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Awe & Wonder

5 Most Beautiful Things, Awe & Wonder, beauty, Delight

Better Than Magic.

August 6, 2014
busystreet

by Jen Pastiloff.

I watched this adorable old man cross the street by my house just now as I was running. It took him a lot time. He had a walker. I stopped running and waited for him.

“Can I ask you a question? What made you happy today?”

Silence.

Me: Do you speak English? Where are you from?

Him: I am Armenian.

Me: What made you happy today?

He laughs. He’s got all his teeth.

Continue Reading…

Awe & Wonder, Guest Posts, travel

Returning to Uganda. By Sabrina Lloyd.

August 1, 2014
roadtrees

By Sabrina Lloyd

‘You can’t step into the same river twice,’ they say, they taunt, they warn. It may look the same; the water may feel the same, caressing skin between toes. The smell might even evoke a long ago memory that feels so refreshing you are tempted to submerge yourself fully, try to grab a current, ride it to your past to reshape, recreate, relive a better yesterday.

I knew Uganda would be different. I had no idea a river could turn into a sea so fast. I still see familiar corners, know my way around this way and that, but everything has changed, expanded, grown. It’s shinier. It’s faster.

It’s happier.

A refrain on endless cycle from before, heard from taxi drivers, shop keepers, dreamers, “Museveni gave us peace, but now there are no jobs. We have our lives but no money to live them.”

As we flew away to Rome, the earth spilled oil.

Continue Reading…

Awe & Wonder, Guest Posts

Rewriting My Ghost.

June 21, 2014

Rewriting My Ghost by David Breithaupt.

I have memories I wish I could rewrite the endings for while others have no conclusions at all. This past Memorial Day recalled for me a WW II vet I met in NYC during the mid 1980s. I was walking down 1st Avenue on the Upper Eastside with my friend Kitty, who was from Brooklyn and worked as a sign language interpreter. It was one of those fetid summer days in the city when anyone who could had already fled and the air was that kind of clammy smog you knew would give you some kind of cancer one day. We were about to traverse one of the cross streets when we noticed an old man who had fallen by the curb. He was stuttering and holding an arm up for help. As we approached, I noticed my fellow New Yorkers walking by him, vaguely annoyed by the obstacle that was slowing them down en route to their important missions. I stopped for a moment to take this in.

Kitty shook me out of my stupor when she bent over the man and asked in her loud (she was partially deaf) Brooklyn accent if he was all right. A wave of relief swept across his face as she and I hoisted and steadied him. The man had a cheap cane which had broken and lay in the street in pieces. He slurred and sputtered. Passerbys must have thought him a common drunk. I was however, fluent in drunkenese and recognized that his speech impediment had some other source. Most likely the man was a stroke victim.

“Where do you live?” Kitty asked while signing, partly out of habit and partly out of uncertainty of the man’s ability to hear. Again the man stuttered. He reached for his wallet and handed it to us. Kitty opened it and found a state ID with his current (we hoped) address. He lived not far away, one block down and one over. The name on his card identified him as Herman.

“We’ll take you there,” Kitty half shouted, still signing. Slowly, we walked him to his building, one painstaking step at a time. This was a memory that would whirl into my mind years later when my father suffered from emphysema and I would help him walk at an equally slow pace. Both times I can recall thinking, this will be me someday, if I live that long. Thirty-five minutes later we stood in front of his building.

“Keys?” Kitty asked. “We will walk you up. Do you have your keys with you?” The man pulled a chain out of his pocket from which dangled about a dozen keys. We tried each one to see which opened the front door. Of course it was the last one. Once in the vestibule, Herman pointed to his mail box. More good luck, he lived on the fifth floor. We fumbled with his keys again and let ourselves in.   We recommenced a slow journey, like climbers reaching the peak of Mt. Everest. I wondered how he coped with this on a daily basis.

We succeeded eventually, sweaty and slightly out of breath. I was already looking forward to drinking several large beers in the first available air-conditioned bar. Herman was almost home. Kitty found his door key after we had made some commotion in the hall, the noise of which attracted the neighbor across the way. A young man next door came out to see what was up.

“Hey Herman,” he said. We quickly explained the situation. The neighbor said he’d been keeping an eye out for Herman, that he was a WW II vet and lived alone. Herman had suffered a stroke eight months earlier which affected his speech and slightly impaired his walking ability. The neighbor said he was hoping to find a relative to help him but Herman seemed to be alone in the world.

The last key (again) let us in and we helped him to a bed in the center of a small room. He plopped down gratefully and looked at us expectantly. I walked around his room, flipping on light switches which didn’t seem to work. The only light was coming from his open door.

“His electricity gets cut off sometimes,” the neighbor informed us. “I’ll try to get him some candles,” he mentioned half-heartedly. Herman was still sitting, as if expecting some miracle, perhaps a wave of our hands which would make him twenty years old and erase the memories of his dead comrades. We didn’t have that kind of magic.

Kitty fluffed his pillow. “You just rest now, all right?”

Herman just wanted to sit. And look at us. Maybe he wanted us to adopt him. To give him the gift of electricity, cook him an omelet and watch a Mets game with him. Instead we backed out of his room while he watched us go. Slowly he raised a hand and waved goodbye. Kitty signed a farewell and told him to rest. “You take care Herman, get some rest!”

I watched him dissolve into darkness as we closed the door, his look more meaningful than any novel I’d ever read including the long Russian ones whose morals were sometimes elusive. What was going though his mind? What did his expression mean? He was taking us in like we were the last sight he’d ever see. Maybe we were. We closed the door with a final click and left him locked in darkness. We never saw him again.

I want to change the ending now. I want his lights to come on, to have one of his kids come to the rescue and take him home. I want to make myself march down to Con Ed and pay his damn electric bill. I want myself to stop in every now and then to make sure he was illuminated.

I didn’t.

Instead I took with me the legacy of his thousand mile stare through time and space which has haunted me for the last thirty-five years. I’m sorry Herman. We should have crafted you a better finale. We left you in the dark which is where we all end up but it wasn’t quite your time. I hope you found some peace. I hope you were reborn in the light. I hope you got a new cane and some candles. I hope you are OK wherever you are.

 My writing has appeared in The LA Review of Books, Rumpus, The Nervous Breakdown and Exquisite Corpse. I lived in NYC for many years and worked for the Brazen Head Bookstore, NY Public Library, Rolling Stone and Allen Ginsberg. I currently live in Columbus, Ohio where I work for two newspapers which cover the Cincinnati Reds and OSU collegiate sports and live with my dog Shade.


My writing has appeared in The LA Review of Books, Rumpus, The Nervous Breakdown and Exquisite Corpse. I lived in NYC for many years and worked for the Brazen Head Bookstore, NY Public Library, Rolling Stone and Allen Ginsberg. I currently live in Columbus, Ohio where I work for two newspapers which cover the Cincinnati Reds and OSU collegiate sports and live with my dog Shade.

 

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 yoga/writing retreats to Ojai, Calif over Labor Day in Ojai, Calif and she and bestselling author Emily Rapp will be leading another writing retreat to Vermont in October. 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. She tweets/instagrams at @jenpastiloff.

Next workshop is London July 6. Book here.

Awe & Wonder, Beating Fear with a Stick, Guest Posts, healing

Do You Want To Be On The Lifeboat?

December 23, 2013

Do You Want to be on the Lifeboat? 

By Catherine Hummel.

Close your eyes.

Imagine you are on a plane. You are on your way to a vacation you have saved up for and have been looking forward to for several months. You have your drink, your favorite book and a blanket. You are so grateful for a break from your busy life. Your eyes begin to soften as you settle in to your seat for your long ride across the ocean.

Just as you are about to drift off the pilot comes on the loudspeaker.

He begins to notify all passengers that one of the engines has gone out.

You are over the Atlantic Ocean and he informs you that the last engine’s gas will not last longer than one more hour and you won’t make it across the ocean.

The plane will crash.

Your heart starts to speed up.

You start to sweat.

Your mind is racing.

Is this the end of my life?

He then proceeds to tell you that there is one lifeboat on this plane.

6 people will be able to survive and that is it. Others, once they hit the water despite having life jackets will die immediately.

6 people will survive and all passengers on the plane will have a chance to make their case for why they should be the ones to live. And all passengers will have a chance to vote.

Panic. I can’t breathe.

Do you want to be on the boat?

***

I was in a workshop two years ago where I sat through this guided visualization.

I had a few minutes before I stood up in front of 15-20 people and would have 90 seconds to make a case for why I should be picked to be on the plane. I was 24 years old. I was working at a non-profit in downtown Boston. My life was simple. I had made some great changes over the past two years, I had decided to stop drinking. I began taking steps to living the life I dreamed of but at this point I had really settled in to playing really, really small. I had already lived the chaos and I wanted to just get by, wasn’t that enough? Perhaps now it wasn’t. I had passions and dreams but was I doing anything about them? How often did I feel comfortable sharing my heart? How often was I experiencing tremendous joy and excitement about the life I was living? Was I too comfortable playing small? What was I living for? What was important to me? What did I have to offer the world, offer to life? Was I living my life like I wanted to live it??

I stood up. I felt small and insignificant. I felt ridiculous having to fight for my life in front of total strangers and yet I said I want to be on the boat. I don’t even remember consciously saying it. I barely remember what else I said. My voice shook, my hands were trembling, and yet in that moment my life flashed before my eyes.Catherine, do you want to live? What are you doing with your life? What if you were about to die and this was your last chance, would you choose it? In my 90 seconds I talked about what was important to me, I shared my dreams I had never shared with anyone before, that I wanted to help people, specifically help women connect with themselves and their hearts, I wanted to build communities, I wanted people to remember how precious life is and that it’s all a gift, help them connect with their own inner spark, for them to choose a life that they were happy about living. I told the group that I wanted a spot on the boat. I chose life.

As the exercise went on I noticed some things about the way many other people shared. All of us were nervous but many were ready to give up their life. Women talked about how their children needed them but didn’t talk about why they wanted to live for themselves. Men talked about their businesses and their work but not about what really mattered to them. Others younger than me shared about how they had so much life left to live and they too had dreams and goals and passions. Others who were over age 65 said they were ready to die. I found myself getting angry at the ones who were ready to give up. Why are you giving up? Why aren’t they fighting for their life? We are all equally valuable to this world and what kinds of people are we BEING in our day to day life? What really matters? It doesn’t matter how old you are. It doesn’t even matter what you do for a living, each person has something to offer the world. It’s not over til it’s over. I knew people in my life that had found true love at age 70. There are 80 year olds running marathons. There are people who live each day as if it is their last, Wait, am I doing that? Some people got up and even though they made a case, never once said “I want to be on the boat.” Others stood there speechless.

Then we had to vote.  I voted for the ones who said they wanted to be on the boat. Who clearly said it. It didn’t matter if they had good reason, they said they wanted it. I shared with the ones who were ready to give up how angry that made me, that I wanted them to see that they were worthy of life, that they had something to offer regardless of their age, and why were you so easily ready to give up? The martyrdom made me sick. I don’t want people to step aside, I want each person to claim their space, know their worth, equals. It didn’t matter how much money people made, what mattered is what kind of difference they were making in the world. I wanted the ones on the boat who were real. Who were confident in who they were. Who believed in service to others. Who knew life wasn’t just about being happy, ones who had overcome tremendous struggle, and were continuing to live their life in gratitude and with passion. I wanted the fighters on the boat, the ones with hope and desire, the ones who wanted to live.

Of course many people were in reaction to the exercise and treated it as such. Just an exercise. But for me it felt real. I began to ask – Am I living my life like I actually want to?  What about those dreams that I just expressed to complete strangers, why am I not trying to live them? Am I confident in who I am? Do I like who I am? Do I know I am inherently worthy and valuable? Do I show up in my life fully self expressed and free?

I challenge you to ask yourself those questions.

Forget how you would do the exercise- how are you doing your life right now?

Life is a gift. It’s given to us the day we were born. We don’t have to earn it. We don’t have to work for it. It’s handed over and yet how many of us treat life that way?  Waking up in the morning do I act as if this day is a precious gift meant to be lived with kindness and grace? Am I deeply aware of the miracle that I am, that I was born worthy of all my hearts desires, and that my dreams are planted in my heart by spirit and I am strong enough to carry them out and make them real? Am I brave enough to handle when life doesn’t go my way? Do the people in my life know that I love them?

I created my coaching business after that weekend. I wanted to keep my spot on this planet. In this world. I wanted to help other women step up in their life, to know their worth, their passion, and their fire. To know their power and their value. I wanted others to be able to feel their desires, to know that they can handle both the light and the dark, that we were all given this life because we are strong enough to live it. Maybe up until this very moment you’ve been unhappy, you’ve been playing small, you’ve been afraid. Here’s the thing: every second is a chance to turn your life around. You don’t need to wait. This is what Second Chance Coaching was about It took one second for me to make the decision to do something different. To stop playing small. To stop criticizing myself. To pray to see what others see, the beauty within me, until I could see it myself. One second to believe I belong here, that I have a place in this world, and I am not ready to give up, no, I am not willing to give up.

That was 2 years ago when I sat in that workshop. Today I write this blog as a full-time women’s life coach and I have become a yoga teacher. I wanted to write this so I could remember. I could remember what it felt like when parts of me wanted to give up. When I thought life had become too bearable to live.  I want to remember the truth of who I am, of who we all are: unconditional love, infinite possibility, miracles. I want to remember the truth when I want to give up, when it gets too hard, when I don’t want to feel. I want to remember that I said YES to this, that I continue to say yes to this, my spot on the boat, my spot in this world, my life.

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Catherine Hummel is the gal who helps women who’ve lost their spark re-discover the magic within to fall in love with themselves and their life. At 26 years old she is a life coach, Reiki practitioner, yoga teacher, workshop and retreat facilitator, truth-telling machine and oh so very human. Her passion to help others transform their lives stems from her own experiences. At the age of 22 she hit rock bottom – lights out. As she rediscovered her own light and lit up her life, she found meaning in helping others do the same. She leads a monthly women’s circle titled “Sisters of the Heart” in Boston, MA, retreats in North Sandwich, NH and coaches women all over the country journey to their heart. 

 

Awe & Wonder, Birthday, There Are No Words To Describe This

Heartwarming Amazing Video On My Birthday!

December 12, 2013

Hello there! Today is my birthday and this is the best gift ever! You all helped raise the money to get my nephew Blaise, who has Prader Wili Syndrome and autism, his service dog. Here is Blaise with Simba. “My doggy, my baby!” Blaise says. It’s just too cute. Thank you all so much. Thanks to Dogwish for Simba. For more on Prader Willi click here. 

Please share and comment on this video on Youtube so people know how much is possible through social media, and, how important service dogs and animals are 😉

anti-bullying, Awe & Wonder, courage, depression, Guest Posts, healing

Visually Impaired, 66 Surgeries & Still: Nothing But Love. A Must Read.

November 20, 2013

I wrote a post a while back called The Irrelevants. This letter to me was a response to that article and with Michelle Medina’s permission, I am sharing it. You are not irrelevant either, you sitting there reading this.

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Thank you Jennifer.

I have tried to commit suicide since I was 6. Anything to ease the pain. Even cut twice in my life, just ANYTHING to make myself disappear. It’s even harder when the messages I received from the public and my classmates were disappear! Evaporate!! You’re NOTHING!!

I’m visually impaired, I was born with a rare facial birth defect called a Tessier Cleft. My face didn’t form properly and I’m one of only between 50-56 people in the world with it. I’ve had 66 reconstructive surgeries thus far including skin grafts and bone grafts and the public has stared, pointed and laughed.

My family in the past, has given them the power to ruin perfectly good outings and I’ve often asked my parents why they didn’t abandon me at the hospital. I’ve even wished I’d been aborted, though back in 1986 the ultrasound tech wasn’t fantastic, no 3-D images like nowadays and my mother had no idea I’d require 66 surgeries and be born without eyes to boot. I have a talking computer.

Anyway, my classmates were even more brutal, punching, kicking and spitting upon me. I have PTSD, occasional panic attacks and still struggle (without meds) to remind myself every day to stick it out. My little sister has a Baby, a boyfriend and my life consists of a CockerSpaniel and a Cat. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE my girls!! They are my babies!! They aren’t a human baby though and they definitely aren’t a partner.

I hold my 4 month old niece and sometimes find myself indulging the idea that she’s really mine and not my sister’s. I’m already so attached when my sister tried to leave her with me overnight and ended up crying herself to sleep and then coming to get her a while later because she just couldn’t, it took all I had to hug her, pat her on the back and say: “It’s ok Sis, I understand.” She left and walked across to her place and I couldn’t move from my spot in front of the door, couldn’t breathe. . . it felt like my heart was ripped out of my chest. My rational side kept saying: “She’s a first time mother, it’s not you!! It’s not you!!” My ego said: “Of course it’s you! You suck! You’re a piece of shit!! Even your own sister thinks you’re just “the blind girl” who can’t look after her child! Pack it in, bitch! Just pack it in already!” I typically share EVERYTHING with my sister, we love each other to bits, but I didn’t share that. . . I just couldn’t bring myself to, thinking of her and how her feelings would be hurt, because that’s not what she was thinking at all and I knew she wasn’t! If anybody knows my abilities it’s my sister. Point being. . . I’ve been there, am still there probably half the time if I’m brutally honest, but I’m crawling for it anyway. “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” from the Smashing Pumpkins is playing now and aptly describes that 50% of my time. The other 50% is probably best described by “Dirty Frank” by Pearl Jam. I choose that because it’s funny, an oddball/goofy song that makes me jump around and holler like a fool. Lol. Thank you for the reminder I can do this. . . even if it means crawling and falling and clawing my way through it! ~ Michelle

***

Beloved tribe of mine, dear readers, you, whoever you are: take heed from Michelle. Listen to her. You can do this. Even if it means crawling and falling and clawing your way through it.

Post comments to Michelle below 😉

Also, feel free to contact her via Facebook. She would love that. Click here.

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Awe & Wonder, Guest Posts, poetry

The Space of Rituals.

October 23, 2013

The Space of Rituals

by Andi Cumbo-Floyd

Every day, I kiss him goodbye at the back door of the farmhouse before pushing the door shut tight behind him.  I make my way across the galley kitchen, through the living room, into my office – a trip of 15 strides or less.

Then, I open the front door, stand behind the glass meant that keeps out storms but not stink bugs, and wait.

Every weekday.

It’s our ritual.

As I wait, I see how the wedding mums have started to fade – the honeymoon’s consequence.

The trees at the bottom of the farmyard illustrate, as if planned by the most creative and enthusiastic of third grade teachers, the stages of fall – just yellow, the orange-yellow of the dogwood, the bare spindle branches of the persimmon.

The chicken coop door stands empty still, waiting for us and Dad to resume now that the wedding work has faded.

I catch glimpses of Lee the tractor as he poses in the lower pasture.

All this in a few moments – a minutes, maybe two.

The gift of ritual – the space it creates to see, to breath, to wait.  The preparation of a moment. The air around time.

Like lighting a candle. Or closing his eyes before turning on the computer screen. Or standing at a storm door waiting to blow her new husband a good-bye kiss.

Click photo to buy Andi's book.

Click photo to buy Andi’s book.

 

Andi Cumbo-Floyd is a writer, editor, and writing teacher. She blogs regularly at her writing website – andilit.com – and the website for God’s Whisper Farm.  Her book about the principles in place at their small Virginia farm is God’s Whisper Manifesto. She just got married in September, and she plans to blow her husband Philip a kiss every day for the rest of their lives.  

And So It Is, Awe & Wonder, Beating Fear with a Stick, Guest Posts

Tell Your Story.

September 27, 2013

Tell Your Story.

by Danielle Orner.

*

            As I walked to the stage, I realized I was still tipsy. My pulse thundered in my ears and I could only see the path to the pool of light surrounding the mic. Since the moment the MC read my name, I’d gone blind to the features of all the people around me – most of whom were younger and all of whom had an effortless, artsy cool I’d never quite mastered. My friend had suggested we meet at the restaurant where she moonlighted which ended up meaning unsolicited samples of exotic martini flavors. For a light weight like me, all those sips of jalapeno and chocolate flavored gin added up.

I made it to the microphone. I cleared my throat. We had waited on the sidewalk for nearly an hour to get in. The tiny black box theater was so packed that people had to sit cross-legged on the stage. Every inch of the room, aside from the spotlight in which I stood, was filled with activist, musicians, students, homeless people, and dreamers who had come to hear poetry. So, I opened my mouth and began my first spoken word performance.

I signed up to read because I was in awe of the young people who devoted their Tuesday nights to raising their voices. Here in Los Angeles, we are saturated with stories. The billboards remind us over and over of what heroes ought to look like and who’s tales are worthy telling. Online, we are drowning in the minutia of near strangers’ lives. In the midst of this constant recycled chatter, there are voices daring to speak raw truths. This courage is of utmost importance because stories form the perimeters of our lives. Whether we are aware of it or not, the stories we tell frame our thinking. As Jack Kornfield observes, “sacred traditions have always been carried in great measure by storytelling: we tell and retell to see our own possibilities.”

When I spend time working with children, I notice how deeply our narratives build our world. Children are still learning the stories, still questioning how the outcomes, still believing they can end in a different way. You can clearly see the scaffolding of socialization in kids where it has already be cemented over and accepted by adults. Kids will stare in wonder at my prosthetic leg whereas adults have already learned pity or embarrassment. Kids can still dream about what it might be like to be part robot.

A five year old recently informed me and my girlfriend that she has girlfriends that she doesn’t kiss. We could see her fact checking the world against what she had heard in fairy tales and seen on the Disney Channel. Princesses are supposed to be pretty and wait for princes. Recently, a friend also sent me a touching video where an Italian toddler explains to his mother why he doesn’t want to eat animals. Children show us that most of what we take to be “the way things are” is simply a network of stories. This is the reason so many religions remind us to have the minds of little children – not because children are innocent but because they ask questions. They say why, why, why to everything and are not afraid to add their own embellishment. They haven’t learned yet to be afraid of their own voice.

The Hindi tradition teaches that in the womb infants have one song, “please let me not forget who I am.” Once they are born, the song changes to “Oh, I have already forgotten.” We must find the inquisitiveness of a child to question our stories and the bravery to make new ones. Every major social change began with a person being willing to say: this is how it is for me.  Brene Brown, a researcher who explores the importance of vulnerability, reminds us that the original Latin definition of courage is to “tell the story of who you are with your who heart.”

So, do you need to be a writer or poet to make your voice heard? No, there are so many ways to bring our true story to light. Paint it. Journal it. NPR does a beautiful program where they record “ordinary” people talking about their lives. Record tales for your grandchildren to listen to one day. Take time to write or call or chat with loved ones and skip right over the pleasantries. Better yet, ask someone to tell you a true story.

I’m currently in the ridiculously difficult process of attempting to write a memoir chronicling my journey from being diagnosed with cancer at age 15 to surviving a decade of recurrences only to find yoga, become a vegan, get divorced, and come out. In the sheer terror of realizing one day people might read these very vulnerable confessions, I’ve taken to telling stories to my girlfriend’s dog.

It started as a joke at first. I’d sit on the couch and say, “Once upon a time, there was a dog named Coco.” I thought it brought me comfort because it reminded me of how my mom used to read to me and my four brothers every night. We’d all curl up around her after our baths and listen to tales of strange heroes. To this day, I know my strength comes from the books my mom carefully chose about brave girls and soulful outcasts.

Yet, as I continued telling the sweet stray about where she came from, I began to tear up. My girlfriend arrived at the shelter minutes after Coco sunk her teeth into the man trying to adopt her. After a life of abuse, Coco was scared and mistrustful. My girlfriend said she didn’t mind that Coco was broken. At the time, my girlfriend also felt broken and alone in a city far from her family while struggling with all that life had dealt her. The story ends with the broken girl and the broken dog teaching each other slowly that it is okay to love.

I tell this story over and over to the sweet puppy who can’t understand because it is a good story about how even when we feel wrecked and weak we can find healing. It reminds me that even when we feel unlovable and unfixable we still have something to give in this imperfect world.

Whether you whisper it to your sleeping child or turn it into a song, find your own very true “once upon a time.” And listen carefully to all those stories other people are telling you and to the ones on loop in your head. Do the deserve to be there? Or is it time to take the princess out of her tower and into the woods on her own quest? The best kind of tales are the ones that remind us we are both amazingly individual and undeniably connected. Like millions of unlikely heroes all stumbling around on our own dark paths, our lanterns become the pinpricks of light that create constellations. Each voice is needed to tell the story of the whole – the story we forgot at birth about who we really are.

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Connect with Danielle on Facebook here.

5 Most Beautiful Things, Awe & Wonder

Boys In The Hood.

September 13, 2013

My friend is a teacher deep in South L.A. Just recently, he lost three students who were shot in gang related incidents. Today, he tagged me on Instagram with this photo below. It’s a photo of his 7th grade boys’ #5mostbeautifulthings. He said they were having their weekly chat and the boys started to get macho with their talk of sex and violence so he used the 5 most beautiful things project to bring them back.

I was so moved by this!

Take a peek at some of the things they wrote. Girls, video games, my mom, Ganesh (loved that one!)

Beauty transforms. I don’t care where or who you are. It transforms.

Follow me on Instagram at @jenpastiloff and post a pic with hashtag #5mostbeautifulthings. Tag me and write why it’s one of your things. I share some of them!

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Please share this post as I would love people to see how powerful this project really is.

With love and beauty,

jen xx

Awe & Wonder, courage, Guest Posts

Blue Interior. By Suzanne Rolph-McFalls

September 4, 2013

I posted a question on my Facebook page last week. I asked if there’d been anything in your life that was painful or sad that you now see as a gift? Below is something that got posted under that question on my Facebook. I had to reach out and ask if I could publish it here at The Manifest-Station. Wow.

Blue Interior. By Suzanne Rolph-McFalls

My father was murdered in his hotel room when I was 19. He had left his second wife and was staying in a nearby hotel, a known chain. His car broke down and he called me for help, a ride, a taxiing around for a few hours.

I went.

I had a new, blue car with new blue crushed velour interior, and my first car payment. As I drove my father to the places he needed to go to pick up car parts and liquor, it began to rain. A cold, March in the Midwest rain. He wore a light jacket that day, and I could see him shiver as he worked furiously under the hood of his car while I sat, cozy warm, inside my blue car with the blue crushed velour interior.

He got so cold he opened the passenger side door and asked if I minded if he got in for a minute.

No, Dad! Get in! I said.

But as he pulled the door shut the grease on his hands got on the blue crushed velour of my new blue car door.

And I yelled at him.

Dad! You got grease on my door! Look what you did!

He looked. Then, he looked at me and said he was sorry, and then he said, “I’ll just get out.” And he did.

The car repair was unsuccessful and he asked if I’d I’d drive him back to the hotel.

~Yes.

~Can we stop at White Castle, honey, I think I am hungry.

~Yes.

Back at the hotel I let him out in front and he hugged me, carefully, so no more grease got anywhere.  He gathers his bags of sliders and unused car parts and liquor, and he looks lonely and forlorn and cold and old, and he was a terribly flawed sometimes terribly abusive sometimes terribly alcoholic Dad who I loved, still love, with all my heart, and instead of taking him home with me, or staying for a White Castle, or even just a longer hug, I drove away.

In my new blue car with blue crushed velour interior.

I wouldn’t know until early the next morning, when my step mother called to tell us, that my father died a few hours after I left  him standing cold, wet, and alone in front of a popular hotel chain.

A few hours after I begrudged him warmth and shelter from the storm, out of a need to protect my new blue car with blue crushed velour interior.

I had always been a kind and generous person, but that day I let my anger over Dad’s new wife new baby new family old wounds old mistreatments, make me small. Petty. Value a thing over a person.

That day, that horrible rotten day, someone horribly rotten broke into my father’s room and beat him in the head and face until he died.  Then they ripped the ring us kids had given him as a gift, back when we were a family, off his finger in a bloody skinned tear;  and then they robbed his wallet of all those hundred dollar bills he loved to flash.

On that day I became a thing forged in grief and steel.

Never, ever, EVER, would I place greater importance on a thing, any THING,  than I did a living being.

I would never cease offering shelter from storms.

I would always share warmth.

I would always hug longer.

I have an adorable oyster white Lexus SUV with buff leather seats, now.

But, whether they know me well enough to know it or not, when people ride with me, anywhere we’re headed, we’re really in blue Oldsmobile with blue crushed velour interior.

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Contact Suzanne Rolph-McFalls:

Email: scltibis@aol.com or suzanne.rolphmcfalls@facebook.com

Find me on Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/suzanne.rolphmcfalls and

Twitter:  @Suss64

About Suzanne:

I am a writer.   I have a deep and abiding love affair with books, with reading, and with the written word, most recently those of my grandson, who tends to spell things so purely gorgeous I cry on regular basis.  A few days ago he wrote me a note and told me I was “byootful.”  I had never felt more beautiful in my entire life, because I knew he was seeing inside, to whatever good stuff is in there.   I wanted to wear that note as a sign, since 8 year olds are fantastic judges of character, and seers of bullshit.  I practice yoga and Buddhism, and try every single day to alleviate suffering in the world while creating and inspiring joy, and, hopefully, inspiring others to do the same.  I studied Fiction Writing at California State University, Dominguez Hills , MA, and before that, I studied English, Literature, and Language/Fiction Writing at Northern Kentucky University, BA.  I am married to Michael McFalls, President of S&M Custom Painting Services, Inc.  Our 20th  Anniversary is Halloween 2013.  :)

And So It Is, Awe & Wonder

So Much Depends.

August 12, 2013
90

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.

 

Awe & Wonder

Extinction is a Choice.

July 29, 2013

This butterfly was believed extinct for 11 years before entomologists walking across the site spotted one fluttering ahead of them. The Palos Verdes Blue.

I hear this story about this nearly extinct butterfly and an ex-gangster, just released form prison, and how he’s out there saving her, daily.

He’s there by five a.m. with his big nets and his teams of butterfly catchers.

He confides in the dark gray wings of the females and whispers into the males’ upper wing surfaces. The blue quiver, coddled in between his fingertips.

This, his gentle prey.

This is how I imagine it: A young black man brings them together to reproduce. Just watch him talk to these fragile winged things. He tells them what prison was like, what it feels like to lose a game of cards and to have to deal with a child molester for this small misfortune.

It was business, not pleasure he tells the world’s rarest butterfly.

His belief that he has found something bigger than God. Finally.

Extinction is a choice, he tells the butterflies.

Gently, he prays.

Extinction is a choice, the butterfly says.

In 1903, in Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, “Things are not all so comprehensible and expressible as one would mostly have us believe; most events are inexpressible, taking place in a realm which no word has ever entered, and more inexpressible than all else are works of art, mysterious existences, the life of which, while ours passes away, endures.”

These mysterious existences. Aren’t we all mysterious existences floating through life with our diagnoses and our personalities and shoe sizes?

In his letter, Rilke asks the young poet if he must write? And if the answer is Yes, I must, Rilke says for the young poet to build his life according to this necessity.

I think of the necessity of saving those butterflies. But first, the seeing of them. For ten years they were believed to not exist anymore in the world. They were literally invisible to the human eye.

I wonder how much of our lives go unseen? Unnoticed? the butterfly asks.

I was at a party last weekend where I felt invisible. I flitted in my butterfly-like way through the layers of people staring vacantly into space as if cake, or someone better were always on the way.

Until someone joked with me, did I slip back into my body, did I realize I was not invisible. It took that man, however, in his wire-rimmed glasses and white sneakers to make me a person again. Then, bodies bumping into mine and excuse me and hello and there you are! but before that: invisible. It took one pair of eyes to see me and I was no longer extinct.

Imagine that! Extinct to the world until someone spots you and says you exist. Oh, sweet butterfly, I get you. I get you in your gossamer wings. I get with with your desire to go on and not disappear.

How much of what we see is a choice? the butterfly asks.

I remember one of the guys that used to work in the kitchen with me at the restaurant. We worked together for years. Sweet guy, this chef. Covered in tattoos and a hard-core gangster but one of the sweetest men I had ever met. Always laughing. Always making me little plates of food when I got busy with tables and hadn’t had a chance to eat.

He’d wear these long sleeved shirts to cover his tattoos but if you knew anything at all about gang life, you wouldn’t want to cross paths with him. His tattoos meant business.

Extinction is a choice.

One night, after work, we were drinking on the patio. I asked him about prison as I sipped my red wine. He had tequila and a cigarette.

He told me that when he’d lost in a game of cards he had to rape a child molester. I remember wanting to unhear that information so badly that I swallowed the rest of my wine in one whole gulp. My sweet chef. My sweet tattooed gangster tomato chopping chef. He didn’t want to talk about it.

It was business, he’d said.

What are the things that must be done? the butterfly asks.

It was business. The survival business. We are all in the business of survival.

Rilke, in his Letters, over and over asks this young poet Must you create?

How can something be believed to be extinct? Then one day, there it is, fluttering away in front of you like it had been there all along.

Maybe all these parts of us are always there. Dormant until the necessity arises in us and we are willing to grab our nets and go out into the wild with them.

I must do this. I must create. I must not let myself disappear.

Extinction is a choice.

Rilke says “ Then take that destiny upon yourself and bear it, its burden and its greatness, without ever asking what recompense might come from outside. For the creator must be a world for himself and find everything in himself and in Nature to whom he has attached himself.”

So this young kid, this ex-gangster, practices preservation every day on the coast south of Los Angeles, in a shrinking patch of coastal scrub community.
He attaches himself to this piece of nature by the sea, where he thinks not without irony that so much of life is chance and through what delicate slip in luck did he get to stand out here, with sweat in his eyes and a butterfly in his hand when he could be non-existent? A non-person. What hair-like accident allowed this to occur?

The stone’s throw, the butterfly catcher, this unequivocal beauty in watching hands rove over rocks, over winged creatures.
The renewed hopes for survival.
The transformation from the pupae into adult butterflies.

I will not disappear, he tells the endangered creature. Nor will you.

We are here, the butterfly says.

Extinction is a choice.

Both of them out there in the wild, waiting to see what life will allow them to keep, what will return.

trina-paulus_quotes_butterfly

~jennifer pastiloff