Browsing Tag

simplereminders

death, Grief

Last Call.

August 3, 2014

A Memoir by Laura C. Alonso

We see only the results which a man’s choices make out of his raw material . . . when his body dies all that will fall off him, and the real central man, the thing that chose, that made the best or the worst out of this material, will stand naked. All sorts of things which we thought our own, but which were really due to a good digestion, will fall off some of us; all sorts of nasty things which were due to complexes or bad health will fall off others. We shall then, for the first time, see every one as he really was. There will be surprises.

~ C. S. Lewis

I called before coming that evening, asked if you needed something, anything you might have wanted. “How about fruit?” you asked. “Yeah, I’d really love some fruit.”

I drove over to White Hen, best fruit I’ve ever seen: golden bananas and enormous apples as smooth and red as blood. Three times the supermarket’s price, but I wanted to bring you the best. It had always been hard, you know? This was the least I could do.

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Converse-Station, writing

The Converse-Station: Joelle Renstrom Interviews Terry Persun.

July 31, 2014

Hey there, Jen Pastiloff here. I’m the founder of The Manifest-Station! Welcome to the newest installment- The Converse-Station: A place where writers interview writers. Today’s interview is between authors Joelle Renstrom and Terry Persun. I hope you are as inspired as I am by this series. Enjoy the interview! 

Sometimes the Magic Works: Challenging the One-Genre Myth by Joelle Renstrom.

About six months ago, something fairly unusual happened to me: I received an email from Terry Persun, someone who had stumbled across my science and science fiction blog. He complimented my work and offered to write a guest post, which he later did. As an emerging writer, I was happy to have a new follower and potential guest blogger. It wasn’t until I visited Persun’s website that I learned he is much more than that.

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Uncategorized

Letter Against Fear. By Lidia Yuknavitch.

July 29, 2014

By Lidia Yuknavitch

lidiawithscarydoll

This is me running away from home for the first time.

I’m three. I have a small plastic suitcase and a big scary looking doll. Look at that thing. My cat “spice” is in the foreground, probably wondering where I’m going. My sister is in the background, nearly out of the frame, in the most glorious red dress.

I went to the edge of the yard and sat on the curb for about 30 minutes.

The house is near Stinson beach near San Francisco, where I was born. The yard was filled with fruit trees. The house was filled with anger. My sister and I were terrified most of our childhoods. My father bred fear into the bodies of his daughters.

And yet look at me. In that moment of the picture, taken by my mother who no doubt thought it looked cute, like mothers do, I knew what to do. Volition.

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Uncategorized

Now Leaving Childhood. By Amy Ferris.

July 23, 2014

By Amy Ferris

He was a spiritual advisor/therapist of sorts. More like a healer/shaman. I had known him for years. I told him that I felt empty, lost… completely depleted. “I think I need to re-connect with a spiritual path,” I said. “It finds you,” he told me. “One day you’ll be doing something, standing somewhere, driving in the car… and you’ll just feel it, get it… know it. You’ll know it. It’ll wash over you.”

“Oh,” I said, “you mean like an Aha moment.”

“More like an Ah-yes moment. Aha is a light bulb, Ah-yes is the whole wiring system. It’s not a fall-to-my-knees moment, it’s pure clarity.”

It was sort of like an impulse buy.

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And So It Is, healing, Video, Vulnerability

Video: Are You Willing To Surrender When Necessary?

July 22, 2014

Are You Willing To Surrender When Necessary?

Surrender!

I finally made a video again! Today’s vlog is on Surrender. Such a beautiful word, isn’t it?

Where can you surrender in your life? Where can you stop fighting or pushing?

I missed doing my videos. Feel free to share and post below your thoughts on surrender. Pants by Nina.B.Roze Active Apparel.and the “Write Like a Motherfucker Mug” by The Rumpus (Cheryl Strayed’s line from “Dear Sugar.”)  See you next weekend Seattle!

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And So It Is, beauty

Personal Story in 100 Words.

July 15, 2014

Personal Story in 100 Words by Elissa Wald.*

Earlier this week, I was filling out an application for freelance work at a copywriting agency, and one of the sections said: “Tell us your personal story in 100 words.”

My answer was this:

“These are the aphorisms I live by. I wrote them all:

Suffering doesn’t build character; the resolve to wrest something redemptive from suffering is what builds character. Bitterness might be justified but it’s never attractive. You don’t have to feel the right thing, you just have to do the right thing. Lust makes us all ridiculous. The human heart is very perverse. Be as generous as you can: it’s the most selfish thing you can do. Ritual is at the center of spiRITUALity. Love letters are the point of life. With the right light, any window can become a mirror.”

 

*Note from Jen: What would your personal story be in 100 words? Post in comment section below.

 Elissa Wald is the author of "The Secret Lives of Married Women" (Hard Case Crime), "Meeting The Master: Stories of Mastery, Slavery and the Darker Side of Desire" (Grove Press), and a novel, "Holding Fire: A Love Story" (Context Books). Her work has also been published in several journals and anthologies, including Beacon Best of 2001, Creative Nonfiction, The Barcelona Review, The Mammoth Book of Erotica, Nerve: Literate Smut, The Ex-Files: New Stories about Old Flames, and Brain, Child Magazine.

Elissa Wald is the author of “The Secret Lives of Married Women” (Hard Case Crime), “Meeting The Master: Stories of Mastery, Slavery and the Darker Side of Desire” (Grove Press), and a novel, “Holding Fire: A Love Story” (Context Books). Her work has also been published in several journals and anthologies, including Beacon Best of 2001, Creative Nonfiction, The Barcelona Review, The Mammoth Book of Erotica, Nerve: Literate Smut, The Ex-Files: New Stories about Old Flames, and Brain, Child Magazine.

Jennifer Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Her work has been featured on The Rumpus, The Nervous Breakdown, Jezebel, Salon, and more. Jen leads her signature Manifestation Retreats & Workshops all over the world. The next retreat is to Ojai, Calif over Labor Day. Check out jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up: SeattleLondon, Atlanta, South Dakota, NYC, Dallas, Tucson & The Berkshires (guest speaker Canyon Ranch.) She tweets/instagrams at @jenpastiloff.

image courtesy of Simplereminders and Bryant McGill.

image courtesy of Simplereminders and Bryant McGill.

death, Grief, Guest Posts, healing

Reflections on a Friend’s Suicide.

June 18, 2014

Reflections on a Friend’s Suicide by Susan Lerner

Fifteen years ago, as a newcomer to Indianapolis, I packed my tots into the minivan and drove to a playgroup, desperate to meet other moms. Among the mothers was a stay-at-home dad. Toddlers wobbled across the floor, babies gummed Cheerios, and the dad and I chatted. We lived in the same neighborhood. Over the course of the next few months we began to bump into each other outside the confines of the playgroup—at the neighborhood playground, at Little Gym birthday parties. The dad, his wife, and son, came to kiddie get-togethers in my basement. They came for dinner. The father let me read a screenplay he wrote. When the time came to send our tikes to school—the neighbors chose public, while my husband and I picked private—our paths gradually diverged.

Last year my son, Sam, began his freshman year at the same high school our neighbor’s son attends. Sam joined the Quiz Bowl team. At that time my neighbor’s son, then a sophomore, had been on the team for a year, so my neighbor became my go-to person whenever I had a question about a Quiz Bowl event, which was often. The late afternoon competitions precluded most parents from attending, and sometimes the stay-at-home dad and I were the only ones in attendance. We settled into our molded plastic chairs, munched on the team’s snacks, and whispered to each other, trying to answer questions as we watched our kids compete.

Just before Thanksgiving, my friend killed himself.

I had no idea he was suffering is the thought that looped through my mind. It seemed true enough—we’d known each other a long time but weren’t close; it didn’t come as a surprise that he hadn’t confided in me. But how could I not have noticed he was dangerously depressed?

I had no idea he was suffering. At first I couldn’t get the thought out of my head, but before long it fell away and I saw the situation through a more honest lens: I did have an inkling that my friend was emotionally fragile; I just never allowed myself that thought. To admit that he was struggling would have made me uncomfortable, not because emotional distress was a scary unknown, but because I knew it well.

During my worst anxiety attacks I’ve faked calm. Tried to pass. Desperate to conceal my anxiety from others and myself, I worked hard to push it into a dark corner of my psyche. What I didn’t realize until after my neighbor’s death is that I kept a subtle distance from him because he reminded me of my secret. My reaction to him was a reflection of how I felt about myself. My friend was, for me, a mirror.

About a week before his suicide, I went to a yoga class where the teacher spoke about the concept of abiding. She read a book written by her childhood friend, psychiatrist Christine Montross. In “Falling Into the Fire,” Dr. Montross writes about extreme pathology. Her patients compulsively swallow household objects, subject themselves to serial cosmetic surgeries as a result of body dysmorphic disorder, are haunted by obsessive homicidal thoughts. The author examines these illnesses within the context of her patients’ narratives, seeing their symptoms as fallout from loss and trauma. At the end of each chapter Dr. Montross writes about her own life, illustrating the commonality between her patients’ experiences and her own. “Falling Into the Fire,” —part exploration of mental illness, part memoir, and part exegesis on the human condition—is a strikingly honest book written with compassion and extraordinary heart.

Montross explores the importance of abiding, “of being with patients as they suffer.” She writes that although she may not be able to provide her patients a quick cure, she can walk with them on their journeys and work with them to understand what’s causing their distress. In one section, Montross counsels a depressed woman whose child was killed in a car accident. In order to abide with this woman’s anguish, Montross sees that she, too, could lose her child through a circumstance over which she has no control. “I could lose my home, my financial security, my safety. I could lose my mind. Any of us could.”

Montross relays what a therapist once told her, that we all live beneath a veil of vulnerability, as if we and our loved ones will live forever. When catastrophe strikes, this veil dissolves and we are faced with the fact that we are all “perched on a precipice.” We like to think of those who suffer from mental illness as “other.” Montross’ stories illustrate that despite our different ways of coping with the pain and vulnerability of being human, we have the same needs: to be understood, to be loved.

I wish my shame about my anxiety hadn’t stopped me from reaching out to my friend. My heart breaks when I contemplate the magnitude of his anguish, so colossal that it drove him to leave his family, and this world, too soon.

Now that my friend is gone, all I can do is to try to find, from within this tragedy, meaning. His memory will be a reminder that what I—and others—go through, however painful, is not shameful. I now understand how important it is to offer an ear, to sit with someone’s suffering. My friend is gone, but his memory, for me, is a reminder to abide.

*This essay originally appeared in Word Riot Magazine.

My pic

Susan Lerner is a student in Butler University’s MFA in Creative Writing program. Her work has appeared in Word Riot, Monkeybicycle, JMWW, Bluestem, and The Believer Logger. Susan lives in Indianapolis with her husband, three teenagers, and dog, Mischief. In her spare time she posts book reviews at https://booklerner.blogspot.com.

 

courtesy of Simplereminders.com. Click to connect with them.

courtesy of Simplereminders.com. Click to connect with them and pre-order their book.

 

Jennifer Pastiloff, Beauty Hunter, 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 over New Years. Check out jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up: South Dakota, NYC, Dallas. She is also leading a Writing + The Body Retreat with Lidia Yuknavitch Jan 30-Feb 1 in Ojai (3 spots left.) She tweets/instagrams at @jenpastiloff.

 

And So It Is, Guest Posts

Late Bloomer.

June 16, 2014

LATE BLOOMER by Suzy Vitello.*

Suzyat2

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

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.

 

Suzyat52

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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 suzyvitello.com.

 Poster by SimpleReminders.com Pre-order their book (which I am in!!): www.SimpleReminders.info


Poster by SimpleReminders.com
Pre-order their book (which I am in!!): www.SimpleReminders.info

 

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  jenniferpastiloff.com 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’.

 

Guest Posts

Control. By Laura Bogart.

March 23, 2014

image courtesy of Simplereminders.com

image courtesy of Simplereminders.com

Control. By Laura Bogart.

Joy Division was my adolescent love. The wry despondency of Ian Curtis’ lyrics affirmed my teenage suspicions that simply putting one foot in front of the other (as my guidance counselor so helpfully suggested) was a Sisyphean endeavor: “Here are the young men, the weight on their shoulders/Here are the young men, well, where have they been?/We knocked on the doors of Hell’s darker chamber/Pushed to the limit, we dragged ourselves in.”

Then there was the music itself: blunt and muscular, but with a sinewy sharpness that drove me deep, drove me home. It inspired drawings of molten Hellscapes and angels in black leather jackets that I’m glad I’ve lost between moves; what lingered was the sound it gave to the inchoate rage I felt when I heard my father set his briefcase down in the living room, to the dread that hissed through my room when I heard him come up the stairs.

If it were going to be the kind of night he’d apologize for, he’d flip immediately to the weather channel, with its constant promise of Biblical winds and damning rains. I’d steel myself through mindless repetition, re-writing the same lines in my notebook: “I’m ashamed of things I’ve been put through/I’m ashamed of the person I am.”  My redemption, I decided, would be to make art like Curtis’: beautiful yet ugly, wrenching yet effortless. I charcoaled hulking men with haunted eyes. In our quieter moments, the moments I’d cling to when I needed to forgive him, my father would gently open my bedroom door to watch me draw.

“I always wanted to be good at something,” he’d say. His voice belonged to the college lineman who did what his coach said and ran until he puked, but still never got scouted. When I was little, I could forget that he was the man who slapped me for spilling the saltshaker; he was the man who brought me marbled notebooks and prints from the Italian masters. By the time I’d found Joy Division, he was just the middle-aged man who mockingly crooned, “Hi Ho, Hi Ho, it’s off to work I go (damn it)” as he knotted his tie.

“You never make me anything I can frame anymore,” he’d say. “All this dark shit.”

I read about Curtis’ epilepsy; how the twitching, flailing dances that mocked his condition sometimes conjured his fits. “For entertainment, they watch his body twist,” he sang, his voice sharp and sad and thick with regret. “Behind his eyes, he says ‘I still exist.’” Those three words became the essence of art: I lied about how I got those bruises and why the sleepover couldn’t be held at my house, but whatever I put on paper was true.

“You could go into advertising.” That’s what my father said when I told him I’d be getting a master’s in creative writing. He worked with statistics, numbers that had been caged and tamed; for him, work was only meaningful when its purpose was evident. Highway billboards and forty second spots between Monday Night Football and the eleven o’clock news: My livelihood dependent upon oversized ads for oversized sedans that would be forgotten one exit over and cat food jingles that high-schoolers would YouTube until they were just stoned enough to wonder if cat food just, like, tasted like tuna, only, like, spicier.

“There’s a reason,” I said to my father, “That they say ad nauseam.”

Still, those last six months of my grad program turned into a blitzkrieg of resumes. Not writing. When I wasn’t refreshing my email or cold calling under the pretense of “following up,” I was at my kitchen table, drafting columns of bills and the numbers needed to pay them. I’d become my father, scowling over a yellow legal pad and chewing a black ballpoint pen. He’d been the source of so many worries, but a roof over my head hadn’t been one of them.

“Welcome to the real world,” my father said back. “We’re all bored. But we’ve all got bills.”

When a friend asked me if I wanted to see Anton Corbjin’s Ian Curtis biopic, Control, I said I was too broke even for a matinee. That much was true, but it wasn’t the whole truth. That movie poster—a black and white portrait of the spectrally handsome young actor playing Curtis—unsettled me. His eyes are rapacious with hunger; they reminded me of all I’d loved about making art. But his lips are caught between a pucker and a sigh.

I wouldn’t see the movie for a few years, after I’d ended up at a small career consulting company that published magazines to promote its overpriced (and under attended) conferences. Hours of my life ticked away as I inserted semi-colons into the stories of people who were actually doing what they wanted to with theirs.

Channel surfing demanded so much less of me than any kind of art; I lost my lines to the unique state of frazzle and fatigue that a bad workday induces. Though I kept a sketchbook on my lap, I’d only managed the iris of an eye in an hour. I was starting on the lashes when I saw the scene that made me feel as utterly, unequivocally understood as I had when I’d heard the real Ian Curtis wail, “In arenas he kills for a prize/wins a minute to add to his life/But the sickness is drowned out by cries for more/Pray to God, make it quick.”

Curtis is in his living room, lost in the notebook perched on his knees, his face in that soft yet furrowed look of inspiration. His flow is broken when his young wife—who, in those earlier scrappy-love courtship sequences, wore her leather and her faux-fur and her sly spirit of up-for-anything with pride—calls him to bed, but only because he has work in the morning. She’s wearing a housedress that even my thick-ankled Italian grandmother would’ve deemed too frumpy. His expression—resignation (she is right, technically) and frustration (but he was so close to the perfect word)—flickers across his face like a matchstick that won’t quite catch.

My father would call me during our mutual lunch hours. Now that I packed a sack lunch every morning and cursed my way through rush hour traffic, I was no longer a punk kid who needed disciplining. I was someone who could finally understand him: his gripes about assholes who didn’t clean the coffee pot and assholes who made the coffee “like muddy water;” secretaries who didn’t relay messages and bosses who expected you to read their goddamn minds. My father, who used long car rides to expose us to Simon and Garfunkel, Sinatra, and Springsteen because “you can’t get everything you need to out of just one song, you need to hear it all;” my father, who rhapsodized about riding the subway to see Dylan. Back when it was just him: No wife, no children. Just the slow sway of the train thrumming through his body.

“So how’s the job?” he’d ask, and I’d reply that it was, you know, a job. He’d laugh and say, “You’ll get used to it.”

“How’s the boss?” he’d ask. The CEO had the doughy, dumpy build of an overindulged toddler—and the temperament to match. He jokingly (but not really) insisted on being called “boss.” Minutes after he’d fire someone, he’d send out company-wide emails with inspirational quotes: “Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there” was a favorite.

“Still a prick,” I’d say.

“He’s the prick who signs your checks.”

When I was a teenager, delusions of grandeur were as much a balm as the Bacitracin my mother rubbed between my shoulders. I was not who my teachers, my bullies, my parents said I was. My molten hellscapes would be in the Guggenheim, and I’d be the star of a cover spread in Poets & Writers analyzing my short fiction (which was filled with serial killers and teenage agorophobics) before my twenty-second birthday. I’ve never asked my father where he thought he’d be at twenty-two, twenty-five, thirty. I’m afraid he’ll say something that will make me see myself in that young man on the subway, humming Guthrie and looking forward to wherever he was going. I don’t want to know all that he gave up once my mother, the woman he’d only been dating for a few months told him, casually, between bites of her salad, that she was pregnant.

“There’s what you have to do,” I imagine he’d tell me, “and what you love to do.”

Whenever I’d leave that downtown office building where I lost eight hours of my day (nine, counting the drive there and back), I’d see the punk girls getting off the bus. They wear everything I used to wear: ratted black jackets and strategically slashed t-shirts. More than once, I’ve seen that classic “Love Will Tear Us Apart” shirt I bought from the Hot Topic: A marble angel swoons against a parched cemetery lawn. If I wore that shirt now, the heft of my breasts would twist that angel’s face into a Munchian scream.

They’d lift their eyes from the text they were reading or the cigarette they were lighting and stare back at me. They saw me shuffling from the office to the parking garage, brandishing a thermos and briefcase like all the other shirt-jacketed and be-pantyhosed masses and must’ve thought—as I had—that the lure of the “good job” wasn’t status or even security; it was just the dulling lull of sucking your thumb.

Now, the sound that lingers with me every time I’m tempted to turn the laptop off and veg out to Intervention or leave my watercolors in their box to let the talking heads on MSNBC tell me what I already believe doesn’t come from a song, it comes from Control.  It’s a small sound from the scene before Curtis hangs himself. After yet another epileptic fit hurls him to the floor, he slowly sits up, rubbing the top of his head; the word “ow” breaks from his lips. It is a child’s helpless cry, the cry that we’ve been told being strong, being competent, being grown-ups, means we have to suppress.

I would tell those punk girls, my sixteen-year old self among them, that this cry, the culmination of so many disappointments—from the day job that blots out your creative thoughts yet can’t quite pay all the bills, to the lover who leaves you, not with the passion of slammed doors but with a long sigh—this will be your undoing, but only if you let it.

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Laura Bogart is a Baltimore-based writer whose work has appeared in Salon, The Rumpus, The Nervous Breakdown, Prick of the Spindle and Spectre (among others). She’s currently at work on a novel tentatively titled Your Name is No. 

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Jennifer Pastiloff is a writer living on an airplane. She’s the founder of The Manifest-Station.  She’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 jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up is Costa Rica followed by Dallas, Seattle and London.  

She tweets/instagrams at @jenpastiloff.

Dear Life.

Dear Life. Jealous of Friends Relationships. Answered by James Claffey.

March 15, 2014

Welcome to Dear Life: An Unconventional Advice Column With a Spin. Your 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 question is answered by author James Claffey. Have a question for us? Need some guidance? Send an email to dearlife at jenniferpastiloff.com or use the tab at the top of the site to post. Please address it as if you are speaking to a person rather than life or the universe. Need help navigating through life’s messiness? Write to us!

bryant-mcgill-count-blessings

Dear Life,

How can I be happy for my close friend’s relationships when I am in such a crappy place in my own relationship? All I can feel is jealous of them and that in turn makes me feel so guilty. My first friend just got engaged. It’s going to be her 2nd marriage and I’ve met her fiancé. He’s a very nice guy from what I could tell in our short meeting and she speaks highly of him. How compassionate, supportive and sensitive he is. They are very much in the “lust” stage of their relationship so the sex, of course, is great and copious. She received a gorgeous blue sapphire ring surrounded by diamonds for an engagement ring. They are very happy. My second friend, is also in a very romantic, dedicated relationship. She is closing on a house and in a very good place in her life. On the surface, I’m so incredibly happy for them. I’m happy that things are going so well for them after having to go through divorces that involved young children over the past couple years. Divorces are never pretty or easy. Below this thin veneer I am green with jealousy and blue with sadness. Sad for myself because I’ve been married almost 23 years and I’ve never had it as good as they do. In the beginning of my marriage (which was when I was 18 and didn’t know any better) things were as good as I could expect. We were two very young children really, working hard to pay mounting bills. My son came along, we worked harder, bills mounted higher – stress grew over jobs and life in general. During all this time, we never worked on “our” life together. After many, many years, it finally occurred to me that I was not a priority on my husband’s life list. His list generally goes like this 1. Son 2. Work 3. School 4. Me. I’ve read many articles on marriage and it’s a reoccurring topic where in a marriage, the spouse should be just under a person’s relationship with God. I’ve tried to speak with him about this but I never find the right words to express just how much he’s hurt me over the years. Sex happens just enough times to count on one hand during the course of a year. He’s emotionally numb, emotionally distant and intimacy has always been an issue for us. Now I’m not innocent. I’ve pulled away over the years and I don’t open up anymore. There’s no feeling of security, of being understood. There’s never been any permanent change from previous conversations, so I’ve stopped communicating. I haven’t really helped the situation. I want out because I deserve to be loved and romanced and sexed! I’m still young enough that this is important to me. I crave intimacy and deep conversations. Shared life goals and Sunday breakfasts in bed. Unfortunately, we’re fairly deep in debt and my job is a seasonal job that doesn’t pay much. I’m scared of leaving and living below the poverty line for the rest of my life. Much as my mother has had to do since she left her marriage over 20 years ago. I have no savings, as it had to be used when I left my good paying job (that was making me sick) to follow my passion. It’s a passion that historically, doesn’t pay much. Especially when you’re a beginner. Not having enough money is my main fear and my second fear is being alone for the rest of my life, coming in a close third, is having to give up my dream job. To make things even more interesting is the face that I still love him very much. If he opened up to me, I would crumble. He is just so familiar to me, has been my safety net for so long. He’s a kind and good person. He’s my son’s #1 person, they have a super relationship. He works hard, is working on his Master’s degree and will keep “climbing the ladder” so to speak. On the surface, I have it all – a smart husband who loves his job, a wonderful son, a big house, and my dream job. I still yearn for more. For more closeness, love, and intimacy. I ask myself – If nothing changes, can I stand this one more year? (It’s been over 5 years that I’ve felt like this) Can I stand to live this way 5 more years? No, I can’t. If I leave, there’s a 95% chance that I would have to leave my dream job to find another position that pays enough for me to live on my own. I’m only good at one other thing, which is what I left due to sickness. Not looking forward to ever having to go down that road again. I get mad at myself that I am only “good” at a couple things. That I never got good enough to make decent money to live on my own. We tried marriage counseling years ago but it didn’t “click.” I’m hesitant now because I want someone who is basically a miracle worker. I don’t want to dig up the past, rehash everything and then go from there. I want to start with today and move forward. I’m tired. So, so tired that the search for a miracle counselor seems impossible. To go back to my friends – I genuinely want to be in their happiness with them. To share this wonderful time in their lives I don’t think I can as all I can see is myself crying for myself. They are aware of what is going on in my life, we’ve had many talks about it. So many that I shy away from participating in further conversations about me. I refuse to perpetuate this story of me. It never changes anyway, there’s never anything new to report. When they ask how things are going my response now is “Same ‘ol, same ‘ol.” Then I change the subject. I’m tired, scared, and so confused as to which way I should point my intentions. My energy is so low. Most days I feel I’m in a hopeless situation, that I’m literally stuck. Some days, courage pokes it’s beautiful head up and I think I can do this. Either work on this marriage more or leave. I pray for more courage and bravery and insight. Writing this all out is a relief in a way. Maybe this will stop the recording in my head from running over and over for a little while. It’s amazing just how much room it takes up in my head, how much weight it places on my shoulders. I am dreading Valentine’s Day too. Ugh, it hasn’t been a good holiday for a long time. It hurts to hear about all my friends’ dates, presents, etc. Thank you for creating this space where anyone can write about anything and possibly get a response. I was very hesitant to write this. There are a lot of people in a much worse off situation. I’m working on making myself a priority and believing that my feelings count. By writing this, it’s another small step to confirming that I count. Thank You, Thank You, Thank You, Warmly, ~G

Dear G.,

You count. However difficult the landscape of your marriage and circumstance, you count. How hard it must be to watch your friends’ parade of happy events pass in front of you as your own life bears witness. You are a bit like what my father used call “a ghost at the feast.” You have to shake off the “weltschmertz” burdening you and come into your own space and claim your better self back.

Certainly your friends lives sound marvelous. Who wouldn’t want the joys you describe, yet, as with most relationships we see, the perfect ones and the problematic ones, we are only ever granted the vision of what those relationships look like from the outside. There are plenty of miserable couples in this world, holding it all together—the marriage, the house, the cars, the fancy vacations, the kids—but behind the curtain, when they’re alone and exposed to each other, they are as flawed, troubled and fucked-up as the rest of us. As Tolstoy wrote in Anna Karenina, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” I have been on both sides of Tolstoy’s family seesaw, and let me tell you, there is life on the other side of divorce, no matter the circumstances, no matter how painful the split. I could be you. I was married to a woman for some years, fell out of love, lost our bearings, and in a last ditch attempt to reconcile I agreed to a vacation in the desert before the school year began. Too much wine, too little self-worth, too little strength and I swam in an infinity pool of red wine and forgotten anger. She became pregnant; I met my present wife/partner, and left my marriage behind. Had I stayed who knows where I’d be now? Back in San Diego, married, for the child’s sake, my creativity unfulfilled.

I left. Divorced. Moved away. Went to grad school. Became a writer. Figured out how to forge a relationship with my son, despite my ex’s deep, abiding anger. The truth is, you’ve got to take care of yourself, selfish as that may sound, and your husband is not doing that for you. From what you write you are the one doing all the emotional work in the marriage, and that’s not sustainable. You are low on the priority list. Elevate yourself, leap, and allow the universe to catch you as you fall into the great emptiness of possibility. Sure, you have the dream job, but clearly that’s not cutting it for you. That miracle counselor doesn’t exist, and if your husband isn’t prepared to dig deep and fix the ancient ironworks of your marriage, then you have to save yourself.

I’m a writer. I tell stories. We all tell stories about ourselves. You need to change the narrative of the story you are telling about yourself. Tell the truth. When someone asks you how things are, tell them straight, “My life is shit. I’m married to a man who doesn’t value me the way I need to be valued.” Testify your own truth. Stop hiding behind the drapes and pretending all’s perfect in that big house of yours. Claim your space in the world, even if it takes telling your husband the marriage is over unless he redefines how he treats you. I know, the safety net, the fact that he is kind and familiar to you, is all well and good, but do you want to die with a fat bank account and a bankrupt soul?

What you have in your life right now is an illusion of the real world, it’s like one of those fake pies in the restaurant case, looks great, but you don’t want to bite into it! Listen, this life is yours to claim. Stop being cowed by the expectations of your friends and family, they don’t live in your skin. You need to take your courage and invest in your own future, and if he wants to join you for the journey, great. If not, no matter, you can make it on your own. Good luck!

JC

Image

James Claffey hails from County Westmeath, Ireland, and lives on an avocado ranch in Carpinteria, CA, with his family. He is the author of the collection, Blood a Cold Blue. His website is at www.jamesclaffey.com.

 

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 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. 

death, Guest Posts, loss

Under the Snow this Winter. By Zoe Zolbrod.

March 14, 2014

By Zoe Zolbrod.

I woke up this March morning to another four or five inches of snow. It was still coming down when I peered through the frost-free porthole in the center of my bedroom window. There was no question it had to be shoveled promptly, from the sidewalk and front steps at least. It was a heavy snow, and I had to heave it high to get it atop the piles we’ve been building since December.

We live in the Chicago area and as in much of the Midwest and Northeast, the winter has been brutal—a record number of inches of precipitation, a slew of record-breaking low-temperature days. In early January we were hit with a blizzard and then immediately after the temperature plunged to under ten degrees below zero.  Work and school were cancelled. On the second day at home I took my daughter a couple doors down to stave off her cabin fever with a visit to a neighbor boy, bundling us both up in layer upon layer until all that was exposed were our eyes. After I dropped her off I decided to take the long way home in order to experience this unprecedented environment. My boots crunched on snow frozen so hard the texture was that of crushed seashells. Cocooned as I was, the sound was as much an internal vibration as it was an external noise, as if I were listening through a stethoscope. I didn’t feel cold, exactly. I didn’t even feel gravity in the same way I was accustomed to. I felt like an astronaut—tethered to civilization by technology, but a speck in an uncharted vastness. It’s a sensation I’m going to carry with me. As I trotted that day, I recalled the time someone asked me to picture outer space and then told me that was how I felt about death. Walking around my neighborhood post-blizzard with the wind chill at minus thirty degrees seemed to me to be a closer approximation of what I imagine might wait for us when our hearts stop beating, when our bodies are burnt or buried to await decay. I had never experienced anything quite like it. And yet this winter has made me nostalgic for all of the winters that have come before, for all the ways I’ve kept warm in them, or haven’t. For all they’ve taught me about patience, and stasis, and change.

I grew up in Northwestern Pennsylvania, and the winter of 2013-2014 has brought me back to those of my youth, the memories of which used to make the Chicago season look unimpressive, if still tedious and ugly. The icicles that poured down from the gutter above the kitchen window in the home in which I was raised could grow thick as tree limbs, stab the entire height of the window so that we looked out through their bars. We had a long skinny driveway that my father had to shovel incessantly to keep passable, scraping away rhythmically in the dark of early morning, or the gloom of late afternoon, or the black of night with the snowflakes glittering in the glow from our light post. The piles quickly grew above my head and then, as the thawless weeks went by, up to my dad’s, the snow spilling over into the yard where the blanket of it was already deep enough for my brother and me to make tunnels through. The door to our house opened right into our small kitchen, no foyer, where we’d stand stomping and huffing like horses when we came in. There were four of us who lived there plus a dog to be walked, and we didn’t slow down for the fact of life that was winter, we were constantly in and out, letting in cold bursts and chunks of snow that would melt messily. The house was always chilly—a combination of thrifty parents and old windows and not helped by the frequent door openings—and my corner room especially so, with its two exterior walls. I shivered near the heat vent while I dressed. I slept under a featherbed that seemed almost as round as it was long. My fingers and toes were always cold, often painfully so. I hated the winter.

And yet there are warm memories—the family deciding despite the weather to drive to a basketball game at the college where my father worked, wondering if the car would make it up the hill, cheering when it did so, the steam from the hot breath of the players and crowd fogging the windows of the gymnasium. And I have warm memories of the snow itself, how the igloos we made could be really snug. And we lived in a place that could highlight the beauty of winter, with a woods across the street from our house that offered up its bare black branches to catch the snow and make a Narnia-like fairyland. Do we ever describe memories of summer as warm? Perhaps that’s why despite my antipathy to the season I never entertained the thought of choosing a college located somewhere it could be avoided.

I was always studying college possibilities, though. From the time I was about twelve I was actively plotting to get out of my hometown. I had good friends there, a solid family, but even as I made-out and partied and learned, part of me believed my real life wouldn’t start until I left, that the real me couldn’t emerge where I was. But here’s a winter memory that proves me wrong. One evening as a teenager on my way to meet friends at a basketball game already underway, I parked my car in the student lot and started walking across the snow-covered field that separated it from the high school, believing I was taking a short cut. My boots sank in the heavy snow, making each step difficult, and I was bitterly cold in the trendy thin coat I refused to button. It soon became clear I’d have been better off walking on the sidewalk. I paused for a moment and looked at the smooth, white expanse separating me from my destination. I ran cross-country in high school, and in the fall the field was part of our course. “It’s the same field,” I thought to myself. And I had the sensation of seeing—of being— at once both the green grass beneath my swift-moving feet and the moon-lit swath of unbroken snow that lay before me. I knew with a surety that made me less cold that spring would come, that it was coming even in the deadest part of winter, that—although I wouldn’t have used this imagery at the time— the very frozen stillness was the pause at the bottom of the exhale that makes the full inhale possible. I knew that in some way spring was as good as here.

It’s a clichéd insight, really—by that point in my life I’m sure I’d already been passed a roach clip with a ying-yang symbol dangling from it—but finding that ancient knowledge within myself felt huge. It’s a moment I’ve held close all the years since—only one of which was spent anywhere warm, and a few of which passed in an apartment without central heat where I’d sometimes wake up to see frost furring my bedroom wall. But no matter the quality of my outerwear or furnace, every winter there’s that month or so when the world is crusted with a layer of gray salt, and the snow banks are black and not going anywhere, and everyone’s puffy coat is deflated and filthy, and it only warms long enough to make a more miserable soup, and when I think: I can’t stand this! Why do I live here! Why does anyone! And then I’ll be visited by my self standing on that field outside the high school, the same self who emerges occasionally during moments of travel, or in a great yoga class, or on a walk, the one lodged most deeply within me but also who sees furthest outside myself, and I feel joyful, and calm, and sure. I picture the real me as a copper wire of energy that’s been pulsing through my core since the dawn of my consciousness, maybe even before that. Maybe it will even go on afterward.

A couple weeks ago a colleague died from the cancer that ravaged her within eight months of her diagnosis. She’s the fourth friend roughly my age who has died in the last three years. How early this inevitable falling off begins is not something that’s been encompassed by the worldview of my dawn-of-consciousness core self.  In my life, the proximity of death has come as a mid-life shock. Living as I have always in places with four distinct seasons, the markers of winter, spring, summer, and fall have been reliable signposts for me, symbols of continuity amidst change, but there is a different quality to their coming now. They’re also beads on an abacus, ways to count years without these other people in them, ways to count off my own.

We’ve had a thaw already this March, and we’re due for another later this week before the temperatures plunge again. My weather app shows more snowflakes in the near future. But even in this fearsome and dramatic winter, one of these days the last snow of the season will come. And then will come spring, for those of us here. I think often of my friends who have died, turning over their absence like a stone in my mind. How can they be gone when I sense them so firmly? It brings me up short. The first flowers that come up in my yard are the crocuses. After the morning snowfall the sky cleared today, and the sun’s staying up longer. Green shoots might be visible even before the full melt.

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Zoe Zolbrod’s first novel, Currency, received a Nobbie Award and was a Friends of American Writers prize finalist. Her writing can be found online at The Rumpus, The Nervous Breakdown, and The Weeklings. She lives in Evanston, IL, with her husband and two children, where she works as a senior editor for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and recently finished a memoir that explores how child sexual abuse reverberates throughout generations of a family.

Poster by Bryant Mcgill SimpleReminders.com. Pre-order their book (which I am in!) https://www.SimpleReminders.info

Poster by Bryant Mcgill SimpleReminders.com.
Pre-order their book (which I am in!) https://www.SimpleReminders.info

Jennifer Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. She has been featured on Good Morning America, NY Magazine, Oprah.com. Her writing has been featured on The Rumpus, The Nervous Breakdown, Jezebel, Salon, and more. Jen leads her signature Manifestation Retreats & Workshops all over the world. The next retreat is to Ojai, Calif over Labor Day/New Years. Check out jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up: Seattle, Atlanta, South Dakota, NYC, Dallas, Miami, Tucson & The Berkshires (guest speaker Canyon Ranch.) She tweets/instagrams at @jenpastiloff. 

And So It Is

Life Is…

November 19, 2013

I read a poem this morning in class. A girl came up to me after and kind of batted at her eyes, “That poem was so sad. Ugh.” She was in a little fight with herself not to feel any sadness. “It was beautiful though, wasn’t it?” I asked her. Yes, she said. But, sad.
This past weekend, a woman in my workshop hesitated to read something out loud, because she explained with a mouthful of guilt, “It’s sad?”
She said it as a question, as if I’d have to give her permission to share this sadness, as if her own sadness would be powerful enough to corrupt our perfect, happy, flawless lives.

Life is sad.

Life is sad, I’d said, and it’s also awesome and fucked up and whimsical and has moments of joy and pain and laughter. But it’s sad sometimes.
I wonder why we bury that so much.
Life is not just one thing.
And sometimes yes, it is sad.

Thanks Jenni Young of Simplereminders.com for making this

Thanks Jenni Young of Simplereminders.com for making this. Feel free to share.

Guest Posts, healing, loss, love, Uncategorized

The Night Before My Sister Died.

September 25, 2013

THE NIGHT BEFORE THE DAY MY SISTER DIED by Denise Barry.

*

I dreamed of my sister the night before the day she died.

She and I stood facing each other, just a few feet apart, and I remember thinking, “Wow, she hasn’t looked me directly in the eyes in such a long time.”

Darlene and I had grown apart over the years, but I still felt closer to her than anyone else in my family.  She was my big sister, my best friend and, whether she had liked it or not, my protector growing up, so there was no way I could not feel close to her, no matter what.

As I studied her face I found it interesting that she looked younger and more radiant than the last time I had seen her.  She’d been looking tired and run-down lately and I’d been concerned.  I wanted to tell her that, but the look in her eyes kept me quiet. She had something to say.

For a long time she didn’t say anything, but her eyes never left mine.  Not even when her hand shot up to clutch at her throat.  Not even when she said the only words she would say; “Oh my god Denise, it hurts so much!”

In real life, when I see someone in pain I go into panic mode. But not here.  The only thought I had was that Darlene was the only one in my family who never called me by my nickname.  To everyone else I was “Dee”, but Darlene knew me before the short version of my name stuck (thanks to our little sister) and for some reason I felt comforted by this.

Besides, even though I noticed a hint of fear and sadness in her eyes, on a deeper level I recognized acceptance.  Whatever was going on here, she seemed okay with it and if she was okay with it, so was I.

Until the phone rang the next morning.

It was our little sister calling to tell me that Darlene was in the hospital. She was having emergency surgery for the aortic aneurysm she had, which had burst the night before.

Forgetting all about the dream, I went into auto-panic.  Fear came crashing into my body in gigantic waves, one after the other, until I thought I would drown in it.

“This can’t be happening,” I thought.  “What if she dies?  She can’t die!  They have to fix her!”

On the way to the hospital I decided she was going to be fine so I went ahead and made plans for her recovery.  “After the surgery she’ll be good as new”, I assured myself, “and I’ll go to her house every day and take care of her, and we’ll be closer than ever before.”

But she wasn’t fine.

And there would be no recovery.

At Darlene’s funeral, I turned into a parasite, latching on to anyone she had known and sucking them dry of information about her life—the one I hadn’t been a part of for way too long.  I desperately needed to know that she had been happy and that her short life had not been wasted.  But it didn’t matter what anyone said because it was never enough and I crawled away hungry for more.

When I learned that Darlene’s best friend had been with her the night she was rushed to the hospital I cornered her and began my interrogation; “Missy, tell me everything that happened that night, everything!”  I shouted maniacally.

Instead of running away, she nodded her head sadly.  She understood.

“Well, Darlene and I were playing cards and I was making her laugh and then all of a sudden she grabbed her throat and said, Somethings wrong. I feel funny, and she told me to stop making her laugh because it hurt when she did.”

Icy shock ran through me as my dream rushed back.  This was no coincidence, I was sure of that.  The realization of this slowly settled into the void my sister’s death had left in me, and for the first time the questions fell away.

I knew Darlene had come to say goodbye to me and to plant the seed of a promise; we will always be connected, no matter what.

head shot Denise

Denise Barry is an inspirational writer and author.  Her children’s picture book What Does the Tooth Fairy Do with Our Teeth? is available now on Amazon!  To learn more about Denise, visit her at www.denisebarry.net

Jennifer Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. She has been featured on Good Morning America, NY Magazine, Oprah.com. Her writing has been featured on The Rumpus, The Nervous Breakdown, Jezebel, Salon, and more. Jen leads her signature Manifestation Retreats & Workshops all over the world. The next retreat is to Ojai, Calif over Labor Day/New Years. Check out jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up: Seattle, Atlanta, South Dakota, NYC, Dallas, Miami, Tucson & The Berkshires (guest speaker Canyon Ranch.) She tweets/instagrams at @jenpastiloff.

 

Poster by SimpleReminders.com. Pre-order their book (which I am in!!): https://www.SimpleReminders.info Subscribe for more: https://www.bryantmcgill.net

Poster by SimpleReminders.com.
Pre-order their book (which I am in!!): https://www.SimpleReminders.info
Subscribe for more: https://www.bryantmcgill.net

And So It Is, Awe & Wonder

So Much Depends.

August 12, 2013

By Jen Pastiloff

Let’s say it’s like this: He leans over to talk to me. We’re at an airport. Let’s say we are at an overpriced fish place in the Los Angeles International Airport. Flight’s been delayed five hours. Imagine that both of us traveling to the same place: Sioux Falls, South Dakota. He leans over to tell me he’s been married 58 years and that he and his wife normally share dinners and would I like half of his? He lost 4 of his fingers on his right hand 45 years ago on a rotary lawn mower, has an adopted son who is 6 foot 10 and he’s a Christian. He told me to keep talking to God before he passed me half his trout.

He told me he’d “just met so many nice people at the airport.” He’d been there since 6 am. It was now 6 pm. While I was huffing and puffing at all the time wasted he was looking around for the miraculous in the mundane, in the faces of people searching flight status boards or shuffling through security, begrudging the fact that they had to take off their shoes or remove their laptops.

When I told him I was a Jew he grasped his heart as if the fact was astounding enough to actually pain him. One of our neighbors was Jewish and they were just the most wonderful people, he’d said. I laughed (it reminded me of when someone says “I like gay people. I have a friend that’s gay) and told him I wasn’t a practicing Jew. He reminded me that I was one of God’s chosen. I wondered if there were any Jews in South Dakota but didn’t ask him. I knew there was at least one family, his neighbors, The Wonderfuls.

I drank my wine as I watched him carefully cutting his fish and smiling as he scrolled through his cell phone (a Blackberry.)

The man has on this light red raincoat and as my red wine slides down the back of my throat, I think of William Carlos Williams:

so much depends

upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
 chickens.

He leans toward my table. This is a picture of my beautiful wife.

So much depends on how we react to things.

His fingers, for example. How did he react 45 years ago when he was showing his father the newest features on the rotary lawnmower and the blade just sliced his four fingers off like they were irrelevant as dead grass? Nothing more than meat under a glass case at the butcher’s. Hurry, I’m a rush. I’ll take a pound of American and a pound of provolone. Slice it thin, please.  He told me that when he’d lost them he quickly had to learn to laugh about it. I guess I’m going to have to learn to pick my nose with my left hand now.

I didn’t react well to the flight delay. I’d felt entitled and ornery. Ornery is a word that makes me think of old people but my hair is greying (not for much longer, I swear) and I had my glasses on and a face free of any makeup, so I felt like an old person. An ornery old person. Sometimes with my hearing loss, I would mistake horny for ornery. I tend to imagine each word containing parts of the other, like distant relatives.

Doesn’t this airline know how busy I am? Huff. Don’t they know I am trying to write a book proposal? Puff. I made a stink and rolled my eyes and couldn’t believe I had to wait. The flight was meant to leave at 2:40 pm (it didn’t leave until 8:30 pm.) I even thought about going home and canceling my workshop in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

I couldn’t cancel the workshop. People were driving 14 hours from Canada! They were coming from Minnesota! I couldn’t cancel simply because I had to wait a few (okay, 6) hours at the airport. I got my meal voucher from Allegiant Air. (I had also never heard of this airline before this trip. For good reason, apparently.) The meal voucher was for eight dollars which made me chuckle. because really, what can you get for eight dollars besides a half glass of wine or two Snickers bars and a pack of gum? With 8 dollars  (okay $7.69) I bought a New Yorker magazine so I could read the latest by Joyce Carol Oates and a story on the Steubenville rape trial and Twitter. (When did the New Yorker get so pricey?)  I took my eight dollar voucher and with a huge chip on my shoulder, a chip weighing as least as much as a small man, I headed to a restaurant to sit and sulk.

So much depends.

So much depends on where we are. Where we are born. Where we park our asses down to eat a meal. Where we sit to write. Where we lay our head at night. Where we find ourselves on a map changes the course of everything, and whether it’s literal and full of pushpins and highways and mountains, or an emotional one, you better believe that life is an exercise in mapmaking.

I get led to a table for one. There are two men on each side of me, also eating alone. Let’s say I get led to the bar. It then becomes a whole different story. The map is then green instead of red, perhaps.

So much depends on so much.

I was content on being pissed about my wasted time, all the while wasting more time. I got no writing done, no reading done, nothing productive to speak of. So when this older man leans his body towards mine and says something I can’t really make out but which sounds like something to the effect of I’ve been married for 58 years, you know, I smile.

Here, an opportunity for you to connect. Here, someone to talk to. Here, someone offering you his food. Here, some fish.

A red jacket. A red wheelbarrow.

So much depends on where you look.

I loved him immediately. He became my grandfather, my priest/rabbi, my meal ticket, my companion, my cartographer, my reminder to pay attention. He also wore hearing aids (like me! He also became my twin!) He was my fellow conspirator against the hearing world. I heard this story about a man who, after 40 years, finally got a pair of hearing aids, he told me, and ever since he’d had to change his will twice, he laughed. I’d thought he was going to tell me that the man gave the hearing aids back because not hearing had been better.

So much depends.

The fact is, when you can’t hear well you have to pay attention. Closely. You see that lady three tables over licking her fingers and although you can’t hear the slurp, you imagine the suck and the little quack it makes, and the man across from her? You see him eating his chicken sandwich without chewing even though his back is to you. You can tell by the way his jaws move from behind. You can see all this while your ears prick for any sound at all, and, when no sound arrives, your eyes scan the room and notice every painful exchange, every empty gesture, every goddamned chicken finger being picked up and put back down by every child in the world.

There’s nothing you can’t see when you can’t hear so you have to be really careful where you sit or you will see it all.

So much depends on where you sit.

His name was Dick and the thirteen year old in me wanted to laugh when he told me his name. He said dick! Haha, he said dick! He gave me his card and wrote down my name on the bottom half of his own meal voucher for eight dollars, which he tore off and put in his front pocket, next to a pen. Would we ever see each other again? Let’s say: no. Let’s say we leave it at that.

And that that is enough. One of those rare moments in life when we say I don’t need more than this.

The having had it happen. The exchange of two human beings in an airport enough to sustain you for a while. Let’s say that’s the case here.

He pays his bill and shakes my hand. I have a styrofoam container of fish sitting in front of me like a gift and I will remember him by it. The man who gave me half of his dinner. The man in the red jacket with the missing fingers.

He leaves his jacket behind so I reach over and grab it. I drape it over the back of my chair knowing I’ll see him on the plane and can give it to him then. I’ll carry the fish he gave me in one hand and his red coat in another.

For a few minutes I feel calm, as insular as a cave, as sturdy as the land I would soon be visiting in the southwestern part of the state of South Dakota. I am as protected as the Badlands I would be at in just two days time, that rugged terrain I’d dreamt of seeing again ever since I first saw them at 18 years old on a cross country drive I took in a mini-van. Mako Sika, translated as “land bad” or “eroded land”, my beloved Badlands, which beckoned to me with their otherworldliness and various personalities (how human of them!) I was part of them and no one could come close to me in the safety of my red vinyl jacket. I was on the interior.

My insides warm from wine, the red jacket a heart on the back of my chair, holding the world in place. Knowing it’s there enough to keep me sane.

So much depends on a red jacket.

Ah! You found my jacket, he rushes back up to my table.

So much depends.

Yes. I was keeping it safe.

Let’s say it ended like that.

We finally boarded the plane. A few rows up, he sleeps, while my legs shake uncontrollably (too much wine and coffee and too little sleep) and I rest my head on the shoulder of a stranger.

Do you mind if I lean my head on your shoulder?

The stranger was on his way back to Iowa. Football scholarship. Young. Polite. Kind. No, I don’t mind. Lean on me, he says.

So much depends on where you sit.

So much depends.

Let’s say two days later I am standing on the edge of the world, at Pinnacles Overlook right by Route 240 at The Badlands National Park, and let’s say I wished that right then and there I could ask that man in the red jacket if this is what he meant by talking to God?

**This essay is dedicated to Melissa Shattuck for having the chutzpah to get me to South Dakota. And to Dick, naturally. Red wheelbarrows. All of them.

(a p.s. to the story: after I posted about it on my Facebook, through the serendipitous nature of the universe, a woman commented: “The man in the red jacket is my dad!”)

Find the miraculous, even in the mundane.

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Dick. The man in the airport.

Dick. The man in the airport.

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Jen will be back in South Dakota May 28th for one workshop. Click here to book.