By Joanell Serra
One night my eight year old niece and I find a quiet moment, and she springs a question on me I don’t see coming. Which shows the depth my own denial.
We are two weeks into a long summer visit, my niece Molly and her six year old brother Ryan have travelled across the country to visit with myself, my husband, and our two children. It is a chaotic but fun summer, a mixture of Northern California beach days and trips into foggy San Francisco. I evoke the ghosts of my own childhood in New Jersey, as I drag the four children through city art museums and Shakespeare in the park. And avoid talking about the certain topics, even in the face of obvious evidence that something is very wrong.
Tonight Molly and I are alone, doing her hair before bed. It’s a complicated process, that requires just enough (but not too much) conditioner in the shower and liberal use of detangler after a quick towel dry. Next I pull the brush carefully through the mass of her thick brown hair and braid it tightly so she doesn’t wake up with knots and frizz. This morning’s tug of war and tears as I tried to tame her locks motivates me to get it right this time. Continue Reading…
By Celia Finkelstein.
The first time I know that I am fat and that is bad is when I am ten.
That is the year I become a lifetime member of Weight Watchers. My mom says I asked to go on a diet. I don’t remember what precipitated this request, but I am sure she’s right.
I weigh 135 pounds at the first weigh in. When I find that first weigh in card ten years and 150 pounds later, I cry. I was my adult goal weight at 10.
Goal weight. It’s a phrase that causes mini-PTSD symptoms even as I type it. Along with words like “food diary” and “carbs” and “weigh in.”
My mother’s mother is weird about food. My mother is weird about food. I am weird about food. It is inevitable, I suppose. We live in the world.
When I was growing up, I could drink as much Coke as I wanted, but to this day I have never had a Twinkie because I wasn’t allowed. I know that I can buy them now, but they still seem forbidden. Also cancer causing.
One night, my mother and I split a Pepperidge Farm Chocolate Fudge Cake for dinner. We have Snickers ice cream bars for dessert. I am not supposed to tell my step-dad. My mother remembers this as a fun, whimsical evening with her daughter. I remember it as my first binge. Continue Reading…
By Heather Regula
Dear Haley and Taylor,
Life at 40 has me feeling like I am at a pinnacle – everything has gotten better as I have gotten older. You two are my greatest accomplishments – I am so proud of you. The love I have for you is immeasurable. There is so much to say – so many bits of information I want to pass along to you, so many heartaches I want to save you from, so many lessons I want you to already consider “learned” – simply because I have already learned them. Your life is yours to live. You have your whole lives ahead of you and I am so honored to be along for the ride!
Disease or a terminal illness spurs some people write letters like this to their children. I am healthy and happy but I wanted to put all of these thoughts down for you to reflect on over the years. There are times when my words get jumbled up and I don’t truly say what I mean. Sometimes emotions or anger affect my ability to properly communicate. So here are my words and everything I want to share with you now. My perspective is different now than it was 10 years ago and I will write to you more throughout the years. My letter to you when I’m 50 might have a totally different spin to it as the lens I reflect through will be different. For now, at 40, here goes…
- Happiness is a choice – be sure to choose joy daily. Don’t worry about whether the glass is half full or half empty – just remember that the glass is refillable! No one is responsible for your happiness – find what makes you happy and go after it!
- Feel everything – allow every single emotion you have inside of you to take root and run its course. The good, the bad and even the ones that rip your heart out – allow yourself to feel them all. This is easier said than done because no one likes to feel pain so we often protect ourselves from that. We fight off the bad feelings or turn to distraction in order to avoid feeling them. What we resist… persists. So, feel it all. Embrace it all. Own it, love it and process it all. Learn and grow from it all.
- Share those feelings with others – let those close to you know what you are thinking and feeling. We are not on this life journey alone – don’t shut others out. Allow others to have the privilege of being part of your life and share your innermost feelings with those who matter. Sometimes talking about the painful emotions lessens the burden for us and makes it more manageable. Those that love you will want to share in your joys too. Share it all – be open and honest.
- Choose your circle wisely. You can be kind and loving to all, but not everyone gets to have a piece of your world. Save those spots for those who really matter. You decide who is allowed into your life and you control the level of submersion they get into your life.
- Love yourself – take care of your mind, heart and body. Appreciate and embrace what makes you different from others and don’t be afraid to let your light shine. This involves forgiving yourself for mistakes made and roads not traveled down.
- Be kind to others – life isn’t about you and I … it is about what we can do for others. Spread joy wherever you go – do what you can to make someone else’s day more enjoyable – lighten their load by helping when and where you can. Blanket the earth with your love – always leave the world better than you found it. It doesn’t matter what you get out of it, or how someone else treats you – it is about you loving others. Plain and simple. Show that love any way that you can and every chance that you get – hold the door open for others, offer to help carry someone’s bags, make eye contact with the cashier at the store and have meaningful conversation with him or her…. every interaction we have with others is our chance to leave them better than we found them.
- If you say you are going to do something – then do it. This will help you stay true to yourself and it will allow others to believe in you. It sucks to be let down.
- Don’t take anything personally – I feel like I should write these words in all capital letters. This truly is one of the greatest lessons of my life. I wish I had grasped this concept when I was younger. It is one of The Four Agreements (please read the book!) and it is so very simple. Everything that someone else says and does is not about you – it is one hundred percent about them. Now I am not saying to not believe what someone tells you – I am simply saying that all the bad stuff…. the words and actions that hurt our feelings and wind up breaking our heart – all of that is really not about us. Those words and actions are often a result of anger and issues that another person has. Don’t take that personally – people often say and do things to hurt others in an attempt to make themselves feel better. Sometimes it takes self talk and distancing yourself from someone else in order to not take things personally. Reminding yourself that it isn’t about you but truly about the other person will keep you happier and more emotionally healthy.
- Love others where they are. If you choose to allow someone into your life – friend, significant other, whatever – make an agreement with yourself to love that person where they are. Physically where they are – sure that’s a given. I mean more of the mental and emotional aspects of this thought. Love them for what you have in common and for their differences. Love the stubbornness and all of their little quirks and idiosyncrasies. When you find someone worthy of sharing your life with, please don’t ever think that they are your “other half” or that they “complete” you – you are whole and complete just as you are – you don’t need anyone else to fill a missing part of you.
- Let your expectations be reasonable – I used to always say that if we don’t have expectations then we won’t be disappointed. That is a callused way to look at things and I have decided that we do have the right to expect certain things. We give respect and we have the right to expect respect in return from someone who matters in our life. We give kindness and we have the right to expect kindness in return – but keep in mind that kindness is a muscle and if it isn’t exercised, then it isn’t very strong. Exercise kindness often so that your muscle is strong and it will spread to those around you. But don’t put the expectation you have of yourself, on others. That isn’t fair and it will only lead to disappointment. I did say earlier that we have the right to expect respect and kindness from others but we need to keep in mind that it might look different coming from another person. Their version of it will likely not be the same as yours. Or, they might not know how to show it and you will have the unique opportunity to show them. Show them lovingly and patiently.
- Forgive others freely and without expectation. Forgive others for your peace – not because they necessarily deserve it. So many times we get caught up in judging others – deciding their fate because we feel that we can be the judge, jury and executioner. Focus on not passing judgment and learning to forgive others. Forgiving someone doesn’t mean you have to let them back into your life. Sometimes you can make your peace with their actions, decide in your heart and mind to forgive them and let it go. Forgiving someone allows you to release the pain they caused and not carry it around anymore. It involves letting whatever happened go and not continuing to hold it against them. This is definitely a lot easier said than done but it is possible. Sometimes it is one of those things that requires constant self talk. Forgiveness, when done properly, is freeing. Forgive others when they are sincere in their apologies and forgive them even when they don’t offer an apology. That might be a time when you forgive and move on without them in your life.
- Trust for the sake of trusting – I feel like I could write pages and pages about trust – the benefits of having trust, the pains of losing someone’s trust, how it is nearly impossible to rebuild trust…. instead of rambling on and on about the different aspects of trust, I want to simple suggest that you trust someone for the sake of trusting. You will have relationships where your heart breaks because of the actions of another – don’t hold that heartbreak against the next person you allow into your life. Forgive the person that hurt you and move on. Allow the new person to have a clean slate – unblemished by the actions of another. We all deserve a real chance and trust is at the root of all of that. So – if you decide that someone is worthy of being in your life, trust in the fact that you believe they are good and decent. Trust them because they haven’t given you any reason not to trust them. Trust isn’t something others should have to earn. That’s not fair. So trust because of all the good that can come from it. Trust because there isn’t a reason not to. Now that I’ve said that – there are different layers of trust. There is a basic level of trust that others deserve to have until they have shown you a reason not to trust them. The different layers of trust will grow in time – don’t force them as they will just naturally fall into place.
- Find time to do what you love – what feeds your soul – what brings you peace and happiness. Carve regular time into your life for that. I really hope that it is something not associated with your job – so that it will allow you to focus on other things and dedicate time to that. Do what makes you happy and do it regularly. Breathe in the peace and joy that it brings you and exhale the stress and frustration that you have in your life.
- Life goes on – no matter what, time keeps ticking away. The passing of time doesn’t differentiate between good or bad times. Find a way to enjoy each and every day. Know that the pain you feel during tough days will pass and also remember that the great times will pass by as well. Love life and live it to the fullest – no regrets. Remember that each day you wake up is a chance to make today better than yesterday. Grief is temporary – feel each piece of it and let it go.
- Be you! Embrace who you are – happily and unapologetically! Be a badass, always.
I can write for days about things I want to tell you girls. I love you and will always be here for you. I love you where you are and for all that you are. I look forward to watching you both grow into young women and see the mark that you will leave on the world. You are both blessed with caring hearts and great intelligence – you will do amazing things, I know it. I love you.
Heather Regula is a writer and a fifth grade teacher. She was born in California, grew up overseas and has happily settled in Temple, TX. She has two daughters – Haley, 12 and Taylor, 8. Her words are straight from the heart – they are often based on life experiences that have moved and changed her.
By Ginger Sullivan
I swear it happens weekly. I open my mouth and some clerk or new patient or person on the street asks me where I am from. I feel like a transplant from a foreign land. Even though I left decades ago and have successfully eradicated the “ya’lls” and the “yonders” from my vernacular, my Southern upbringing comes through loud and clear. My move North did not erase my history. Although I try, hiding my background is impossible. My roots will not, cannot, be denied.
Here in the North, for obvious reasons, the South is not looked upon too kindly. These arguments aside, my accent alone gives way to question, maybe even judgment, and I am left sitting in my shame. Am I stupid? Did I grow-up with backwater ideas hailing from the trailer park? Am I small-minded, racist, conservative and overly-religious? My impulse is to get busy trying to prove myself. “Don’t write me off!” my insides scream. See me. See past my inflection. Give me a chance. I can hang with you Yankee intellectuals. I am worldly. I am not a mindless Southern Belle. I can contribute value. I am good enough.
Ridiculous, I know. But it is my story. And some of the stereotypes are true. I grew up with guns in the house. My brother even shot one through the floor once. We ate our share of fried chicken and grits. One grandmother made amazing homemade biscuits that I still cannot duplicate. The other grandmother set a mean table and needed three black helpers – the gardener, the cook and the housekeeper – to manage her world. We said grace before meals and dressed for church every Sunday. The daily choice was sweet or unsweet iced tea, even for young children. We spend weekends canoeing or watching SEC football. And no woman worked outside the home. They (we) were considered marriage material, beautiful window dressing for our good looks, not our minds.
I think it was my heart that noticed first. From a young age, I was suffocating. It was death by disconnection. I wanted a bigger world that talked to me, stimulated me, expanded me. I felt alone and did not have the words or the know-how to identify my predicament, much less fix it. I was surrounded by superficial nicety and put together beauty, but my heart longed for authenticity. Will someone stand up and talk about what is really going on here? I could not do pretend. I assumed that something must be wrong with me that everyone else could masquerade and I just could not stomach it.
And then there was my intellect. To my parents’ credit, they educated me well, sending me to the best private schools available. Originally, I am sure that the Harpeth Hall School was founded as a finishing school for Southern ladies. A societal necessity. But, even the South could not remain too long in the dark. At some point, the school became a launching pad for well-to-do families to provide their daughters opportunity. I am grateful to this day that my parents had such foresight.
But even there, I was more backwoods than most. (I guess I didn’t fit in either to the plaid skirt, prep school world.) I will never forget the middle school quiz bowl. The announcer read a series of vocabulary words to the competing panelists. The elected smarter girls on stage reeled off the definitions one by one, some of which I had never heard. And then the announcer said, “taxidermist.” The room grew silent. No one spoke. No one knew what that word meant. The announcer turned to the audience and asked if anyone knew what that word meant. I raised my then very shy hand. I knew what that word meant. Hell, we had a few on the family payroll that I knew by name.
Fast forward multiple decades. I have not lived south of the Mason-Dixon Line for a very long time. But when I get a chance to visit, there is a part of me, deep at the cellular level, that awakens and says “home.” Maybe it is the sound of the katydids or the sweet smell of freshly mowed green grass. My long ago emotions, tied to the place of my upbringing, rise with a vengeance and demand my sentimental attention.
Through the years, I have managed to willingly claim a part of the South in me. The art of setting an elegant table is important to me as is taking casseroles to my fallen-ill neighbors. There is something polite in my child’s “yes ma’am” and “no sir” that just sounds better than a sheer “yeah.” Dressing up a word to make it more kind goes a lot farther than aggression just because I can. Thus, maybe my Southern training wasn’t all bad. Maybe there is something there I can redeem and even want to hold onto.
Undeniably, like it or not, it is my story. I often find myself saying, I am not sure I like the path I took to get here, but I like the me now. And, I would certainly not be the me now without having spent 18 years wading barefoot in the creek and watching my Dad chase cows in the backyard.
Our life is like a blank wall, waiting to be filled with a 12′ x 12′ mural. Our experiences, stories, pain and joys are painted on there somewhere. We can try to draw over them or around them or make them into something else, but they cannot be expunged. We are the sum total of all our life’s encounters. The good news is that our life’s artwork is not complete until our journey ends. We can always add more to our mural which can transform the entirety of the composition. We are a continuous work in process.
I don’t know about you but that works for me. It engenders hope. It fortifies self-compassion to fight off my shame. It allows me the ability, on a good day, to fully embrace the life I have now. I am reminded of that old Crosby, Stills & Nash song – “If You Can’t be With the One You Love, Love the One You’re With.” I may not have the life I wanted, the life I dreamt of, but I am going to learn to love the life I have.
So, pass the biscuits and pour the iced tea. I’m gonna dig in, into all of it. Every last bite.
Ginger M. Sullivan practices psychotherapy to pay the bills but her real joys are her two children, her pug and her writing. As a self-proclaimed fumbling human being, she expounds on the underbelly of life – all things raw and real – that others might continue on their journey to become their highest, best self. She joined Jen Pastiloff at Jen’s Tuscany retreat during the summer of 2015. This is her fourth time being published on The Manifest-Station.
By Stephanie Couey
When I hold it, it feels nothing like a cock. Not even a hint of cock in this piece of heavy black metal; a symbolism I had imagined would be solid and indisputable goes limp as I hold the grip with my palms, resting my fingers along the barrel. As I hold it before firing, all I can think of, is unveiled violence, and how it doesn’t, at any moment, not even as the gun goes off and hits the target I’m aiming for, feel anything like power.
My partner, hopefully the last person I have to love, and I pull up into the parking lot of the shooting range with a plastic Wal Mart bag full of doughnuts and energy drinks. He says something to me about this place being ripe with material, just as I’m thinking the same thing. I feel myself slip into the role of slimy anthropologist, knowing I’m sure to get my fill of white right wing men to observe like animals.
The parking lot in Fort Collins, Colorado is unsurprisingly full of utility trucks and oversized family vehicles. As we walk into the front room of the range, he emphasizes how important it is that it not be called a “shooting range” but a “gun club.” He tells me this is a place where people go to find a community outside of their homes or jobs, not just to shoot guns.
If I can respect anything, it’s the need for establishing community, but I wonder if I can keep myself out of the way enough to be able to see the community, and not just see my own opinions mirrored back to me in a mosaic whose patterns I think I already know. In the patterns, I’d see a row of men, shooting just after the Sunday morning service, gripping their loaded second cocks, discharging projectiles one after the other toward pieces of cardboard they envision to be terrorists, homosexuals, atheist academics, sexual deviants courting their daughters, or some amalgamation of all of them, and I could be right, but I could also not be. Continue Reading…
By Tanya Slavin
Martin stands at the edge of a swimming pool, nervously shifting from one foot to the other, his whimpering becoming full blown crying the longer he stands there. I am waiting for him in the water, my arms invitingly outstretched, ready to help him in whenever he’s ready. I’m not pressuring him to go in, but the whole situation is: most of the other 4 year olds at this birthday party have been splashing happily in the water for a quite a while now, their happy babbling at stark contrast with his nervous wails. Some are already out of the water, getting ready to go upstairs to the birthday boy’s apartment for birthday cake and more fun.
Martin isn’t scared of the water. I take him to our local YMCA kids’ pool regularly where we splash and play happily. But the big difference is that the water in that familiar pool starts ankle deep, so he can move gradually, at his own pace, into deeper water, or stay at ankle depth if he chooses to. In this pool in our apartment building, the water starts waist-deep right away for someone his height. The other kids don’t care, but Martin isn’t comfortable plunging into that depth right away, so he stands there on the edge, scared and screaming.
I keep my hands outstretched and my voice positive and encouraging, when a sudden flashback obscures my cheerful attitude. In this recurrent nightmare of mine, I’m small and standing alone on the edge of a void that is formed by several missing steps in a stairway of my school building. Everybody else (all my classmates, teachers, my parents) have jumped over the void without giving it a second thought, and are happily on the other side, now encouraging me to jump over, their cheering voices ensuring me that it’s not that hard. But I am completely paralyzed by fear, and my knees begin to shake every time I try to make a step forward. I am certain that if I try to jump, I will fall into the void. So I’m standing there frozen and not jumping even though I desperately want to be on the other side with everybody else.
Alone, on the edge of the void, is where I spent my entire childhood. There was always ‘that side’ and ‘this side’, and a huge void in between. On that side were clowns and bouncy castles, noisy parties and dancing, being good at sports and being updated on the latest pop music, make up and girl nights out. ‘This side’ housed a comfy chair and a pile of books, being too sensitive and crying too much, and being scared of heights and elevators. It was understood and clearly confirmed to me by every trusted person in my life that ‘that side’ was the right one, and if you weren’t already there, you were expected to try hard to jump over. Continue Reading…
By Stephanie Birch.
I don’t buy the whole love and light thing. Not all the time.
I think we can get so caught up in love and light that it becomes exhausting. There’s nothing liberating about choking on “light” and feathering “positivity” when you’ve not begun to uncover the buried parts of you. Collecting quotes to push down weathered stories and experiences is not something that necessarily radiates light. Often, it masks the disguise of experiences stacked in the history of your makeup. There’s an endless parade of corralled happiness and bliss-chasing that leaves the dark locked in pretend existence. That’s the thing about darkness, it’s always ahead of the light.
I used to be a quote collector, like nuts to a squirrel scooping up positive affirmations. As a yoga student, I often followed a teacher’s cues to “let go” in “love and light.” It was always so poetic and sometimes sounded like regurgitated myths that I could, in fact, be loving and light if I simply let go. If…
My brain would agree and I would nod, like a dutiful student, with brief sprints only to fall back into old thoughts, patterns, and beliefs. Like an addiction, I searched and hoarded for words that held little weight and much less responsibility. That’s the thing about collecting quotes, they belong to another. Continue Reading…
By Jen Pastiloff
The natural history of this archipelago is very remarkable: it seems to be a little world within itself. —Charles Darwin, “Voyage of The Beagle”
After my father died, we left New Jersey with its death and dying and cold winters and fled to Southern California. We were the three of us in a station wagon—my mother, my sister, and I, and it was a simple case of “should we turn left or right?” Which, I’ve come to realize, is the way most of life works.
Door number one: you stay in college, wear turtlenecks, work in a university. Door number two: you drop out of college, run for three hours a day, wait tables. (And turtlenecks, they’re the devil.)
Turn right: he does drugs “one last time” and dies. Turn left: and there he is on the sofa in his frayed cutoffs and we never make the trek to California.
So a should we turn left or right happens and we choose left instead of right and end up in Santa Monica, where we live next to a man, his two daughters, and their beagle, Darwin, whom they keep locked up in a cage.
Darwin was a mean little dog. But hey, I might be mean too if I was confined all day to a small metal prison inside a dark kitchen. His bark was anxious, filled with accusations. I can see now how lonely he must’ve been in that little box. The kitchen empty, the lights out, and Darwin sitting in his own piss. I’d be angry too. Continue Reading…
Getting Older is Everything. Don’t Believe The Lies. A Message To Young Women on Jen Pastiloff’s Bday.December 12, 2015
By Jen Pastiloff
For as much as I talk about telling the truth, I still get butterflies when sharing my age. My friend Michelle Filgate had an essay in Buzzfeed yesterday about how she used running to treat depression and then she got injured. She interviewed me and it said, Jen Pastiloff, 40 years old, and I sat up and had a moment where I thought how could they have gotten that wrong? I am so not 40 years old.
But I was. Yesterday.
Today, I am 41.
It mortifies my mother-in-law that I tell people how old I am. Especially here in LA, we are not “supposed to” do that.
Youth is a commodity! You’re not “supposed to” age!
I call bullshit.
Note from Jen Pastiloff, founder of The Manifest-Station. This is part of our Young Voices Series for Girl Power: You Are Enough. We are always looking for more writing from YOU!* Make sure you follow us on instagram at @GirlPowerYouAreEnough and on Facebook here. Please share this essay as I feel it is tremendously important that we begin to shatter the stigma of mental health. Tweet, FB it, send to a friend, Instagram it. Whatever you can do. We are very proud of Giana!
By Giana Masso
When we think about mental illness, we too often picture the horror movie images: straight jackets, padded rooms, electroshock therapy, insane asylums.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand why these portrayals in horror movies are entertaining, and chilling. We look at these characters as monsters, because they’re often violent, delusional, or dangerous in general. However, this caricature of mental illness is not entirely harmless in its value as entertainment.
What we see in the media changes the way we perceive real experiences. For example, if someone constantly sees news reports on how violent pit bulls are, it would be easy to make assumptions and develop a fear of pit bulls. This applies to the way we discuss mental illness as well. We only talk about mental illness in a time of tragedy. It makes these illnesses into characters, almost. Depression is associated with acting unreasonably, Anxiety is associated with rushed decision making. Bipolar disorders are associated with displays of moody, angsty reactions. We don’t see people with mental illnesses as people anymore: we see them as the illnesses themselves. Continue Reading…
By Marin Sardy
My sister speaks easily with strangers. She’ll chat you up at a party or a neighborhood coffee shop and introduce herself by her nickname, Sadie. You may find yourself looking across a beat-up wooden café table and noticing the straight line of her nose, the high cheekbones, the blond hair swept up loosely, the wrap dress flattering her lean shoulders. She’ll come off as confident, casually beautiful. She she’ll talk openly about her life and tell you the kinds of things most people skirt around, until she gets distracted and you realize that she has forgotten that it mattered or that you cared to hear it. It’s best if you don’t take this personally. Because everything matters and nothing does, and it all gets mixed up most of the time. That’s what she knows and it’s what’s hard to express about the life we have lived—what says, No one has imagined us.
When she talks to you, the facts will be right but the story will seem more like a tangle than a thread, and it will sound a lot like this:
I’m just getting a cup of tea, nothing to eat. But I have plenty of time to chat. Then I have to go take my sister’s car away from our mom. It’s not a big deal. Mom’s not mad about it anymore. She’s actually going to drive up to my house and park it there and then I’ll give her a ride home. There was this whole thing, though, last week. Marin left her Subaru here in Santa Fe when she moved to New York a few months ago. She was letting Mom use it but now she doesn’t want her driving it anymore. Which I think is a good idea considering what’s happened, although Mom’s pretty bummed.
It was worth a try. Marin couldn’t take the car to New York anyway. And Mom has pretty much no money. She lives on Social Security and she used to just walk everywhere or else she got us to give her rides. Marin asked me before she moved if I thought Mom would disappear with the car or sell it or anything like that. But mostly she was just worried Mom would decide to go on a big road trip to California and put tons of miles on it or something. I said I really thought it would be fine. Mom was so excited to have a car and she seemed totally willing to follow all Marin’s rules. Although of course because of her illness Mom’s memory is so elastic there’s no real way to be sure she’ll remember she agreed to anything, especially after a few months. Existence for Mom only happens in the present moment, really. Everything else fades in and out like dreams. Totally delusional, totally unmanageable. Anyway I have to work tonight so I need to get the car back before that. Continue Reading…