to make my way to the school bus stop through tall, itchy grasses. I wanted to visit my friends without having to ask my mother to drive me then waiting and waiting and waiting while she insisted on changing her clothes, combing her hair, spraying on perfume, and applying a coat of lipstick before we left.

I wanted city noises like the ones I heard on tv, the constant hum of traffic, the cacophony of accented voices, the squeal of horns, an occasional wailing siren that signaled mysterious dangers.

Most of all I wanted and knew intuitively but could not articulate in my youth was to feel the confidence that surges through my body whenever I encounter a vibrant metropolis. It’s where I can be the true me, the more intriguing me, the better me. It’s where I can don a cloak of invincibility.

A week after I overheard my parents’ unexpected agreement to venture to New York we packed our red leather suitcases, checked windows and door locks, and were on our way.

We left around noon with Daddy having taken a half-day off. He had shed his tie and rolled up the sleeves of the starched white Oxford shirt he had worn to work that morning. His thick black hair, which was freshly cut and tamed, was sleek and sat close to his scalp.

Mama’s shirtwaist dress reminded me of candy, with a plaid pattern of butter yellow and milky chocolate. She had slept in her pink foam curlers all night but you couldn’t  tell now. That morning she’d sat at her antique vanity applying her makeup.  She started with foundation, added a bit of rouge to her cheeks, and drew in completely new brows with an eyebrow pencil.  She looked transformed in her signature Revlon “cherries and cream” lipstick.

I had carefully put together my outfit, trying to look more like the teen girls I had glimpsed in magazines than a chubby second grader. I wore a blue cardigan, which I had unsuccessfully tried to drape around my shoulders, a blouse of a similar hue, and a poodle skirt Mama bought me just for the trip. I thought I looked sophisticated, not like a girl from the country.

We stopped at the Maryland House, (a landmark I would later visit countless times) for a quick lunch. The Maryland House was known for its crab cakes. The secret was lots of Old Bay seasoning mixed in with the meat of the Chesapeake Bay’s succulent blue crabs.

When lunch was over, we returned to the Oldsmobile. We took off our winter coats as the heater hummed along. Daddy never liked to listen to the car radio so it was very quiet inside. Having grown up as one of six children, he enjoyed being able to hear his thoughts. Mama leafed through the stack of magazines she had brought with her, including recent issues of Life and the Saturday Evening Post. I sat in the backseat, no seatbelt, alternating between laying half-way down reading my book and sitting up straight to peer out the windows. Jimmy sat quietly beside me with nothing to do.

It was the longest trip in the world.

Maryland and Delaware were just miles of rolling countryside that looked too similar to home. Then it was on to the New Jersey Turnpike. My parents talked excitedly about its four lanes, the lack of traffic lights, and how the newly installed mile markers made it easy to track our progress north. As I halfway listened to their conversation, I realized that one of the reasons for the trip was to see this new marvel. It replaced the previous route, Highway 1, where travelers would have to frequently slow down as they drove through town after town. I wasn’t impressed by what I viewed as just another dull road. I was tired of being cooped up. I would have loved to get out and stretch my legs but I didn’t want to take the time. I was thirsty but stopping for a drink would have also taken more time. I wanted to get there already.

We rounded what’s known as the helix, so named because the road spirals down, round and round, from the cliffs of New Jersey to the Lincoln Tunnel that crawls under the Hudson River.

That’s when I saw it, the New York City skyline.

Night was falling. I stared, spellbound, as the tall buildings began to sparkle.  I watched the tiny red lights of cars going up and down the just barely visible highway across the river.

Jimmy Raspberry and I had finally arrived. I let out a huge sigh. It was as if I had been holding my breath until this very moment. Deep within me I somehow knew that this was IT, a place where routines could be shattered and every street would lead to fresh adventures.

For over a decade, Jackie Bivins was a journalist who reported on the retail industry and interviewed many of its pioneers. She lives in the Coachella Valley, and is currently working on a memoir.

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Guest Posts, memories

Enlightenment at Cross Town

May 14, 2019
town

By Brian Michael Barbeito

All the orange crates are scattered, at the Safeway Supermarket in the rain.
–Van Morrison, St. Dominic’s Preview, It’s too Late to Stop Now.

I didn’t have a mind then. I should have perhaps had a mind by then. I was in kindergarten. I went to a school called Our Lady of Fatima, which as I think about it, is nice enough, because later I became on my own terms a sort of Marian devotee. There was a church adjacent to or very close to the school. At midnight mass I would look up and there was for some reason I can’t discern, a ceiling painted with noodle designs, like macaroni and cheese before the cheese is added. I just stared at the noodles. For more than an hour. Midnight mass, which means Christmas Mass for the uninitiated, is longer than an hour. Or at least there is it ran longer. A feeling of depth or spirit was around, but it didn’t have so much to do with the church. Or maybe it did. I didn’t call it ‘A feeling of depth or spirit,’ because I didn’t know what those words meant, and I hardly, if ever, really spoke. They thought a bit earlier on than that, that I was deaf, or partly deaf, and that maybe that was why I didn’t speak. But I was tested by the doctor, and came out all right. So it wasn’t a physical thing. Before that, I had an apgar rating of 9, which is not bad. And a slight heart murmur, not unheard of either. So I checked out. Who is to know? Who can see the whole of any of us, cosmically speaking? One time they took me to a daycare or after school place, and I remember someone saying, He doesn’t talk, and the lady that ran it said in a kind but confident response. He will learn to talk here, as he will have to, because there are other kids and he just will.

I never said a word while I was there.

 But the school and the playground and Cross-town. There isn’t much I remember, but there are some things. There was at the playground races to the fence and back, and there was a kid named Johnny who used to run it pretty well. I did okay, but was in the middle of the pack. He was always first or second. I said in my mind, If Johnny can do it, I can. And I kind of trained myself to get better and better. It worked you know. Man. I really got up there through the time. I could lie and say I beat Johnny, and I was a hero or something, but that didn’t happen. I do know I tied him once, and it wasn’t that anyone really noticed, but I showed myself some inner and outer stamina.

I always remembered that.

Somewhere, anyhow.

Years later I changed high schools, from a wealthy area, all the way back to that area, which was not affluent but not poor, but a kind of middle-regular place. That as they say is another story. But when I was there this guy called me over to a table a little time in, and he was with this pretty girl, but the girl was not to become a good friend of mine, but an acquaintance. And the guy a sort of friend, just a bit on past an acquaintance, but not a friend-friend-friend. So I say, What? And the guy comes with this,

I and my friend are having a bet. She seems to think that she remembers you from Kindergarten class, and I say maybe, but aren’t sure. I know this sounds funny but she brought in our class picture and we were discussing it. She says yes, that this person here is you, and I say maybe. Could you tell us if you went to school with us?

So I looked at the picture and saw myself. I said that it was me. And the thing was that he was Johnny, and I told him so, and he remembered that. I had no recollection of the girl, who would be considered gorgeous. It turned out that she spotted me in the picture, but also spotted me for a Big Mac combo at McDonalds one day, and I promised to pay her back. But days went on, though four out of five days I had money in my pocket, it seemed like the days she reminded me to pay her, were weirdly on the exact days I had no money. She became angry, but contained, and thought I was a kind of player or something. Since she didn’t really know me, there was no way to have her know me. So she just began to see me as a liar, which I was technically. But I am not like that. A few years ago I ran a writing group and this poor guy kept coming and so I bought him, (you can’t write this as they say, I know I can’t), a Big Mac Combo each time afterwards, and the other person that ran the group never ever offered to pay. Technically the bill could be split. Gurdjieff has a saying; Nothing shows people up more than money. But yes, the friendship didn’t work out with the girl. She was more mature though the same age, but it also affected her, as in if someone says, She is pretty, and the other person says, Yes, but she knows it.

Going back to kindergarten. I waited after for my grandfather to pick me up. It always seemed a bit overcast, with opaque clouds making up the firmament, and the world seemed grey also. It couldn’t have been like that every single day. But the days I remember were. There was kid with dark hair, and he was singing the lyrics to We Will Rock You, by Queen, and not the chorus, but the beginning lyrics. I remember this. I would much later become a fan of Queen, but at that time I had no idea what the hell he was saying, and he was so intense about it. He was clear and enthralled and intent, sitting on a swing swaying back and forth just a bit while he sang,

Buddy you’re a boy make a big noise
Playin’ in the street gonna be a big man some day
You got mud on yo’ face
You big disgrace
Kickin’ your can all over the place

I think that song must have just come out and he had an older brother or father that had to have played it over and over. The other kid I remember was blonde, and I can picture him perfectly, but don’t know why. He wore a jean jacket with something yellow on the shoulders, like an intentional patch, and he said it was a disco jacket. He was very proud of this. I for certain didn’t know what disco was. Already the very few people I came into contact with knew much more than I, if even about anything at all.

I just stared into space and waited.

For something.

Then.

I guess for my grandfather.

And in high school.

For what I don’t know.

And even now.

For what I certainly absolutely don’t know.

Because my grandfather is long dead.

But I am still trying to get to Cross Town as it were. At least here. See…sometimes my grandfather when he would arrive (I think he was a little bit late sometimes because he moved slowly), would take me before going home to his house, to a set of little stores at the intersection just down from the school and the church. From what I can remember, I have to bet these were places where they had cheap wares, but good things still. Plates, forks, knives, spoons, cloths, cups, saucers, blankets (not a high thread count but not terribly low either), a set of napkins, a holder for a hardboiled egg, some old pictures of pastoral scenes and a blue sky and a white whimsical cloud and a red barn and maybe a stream and a big boulder there, of course little key chains and maybe there was a guy that cut keys in the back and maybe not.

But I didn’t then see these things like some great or even good observer. I couldn’t register them. I was just there looking at dust motes in the air, or maybe the reflection of light on a counter. And many people are like this, especially in childhood. It is nothing so special. It’s just that that is where we were, in Scarborough, instead of say, Illinois, or St. Petersburg, China, Bahamas, The Yukon Territories, Switzerland, Morocco, South Asia (where the DNA science says I am really from), Key West, Africa, or anywhere else the universe could have placed us.

Quietness inside the door and the store, inside of me, even though the soft sound of winter traffic passes by on Victoria Park, or from St. Clair, the intersecting street.

Windows somehow more on the side of dirty, run-down, but not disgusting or dangerous.

I want to think of cloth, fabrics, and utilitarian items and artifacts.

A worldly person knows what things are for and what they do.

To me, they are then if anything, just worlds of metal, copper, some colors, ceramics, frames, maybe plastics, – yes plastics, there are plastics there somewhere,- red, green, maybe they are parts of cheap umbrellas or rain jackets.

All this under a vague light yellow and a dull light that comes in from the windows.

It’s always like late dusk sad there in a sense, no matter what hour a clock would say.

The world is before night, about to blink off, but it never quite does.

I sense now I think also that something tragic is about to happen,- as if we are on the edge of a car accident, or receiving bad news, witnessing or being in a fire, a flood, a war, even a death of some kind.

But nothing really happens like that and one step is taken then the next and the world goes on.

Nobody ever bought me anything then, like a toy car, a key chain, – something, anything, – but I never wanted anything or thought of it. I was a simpleton, a visitor that didn’t really appreciate the wares one way or the other.

The street soon, – and the signs, and so many cars by the dirty, dirty snow with bits of mud and old leaves. Newspaper boxes, people. The world is so normal to everyone it feels like an alien planet to the young boy.

He doesn’t know lyrics, disco, exactly where he is or what he is.

I looked and looked then back at the stores at Cross-town. I was, not because I was special, but because I was not interfered with or talked to that much, in touch with something. It wasn’t a vision of an angel. I wasn’t a message. It was just Source. There is something when there is no mind yet, and that is what the search for full blown enlightenment is after, that nothingness and everything-ness that is there, always there, that we are, but that is obscured by the mind, even though the mind is by definition part of it because it is all One-Thing never begun and never ending. I smelt it, but not with my nose. Maybe it’s like touching the toe nail of God.

How would I explain that to the pretty girl, who bought me McDonalds and thinks I am simple moocher?

I can’t even remember her name anyways.

I wonder if her Grandfather ever took her to Cross-Town.

Brian Michael Barbeito is a Canadian writer, poet and photographer. His recent work appears at Fiction International from San Diego State University, CV2 The Canadian Journal of Poetry and Critical Writing, and at Catch and Release-The Columbia Journal of Arts and Literature. Nominated for two Pushcart Prizes and one Best of the Net Award, Brian is the author of Chalk Lines (Fowl Pox Press, 2013, cover art by Virgil Kay). He is currently at work on the written and visual nature narrative titled Pastoral Mosaics, Journeys through Landscapes Rural.

https://www.amazon.com/Being-Human-Memoir-Waking-Listening/dp/1524743569/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1539219809&sr=8-1

Jen’s book ON BEING HUMAN is available for pre-order here.

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Guest Posts, Surviving, Tough Conversations

On Survival

May 10, 2019

By Serena Trujillo

Step 1:

The trick is to stay alive. Like clockwork. There is a clock that lives in the dining room, it is my fathers. It is the only thing in the house he cleans. The clock looks like marbled wood and is shaped like a stain. I am too afraid to touch it and far too small to reach it. “The trick is oil”, my father whispers as I stretch my body toward the plaque of time, “and keeping it high enough so that you and your sisters cannot reach it”. My father is short, I bet I can reach it in a couple of years. He laughs.

Step 2:

My mother tells me to stomp. “Keep your legs and your head up high.” It is a fifteen minute walk to the coin laundry. We go at night because that is when my parents are awake. I am afraid of the dark but I am not allowed to say so I just stomp. It keeps the cockroaches away. It keeps the dark away. The dark can’t be loud, can it? Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Self Image, Writing & The Body

Powerful Child

March 10, 2019
swim

By Monica Welty

Strong currents of chlorinated, blue silk push against my body and I push right back. I also pull. We work with and against each other: me pushing forward, the water sliding back along my body. Spiraling and bubbling in my wake and then calming until I flip and come back again, heading in the opposite direction. I cup my hand to grab a swirling ball, like a wizard’s spell in his open palm. On land, water cupped in my hand drips down between the crevices of my fingers but in the water, I grab hold of it and use it to my advantage.

I love the muffled world under here. Even though I can’t breathe, it feels as if my chest is heaving like a track and field sprinter. Even though I can’t feel the sweat pouring off me, the salinated beadlets are instantly dissolving into this chemical-laden universe. Even though I feel as sleek and strong as any sea mammal, my skin, my temples, my thighs are pulsing and burning from the hot blood flow of my movement. Until I turn my head to put my ear to the bottom of the pool, all I hear is a tamped down world and the heavy breathing I am not doing. Then, I hear my quick gasp for air, my lifeline, the moment that both fuels me and slows me down. Back into muffled bliss, I feel more keenly the splashing water on my forearm and elbow as they leave the water momentarily in my flurry. Continue Reading…

Divorce, Guest Posts

Not My Happiest Place on Earth

May 26, 2017
divorce

By Heather Grossmann

Mickey Mouse ears and divorce. Probably not an association the relentlessly family-friendly Disney would appreciate, but — with apologies to Walt — one that was cemented for me during a summer years ago and resurfaced recently, when my dad unearthed some architectural drawings of the prenatal Epcot Center.

My complicated relationship with Epcot — well, to the extent that a geodesic sphere and a 5-year-old girl can engage in a “relationship” — began in the early ‘80s. Epcot was a pretty young thing on the eve of its international debut, a stunning 160-foot diameter dome hovering 14 feet in the air in Orlando, Florida. I was a cute pre-K kid on a post-divorce junket, a little thing awash in dreams of pirate boat rides and spinning teacups, 3,000 miles from my hometown of Oakland, California.

I had only just joined the ever-growing ranks of the “children of divorce.” This was the trendiest club in town at a time when the U.S. divorce rate hit its all-time high. But in an age when many parents followed up their separation announcements with a balm of Cabbage Patch dolls and Barbie playhouses, I had something going for me the other members of my not-so-exclusive fellowship did not: My father was the project architect on Epcot.

When my parents sat me down at our kitchen table in the summer of 1982 to say that their marriage was over, there was major upside to the news — the next day, I was going to the Magic Kingdom. I knew something “bad” was happening, but a trip to Disney World? Come on! What could be better than that?

As it turns out, a lot. Continue Reading…

Family, Guest Posts

Childhood Revisited

May 2, 2016

By Liska Jacobs

We end up at my mother’s condominium one Saturday, waiting out traffic. She’s at work and we have the place to ourselves so I begin going through cupboards, rummaging through the pantry and fridge just as I did when I was a child coming home from school. I find the burned DVD with ’84-85’ written in my father’s hand in the back of her DVD collection. The air conditioning switches on, there’s a comforting hum that we don’t have in our one bedroom apartment in Pasadena, and we’ve filled a bowl with Goldfish crackers, opened a bottle of sparkling water. We press play.

Fuzz and then a plump young dad, hardly recognizable—younger than either my husband or myself are now. He’s video taping his wife who’s even more unrecognizable, just a girl with big auburn curls and thin, thin arms. How could she have birthed twins? But there they are—my twin sister and me—two baby girls, one dark the other fair.

Then it cuts. They’re playing in a blow up pool now. Naked and splashing. The mother pours water on the dark one, the oldest, me, over and over because they both think it’s funny. Get back here Dolly, she calls to the dark one’s twin, who is pale and small and trying to climb out of the plastic pool. Where are you going?  This mother—face and hair so familiar yet alien—calls, splashing at my sister’s backside. Continue Reading…

Anonymous, Guest Posts

Master of One.

April 24, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Anonymous

I learned how to give a blowjob at ten. By eleven, I was an expert. No matter how many hours I spent in front of the TV with a worn Atari controller clutched in my hand, I could never locate Indiana Jones’ Ark of the Covenant. But I could suck one off like a sorority girl after too many upside-down margaritas.

He was a young 20-something, our trusted neighbor. His hair was long, his eyes warm and sad. Sometimes he and his roommate made dinner when Mom stayed late at work to balance the books. For my birthday, he bought Bob Seger’s “Nine Tonight” album and wrapped it with a blue bow – my favorite color. It was an extravagant gift, one my single mom couldn’t afford. But that boy surprised and delighted me. I played the record over, over, over on Mom’s RCA turntable. I memorized every lyric. Sometimes I stood on the coffee table and sang “Hollywood Nights” at the top of my lungs. My hairbrush was my microphone. I was good.

***

I’ve always found it difficult to say no. I don’t like to hurt people’s feelings, don’t want to disappoint. I over-commit and under-deliver. Yes, I’ll organize the preschool party. Yes, I’ll bake four dozen cookies for the Teacher Appreciation Luncheon. Yes, I’d love to take that freelance project. Yes, I’ll edit your manuscript. Yes, I’ll watch your kids.

(P.S. I don’t even like your kids.)

Yes is easier than no. Smooth sailing more enjoyable than whitecaps.

***

My young world was a wonderland of 1970s magic dressed in cut-off jeans. I explored overgrown cornfields, built forts with discarded lumber, beat all the neighborhood boys in sunset games of “Horse.” I hid myself in chicken wire basement storage bins so I could read uninterrupted, the chug of washing machines in the background, the scent of Downy dryer sheets floating on the hot air. I scribbled poems and short stories in my Strawberry Shortcake notebooks. I played 4-Square, SPUD, and Kick the Can until it was time for Kraft macaroni and cheese and a cold glass of 2% milk served on my TV tray, the one with the fold-out metal legs. I wore halter tops knotted around my freckled neck and smoked the butts of my mom’s discarded Merit Ultra Lights.

I gave myself the Sign of the Cross every time I walked into church, asked Jesus for forgiveness in the dark Confessional. “Father, forgive me for I have sinned. It’s been six days since my last Confession. I lied to my mom, tattled on my sister, and had impure thoughts.” I never named the act itself. It seemed an unsavory thing to discuss in a church. I knew He knew. I hoped He forgave. I listened to the nuns, readied my soul for the kingdom of heaven with Hail Marys and Acts of Contrition.

I rode my bike to the drugstore and bought Jolly Rancher sour apple sticks with the change I found under the couch cushions. I sucked their tips into sharp, dangerous points.

 ***

When I think about my childhood, I don’t first think about fellatio. In fact, I can barely recall the pungent scent of stale sweat, the smell of nervousness and sin. There was beer, and often, pot. He smoked the pot. I drank the beer. The smoky haze in the apartment was much more tolerable with an evenly matched fog in my head. Sometimes I drank enough to throw up. I did not understand my limits. He would wipe my face with a warm washcloth, would tune into “Laverne & Shirley” while I rested on the couch, the room swirling and spinning around me. “Schlemiel, Schlimazel. Hasenpfeffer Incorporated.” The couch was faded and worn and smelled slightly of mothballs and bacon. I sank into it, disappeared into the dingy plaid.

He loved me, this boy. He told me so every time.

I loved him back.

But most of all, I loved my mom. My hard-working, breathtaking, raven-haired hero.

***

Once I perfected the oral art form, it was easily transferable. I honed my skills on awkward freshmen with unskilled hands, high school quarterbacks and their cement abs, heavy-breathing frat boys, and strangers in bars. My lips were all-knowing, all-powerful.

I was invincible.

The decision to spit or swallow came later. In the beginning, it wasn’t a conscious choice, but a physical reaction. Later, I chose what I wanted.

Ingest? Expel?

Blowjobs as a metaphor for life. Continue Reading…

Abuse, Dear Life., Guest Posts

Dear Life: What Do I Do About A Sexual Predator?

February 9, 2015

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Hello from London! Welcome to Dear Life: An Unconventional Advice Column.

Your questions get sent to various authors from around the world to answer (and please keep sending because I have like 567 writers that want to answer your burning questions. Click here to submit a letter or email dearlife@jenniferpastiloff.com.) Different writers offer their input when it comes to navigating through life’s messiness. We are “making messy okay.” Today’s letter is answered by my friend Zoe Zolbrod, who also happens to be the fabulous co-editor for The Rumpus on Sundays.

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

Well okay, maybe a little. Aren’t we all? xo, Jen Pastiloff, Crazy Beauty Hunter. ps, I will see you in Atlanta in a couple weeks followed by NYC! 

 

Chicago! Join Jen Pastiloff at her first Chicago workshop Aug 22nd! Book early! " 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. Write renewed, truthful. Float-stumble home." ~ Pema Rocker

Chicago! Join Jen Pastiloff at her first Chicago workshop Aug 22nd! Book early!
” 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. Write renewed, truthful. Float-stumble home.” ~ Pema Rocker

Dear Life,

My cousins are twenty-eight and twenty-nine. He’s related to me on my mom’s side and she’s related to me through their marriage. I introduced them as a couple when we were in high school after he asked me to help him find a girlfriend. Of course, there had been a lot of issues with women up until that point, including some awkward comments from him to me (“You should do a wet t-shirt contest”)… but I thought those remarks were just par for the course, given our shared history. I strongly suspect he is a survivor of sexual abuse. His father (my uncle) molested me as a child. I believe he inflicted similar abuse and passed down his gross attitudes toward women onto his children.

Well, at first, everything seemed great. They start dating and hit it off. He snaps out of his depression, goes back to college, gets a driver’s license and travels to Europe with her. They move in together and years later, he proposes. I was a bridesmaid in their wedding. I consider his wife to be one of my oldest and closest friends. But I’m keeping a secret from her.

Over a year ago, at a party we co-hosted in their new home, I went to hug him goodbye and he stuck his hand down my shirt and squeezed my breast. We both had been drinking. I walked out of his house in shock, but I said nothing to my then-boyfriend on the way home. Well, as it turns out, I’m not the only one he groped that night. Two other friends were also subjected to this assault. I’m calling it assault because there’s absolutely no way this touching was invited. It was a hug. He is my cousin and their friend. None of us wanted this to happen. We don’t even want to be alone with him anymore.

The total (that I know of) now stands at four women who have been groped without permission. Each time, he’s drunk and his wife is out of sight. He clearly has issues with alcohol, but the line has been crossed and he’s acting like a sexual predator. The last time he groped me was three weeks ago. He slid into the backseat of his wife’s car while she walked another friend to the door of her house. He hugged me from the side and I went stiff. He touched my chest and I made my voice firm: “You’re touching my tits, stop it.” I pushed him away, but he reached for me again. When I pushed back, he finally pulled away… and called me a tease. When his wife got back to the car, she looked at him strangely. She asked him what he was doing in the backseat.

Here’s the hard part: she’s pregnant.

I am at a total loss as to how to proceed. I want to protect her, but it’s hard to imagine that she’s not catching on to his drinking problem and his boundary issues with women and the sexual predator side of his personality. What do I do? Silence isn’t protecting me or my friends. I feel responsible for introducing them as a couple, knowing he had issues — but he never tried anything like this when we were teenagers. And it’s not even just happening with only me. I want to protect myself and my friends, but I don’t want to hurt someone who has a lot at stake. Please help.

Signed, Protective

Continue Reading…

death, Guest Posts, loss

Feeling My First Goodbye

January 20, 2015

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By Alana Saltz.

I wasn’t sure my grandfather was going to be aware of what was going on when I read to him from my novel. As I share the words I’ve written, he laughs at my narrator’s self-deprecating humor twice, and that’s how I know that he understands me. After I finish, he struggles to find the words to tell me what the story is about.

“The girl is very…it’s…very internal. It’s mel…mel…”

My sister and I take guesses at what he’s trying to say. Melancholy? Melodic? He shakes his head no. I never find out because he trails off and stares up at the ceiling. I hear the churning of the oxygen machine, see the silent face of Clifford on the TV screen, the show on mute.

Finally, just when we think he’s asleep again, he says, “You have a gift with words.”

I smile and say, “Thank you.”

Three hours later, I’m sitting in the front lobby of the hospice, watching the sun set over snow-covered roofs and bare trees. I’m thinking about how my grandpa barely knew me, only saw me once or twice a year when I visited St. Louis, yet he supported my dream to tell stories and have them heard. He helped me pay for grad school so I could study writing. But I’d never shown him any of my work until today.

There’s a whir of sliding doors behind me. Murmurs of nurses and patients down the hall. Clean couches, bright lights, my mother beside me talking to someone on the phone and complaining about his treatment, the sky dimmer, deeper, darker.

Continue Reading…

death, Family, Guest Posts

The Cemetery.

October 29, 2014

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-blackBy Jane O’Shields-Hayner.

As a red-blooded American girl I grew up with a, pardon the pun, bone deep fear of cemeteries. My cousin Marcia, six years older than I, told me there were skeletons under the beds in the big old two-story house where I lived with my parents, my grandparents and my aunt Vivian. It was a decidedly spooky house to begin with, with old unused rooms and dusty beds never slept in, wearing the same sheets they had for decades. There were shelves full of books, unread in my lifetime and deep, dark closets that went to who knows where under stairways and slanted eaves. Remnants of the years my family spent as ranchers were present throughout this house: kitchen towels made from feed sacks and tack for horses, tools for marking and castrating cattle, which looked like torture devices to me.

It was twilight, always, there. Electric lights were used mostly at night. They hung on chains as small, pear-shaped pendants, or under one-bulb glass shades. Wood frame windows, with layer upon layer of peeling paint let the sun in, but just barely. The pomegranate bushes and apricot trees, untrimmed and old, bounced back most of the light before it entered those windows, so the sunlight happily found another direction to shine, rather than into this old, dusty house.

Inside the dark, foreboding closets there were wood-bound metal trunks and dusty coats hanging, and who knew what lay behind them. My father, a kind man by nature, once disappeared into one of those dark, untraveled closets under a stair with a two by four, and came out with a dead rat and a bloody plank.

Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, love, Self Image

Wayne Dyer’s Daughter Reflects On Being Raised By Spiritual Parents.

November 18, 2013

On Being Raised By Spiritual Parents.

By Serena Dyer.

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People often ask my siblings and I what it was like to grow up with Wayne Dyer as a dad. I usually immediately feel this need to bring up my mom- since she did so much of the “raising” and has probably been the greatest spiritual influence on my dad throughout his life. The funny thing about that is my parents separated over 12 years ago- but they have remained incredibly close, so close that they have never gotten a divorce- they said they never felt the need to.

Whenever I am asked about my parents, usually my Dad, I reflect back on my childhood and feel overwhelmed with a feeling of security and love. My parents- both incredibly spiritual people- loved us unconditionally- and that love can be seen in family photos, when watching home videos, or even in my own mind when I reflect back on what it was like to grow up in my household. I am one of 8 children, and my siblings and I are insanely close. We spend all of our free time together because we really are each others closest friends.

But despite an ideal childhood filled with loving family and spiritually progressive parents that loved every part of me and made sure I knew it, it has been a struggle to find that same kind of unconditional love for myself- and that, I believe, is the most important kind of love we all need in our lives.

If we accept the fact that we cannot give away what we don’t have- then we must also accept the idea that until we learn to treasure every part of ourselves, we will not be able to fully love anyone else either. Love must begin within before we can offer it outward.

And for so many of us, loving ourselves, accepting our looks, being at peace with our bodies, embracing our past, treasuring our insecurities and giving up judgement of ourselves is the hardest thing in the world to do! We can encourage others to love themselves but we cannot allow ourselves to do the same.

I know a lot of people that also grew up with spiritual parents. Parents that told them they were wonderful, beautiful and capable of anything- but they never felt worthy of anything inside. I believe that learning to love ourselves- unconditionally- is one of the hardest things we can attempt in life.

My parents could have been Jesus and Mary and it wouldn’t have mattered- until I learned to love myself! I believe that when we put ourselves down- we are putting down the name of God. We are all little sparks of God- little pieces divinely created with love- and we each came here with a dharma to fulfill. If you want to know what your purpose is, you gorgeous little miracle you, then get quiet and thank the part of you that recognizes that you are indeed a little piece of God. A spark of the great oneness. Begin to honor the God-presence within you, and give thanks for being as magnificent as you are.

It was only when I stopped judging myself and tried loving myself that I began to discover that the universe, God, whatever you want to call it, fully supported me in my efforts and I started getting all “green lights” on my path toward discovering just what my dharma was. When I started attempting deep and profound self-love, the kind great parents offer to their children, I started to feel good- I started to find that the right people were showing up at the right places and my life began to feel more on purpose. Since I began the process of self-love and self-acceptance, the right man came into my life. When I started to offer love to myself on the inside, I started to lose the extra weight I was carrying around because I began to realize that I didn’t need food to give me the feeling of being full, I felt full and complete without food or drugs or alcohol.

The practice of loving myself has been filled with ups and downs- and that is ok- because it is a “practice” and i am still learning to get good at it. The practice of loving myself has brought miracles into my life. As Louise Hay says so beautifully “You have been criticizing yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving yourself and see what happens.”

I have given approving myself a shot, and it has been paying off. I urge you to do the same.

Serena wears my "What Are You Manifesting?" t-shirt.

Serena wears my “What Are You Manifesting?” t-shirt.

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Serena is a graduate of the University of Miami, holding a Master’s degree in International Relations and a Bachelor’s Degree in Religion. While finishing her first book, Serena is traveling and blogging while also maintaining her hobbies of cooking, reading, working to combat human trafficking, and being with her 7 brothers and sisters! Serena has co-authored a book about growing up with spiritual parents with her father, Dr. Wayne Dyer, called “Don’t Die With Your Music Still In You” which should be out in the Spring of 2014. Serena lives in south Florida with her fiance. Her website can be found at serenadyer.com.

Book Girl Power: You Are Enough now! A workshop for girls and teens. Space is limited. Sep 19 Princeton! Sep 20th NYC. The book is also forthcoming from Jen Pastiloff. Ages 13 and up. (NYC is 16 and up due to studio policy.)

Book Girl Power: You Are Enough now! A workshop for girls and teens. Space is limited. Sep 19 Princeton! Sep 20th NYC. The book is also forthcoming from Jen Pastiloff. Ages 13 and up. (NYC is 16 and up due to studio policy.)

Join Jen Pastiloff  and Emily Rapp at a writing and the body retreat in Stowe, Vermont Oct 2015. This will be their 3rd one together in Stowe. Click the photo to book.

Join Jen Pastiloff and Emily Rapp at a writing and the body retreat in Stowe, Vermont Oct 2015. This will be their 3rd one together in Stowe. Click the photo to book.

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