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Guest Posts, Self Care

Madame Defarge in the age of Corona

March 29, 2020
knitting

By Caroline Leavitt

Years ago, in 2004, while my husband Jeff and I were sitting watching the election returns, I was stress knitting in terror. That evening, I made twelve (I’m not kidding) fingerless mitts that I, always the writer, embroidered with the words Hope on the left hand, Love on the right.

It didn’t help. Bush won. Crying, I wrapped up all those mitts and sent them to the friends I had made them for with a note: Maybe next time will be better.

Next time isn’t better. The next election, a day before I am due to go out on Book Tour, for a new novel, Cruel Beautiful World,  about how the world drastically changed from the late sixties to the early seventies, my world drastically changes as well. Trump wins. I get on a plane and people are crying. I have two events, ticketed, $70 a pop and five people show up for the first, and only three for the second.

I keep writing. I keep hoping. I have a new novel coming out in August and I sold the one after that, too, though on a partial, so I have to write it. And as I hoped, this year is something very different, but not in a good way. Trump terror seeps into everything we hear and see and do. People worry that he might stop the elections, that he might make himself Emperor for life, which given his erratic sociopathic nature, is not implausible or impossible. A second term would be a disaster.

And then in the midst of this, sneaking in on little virus feet, is Corona.

I live in the NYC area, and things are quietly surreal. On the subway, I actually can hear the usually garbled announcement which urges everyone to wash their hands, to cough into their elbows, to not panic. Don’t panic. Don’t Panic. Don’t Panic.

Panic.

Of course we all do. A man coughing in the subway is glared at. More and more people are wearing masks. I try not to touch the poles, to keep my hands away from my face. For the first time in years, I am not biting my nails. Stores are emptying out of goods and people. Things are being cancelled. Concerts and plays we had tickets for. A big event I had for my novel coming out in August. Gone. The Poets & Writers 50th anniversary extravaganza. Gone. Publishing houses are working at home. Even my cognitive therapist tells me we can do sessions by Face Time, since she has just come back from a vacation in Germany.

I’m so anxious I get a refill of Klonopin and my therapist tells me that small motor activity might be a good idea, even if it is just tapping my knees. Is there something I can do, she asks. “I can knit,” I tell her.

I haven’t knit it years, not since my first terrible marriage a million years ago, when I designed a sweater for him with dinosaurs feeding on vegetation, one I scissored up when I found out he was cheating on me. I hadn’t knit since. I was writing all the time, so why would I want to relax by using my fingers again? Didn’t they deserve a rest? But now, everything is bigger and seems more fraught with danger. I tell myself I will just straight knit, just to have something to do, that this is not about actually making anything, but just soothing my nerves.

I make my first sweaters, just two rectangles and two tubes, and when it is done, it has so many mistakes, it makes me wince. But I put it on, like a talisman, like a lucky sweater, and it’s warm, cozy and well, perfect. I did something concrete, I tell myself. That’s something.

I cannot stop knitting. I buy more yarn, more needles. Every night, when my husband Jeff and I sit to watch films, there is the click of knitting. “I don’t know what I’m doing,” I tell Jeff and he takes my hand. “I bet you do,” he says. I think about Madame Defarge from A Tale of Two Cities. She was like one of the Fates in Greek myth. She never stopped knitting, stitching in the names of the people she wanted killed, creating her own kind of revolution with yarn.

My second sweater, soft, glossy gray, is absurdly perfect and I am going to wear it to a reading, but the reading gets cancelled. All that day, I write my novel, thinking about the evening when I wouldn’t have to think, when I can just knit and turn off the churning in my mind. I think about how knitting, like a novel, has a structure, a spine that has to hold things together, how every stitch can tell a kind of story—that one there that is twisted is when I heard Trump say on the news not to worry. That one where I dropped a stitch is when I was stress eating. When my niece Hillary, who is supposed to come stay with us, along with her husband and two kids, cancels because of the virus, I go online and order more yarn, a deep dark blue, to knit a pullover for her the one way I can be with her.

The day I start that sweater, and WHO announces we have a pandemic. Italy is in lockdown. The first big event for my novel, The Texas Library Association in Houston, is cancelled. The Virginia Festival of the Book is cancelled. The Poets & Writers 50th Anniversary is cancelled. Colleges are holding virtual classes.

I sit with Jeff watching Sorry Wrong Number with a particularly hysterical Barbara Stanwyck, who begins to have an inkling she’s about to be murdered. I am knitting and knitting and knitting through the night, my eyes on the screen. It isn’t until I am done for the evening, that I look down at my work. To my shock, the garment has lost its structure. It isn’t totally blue the way it is supposed to be. I must have picked up the wrong yarn, because the second half of the back of the sweater is now deep green.

At first, I’m pissed. I wanted to control this. Rip it out like errant pages that aren’t working. The way this is supposed to go is not thinking, just knitting. Plus, the thought of ripping out all that work makes me ill. I’m terrible at taking out stitches and picking them back up and I know if I even try, there will be a stunning number of holes.

So I leave it. And the next day, I keep knitting, picking up other colors, making something that I don’t even think about having control over, that I can’t possibly know how it might resolve. As I knit,  I look down every once in a while, surprised, and sometimes pleased. The steady rhythm is so soothing, so hypnotic. I think about my novel, the characters so real I know what color sweaters I could knit for them, and that makes me think a bit about plot. I think about my mom, who died, two years ago, who I wish I could call to make sure she’s all right. I think about the sweater I’d make for her, deep purple, her favorite color, a sweater she’ll never get to wear. I think about my sister, who is estranged from our family and how I’d like to make her a purple sweater, too. I think about our son Max, who is in Brooklyn, who I get to see and hug. I move closer on the couch to Jeff, the click of my needles like a kind of Morse code. I love you. It’s going to be all right.

And so I keep knitting for other people. Pullovers that will hug them because I can’t anymore, at least not without a mask. Despite myself, I am getting better and better. Knit. Knit. Knit. I’ve come to realize that this is how I give up my desperation to control the narrative and the fear I’m feeling. Knitting a sweater isn’t writing a novel, not in any sense. We can’t know how the world is going to go with the virus, we cannot know what is going to happen with Trump and his cronies or with our planet that is falling apart. We breathe in and we breathe out. We wash our hands and cover our coughs and I keep knitting.

I buy more yarn. It doesn’t matter what color, just that I have enough for four more sweaters. Just so I can see the pile of yarn, provisions against terrible times and anxious thoughts. Despite the fierce intensity of my knitting, I’m no Madame Defarge, purling my way to revenge. This is not A Tale of Two Cities as much as it is a tale of one world in crisis. Instead, every night, this is how I knit connections, this is how I knit away the terror, one stitch at a time.

Caroline Leavitt is the New York Times Bestselling author of Pictures of You and Is This Tomorrow. Her new book, With or Without You set for release in August and can be ordered here.  Her essays and stories have appeared in Real Simple, The Millions, and The New York Times. Visit her at @leavittnovelist on Twitter, on Facebook, and at Carolineleavitt.com

 

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Guest Posts, Self Image, Writing & The Body

Claiming the Right to Cherish My Body

March 8, 2019
cherish

By Signe E. Land

Soaking in the tub on Christmas Eve, I studied my naked body. My two sons were on a trip with their father, and I live by myself, so I had plenty of time to reflect on the noticeable weight I had gained after a recent surgery. My breasts had grown larger and were pleasantly round with a fullness they hadn’t had for a very long time.  My stomach and sides had grown thicker too.  I considered some pros and cons of the weight gain. Pro: my butt was rounder, not as flat.  Con: my butt was not as perky.  Pro: my breasts were larger, pleasingly heavy when I weighed them in my hand.  Con: I had a little pot-bellied tummy.  Pro: I felt surprisingly more grounded in my body.  Con: I had to buy new jeans.

In the past, I had always abdicated judgement of my body to others.

Now single, for the first time I was the only one experiencing my body; I was the only one who would decide if the changes were good or bad, ugly or beautiful. In the past, partners had taught me that a fit, trim body was acceptable and loveable, though they had said they would love me “even if” I gained weight, whatever that meant. Judgment of my body was for others, including my mother, for whom my body had never been quite right: for her, I had always been too heavy or too thin. Now, as I considered my new curves and softness, I was surprised at the lack of horror and shame I had always felt before when I had gained weight.

As I considered my new body, a word popped into my mind along with a question: Cherish.  Do I cherish my body? Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Self Image

Pale Pink Robe

April 16, 2017

By Anonymous

I have a pale pink silk robe hanging in my closet.  Every time I open the door, it makes me feel delicate and artful and foreign and adventurous. In life, I am better off in a gray zippered sweatshirt because of the coffee I dribble, the olive oil spatters that zap me when stir-frying onions, the mascara wiped on my sleeves from the night before. Once a week I put the silk on, feel chilly, and go back to the sweatshirt.

But, god, I love that robe.

I bought it at the Casbah on Sunset. The Casbah was my favorite place to write ten years ago. Everything was beautiful and curated and sheer and perfect and the coffee was strong and there was the sense that the owner didn’t treat the staff like garbage. It was a good place to be. A good place to write and get hopped up on caffeine and candied apricots and look at huaraches and baby T-shirts and Turkish towels I could not afford.

When I look at the robe in my closet now, I think of the day I got it. I was with two friends. I had stared at it during previous visits. The perfect, barely blushing pin-up, nippley shade of pink with a muted, red, woodblock pattern, a simple cut, sheer-ish, a belt. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, healing

Learning to Mother Myself

November 22, 2016
snake

By Megan Galbraith

I sat on the stonewall outside my studio, reading Rebecca Solnit’s The Faraway Nearby, and thinking about how excited I’d been to get far away from my family. I’d been awarded a glorious month-long writers residency in Ithaca, NY from The Saltonstall Foundation. It was my first residency and I had no idea what to expect. What to bring? How to handle the silence? What if I couldn’t produce anything?

It had never occurred to me that I’d miss my family. I thought I’d craved solitude, but a month inside my own head was taking its toll. I was swept up in self-doubt and jumping out of my skin. I missed my husband, my boys, and my stepdaughter. I missed the dogs that I’d cursed daily for their endless silent pleading, “let me in, let me out, let me in, let me out.” I didn’t know how to be still with myself because it seemed there was so little stillness at home.

I looked up from the book and noticed a delicate snakeskin pinned beneath dead daylily leaves in the dirt to my left. The snakeskin was preserved in its entirety, from head to tail, not a rip or a tear. Its mouth was open as if it was mid-strike, and I could see the dark jeweled ovals where the snake’s eyes had been. It was nearly two feet long, a garter snake most likely, and the perfect embodiment of the reptile itself rendered like a tissue-thin sepia-toned X-ray. Continue Reading…

Awe & Wonder, Guest Posts, The Body

Night Run

May 23, 2016

By Maggie May Ethridge

I always hated running.  Running gave me rabbit ears, pink and tender, and set an ache roaring through my temples that eventually drilled deep into my ear drum, where I could then hear it beating a protest. Running made my thighs break out in large, itchy patches that I tore into, leaving long red scratch marks. Running gave me a side stitch and shin splints, a gash, a rash and purple bumps- yes, I understood Shel Silverstein’s little Peggy Ann McKay perfectly. I would and did dance for hours, lift weights, climb the Stairmaster, do yoga, pilates and hike- but I would not run.

I had birthed my last and fourth child three years ago. I was heartbroken inside my marriage and on the other side of the worst two years of parenting I’d ever experienced. I felt lost inside the needs of my large family. My weight had crept up. I wasn’t weighing myself- with two daughters, I have mostly avoided that dangerous pursuit- but I felt bloated, anchored and exhausted. In the afternoon or evening I would put on a workout DVD and give twenty or thirty minutes to movement. I still had the Kathy Ireland workout VHS from my twenties and a FIRM butt routine, and I enjoyed the ridiculousness of existence while squatting and thrusting in my living room.

One day I sat in my living room and looked at my tennis shoes and suddenly the total simplicity of running was as desirable as dark chocolate cake, orgasm, reading. I can pull on some shoes, step out of my house, and go wherever I want, I thought. Running requires nothing other than a place to run, and the will to do so. In that moment, I had both. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, healing, Yoga

The Girl I Meet on the Yoga Mat

June 16, 2015
Book Girl Power: You Are Enough now! Space is limited. Sep 19 Princeton! Sep 20th NYC. The book is also forthcoming from Jen Pastiloff.

Book Girl Power: You Are Enough now! Space is limited. Sep 19 Princeton! Sep 20th NYC. The book is also forthcoming from Jen Pastiloff.

By Janna Marlies Maron

Plank pose. I hold myself up with arms and feet. Blood pulsing through my biceps and I feel strong. Pull belly in and I feel healthy. Holding in plank pose I breathe in; I breathe out. I remember how hard it used to be for me to hold this pose. Just 15 seconds and I started to shake. I could not hold it the entire time and had to lower knees down for support. Today I do not shake. I hold until the teacher instructs us to release.

I pull hips up and back into downward facing dog and stretch heels down to the mat. Hands press the mat away; spine stretches. Again I recall what it was like when I first started practicing yoga. In downward dog, knees bent and heels up. Holding that position and I lost my breath.

I move through the poses and watch myself as if I am not me but another student in the class. I watch and remember what she was like when she first started to practice yoga. Not even when she first started, but when she was the most depressed after her diagnosis nearly three years ago. She felt weak and unhealthy. She spent half the class or more resting in child’s pose. She wondered why she was even there. Continue Reading…

Abuse, Dear Life., Guest Posts, healing

Dear Life: I Don’t Feel Worthy of Love.

January 6, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88

Welcome to Dear Life: An Unconventional Advice Column.

Your questions get sent to various authors from around the world to answer (and please keep sending because I have like 567 writers that want to answer your burning questions. Click here to submit a letter or email dearlife@jenniferpastiloff.com.) Different writers offer their input when it comes to navigating through life’s messiness. We are “making messy okay.” Today’s letter is answered by Angela Marchesani, who wrote this stunning piece on rape here on the site. Her essay was anonymous until a few weeks ago. She is also the awesome soul who made me the “Don’t Be An Asshole” wine/coffee cup. Order one by emailing her at angela.marchesani@gmail.com. Say Jen sent you. And remember, don’t be an asshole. 🙂

10906250_382188381942065_3259713207549686863_nSend us your questions for Dear Life 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 Vancouver in a couple weeks! My first workshop there! 

VANCOUVER! The Manifestation Workshop in Vancouver. Jan 17th. Book here. No yoga experience required. Only requirement is to be a human being.

VANCOUVER! The Manifestation Workshop in Vancouver. Jan 23rd. Book here. No yoga experience required. Only requirement is to be a human being.

Dear Life,

I don’t even know where to begin – I have so many thoughts running through my mind right now, so I am just going to write.

As a young child, I endured sexual and physical abuse, I observed my parents go through a horrible divorce, and I was put in adult situations no child should ever be in. To sum it up: I had a dysfunctional childhood.

My teenage years were not any better – my family life was chaos, I had a broken/unhealthy relationship with my father, mother and siblings. I longed for my parents’ love, affection and attention. I unknowingly sacrificed my innocence by offering my body to men/boys as a means to feel loved. Yet, deep down in my soul, I knew all the suffering I had experienced in my short lifetime was not my future.

Since my early 20s, my determination helped me move mountains to heal from my past, so I could live a life I know I deserve. I never let my past be my crutch, so I put myself through college while working a successful full-time job. Throughout the years, I sought out different therapist to help guide me on my journey. I have tried to form a consistent spiritual relationship with God, I have read end-less self-help books, I am constantly on social media reading inspirational quotes and self-discovery blogs (Oprah is my new best friend) – you name it, I’ve tried it. Yet, I still feel empty. I still struggle with depression, weight gain (self-sabotage), and I lack self-love, self-worth, and self-acceptance. I often find myself pondering why I am still so broken, if I am a “survivor”?

So, let’s fast forward to the past few years — I have been hit with one crisis after another, and as a result, my mind, body and soul finally shut-down. The stress I was under triggered my past, and I became that fearful five year old girl, immobilized. I became severely depressed and by the summer of 2014 I was suicidal. On the outside in, I appear well put together, the one everyone calls for advice, the person who will lift your spirits, the reliable one – yet, on the inside I was dying. I was in a black hole that I could not get out of alone, so I cried for help, and for the first time, I shared my dark secret with my loved ones. Unfortunately, the stigma around depression made it hard for my loved ones to truly understand what was happening to me mentally. At the end of the day, I still suffered in silence and alone. I fear my depression because I can feel the illness lurking in the background ready to pounce on me when I least expect it. I never want to go back to that dark place, ever!

Now I am going to jump into my relationship. For the past six months, I have put my relationship on the back burner to focus on myself while I was severely depressed. I live with my boyfriend of nine years (it’s more like we are roommates) – we share the daily hugs, kisses and “I love you”, but there is no true intimacy: physically or emotionally. We don’t really share the same interest anymore. I spend more “alone” time with my girlfriends than I do with him – I go to family functions by myself because he would rather sit at home drinking a beer and watching sports. I feel depleted – I don’t feel in love with him anymore, and I often fantasize about being in a relationship with a man that has lots of passion. Our lease is up in a few months and I am torn between working on the relationship or saying goodbye.

For the first time in my life, I feel like I don’t have the mental capacity or the tools do handle this all alone!

Sincerely,

Am I Worthy of Love?
Continue Reading…

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