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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 By December, I’d withdrawn late from Personal Essay, had a D- in Intro to Sociology, and outright failed Biological Anthropology.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…

Binders, Guest Posts

It Can’t Wait

June 3, 2015
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beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Dina L. Relles

“Just raise your children,” my grandmother barks, “raising three boys nearly on your own is enough for now. Save the writing for later. It can wait.”

I look over to where she’s sitting in the Prius I take to pick her up most Saturdays. Her lipstick bleeds into the cracks fanning out from her mouth. She’s worn that turquoise velour shirt three days running. Her voice is raspy from the cigarettes she smoked when she was younger that she finally gave up for her second husband. I’m not sure she considers it a fair trade.

I briefly wonder what it’s like to be at the end of a life.

***

It’s 3am. My legs are tired from chasing after the children, eyes ache from endless articles read by phone while the TV drones in the background.

I woke to meet the blank page, where I can stand still.

From the next room, I hear his little body, heavy with sleep, roll from one side of the bed to the other as he heaves a waking sigh. I shift to the backspace key instead of the mouse because the click is quieter. I wait, silent, thinking maybe he’ll settle back down. He doesn’t. I throw a glance at my emptied bed as a text comes through on my phone: “Alive. Crazy night. Three cases; didn’t sleep. Loving you.”

This was our choice: he would work around the clock; I would parent the same. But even a life chosen can weigh heavily. And foresight is only as good as the distance you can see ahead.

Save. Exit. Good morning.

***

A recent closet purge uncovers early journals—one in pale purples and teals with its tiny silver lock that my father brought home from Israel. Another—smaller, magenta with “My Diary” in gold lettering—details an eleven-year-old’s heartbreak at overnight camp.

Tiny, tightly folded papers in yellows and whites—passed in French class or high school hallways—are carefully stowed in a rusting tin box with a black handle. Next to it sits the “novel” I penned as a preteen, handwritten in fading pencil on college ruled loose leaf pages, bound with fraying yellow yarn.

I’ve been writing all my life. Continue Reading…

Binders, Guest Posts, healing

What I Salvaged From The Fire

May 26, 2015
diaries

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…

Binders, Guest Posts, imagination

A Series of Imagined Exchanges With My New Financial Advisor

April 5, 2015
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beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Susan Harlan.

 

“As you’re falling asleep, I’m going to take over your brain.”

“Are financial advisors supposed to do that?

“Yes.”

 

“So what are you hoping to get out of this meeting?”

“Well, my car broke down, so I have to get a new car.”

“And you’d like to discuss options.”

“Yes. I’d like to figure out what I should spend and come up with a budget for the future. But mostly I’m just depressed because I really loved my car. I attached all sorts of significance about where I am in my life to that that car.”

“I see.”

“Her name was Beryl.”

“You named your car Beryl?”

“Yes. Because she was an old lady. She needed an old lady name.”

“Well, we’ll do our best to come up with a plan.”

“I’ll probably still be sad.”

“Probably.”

 

“So where do you feel that you are in your life?”

“Could we maybe start with some smaller questions?”

“Sure.”

 

“I’ve entered all of your information into this budget spreadsheet.”

“Thank you.”

“We can go through it all. Bills, discretionary expenses, what-not.”

“So you can just plug in the numbers and it adds it all up for you?”

“Yes. That’s the idea.”

“That’s very cool.”

“I think so.”

“And if you change a number, it adds it all up again?”

“So you haven’t ever used Excel?”

“I think there was this time that I was working on this thing…well, no.”

 

“Let’s look at discretionary spending that can be cut, and then we’ll turn to your monthly bills.”

“Are you going to judge me?”

“No.”

“You may regret saying that.”

 

“So what is this eBay expense, for example?”

“That was for a couple of afghans.”

“How many?”

“It might have been as many as four. All told.”

“You could probably do with fewer afghans.”

“They were all different colors.”

“Still.”

“Yes, I probably could.”

“And this eBay charge?”

“Vintage cocktail glasses.”

“I see.”

“They were etched.”

“Right.”

“And a yarn painting.”

“What’s a yarn painting?”

“Well, it’s just really a painting, but you know – made from yarn.”

“Right. These could probably be cut. I see a certain amount of money going towards household expenses.”

“Yeah, I get it.”

“Are there other purchases along these lines we can talk about?”

“Well, that one is for a garden gnome named Baudelaire, and that is for a concrete deer and duck.”

“I don’t necessarily need to know about the exact objects – just the category.”

“The gnome is French.”

“So ‘Housewares’?”

“Sort of. But he lives on the porch.”

 

“These are the kinds of purchases you’ll want to be careful about in the future.”

“Yes. I get tempted to buy things when I’m bored.”

“Are you bored a lot?”

“That’s a difficult question to answer.”

“We can come back to it.”

 

“Do we need to factor a gym membership into the budget?”

“No. Absolutely not.”

 

“How much does your dog cost you per month?”

“About $100.”

“So I’m putting that in.”

“Does that make her a very expensive dog?”

“She’s fine.”

“Even a budget dog?”

“Sure.”

 

“Okay, moving into other recreational expenses. Here, we have Netflix. That’s discretionary.”

“Only if you want me to die the death of the wretched.”

“So Netflix stays.”

 

“Let’s take a look at your monthly food expenses. You may not realize this, but you’re spending a lot on groceries.”

“I can imagine that to be true. I eat a lot.”

“I’m sure we can find a way to make some cuts. What’s this bill for?”

“Vermouth.”

“This whole bill is for vermouth?”

“Well, yes. Sweet vermouth.”

“Was it for entertaining? I can put it under ‘Entertaining.’”

“Sort of. I just found a shop that has some very nice vermouths.”

“What are they for?”

“Manhattans.”

“We may want to cut back on the Manhattans.”

“That’s very upsetting, but I get it.”

 

“I see a number of charges per week for $7.36. What is this?”

“Five Guys.”

“The hamburger place?”

“Yes.”

“If we add these up, you have quite a lot of them every month.”

“Hmm. How many are we talking?”

“I’d really rather not say.”

“I understand. I’ll try to eat more sandwiches.”

“Please do.”

 

“So we’ve been talking a lot about patterns in the past. Let’s turn to your long-term financial goals.”

“Sounds good.”

“How do you see the next couple of years? What would you like to be able to do?”

“Well, I want to but a ramshackle, old farmhouse in the Hudson River Valley and fix it up.”

“Farmhouses are nice.”

“Preferably something with a wood-burning stove and peeling wallpaper. Maybe some nice tile.”

“Anything else?”

“I’d also like to fix up a vintage Airstream trailer and then drive it around the country with my dog.”

“This are noble goals, but maybe we could think more in terms of paying off educational debt.”

“Oh, right. I thought you meant, you know, home improvement goals.”

“We can work out a plan for how much money you should put towards your debt, and that will help you to reach these goals. Eventually.”

“Okay.”

“Any other long-term goals?”

“Well, it’s not really related to paying off debt.”

“Okay.”

“I’d like to move back to New York City and be able to go out to lunch everyday.”

“Everyday?”

“Yes, like how all the expat writers went out to lunch everyday in Paris and ate lobster and drank white wine and talked about books. I’d like to have that life.”

“That does sound nice.”

“But without the wars and the misogyny.”

“Naturally.”

 

Susan Harlan is an English professor at Wake Forest University, and her work has appeared in venues such as The Guardian, The Toast, The Awl, The Morning News, Jezebel, Roads & Kingdoms, and Public Books.

Chicago! Join Jen Pastiloff at her first Chicago workshop Aug 22nd! Book early! " It's story-letting, like blood-letting but more medically accurate: Bleed out the stories that hold you down, get held in the telling by a roomful of amazing women whose stories gut you, guide you. Move them through your body with poses, music, Jen's booming voice. Write renewed, truthful. Float-stumble home." ~ Pema Rocker

Chicago! Join Jen Pastiloff at her first Chicago workshop Aug 22nd! Book early!
” It’s story-letting, like blood-letting but more medically accurate: Bleed out the stories that hold you down, get held in the telling by a roomful of amazing women whose stories gut you, guide you. Move them through your body with poses, music, Jen’s booming voice. Write renewed, truthful. Float-stumble home.” ~ Pema Rocker

The 12 Day Detox is here. Sign up now for May 1st cleanse. Space is limited. This detox comes at just the perfect time. Reprogram your body and mind as we move into the new season of spring. This is your time of rejuvenation and renewal.This is not a juice fast, or a detox based on deprivation.

The 12 Day Detox is here. Sign up now for May 1st cleanse. Space is limited. This detox comes at just the perfect time. Reprogram your body and mind as we move into the new season of spring. This is your time of rejuvenation and renewal.This is not a juice fast, or a detox based on deprivation.

Guest Posts, LBGQ, storytelling

The Fight

January 22, 2015
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By Devi Lockwood.

She delivers the punch, smooth and crisp, to the flesh below his jaw. Her knuckles collide with his cheekbone and the crowd gathered under the university pavilion looks on, silent.

He comes at her with both fists flailing, windmills of rage. With one duck and swerve, she comes out unscathed.

Before either party can deliver a return punch, their friends intervene, pulling them back. Each struggles at their friend’s grip, squinting in wrath.

“Stop! Enough! Not like this!”

The girl they are fighting over sits on a bench with her head between her hands, covering her ears.

~

I wasn’t expecting to see lesbian drama in my first week in Fiji (or at all, for that matter), but there it was, like the ocean, waiting––unconcerned with my existence and yet completely immersive. A pull.

I made friends at the university by accident. Walking down Grantham Rd, I was tugged into a several-block long conversation with a group of two guys walking to class.

“Do you want to see campus?” one asked, readjusting the weight of his backpack on his shoulder. I shrugged. Why not? I had nowhere else better to be. The only thing driving me through the day was my desire to collect stories.

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.

Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Marriage, Relationships

Playlist- “The Long Run.”

December 16, 2014
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beauty-hunting-jen-logo-blackBy Karen Lynch.

I know how to shoot to kill, but I can’t shoot a gun out of a man’s hand. Civilians always think cops can do that, but only Annie Oakley could have pulled off that sort of trick. I know how to stay married, but I don’t how to keep passion burning in a long marriage, and maybe I also view those who say they can as I do Annie, rare, unlikely, and highly skilled.

Staying married for decades is like living with a roommate who plays his favorite music on an interminable random shuffle. When you first fall for him, you may love six out of the ten songs in his mix. Maybe you’re one of the lucky ones and you immediately love nine of his songs, or maybe like my husband and me, you only love a couple of each other’s songs, but you wait with great patience through the tunes you despise, because you remember a long time ago, he once played you a song so beautiful it made you cry.

When the annoying earworm you have grown to hate, maybe “The Long Run,” by The Eagles, comes up for the hundredth time in a month, you must remind yourself that the song you love is still in the mix, though you fear you may never hear it again. And honestly, I can’t guarantee you ever will. If you want to stay married, you may have to settle for the certainty that the song you once loved so much is still in the shuffle somewhere, and that thought alone will have to be enough to keep you listening.

My husband, Greg, is not my soul mate. He is not my best friend. But my husband is a true partner, and in my world that’s a rank above best friend. He is also one of the few people on the planet who has been willing to listen to my playlist for 27 years, and I have listened, with frequent complaint, to his. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Inspiration, love

My Mother’s Boyfriend and Me.

November 24, 2014
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By Caroline Leavitt

When my mother turned ninety-two, she fell in love for the first time.

Although my mother and my father had been married for over thirty years, theirs wasn’t even remotely a love story. Before she met him, she had thought she was in love with the son of a butcher. He courted her for a year, and one night, he had even scribbled out their wedding announcement in mustard on a napkin, giving it to her to put in her purse for safekeeping. Then he left for Chicago, promising to come back to her. He kept his word to return, but not until six months later, and then, he was holding the hand of a pretty, very pregnant wife. When his wife excused herself to powder her nose, he cornered my mother in the kitchen, hotly whispering against her neck, “Maybe I made a mistake.”

“No,” she said. “I did.”

As soon as he left, my mother let her heart break. It wasn’t so much that she cared about this young man, whose character was clearly lacking, but, it was more that she saw her future leaving her. A family. A home. All the things she wanted so desperately. She was living with her parents and she lay in bed crying, so long and so hard that her father began to plead. “You have to live,” he urged. He sat by her bed, coaxing food, insisting that she get up, and try and be happy again.

And so, because she loved her father, because she didn’t want to be a disappointment to him, and mostly because she was twenty-eight, which was as close to spinsterhood as she could allow herself to get, she let herself be trundled off to what was then called an adult day camp, where single men and women could spend a month, living in cabins, enjoying swimming, boating and arts and crafts, but really looking for their mates. There, as if she were choosing a cut of meat for dinner, she had her pick of men. She settled on two of the most marriage-minded: a sturdy looking guy who was going to be a teacher and my father, who was quiet, a little brooding, but who already had a steady, money-making career as an accountant. She wasn’t sure how she felt about him, but she believed that love had already passed her by, like a wonderful party she had somehow missed. But even so, she could still have the home, the family, the life she wanted if she were only brave and determined enough to grab it. My father asked her to marry him, and she immediately said yes. But later, she told my sister and me, that when she was walking down the aisle, her wedding dress itchy, and her shoes too tight, she felt a surge of terror. This isn’t right, she thought. But there was her father, beaming encouragingly at her. There was her mother, her sisters and brothers and all her friends, gathered to celebrate this union. Money had been spent on food and flowers and her white, filmy dress. And where else did she have to go? So she kept walking. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts

Sunday Times.

November 9, 2014
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beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black
By Joan Wilking.

 

Sunday mornings I drive to buy The New York Times. I could subscribe to it online or have it delivered, but I don’t. It’s a habit that goes back to my childhood when my father and I would go out for bagels and lox and the Sunday papers. In those days it was The Times and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Now I drive to the Ipswich River Store and the bagels have been replaced by a breakfast treat called a clamshell, whole wheat dough baked around a combination of scrambled egg whites and sautéed vegetables.

I’ve always loved the Sunday Times, especially the magazine, which I’d pull out and read first, kind of like eating dessert before dinner, but in the summer of 2007 my relationship with the magazine changed. After that, up until just few months ago, the first thing I would do is flip through the sections, pull out the magazine and set it aside. I’d skim the front page of the paper, read the Sunday Styles, followed by the Book Review, and the Arts and Entertainment section. Then I would finish my coffee and steel myself to face the magazine. I’d open to the inside front cover and my stomach would twist as I wondered, Will it be a single page, or a two page spread this week?

Week after week I confronted ads for luxury apartments for sale at the iconic midcentury modern Manhattan House on East 66th Street. They began running shortly after my uncle, a well known Madison Avenue antiques dealer, jumped to his death from the twenty-second floor of the building, just short of his ninetieth birthday. To say that his suicide was a shock is an understatement. Having to face advertisements for units in that building every Sunday was an ongoing perversity, profit and loss, made more ironic because I spent years designing similar ads for similarly luxurious apartments; some of them listed by the same agents who represented the Manhattan House.

Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Self Image, writing

Checking Out: A Writer Reboots in Mid-Life.

August 26, 2014
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By Alison Manheim. 

I like to say that as a writer, I failed at a very high level. I attended a well-known M.F.A program, ate the same sandwiches and carrot sticks that sustained Sylvia Plath and Patricia Highsmith decades earlier at a famous artist’s colony, and finished three manuscripts that elicited offers of representation from reputable literary agents. An annoying number of my friends are “real,” that is published, writers. My bookshelves are filled with signed copies of their novels and memoirs in which I (or my fictional counterpart) make a cameo appearance, often uttering the funniest lines. Continue Reading…

And So It Is, Guest Posts

Late Bloomer.

June 16, 2014

LATE BLOOMER by Suzy Vitello.*

Suzyat2

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

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

And other hideous afflictions.

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

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

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

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

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

But here’s my point:

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

Spring

Spring is when the flowers bloom.

With snow gone, there’s lots of room.

Birds chirping while building their nests.

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

The tip-tap of rainfalls,

the sound of mate calls,

is spring.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Suzyat52

_______

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

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


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

 

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

 

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

 

Guest Posts

Setting Free The Bears.

March 5, 2014

By Maggie May Ethridge (who, truth be told, Jen has a total girl crush on.)

When life is hard, then harder, then fossilized into a shell over your skin so tight and so fragile it breaks with the smallest tapping of the new thing trying to be born, then there are things that must be done. Firstly, right yourself. Are you sleeping enough? Your mother told you. Your doctor told you. Even your Uncle Alfred who farted and belched loudly after turkey dinner told you – you must sleep enough, or simply nothing works just right. Your brain is your gateway to reality. If you close off the energy force the gateway will not work, and your entire perception of reality will be tilted, see- just so – just enough to make you slightly wonky. I’m already wonky on my own, born and bred, and need no help in that direction.

Next, are you eating healthy? Every meal should be protein, veggie, healthy carb (nothing white, but brown rice, multigrain breads). Eat in intervals that feel natural to your body. Drink water. You don’t like a shrively pruney lemon looking face, do you? Well you don’t want your brain this way either. Drink. Then there are the essential caretaking measures: shower, shave, scrub your pits. If, because of lack of hygiene, you happen to randomly and repeatedly catch a whiff of your own sour stench repeatedly during the day while trying to interact with other life forms, you might find you like yourself a little less. ‘ Anyone worthwhile, ‘ you might think ‘ would not smell like pig ass when they have a perfectly available and working shower, equipted with the latest modern miracles like razors and soap. ‘ Shower. Lather. Make large, ridiculously cheerful bubbles, and sing. I recommend singing a rap song in operetta. I do, and it makes me happy.

Also, don’t forget to wear clean clothes that fit well. Now you are fed a nutritious meal, showered and shaved, dressed and standing tall. Let’s begin by setting the mood. Music Please… and

Flowers. Pick some, buy some, just get em, anyway you can, and spread them around your places. Your places are usually work, home, maybe a lover’s apartment, or your psychotherapist- wherever you spent a lot of time. Put them there.

Also, while I’m on the subject, be Naked. Often. Get in touch with your body, as a living breathing beautiful form, not just as a clothes hanger or food hamper. Have Sex.

If you have no one to have sex with, have it with yourself. Do something
that feels good, and feel good about it. See? Your 8th grade Religious Studies
teacher was wrong about masturbation, because I have neither 1. pimples nor 2. scales on my hands.

Take every opportunity to Dance * yes dance, dance i said, not only you sexy people, all you sly muthas, just get out there and dance- Dance, I Said!* Salt and Pepa knew. So should you.
I dance in the shower ( not while soaping and singing. that might get tricky. ) I dance in the car. I dance at work, to the amusement of my co-workers ( Yes you, Stephanie and Heather ) I even hurt my right butt cheek dancing to Michael Jackson in the sun room two days ago.

Remember White Nights? How could you not want to tap and leap your way into life!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=haBZCrBHMm4

 
Now we are somewhat refreshed. Here is where we begin to think of how we can be of Service to one another. To the people around us. I had my son at 19, and learned one of the greatest lessons of my life in his birth: acting in behalf of another human being is one of the greatest healing actions available to us. Not the daily ‘allowances’ that we make for one another- these things that we confuse with service to our friends and family but really are only small ways to drive ourselves crazy- the constant yes when no is meant, the answering of phones at any occasion or time, the need and demand for availability ( IM, Chat, Facebook, Phone, Cell, Email), this kind of thing. To care and love in a healing way means that we keep our eyes open for the person who needs and desires it. This is stopping when a flustered, near tears elderly lady cannot find her money and paying for her coffee, taking on a mentor role in a young person’s life, volunteering an an Assisted Living Facility or Pediatric Unit at the hospital, making dinner twice a week for the family of someone undergoing cancer treatments- these and million other actions are what unite us as a people and bring peace and meaning to our lives.

Then there is the indomitable Spirit. As a writer and poet and passionate person in general, I have only once in my adult life felt disconnected from my spirit, and I fought tooth and nail to regain my whole. I believe that literally the act of holding your head up is a physical way to pull the strings of the spirit. I will NOT look down at the fucking ground. Everything we do to nourish our spirit is reflected back eventually. I am a huge believer in taking positive action even when you cannot see the results. The lack of results is a facade. Holding your head up, repeating marching orders to yourself ( you will be able to do this, yes ), reading about the particular issues you have in life, talking to friends, a therapist, service – it all becomes part of the gust of spirit that will eventually blow through you and lift you back up where you belong. So,

finding what nourishes the Spirit is an important part of growing up. Am I grown up yet?

Bears

Can I Set Free The Bears?

Next time we will discuss:
Drinking
Vacationing in ill-mowed and unkept squares of green (otherwise known as my backyard)
The in-house prescription for cheer
Sticky notes of love (not what you might think)
Animals and their furry hairy magic
and
Children make good clowns, there for your amusement.

Maggie May Ethridge is a novelist, poet and freelance writer from the deep South who has lived most of her life in San Diego, CA. She has an Ebook coming out in January with the new publishing company Shebooks ” Atmospheric Disturbances: Scenes From A Marriage ” and is completing her second novel. She has been published in magazines both on and offline in places like Diagram, The Nervous Breakdown, Equals Record and blogs regularly at Flux Capacitor.

flux_capacitor_frame

Jennifer Pastiloff, Beauty Hunter, is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Her work has been featured on The Rumpus, The Nervous Breakdown, Jezebel, Salon, among others. Jen’s leading one of her signature retreats to Ojai, Calif. over New Years. Check out jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up: South Dakota, NYC, Dallas, Kripalu Center For Yoga & Health, Tuscany. She is also leading a Writing + The Body Retreat with Lidia Yuknavitch Jan 30-Feb 1 in Ojai (2 spots left.) She tweets/instagrams at @jenpastiloff.

 

 
And So It Is, Eating Disorders/Healing, Guest Posts

Penance.

January 5, 2014
Writing workshop! 
Jen Pastiloff is part of the faculty this year at Other Voices Querétaro. It is a vibrant, multi-faceted writing program in Querétaro, Mexico. Focusing on both fiction and nonfiction, as well as on the ins and outs of contemporary publishing. Application: We're keeping it simple! Admission forms and letters of recommendation are not required. Please email Gina at ovbooks@gmail.com or click photo above. Also on faculty are authors Emily Rapp, Gina Frangello, Stacy Bierlein and Rob Roberge.

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-blackBy Gina Frangello.

The second semester of my senior year of college, I developed a phobia of unopened packages of food.  Unless someone else had eaten from the package already, I suspected it would be poisoned, like the Tylenol tamperings of my youth.  The only item I remember being exempt from this phobia during that period of time were the Snickers bars I ate for lunch in the psychology building two or three days a week.  Clearly, the candy bar dropped out of the vending machine wrapped, and yet not only did I consume it, I don’t think it ever actually occurred to me that it might be poisoned.  I had no anxiety about my Snickers bars, which is even stranger since I was also suffering from a functional eating disorder that had me hovering constantly at just under 100 pounds, and calories were a major preoccupation of mine.  I suppose I ate so little otherwise that the Snickers bar was no cause for anxiety.  It was accompanied by a Diet Pepsi and was very likely the only solid food I took in on those days.  Although I was a borderline anorexic, I took cream in my coffee and (at that time, which mystifies me now) preferred revoltingly sweet drinks like white Russians and pina coladas and Malibu and pineapple juice.  Since I drank eleven cups of coffee a day, so that my hands always had a slight tremor and I had to balance books on my lap while reading or they would vibrate around, and my friends and I went to the Madison bars at least four nights per week, I suppose my calorie needs were being met; I never dipped below 98 pounds, even though I vaguely wanted to.  I wasn’t quite 5’2” and I was definitely “skinny,” but not to the point of a clinical anorexia diagnosis.  Not, unlike my sorority friend, Trish, to the point of getting into Disney World at the “under 12” price or ending up hospitalized.  My body was essentially the same shape it is now, just a more narrow version; I still had curves in my tiny black skirts.  When my roommate Deb tried to express concern over my weight, I assumed she was just jealous (the absurdity to this is evident to me now, given that Deb had an astonishingly good, healthy figure, and that she could no doubt see on a daily basis what a wreck I was), so I asked her kind-of-boyfriend if he thought I was too skinny, just to hear him say no right in front of her.  What he actually did was ask me to turn around so he could look at my body more carefully, and what I actually did was get up on the table of our booth at the Kollege Klub, our usual hangout, and turn in a slow circle.  Then he said no, and Deb sulked, and I was what passed, back then, for “happy,” which all too frequently seemed to involve making someone else feel crappy so that I could, for an instant, feel good.

My fear of unopened packages of food was a narcissistic fear, of course.  It wasn’t as if, if I saw my roommates about to eat the first bagel of a package, I would jump up yelping with anxiety, fearing they were about to drop dead on the floor.  It wasn’t that the prospect of other people’s death-by-poisoning was of no concern to me—I loved my friends with the intensity many only-children do, despite whatever bitchy antics I may have committed vis-à-vis turning around on bar tables for the approval of their boyfriends.  Rather, it was that it seemed self-evident to me that this fear of contaminated food was wholly unreasonable unless I was the one about to put it in my mouth.  I believed, on some level, that the food would only be contaminated if I were the one to consume it.  That I understood how preposterous this was did little to allay my fears, similarly to the way I would believe—maybe still believe in my weaker moments—that airplanes are only destined to crash if I am aboard them.  This phenomenon is what some of my addict friends would later describe to me as “believing you are the piece of shit at the center of the universe.”  The belief that you are special, even if in a perverted, self-loathing and warped way.  That God or the fates or other people are somehow focused enough on your existence and on your self-perceived shortcomings or sins, that the very laws of the universe and world events will be altered just to punish you or teach you a lesson.  My boarding the plane will cause it to go down.  My eating the first bagel in the bag will cause it to be poisoned, but if Amy or Deb chows down on the bagel, of course it will be fine.  I have spent more than twenty years trying to understand this belief, yet still its finer points elude me.  Did I believe that my actions literally caused a shift in the linearity of Time, and an altering of past events (i.e. crazy psychopathic criminal bursts into bagel factory and sprinkles arsenic on this particular package…but this only happened if I actually take a bite)?  My brain cells were consumed by counting calories and worrying that God would send me to Hell for being a slut, even though I didn’t believe in Hell exactly.  Or—surprise—I didn’t believe in Hell for “other people.”  If one of my equally slutty girlfriends had expressed this belief to me about herself I would have laughed at her, hugged her, and advised some kind of deprograming from the misogynistic beliefs of the church.  I didn’t attend any kind of services and didn’t believe in anything the Catholic church I’d been raised in stood for and took Women’s Studies classes and instructed one of my roommates, who’d never had an orgasm, on the proper masturbatory techniques and sent her into her bedroom and told her not to come out until she’d come.  I smoked pot every day and picked up guys most weekends and left my underwear in Chicago cabs and was in an “open” relationship with a British guy who did things like pack condoms right in front of me when he was taking a trip to Greece—a fact that bothered me not in the least since I aspired to be some cross between Anaïs Nin and Sabina from The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and monogamy clearly did not fit in to this glamorous picture.

My terror of unopened packages of food—and the fact that sometimes I could not eat all day if I didn’t organically encounter something other people were already eating that they wanted to share with me—did not much fit into this glamorous image of my future either, but it admittedly made it much easier for me to keep my weight down.

The adage that whatever fucked up, self-destructive habit or belief system we hold on to must be working for us on some level or we’d let it go, in my experience, has always been true.

It’s hard now, in retrospect, to pin down the extent of my diffuse spiritual anxieties in those days.  I had gone to Catholic school, the kind of blue collar, old world place where the principal—a former nun—did things like spank kids with the Bible, and if the class misbehaved, our teacher told us we were all going to Hell.  I spent a great deal of time standing in corners for my “big mouth” and my inability to sit still in my chair and keep my feet on the floor.  I had the highest test scores in the class, and was often told by my peers (not always in a good way) that I was “smart,” but I never won any of the prizes for academic achievement given at the end of the year, which the teachers baldly admitted was because I didn’t know how to behave properly.  Conformity was prized far more highly than a certain innate academic giftedness, the point of which was unclear anyway, since no one in my neighborhood had ever gone to college or had any type of profession that required critical thinking, and there was no reason to presume I would be any different since no one had ever been any different.  It’s fair to say that it was even a gesture of care to try to teach me to conform and behave the way a girl was expected to behave, because these were the ingredients the Catholic school teachers knew of that led to a smoother future.  My father, out of similar feelings of care, urged me to the point of badgering to stop reading and writing endlessly on the couch and instead “go out” and hang with my cousins and the other popular girls on the corner, where I might attain a boyfriend and some status, hence making my future brighter.  In those days—until I was fourteen and placed into a selective enrollment high school far away from my neighborhood and essentially “got out” four years before I would physically move away for college—reading and writing were viewed as self-destructive habits.  The Catholic school girls were meek mice who folded their hands on their desks and chewed their tongues whenever they had a desire to speak out, but the public school girls were brash and tough talking, prone by seventh grade to getting high before school and blowing twentysomething guys in exchange for drugs.  They represented a spectrum of possibilities among which I fit nowhere.  I wanted to be Joyce Davenport from Hill Street Blues, and wear sexy business suits and keep my last name.  I had a vague sense that I wanted to have a lot of sex, but the guys in my neighborhood were terrifying and stupid.  The other kids said I was probably a lesbian, and though I knew that wasn’t “it,” whatever I was felt even harder to place.

I wrote on brown butcher-block paper, which my mom bought because it was the cheapest and cut for me by hand.  By the time I was 15, I had four “novels” of 300-400 pages each.  I hid them, not letting even my devoted mother read them, because I was ashamed of what a freak I was, scribbling stories about people who weren’t real instead of partying in someone’s mom’s basement and getting myself a gangbanger boyfriend.  And yet I kept writing, even though it appeared counterproductive to everything I knew.  The self-destruction of my participation in my own social ruin “worked for me” on some level, even if I couldn’t place it yet.

In an Afterschool Special, the crazy girl who is afraid of unopened packages of food would get help somehow, would have an epiphany and heal.  But in real life, we often have no idea what we’re healing from.  Kids I had grown up with had been brutally physically and sexually abused, had lived in apartments overrun with roaches where they were often left alone while their mothers hung out in bars and went home with men, had fended off the advances of their mothers’ parade of boyfriends, had—in a few cases—been murdered in gang violence or simply by crazy, enraged neighbors.  Although I had grown up in the middle of all that, none of it had ever happened to me.  My parents were nice people.  We were below the poverty line, but there were only three of us and we always had enough to eat.  My mother took me to the library every week and read books aloud to me.  I had gotten out and here I was at a Big Ten college, having studied abroad in London.  I had a sophisticated British boyfriend who sent me tapes of cool music and accommodated my vision of myself by packing condoms in front of me.  I had scads of friends, who didn’t judge me as harshly as I may judge my former self, as we were all only twenty-one and they had their issues too.  I had a massive case of Survivor Guilt.

I stopped going to class.  Crowded rooms gave me panic attacks.  Sometimes, just walking on a street teeming with other students, my limbs would go completely numb and I would stop being able to breathe.  I’d take off my shoes and feel the cold pavement against my feet, and this would help me enough to get me home to my apartment, where I would smoke a joint and listen endlessly to Depeche Mode or Miracle Legion or Janis Ian in my bedroom.  Sleepless in the middle of the night, overcome with clawing hunger, I would masturbate in an attempt to tranquilize myself to sleep.  When I would end up in front of the open refrigerator, scouring for something my roommates had already eaten, I would sometimes permit myself a quarter of a blueberry bagel or one carrot or a slice of turkey, and I would go back to bed hating myself for my weakness and figuring I would grow up to be fat like my mother, who made no secret of the fact that my father had stopped having sex with her after I was born.  I would be fat and nobody would want me, which had been true in my youth but somehow I had been okay with it then.  If in the morning, the scale said 100, I would starve myself for two days or go on Slimfast.  On the rare occasions I made it to class, the wooden lecture hall seats dug into my prominent tailbone, and my friend Trish and I made jokes about bringing pillows to sit on, and then she started really doing it, but I didn’t go to class often enough to bother.  One day Trish ended up in her car in the middle of the night, where she kept her food so she wouldn’t be tempted to eat in in her apartment, stuffing her face at three a.m.  She weighed less than eighty pounds, and finally she snapped and started sobbing, saying aloud to herself, Do you want to die?  Do you want to die?  She lives now in San Diego with a husband and a son who has a lot of allergies, but demons are never banished that easily.  You push them out of the top floor of the house into the basement, and you can still hear their voices through the pipes but you refuse to give them free reign anymore.  You learn to chew and swallow even though you think the ingestion of nutrients will turn you into your mother or whatever it is you fear being.  Trish was a virgin, a more “classical” anorexic than I was—she looked like a child and feared sexuality and being pursued.  She wore her child’s body like armor until it nearly killed her.  I don’t know what happened to her when she was younger, but I know that in my neighborhood and most of the world, having a child’s body doesn’t protect a girl from much of anything.

I took a psychology exam, the day after a bad trip where I’d gone into a kind of shock and had tremors for most of the night, and in response to a question asking about what major theory Freud formed in Paris, I wrote, “Freud never went to Paris.”  This cracked me up for weeks.  Somehow I got a B on the exam.  It was the first semester in awhile that I hadn’t made Dean’s List, but I still got my diploma with a good enough GPA to apply to grad schools.  My creative writing professors called meetings with me and recommended journals where I should submit my work, though I never, to my recollection, sent to any of them.  Instead I moved to London, where I would be a maid at a hotel and a bartender, under the table, and live in an almost-squat with eleven men from all over the world, most of whom were drug dealers, although they were also some of the most nurturing men I will ever know. I would wander around Battersea Park, so ravenous from fasting that the world seemed both jaggedly sharp, yet faraway and surreal at once; stars popped before my eyes dizzily as though I were only steps away from seeing visions.  I’d lie on park benches and tell myself I was doing penance.  Penance for what?  I was in love with one man and living with and fucking another, but that wasn’t quite it.  My sins ran deeper than that in my own imagination.  Maybe my crime was being in London to begin with, when most of the girls I’d grown up with never even got as far as the other side of the city where I went to high school.  Maybe my crime was still being alive.  Every time I boarded a plane, I was certain God would rectify that problem.

I had shunned all the partiers and dealers in my old neighborhood for years, making a social outcast of myself, and been the first person in my family on either side to go away to college, just so that I could—in a different country—live among drug dealers, tending bar like my father.  The irony wasn’t lost on me.  And yet I had come to realize I was no Joyce Davenport.  Even with a part-time bartending job, I often showed up late or called in sick.  I couldn’t keep track of money, and preferred just putting it into my rucksack and letting my male companions pay for everything, or throwing my paychecks into a communal pool.  One of the men I lived with was an amateur photographer; another had friends who were starting a literary magazine.  They also had friends in prison for murder, which seemed ordinary to me.  I knew I couldn’t stay in London forever, but this static world, this hybrid of my youth and vaguely boho-artistic fantasies, felt safe.  Finally, I moved to rural New Hampshire for the boyfriend who would become my husband.  He was pursuing his PhD, and simply following him gave me the illusion of movement and change, without requiring me to do anything myself.  I moved into the house he shared with other grad students and I waited tables and nannied (both rather poorly) and cried so often it remains a miracle he didn’t break up with me.

This had been going on way too long to accommodate any Afterschool Special by this point.  A year passed, then another.  I got into therapy, though it didn’t help much since all I did was lie to my therapist.  I once ran into her on the street and—although this violates the ethics of what you’re supposed to do if you run into a client in public—she said an enthusiastic hello to me.  I had no idea who she was.  I’d been her client for eight months, but I never even looked at her, really.  I was looking at myself: at how to construct the Me I wanted her to see.  I was fighting another invisible enemy, like God.  I’d gone into therapy to get control of my life, but once there I wanted my therapist to like me.  I handed her pictures of who I thought a likable woman might be.  It never occurred to me that a likable person might be someone who would recognize her on the street.

When you’re the piece of shit at the center of the universe, you aren’t a person exactly, but more importantly neither is anyone else.  The world is merely your audience, the way God was my imaginary audience.  The rest of the world exists just to confirm your belief in what a shitty, punishable person you are.  What a special person you are in your horribleness.  In a world of Hitlers and Milosevics and Dahmers, your awfulness can rewrite the past of the bagel factory; your awfulness can bring the plane down.

Three years passed this way.  Pulling my car over to the side of the road during legendary New Hampshire snowstorms, hyperventilating and numb with a panic attack, afraid the car heater must be poisonous and would kill me.  Driving the rest of the hour home with my windows down, the heat turned off, and ending up with chilblains, the doctor telling me how strange it was that I had this eighteenth century malady, and my feigning confusion, How could I have gotten this?

I got an MA in counseling during those years; I got engaged during these years; I wrote the first draft of what would become my first published novel during these years; I traveled extensively.  It’s easy to look back on a messed up time in our lives and say, Who was that?  But many of the things I did were the things I would keep on doing for the bulk of my adult life, even after unopened packages of food and car heaters and churches looked innocuous again.  Various things add up to change: a chiropractor who put me on a hypoglycemic diet, and within two weeks my anxiety issues and my breathing problems had stopped.  Starting a grad program in writing, and feeling for the first time in my life that there was somewhere on the spectrum of possibilities where I might actually belong.  Moving back to Chicago, and coming to grips with the city I grew up in, on new terms.  Reading a shitload of books on theology, initially in an attempt to reconcile with the Catholic church, and emerging realizing that I am an atheist, and that my spiritual crises, such as they were, were always partly about trying to swallow a system that made no inherent sense to me, and my guilt over that because abandoning my religion was just one more puzzle piece of my youth I was throwing out the window of a moving car, so that I could never come together again as the person I’d once been.  One day you live in a state of acute crisis, unable to walk down a crowded street without having to take off your shoes to feel the earth beneath your feet, and then it is three years later, and maybe you have just gotten too fucking exhausted to keep carrying on that way, and you just don’t do that anymore.

Do you want to die? my friend Trish asked herself alone in her car.  Do you want to die?

I didn’t have to come as close to dying as she did to realize I wanted to live, but maybe it took longer.

The other day, my father, who is ninety-two, and with whom it would be accurate to say I haven’t had an in-depth conversation in years, suddenly said to me, on his return from the hospital: “All those times I used to try to get you to go outside and run around with the other girls—Jesus Christ, was I an idiot.  I didn’t understand that you knew what you were doing.  I didn’t understand that you were going to have a completely other kind of life I just couldn’t imagine.”  His words meant more to me, even after all this time, than I maybe want to admit.  And yet the truth is, I was acting blindly too.  I was simply a different kind of animal than the people around me, back then.  There was less “choice” involved than perhaps I wanted to tell myself.  My writing and reading were less “heroic” acts of rebellion, and more simply my nature, my evolutionary survival skills, no different from the way Martha Cruz ran around the playground every day as though it were a track, or the way my best guy friend, Hector, picked endlessly at his own scabs, opening and reopening them until they scarred, biding his time until he could come out of the closet.  The belief I held, back then, that I was somehow the only one who needed something different was part of an old mythology.  Unhappiness in captivity doesn’t make anyone special, and maybe getting out doesn’t either.  Maybe it took my father validating my choices to realize that he—by not being an addict or an abuser or a criminal; by contributing his particular genes my way—was as much a part of the pastiche of my choices as I was.  Shift everything just that much to the left, and who knows where I would be now?

I am a writer now, living that “different life” neither my father nor I could imagine.  I’m also a mom of three, living in the Midwest, and my life doesn’t resemble Anaïs Nin’s much more than it does the coffee clutch ladies in their housedresses from my youth.  Life is a work in progress, and part of being a writer is listening to the voices from the basement.  Letting them drift up to you and clearing a space at the table.  Learning not to hate yourself for surviving, but not to hate the self you were to survive either.  Maybe not giving up on being “special” but rather realizing that without the abiding belief each human being has inside of our own uniqueness, there could never be art, there could never be love, and that part of the fundamental task of humanity is to truly see the pieces inside those around us that make them special too.  These days, I sit on planes reminding myself that the universe doesn’t care whether I’m aboard—that I’m not at the center of anything—and yet that doesn’t abdicate me from acting as though I can make some kind of difference.  I still usually need a benzo to board a plane, but I’m working on that.  If I never get there, that’s okay.  Sometimes, we feel static for a very long time, and then suddenly, we’re somewhere else instead.  Movement may not always be progress, but, like art, I’ve come to believe that it has a beauty for its own sake.

IMG_5390 FINAL-1

Gina Frangello is the author of three books of fiction: A Life in Men (Algonquin 2014), Slut Lullabies (Emergency Press 2010) and My Sister’s Continent (Chiasmus 2006).  She is the Sunday editor for The Rumpus and the fiction editor for The Nervous Breakdown, and is on faculty at the University of CA-Riverside’s low residency MFA program.  The longtime Executive Editor of Other Voices magazine and Other Voices Books, she now runs Other Voices Queretaro (www.othervoicesqueretaro.com), an international writing program.  She can be found at www.ginafrangello.com.

 
Jennifer Pastiloff is part of the faculty in 2015 at Other Voices Querétaro in Mexico with Gina Frangello, Emily Rapp, Stacy Berlein, and Rob Roberge. Please email Gina Frangello to be accepted at ovbooks@gmail.com. Click poster for info or to book. Space is very limited.

Jennifer Pastiloff is part of the faculty in 2015 at Other Voices Querétaro in Mexico with Gina Frangello, Emily Rapp, Stacy Berlein, and Rob Roberge. Please email Gina Frangello to be accepted at ovbooks@gmail.com. Click poster for info or to book. Space is very limited.

 
Guest Posts, writing

Learning To Eat Bitter.

December 15, 2013

Learning to Eat Bitter by Michael Wayne Hampton

I spent most of my early writing life as a fake writer. It’s part of the natural progression. Humans are wonderfully built to pretend. We adopt what touches us. Pretending to be a writer is an important first step to being one, but it can also be an invisible trap when our imagined lives are too comfortable to ruin with honesty.

My dorm walls were covered with black and white post cards of the usual college writer heroes: Kerouac brutally sad and smoking by a rail yard, Bukowski drunk and weary-eyed in an old flannel shirt, Allen Ginsberg awkward in clothes too big for him, and Flannery O’Connor with bobbed hair. I looked at those pictures every night and felt like I was one of their tribe. I was too young and sure of myself to realize that I’d only adopted their worldview and attitudes, vices and character. I hadn’t done any writing outside of my classes because actual writing was harder than being known as a writer. I was in love with the romantic idea, and not with the work.

As an undergrad my free time was spent in a coffee shop with other writers who never wrote, and we passed our time talking about all the things we were going to do. We were a satisfied self-appreciation society, and all on the verge of great work. Nothing holds more promise than a blank page, but promise is useless.

After I graduated I was blessed to get accepted into a MFA program based on the only real story I’d written in those years. It wasn’t until I got into that program that I found out that talent is another romantic idea, and even if it exists it won’t save you. I also learned the paradox of living as a writer; that you can be live as one without writing.

Here’s the thing. You can tell people you’re a writer and they’ll believe you. You can say you’re working on something, and they’ll play along. They might even refer to you as a writer which is sweet, but also completely meaningless. Writers don’t matter. Only the work does.

There’s a Chinese saying which states, “One must eat bitter to taste sweet,” and that sums up the life of a true writer. If you’re not into eastern philosophy the same sentiment was echoed by the southern author Larry Brown who said, “If you’re willing to hurt enough, you can have it.”

I didn’t “eat bitter,” or “hurt enough” while I wrote two books and read dozens more during my MFA program. Instead I built up scar tissue during all those long fights to rearrange the alphabet until I said something that was true, if only to me. Two and a half years later I graduated with a diploma, but it didn’t mean anything either. Diplomas don’t make you a writer. It’s not something you are, it’s something you do. The reward is in the work. All the rest is performance.

And the work never gets easier. That thing you hope most for, once you have it, will feel empty. Another thing will appear, impossibly far off in the future, and you’ll burn for it until you work and hurt enough to get it. Or else you’ll quit. You have the choice, and if you can quit you should because if you can quit it’s not for you. There are countless people waiting out there for your place who are willing to take the beating.

The world is filled with fake writers just as it’s filled with all other manner of dreamers. These people who are full of promise will post inspirational writing quotes, talk about what they want to do, and tell you about all the things that keep them from the work. Those people are lost until they realize that being a writer is useless; that only the words have value.

Build your scar tissue. Forget yourself. Stay in the fight until there’s blood on the floor and know you’re always just beginning. And also know that if you give up, no one will care or mourn all your wasted promise.

If you have a friend who is still pretending, who hasn’t learned to eat bitter but wants to be treated as a writer, let them. Be polite. You who have been wounded, who’ve been restless and broken by hope, know should appreciate more than anyone how much nicer it is to live that safe, romantic dream.

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Michael Wayne Hampton is the author of three books, and his work has appeared in numerous publications such as The Southeast Review, Atticus Review, and McSweeney’s. His latest collection Romance for Delinquents is available for pre-order through his website or by visiting foxheadbooks.com. He can be reached at his website michaelwaynehampton.com.

Gratitude, Guest Posts, Manifestation Workshops

Moments by Kate Berlin.

January 29, 2013

So last weekend I led a sold out workshop in Atlanta. One of the girls in the workshop had driven from Tampa! That’s a 7 hour drive, folks. It blew my mind and what blew it even more was conencting with the girl. Her name is Kate Berlin and she is a phenomenal writer. Anyway, send her some love, will ya? Here is her link on Tumblr.

Here’s what she wrote about the experience:

(Moments)

That’s all we have with the people we love. I’m pretty sure I read that somewhere.

Moments are all we ever have. We no longer have the past. We will never hold onto the future. We can’t.

Last weekend was an out of body experience for me. I ran my first 5K and met Jennifer Pastiloff (writer/yoga inspiration) at a Manifestation Workshop led by her. HUGE stuff. Huge. Huge. HUGE. stuff. So incredibly universally huge that I am seriously left speechless by it all.

I am still speechless by it all.

There were tears, many tears, there was laughter, connection, letting go, forgiving, manifesting, conquering. You name it and it was there.

(There were moments)

And at one point during the workshop we had to sit across a partner and state what we were, no excuses, no explanation. Just straight. I am. This is hard for me, because usually ‘I am’ proceeds with, needy. [I am needy], insecure [I am insecure], not worthy [I am not worthy], you will never make it [I will never make it], but there was none of that allowed, so I really had to dig deep, or actually not really, because our magnificent truth is right there at the surface. It’s peeking, itching, anxious to jump out and proclaim who it is!

(Give it a moment)

So I sat there, dismissing my negativity, dismissing the cliche and spoke the truth, the thing that has always lingered at the tip of my tongue, the brink of my heart, but that normally seems too much of an unattainable dream to be truth, yet it is, so I went for it and proclaimed, “I am a writer”

And I sat there, while this absolute stranger stared into my eyes, into me, her eyes probing, seeing what I just stated as it unfolded…

(in that moment nothing else could be more true).

She was looking, past my thinkings of what if; what if she thinks I am nothing I just proclaimed? And there I was, staring back, and the only thing I could think of was that I had to hold onto this moment. I had to never forget this face. This person who is touching every corner of my truth. Who saw me, as I was, and who I saw, as she is.

(hold onto this moment)

She turned out to be a writer also. She wants the same thing I want. She was a reflection of myself. And I could see her thinking the same thing, feeling the same fears. We both want it, badly, we do and as we stared at each other we were both fearful.

“I just proclaimed I am a writer, to a writer, she will see right through me and question my ability to write, like how I question my own ability to be a writer on a daily basis.”

We both write, but which one of us is the writer? As if there is only room for one, when there is room for many. There are moments for everyone.

(hold onto this moment.)

(hold onto this moment tight)

we lifted each other to such heights, there was nothing else there but the truth. Two writers, sharing a space, sharing energy, sharing a dream.

(sharing a moment)

She wants to be on the best-seller list and she will be. I know this. I never once doubted her ability to be a writer, and when the moment was over I hugged her and told her the only truth I knew of her; she is a writer. She is.

She is a writer. And I am a writer. And we both hold onto moments. We will both forever hold onto that one. Where we were nothing but two writers, wanting so bad to have our words be read.

And all I want is a book, a page, a sentence, read and understood. I want to reach out of these words and hold onto the person who reads this. Can you feel it? Do you see this? I understand. [I understand]. I want that.

I want to do, and see, and hear, and feel and I want to write about it.

I want moments, and I want to showcase them forever with the beauty only words know how to.

I want from point A to point B, I want heaven and hell, the ugliness truth holds and the beauty once it sets, I want all those moments and I want to write about it.

Moments make me a writer.

(Moments will forever proclaim me a writer)

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Jennifer Pastiloff, Beauty Hunter, is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Check out jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up: South Dakota, NYC, Dallas, Kripalu Center For Yoga & Health, Tuscany. She is also leading a Writing + The Body Retreat with Lidia Yuknavitch Jan 30-Feb 1 in Ojai (sold out) as well as Other Voices Querétaro with Gina Frangello, Emily Rapp, Stacy Berlein, and Rob Roberge. She tweets/instagrams at @jenpastiloff.