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It’s (Not) All The Same To Me: On Gender, Language, and Death

March 8, 2017
gender

By Beatriz  L.  Seelaender

Death  is  a  woman  in  Portuguese.  She  is  still  a  skull  under  a  charcoal  cloak,  holding  a  list  and  a  scythe,  but  she  is  a  woman.  It  is  strange,  isn’t  it,  what  one  can  take  for  granted  as  fact  just  by  plain  language.  That  Death  is  a  He  in  English,  and  wiser  and  less  cruel  and  sharper,  still  somewhat  unsettles  me.  There  is  some  sort  of  slight  wrongness  in  it.  No,  Death  is  not  a  He.  My  Death  is  not  yours.  There  must  have  been  some  kind  of  mix-up.  My  Death  is  a  straight-up  gal.  When  my  time  comes,  she  will  tell  me  I  did  good  in  life,  all  things  considered,  and  hug  me  like  a  grandmother.  Then,  she  will  kindly  strangle  me  into  oblivion-  because  kindness  is  necessary  in  death,  and  it  is  women  that  are  forgiving  and  kind,  and  that  is  why  death  should  be  a  woman.

There  used  to  be  a  comic  book-  there  probably  still  is,  since  it  wasn’t  so  long  ago  that  I  was  a  kid-  featuring  the  adventures  of  Mrs.  Death.  Despite  her  not  being  the  main  character  in  the  comic-  that  honour  had  been  given  to  the  character  who  in  English  translations  is  renamed  Bug-a-boo-,  Mrs.  Death  did  get  a  lot  of  solo  stories.  While  I  am  not  quite  sure  why  a  children’s  comic  would  invest  in  dark  humour,  the  stories  were  personal  favourites  of  mine.  One  of  them  features  Mrs.  Death  losing  her  list  of  errands  (aka  people  she  should  kill  today)  and  killing  completely  random  people  to  make  up  for  it.  There  was  another  where  she  accidentally  offed  the  homonym  of  the  actual  man  she  was  supposed  to  take.  On  top  of  it,  she  had  to  deal  with  a  staggering  amount  of  typos  (we  are  led  to  believe  that  the  big  guys  up  there  do  not  really  care  about  Mrs.  Death,  who  has  to  perform  all  of  their  grunt  work  and  isn’t  payed  enough  for  it).  All  in  all,  they  did  a  good  job  of  having  kids  learn  about  death  as  an  inoffensive  old  lady  waiting  for  retirement.  In  a  lot  of  ways  having  this  image  of  death  is  more  comforting  than  that  of  an  arrogant  shadow  of  a  man  as  it  is  typically  conveyed  in  English  stories.  On  the  other  hand,  perhaps  it  undermines  the  seriousness  of  the  subject.  Oh,  well,  parents  should  not  let  their  kids  learn  about  death  from  comics,  anyhow.

I  can  only  conceive  of  Death  the  man  as  patronizing:  he  takes  pleasure  in  toying  with  people.  His  blood  is  icy  blue  and  he probably  hates  Death  the  woman  for  doing  better  than  him  at  the  slaying  business.  But  neither  one  of  them  can  die,  really;  it  is  their  greatest  tragedy.

It  wasn’t  until  my  teens  that  I  came  across  Death  as  a  He.  Because  articles  are  neutral  in  English  I  had  never  really  thought  about  applying  gender  to  things  in  English.  Although  perhaps  that  is  a  lie-  I  am  not  entirely  sure.  It  is  possible  I  just  kept  on  looking  at  things  gendered  according  to  how  I  knew  them  in  my  native  language.    There  was  reluctance  to  admitting  that  perhaps  things  in  their  fundamental  nature  weren’t  as  blue  and  pink  as  the  world-  but,  then  again,  neither  was  the  world,  and  we  still  see  it  that  way  nonetheless.

While we do have an “it” in Portuguese, it is hardly ever used as subject in sentences. We use he or she for everything, dead or alive; or never alive. If we really have to say “it”, we simply use the verb; the subject is assumed as it. We don’t say that it rained; we simply say “rained”. We don’t say it’s weird; we simply say “is weird”.

The rest of the time we refer to things the way Aesop referred to animals- he, the stapler and she, the copy-maker. We also refer to animals that way, as you probably must have guessed by now. And all those its, then, come alive.

See,  up  until my meeting with Him, Death,  it  had  been  very  simple to me-  a  table  and  a  chair  and  a  bed  and  a  house  were  female-bound.  And  there  were  things  like  school,  History  and  art  that  were  referred  to  as  female,  too.  At  least  death  is  not  alone,  then,  and  they  are  not  alone  in  death;  these  other  words.  Word  is  also  preceded by the feminine article,  in  Portuguese.  Forks  and  mattresses  and  napkins  and  hats  and  the  radio  and  peaches  and  candy  were  all  male-bound  things.

Some  of  us  even  got  confused  at  times;  I  remember  once  at  school  when  a  peak  number  of  students  using  the  wrong  article  for  “lettuce”  inspired  a  gender-bound-articles test,  but  it  didn’t  change  anything.  People  were  surprised,  surely,  that  lettuce  was  a  She-  a  couple  of  weeks  later,  though,  everyone  was  still  using  the  wrong  article  for  lettuce.

(I  don’t  know  why,  though;  lettuce  is  so  clearly  feminine,  being  a  leaf  and  all;  and  leaves  being  feminine,  too)    (Leaves  and  flowers  and  most  fruit)    (Except  for  peaches,  but  we’ve  been  over  this  already)    (Now,  I  wonder  why  in  Brazil  all  seasons  are  male  but  spring)    (It  cannot  be  just  because  of  the  flowers)    (It  would  be  sort  of  misogynistic,  if  it  were)  (In  Germany  all  seasons  are  male-bound,  even  spring)  (But  in  German  nothing  is  at  it  should  be)

I  want  to  try  out  an  experiment:  I  will  give  you  four  words  and  you  tell  me  what  your  immediate  thought  as  to  what  their  ultimate  gender  is;  ready?  Knife,  Life,  Book,  Fox. 

It  has  just  occurred  to  me  that  I  picked  “knife”  as  the  first  word  because  of  a  poem  by  João  Cabral  de  Melo  Neto  titled  “The  School  of  Knives”.  In  Portuguese,  this  word  is  preceded  by  the feminine.  Most  sharp  things  are-  blades  and  daggers  and  scythes,  too.  In  the  poem  de  Melo  Neto  takes  this  a  step  further  and  compares  women  and  knives,  in  a  sort  of  sensual,  femme-fatale  way.  God,  I  hate  this  word;  femme-fatale-  there  is  a  song  by  The  Velvet  Underground  under  this  title,  and  it  is  pretty  catchy;  and  I  hate  myself  for  enjoying  it.  Anyway,  knives  are  not  necessarily  female  until  some  sort  of  personality  and  explanation  as  to  why  it  is  female  is  imposed  to  it.

In  Spanish  knives  are  male-bound.  The  argument  for  knives  as  male  could  be  just  as  compelling  as  that  for  a  femme-fatale  definition;  knives  having  the  potential  to  be  used  for  gratuitous  violence  (traditionally  male)  as  easily  as  they  are  able  to  deliver  beautiful  and  entangling  performances  of  precision  in  clean,  lustful  cuts:  this  last  one  is  epitome  of  the  femme-  fatale  ideal;  to  destroy  and  look  good  doing  it.  There  is  also  something  about  gluttony  and  lust  merging  together  here  in  the  Portuguese  embodiment  of  the  knife,  especially  in  de  Melo  Neto’s  poem.

I  propose  we  look  at  this  not  as  an  instance  of  misogyny,  or  perhaps  as  more  than  an  instance  of  misogyny.  I  know  it  is  very  easy  to  go  the  way  of  saying  we  need  to  stop  gendering  everything-  but  there  are  many  variables  going  into  this  discussion.  For  one,  the  qualifier  of  gender  in  articles  is  not  promoting  gender  stereotypes  directly  or  even  indirectly-  all  of  them  are  entirely  arbitrary.  I  don’t  think  anyone  ever  thought  to  themselves-  knives  are  definitely  ladies,  so  let’s  use  this  article  when  referring  to  them.  The  problem  came  after-  it  came  in  the  form  of  explanations  as  to  why  things  were  the  gender  they  were.  See,  the  way  gender  roles  are  distributed;  one  could  arguably  make  a  point  for  something  as  dull  as  a  desk  either  as  masculine  or  feminine  simply  by  selecting  a  specific  set  of  characteristics  that  matches  the  stereotypical  definition  one  wishes  to  defend.  That  is  obviously  because  like  people,  things  also  have  characteristics  deemed  feminine  and  masculine  inside  them.  All  you  have  to  do  is  choose.

Let’s  talk  about  the  Life  with  a  capital  L.  I  think  most  languages  in  use  of  gendered  articles  (that  I  know  of,  obviously)  see  life  as  female;  the  exception  being  German,  in  which  das  Leben  marks  a  neutral  noun.  Surely  you  would  think  this  is  a  sign  of  female  emancipation-  the  plural  in  German  taking  for  once  the  shape  of  the  female  pronoun  being  a  step  in  the  right  direction  as  well-  but  I  wonder  how  much  of  it  is  actually  a  sign  of  social  progress  and  how  much  is  just,  you  know,  just  something  random  about  the  German  language.

When  you  take  a  closer  look  at  it,  in  fact,  it  is  hard  to  find  direct  correlations  between  the  use  of  gendered  articles  and  intolerance  rates  in  a  society.  Were  that  the  case,  one  would  expect  a  country  such  as  Poland,  speaking  a  language  which  allows  one  to  drop  pronouns  and  exempt  of  articles,  to  be  the  beacon  of  freedom  by  now.  Moreover,  the  Norwegian,  known  for  their  inclusive  social  measures  and  individual  liberties,  speak a language  featuring  article  qualifiers.  I  do  not  intend  to  make  a  study  out  of  this,  and  I  am  sure  there  are  many  more  variables  involved,  but  this  goes  to  show  problems  like  this  can  hardly  ever  be  traced  back  to  one  simple,  obvious  cause.

But  this  is  getting  too  derivative  (you  can  tell  by  the  excessive  use  of  parenthesis)  (not  aesthetically  pleasing)  (are  there  things  unaesthetically  pleasing?)  (Well,  there  are  pleasant  things  that  aren’t  aesthetic  and  there  are  aesthetic  things  that  aren’t  pleasing)  (And  then  there  is  the  anaesthetic,  which  makes  you  numb  to  painful  and  beautiful  things)  (I  hope  not  all  beautiful  things  are  painful)  (But  I  don’t  have  any  answers  now)  (Come  back  later)  (We  are  experiencing  connection  problems)  (Try  turning  your  brain  off  and  on  again).

Oh,  there  you  go.  I  feel  fine,  don’t  you?  Would  you  like  to  return  to  where  we  were  before  the  whole  thing  became  a  mess?

Now,  as  I  was  saying,  the  best  we  can  do  with  gendered  articles  is  look  for  clues  that  could  help  us  fight  the  feminist  crusade,  or  whatever  you  want  to  call  it.  Instead  of  ignoring  or  denying  their  existence,  we  should  take  a  look  at  what  sort  of  symbols  they  promote,  intentionally  or  not.  We  think  about  what  cultural  differences  stand  out  in  a  place  where  death  is  a  woman  and  a  place  where  death  is  a  man-  and  the  different  interpretations  of  death  that  may  come  from  it.  We  ask  people  who  speak  in  neutral  languages  to  gender  things  for  twenty-four  hours,  so  we  can  see  what  role  is  predominant  and,  most  importantly,  what  kind  of  justification  is  used  for  the  answer.  We  get  Intel  on  the  rationalizations  made  in  the  back  of  our  minds,  and  discover  potential  new  ways  to  break  down  gender  roles.

In  self-indulgent  speculation,  I  am  thinking  the  reason  why  Life  is  “female”  in  so  many  languages  is  because  life  is  brought  to  us  by  our  mothers.  Thus  life  we  associate  with  women  and  water  and  fountains  of  water,  because  all  these  things  symbolize  fertility  and  birth,  and  rebirth  as  well.  Goddesses  of  fertility-  Hera  and  Freya  and  Isis  and  Parvati  and  even  the  Virgin  Mary  if  you  look  at  Christianism  as  a  religion  with  multiple  focuses  of  adoration-  are  generally  also  associated  with  symbols  such  as  dawn,  death,  and  abundance,  because  fertility  could  also  mean  a  good  harvest.

While  I  do  get  why  some  goddesses  of  life  are  also  patrons  of  death,  it  is  still  strange  to  look  at  these  concepts  together,  as  dichotomies.  Everyone  likes  the  idea  of  going  full  circle,  but  I’ve  yet  to  see  someone  capable  of  making  one  with  their  hands.  Still,  it’s  a  nice  idea.  Idea;  yet  another  she.  I  guess  it  has  something  to  do  with  the  muses.  The  muses  are  also  inevitably  female,  because  the  artists  are  usually  male.  As  for  you,  female  artists,  there  isn’t  as  high  a  demand  for  male  muses  that  we  feel  compelled  to  change  the  rules.  But  I  guess  men  would  feel  undermined  in  the  role  of  muses,  don’t  you  think?  Well,  you’re  right,  not  all  men.  All  men  who  keep  saying  not  all  men,  though;  those  are  precisely  the  men  I’m  talking  about.

You  see,  there  is  a  deeply  rooted  notion  somewhere  in  there  that  an  artist  must  tame  his  muses.  Even  if  an  idea,  then,  is  a  she,  the  framing  of  ideas  will  definitely  be  male.  The  word  book  is  preceded  by  the  male  article  in  Portuguese;  in  German  it  is  neutral;  it  never  is  a  woman.  These  are  only  far-fetched  conjectures,  half  joke,  half  real;  but  inside  every  false  sentence  there  must  be  a  little  bit  of  truth.  That  of  men  taking  credit  for  women’s  ideas,  after  all;  is  hardly  a  new  trend.

The  discussion  gets  even  more  complicated  once  we  introduce  animals  into  it.  They  are  the  closest  thing  to  non-human  gendering  experienced  by  the  English  language;  just  take  a  look  at  the  Perry  Index  of  Aesop’s  Fables.  Snakes  and  foxes  are  male,  storks  are  female.  What  is  interesting,  however,  is  not  the  gender  imposed-  though  this  time  one  could  question  its  arbitrariness-  but  how  this  translates  into  people’s  mind  sets:

All  of  those  animals  are  female  in  Portuguese.  It  is  even  difficult  for  me  to  conceive  of  an  animal  as  peculiar  as  a  male  fox.  We  don’t  even  have  a  male  alternative  for  it.  Once  we  get  to  snakes,  it’s  even  worse.  I  recently  saw  the  animated  version  of  The  Jungle  Book  with  my  little  cousin,  and  I  was  convinced  they  had  redubbed  the  old  voices,  because  in  my  mind  that  python  was  a  lady  python.  I  can  only  assume  that  as  a  child  I  found  the  idea  of  there  being  a  male  snake  so  outlandish  that  I  blocked  it  completely.

It’s  not  like  I  didn’t  know  there  was  a  male  snake-  I  just  thought  them  unimportant.  They  were  not  allowed  to  talk  for  the  species.  They  were  not  allowed  to  represent  it.  Think  about  what  kids  think  sometimes;  the  thoughts  kids  have  are  a  rare,  clear  perspective  of  a  place  you  have  been  in  for  too  long;  life.

(They  will  take  some  funny  things  for  granted)  (And  question  what  you  have  taken  for  granted  without  noticing)  (When  you  play  with  language  you  feel  like  being  a  child  again)  (Your  brain  is  a  clean  slate  again)  (You  are  innocent  again).

There  are  other  places,  you  know;  outside  of  the  sky;  there  is  even  a  sky  over  the  living  room  ceiling.

If  someone  were  to  paint  clouds  on  my  ceiling  on  a  blue  background;  if  I  were  to  fall  into  a  state  of  hypnosis,  well,  I  wonder  what  I’d  be.  Maybe  I  shouldn’t  wonder.  There’s  way  too  much  randomness  in  this  world  for  us  not  to  aimlessly  wonder,  though.  It’s  what’s  keeping  us  from  crashing  onto  our  false  skies.

Author of the novel “De Volta ao Vazio” (in a rough translation, “Emptiness, Revisited”), Seelaender is a student of Literature at the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil.

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.

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.
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death, Guest Posts, Young Voices

And Then I Remember What You Said, a Letter to My Brother

December 31, 2016
lucky

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 piece discusses the aftermath of suicide.

By Emma Tait

December 31, 2016

Dear Ollie,

I know you know this holiday season is hard for me. But still, I need to tell you how I’m feeling, how I’m feeling about how the holidays this year, the third year since you have been gone. Please don’t take this the wrong way, I know you are looking out for me, in the good big brother kind of way.

I am always catching glimpses of you out of the corner of my eye, seeing men that look just like you, sometimes I even hear your voice. Every time this happens my breath catches in my throat and for a split second I glance around hopefully, as if I live in a different world where there is a possibility of us running in to each other on the street on our ways home from work. In a parallel reality this would be our life. You would have lived. You would have stayed in Vancouver and we’d see each other all the time. This parallel reality still lives in my head, and sometimes when I “see” you I pretend with all my hear that it is so. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, The Body, Young Voices

What Happened To Your Hand?

December 14, 2016
amputation

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.

By Julia Betancourt

I wasn’t going to talk about my residual limb when I visited my kindergarten teacher in her classroom. At least, not until a small blonde girl came and tugged on my skirt while I was greeting my former teacher, Ms. Restrepo.

“What happened to your hand?” she asked.

“Oh,” I replied. I stared at my left arm, which extended to just below the elbow—the “hand” she was referring to, nicknamed “Army,” meaning little arm. “I was born like this,” I said, lying to her because I didn’t want to go into the extraneous story about the accident. I turned to face a boy and his three friends.

“Does it hurt?” he wondered. I shook my head.

“How can you write?” another child yelled.

By this point in time, I noticed that most of the class had gathered, and they were all asking me questions I didn’t want to answer. However, I couldn’t just tell the children to leave me alone, because they were six. Furthermore, if I told them to leave me alone, they might be afraid of other people with amputations. Based on their curiosity, most of them probably hadn’t even seen anyone with a limb difference. Whatever I did now could potentially affect the way they thought about amputees for the rest of their lives. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, writing, Young Voices

The Broken Container

December 13, 2016
container

By Raisa Imogen

Last year, I was in Paris during the terrorist attacks, and I don’t know how to tell that story. Similarly, I don’t know how to tell the story about Trump’s recent election. But there seems to be a strange and shivering thread between the two events. Both violent, painful, chaotic. Yet Paris was somewhat contained. This election is not, the common mantra being: “we just don’t know what’s going to happen.”

We tell stories to make meaning of trauma, to contain pain so we can better examine it and give it value. But sometimes we are in such distress that the container cracks. We can no longer write or speak in the same way, we can no longer contain the pain or carry it comfortably.

Paris: the cherry glow of sirens, the bitter cold, windows slamming shut, a vacant Eiffel tower. Alternatively: my friend who calmly held my hand, the family member who made a quiche, a café filled with people drinking champagne the next day.

Either it becomes a story of horror and fear, which you’ve already heard, or a story of healing and bravery, which feels mawkish and insincere.

I think we dislike narratives which exist in gray, uncertain space. We want them to have logic, to land on one side of a binary — tragedy or comedy, conflict resolved or broken open, a character whose biggest desire is fulfilled or wrenched from them completely. Climax, falling action, resolution.

But trauma, especially when it first occurs, isn’t a neat and tidy narrative. Sometimes there is no narrative at all.

The New Yorker recently featured a piece where sixteen writers weighed in on the election. As my friend Marie Scarles observed, “There are so many different versions of why Trump won, and so many ways for us to imagine the future. Should we pay more attention to poor whites? To Muslims? To women? To LGBTQ? To racists? To immigrants? All seem urgent, but none can be held as the be-all-end-all.”

We are searching for a straightforward answer, an immediate ending so this can be over and done with.

After the election, hunched over my carrel in the library and unable to write, I got a text message from my father: “Trauma turns us into animals, which means story-telling turns off. We revert to fight, flight or shock.” But sometimes, maybe our storytelling tendencies shutting down is a good thing. Maybe it allows us to survive. Narratives can be healing, but they can also be dangerous.

By attending to many different perspectives, perhaps a new story will eventually arise, something both nuanced and messy, something which contains many strands. Perhaps it will be a story of hope, but a particular kind of hope, which Rebecca Solnit describes as, ”an ax you break down doors with in an emergency… [it] should shove you out the door.”

For now, we are living in uncertainty. The story is that there is no story, at least no singular one. Which means there is no singular conflict, no one resolution. I wish I had a coherent story to tell about Paris, but I don’t. For me, the container is still broken open, as it is now for America post-election. This means we must listen to each other, and listen carefully.

raisa-tolchinsky

Raisa Imogen was born in Portland, Oregon, grew up in Chicago, and is currently studying at the University of Bologna in Italy. Her poetry can be found at www.raisaimogen.net and at The Kenyon Review.

 

Join Ally and Jen Pastiloff for an intimate online course about what it means to be a woman at this time. Space is very limited. Course runs Jan 12-Feb 9, 2017. Click the picture to sign up or to get more info on the course and its perks!

Join Ally and Jen Pastiloff for an intimate online course about what it means to be a woman at this time. Space is very limited. Course runs Jan 12-Feb 9, 2017. Click the picture to sign up or to get more info on the course and its perks!

 

 

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

Guest Posts, Relationships, Young Voices

House of Mirrors

November 9, 2016

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.

By Premala Matthen

“You’re just like me,” my mother tells me.

Sometimes, rarely, I see her face when I look in the mirror. But I am often asked— by friends, by classmates, by strangers on the street —if I was adopted. I know why they ask, but she pretends she doesn’t.

“Nobody can tell you’re not white,” she says to me. It feels like a lie. “Everyone thinks you’re southern Italian.”

The dissonance is paralyzing.

As an adult I read parenting books, even though I don’t have children. I am convinced that I need to re-parent myself, though I don’t know why. My breath catches when I read: a child needs a mother who is attuned to her. She needs a mirror, so she can see who she is.

Sometimes I see my face when I look at her. When I am four, I decide that I am a writer, and she helps me send my story to a publisher. She makes me feel like the rejection letter is just as exciting as a publication would have been. Real writers get rejected; I am a real writer now. I’m nine when my first poem is published. She makes me feel like the world has been enriched by my words. Continue Reading…

beauty, Guest Posts, Young Voices

Do Not Define Me As You Saw Me Last

November 8, 2016
beauty

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.

By Daniela Grageda

I hadn’t seen my older sister in a month and all she saw was the armpit hair on my twin sister.

“If you shave your legs, why not shave your armpit hair?” She questioned my twin sister.

It is a choice. Never did I imagine I needed to ask for permission to not shave, or to ask permission for anything that it is not causing any harm to any other human being.

I hadn’t seen my sister in a month and she questioned me “you’re trying to get locks on your hair?”, when she saw the dreads starting to form. It was the first time she saw my hair let loose after wearing it up for a while.

“No, we just don’t brush our hair” — my twin sister answered for me.

“I haven’t seen you in a month, I don’t know what happened to you guys!”

I felt heavy, in my heart, I felt so heavy.

Yes, she had not seen us in a month, and that is all she had to say. Really, that is all she had to say.

It is not that I was looking for her approval, I knew my twin sister and I were considered the ‘strange’ ones in the family anyway. But the feeling I felt that moment was quite different. My older sister’s eyes were full of judgement and disgust. It was evident. I felt unwelcomed. I was standing in the presence of unacceptance. Eyes that were blind to her own beauty, let alone ours. If she were comfortable in her own skin, she would have no reason to judge ours, I thought.

Do not define me, do not label me, do not remember me as you saw me last. I am growth, I am beauty itself, I thought.

We have grown up with certain approaches to our natural form that it is so bizarre to let our armpit hair grow out because we learnt to shave it as soon as we began to notice it grow. All because it is not ‘acceptable’ for women to glow with their armpit hair!

All because it’s only normal for men to have hair on their armpits.

We are raised around straighteners, combs, shampoos…Essentials right? Essentials that will make our hair beautiful!

With shoes that will make an impression of us looking taller, more confident, and fancy!

With chemicals to spoil our faces, just to get a bit of color on our cheeks!

What if…
I don’t brush my hair everyday?
I don’t shave?
I don’t paint my nails?

Do I somehow betray my own skin? My own body? Am I not considered “normal”?

At one point in my younger years, I did feel it was necessary for me to learn how to walk in heels and how to apply makeup on my face, because I saw every female in my family doing so. But it never felt natural to me. It wasn’t me and to this day, I have no sense of how to apply makeup or walk in heels.

Cosmetics and such appeal to women to look good, to have them look “decent” and many women are comfortable and even happy with those things, but it doesn’t make sense for me.

I don’t choose to not do these things so I can be considered a “weird” human being, though I know in my heart I am a weird creature.

I don’t undertake such actions simply because I do not support such things to enhance my beauty. I am comfortable without them.

My beauty just as it is, is pure.

Do not define me as you saw me last, no matter the time frame, because chances are, you won’t see me the same way twice.

I am constant growth.

 

biophotoDaniela Grageda was born in Mexico and is currently living in Arizona. She is an emerging photographer and writer who is working on her art portfolio and a collection of short writings and poetry. Follow Daniela on Instagram @dani.grageda_.

Click pic to book workshop.

Click pic to book workshop.

 

Join Lidia Yuknavitch and Jen Pastiloff for their signature “Writing & The Body” Retreat in Portland March 17-19 by clicking photo.

Join Lidia Yuknavitch and Jen Pastiloff for their signature “Writing & The Body” Retreat in Portland March 17-19 by clicking photo.

Guest Posts, Women are Enough, Young Voices

The Way I’m a Woman

November 2, 2016
feminine

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.

By Caroline Hoenemeyer

I love the beat my feet make when I walk, not the high-pitched click clack of some dainty spikes, but the weighted thud of these boots I’ve broken in, blistered, bruised. I love the way the fat padded around my stomach peeks and prods out of my leggings, maybe too tight. I love the way my black bra shows through my sheer laundered-with-sweat white shirt, with breasts heavy because that’s how gravity works and I don’t like to say no to nature. I love to speak with the deep vibrations in my voice—not like a question, whisper, or squeal, not afraid of intimidating men. I love to do the things the Look Like a Lady books tell me not to do.

I love the way I’m a woman and right now that means I love to appear in a way that’s grotesque to The Patriarchy. I am a Virgin and a Madonna and a whore and a blossom. I am a bloody tampon and strawberry lips and the shits after really good pasta. I am dimples on both sets of cheeks and streaks of stretch and a smile like sunshine. I am stubbly pubic hair peeking out of my tight denim shorts peppering my perfect balloon thighs. I am grotesque just as I am a pure white light of feminine energy. I am neither and all and I get to be whichever whenever I want and I won’t bend or break for anyone.

And yet oh, I want a husband. Not now, not soon, but not never. I want a husband and I want to make babies with him; I want a family. Continue Reading…

Grief, Guest Posts, Young Voices

An Innocence Buried

October 26, 2016
funeral

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.

By Lauryn Polo

January 31, 2008

I stood in a room that smelled too strongly of flowers, with the same people I saw every day, but this time, we weren’t in our basketball clothes or sweats– we wore dark professional clothing that our moms’ helped us pick out. We didn’t smile, didn’t joke like we were accustomed to at practice. Our coach’s dad lied still—he was gone. And for the first time, my coach was human. Here was a woman we all had known for most of our lives; had shared most of our winter seasons with her, along with countless hours in the offseason—but we had never seen her like this.

But tomorrow, after the funeral, we would practice again. She would still yell, and stop her foot so hard into the floorboards we would swear she would create a hole. The world, as we knew it, would continue—and this was something I would have to learn the hard way. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, memories, Young Voices

I Miss The Bad Times

October 12, 2016
memories

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.

By Alyssa Limperis

I said goodbye to one of my best friends from college today. He’s leaving NYC and moving west to go to Law School and be closer to his family. I feel sad. Maybe because I knew him when my dad was alive. Maybe because he’s one of the first people I go see when I have something to say. Maybe just because I want more late night, ice-cream-filled hangs. I’m sad to see him go. I’m sad that time keeps moving forward. After losing my dad, I want to hold tightly to everyone I love. I don’t want anyone to leave. Bryan represents my prior life. A life where I was scattered and free and waitressing and not quite sure where I wanted to be or what I wanted to do. He represents a time when I was depressed and lost. More than half of our hangs have been me crying to him. I spent so much time with Bryan worried about the future. Upset about the present. Hanging on to something from the past. I spent a lot of time on my phone. A lot of time in my head. I found out he was leaving a week ago and time slowed down. I instantly wanted to spend every minute with him. Digest all of his advice. Appreciate the profound comfort of sharing each other’s company. When time suddenly became limited, I wanted to freeze it and not let it escape. I wanted to go back and relive all of our times together. I suddenly yearned for feeling lost and uncomfortable and unsure. I wanted to be back to the time when I was deeply depressed. I wanted to go back to working doubles at a restaurant and slumping on his stoop in exhaustion on my way home. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Surviving, Young Voices

The Aftermath Of Assault Leads To A Call For Help

October 4, 2016
assault

TW: This piece discusses sexual assault and its aftermath.

By Ashley N. Doonan 

I am a doctoral student in Rhetoric and Writing at Bowling Green State University. I teach Freshmen English as well as take courses within my program. I come from New England, and I have only been in the Midwest for about a month and a half. Unfortunately, my experience here has already been tarnished.

On September 1st, 2016 I was robbed of a vital piece of myself. The violation—the shrieks, the moans, the blood—all as I was forced down and pressed into the carpet rhythmically against my will for what seemed like hours. After that day, I resorted an old coping mechanism of mine—that is, not eating. That numbness, that lapse back into my eating disorder sucked me in almost instantaneously.

Things started to decline quickly, and there’s no doubt that one cannot maintain an eating disorder while simultaneously succeeding in a Ph.D. program. Therefore, I have sought out a dietician who is highly supportive and specializes in the treatment of eating disorders. However, she does not accept insurance and the standing rate for the comprehensive six-month package costs $3,250. “Begin WELL” was the program suggested to me based on my assessment (more information on that can be found here).

As a graduate student, I simply don’t have that type of money nor do I have any financial support from my family. As of today, I have a second job, however, my university limits the amount of hours that graduate students can work. I am extremely uncomfortable asking others for assistance but I know how much I need to be seeing this dietician in order to stay in school and avoid a higher level of care. My dietician is willing to work with me via monthly payments versus paying for the entire package at once.

During my eating disorder in past (you can read more about that here) I found that hunger stole my voice. The year wherein I was too afraid to go to class, when I’d come up with any and every excuse not to go out with friends—I refer to that period of time as “the silent years.” Little did I know, my sexual assault and subsequent relapse into my eating disorder would pull me back into the realm of silence. The work that I do currently involves discussing the rhetoric of mental health—a topic that will likely become my dissertation. I believe that advocacy for mental health issues is one of the most vital things one can do; for me at the current moment, that means vocalizing my story because I know that I need assistance to make it through this. Moreover, I hope to reclaim my voice because I refuse to let my trauma and eating disorder rid me of it.

Even the smallest of donations would be appreciated, as I am doing everything that I can to stay out of the hospital. My GoFundMe page can be found here.

Warmest wishes,
Ashley N. Doonan

 

Join founder Jen Pastiloff for a weekend retreat at Kripalu Center in Western Massachusetts Feb 19-21, 2016. 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.

Join Jen Pastiloff at her Manifestation Workshop: On Being Human in Dallas Oct 22. Click the link above to book. No yoga experience needed- just be a human being! Bring a journal and a sense of humor. See why People Magazine did a whole feature on Jen.

 

Check out Jen Pastiloff in People Magazine!

Check out Jen in People Magazine!

Forgiveness, Guest Posts, Young Voices

How to Make Peace with a Dead Woman

September 21, 2016
peace

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.

By Jessica Domer

How to make a peace with a dead woman. Step One: Have a psychic medium give you messages from your dead mother and grandmother. Step Two: Go to a really good therapist. Step Three: Do a lot of yoga and meditative chi running. Step Four: Write an essay.

When I was five years old, I saw my mother for the last time. She walked out the door, leaving my father, brother, sister and I in her wake. When I say my mother walked out on me, I mean she quite literally shut the door as I was looking in her eyes, pleading her to stay. She said nothing. And I knew, in that moment, that I would never see my mother again. It turned out that, although I was a young girl, my intuition was correct. My mother died several years later without ever returning to visit. She died as we were planning a trip to come see her on her deathbed. She died the day before her birthday, which I always felt was an irony that was suited to be the last scene of her very unfulfilled life. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Mental Health, Young Voices

From the Ground I Burn

September 8, 2016
suicide

TW: This essay discusses suicide.

Note from Jen Pastiloff, founder of The Manifest-Station. This week is Suicide Prevention week and this remarkable essay is part of our Young Voices Series for Girl Power: You Are Enough. Together we can help erase the stigma of mental illness and there is nothing to be ashamed of about depression. I believe even the messy parts of being human are beautiful. If you need to talk, there are good resources available including To Write Love On Her Arms and 1-800-273-TALK. We are stronger together, helping each other. The Manifest-Station is always looking for more writing from YOU! Make sure you follow us on instagram at @GirlPowerYouAreEnough and on Facebook here. And remember: You ARE enough.

By Leah Juliett

Death threw me a bridal shower last summer. It sat at the crook of my neck in the shape of the cold belt that no longer fit around my contorted waist. I exhaled and my cracked heels exited cold ground. My voice ripped out of my larynx and I have not seen it since.

Mental illness is a cold turkey my family always forgets to serve- never spoken of; sitting in an oven that demands repair. White-skinned relatives always militantly ready to snap the steel gate closed before the smell gets out. Last fall my mother forgot to take out the trash for three weeks and maggots spilled out onto the garage floor. The smell of bone dust lasted in the car port until December, but has stayed on my body. I emote bleeding sockets and rug burned back. I reek of a decaying brain.

My childhood bedroom has become both gravedigger and priest- mourning me and calling me holy. Pouring dirt on naked body. My skin begs to have more stiffness than elasticity. I do not want to recover from what haunts me. I want to be drenched in it; wet thighs, bleached lips. I want to remember all the times I slept underground.

The first girl that I fucked with was made of fire. Her hair was dipped in raven ink. When she slipped her head beneath my hollow stomach, I cooed. I was dawned in trauma, bones cracking under heavy weight of my skin suit. Trauma too pretty to be spelled into post-traumatic stress. My body not a war veteran. When I told her I loved her, she left a flower at the head of my grave and departed like the weary admire the death of someone they wished they’d known better.

When my family eats dinner, I like to believe they chew the meat of my Adam’s apple. My throat throbs. Small hands clutch voice box. Birds cough out of asthmatic chest. The oxygen that steams from my inhaler is cold and milky, the color of male ejaculation that drenched my early teens. When I press it to my lips I wonder if this is how they try resurrect a corpse. My breath is some form of witchcraft, my inhaler a magic spoon. No matter how often I want to die, I always press the red plastic wagon that floods a surge of air back into my charred lungs.

The bridal shower was quaint. I drank a glass of water and took two Lexapro cookies that crumbled and tasted sweet under my teeth. Gifts sat under a large oak tree outside of my window, wrapped in shiny paper I’d seen at the local drugstore. I imagined all of the thank you notes I’d have to write. Mother. Father. Sister. Grandmother. Grandfather. Childhood pool. Plant on my bedside table that I’d named after Sylvia Plath. Blood. Answering machine. Suddenly it seemed like an undoable task. I cannot write a letter that does not sound like a obituary. My fingernails carved words into the hard wood of my desk. There is no erasure of what is written in stone, but wood can be burned. This quiet body can still be burned. From ash, I can fit into the cells of my old skin like plant seeds and I can build myself into a new man.

There is a burial ground at the pit of my stomach where my body allows poison people to continue to live. The rotting, the asthma, the constant churning of broken shells under wrists that beg to be cut open. The undead dance on my clavicle, etch foreign words into my pelvis. I cannot feel sexual attraction without a ceremony of grief- my vagina only wet when my eyes can no longer produce tears. This is the birthday party I never had.

The problem with mental illness is that it does not sit cold in the oven. It marinates the whole house. It’s the maggots, the turkey, the bones left under the bed. The quiet throb when you read newspaper obituaries for people you never met, only, all of the people are you. It is the sliver in your thumb that always seems to find it’s way into your nervous system. It pokes floats in your cardiovascular system until your chest ruptures. I wasn’t born for small things. My body, my coffin, my illness is so large I cannot hold it in my hand. It wasn’t being gay, or hating my body. It wasn’t being naked or touched or exposed or cut open. If I were clean of impurities, there would still be a sickness. The alien graveyard still living under new city. I cannot dig up what is too deep to see.

Death approached me after all the guests had left. It handed me the belt from the top shelf of my closet. It stretched around my neck like the pearls I’d imagined would go nicely with my bridal shower dress. I wanted to turn my body into a cross, hanging like Jesus from my bedframe. I wanted to relive my mother’s church.

Death looked at me with eager eyes, a handsome fiancé-to-be begging me to accept such a grandiose proposal. My chest sat heavy beneath all the lives I had not lived.

I do not know if I will ever marry. I do not know if I could stomach a diamond.

When I handed back the belt I did not deny death. My voice is too strong for this caracas. When suicide strangled me, my throat strangled back. Words beneath my ribcage pushed upwards until unholy screams pierced the room I slept in. I am a banshee body. I am a watery grave. I am uncomfortable, I am unearthly, but I am here. I will live here until the Earth turns over and the graves spill out. I will dance among decaying bodies falling backwards from the sky like a haunting snowstorm. My voice will not die. I will not die.

When Death threw me a bridal shower, I burned down the building. I grabbed my voice from His melting hands and ran before the noose pulled me back into the bad place. I have not seen Him since.

Leah Juliett is a nineteen year old poet, actress, LGBTQ+ activist and intersectional feminist from Connecticut. She is the author of “Orange Peels and Other Things that Burn” (2015, Amazon Publishing), and has competed nationally at the Brave New Voices Slam Poetry Competition. She has been featured in Seventeen Magazine, Teen Vogue, Buzzfeed LGBT, Attitude Magazine, and The Huffington Post. Additional work has been published on The Clit List and The Odyssey Online.

 

Join founder Jen Pastiloff for a weekend retreat at Kripalu Center in Western Massachusetts Feb 19-21, 2016. 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.

Join Jen Pastiloff at her Manifestation Workshop: On Being Human in London Oct 1st and Dallas Oct 22. Click the links above to book. No yoga experience needed- just be a human being! Bring a journal and a sense of humor. See why People Magazine did a whole feature on Jen.

 

Check out Jen Pastiloff in People Magazine!

Check out Jen in People Magazine!

Guest Posts, Surviving, Young Voices

Broken Hospital Bracelets

August 17, 2016
trauma

TW: This essay discusses rape and trauma.

By Ashley Doonan

“It has been a pleasure working with you,” Dr. Leslie says as he hands me a cab vouch to North Station, “we’re here if you need us.” The taxi drives down McLean hill and I gently loosen my hospital bracelet. “This is it,” I think to myself, “this is learning to walk again.” I breathe deeply and stare into the sun.

Three weeks prior, it was raining. I stood in the Clinical Evaluation Center, second-guessing why I was there. A nurse spoke gently, “we’re sending you to the Trauma Unit.” The semester prior, I had finished my Master’s thesis on a subject matter related to trauma—I knew all of the signs and the symptoms, the causes and the effects. Still, identifying myself as a sufferer remained alien to me. It couldn’t possible be me, I thought that day, how did I become this fragile? I often find myself wondering what are the evolutionary mechanisms that cause intrusive thoughts after a traumatic event occurs? Perhaps it is for safety, but the pain that is produces emotionally seems utterly unproductive. Even the trauma specialists lack the answer to this underlying question. Thus, we sit with these thoughts day after day, desperate for a means of escape. Continue Reading…