Browsing Tag


courage, Fear, feminism, Guest Posts, Women

On Being an Unnatural Woman

November 20, 2015
leah wyman

By Leah Wyman

I’m walking in the the rainforest, debating whether or not to put in my iPod headphones to ease my jitters.

For a country with “Pura Vida” as its motto, Costa Rica can be an anxiety-provoking place for somebody who’s a borderline agoraphobic.  But here I am, covered in mud, my clothes sopping with sweat, swatting at bugs and moss, feeling all kinds of outdoor unknowns prickly all over me. I’m exhausted, I’m lost in the wilderness, and I’m grappling with the surreal situation I find myself in.

I had followed the map closely, I thought, but got turned around as to whether to climb up the creek bank or down the creek bank to get to the waterfall I was seeking. To most seasoned outdoorsmen (or just anyone who gets the concept of how rivers work), this wouldn’t be a mental struggle.

But hell if I knew—and downstream seemed conceptually like less of a labor. No guide, no common sense–just the great outdoors and me, scaling rocks and branches, sloshing my boots into deep pools, petrified of snakes, and talking to myself through this anxious situation.

You’re doing real good Leah, reeeeeeal good. You got this. I sputtered, spooked by weird animal and bug sounds and the rustle of leaves. I threaded the headphone cord in and out of my fingers. Maybe a little Katy Perry telling me I was a ‘Firework’ would spur me on.

Nature has always known its relationship with me: respectfully guarded but also utterly hysterical. It’s moved past dubious and now it feels like fact: the environment and its inhabitants are tickled by me. Mother Earth needs amusement like the rest of us, and I feel like the laughingstock of the terrestrial community.

As with most suburban brats, anything remotely wild in my past happened in zoos.

With my class at the primate exhibit at Brookfield Zoo I was standing completely unawares when I suddenly felt a nasty, mealy, putrid paste being flung repeatedly at my face and body. One of the so-called majesties we were admiring with awe had just thrown its shit at me. Gorilla feces all over me. In my hair, in my eye, all over my new sweater from the Gap, which I’d gotten for Christmas, which I really liked.

I was crying and humiliated while my teacher tried to wipe soapy water through nooks and crannies of cable knit. Mrs. Scott walked me to the zoo store and picked out a nerdy t-shirt with a baby otter that exclaimed “I Otter Be at the Brookfield Zoo!” for me to wear the rest of the day. (God bless you, Mrs. Scott). Continue Reading…

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…

cancer, Fear, Gratitude, Guest Posts, Heroes


October 31, 2015
matt1 (2)

By Joules Evans

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. This is a tale of two masks, this mane and this zebra pencil. It’s a comedy about a tragedy. One of my own doing.

But first, a tale of two sons.

Act 1: Matt. Matt has always liked (and still likes) to dress up as his heroes and supmatt3erheroes. Davy Crockett. Indiana Jones. Andy (from Toy Story). Mario. Siracha hot sauce. Spidermat, I mean, Spiderman. The thing about masks is they hide our true identity. When Matt puts on his Spidey mask HE IS SPIDERMAN. Matt is underneath, but hidden. It’s a pretty epic mystery. Like how nobody spies Superman underneath Clark Kent’s glasses. But the other thing about masks is they can also reveal. When Matt puts on his Spidey mask he is revealing something about himself.  Inside, he is a superhero. In his own way, he is and has always been out to save the day, save the girl, save the world. In a sense, in essence, HE IS SPIDERMAN. Even without a mask. And he has been all his life. Once when he was 5 or 6, we were at his little brother’s baseball game and it started raining. My little superhero took off his mask, in this case the shirt off his back (but to me it was a superhero’s cape) and put it on the bleachers for me to sit on so I could stay dry.

Act 2: Mikeyy. Not surprisingly Mikeyy followed in his big brother’s steps as far as dressing up as mikey1superheroes. Superman. Michael Jordan. Michaelangelo. Daniel Boone to Matt’s Davy Crockett. Buzz Lightyear to Matt’s Andy. Luigi to Matt’s Mario. Batman to Matt’s Spiderman. One thing that was revealed early about Mikeyy was that he is and always has been a peacemaker. And later, when he sometimes ended up dressing up as the bad guys because all the good guys were all, already taken by everybody else, it revealed something else about him. Like when he dressed up as Voldemort for the midnight premiere of the final Harry Potter movie. Mikeyy shaved his head AND HIS EYEBROWS. What it revealed about Mikeyy is commitment to the nines. He was Voldemort that night. Not only did he win best costume, but everybody in the theatre wanted their picture with him. What it hid was this mama’s utter shock at seeing my baby boy bald all the way down to his eyebrows, since I’d just grown mine back from fighting cancer. It was like looking in a mirror. Like I was seeing my own reflection, back in time.

Act 3: It’s just hair. That’s what I tried to tell myself when I found out I had breast cancer and that the chemo was going to be an ultimate wardrobe malfunction and make my hair fall out. #tbt to August 20, 2008. THE superpowerinciting incident of all inciting incidents in my life, in which this mask was lifted. My cancer… (yes, mine. I own it; it does NOT own me. Or define me. But it is part of my story. My story. Continue Reading…

beauty, courage, Guest Posts, healing, Inspiration

This Space

October 5, 2015
Image of happy woman with white fabric running down meadow

By Sarah Miller Freehauf

I once filled this space, this body, this dispensable cavity with food—rows of black and white cookies & TV & bedtime. I once filled this space, this body, this dispensable cavity with pills & space where no food was allowed to touch. I once ran on a treadmill for three miles in this space, this body, this dispensable cavity. I moved 200 pounds of this space, that body. After—a man came to me with a smile and asked how many miles did you just run? A man came to me with disbelief and asked how many miles I just carried that big space, that big body, that big dispensable cavity.

My mother used to say you better watch it. My father used to tap and smack our bellies and call us belly-women and I hated him in that moment though loved him deeply every other. My brother used the toothbrush more often than I did. My brother used to feel the praise of coaches and mother and father on how he was trim and good and how that boy body was all Midwestern man. My brother was worse off than I. He ate salad, he dispensed it, he ate salad, he moved his large baby fat ridden teen body until some man at the gym said something to him in disbelief—something that sounded like you are good.

I kept running and moving that space of mine and eating things of the earth and everyone in disbelief said how many miles did you just run? How many pounds did you manage to rid? Everyone in disbelief including the man at the gym and our father and my brother—skinny and in shape and everyone proud of him—everyone in disbelief asked how many miles and pounds did that space, that body, that dispensable cavity rid?

And then because that space is dispensable, because of shame, because of fat stored in a place that it is supposed to be, because everyone in their disbelief—I cut my chest. I let a man cut my chest, I let a man remove, in his disbelief, eleven pounds of fat. I let everyone say in disbelief—your body looks better, looks good, looks healthy, looks small. And this body still has the anchor scars and the cookie scars and rotted esophagus to prove that all the disbelief was believable.

And now I run and men watch. And now I run and my mother says good. And now I eat things of the earth and others say how.

Now—I run. I move my body, my space, my figure, my form and most days it is still not enough. But my body moves and that is good. The moving is mostly enough.


Sarah Miller Freehauf is the Founding Editor of Teenage Wasteland Review–a literary journal just for teens, Editorial Assistant for Divedapper, a reader for [PANK], former Managing Editor for Lunch Ticket, and recently received her MFA in Poetry from Antioch University, Los Angeles. More importantly, she teaches high school English and Creative Writing in the Midwest. Her most recent creative work can be found in Stone Highway Review & Poemeleon.



Join Jen Pastiloff at one of her Girl Power Workshops or On being Human Workshops by clicking here.

Join Jen Pastiloff at one of her Girl Power Workshops or On being Human Workshops by clicking here.

Ring in New Years 2016 with Jen Pastiloff at her annual Ojai retreat. It's magic! It sells out quickly so book early. No yoga experience required. Just be a human being. With a sense of humor. Email with questions or click photo to book. NO yoga experience needed. Just be a human being.

Ring in New Years 2016 with Jen Pastiloff at her annual Ojai retreat. It’s magic! It sells out quickly so book early. No yoga experience required. Just be a human being. With a sense of humor. Email with questions or click photo to book. NO yoga experience needed. Just be a human being.


beauty, Guest Posts, Inspiration

The Fat Girl’s Benediction

October 1, 2015
Eat Diet Keys Showing Fiber Exercise Fat And Calorie Advice Online

**A note from Jen: A version of this essay was originally published on one of our favorite sites, “The Rumpus.” We are thrilled to share it here, with all of you.**


By Tabitha Blankenbiller

On the morning I’d had enough of my body, Twitter was quaking over Colleen McCullough’s obituary. It stated that the wildly accomplished writer was “plain of feature, and certainly overweight, she was, nevertheless a woman of wit and warmth.”  Who knew someone could be full-figured and brilliant? My friends were livid. I was disgusted. And I was panicked. What if I careened off the road, right now, in these revolting stretchy pants that aren’t fooling a goddamn soul? Let me die painfully, shamefully, without kindness or honor. Don’t let me die fat.

As I roller-coastered through the backroads, I tried to remember the last time I was in a house of God. Not since my last visit to the United Methodist Church of Wilsonville. Forgive me father, for I have sinned. It has been 1,011 days since my last confession.

Two years since my last visit and nothing about the church’s Tuesday night Weight Watchers meeting had changed. The same woman who had taken my information four years ago still stood behind the multi-purpose room’s kitchen counter. On these Tuesday nights, us Eaters Anonymous members shuffled in with our weekly food trackers. We made whatever sacrifices we could: unzipped boots and kicked off sneakers, running to the bathroom to purge ounces from our bladders. The truth flashed onto the scale, evidence of a “good” or “bad” week. The line corralled next to a table selling dinner plates with patterns depicting proper meat-to-starch-to-vegetable ratios and serving spoons to ensure you only scoop half a cup of brown rice (white rice is evil). Miniature scales to make sure you did not accidentally grab four ounces of almonds instead of three. Keep on track. One day at a time. Continue Reading…

Binders, Dear Life., Guest Posts

Dear Life: Am I Falling In Love or Running Scared?

August 7, 2015

Dear Life,

About five months ago I met this amazing man and we kind of fell into a long distance relationship. I am in grad school in the US and he’s in the UK here he owns his own business. He’s smart, achingly kind, adventurous, funny, charming and empathetic. I’m really attracted to him. He’s basically everything I’ve been looking for in a partner and then some.

Yet here is what is happening: I feel like squirming, like a fish in a net. I find myself rocked by doubts. But they are usually not about him- but about me. I am constantly worried if he likes me, if he finds me boring, if he’s going to wake up one day and realise being with me is too much work and I’m not worth it.

I spent my spring break with him where we went away to this romantic little weekend in the countryside and instead of feeling a calm sense of peace with him all I felt was panic. Panic that he would be bored, panic that I was not interesting. I couldn’t shake it. I was wracked by anxiety.

I also find myself nitpicking with him. For example, I worry that when we discuss ideas we only discuss them for 20 minutes- not an hour like I used to with my ex. I want him to tell me, with words, how he feels about me like: all the time. Even though he SHOWS me in a million different ways.

There’s a lot I could tell you about myself to provide some background context on who I am and why I feel this way. I guess the important thing is, I know my shit. I know what I do in the world that is incompatible with falling in love and I’ve come a long way in terms of being able to manage that same shit. I’ve struggled with anxiety, I’ve had a loving albeit chaotic childhood and I’m a very type-A, high achieving person. And I feel that today, after a LOT of work, I’m starting to feel OK with who I am.

I know that I have a hard time feeling vulnerable and truthfully, I know he does too. I know that I tend to keep one foot on the ground and I SO want to change that. And I feel like I could fall in love with this new person if I would just let myself. But here’s what I don’t know:

Is my anxiety self inflicted, is it a product of our long distance or is it because something is fundamentally not right with us? How can I possibly know when I feel unsure in any relationship that I’m in? How can I not throw away a good thing?

I want to trust my gut, but my gut and my anxious spiraling brain can sometimes feel like the same thing and only one is worth paying attention to.


Falling in love or running scared?

Continue Reading…

Binders, Guest Posts

After Striking A Fixed Object

July 22, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By LaToya Jordan

I was jerked awake by the swerving of the car as it raced towards the median. I remember the sound of hands, my aunt’s hands; she pounded the steering wheel trying to make it stop spinning, make the car stop moving. I screamed, we all screamed. I sucked my teeth, said this isn’t happening, can’t be happening. Silence right before impact, the screams of metal and voices vacuumed out of the car; so quiet only heartbeats remained. 

The vehicle rolled approximately three times, the first roll was a barrel roll, driver’s side leading, after striking a fixed object.

I woke with the belief that my skin was made of ice, a chill, a chatter deep inside my bones. Grit in my mouth. I spit the grit, pieces of my teeth in my hand and I wanted to be on a warm beach holding a handful of sand. I wanted to let the wind take the sand from my hand and be left with tiny white slivers of seashells. There was a lot of blood, my blood, and there was a woman’s voice. When I stared at the blood soaking the tissue or towel or blanket she told me to press the something to my face to stop the bleeding. I thought I was going to die a virgin. It was cold and dark though it was morning. Someone cocooned me in blankets. The only light I saw was when I looked up. My mother screamed. Helicopter blades sliced open the sky. The man in the helicopter had warm eyes and he was on the beach with me and we held flecks of shells in our hands. It was so easy to speak to him through my eyes, to be intimate with a stranger when I thought I might die. He tried to start an IV and the needle hurt. I was bleeding from my face, spitting out teeth, and my body was numb, yet the needle hurt.

11/29/97 treated for SHOCK/TRAUMA

This will sting a little, the doctor said. Needles into the gashes to numb. He pieced my face back together. A stitch, a stitch, another stitch. A radio was on in the background. My brain sometimes adds details to the story that weren’t there that day, like the song on the radio was Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind” for Princess Diana. She died in a car crash on August 31, 1997. In this created memory I say to myself, at least I can be sewn back together.

This will sting a little.

There’s a part of the brain that controls fear called the amygdala. It is almond shaped. My amygdala has a super power. It transforms every car I ride in into a gray Mercury Sable GS with 82,876 miles on it. It sends me back to the New Jersey Turnpike on November 29, 1997. I get to be 19 again and again. My amygdala rewired my body; my right leg now directly connected to fear. Whenever I’m a passenger in a car my leg pounds the floor in search of a brake. Sometimes I have to hold my thigh to calm my leg. I don’t have the power to turn this off. The motion is like a breath, like a heartbeat. I don’t know how to make my stomach feel like it is not being jerked, like it is not heading towards a median, like it is not flipping over three times across the highway after striking a fixed object. I don’t know how to make my brain shut up.

When in cars I talk to my amygdala.

I hush it.         (but the vehicle rolled three times)

I rock it.          (but the first roll was a barrel roll)

I tell it             (but it struck a fixed object)


is going

to be okay.

(But I can’t forget)

The first time I saw my face in the mirror, I thought, “Frankenstein made a new monster.” A line of stitches, from the right side of my mouth and down across my neck. These new mouths sewn tightly shut but they mumbled so loud.

This will sting a little. Pink skin bubbled out of my scar like lava, forming a new tough skin. A pink protrusion. When the bubbling stopped, I looked in the mirror and saw someone that was not the real me, an evil twin. How would people know this wasn’t the real me?

On physical examination there are two very distinct and two very minor scars of the right side of the face. The distinct areas are at the lower facial border at the angle of the mandible and on the left upper neck. The larger of the scars is 4.5 x 1 cm in size, this crosses the mandibular angle. The prominent scar of the left neck is 4 x 1.2 cm.

Prominent. A few synonyms: protruding or sticking out or

keloid. Defined as irregular or abnormal scar tissue. Also defined as when your body becomes wet pavement after the rain and a slimy and thick pink or brown earthworm crawls across your skin and settles in, this spot is comfortable. Or you are a tree and your body grows berries, skin fruit that hangs at the site of your ear piercing or your belly piercing or your acne scars. You, with your irregular and abnormal skin fruit for all to see, bulging.

This will sting a little. I covered my mirrors, borrowing something I learned from Jewish friends, sitting shiva for my former self. Here lies a pretty 19-year-old girl. Who will ever love her?

And the sting kept stinging. Not a little. It held venom that paralyzed me. It was hard to get out of bed. I managed to go through the motions for college classes but my average dropped because sometimes I felt like the cracks in my face had been super glued back together, another fall would destroy me. I raged. I wrote pages of stinging words: I’m a monster and no man will ever want me. I got lost inside the sting; I couldn’t escape its grasp. I was too afraid to tell my friends and family how I was feeling. I let them see a stronger version of me, window dressing to hide the pain that ate me from the inside out.

There, in the mirror, is a gray car that flipped three times. There, in the mirror is the bloody face and broken body and all the things I remember and all the things I don’t. There, are the things beyond my control. I go to the bathroom to brush my teeth and wash my face and sometimes the accident is there. Good morning, car accident. How are you today?

How many people will be in car accidents today? I don’t know, but every time a person is killed in a car crash in the U.S. their body is marked on a list of the Fatality Analysis Reporting System. In 2013, 32,719 people died in car accidents. That’s 89 people dead a day. They’re probably still counting the bodies from 2014.

Raise your hand if you’ve been in a car accident. Raise your hand if you were nervous or terrified about getting back into a car after that accident. Raise your hand if your heart beats fast just thinking about getting into a car. Raise your hand if you never drive. Raise your hand if you are a prisoner of that road or street or stretch of highway. Are they counting our hands? I wish I could see your hands. I wish I could calm your legs when you press those imaginary brakes. You are my people. Are you scared? Are you scarred? How do you cope? Is it meds? Is it meditation? Do people tell you that you should get over it already? Sing this song to the get over it people:

            scar tissue that I wish you saw

            sarcastic mister know-it-all…

            with the bird I’ll share this lonely view.

42,013 died in car accidents in 1997. 115 people in the U.S. probably died on November 29, 1997. I was not one of them.

I was not one of them. Not anymore, not normal. I didn’t want the normals to look at me because they would see my scar, two very distinct and two very minor scars of the right side of the face. All the normal people who knew me, their eyes changed. I saw sorry, I’m so sorry in their eyes. I saw them remembering the old me. (This lonely view.) With them I tried to wear the I’m still the same person hat. I wore real hats. I wore my hair combed in my face. I wore a scarf to cover my neck and mouth when I went outside. Don’t look at me, my eyes pleaded, don’t look at the very distinct bull’s eye on my face.

I wasn’t prepared for how much words from strangers would sting.

You’re pretty, still, he said. Continue Reading…

Anonymous, Eating Disorders/Healing, Guest Posts

Hello, Dessert

June 29, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Anonymous

Meeting my friend at a coffee shop I’ve never been to, I do a double take on the pastry case. Oh my god. It’s them. I’ve seen them a few times recently at middling mom and pop places in LA and it sends a shiver up my spine. I see the bars, lemon, pecan, brownie, all uniform, the size of a deck of cards and I taste ipecac in my mouth. It was twenty years ago but I can still remember timing it so that I would take the medicine right after closing so that I could throw up in the store’s sink when I locked the door. Then I could go home. I didn’t like working with other people because then I’d have to suffer through sharing a cookie with them (normal people liked to share cookies) and having to properly digest it, with only a six mile run the next day to combat the half an oatmeal. The normal girls I worked with shrugging as they chewed. My anxiety ratching up to an eleven.  Trying to figure out how to undo the crime while still committing it. I didn’t like working with other people, but I faked it.

I remember how it was my job to sign for the deliveries, the big chilled boxes from the corporate dessert provider, aptly named, La Dessert. Each box, like a cold record player in my arms, as I lined them up in the back refrigerator, writing the date with my sharpie the day they arrived so we could keep them ‘fresh’ (read a month). I was in an in between time. I had returned to my parents home in La Jolla from Colorado where I was a sophomore in college and the school shrink had coolly one interview with me and  said, you need to leave school, you have a severe eating disorder. My mother was not happy about it. The only eating disorder she understood was a fear of running out of things to eat. (Same coin. Different side. You learn stuff. You transmute it.)

I had dropped out of college because despite trying to stay and ‘fix myself’, as my mother had suggested (good plan- always have a nineteen year in crisis ‘fix themselves’) things had gotten worse.  I tried to explain that I had lost my ability to do the normal things to be a normal person she told me I needed to stay and finish the quarter because leaving would be too costly. I am not sure if I used words to explain that I couldn’t stop exercising every time I ate half a cup of broccoli, that my period had stopped and I no longer talked to actual people because I was sure they were thinking how fat and disgusting all ninety pounds of me was, but I do know that I asked for help. I was too ashamed to say the other things plus, now I only wanted to be ninety pounds forever but it was untenable to just sweat, eat, and record, so it was confusing.  But I did ask for help. Continue Reading…

Binders, feminism, Guest Posts

The Man in My House

June 23, 2015

By Teri Carter

The first thing he shows me is his ID badge, his authenticity.  The badge hangs around his neck on a new blue lanyard but the ID itself is hidden inside a thick plastic case with white spots where his eyes are supposed to be.  He holds up the badge.  “I’m showing you my badge,” he almost whispers.  And when I don’t acknowledge the badge, don’t acknowledge that he is who he says he is, he holds it higher, closer to my face.  “This is my badge, see.” And I say yes, yes I see it, yes I see you, sure, come on in, even though all I can really make out is the worn plastic case.  The evil-seeming, white, rubbed out, ghost spots for his eyes.  How many times, I wonder, do I let a strange man — a man I don’t know, a man I’m not sure about, feel odd about, a man who strikes me as not-right-to-be-here-with-me-alone – into my house?

I am reading The Burning by Jane Casey.  The story of woman detective after a serial killer.  I have not read a book like this in more than 20 years, and I still remember the exact moment, the exact night, I knew I could no longer read books like this. I was in my bed in my apartment under a flowered navy blue bedspread.  It was after midnight.  The lamp beside me cast a round shadow on the ceiling above as I read the true crime story of Jeffrey MacDonald murdering his family.  I remember thinking, ‘what dad butchers his entire family?”  I remember setting Fatal Vision down, forever unfinished, and turning out the light.  And sometime that following week, I buried that book in the bottom of my trash and took the trash out.  I could not read it, but even more I could not even have the story of this man in my house. Continue Reading…

Binders, cancer, Guest Posts

Twisted Sheets and Gaping Holes

June 7, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Rebecca Chamaa

I am in the middle of my second breast cancer scare.  Last year at this time, I was going through numerous tests, mammograms, ultrasounds, and visits to specialists.  There were the phone calls, “Well we didn’t find anything, but we want you to get another test.”  There was the waiting.  There was my heart that races the speed of a marathon runner whenever I enter a doctor’s office.  Again, there was the waiting.

In the midst of all of that, and again today, I think about dying.  Mostly I think about my husband.  What will our bed look like if I no longer take the right half?  He jokingly asks me often, “What do you do while you sleep to get the bedcovers to look like that?  It’s a mess.  They are all twisted.”  If I die, will he wake to a bed that only needs a little adjusting to be perfectly made?

The hole that either of our absences would leave in this house is like a crater – it couldn’t be walked around, it couldn’t be ignored, it would be unavoidable, and all consuming.  The edges would be where the rest of our life was hanging, hanging over an opening that would threaten to swallow the one left behind.  Swallow?  How would either of us eat again after sharing all our dinners at the little table built for two?

I told my husband yesterday, that if I have cancer, and I am dying, that it isn’t all bad.  “I want to die before you,” I said.  “What?”  He asked.  “That is so selfish.  Okay, you can die before me, but not now.  Not this young.  I want to retire.  I want to go places.  I have plans.  No, you can’t die this young.  Not now.” Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, healing, love

Perfectly Imperfect

May 31, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Melissa Dodson

I’ve never felt Enough.

I’ve always felt Less Than.

I’ve belittled and berated myself. I’ve put myself down. I’ve told myself all of the lies that I can’t and I won’t and I should and I shouldn’t. I’m too fat. I’m not pretty. I’m not good. I’m not worthy. I’ve shamed myself. I’ve starved and binged and purged myself, all the way down to 73 pounds at the age of 19. I’ve wanted to disappear. I’ve hurt myself and cut myself, before cutting was even a thing. I’ve swallowed pills and puked them back up. I’ve smoked the pipe, and emptied bottle after bitter bottle until poison filled my belly and ran through my veins, so that the only way out was getting pumped out of my stomach in a sterile hospital room. I’ve looked for love in the worst places, with the wrong kind of men. The kind that don’t respect me, don’t see me, don’t care about me. That want to hurt me, with their words and their minds, and their hands and their bodies. I’ve been in harms way. Too many times. I’ve made bad choices. Too many times. I went back after he pushed me, again after he hit me, and kicked me, and dragged me by my hair. And again and again. I went back when I knew he could kill me. I went back when I knew that I might not make it out alive. I’ve been beaten down and gotten back up, more times than I can count. At the mercy of the vicious hands of an abuser.

I was lucky. I did make it out alive. And even luckier, I did find someone who loves me. He sees me and hears me. He is gentle with me, and to me. He loves me and likes me. He wants me. He cherishes me. He’s made a life and a family with me. A good life. A happy life. A beautiful family. But…. But. Behind it all, I still wait for the shoe to drop. The luck to run out. I wait for him to know what I know. That I’m not good. That I’m not worthy. That I’m not enough. That I’m less than. Continue Reading…

cancer, Grief, Guest Posts


May 25, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Trish Cook

“Scared,” my dad croaks, pointing painstakingly at me, then my brother, then my mom.

It’s an understatement.

We’ve summoned his personal physician to our home today to hopefully deny, but probably confirm, our suspicions: The cancer has gone to his brain.

We hold our collective breath as the doctor asks my father, “Who is the President of the United States?”

An underwater, foggy pause. Finally, Dad replies, “Reagan.”

The three healthy people in the room exhale a sigh of relief. He got it right! This must count for something, we think. A small shred of hope still inhabits the homey little den we’re all crowded into. Our prayers, crossed fingers, and wishes on stars and eyelashes might yet magically release him from cancer’s insidious clutches.

My dad is only fifty-two on this day. I am twenty-four, though, so both he and the non-descript middle-aged male doctor seem something close to old to me. Not old old, sitting in a rocking chair waiting to die old, but old enough to have really lived, to have really made it count. I hold on to this thought, stroke it for comfort inside my head like a beloved baby blanket. Even if Dad doesn’t beat this thing in the end, at least he made it far enough to look back and know he lived a long and satisfying life.

Today, at fifty, this notion seems ridiculous. My father was not old then, just as I am not old now. Not nearly old enough to die willingly, anyway, or to feel as though everything that needed accomplishing had been accomplished. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Pregnancy, Relationships

I Used To Believe In Magic

April 18, 2015

By Natalie D-Napoleon

My father was an atheist who believed that facts and science were the only thing worth basing your life on.  My mother is a Catholic, and believes in faith and prayer. Me? I used to believe in magic.


I’m embarrassed to say I believed Santa existed until I was 11, and my mother had to tell me he wasn’t real. I was the eldest child of four and the eldest cousin of 11, so there were no older siblings or cousins to pop my magic-believing bubble.

From the mystical power of pyramids to prevent cheese from molding and hanging upside down in yoga poses to increase the capacity of my brain I graduated to an interest in tarot cards, Jung and astrology. Jung’s signs of synchronicity and deja vu governed my life for a time, and their appearance I always took as a pointer that my life was going in the right direction; that magic was happening and I was where I needed to be in that moment.

But over time I stopped believing in magic. Magic was lies adults told to children to get them to behave, it was mythology and fairy tales, serendipity and synchronicity. The adult world taught me those things no longer existed, that magic was for children, and for those who wanted to stay children longer than they should.

My father had always been right. Magic was for those who are by nature dreamers, and my dreams had become boring, tedious, painful and adult.


I was sitting in my Mazda 3 in the parking lot of the university where I worked, on my cell phone, talking to Steve and sobbing.  “I can’t do it. I can’t do exploratory surgery when we don’t even know for sure if that will give us the answers we’re looking for.”

“Nat, I don’t know what to say.  Do you want to get pregnant or not?”

“I do, but…”

“Then have the laparoscopy, don’t cancel it.”

“I can’t. She said in most cases they don’t even find anything. It’s exploratory surgery. I just… I can’t do it.”

I called back the doctor’s office where I’d just finished completing my admissions forms for a laparoscopy and endoscopy in eight weeks’ time, and cancelled the surgery.


For two and a half years we had been trying to get pregnant.

We had tried everything.

I’d had blood tests every morning for weeks to track my hormones at a fertility clinic, plastered with pictures of happy mothers and families with babies on the walls; we’d fucked like rabbits in every position imaginable; and, finally we’d tried the Creighton Model Fertility Care System – no invasive techniques for this natural couple.  The CMFS involved a system of tracking cervical mucus using an infuriating and methodical system of checking wiped toilet tissue and recording my cervical mucus consistency, length and color, every day of the month to determine when I was ovulating. All the while we watched my best friend get pregnant, twice, my sister in law unknowingly use the girl’s name I’d picked, Lillian, and attended so many first birthday parties for our friends’ children that they now outnumbered the adult parties we went to.

It was not long after that that I ended up in the bathroom with a men’s Bic safety razor in my hands.


Steve screamed from the other side of the door at me to open it or he was going to smash it in.

I hated the fact that I loved my possessions so much and the door of my house so much that I couldn’t stand the thought of it being smashed. Fuck! I hated that money was so tight I hated spending it on anything unnecessary – for the sake of him finding me balling with a shaving razor in my hand.

I unlocked the door. And I sobbed a cry from so deep inside me that I thought I might never regain my “self”.  I wasn’t really going to slash my wrists but I was so desperate for a way out of the thousandth fight/conversation/emotional meltdown about our fertility problems that I didn’t know what else to do.

I was grieving for the loss of my fertility, my relationship, my music career, and my dreams of having a child to play on the lawn we had tended to in the yard. We had dug the trenches for the reticulation with my dad who had also helped us lay the pipe and solder it to the water main. We had spread the fertilizer on the ground, then worked in the lawn runners, watered it every day for the first month, then two or three times a week after that to get the runners to take. The lawnmower guy came over once every two weeks to mow it. And I spent my free time hand-weeding, to make sure there were no pesticides or herbicides used on our property.

The lawn was verdant and lush was waiting for tiny feet. All the while we tended to our lawn I had visions of my child or children running around on the grass, playing, giggling, and falling down.

Being safe, being home.

Instead I was sitting at the edge of the bath tub sobbing; impotent and holding a man’s safety razor in my hands.  There was no magic left in my life only the grinding reality of our infertility.


I met Steve when I bought a Rickenbacker on lay-away from him at a local music store.  I had started my first band and we’d just started gigging. When I returned the fourth time to make my last payment I asked Steve if he knew anyone who gave electric guitar lessons. He answered, “Yeah, I do.” We set up a date and a time to meet at his place and I set off with those little moths of impending love beating their wings in my chest.

When I turned up for my first guitar lesson synchronicity seemed to be at work again when I noticed he had a block-mounted poster of Susannah Hoffs from the Bangles propped against the wall in his bedroom, holding her black and white Rickenbacker, the same model as mine. I went for a guitar lesson, we started dating and I and never got another formal lesson from him – a running joke in our relationship.

When we separated I sold that Rickenbacker to fund the first solo EP I recorded, “After the Flood”.


We fell in love then moved in together eight months later, just after I turned 22.  He convinced me the guys in my band weren’t on my musical trajectory, so I broke up the band before it had run its course. I wanted to move on and fulfil my musical vision, and I let him convince me we could write better songs together.

The first song we wrote together happened so easily I thought that was the sign confirming that fate was at work once again. The song had a haunting guitar part in open D tuning. I began to sing over the chords and the words of the chorus tumbled out of my mouth, a gift, “My fear of falling eats me and it swallows me up / My fear of falling eats me and it fills my cup.”

After this Steve was never happy unless we wrote a song together. Once we’d started performing together as an acoustic duo, I wrote three songs on my own and played them to him, hungry for feedback. He made no comment on the songs, but instead asked, “What about me, where’s my place in this?  I…I just don’t know where my place is in our duo if you go off and write songs on your own.”

I enrolled in a Master of Arts in Creative Writing and withdrew because he said I needed to choose what I wanted to do, play music or write, because I couldn’t do both.

My problem was I wanted to do everything.

My problem was I was too afraid to follow my dreams.

My partner and I were like idealistic children adrift in a sea of adult responsibility, clinging to each other, yet drowning the other person in our panic to hang onto our dreams.

That was it, the map of what was to become was all there in that first song. The pomegranate had been split open, Persephone had taken a bite. From this song on I would be forever trapped in this underworld of my own making.


I wasn’t “ill” but I was suffering physically. Infertility leaves its sufferers in an illness purgatory. I didn’t look sick, but my body was painfully and clearly failing to do what it should: to make a baby, grow a baby, and bring a baby into the world.

There was not a single person in our family or social circle who had dealt with infertility. Admitting our struggle to family and friends only made the situation worse. “You two just need to relax,” became the empty advice mantra, which implied our problems were the fault of our character or attitude, rather than a fault of our bodily functions. So, from then on we vowed to keep our struggles “personal” and by implication secret and cloaked in shame. I took it upon myself to solve the problem by becoming consumed with the task of getting pregnant, and it was the one thing that filled my every waking hour.

Having a child would save our relationship and the life I’d built with my partner, Steve, who I had loved desperately, had imagined growing old with, having children with and continuing to share my creative musical life with.

The doctor we were working with in the Crighton Model Fertility System sent me back to the fertility clinic to get another hormonal blood work up, to track my levels of Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH), estrogen and progesterone levels, which involved returning every second day for almost two weeks. The marks on my easily bruised arms covered up by Band-Aids and long-sleeved tops.

I had to believe making a child involved some sort of combination of magic, voodoo and timing we hadn’t yet worked out the hidden formula to. The answer was there, all we needed to do was hang on as we’d been doing for the last two and a half years.


“Nat you have to check his phone.” I talking to my best friend Donna and she was getting annoyed with me and the high moral ground stance I’d taken.

“But I can’t, it’s not fair. I can’t go behind his back and do that. That’s not the type of person I am. I’ve asked him, I’ve asked him already 20 times. He said there’s nothing going on with her.”

Then she told me she saw it, a few other people saw it. He was playing with her bracelet at my birthday party at a local craft brewery, and it wasn’t the action alone, but the intimacy of the gesture. This was another incident to add to the list of events that had transpired in the last seven months and cumulated with the bracelet-touching incident.

The phone, his phone had become the thing.

Steve spent most of his free time checking his phone, holding it underneath the table during most of my cousin’s wedding, disappearing around corners to check it, and leaving the table at family dinners. His cell phone’s constant beeping became a background to our home life and he spent most of his time hiding from me, tapping away text messages, searching for a way out.

During this week the intensity of his phone use increased, and the woman I suspected he’d been texting had been away in Europe for that week with her boyfriend visiting family. I knew it was her, but it couldn’t be her. We’d been camping together, had couples’ dinners together, I had worked with her just before I left the college.  She had a handsome, gentle, intelligent boyfriend who loved her. She’d been to my house and admired my things, picked up my grandmother’s blue 60’s Jeanie bottle, touched it and complimented me on my taste. The two of them had been working together at the college for seven months, in a job I’d gotten for him since another of his musical ventures had failed and I’d moved on to ESL teaching.

The next morning was a Saturday; while Steve had a shower I got up and grabbed his phone off our cream linoleum kitchen bench. I opened it quickly before I could second guess myself again and read the first text. It was from her:

“I L U & I miss U. Can’t w8 2 C U again. XXX.”

And one before from him, “1 wk 2 go til I C U again. I L U. XXX”

Just like that a knife had been taken to my heart and popped the magic believing bubble that held our love and our life together.

Babies lost, a lawn untread by children’s feet, songs never to be recorded and falling, falling with nowhere to land.

A line from ‘Fear of Falling’, the first song we wrote together, echoed through my mind as the room began to move, “Eve felt it too, that cold, wet, dark drop / Eve felt the fall before the apple dropped”.

I grabbed the edge of the kitchen sink and as if in some Lifetime B-grade film the walls of the room closed in towards me, the ground beneath me seemed to ripple. By the time I was able to breathe again I bolted to our en-suite and shoved the messages in his face as he stepped out of the shower naked.

He had no lies or excuses left. I knew; I had known all along. Our relationship was over. Like watching a structurally unsound high rise building get demolished by explosives the trying was over. It felt good to know where I stood once again. The walls stopped moving, the ground stood still and I knew from this moment on that there would be no more shame or secrets or lies. Only the solid ground I chose to walk on beneath my feet.


After we separated I continued seeing the couples’ therapist we had been to. One afternoon I went in for a solo appointment and told her about a dream I’d had that morning.

“I was underground, in a tunnel. This strange man had captured me and had kept me there for a long time. I was in a foreign country, somewhere in South-East Asia, maybe Malaysia. And all I had to eat was noodles. He gave me the same thing to eat every day. Noodles. The strange thing was, when I ate the noodles he let me go above ground, where we would eat in an outdoor restaurant, with a thatched roof, by the roadside. That was the best part of the day; I liked that, being out of the dark tunnel. In the dream I decided I’d finally had enough, so I told him, ‘I’m sick of eating noodles. I don’t want to eat the same thing anymore’. And I just got up and walked away into the street, disappearing into a crowd of people. I didn’t look back and he didn’t come after me or try to stop me.”

“Well, I don’t think you need me to tell you what that means,” she smiled. “I guess you won’t be eating noodles anymore.”


What happened to magic? The answer is I still play music, but I learned to ignore the voice that told me I couldn’t write songs or perform alone. I recorded an album of songs I wrote in the United States called “Leaving Me Dry”, with the help of a group of like-minded musicians. I began writing again and recently re-enrolled in a Master’s of Writing. I met a man, Brett, who helped me heal, who is kind and gentle and lets me be the person I need to be. We eloped and got married in California. Then, when we were ready I scheduled an endoscopy and laparoscopy.

Two days before the surgery I received an email from Steve. The subject of the email seemed neutral enough so I opened it. Inside the email he told me that the she of the text messages and he were married and pregnant. For the last time I put aside my pride and hurt, and the feelings of fear I had for the wolf at the door. I opened the door a crack and replied, “Congratulations. I’m sure you’ll have the happy life you deserve together. BTW in two days’ time I’m going in to have a laparoscopy and endoscopy”.

It was no surprise to me when he never replied to my email.

When I had the surgery the surgeon discovered five lesions of endometriosis and a benign cyst on one ovary that he removed.

One month later, after I’d recovered from the surgery, I took the fertility drug Clomid, to help stimulate ovulation and increase egg production. Then I made myself a little shrine in my room, with a picture of the Virgin Mary, a Buddha statue, a rock of amethyst and Brett’s favorite sea shell. Then I prayed to a higher power for the child I’d always dreamt of. I told my mother we were trying, and she said she’d pray for me. I didn’t say anything to my father, I knew he’d say it would all come down to science and medicine, and that it would be up to sperm and eggs and fallopian tubes and mucus to function in the way they were meant to.

I fell pregnant the first month we tried after the surgery.

I no longer dream of running through dark tunnels.

I started eating noodles again.

Sometimes magic comes when you call it, and sometimes no matter how hard you try, even magic needs a little help from fate and science.

Natalie D-Napoleon was raised on a farm on the outskirts of, Perth, Western Australia. She began writing poetry at ten years of age to cure her childhood insomnia. For 20 years she toured and performed as a singer-songwriter playing shows from Sweden, across Australia and in the United States. Currently, she lives in California and works as a writing tutor at a community college while completing a Master of Arts in Writing. She has had short stories, poetry and editorials published at The Manifest-Station, Literary Orphans, LA Yoga Magazine and The Santa Barbara News-Press.
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The 12 Day Detox is here. Sign up now for May 25th cleanse. Space is limited. This detox comes at just the perfect time. Reprogram your body and mind as we move into the new season of spring. This is your time of rejuvenation and renewal.This is not a juice fast, or a detox based on deprivation.

Mother's Day Retreat! Join Jen Pastiloff in Ojai, Calif this May for a life-changing weekend retreat. May 8-10th. No yoga experience required. Just be a human being.  Click photo to book.   "Here’s the thing about Jen Pastiloff, folks. Here’s the revolutionary thing. She listens. She listens with an intent focus, a focus that follows your words inside you. Because she has hearing problems, she watches your lips as you speak, and she plucks the ash of your words from the air and takes it inside herself and lays it beside her heart, where before too long your words start beating as if they were strong, capable, living mammals. And then she gives them back to you. Boiled down, this is the secret to Jen’s popularity. She can call what she does Beauty Hunting–she is for sure out there helping people find beauty. She can start a campaign called “Don’t be an asshole” and remind us all to stop a second and please, please, please be our better selves. She can use words like attention, space, time, connection, intimacy. She can ask participants to answer questions like What gets in your way? What stories are you carrying around in your body? What makes you come alive? Who would you be if nobody told you who you were? All of that is what it is. But why it works is because of her kind of listening. And what her kind of listening does is simple: It saves lives." ~ Jane Eaton Hamilton.

Mother’s Day Retreat! Join Jen Pastiloff in Ojai, Calif this May for a life-changing weekend retreat. May 8-10th. No yoga experience required. Just be a human being. Click photo to book.
“Here’s the thing about Jen Pastiloff, folks. Here’s the revolutionary thing.
She listens.
She listens with an intent focus, a focus that follows your words inside you. Because she has hearing problems, she watches your lips as you speak, and she plucks the ash of your words from the air and takes it inside herself and lays it beside her heart, where before too long your words start beating as if they were strong, capable, living mammals. And then she gives them back to you.
Boiled down, this is the secret to Jen’s popularity. She can call what she does Beauty Hunting–she is for sure out there helping people find beauty. She can start a campaign called “Don’t be an asshole” and remind us all to stop a second and please, please, please be our better selves. She can use words like attention, space, time, connection, intimacy. She can ask participants to answer questions like What gets in your way? What stories are you carrying around in your body? What makes you come alive? Who would you be if nobody told you who you were? All of that is what it is. But why it works is because of her kind of listening.
And what her kind of listening does is simple:
It saves lives.” ~ Jane Eaton Hamilton.

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. Yoga + Writing + Connection. We go deep. Bring an open heart and a sense of humor- that's it! Summer or Fall 2015. It is LIFE CHANGING!

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. Yoga + Writing + Connection. We go deep. Bring an open heart and a sense of humor- that’s it! Summer or Fall 2015. It is LIFE CHANGING!


Featured image by Joe Longo.