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mary oliver

Guest Posts, Jen Pastiloff, Jen's Musings

Lying to Ourselves.

June 11, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Jen Pastiloff.

Hi, from Aruba. Whoa! I am in Aruba.

I.

Am.

In.

Aruba.

I’m trying to blog more in an effort to remember details. So hi. Here I am.

I have this chalkboard in my room at home where I have written YOU ARE A WRITER: SO WRITE! because I don’t carry a notebook, thinking (naively) that I will remember that man with a speedo, a selfie-stick and a beer precariously taking a photo on the edge of a cliff in Aruba, and how I thought about my mom’s second husband Carl because the speedo man had his beer in one of those cooler things which I just had to google “What are those foamy things you put a beer in to keep it cold?” because I couldn’t think of the name of them (apparently they are called Koozies) and Carl used to drink his beer out of said Koozies. I have been thinking about Carl a lot because there are cacti everywhere here on the island and he collected them- had hundreds in his yard at home. He only drank Coors and I keep seeing Coors ads here so I think maybe, in some way, his spirit is here, and I wonder if he had ever been to Aruba but I can’t ask him because he is dead a long time now and that man in the speedos looks like he may fall into the ocean because of his dumb fucking selfie, so I want to write this stuff down but because I don’t carry a notebook or jot things down. I memorize it until I sit down here, at the table by the window, the wind blowing on my back, and I think if only I had a table at home where the wind blew on my back like this, I would really write, I would really get shit done.

Right.

Isn’t it amazing how easy it is to lie to ourselves?

Unknown

Carl, if you were here, dude, you’d go crazy for the Bringa Mosa Bush and the Yatu Cactus. Also, we hardly wear shoes here and you’d love that. You hated shoes. Especially when you ran on the beach, which to me is just about the worst thing in the world. I tried to do yoga on the beach yesterday and I felt like I ran a marathon, it was that exhausting. My hands kept sinking deeper and deeper into the sand and I had nothing solid to balance on so I kept falling over. You used to run with Monet on the beach at sunset. I miss Monet. Every West Highland Terrier I see is him. We used to call him MoMo. You didn’t, but my sister and I did, especially after you and my mom got divorced and we moved back to New Jersey. MoMo and the cats, Runt and Tiger. And when I drank beer I high school, I thought of you because you were the only person I knew that had drank beer. I don’t recall my father every drinking so lord knows where I got my affinity for it. His thing was speed. Anyway, you’d love it here. So would Monet. There’s so many dogs everywhere. And cactus plants.

And Koozies. (I wonder why they are called that?)

I think sometimes I am afraid of remembering.

I should start writing things down more though because details, they’re everything. I think my mind can store it all, the way that boy with the braces from Houston was collecting rafts in the pool to build a bridge and run across, how proud he was of his achievement, and the way the woman who worked at the hotel bent down by the edge of the pool, a You are making my job more difficult pair of eyes, the way she stooped to collect the glass candles so we wouldn’t break them, her mouth a line of blame. Meanwhile I can’t even remember what I did last week so I should totally start taking notes.

Maybe I am afraid of remembering.

I remember sitting on the floor of the airport in Dallas a few days ago and how there was a little girl in a chair next to me with a sweatshirt on that said Birthday Diva. I asked her if it was her birthday. She had just turned 13 and had these huge stuffed animals on her lap. Her mom snapped photos of her as I sat on the ground and charged my phone. A man talked to me but I have no idea what he said. I wonder how often I lie to myself.

My sister is not feeling well back in the States, in Georgia. I don’t know how to not experience it in my own body. With her, or my mother. I do not know how to separate them from myself. I do not know how to not feel guilty.

I have moments- sitting here, the wind, the perfect Aruban wind and my God, is it ever fucking perfect, I would marry the goddamned wind if I could- sitting here with my coffee and the wind on my back, the sun burning the little patch of skin that is exposed, I do not feel guilty. I feel settled in my body, my ears are ringing as usual, but I am writing and the tinnitus can’t stop me, not when I am truly in it.

I so rarely get truly in it, not lately anyway. This past year I have hardly written a word. Right now though, I don’t feel guilty or like an appendage of anyone else- I am not aware of my hearing loss, or my family, or how dare I be happy because I am in it, waist-high, swimming in the bluest water you have ever seen. I am writing. I hate that hashtag (maybe because I so rarely write) but here I am #Iamwriting and so I am spared the responsibility of my guilt and how it weights me to the bottom of the sea where not only am I deaf, but I can’t breathe. So, there’s moments, brief ones, where I float and I sit on airport floors and watch Birthday Divas, everything still ahead of me, a possibility, not yet a disappointment. Continue Reading…

Eating Disorders/Healing, Guest Posts, healing

The Bullshit Bargain.

October 27, 2014

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-blackBy Jen Pastiloff.

I got sick as I was leading my retreat in Italy a couple years ago. Really sick.

Sick like you get once every ten years sick, sick like you forget what that kind of sick feels like until you actually are that sick kind of sick.

I lost my voice and the left side of my face swelled up. I couldn’t inhale without coughing out green mucus and I wanted to vomit every twenty minutes. I couldn’t breathe through my nose and my throat was so sore it felt like I was swallowing sand every time I so much as opened my mouth.

So here I am in Italy, leading a retreat with twenty-five people and sick like Hell has frozen over.

So what do I do?

I bargain with God.

Please God. Please if you help me get through teaching this ninety minute class without dying or passing out I will never again ______ or I promise I will ________.

I am not religious at all but I realize when I get that desperate, when I feel as if my life is truly on the line in some way, I realize, in hindsight, that I think if I promise to be “good” for the rest of my life then nothing bad like this will happen to me again. Continue Reading…

Beating Fear with a Stick, healing, Inspiration

Taking Things Personally.

March 12, 2013

By Jen Pastiloff.

Yesterday someone asked me if I was pregnant based on a photo they saw of me. She asked if maybe she missed my Facebook announcement about it.

Nope. There was no announcement. Nope. I am not pregnant.

I wanted to say I’m just fat, I guess. But I know I’m not fat and I only wanted to say that to make her feel bad for asking so I didn’t say it. I just said that I wasn’t pregnant and asked why was she asking. She said it must have been a bad angle in a photo.

Eek!

Continue Reading…

And So It Is, Beating Fear with a Stick

Light Sender.

January 15, 2013
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Click to connect with my partner in this project Karen Salmansohn

Light Sender.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves

and call out, “Stay awhile.”

The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,

“and you too have come

into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled

with light, and to shine. 

~Mary Oliver When I am Among The Trees.

So why are you not letting yourself be filled?

Why are you not yelling from mountaintops who you are?

Climb that mountain. Go on. Get up there. You were born to do this, and the sooner you realize this fact, that you are among the trees, that you were always among the trees, that there wasn’t a day in your life that you were not among the trees, the sooner you send your light out and light up the world. It comes from you.

The thing is, when you send it out, you can literally feel yourself being refueled with all that golden light. Or purple. Or whatever color you imagine the light to be because light isn’t a color. It’s what’s inside you. It is what you are made up of even the times when you felt that you had no light inside of you, that all you had inside of you was a ball of pain and mud and heartache.

Get up there on that mountain. Yell into the wind what you are willing to send out into the world. Send it out in a little vessel. Send it out to anyone who will listen, anyone who needs to be inspired by someone like you. You, who’s willing to get up there on a mountaintop.

I offer you my light.

I send it out to you and hope that you can feel it on your back, or maybe on your head, an energy which if it could speak would say to you: I got you.

It’s right there with you as you are reading this, as you are making eggs for your kids, as you are sitting by your father’s bedside and reading him stories, as you turn off the lamp by your bedside and roll into an emptiness where a body used to be. All of it. It’s yours. Take it. It will never extinguish.

I didn’t trust was any light inside of me for a long time. I will not share my words with the world because there’s nothing worth sharing, I would think as I combed the streets of NYC like some kind of starving warrior. A darkness akin to dying lived inside of me. Light was something woo-woo that yoga teachers and the like spoke of. I had no idea of any such light.

I couldn’t imagine my darkness ever brightening so I succumbed to it like a slave, hackled by my own sludge and shit. The chains I dragged around were heavy and unwieldily but I managed them because to let go would mean I would have to face the fact that there was indeed a light inside of me, that underneath the chains was a small but steady light. I carried around the chains for years and kept myself all to myself. You can have none of me because there is none of me worth having. 

When I was in my early twenties I lived in mid-town Manhattan in a hotel next to a fire station. NYU housing was overflowing so they’d stuck me in a weird hotel right out of The Shining. If the red light on top of the fire station was flashing it’d meant there was a fire, growing or dying somewhere between Thirty-first and Seventh and Fortieth and Sixth. Stations were frequent: the trucks had trouble making it through traffic. Taxis never moved out of the way.

Nights I would hear the firemen pass their time. While waiting for fires to ignite they’d play basketball. The dribbling kept me awake, but they only played between fires so games didn’t last very long. And I’d felt safe. If ever there were a fire they’d be there in a flash.

I’d lie in my hotel bed counting dribbles while thinking of poems I could write about them. I never did though. I never got out of bed and grabbed a paper and wrote the poem about the firemen or the basketball or how weird it was to live in a hotel with crusty towels. Instead I laid in bed and wished I had a cheeseburger so I could smell it and pick at the lettuce or pickles. I would have never eaten the actual burger or the bread but the smell of it was enough to finally kill my hunger pains. I’d pass my time dreaming of food while the firemen threw balls to pass theirs. Were we so different? I thought, all of us waiting for something?

Waiting for the fire to change us.

I also lived next to a fire station while I was in high school in New Jersey. The men in my neighborhood, all fire fighters. When that siren went off in the middle of the night I’d imagine of my friend’s fathers slipping out of their mothers and into bulky fireproof suits. And I’d dream that same dream: our house burning and I am on a ladder in the yard. I am seven, saving everyone. I am pulling them all up the rungs, my mother, my father, my sister. I could never save myself. I’d stay at the bottom of the ladder and be eaten by black smoke until I woke.

In New York, I used to watch the firemens’ feet talk to me and ignore their voices. The feet give it all away. Nervous and fidgety. Pressing the earth for ideas as if language can split the pavement, enter their bodies like heat through their feet and make them whole.

As if language was strong enough to crack the earth, as if it could be kept underfoot. As if words could form themselves and penetrate through bone, into the blood, and out the mouth. As if it were as comfortable, as controllable as fire.

What I found out was this: language can crack the earth. It can spilt the pavement. It has! It has opened up and swallowed me. I can’t stop writing now for the life of me. For better or worse, it has cracked my darkness, and I can’t stop sending my light out into the world with a clear knowing that whoever receives it will be just the right person in need.

What I am telling you is that if you climb that mountain, which I am hoping you will choose to do, that your light will spread across a page of the night and no matter how many fireman put down their basketballs to come and put it out, your light can never be extinguished.

It was always there. You may have just been tied to a ladder. You may have been inhaling smoke. You may have been starving yourself or drinking too much or failing out of school. Whatever it is, or was, the light is there inside of you and it is your birthright to send it out. You absolutely cannot hoard it.

Writing might not be your thing. I don’t know what your thing is. It might be that you are a great mother. You are an incredible friend. You are an artist. You cook a mean chili. You are kind.

Whatever it is, you have to let us know. We are here waiting with the rest of the trees.

You have to get up out of the bed and write that poem instead of laying there dreaming of dying and hamburgers. You have to unshackle yourself from the chains around your ankles, because, quite truthfully, you put them there. You have the key. You have to climb the mountain and throw the key from the top as you yell Here I am. This is where I stand.

Sit down on the top up there. After all, you climbed all the way up. You did that. Not me. Not your past. You, here and now. It was a steep climb and you almost fell, but you didn’t. Go on and sit down. And when the trees ask you to stay awhile, tell them: Yes, yes I plan to. In fact, I have always been here. I have always been the light.

Tell them that.

Although its nothing they didn’t already know. Even when you didn’t know it yourself. You have always been there.

You are a beacon of light.

And So It Is, Mindwebs

A Subtle Lie.

September 28, 2012

So delicate or precise as to be difficult to analyze or describe. That’s one definition of subtle.

I’ve been thinking about the word subtle and the power of it. Tonight as I taught my beloved gentle yoga class, I had everyone lie on a bolster in a twist. I told them that they wouldn’t feel much. 

That it was a subtle stretch but that often the subtle things are the most powerful.

Aren’t they?

The subtle truths, subtle lies. The subtle way things change and then one day we wake up and everything we thought we knew, gone. Just like that. No more father. No more job. No more summer. No more Sunday. No more morning. It seems as if it is always all of a sudden, this sliding into something else.

One day someone just dies or leaves or quits their job and although it may feel like a sudden dynamite, a grenade thrown into your life as you make buckwheat pancakes, really it was a subtle breaking down, a slow deterioration of all things knowable. It was a subtle knowing that this is not working for me and I must go. A chipping away at what was once there.

The subtle things are the most powerful except often we don’t pay attention.

The way someone look at us, their eyes softening in the way someone in love might lower their lids, a slight hesitation to leave your face so soon, because what if it wasn’t there the next time they looked? They couldn’t take that risk so they let their eyes linger a few seconds longer before looking down at the menu and saying Yes, I will have the trout. 

The subtle way someone stops looking at us, their hands counting places they wish they’d been, their eyes looking for something in the room to focus on, something solid and unchanging.

The subtle signs of aging. Around the eyes, the mouth. All of it so quiet. At the same time so determined.

The subtle way my sister and I swung from the great white flab hanging from our grandmother, our Bubby’s arms. And while she drove, sometimes lapsing into Yiddish, how we played with it like language, palpable and subtle, growing in our anxious hands.

Loving every minute of it, this curious feel of age, of skin that had been through more winters than summers. Letting it slip like liquid through cracks between our fingers. Wishing we would get old just by sitting in that car, by playing with her deteriorated years. Years which swung, somehow transformed into flab on the backs of her arms.

That couldn’t have happened overnight. It was a subtle transformation just as the one which led us to want to stop aging. No wait! Slow down! Do not turn me into my ancestors!

The subtle lies we tell ourselves until they are no longer a gentle tap on the shoulder but a brick wall of hard rain. The subtle way the words I am not smart enough, I am ugly, I am not thin enough, I am never going to be able to finish all sink into the potholes of a mind, the words hardening until the soft mud of them fills every crack and only a sledgehammer can break them apart.

The subtle way depression can return after such a long absence like it had been there all along, sitting in it’s favorite chair, reading the paper. Oh me? I’ve been here for a while. You just haven’t been able to detect the the signs. I’ve been precise and delicate but you haven’t been paying attention. Can I stay?

Here’s what you say: No.

And then enough pussyfooting around. Man up!

Pay attention. See the signs. Life will sneak up on you if you let it.

As my dear Mary Oliver says in Mockingbirds:

how the old couple

had almost nothing to give

but their willingness

to be attentive–

but for this alone

the gods loved them.

What I am saying is this:

Be attentive.

There is no such thing as subtle.

Inspiration, poetry

Returning.

May 20, 2012

Like reading a book and looking up from the page to face the landscape, that gorgeous canopy: the red maple, the black locust and white ash, the black birch and sugar maple, the white oak- all those trees!

The ribs of gray rock under the dark mantle of matted leafage. And then back to my book again.

Which is real?

What I am looking at now?

What I think I saw?

What I think I know?

The words on the page?

The thing that the words are trying to describe?

I am returning to me, finally, after having been interrupted for so long.

Looking up at that landscape was a moment as fast as a slow wing beat.

I never bothered to lift my eyes from the page, from this same sentence for so many years. I lived inside the same tunnel of words, this tightly wound black and white sentence, these very familiar letters, for so many years.

Until I was willing to look. 

I finally saw that beautiful alternate-leaved dogwood in full bloom, the young forrest with so much to offer, so much new life and old life intertwined-the shagbark hickory chestnut sighing, it’s arms muscling at the sky, it’s scent distinct, somehow masculine.

I lived in this cave of noise for too long.

All around me, so much to see, but with my head down neck bent, eyes half-mast, I missed so much.

I was so unquiet.

We are as capable as raw bone, of becoming anything. The evolution of bone to bead, that astounding transformation of something so seemingly unmalleable into a morsel of beauty.

A chiseled thing, heavy with it’s own personality and structure. It’s intricacies detailed, experiences carved into the body of the bead make it stand out from every other.

Much like us.

I have become as migratory as a blue and white Flycatcher breeding in the summer before heading south for autumn.

Can we ever get our minds around how things go from one thing into something else entirely?

Can we wrap our minds around ideas as big as change? Can we keep expanding into things we never thought we would be? 

Can our own humanness astound us?

With all this unseen beauty in the world.

I see through matter: through skin, through flesh, through tissues and blood cells into the wild.

We still have so much to touch, so many rocks still have to leave their weight in our palms as we rub out the seasons on the stone’s belly and feel what the wind did to it’s skin, what the rain and mud had to say.

The verity of gravel, the sounds of the warblers as they sing their praises and show off for the other birds, the detail of the damp and the way it enters your body and settles like a fog inside of you, a slight coat, just enough to feel alive.

All this unseen beauty. We are as safe as houses.

As long as we keep our eyes open we are as safe as houses still settling into themselves, even after years.

The creaking and adjusting. The resettling.

Tell me: How you ever felt so alive?