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courage, Guest Posts, Home, Life

The Country Estate

October 3, 2015

By Stephanie Couey

The “Country Estate” is my home for five months.  I move in a few days after opening the lid of my then roommate’s white Cuisinart rice cooker, and having my face engulfed in a buzzing red swarm of fruit flies.  We fight about it.  I’m not even sure why.

My then-boyfriend, a jack-Mormon, picks me up in his dad’s work truck and listens as I vent about the fruit flies and the lingering trauma.  He highlights the fact that the roommate’s name is Sarin, the same as that of a lethal gas.  I don’t want to go there, and I’m not sure if I feel dirtier from the flies or from the fight, or from something else.

It is winter, and Nampa, Idaho is draped more in ice than snow.  The Country Estate, as we call it, is right next to an out of commission steam locomotive on its tracks, an enormous block of sculpted charcoal.  There is a silo so close by that we refer to it as “our silo” each time we drive back to the house.

The Country Estate is massive, yet chintzy.  It is an all-white two-story, in a style somewhere between colonial and warehouse.  The ceilings are made of porous tile, the living room, as well as the kitchen, is lit by fluorescent beams, and the floors are of ill-fitting linoleum bubbling up near the walls.

Me and my few things settle in upstairs, in the jack-Mormon’s room with muted green walls and a twin bed.  Heidi and Zeniff, the other inhabitants, aren’t home when I “move in,” but this isn’t the kind of house where people mind.

We call it the Estate because it is anything but.  We call it the Estate because it is surrounded by varying animals: goats, chickens, turkeys, and llamas.  We call it the Estate because we know it does not belong to us, but that we, for now, belong to it.

Here there is order.

The Jack-Mormon’s dog shits daily in front of the washing machine.

Each night we make tofu stir-fries with ingredients from local underpaid farmers and nearly-expired packs of tofu from Winco.  I introduce the jack-Mormon to Braggs Liquid Aminos, and he introduces me to putting a glob of peanut butter directly into the sizzling tofu and vegetables, letting it disperse into thick velvet liquid.

He’d come up behind me and breathe a gust of pot smoke down my shirt, his hair greasy.  We’d eat sitting on the floor with Zeniff, with numerous open beers, a bowl, and a guitar.  I cry during the Leonard Cohen songs, always in the same moments, ones like, “she broke your throne and she cut your hair,” and neither boy makes fun of me.  There’s something about being raised Mormon that makes them both sentimental in a way that respects crying.

In the time I live here, my grades slip a little, like they did when I was nineteen and aimless, but now I realize I wasn’t just aimless.  I realize I was comfortable.  And here I am again.  Comfortable.

At my first home, in California, I didn’t want to move forward because I didn’t have to, just as I don’t have to in this house, with the jack-Mormon, in Nampa, where it costs nothing to live and everyone’s family and everyone’s church is within a ten-mile radius, so no matter how much you’ve shunned any of them, home is never a variable, and at the time, the “Estate” is not a variable.

In this house, the jack-Mormon shaves his chest hair and legs with my Venus razor.  He holds me on the ratted couch as we watch the Elephant Man and Beach House music videos on repeat.  When his dad shows up, the jack-Mormon hides his stash, and I talk about my grades, my Honda Civic’s mileage, and my parents’ health.

Never does this feel like sinking, though I suppose it is.

We go for runs when the ice melts.

We sometimes go to parties in Boise, his being dirtier and druggier than the ones I’d been going to before we met.

We buy sodas up the street across from a carniceria, and when asked if we have the munchies by our attendant, I respond with eyes as red as stop signs that we have “the thirsties.”

Mostly though, we stay in.

I write a lot on a laptop with no internet connection.  He asks if I’m ever writing about him.  I say, “not really.”

We color in Little Mermaid coloring books, letting Ariel and Eric be us.  I squiggle some stretch marks over Ariel’s cleavage, write, “feed me” on her stomach, and give her more tired eyes.  Then it’s pretty close.

I ask myself what it is any of us really strive for, much like I did at age fifteen, only now with the presence of pure contentment I’d never had after youth.  If we are loved and fed and comfortable, isn’t that enough?  We are warm, healthy, creative, making music, writing, drawing, exploring and re-exploring Nampa.  Can we keep this contentment going?  After years on and off of anti depressants and in and out of therapists’ offices, “contentment” in itself is a swinging sunlit hammock – just enough motion, just enough light.

The Country Estate is my home for five months.  In the midst of asking myself questions about striving versus stagnation on a daily basis, the jack-Mormon gets arrested, after numerous other offenses, for driving under the influence of heavy doses of his father’s Xanax.  He is sent away without warning, his dark yellow urine left un-flushed in the downstairs bathroom, Apple Jacks spilled on the kitchen counter.

His family throws me a small birthday party with Reeses Pieces cupcakes, and I see the final Harry Potter movie with his nephew.  I begin to eat meat again, knowing the absurdity of my former lover upholding vegetarianism while in jail.

I move back to Boise.  I become president of an on-campus association, and I consider graduate school.  I write poems.  Sometimes I just speak poems on my long walk from home to campus.

I visit him in jail, past the fields of livestock and corn, until I don’t.

I stop asking the questions about contentment, and start once again asking the questions about identity, distinction, money, forwardness.  I stop asking about here or there, and decide that it’s all here.  I go from unceasingly gray to black and white.

When I later drive through Nampa and pass the train tracks, I see our old home, our silo, our rickety porch with half smoked cigarettes between the boards.  Perhaps this was a temporary distraction, but maybe it’s all a distraction.  I see the steam engine, black and still, and I drive on, newly obsessed with motion.

Stephanie Couey is an MFA poet and teacher at University of Colorado-Boulder. She is from Riverside, CA and Boise, ID.

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

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

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

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

Contests & Giveaways, Gender & Sexuality, Girl Power: You Are Enough, Guest Posts

Essay Winner of Jen Pastiloff & Emily Rapp’s Vermont Retreat!

September 14, 2015

Note from Jen Pastiloff, founder of The Manifest-Station: 

This was not easy. This is not easy. I had one spot to give away to our retreat (and yes, we will do it again next year as this is our third year leading the Vermont retreat.) I had one spot which then turned into FOUR, thanks to various generous donors including Lidia Yuknavitch, Amy Ferris, Elizabeth Quant and three others.

And yet and still, we have 70 essays to get through. You read that right: 70. In just a few days, 70 essays piled in.

I sat reading through all of them with eyes spilling over. I was so moved that I decided I could not stop here. I would keep giving and finding ways to be of service. My teacher and mentor, Dr. Wayne Dyer, passed away last week- that was his big message. How many I serve? 

I intend to carry on that legacy.

I decided I could not stop at these 4 spots to Vermont so I am giving away 3 spots to my New Years Retreat in Ojai, California as well. Nothing makes me feel better than to do this.

I also have 20 spots to give away to my Girl Power: You Are Enough workshop for teens next weekend in Princeton and NYC. Ten available for each workshop. Email me for a spot. I want girls who could not afford the cost to be able to attend. Here are the details. Please note: the Princeton workshop is 13 and up and the NYC workshop is 16 and up.

And yet and still, there are so many others that were not chosen. There was not one essay that didn’t move me. There was not one essay that did not want me to push through my computer screen and embrace the woman who wrote it. Not one. I had a team helping me as I could not do this alone. I think we need to remember that more often: we cannot do this alone.

How bold one gets when one is sure of being loved.

Which brings me to my first winner. Her essay floored us but her friends also wrote in on her behalf, unbeknownst to her. How bold one gets when one is sure of being loved indeed. Jena Schwartz is the first recipient of the four scholarships and I am proud to share her essay below with you. She has been notified and will be attending the retreat with Emily and I next month in Stowe. She is over the moon. The retreat is sold out. Congratulations to Jena. I hope you all will be moved to share this. I know I was.

At the end of my life, when I ask one final, “What have I done?” Let my answer be, “I have done love.”

Love, Jen Pastiloff



Free Associating about Fear & Faith (Or, What I’ve Forgotten)
By Jena Schwartz

In this moment of sitting down to write, there’s the lump in my throat and the tears behind my eyes and the tension of holding them in. There’s fear. And behind that, faith. And there’s something I’ve forgotten that needs remembering. It has to do with connection, to myself, to moving slowly and having enough time and trusting that shit always work out in the end, and that there’s no end, only the unfolding of our days and the thank you. The thank you I need to remember to say, in the morning and at night.

Mani, my beloved wife of one year come September 27, is not feeling well this morning. She is shaky and nauseous. She drank an Ensure and rolled onto her side to try to sleep; she did not sleep well during the night. She is getting better. Two steps forward, one back. Like the two-step dance that magical weekend in Phoenix, when I flew out there to meet her and a whole group of us went to the Cash, my first-ever gay bar. Little did we know then, that we’d end up together, much less married!

Most of the time, I’m able to stay in a place of faith and trust. I’m able to stay in the light. I’m able to remember the partnership she and I discovered not only between us but with God, too — how when Rabbi Efraim witnessed and blessed our vows, God was there with us under that chuppah last September 27, the day before her 37th birthday and a few months before I turned 41.
Continue Reading…

Binders, Guest Posts, Relationships

The Heart Learns Nearly Nothing, But Just Enough, in One List

September 8, 2015

By Erin Khar


  1. Begin your sexual history, at least the consensual part, at age thirteen, with someone you don’t love and who probably doesn’t love you, and stay with him for two years, even though you are so young and don’t love him. (Do some heroin so you can ignore this problem.)
  2. Spend the rest of your adolescence in love with someone who will break your heart and don’t have intercourse.
  3. Begin sleeping with people as a way to distance yourself emotionally.
  4. Sleep with older guys who want to possess you but you’re on drugs and they don’t know it and you feel dead inside and they will want you more which is confusing.
  5. Realize that they haven’t always worn a condom and freak out every time you take an HIV test because you’ve slept with men with questionable hobbies and you should know better because you grew up in the age of AIDS after all and you end up okay but you know you dodged a bullet or more.
  6. Move in with a twenty-six year old man when you are eighteen and cheat on him and make him crazy, so crazy that he tries to poison your spaghetti dinner and you throw up all night, but don’t find out until after you broke up that he put fifty phenobarbital in said spaghetti.
  7. At the age of nineteen, on the heels of the spaghetti fiasco, have an affair with a forty-five year old married British singer who has a small penis and likes to hit you during sex.
  8. Abruptly end your affair with the married British singer over red wine and Leonard Cohen, and begin sleeping with the guy your best friend is in love with. (Rationalize this with the fact that he doesn’t love her back.)
  9. Spend the next two years in an open relationship with the guy your best friend loved, while starting and not finishing many many relationships, leaving a trail of angry men behind you, including the celebrity who stalks you because you keep telling him, “”
  10. Find out that the guy you loved when you were sixteen, who broke your heart, the one who you still loved, find out that he died of liver failure after drinking himself to death in the span of four years.
  11. When you are twenty-one, abruptly decide to leave your country and boyfriend and half-begun relationships and dead ex-boyfriend and move to Paris.
  12. Spend some months sleeping with rich Americans and a few Frenchmen, vowing to never fall in love again.
  13. Fall in love with a Frenchman who has a girlfriend.
  14. Attempt a friendship with said Frenchman, but then begin an affair and feel heartbroken all the time because he won’t leave the girlfriend he has had since high school.
  15. Feel relieved when Frenchman finally breaks up with girlfriend. (Later you will find out he didn’t really.)
  16. Return to Los Angeles with the man you love, who may or may not be disentangled from his previous relationship.
  17. After a disastrous couple of months, ship the Frenchman home and start using heroin again.
  18. Get strung out on heroin, using the money you have that you don’t deserve.
  19. Go back to being a heart-breaker rather than the heartbroken and do things like jump out a second-story window when the guy you just slept with tells you he is falling love with you.
  20. In a drug-induced flight of fancy, return to France and accept the Frenchman’s marriage proposal.
  21. Hide your heroin addiction from the Frenchman, at least until he catches you with a needle in your arm.
  22. Go to rehab at the age of twenty-three.
  23. Break up with your French fiancé while in rehab because you know he can never forgive you.
  24. Start sleeping with the thirty-three year old restaurant mogul you meet in rehab who didn’t do heroin like you but had a thing for cocaine and vodka and women.
  25. After rehab, break it off with the restaurant guy and feel bad when he starts using cocaine and vodka and women, again.
  26. Have a couple of unsatisfying one night stands with guys you meet in twelve-step meetings.
  27. Meet a thirty-two year old photographer who is also a recovering heroin addict and move in together three months later.
  28. Right after you fall for the photographer, meet a thirty-four year old writer who makes you dizzy and let him go down on you.
  29. Although you probably are falling in love with the writer, you shun him and stay with the photographer for three years, during which time you remain faithful.
  30. Until you meet the washed up rockstar who makes you laugh and is so much fun.
  31. Leave the photographer for the rockstar and then immediately regret it.
  32. Try to win the photographer back to no avail.
  33. Become depressed and then even more depressed when you realize that you are pregnant and don’t want to be.
  34. Have an abortion which destroys you. So, drive to your old dealer’s house later that day and begin a relapse of epic proportions.
  35. Drag your washed up rockstar boyfriend into the relapse and start smoking crack too.
  36. Go to rehab again and break up with the rock star.
  37. Focus on yourself for a few months, although you secretly fall for the guy you are recording music with to no avail, and have some meaningless dates with guys whose names you can barely remember.
  38. Meet a man who seems all wrong and avoid him.
  39. Sleep with the man who seems all wrong and ignore your friends’ warnings to stay away from him.
  40. Spend three months with the man who is all wrong, only to have him break up with you suddenly and break your ego, if not your heart.
  41. Allow your bruised ego to win him back stealthily, even though you know he’s no good for you.
  42. Find yourself pregnant again at twenty-eight, and marvel at your irresponsibility.
  43. Accept the wrong man’s marriage proposal against all better judgement.
  44. Come back from your honeymoon, only to discover that your husband has impregnated another woman.
  45. Somehow make it through a depressing pregnancy, avoiding all thoughts that your marriage is a sham.
  46. At the age of twenty-nine, give birth to a baby boy, and instantly be changed, instantly love him more than you hate yourself, let this little man in a baby’s body teach you how to love.
  47. Begin to realize that you know nothing, but still try to make that sad marriage work.
  48. Catch the man who seems all wrong who became your husband cheating on you.
  49. Catch the man who seems all wrong who became your husband cheating on you, again.
  50. As the love you have for your child grows, you know less but are sure of more. Finally, after two long pitiful years, leave the man who seems all wrong who became your husband.
  51. Enjoy a period of celibacy and know you know nothing.
  52. Finally, break your celibacy by sleeping with a bartender/artist.
  53. Get in to two long-distance relationships back to back, with men who live in New York, while you live in Los Angeles.
  54. Stay in the second one for more than four years, break up and get back together many times and break him and let him break you and begin to finally see your lack of experience.
  55. Break up with the guy who lives in New York, realize you have learned things but still know nothing.
  56. Meet a man who is like no one you have been with before.
  57. Fall in love with the right man, the man who is like no one you have been with before, despite yourself.
  58. Make some mistakes with the right man and don’t run away because of them.
  59. Let him teach you how to be loved.
  60. Marry him. You are finally still, with love. You know that your son taught you how to love and your husband taught you how to be loved. You know nothing else, but that’s all you need to know.

Continue Reading…

Friendship, Guest Posts

Without the Rom-Com Ending

September 4, 2015
It's a huge honor to have another card up at Emily McDowell Studio. Click to order.

By Sami Jankins

My purse is heavy. In it I store things I don’t need, like Mardi Gras beads my best friend J gave me on the trip to New Orleans where I met him. I also have notes he passed me. Jokes. A music list for a flight he knew I would be solo on – songs by Feist, Grizzly Bear, and Portugal, the Man. I’m afraid to fly, or I used to be until I learned to be in the moment. He was my best friend, until I guess he wasn’t. Maybe friendships have a shelf life.

I have a few people that I call best friend, but if things fell apart he is the one I’d call. Or was. We travelled together a lot. We stayed up so many nights tipsy and chatting about our favorite bands. I’d try to find a new favorite band that he didn’t know about yet. He always knew about them first. Sometimes when I’d get bored I’d grab for his glasses to wear them for a while. I think we were too arrogant that we had it all figured out. We thought it was ridiculous that a man and a woman couldn’t be best friends. Maybe they can’t be.

Our friendship was one of those where people often thought we were siblings. I could look at him and know what he was thinking. We could communicate without words. Special telepathy. We’d always look for a restaurant to get crème brulee. It was our favorite desert. We’d check each menu to see if they had absinthe. It was something we always wanted to try. We never did. I don’t drink alcohol anymore.

He’d go from one long term relationship to the next. I have a horrible dating track record. Mostly because I frequently date men who treat me like shit. They could basically be interchangeable. It’s amazing how many different people can call you insignificant, dumb, or unworthy in so many different ways. He was always there to tell me that those words were the furthest thing from being true. I always wanted to find the perfect significant other that I could double date with. Maybe there’s only so many times you can see someone fuck up their social life before you can’t watch it anymore.

Chbosky had in his book – “We accept the love we think we deserve.” I don’t know what I deserve. I stopped dating to work on this. He always got my texts of uncertainty when a guy wouldn’t call me back. “Decode this for me,” I’d plea. He’d place me right back into sanity.

I went on a few dates with a friend of his. It was a set up, but I think it was a nicety for a friend who spends a lot of time in the hospital. His friend came over to play guitar while I played ukulele. I had his friend on my bed playing music but nothing happened. I didn’t know how to make a move. I hadn’t even been kissed yet even though I was twenty-three. A lot has changed since then. His friend had me listen to “Lua”. I identified with it too much… “me I’m not a gamble, you can count on me to split.” It wasn’t me this time that split.

I remember the first guy I said I love you to. It was over email. We had had a four year long friendship where I endured many critical health issues. He was by my side every step of the way and helped me mentally with a lot of scary things that happened. When I wasn’t in the hospital I’d take him to college parties or see him play at a local coffee house. During this time he was in and out of relationships and would complain about how unsatisfying they were. He would go so far as to say “they do ___, why can’t they be more like you?” Here I was perfectly single. I could be me, so why wouldn’t I be his perfect choice? I was 20, fresh out of college, and I remember receiving a series of texts complaining about his girlfriend of the moment. I sent him an email telling him that I had been in love with him for years, I could no longer be the person he complained to, and that things were over. He replied asking if he could have some time to think about it. I responded with “no, I love you. Please be kind and never contact me again.” Years before he had told me that unless I became less cynical, no one would ever love me. Maybe I turned it into a self-fulfilling prophecy. My friends will tell me they love me. Sometimes I’ll smile. I never told my best friend that I loved him as a friend. Maybe I should have. Would it have made a difference? I think I took away the wrong lesson from my youth.

My best friend was there for me when I was hospitalized. He’d curl up in bed next to me. Even when boyfriends weren’t there, he always would be. I vaguely remember one hospital stay where it wasn’t certain if I would make it out of the hospital. He showed up wearing a slouchy sweater and somehow that seemed incredibly comforting to me – just him standing in the door frame with his posture signifying utter defeat. He had to compose himself because he had been crying on the drive in to see me. This was years ago. Continue Reading…

Binders, Dear Life., Guest Posts, Relationships

Dear Life: I Just Got Dumped.

August 25, 2015

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. 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 Carena Liptak.

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. 

Book Girl Power: You Are Enough now! A workshop for girls and teens. Space is limited. Sep 19 Princeton! Sep 20th NYC. The book is also forthcoming from Jen Pastiloff.

Book Girl Power: You Are Enough now! A workshop for girls and teens. Space is limited. Sep 19 Princeton! Sep 20th NYC. The book is also forthcoming from Jen Pastiloff.

Dear Life,

You don’t know me, but I’m writing to ask for your help. My boyfriend of 18 months broke up this past week. He told me he needed time for himself and to focus on getting his life in order. Well, come to find out he has been cheating on me. My heart is breaking. I feel like I can hardly breathe. I feel wobbly. A once strong, confident, determined woman has been chopped at the knees. Can you help me feel better? I’m not feeling strong enough to live myself right now. I feel sad, alone and confused. Help. Please.

Signed, Confused

Continue Reading…

Guest Posts

When Love is a Prayer Only Partially Answered

August 17, 2015

By Laura Kiesel

The love of my life so far was not the man I spent nearly a decade of my life with, from my early twenties through my early thirties–the one who went with me to my mother’s memorial service and then only a few months later stood beside me by my grandmother’s deathbed and then held my hand at her funeral. It wasn’t the man who accompanied me to surgery and then fainted while watching a nurse prick me with a needle for a blood sample, sending an army of medical staff into the room who collectively shoved me off my gurney so they could place my unconscious boyfriend there and feed him oxygen.

No, the love of my life was not the man who told me in the sunset year of our relationship that he would never marry me and from whom I finally moved on.

The love of my life was instead the man who picked me up from my grandfather’s funeral five months later one balmy August afternoon in eastern Long Island.

It was my grandparents who really raised me, so essentially my grandfather was my last true parent. He was also the only one who partook in my rearing who never called me a curse word or raised a hand to me, the one who made sure I never starved.

After the rest of the funeral procession left, I sat alone on a stone bench in a lacy black dress with a sweetheart neckline that was slightly too sultry for a funeral, but that I couldn’t resist wearing to impress the man I had spent so many years pining after. I knew my grandfather wouldn’t have minded. He had always been very fond of Brian, referring to him as my “very nice gentleman friend.”

I hadn’t spoken to Brian in about eight years. It was my ex who unwittingly brought Brian back to me, by finding and returning an old journal of mine that had been slated for the recycling bin after I moved out of the apartment we shared for several years. Scribbled in the back of that journal was Brian’s old address, his parent’s address. I sent a postcard in the mail and three days later he called me.

We started speaking on the phone again every night, as though no time had passed. Brian begged me to visit him, but I didn’t think I could find the time, nor was I sure it was a smart idea. Yet very soon after, as if my grandfather had willed our reunion himself, he died and was buried in the veteran’s cemetery the next town over from where Brian lived.

Brian and I met my senior year at college shortly after he transferred in as a junior. In him, I instantly recognized something kindred. We were both foreigners even in our native towns, individuals marked by melancholy, our souls too soft to take society’s callousness for any extended period. Yet every time I dropped heavy hints about my feelings, Brian evaded me or changed the subject, making it clear he didn’t share them.

Instead, I forced myself to focus on men who actually returned my romantic affections, eventually losing my virginity to someone else that year. But even then, Brian was the one I would always write bad poetry about when I returned to my dorm room.

Brian and I actually didn’t become very close until I had already finished school.

The summer after I graduated from university I was caught up in some sort of surreal post-partum. Having given birth to a Bachelor’s degree and not knowing what I should do next, I instead sulked around the small college town singing my post-BA blues to anyone who would listen. But Brian’s ear was the one I sought out the most, in his little shack on campus where he signed out tennis rackets to posh post-grads for his summer job. I would visit him almost every day, sitting for hours on a metal folding chair and sweating inside that little shack as it baked under the searing July sun. During that time we also traded books and CDs, and talked about our fears and frustrations, about what we wanted for our futures.

When fall arrived, I decided to postpone my plans to move to Massachusetts until after the New Year. Brian and I spent many mornings and evenings at the diner those months, devouring pancakes and milkshakes, with him always picking up the tab with his father’s credit card. At night, we would joyride into the mountains and back into the village and then sit parked in his car, sharing stories with our faces backlit by streetlamps and an icy sliver of moon.

It was Brian who helped me move my meager belongings from New Paltz to Amherst. After he finished bringing my heavier stuff into my new apartment we sat side by side in his Jeep where he sighed sadly.

“I can’t believe you’re really leaving me,” he said.

But he did not ask me to stay.

I was worried the distance would cause our friendship to fade, but we became even closer after my move, our daily talks on the phone as much a given as the sun rising. He called them his creature comfort and later on, when his depression became so bad he needed to move back home and go on heady mix of medication, he said it was one of the few things that kept him sane.

The first time he told me he loved me (as a friend, of course), we had already known each other for over two years. He sang Sea of Love over the phone to comfort me while I wept bitterly over a rejection from a PhD program.

My sobs softened to nothing. For several seconds after he finished the singing, all that could be heard over the line was the both of us breathing.

“I love you, Laurie,” he finally said.

There were only a few people in my life who had ever called me Laurie. My grandparents, a couple of close friends from high school, my ex and Brian.

When Brian pulled up to the cemetery gates the day of my grandfather’s funeral, I barely recognized him. He was over a hundred pounds heavier and had a grizzled beard. As I settled into shotgun, I felt my heart sink in my chest in disappointment. Maybe the spark inside me for him had died after all.

We drove along in relative silence until we passed a fruit stand and he asked if I wanted an apple, to which I snorted a derisive no.

“No fruit for Laurie,” he said with a wink. And then, referring to my once infamously insatiable sweet tooth: “We need some pancakes…with some fudge on them.”

I laughed for the first time since my grandfather died and immediately fell in love with him all over again.

A few nights before the funeral, Brian had called me while drunk and declared that one of his biggest regrets was that we had never dated in college, that not a week went by where he did not ponder my whereabouts and the path his life might have taken had we wound up together.

“I’m available now,” I said.

We started dating–if dating is what you can call near-nightly episodes of hushed phone sex followed by frenzied declarations of love. Considering the millions of minutes of our lives spent on the phone with each other, I suppose it’s fitting that this was how we consummated our romantic relationship. By the time he visited Boston and we finally kissed for the first time, Brian knew my desires more intimately than any other lover ever had.

In her poem Admonitions to a Special Person, Anne Sexton wrote “To love another is something like prayer and can’t be planned, you just fall into its arms because your belief undoes your disbelief.”

And so it was with us: I submitted more fully to the force of our love than I ever had to anything. Continue Reading…

Binders, Dear Life., Guest Posts

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

August 7, 2015

Dear Life,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Falling in love or running scared?

Continue Reading…

Grief, Guest Posts

Johnny Cash, Eve, Me, That One Guy, and Maybe You

August 5, 2015
photo 3

By Nick Belperio

The statue was naked, and I was nine, and the first thing I thought was, Her privates are out in public.   In the hush of the art museum, I snickered like someone much younger, like a seven-year old.   Mom squeezed my hand, nodding at a small plaque on the pedestal.

“Can you read that, honey?”   The first word was easy.

“Eve,” I said and sounded out the rest.  “Dis…con…SOLE…eight?”

“Disconsolate,” she corrected, emphasis on the second syllable.

“What’s that mean?”

Mom regarded the statue for a long moment:  Eve towered over us, her smooth face pitched heavenward, a serpent twining her ankle.   “More than sad,” she said.

“Why’s she so sad?” I wanted to know.

“She was thrown out of paradise.  Cast out forever, along with her husband.  That’s why.”

I looked it up when we got home:  Adj., without solace or consolation; hopelessly unhappy.  Mom was right:  more than sad.   Nine year-old me shrugged, filing it away with the other big words I knew that no one ever used.

It came back to me thirty-some years later, during a typically sclerotic Los Angeles rush hour.  As I inched homeward on Pico Boulevard, I glanced in my rearview mirror:  the driver of the SUV behind me was crying.  Really crying.  White man in a suit, early fifties I guessed, and in the grip of a strenuous bout of weeping.  A woman in the passenger seat offered him tissues and awkward half-hugs, but he looked beyond comfort.  This guy was distraught.  Keeping my eyes on traffic was nearly impossible.

He bawled openly, his face red and contorted, the mouth gaping; every once in a while, you’ll see an infant wail with such abandon, but a stranger?  An adult?   Never:  It seemed extravagant, to give yourself up to sorrow so fully, a luxury somehow, and also unseemly:  this level of sadness usually insists on strict privacy.  He’s losing it, I thought.  Why doesn’t he pull over?  Doesn’t he know people can see him?

And that’s when the word first returned to me.  Presented itself, fully-formed:

Disconsolate, in my mother’s soothing voice.   Ah, yes.  Disconsolate, adj.:  illustrated—dramatized, in fact—right here in my rearview.  I watched greedily, until I turned my corner and left them.  I don’t remember the make of his SUV, or its color, or the color of his hair; but the anguish on that guy’s face, how pure and unmitigated it was, has never left me.   That I remember.  I recognize it, now that I’m in my fifties.

Aging, it seems, is an accumulation:  of years and then decades, of course; of knowledge and experience, sure; of grudges and injustices and mysterious bruises, certainly.   Sometimes aging brings wonder—Can you believe we’re in our fifties? my friends and I whisper incredulously.  We’re officially middle-aged!—and sometimes a kernel or two of wisdom.  Always, though—always—it brings loss of some sort; we know this.  Losses come, and sometimes they multiply; adulthood stacks sadnesses and disappointments like firewood out back.   Look at your friends.  Look at mine. Continue Reading…

Binders, Guest Posts, parenting


July 16, 2015

By Liane Kupferberg Carter

I am at a fish restaurant in the theater district the first time it happens. My sister in law Susan and I have tickets for the matinee performance of “Love, Loss and What I Wore.”  I have just ordered the filet of sole, when suddenly the room gets too bright, the clatter of glassware too loud. A swell of nausea washes over me. My heart pounds; my throat constricts. I can’t breathe. Is it the smell of seafood? A panic attack?

I flee to the ladies’ room. Eventually the sick feelings subside.

But several days later it happens again. Nausea.  Racing heart. Tightness. I go see the cardiologist.

“Everything checks out okay,” she says. “I don’t think it’s your heart. You should see the gastroenterologist.”

I dread the idea of someone threading a camera down my throat. But the nausea quickly becomes unrelenting. I feel systemically sick. After I wake nauseated one night, teeth chattering, I schedule the endoscopy. When I wake up from the anesthesia, the doctor tells me, “The good news is that you don’t have an ulcer. You have some reflux. We’ll have the biopsy back in a week. We’ll start you on a proton pump inhibitor, but if you don’t feel better, come back and we’ll explore further.”

The futuristic-sounding proton pump inhibitor, it turns out, is a fancy name for a Nexium- type medication.  I am hopeful. And for a few weeks I do feel better.  Then the nausea and constriction come back.  The doctor calls it non-specific gastritis. Is he suggesting this is all in my head?  Anxiety gnaws at me. I start to dread eating. I find myself cancelling social appointments, because they all revolve around meals. I am consumed with feeling ill. I think about the many meanings of that word consumed.  Swallowed.  Spent. Drained.  Depleted.   Devoured.  Destroyed.  I wake in the night with a suffocating sense of my own mortality, thinking, I can’t be sick.  Mothers of special needs children have to live forever.

I return to the doctor. He palpates my stomach and weighs me.  I have lost 12 pounds. “I think the medication isn’t helping as much because you have a hybrid form of gastric reflux and irritable bowel,” he says. “Are you under stress?”

I tell him that my younger son, Mickey, has autism and epilepsy.  He nods sympathetically. “Okay, let’s just get an abdominal ultrasound to rule some things out.” Continue Reading…

Binders, Guest Posts, Sex

That Was 22

June 22, 2015
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By Janet Frishberg

Don’t worry, that was just 22. You walked this city wanting love and not knowing where to find it. Not truly believing it would ever happen, and still hoping it would. Wanting someone, a sage or a wizened ancient, to tell you: you will find it. And thinking, this cannot be all there is. These cannot be the only jobs.

Don’t worry, that was 22: picking at your skin and then healing it, biting your nails down to the bloody edges. Obsessing over every single thing you bought as though it would lead directly to your financial ruin.

Don’t worry, these bars, these nights that led to nowhere but sore feet and sour mouth taste, and left you wiggling under the comforter emptier than before you walked out of the house, that was 22.

Paying too much for bad food, accepting invitations to dates and parties you didn’t actually want to go to, taking the bus home alone at one a.m. with your shoulders held tight because you didn’t have money for a cab—that was 22.

This night was 22, when you walked from bar to bar with a group of seven friends and wondered who you’d meet while out, even as you suspected the answer would be the same as it usually was: no one. Or at least no one who would matter.

Tonight, over drinks, curled in a row around the L-shaped edge of the bar, your friends asked about your weekend and you told them you weren’t sure how, but you slept with him again, that guy from last summer. It started with drinks this past weekend, plans to meet friends at a new wine bar. You realized what was going to happen when he kissed you while you two waited in line. The kiss was a surprise; you’d had no agenda. (This was rare.) You smiled on the sidewalk with his lips pressing on yours; it felt all the same between the two of you as during summer: just for fun, casual. Friendly, you could say. You were glad for the comfort. You didn’t even really mind that you hadn’t shaved your legs since you couldn’t remember when. Continue Reading…

Fatherhood, Guest Posts, healing, Race/Racism

A Black Remembrance of My White Father.

June 21, 2015

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…

Abuse, Binders, Guest Posts, healing

Palms Up

June 16, 2015
Book Girl Power: You Are Enough now! Space is limited. Sep 19 Princeton! Sep 20th NYC. The book is also forthcoming from Jen Pastiloff.

Book Girl Power: You Are Enough now! Space is limited. Sep 19 Princeton! Sep 20th NYC. The book is also forthcoming from Jen Pastiloff.

By Telaina Eriksen

“I’ve noticed you’ve gained weight. I mean, I haven’t been staring at your body…”

“A lot of weight,” I say.

“I just mean to say… I just want to encourage you… I’m not saying it right, but you deserve to be thinner and healthier.”

I feel the tears spill out of my eyes. So much shame. Ancient shame that I have carried with me ever since my mother slapped my arm repeatedly for salting a saltine when I was four or five years old. Good people aren’t fat. Fat people are ugly and bad and lack control and self-discipline. Men do not like fat girls and if men don’t like you, they won’t marry you, and if you aren’t married, if you don’t have a man, what good are you? The Gospel According to My Mother.

“It’s how I deal with things,” I tell my friend, oversimplifying.

“This fall, I think I know how you felt. I gained a lot of weight, was very heavy for me. I remember thinking, ‘why not? I’m happy with myself’… I’m not saying it right… but I love you. I want you to be happy.”

I am so huge, I require an intervention. I love my friend but I feel like sobbing. Doesn’t she think I know? Doesn’t she know that I always know? Maybe I am naïve enough to believe that some people just accept how I look and aren’t secretly judging me.

I get into my minivan after our conversation. I reach down to feel my stomach, feel the exact proportions of my shame and worthlessness. The exact dimensions of my failure as a woman.


As near as I can figure out and remember, I was sexually molested off and on from the time that I was about four to when I was about nine. When I was nine years old, I had my tonsils out and due to complications, almost died. I was without oxygen to my brain for not merely seconds, but minutes. It felt easy to blame my fragmented childhood memories on that illness.

The feelings I remember most from my childhood are terror and anxiety.  Nightmares plagued me. During the daylight hours I constantly sought attention, distraction, love. At night I sucked my thumb and tried not to wet the bed.


Here is a list of the things I need to be doing at this exact moment:

cleaning the house

baking my son’s vegan birthday cupcakes

walking the dog

placing the new boxes of tissue around the house (it is cold and flu season after all)

turning in my grades for the semester

mailing the Christmas box to my siblings in another state

scooping the cat’s litter box

cleaning off the top of my desk

loading the dishwasher

wrapping my son’s birthday presents

doing laundry

losing weight

being a good friend, wife, mother and daughter

being Zen (while also being understanding, charming, evolved and happy)

making time for the important things

reducing my social media time

reading more

gossiping less

achieving perfection. Continue Reading…

Binders, Dear Life., Guest Posts, Relationships

Dear Life: How Do I Get To a Place Where I Can Trust Myself in Relationships?

June 14, 2015


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  Email to submit a letter. Please make it as detailed as possible) 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 author Gina Frangello, my dear friend.

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 xo


Book Girl Power: You Are Enough now! Space is limited. Sep 19 Princeton! Sep 20th NYC. The book is also forthcoming from Jen Pastiloff.

Book Girl Power: You Are Enough now! Space is limited. Sep 19 Princeton! Sep 20th NYC. The book is also forthcoming from Jen Pastiloff.

Dear Life,

I’m a somewhat successful college student, a writer, daughter, sister and friend. Being in college is like being in a fish bowl. I am surrounded by like-minded people studying the same things that I am, with similar dreams, goals and passions. I am being encouraged each day to learn, grow and thrive in my environment. But I have a problem.

When I was growing up, I was sexually abused. I hate even using that term, because it makes it sound like I was powerless and weak. In some way, I knew what was happening. I knew it got me attention, and made me feel valuable in some way. Over the next few years I had a string of toxic relationships (some physically and emotionally abusive, some just plain negative). I battled depression, anorexia, and various forms of self-injury.

I’m currently at a state in my life where I want to have a healthy, positive relationship. I’m thinking about marriage, ready to move forward in life and stop repeating the same negative cycle I was taught in my early years.

The problem is, I don’t know how. I’m working on healing myself, I’ve been working on my issues and I finally feel like I’m in a place where I could sustain a relationship. I’m ready to work and have that be a part of my life. But whenever I get into a relationship where there’s any real chance of commitment, I freeze. I self-destruct and sabotage the entire relationship.

I don’t know how to move past this response, or why I keep repeating the same cycle. I feel progress in so many other areas of my life, and I don’t understand why I am so stuck in this one area.

How do I get to a place where I can trust myself in relationships?


Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Inspiration, love

Falling In Love With Flip

June 12, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Judy Kirkwood

What happens when you’re not a dog person, but you are left with a dog?

It wasn’t until my dog, Flip, was 15 years old that I realized I loved him. After my divorce, 5 years ago, I would jokingly say to my sons that Flip was my husband now. But the truth was that I had only just tolerated Flip for much of his life. I didn’t fall in love with him until he had a bad case of fleas: not the first time, not the last time, but the in-between time.

Although constant and caring, I was so detached in my relationship with Flip that until last year I believed he was a Yorkshire Terrier, even though he weighed 20 pounds. Watching a youtube Animal Planet video one night it dawned on me that Flip wasn’t a Yorkie at all, despite his bill of sale. He was a Silky Terrier. The giveaways, besides his size, were how he had always lifted up one paw in a quizzical manner when he looked at me, and how one ear often was up while the other flopped down (hence the name my younger son gave him).

In addition, I woke up one day and realized Flip was a year older than I thought. I had been so caught up in other things in my life – things I can’t reveal, except for my husband’s infidelity, which became pretty obvious – that I had lost track of Flip’s age, which was at the far end of his breed’s lifespan.

I should mention he is a handsome, dapper dog, who attracts attention even though he has an enlarged liver that makes his belly look as though it needs to be reined in with a waistcoat. I’ve always thought he should be wearing a Sherlock Holmes cap and ruminating on a small Calabash pipe, which would fit neatly in the space where he is missing his two lower front teeth. Like most dogs, he is on a mission when he is on a walk, looking for aromatic cues and clues and behaving accordingly. Everyone stops to admire him. But I never felt proprietary about his looks or charm. He was sort of a legacy pet. Mine by default. Or so I thought.

We had trouble bonding because it took so long to potty train him. We failed at crate training because he barked so much that his saliva pooled on the floor of the kennel and made it slippery plus rusted the metal grate he attacked for hours. He shredded pee pads. I had to take him to a pet therapist because he wouldn’t stop peeing and pooping in the house. He relieved himself next to her desk as she was asking me what the problem was. Although I had some success in training him with treats to go outside, which he expects every single time he potties to this day, my husband’s strategy to save our wood floors and carpeting was to train Flip to void in the concrete basement of our home. I never went down there.

A family dog for the first 10 years of his life, bought for our 10-year-old son, Flip ran around the grassy common area of our suburban home, a blur against the tree line, swing sets and sandboxes. He was so lively that he jumped back and forth, straight up like a young goat, over Magic, our lame black lab, who sat calmly for Flip’s stunts. Sometimes if Magic was off-leash (it seemed unlikely he would move far since he dragged his back legs on the ground when he tried to run), Flip would spirit him through the woods into the next subdivision or down the railroad tracks. Flip came back while Magic usually ended up in a ditch until someone called thinking he had been hit by a car and we picked him up. Once Magic died, Flip became more aggressive with other dogs so I really couldn’t let him off the leash too often to fly around our big yard.

While I fed Flip and let him in and out all day, he took long evening walks with the man of the house. I appreciated the break from doggie care until I found out that those leisurely walks with Flip were an opportunity for my husband to talk on his secret phone with his girlfriend.

When we separated after a 35-year marriage I decided to move away from my Midwest home and start over in the small Florida town where my younger son had relocated. My soon-to-be ex had no desire to be burdened with a dog while ironing out his relationship problems with the other woman. Drained and empty, I didn’t know if I could afford to take care of Flip either financially or emotionally. I thought about putting him up for adoption. But with behavior problems and, of course, his inconsistent pottying how could I be sure he would not be mistreated by a stranger?

In the end, I packed him in the car along with the few things I was taking from my old life. For the first few months, Flip and I had a gypsy existence. First I stayed on a farm in Georgia while I helped an author write a book. Because there were a number of rescue dogs running around the house, all female, which made Flip want to constantly mark his territory, I spent the days with Flip tethered to my belt as if I were Mother Superior and I had a very long rosary dragging the floor with a dog at the end of it. Then I stayed with friends and family whose allergies or own pets made it imperative to board Flip at different kennels.

Back on the road, Flip was my steady companion in a changing landscape. We were on a journey together and he rose to the occasion, holding his bladder during an interminable traffic jam outside of Atlanta, and not barking when I left motel rooms to search for food for us.

As I was cobbling together a new life in Florida, Flip had a terrible bout with fleas. I’d never met a flea and suddenly they were crawling all over my animal. I was more worried about me getting fleas than about Flip having them. I got rid of them, but saw Flip as a flea carrying host whose silky hair was a golden meadow for creepy things I didn’t want close to me.

The next time Flip got fleas was less of a panic. I knew it was normal in Florida. Against my space being contaminated by a chemical bomb that might exacerbate my asthma and his panting and wheezing, I chose to comb and bathe him faithfully, with the addition of dog flea pharmaceuticals. Every day I spent hours attending to the little devils that hopped around in his hair making him bite himself. I was as devoted to grooming him as any ape, chimp, or monkey mother. As an old dog, age 15, his skin was covered with benign tumors under his hair and I had to be careful not to scratch their surface and make them bleed. I felt so sorry for him I gave him little massages, listening to him groan, sigh, and cluck like the gray squirrels on our morning walks. Continue Reading…