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Forgiveness, Grief, Guest Posts

Reframing: Making Peace With My Mother

March 3, 2017
mother

By Jill Goldberg

My mother died last month.

Seventeen years ago, after my first son was born, I broke off all contact. At any moment in time during the past seventeen years when I felt the longing for a mother, I reminded myself that I wasn’t actually missing my mother. I wasn’t missing what I once had; I was missing and wanting what I never had. And I knew that even if I’d remained and accepted the endless, degrading, shameful abuse from him, and the lack of affection and protection from her, I would still never have what I wanted. Not only would I never be safe, I would never be able to raise children who respected their mother or understood what a family should be. The cycle of violence had to be broken.

I was angry and hurt and disappointed in my mother, but I wasn’t trying to actively punish her. I just wanted out. Ever since I could remember, I’d been counting down the years until I could leave forever. But still, she was my mother. She had never been healthy, and I did want to know if she was still alive as time passed. I tried to maintain minimal contact with a few relatives who would keep me informed, but gradually I realized it was not going to work. It had to be all or nothing. Either no contact at all with any relatives, or full contact, because they didn’t know, or didn’t want to know, and couldn’t understand, the reasons behind my decision. In order to protect myself, and to protect my growing family, the choice had to be nothing instead of all. Continue Reading…

Beauty Hunting, Guest Posts

No Fun

March 1, 2017

By Andrea Lani

The opening act is made up of a motley assortment of pretty girls in glasses, tall skinny boys with ponytails, and short chubby boys with bad haircuts. My friend Jennifer and I joke that they look like they met at math camp. There seems to be an excess of both bodies and instruments on stage, which furthers the summer camp talent-show vibe. When they close out their set, Jennifer and I pry ourselves off the flocked-wallpaper we’ve been leaning on, toss out our drink cups, and worm our way toward center-stage, landing in what would be about the fourth row, if there were rows of chairs instead of a wide-open floor space.

Onstage, technicians uncoil cords, test microphones, pluck guitar strings. When I had worried about being too old to attend this concert, in a city an hour away from home, on a work night, I reminded myself that Richard Butler, the lead singer of The Psychedelic Furs is much older than I. Looking around, I see that most of the people crowding around us are closer to his age than mine. Directly ahead of us, a man and woman, both with gray hair, stand up against the stage. I try to edge away from the couple standing too close to me, also late middle-aged, he standing behind her with his hands in her pockets. Continue Reading…

Book Excerpts, Guest Posts

Not A Place On Any Map

February 27, 2017
leaving

By Alexis Paige

Channelling Harriet the Spy, 1983

I figured Dad’s leaving had something to do with all those times Mom locked herself in the bathroom. Once inside, she would blow like a firecracker, and I would get the spins, the whole house twirling off into darkness. One night not long before he left and while watching The Dukes of Hazzard, Mom sat up as if struck by a thought and then dashed toward the bathroom. Dad rose calmly from his chair in the den and went over to the television and turned up the volume dial. “Go to your room,” he said. “Mom’s going to be okay.” From my room, and with the pillow over my head, I heard only a muffled, underwater soundtrack: Mom hollering, Bo Duke hooting, and Dad begging Mom to open the door. From the crashing sounds, I pictured her like a cartoon dust devil of perfume bottles and bar soap and towels. I could never make out the words that mattered, could never translate the crashes and bangs into a story that made sense.

Years later, I heard a Robert Creeley poem in an undergraduate seminar and read the lines as if in a secret plea to Mom: “Love, if you love me,/ lie next to me./ Be for me, like rain,/ the getting out/ of the tiredness, the fatuousness, the semi-/ lust of intentional indifference./ Be wet/ with a decent happiness.” From those early explosions, I learned only that Mom was fragile and Dad remote on the subject. Eventually, I solved the case of the explosions: they were “episodes,” suicidal threats. Still, I thought if I could give her all my smiles and energy and cheer, that somehow Mom would get happy, that she would be drenched in it. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Tough Conversations, Vulnerability

The Poetry of Awkward Silence

February 26, 2017
silence

By Benjamin Bagocius

I like awkward silences.

They are the unwieldy soul of social interaction. We often labor to exclude rather than befriend their wildness. I want to reclaim awkward silences, to listen for the ways their mysterious voices restore poetry to everyday conversation.

Awkward silences speak the language of poetry. As with poetry, awkward silences can be uncomfortable – but also liberating. They are breaks from habituated responses when something new might happen, supersaturated opportunities to rethink ourselves and each other. Generally framed as the worst possible social interaction, the awkward silence can be one of the most productive moments of our shared, public life. After all, awkward silences are never conditions of solitude. They emerge from encounters between two or more people. Just as poets need readers, and readers need poets, awkward silence, too, is about relationship. This is where its greatest promise lies for reimagining our public life together. Continue Reading…

cancer, Guest Posts

Marked

February 24, 2017
tattoo

By Jude Walsh

I was nine when I saw my first tattoo. It was July in northeastern Pennsylvania and the first week of Saint Aloysius’ annual two-week church summer bazar. I was with my dad in the beer garden, a lattice work section decorated with swags of plastic greenery and potted plastic plants, located just a few steps away from the food tent. It was sheltered by a large tarp and had long counters set much higher than normal booths because their sole purpose was a place to rest your elbows while you stood while having a beer or two or three or ten.  This section was for drinkers but in the early 1960’s there was no problem with a little girl being there with her dad.

The art I spied was on a man who in my memory had big arms, what I now might call bulging biceps but then just thought of as big arms. It was deep blue and in the shape of an anchor. I could not stop looking at it.  Dad noticed me staring and said, “That’s a navy anchor.” I knew it was an anchor and now I knew it was a navy anchor. What I did not know was how it got on his skin.

“Who drew it there?”

My dad laughed out loud, “It’s not drawn on his arm, that’s a tattoo.” Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood, parenting

A Visit From My Retired Parents Helped Reset My Anxiety Clock

February 23, 2017

By Marilyn Maloney

I’ve been riding a knife edge for too long. I have always worried, mostly about nothing, death, being alone when I’m old, some odd pain that could be a blood clot. Or not.

My daughter has been having more seizures lately. She is nine and lives with Leukodystrophy, causing her cerebral palsy, seizures, impaired swallowing, and overall low muscle tone. Researchers suspect they have found the genetic cause, and will tell us as soon as they prove their suspicions. Four long years have gone by since their discovery, and Maddy has developed daily seizures that can last up to a minute. Lately they have increased in intensity. Instead of a barely noticeable eye flutter, they come with a grimace and outstretched arm.

My son wakes up sniffling, followed by the telltale cough. His eczema puts his IgE levels 50 times higher than they should be, so the blood tests say he’s allergic to everything except cocoa. This year he developed asthma. The ER had a teddy bear on his bed when he was admitted, and “Jack” the bear sleeps with him now.

We pump Jimmy full of five different medications when the cough shows up, following his Asthma Action Plan from the Immunologist. Steroid inhaler each morning and night, steroid nasal spray and Zyrtec before school, albuterol before recess, and we pray we never need the Epi-pen. I label all his foods and send him “emergency snacks” in case he ever forgets his lunch. He has a pre-K crush on the school nurse. And the teachers like him, so he already ran out of emergency cookies. Continue Reading…

Grief, Guest Posts, healing, loss

The Season Before Winter

February 22, 2017
paperwhites

By Marika Rosenthal Delan

The world was in a state of unrest when fall came.

In my home state of Missouri, people in Ferguson were rioting and burning shit to the ground. The only thing I was burning were hours of sleep and some old notions about the way things should be. Watching the world in complete disarray already had me fighting back vomit as two pink lines appeared on the stick I had just peed on.

Forty had descended on me like a wrecking ball that summer. I was surprised to find myself embracing this milestone, but had long considered a third child out of the question. I had always joked that I wanted three. But that was before 40, before three back surgeries and endometriosis.

Before. It was before my body was breaking.  A baby was not on my radar and it showed up like a UFO.

I had been exceedingly careful with my birth control after once getting pregnant with an IUD- what are the chances? I looked it up: 0.8% in the first year of use whatever the hell that means.

I had eagerly signed consent for tubal ligation while undergoing exploratory surgery for endometriosis the previous year. But I hadn’t met the required 30-day waiting period by the day of my procedure. I woke up from anesthesia with my tubes intact.

A plan B wasn’t immediately established. It took months of discussion after which my hubby finally manned up and volunteered for a vasectomy.  This was our three-part plan: We would make an appointment right after the holiday.  He would have the procedure. Then we would go to the movies. It would be a date, I joked. Continue Reading…

Grief, Guest Posts, storytelling

The Widow Next Door

February 20, 2017
neighbor

By Shawna Kenney

We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men.
-Herman Melville

Where I grew up in Southern Maryland, our nearest neighbors were sometimes miles away. Still, I rode my bike through the woods and drove my first car around town confident in the fact that if there were ever an emergency, help wasn’t so far away. Neighbors kept an eye on us kids when my mom went back to work and my dad was away on duty with the Navy. They towed my prom date’s car out of the ditch while he and I stood by, helpless in our 80s couture. They also snitched on my sister and I when we were in high school and threw a big party while my parents were out of town. Since my dad’s death a few years ago, neighbors still plow my mother’s driveway after every snowstorm, unasked. When I later moved to Queens, NY in my twenties, the grey-haired woman next door welcomed me with kugel. In grad school in North Carolina, we shared blueberries with our neighbors’ granddaughter and he would periodically cut back our weeds when he was out chopping his own.

Now I live in Los Angeles, where I’ve left apartments due to bad neighbors—3 a.m. high-heeled stompers, incessant complainers, violent rage-aholics… but even in a city as vast as this, where things get downright Darwinian when it comes to parking spaces or freeway merging, I have mostly lived next to nice people. It’s good to know the mailman and it makes me happy to find familiar faces in a county of 10 million. Deep in my psyche, Sesame Street always looms as the ideal. Continue Reading…

Fear, Guest Posts, LBGQ

We Are All North Carolina Now

February 19, 2017
resistance

By Lindsey Danis

This summer, I prepared to visit North Carolina by growing out my hair for four months. I hoped this would help me, if not pass for straight, at least look more female—and thus forestall violence.

This would not be my first trip through the South. But it would be my first time since the passage of HB2, the North Carolina bathroom bill requiring individuals use the bathroom that matches their gender assigned at birth.

Normally I use the women’s restroom, because I’m generally read as female. But with my short hair, androgynous attire, and lack of makeup, jewelry, or other feminine markers, I worried I’d face harassment in North Carolina. When a viral video of a lesbian getting yanked out of the bathroom by police officers surfaced, my stomach clenched in fear. This could happen to me.

I’d gotten bathroom policed before. In a baseball cap, hooded sweatshirt, baggy pants, and sneakers, I looked masculine enough to frighten an airport employee. As I walked toward the ladies’ room, she called out, panic rising. “I’m a woman,” I yelled back without breaking stride. She relaxed and I got to pee in peace.

My North Carolina vacation was in honor of my mother’s birthday, so not a trip I could cancel. As the departure date drew closer, anxious thoughts kept me up at night. Would I have to get my mother to accompany me to the bathroom in case anyone challenged me? Would I get verbally or physically abused trying to pee? Should I buy some mace to make myself feel better? Or take along one of my wife’s pink tee-shirts so I could conform to gender norms?

The worst part wasn’t the fear that stole my appetite and my sleep, it was the total lack of understanding I received when I spoke up. “I’m really afraid of someone harassing me, because of this bathroom bill,” I said. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Kindness, The Hard Stuff

When You See Her, Be Kind

February 17, 2017
real

By Kimberly Valzania

I know what makes her tick. I know how she is, and better yet, who she is. And I know all her secrets and what she did to keep them. How she locked them away in a box for years, and kept the key just beyond her own reach.

We’ve always been close. Pushing her out the door each day takes all the strength I have. But resisting her familiar charms helps me gather and sort out my true self instead, the only self I was meant to be.

In letting her go, I let go of her burdensome habits. No more quiet tip-toe up the stairs, shutting the bathroom door, knees to the floor.

Still, when I feel her panic creeping, a few smaller habits return. Sometimes, her leg shakes and she twirls her hair, pulling a long piece around her cheek and into her mouth, turning it on her tongue, creating a wet and pointy tip. Her fingers get in there too. Her nails, stubby nubs. Always something in her mouth. Her mouth remains the vessel that bears her rolling waves of worry and cope.

Before…before now, I always knew when she was empty, void. And when she was full, stuffed. Empty, hungry. Full, packed. And, as it was, I always knew the very moment the fullness was just too much. When she wanted, more than anything else, the blessed emptiness back. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Intimacy, love

Smelly Make This Bed

February 14, 2017
bed

By Cara Lopez Lee

I tuck the sheet under my chin and try not to move, hoping to trap it, that smell like spoiled sausage and goat cheese. It’s only a gesture, because already I know it’s too late.

“Sorry,” I say.
“Nice,” he laughs.

“So, this is how love dies,” I say, “one fart at a time.”

I wonder where all my gases hid when we first became lovers. I’ve never mastered the feminine skill of restrained flatulence. Yet the first time we shared a bed, the only scent I noticed was his skin, like fresh-baked bread, peanut butter, and summer sun. I felt relieved not to feel the slats of another bachelor’s futon skittering up and down my back, or to hear the slosh of a waterbed, stuck in a time warp again. Instead his bed was steady and king size, and we used every inch: him flipping me from corner to corner like the martial artist he was, me twisting into positions I could never achieve as a dancer.

When we split up, he confessed, “I didn’t do laundry for a while. I could still smell your scent on everything—the sheets, the pillowcases, my shirts—and I didn’t want to wash it away.” Continue Reading…

Forgiveness, Guest Posts

Forgiving the World

February 12, 2017
hate

By Lori Holden

We sit on the floor in criss-cross applesauce at the beginning of yoga class, and our teacher instructs us to close our eyes and remember a time during childhood when we were hurt or scared in order to find if there are areas in which we need to release and to forgive. Her soothing voice and evocative words take each of us back to address our own personal boogeymen, troubles that loomed large because we were so small.

This won’t work, says my inner voice. I’ve already exorcised all my demons.

I open my eyes and peek around the room, surprised that my fellow classmates are going crimson in the face as strong emotions rise from their bellies. Something powerful is going on, and if I can surrender my thoughts to my emotions, I may have the chance to release something I’ve carried for a very long time.

Hah, that’s what you think! comes a reply, also inside my head.

With an exhale I allow my hips and tailbone to feel heavy, to sink into the earth. With an inhale I lift my spine, filling the space between my vertebrae with, well, more space. In an instant… Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Self Image, The Body

Why I’m Thrilled To Have Gained 50 pounds

February 10, 2017

By Jennifer Ann Butler

Hi, I’m Jen. I weigh around 160 pounds and am 5’4″. This is me today:

 

And this was me at my skinniest, 50 pounds ago: (I weighed about 110 pounds and wore a 00 and was excited about having to shop in Abercrombie Kids upon losing more weight.)

  You’ll notice a cane and a bandage on my foot/ankle in the first 111-pound pic.

That’s the injury that saved my life.

At that time, I was only ingesting 1100 net calories a day, and that was including my alcohol intake (which was substantial). I ran a 5k (3.1ish miles) at least 5 days a week and worked out some way or another every single day. If I ever took a day off from exercising, I further limited my food (but never my alcohol) to make up for it, and constantly berated myself for being “lazy” by not exercising.

Oftentimes, I would get on Instagram and look at pictures of beautiful skinny women until I felt ugly enough to work out, no matter how exhausted or sore I was. I chewed pain pills and regularly took Midol and Goodies powder to numb myself. Continue Reading…

Abuse, Guest Posts, Relationships, Young Voices

Swing

February 8, 2017
swing

Note from Jen Pastiloff, founder of The Manifest-Station. This is part of our Young Voices Series for Girl Power: You Are Enough. We are always looking for more writing from YOU! Make sure you follow us on instagram at @GirlPowerYouAreEnough and on Facebook here.

CW: This essay discusses abusive relationships.

By Laura Zak

Nana had a swing in her backyard. And Dad said once it was fresh white, back when he was a boy, running off in the woods to see which of his friends could pee the farthest.

And when I was thirteen, the paint flaked off under my fingernails. And sometimes I let my fingernails scratch the metal just to hear them screech.

And my younger sister Jessica and I used to swing and eat Klondike bars. And Nana would squeeze herself between us, her feet skimming the ground. And once she told us “Girls, you never let a guy hit you.”

And I laughed because I thought she was joking.

That was five years after Britney released “Hit me Baby One more Time.” Nana still hated Britney for her song. We ate Klondike bars and Nana told us that if some guy ever tried that, just say: “listen bub, see my finger? See my thumb? See my fist? You better run.”

And my laugh was fresh white paint. Of course, Nana. Jessica and I knew better than to let guys pull back their fists, let them swing.

And I don’t know why Stanley kicked Jessica out that night. We were both living in Lubbock, our hometown, and she called, asking if I would pick her up. Her voice shook. She was only eighteen.

And I did pick her up, of course I picked her up, I ran out to my car, barefoot, jacket flying open. And my hands didn’t work well putting in the keys. And the street lamps were heavy and parking lot held more emptiness than anyone could bare as I drove fast fast to his apartment.

Jessica waited under a carport. Her eyes were small, her eyes were scared.

When I hugged her, she thanked me for picking her up. When I asked if she was okay, she said she was fine. She never said why she had all her clothes in her backpack or if this was the first time.

At first Mom and Dad liked Stanley okay. I met him when Dad cooked us all eggplant parmesan. Stanley was seventeen. He wore a button up shirt. He said lots of yes sirs and no ma’ams.

Jessica had told us he would be bringing his baby and he did. The baby’s eyes were small, her eyes were scared. She cried and cried and cried.

And once he left, Mom said told me she didn’t like how Stanley was not-even-graduated and had a baby. And I knew what Mom meant was not-even-graduated and no-ring-on-his-finger with a baby.

The first time she and Dad did it was their wedding night.

And when Jessica and I were fourteen, fifteen, we bought V-rings and promised we’d stay virgins until our wedding nights. And I know now the V-rings weren’t born for our minds alone.

But I don’t know when Stanley changed. When he went from being that sing-song motion on the backyard swing, to nails and nails and nails making the metal screech.

And once Dad made shrimp pasta for dinner. And Jessica and I stood in the kitchen, the fan ticking off its rocker.  And I remember the light spinning on her face. And under her eye, a yellow bruise.

And I asked her what happened. She said she fell going down the stairs.

And she’s never been good at lying. But I believed her because falling was too cliché, as unbelievable as Britney really asking some guy to hit her again.

Because, of course, Nana. Jessica and I knew better than to let guys pull back their fists, let them swing.

And one night at Nana’s house, Jessica locked herself in the bathroom. She thought everyone was sleeping. I heard her go and my eyes opened wide like street lamps. I was scared. So I snuck out of bed, crept to the bathroom door.

And her crying stopped my feet. And I listened to her cry, her sobs holding more emptiness than I could stand as she begged Stanley to take her back. Please please please please please, she said. Over and over and over.

I know there were many times she cried in a bathroom, please please pleasing Stanley not to break up with her.

And I still don’t know how or why they finally did break up. If she left him or if he kicked her out for good. I was in Costa Rica, living in a house fenced with barbed wire and glass, when Mom told me. When I came home, Jessica only told me they’d gotten a restraining order.

And once Jessica and I were dancing at a club called Heaven. Across the bright, drunken faces, she saw Stanley. Jessica said “we have to go now.” And we did.

And once, years later, Mom said “he almost killed my baby girl” and her lip shook.

And once, years later, under the fan blades and the light, Jessica told me that Stanley beat her. Sometimes it was just because she took too long putting gas in the car.

And I don’t know how to ask Jessica about the rest. So our silence rocks back and forth between us. And there are no streetlamps. Just an emptiness we’ve learned to stand. And my imagination colors in all the empty space with dull metal and broken glass.

Laura Zak calls Lubbock, Texas her homeland. She now lives in Moscow Idaho and has realized the most striking similarity between Lubbock and Moscow is their respective spots in their respective state’s panhandles. Laura enjoys to cook with pans that have handles, is in her third year at the University of Idaho’s MFA program studying creative nonfiction. If she had to describe her writing, she would say that she’s interested in exploring sexuality, desire, play, and magical worlds.

 

Join The Manifestation Retreat: Manifesting Under The Tuscan Sun. June 17-24 OR Sep 9-16. Email retreats@jenniferpastiloff.com or click the picture above.

 

Join founder Jen Pastiloff for a weekend retreat at Kripalu Center in Western Massachusetts March 3-5, 2017.
Get ready to connect to your joy, manifest the life of your dreams, and tell the truth about who you are. This program is an excavation of the self, a deep and fun journey into questions such as: If I wasn’t afraid, what would I do? Who would I be if no one told me who I was?
Jennifer Pastiloff, creator of Manifestation Yoga and author of the forthcoming Girl Power: You Are Enough, invites you beyond your comfort zone to explore what it means to be creative, human, and free—through writing, asana, and maybe a dance party or two! Jennifer’s focus is less on yoga postures and more on diving into life in all its unpredictable, messy beauty.
Note Bring a journal, an open heart, and a sense of humor. Click the photo to sign up.