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Dear Life.

Dear Life. Unconventional Wisdom.

February 10, 2014

Welcome to the newest installment of The Manifest-Station. Dear Life: an unconventional advice column with a spin. The questions get sent to various authors from around the world to answer. Different writers offer their input when it comes to navigating through life’s messiness. Today’s 2 questions are answered by author Robert Wilder. Have a question for us? Need some guidance? Send an email to dearlife at or use the tab at the top of the site to post. Answers will vary according to the voice/personality/sense of humor of each author. Need help navigating through life’s messiness? Write to us!



Dear Life,

Life has never felt easy. As a four year old I remember worrying if my parents could pay the bills. I remember going home early from kindergarten with stomach aches I couldn’t explain. I remember wanting to speak, but not feeling the courage to do so. I remember hearing them fight all through the night, doors slamming and the sound of a hand hitting a face. I remember wondering why they kept having more kids. And then I remember taking care of those kids. I remember begging my mom to leave my dad. And then she did. And I remember the poverty that came I wasn’t expecting. Life. It only got harder. I remember wondering why everyone had when we didn’t. I remember people leaving cash in our mailbox because “your mom is a hard worker but has no way to buy you gifts.” I remember through that time having a crush on a boy and then hearing him call me homely to my best friend. I remember my best friend dating him then. I remember everyone saying I was so responsible and helpful and going to go places in this life. I remember the adults saying that the bullying would stop as I got older. I remember them saying if I just got good grades and worked hard that I could become anything. I believed them.  They were wrong. Or they lied.

I remember at 17 filling out the financial aid forms to go to school. Not a person to help me. I remember the joy of opening my acceptance letter to school and the response I got was “I can’t help you in any way.” I remember being embarrassed of my second hand clothes in my new world I moved to. I remember staying up all night to do my homework after a long night of work. I remember the boy in college that I thought really liked me. I remember doing whatever I could to make sure he did. And then I remember that he never called me again. I remember the shame. I’ve never lost the shame of the things I did to get them to like me. I remember working and studying and working some more. I remember I still believed that I was meant to do great things. That I could be the one in my family to make it out. I remember those with daddy’s that cared got the better internships and jobs after school. I remember I didn’t know how to play the game. I didn’t have anyone to show me. 

And as the years continued, I remember the slow death of my hopes and big dreams and all I thought was possible to those who worked hard. I got tired. I got so tired. I gave up. 

I have settled. I live a life that looks nothing like what I ever said I wanted.

How do I get them back? The dreams? The idea that things are still possible…even for me? Will life ever feel easy?

Signed, Will it ever feel easy, in Missouri.


Dear “Will It Ever,”

It seems as if you’ve hit rock bottom. What to do? I know this is no consolation but everybody is suffering. Everybody I know at least. Death, bad divorce, drug addiction, abuse, bankruptcy, you name it. Life is really hard, but I think I have a prescription for some temporary relief: Contron. I know Contron sounds like a combined comic
book/futuristic convention, but it’s not. Contron is a twenty-year-old, unemployed, low-fi bedroom singer living with his mother in Pensacola, Florida. Contron writes songs about sadness, drugs, heartbreak, abortion, going to the moon, picking daisies, but mostly sadness. My seventeen-year-old daughter turned me onto the gospel of Contron,
and I feel (slightly) healed. Why? Humanity. Contron makes art out of misery, and that my Dear “Will It Ever” makes me hopeful. I know how it is to have loss. My mother died when I was seventeen; my father is only weeks or months away from leaving right now. There’s more, but I will spare you. My advice: find the humanity in everything. Oh, and listen to Contron here:

Good luck,

Rob Wilder


Dear Life,

This comes to you from the other side of the world. Why is that I always feel like I’m in the wrong place? And is where you are even relevant?

Why is it that I constantly make the wrong decisions? I keep
on shoving myself into situations that don’t seem to agree with me… I see
myself as a rather conscious individual: I take care of myself from a
nutritional point of view, I meditate, I walk/cycle every day, I do
Pilates, I practice gratitude… and I question my life regularly… maybe
a little too regularly.

Pre-2013, I had a nice little set-up in Brussels (Belgium), with a
part-time job at a law firm, doing the occasional translation job and a
small community of dear friends to help and support me. For the two years
prior to 2013, I was engaged in a long-distance relationship with someone I
met online, and who lives in London. After 2 years, I sort of pushed myself
into making “a decision” as to where this relationship was headed. I
decided to move to London, to be with him, dragging everything I own with
me (and later dragging it all back again). After barely 6 months in London
and many spanners thrown into the works, creating all-round bad vibes: “we”
weren’t really functioning, which led to me not really functioning as an
individual either (I seemed to be paralyzed on many levels). One evening,
after yet another horrendous altercation with our obnoxious down-stairs
neighbor, I felt like it was the straw that broke the camel’s back, stuffed
some clothes into a small suitcase, and left. I went back to Brussels,
where all of a sudden, job opportunities were falling into my lap. I was
couch-surfing but it was summer and I didn’t mind… I was being received
with open arms by my friends and I will eternally be grateful for this.
However, after about a month and a half of that, I decided to go back to
Ostend (a seaside town in Belgium, where I was born and grew up), to be
closer to my family while I decided what I was going to do…

In the end, I decided to stay in Ostend to be by the seaside, go for daily
walks along the seafront and the beach, etc. Idealizing the prospect of it,
no doubt…
I rented an apartment which is pretty spectacular (in a certain sense). I’m
on the 12th floor of a tall building, of which there are only 2 in the
city, so my view is amazing. It’s a small flat, so it’s easy to heat and
maintain, and thanks to my 2 floor-to-ceiling windows, it never feels
enclosed or claustrophobic. It seemed like a perfect set-up. On top of
that, the place is relatively affordable, despite the fact that I’m
surviving on unemployment benefits. Anyway, the plan was to find a
part-time job and try to find translation work, which I’ve always done on a
free-lance basis… you know, trying to find a workable solution to make
ends meet and not get bogged down in a job that would suck the life out of

(Oh dear, this is going to end being a novella… I apologize sincerely…)

The above is a seriously abridged version of my background. It doesn’t
mention that I’ve been doing this my entire life… My trajectory to date
(25 years) has been as follows: Ostend – Brussels – London – Brussels –
Chicago – Brussels – London – Brussels – Ostend.
Yes, unsettled might be the right choice of word!!

To get to the point… I have been in Ostend for 3.5 months now and I’m
feeling defeated, completely out of whack. There is no work in this small
town! Unless, you are willing to work retail or do cleaning jobs. Not that
I look down on those… not in the slightest! I just know that it would
cause me to slide into a deep depression again. I need to have work that is
worthwhile and has added value…

I’m not connecting with people… This town is a bit of an elephant’s
graveyard, populated mainly by elderly people. Hence, there is no
motivation to change things… and when there is, there is opposition from
the municipality, who do their utmost to make this place as comfortable as
possible for aforementioned elderly and as unattractive as possible for the
younger generation. That’s why they all move away…

I thought I’d enjoy the peace and quiet, but I’m not! It reeks of death,

My brother has his family and job and is perfectly happy in his way of
life. It’s actually a joy to behold. They just bought a house and they’re
thinking of buying garages and renting them out as an easy investment with
high yields. I understand, but couldn’t possibly imagine being stuck in
that kind of life. They seem to be perfectly content with their lives,
although my brother did mention the other day that he doesn’t find
fulfillment in his job… that said, he accepts his present situation

I envy that… I wish I could be happy with a bog-standard, conventional
way of life. My reasoning, though, is as follows: these are not the “simple
things” in life, as my brother claims. As far as I can tell, he is enslaved
to a system, which forces everyone to spend their life in servitude. You do
work that offers no personal fulfillment. You’re part of a huge machine
that serves only itself, under the illusion that is doing good by providing
“work”. You are enslaved by a system that forces you to work your ass off,
in exchange for a measly wage that then immediately heads out the other
way, to pay bills and taxes, etc. Your work isn’t even benefiting anyone in
particular, except for that huge company that has “given you a chance” only
to enrich themselves even more… How can that be fulfilling? That is not
why we were set on this earth, is it? All of this begs the question as to
why I was set on this earth? Not to sit around getting worked up about the
status quo, I hope!? It seems like I should be doing something to change
that status quo!

I feel like I made the wrong decision, AGAIN, by deciding to move to
Ostend. I am increasingly plagued by a sense of dread… I don’t want to do
a “whatever job” just to pay the bills. I kind of like my apartment but I
feel anxious here… There are “antennae” on the roof of the building and
I’m convinced that the weird humming noise I constantly hear, is down to
the radiation they are emitting. It’s disrupting my sleep. I feel detached
from nature (despite the sea and the beach). In London, we had an allotment
(a plot of land in a community garden) and it was my life… I spent most
of my time there tending my vegetable garden. If anything… that was a
valuable lesson I learned by moving to London (of all places!): that I need
to be in close contact with nature!!
I feel like I should just pack up and leave… become a WWOOFER, go
volunteer somewhere… do something worthwhile…

Except… am I making the right decision? How do you make a living? Am I
also caught up in the same-ol’ same-ol’ pattern of trying to maintain a
grasp on the “future” (which, to all intents and purposes, doesn’t exist)?
A friend of mine is doing just that, but he has his property in Brussels,
which he will be renting out while he’s in Italy learning about
permaculture. When/if he decides to come back he will have money in the
bank! I know (from experience, mind you) that there is no point in
projecting into the future and yet, I get caught up in it every single
time. I don’t trust my gut instincts anymore… They change at the drop of
a hat… As much as I want to step out of this contrived society we live
in, I don’t trust my gut enough (it’s so fickle) to, once again, follow
what I’m feeling right now and just do it… It might, after all, be a
momentary thing… Following what I feel deep down inside has led me to
waste buckets of money, time and energy. For instance – and this is just
one of the obstacles – how do I get out of my rental agreement, which has
just started and is  meant to be an agreement for 3 years? If I break that
agreement, I have  to pay 3 months rent… I don’t have that kind of

I have always suffered from bouts of eczema and know that it’s mainly
related to my emotional state. Right now, it is about as bad as it has ever
been, which says one thing: I am on the wrong path… again…

Stuck, stuck, stuck… all tied up in knots… I am very conscious of the
situation in this world… I am feeling “the shift” like nobody’s
business…  I just don’t know how to step out and head in another
direction… I am 50… I am unsure… I am willing but don’t seem able…It is killing me…
Signed, Stuck.

Dear Stuck,

Wow. Sounds like you have 99 problems and calm ain’t one. A wise friend once told me (when I was feeling anxious. Maybe not as anxious as you, but close) that when you don’t know what to do, do nothing. He didn’t mean sit on the couch, drink cheap beer from Owl’s Liquor (really near my house) and watch Enlightened although that sounds 
great right now. He meant don’t make any grand decisions or sudden moves. Sounds like you’d be unsettled in London, Paris, or Espanola, New Mexico (near my town).

It was my birthday on Sunday, and I had over 400 pages of grading to do. Grading 400 pages of high school work would drive anyone insane. Believe. I was crawling out of my skin. But I plowed through, setting hourly goals, and taking breaks. Maybe I screamed some; my memory is foggy when it comes to outbursts. I suggest you give Ostend, 
which sounds lovely by the way, at least six months. Get a job that will pay your bills; tell yourself it’s only temporary, and continue to do your meditation. Try walking and lying meditation as well. Write in your journal (read Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down The Bones) and chill out. Tell yourself that you will not make any major decisions for six months. Stick to it. Don’t envy anyone else’s life. Don’t worry about the world; the world can take care of itself. Just take it day by day. And read some poetry. I recommend Matthew Dickman, Laura Kasischke, Dorianne Laux, and 
Tony Hoagland. Read it aloud. 

Good luck,

Rob Wilder

PS It’s not the antennae; it’s your state of mind, yo.

Robert Wilder is the author of two critically acclaimed books of essays: Tales FromThe Teachers’ Lounge and Daddy Needs a Drink, both optioned for television and film. He has published essays in NewsweekDetailsSalonParentingCreative NonfictionWorking Mother and elsewhere. He has been a commentator for NPR’sMorning EditionThe Madeleine Brand show, and On Point and other national and regional radio programs including the Daddy Needs a Drink Minute which airs weekly on KBAC FM. Wilder’s column, also titled “Daddy Needs A Drink,” is printed monthly in the Santa Fe Reporter. He was awarded the 2009 Innovations in Reading Prize by the National Book Foundation. Wilder has lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico, for the past twenty years.

Visit Robert Wilder on Facebook.


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


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


Always Be Telling Truth or You Should Only Be Happy.

March 3, 2013

My belief is that when you’re telling the truth, you’re close to God. ~ Anne Lamott

I met my friend Robert Wilder yesterday in the lobby of the Inn Of The Anasazi in Santa Fe, where I had slept the night before. I’d stayed in the hotel room of my friend Katie from L.A., who coincidently, also happened to be in Santa Fe. Her trip had been planned. Mine not so much. Ronan passed away on February 15th and the memorial was chosen for this weekend so I booked my flight just a few days ago.

Robert asked how I knew Katie and I told him that she took my classes but that now we had become close friends.

Robert’s a writer (a fantastic one) and a high school English school teacher. (He calls his students High Schooligans if that gives you an indication of his cool teacher status.) The Robin Williams in Dead Poet’s Society kind of teacher, the kind you appreciate much later upon looking back at who formed you, at who maybe taught you to really love books and writing and expressing yourself. My “Robert Wilder” was Mrs. Lifshey in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, who I remembering running into when I was getting my hair done for my senior prom. I had been trying on a rhinestone pair of earrings and she’d spotted me as she sat getting her own hair highlighted. She bought me the expensive fake diamond earrings “anonymously” that my mother couldn’t afford at the time. (My mom knew and didn’t keep it anonymous. Obviously.)

Robert and I sat on the leather sofa in the lobby of the Inn of the Anasazi and he asked me Is it hard to be friends with your students? 

Is it hard? Well, first off, I don’t have students. He has students. He is an English teacher to teenagers. I write and teach yoga. I write things that people respond to. (Sometimes.) In no way do I think of them as my students. That feels pretentious  and sort of holy to me. I’d rather think of them as my tribe. Or not-student students.

But yes, it can be hard I suppose. Like being a person in the world can be hard or being a daughter or a wife can be hard. Like how anything you love can be hard.

Here’s why it can be hard with my not-student students: I am afraid to expose myself and have them see that I am a regular person who gets depressed and thinks she looks fat sometimes and drinks too much coffee and wine and doesn’t always walk the talk.

I write about all that (and more) but there is a difference in writing about it and then actually having someone see you in the flesh as the youest you there is.

My belief is that when you are telling the truth, you are close to God. So says Anne Lamott. Yet and still, my paper creates a chasm, a separation. A wall between me and everyone else in the world. There is a distance between the reader and myself even when I am being my most vulnerable and truthful.

There is a little bit of Us and Them when you are standing in front of a class. You are in a glass case and although everyone can hear you no one can really get in. There is a you can’t really see me even though you think you can.

When you are with someone in person over lunch that distance is minimized and then there they are right up in your face, their eyes all over you, their minds making up stories and facts.

Or not.

A couple months ago I went to Atlanta to see my sister and nephews and to lead a workshop. My sister mentioned to me that she had said something to my friend (who had started as a not-student student) something about me always being on my phone.

I was horrified.

I told my sister that she should have not said that to this person. That it made me look bad and that I had an image to uphold. (Ha!) Me always being on my phone suggested that I wasn’t present, that I was full of shit. How dare she say that to someone who takes my classes? She felt bad and said that she thought this person and I were really close friends. We are I said. But still.

But still.

There is no but still.

The distance was zippered up and there was no space between us anymore and it’s true I look at my phone too much. It’s an addiction. I didn’t want that side of me exposed because in my mind it was bad enough I was friends with my not-student student but now they would see all my faults and that I was full of shit and they wouldn’t be my student or my not-student student and possibly not even my friend. (Oh, the stories! The stories!)

I brought it up at the workshop that weekend in Atlanta where my sister and the friend/ not-student student were both in attendance. My belief is that when you’re telling the truth, you’re close to God. I told the story and shared my shame and used it as an example of where I wasn’t living a congruent life. I also used it as a way to express what I felt about there not being a division between me and my not-student students.

They are people. I am people. The same.

I was terrified I would become some sort of fallen icon. As teachers of any kind, we’ve all had people become fixated or obsessed and tell us How Amazing We Are and then one day they get bored or decide you are a Real Life Human Being and you never hear from them again.

I was terrified that someone who sees me as an inspiration would realize I look at my iPhone too much and that I don’t pay enough attention and dismiss me.

My belief is that when you’re telling the truth, you’re close to God.

So yea, Rob I said on the couch there. It is hard sometimes.

But it’s only hard when I make it so. Yes, it is hard for me to be friends with everyone. (I am not special in that truth.) No one can be there for every single person nor should they be. I can’t get back to everyone. I can’t go to everyone’s play or class or band or whatever it may be, but, there are indeed some people that I meet because they take my class or read my writing or come on a retreat and who I know I want to have a glass of wine with. It is incidental to me that we met through my yoga class or my retreat or my blog. Why should I be any better than them or put myself on a pedestal because I teach them how to do a downdog or because they read an essay and feel inspired by something I said?

The only time it’s hard is when someone puts an unrealistic expectation on me or when I try to make everyone happy. I can’t do that. (I’d like to remember more often that I can’t do that. I’d like us all to remember more often that we can’t do that.)

But it’s also not hard I said. The most natural thing for me is connecting with people. When I meet someone that I want to know better it doesn’t matter if I am their “teacher.”

Look, everyone in my life is my teacher. You. You reading this. Everyone. (We should all recognize this more often.)

Look, I do want to do better.

I want to do better than yesterday at least. I want to be more present and not look at my phone so much and to never gossip and all the rest, but the people who learn from me are pretty clear that I am not a guru and I am as down to earth as they come.

Yet I also want to live a congruent life. That is what it really boils down to. My belief is that when you’re telling the truth, you’re close to God.

I tell people to pay attention and notice what fills them with awe and wonder and to write down their five most beautiful things and yet I am not present? It’s not that it’s because I am their teacher and they are my student that I want to be congruent or do better but rather I want to Always Be Telling The Truth.

ABTTT. Always Be Telling The Truth. And if my nose is stuck in my phone texting and I am not looking out the window, well then, I am missing my own five most beautiful things, aren’t I?

If someone takes my class and then we become friends and they decide they no longer want to take my class because the boundary has been crossed or because I curse or don’t do enough of my own yoga practice, well then, so be it. What can I do? They come, they go, they come again and all the while I am here ABTTT or doing my best version of it.

My belief is that when you’re telling the truth, you’re close to God.

The truth is that I can’t be friends with everybody. (Neither can you.) Nor do I want to. (Neither can you. Trust me.) Nor do you want to. So get over it. Not possible.

I can love as best as I can and I can keep teaching and writing but I cannot be friends with every single person who takes my class or reads me. It’s not humanly possible and that’s okay. The people pleasing days are falling away and the days of ABTTT are coming fast and hard.

Today is one year since my beloved Steve Bridges died. I came to Santa Fe on Thursday for Ronan’s memorial. I have been to Santa Fe a few times while Ronan was alive to visit him and his mom Emily Rapp, but this time was the first time I got altitude sickness. My heart woke me on Friday night beating as fast as a heart can beat before it explodes.

I thought I was dying.

I started to have an anxiety attack which may have been triggered by the racing heart or my monkey mind. (Take your pick.) My lips cracked and I was sweating and freezing at the same time which is as awful a combination as milk and soda. I am dying as I crawled through my friend Heather’s cute Santa Fe house in the dark in search of something that might save me. I found coconut water.

I forgot that it was the anniversary of Steve’s death today until his sister texted me It’s one year and then I realized it wasn’t altitude sickness at all. ABTTT. My body remembered as it always does even though my brain might not agree to.

My belief is that when you’re telling the truth, you’re close to God.

I miss him. That’s the truth. And yes, he started as a not-student student. I miss him and not in that way we say to everyone and their mother on Facebook when we haven’t seen them for a week. I miss you I miss you I miss you when we don’t really mean it.

I miss him. And I will never ever see him again. At least not in this lifetime. My body was rejecting the whole weekend. Ronan’s memorial, my husband’s cousin’s funeral Saturday and Steve’s anniversary of death. Too much it said. Too much! Too much my body whimpered.

So what does it matter if someone takes my classes and also eats pancakes with me? It doesn’t. It would matter if I was a vastly different person on paper or in class that I am in “real life’ but I am not. (To a fault I am pretty much the same.)

They are people. I am people. The same.

Most of the people in my life now entered via my yoga classes or my writings. I say Thank God for the not-student students who have turned into beloveds. Thank God I found you.

As I was getting on the plane (you guessed it, I am writing this from the airplane) I saw an old man reading an even older looking book called You Should Only Be Happy.

The book was written by a Jewish man and from what I could gather was a lot about Jewish culture (although you should google it because I could be way off and just making up a story.) I started talking to the man and he was an old Jew from New York  who now lived in Santa Fe. I chuckled as he held my hand. I said So are you part of the Tribe? (an oft asked semi-obnoxious question Jews sometimes ask one another) and he looked at me and said Isn’t everybody?

Isn’t everybody? 

So, is it hard to be friends with my students? Yes and no and everything in between.

Aren’t we all human? Isn’t, as my new airport friend put it, everybody part of the tribe. Isn’t everybody?

You Should Only Be Happy. Always Be Telling The Truth. Stop Looking at Your Phone So Much. Pay Attention. Drink More Water. Honor The Dead. Drink With Loved Ones. Eat Bread Baked By Your Friends. Have More Sex. Read Anne Lamott and Cheryl Strayed. Do Some Yoga.

Look, I could go on and on but then I would be sounding like a teacher. I would be sounding like I knew what the hell I was talking about.

They are people. I am people.

The same.


Dedicated to Steve Bridges and Ronan and Robert Wilder and Emily Rapp and the old man in the airport and Heather and Katie and my sister and anyone else I have ever loved or crossed paths with regardless of how we met. We are the same.


as always by

as always by