Browsing Tag


courage, death, Fear, Guest Posts, healing, Inspiration, Vulnerability


November 10, 2015

By Klyn Elsbury

A few nights ago, I was wrapped in a blanket, lying on top of an RV off of a scenic overlook in Utah staring up at a sky full of endless, scintillating stars. The air was cool and crisp, delightfully tickling my lungs as they adjusted to the altitude. A handsome man with a beautiful soul was holding my hand and pointing out Venus to the south. Together, we were dreaming about the future. Something that until Orkambi came, I had all but given up on.

I dropped out of college because I started getting hospitalized several times a year, and I believed I would never live long enough to pay off my student loan debt.

I moved to California from Florida for a career in biotech/pharmaceutical recruiting so I could be closer to the companies that were developing the very drugs that would keep me alive. That would give me hope. When I started getting hospitalized every 4 months, I made the choice to leave my corporate career and preserve my lung function via exercise, diet, and adherence to prescriptions that managed the symptoms. I tried to get in on every clinical trial for Orkambi, before it was even called Orkambi, but time and time again I was denied because my lung function was too unstable.

He squeezed my hand excitedly, “did you see that?” referring to a shooting star that emblazoned an almost pitch black night. My heart skipped a beat. I shut my eyes and made a wish that one day, someday soon, I would be on this drug. I opened my eyes to see him smiling back at me.

For the first time in a long time, I believed I would have a future again. I was the first person in clinic the day after Orkambi was approved. However, they couldn’t write a prescription because I needed to go on IV antibiotics first. My lung function was around 50%. It was my 3rd round of IVs this year alone.

Meanwhile, one of my girlfriends locally who got approved for the drug, posted on Facebook that for the first time in years, she woke up without coughing. I can’t imagine a morning where an alarm clock wakes me up instead of a violent core-shaking, gut busting cough.

“Wow!” We both said in unison at yet, another shooting star. Who is lucky enough to see two of them in one night sky? Just moments apart? Surely this means there are good things to come. Waking up without a cough became my second wish. Continue Reading…

Fear, Guest Posts, imagination, Women, writing

On Writing and Rejection

October 25, 2015

By Julianne Palumbo

When I was very young, I used to write poems on 3 by 5 index cards and paste them onto the blank pages of a large scrapbook. Then, I’d crayon pictures next to them, half-circle trees outlined in Electric Lime green with dots of Scarlet red apples scattered below. My coloring was never worthy of the 64-count Crayola box that I relished, the untouched points lining up in a progression of vibrancy. Perhaps my poetry was not much better. It looked small surrounded by all that white space. At seven, I hadn’t yet mastered the art of figurative language. A tree was typically only a tree. Once in a while it was its roots and its branches, but always I wanted it to be as vivacious as the colors in that box.

My parents typically dispensed the appropriate amount of praise when I showed them my poems, always willing to read my new creations and to pass them around to collect the obligatory nods and smiles of relatives. It was enough to encourage me to keep writing.

But, I remember one poem I wrote while passing a few hours at my grandmother’s house. I was seven, and visiting her home always left me feeling like I never could really sink into the chairs she covered with dishtowels before our visit. I would roam around her quiet raised ranch, inhaling the scent of cherry tobacco and mothballs, and scouring the shelves of black and white family photos searching for a likeness of my own face. The wood floors creaked achingly under my quiet steps as I peeked into the lifeless rooms upstairs searching for the perfect place to write.

The poem I wrote that day was about best friends, a boy and a girl, perhaps a friend I wished I had. In the poem, the friends played together all day, and then, when nighttime came, the boy stayed over the girl’s house. I remember showing it to my grandmother who whispered to my mom, pointing to my small paper with her curled and spotted finger. My grandmother handed my poem back to me. “Put it away,” she said.

I remember the embarrassed cry that welled up inside when she informed me that little boys don’t stay with little girls and that I shouldn’t show the poem to anyone else. I remember ripping up the poem and being so embarrassed that I had written it. I snuck it into the trash bin under her sink, wishing it would just decompose among the milk cartons and coffee grinds so it would be forgotten.

I’m not sure why I remember this so vividly. Perhaps it was my first experience with writer’s rejection.

But, the pull to keep writing remained strong. I wrote through high school, contributing to my school newspaper and entering poetry contests, but mostly I wrote for myself. My writing was usually well received as youthful writing often is. Adults are happy when a teen expresses herself in writing. No one really pays attention to the words she says or to the stirrings that hide behind them.

I didn’t experience rejection again until my valedictorian address was spread across the chopping block by a Sister of Mercy at the all girls’ Catholic school I attended. Sister Marie said something about my speech not being religious enough before she took her merciless red marker to my manifesto. I had earned the title of Valedictorian but apparently not the right to say what I wanted at the podium. It was my first attempt at the art of compromise, actually daring to remind her that I was writing the speech and that it was important that I believed in what I was going to say. It was perhaps my first chance to be heard by my peers, really listened to, and I wanted them to know me through my words.

After high school and college, I practiced law for many years. Law, with all its terseness and arid sentences parceled out into tiny billable minutes, parched my writer’s voice. I wrote legal and business articles profusely, but my creative side nearly wilted under the weight of all those legalisms. During those tedious days I longed to return to the imaginative and colorful. I allowed myself to think back on my earlier years and to remember myself as a prolific creative writer.

It was motherhood and all of the overwhelming feelings that come with birthing and raising another human being that brought my pen back to the page. The joys and struggles cried to be vented someplace. It strikes me now that an introvert like me suddenly became so comfortable sharing myself with you and countless readers I’ve never met. If you knew me in person, you would know very little about what I need and what makes me happy. If you read my writing, you will know so much more.

We write to be read, to be understood, and to understand. We write because when someone else reads us and processes her own pain, we have given a gift. You are either a writer or you’re not. You either understand the need to put down words or you don’t. You will either read someone’s writing and desperately need to know them, or you won’t.

I found that old poetry scrapbook the other day. It had been tucked into a cardboard box in my parent’s cellar then moved to my basement when they cleaned out theirs. It surprised me to find that the cover was nothing more than an industrial speckled tan with a thin functional bronze frame thoughtlessly surrounding the word “Scrapbook.”

In truth, I hadn’t even filled half of the pages with my index card poems. The fancy gold cover, the gilded tipped pages, and the large satin ribbon of my memory had been imagined. I had remembered the book teeming with poetry that documented a young girl’s life with the mastery of a memoirist. But, the poems that had seemed so large back then were in fact nothing more than a few words written squarely on pre-penciled lines. They contained barely even a simile, and many of them were loaded with treacherous rhyme.

Inside the scrapbook was my old valedictorian address, written in bubbly letters, blue pen on a stack of oversized index cards, tea-stained by age. It’s funny how those two relics of my writing past found refuge together for those thirty dry years. It’s as if they knew someday I’d return to them.

As I opened the scrapbook and turned its thick manila pages, a small creak in the binding reminded me of that old feeling of putting myself out there and having it torn. I remembered thinking that day that I hadn’t meant any harm by my words.

When I decided to leave my law partnership and take up writing again, I also decided that I would embrace the rejection that would inevitably follow an attempt at a writing career. I vowed I wouldn’t let fear of rejection silence me. Instead, I would drink in each word of criticism like it was the last drop of water in my inspirational well.

We face rejection in so many facets of our lives. Why then is it so difficult to stomach when it comes in the name of improving something important to us?

I submitted my young adult novel manuscripts to professional editors and poured over their redlines like they were treasure maps to the spot where my future best seller was buried. I refused to allow myself to feel the sting of their criticism. Instead, I read between their cryptic lines, sifting out any tidbit or morsel that would help me to reach the better writer trapped deep inside of me. I told myself that the editors were not offering criticism to make me feel bad but because they understood the human need to communicate well. They were helping me to reach my goal, and I wouldn’t allow my pride or my sensitivity to silence my own voice.

There are so many good writers out there. And for each of those, there are that many more who are even better. I read those writers like I am prospecting their gold, sifting their gravel through my strainer. Turning and shaking it until I find that tiny glittering bit that will raise my own writing, inspire me to reach deeper, to try harder. With each critique or rejection letter, I strive to glean something, anything that will move me forward even a step.

Then I come across a piece of writing that makes me stop short, hold my breath, and wish I could have put those very words down in that very same way. Pangs of writer envy, I guess, but not in a way that shuts me down, in a way that makes me root for the writer to continue to spread her gift to the world. I realize that I had to write those simple poems about tree branches that dropped apples in order to write the better ones about trees branches that blossomed.

I turn the page in my old poetry scrapbook and lift the tired satin ribbon that marks the page. There, in the center, is a poem about me.  I read it and I know myself.

I am a writer.

Julianne Palumbo’s poems, short stories and essays have been published in Literary Mama, Ibettson Street Press, YARN, The MacGuffin, The Listening Eye, Kindred Magazine, Poetry East, Mamalode, Coffee + Crumbs, and others. She is the author of Into Your Light (Flutter Press, 2013), and Announcing the Thaw (Finishing Line Press, 2014), poetry chapbooks about raising teenagers. She was nominated for a Pushcart Prize for my YA poem, “Stuffing Bears” and received a Letter of Merit from the SCBWI in the 2014 Magazine Merit Awards. She is also the Editor of Mothers Always Write, an online literary magazine for mothers by mother writers.


Ring in New Years 2016 with Jen Pastiloff at her annual Ojai retreat. It's magic! It sells out quickly so book early. No yoga experience required. Just be a human being. With a sense of humor. Email with questions or click photo to book. NO yoga experience needed. Just be a human being.

Ring in New Years 2016 with Jen Pastiloff at her annual Ojai retreat. It’s magic! It sells out quickly so book early. No yoga experience required. Just be a human being. With a sense of humor. Email with questions or click photo to book. NO yoga experience needed. Just be a human being.



Join Jen for a weekend retreat at Kripalu Center in Western Massachusetts Feb 19-21, 2016. Get ready to connect to your joy, manifest the life of your dreams, and tell the truth about who you are. This program is an excavation of the self, a deep and fun journey into questions such as: If I wasn’t afraid, what would I do? Who would I be if no one told me who I was? Jennifer Pastiloff, creator of Manifestation Yoga and author of the forthcoming Girl Power: You Are Enough, invites you beyond your comfort zone to explore what it means to be creative, human, and free—through writing, asana, and maybe a dance party or two! Jennifer’s focus is less on yoga postures and more on diving into life in all its unpredictable, messy beauty. Note Bring a journal, an open heart, and a sense of humor. Click the photo to sign up.

Join Jen for a weekend retreat at Kripalu Center in Western Massachusetts Feb 19-21, 2016.
Get ready to connect to your joy, manifest the life of your dreams, and tell the truth about who you are. This program is an excavation of the self, a deep and fun journey into questions such as: If I wasn’t afraid, what would I do? Who would I be if no one told me who I was?
Jennifer Pastiloff, creator of Manifestation Yoga and author of the forthcoming Girl Power: You Are Enough, invites you beyond your comfort zone to explore what it means to be creative, human, and free—through writing, asana, and maybe a dance party or two! Jennifer’s focus is less on yoga postures and more on diving into life in all its unpredictable, messy beauty.
Note Bring a journal, an open heart, and a sense of humor. Click the photo to sign up.

Beating Fear with a Stick, beauty, courage, Guest Posts, Inspiration

More Than Enough

October 18, 2015

By Ali Ludovici

As you are, in this moment, you are enough.

It’s easy to forget. It’s easy to succumb to self-doubt, to the nagging voices in your mind. It is easy to fall to the comparison trap. To forget that you are beautiful in your individuality; incredible as you are. You are needed, wanted and loved.

I have struggled for much of my life with feeling inadequate. There was always someone better, more talented, more skilled. There was always someone more intelligent, more beautiful, seemingly more deserving. I sought out external validation. Without their validation I couldn’t trust, couldn’t believe that I was enough. Without approval, I worked harder, tried to be more perfect, more of what they were looking for. I would lose myself to this need to please. I would lose myself to the persona I took on. I would lose myself, thinking who I was wasn’t enough and that I should become someone more, someone better.

  1. I approached the teacher’s desk after class, shame overwhelming me. I wanted to know why I hadn’t received a higher grade. My grade 5 teacher seemed floored. She told me I should be proud of myself; I had received 85% as my final grade. I started to cry. Proud? Proud of what? I had set my standards to 90% and until then, I hadn’t ever not reached that standard. People now expected remarkable grades from me. I had let them down. I was a disappointment.
  1. When I saw her skate, flawlessly, landing jumps I still struggled with, spinning in tight little circles and with such grace and speed. She was mesmerizing where I was graceless. She was talented where I struggled. I would never compare.

Continue Reading…

Beating Fear with a Stick, Eating Disorders/Healing, Guest Posts, healing

Howl Of My Heart

October 13, 2015

By Julia Radke

Eating disorders are shit. You know this. Eating disorders sneak in and whisper you lies that scurry through all the hallways of your brain and make dark little homes in your body. And you listen to the whispers and soon they are yells and you can’t hear your heart anymore. Soon you are saying, “Be quiet heart. I know what is best. The women on TV, they know what is best. The red pills in the top drawer, they know what is best”.

The eating disorder screams and your heart can only whisper. So you forget your heart.

But it does not forget you.

Every day it pumps your blood and it whimpers. It cries quiet little cries, painful mute sobs. It whines and it stammers and it drops silent tears. Until one day you are sitting at your window and your body feels empty but the world looks full without you and all of sudden your heart fucking HOWLS. It howls and you can’t ignore it and the disorder is sending out all of its best men because even it can’t quiet the heart this time. And then someone is holding your hand and saying they are proud of you and you’re entering the hospital and therapists are saying the word ‘relapse’ like it is your name and you’re swallowing mashed potatoes, glorious mashed potatoes, when all of a sudden the months are over and you are leaving the same hospital with a little gold coin that looks like a cheap piece of fake plastic money from a vending machine. Except this time it says “RECOVERY” instead of “PRIZE TOKEN”.

But no one really tells you that recovery is going to be shit too. They say it will be hard, and you will not always want to do it, and it will feel endless. That is true. That is expected. But no one warns you that it will be just as destructive. Recovery destroys your life.

Continue Reading…

Addiction, Awe & Wonder, Guest Posts, healing, Inspiration


October 7, 2015

By Holly Groome

I was four months pregnant and I just left my soon-to-be ex-husband’s house. He told me he wasn’t sure he wanted to reconcile from our separation. I couldn’t drink it away. I couldn’t cut it away. I couldn’t shove my fingers down my throat again. I couldn’t even think about suicide for the second time; not with this life my husband and I created squirming inside of me.

I drove through town, as if someone had injected a grey cloud into my brain. I stopped for a milkshake, simply because. Then I drove on auto-pilot to a tattoo shop. Yes, wretched of me to get a tattoo while pregnant. But the other options to handle my pain weren’t really options.

I sat in the car with a pen and a bank deposit slip, and started numbly scribbling single words to ink into my wrist. About three words in, I had it. ENOUGH.

Twenty minutes later, my 5’1” frame allowed me to softly dangle my feet on the tattoo chair, as I sipped my milkshake like a child, hiding my newly pregnant belly. I sat there as the sweet bliss of the needle dug into my skin. It wasn’t a sick kind of pleasure. It was a relief. These six letters etched into my flesh were telling me what I had to do.

Four years later, I still get asked what the tattoo means. My answer is never the same, for it speaks to me differently, at various shifts in my life.

I smile and say, ENOUGH of the Bullshit. ENOUGH to my bulimia. I am ENOUGH. Sometimes I say all three.

Most understand me. Some almost shudder at my honesty. And some seem completely confused as if I said it in Pig Latin.

I don’t mind the reactions. It’s mine. I own it. It saved my life; literally and more than once. Continue Reading…

beauty, courage, Guest Posts, healing, Inspiration

This Space

October 5, 2015

By Sarah Miller Freehauf

I once filled this space, this body, this dispensable cavity with food—rows of black and white cookies & TV & bedtime. I once filled this space, this body, this dispensable cavity with pills & space where no food was allowed to touch. I once ran on a treadmill for three miles in this space, this body, this dispensable cavity. I moved 200 pounds of this space, that body. After—a man came to me with a smile and asked how many miles did you just run? A man came to me with disbelief and asked how many miles I just carried that big space, that big body, that big dispensable cavity.

My mother used to say you better watch it. My father used to tap and smack our bellies and call us belly-women and I hated him in that moment though loved him deeply every other. My brother used the toothbrush more often than I did. My brother used to feel the praise of coaches and mother and father on how he was trim and good and how that boy body was all Midwestern man. My brother was worse off than I. He ate salad, he dispensed it, he ate salad, he moved his large baby fat ridden teen body until some man at the gym said something to him in disbelief—something that sounded like you are good.

I kept running and moving that space of mine and eating things of the earth and everyone in disbelief said how many miles did you just run? How many pounds did you manage to rid? Everyone in disbelief including the man at the gym and our father and my brother—skinny and in shape and everyone proud of him—everyone in disbelief asked how many miles and pounds did that space, that body, that dispensable cavity rid?

And then because that space is dispensable, because of shame, because of fat stored in a place that it is supposed to be, because everyone in their disbelief—I cut my chest. I let a man cut my chest, I let a man remove, in his disbelief, eleven pounds of fat. I let everyone say in disbelief—your body looks better, looks good, looks healthy, looks small. And this body still has the anchor scars and the cookie scars and rotted esophagus to prove that all the disbelief was believable.

And now I run and men watch. And now I run and my mother says good. And now I eat things of the earth and others say how.

Now—I run. I move my body, my space, my figure, my form and most days it is still not enough. But my body moves and that is good. The moving is mostly enough.


Sarah Miller Freehauf is the Founding Editor of Teenage Wasteland Review–a literary journal just for teens, Editorial Assistant for Divedapper, a reader for [PANK], former Managing Editor for Lunch Ticket, and recently received her MFA in Poetry from Antioch University, Los Angeles. More importantly, she teaches high school English and Creative Writing in the Midwest. Her most recent creative work can be found in Stone Highway Review & Poemeleon.



Join Jen Pastiloff at one of her Girl Power Workshops or On being Human Workshops by clicking here.

Join Jen Pastiloff at one of her Girl Power Workshops or On being Human Workshops by clicking here.

Ring in New Years 2016 with Jen Pastiloff at her annual Ojai retreat. It's magic! It sells out quickly so book early. No yoga experience required. Just be a human being. With a sense of humor. Email with questions or click photo to book. NO yoga experience needed. Just be a human being.

Ring in New Years 2016 with Jen Pastiloff at her annual Ojai retreat. It’s magic! It sells out quickly so book early. No yoga experience required. Just be a human being. With a sense of humor. Email with questions or click photo to book. NO yoga experience needed. Just be a human being.


Binders, Dear Life., Guest Posts, Relationships

Dear Life: Is This The End of My Relationship?

March 10, 2015


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 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 MaryBeth Bonfiglio.

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 NJ & Philly in a couple weeks at my Manifestation Workshop: On Being Human! NYC sold for March 21st is sold out. 🙁

The 12 Day Detox is here. Sign up now. Space is limited.This detox comes at just the perfect time. Reprogram your body and mind as we move into the new season of spring. This is your time of rejuvenation and renewal.This is not a juice fast, or a detox based on deprivation.

The 12 Day Detox is here. Sign up now. Space is limited.This detox comes at just the perfect time. Reprogram your body and mind as we move into the new season of spring. This is your time of rejuvenation and renewal.This is not a juice fast, or a detox based on deprivation.

Dear Life,

I met my current husband when my daughter was 14. We met online. His profile stated clearly that he wanted to meet someone without children. She was not a child anymore. She was a teenager and perfectly able to stay home alone on my date nights. He agreed to date me, and after the third date, we continued. Eight and a half years later, we are still together and married.

Should I have seen the early warning signs? Should I have noticed how she bristled in his presence, how he became awkward and uncomfortable in hers? Should I have paid more attention to that first major fight they got into about how much cheese she wanted to buy when we went on that first trip together to Santa Fe, the nausea that ensued for me, the migraine? My body was being very clear with me, but I ignored it.

She was 16 at the time, and I chalked it up to her never wanting to accept anyone else in my life.  I never moved him into our house. To this day, we still live apart due to work circumstances. To this day, we live apart due to more than that when I’m truthful about it.

She’s 23 now, and things are worse than ever. She’s learned to stand up for herself. She notices the language of control. She hears the cadence of judgment. She will not abide with his way of being. Recently, her car broke down and she called to get my help with the situation. While I was speaking with her, he had a suggestion. She heard him in the background, and told me to tell him that this was between us. He would not be quiet. He persisted. So, I handed him the phone. It was the biggest mistake I could have made. He kept trying to tell her his suggestion, while she was trying to tell him that it was a bigger problem, but he wouldn’t listen to her. Then he said, “You never listen to me!” She hung up on him.

Emails have ensued between them. He feels he’s owed an apology. She has, but with an explanation for how she was feeling, which he did not accept. I think he needs to drop it, and move on, but that’s not his way.

I’ve seen him lose many friends over these eight and a half years over smaller infractions. And now he’s got my daughter in his cross-hairs. My inclination is to step in front of his aim this time. This is my daughter. Yes, she hung up. But it’s not black and white. This time, I cannot, and I will not take his side.

I keep asking myself if this is going to be the moment, or the situation that will wreck this relationship. I don’t know if I can continue to be with a person who has burned many bridges with friends, and is now ready to sever ties with my daughter over this incident. No, it wasn’t the first time they’ve had a fight, and it wouldn’t be the last, but the absolutism of this argument, has me feeling sad and sick. She could get over it and move on for the sake of the situation, he could not.

At the end of the day, she’s my kiddo, and I love her more than life itself. He’s my current guy in a long line of long term relationships. He’s someone whose crazy matched my own in many ways. We get each other and it’s comfortable. We also have this great set up where we live apart during the week so I get my alone time, something I cherish. But not being able to share my joys and sorrows about the life of my one and only child with my partner seems like a gulf I cannot bridge. What about holidays? What happens when she gets married or has a child?   He can’t just break up with my kid!

The older I get, the more I realize that I can live the rest of my life on my own if I had to, something I don’t think I thought I could do eight years ago. It all seems to go back to that online post that I failed to pay attention to. Why do we so often fail to pay attention to the biggest signs even when they are spelled out so clearly? Is this the end?

Signed, Is This The End?

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being. Yoga + Writing + Connection. We go deep. Bring an open heart and a sense of humor- that's it! Summer or Fall 2015. It is LIFE CHANGING!

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being. Yoga + Writing + Connection. We go deep. Bring an open heart and a sense of humor- that’s it! Summer or Fall 2015. It is LIFE CHANGING!

Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, parenting, Special Needs

Before You Judge Me.

October 8, 2014


By Rachel Pastiloff.

When you are out in the world, be it at a restaurant, grocery shopping, driving in traffic, or at the doctor’s office, and you see a child screaming and a mother losing her cool and grabbing that child by the arm and being stern: BE CAREFUL BEFORE YOU JUDGE THEM.

Be careful placing judgment upon others, for you know not what battles they are fighting.

Before you judge me, or anyone. Take a breath. Consider what you might not know. Look inward. Look outward. Whatever it is, realize this: you may never have any idea of someone else’s story, so judging them is a tricky business.

Continue Reading…

death, Grief, Guest Posts

24 Hours After Someone Dies.

October 3, 2014

By Saul Seibert.


24 Hours After Someone Dies:

Someone will ask you if you would like paper or plastic and the phone will ring because someone doesn’t know that someone has died or maybe they do and you think you know what they’ll say so you silence the call through your blue jeans and feel for your lighter…’s always in the last place you check.

The hymns that were sung moments ago are filled in with made up words that you can’t quite make fit.

One of your relatives says something stupid like, “It’s just a shame.”

I’ve said some dumb things before so I nod my head and look for an easy exit out of the small talk. Continue Reading…

5 Most Beautiful Things, Beauty Hunting, Contests & Giveaways, Guest Posts


September 2, 2014

By Jennifer Pastiloff.

I am so excited that Beauty Hunting is now a thing in the world. As you may or may not know, that’s the title of my book. Beauty Hunting. In fact, type in and you’ll see that it leads you….HERE! I want to make the idea of Beauty Hunting viral-a world of people scouring the earth for what lights them up, for what makes then nod their head Yes Yes Yes, for what makes them never want to give up searching for what is beautiful in a world that is sometimes not very forgiving. In a world that is filled with pain and loss and sadness and war and trash- to actively seek beauty.

And look, there isn’t just pain and loss and sadness and trash- there are births and cups of really good coffee and big wide ass smiles and flowers that smell so good you have to stop in your tracks. There’s all sorts of good stuff on the surface and also sometimes, very deep under the surface. Continue Reading…

And So It Is, Guest Posts

Late Bloomer.

June 16, 2014

LATE BLOOMER by Suzy Vitello.*


So, today is my birthday. I’m 53. Yup. Fifty-fucking-three.

If I lived 100 years ago, I’d probably have false teeth by now.

And other hideous afflictions.

Thing is, in the possibility sector of my brain, I’m no different than I was as a teenager, sitting on my bed, staring at my red-and-white striped wallpaper, dreaming up various lives for myself.

When I was 22, living in Syracuse, New York, on year number five of school (I had this tendency to open up the class catalog and pick-a-major, any-major: English, Hindi, Anthropology, Communications, Dietetics. In that order. Just paid off my undergrad debt a few years ago), there was this long claw-foot bath soak where I dreamt up a life in which I’d change my name to Rose and live in Paris. Yup, pretty cliché.

But then the winter came, and Syracuse has this condition called “squalls” that last until May, and my second senior year there were lots and lots of squalls. So, one day, I picked up an issue of Cosmo. At the time, the magazine ran these features called “What it’s Like to Live and Work in ___.” February, 1984 the focus was on Phoenix. I read the piece in a café trying to wait out the squall, and in the twenty minutes it took for the sideways, pelting snow to abate, I’d decided that come graduation, I was moving to the desert. That’s right! A place I’d never even considered before, but hey! I was graduating with a degree in therapeutic nutrition, and there were lots of old people in Phoenix who might need a person to counsel them on low cholesterol diets. Certainly, I’d find a good job there, right?

I moved to Phoenix with my first husband and a mutt named Mandy in July of ‘84. July! In an un-airconditioned Dodge Colt. And, sure enough, I found employment. Of the minimum wage variety. A series of shitty jobs – the worst of which was as a cocktail waitress in a retirement community. The only “counseling” I did was to slap the liver-spotted hands of octogenarians who were pinching my ass.

When I look back on the three Phoenix years, I see them as this sort of interstitial purgatory. Despite having written since I was eight, during those young adult years in the desert, I cracked not one book or journal. I channeled my creative energy into banal stuff like stenciling borders on the walls of my house (remember that craze?), and making jewelry out of fimo clay (yet another craze).

But here’s my point:

I’ve been stop-start writing since third grade. As a kid, I first learned the word prosaic, a term my mother ascribed to my first work of lyricism. I offer said poem herewith:


Spring is when the flowers bloom.

With snow gone, there’s lots of room.

Birds chirping while building their nests.

When mother-bird takes her turn, father-bird rests.

The tip-tap of rainfalls,

the sound of mate calls,

is spring.

While my mother critiqued the piece, finding nothing poetic in it at all save for the onomatopoeic tip-tap, my third grade teacher, a square-shaped, red-headed battle axe of a woman named Mrs. Angle, held the effort up in front of the class, and read it out loud as though it were coated in honey. I enjoyed an entire week of popularity. Mrs. Angle, having scolded me for daydreaming on my report card, redeemed me by pronouncing me a Writer!

My mother, however, wanted me to try again. And, bless her heart, she was right. But I never did return to that poem, instead, I moved to prose, and never looked back until, in Freshman English at Syracuse, I was asked to write a paper on Eliot’s Prufrock. That may have been my first real immersive experience with a body of work, and was cause for another teacher-fawning moment—which, I must admit, I lived for.

But with all of that praise comes the fear of failure. When someone loves something you did, you’re bound to disappoint them next time. So I took up with science and home economics (to this day, I’m the shittiest cook I know, and forget about the other domestic arts) and became a nutritionist. All the while, stories stewed inside me. Through much of my twenties, I scribbled things on scraps of paper, which I often destroyed, thinking that I might die in an accident, and they’d be found. And read!

At twenty-eight, as a young widow with two babies and a small pile of cash, I moved to Portland and jumped into the deep end. Teachers or no, I learned how to write for an audience that included myself. I began to submit my stories to journals and to get them published. I won some awards. I went back to school for an MFA and won more awards. But I just couldn’t crack the “book” thing, and I had to admit to myself that part of the problem was, I was still wanting to turn that Spring poem into something my mother would like.

A few years ago The New Yorker ran a piece by Malcolm Gladwell, Late Bloomers. The article tossed around a lot of preconceptions about genius and talent and precocity. One of the most interesting points was based upon research done by an economist from the University of Chicago named David Galenson, who undertook the challenge to disprove assumptions about creativity and age, particularly the idea that poets and artists peak young. What he discovered was that prodigies don’t tend to engage in open-ended exploration, and that they are typically concept-driven; they have an idea, and then go for it, rather than painstakingly researching the way many non-prodigies do. In the article, Galenson is quoted as saying, about late bloomers, “Their approach is experimental. Their goals are imprecise, so their procedure is tentative and incremental.”

In other words, late bloomers are nerdy, and tend to follow a depth of inquiry ad nauseam. Ergo, they might have a manuscript or two in Rubbermaid tubs in their basements.

I took solace in that article. And a couple of years ago, I decided it was time to write something all the way. Something that brought me back to the dream. The idea of possibility and wonder. A snippet of 50+ years of quirky humanity in the form of a character and setting that reflected a piece of myself I was willing to share. And I had to absolutely get over the idea that validation only comes when everyone loves your art. But before I could overcome that, I had to admit that I’d been holding back because of it.

My debut book came out in January, and another one is being published in a couple of months.

For me, all the meandering has been part of my process. I’m a percolator, who drips many false starts into the carafe. Undrinkable sludge. So many versions of various lives. So many manuscripts on floppy discs in landfills. But the kernel of truth lives inside of failure. Oh, I know, that’s quite a platitude. I feel icky even writing it, though I firmly, firmly believe it.

I’m fifty-three. I think I have twenty more novels in me. At least.

And my grandmother is about to celebrate her 102nd birthday, so there’s that.




About Suzy Vitello: As a founding member of what the Oregonian has dubbed Portland’s “hottest writing group” (members include Chuck Palahniuk, Chelsea Cain, Lidia Yuknavitch, Monica Drake and Cheryl Strayed), Suzy’s name has graced the acknowledgement pages of many a book. THE MOMENT BEFORE is her debut novel. Suzy lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband, Kirk, and son, Carson, and teaches workshop and classes periodically. Find out more on

 Poster by Pre-order their book (which I am in!!):

Poster by
Pre-order their book (which I am in!!):


Jennifer Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Her work has been featured on The Rumpus, The Nervous Breakdown, Jezebel, Salon, among others. Jen’s leading one of her signature retreats to Ojai, Calif over Labor Day in Ojai, Calif and she and author Emily Rapp will be leading a writing retreat to Vermont in October. Visit for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. She tweets/instagrams at @jenpastiloff.


*Jen met Suzy when she flew (broken foot and all) to Portland to take a writing workshop with Suzy and Lidia Yuknavitch. Jen is totally obsessed and madly in love with with Suzy and recommends all writers to take a class with her. New Yorkers! Suzy has a workshop in Warwick NY on September 5/6. You might also find Jen there. You should go. Just sayin’.


Beating Fear with a Stick, courage, Guest Posts, I Have Done Love

I Am A Woman Who Survived.

June 5, 2014

*Update: This post got The Manifest-Station awarded the “Freshly Pressed” Award! Brava, Janine! Jen here. I have a broken foot as many of you know, so I am giving the site all my attention right now. I am over the moon with the posts these days! Pinching myself! Today’s essay is one I hope you will read and share and help me make viral. This is so well-written, so important. Anyone, and I mean anyone, who has known abuse- you are not alone. And you don’t need to stay. Janine Canty, you blew me away with this beautifully nuanced and heartbreaking piece.

I Am A Woman Who Survived. By Janine Canty. Every October I wear a purple ribbon. It represents women who have lost their lives to senseless violence. It represents men and children who have lost their lives to senseless violence. It represents people who died too young, with most of their words still inside them. It represents the empty place at a table. It represents a voice forever silenced by familiar hands. It also represents endurance and survival. It represents the years I endured. The seventeen years I survived inside the basement apartment, and on a floor in my Mother-In-Law’s den, and in a pretty little brown house affordable because it was in a flood zone, and in the blue house with the failing septic system. That little piece of ribbon represents the times I was too afraid to speak. Or move. Or cry. Or breathe. That little piece of ribbon celebrates the me I grew up to be. I earned that ribbon. I love that ribbon, and I hate that ribbon. It reminds me that we live in a world capable of beauty, and brutality. It reminds me of a hunger that can’t be curbed or controlled. It reminds me that I want my granddaughters to grow up believing that hands are gentle, and strong, and wonderful. They are things designed to caress, and to hold. They are designed to build foundations, and to express oneself with chalk, and ink, pencil, and crayon. To immortalize childhood in clay. Hands are not weapons. They are not a punishment. They are not something to be afraid of. They are not something to flinch from .I want them to grow up, and have homes where they never have to be afraid. To speak. Or move. Or cry. Or breathe. I want them to grow up to have partners who make them feel valued, and beautiful. I want them to look in the mirror, and see something besides despair. Or fear. I want them to see, and feel, taste, and experience their own beauty. I want them to believe in that beauty. Every October I stand with strangers, and with friends, and neighbors. I stand with policemen in the dusk, and the rain, and the wind. I walk alongside people with similar stories. I carry a candle in the dark. Sometimes I speak a strangers name. Always I cry for someone I never met. Every October I remember that I’m free and I’m alive, and I am humbled at what a simple gift it is to open my eyes in the morning. I am amazed at the sound of my own laughter. I am in awe at the singular joy found in hot water, and at the bottom of a shampoo bottle. After you’ve lived in the dark, the long lines at WalMart, and a walk through the supermarket, are friggin’ adventures. Like dancing under the rainbow. Every October I am a little older, and hopefully a little wiser. I look in the mirror, and the broken woman that I was, the one who walked down that driveway,in November of 2000, she’s a memory. She’s all about the things that happened to me. The woman in the mirror, the one you see at Wal Mart, and the dairy bar, and laughing over a med cart in the nursing home, she’s who I am. Who I became in spite of all the damage, and because of the damage. She’s all the parts that survived the run through fire, and came out on the other side, with new, unblistered skin. Every October the question inevitably comes up. The question I hate. The question I am beginning to think has no answer. “Why did you stay”? I’ve discussed this. I’ve sat on the nightly news. I’ve talked to the newspaper. I’ve talked to countless women and even a few men on a hotline. I’ve stood at a podium in the State House, and addressed legislature. I am a woman who survived 17 years with an abusive man. I am a woman who loves words. I am told I can be an eloquent speaker/ writer/ person/ whatever. I am not eloquent when it comes to that question. I don’t know why your daughter/sister/ niece/ cousin/ brother/ son, stays. I don’t know why some people grow up with hatred where a heart once was. A rage that overtakes the soul. I don’t know why people hurt people. There’s fear. I know about fear. Everybody who’s ever seen a spider, or a snake, knows fear. Everybody who’s ever stood up to speak in a crowded room, knows fear. Anyone who’s gotten married, given birth, or started a new job, has strapped fear on like an apron. Anyone who’s ever found an unexpected lump in the shower, knows what it is to sit in the shadows, with the icy fingers of fear. Fear of the unknown. It’s a biggie, right? Fear is a mountain full of mean. Fear freezes, and cripples, and destroys. Fear sucks. Fear is power and heat. If fear could be bottled, cancer would be cured, and there would be no more war. Every October I put on a purple ribbon, and I hope for something better in my world, and in yours. I hope that one person somewhere, just one, will understand. One person will see, that if they are being terrorized within the four walls of their home, it’s as much a crime as a mugging on the street. I hope for more education for teachers, and volunteers, and the police force. For judges, and employers, Parents, and children. Victims and survivors. I hope for someone more eloquent than I, to explain this in a few simple words. I hope for just one person to believe that they don’t deserve to close their eyes beside fear each night. They don’t deserve to wake up afraid of what the sunshine in a new day will bring. Every October it’s 1978 again. I am 13, and in a brand new town. I have eyeglasses, and a haircut that I hate. I have a little sister that could give the breck girl a run for her money. I want thin thighs. I want to be able to jump over the hobby horse in gym. I want to grow up to be a writer. Or an actress. I want to be everything I’m not. Confident and beautiful. I want to live in New York. My first kiss from a boy hurts. My skin turns angry colors underneath his hand. He demands a kiss, and I obey without thinking about it. Because my arm feels like it’s going to snap. Because I am afraid in a way I have never been before. Because I am 13, and I don’t know any better. I don’t see things like respect, and self love as viable options for myself. Afterwards, he laughs. Maybe this is just the way boys are. Maybe this is normal. Maybe I’m as abnormal and weird as I feel at 13. I am addicted to the ABC Afterschool Specials. They talk against drinking, and drugs. They warn about strangers touching you in a private place. Everyone gets a happy ending in 45 minutes. What’s not to love, as the credits roll, and the Bee Gees sing “How do you mend a broken heart”? It’s 1981. I have acne to go with my chubby thighs. I’ve never conquered the hobby horse in gym. Crowded locker rooms, and scratchy towels that smell like other people’s sweat, are never going to be my thing. I’m courting an eating disorder while scarfing down Town Spa pizza. I want to live in Europe. I want to drive a sports car with the top down. I want contact lenses. I want not to be sixteen, with chubby thighs, and acne. The boy next door plays the guitar for me, with deceptively gentle hands. He tells me I’m beautiful. I believe him, as I nurse bruises his teeth have left against my mouth. I have seen my father on his knees. I have seen my parents ready to kill one another over a can of flat beer. I have seen my father in handcuffs, and packing a suitcase. I’ve seen him walking away, and I’ve seen him coming back. I am never getting married. I am never having babies. It’s 1983. I am 18. I put on a borrowed wedding dress. I walk down the aisle, towards the boy next door. I’m carrying a bouquet in shaking hands, and a baby in my belly. My mother has stopped crying long enough to put on a kick ass purple, Mother of the Bride, dress. She looks stunning. She also looks cold and dazed. My sister is crying softly beside me. She tells me how romantic it is, as she holds my bouquet while I’m sick. She asks me if she can have my stereo and posters. She asks me what it feels like. I ask her to shut up. My father puts down the Rosary he’s held for 3 weeks, to walk me down the aisle. He looks like he’s craving that flat beer. I’m just enough of a Catholic girl to understand that I disappointed Jesus by having condomless sex before marriage. I’m just enough of a Daddy’s girl to be devastated at the look on my Father’s face during our shared, silent, march down the aisle. I am 18. I am married. I have never cooked a meal. I have never driven a car. My sister is barely 15. She dances too closely with the 20 year old best man. she catches the bouquet, and finds herself lost in her first pair of brown male eyes. My groom has been drunk since 10 am, when he drove to the church listening to David Bowies “Modern Love”. His arm was dangling out a window. An early December sun was in his eyes. My future was nearly derailed by a rusted out red Chevy running a light. Later, he gave thanks under an altar as he kissed me. He tasted like Listerine, and Michelob, and Copper.   It’s 1989. I have 3 beautiful babies. I have bruises, but they’re in places only I can see. I have a voice growing rusty from lack of use. I answer to names you wouldn’t call an animal. He tells me I’m ugly and fat. I believe him. I don’t have a split lip or a broken bone to show a doctor. This is so clearly not the Farrah Fawcett, “Burning Bed” depiction of abuse. I believe it’s not abuse. My children who’ve never known any other life, believe it. My parents live with it. The few friends I’ve held onto from high school, are driven away by it. My world has diminished to the size of a small bedroom in the back part of my husbands childhood home. I still don’t drive. I don’t yet have a high school diploma. I don’t have friends. I have fear, and 3 beautiful babies, and bruises in places only I can see. It’s 1989, and I’m pregnant again for the fourth time in 5 years. I am 6 months pregnant. I am fat and slow, and I disgust him. I am never fast enough for him. His arm catches me across the chest. Later he’ll say it was an accident, and he never means to get that upset. None of it will matter. All that will matter is the chair I fell over. An ugly green chair, with a rip in the vinyl. Stuffing poking out like cottage cheese. I could be as fat and awkward as the day was long, and maybe, just maybe, that was why my little boy died inside me. None of it mattered after I saw his sweet, silent, face. My little boy died, and he took my belief in happily ever after with him. My baby died, and I hated myself. I hated my husband, and that ugly green chair, and that arm. It’s 1995. We return to the little blue house with the failing septic system. We’d been younger in that house. Calling naivety happiness. How I needed to believe it could be. We ate moose track ice cream out of green Tupperware bowls. We had returned to a familiar place, as different people. Fear lived beside me as unseen as a mosquito in a windstorm. Crippling, freezing, powerful fear . It didn’t show up all of a sudden, it didn’t announce itself with fireworks. It was quiet and insidious. Like mold. It was stale air, and molecules. It wasn’t to be questioned, it just was. I carried fear like a tired child. It was as much a part of me as my arms and legs, and my lazy eye. You can’t play the game if you don’t know what the rules are. You can’t question yourself when you’re constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop. When all you’ve known is fear, fear becomes love.. When the body begins dying, the heart turns into a selfish Mofo. It pulls the blood away from the extremities. It hogs all the blood. So that it can continue to beat. So that it can survive. The body becomes colder. It becomes numb. As a medical person, today, I call that mottling. Back then I wouldn’t have known enough to call it survival. My body was amazing, as all bodies are. It allowed itself to become numb. I became numb, I survived. It’s 2000, and something. I’m working in the nursing home. I’ve rediscovered parts of myself I’d forgotten all about. My love of words, and writing. My love of card games, and scrabble, and walks in a warm rain. I am a work in progress. Forgiving myself is still a jigsaw in the making. It’s October. I put on a purple ribbon. I sit on the evening news. People call me brave because of the crap I’ve been through. People called me brave, because I didn’t lay down and die, but at one point I wanted to. I wanted to lay down and die. I wanted to cease existing. I wanted to cease hurting. That’s what strong armed the fear. That’s what numbed me, and then brought me back. My desire to die was where I found my will to live. That’s where I found the capacity to love myself. To forgive myself for things that were beyond my control. That’s where I found the strength to walk down that driveway. Don’t ask me why I stayed. I can’t answer that. Don’t ask me why your sister or neighbor, or friend stays. I can’t answer that. Not in black and white. Not in simple words. It’s individual to the person. Like hair color. Do I suspect fear? The all knowing, all powerful, crippling, freezing, fear? Yeah. I suspect it hides behind the curtains. It keeps company with the shattered dishes. The broken dreams, and the bruises no one else can see. Don’t ask me why I stayed. Ask me why I left. Then put on a purple ribbon, and carry a candle beside me in the dark. 67117_10151138515472569_450235920_n My name is Janine Canty. I have been writing since age 11 when a teacher told me I had “talent.” Writing has always been a tonic for me. Being published is a pretty little dream I keep tucked away in a safe place. I am not a professional writer though the passion for it has stayed with me like a campfire. I make my living as a CNA- Med Technician in a busy nursing facility in a tiny Northern town almost no one has ever heard of. I dabble in blog writing, and all things Facebook. I fail at tweeting.   Jennifer Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Her work has been featured on The Rumpus, The Nervous Breakdown, Jezebel, Salon, among others. Jen’s leading one of her signature writing/yoga retreats to Ojai, Calif over Labor Day in Ojai, Calif and she and bestselling author Emily Rapp will be leading another writing retreat to Vermont in October. Check out for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up:  SeattleLondon, Atlanta, South Dakota, NYC, Dallas, Tucson. She tweets/instagrams at @jenpastiloff. To submit to The Manifest-Station email Next workshop is London July 6. 

beauty, Guest Posts

The Way of the Backer. By Eiren Caffall.

April 16, 2014

The Way of the Backer: Kickstarter and the Power of Artistic Failure

by Eiren Caffall

“You know,” I told my friend when I called her, “Kickstarter is kicking my ass. I have no idea how to talk about why I make art.”

I was trying to finish funding my new record, managing a Kickstarter campaign with a $4,000 goal, when the freakout kicked in and I started calling people until I found someone who would let me lose it on the phone.

I had just realized that the pitches I was making every day were pointing out a horrible truth: when it comes to justifying myself as an artist, I am incoherent. It had suddenly become clear to me that I had no idea how to tell family, friends and strangers that they should back my music or my writing when, by every cultural measure we use (grants, sales, press coverage, earnings) I have been a spectacular failure.

Away from Kickstarter I am proud of what I make, I remember that I have shared stages and bandmates and radio airwaves with some celebrated musicians, a few legit places have published my writing. I am part of a community of artists who work under the radar of a culture that may, once in a while, pick one of us out of the pack and move us higher up the ladder. I am email-friendly with people who have been picked like that, they return my calls sometimes.

But as far as mass culture is concerned, me, down here, below the radar, spending over a decade making work that few people see, I’m failing.

I am third-generation art Boho, and kind of used to seeing artists struggle. I am sometimes the whiniest one in the room about that failure, since I’ve seen the generational toll it takes. No one else bitches out loud if they can help it. The soup we all swim in sucks, we’re all frustrated, and we try to keep that to ourselves, if only to preserve our dignity.

“The music business is a toilet,” my drummer said to me this summer. Yup.

But he said this to me in a quiet room, and I was the only one who heard him. Because admitting how hard this is might, itself, look like failure. So we say that things are going fine, talk about good gigs and small successes and ignore the big picture and the fear that comes with it.

All that changed as soon as I pressed the “launch” button on my Kickstarter campaign and admitted that I couldn’t make it on my own anymore, that no label was coming to the aid of my career, that I couldn’t pay for the record I had just finished.

Kickstarter is huge these days, and it can be problematic for so many reasons. It is marketing disguised as grassroots grant-making, and backlashes towards artists that game the system are legendary. Issues of access and need come in at every door that Kickstarter opens. But it is also so ubiquitous in the arts community that people talk about it in an offhand manner: “Well, if no one wants to put the record out, we’ll just do a Kickstarter for it,” we say to each other.

Since grants and government programs for the arts (not to mention the revenue streams that used to come with putting out records) have dried up, we dive towards crowdfunding as if it is the last crumb on an empty table. And it kind of is. Last year Kickstarter famously gave more money to artists than the NEA.

And Kickstarter’s grey-market economy genius is that it lets people feel like, when they pledge, they are not only validating someone’s work, but supporting them person to person. The pledge makes one part of the work, you are a backer.

But that’s where my trouble started, because to be good at Kickstarter, I was finding, you had to be able to stand in front of what you’d made and invite people to back you, personally, as if what you make matters, as if you had never thought of failure for one moment, at any step of the process.

And I was not good at that.

With five days to go the campaign was only at 30%; it was failing.

“You never even said your name in the video,” my friend pointed out to me on that fateful day when I called.

And in my head I answered, “I know, I was ashamed.” My Kickstarter campaign launched me into a shame spiral so deep that for a while there, though I continued to spew cheerful boosterism at the internet, dripping with thinly-veiled panic, I could barely answer the phone when friends called, because I didn’t want to admit that all this hustle was making my confidence fall apart.

This year, I have been thinking about failure, a lot.

This year I lost my house to foreclosure. This year I finally worked again after a long time without work. This year my ex-husband moved in with his younger girlfriend, and my older boyfriend decided that, no, he would not like to move in with me.

At the beginning of that phone call, when she asked me how I was, I’d said, trying to sound offhand and light, “Enjoying my exercise in public failure.”

“You can’t talk about it like that. Confidence breeds confidence, success breeds success,” she’d said back. A veteran of the Kickstarter wars herself, my friend was not agreeing with the system per se, just doing her best to remind me of its limitations. “I mean,” she said, sensing she was losing me, “the process is about letting people experience how much you love the record, the system asks for that. And you love your record, let people see it.” I knew she was right, but I wanted to tell her that I might be a lost cause.

The whole time I was pitching and pitching, thanking backers and asking for more, teaching myself Mail Chimp and updating Twitter and posting new content and sending new videos out into the world I was also thinking about a last conversation I had with my father.

He had a genetic kidney disease, Polycystic Kidney Disease, PKD, and in my family it hits early and often, like those proverbial Chicago voting scams. Until my father had two kidney transplants, ten additional years of dialysis, and made it to the ripe old age of 64, every member of my family for generations beyond counting, was dead by 40.

At 22 I was diagnosed with the same thing.

And when I was 29, and had just finished a record, my father finally started to die. An infection gained from his first transplant had morphed over years in his system, and by the end he was riddled with a weirdo cancer that was invading his body cavities, eating up his lungs one day, bloating his stomach the next.

My parents had divorced seven years earlier and my father’s family was all dead and I have no siblings, so it was me in the hospital room with him, holding him steady when they took a twelve-inch-long needle and inserted it into his belly to get samples of the pale, eerie liquid that was filling him up. It was me sleeping next to his hospital bed on a cot when he hallucinated and tore off all his clothes in the middle of the night.

And it was me sitting next to him when he said to me one lucid afternoon, “I wish I hadn’t been such a failure.”

I argued with him, can’t remember what I said now, but I told him I’d always admired his life.

An autodidact and bohemian from his teens, he’d been at jazz clubs in the Village before he could legally drink, lived in a loft in Soho with a swing in the main room, dated waitresses at Max’s Kansas City. He’d married my pretty mother, worked with her on blue movies, and been a camera man on a Yoko Ono picture. He had hung out at the Factory, been friends with Alice Brock of Alice’s Restaurant fame, taught himself to make flawless Shaker furniture and fly-fish and track pheasants.

I’d always thought he’d been remarkable. I’d always thought he’d lived the life he’d meant to.

Sure, we were dirt poor, and we moved all the time, always at the mercy of landlords. Sure, my mother had left him, and he’d always undersold his work. Sure, at 64 he rented a shitty room from a creepy guy and worked as a museum guard and was about to die and leave his only child holding the bag.

But he’d seen things, he’d done things, and I thought he didn’t regret anything.

When I told him he’d had an amazing life he said, “Thanks, Kid, but I never did know how to make anything out of that.”

I’ve had an amazing life, too. I’ve mothered a remarkable son, been well-loved, and I’ve made songs I feel so damn proud of I can’t believe they are mine sometimes. This last year I’ve been writing a novel, and it hasn’t felt like writing, but like being held in someone’s hand and told a story that I get to take down. I spent my high school years with remarkably safe and kind and smart people, then stumbled into a music scene so devoid of negative competition that I have come out of my years of playing in Chicago with collaborators and colleagues that I both adore and trust, people who were, at the moment of my crisis, falling all over themselves to tweet and Facebook and shill my record, my little record, because, they believed in it, in me, and couldn’t understand why it wasn’t doing better.

But I could.

Somewhere in the heart of every ask I made was a core of shame so deep that I couldn’t get around it in the pitch.

I don’t know why I am here, and making things, and other people are not.

Kickstarter structures itself as if you, the artist, are talking to a potential backer. This person, the avatar for your audience, sits behind the imaginary shell of the crowdfunding forum, and according to the Kickstarter language, they are silently sitting out there asking, Why, why do you need the money, why do you make the stuff, tell me what is it for?

And if I am being honest I want to say this to the imaginary backer behind the shell:

It is because I am not dead yet. I am 42 and I am not dead yet, and I can’t think of anything else to do with myself to cope with that. I went through horrible things, and I do not trust the world, and I cannot pretend that I am confident in it, or myself, or you, or the possibility that we will make it, or that what I am doing matters. I would make this art if no one was watching at all, because I don’t know how else to survive, and if you want to be a part of it, fine, but I will do it either way.

Putting out your art is always a trick of walking on water, proclaiming your human frailty, using your body, your spirit, your talent to convince people that telling your own naked story matters, that it makes people more whole.

But in my heart, I remain dubious, worried that, though I know I have felt saved by art during dark hours, there are people, sometimes including myself, for whom art is not nearly enough.

All that beauty and joy he’d found in art didn’t matter to my father completely at the end. It didn’t make his last months much better. And although all that I can do with my own life is play music, write things down, try to make something beautiful and scary and true, I do not know how to do a dance that will convince you on the open stage of public opinion and competition that it matters.

I personally don’t like competition, it freaks me out, and I have grave doubts that it has any place in the creation of good work. Competition in its platonic ideal can make people work harder, sure, but in the real world, the failure that comes with it can do more than make artists tongue-tied, like me; it can cripple people so they stop producing at all.

For some of us, when we fail at art, even if that failure is only in the marketplace, we feel that failure as a deep failure of self. We all have a list of our art heros that seemed to crumble under the pressures of the marketplace. It is a trope as old as time, right? The Artist, Too Sensitive for This World.

Which I generally think is crap.

Artists are some of the most fucking tough people you will ever meet. The arts require an exceptionally high level of vulnerability if you want to do them well, and the emotionally sensitive people who are drawn to that – or compelled or called or forced by fate – have a better chance of coming with some other baggage that makes the vulnerability really tricky. Most of us get tougher through handling that dichotomy. Some of us can’t.

Kickstarter asks artists to subvert just that cultural assumption. It asks us to present ourselves not as different from the mainstream culture, not as subversive to it, but as part of something: a community of people who want us to succeed.

If you talk with Kickstarter alums, many will confess that their biggest backers were the families that still can’t quite understand why they make the art in the first place. They love them, so they help them, and Kickstarter facilitates that by showing these artists as successful, proud marketers of themselves. They are not subversive in their promotional online videos; they are confident. Kickstarter’s shiny website confers legitimacy and glow.

Kickstarter asked me to set my art up as separate from myself, to profess confidence in the project and store vulnerability away, as buried as I could make it behind the spin I was putting on the work itself. I couldn’t let anyone in on my fear of failure or I’d spook the herd.

My one random concession to trying to draw the herd closer was a mid-campaign video ramble I posted to my Kickstarter page as a remedy. This one about Ernest Shakleton, the slog of the epic quest, the importance of holding on to art in the face of great loss. Not particularly cheerful spin, and, as my friend later pointed out, it might have been a good idea if at least one of my video appeals hadn’t mentioned death.

Shame tugged at me when I sat down to write, and it came out through my fingers in the words I typed for every social media post and email. People could smell it, the herd spooked, the pledges dried up. I started to consider finding a straw backer, just to get me out of the whole thing.

Then, the Friday before the close of the campaign, a huge pledge came in from distant family friends that closed part of the gap. A total surprise. A deus ex machina. And, just like that, the campaign was 80% funded.

Suddenly, it had momentum.

People wanted in.

Within days, the rest of the money followed. Success bred success. Confidence bred confidence. People wanted to be a part of something that looked like it wasn’t failing. By the last day, nearly the last hour, me and my whole band and all my friends flogging Facebook like it was an NPR pledge drive, we made it to 101% of the goal.

“See,” my friend told me, “it worked. You just had to show people that the project was already a success.”

We had a great rock show, we thanked our backers from the stage, and people went home happy with the end of the story.

Then I stopped answering the phone again. Because telling people how happy I was that the campaign was funded was almost worse than asking them to pledge. Because in every conversation I managed not to avoid, I had to pretend that the funding let everybody participate in validating my work.

But, you know, it didn’t. Kickstarter didn’t validate a thing.

The hole in my heart, and the shame in my gut were still there.

Winning by those standards at first felt like another kind of failure. I couldn’t make my peace with a simple idea: for most of us that use Kickstarter, getting to a funding goal has nothing to do with the art, and everything to do with the community we are part of.

I can stand in the spotlight of Kickstarter, honestly invisible, maybe failing, as an artist, and still let it work its backer magic on me, validating what I do because, mostly, I am loved by a circle of human beings who know me well enough, and love me deep enough, to pony up money for my project, not because they love the work, though some do, but because, at bottom, they love me.

That’s what Kickstarter doesn’t tell you when you start. That for the majority of us asking for help to fund our work, the process becomes a referendum not on the work, but on us.

At first, that made me feel much more shame, the kind that comes with realizing you that your fan base is mostly made up of people who have bought you a drink at one time or another. But now, now I think I’m OK with learning what Kickstarter had to teach me—that being loved by people who will back you when you are invisible is probably better then being funded by adoring strangers who know you not at all.

Or, it may not be better for your art, but it probably is better for your soul.

Because the long game that making art requires is a highwire act of letting yourself be seen. Spin rarely belongs in that work, the work it takes to be messy and true and alive in front of people and allow them to judge you and what you have made. You must court shame every day to do that work well, always hoping to be backed just as you are.

When I told my dad on his deathbed that he hadn’t failed, I had believed it to the core of my being, and there wasn’t a hole in my heart when I said it or a lick of dishonesty.

I was immersed in love for him, love that was there to drive past his shame. He told me he was a failure, stood emotionally naked in front of me, showing me that he was afraid, and human and devastated, and I responded with love. I told him that he was enough, that I wanted him to keep going.

I was backing him, imperfect as he was. I was seeing him.



Eiren Caffall is a musician and writer living in Chicago. The great-granddaughter of an Episcopal Bishop, she is the daughter of a geophysicist and a Beatnik Shaker Acolyte. She has always dwelled in the places where art, spirit, aesthetics and science meet. She writes songs, fiction, personal essays and meditations on spiritual life during global climate change, focusing on heartbreak and grace – the tricks of memory that help us survive and the wisdom that comes whether we like it or not.

You can purchase her latest record, Slipping the Holdfast, on bandcamp, and see examples of her writing on Tikkun Daily, on her blog The Civil Twilight Project and at her website Her essay “And Now Witness the Ending, Beautiful and Terrible” was published in Doug Fogelson’s book The Time After alongside the work of Derrick Jensen. She is currently at work on her fourth album and first novel. She lives with her son Dexter, where they spend most of their time articulating skeletons and beach combing.


Jennifer Pastiloff is a writer living on an airplane. Her work has been featured on The Rumpus, The Nervous Breakdown, Jezebel, Modern Loss, xojane, among others. She’s the founder of The Manifest-Station. Jen’s leading a weekend retreat in May to Ojai, Calif as well as 4 day retreat over Labor Day in Ojai, Calif. All retreats are a combo of yoga/writing for all levels. She and bestselling author Emily Rapp will be leading another writing retreat to Vermont in October. Check out her site for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up is Seattle and London July 6. (London sells out fast so book soon if you plan on attending!)


One Dad’s Search for Beauty in His Daily Parenting Routine.

March 3, 2014

By Steve Edwards.

Before I tell you about the snowy owl I saw on Christmas or why I got pulled over by the police twice in the last three days, let me say a little about my life and daily routine. I’m a husband, a father of a four-year-old boy with special needs, and I have (and my wife does, too, for that matter) a full-time job. I teach a 4/4 load as an assistant professor—writing and literature courses, mostly—at a university in central Massachusetts, and the entirety of my paycheck goes to paying for my son’s medicine, doctor’s bills and specialized pre-school. My wife’s paycheck goes toward the rest of our expenses—rent, heat, food, student loans. We make good money but barely scrape by. Sometimes we try to laugh it off, calling it our “posh special needs lifestyle.”

I get up at six and make coffee. My wife has an hour commute and is out the door about the time our son leaps from bed and starts asking what’s for breakfast. I make him toast and get together his meds. He has four of them—I think. I’ve done this routine so many times, I do it without thinking at all really. But I think it’s four. Drops go in his milk. Then a plunger-vile of another prescription. Then a teaspoon of another. Then a capsule I break open over applesauce or sorbet.

After breakfast I turn on the TV for him so I can pack his lunch, pack my lunch, then set out his clothes for the day and iron my own clothes (though admittedly, I have a gray sweater and a pair of brown cords that are in pretty high rotation because they don’t have to be ironed.) Once I’ve gotten us ready for the day, my next big task is getting my son to put on his jacket. For some reason, the thought of wearing his jacket sends my son into apocalyptical fits. He will rage and cry and curl up in a ball in the corner. I would just take him outside without his jacket—hell with it—but it’s Massachusetts, and winter, and this morning it was 5 degrees. Some days, after I’ve gotten the jacket on him and gotten him out to the car, I say, “Oops. I forgot something inside. I’ll be right back.” Then I rush inside and let out a string of profanities at the top of my lungs.

After that, I drive an hour to my son’s special preschool (where, thank god, he gets amazing care and support). Then it’s another hour commute to my job. And that’s pretty much the morning—frenetic and mind-numbingly dull at the same time. The rest of the day, I meet with students and try to appear like a normal human to my colleagues who probably wonder why I am wearing that sweater and those cords AGAIN. After work, I race home, clean up the breakfast dishes and prepare dinner for my wife and son who are both exhausted from their days, and cranky (as am I, most nights). An hour of after-dinner television or music and it’s bedtime for my son. You can imagine how well this goes over: he yells, screams, swats at us, cries his eyes out, and then—once he’s finally in bed—turns so angelic I hate to say goodnight because this is the only good part of the day. “Sing me a song, Daddy,” he says. “Sing me ‘Thunder Road.’”

And of course I do. You have to.

That’s a typical day for us in what has been anything but a typical year. At the end of the summer, I had a kidney stone and had to make a midnight run to the emergency room. Two days later, with no warning at all, our son’s preschool (a different one from where he goes now) said he needed a full-time aide or they wouldn’t allow him back. Spoiler alert: we didn’t think he needed a full-time developmental aide, and we couldn’t have afforded a full-time developmental aide even if we did. So they effectively booted him from preschool two days after my kidney stone and only a week before my fall semester started. After a mad scramble to find him a new school—because if we didn’t find him a new school, either my wife or I would have had to quit our jobs in order to pay for the services our son did, in fact, need—after all that, my wife got sick with pneumonia. She hacked and coughed and was practically bed-ridden for three and a half weeks in the month of October.

Then (yes, there’s more) after she had recovered, she slipped while carrying our sleeping boy from the car to the house and badly damaged her left knee. She was on crutches for a month, and, thankfully, only needed a cortisone shot and not full blown reconstructive surgery. But she was in severe pain every day, and it often woke her at night if she shifted in her sleep. And none of these challenges, of course, made it any easier for my wife or I to do our jobs, to work with our special needs child, or manage the bills that kept pouring in like so much floodwater in a basement.

So it doesn’t surprise me that, through it all, I forgot to get the sticker for my car that certifies it has been inspected by the state to meet emissions standards. In Massachusetts it’s something you have to do every year, and, as an environmentalist, I’m glad the state makes at least a cursory effort to protect our air and water. That’s why I drive a Prius—to lessen my environmental impact. But what can I say, Prius or not: I forgot to get the inspection. I didn’t have the sticker.

The first day I got pulled over was a Wednesday morning after a big snowstorm, and preschool had been delayed for two hours. This meant that instead of prepping for the class I had to teach that afternoon, I was watching Barney & Friends with my kid. I drove by the police car, it pulled out behind me and the lights came on.

The officer took my license and registration back to his cruiser and ran them through his computer, then returned and pointed out my expired state inspection sticker. I was frustrated by the delay in an already delayed day, and annoyed that that was the reason he had pulled me over (Didn’t he have something better to do?), but I thanked the officer for only giving me a warning ticket and was on my way. The encounter took about fifteen minutes, and I made mental plans to get the inspection on Saturday. Which is exactly what I explained to the officer who pulled me over this morning for the exact same reason. Only this time I was driving my son to an early 8 a.m. appointment with his speech therapist and we were on a busy stretch of road.

We were on a busy stretch of road at the busiest time of the morning commute. I passed the police car, thought about Wednesday morning’s episode, and breathed a sigh of relief when it didn’t pull out behind me. But then—off in the distance, in my rearview mirror: flashing blue lights. Surely, I thought, he can’t be rushing after me. He wouldn’t force the eight or ten cars behind me, at the height of the morning commute, to pull over just so he could hassle me for having an expired state inspections sticker on my Prius on the way to take my special needs child to speech therapy.


“License and registration,” the officer said as the cars on the road whooshed by and my son repeatedly asked why the police man was talking to us.

I handed the officer my license and registration, and I showed him the warning ticket I’d gotten on Wednesday. I told him that I had made arrangements to get the inspection done on Saturday.

“Just be sure you do that,” he said sternly, handing back my papers. “You’re two months expired. You’re living on borrowed time.”

“I’m going Saturday,” I said again.

“It only takes fifteen-twenty minutes,” he said.

I told him a third time that I would get it done Saturday and thanked him, and after we had started off down the road and the officer had turned, I banged the steering wheel and in frustration yelled, “FUCK!”

And in back my son said, “FUCK!”

Before we got pulled over this morning, I had been thinking that I would write something about Beauty and the necessity of Beauty for getting through hard times. I had been thinking about our trip on Christmas Day. We drove out to the coast, north of Boston—just the three of us—to gorgeous Plum Island and the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. It was cold but clear. Fourteen degrees. Breezy. Along one of the roads by the water some cars were stopped, and some people had big-lensed cameras held up to their faces. They had spotted a snowy owl. At my wife’s suggestion, I pulled over and grabbed my binoculars and ran out to catch a glimpse of the bird.

Before getting pulled over this morning, I thought I would reflect on the incredible and almost healing beauty of that owl’s stoic countenance among the rustling beach grasses, the Atlantic gleaming like a dark blue crystal in the distance. I wanted to say: THIS. This matters. Beauty matters.

But after getting pulled over, that sweet thought was gone, replaced by adrenaline and anger and resentment.

I wanted to tell the officer that I didn’t have fifteen minutes to just buzz by and get an inspection, that we all lived on borrowed time. I wanted to tell my son not to say the F-word. I wanted to tell myself not to say the F-word in front of my son. I wanted my wife to again be the healthy, happy and wonderful woman I had married five years ago, and I wanted to again be her healthy, happy and wonderful husband, and not the sleep-deprived, stressed out, anxious, grumpy mess I had become. I wanted my son to just be better. To be healed somehow. To not yell and scream and cry all the time. To not be overcome by mysterious waves of gut pain. To not say to his mother in stern tones: “Mommy, you are NOT my friend! YOU ARE NOT!” I wanted us all to feel good for a change. I wanted that, and the only thing I could do was to keep driving and breathe deep and hope that that owl might glide back into my thoughts on silent wings.


*This article originally appeared on The Good Men Project.

Steve Edwards lives in Massachusetts with his wife and son. He is author of the memoir Breaking into the Backcountry, the story of his seven months of solitude as the caretaker of a 95-acre homestead along the Rogue National Wild and Scenic River in southern Oregon. You can find him online at and @The_Big_Quiet on Twitter.

Jennifer Pastiloff is a writer living on an airplane and the founder of The Manifest-Station.  She’s 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 for all levels. She and bestselling author Emily Rapp will be leading another writing retreat to Vermont in October. Check out her site for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up is NYC in March followed by Dallas, Seattle and London.