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Beating Fear with a Stick

Anxiety, Beating Fear with a Stick, depression, Fear, Guest Posts


November 6, 2015
fire abstract background

By Alexis Donkin

Passion is painful. When I first discovered it, I cried, like that time I watched Hotel Rwanda, and walked back to my dorm room in shock. Safe in my room, I locked the door, held onto my chair, and collapsed, in a crumpled heap, weeping until there were no tears left. I think it was hours – hours of weeping.

Yes, passion was too painful. It was depressing. It was too much that I ran from the whole enterprise. It was better to feel nothing than to feel passion. So I doused my flame. I choked out its air, and I drew. I painted. I sculpted. I avoided the news. I ignored anything real around me, because if I didn’t, I was at risk of sinking into a deep pit.

For a long time I was just pieces of previously burnt, compressed, wood. Cold. Charcoal untouched by heat. Not yet fuel, everything was superficial. Everything was simple, and I was easily swayed by ideas. Without principle, without a standard of measure, it was easy to float about, carelessly moving from one place to the next. Until time caught up with me, forcing the issue. Time forced me to confront myself.

I was thirty. I had misgivings, but I had that intense need to breed. The kind of need that suffuses your entire body, that comes up at awkward times in awkward places, that persists like an aching hunger. And the hunger sharpened horribly any time I saw a pregnant body – a beautiful baby. Even an ugly baby. And the worst was a father and child.

I would see that, and my body would destroy every thoughtfully constructed, logical argument against parenthood. It would counter the financial hardship, the question of health care, of college several decades later. It would counter, roaring, with the most fundamental raw uterine bellow – BABIES!

The first chance we got, we made good. The second I felt it was possible, I aban Continue Reading…

Beating Fear with a Stick, beauty, courage, Guest Posts, Inspiration

More Than Enough

October 18, 2015

By Ali Ludovici

As you are, in this moment, you are enough.

It’s easy to forget. It’s easy to succumb to self-doubt, to the nagging voices in your mind. It is easy to fall to the comparison trap. To forget that you are beautiful in your individuality; incredible as you are. You are needed, wanted and loved.

I have struggled for much of my life with feeling inadequate. There was always someone better, more talented, more skilled. There was always someone more intelligent, more beautiful, seemingly more deserving. I sought out external validation. Without their validation I couldn’t trust, couldn’t believe that I was enough. Without approval, I worked harder, tried to be more perfect, more of what they were looking for. I would lose myself to this need to please. I would lose myself to the persona I took on. I would lose myself, thinking who I was wasn’t enough and that I should become someone more, someone better.

  1. I approached the teacher’s desk after class, shame overwhelming me. I wanted to know why I hadn’t received a higher grade. My grade 5 teacher seemed floored. She told me I should be proud of myself; I had received 85% as my final grade. I started to cry. Proud? Proud of what? I had set my standards to 90% and until then, I hadn’t ever not reached that standard. People now expected remarkable grades from me. I had let them down. I was a disappointment.
  1. When I saw her skate, flawlessly, landing jumps I still struggled with, spinning in tight little circles and with such grace and speed. She was mesmerizing where I was graceless. She was talented where I struggled. I would never compare.

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Beating Fear with a Stick, Eating Disorders/Healing, Guest Posts, healing

Howl Of My Heart

October 13, 2015

By Julia Radke

Eating disorders are shit. You know this. Eating disorders sneak in and whisper you lies that scurry through all the hallways of your brain and make dark little homes in your body. And you listen to the whispers and soon they are yells and you can’t hear your heart anymore. Soon you are saying, “Be quiet heart. I know what is best. The women on TV, they know what is best. The red pills in the top drawer, they know what is best”.

The eating disorder screams and your heart can only whisper. So you forget your heart.

But it does not forget you.

Every day it pumps your blood and it whimpers. It cries quiet little cries, painful mute sobs. It whines and it stammers and it drops silent tears. Until one day you are sitting at your window and your body feels empty but the world looks full without you and all of sudden your heart fucking HOWLS. It howls and you can’t ignore it and the disorder is sending out all of its best men because even it can’t quiet the heart this time. And then someone is holding your hand and saying they are proud of you and you’re entering the hospital and therapists are saying the word ‘relapse’ like it is your name and you’re swallowing mashed potatoes, glorious mashed potatoes, when all of a sudden the months are over and you are leaving the same hospital with a little gold coin that looks like a cheap piece of fake plastic money from a vending machine. Except this time it says “RECOVERY” instead of “PRIZE TOKEN”.

But no one really tells you that recovery is going to be shit too. They say it will be hard, and you will not always want to do it, and it will feel endless. That is true. That is expected. But no one warns you that it will be just as destructive. Recovery destroys your life.

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Beating Fear with a Stick, courage, Guest Posts, healing, Vulnerability

An Unfinished Opus

September 29, 2015

By Anonymous

Shame has a way of silencing the soul. This is what makes vulnerability so beautiful: it is the act of standing up in the face of everything that would tell you to be silent, that you’re not good enough- and still baring it all.

I’ve had nearly every avenue of expression shut down. My literal voice, and my body, both shamed into silence. Music has been my only refuge. There’s a piece of piano music I’ve been working on that feels like it tells my whole life’s story: the pain, beauty, shame, and loss- and what’s still yet to come. The shadows in my soul that hide from the poetry of speech and of dance, find a home in the rhythm of my fingers dancing on the keys, telling all I’ve been told to never speak of. Piano is my primary instrument, but guitar and singing have spoken for my soul as well.

—–The opus of my life.—–

The first movement took my breath away. Literally. When I was two, my body was used, violated, repeatedly. The freedom of my container exploited. The exodus from my body began here.

The second movement was repetitive and slow; there was no beauty, just monotony: chronic neglect, my parents ignoring my emotional needs. My voice was taken. I couldn’t display any emotions on my face. Another layer, stripped from my possession.

At age seven, the third movement began. These next two years were brutal, sadistic. I lost everything except music. I lost my connection to God. I was abused and tortured in every way. In a few ritualistic incidents, I was forced to dance, naked, in front of those who abused me, amidst other children also being abused. I haven’t been able to enjoy the poetry of movement since. Few things terrify me more, to this day, than dance. A move across town disrupted this violent symphony.

Continue Reading…

Beating Fear with a Stick, Guest Posts

Snakes & The Things That Shut Us Down.

December 30, 2014

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Jen Pastiloff.

I went with my sister to take my nephew to school yesterday in Georgia. Ola Elementary School. We drove right up and parked in front like we were loading or unloading, which, I guess we were. Blaise gets excited by school. School! School! Schoolbus!

He’s in kindergarten, which he will repeat again next year. He has a rare genetic disorder called Prader Willi Syndrome and autism.

He loves school and cries the snot-running-down-the-face-kind-of-cry if he has to miss it for any reason.

Me? I hated school. I was reminded of that hatred yesterday morning as I walked the narrow little hallway to take him to the therapy room where he plays with the other kids who have special needs.

I smelled that same school smell and immediately felt nauseas there in McDonough, Georgia, a suburb just south of Atlanta which proudly hosts a church on just about every corner and sometimes even in the shopping center.

I haven’t been inside an elementary school in at least 25 years and yet that smell hit my nose like a familiar thing: a cup of coffee, the way the back of my hand smells, gasoline, my husband’s pillow. It was as if all at once I knew it like any of the other mundane things in life. The things of the everyday. As if my nose never forgot This is what school smells like! And the minute it registered the scent, like a dog, I was there, right up in it, tail wagging, crying that I didn’t want to go back. Don’t make me go!

I always preferred to stay at home with my parents then to go to school just as I preferred to hang out with adults when I was a kid. School was insular. It made me feel claustrophobic and lonely at the same time. As the school year would progress, I would make my way in the world, as people do, but still, I hated it.

Come September every year I would have the same anxiety. Don’t send me back.

In fact, I almost didn’t graduate high school because I was absent so many days. I suppose literally and figuratively although I am sure they meant literally. I hardly went.

Isn’t it just a miraculous thing how a smell can do that for us? Bring us right back to the third grade, sitting at our desk, pulling our thumb out of our mouth because someone finally said You shouldn’t suck your thumb at your age. Especially not in public. It’s the first time someone has pointed this out to you and you want to crawl under the desk, inside the desk. You want to disappear into your own mouth.

The things that shut us down.

Someone telling us we’re not good enough, or fat, or shouldn’t suck our thumb in front of other people. The things that stop us and make us go Maybe you are right. 

I worry about my nephew being shut down. I worry that as he gets older people will make fun of him and that it will slowly disarm him.

Little by little, we are eaten away by people. By life. By opinions. By defeat. Until we are hardly recognizable as that thumb sucking 8 year old.

I worry about that even though I know I shouldn’t.

Blaise and my sister were just on The Doctors on CBS to talk about Prader Willi Syndrome. People with PWS (as it is commonly called) never feel full. They literally feel like they are starving and can actually eat themselves to death. There are a whole host of other issues that come along with it as well but the food thing feels like the most torturous. The behavior issues, a close second. It’s a spectrum disorder too, as I suppose all of life is. So all bets are off.

The producers of the show sent my sister equipment so that she could videotape him every time he had one of his meltdowns. They would take the footage she sent and edit it for the show.

We cried when we saw the finished piece as part of the show. It was horrible to watch him begging for food and all the photos of him as a baby when he’d gained all the weight as they put it together slickly with foreboding music. I am glad they did it that way as it was probably more effective. We are visceral beings. We respond to scary music. We respond to kids suffering. We respond to things that make us feel vulnerable and helpless. We respond to big things.

Subtlety doesn’t go over well with the masses.

Apparently when Blaise saw the footage at school (they watched it in his kindergarten class) he said I a fat baby. 

He came from school and asked me to watch it on my computer, over and over. I watched him watch himself on tv and it seemed like he was having a surreal experience, which most of life is anyway. Is that really me? Is this really happening?

It’s like he is starting to become aware that there is a difference between him and other kids. He’s looking at himself with discernment and seeing a difference in himself, which he doesn’t fully understand. Just like with the rest of us. Perhaps he never will.

I see a difference in myself and yet I don’t understand it.

We’re not all that different. His 15th chromosome might be partially deleted but we’re not all that different. He knows on a guttural level that watching the show makes him sad even though he keeps asking to watch it over and over. Then suddenly: Off! Turn it off. Away!

Just like us. Eventually we all get sick of ourselves at one point or another.

He loves school because, so far, everyone there loves him. None of the kids bully him and no one rejects his hugs. No yet anyway. He gets to hang out in the therapy room and jump on a bouncy castle and make crafts and learn letters.  B. B is for Blaise.

I was not happy as a child and my first memories of kindergarten didn’t involve jumping on bouncy castles. I went to a Jewish day school where it was Hebrew all morning and English all afternoon. It was some serious business. Even in kindergarten. I couldn’t handle the anxiety school instilled in me.

I wanted the safety of my house and my cream cheese and olive sandwiches.

Things got worse after my dad died. The school was terribly small, only a handful of kids in each class, and I felt exposed and ashamed. Everyone knew I was fatherless. And that I sucked my thumb.

I was glad when we moved away to California for 4th grade.

I didn’t hate school as much once I left the yeshiva school in Jersey but I was never one of those kids that couldn’t wait for summer to end. I used to get depressed on Sundays because the next day was Monday. I couldn’t even enjoy Saturday nights because I knew the next day was Sunday, which meant Monday was right there, jaws open, waiting to eat you alive.

School shut me down. I didn’t feel smart. Maybe I couldn’t hear back then either? I can’t remember. I just remember hating it.

The things that shut us down.

As I was walking through Ola Elementary School yesterday morning I thought how happy I felt that I would never have to be back in school. I would never again have to deal with that shutting down, with that pressure. (Enter foreboding music and slickly edited images.)

Maybe nothing will ever shut Blaise down? Maybe he will keep wanting to hug everyone even though everyone might prove to be an asshole sometimes.

I was on the plane when I started this piece, as I often am when I write, and, I got stuck, as I often do when I write. I closed the computer and my own eyes watching the back of my eyelids butterfly their way into quiet.

We landed and I turned on my phone.

An email came through from a man named “Kevin” accusing me of not crediting people and not having integrity and how he should call me out in front of all my Facebook followers and how he wasn’t a fan of ego and Good Luck to me. 

Good luck. It seems like the two worst words in the English language when someone says it and really means “Fuck You.”

Who was this man? Who didn’t I credit? What’s he talking about? Is it even a real name or email?

It wasn’t until last night, in the middle of the night, as I lay awake in a river of I Can’t Sleep did I realize how profound it was that the email came in when it did. Sure, I was upset. Look, I literally want to crawl out of my skin and wail when I feel like people take my own work. I want to email them and sue them and say It’s not fair! But I don’t. I breathe and write. Then I write more.

The email came in and shut me down. The things that shut us down.

I went to teach my yoga class and felt ungrounded and sloppy. I was an alien and everyone stared at me with my two heads. I was tired and mean and shut down.

How quickly I was back in the third grade, thumb in mouth, then under my me in shame. How I would have cut my thumb off if I could’ve. How quickly that email brought me back to school. To being shut down.

The things that shut us down.

So Kevin: Good Luck to You. And yes, I mean “Fuck You.”

Look, don’t worry, I’m over it. I almost shut down. My impulse was to hide. To stop writing for a while. To stop sharing. To cut my thumb off.

You know why I won’t shut down? I have the choice. We always do. Who or what are we going to give the power to? This “dude”, if it even was a dude, didn’t even say what he was referring to. And yet I was going to accept it as a truth? As some validation that I am a bad person? No. My choice is No. My choice is I will not shut down. 

It’s okay to get angry once in a while. Does that make me a bad yogi? Then so be it. Get angry and then let it go. As I did. But, refuse to shut down. Get angry and get it out of your body like a snakebite. Suck that venom out and know that it was you who handled the poison like a champ.

If anyone tries to shut you down you must deal with it as you would a snake bite. Sometimes it’s: It’s not poisonous, keep walking. Sometimes it’s: I don’t know what to do. And sometimes it’s: I am getting this out of my body as fast as possible and running far far away because I know it will try and kill me if I let it.

You get a choice. The snake can’t help its nature.

The snakes will always be there but if we step over them and around them and keep going, we hardly notice because they mostly leave us alone.

I think there might be caves though, where all the shut down people live. They live alone in dark holes of the earth and wait for everyone to say It’s Okay before they come out. They never speak and they hardly look up. They are scared and frail but every once in a while when they do look up, they see a light in the sky and remember what they once were.

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

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

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being.

Join Jen Pastiloff, the founder of The Manifest-Station, in The Berkshires of Western Massachusetts in Feb of 2015 for a weekend on being human. It involves writing and some yoga. In a word: it's magical.

Join Jen Pastiloff, the founder of The Manifest-Station, in The Berkshires of Western Massachusetts in Feb of 2015 for a weekend on being human. It involves writing and some yoga. In a word: it’s magical.

Addiction, Beating Fear with a Stick, Guest Posts

What Happens When You Live Next To Your Worst Nightmare?

September 22, 2014


By Renata Youngblood.

I had a good conversation with my meth-addict neighbor the other day.

You see, something switched in me when there was yet-another raid next door last Thursday. I’ve seen the tweakers come and go for a while and at times it bothered me, but for the most part I felt only a compassionate sadness for the lives wasted in addiction. I’m even guilty of finding humor in some of the characters we’ve witness showing up in broad daylight barely able to walk to the door of this partially painted, infinitely haunted, next door monstrosity.

But something definitely switched inside me at 5 am last Thursday when I was up with my hungry baby and heard the visiting tweakers rifling through their car right in front of my house.

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Beating Fear with a Stick, courage, Guest Posts

Cleared for Landing.

September 21, 2014
m6rT4MYFQ7CT8j9m2AEC_JakeGivens - Sunset in the Park

By Petra Perkins.

“You ready to go up?” I examined my reflection in the aviator shades of an Air Force captain who was to take me for a ‘discovery ride’ in a small airplane. He looked official and solid, like Captain America — wings on his epaulets, a clipboard for a shield. I would go up with him.

“So, you ready?” he asked, again.

I shook my head. “Yes.”

I had fear of flying…  “Aviophobia,” he said.

An airplane accident had cruelly changed my life. I was a nervous passenger before it happened, but afterwards it was painful for me to fly. Long distance business travel was required in my job. I didn’t tell Captain America that my husband and son had been killed in a plane crash.

Here I was at the very airport where they took off together for the last time. This was the last place on earth I’d ever imagine finding myself. Rod, 17, was almost a high school graduate. Terry, my high-school sweetheart, had been my husband for 20 years. They’d built an aerobatic airplane in our garage over eight years and tested it months before they left on a trip — their tragic, final takeoff. The propeller had sheared off on a landing approach. I’d always wondered if Terry could have somehow recovered, though pilots told me no one could have. The question continued to haunt me.

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Abuse, Beating Fear with a Stick, courage, Guest Posts

Why We Stay: One Woman’s Lens Into The Psychological Layers of Suffering Abuse.

September 16, 2014

By Kirsten Ott Palladino.

The country is abuzz about abuse again, and the talking heads and twittering fingers are asking why people stay in abusive relationships. Why is Janay Palmer Rice standing by her man even though he punched her in an elevator and dragged her body out? (And then she proceeded to marry him one month later.) Why did Rihanna have such a hard time leaving and subsequently going back to Chris Brown, even after the world saw her blood-crusted, bruised face after Brown crunched his knuckles into her eye socket? Why did Tina Turner take Ike Turner’s slaps and punches again and again?

Guess what? You’re not the only person to wonder this. People currently in abusive relationships and those who have successfully escaped them ask themselves that very same question. Why do/did I stay?

In order to truly understand the answer to that question, it’s helpful to think of abuse, whether it’s physical, sexual or emotional, as a series of tiny subconscious extensions of permissions. Each time he hits you or she tells you you’re worthless and you—for whatever reason—don’t take a stand right then and there that you will not tolerate such abuse, you’ve made a docile statement that it’s OK to treat you this way. Of course, it’s not OK and you don’t want it to happen—you never did and you never will. But each time it happens and there is no serious repercussion for the abuser, they are granted more permission and you’ve given them more rope to tug you around with, much like a master with a dejected mutt on a leash.

For victims of abuse, the internal question often is “How did I get here?” and one part of the puzzle is all of those tiny permissions.

So there you are, a scared, frightened pup on a leash, right? But that’s not all of who you are. You might be brave at work, pumping your fist in the air and demanding your employees follow the rules. You might never lead on about the troubles at home when hanging out with your girlfriends, and possibly even telling elaborate stories about what a good man you’ve got, how he spoils you like a princess. Or you’ve been so desecrated for so long that you no longer recognize your former spirit and you walk around with empty eyes, shoulders slack, wondering when you’ll have the courage to just walk out into the middle of the street and let a bus hit you because that would be easier than leaving.

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Beating Fear with a Stick, Eating Disorders/Healing, Guest Posts, Vulnerability

About Knowing What I Don’t Remember.

August 26, 2014

By Kit Rempala

I’ve never been “normal” – if that word means anything at all. I see and speak to dead people. On occasion I read people’s minds and have prophetic dreams. Souls and emotions are as tactile to me as the fur on my cat’s back. I hear messages in nature, be they from water or fire or wind or earth or the moon in the sky or the rustling of leaves. I feel everything.

So, to sum things up: I’m pretty darned good at believing in things I don’t see, things I’ve never seen, and things that can’t be seen. Sometimes, I worry I’m too good at believing.

I never believed I’d been sexually abused until my therapist asked me. I thought I’d answer “no” and the session would move on. But instead she asked me another question, one I’d never expected: “Are you sure?”

What did that mean, am I “sure?” How could I not be? How could I not know? How could anyone not know?

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Beating Fear with a Stick, cancer, courage, Free Stuff, Guest Posts

Cancer Is a Bitch. But Wait! There’s Good News Too.

August 21, 2014

Shaken Not Stirred: A Chemo Cocktail. A Comedy About My Tragedy. By Joules Evans. (hint: good news follows.)

Hi beloveds, Jen Pastiloff here. I’m the founder of The Manifest-Station. There’s a lot going on here with us trying to get the new site launched (eek! Thanks Carla White) but…it is very important to me that I get this post up asap as my dear friend Joules Evans wrote it. I met Joules when she drove from Ohio to Massachusetts to attend my Kripalu retreat last February.  (Yes, I am doing it again and it’s filling up fast!) Anyway, we have become buds, and, truth be told, I am obsessed with her and her book Shaken Not Stirred.. A Chemo Cocktail. The kindle version is FREE TODAY and tomorrow to celebrate 6 years aka 2190 fucking awesome days since hearing that damn word. each and every one a GIFT. even the hard ones.<< Joules words. That is the good news. To celebrate she made her book free for two days. Please get it and take the time to read what is below. Have your mind blown. Seriously guys, her book is moving and funny and divine.  I love this woman to the end of the earth and back. This post is an excerpt of her book. Please get it. And get it for people. And spread the word. And fuck cancer!

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Beating Fear with a Stick, Guest Posts, R Rated, Sex

I Chose The Wave.

August 20, 2014

By Amy Botula.

Leave it to high school juniors to determine what their English teacher needed. I was invited to the School of Rock Showcase only to discover later my students had appointed themselves yentas. It had taken 14 years to happen, this gesture of match-making. Not when I was teaching elementary school in a mostly Mormon community, still in my twenties, and reminding parents to refer to me as “Ms.” Not when I taught middle school and was settling into my thirties. But now, at 40, courtesy of three shaggy punk rock kids.

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Beating Fear with a Stick, Guest Posts, healing

The Things I Couldn’t Name.

August 18, 2014

By Janine Canty

I was five or six the day I let my mother’s jade necklace fall out of a window. One minute it was there. The next it disappeared into thin air. Like a cheap magic trick It was early evening right before the streetlights come on. Homework was being cleared off of dining room tables. The ugly landing outside smelled like sausage and Del Monte carrots. Inside of apt.3, on the second floor, I was bored. Frightened and angry. Emotions cooked inside of me like soup. I couldn’t name them. I couldn’t control them. I hadn’t asked for them.

The rest of the world was getting ready for dinner. Mothers were burning palms on gravy steam. Fathers were arriving home with shirt collars loosened. Armpits an oval of sweat.

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Beating Fear with a Stick, courage, Guest Posts

Trigger Finger: An Essay on Gun Control.

June 17, 2014

Trigger Finger: An Essay on Gun Control. By Kirsten Larson.

My father was gone two weeks when a man I didn’t know was my mother’s new boyfriend pushed the butt of the .22 rifle on my right shoulder and with his big, dirty fingers folded my slender 4 year old finger onto the trigger. He cupped his left hand around my left hand, squeezed it under the stock and raised the barrel toward a paper he’d nailed to a fir tree a few minutes before. When he took his hands away the barrel fell pointing at the ground a few feet in front of me.

We were in deep snow up the side of a mountain almost to the timberline near Kalispell, Montana, where we lived. My Mother had driven my brother and I to shoot guns with her “new friend.”

I was shivering mostly because of the cold. But also I didn’t know anything anymore about my life, the randomness with which things change and happen: a new house, my dad gone, my mom unpredictable.

I’d never seen a gun. I didn’t know anything other than I was supposed to hit the bulls-eye. I didn’t know what a bulls-eye was. What I knew was that this man was not my father, but he and my mother were drinking whiskey out of a short brown bottle and looking at each other like she and my dad had once looked at each other.

“Pull the trigger,” he yelled.

The gun exploded in front of me with the loudest noise I’d ever heard. I was thrown back onto the hard snow. Pee soaked hot through my tights, warming my icy thighs. The shame of being touched by a strange man, of peeing like a baby in front of a man who was not my father, was far worse than the pain in my arm from the gun.

I didn’t know enough to be afraid of the gun. I didn’t know about death.


I did know what death was in 1980 when the .30-6 my mother bought for my 16 year old brother discharged in our house. I was 17, upstairs in my room reading. The sound of a car accident the sudden merciless slamming of metal and glass was the sound of that gunshot.

You don’t know how your body responds to terror until you’ve known terror. I freeze. I lose my voice. An iced knife straight up from my solar plexus.

The absolute still that followed that gunshot. I heard first my mother’s voice, then my brother’s and knew they were alive. Then I could move. When the fear let go of my heart, sweat coated my entire body from my scalp to my shins.

My brother had been playing with the gun, didn’t know it was loaded, aimed it at the lathe and plaster wall and pulled the trigger. The result was a black-rimmed hole about 10 inches diameter.

Didn’t know it was loaded.

My mother bought the gun for him because he was a boy raised without a father. All of us raised without fathers and the ways we try to make up for that loss.

Guns and what they stand for.

A year or so later, shortly after I moved out, my mom told me the police took the gun from my brother when he and his friend were hunting too close to people. I never heard another thing about it.


The other side of a gun. Valentines Day, 1989, 8:15 AM, I was a single mother waiting with my chatty 3-year-old son at the bus stop for the #19 bus, which was late. Another woman sat reading the paper, waiting. When you don’t have money for a car, you wait a lot.

Waiting for a late bus involves me staring at incoming traffic, willing the bus to show. So I wasn’t paying much attention behind us. When I turned I saw a man less than half a block away walking toward us. He looked like my brother, first thought. Second though, something’s not right.

I found my son’s hand and pulled him close. The man walked up, hands in his pockets, and asked, “Do you guys know where the nearest police station is?” I turned again to look down the street holding my son next to me.

The other woman answered, “I don’t think there is one close to here.”

Don’t tell me you can understand how I must feel about what happened next, because you can’t. Unless you’ve experienced it, you can’t imagine what it’s like to have a gun pointed at you by a stranger with dead eyes, your baby right there.

That frozen terror again.

He screamed, “Give me your money.” Had to move. Dropped my son’s tiny hand. Dropped my purse. Picked it up. Gun there. Hands shaking, pulled all of the money I had out of my wallet. All three dollars. The other woman crying. Handed him all of her money, two dollars.

Gun pointed at us. Only one small movement to death.

He said, “I’m sorry.”

He said, “I’m a piece of shit.”

He said, “I thought you were lawyers or something.” Then he turned and calmly walking back from where he came from.

The police took a report.

He took five dollars. He took all we had.


You won’t like what’s coming next. You will judge me, a small child in the house and all: I learned how to shoot, got a gun, and started carrying it. A lady Smith and Wesson .38 revolver. I carried it every day for nearly two years after a man with dead eyes pointed a gun at me; me holding my three-year-old son’s hand.

The gun was in my home when, at 2:00 AM, someone rattled the door handle and then walked stealthily around and looked in the windows. I was not tempted to shoot him, instead I called the police.

I had the gun in my purse when I was doing laundry at a public Laundromat one evening. A man walked by several times, looking through the plate glass windows at me and out to the parking lot, me, the parking lot; a lion stalking its prey.

I was wearing jeans and a white sweatshirt. Again that feeling – something’s not right. He came in, pulled the glass door behind him. Just him and me for as far as I could see. His eyes pinpoint, shaking hands, not right. Asked if he could pay me for an hour of my time. An hour of my time. Knowing the gun was there in my purse I stood up straight, hands on hips, told him to get the fuck away from me.

I was carrying the gun when someone exposed himself to me as I got off the bus one night after work. He followed me around the block in his car. I thought about the gun only after calling the police with his license plate number. He was caught and punished. He was 19.

I don’t know what offense might make me decide to kill another human being. Certainly nothing I own is worth someone’s life. I stopped carrying the gun.

I locked the gun in the cedar box I’d received as a graduation present years prior and then packed the box away with the few letters I received from my father as a child, and family photos. I locked it away to protect my son. I locked it away because I didn’t know how to get rid of it without putting it in someone else’s hand. I purposely lost the key to that box.

The presence of the gun came up for the last time in 2006.

People who say things like “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle,” those people, they’ve never had more than they can handle. I had more than I could handle, but that’s another story.

I was depressed; the kind of depression that feels like weights hanging off all four limbs. Depression where comfort is the constant thought of the ending the pain. It was like that. Although I had a suicide plan, it didn’t include the gun. But, a man I was briefly seeing was concerned. He broke the lock on the cedar box, took out the gun and locked the trigger with a trigger lock he’d purchased. He kept the key when we stopped seeing each other a few months later. The gun is gone now. I will never own another gun.


By both circumstance and choice I’ve lived the majority of my life without my father and without a male partner. The guns I have known seem to be a replacement for the protective presence of my father, and later, a male partner. The gun I owned made me believe I was safe.

None of us are safe, male or female. But most people I know personally who own guns do so for self-protection. It’s complex.

I take the regular precautions most people take. I trust my instincts. Look people in the eye.

I worked hard at a corporate job and made good money. Since I have made better money I no longer live in crime-ridden neighborhoods, no longer have to take the bus, no longer go to the Laundromat; I have not been the victim of a crime in a long time.

What I paid for that safety was too much; creativity, time with my child. But that’s yet another story. If I had it to do over, I wouldn’t have made the same decisions; I’d leave myself vulnerable to have back the opportunities I gave up thinking enough money would insulate me.

In the debate about guns, so many on both sides seem to have simple answers. As usual we have two ways of conversing: the luxury of outrage and the luxury of stubborn insistence. But we all agree, something must be done.

The sort of fear I lived with is erosive to the soul in a way that defines lives. Learning to live a good, authentic life not ruled by fear: for me, that’s gun control.


 Kirsten Larson lives and writes near Portland, Oregon. She studies writing both at Antioch University as an MFA student, and in Tom Spanbauer’s basement as Pond Scum. She loves to read and ride her bike. She met Jen at a writing workshop in Portland with Suzy Vitello and Lidia Yuknavitch.

Kirsten Larson lives and writes near Portland, Oregon. She studies writing both at Antioch University as an MFA student, and in Tom Spanbauer’s basement as Pond Scum. She loves to read and ride her bike.
She met Jen Pastiloff at a writing workshop in Portland with Suzy Vitello and Lidia Yuknavitch.


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 Manifestation 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 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.

Beating Fear with a Stick, beauty, Guest Posts

Hold It All.

June 13, 2014

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Ally Hamilton.

When I was 12 years old a guy grabbed me on my way to ballet class. I was walking in the same door I’d walked in for years on West 83rd Street, with my hair in a bun, and my tights and leotard under my jeans, and this young guy walked in ahead of me. The door opened right onto a narrow, steep staircase. At the top of the stairs to the right was the ballet studio. I could hear the piano. I can tell you, even at 12, or maybe especially because I was still so young, I had a vibe. An intuition. I remember the feeling of something being off, and I probably did exactly what he’d hoped I would do. I passed him on the right and started racing up the stairs. But he grabbed me from behind and put one hand over my mouth and another between my legs and told me not to move and that he wasn’t going to hurt me. For a minute I froze. Panicked with the taste of tin in my mouth. Fear undiluted. His hand over my mouth as he started fumbling with his jeans, and all I heard, like an explosion inside my head was, “NO”. Not that I understood exactly what he was trying to do, just that animal part of me, of you, of all of us, that part knew. And then I bit his hand and screamed and threw my elbow into his ribs as hard as I could. He let me go immediately. I don’t believe he expected a fight. I faced him, still screaming, tears and adrenaline and a racing heart, and backed up the stairs, right hand, right foot, left hand, left foot, fast. I remember his face, and I remember being shocked that he looked as terrified as I felt. Eyes wide so I could see more white than anything. He took off down the stairs and when I saw he was out the door, I turned and raced/crawled up the remainder of the staircase as fast as I could. I busted into the office, hysterical, unable to speak, but the guys there, the dancers, they knew. I just pointed and they took off, and three girls who were in the company ran to me and held me until I could speak. Not that I could fully make sense of what had happened. They weren’t able to catch up to the guy, and I don’t know what happened to him.

I share this with you because it exists in this world, and because it happened. Clearly, it could have been a lot worse. I hope it was never worse for someone else who didn’t scream, or couldn’t fight. And I hope he found the help he desperately needed. I believe if someone had photographed my face and his as we stared at each other, they would have looked incredibly similar. I believe he was as shocked and sorry about what he’d done as I was. He looked like an animal with his leg caught in a trap. There are people who are deeply troubled, who need help but don’t get it. Because they fall through the cracks. Or are able to hide their pain from the people closest to them. Or maybe those people are in denial. I don’t know what his story was, but I’d be willing to bet it wasn’t a good one.

The reality is this world can be incredibly violent, but it can also be achingly beautiful. If you want to be awake, you have to hold it all. I’m not a fan of this amazing pressure to be positive every waking minute of the day. Not everything is positive and light. Some things will rip your heart right out of your body with no warning and no logic. People who demand that you be light every minute are running from their own shadow, and it’s only a matter of time before it bites them in the a$$. My thoughts did not create that experience, it was completely outside my frame of reference. There are people who would point to karma, or God’s plan, or everything happening for a reason. I don’t know about any of that for sure, and neither does anyone else. What I do know is that sometimes horrendous things happen to beautiful people. Maybe someday it will all make sense and maybe not. Until then, the truth is we live in a world with darkness, and incredible light. To deny one is to forsake the other. It’s not about being positive, it’s about being authentic. Open. Real, raw, vulnerable. It’s about understanding sometimes you will be so scared out of your mind you’ll crawl up a staircase backwards, not even fully knowing what you’re racing from. And sometimes you will be blinded and amazed by all the beauty, all the gifts you’ve been given, the taste of gratitude like sugarcane in your mouth, and the feeling of sunlight like it was poured directly into your heart. Don’t worry about being positive. Just be awake. Hold it all.

Sending you love, for real. Ally

photo by the talented James Vincent Knowles

photo by the talented James Vincent Knowles

Ally Hamilton is a Santa Monica-based yoga teacher and writer whose work reaches hundreds of thousands of yogis around the world via her online yoga videos and social media following. She’s the co-creator of, a premier source for online yoga videos, which has been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Vogue Magazine, Self Magazine, Shape Magazine, CNN and more. She’s the mama of two amazing kids and one energetic Labradoodle.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station and creator of The Manifestation Workshop: On Being Human. Up next is Vancouver (Jan 17) and London Feb 14. Click here. 

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being.

Click to take any of Jen Pastiloff's online classes at Yogis Anonymous.

Click to take any of Jen Pastiloff’s online classes at Yogis Anonymous.

Contact Rachel Pastiloff for health coaching, weight loss, strategies, recipes, detoxes, cleanses or help getting off sugar. Click here.

Contact Rachel Pastiloff for health coaching, weight loss, strategies, recipes, detoxes, cleanses or help getting off sugar. Click here.

Join Jen Pastiloff in Atlanta March 7th. Click the photo above.

Join Jen Pastiloff in Atlanta March 7th. Click the photo above.