All Too Much: What To Do When Sh*t Keeps Hitting The Fan

All Too Much: What To Do When Sh*t Keeps Hitting The Fan

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I’ve always been a sucker for late 90s, early 2000s rom-coms. The soundtracks! The star power! The good person getting the job and winning the man!

(there’s always the man. more on that in a sec.)

I still love me a good rom-com for sentimental reasons. But the most clichéd ones? They’re now rough to watch.Many require you to majorly suspend your disbelief as you watch a completely problematic and unrealistic situation magically work itself out, and many (at least many of the early ones) reinforced a trope created in decades prior that looking, acting, and responding in a very particular way will get you what you want and deserve in life.

My main issue with rom coms when I watch them now, however, is this:

In many of these so-called “girl powered” movies, the storyline follows women positioning themselves as experts in a field, but somehow, they’re unable to tackle the problems they’re so good at solving when those problems hit the closest to home (dating expert, advice columnist, wedding planner…you get the gist). That’s usually when the man – or someone else – comes in and saves her or shows her the light. It’s rare that we’re shown how to move forward fearlessly when shit gets real, and how to do it on our own. And the message is that when darkness or hardship looms, someone or something will swoop in to save us and make us feel worthwhile again.

Screw that.

We need a new model for what to do when it all feels like too much.

 


 

You can know your through-line, crush Casual Negativity, and be a pro at shifting your self-talk…when life is going pretty well overall. But what happens when the you-know-what hits the fan, and it keeps hitting the fan? What happens when you’re in major need of a WIN, and that win just isn’t coming your way?

Here are five strategies for when life won’t let up:

~

1.) Focus on getting to NOW-Normal instead of BACK-To-Normal.

When things suck, we want to make them not-suck. We want to “get back to normal” or “the way things were back then.” THEN, of course, being a time when there were limited obstacles and you felt in control. This is totally expected and totally natural.

However, normal NOW isn’t the same as normal THEN. You’ve got a new normal in the Now.

Instead of trying to force old habits into a new set of circumstances, focus on accepting this new normal – not trying to adjust to make things like “what they were,” but maximizing “how they ARE.” What might have been easy or routine for you before simply might not work as well for your lifestyle right now.

If something doesn’t really stick, you have full permission to move on. If there’s a spark there, try it again. And again. And again.CLICK TO TWEET

Making lifestyle choices and developing positive habits, then, become like a game. What WILL feel good? What WILL stick? In this episode of the WANTcast with Lynn Chen, she tells us that when her father died and she was too overcome with grief to do anything, she treated her life like she was recovering from amnesia. Trying things out, from foods to workouts, to see what resonated and what didn’t. ZERO pressure to stick with one thing, and ZERO ties to what once worked.

When life feels the most challenging, do like Lynn and do a scavenger hunt to find your Now-Normal. If something doesn’t really stick, you have full permission to move on. If there’s a spark there, try it again. And again. And again.

 

2.) Perform a simple act of self-care.

When your heart feels heavy, when life feels too complicated, when getting out the door is a feat worth celebrating,here’s a list I wrote of some small yet highly effective ways to keep yourself going – everything from folding your laundry to sending one single email.

 

3.) Schedule out white space.

I am NOTHING for ANYONE if I am not GROUNDING for myself. And so when shit starts to hit the fan – or when everything, good or not-so-good, feels like it’s coming at me all at once – I schedule what’s called “white space.” It’s time that is all your own, that you don’t plan to fill and don’t schedule over. It’s both everything and nothingness.

It can be an hour. It can be three minutes. It doesn’t need to be formalized “meditation.” It doesn’t need to be productive OR unproductive. But I’ve learned that white space time, time that belongs to ME and ME ALONE, time that’s like the “white space” on a canvas – TBD, no paint, open to possibility – is a deal maker or breaker for me. If I don’t take time to reconnect to myself with no external stimuli or things to answer to, and don’t take time when I need it most, I end up going off the rails.

When shit gets real, I pause and remember who the F I am and what the F I stand for. Without anyone telling me who I am or what I SHOULD BE. Click To Tweet

After I wrote about my Instgram bully, I had many people write to me privately about their experiences with harassment and, specifically, others telling them to feel compassion for their bully as a coping mechanism. And how fucking INFURIATING that can be. For me, it’s moments like these that remind me why I practice white-space-moments on the regular. So that when shit gets real…when I’m hurt, when I’m highly emotionally triggered…I can pause even for a SECOND and remember who the F I am and what the F I stand for. Without anyone telling me who I am or what I SHOULD BE. It’s in these moments, these seemingly-millisecond moments, I’m able to do the thing that’s most proactive, not reactive (see last point). That I’m able to be the way I know I’m meant to be, not the way someone else told me I should respond.

I practice those white-space moments not for the moments I’m necessarily in. But for the moments in the future when I’ll need them most. It’s sunglasses in the subway and walking back and forth outside before I go and join the party. It’s hiding in the bathroom before networking not because I’m scared but because I can’t bear to not be myself. It’s what I do when the stakes are low so I know where to go when the stakes are high. It’s not the most sexy or socially acceptable thing but it’s what keeps me going. It’s not easy work, but it sure is right.

4.) Nix the one-sided emotional labor and replace it with a two-sided emotional investment.

This one is maybe the most profound (and hardest) for me. Emotional labor is what it sounds like: doing the emotional work to make something function. It’s actually a good thing, but becomes dangerous when it is ridiculously one-sided…and in which case, it’s usually the women who are doing the work.

Emotional labor can look like being the one who is constantly dissecting your friend’s toxic relationships and convincing them to see the light (then they do it again and you do it again, and so on and so forth). Emotional labor can look like putting on a happy face for your partner and “being a light” for them as they continuously stew in their own troubles. Emotional labor can mean decoding the unspoken subtext at work so that everyone can actually get things done. Emotional labor is brushing off micro-aggressions because they’re “not really that big” and “not really worth it” and excusing your bully in the name of “compassion.” Emotional labor is why it’s so exhausting to be a barista or a server or in the service/hospitality industry in any capacity: you’re soaking in the emotions of each and every customer, many of whom are taking their daily aggravations out on you. It’s your job to keep the peace and “put a smile on their face.”

If you’re in the service/hospitality industry, there are going to be parts of one-sided emotional labor that are unavoidable – you need to figure out your own personal boundaries, makes, and breaks. But let’s talk outside of those instances.

Emotional labor is taxing, and gives all your good stuff to others while leaving zilch for yourself. You can’t drink from an empty well, so to speak. And it’s when we’re feeling empty, depleted, and emotionally dehydrated that things turn really dark.

Emotional investments might not be two-ways in the moment, but you've got proof points that when you need it, you'll be getting that investment back in your direction. Click To Tweet

An emotional INVESTMENT, however, is different. By definition, an investment is “an act of devoting time, effort, or energy to a particular undertaking with the expectation of a worthwhile result.” Start-ups present investors with data, proof points, and projections for a reason: to let them know their money isn’t going to waste and their investment won’t make them go bankrupt.

With an emotional investment, if you’re devoting your emotional time, effort, and energy to something, you’re going to see a return. Emotional investments might not be two-ways in the moment, but you’ve got proof points that when you need it, you’ll be getting that investment back in your direction. That’s why investors don’t just pour money into companies that sound cool, and why you shouldn’t invest in people who aren’t going to ever give back to you. That’s not being a friend. That’s being a savior, and dehydrating and bankrupting yourself of your most valuable assets.

When you’re feeling like the bad stuff won’t stop, immediately cut ties from one-sided emotional labor. This is the time your emotional investments should be making a return in the form of love, check-ins, and support while you slowly start to build up your emotional funds again. It’s not the time for you to mindlessly spend as you continue to overdraft.

 

5.) Ask yourself: is this decision PROACTIVE or REACTIVE?

When making decisions during tough, emotionally heavy times, I always ask, “Is this decision proactive, or reactive?” Its a practice that got me through a really horrible breakup in my 20s and it’s yet to fail me. Am I reacting to my situation and letting it dictate my actions, or am I proactively moving THROUGH the darkness, the fear, the anger, the confusion, the whatever-it-is, to make my way through to the other side? Here’s a post I wrote for some encouragement when it comes to taking and embracing the small steps that end up making a huge difference.

Am I reacting to my situation and letting it dictate my actions, or am I proactively moving THROUGH the darkness to make my way through to the other side? Click To Tweet

Above all, know that the know is not the forever. This is a moment in time – a chapter of your story. And while it’s just one chapter, how you choose to read it will inform how you view the other chapters to come.

The storm will pass and the dust will settle, and you’ll still be standing. But the great thing is, you won’t need saving, and you won’t need anyone to “show you the light.” You get to be the star, and you get to write your own success story.

 

powerful cover photo by shamia casiano


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Love And Light: On Insta-Bullies + The “High Road.”

Love And Light: On Insta-Bullies + The “High Road.”

Community Most Popular Posts Shift Of Power Tips + Tools

Last week, I got my first public InstaBully.

I knew this moment was coming. While not “big” by industry standards, my Instagram numbers were steadily growing, and between three speaking gigs in two weeks and a brand new collab underway, I was seeing an amount of traction that was abnormal for what I’d experienced thus far. I knew, also, that as my “numbers” began to grow, that so would my trolls.Maybe if I kept things sterile and serene on social, but that’s not my jam, because I believe that if you have a voice people are listening to, you should use it.

But also, I know it wouldn’t really matter either way. I could post about politics or I could post about pomegranates. I could post about body image or I could post about the best bakeries in Manhattan. I could post instrospective captions or I could post a string of vague emojis that don’t really mean anything in particular. I know that women are bullied on social media for just existing (much like in life!), and I also know that the more outwardly successful you are, the more bullying comments you receive. Just go to the comments section of anyone you deem even mildly #famous and you’ll see what I mean.

katie horwitch instagram bullies

this was the pic, btw.

I also want to add that this isn’t the first time I’ve been harrassed online. I’ve received DMs on all platforms and seen men tag each other in my posts commenting with wagging tongues or some other disgusting emoji or outburst. But this was the first public-facing comment that was directly directed at me, whose direct purpose was to knock me down and dehumanize me.

I’d like to say I was unaffected and laughed the second I saw it. But when it showed up in my notifications, my heart dropped. I can;t say I wasn’t expecting it – part of me for the last month had been whispering in the back of my mind, Wait for it… – but it still stung. After the first 15 seconds, I shook off the sting and started laughing. I’ve Made It!, I cheered to myself! And proceeded to check out this dude’s account then block and report him, not before (of course) snapping a screenshot for harassment proof and to text my friends. Oh, and blast on my personal social accounts.

I knew sharing this would be a little social experiment. How many people would laugh, how many would get angry? How many would know that this is sadly expected, and how many would be agog that this would happen to ME, “violently positive” (as I’ve been deemed by some friends) Katie Horwitch, who keeps her posts PG-13 at their racy-est and proactive at their most charged? I’ve come to expect a wide gamut of reactions based on the wide gamut of experiences and perspectives all people come into a conversation with.

But what blew me away in THIS conversation was the overWHELMING prevalence of this one comment:

This is obviously a very sad person and we should send him light.

Now, not everyone commented with these exact words. Most came to me in the form of “Wow, what a miserable life he must lead” or “What a sad person he must be” or “Laugh at their misery with compassion” or “Imagine how shitty his existence must be and how badly he must need a hug” or even “By the looks of it, this guy is clearly so sad in life and clearly needs medication.”

I’m not one to downplay mental health issues. But the overarching theme and connecting thread between all of these comments was: he gets a pass because of how hard life must be for him.

I know my friends were well-meaning when saying these things, and didn’t meant to downplay anything. I know this because I know this kind of deescalation is a conversation and perspective that’s been taught. It’s kinder than “stooping down to their level.” It’s more “enlightened.”

It’s the “high road.”

But it begs, no, PLEADS the question:
Why is our default response with hurtful men, particularly WHITE men, to play the compassion card, while when it’s a woman or POC, it’s to get angry and spew hate their way (even when they’re NOT actually being a bully, but that’s another conversation)? Why is it that the bully in the situation gets a free pass when the bully is an angry white dude? 

 

I am strong and confident. I’ll be just fine. But some people aren’t. And saying things like “don’t let it get to you, they’re just sad in real life” excuses the bully’s behavior, writing it off as a supporting example of a greater thesis statement about that person’s life. A life that doesn’t involve you, but in this moment, actually does.

Even more than that, using excuses like “what a sad human being” normalizes pushing others down to make yourself feel better. And even MORE than that- and this is what really gets me – it makes the harrassee, on the prey, feel GUILTY for not feeling compassion for their bully.

I see it happen on a small scale in instances like this one and on a more serious scale with my black or gay friends who are told that they should feel sorry for the people who speak such hateful words about them. That, to quote Shakespeare or someone like him, “they know not what they say” and should be sent, to paraphrase, “love and light.”

Well, I call BS on love and light. I call BS on the default of putting yourself in the shoes of the oppressor, whether it’s the man catcalling you on the street or the online troll smearing your DMs with racism. I call BS on it all.

I call BS on love and light. I call BS on the default of putting yourself in the shoes of the oppressor, whether it's the man catcalling you on the street or the online troll smearing your DMs with racism. I call BS on it all. Click To Tweet

 

So how do we do it then? In the true spirit of how I write, and WHAT I write, and what others SHARE on this platform, how does this turn into a proactive post offering tools and insight instead of a reactive post venting and offloading emotion?

•SHARE. Brené Brown says that shame can’t live when spoken out loud. Names are shame’s worst enemy and take away shame’s power. When I share things I feel shame around or stuff people say to me that’s meant to tear me down, though, I check my intenitions behind the share. Am I looking for pity or to engage in a hatefest? Or am I posting to expose darkness, to show that this can happen to anyone, anywhere – and we must join forces to take on that darkness?

•Engage with the bully **when PRODUCTIVE and PROACTIVE.** Is commenting back going to help someone learn something or help prove a point when it comes to creating the world you want to live in? Then post away. I thought of posting a comment back to this guy to show others who might be watching how to disarm a bully (my personal tactic is humor and confusion. “I actually thought of this same joke in middle school so I could poke fun at it before any of the mean 12 year-old boys could!” would’ve done it). But this particular comment was so juvenile and nonsensical that it didn’t deserve the time of day – mine or anyone else’s. If the photo or caption had been different – maybe more sexualized or risque – I would have used it as an opportunity to assert my right to portray my body however I pleased. My right to take pride in my sexuality instead of it simply being fodder for others (men) to comment on and make decisions about.

But this wasn’t the case. It was about him leaving a nonsensical comment that didn’t have anything to do with anything except general punny slut-shaming because it’s “funny” and demeaning. It was a classic bully move. This dude didn’t follow me (I checked). This guy didn’t care about what I had to say. He wanted to come into my space, spit at me, and then leave. It would be a waste of my time to try and engage and create a comment war or generate more anger – all on MY page, mind you, which I have worked hard to build and have strict community guidelines around. Namely, don’t be a dick.

I’ve been shamed before for my choices in clothing or maybe a look that “feels” provocative. But those are my choices. I know who I am and I know what I’m doing. And I will always defend that, so that others who might not be able to find the words themselves can have a point of reference if and when it happens to them.

•SCREENSHOT and REPORT hate speech. I’m not talking about silencing voices you don’t agree with. Don’t do that. It’s a reeeeal bad look, to put it mildly. I’m talking about the old PSA of “if you see something, say something.” I’m talking about if someone is coming at YOU or someone else with toxic, malicious vitriol, take a screenshot for your records and then report that shit. Platforms like Facebook are preaching that they have zero tolerance for hate speech and harassment. At the end of the day, they’re businesses. They exist because of us. And their noble claims of being an inclusive, tolerant zone, as much as I would love to say are all about their core values, are most likely ALSO a direct result of a shift in user experience. See something? Say something. Make those platforms do something about it.

 

Interestingly enough, this also happened the day before the news broke about the US administration’s talks about making it illegal to recognize more than two genders in our country. I shared a post by my friend Kelsey, which I thought was so succinct and well-written. Not even an hour later, I received an extremely nasty DM from someone telling me that I looked stupid and our country looked stupid, and while I was “over here caring about stupid pronouns” there were “people dying from bombs across the world.” Apparently I wasn’t allowed to care about Trans rights *and* international warfare. ::shrugs::

And this is where it all starts to get blurry. How do you interact with, if you even interact with at ALL, people who are yelling AT you and not speaking WITH you, who slam you with hate speech and view life through a very narrow lens of their own making?

I’m still working this out. Right now, I’m thinking it’s futile to argue with people who are hell-bent on interpreting your words, your decisions, and your SELF as they see fit. As a quote shared by brilliant Vienna Pharon and @mytruthnturs said, “self care is also not arguing with people who are committed to misunderstanding you.”

But I am still learning. And next year, month, week, hour, I might feel differently. That it’s important to speak up no matter what, even if the person on the other end is determined to shut you down. Yet right now, I don’t have time for that shit. I have work to do.

When consulting with brands and “influencers,” I’ve heard people say that they feel like having a certain amount of visibility or recognition will allow them to talk about things they actually want to talk about. That once they reach a certain number or achieve a very specific self dictated level of success, the conversational doors will fly open and the soapbox will appear. When that happens, they say, they’ll talk about racial injustices, gender disparities, wage gaps, the whole shebang. When, when, when.

My question to them is always: why aren’t you talking about these things now, if those are the conversations you want to be KNOWN for having??

And this is where I’m at. In this period of unusually rapid growth, it’s even more vital for me to use my voice in the way I know how and know I must. If you’re looking to build a genuine following and highly engaged community online: post your values. Post your Self. It’ll get rid of the noise real quick, and you’ll end up with the people who are Your People. Win win.

Post your values. Post your Self. It’ll get rid of the noise real quick, and you’ll end up with the people who are Your People. Win win. Click To Tweet

Oh, and as for my last name? You’ll notice I didn’t change it when I got married. Katie Tucker is pretty adorbs and could have worked quite nicely. It could have also avoided this lame bullying comment.

But here’s the thing. I’ve spent years making peace with my last name. I’ve spent years emotionally sifting through the self-deprecating comments of my family members about how much it sucks, or women telling women to make the change as soon as they can. I’ve learned to make loving jokes, and I’ve learned to find the power in it.

 

One crisp and slightly ethereal day last year, I ran into my friend Michael after I finished teaching one of my classes. Not unusual (we do work at the same place), but this time, his face lit up differently when he saw me in the hallway. Like I was a walking epiphany. “This might sound weird, but I was thinking about your last name the other day,” he started. Oh no, I thought. Here it goes…

“I broke it down and I realized your last name is made up of two labels devised by the patriarchy. ‘Whore’ (or Hor) for sexually empowered women, and ‘Witch’ for socially and politically revolutionary feminists. Your last name is made of up two terms that were created by men to demean strong and powerful women who were viewed as threats. Your last name is basically the most badass, most powerful, and most on-brand last name you could have.”

Damn straight. I’ll take it.

(**my people, for the record, believe in trans rights, believe that black lives matter, believe survivors – and while my people and i might not agree on everything in life, my people like to lean in and get curious way more than lash out and get cruel.)



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Losing My Hearing: On Being Human.

Losing My Hearing: On Being Human.

Community Most Popular Posts Motivation + Inspiration WANT Women

As long as I can remember, I’ve gravitated towards accessible role models. I’m not talking the people who are untouchable but put on a “look-how-down-to-earth-I-am-STARS-THEYRE-JUST-LIKE-US” demeanour for their fans. I’ve always been most interested in the women who you can just SENSE are onto something huge even if you don’t know exactly what everything is – who are doing big things because they feel called to do so – who aren’t concerned with the BS of what things look like, but are ALL-IN when it comes to what they FEEL like. Jennifer Pastiloff is one of those people to me.

Jen and I met back in 2011, at a party for a mutual coworker/friend’s birthday. I was the new kid on the block at the job, and I felt awkward and self-conscious about my childish desire to please others – a trait I felt I should have “outgrown by now.” Couple this with my gregariousness-masked introversion and intense preference for one-on-one conversations, and I was close to crawling out of my own skin. Please let them like me, I silently begged. 

I don’t remember much about that night, but I remember meeting Jen and spending almost the entire night talking to her. This, along with our mutual friend’s emphatic demo of his new water filtration system (#fitnessinstructorparties), would be my overarching memory of the evening.

She listened intensely. She spoke assertively. She was pure kindness. I’d found a kindred spirit – a new friend – and I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I had this gut feeling that whatever Jen was up to, she was onto something big.

I soon learned that yes, Jen taught yoga classes at the same company I did…but she had a LOT of other things brewing. Between her writing, her activism, and her community building skills, she became a beacon for me of what’s possible when you own your talents – ALL of them. She was the first one who got me to really check myself and my anxious brain – Katie, is this true, or are you telling yourself a story? – when I casually said over dinner one night that I “knew” someone didn’t like me because *well look at all the evidence* (spoiler, there was very little evidence). She was one of the first people to champion my writing, and the person who told me to get specific yet relatable when it came to getting people on board with what I had to offer to the world. “People need a gateway that they understand; that they already know and relate to. Get them in the door with that, then blow their minds with what you’ve got to give.” She’s been using social media in a smart, supportive, and community-focused way since way before social media became something that should have a “strategy,” and she’s been supporting women and fighting for the rights of marginalized communities since way before others could see her do it.

That, to me, is one of the marks of a true leader: they make a difference whether you know about it or not.

Jen’s debut memoir, On Being Human, is set to release in Spring 2019, and it’s already getting massively well-deserved buzz. Centered around the touchstone stories Jen tells in her popular workshops, On Being Human is the story of how a starved person grew into the exuberant woman she was meant to be all along by battling the demons within and winning. It’s about how years of waitressing taught her to seek out unexpected beauty, how deafness taught her to listen fiercely, how being vulnerable allowed her to find love, and how imperfections can lead to a life full of wild happiness. The world is about to watch her explode. And so, before they do, I wanted to give you all a chance to meet her, so you too can say you knew her “way back when.”

Jen’s laughter is infectious and her personable candor is a breath of fresh air. Her down-to-earth humor gives you the feeling that you’re hanging with a girlfriend, not simply pounding out Warriors and Down-Dogs. No topic is off-limits with Jen, no issue too personal, no joke too irreverent. Her classes, workshops, retreats, and now BOOK all have one common theme: making your life truly happen. She believes that no dream is too small, no goal is unfathomable. As long as you can see it happening – it can happen.

I am honored to share this piece of Jen’s – about deafness, death, remembering, and rebirth – here today. I know you’ll love it.

WANT Jen:

jennifer pastiloff on being human

Losing My Hearing.

The natural history of this archipelago is very remarkable: it seems to be a little world within itself.
—Charles Darwin, “Voyage of The Beagle”

 

After my father died, we left New Jersey with its death and dying and cold winters and fled to Southern California. We were the three of us in a station wagon—my mother, my sister, and I, and it was a simple case of “should we turn left or right?” Which, I’ve come to realize, is the way most of life works.

Door number one: you stay in college, wear turtlenecks, work in a university.

Door number two: you drop out of college, run for three hours a day, wait tables. (And turtlenecks, they’re the devil.)

Turn right: he does drugs “one last time” and dies.

Turn left: and there he is on the sofa in his frayed cutoffs and we never make the trek to California.

So a should-we-turn-left-or-right happens and we choose left instead of right and end up in Santa Monica, where we live next to a man, his two daughters, and their beagle, Darwin, whom they keep locked up in a cage.

Darwin was a mean little dog. But hey, I might be mean too if I was confined all day to a small metal prison inside a dark kitchen. His bark was anxious, filled with accusations. I can see now how lonely he must’ve been in that little box. The kitchen empty, the lights out, and Darwin sitting in his own piss. I’d be angry too.

~

I’m leading a yoga and writing retreat in The Galapagos Islands and no matter where you go, you hear Darwin’s name. Me? I can’t hear well, so I only catch the tail ends of sentences. Bits of words: tortoise, finch, North Seymour Island, sea lion, lava, Darwin this, Darwin that. It’s rumored Darwin rode on the backs of ancient tortoises. A cacophony of noise. Meaningless to my failing ears.

People say I don’t pay attention. You don’t listen. You’re an airhead, they say. I want to wear a sign that says “Don’t make up stories. I just can’t fucking hear,” but that may be too on the nose, so I usually just drop a few steps back until I am away from sound altogether.

It’s exhausting straining to make out what people are saying. I read lips, but that’s also sleep-inducing. Staring so hard at mouths making their O shapes or their various forms of joy or disgust, it can wear a person out. Sometimes I simply stare into space, because really, what else is there to do when you can’t hear and you’re tired of pretending?

I’m alone in a crowd of people, the bearer of silence among noise. Easily confused by the letters C and D and E. I think Tom is John. I hear my name when it isn’t called. Everything starts sounding the same. Everything starts to sound like nothing. I think of bursts of silence as holy things.

The name Darwin is spoken and I see that little dog trying to bark his way out of a cage. My own drifting off from groups is something like that. I bark my way out of a room until I am gone.

~

Our guide, Carlos, tells us to look up when we get to the South Plazas Islands. “There’s a frigatebird,” he says, and points to a bird soaring overhead. “Their bones are hollow and full of air. They don’t have to flap their wings, so it saves them energy.” He tells us that they often attack other birds. “They are mean birds.”

I think of Darwin the beagle and my own conservation of energy. And how subjective a word “mean” is with its latching-on abilities. You can slap that word, with its simple meat sound, onto just about anything. Mean bird, mean dog, mean girl. How it can cover what we don’t understand. A lazy slab of raw judgment.

Frigatebird. I hear “frig it.” Synonymous with “fuck it,” which seems fitting to me. These sky bullies with their reddish throat pouches that look like balloons.

I often make up my own words to get by in the world. I’ll write down what I think someone is saying and Google it later. Usually I’ve gotten it wrong, but Google will guess close enough and show me the right version without any judgment.

My evolution has been backwards—from hearing to not hearing.

When I can no longer hear sounds I will still hear colors. @jenpastiloff Click To Tweet

During my yoga class, I ask everyone what they want to let go of. Judgment, the word “should,” my anger at my family, are among a few of the things written. I ask my students to step outside onto the grass, under the coffee trees here at Semilla Verde. We stand in a circle, eyes closed, out in the rain in the mud of The Galapagos, and it feels like the right thing to do. One woman has tears streaming down her face. A cat walks by and also a giant tortoise. I think about turning left or right.

We stand in the grass in our bare feet and I ask, “Can you feel how connected we all are?” which sounds like some bad yoga teacher cliche. The cat stops in between us, the woman with the tears down her face looks up, and under the canopy of trees I try to memorize colors because when I can no longer hear sounds I will still hear colors.

One of the women on my retreat hands me a note folded into a little triangle. It says: “The truth is I’m in excruciating pain. The truth is I don’t know how to express myself. ” How misunderstood so many of us are—the woman with the the note, Darwin the dog, me with my bad ears.

~

I’ve bought each person a mini Ecuadorian bottle of champagne for Thanksgiving. (You’ve never really seen a star-filled sky until you’ve stood on the balcony of Semilla Verde Lodge in Puerto Ayora, Ecuador.) We go outside and clink to what we’re grateful for.

Our guide Che Che’s excitement at his job. “Hey guys! Look at that, the male sea lion is surfing!” To see someone so passionate about his job. I’m grateful for that. I want to be that,

This beautiful place,

Spending Thanksgiving with people I choose to spend it with for the first time in my life,

Ecuadorian champagne,

the iguanas.

We clink and drink and stare up at the marvel of a sky.

When we come back inside someone turns down the lights. For ambiance. And there I am at the head of the table alone inside all the noise. It’s too dark to lip-read. I’ve lost my only tool so I drift back to New York City in October. I’m at Le Pain Quotidien, having lunch with the poet Michael Tyrell. We’ve been friends a long time. We’ve traveled to China together, we both received a fellowship to study at Bucknell as poets for a summer. We call each other Bubby, and neither remembers why.

I ask him to read a poem so I can record it. “Mike, read something. I’ll record it and post it. People need to know your work.”

The café is loud and I can’t hear most of what he says between my hearing loss and the clanking plates, but I record him anyway on my iPhone. He’s a beautiful poet. He reads a poem called “Falling Stars” because, he says, that was all he had on him.

I’m not sure I

saw anything bright fall, from heaven.

My best friend calls them bad omens,

anyway, falling stars she calls them.

She sees bad things even in the sky, these days—

See those clouds up there, she says,

the government sprays them

to keep us under control.

I have a disease because of them.

There are fibers growing from my skin.

You don’t have to believe me.

I’m used to not being believed.

Last week she said she saw a man

licking a pay phone at the commuter station.

He did it quickly, guiltily—like a shoplifter.

But when he was finished he held his head high,

as if this, by whatever design,

was his lot, and nobody else’s.

As we sit in the dark and people begin spewing their Thanksgiving thank yous, one of the women says, “I’m grateful for the shooting star I just saw,” and I think of Michael’s poem.

I’m useless as the head of the table. The voices make their own little countries, each one its own little word map. Unable to make sense of the words, I close my eyes and decide I must be like the man licking the payphone in Michael’s poem. By whatever design, this is my lot, and nobody else’s.

The first time I acknowledged that my father was gone was Thanksgiving 1983. He had been dead since July 15, but somehow the empty chair at the head of the table that Thanksgiving was the first time I spoke of his absence. “Where is my father?” I asked.

That was the night my mother decided we’d leave New Jersey, our house, bad weather.

I think that perhaps words are overrated. Talking, unnecessary. @jenpastiloff Click To Tweet

Rob, the man who owns the house here in the Galapagos, is a lively Brit who’d gone to Spain to become a dive instructor. He’d somehow ended up owning a coffee farm in the Galapagos, where he now runs a hotel with his Ecuadorian wife and their two small children. He reads my latest work over my shoulder and startles me with his thunderous voice: “Your father sounds like me. Loud and farts a lot.”

I tell him I don’t mind that one bit and that I like loud people.

I do like him. He is about to move to mainland Gyuaquil so his daughter Iona, a dead ringer for Pippi Longstocking, can attend a good school with the kids of the “movers and shakers” of Gyuaquil. He says that he knows Iona will stay Iona, and that what has made her here in the Galapagos—all those morning walks with tortoises—will remain a part of her. I believe him.

I watch Iona pick flowers with the cook’s daughter, an Ecaudorian girl who speaks no English. Each hands me a bouquet of purple flowers yet neither says a word. Purple flowers in-hand, I think that perhaps words are overrated. Talking, unnecessary.

As a volcano erupts and empties its magma chamber, the surrounding rock will collapse into it and leave huge craters in the earth. On Santa Cruz Island, collapsed into the earth, sit Los Gemelos, The Twins, as they are called, two large craters that were once underground magma chambers. Rob’s love of the place is evident. He has taken my group here to explain about natural selection and Darwin, survival of the fittest, volcanoes and moss. I stand as close to him as I can so as not to miss anything.

When I was a child I used to make this weird sound when I concentrated. It was a miserable sound, a godawful droning noise, like one of those old tests that television networks used to broadcast (This is only a test…) For hours at a time, as I colored or read, I would make that sound as if I were alerting the world to something. People made fun of me for it. I forced the sound back into my body and locked it inside of my head.

 

After decades of living in profound denial, I finally accepted that I had severe hearing loss. The audiologist put me in a box, stuck a piece of white paper over his mouth, and asked if I could hear what he was saying with the paper covering his lips. I couldn’t. I understood then that I was going deaf.

Again I thought: words overrated, talking unnecessary.

In a box, locked up like Darwin the dog.

When the doctor said severe hearing loss on top of tinnitus, it occurred to me that the eeeeeeeeeee sound I had made as a child was my way of mimicking what I heard in my head. I was trying to get it out. I was trying to drown it out. Anything to make it stop.

The phrase adapt or die makes sense. I’ve adapted to the constant ringing in my head. When it becomes too much to bear, I adapt by drinking wine. Or by sleeping.

The key to evolution is remembering. @jenpastiloff Click To Tweet

During one of our designated beach days, while we do our best not to accidentally step on the gigantic iguanas all over Tortuga Bay, Rob tells us that some of the kids on the Galapagos Islands don’t know that they live on an island. They have no idea that there is ocean all around them, that there is geography beyond their bodies.

I remember Michael’s poem and the man licking the payphone. This is our lot, I think. Me, the payphone licker, the kids on the island. The frigatebirds. We do what we must to survive.

Snorkeling on Bartolomé Island, I would never know that I am hard of hearing unless I remind myself—and why would I? Why the constant need for reminders? So I just float there for a long time on the surface of the sea, listening to my breath as if through a can. I can turn left or right and it won’t make a difference. My ears, having evolved into something else, are no longer part of my body.

The key to evolution is remembering. The last line of Patrimony, Philip Roth’s memoir about his dying father: “You must not forget anything.” It plays in my head as I snorkel.

Underwater, I remember what causes me pain and how to avoid it. This is our lot, I say to the fish silently.

I remember Darwin the dog and the colors in front of me (aqua blue, tortoise grey, inky green) as if they have already vanished, my memory the only sure confirmation of their existence.

I remember my heart, and I hear it, maybe, probably, for the first time ever.

To preorder On Being Human, click here.
Follow Jen on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, at @NoBullshitMotherhood, and at @GPowerYouAreEnough.
This post originally appeared here. 

You Have No Resumé: On Building A Person.

You Have No Resumé: On Building A Person.

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“You have NO resumé.”

The memory just flooded back to me as I drove down the West Side Highway. Or not so much flooded. More like sneak-attack haunted-house-level *jumped out* at me.

Truthfully I don’t remember if the words exactly were you have nothing on your resumé or you don’t even have a resumé or what. But the gist of the conversation was: why the hell should anyone want you to do anything other than what you’re doing right now. You don’t have enough that IMPRESSES ME.

These words, said by a marketing manager at a former job, stunned me. I was too shocked and thrown off to give a good, confident response – and, tbh, probably wasn’t even confident enough at the time to think one up even if I’d been less shocked by the moment.

~

I noticed today that my face seems softer than it has in a while. Not to the touch, but to the eye. I’m getting the kind of rest I need, and when I go hard for a few days I’m able to block off time to recover. I have a stronger flexibility-structure balance than I’ve ever had before, which means a lot of location autonomy and scheduling freedom, which also means a fraction of the traffic time I’ve ever experienced in my life. This is a very, very privileged position I find myself in. But I know it’s not forever, and I REALLY know it doesn’t come unearned. I also know that the softness reflects something else: a radical self-acceptance and self-curiosity that I’ve worked decades to develop.

I’m 32 now – an age that has always felt special to me. I can’t give you a tangible reason why, other than the fact that I took a lot of “What Age Are You” online quizzes in high school and always got 32, both confirming the fact that I was an older person in a younger body and that I didn’t belong amongst my peers.

The bigger reason, online quizzes aside, is that in my gut I’ve felt that something big will happen this year. I don’t know what and I don’t know when, but just having that objective gut feeling makes me walk with my eyes a little wider and my senses a little higher on alert. I’m looking for opportunities. I’m looking for the magic. I don’t want to miss it.

32 reminds me that I’ve lived my life thus far making the next-right-choice for me at the time, whatever that time was. And so when that marketing manager told me in her office that I Had No Resume, I felt a wave of shame and massive self-doubt.

In hindsight, I can see certain truths about her behavior outside of that room that suggested there was a lot more going on under the surface than I was aware of. I’m a writer, and a professional one at that, and one of my main rules is to never write about someone else’s experience as fact when all it really is is my assumption and interpretation. But on my end: in that moment and the following days after, I played a flip-book in my mind of all the things I’d done until that moment. Had they been a waste? Did I really have nothing to my name?

~

I might be able to rest well now and eschew traffic for the most part. But this is the Now, not the Forever. I know I have a lot of living to do, and this is merely where I’m supposed to be in this moment. This is a 1/3-of-the-way chapter, not the foreward or the intro or the first gripping pages that set the stage. Because in my life so far, I’ve played SO many parts, literally and figuratively. Rizzo in Grease. Frederika in A Little Night Music (she was 14, I was 21 ::shrugs::). A Parisian model. A broken woman. A personal assistant, a studio manager, a fitness instructor, an editor, an actress, a session singer, a ghostwriter, an insurance broker’s middle-(wo)man, a store clerk, a juice sales maven, a yoga-mat-cleaner, a professional sit-in-hours-of-traffic-and-drive-things-across-town-er, and about 12 other things I won’t name here but had me doing everything from other people’s laundry and hearing their deepest fears to creating little fairy and mermaid dolls out of things you can find at Michaels’ craft stores (*my first entrepreneurial venture as an adult, btw. the company was called Fairy Blossoms).

Point being, these are all things that have made me into who I am today and led me to where I am right now. I did what I needed to do to feel the way I wanted to feel. Not everything I did was impressive. But it’s all a part of my story.

Just like relationships. How many relationships, flings, infatuations have we all been a part of that didn’t pan out? Does that mean they didn’t matter? Hell no. Not every-one is supposed to be *THE* One or *A* One, and that’s wonderful. Because through our relationships, flings, and infatuations, with people or otherwise, we get the opportunity to learn way more about ourselves than we knew before. We get to practice conflict resolution, and reexamine the way we view Love. We get to dig and uncover what is healthy and what is toxic. And then we GET TO DO IT ALL OVER AGAIN AND LEARN MORE. And sometimes some of us reach a point where the only natural next step of learning can only happen alongside one other person, and sometimes some of us want to always be learning alongside multiple people, and sometimes some of us go where the wind takes us, and all those choices are valid and beautiful and way way a-okay. The point is, it’s our decisions and our next-right-steps that get us there, and help us make the choices that are the rightest rights for us in our journey of Becoming.

Anyone can be a human. A Person has consciousness and conscience-ness and agency. A Person has a Self. Click To Tweet

You do not need your story to be impressive to anyone else in order for it to be impressive. You don’t need everyone to be able to see each and every step you take in order for you to climb the staircase. All those steps and all those little-but-huge moments are what build you into a person. Anyone can be a human. A Person has consciousness and conscience-ness and agency. A Person has a Self.

And so, to that marketing manager who told me I Have No Resumé, I apologize if you misunderstood my motives. I am building things bigger than what’s obviously linear. I can do hard things and I will do even harder things because I’ve trekked through the forest and never forgotten how the trees made me feel. I don’t live to impress you. I live to become Me.

Well, here I am. Watch me.

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The New January.

The New January.

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UNLIKE MOST KIDS, I don’t remember EVER dreading the first day of school. I might have had a mini panic attack before starting my senior year of high school (first and lasts always get me), but even those years when I switched schools and had to find all new friends, all that ever bubbled up was excitement and enthusiasm.

Maybe it was my naiveté, maybe it was my upbringing, maybe it was just my personality. But there was something about backpack shopping, picking out my outfits, and pouring over the introductory paperwork all the students at my schools were sent pre- Day One that made my heart so very happy. The impending challenges of a new grade – or in some cases, a new school altogether – never really entered my head. Back To School season was the BEST season of the year.

No matter what our lives looked like in those formative years of kindergarten through 12th grade, once September hits the ground running, we’re thrown back into that mentality of going “back to school.” We prepare for a new start, hope for positive change, and cross our fingers that we’ll be able to handle what life dishes out in the coming months.

Without summer vacations and required reading, though, it can be hard as an adult to draw the line between where summer ends and fall begins. Because although we’d love to have an endless summer, and although the first day of Autumn isn’t technically until September 23rd, we can all feel a shift from the moment Labor Day weekend comes to a close. It’s “back to the grind,” even though most of us have been grinding all year long. And so it can just seem like more of the same – like we lost track of time, and the time of year so associated with taking a breather completely passed us by. Couple this with a built-in programming from childhood to register this time of year as transitional, and it’s easy to feel a little bummed out by the seasonal shift.

While January usually gets the attention when it comes to resolutions, I’d like to argue that September deserves just as much attention as the 01/01 mark.

Autumn is the perfect time to evaluate where you’ve been, where you’re at, and where you’re going. It’s a time for us to bring back that childlike enthusiasm, relentless joy, and even those first-day jitters we had as kids. Because all worthwhile and exciting changes in life bring up first-day jitters, really.

It’s called “Fall” for a reason: just like the leaves break from the brances so the tree can begin its process of renewal, we too should let our old energy-suckers fall off our backs to make way for this new season of growth.

It's called Fall for a reason: just like the leaves break from the brances so the tree can begin its process of renewal, we too should let our old energy-suckers fall off our backs to make way for this new season of growth. Click To Tweet

This month – and this Fall in general – I encourage you to look at what’s worked, what hasn’t, and what your heart truly desires in this moment. Maybe you’ve been skimping on self care and getting a 15 minute sweat in before work is just what you need. Maybe you’ve been so wrapped up in work that your social life isn’t what you’d like it to be. Call a friend you haven’t checked in on in a while. Evaluate what you’ve accomplished this year so far, and how you want to feel by the time the clock strikes midnight on January 1st of next year.

Some thinks I’ll be thinking and questions I’ll be asking myself – feel free to steal them for your own musings:

september

  • Who can I look up to who is doing the REAL work, not just what is trendy, popular, or the easy way out?
  • How can I both grow my business and make my community ATYPICALLY authentic and meaningful?
  • Mornings. Middays. Bedtimes. What are some ways to tap into my energy levels during each season of the day and maximize my potential, even on those days I’m feeling down in the slumps?
  • What things are the most important to do each day…and what things are just “routine addiction”? (ex: if I have a podcast interview at 9AM but wake up at 7:30AM, is it more important for me to fit in a workout like I do almost every morning, or take the time to get centered and prepare for a successful conversation?)
  • Things that make me nervous. If those nerves are created by stories I’ve been telling myself, it’s time to rewrite the narrative by just going for it and doing the damn thing.

There will be challenges in the coming months, of course, and the newness of Fall and Winter will bring all kinds of highs and lows we could never have predicted. But if we shift our perspective to refocus our minds, refresh our hearts, and renew our commitments, there’s no telling what kind of miracles the rest of this year has in store.

Pick out your outfit, grab your backpack, and let’s get on this bus together.

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I Tell Myself Stories: The Need for Validation.

I Tell Myself Stories: The Need for Validation.

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What child is afraid of swing sets? This child was, that’s who.

I was afraid of the swings, I was afraid of the Big Slide, I didn’t venture into the “deep end” until I was seven years old. I stayed the fck away from the monkey bars, and I sure as hell wouldn’t play double-dutch jump rope because I knew without a DOUBT I’d be whipped in the face.

It’s not the failure per se, but the loss of control that frightened me. It was the idea of being suspended in the air, in the water, no top, no bottom, nothing holding me up but sheer momentum and no control of grounding.

Being caught in space. Indefinitely.

Control was my first frenemy. The first one who made me believe I was lost without her, when in fact I was most lost when in her smothering embrace.

When I had control, I looked for cracks in the surface.

Threats everywhere. I look for those out to do me wrong.

And when I had no control…when I was uncertain…I made up stories.

I see the fall. I see drowning. I see the spiral downward.

And I look for someone to save me.

Validation is what we crave when we’re unsure: of a moment, of our place, of ourselves. And seeking it out works in exactly the opposite way we want it to.

We plead for Yesses and get bogged down in our Tryings. We become so afraid, so unsure, SO self-conscious, that we hinder ourselves from moving forward, simply because we’re so scared of falling back. And so we do.

It’s frustrating as hell, but honestly, is it at all surprising? If our fear of falling short is the energy that we put out into the universe, why is it any wonder that we’re always feeling two steps behind?

Let’s not kid ourselves: it helps to be validated. Positive reinforcement…who wouldn’t eat that up? We want to know that we’re worthwhile; that we’re okay.

But when we actively seek validation, we’re being reactive instead of proactive. Our actions become an external comeback instead of an internal process.

When we actively seek validation, we're being reactive instead of proactive. Our actions become an external comeback instead of an internal process. Click To Tweet

We so desire to be loved and told we’re worthwhile, because at the heart of the matter, to feel ineffective is a frightening thing. And when we don’t receive validation – or receive the exact opposite, criticism – we start to tell ourselves stories in order to exert control. We say we’re doing things all wrong, we start to feel as if we have something to prove.

My question is this: Prove what?

We are alive. Here. In existence.

We are proven simply by existing.

 

We don’t need validation in order to be fully and wholly ourselves. That’s OUR job, not anyone else’s. It’s the stories that trap us. The stories of the flailing, the drowning, the stuck-ness in space. Will anyone love me if I fall? Will I be good enough even if no one else says it out loud? If I can’t see it, is it even real?

 

Untangle the trap. Recognize when you’re telling yourself stories by flipping the narrative. Instead of acting and reacting out of FEAR and NEED, be proactive and productive out of LOVE and WANT. Will you get some kind words or praise along the way? I mean, probably. Productive and Proactive are infectious. Everyone wants a little of whatever the most self-assured and got-it-together person in the room is having, and that will most likely get you a nice potpourri mix of extremes; both validation and judgement. The trick is to not let either guide your actions. And if you’re like me and you’re thinking, “But wait. I’m not that self-assured and DEFINITELY don’t got-it-together at ALL” …it makes no difference. Proactive and Productive read as self-assured and got-it-together from the outside. That’s their story to tell. Not yours.

I still tell myself wild stories that I am caught without grounding in space, that I am thought ill of, that I am screwing up and that someone is onto me. That someone else is more qualified, more talented, more beautiful, more special and well-liked. Just More.

And when I tell myself these stories I take the drama, I take the romanticized truths in my head and I ask WHY. Turns out that the story I tell is usually rationally improbable. And that much of my story is actually rooted in a need to be validated; a surface-level reaction. A premonition that I might have something to be sorry about, just by being me. When the truth is that “being me” is the greatest asset I could ever have.

~

So swing high and dive deep. Take a stand and give yourself the credit you deserve.

Trust your actions. Trust your intuition. Because we have everything we need, right here, right now.

Your validation is that your life is happening For you. To you. With you.

Your validation – it’s in your existence.

And so you keep going.

validation

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