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Binders, Dear Life., Guest Posts, Relationships

Dear Life: Is This The End of My Relationship?

March 10, 2015
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Welcome to Dear Life: An Unconventional Advice Column.

Your questions get sent to various authors from around the world to answer (and please keep sending because I have like 567 writers that want to answer your burning questions. Click here to submit a letter or email dearlife@jenniferpastiloff.com.) Different writers offer their input when it comes to navigating through life’s messiness. We are “making messy okay.” Today’s letter is answered by MaryBeth Bonfiglio.

Send us your questions because there loads of crazy authors waiting to answer ‘em. Just kidding, they aren’t crazy.

Well okay, maybe a little. Aren’t we all? xo, Jen Pastiloff, Crazy Beauty Hunter. ps, I will see you in NJ & Philly in a couple weeks at my Manifestation Workshop: On Being Human! NYC sold for March 21st is sold out. :(

The 12 Day Detox is here. Sign up now. 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.

The 12 Day Detox is here. Sign up now. 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.

Dear Life,

I met my current husband when my daughter was 14. We met online. His profile stated clearly that he wanted to meet someone without children. She was not a child anymore. She was a teenager and perfectly able to stay home alone on my date nights. He agreed to date me, and after the third date, we continued. Eight and a half years later, we are still together and married.

Should I have seen the early warning signs? Should I have noticed how she bristled in his presence, how he became awkward and uncomfortable in hers? Should I have paid more attention to that first major fight they got into about how much cheese she wanted to buy when we went on that first trip together to Santa Fe, the nausea that ensued for me, the migraine? My body was being very clear with me, but I ignored it.

She was 16 at the time, and I chalked it up to her never wanting to accept anyone else in my life.  I never moved him into our house. To this day, we still live apart due to work circumstances. To this day, we live apart due to more than that when I’m truthful about it.

She’s 23 now, and things are worse than ever. She’s learned to stand up for herself. She notices the language of control. She hears the cadence of judgment. She will not abide with his way of being. Recently, her car broke down and she called to get my help with the situation. While I was speaking with her, he had a suggestion. She heard him in the background, and told me to tell him that this was between us. He would not be quiet. He persisted. So, I handed him the phone. It was the biggest mistake I could have made. He kept trying to tell her his suggestion, while she was trying to tell him that it was a bigger problem, but he wouldn’t listen to her. Then he said, “You never listen to me!” She hung up on him.

Emails have ensued between them. He feels he’s owed an apology. She has, but with an explanation for how she was feeling, which he did not accept. I think he needs to drop it, and move on, but that’s not his way.

I’ve seen him lose many friends over these eight and a half years over smaller infractions. And now he’s got my daughter in his cross-hairs. My inclination is to step in front of his aim this time. This is my daughter. Yes, she hung up. But it’s not black and white. This time, I cannot, and I will not take his side.

I keep asking myself if this is going to be the moment, or the situation that will wreck this relationship. I don’t know if I can continue to be with a person who has burned many bridges with friends, and is now ready to sever ties with my daughter over this incident. No, it wasn’t the first time they’ve had a fight, and it wouldn’t be the last, but the absolutism of this argument, has me feeling sad and sick. She could get over it and move on for the sake of the situation, he could not.

At the end of the day, she’s my kiddo, and I love her more than life itself. He’s my current guy in a long line of long term relationships. He’s someone whose crazy matched my own in many ways. We get each other and it’s comfortable. We also have this great set up where we live apart during the week so I get my alone time, something I cherish. But not being able to share my joys and sorrows about the life of my one and only child with my partner seems like a gulf I cannot bridge. What about holidays? What happens when she gets married or has a child?   He can’t just break up with my kid!

The older I get, the more I realize that I can live the rest of my life on my own if I had to, something I don’t think I thought I could do eight years ago. It all seems to go back to that online post that I failed to pay attention to. Why do we so often fail to pay attention to the biggest signs even when they are spelled out so clearly? Is this the end?

Signed, Is This The End?

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!

Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, parenting, Special Needs

Before You Judge Me.

October 8, 2014
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By Rachel Pastiloff.

When you are out in the world, be it at a restaurant, grocery shopping, driving in traffic, or at the doctor’s office, and you see a child screaming and a mother losing her cool and grabbing that child by the arm and being stern: BE CAREFUL BEFORE YOU JUDGE THEM.

Be careful placing judgment upon others, for you know not what battles they are fighting.

Before you judge me, or anyone. Take a breath. Consider what you might not know. Look inward. Look outward. Whatever it is, realize this: you may never have any idea of someone else’s story, so judging them is a tricky business.

Continue Reading…

death, Grief, Guest Posts

24 Hours After Someone Dies.

October 3, 2014
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By Saul Seibert.

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24 Hours After Someone Dies:

Someone will ask you if you would like paper or plastic and the phone will ring because someone doesn’t know that someone has died or maybe they do and you think you know what they’ll say so you silence the call through your blue jeans and feel for your lighter…..it’s always in the last place you check.

The hymns that were sung moments ago are filled in with made up words that you can’t quite make fit.

One of your relatives says something stupid like, “It’s just a shame.”

I’ve said some dumb things before so I nod my head and look for an easy exit out of the small talk. Continue Reading…

5 Most Beautiful Things, Beauty Hunting, Contests & Giveaways, Guest Posts

BeautyHunting.

September 2, 2014
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By Jennifer Pastiloff.

I am so excited that Beauty Hunting is now a thing in the world. As you may or may not know, that’s the title of my book. Beauty Hunting. In fact, type in beautyhunting.com and you’ll see that it leads you….HERE! I want to make the idea of Beauty Hunting viral-a world of people scouring the earth for what lights them up, for what makes then nod their head Yes Yes Yes, for what makes them never want to give up searching for what is beautiful in a world that is sometimes not very forgiving. In a world that is filled with pain and loss and sadness and war and trash- to actively seek beauty.

And look, there isn’t just pain and loss and sadness and trash- there are births and cups of really good coffee and big wide ass smiles and flowers that smell so good you have to stop in your tracks. There’s all sorts of good stuff on the surface and also sometimes, very deep under the surface. Continue Reading…

And So It Is, Guest Posts

Late Bloomer.

June 16, 2014

LATE BLOOMER by Suzy Vitello.*

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So, today is my birthday. I’m 53. Yup. Fifty-fucking-three.

If I lived 100 years ago, I’d probably have false teeth by now.

And other hideous afflictions.

Thing is, in the possibility sector of my brain, I’m no different than I was as a teenager, sitting on my bed, staring at my red-and-white striped wallpaper, dreaming up various lives for myself.

When I was 22, living in Syracuse, New York, on year number five of school (I had this tendency to open up the class catalog and pick-a-major, any-major: English, Hindi, Anthropology, Communications, Dietetics. In that order. Just paid off my undergrad debt a few years ago), there was this long claw-foot bath soak where I dreamt up a life in which I’d change my name to Rose and live in Paris. Yup, pretty cliché.

But then the winter came, and Syracuse has this condition called “squalls” that last until May, and my second senior year there were lots and lots of squalls. So, one day, I picked up an issue of Cosmo. At the time, the magazine ran these features called “What it’s Like to Live and Work in ___.” February, 1984 the focus was on Phoenix. I read the piece in a café trying to wait out the squall, and in the twenty minutes it took for the sideways, pelting snow to abate, I’d decided that come graduation, I was moving to the desert. That’s right! A place I’d never even considered before, but hey! I was graduating with a degree in therapeutic nutrition, and there were lots of old people in Phoenix who might need a person to counsel them on low cholesterol diets. Certainly, I’d find a good job there, right?

I moved to Phoenix with my first husband and a mutt named Mandy in July of ‘84. July! In an un-airconditioned Dodge Colt. And, sure enough, I found employment. Of the minimum wage variety. A series of shitty jobs – the worst of which was as a cocktail waitress in a retirement community. The only “counseling” I did was to slap the liver-spotted hands of octogenarians who were pinching my ass.

When I look back on the three Phoenix years, I see them as this sort of interstitial purgatory. Despite having written since I was eight, during those young adult years in the desert, I cracked not one book or journal. I channeled my creative energy into banal stuff like stenciling borders on the walls of my house (remember that craze?), and making jewelry out of fimo clay (yet another craze).

But here’s my point:

I’ve been stop-start writing since third grade. As a kid, I first learned the word prosaic, a term my mother ascribed to my first work of lyricism. I offer said poem herewith:

Spring

Spring is when the flowers bloom.

With snow gone, there’s lots of room.

Birds chirping while building their nests.

When mother-bird takes her turn, father-bird rests.

The tip-tap of rainfalls,

the sound of mate calls,

is spring.

While my mother critiqued the piece, finding nothing poetic in it at all save for the onomatopoeic tip-tap, my third grade teacher, a square-shaped, red-headed battle axe of a woman named Mrs. Angle, held the effort up in front of the class, and read it out loud as though it were coated in honey. I enjoyed an entire week of popularity. Mrs. Angle, having scolded me for daydreaming on my report card, redeemed me by pronouncing me a Writer!

My mother, however, wanted me to try again. And, bless her heart, she was right. But I never did return to that poem, instead, I moved to prose, and never looked back until, in Freshman English at Syracuse, I was asked to write a paper on Eliot’s Prufrock. That may have been my first real immersive experience with a body of work, and was cause for another teacher-fawning moment—which, I must admit, I lived for.

But with all of that praise comes the fear of failure. When someone loves something you did, you’re bound to disappoint them next time. So I took up with science and home economics (to this day, I’m the shittiest cook I know, and forget about the other domestic arts) and became a nutritionist. All the while, stories stewed inside me. Through much of my twenties, I scribbled things on scraps of paper, which I often destroyed, thinking that I might die in an accident, and they’d be found. And read!

At twenty-eight, as a young widow with two babies and a small pile of cash, I moved to Portland and jumped into the deep end. Teachers or no, I learned how to write for an audience that included myself. I began to submit my stories to journals and to get them published. I won some awards. I went back to school for an MFA and won more awards. But I just couldn’t crack the “book” thing, and I had to admit to myself that part of the problem was, I was still wanting to turn that Spring poem into something my mother would like.

A few years ago The New Yorker ran a piece by Malcolm Gladwell, Late Bloomers. The article tossed around a lot of preconceptions about genius and talent and precocity. One of the most interesting points was based upon research done by an economist from the University of Chicago named David Galenson, who undertook the challenge to disprove assumptions about creativity and age, particularly the idea that poets and artists peak young. What he discovered was that prodigies don’t tend to engage in open-ended exploration, and that they are typically concept-driven; they have an idea, and then go for it, rather than painstakingly researching the way many non-prodigies do. In the article, Galenson is quoted as saying, about late bloomers, “Their approach is experimental. Their goals are imprecise, so their procedure is tentative and incremental.”

In other words, late bloomers are nerdy, and tend to follow a depth of inquiry ad nauseam. Ergo, they might have a manuscript or two in Rubbermaid tubs in their basements.

I took solace in that article. And a couple of years ago, I decided it was time to write something all the way. Something that brought me back to the dream. The idea of possibility and wonder. A snippet of 50+ years of quirky humanity in the form of a character and setting that reflected a piece of myself I was willing to share. And I had to absolutely get over the idea that validation only comes when everyone loves your art. But before I could overcome that, I had to admit that I’d been holding back because of it.

My debut book came out in January, and another one is being published in a couple of months.

For me, all the meandering has been part of my process. I’m a percolator, who drips many false starts into the carafe. Undrinkable sludge. So many versions of various lives. So many manuscripts on floppy discs in landfills. But the kernel of truth lives inside of failure. Oh, I know, that’s quite a platitude. I feel icky even writing it, though I firmly, firmly believe it.

I’m fifty-three. I think I have twenty more novels in me. At least.

And my grandmother is about to celebrate her 102nd birthday, so there’s that.

 

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About Suzy Vitello: As a founding member of what the Oregonian has dubbed Portland’s “hottest writing group” (members include Chuck Palahniuk, Chelsea Cain, Lidia Yuknavitch, Monica Drake and Cheryl Strayed), Suzy’s name has graced the acknowledgement pages of many a book. THE MOMENT BEFORE is her debut novel. Suzy lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband, Kirk, and son, Carson, and teaches workshop and classes periodically. Find out more on suzyvitello.com.

 Poster by SimpleReminders.com Pre-order their book (which I am in!!): www.SimpleReminders.info


Poster by SimpleReminders.com
Pre-order their book (which I am in!!): www.SimpleReminders.info

 

Jennifer Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Her work has been featured on The Rumpus, The Nervous Breakdown, Jezebel, Salon, among others. Jen’s leading one of her signature retreats to Ojai, Calif over Labor Day in Ojai, Calif and she and author Emily Rapp will be leading a writing retreat to Vermont in October. Visit  jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. She tweets/instagrams at @jenpastiloff.

 

*Jen met Suzy when she flew (broken foot and all) to Portland to take a writing workshop with Suzy and Lidia Yuknavitch. Jen is totally obsessed and madly in love with with Suzy and recommends all writers to take a class with her. New Yorkers! Suzy has a workshop in Warwick NY on September 5/6. You might also find Jen there. You should go. Just sayin’.

 

Beating Fear with a Stick, courage, Guest Posts, I Have Done Love

I Am A Woman Who Survived.

June 5, 2014

*Update: This post got The Manifest-Station awarded the “Freshly Pressed” Award! Brava, Janine! Jen here. I have a broken foot as many of you know, so I am giving the site all my attention right now. I am over the moon with the posts these days! Pinching myself! Today’s essay is one I hope you will read and share and help me make viral. This is so well-written, so important. Anyone, and I mean anyone, who has known abuse- you are not alone. And you don’t need to stay. Janine Canty, you blew me away with this beautifully nuanced and heartbreaking piece.

Simplereminders.com

Simplereminders.com

I Am A Woman Who Survived. By Janine Canty. Every October I wear a purple ribbon. It represents women who have lost their lives to senseless violence. It represents men and children who have lost their lives to senseless violence. It represents people who died too young, with most of their words still inside them. It represents the empty place at a table. It represents a voice forever silenced by familiar hands. It also represents endurance and survival. It represents the years I endured. The seventeen years I survived inside the basement apartment, and on a floor in my Mother-In-Law’s den, and in a pretty little brown house affordable because it was in a flood zone, and in the blue house with the failing septic system. That little piece of ribbon represents the times I was too afraid to speak. Or move. Or cry. Or breathe. That little piece of ribbon celebrates the me I grew up to be. I earned that ribbon. I love that ribbon, and I hate that ribbon. It reminds me that we live in a world capable of beauty, and brutality. It reminds me of a hunger that can’t be curbed or controlled. It reminds me that I want my granddaughters to grow up believing that hands are gentle, and strong, and wonderful. They are things designed to caress, and to hold. They are designed to build foundations, and to express oneself with chalk, and ink, pencil, and crayon. To immortalize childhood in clay. Hands are not weapons. They are not a punishment. They are not something to be afraid of. They are not something to flinch from .I want them to grow up, and have homes where they never have to be afraid. To speak. Or move. Or cry. Or breathe. I want them to grow up to have partners who make them feel valued, and beautiful. I want them to look in the mirror, and see something besides despair. Or fear. I want them to see, and feel, taste, and experience their own beauty. I want them to believe in that beauty. Every October I stand with strangers, and with friends, and neighbors. I stand with policemen in the dusk, and the rain, and the wind. I walk alongside people with similar stories. I carry a candle in the dark. Sometimes I speak a strangers name. Always I cry for someone I never met. Every October I remember that I’m free and I’m alive, and I am humbled at what a simple gift it is to open my eyes in the morning. I am amazed at the sound of my own laughter. I am in awe at the singular joy found in hot water, and at the bottom of a shampoo bottle. After you’ve lived in the dark, the long lines at WalMart, and a walk through the supermarket, are friggin’ adventures. Like dancing under the rainbow. Every October I am a little older, and hopefully a little wiser. I look in the mirror, and the broken woman that I was, the one who walked down that driveway,in November of 2000, she’s a memory. She’s all about the things that happened to me. The woman in the mirror, the one you see at Wal Mart, and the dairy bar, and laughing over a med cart in the nursing home, she’s who I am. Who I became in spite of all the damage, and because of the damage. She’s all the parts that survived the run through fire, and came out on the other side, with new, unblistered skin. Every October the question inevitably comes up. The question I hate. The question I am beginning to think has no answer. “Why did you stay”? I’ve discussed this. I’ve sat on the nightly news. I’ve talked to the newspaper. I’ve talked to countless women and even a few men on a hotline. I’ve stood at a podium in the State House, and addressed legislature. I am a woman who survived 17 years with an abusive man. I am a woman who loves words. I am told I can be an eloquent speaker/ writer/ person/ whatever. I am not eloquent when it comes to that question. I don’t know why your daughter/sister/ niece/ cousin/ brother/ son, stays. I don’t know why some people grow up with hatred where a heart once was. A rage that overtakes the soul. I don’t know why people hurt people. There’s fear. I know about fear. Everybody who’s ever seen a spider, or a snake, knows fear. Everybody who’s ever stood up to speak in a crowded room, knows fear. Anyone who’s gotten married, given birth, or started a new job, has strapped fear on like an apron. Anyone who’s ever found an unexpected lump in the shower, knows what it is to sit in the shadows, with the icy fingers of fear. Fear of the unknown. It’s a biggie, right? Fear is a mountain full of mean. Fear freezes, and cripples, and destroys. Fear sucks. Fear is power and heat. If fear could be bottled, cancer would be cured, and there would be no more war. Every October I put on a purple ribbon, and I hope for something better in my world, and in yours. I hope that one person somewhere, just one, will understand. One person will see, that if they are being terrorized within the four walls of their home, it’s as much a crime as a mugging on the street. I hope for more education for teachers, and volunteers, and the police force. For judges, and employers, Parents, and children. Victims and survivors. I hope for someone more eloquent than I, to explain this in a few simple words. I hope for just one person to believe that they don’t deserve to close their eyes beside fear each night. They don’t deserve to wake up afraid of what the sunshine in a new day will bring. Every October it’s 1978 again. I am 13, and in a brand new town. I have eyeglasses, and a haircut that I hate. I have a little sister that could give the breck girl a run for her money. I want thin thighs. I want to be able to jump over the hobby horse in gym. I want to grow up to be a writer. Or an actress. I want to be everything I’m not. Confident and beautiful. I want to live in New York. My first kiss from a boy hurts. My skin turns angry colors underneath his hand. He demands a kiss, and I obey without thinking about it. Because my arm feels like it’s going to snap. Because I am afraid in a way I have never been before. Because I am 13, and I don’t know any better. I don’t see things like respect, and self love as viable options for myself. Afterwards, he laughs. Maybe this is just the way boys are. Maybe this is normal. Maybe I’m as abnormal and weird as I feel at 13. I am addicted to the ABC Afterschool Specials. They talk against drinking, and drugs. They warn about strangers touching you in a private place. Everyone gets a happy ending in 45 minutes. What’s not to love, as the credits roll, and the Bee Gees sing “How do you mend a broken heart”? It’s 1981. I have acne to go with my chubby thighs. I’ve never conquered the hobby horse in gym. Crowded locker rooms, and scratchy towels that smell like other people’s sweat, are never going to be my thing. I’m courting an eating disorder while scarfing down Town Spa pizza. I want to live in Europe. I want to drive a sports car with the top down. I want contact lenses. I want not to be sixteen, with chubby thighs, and acne. The boy next door plays the guitar for me, with deceptively gentle hands. He tells me I’m beautiful. I believe him, as I nurse bruises his teeth have left against my mouth. I have seen my father on his knees. I have seen my parents ready to kill one another over a can of flat beer. I have seen my father in handcuffs, and packing a suitcase. I’ve seen him walking away, and I’ve seen him coming back. I am never getting married. I am never having babies. It’s 1983. I am 18. I put on a borrowed wedding dress. I walk down the aisle, towards the boy next door. I’m carrying a bouquet in shaking hands, and a baby in my belly. My mother has stopped crying long enough to put on a kick ass purple, Mother of the Bride, dress. She looks stunning. She also looks cold and dazed. My sister is crying softly beside me. She tells me how romantic it is, as she holds my bouquet while I’m sick. She asks me if she can have my stereo and posters. She asks me what it feels like. I ask her to shut up. My father puts down the Rosary he’s held for 3 weeks, to walk me down the aisle. He looks like he’s craving that flat beer. I’m just enough of a Catholic girl to understand that I disappointed Jesus by having condomless sex before marriage. I’m just enough of a Daddy’s girl to be devastated at the look on my Father’s face during our shared, silent, march down the aisle. I am 18. I am married. I have never cooked a meal. I have never driven a car. My sister is barely 15. She dances too closely with the 20 year old best man. she catches the bouquet, and finds herself lost in her first pair of brown male eyes. My groom has been drunk since 10 am, when he drove to the church listening to David Bowies “Modern Love”. His arm was dangling out a window. An early December sun was in his eyes. My future was nearly derailed by a rusted out red Chevy running a light. Later, he gave thanks under an altar as he kissed me. He tasted like Listerine, and Michelob, and Copper.   It’s 1989. I have 3 beautiful babies. I have bruises, but they’re in places only I can see. I have a voice growing rusty from lack of use. I answer to names you wouldn’t call an animal. He tells me I’m ugly and fat. I believe him. I don’t have a split lip or a broken bone to show a doctor. This is so clearly not the Farrah Fawcett, “Burning Bed” depiction of abuse. I believe it’s not abuse. My children who’ve never known any other life, believe it. My parents live with it. The few friends I’ve held onto from high school, are driven away by it. My world has diminished to the size of a small bedroom in the back part of my husbands childhood home. I still don’t drive. I don’t yet have a high school diploma. I don’t have friends. I have fear, and 3 beautiful babies, and bruises in places only I can see. It’s 1989, and I’m pregnant again for the fourth time in 5 years. I am 6 months pregnant. I am fat and slow, and I disgust him. I am never fast enough for him. His arm catches me across the chest. Later he’ll say it was an accident, and he never means to get that upset. None of it will matter. All that will matter is the chair I fell over. An ugly green chair, with a rip in the vinyl. Stuffing poking out like cottage cheese. I could be as fat and awkward as the day was long, and maybe, just maybe, that was why my little boy died inside me. None of it mattered after I saw his sweet, silent, face. My little boy died, and he took my belief in happily ever after with him. My baby died, and I hated myself. I hated my husband, and that ugly green chair, and that arm. It’s 1995. We return to the little blue house with the failing septic system. We’d been younger in that house. Calling naivety happiness. How I needed to believe it could be. We ate moose track ice cream out of green Tupperware bowls. We had returned to a familiar place, as different people. Fear lived beside me as unseen as a mosquito in a windstorm. Crippling, freezing, powerful fear . It didn’t show up all of a sudden, it didn’t announce itself with fireworks. It was quiet and insidious. Like mold. It was stale air, and molecules. It wasn’t to be questioned, it just was. I carried fear like a tired child. It was as much a part of me as my arms and legs, and my lazy eye. You can’t play the game if you don’t know what the rules are. You can’t question yourself when you’re constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop. When all you’ve known is fear, fear becomes love.. When the body begins dying, the heart turns into a selfish Mofo. It pulls the blood away from the extremities. It hogs all the blood. So that it can continue to beat. So that it can survive. The body becomes colder. It becomes numb. As a medical person, today, I call that mottling. Back then I wouldn’t have known enough to call it survival. My body was amazing, as all bodies are. It allowed itself to become numb. I became numb, I survived. It’s 2000, and something. I’m working in the nursing home. I’ve rediscovered parts of myself I’d forgotten all about. My love of words, and writing. My love of card games, and scrabble, and walks in a warm rain. I am a work in progress. Forgiving myself is still a jigsaw in the making. It’s October. I put on a purple ribbon. I sit on the evening news. People call me brave because of the crap I’ve been through. People called me brave, because I didn’t lay down and die, but at one point I wanted to. I wanted to lay down and die. I wanted to cease existing. I wanted to cease hurting. That’s what strong armed the fear. That’s what numbed me, and then brought me back. My desire to die was where I found my will to live. That’s where I found the capacity to love myself. To forgive myself for things that were beyond my control. That’s where I found the strength to walk down that driveway. Don’t ask me why I stayed. I can’t answer that. Don’t ask me why your sister or neighbor, or friend stays. I can’t answer that. Not in black and white. Not in simple words. It’s individual to the person. Like hair color. Do I suspect fear? The all knowing, all powerful, crippling, freezing, fear? Yeah. I suspect it hides behind the curtains. It keeps company with the shattered dishes. The broken dreams, and the bruises no one else can see. Don’t ask me why I stayed. Ask me why I left. Then put on a purple ribbon, and carry a candle beside me in the dark. 67117_10151138515472569_450235920_n My name is Janine Canty. I have been writing since age 11 when a teacher told me I had “talent.” Writing has always been a tonic for me. Being published is a pretty little dream I keep tucked away in a safe place. I am not a professional writer though the passion for it has stayed with me like a campfire. I make my living as a CNA- Med Technician in a busy nursing facility in a tiny Northern town almost no one has ever heard of. I dabble in blog writing, and all things Facebook. I fail at tweeting.   Jennifer Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Her work has been featured on The Rumpus, The Nervous Breakdown, Jezebel, Salon, among others. Jen’s leading one of her signature writing/yoga retreats to Ojai, Calif over Labor Day in Ojai, Calif and she and bestselling author Emily Rapp will be leading another writing retreat to Vermont in October. Check out jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up:  SeattleLondon, Atlanta, South Dakota, NYC, Dallas, Tucson. She tweets/instagrams at @jenpastiloff. To submit to The Manifest-Station email submissions@jenniferpastiloff.com. Next workshop is London July 6. 

beauty, Guest Posts

The Way of the Backer. By Eiren Caffall.

April 16, 2014

The Way of the Backer: Kickstarter and the Power of Artistic Failure

by Eiren Caffall

“You know,” I told my friend when I called her, “Kickstarter is kicking my ass. I have no idea how to talk about why I make art.”

I was trying to finish funding my new record, managing a Kickstarter campaign with a $4,000 goal, when the freakout kicked in and I started calling people until I found someone who would let me lose it on the phone.

I had just realized that the pitches I was making every day were pointing out a horrible truth: when it comes to justifying myself as an artist, I am incoherent. It had suddenly become clear to me that I had no idea how to tell family, friends and strangers that they should back my music or my writing when, by every cultural measure we use (grants, sales, press coverage, earnings) I have been a spectacular failure.

Away from Kickstarter I am proud of what I make, I remember that I have shared stages and bandmates and radio airwaves with some celebrated musicians, a few legit places have published my writing. I am part of a community of artists who work under the radar of a culture that may, once in a while, pick one of us out of the pack and move us higher up the ladder. I am email-friendly with people who have been picked like that, they return my calls sometimes.

But as far as mass culture is concerned, me, down here, below the radar, spending over a decade making work that few people see, I’m failing.

I am third-generation art Boho, and kind of used to seeing artists struggle. I am sometimes the whiniest one in the room about that failure, since I’ve seen the generational toll it takes. No one else bitches out loud if they can help it. The soup we all swim in sucks, we’re all frustrated, and we try to keep that to ourselves, if only to preserve our dignity.

“The music business is a toilet,” my drummer said to me this summer. Yup.

But he said this to me in a quiet room, and I was the only one who heard him. Because admitting how hard this is might, itself, look like failure. So we say that things are going fine, talk about good gigs and small successes and ignore the big picture and the fear that comes with it.

All that changed as soon as I pressed the “launch” button on my Kickstarter campaign and admitted that I couldn’t make it on my own anymore, that no label was coming to the aid of my career, that I couldn’t pay for the record I had just finished.

Kickstarter is huge these days, and it can be problematic for so many reasons. It is marketing disguised as grassroots grant-making, and backlashes towards artists that game the system are legendary. Issues of access and need come in at every door that Kickstarter opens. But it is also so ubiquitous in the arts community that people talk about it in an offhand manner: “Well, if no one wants to put the record out, we’ll just do a Kickstarter for it,” we say to each other.

Since grants and government programs for the arts (not to mention the revenue streams that used to come with putting out records) have dried up, we dive towards crowdfunding as if it is the last crumb on an empty table. And it kind of is. Last year Kickstarter famously gave more money to artists than the NEA.

And Kickstarter’s grey-market economy genius is that it lets people feel like, when they pledge, they are not only validating someone’s work, but supporting them person to person. The pledge makes one part of the work, you are a backer.

But that’s where my trouble started, because to be good at Kickstarter, I was finding, you had to be able to stand in front of what you’d made and invite people to back you, personally, as if what you make matters, as if you had never thought of failure for one moment, at any step of the process.

And I was not good at that.

With five days to go the campaign was only at 30%; it was failing.

“You never even said your name in the video,” my friend pointed out to me on that fateful day when I called.

And in my head I answered, “I know, I was ashamed.” My Kickstarter campaign launched me into a shame spiral so deep that for a while there, though I continued to spew cheerful boosterism at the internet, dripping with thinly-veiled panic, I could barely answer the phone when friends called, because I didn’t want to admit that all this hustle was making my confidence fall apart.

This year, I have been thinking about failure, a lot.

This year I lost my house to foreclosure. This year I finally worked again after a long time without work. This year my ex-husband moved in with his younger girlfriend, and my older boyfriend decided that, no, he would not like to move in with me.

At the beginning of that phone call, when she asked me how I was, I’d said, trying to sound offhand and light, “Enjoying my exercise in public failure.”

“You can’t talk about it like that. Confidence breeds confidence, success breeds success,” she’d said back. A veteran of the Kickstarter wars herself, my friend was not agreeing with the system per se, just doing her best to remind me of its limitations. “I mean,” she said, sensing she was losing me, “the process is about letting people experience how much you love the record, the system asks for that. And you love your record, let people see it.” I knew she was right, but I wanted to tell her that I might be a lost cause.

The whole time I was pitching and pitching, thanking backers and asking for more, teaching myself Mail Chimp and updating Twitter and posting new content and sending new videos out into the world I was also thinking about a last conversation I had with my father.

He had a genetic kidney disease, Polycystic Kidney Disease, PKD, and in my family it hits early and often, like those proverbial Chicago voting scams. Until my father had two kidney transplants, ten additional years of dialysis, and made it to the ripe old age of 64, every member of my family for generations beyond counting, was dead by 40.

At 22 I was diagnosed with the same thing.

And when I was 29, and had just finished a record, my father finally started to die. An infection gained from his first transplant had morphed over years in his system, and by the end he was riddled with a weirdo cancer that was invading his body cavities, eating up his lungs one day, bloating his stomach the next.

My parents had divorced seven years earlier and my father’s family was all dead and I have no siblings, so it was me in the hospital room with him, holding him steady when they took a twelve-inch-long needle and inserted it into his belly to get samples of the pale, eerie liquid that was filling him up. It was me sleeping next to his hospital bed on a cot when he hallucinated and tore off all his clothes in the middle of the night.

And it was me sitting next to him when he said to me one lucid afternoon, “I wish I hadn’t been such a failure.”

I argued with him, can’t remember what I said now, but I told him I’d always admired his life.

An autodidact and bohemian from his teens, he’d been at jazz clubs in the Village before he could legally drink, lived in a loft in Soho with a swing in the main room, dated waitresses at Max’s Kansas City. He’d married my pretty mother, worked with her on blue movies, and been a camera man on a Yoko Ono picture. He had hung out at the Factory, been friends with Alice Brock of Alice’s Restaurant fame, taught himself to make flawless Shaker furniture and fly-fish and track pheasants.

I’d always thought he’d been remarkable. I’d always thought he’d lived the life he’d meant to.

Sure, we were dirt poor, and we moved all the time, always at the mercy of landlords. Sure, my mother had left him, and he’d always undersold his work. Sure, at 64 he rented a shitty room from a creepy guy and worked as a museum guard and was about to die and leave his only child holding the bag.

But he’d seen things, he’d done things, and I thought he didn’t regret anything.

When I told him he’d had an amazing life he said, “Thanks, Kid, but I never did know how to make anything out of that.”

I’ve had an amazing life, too. I’ve mothered a remarkable son, been well-loved, and I’ve made songs I feel so damn proud of I can’t believe they are mine sometimes. This last year I’ve been writing a novel, and it hasn’t felt like writing, but like being held in someone’s hand and told a story that I get to take down. I spent my high school years with remarkably safe and kind and smart people, then stumbled into a music scene so devoid of negative competition that I have come out of my years of playing in Chicago with collaborators and colleagues that I both adore and trust, people who were, at the moment of my crisis, falling all over themselves to tweet and Facebook and shill my record, my little record, because, they believed in it, in me, and couldn’t understand why it wasn’t doing better.

But I could.

Somewhere in the heart of every ask I made was a core of shame so deep that I couldn’t get around it in the pitch.

I don’t know why I am here, and making things, and other people are not.

Kickstarter structures itself as if you, the artist, are talking to a potential backer. This person, the avatar for your audience, sits behind the imaginary shell of the crowdfunding forum, and according to the Kickstarter language, they are silently sitting out there asking, Why, why do you need the money, why do you make the stuff, tell me what is it for?

And if I am being honest I want to say this to the imaginary backer behind the shell:

It is because I am not dead yet. I am 42 and I am not dead yet, and I can’t think of anything else to do with myself to cope with that. I went through horrible things, and I do not trust the world, and I cannot pretend that I am confident in it, or myself, or you, or the possibility that we will make it, or that what I am doing matters. I would make this art if no one was watching at all, because I don’t know how else to survive, and if you want to be a part of it, fine, but I will do it either way.

Putting out your art is always a trick of walking on water, proclaiming your human frailty, using your body, your spirit, your talent to convince people that telling your own naked story matters, that it makes people more whole.

But in my heart, I remain dubious, worried that, though I know I have felt saved by art during dark hours, there are people, sometimes including myself, for whom art is not nearly enough.

All that beauty and joy he’d found in art didn’t matter to my father completely at the end. It didn’t make his last months much better. And although all that I can do with my own life is play music, write things down, try to make something beautiful and scary and true, I do not know how to do a dance that will convince you on the open stage of public opinion and competition that it matters.

I personally don’t like competition, it freaks me out, and I have grave doubts that it has any place in the creation of good work. Competition in its platonic ideal can make people work harder, sure, but in the real world, the failure that comes with it can do more than make artists tongue-tied, like me; it can cripple people so they stop producing at all.

For some of us, when we fail at art, even if that failure is only in the marketplace, we feel that failure as a deep failure of self. We all have a list of our art heros that seemed to crumble under the pressures of the marketplace. It is a trope as old as time, right? The Artist, Too Sensitive for This World.

Which I generally think is crap.

Artists are some of the most fucking tough people you will ever meet. The arts require an exceptionally high level of vulnerability if you want to do them well, and the emotionally sensitive people who are drawn to that – or compelled or called or forced by fate – have a better chance of coming with some other baggage that makes the vulnerability really tricky. Most of us get tougher through handling that dichotomy. Some of us can’t.

Kickstarter asks artists to subvert just that cultural assumption. It asks us to present ourselves not as different from the mainstream culture, not as subversive to it, but as part of something: a community of people who want us to succeed.

If you talk with Kickstarter alums, many will confess that their biggest backers were the families that still can’t quite understand why they make the art in the first place. They love them, so they help them, and Kickstarter facilitates that by showing these artists as successful, proud marketers of themselves. They are not subversive in their promotional online videos; they are confident. Kickstarter’s shiny website confers legitimacy and glow.

Kickstarter asked me to set my art up as separate from myself, to profess confidence in the project and store vulnerability away, as buried as I could make it behind the spin I was putting on the work itself. I couldn’t let anyone in on my fear of failure or I’d spook the herd.

My one random concession to trying to draw the herd closer was a mid-campaign video ramble I posted to my Kickstarter page as a remedy. This one about Ernest Shakleton, the slog of the epic quest, the importance of holding on to art in the face of great loss. Not particularly cheerful spin, and, as my friend later pointed out, it might have been a good idea if at least one of my video appeals hadn’t mentioned death.

Shame tugged at me when I sat down to write, and it came out through my fingers in the words I typed for every social media post and email. People could smell it, the herd spooked, the pledges dried up. I started to consider finding a straw backer, just to get me out of the whole thing.

Then, the Friday before the close of the campaign, a huge pledge came in from distant family friends that closed part of the gap. A total surprise. A deus ex machina. And, just like that, the campaign was 80% funded.

Suddenly, it had momentum.

People wanted in.

Within days, the rest of the money followed. Success bred success. Confidence bred confidence. People wanted to be a part of something that looked like it wasn’t failing. By the last day, nearly the last hour, me and my whole band and all my friends flogging Facebook like it was an NPR pledge drive, we made it to 101% of the goal.

“See,” my friend told me, “it worked. You just had to show people that the project was already a success.”

We had a great rock show, we thanked our backers from the stage, and people went home happy with the end of the story.

Then I stopped answering the phone again. Because telling people how happy I was that the campaign was funded was almost worse than asking them to pledge. Because in every conversation I managed not to avoid, I had to pretend that the funding let everybody participate in validating my work.

But, you know, it didn’t. Kickstarter didn’t validate a thing.

The hole in my heart, and the shame in my gut were still there.

Winning by those standards at first felt like another kind of failure. I couldn’t make my peace with a simple idea: for most of us that use Kickstarter, getting to a funding goal has nothing to do with the art, and everything to do with the community we are part of.

I can stand in the spotlight of Kickstarter, honestly invisible, maybe failing, as an artist, and still let it work its backer magic on me, validating what I do because, mostly, I am loved by a circle of human beings who know me well enough, and love me deep enough, to pony up money for my project, not because they love the work, though some do, but because, at bottom, they love me.

That’s what Kickstarter doesn’t tell you when you start. That for the majority of us asking for help to fund our work, the process becomes a referendum not on the work, but on us.

At first, that made me feel much more shame, the kind that comes with realizing you that your fan base is mostly made up of people who have bought you a drink at one time or another. But now, now I think I’m OK with learning what Kickstarter had to teach me—that being loved by people who will back you when you are invisible is probably better then being funded by adoring strangers who know you not at all.

Or, it may not be better for your art, but it probably is better for your soul.

Because the long game that making art requires is a highwire act of letting yourself be seen. Spin rarely belongs in that work, the work it takes to be messy and true and alive in front of people and allow them to judge you and what you have made. You must court shame every day to do that work well, always hoping to be backed just as you are.

When I told my dad on his deathbed that he hadn’t failed, I had believed it to the core of my being, and there wasn’t a hole in my heart when I said it or a lick of dishonesty.

I was immersed in love for him, love that was there to drive past his shame. He told me he was a failure, stood emotionally naked in front of me, showing me that he was afraid, and human and devastated, and I responded with love. I told him that he was enough, that I wanted him to keep going.

I was backing him, imperfect as he was. I was seeing him.

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Eiren Caffall is a musician and writer living in Chicago. The great-granddaughter of an Episcopal Bishop, she is the daughter of a geophysicist and a Beatnik Shaker Acolyte. She has always dwelled in the places where art, spirit, aesthetics and science meet. She writes songs, fiction, personal essays and meditations on spiritual life during global climate change, focusing on heartbreak and grace – the tricks of memory that help us survive and the wisdom that comes whether we like it or not.

You can purchase her latest record, Slipping the Holdfast, on bandcamp, and see examples of her writing on Tikkun Daily, on her blog The Civil Twilight Project and at her website www.eirencaffall.com. Her essay “And Now Witness the Ending, Beautiful and Terrible” was published in Doug Fogelson’s book The Time After alongside the work of Derrick Jensen. She is currently at work on her fourth album and first novel. She lives with her son Dexter, where they spend most of their time articulating skeletons and beach combing.

**

Jennifer Pastiloff is a writer living on an airplane. Her work has been featured on The Rumpus, The Nervous Breakdown, Jezebel, Modern Loss, xojane, among others. She’s the founder of The Manifest-Station. Jen’s leading a weekend retreat in May to Ojai, Calif as well as 4 day retreat over Labor Day in Ojai, Calif. All retreats are a combo of yoga/writing for all levels. She and bestselling author Emily Rapp will be leading another writing retreat to Vermont in October. Check out her site jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up is Seattle and London July 6. (London sells out fast so book soon if you plan on attending!)

Uncategorized

One Dad’s Search for Beauty in His Daily Parenting Routine.

March 3, 2014

By Steve Edwards.

Before I tell you about the snowy owl I saw on Christmas or why I got pulled over by the police twice in the last three days, let me say a little about my life and daily routine. I’m a husband, a father of a four-year-old boy with special needs, and I have (and my wife does, too, for that matter) a full-time job. I teach a 4/4 load as an assistant professor—writing and literature courses, mostly—at a university in central Massachusetts, and the entirety of my paycheck goes to paying for my son’s medicine, doctor’s bills and specialized pre-school. My wife’s paycheck goes toward the rest of our expenses—rent, heat, food, student loans. We make good money but barely scrape by. Sometimes we try to laugh it off, calling it our “posh special needs lifestyle.”

I get up at six and make coffee. My wife has an hour commute and is out the door about the time our son leaps from bed and starts asking what’s for breakfast. I make him toast and get together his meds. He has four of them—I think. I’ve done this routine so many times, I do it without thinking at all really. But I think it’s four. Drops go in his milk. Then a plunger-vile of another prescription. Then a teaspoon of another. Then a capsule I break open over applesauce or sorbet.

After breakfast I turn on the TV for him so I can pack his lunch, pack my lunch, then set out his clothes for the day and iron my own clothes (though admittedly, I have a gray sweater and a pair of brown cords that are in pretty high rotation because they don’t have to be ironed.) Once I’ve gotten us ready for the day, my next big task is getting my son to put on his jacket. For some reason, the thought of wearing his jacket sends my son into apocalyptical fits. He will rage and cry and curl up in a ball in the corner. I would just take him outside without his jacket—hell with it—but it’s Massachusetts, and winter, and this morning it was 5 degrees. Some days, after I’ve gotten the jacket on him and gotten him out to the car, I say, “Oops. I forgot something inside. I’ll be right back.” Then I rush inside and let out a string of profanities at the top of my lungs.

After that, I drive an hour to my son’s special preschool (where, thank god, he gets amazing care and support). Then it’s another hour commute to my job. And that’s pretty much the morning—frenetic and mind-numbingly dull at the same time. The rest of the day, I meet with students and try to appear like a normal human to my colleagues who probably wonder why I am wearing that sweater and those cords AGAIN. After work, I race home, clean up the breakfast dishes and prepare dinner for my wife and son who are both exhausted from their days, and cranky (as am I, most nights). An hour of after-dinner television or music and it’s bedtime for my son. You can imagine how well this goes over: he yells, screams, swats at us, cries his eyes out, and then—once he’s finally in bed—turns so angelic I hate to say goodnight because this is the only good part of the day. “Sing me a song, Daddy,” he says. “Sing me ‘Thunder Road.’”

And of course I do. You have to.

That’s a typical day for us in what has been anything but a typical year. At the end of the summer, I had a kidney stone and had to make a midnight run to the emergency room. Two days later, with no warning at all, our son’s preschool (a different one from where he goes now) said he needed a full-time aide or they wouldn’t allow him back. Spoiler alert: we didn’t think he needed a full-time developmental aide, and we couldn’t have afforded a full-time developmental aide even if we did. So they effectively booted him from preschool two days after my kidney stone and only a week before my fall semester started. After a mad scramble to find him a new school—because if we didn’t find him a new school, either my wife or I would have had to quit our jobs in order to pay for the services our son did, in fact, need—after all that, my wife got sick with pneumonia. She hacked and coughed and was practically bed-ridden for three and a half weeks in the month of October.

Then (yes, there’s more) after she had recovered, she slipped while carrying our sleeping boy from the car to the house and badly damaged her left knee. She was on crutches for a month, and, thankfully, only needed a cortisone shot and not full blown reconstructive surgery. But she was in severe pain every day, and it often woke her at night if she shifted in her sleep. And none of these challenges, of course, made it any easier for my wife or I to do our jobs, to work with our special needs child, or manage the bills that kept pouring in like so much floodwater in a basement.

So it doesn’t surprise me that, through it all, I forgot to get the sticker for my car that certifies it has been inspected by the state to meet emissions standards. In Massachusetts it’s something you have to do every year, and, as an environmentalist, I’m glad the state makes at least a cursory effort to protect our air and water. That’s why I drive a Prius—to lessen my environmental impact. But what can I say, Prius or not: I forgot to get the inspection. I didn’t have the sticker.

The first day I got pulled over was a Wednesday morning after a big snowstorm, and preschool had been delayed for two hours. This meant that instead of prepping for the class I had to teach that afternoon, I was watching Barney & Friends with my kid. I drove by the police car, it pulled out behind me and the lights came on.

The officer took my license and registration back to his cruiser and ran them through his computer, then returned and pointed out my expired state inspection sticker. I was frustrated by the delay in an already delayed day, and annoyed that that was the reason he had pulled me over (Didn’t he have something better to do?), but I thanked the officer for only giving me a warning ticket and was on my way. The encounter took about fifteen minutes, and I made mental plans to get the inspection on Saturday. Which is exactly what I explained to the officer who pulled me over this morning for the exact same reason. Only this time I was driving my son to an early 8 a.m. appointment with his speech therapist and we were on a busy stretch of road.

We were on a busy stretch of road at the busiest time of the morning commute. I passed the police car, thought about Wednesday morning’s episode, and breathed a sigh of relief when it didn’t pull out behind me. But then—off in the distance, in my rearview mirror: flashing blue lights. Surely, I thought, he can’t be rushing after me. He wouldn’t force the eight or ten cars behind me, at the height of the morning commute, to pull over just so he could hassle me for having an expired state inspections sticker on my Prius on the way to take my special needs child to speech therapy.

Wrong.

“License and registration,” the officer said as the cars on the road whooshed by and my son repeatedly asked why the police man was talking to us.

I handed the officer my license and registration, and I showed him the warning ticket I’d gotten on Wednesday. I told him that I had made arrangements to get the inspection done on Saturday.

“Just be sure you do that,” he said sternly, handing back my papers. “You’re two months expired. You’re living on borrowed time.”

“I’m going Saturday,” I said again.

“It only takes fifteen-twenty minutes,” he said.

I told him a third time that I would get it done Saturday and thanked him, and after we had started off down the road and the officer had turned, I banged the steering wheel and in frustration yelled, “FUCK!”

And in back my son said, “FUCK!”

Before we got pulled over this morning, I had been thinking that I would write something about Beauty and the necessity of Beauty for getting through hard times. I had been thinking about our trip on Christmas Day. We drove out to the coast, north of Boston—just the three of us—to gorgeous Plum Island and the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. It was cold but clear. Fourteen degrees. Breezy. Along one of the roads by the water some cars were stopped, and some people had big-lensed cameras held up to their faces. They had spotted a snowy owl. At my wife’s suggestion, I pulled over and grabbed my binoculars and ran out to catch a glimpse of the bird.

Before getting pulled over this morning, I thought I would reflect on the incredible and almost healing beauty of that owl’s stoic countenance among the rustling beach grasses, the Atlantic gleaming like a dark blue crystal in the distance. I wanted to say: THIS. This matters. Beauty matters.

But after getting pulled over, that sweet thought was gone, replaced by adrenaline and anger and resentment.

I wanted to tell the officer that I didn’t have fifteen minutes to just buzz by and get an inspection, that we all lived on borrowed time. I wanted to tell my son not to say the F-word. I wanted to tell myself not to say the F-word in front of my son. I wanted my wife to again be the healthy, happy and wonderful woman I had married five years ago, and I wanted to again be her healthy, happy and wonderful husband, and not the sleep-deprived, stressed out, anxious, grumpy mess I had become. I wanted my son to just be better. To be healed somehow. To not yell and scream and cry all the time. To not be overcome by mysterious waves of gut pain. To not say to his mother in stern tones: “Mommy, you are NOT my friend! YOU ARE NOT!” I wanted us all to feel good for a change. I wanted that, and the only thing I could do was to keep driving and breathe deep and hope that that owl might glide back into my thoughts on silent wings.

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*This article originally appeared on The Good Men Project.

Steve Edwards lives in Massachusetts with his wife and son. He is author of the memoir Breaking into the Backcountry, the story of his seven months of solitude as the caretaker of a 95-acre homestead along the Rogue National Wild and Scenic River in southern Oregon. You can find him online at steveedwardswriter.com and @The_Big_Quiet on Twitter.

Jennifer Pastiloff is a writer living on an airplane and the founder of The Manifest-Station.  She’s leading a Retreat in Costa Rica at the end of March and her annual retreat to Tuscany is in July 2014. All retreats are a combo of yoga/writing for all levels. She and bestselling author Emily Rapp will be leading another writing retreat to Vermont in October. Check out her site jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up is NYC in March followed by Dallas, Seattle and London. 

Forgiveness, Guest Posts, healing

5 Lessons from My Father’s Death.

February 10, 2014

5 Lessons from My Father’s Death

By Bethany Butzer.

When my stepfather Paul was twenty-two years old, he was shot in the face with a 12 gauge shotgun by his friend who was trying to kill him. He survived, but his injuries left him completely blind. After being shot, Paul got into AA and started to turn his life around. Over the next twenty-five years, he sponsored many people who struggled with addiction and gave talks at local community centers and jails in an effort to help people improve their lives.

Later in his life, Paul started to suffer from chronic pain in his feet, due to nerve damage caused by a vitamin B12 deficiency. His doctor prescribed Oxycontin—a powerful and highly addictive painkiller. Paul quickly became addicted to the medication, and over the next two years, he slowly wasted away before my eyes. He rarely got out of bed, seldom ate, and even stopped joining my family on Christmas morning.

Eventually, my mom left him. She refused to enable his destructive and addictive behavior.

Two months later, on October 25, 2007, Paul let out his final breath. He died alone on his bedroom floor. He was only fifty-five years old. And he was the only father I’d ever known.

Paul taught me five important lessons about life.

I work with these lessons every day, and I hope you will, too.

 Be Grateful

Growing up with someone who couldn’t see helped me appreciate the things we often take for granted, like our senses. Paul often had to ask me if his socks matched. He couldn’t pull a can out of the cupboard and know what it was. He couldn’t drive a car. He couldn’t take in a sunset. He once brushed his teeth with A535 (a cream for arthritis/joint pain) and ate a spoonful of dry cat food because he thought it was cereal. (We laughed about this at the time, but I think I’ve made my point!)

He never knew what I looked like. Instead of seeing with his eyes, Paul saw with his heart.

Be thankful for your ability to see. Not everyone is so lucky.

 Stay Strong

After being shot in the face and blinded, many people would give up. They would turn to a victim mentality, with “why me” playing continuously in their head. And while I’m sure that Paul experienced these thoughts at times, he was a striking example of how the human spirit can rise up and triumph over adversity.

Instead of playing the victim, Paul took his experience as a sign that he needed to turn his life around. He got sober and started inspiring others to do the same. He learned how to play the drums and joined a band. He got into weight lifting and worked out every day.

When tragedy strikes, pay attention to what the universe is trying to teach you.

 The Power of Forgiveness

One of the main tenets of AA is forgiveness. This meant that Paul needed to forgive the man who shot him. How on earth could you forgive someone who blinded you for life? I’m not quite sure how, but Paul did it.

One day, Paul was at a gas station with a friend who told him that the man who had shot him was at one of the other pumps. Paul asked to be led over to the man. He then hugged him and told him that he forgave him for what he’d done.

Paul taught me that holding onto anger and resentment doesn’t do anyone any good. These emotions eat you up inside and weigh on your shoulders. Forgiveness isn’t about the other person—it’s a gift that you give to yourself.

Who do you need to forgive?

Say What Needs to Be Said

Before Paul died, I had an opportunity to drop by his house to confront him about his addictive behavior. I was scared, so I drove by and reassured myself that I would talk to him the next time I visited my hometown. Instead, I decided to write him a letter, tape myself reading it, and mail him the tape.

He died two weeks later.

My letter didn’t arrive on time. I missed my chance.

From this experience, I learned the importance of telling people what we need to tell them. Don’t shy away from a confrontation because you feel awkward or uncomfortable. You never know when you might lose your opportunity.

 No One Is Perfect

Ultimately, Paul taught me that we all have our scars. We carry around personal demons that we struggle with from time to time. And that’s ok. We can’t expect ourselves, or anyone else for that matter, to be perfect.

Paul was a complex man. His heart was the same size as his temper—huge. He was rough, soft, kind, cruel, wise, and naive all at the same time.

I have fond memories of his kind side. The times we went for walks together and skated on ponds. The times he made me soup when I was sick. I’ll always remember how he loved to blare Bruce Springsteen and the tone in his voice when he would say to me, “You can do it, Grasshopper!”

Paul had his faults, and, like all of us, his faults were part of the package. His imperfections made him who he was. If he hadn’t been through what he’d been through, he never would have been able to motivate others to change their lives.

Realize that you are perfect exactly as you are, even with your imperfections.

I hope you take these five lessons and apply them to your life. That way, even though Paul isn’t around anymore, he can continue to inspire others.

As Helen Keller so aptly put it:

“The most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched, they must be felt with the heart.”

I’d like to leave you with a two-minute YouTube video that I made in honor of Paul. Another remarkable thing that Paul did was create and maintain a garden, complete with beautiful ponds, in our backyard. I remember him pulling weeds at 11:00 p.m. because, for him, it didn’t matter whether it was sunny or dark outside!

You’ll see Paul’s amazing garden in the video below:


Bethany Butzer, Ph.D.
Author ● Speaker ● Researcher ● Yoga Teacher
Are You Ready To Create A Life You Love?
www.bethanybutzer.com

museum2 1

Jennifer Pastiloff is a writer based in Los Angeles. She is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Jen will be leading a Retreat in Costa Rica at the end of March and her annual retreat to Tuscany is in July 2014. All retreats are a combo of yoga/writing and for ALL levels. Read this post to understand what a Manifestation retreat is. Check out her site jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Jen and bestselling author Emily Rapp will be leading another writing retreat to Vermont in October. A lot. Next up is a workshop in London, England on Feb 15th. Book here.

Guest Posts, healing, motherhood

The Rocky Path To Grace.

January 22, 2014

                                                       By Lindsey Mead 
I have so few memories of the first weeks after Grace’s birth. It’s fascinating the way the mind recovers and copes, isn’t it? My memory has smoothed over those weeks of tears and panic like the airbrush facility in photoshop: the pain is still there, I can’t forget it, but its pointy, prickly granularity is sanded down to a more general, uniform memory. So I strive to remember specific moments, but I mostly can describe the overall experience. In my letter to my friend, I referred to the crucible of bewilderment, fear, and wonder known as postpartum depression, and I still think that’s a pretty good summary.

What do I remember about those first days and weeks?  I remember a blur of tears, darkness, crying, and most of all a visceral, frantic sense that I had made the biggest mistake of my life. This fear was powerful enough to almost topple me: the panic that I had ruined my life was layered with the guilt for having those feelings in the first place in an incredibly toxic cocktail. I remember walking one raw, early-November afternoon, Grace strapped to my chest in the baby Bjorn, my hand almost freezing off as I held a phone to my ear (one of very few phone calls in those days) and cried to a poor, unsuspecting friend who was expecting a joyful new mother. I remember sitting in the rocking chair in my kitchen, a week-old Grace asleep on my knees, wondering numbly why it was that my doula (there for her postpartum visit) was looking at me so oddly, why she kept urging me to call my midwives, why she took Matt into the other room and whispered something to him.

It all came crashing down at my 2 week midwife check-up. I am still horrified that most women have to wait until 6 weeks for their own appointments after giving birth, and am intensely grateful that my midwifery practice mandated this 2 week appointment. I sat across from the midwife, Grace asleep in her bucket carseat, and dissolved into tears. I remember crying with those all-encompassing sobs that make you feel like you are drowning. I could barely breathe. I was not allowed to leave until the end of the day, at which point I left with prescriptions and therapist appointment cards clutched in my hands and a dawning sense that I was truly not okay.

I have heard many funny stories of how control-fanatic women like myself struggled to adapt to motherhood. I always laugh, but the truth is that my reality was different. I crashed off the cliff of depression so quickly and so utterly that I was not even trying for control (for the first time in my life?). I didn’t even care, which was for me much scarier. I just sat there and cried. I think the fact of my surprise pregnancy contained within it the seeds of my PPD: I had never been in control of this, not from the very beginning. I, who have been able to muscle my way through basically any challenge (mostly because I was good at only selecting those challenges that I could conquer), was completely undone by this 7 pound, 12 ounce baby, and it devastated me.

My body fell apart as rapidly as did my mind: within 2 weeks I was 10 pounds thinner than I had been pre-pregnancy. I did not sleep, I did not eat, I did not smile. I looked like a cadaver, with deep circles under eyes that would not stop crying. I would not talk to anyone; the phone rang and rang and I refused to pick it up. Now I see I was recoiling into the deepest recesses of my body and spirit, trying to physically hide, to pretend somehow that this was not happening.

I tried reasoning with myself. I had had the unmedicated delivery I wanted so desperately, despite it being long and arduous. How could I have survived that experience, whose pain was fresh and blinding, and not be able to bear this? I had delivered a daughter, the gender of child that I’d never even allowed myself to admit how much I wanted. How could I not be grateful? In the face of such a thick, inarticulate fog of despair, whose power felt primal, logic absolutely failed. I could not see past the storm clouds either in my heart or on the horizon (and there were many there, too: an economy in collapse and a terminally-ill father-in-law awaiting a heart transplant).

I admit that for all of my pretense at open-mindedness, I had always thought that people who took anti-depressant medication were simply not trying hard enough. That arrogance disappeared overnight when I swallowed my first zoloft. Grace’s arrival was my hint – and, frankly, it was more like a sharp slap to the face, since I seemed to have trouble hearing the hints – that trying hard was not always going to be enough.

My recovery was gradual. If I plunged off a cliff in a near-vertical line when Grace was born, I climbed out on an angle just north of horizontal. I got significant help. I saw more than one therapist, frequently. I took medication. I can’t remember a specific day that I looked at my daughter and felt the swell of pleasure, of joy, of love that I had expected when she was born. It did happen, though I hate that I can’t note a specific day that those feelings arrived, and I love her fiercely now.

The truth is that I expected motherhood to be simple. I had been told that it would be instinctive, that I would look at my baby and realize I’d always been waiting for her. I didn’t. While I’ve spent my life working for specific achievements, I think I thought that this one thing, being a mother, was my birthright. It wasn’t. I am dogged by a profound guilt about those early days. I ask myself all the time what kind of damage my ambivalence did to her and to our bond. My passage to parenthood was marked by a deep grief that is integrally woven into my identity as a mother.

I delivered Grace myself, pulling her onto my chest with my own two hands. From that moment I began a long and difficult passage to the grace of motherhood. It did not come easily to me. I’ll never know if this has made me a more confident mother, for knowing the treacherous shoals I traversed, or a more insecure one, for the lingering knowledge that I did not embrace my child immediately. I try to tell myself it doesn’t matter now.

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Lindsey Mead is a mother and writer who lives outside of Boston with her husband and two children.  Her writing has been published and anthologized in a variety of print and online sources, including the Huffington Post, Literary Mama, Torn: True Stories of Kids, Career, and the Conflict of Modern Motherhood, the Princeton Alumni Weekly, and Brain, Child.  She blogs regularly at A Design So Vast and loves connecting with people on twitter and facebook.
Jennifer Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. She will be leading a Manifestation Retreat in Costa Rica at the end of March and her annual retreat to Tuscany is in July 2014. All retreats are a combo of yoga/writing and for ALL levels. Read this post to understand what a Manifestation retreat is. Check out her site jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Jen and bestselling author Emily Rapp will be leading another writing retreat to Vermont in October.
Guest Posts

Be Your Own Rockstar.

January 14, 2014

By Amy Roost.

While attending “The Evolution of Psychotherapy” conference with my husband, I rubbed shoulders (if only in the elevator) with several of the greatest minds in the field–Erving Polster, Jeffrey, Zweig, Sue Johnson, Harriet Lerner and Harvel Hendrix to name just a few –persons I wouldn’t necessarily be familiar with were my husband not a psychologist.

Surprisingly, the conference also featured a keynote address by Alainis Morrisette. I was excited to hear her speak since hers is a name I do recognize given that she’s a rock star and given that I’ve listened to her feminist anthems countless times. It turns out Morrisette is also an incredibly articulate advocate for mental health.

The morning after Morrisette spoke, I was standing in line at a hotel lobby Starbucks; three young women, likely graduate students, stood behind me. They were all atwitter about someone sitting nearby. “Should we introduce ourselves?”, one asked. “No, that would be rude”, another replied. “I’m going for it!” the third one said.

I tried to spot who it was they were referring to, even hoped it was Morrisette. Imagine then my surprise when the bravest of the three woman walked toward a table where Salvador Minuchin–a 92-year old pioneer of psychotherapy–was sitting alone enjoying a cup of joe. As the intrepid scout approached his table to introduce herself, Minuchin stood up to take leave. Startled, the woman lost her nerve, made a hasty u-turn and returned to her friends who stood snickering behind me.

We’ve all been there. In the presence of someone we admired so much it made us nervous.

I remember working as the events coordinator for a large independent bookstore. It was my job to greet, entertain (in the “green room”) and introduce all the authors who came to the store for book signings. Over the years the A-list included Colin Powell, John Irving, Hilary Clinton, John McCain, Billy Collins, Frances Mayes, Alexander McCall Smith, and Carl Hiassen. I was rarely nervous meeting such big-name celebrities, and even when an attack of the butterflies did set in, I was able to maintain my composure.

That is until I sat next to Stephen Colbert. For anyone who is not familiar with Colbert, he is a political satirist and, in my opinion, a comedic genius who will go down in history as one of the great American commentators, in the same company as Mark Twain, Will Rogers and Garrison Keillor. While he coined the term “truthiness”, he is paradoxically known for having delivered a speech at the 2006 White House Correspondents’ Dinner that was one of the most courageous speak-truth-to-power exhortations since Lenny Bruce’s rants about the Vietnam War in the 1960s.

I was in the company of Mr. Colbert for two hours, paging through to the title page of his book and passing it to him for his signature so as to expedite the line. I’d been through this routine numerous times making small talk with Pulitzer Prize winners and leaders of the free world alike. However, on this occasion, I was, for the first time, completely dumbstruck and tongue tied because Colbert is my rock star, as surely as Salvador Minuchin was the young woman at Starbucks’ rock star.

We all have a rock star (or two) in our lives. Someone who we dream of meeting; someone whose achievements humble and inspire us to be our best selves or do our best work. In those dreams we are not speechless. We are witty, charasmatic and engaging.

So how sad that the Starbucks woman couldn’t screw up the courage to introduce herself to Minuchin, or that I wasn’t able to take advantage of being in close proximity to Colbert, a man I admired in large part for his ability to speak his own truth. She and I left so much on the table and we walked away with the regret that comes from failing to grab the brass ring, and the stale dream of how the conversation with our hero might have transpired had we only found our voice. How Minuchin might have advised the young woman on her career path or how Colbert might have replied to my question about how his Catholicism has influenced his politics or whether he ever heard from President Bush after his Correspondents’ Dinner speech, or how he might have advised me to make my own writing more satirical.

What stopped both of us from speaking to our heroes was a fundamental lack of self worth. A failure to believe that we had anything compelling to offer. Maybe also a fear that our advances would be rejected and leave us feeling foolish–a small risk when you consider the potential payout.

My friend Dana did take the risk. When I conveyed the Minuchin story to her she recalled brazenly emailing her hero, the author Jean Houston, asking for guidance on her PhD dissertation. Houston, who is a highly regarded (and demanded) speaker on the topic of human potential, not only emailed Dana back with advice but invited Dana to keep in touch so they could pursue further dialogue.

Since I’d never heard of Salvador Minuchin until recently and I haven’t assigned him any superhero powers, I would have no problem–being the extrovert that I am–introducing myself to him. But sit me down next to Stephen Colbert and, I imagine, a handful of others–Bruce Springsteen, Mary Oliver, the Dalai Lama– and I do a complete mind f*ck on myself.

Maybe Colbert would have found me fascinating? Perhaps he would have wanted to hear about the travails of parenting chronically ill child or about my impressions of his home state of South Carolina, or about my six weeks spent in the Soviet Union, or my grandma’s sour cream raisin pie recipe. Who knows?

No one knows, that’s who. And no one ever will so long as I fail to embrace my own worthiness. My own inner rock star.

Click photo to connect with Amy.

Click photo to connect with Amy.

Her multi-dimensional suchness, Amy Roost, is a freelance writer, book publicist, legal and medical researcher, and vacation rental manager. She and her husband are the authors of “Ritual and the Art of Relationship Maintenance” due to be published later this year in a collection entitled Ritual and Healing: Ordinary and Extraordinary Stories of Transformation (Motivational Press). Amy is also Executive Director of Silver Age Yoga Community Outreach (SAYCO) which offers geriatric yoga teacher certification, and provides yoga instruction to underserved seniors.

 

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

Do You Want To Be On The Lifeboat?

December 23, 2013

Do You Want to be on the Lifeboat? 

By Catherine Hummel.

Close your eyes.

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

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

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

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

The plane will crash.

Your heart starts to speed up.

You start to sweat.

Your mind is racing.

Is this the end of my life?

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

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

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

Panic. I can’t breathe.

Do you want to be on the boat?

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

I challenge you to ask yourself those questions.

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

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

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

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

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

 

Guest Posts, Letting Go, loss, love

Blue Is The Color of Sad.

December 17, 2013

Blue Is The Color of Sad. By Amy Ferris.

 

She must have a window seat.

This, she promises, is her last phone call for the night, reminding me one more time, it must be a window seat. I tell her I will do my best, the plane seems awfully full, and since it’s a last minute booking, it might be hard. “If I tell you I want a window seat, get me a window seat.”

This phone exchange was not long after her being diagnosed with moderate stage of dementia. She had some scary moments – unsettling, jarring, and horrifically confusing moments.

A Bat Mitzvah in Scarsdale, New York spurred her into a travel frenzy – wanting desperately to go, stay for few days, and see her family – her sisters, her nieces and nephews. I managed to work it out so a car service (a very kind man who lived on her street) would come and pick her up, drop her off at the JetBlue terminal, and make sure there was no seen or unforeseen problem. I paid the guy to wait an extra half-hour. She was still driving at that time, having just rammed her car into a fire hydrant. A glaring sign that she should never be behind the wheel ever again. “It came out of no where,” she said, “One minute I was sitting there, minding my own business, and the next minute, there it was, crossing the street.” What do you say? Really? “Ma, it can’t walk, a fire hydrant doesn’t walk.” You say nothing, but think plenty. I thought, “Oh shit, it’s really not so far downhill.”

I call the airline, JetBlue, and speak with a reservation agent, who had just the right combination of humor and sympathy and could not have been any more cordial or kind. She promised they will do whatever they could to accommodate my mom, but she needed to remind me that the plane was in fact full, and hopefully someone will be able to move if there was not a window seat available. I ask her if there is a ‘companion’ person who can help my mom get settled. Help her with the boarding pass, and the other unexpected frustrations that may arise. Yes, she says, someone will help my mom. I can only hope and pray for my mother to come ‘face to face’ with kindness. I think of all the times I gave up a window seat for an elderly person, or a pregnant woman, or a wife who wanted to sit next to her husband. I am hopeful, based on my own generosity, in situations like those.

She is picked up at the designated time. She is standing outside her condo with her suitcase and an overnight bag, having packed enough clothing for a month. “Maybe I’ll stay for a few extra weeks, “ she tells me the night before when she lists off all the clothing she’s bringing. I can hear in her voice something I never heard before: loneliness.

She gets to the JetBlue terminal, she checks her suitcase outside with baggage claim, and – I am told by the neighbor/car service driver – hands a crisp ten dollar bill to the lovely bag handler, telling him he is a lovely, lovely kind man. He deeply appreciates her gesture. Little does he know that the remaining eight or so crisp ten dollar bills that she has tucked ever so neatly in her wallet will make their way to others who smile, offer her hand, let her get ahead in line, help her with her carry-on. She makes her way up to the counter, where a ticket should be waiting for her. Yes, there is a ticket, but she must go to the gate, in order to try and get a window seat. This gives her great joy.

She goes through the whole scene – again, I am told by the neighbor/car service guy – the taking off of her shoes, the removing of her belt, the telling a joke or two about her hip replacement, and how it reminds her of the old days in Las Vegas when someone won at the slots, it was a sound filled with ‘good wishes.’ “No More,” she says. “It’s a phony sound, it has no heart. Gimme back my shoes.”

The car service guy cannot go any further with my mom. The rules. The companion person from Jet-Blue now meets her, thankfully.

There is no window seat available. She has an aisle seat. It appears that no one wants to give up a seat. I am horribly sad by this lack of generosity for this old, frail woman, and dare I say, embarrassed, because this old frail woman is my mom. This is where I get to envision the whole crazy scenario. My mother throwing a shit storm of a nut-dance, hauling a racial slur at the African American flight attendant, and then, if that wasn’t enough, causing another passenger who was somewhat overweight to breakdown and cry. “You know how fat you are, you should have your own zip-code.” The administrator later told me on the phone, it was like an unstoppable chaotic ruckus. I am sad. I tell her that my mom has dementia. It comes and goes, but mostly it’s coming these days. I give her all the broad strokes, my dad had died, she’s living alone, we know, we know, it’s time to get her settled, she’s stubborn, she’s independent, and there’s the whole question of what to do now? Move her, or does she stay? And she’s always been much more strident and righteous and defiant. Not going gently into the good night. Not one iota.

She leaves the airport, and manages to get back to her condo by renting a car, even though she is forbidden to drive. I would just love to meet that Avis rental person who gave my mom a red Mustang to tool around in.

She calls me in hysterics. She wants me to fire every single one of those nasty, bitchy flight attendants, and pilots. And the co-pilot, he’s as much to blame. And where is her luggage? Her goddamn luggage? I bet they stole it. They stole it and you should fire them, the whole lot of them. I find out from the very cordial and patient rep, that her luggage is on its way to New York. I am in Los Angeles on business; my brother is at a birthday celebration on Long Island. Nether one of us expected this hailstorm. I try to deal with the airport bureaucracy and arrange for my mom’s luggage to make its’ way to Fort Lauderdale within 48 hours, barring no glitches.

My mother refuses to speak to anyone. She feels duped and lied to and the fat girl should have gotten up. “My God she took up two god-damn seats.” And then she said, “I always, always have to sit at the window.” Why, I ask her, why? She hangs up on me. Typical. Some things never change.

We moved my mom to New Mexico where she was about to start living in an assisted living home. Good care. My brother researched, and found a lovely place that would make her feel just like home. I managed to get her a window seat. As the plane revved up it’s engines and was about to take off, my mom took my hand and squeezed it, staring out the window – watching the plane disappear into the gorgeous white clouds – and after a few long, long, moments, she turned to me, and said: “Up hear, in the clouds, I can dream all I want.” Then she pointed to two clouds, almost inter-wined, and she said with such joy: ‘See that, see that, they’re dancing together. You can only see this kind of magic from a window seat.”

It’s was here that my mother had always been able to see and feel and imagine clouds dancing, forms taking shape, lovers kissing, the intertwining of souls, and as her hand pressed up against the window, she could feel the kindness of Heaven.

amy_ferris
Amy Ferris: Author. Writer. Girl.

Book: Dancing at The Shame Prom, sharing the stories that kept us small – Anthology, Seal Press (2012) co-edited with Hollye Dexter
Book: Marrying George Clooney, Confessions From A Midlife Crisis, Seal Press (2010)
Guest Posts, healing, motherhood

Un-Motherhood.

December 7, 2013
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By Laura C. Alonso

It’s one of those days. I curl on my side in a c-shape in the center of my bed, wrapping my arms around myself. Oh, these empty arms of mine, mocking this Fucking. Empty. Womb. I breathe in, breathe out, and allow myself to fall into the dreamspace where I can scream as loud as I want without scaring the neighbor’s children . . . my husband . . myself. I don’t scream in waking life. I don’t even talk about it, really. This gaping hole of real, raw, aching grief has no category, no name (at least none that I know of, none that seems to define this experience for me). There is no sympathy for me, for my loss. What loss? How do you lose something you never had in the first place? Well, you can. And I have.

Peach Skin

No sweet fruit to nourish the spirit, just a thin film that veils each day – velvet cheeks, never kissed . . . the souls of our unborn children.

Those twenty-five words were published about two years ago in a “tiny and colorful literary journal” called Nailpolish Stories, where writers tell stories in exactly twenty-five words with titles named after the colors of nail polish. At the time it was the best and the most I could do. It quite literally ripped through my heart to put those few words on paper, and it was a gift to me for it to be out in the world. Now I’m trying to do better, and for some reason it feels really important to get it right.

In sitting down to write this, the title that came to me first was “Notes from a Childless Mother.” Ugh. And . . . um, no.

To be clear, I don’t want or need sympathy. Empathy, perhaps, but sometimes I feel so unworthy of expecting anything at all. If my own empty arms can mock the fact that there never was and never will be a baby growing in this womb, then why shouldn’t you mock me, too? After all, there are people who have lost REAL babies. Living, breathing, beautiful children. Miscarriages, SIDS, horrible childhood diseases. Mothers losing babies. The stuff that makes you want to tear out your hair and scream at the universe for doing that to any mother, any child. Fuck chaos; fuck the lottery of where one lands in this world. Fuck the fact that those amazing women will never be the same. Never. Never again. I’ve known and loved those women. And I feel all of that, and it hurts me, too – it hurts me to my core, and I do scream out loud for them in my dreamspace as well.

I also wouldn’t dare to put myself in the shoes of those grieving mothers. And I don’t expect anyone else to, either. The same with couples who’ve tried and failed – often for years – to conceive much-wanted children only to then go on to fail at infertility treatments as well. Couples with so much to offer. Homes that children would be so blessed to be born into. So. Fucking. Unfair. I ache for them, too. But I also have not walked their path . . .

I just want a pair of shoes of my own. Shoes that actually fit – that I can walk around in and be who I am and feel what I feel and be understood by a handful of people. Is that too much to ask?  To most people I’m just a woman who never had a kid. It was a choice, after all. She never had kids. We’re a childless couple – we never even tried to conceive. They never had children . . . Never had a baby, those two . . . Tsk, tsk.

Yet not one of those “nevers” matches my experience. Not even close. In the permanent punched-out hole in my gut, I feel every day like a childless mother. I knew my children before they were(n’t) born. They existed for me. They had little nameless, faceless souls, but I knew them, and they were mine, and I looked forward to meeting their father and eventually meeting them – getting to know them and helping them unfold into the amazing little humans they chose to be. I dreamed often of the day I would be given that privilege. Emphasis on would have. Not might have. No; I knew. They waited for me in a future I hadn’t yet reached – in a life that I didn’t yet know . . . but I couldn’t wait to meet them there someday.

I read parenting books when I wasn’t even in a long-term dating relationship.  Throughout my twenties I worked full-time and went to university with an average of nine credits per semester. I spent a year working on an honor’s thesis and was preparing to apply to graduate school. I volunteered at a crisis hotline; I had many friends and a great social life. I was busy and happy and on my way. In addition to the reading, writing, studying, etc. that I had to do for my undergraduate work, I was a voracious reader outside of academics as well.

And somewhere in that “leisure” reading, I always had a book or two in my bag about children and parenting issues. And I read them. A lot. Many of them several times. And my friends would sincerely ask, why are you reading about parenting now? And that seemed like a silly question to me. I wanted to do it well. I hadn’t had the best preparation for it based on how I grew up, to say that in the most simple way possible. And if we spend the equivalent of four years of full-time study before we can enter most “professions” (and often study beyond that is required or at least recommended as an asset to your skill set), then why did it seem SO crazy to most people that I was studying about children and parenting several years before I was likely to actually have a child and be a parent?

And it went beyond the books, too. I had all sorts of ideas and plans that I tucked away for that future time in my life. My future home would definitely have a large, beautiful globe. I’d seen some that were made of gemstones – beautiful and multi-colored – and I imagined how delighted my children would be to have that reference whenever we talked about “the world.” Oh, and we would have a very large, thick-spined, gold-embossed dictionary. On a pedestal in some prominent spot in our home – you know, like they have in the library. Yes, and walls of bookshelves, and comfortable places to read . . . all of that and so much more, tucked away in my heart. Still there, really . . . sort of mocking me quite a bit, actually. I don’t know what to do with those things now – where to put them, how to somehow still have ownership of something that never materialized. How to talk about it with other people.

“This is the mother that I would have been . . .”

But things turned out different. Yes, I met a man I loved very much who shared the future vision of us waking up on Sunday mornings with children somersaulting onto our bed. I got married at thirty-one with every intention of meeting those lovely souls someday on the then-visible horizon. But other things happened on the way. I never made it to graduate school. Chronic illness crept into my life. Our finances never lined up. And time doesn’t stand still for those things.

Suddenly I was forty, and then forty-two – and without wanting to acknowledge it, I could feel that hole growing solid, permanent. Black. Never to be filled. And it’s something I’ve been quietly coming to terms with inside my heart and sometimes in painful, tear-filled mourning sessions with my husband over the last few years. I will be forty-six in February. Still chronically ill; still struggling financially. Never. Going. To. Be. A. Mother.

Yet in many ways I feel like we honored those precious little souls by not bringing them into the world simply because we selfishly wanted to know them. We knew we couldn’t care for them the way that they deserved. We wanted nothing more than to be parents. But we wanted to be good parents. And we had to come to terms with the quite literally agonizing fact that it really wasn’t possible in the place where life had taken us.

So, was it a choice? I suppose. But it is one that breaks my heart over and over again every single day. And I know it breaks my husband’s, too.

I often wonder what the future will be like when my peers and I start to become the “aged” generation – if I’m fortunate to make it that far! – what will it be like when I have nobody around me to look into my eyes and see their own eyes peering back at them? No one to cradle my hand, to kiss my cheek . . . and to call me that beautiful name?

Fucking.

Empty.

Womb.

At our wedding, a dear friend of mine took me aside and asked me not to bring up the subject of her two young children in front of our mutual friend, as this friend was currently undergoing infertility treatment and was overwhelmingly sad about not being able to get pregnant, and she didn’t want to bring up the subject of children in front of her. I’m not sure if that is how our mutual friend would have felt if I had asked to see photos of our friend’s children, but I know that the friend who asked did so out of the most loving and best intentions. I also know for sure that is not how I want to be treated.

I love kids. Love families. Absolutely adore seeing beautiful loving families doing everything they know to get it right. It makes me happy, brings me genuine, heart-swelling joy to see your photos, hear your stories. I’m HAPPY for you and your beautiful children. I might see something that reminds me – ah, yes, that’s how I thought it would be! – but you having it in your life doesn’t make me have it any more or any less in mine. It’s not really something to be jealous of. What you have in abundance doesn’t give or take anything from me.

So, yes, I’m that Facebook friend who sincerely enjoys watching all the videos and pictures of your children and their amazing milestones and all of those precious phrases, questions, etc., that only come from the mouths of children before they learn to “filter.” Love it. All of it. And it’s not in a creepy way, either. Being both overjoyed for you and sad as hell for me are not mutually exclusive.

When I first started reconnecting with old friends on Facebook, I was browsing through the photos of one of my high school friends. There was a picture of her daughter on her first day of kindergarten, and she was wearing the same dress my friend had worn on her first day of kindergarten. I burst into tears at the sight of that photo. But I was smiling. It was beautiful. And, yes, it was just the kind of thing I would have wanted to do if I had a daughter, and I felt that as an ache deep in the pit of my gut. But I also felt my heart swell with happiness for my friend and her beautiful girl. Since then there have been lots of tears from lots of Facebook posts, picture, videos . . . but again, they are tears of joy, of admiration – of “oh, how beautiful that is and how happy it makes me to see people I love and care about experiencing this amazing, awesome journey!”

I love those moments when I can see friends’ and family’s faces mirrored in their own children; whether they are biological children or not, this seems to occur in some fashion for most families I know, and it’s one of the most beautiful things to observe. I’ve had my own dreamlike moments when those floating souls of my unborn children have flashed before me and I’ve glimpsed a version of my own face in theirs – it’s a spark, a blur – and in those brief moments I’ve experienced the overwhelming feeling that comes with that kind of love, that kind of soul connection. I get it to the very core of my bones, and I miss it even if you might say that I never had it to begin with.

On that note, I guess if I have any advice for my friends (and/or for friends of “people like me”), it would be that you not say in our presence that one can only truly understand the love between a parent and child once one becomes a parent. I “get” how it must feel that way to you, but from our side of the experience – to those of us in this little undefinable space that I’m still trying to come up with a name for – that is, quite frankly, both condescending and hurtful. And I simply do not believe that it is true. I loved my kids – the little souls still floating around in my consciousness somewhere – long before I ever knew who their father would be or when (or if) they would enter my life. I love them still. Even if that makes me sound crazy.

I’ve also been extremely blessed to have several children in my life who’ve been my center and my world. My brother was born when I was fourteen, and he and I have shared a very special bond throughout his childhood until he went away to college and beyond. In that same space of time my older sister had a daughter, and then a son. And all three of those kids were the center of my universe for many years. I made life decisions around them and my ability to live near them and to be a part of their lives and to love them as big and as much as I could.

My niece then had a daughter, Kaylee, when she was still quite young herself, and my husband and I have enjoyed helping her as much as we possibly could from the time Kaylee was a baby. We used to keep her with us every weekend, and we took care of her during the week sometimes as well, and it was really such a gift to us – this beautiful baby girl who we had the privilege of helping to care for. In an odd way that experience is what helped us understand in the most tangible way that I could not care for a child full-time, seven days a week, around-the-clock. I would give everything I had for the time she was with us and then would literally have to rest for the entire day or two in-between before she came back to fill our lives with joy again. And I did so without any regret and an enormous sense of purpose. And she is now an amazing seven-year-old first grader who still spends weekends with us as often as she can (she is a very busy girl!), and we couldn’t love her any more if she were our own. It was always the same with my brother. It was the same with my niece and my nephew. And I hope that they all have known, and will always know and remember, that love from me.

But I also know that as much and as deep as I love them, I am not any of their mothers. I know that I am nobody’s mother and never will be. And it’s sad and unfair and it will always exist every day in that punched-out hole in my gut. And that’s my sorrow to bear. And I don’t want or need you to feel sorry for me. I just want this experience to be heard, to be known. And I know I am not the only one.

I think there are many of us “childless mothers” walking the earth, living our lives with their various circumstances, silently carrying the lifelong burdens of these empty, aching arms . . . and when we encounter your children, we happily admire and, yes, sometimes even love them – we often love them very, very much – but not with envy, and not in some creepy, coveting way. We love your children with genuine joy and (you better believe!) with a hard-earned, deep and heartfelt knowledge of what it takes for you to be a parent . . . and, finally, we love them with the truest appreciation of every single one of their beautiful, wonder-filled, velvet-cheeked, miracle moments on earth.

 

Laura C. Alonso‘s work has been published in In Posse ReviewLinnaean Street3AM MagazineSFWP, and other online literary journals. She is the former Senior Editor of Fictionline Press and former Fiction Editor of The God Particle (two sorely missed online venues), and her fiction  has been a finalist in the Santa Fe Writer’s Project’s Literary Awards Program in 2001, 2002, and 2010, as well as a finalist for the Glass Woman Prize in 2012.

Jen Pastiloff is back in London for ONE workshop only Feb 14th. Book by clicking poster. This is her most popular workshop and space is limited to 50 people.

Jen Pastiloff is back in London for ONE workshop only Feb 14th. Book by clicking poster. This is her most popular workshop and space is limited to 50 people.

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

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

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

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