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paying attention

Guest Posts, Inspiration

Messengers Of A Different Kind

March 25, 2015
 beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88
By Sarah Lewis.
Sometimes, the universe speaks to us.

In strange places, nonetheless.

This particular morning I was power walking through the aisles of Target, in search of cereal bars for a quick breakfast before meeting a friend I hadn’t seen in years. My mission: timeliness. Lately I’d been succumbing to the sultry pull of lateness, but truly, this tendency irked me. I prided myself on maintaining consistent timeliness as a teenager because my mother had provoked near-insanity in my nine-year-old-self, shuttling me to every.single.appointment at least ten minutes late. Nowadays, I’m able to calculate the theoretical ratio between the necessary time remaining for travel and my estimated lateness like a pro; yet, this never fails to inspire raw panic within me. So, this morning’s mission of timeliness would be accomplished with power walking and way-faster-than-the-speed-limit driving. Perfect.

Approaching my turn at the register, I thrust my bag at the cashier while searching for my credit card with the furthest bill date.

“I have my own bag.”

Silence, yet comfortably so. I glanced upward.

“Hello. How are you?” asked the cashier, deliberately leaning forward. He was an older man with graying hair and wrinkled skin. Wearing a bemused expression, his voice playful, he was so clearly entertained by my frenzied state that I couldn’t help but giggle.

(In truth, I was embarrassed I could ignore someone so easily. *Mental note: ask everyone how they are. Always.)

“I’m so sorry, how are you?”

“I’m ok. Just take a breath, relax.”

He had amiable eyes. How was he delivering this somewhat condescending message with such kindness?

“I’m just in a rush, I’m sorry!” I apologized; I couldn’t remember the last time I acted like this. I acknowledged my rudeness because maybe, just maybe, doing so would eradicate my ignorance. It was a desirable and convenient theory.

“Keep breathing, keep breathing. I’ll get a move on. Relax…!”

I was still looking for the right credit card. Which one had the lowest balance?

“Miss, I need this.”

The man had been grabbing at the bag between my fingers; I didn’t even realize I was still holding it. Gripping it, actually. I mumbled, “Sorry, sorry.”

“It’s ok, it’s ok!” he conveyed with laughter. There was a type of softness in his voice that I couldn’t quite place. I finally lifted my gaze to swipe my card and grab my now-full bag.

“Have a nice day!”

He laughed again: “You too, miss. You too.”

“And I’ll try to slow down!” I added. Perhaps this was an obligatory sentiment, but at least I tried. He laughed again.

“Good, good.”

With this exchange complete, I power walked back to my car and pulled out of my parking spot with the swiftness of person practiced in the art of driving under time pressure.

And then I began to think.

Sometimes, the universe speaks to us in the form of an elderly Target cashier.

This man was kind enough to reach over my barrier, my cocoon of speed and agility, my downward look indicating I did not want conversation, and speak to me. He dared unravel a few of the myriad threads holding my world together, protecting me like a shield, and whisper a message with his kind eyes.

This man was a messenger. Was he my particular messenger? No, probably not, but he was a messenger of sorts. And now it was my turn to absorb his words and decipher their meaning. I concluded that our conversation could mean three things:

  1. I was not meant to live in the extremely fast-paced area of Bergen County.
  2. I should always show kindness toward the people around me.
  3. I need to engage.

I began to ponder the last point. Lately I felt like I’d been trying to slow down, yet hated it: I would spend hours scrolling through meaningless pages on my laptop at early hours of the morning, my eyes half-closed in sleepiness. If this was relaxation, I wanted no part of it. But what if slowing down meant I needed to engage in my surroundings, rather than aimlessly numb my brain?

What if, like a child, I could find grandeur in any moment? I liked this idea: life could expand and contract based on my level of engagement with the world.

I considered a world in which everyone sustained such a high level of engagement: happily acknowledging other people in the street, admiring the leaves and the way their waxy exteriors glisten in the sun, searching for knowledge with eyes fixed ahead instead of looking at phones for quick-fix stimulation. An open-armed world built on a foundation of wonder.

Clearly this type of world could be created only by certain messenger-type people, those brave enough to pick others up, shake them, and say, “What are you doing, asshole? There’s a whole world out there! Look at it!”

And yet…what if we’re all messengers, just in disguise? Only a few kind-hearted souls may reveal themselves as such, but maybe we all possess the potential for deliverance deep within our bones. Everyone could experience life in broader colors, perceiving grandiosity on every corner. For those that view the world in grey, well, any one of us would gladly point out the colors and encourage them to see.

Because we’re all messengers.

Sometimes, the universe kicks us in the ass and says, “Wake up, now!” in the form of an elderly Target cashier who just gets it.

And for that, I am grateful. I will lace up my messenger shoes and continue forward, because every person deserves to own a pair.

Every person deserves to know they’re worth it.

 

Continue Reading…

5 Most Beautiful Things, Jen's Musings, poetry

I Love You… But I’m Shy.

March 11, 2014

For Naomi Shihab Nye, who makes me want to be a better person.

The 5 Most Beautiful Things Project. I sometimes forget to write them down here in the blog but I almost always am on the hunt for them. Here’s the latest:

Poetry. Even the found poems, especially the found ones. As if they were left specifically for us. (Maybe they were?) Like the journal I found in my drawer tonight that someone had left at the restaurant I worked at for years. I’ve kept it all this time. I found it left under a table one night while I was cleaning up after my shift.

Some day I will live in the southe of France, wear espadrilles and a long silk scarf flowing behind me as I ride my bicycle to the beach

photo 1

So much time has passed since I found this old journal that I question now if I indeed wrote the words, but the handwriting isn’t mine and there’s these little drawings, which are most definitely not mine (at best I can draw stick figures.) But this gift, this poem(s) as it were, because it is a poem- who can question the image of a long silk scarf flowing behind a girl (who, according to the drawing wears a mask) and how that image will live somewhere inside me so that if I ever visit the south of France, which I have every intention of doing, I will conjure this mask wearing bicycle riding scarf trailing bicycle girl.

The next page:

I love you… but I’m shy.

More bicycles.

One of the riders is only a head. No body. This gift of poetry, which is everywhere if you look.

photo 2

Saturday night I went to a reading of Naomi Shihab Nye’s. (She’s actually the number one beautiful thing on this list.) Naomi has become a friend and what I most love about her, and there are many things to love, is her ability to be present and how she looks at the world with a poet’s eye, or rather, with a childlike sense of wonder. She talked about going to the library as a child and how you’d just let yourself wander until you found a book. You’d explore, as you weren’t going there for anything in particular. As adults, she said, we’re so directive. We make a beeline for exactly when what we want. There is a mission and a purpose and very little letting yourself get lost amidst a sea of books. She has that sense of wander and wonder.

Naomi and I

Naomi and I

My first love was poetry. I started writing stories as a child but when I got serious about it at NYU, it was for the love of poetry. C.K. Williams was the first poet I heard read.

I loved C.K. for how his poetry ran on and on. How it felt like he was talking to only me (isn’t that what all good writing does?) singling me out in a room full of shoelace-faced students—whispering into my freezing ears. Out of all the ears he could whisper to on a packed C train and he chose mine! This is what poetry can look like, he said. This is what words can do. And he conversed with me through his poems and taught me what was possible. If it weren’t for him (and a few other poets who crawled into my slowly-going-deaf-ears, right at that particular moment in time, I might still be riding the C train without the knowledge that words could change the world.) They could pummel and destroy and create and fascinate. I didn’t quite realize the capacity they had until those poets (Donna Masini, C.K. Williams, Derek Walcott, Seamus Heaney, Sharon Olds, Stanley Kunitz) quietly, without so much as a word of warning, showed up during my 19th year on the planet. They marched in and planted their word-flags and even when they left, their flags remained waving for me so that no matter where I went, I had a place that felt like home.

Naomi Shihab Nye makes me want to scour the world for poems.

I went digging and found the journal in my drawer which is undoubtedly filled with other poem worthy artifacts. I remember when I found the journal at work that Saturday night in 2001, or whenever it was, how I thought I’d hit the jackpot. I peaked in the book and realized it was nothing confessional (I murdered someone or I’m having an affair.) It probably sucked to lose it but I doubt it was earth shattering (Geez, I hope it wasn’t)- most of it was blank, save a few drawings and dreams and clothing sketches.

photo 3

I stuck it in the safe at the restaurant. No one claimed it for a whole year so I finally went back and got my loot. Then I stuck it in a drawer for a good ten years. Until today. So that’s one (or more) of my beautiful things. The way art finds us. The way poetry is everywhere. Just like beauty. And bicycles with body-less riders and lists of places to go, well, can’t the mind just go wild on that shit nodding madly yes yes yes.

Opening my own notebook and seeing this list.

2014:

Italy

London. Meet Jimmy again.

Go To Hong Kong.

(I remember now that these were my husband’s wishes and I’d just written them down for him.) We were in San Francisco. We’d just had some pizza. It was December and we were in San Francisco at some over-priced restaurant targeted for tourists. I had a glass of chardonnay and the wine gave me that rush of what was possible so I said to him, What should we do, you know? This year, with my pen poised and my little notebook out. Where do you want to go? So I am looking at this next to this old notebook I found at The Newsroom on my waitressing shift and I’m thinking how the same we are. So many of us. How we dream and dream and want and want and how we write things down in little notebooks and maybe we leave them behind or maybe we take them. Maybe we never go to any of the places we dream of going, but maybe we do. There’s so many of us with so many wishes and places and notebooks that surely there is a varied lot- some who make it to the other side of their dreams, some who make it as far as the ink on the paper and some who never have the courage to write it down. I’m thinking there’s all sorts.

Anyway, funny that I have these two books open and both are lists of places to go.

Oh, the places you’ll go!

I wonder if the girl who lost the notebook at The Newsroom ever went to the places she doodled. Her name is in the front cover. Back then we didn’t have Facebook to look her up but now I suppose I could. But I won’t. It would be awkward. If she reads me (wouldn’t that be a funny thing?) maybe she’ll recognize her drawings and her words. And maybe she will shoot me an email saying, “Yes, I made it. I am here in the south of France on my bicycle with a long scarf flowing behind me.”

The joy of quiet. Something Naomi said last Saturday. She loved my essay I wrote about my hearing loss on The Nervous Breakdown, and it struck me hearing her talk of the joy of quiet, that she, along with myself, must think of bursts of silence as holy things. The moderator, Lisa Napoli, asked Naomi how she finds quiet in the madness of the world. Oh, it’s to be found, she said in so many words. And I thought how the quiet is in itself a found art.

I am so unwilling to let myself get quiet most days and combined with the constant ringing in my ears, it seems as if my head is a carnival of sound. Nonstop chatter. I decided I must excavate quiet, I must unearth it and actively look for it as I do with the 5 Most Beautiful Things Project. Beauty Hunter. Hunter of Quiet. I’ve begun making it a project, seeking quiet wherever I can, because surely we all deserve the joy of quiet.

I have been walking to the beach. I have been meditating. I have been listening. It’s nice.

**

Today, a couple kids were yelping loudly so I said, “What’s the excitement?”

“He’s my cousin!” one shrieks, pointing to another, obviously very proud of this relation.

“She is too!” Pointing to another, younger girl, thrilled to be able to point this out to me. That such excitement about family exists. We are related!

Can you imagine being somewhere and jumping up and down to tell someone This is my mom! This is my brother! This is my Uncle! She’s my sister! It was sweet. And I wondered how long they’d stay close. I am not particularly close to any of my cousins. And just then, one of the kids face planted and havoc ensued.

** 

I sort of lost track since I’m rambling, but I think I am at number 5.

photo

#5 then, my friend Angela Patel who is a gifted writer and who sent me this book the other day when I was feeling like shit. I had been struggling with depression and anxiety and she sent this wee book in the mail, so small I thought the package was empty. It’s called The Do-It-Yourself Guide To Fighting The Big Motherfuckin’ Sad by Adam Gnade. The timing was impeccable. And this little book, surely there are parts where I feel as if I wrote it (again how similar we are! So many of us walking around trying to fight the big motherfuckin’ sad in our lives.) I mean, have you read my friend Maggie May Ethridge’s piece on my site called Sad Fish? It’s one of my favorites and I have taken to reading it aloud to people like some preacher on a street corner. Hey you! You! Over there! In the red jacket! Listen up.

I think that maybe finding the beauty and the quiet is the poetry. And the things we notice when we are the denizens of such particular states of grace will allow us to harness our joy in such way that every so often we’ll feel as if we are on a bicycle somewhere in the south of France, some scarf trailing behind us and nothing existing but that which is waiting to be found by us and has perhaps been waiting forever.

******

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 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 jenniferpastiloff.com 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. 

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