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Binders, Dear Life., Guest Posts, Relationships

Dear Life: How Do I Get To a Place Where I Can Trust Myself in Relationships?

June 14, 2015

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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  Email dearlife@jenniferpastiloff.com to submit a letter. Please make it as detailed as possible) 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 author Gina Frangello, my dear friend.

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 xo

 

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.

Dear Life,

I’m a somewhat successful college student, a writer, daughter, sister and friend. Being in college is like being in a fish bowl. I am surrounded by like-minded people studying the same things that I am, with similar dreams, goals and passions. I am being encouraged each day to learn, grow and thrive in my environment. But I have a problem.

When I was growing up, I was sexually abused. I hate even using that term, because it makes it sound like I was powerless and weak. In some way, I knew what was happening. I knew it got me attention, and made me feel valuable in some way. Over the next few years I had a string of toxic relationships (some physically and emotionally abusive, some just plain negative). I battled depression, anorexia, and various forms of self-injury.

I’m currently at a state in my life where I want to have a healthy, positive relationship. I’m thinking about marriage, ready to move forward in life and stop repeating the same negative cycle I was taught in my early years.

The problem is, I don’t know how. I’m working on healing myself, I’ve been working on my issues and I finally feel like I’m in a place where I could sustain a relationship. I’m ready to work and have that be a part of my life. But whenever I get into a relationship where there’s any real chance of commitment, I freeze. I self-destruct and sabotage the entire relationship.

I don’t know how to move past this response, or why I keep repeating the same cycle. I feel progress in so many other areas of my life, and I don’t understand why I am so stuck in this one area.

How do I get to a place where I can trust myself in relationships?

—A

Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Self Love, Truth

Hunting Self-Love

April 17, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Amy B. Scher

Just say the affirmations, they claimed, and you’ll believe them. So over and over I repeated the Louise Hay affirmations that seemed to dust everyone else’s life with a perfect sheen. I used them tenaciously each day to make me love my 20-something-year-old body that was falling apart at the seams. To make me love the me inside, too.

I love myself.

I accept myself.

I am perfect.

All will be well.

But I just kept believing that these things could only be true if. I would love and accept myself and I’d be perfect and all would be well surely, if I made more money, if I could heal this unruly body of mine, and if my partner accepted me more …

So, I said those affirmations louder and harder.

I fucking love myself.

I fucking accept myself.

I am fucking perfect.

All will be fucking well.

Then one morning, I listened very closely to the gaps between my assertions.

I love myself.

I hate myself.

I accept myself.

I reject myself.

I am perfect.

I am a mess.

All will be well.

It’s all a fucking lie. Continue Reading…

Abuse, Guest Posts, healing, Self Image

Divorcing the Voice.

December 20, 2014
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By Janet Raftis

I remember when I woke up, that sensation of feeling like I was falling down into my skin. For me, it happened not long after sobriety, and it was like a veil was simultaneously lifting as my body expanded outward in a way that allowed me to feel my skin for the first time.

It tingled and I think my feet touched the ground for the first time in my life. I don’t remember if I laughed or if I cried, and most likely it was both. I do know that it was overwhelming in the sweetest way imaginable. I actually liked the way it felt, even and in spite of the fact that I didn’t know what to do with it.

It was like a long intermission was finally over.  There had been this limbo state for me that lasted a few decades, in which I was separated from myself, dueling it out with this silent demon in my mind.

This Voice had gotten so good at cursing me and cutting me down that I had come to think of it as me. I had come to believe that the Voice I heard in my head was telling me the truth, and I allowed it to treat me far worse that any other person ever had.

It was crueler than my rapists, sharper in tongue than any high school girl, more vicious than any person that had attacked or robbed me. It was out to get me. And I was handing myself over to it without even a fight, head bowed in silent, frustrated submission.

The truth is I didn’t know that I was even in there anymore. I was a shell, bouncing around in a seemingly empty and echoing container. Even the happiness I experienced was overshadowed by fear and a sense of complete and utter isolation. I had so little faith in me that I couldn’t even believe in the sincerity of others’ feelings towards me. The Voice told me I didn’t deserve them, and so I kept an emotional distance from everyone for fear that their love would be taken away.

Finding myself again was a slow process that began unfolding a little over a decade ago and that has since found a rhythm that supports an often difficult but beautiful, constant and expansive growth. It was the love affair that I’d never had with anyone else, and the relationship that needed to be established before any other liason could ever take root.

First I had to get honest with myself. The reason I believed the Voice was because I didn’t believe in me. Gazing steadily at myself in the mirror, I had to acknowledge the fact that I didn’t really know anything about me. Who was beneath that reflection, and why had I been running from her? I’d kept myself at a superficial level of understanding because the thought of what I might uncover if I went deeper scared the hell out of me. But all of that stuff that I’d pushed down contained clues about me, and it was begging to be addressed.

I had to back up and open my arms wide so that I could open to the possibility of me. I had to give myself a break (sometimes even in tiny five minute increments), and I had to accept myself exactly where I was – all of it, even the self-hatred and fear. I had to acknowledge that I felt blemished and overlooked. I had to allow myself the space to accept every little bit of me that so that I could start exactly where I was.

As I started to notice and to actually feel my feelings, I began to witness a wonderful, albeit strange, occurrence. Initially, I spent a lot of time questioning my relationship with God and that led me right back to myself. I got angry and yelled. I got sad and cried. I got frustrated and acted out. But I followed each and every little thread to see where it landed within me, and as I did so, I began to finally understand myself. And as I worked within this new framework, and handled everything that came up instead of stuffing or hiding from it, I began to trust myself. It came in morsels initially, but the trail of crumbs eventually led me to a beautiful, delicious (gluten-free) cake.

I took little steps to work through my fear. Jen Pastiloff’s workshop showed me how to say, “Fuck it!” and give my fears a big, fat kick to the curb. I began to have more faith in the Universe and I began to understand my value. I started to fill up from the inside out rather than trying to do it from the outside in.

Actively engaging in my healing process has shown me that I can and do love myself. It has allowed me to create a bridge of understanding and connection to myself that has grown into a network of support and love, a wheel of light radiating from a center point, which is a (usually) fairly empowered me. As I learned to value myself, I started to attract others that honor me as well.

This has not always been easy and I’ve also called in a few folks and situations that I thought had my best interest at heart that in the end didn’t. Working through those circumstances has been difficult, but empowering. I’ve learned to trust myself even more and to recognize that when I give my power away, I don’t have solid ground to stand on. And so I have built an even stronger foundation based on self-trust blended with community. Most importantly, I know that regardless of how another treats me or how a relationship ends, I am still here, still standing, still the same person that I was only stronger and wiser.

No one can take from me what I’m not willing to give away.

The more I learn to honor myself the less I’m willing to part with. That doesn’t mean that I can’t give to others – I do and it now comes from an authentic space of not needing anything in return. It means that I’m more discerning about how I give of myself and with whom. I’ve learned that I can share more when I’m standing strong.

Silencing the Voice is an on-going process, one that I expect will never completely end. But it doesn’t control me anymore and I’m not afraid to tell it to shut the hell up these days. Standing up to it is standing up for me. And that feels pretty damn good.

Continue Reading…

And So It Is, Guest Posts

Taboo.

January 23, 2014

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-blackBy Andi Cumbo-Floyd

I heard my mother swear exactly one time.

My brother and I wanted to go to the pool on a blazing summer day. We were already in the back of the Chevette, our legs sticking to the vinyl, and Mom was in the driver’s seat.  I cannot remember what Jeremy and I were badgering her about – going sooner, staying longer, more snacks? – but she lost it a tiny, tiny bit.

“Damn it!” She slammed the door and went inside.

Jeremy and I sat in the car for a long time. I probably cried. In time, she came back out and drove us to the pool.

Swearing was taboo in our house. Even now, when I say “shit” in front of my dad, he winces a bit. . . and then gets that furrow of disapproval between his gray eyebrows.

My parents were quite open to most anything – I shaved my head in 7th grade – no reaction; I never had a curfew, just times my parents asked me to be home; no subject was ever off-limits in books. But swearing was not something that happened in the Cumbo home.

It was a taboo certainly carried over from their devout, somewhat conservative Christian faith and from their generational expectations – polite people just don’t swear.

***

Fuck taboos. I hate them.

I hate the way they make people feel small and tiny. Limited.  Controlled.

I hate the way they are wielded like weapons at dinner parties – in polite conversation, we don’t talk about politics, religion, or money – or touted on blogs as the guidelines for being invited in – “swearing is unnecessary.”

I hate the way that people judge each other – and themselves – when people “air their dirty laundry” as if sharing our pain is somehow violating the limits of proper etiquette.

No.  No!

I believe in hanging it all out – the shit stains and the blood marks and the semen etched by love and loathe into the sheets. Because when we hang it all out, the air gets in and opens it up, opens us up.

Because when we show ourselves, even the inky, burnt parts we normally keep turned inward, we heal.  We breathe again.

***

Someone surely is going to say that there are limits to what we should share and when. . . . and I don’t disagree . . . at least not with the idea that we can be wise about what and whom we open up to.

I do, however, disagree with the “should” because “should” is an agent of control that comes from someone other than ourselves.  “Should” is that pesky, belittling voice that silences us because it is almost never coupled with “breathe” and “rest” and the honest touch of a warm hand.  “Should”- and its brother “should not –  are the voices that shout, not the ones that caress.

I am a Christian. I have been taught for almost four decades what I should and should not do, what it is to be “good” and what it is to be “bad.”  More often the lessons on “good” washed over me like silk that flowed to other people – the girl who was prettier, thinner; the boy who read his Bible more; the woman who always smiled – but without fail, the “bad” sunk into me like acid, leaving my skin intact and burning into my skeleton.  The “should” sticks.  The “good” doesn’t.

So I have found my way past the “should” and “should not” to the space beyond that, where God, in all God’s goodness, whispers love and hope and the kind of forgiveness that is about moving forward not miring down.

***

My mother died from cancer just over three years ago. Even when she was in agonizing pain, she didn’t swear.  She didn’t complain.

I wish she had. I wish she’d let loose with every expletive that came to her as the cancer wracked her body.  I wish she had screamed out the blood that was murdering her minute by minute.

But she didn’t.  She spoke love to us even then.  “I love you . . . ”

Every day.  Every day, I am grateful that I was raised in a family where love overcame everything. . . even the taboos we taught ourselves.  Every day, I’m glad my father’s brow just furrows when I swear . . . and that then, I feel his calloused, soft hand on my shoulder as he whispers, “I’m so proud of you.”

Andi Cumbo-Floyd is the author of  The Slaves Have Names: Ancestors of my Home. She blogs regularly at andilit.com, and you can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

 

All of Jen Pastiloff’s events, including Tuscany and Mexico, listed here.

Join Jen at a writing retreat in Mexico this May!  Jennifer Pastiloff is part of the faculty in 2015 at Other Voices Querétaro in Mexico with Gina Frangello, Emily Rapp, Stacy Berlein, and Rob Roberge. Please email Gina Frangello to be accepted at ovbooks@gmail.com. Click poster for info or to book. Space is very limited.

Join Jen at a writing retreat in Mexico this May!
Jennifer Pastiloff is part of the faculty in 2015 at Other Voices Querétaro in Mexico with Gina Frangello, Emily Rapp, Stacy Berlein, and Rob Roberge. Please email Gina Frangello to be accepted at ovbooks@gmail.com. Click poster for info or to book. Space is very limited.

beauty, Guest Posts, Self Image

Teeth.

January 18, 2014

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By Kate Hill Cantrill.

My eight year-old nephew, who is an Arab Israeli, thought I looked like a farm girl when I wore braids.

“Why do you wear your hair like that?” he asked. “I don’t understand why you’d want to look like a farm girl and you do with your hair like that, and your big teeth, and your spotted face.”

“Big teeth are better than no teeth,” I said. He covered with pursed lips his missing front ones.

Later, he poked his finger into my nose and asked me why I had no babies.

He and his two brothers came to America every summer to visit their mother’s side of the family. She and their father had met when they were both studying in Germany. The oldest boy planned to be a football star; although when the football star was in America he said ‘soccer.’. He would never speak English to an Arabic speaker, or vice versa. He learned early on that there are differences in this world, even though sometimes those differences perplexed him. In his Bedouin village in Israel all the married women had babies, and he didn’t mind really, he said, but he did wonder why I was married if I didn’t want babies. I told him it wasn’t that I didn’t want them; I just didn’t want them yet.

“What are you waiting for? You’ve been married since I was a baby. You’re old.”

“I’m thirty-five,” I said.

“Yeah,” he said. That’s what he was talking about.

I told him I didn’t know what I was waiting for. He scrunched his face. This didn’t satisfy him; this was not an explanation he could chronicle in his head. He still had questions, but then he said he didn’t care anyway because if I had babies I couldn’t ride upside down roller coasters with him at Hershey Park. Maybe I could, but I’d have to find a sitter and I’d get tired a lot faster.

I believe I confused them. In their world girls were girls until they were mothers, but I was neither. Even when they came to visit America they came to Mennonite country Pennsylvania, where men did men things and women did women things; and these women things, for the most part, included having multiple children by they time they were thirty. It meant, for the most part, eschewing fashion for comfort and making other arrangements that enabled them to be anyone’s mother at any time it may be needed. A man craved a sandwich? Here was a mother. He needed his shirt cleaned? A mother. The childless daughter-in-law didn’t eat meat and therefore required a large bowl for the salad? Mother. Get your own bowl, the three boys must have thought. And wipe this steak sauce off my face while you’re up.

When I went for a run they asked, what for? You’re just going to get fatter anyway—look how big your arms are! I told them it was muscle, which it was, and then I flexed.

“Feel my guns,” I said.

“Those aren’t guns,” the oldest one said. “I’ve seen guns and I wouldn’t touch them even if they were guns.”

“Why not?”

“Because you’re a girl,” he said. “Sort of.”

They were frenetic thinkers. One day the younger one pushed the heels of his palms into his eyes and declared that it was impossible to think of nothingness—true nothingness meant nothing: no air, no god, no blinks, no thoughts. The boys’ mother, my sister-in-law, who was fairly quiet like my husband and the rest of her family, laughed and mussed his hair and said her boys were growing up to be like Arab men—always talking, talking, talking—like they were jacked up on coffee and couldn’t keep their mouths from uttering all of their thoughts.

I wondered, though, if these seemingly pointless ramblings were really indications of my nephews’ extremely high intelligences, like in a cross-cultural philosophical sense that was way, way over my head. I wondered if their demand for answers regarding differences in ways of living was simply forced upon them by circumstance.

I was wearing a blue tank top and cut-off blue jeans and turquoise earrings one morning and the youngest one, the third nephew, walked up to me, flicked at the bottom of my shirt.

“Tell me you don’t like blue,” he said. “Just say it.”

I didn’t know what I was waiting for, exactly. Money? A book deal? Something that defined me before I was defined by my children? My mother fought to find herself after she birthed me and my two sisters; back then it was the renegade thing to do—find ways to separate yourself from your children—but to me, and to my sisters, it was painful. Find yourself, make your mark on this world before you have children—it’s what I thought my mother’s life had taught me, and I had always been grateful for the lesson. Although I didn’t believe I understood the number of years that might take, that search for oneself, that search for the spot on which one’s mark should be made.

Now that she is gray and soft, my mother says that children often point women in the right direction, but that felt wrong to me—using children as trail markers. I feared it might not happen either. I feared I’d simply lose myself, happily, inside of their needs. I did enjoy sitting next to my nephews, smelling the play in their hair, watching them kick at the dirt and wonder aloud how a bear’s teeth could reveal its age. They had just learned this and were going to talk to their dentist father about it when they got back to Israel.

“We have the biggest house in the village,” the youngest one said. “It gets dusty but not as dusty as other people’s tents do. The wives are always sweeping, sweeping, sweeping.”

I cringed, bit my tongue with my front teeth.

“You’re my Uncle Scott’s wife,” he said, as if he noticed my teeth pressing down.

“I’m married,” I said, “but I’m not a wife.”

“What?”

Never mind, I said. That was stupid.

This one was the most affectionate of the three, but when his brother jammed his finger into my nose, clenched his teeth and asked again about no babies, this one tried to copy him but missed and poked my eye. It hurt but I didn’t know how to react until later when I decided that I should have grabbed their hands and taught them something about manners; but I didn’t really know my place there, and truly I was too distracted by their questions, and all the many questions that followed that one: why? why not? when? who are you?

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Kate Hill Cantrill’s writing has appeared in many literary publications, including Story Quarterly, Salt Hill, The Believer, Blackbird, Quick Fiction, Mississippi Review, Swink, and others. She has been awarded fellowships from The Corporation of Yaddo, The Jentel Artists Residency, The Virginia Center for Creative Arts, and the James A. Michener Foundation. She has taught fiction writing at the University of Texas, The University of the Arts, and The Sackett Street Workshop. Kate’s first collection of short stories, Walk Back From Monkey School, was recently published. She lives in Brooklyn.

All of Jen Pastiloff’s upcoming events listed here.

Inspiration, poetry

Returning.

May 20, 2012

Like reading a book and looking up from the page to face the landscape, that gorgeous canopy: the red maple, the black locust and white ash, the black birch and sugar maple, the white oak- all those trees!

The ribs of gray rock under the dark mantle of matted leafage. And then back to my book again.

Which is real?

What I am looking at now?

What I think I saw?

What I think I know?

The words on the page?

The thing that the words are trying to describe?

I am returning to me, finally, after having been interrupted for so long.

Looking up at that landscape was a moment as fast as a slow wing beat.

I never bothered to lift my eyes from the page, from this same sentence for so many years. I lived inside the same tunnel of words, this tightly wound black and white sentence, these very familiar letters, for so many years.

Until I was willing to look. 

I finally saw that beautiful alternate-leaved dogwood in full bloom, the young forrest with so much to offer, so much new life and old life intertwined-the shagbark hickory chestnut sighing, it’s arms muscling at the sky, it’s scent distinct, somehow masculine.

I lived in this cave of noise for too long.

All around me, so much to see, but with my head down neck bent, eyes half-mast, I missed so much.

I was so unquiet.

We are as capable as raw bone, of becoming anything. The evolution of bone to bead, that astounding transformation of something so seemingly unmalleable into a morsel of beauty.

A chiseled thing, heavy with it’s own personality and structure. It’s intricacies detailed, experiences carved into the body of the bead make it stand out from every other.

Much like us.

I have become as migratory as a blue and white Flycatcher breeding in the summer before heading south for autumn.

Can we ever get our minds around how things go from one thing into something else entirely?

Can we wrap our minds around ideas as big as change? Can we keep expanding into things we never thought we would be? 

Can our own humanness astound us?

With all this unseen beauty in the world.

I see through matter: through skin, through flesh, through tissues and blood cells into the wild.

We still have so much to touch, so many rocks still have to leave their weight in our palms as we rub out the seasons on the stone’s belly and feel what the wind did to it’s skin, what the rain and mud had to say.

The verity of gravel, the sounds of the warblers as they sing their praises and show off for the other birds, the detail of the damp and the way it enters your body and settles like a fog inside of you, a slight coat, just enough to feel alive.

All this unseen beauty. We are as safe as houses.

As long as we keep our eyes open we are as safe as houses still settling into themselves, even after years.

The creaking and adjusting. The resettling.

Tell me: How you ever felt so alive?