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elizabeth crane

Books, Converse-Station

The Converse-Station: Elizabeth Crane interviews Megan Stielstra.

July 21, 2014

Hey there, Jen Pastiloff here. I’m the founder of The Manifest-Station! Welcome to the newest installment- The Converse-Station: A place where writers interview writers. Today’s interview is between Elizabeth Crane (my good bud) and Megan Stielstra. 

If you are a writer and have someone you want to interview or have a pitch, please email Angela Giles.*

By Elizabeth Crane:

Megan Stielstra is my friend. Megan has a badass collection of essays out now from Curbside Splendor called Once I Was Cool, and she has sixteen or five jobs, something like that, as well as a husband and a kid and a dog, but I would advise against asking her how she juggles it. She juggles it like I juggle approximately a third of what she juggles, shit just gets juggled, and sometimes things drop, and that is why we are friends.

Continue Reading…

Dear Life., Guest Posts

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

February 23, 2014

By Elizabeth Crane.


Dear Life!

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

Elizabeth Crane answers today’s DEAR LIFE.

Dear Life,

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

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

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

Thanks, K.


Dear K.,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~Elizabeth Crane.

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


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

All Jen Pastiloff’s events listed here. Up next is NYC Sat Sep27.Click here to book.

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

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


Click to order Simplereminders new book.

Click to order Simplereminders new book.

And So It Is, Grief, Guest Posts, healing, loss, love

Nothing Is Just One Thing. By Elizabeth Crane.

February 6, 2014

Nothing is just one thing.  By Elizabeth Crane.


The last few days have involved a combination of gratitude and morbid reflection.  The inevitable losses that result from addiction somehow still never fail to shock me, though I have not had a drink in nearly twenty-two years and I’ve seen more than a few people die at this point.  It wasn’t until the news about Philip Seymour Hoffman that I thought about how many there have been – which turns out to be too many to count – I keep thinking of others.  Sometimes you see it coming, sometimes you don’t, and for me, most of the times, I just don’t want to.  I’ll make up reasons why this one or that one is an exception so that my friends will all live forever, or at least until after I go first.  The people I’ve met in recovery are some of the most phenomenal people I know; some have come back from homelessness and prostitution to build lives they could once barely imagine.  My own drinking story is less dramatic; think of your most self-pitying girlfriend and add in a bunch of booze (whatever was available/free) and poor decision-making and that’s about as interesting as it gets. When I quit, I had reached a point where I imagined going on like that for the rest of my life, maybe never even missing a day of work at the job I hated and for sure never having any more money than I did then (which was in fact, substantially negative), or a relationship that lasted longer than four months, and I saw a way to change that worked for me.

When I was newly sober, Phil was part of a crew of my closest friends.  He wasn’t my closest friend, I want to be clear about that.  We had many delightful conversations, but we weren’t I’ll call you when I get home kind of friends.  We were close with a lot of the same people (who I did call when I got home), and I often saw him on a daily basis.  That was two decades ago.  But it was a critical time in my life.  I cannot overstate how much each person in that group meant to me, then and now; we were part of a greater thing, and we all helped each other whether it was deliberate or not.

Over the years, many in that group moved away from NY, including myself.  In Chicago, I found a new group of people to break my daily bread with, and as we built our new lives, we all had less time to gather every day.  I have kept in touch with those who aren’t close by, and we’ve always found ways to keep tabs on each other, pre-social media and pre-email.  We used the phone.  We wrote letters!  Crazy.

I’m not getting to it here.

It’s been twenty-two years.  Countless individuals have helped me change my life, countless more help me keep it changed.  But there’s a special place in my heart for the people I met at the beginning.  And losing one of them feels different – shocking, frightening, heartbreaking, cause for a broad, unbidden life review.  The short version is that it’s good now, life.  I’m happy and well, I have meaningful work and healthy relationships with people.  I’m also married to a sober person, and yet it’s not until just now that I’ve stopped to really consider the flip side of that.  We continue to do what we need to to maintain our sobriety, but it is part of our makeup to want to drink or use.  Relapse happens.  There’s a lot of talk in the media right now that makes me want to scream, the idea that we can just suddenly decide to not drink or take drugs, and that it’s a moral failing somehow when we can’t.  We drink and take drugs because it’s what we’re wired to do.  I’ve said many, many times that I think it’s just incredibly hard to be awake and conscious in the world.  Shitty things happen kind of non-stop.  People die.  That’s just the deal.  Spectacular things happen too, which is the part of the deal that makes the other part of the deal worth shaking on.  But the feelings associated with the relentless input of life can often present themselves as unbearable, and plenty of people can have one beer or one hit off a joint and resist taking another.  Alcoholics and addicts don’t have that luxury, not in my view, but we’re really, really good at making up stories about it.  Maybe I should just speak for myself.  I’m really good at making up stories about it.  “Oh, I never crashed a car.  Oh, I never drank as much as so and so did.  Oh, it wasn’t really that bad.  Oh it’s been a long-ass time now, I’m older and wiser and sure it will be different.  Oh, I’ll just take one extra painkiller, just this once – it’s prescribed!”  And so you have one, but for an addict or an alcoholic, as they say, one is too many and a thousand isn’t enough.

I’m still not getting to it.  Maybe I don’t even know what it is.

So Phil died, and our friends are crushed, and I’m in shock and yet I feel lucky and amazed that I’m here.  I don’t know how I got to be this age.  (My thirty-fifth high school reunion is this year.  Wha-huh?)  That’s shocking too, because not many people get to be this age without a lot of losses.  Both my parents are gone now.  I’ve been back in NY for a couple of years, where I grew up, where I drank and where I quit, fueling my bittersweet nostalgia for that time of early sobriety in particular, crossing Columbus Circle with eight or ten friends through rain and slush and sunshine to our favorite coffee shop; we had a big round table in the window that was almost always held for us.  I think of all those guys – and it was a guy-heavy group, though I had many sober women friends too – and how I had crushed on almost all of them for one five minutes or another even though I was in no position to be seriously involved with anyone at that time – and according to some greater plan, wouldn’t be for another ten years.  (It worked out right.)

Maybe there’s nothing to get to.  Oh yeah, gratitude and morbid reflection.  I think we exist in a culture where we still think in black and white so much of the time.  So and so should have not taken drugs, obvi.  This is right, that’s wrong.  You’re happy or you’re sad and if you’re sad you should get happy.  But that’s not my human experience. I exist in a place where I feel at once profoundly conscious of what I’ve been given in this life, and also how quickly that goes.  I feel grateful, giddy, on occasion, at the bounty that’s been given to me, but it’s not mutually exclusive of feeling impossibly sad.  They coexist, more or less constantly.  I’d much prefer an easier, softer way.  I haven’t found one yet, but I have found one that works for me.


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


Jennifer 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 a Manifestation retreat is. Check out her site 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. 

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

It’s Everything. By Elizabeth Crane.

September 22, 2013

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

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

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


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


Elizabeth Crane

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

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

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

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

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


For more on Elizabeth check out her site:

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

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

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

Thanks Elizabeth. You did. Love, that is.

xo jen