Browsing Tag

inspiring

Fatherhood, Guest Posts, healing, Race/Racism

A Black Remembrance of My White Father.

June 21, 2015
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beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Erika Robinson

I have not shared this photo before. I have wanted to keep my father to myself, perhaps because, when he was alive, I had to share him with so many.

But it’s Father’s Day, and it is both nationally and personally a sober time. So I am giving all of us a gift by sharing my father once again.

My father left for college when he was only 16. He left for the big city from a farm in Nebraska, where he had no exposure to Black people.

There was no one whiter than my father, with his light eyes and hair, his aquiline nose, his Midwestern twang, and the way he said words like egg and roof. Tweed jackets with leather elbow patches and Oxford shirts were his uniform. He lent them a white guy cool by finishing his look with khakis and topsiders that he wore with no socks. He smoked a pipe. He loved Latin and classical music and German food. He was completely and unapologetically white.

My father was also the greatest man I have ever known. I described him to a friend recently: the way my father was committed to social justice and the cause of civil rights; the way he gave his voice, his body, his life force to the struggle for equality for Black people to the degree that he received letters of thanks during his lifetime from Martin Luther King, and to the degree that he was eulogized in Congress upon his death.

My friend said “Your father sounds as though he was very…optimistic.”

This friend of mine is a very polite young white man. I could tell from the pause between the words “very” and “optimistic” that what he’d wanted to call my father was “naive.”

Here is what my father was: he was grounded in his identity as a white man, aware of the privilege this status conferred upon him, and acutely conscious of the mantle of responsibility laid upon him to live a life of service to those upon whom society had conferred a different status entirely. Continue Reading…

Binders, Guest Posts, Mental Health, motherhood

My Son of the South

June 20, 2015
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By T Hudson

Ben—whose name in Hebrew means the Son of the South—has thick chestnut wavy hair, hazel eyes like mine, and a strong prominent nose. He believes that his friends are not his friends at all, but rather members of the Mafia or the CIA or the FBI out to imprison him, harm him, or poison him, that helicopters and motorbikes are instruments of surveillance, dispatched to spy on us all, and that our computers and telephones are bugged.

He is nineteen when it starts. The doctors call it a psychotic break, but the words seem all wrong, because for something to split or tear apart, it should be brittle or weak at the seams in the first place. My son is whole. He takes a surfboard into the ocean each weekend, heaves his lithe body onto it and glistens with the elements. My son writes. He plays Rachmaninov’s piano concerto by ear, and he has a scholarship to one of the most prestigious public universities in California. That’s why it can’t be right that he has schizophrenia. Can it? Can it really?

We live in a prized home with sought after views in the oldest and quaintest part of Hollywood. Ben is going to be a doctor and I will proudly join the ranks of British immigrant Yiddisher mamas. I’m just waiting for it to happen, so when it doesn’t I blame myself. Maybe I haven’t loved him enough or maybe I’ve loved him too much. Either way it is my fault.

 

It begins in the laundry room in the early hours of the morning. I find Ben cold and alone tracing the wires of the telephone circuit board.

“This is how they are monitoring us,” he whispers, his face stricken, his breath sour.  “We have to cut some stuff out, change the receiver, I can do it.”

“Who?” I ask. “Who is monitoring us? And why.”

Ben puts a finger to his lips, and quiets me. His eyes look a shade darker with him framed as he is against the white plaster walls. He begins rifling through the tool kit, although he doesn’t seem quite sure of what he is looking for.

“Don’t do anything yet,” I say, my voice barely audible.

I look at my bike hanging from the rafters, the spokes still muddy from my off-road ride. The room contains everything we want to hide away from the neat order of the rest of our lives, eight years worth of clutter, and a washing basket of damp smelling clothes. It is frigid, especially at this late hour. Built into the hillside, carved out of the bedrock, we are underground. I need to sweep the floor as if to make room for us. It is imperative.

I take the broom and work it around Ben’s size nine feet, buying us time—time to hope he has a fever-induced delirium, something that might pass with a couple of Advil and a good night’s sleep.

Ben has never rerouted wires before in his life and, besides that, we have suspended our landline in favor of cellular phones. These wires that my child is obsessing over are part of a defunct apparatus from a bygone age.

“Let’s go upstairs,” I offer, swishing the last dust motes across the grain of the old hardwood floor.

Ben agrees albeit reluctantly, and walks behind me with a languid gait, one I hardly recognize. Once seated at the dining room table I take his temperature, smooth my palm across his forehead as I have countless times before.

“98.6,” I say. “Normal.”

The dining room boasts large sash windows that open to a hefty forty-foot drop. Ben stands against the pane and with the first light I see how thin and pale he has grown in recent weeks. I feel my throat tighten as denial gives way to fear.  “Did you take drugs?” I ask him. “Hard drugs?”

He stares at me and shakes his head as if I am the one who is suffering from delusions.

Continue Reading…

Binders, Guest Posts

Dear Students

June 9, 2015
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beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Marissa Landrigan

Dear Students,

There was one semester where I almost flunked out of college.

It was the first semester of my sophomore year–I’d always been a good student, and had managed to get through my freshman year with good grades, while also doing all the silly experimental stuff you’re supposed to do as a freshman. For some reason, the weird transitional college breakdown happened to me a year late.

That semester, Fall 2002, I remember four of the classes I was enrolled in, though it must have been more: Personal Essay, Persuasive Argument, Intro to Sociology, and Biological Anthropology. By December, I’d withdrawn late from Personal Essay, had a D- in Intro to Sociology, and outright failed Biological Anthropology.

This isn’t actually a story about how it’s important to take your education seriously, and what an enormous opportunity college is — though you should, and it is. This is a story about how I seriously fucked up, and ultimately, it was ok.

This is a story I’m telling you in hopes of countering the voices you’re probably used to hearing, often from your other professors or people who finished college decades ago, the voices that say you’re not working hard enough, or, life’s hard, so suck it up, or, worse, I don’t care that you’re having a hard time, or, even worse, the silence, the disbelief that comes along with ignoring what a hard time you’re having.

Here’s the big secret you won’t hear many professors admit, though I don’t know why: We all had a hard time, all of us, at one point or another. For many of us that hard time happened in college, when our world had been turned upside-down, when we didn’t know who we were or where we were going, when it didn’t feel like there was anyone else who understood.

So I’m going to tell you my story because I want you to know that I understand. Continue Reading…

courage, Guest Posts, Relationships

I Became A Dancer At Last When He Broke My Heart

June 9, 2015
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beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Sophia Chang

My lace sleeves floated as my partner spun me in the air. He was wearing a plastic gold chain and an afro wig. I had blue eyeshadow and neon pink-and-orange striped knee socks on. We’d been paired as strangers a minute ago and now I hung in his arms with abandon. My hand was bleeding, but I wouldn’t notice until later.

I was about to have the best night ever.

Two nights before my boyfriend walked out on me. I still had the rug burns where I begged him on my knees to stay. He had shaken my weak hands off his wrist like dust.

I cried to my friends, took the train to dinner, bought stone-ground chocolate from a hipster: the standards.

I walked the empty apartment in the middle of the night, too hungry to sleep, too tired to cook. My dog sat by me helplessly as I doubled over with sobs.

Continue Reading…

cancer, Guest Posts, healing, Inspiration

On Fighting Cancer The Second Time Around

June 9, 2015
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beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Shauna Zamarripa

In 2007, things were going really well for me. I had just gotten my residential real estate license and was killing it despite the fact that the market was in the crapper. Back then, I had learned quickly that foreclosures and short sales was where the money was at, so I speedily obtained my CDPE (Certified Distressed Property Expert) designation and was off to the races. And man, oh man, was I winning. I was the preferred listing agent for several banks and acquisition companies. And business?

Well….business was GOOD.

It was also right around this time that I had begun blogging for major websites like Yahoo, CNN Money, MSN Money and even found myself smack dab on the front page of Realtor.com.

And that made business even better.

I had begun developing my own model on how to use blogging for lead generation and business building. And it was going GREAT….until the other shoe dropped.

I got sick. Really sick. I had gone in for my annual OBGYN exam. A few days later they called to tell me the results were abnormal. When I went back in for more tests…that was when I found out I had cervical cancer. Stage 3.

I was 29 years old.

I was devastated.

Upon hearing the news, I went home and didn’t get out of bed for two days. I didn’t say anything to anyone, and many people even close to me didn’t know what I was dealing with. I refused to ask for help. I refused to let anyone know how hard it hit me.

I went to my next appointment alone (which I was fine with), as they begun freezing the cells. It hurt like HELL. But I powered through. Then? That’s when they started the chemo. And while I didn’t think anything could have been worse than what I had already endured, that was. Far worse.

There were days I couldn’t feel my hands or my feet. I never told anyone. I totaled three cars in a year, thanks to my stubbornness, but didn’t lose my life. There were days I couldn’t get out of bed. Some….because I didn’t want to, others because I just couldn’t. I was too tired. I was nauseated and exhausted. I could barely function. I was fuzzy and lost.

It was at this point that I had to give up my real estate career and focused on blogging full time. I was too sick to do much of anything else at the time.

But, as I got better, the more I wanted to blog and the less I wanted to do real estate. By 2010, I was healthy again. I felt like myself again. The steroids and the depression medication, however, caused me to gain a LOT of weight over the past couple of years. But I fought that back off as well. I worked out, ate right and lost it all. By 2011, I was looking a LOT better.

Then, 2012….tore my world apart. Secrets, lies and devastation took me down a rabbit hole that I would wish upon no one. Ever. And, even though I was cancer free, I wasn’t sure I wanted to live anymore. Yet, as I looked into my all three of my daughters eyes, I realized that wasn’t an option. They still needed me. So? I stayed. All the while never telling the people I should have told about much of my struggle. Because it just wasn’t their business. But, moreso because, when you go through hell, you just don’t want to talk about it anymore. Because you’ve felt it, you’ve dealt with it, and it became this part of you that you would rather forget than remember.

And that’s okay. You’re allowed to do that.

2012 saw a final separation of myself and my husband of 17 years. 2013 had me falling in love again. It also saw me through a house fire that nearly claimed my life….and something that created a lot of change. I remodeled my house and moved the (now 19-year-old) twins out and moved myself and the 13 year old in with the man, the love of my life, a man who, in 2014 I married – despite my saying repeatedly I would never get married again. And 2015 brought back an old friend…my cancer.

Except this time, things were different.

When they told me I needed more tests, something in me knew that this time was going to be worse than the last one. And even though everyone said “I would be FINE,” I knew (somehow) that this time wasn’t going to be as easy.

Fuck.

I hate when I’m right. Continue Reading…

Binders, Guest Posts, healing

What I Salvaged From The Fire

May 26, 2015
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beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Hollye Dexter

 

When our house burned down in 1994, all three levels burned to the ground. There was not a trace left of the sofa, the dining table, the piano. And yet, my husband, wearing thigh-high fishing boots, dug through piles of rubble four-feet deep and pulled out small blackened squares. They looked like charcoal briquets, but they turned out to be my childhood diaries. One of them used to have a Holly Hobbie cover and a little gold key attached.

I’ve kept a diary since I was in the second grade. This might have tipped me off that I was bound to become a writer. It was important to me then to document my comings and goings, important to me that someone knew I had woven straw placemats at my Campfire Girls meeting, or been chosen third for the kickball team at recess. Someone beside me had to know, and so it was my diary that became the witness to my life.

In addition to my diary, I’d taken to walking around town with a mini Hello Kitty notebook in the pocket of my plaid Dittos hip-huggers, in case I felt a sudden urge to write something down.

Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Interview, Video, Young Voices

Internet Superstar Amymarie Gaertner Talks (& Dances) For Jen Pastiloff

April 23, 2015
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Jen Pastiloff here. I had the honor of meeting 20 year old Amymarie Gaertner last week when I was having a little vino with my friend Rachel (Yoga_girl on instagram.) Turns out Amymarie has MILLIONS of followers on Youtube and Vine and Instagram for her amazing freestyle dancing. She is a self-taught choreographer and dancer from Ohio. I found her to be charming, inspiring and talented as all get out. Enjoy!! I am so excited about the Girl Power: You Are Enough project.

Check out her do a little dance for me with my LOVE sign on below. Come join me on instagram at @jenpastiloff. Post your instagram name in the comments. xo, jp

Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Self Image, Self Love, Young Voices

A 19 Year Old Girl Talks About “Being Enough.”

April 20, 2015
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By Sarah B Levine

Note from Jen Pastiloff: I am currently writing a book for young girls based on the workshop that Lara Heimann and I have co-created: Girl Power: You Are Enough. Last week I was in my hometown of Philadelphia leading one of my workshops and right before it started I bumped into a beautiful young girl. I asked her if I could interview her. She said yes, having no idea what I would ask her. (My kind of human!!) The video is at the bottom so you can watch after you read her stunning post. I put a call out to young girls to write about when they feel the best about themselves, if they feel like they are enough, and a letter to their younger or future selves. I intend to include some in the book. (The book will also feature letters from various women to their younger selves, such as Christy Turlington, Cheryl Strayed, Ashley Ford Megan Stielstra, Emily Rapp, Angela G. Patel, Rachel Pastiloff, Lara Heimann, Rene Denfeld, Lidia Yuknavitch, Suleika Jaouad and more. I am so excited by this project that I haven’t been able to sleep. That and I have been binge watching Parenthood on Netflix but that’s a whole other story. It’s been a dream of mine to work with young women yet I had no idea how to start making it happen. Then, it just happened organically. They started coming to my workshop, in droves. So Lara and I gave birth to this baby. Girl Power: You Are Enough.

The time is now for this. So the beautiful girl I bumped into at the studio saw my call on Facebook and submitted her post. I wanted to share it here because, well. You’ll see. May we all remember that we are enough.

May we have people that remind us.

ps- I am reminding you. YOU are enough.

*  *  *  *

Dear Jen,

As per requested on your Facebook, I decided to answer what it means to be enough. And after a couple of hours at my computer going through tears, smiles, snorts of laughter and everything in between I feel I have captured a part of me I had been unable to acknowledge for a long time. A part of me that has been quiet and dormant as a voice in the back of my head for a long time. A part of me, I feel is also a part of many other girls, boys, young and old all over.

Thank you for already making a change in my life this past week. Everything happens for a reason.

Sarah B Levine (The girl you met at  your Dhyana yoga studio in Philadelphia impromptu interview)

 

****************************************************************************

All of this happened in the comfort of my own home and mind. I crossed path with a number of people in my life that all encouraged me loved me and supported me and saw I was an old soul. Rarely what I am writing is what majority of those people got to see. This is what I saw when I looked in the mirror.

Why am I enough?

Why should I be enough? Who am I enough for? Who would ever love me? Why can’t I be looked at like that, with admiration? Why do my legs touch? Why is my nose so big, my belly not as toned or my butt droopy? Don’t take my picture it might point out a new flaw. My teeth aren’t as white or straight as hers. My hair isn’t as curly; I wish it were naturally more beautiful than I wouldn’t have to try so hard. These are the things that would go through my mind- sometimes more often than not. Continue Reading…

Compassion, Guest Posts, Inspiration

Grace Notes

April 20, 2015
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beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Melodye Shore

As I rounded the last corner on my morning walk, I stopped to admire a flowering pink azalea. Dainty pink blossoms fluttered on graceful stems, lifted like ballerinas on the morning breeze. Winter was being nudged back into hibernation, and spring was doing one last dress rehearsal before taking center stage.

But my reverie was cut short.

The air was filled with the unmistakable whine of chainsaws, and the frantic chattering of displaced birds.

I raced toward my house, chased after the disembodied sounds until I found their source.

An army of gardeners surrounded the pepper trees in my neighbor’s yard, right behind my own. They stood sentry along our common fence, weapons raised, until my neighbor called out to them in broken Spanish. Chainsaws bit into bark–a steady, grinding noise–as one after another, amputated trees limbs crashed to the ground at the workmen’s feet.

My heart sank. Planted in the wrong spot, Brazilian pepper trees can be a bit unruly. Without pruning, they grow impossibly tall and unruly. They litter the ground with seedpods, and their gnarled trunks shed bark. They’re not indigenous to our area, and it shows. Even so, I love them. They provide shade during the hottest part of summer, and they offer sanctuary to the countless birds that, moments earlier, had taken to the sky, voicing their displeasure.

Hummingbirds patrolled the wooden fence, wings whirring as they dive-bombed the intruders. Mockingbirds hovered above emptied nests, and house finches fought in vain to protect their hatchlings. Homeless now, a pair of orioles took wing, a blur of sunshine that disappeared when they vanished.

I stared at a bald patch of sky, where leafy branches used to be, and I was overcome by a naked sense of vulnerability.  My heart ached for the birds—their sanctuary was being destroyed! But when the hacked-off branches teetered on the fence, and then collapsed into my yard like fallen corpses, my fingers tightened around my phone.

Now what? I asked myself. My neighbor and I were strangers— the fence, the trees that divided our properties also separated us from one another. I wouldn’t recognize his face, were I to bump into him at our local market, and I didn’t have his phone number.

So I called my sister, who lives 1000 miles away. “He’s killing them,” I sobbed.

“Wha–” The panic in her voice was palpable. But as I related the situation, blubbered on and on about dismembered trees and murderous gardeners, the urgency in her voice dissolved into relieved laughter, followed by sighs of relief.

“What can you do?” she said. “His property, his trees…I’m sorry, but I don’t know what I can do to make you feel better.”

So I called my husband. “You should see this!” I wailed. My eyes were blurred by tears, but I tried valiantly to describe for him the massacre as it continued to unfold.

Awkward silence.

“I wish I could help you,” he eventually said, “but by the time I get home from work, the damage will already be done.”

We ended our conversation, and in that hollow space between knowing and not believing the situation in which I found myself, I heard a still, small voice. It called me out of my panic, whispered the answer I needed to hear.

Share your concerns with the right person, it said. Speak up, while you still can. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Inspiration, Relationships

Twenty Years of Solitude

April 20, 2015
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beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Melissa Banigan

Barrel-chested and bull-necked, Will had cerulean blue eyes that offset the safe, sturdy gravity of his body and made me feel as though I were drowning. They were the kind of eyes described in novels as being washed out, like the sky. If I had grown up in the middle of the rainforest, and Will’s eyes had been the first blue eyes I ever saw, I would’ve thought he was either a god or on his death bed.

I was 20 years old and despite it being only our first date, Will was already my favorite person. We sat at a candlelit table in a restaurant in the basement of the Italian Workman’s Club in Madison, Wisconsin. Two bottles of wine in, I stared into his eyes and recalled a short story by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

“It’s about a man and woman who meet every night in a dream and recognize each other by repeating the phrase, ‘Eyes of a Blue Dog.’ But upon waking, the woman can’t remember what the man looks like. She writes their phrase throughout her town, but the man can’t remember anything from his dreams, and they walk by each other like two ships passing. I can’t imagine anything sadder.”

I don’t recall if Will responded. My eyes misted, and, drunk, we left. He took me to his small walkup apartment and we sat in his living room and talked about our dreams. I was still figuring mine out, which meant I had no real idea yet what I was doing with my life, but Will was in college and had already set course. Surrounded by books about Latin American politics and discussing his need to gain a higher level of fluency in Spanish, he grew animated when talking about a future that would take him far away from Wisconsin.

“I’m going to work in Central and South America.”

I waited for him to tell me more, but instead, he kissed me, and we soon fell into his bed. He was everything I wanted: adventurous, hilarious, and intense. In the dark, with only the light from a streetlamp shining across his broad chest, he stared at me through his wide, azure eyes.

When eventually I turned to sleep, I felt a gnawing feeling in the pit of my stomach. I had grown up having daddy issues because of an absent, alcoholic, gambling father, struggled with my own drug addiction, and just generally had difficulty with men. In the back of my mind, I grappled with the idea that I was unworthy of love.

As Will curled up against me, I thought: Come morning, he’ll be like the man in the Garcia Marquez story – he will have forgotten all about me.

At the first signs of daybreak, I unwrapped myself from Will, quietly collected my things, and slipped out the door, vowing to cut off our communications to prevent the pain of him leaving me.

Yet I couldn’t quit Will. Not entirely.

Over the years, he moved to Indonesia, to England, to Colombia, to Minnesota. But he always came home, and occasionally, I’d run into him at some bar or another. We’d make small talk, have a drink or two, and inevitably end up in bed together. Each time, I felt that what we had would last forever. We spoke of getting a cabin in the middle of Oregon. He invited me to visit him wherever he was living. Yes, I said, yes to all of it. But then dawn would break, and I’d disappear like a forest creature into the crepuscular fog.

One day, I received a letter sent from Colombia. “You would love the rainforest,” Will wrote. “Pink dolphins swim alongside my boat in the river. They are like nothing I’ve ever seen. I miss you.”

I kept that letter in a drawer for years, pulling it out occasionally to stare at his words and examine every curve of his handwriting for hidden meaning. Pink dolphins…He missed me… What did it all mean?

The years moved along. I had a series of relationships, bore a child with an abusive man, and then, just like that, decided I had had enough and finally started to pull my life together. Will moved to New York, and I ended up there too, to finish a degree in art history. He helped me move into my apartment in Greenpoint, and that evening, after I had tucked my daughter into her new bed, we sat on my front stoop drinking beers in the rain. It was that night, while listening to Will laugh, that I realized how hopelessly in love I was with him. And as sure as I knew anything, I knew that he loved me, too. My heart cracked wide open as we kissed.

The next morning I woke in a panic. My old fear filled me. He’d leave me. He always did. I heard my dad’s voice in my head: “Good things never last.” And another voice rumbled even deeper: “Leave. Run. Don’t look back.”

Life became more complicated. Will and I lived in two parts of the city about an hour apart, but my university was only a few blocks away from his apartment. We should’ve created many New York memories together, but even when he had a bad injury to his Achilles heel that left him largely immobile, I visited him only once. My dad had recently had his first heart attack, and my daughter’s father was giving me grief. I felt depleted, shaken, and alone. Every night I’d sit surrounded by books on the couch in my apartment and just cry, rocking myself to sleep. Despite wanting to be there for Will, I felt incapable of opening myself to him even as I watched him hobble around on his crutches. Something was wrong with me for not being able to be a good friend – I knew that much – but my heart, like a stagnant pond, stood still.

I dated other men. Men who risked less, who stayed put more. I moved in with a boyfriend, a man who – although a little wild – wouldn’t rush off to nearly die of snakebite or dengue or whatever other horrors I imagined Will might encounter in the rainforest. Unlike Will, my boyfriend was a man who didn’t believe in anything fantastic.

“Do you know that there are such things as pink dolphins?” I asked.

“Sure,” he quipped, barely looking up from his computer. “And unicorns, too.”

Of course, when a person goes against what her heart desires, life has a way of teaching lessons the hard way.

Armed with a degree from an Ivy League in an area of study I didn’t ultimately want, and a job in finance I only took to pay back student loans, my grandmother grew very ill, my father had another heart attack, and my stable, safe boyfriend left me. In the midst of it all, I realized I wanted – more than anything – a life filled with adventures and purpose. I become a freelance writer and started to travel the world. I took my daughter out of public school and together we climbed mountains in Switzerland and Iceland, ran out of money in the Algarve, and went deep into the Peruvian Amazon to some of the same areas Will had visited.

Throughout the years, Will and I continued to satellite around each other, always in tidal lockdown despite the distance between us.

“You know how I feel about you,” he said. “You know how I’ve always felt.” Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Inspiration, love, Video

I Gave Him $20 To Get A Meal And You’ll Never Believe What Happened Next.

April 16, 2015
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By Jen Pastiloff.

What happened next was love.

Beauty hunting is right. I am out there with my bow and arrow, folks. Hunting beauty down. And sometimes, I do not have to look very far at all. Sometimes it’s just so right here.

I was walking down the street in Santa Monica yesterday with my friend Rachel Brathen (aka @yoga_girl on instagram) and she said, “Look!” So I did. Natch.

She’s pointing to a man on a bike with a big sign over his chest that says Be Love.

Um.

Remember that guy? I met him in the library a couple years ago and asked him if I could take a picture of him with his sign (he had it on then, too.) He said I could have the snap if I wore the sign. Duh.

I did.

I wrote about it here. Elizabeth Gilbert even shared the story. It was pretty heartwarming. I said may we all walk around with a “Be Love” sign over our hearts.

So yesterday, Rachel, (who has a million and a half instagram followers what what?) saw the same Love Dude on the street. On his bike.

I beckoned him over to us and her dog, Ringo The Gringo.


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You know when I am alone how adventure always ensues? Well, the three of us? Me, Rachel and Ringo? Magic. Pure magic.

I said to Love Dude, “You’re David. I met you in the library. You gave me your sign.”

Please watch both videos below!

I gave him twenty bucks and he said if he was to take it that I had to wear the “Be Love” sign for two full weeks.

I am taking the challenge. Will you? You can make your sign invisible but will you wear one? Please? Let me know. If you do instagram use the #belovechallenge tag. I am at @jenpastiloff over on those parts.

ps- We all wear signs. Invisible ones, mostly. What does yours say?

Some say: Stay away. Some say: Don’t come near me. Some say: I am not enough. Some say: Be Love.

We get to choose what our signs say.

Also: he drops mad wisdom in these videos.

Like, whoa.

He says, “I am looking for someone whose compassion is greater than their passion.”

Yea. Little gems like that are floating throughout the vids. Please watch and share. This is the kind of stuff that needs to get shared on social media. Not Kim-Whatever-Her-Name-Is’s ass. Hell, this is the kind of stuff that needs to get shared on the planet.

Word.

I mean, love.

Love, Jen xo

Continue Reading…

Binders, cancer, Family, Guest Posts

Of Mice and Snow.

February 6, 2015
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By Mackenzie Cox.

It’s strange to think that Papa had sixty-five years of a life before me, because in my life, he was the fourth person to hold me.

Dad.

Mom.

My sister.

Papa.

Since he died, I’ve mourned as if I were some other person. I don’t really feel grief until it’s all consuming.

It’s a strange kind of yearning; not necessarily wanting my grandfather back, but more, being sad that he was ever cold, or lonely or hungry.

But above all, I mourn for a piece of himself he lost in France.

In the snow.

He had just turned eighteen when he was drafted into World War II. He wore glasses and weighed one hundred thirty pounds. Within two years, Papa was awarded a Purple Heart and a medal for “Courage Under Fire.” He was one of 500,000 American soldiers in the Battle of the Bulge, which put him in the city of Ardennes, France.

When I was little and learned that Papa had been in a war, I asked if he had killed anyone. He told me:

“Oh, hon, with the glasses I had to wear, I couldn’t see two feet in front of me. I had no idea what I was shooting at.”

Years later, I was reading Night by Elie Wiesel. Papa and I always talked about books. When I mentioned this one, he said something along the lines of,

“Those poor devils, they looked like skeletons.”

“Were you there?” I asked.

“I watched them come down from the hill,” he said. As to which hill, which concentration camp, I have no idea. I wish I had asked, but the way my grandpa looked, suddenly sunken into himself, his arms folded over his belly, I knew he wanted to change the subject. I loved him, so I did.

I do know that the American military liberated four camps. The one closest to the Battle of the Bulge was Buchenwald. It’s an alien feeling, imagining that my grandfather was one of the men to liberate Buchenwald. He would have been nineteen.

I want to ask him, “What happens to your soul Papa, in places like that? Did your innocence fall off of you? Or did it melt away with the snow?”

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.

 

*

My soul, my innocence, shattered. I stood in pediatric oncology with my family. I heard the doctors tell my sister that my 2-year-old niece had cancer. The sky above me cracked, gave way. It fell in sharp, dagger-like pieces exposing a black void. Unfair and untimely death was suddenly real. My niece was hooked up to an IV with chemicals dripping into her tiny body. I held the pieces of sky in my hands, not sure what to do with them.

My sister’s baby.

Gone. My naiveté. My innocence.

At some point, it happens to all of us.

*

Papa and I had one of those relationships where we just gravitated towards each other. We were amazed by each other. We adored each other. In every picture we are in, one of us is staring at the other, smiling.

He was there for every holiday, every birthday, every big moment. He had my first essay titled “Papa’s Dumb Boat” framed. He hung it on his home office wall, along with my other achievements, like the ceramic plate I colored in preschool. He titled the plate “A Vision in Purple” and displayed it, also, in his office. It’s like he’d been waiting for me and couldn’t believe we had found each other in this life. He always greeted me by saying, “There she is!”

*

My best friend called me. His voice was almost indiscernible. I rushed out of Geology lecture. Any strange number on my phone almost always turned out to be Sean, calling from Iraq. He was one of many Marines deployed during the Iraqi War.

Through sobs, he told me his friend had just died in his lap. Whatever Papa lost in French snow, Sean lost in Iraqi sand. I curled up in the corner of the hallway, mourning with him.

My best friend.

My brother.

“He looked just like me,” he said. “It could have been me. Same haircut. Same uniform. Mac, there wasn’t a difference between us, except that I was next to him.”

He would have been killed if he had stood one foot to the left. Just one foot to the left. It was gone. I was there with Sean. I wish I could have been there with Papa.

*

I couldn’t have been more than four. Grammy was making dinner. Papa had carried me upstairs to where Grammy kept her collectable mice.

They were simple. Just little cloth mice. I was only allowed to play with them if Papa played with me.

Papa would let me pick a few to play with and we would lie flat on the bright orange carpet and act out silly, mice-like stories together. Playing with Papa was special. He changed voices for each mouse and created dramatic plot lines that were appropriate for the costumes the little collectables were wearing. If it was a pirate mouse, Papa would say ‘shiver me timbers’ while covering one eye. If it was a mama mouse, she would be kind and attentive. Always running around the other mice asking how their day was. Afterwards we would eat dinner and watch the only movie I had at their house: Tiny Toons Summer Vacation.

When I graduated from college, Papa and Grammy picked out the mice with which I’d played with the most and sent them to me along with Tiny Toons Summer Vacation, as a graduation present. Eighteen years later, he still remembered.

That routine we had was special to him and he knew it was special to me too. We were special to each other.

*

There is a place. Some of us have it. My husband calls it a spider web. You feel something touch your web and it shakes your world. Your dreams go surreal and you wake up tired because you feel like you were out there doing something. You have the wind knocked out of you. You fall. You smell things that aren’t around you. When Sean collapsed in Iraq from exhaustion, I collapsed in my parent’s driveway from nothing. When a taxi hit my husband I went home from work with a blinding migraine. My life. Call it what you will. This is a part of me. People to whom I am close somehow ‘trip’ my web.

It works both ways.

People find me. Something inside me that’s deep and old recognizes them. The ones who find me tend to be very, very ancient souls. They find me. And we hold hands. For days, they stay in my head. No drugs, no weird séances or prayers needed. If I’m trying to reach someone, though, it helps if I am in that in-between space of awake and asleep.

It’s not a place for the living to be. It’s a place of echoes and memories. You can slip into a memory to talk to a friend, a relative, living or dead. But if you’re going back to the corporeal world, you only have a little bit of time before you must return.

*

It took Papa two years to die from lung cancer. One day in January 2014, Dad texted me from Papa’s hospice bed, letting me know that ‘it’ was finally close. Still, he wouldn’t let go. For days, we waited. He grew weaker, holding on. Waiting. I had visited two weeks prior. Papa and I had held hands and spoken a few words. But the person in the bed, the skinny person with a slowing brain wasn’t my grandpa. The grandpa I knew was always reading a book, doing a chore, eating too many sweets. This frail, skinny person, I simply did not know.

He was past his time. I asked Dad if they needed me. He told me to stay put. He said,

“Sweetie, he’s not here anymore. You stay where you are. Concentrate on school. I love you. We’ll have a wake or something in a year.” My family and I are not religious people. The most important thing to us was that Papa found peace. That his ashes were next to Grammy’s.

So we waited.

I didn’t sleep for days. I wanted Papa to find peace. I was feeling that deep hurt, when you know someone you love is suffering. I sat down to rest my eyes. I had to reach him. I had to tell him that he could go. In that place, where we are all connected, we can find each other. I could find him. I could see him. I could tell him to let go. I closed my eyes and searched.

*

I knew where he would be. He would be at our convenience store. When I was tiny and he was younger, we would go there, sit on our favorite bench, eat vanilla ice cream on cones and talk about what the clouds looked like. My feet wouldn’t touch the ground yet and I’d be wearing a baseball cap my dad had hurriedly shoved my hair underneath.

I found myself like that again. I found myself in Jelly Shoes and a frilly, white summer dress. I found myself unable to touch the ground with my feet.

I heard him.

He called to me from the parking lot.

“Hey! There she is!” He clapped his hands once before opening his arms wide, waiting for the flying leap. I gave it my all because it had been a long time since I was four and I missed being held by him. We hugged tight. The clock was ticking. I couldn’t hold my four-year-old form for long.

By the time Papa put me down I was already a preteen with dark eye makeup. Somehow he had dark hair. I had never seen him with dark hair.

He was getting younger while I got older. He was closer to death, to being born again, while I was still somewhere in the middle.

“You need to go,” I said through tears. It was just us, outside the store with the setting sun turning the sky orange and yellow.

“Oh, I’m fine, hon,” he told me.

I told him he wasn’t fine. That he was getting worse. I told him what he was living in; grown-up diapers, a nursing home and that Grammy was already gone. I told him his skin was paper-thin and he couldn’t even hold a toothbrush. I told him it wasn’t going to improve.

“You have to go. You need to leave.”

He just had to make that final leap. He needed to understand. I couldn’t hold my form any longer. The living, the truly living, are not allowed in that place, that web, for long.

He assured me he would go, but not quite yet.

He was getting younger than I had ever seen him, his 30’s, his 20’s. I changed height, weight, gained years, lost years, trying to stay with him. He held me tight over his large belly, which for some reason never shrank.

He hugged me at every age I have ever been.

He hugged my life.

When we let go, he was old again, getting older. The web was shaking, vibrating. A spider was approaching. It was time to go.

“Please Papa, you need to go soon. You’re not happy. I know you don’t want to, but please, let go! Don’t be afraid. I’ll love you forever.”

“I’ll go soon. I’m so proud of you, sweetie.” I told myself not to reach for him, to not make a move or cry because that might make him stay longer for me. I couldn’t stop my arms from reaching out anyway.

The spider grabbed me. It had me by the ankles and was dragging me back to the world where my real body was. I was twenty-six. Papa was old again. His white hair was back, along with his favorite grey sweatshirt and jeans. He walked heavily back to our bench, to watch a final sunset and imagine pictures in the clouds. Maybe he wanted to remember me the way I used to be, one last time.

*

When I was in in high school I wrote an essay called “The King of Clouds.” It was the last essay of mine Papa had framed in his office. Every time we spoke he would look at it, and tell me he was reading it. He loved reading about the clouds even though we had lived it together.

“Just beautiful, Mac. Just beautiful.” He meant the writing. Before he died, I received a letter from him containing a check for thirty thousand dollars. In painful, scratchy handwriting he scrawled, “This is for your school. I am very, very proud of you and I love you a bunch. Merry Xmas. Papa.”

There’s a reason why this was so profound to me. All through my childhood my grandma would re-gift me. I’d get a sweatshirt obviously too small for her. My favorite stuffed animal, Tiger, is only mine because Grammy gave it to my sister, who turned it down. Grammy wrapped it back up and gave it to me the following year.

Papa, on the other hand, snuck me Barnes and Noble gift cards.

He bought me books.

And school.

Reading and writing. He knew me. He knew me before I knew me. With Grammy gone, and Papa on his deathbed he was finally able to do what he had been waiting for: to give me everything I wanted. He was my King of Clouds.

*

I woke up to Mom calling my cell phone. I was back in my body, exhausted, puffy eyed. She told me,

“Papa died early this morning.” I told her I knew, because I did.

“I found him, Mom.”

“Did you?”

“I told him he could go.”

“I’m glad, sweetie. He was waiting for you.”

Was he really? He had said he was going to go soon. I found him at night and he died in the early morning. Someone else must have taken him the rest of the way to wherever we go. Whatever our souls turn into.

Who was he waiting for?

He was my fourth person.

Dad.

Mom.

My sister.

Him. I would have been waiting for him. Were his first three people already gone? Maybe he was waiting for others. Others I never knew because I only knew him as a beloved grandfather. I didn’t know him for most of his life.

*

Grammy passed away first. Papa and I stood at the threshold leading to my grandmother’s wake. We were holding hands. Maybe he offered to escort me. Maybe I held my hand out for him. Or maybe we had just been holding hands. My husband opened the doors for us, my cousins followed awkwardly. But it was him and me. The pair of us. Together.

He allowed me to lead him through the crowd of people. Old women in black approached my Grandpa, saying the usual things.

“God’s plan.”

“She was so special.”

“We’re so sorry.”

To each of them, he held up my hand, showing them how much love and support he had and said, “I’m in good hands.”

He was.

*

I mourn in the most honest way I can. My mind understands that he was old. He had lung cancer. This was expected and not a tragedy. This was a natural passing of life. I tell myself that, and a large black cavity that masquerades as anxiety grows inside of my chest. It isn’t until I’m closing in on a panic attack that I realize I need to cry.

I hope the person who saw his innocence melt away in French snow was there to take him the rest of the way. Who saw him after I did? Who did he wait on our bench for?

It’s moments like that, moments I wasn’t there for that make me selfishly jealous of anyone who ever knew him before I did.

I want to find him, so many years ago, shivering in French snow, stinking of piss and blood. I want to find him and hold his hand and let him know that no matter what he sees, no matter the repercussions, he’ll be a great grandpa. That after he sees those poor devils come down from that hill, after he suffers in a hospital, receives medals for it and lives for another forty years, he’ll have a granddaughter. And they’ll ‘play mice’ together.

I want to be there with him.

Be cold with him.

Be afraid with him.

But I can’t. He wouldn’t know to look for me there. It’s not where our story started. I envy the person who was special enough to take him the rest of the way. I mourn for the bits and pieces of him I never met. Never will meet. I mourn for the pieces that fell off of him along the way.

Somewhere in the snow.

Mackenzie Cox is an MFA candidate at the University of California, Riverside.

 

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

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

 

Join Jen Pastiloff in Atlanta March 8th. Click the photo above.

Join Jen Pastiloff in Atlanta March 8th. Click the photo above.

Featured image courtesy of: paraflyer 

 

Family, Guest Posts, healing, Holidays

Dead Christmas Trees, Brain Injuries & Finding The Beauty.

December 29, 2014
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By Karen Pyros-Szatkowski.

When I lived in New York City after college, too many years ago, I’d be so saddened the weeks following Christmas walking by apartment buildings seeing the discarded, used up Christmas trees piled in front, waiting to be picked up by the garbage collectors. I was in no way a tree-hugging, save-the-earth activist back then, but for some reason, these trees, some still with tinsel on the branches, made me view the city as a morgue and a feeling of hopelessness and helplessness and despair would replace the holiday happy from a few days before. The trees of all shapes and sizes, some tall and skinny, others short and more full, ugly Charlie Brown trees, and beautiful prize worthy ones, whatever fit into the lives of the former owners’ apartment spaces, had now served their purpose and lay, most of them without bags, on the cold New York City sidewalks, atop their own fallen needles. They were once connected to and nurtured by the earth, then worshipped and adorned with beautiful decorations… a proud centerpiece in the apartments, the holiday, and now tossed out like garbage. Actually, that’s exactly what they had become. Garbage. Although I never, ever, bought a real tree after my first Christmas in New York, I certainly don’t make any judgment on those that chose the natural over the unnatural; that’s not what this is about. I know that for every tree cut down, others are planted and farms grow trees just for Christmas pleasure. It is not a moral choice for me; it’s an emotion. I know real trees look much more beautiful, fully decorated, than the artificial ones, and I do love the smell of pine, but the memories of those discarded trees piled many feet high like dead bodies awaiting their disposal left too much of an impact on me, too much of a sadness, not because of the waste, but because of the abandoned love. From the pedestal to the street. Beauty completely stripped to nothingness. Life to death.

I’ve been feeling similar emotions recently, but not due to Christmas trees. I feel so much pain and sadness, all around me and not all mine. Being so easily connected through social media and website magazines, Damon’s story has reached out past the community in which we live to a much larger audience. Because of this, I’ve been connected to many new friends and reconnected to many old friends, so many of whom are affected either themselves or through family members by traumatic brain injury, death, or just horrible diseases. In our pre accident life I never would have crossed paths with most of these people. In our pre accident life I would never have been able to so deeply feel their pain. So many have reached out to us to share their own stories, looking both for inspiration from our journey and hoping to add support to theirs. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts

Thank you for Listening.

December 27, 2014
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By Amy Yelin.

My father listened. That was his job. He was a psychiatrist, like Bob Newhart on TV, and as a child I thought this made him an important man. A celebrity even. Why else would he have his own parking spot?  Two spots, actually, both with signs that read: Reserved for Gershon Yelin, MD. Violaters Towed at Their Own Expense.

Sometimes we’d visit his office after a shopping trip or picking up books at the library in Port Chester, New York. My mother would park in one of those special spots, right next to his car, and then I’d feel important, too, like a regular Amy Carter.

My father’s office was in a typical 1970’s brick office building, with a dark hallway that smelled like menthol. I noted the numbers as we walked down the hall until we reached the door labeled 2G. Then, despite my mother’s insistence to only ring it once, I’d push the buzzer repeatedly,

My father opened the door just a tiny bit, the chain still on. “Who is it?” He’d say, pretending to be suspicious.

“It’s me…Amy!”

“And me,” my mother said, playing along.

“Whaddya want?”

After I rang the buzzer a few more times, the door flew open and my father greeted us with a happy but subdued, “Well hellooooo’

No one was ever there when we visited. No patients in the giant waiting room. No receptionist at the reception desk.  My father’s actual office, with nothing more than a desk light on, was a stark contrast to the fluorescently lit waiting room. The window blinds were always drawn almost to the bottom, resembling two sleepy eyelids, letting in only the tiniest slivers of light. Several pipes waited in an ashtray on his desk, and a standing globe, possibly the only fun thing in the room, beckoned me every time. I’d make myself at home in my father’s black leather chair, close my eyes and then spin that globe hard and see where my finger would land.

“Here’s where I’m going to move,” I’d announce upon opening my eyes. “New Zealand!”

“Bon voyage,” my father would say.

My father is 86 now. We talk on the phone at least once a week, but only see each other around Thanksgiving, when my dad and his second wife Terri fly up to New York from North Carolina for their annual medical appointments. We drive down from Boston and meet them at their favorite hotel, The Renaissance, not far from where I grew up. It’s a bizarre sort of family reunion, but it’s ours. Continue Reading…