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. 

Braving The Wilderness: 4 Big-Time Takeaways From The Most Important Book Of The Year

Braving The Wilderness: 4 Big-Time Takeaways From The Most Important Book Of The Year

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A couple weeks back, I got an email from the Community Manager at The Fullest, an online magazine I adore that’s dedicated to contemporary culture. It was short, sweet, and to the point: We’ve got a book club series we do in LA and NYC. Would you want to host one?

The answer was obviously an enthusiastic “YES.” (Possibly surrounded by every single celebratory emoji I could find on my keyboard.)

As the little kid who would get in trouble for staying up late to finish every single installment of The Boxcar Children and Babysitter’s Club, toted around all 1400 pages of Les Misérables in my eighth grade backpack, and would usually rather stay in with a trilogy than go out on the town, book clubs are MY JAM. Learning about different perspectives, stories, and revelations, then being able to discuss them with others, isn’t just satisfying to the inner binge reader in me: it calms a very specific social anxiety I sometimes get when I realize I’ve taken a conversation way past the surface-level and the others aren’t feeling it.

When I’m talking about a book I love, I’m unfiltered and all heart – and usually discussing it with people who are on the same page (no pun intended). Just like any worthwhile piece of art, discussing a good book brings out a part of me I sometimes hide in fear of not “fitting in” with those around me.

So when The Fullest told me I got to choose my own book to discuss, it was a no-brainer. If I was gonna go there, I wanted to really go there. I was going to choose the book ABOUT fitting in.

~

Braving The Wilderness by Brené Brown (whom I oft refer to as HPB – High Priestess Brené) is hands down the most important read right now in our current cultural climate. In actuality, it isn’t only about fitting in – it’s about belonging. There’s a difference between the two, and the fact that so many of us are looking for the former and disregarding the latter is why I truly believe it’s the most important book of the year. Maybe the most important book of the decade. And maybe – no, certainly – the most important book for every single person to have in their hands right now. It could save relationships, save communities…and help us save ourselves.

Some questions the book brought up for me:

When do you feel the biggest sense of belonging? The weightiest pressure to fit in?
Where in life can you write yourself a permission slip to be yourself?
Do you trust others? But more importantly – do you trust yourself? Like, really, truly. Do you TRUST yourself? In what ways can you trust yourself more?
What truths are you telling yourself that might actually be of your own making?
Why, as an introvert, can big groups sometimes feel more comforting than one-on-one experiences?
Where does dehumanization exist, and how can you combat it?
Why are we all so lonley and doing so little about it???

Considering that what ended up being a two-hour book club discussion wasn’t nearly enough time to dig into every single powerful point (and that I’d planned for the discussion to last, oh, 45 minutes or so), starting to dive into all of them on here could result in a whole other book itself (Braving Braving The Wilderness?). So I’ve narrowed it down to some of my favorite points made, and some of the most universal of the universal truths Brené so beautifully lays in front of us to do with them as we will. And man oh man, I hope we do Good with them.

If you read ONE book this year, make it this one. Here are four of my top takeaways:

braving the wilderness brene brown

1. True belonging is the exact opposite of fitting in. One of the reasons this book gets awarded the Katie Horwitch Award (patent pending) for Most Important Book Of The Year is this world-rocking thesis statement. The book begins with a Maya Angelou quote that pissed Brené off:

You are only free when you realize you belong no place – you belong every place – no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great.

True belonging, Brené learns, is about belonging to YOURSELF first and foremost. True belonging is being fully yourself wherever you go, and being called to stand alone. True belonging “doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.”

Fitting in, then, is the exact opposite. Fitting in is trying to mold yourself to fit a situation, a clique, a stereotype – whatever it is that will make you less like YOU and more like THEM. This simple yet ridiculously profound difference explains a lot. Mainly why so many of us feel so shitty even when we feel we’ve acclimated to whatever group we hoped to become a part of. It’s why so many of us are so lonely even when we’re far from alone. We belong to everyone…everyone else but ourselves.

I’ve been in the “self-improvement”/wellness/mind-body/whatever-you-want-to-call-it world for a while now. I’ve heard the phrase “Belong to yourself” before. That statement alone wasn’t revolutionary to me. But the dichotomy of belonging vs. fitting in WAS. And when I thought deeply about the phrasing and jumbled the words a bit, I noticed something I’d never thought of before.

I belong to me.

To me, I belong.

In my opinion, I belong.

True belonging is about full possession of yourself, sure. But it’s also about BELIEVING in your capacity to belong wherever you go.

True belonging doesn't require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are. - @brenebrown Click To Tweet

2. Don’t study the moment. Be in it. One of my favorite little snippets of storytelling in Braving The Wilderness comes when Brené is about to go on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday. She’s walking down the street with her manager, Murdoch, the night before, and he calls her out on how “not-present” she just was at dinner with the Super Soul producer.

She says to him:

Brene: ‘I’m doing that thing I do when I’m afraid. I’m floating above my life, watching it and studying it, rather than living it.’

Murdoch: ‘I know. But you need to find a way to stop and bring yourself back here. This is a big deal. I don’t want you to miss it. Don’t study the moment. Be in it.’

That HIT me. Hard. How many times have we completely missed out on experiencing greatness – big deal, big-ass things – because we were too preoccupied dissecting the moment? How many times have we unknowingly lost love because we were so busy analyzing every little gesture, glance, and word to see if it matched up with our preconceived definitions? How many opportunities have we failed to seize because we were too busy trying to be what we oh-so-carefully deduced the opportunity demanded of us? How many Big Deals have we missed because we were too busy studying them and not enough time being IN them? It hurts my head to think about all the potential moments I’ve missed in the past because I was too busy dissecting them or too preocuppied with “Am I worthy? How do I make myself worthy?” Big-ass things are only big-ass things when we trust ourselves enough to live within them. Otherwise, they’re just a bunch of Somethings that once happened at Some Point.

Don't study the moment. Be in it. - #BravingTheWilderness by @brenebrown Click To Tweet


3. Silence leads to storytelling.
 Yup. Boom. I’m a pro at this. I’d just never heard it put SO succinctly.

I am an expert storyteller, and I bet you are, too. We tell ourselves stories to fill in the blanks – not because we’re all masochists, but because we’re trying to make sense of the broken pieces. Maybe you weren’t chosen to work on a project because your manager needs you to have availability for an even greater task that’s coming up a few months down the line – but without asking a simple question or two (spoiler, try “Why?” to start), your brain probably decides it’s because you’re ill-equipped or pissed someone off. Maybe your friend didn’t call or text you back because they’re going through a tough time and feel overwhelmed – but without checking in, you might assume it’s because you did something wrong. Maybe your date let out a long SIGH at the end of the night because they got a text from their manager on their day off – but without asking, I bet you assume it’s because they’re sick of spending time with you.

These are all just small examples, but small examples turn into big stories. And the big stories we weave for ourselves are made up of multiple threads of actual or perceived truth upon actual or perceived truth. Every story we tell informs the next action we take  – and sets the stage for how we’re going to react to the next thing that comes our way.

Our lives are our collection of stories. So what kind do you want to tell?

We tell ourselves stories to fill in the blanks - not because we're all masochists, but because we're trying to make sense of the broken pieces. Click To Tweet

4. Bullshit is in a whole other ballpark than Truth and Lies – which is why it feels so wrong. I always thought there were two options when it came to communication: telling the truth or telling lies. But it turns out, most of what I was referring to as Lying was actually something else. Bullshitting.

Brené describes truth and lies as opposing players in the same game. BS, however, completely disregards the game. She quotes Harry Frankfurt’s book On Bullshit and says, “It’s helpful to think of lying as a defiance of the truth and bullshitting as a wholesale dismissal of the truth.”

She goes on to say we use bullshit to talk about things we don’t understand. To be a part of a conversation based on what you guess “your people” think about it. And it’s what creates black-and-white ideaologies of You’re Either With Us Or Against Us.

Oof. LOL to how many pages I dogeared and underlined in this chapter.

I always tell my husband, Jeremy, that his biggest strength and biggest weakness is that he’s able to see all sides of any situation. For the LONGEST time, this frustrated the hell out of me. Just agree with me! I’d silently stew. Don’t you think that’s just HORRIBLE?? I’d ask, words loaded, out loud. I couldn’t get over that he just wouldn’t choose a point to be for or against.

I grew up around adults who jumped to conclusions fast and expressed opinions even faster – and I have what used to be painful memories of being “put in my place” and silenced when I tried to see all sides.

I know I’m not alone in that kind of upbringing. Because look at our country. Look at our world. We wouldn’t be this way if we weren’t, generation after generation, either overtly or passive-aggressively either silenced or forced to pick sides. We are living in Bullshit Nation.

The solution to this? Brené says we need to call out bullshit…with CIVILITY. “Speaking truth to BS” doesn’t mean pointing fingers or placing blame. It means disagreeing respectfully and getting curious about where opinions and information come from.

It's helpful to think of lying as a defiance of the truth and bullshitting as a wholesale dismissal of the truth. - @brenebrown Click To Tweet

While Jeremy’s see-all-sides and ask-all-questions approach can be frustrating when I just want him to show me he has an opinion that’s all his own, I know he’s right. Our opinions can be loaded. And there is no way we can evolve into the people we want to be – individually or collectively – if we give up on each other and don’t get curious about how those opinions came to be in the first place. There is no way we will ever find a sense of belonging if we keep choosing a culture of Fitting In.

I say it on the WANTcast all the time, and I’ll say it here again for the people in the back: I truly believe that curiosity could change the world. And with the help of Braving The Wilderness, it just might.

 


Thank you to The Fullest for asking me to be a part of your book club! To get involved with The Fullest, click here.

WANT Yourself:

Have you read Braving The Wilderness yet? What are your top takeaways from the book? If you haven’t read it yet, was there something in this post that piqued your interest? Should I host another discussion of Braving The Wilderness either in-person or on IG Live?????


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A Love Letter To The Inclusive Woman.

A Love Letter To The Inclusive Woman.

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The woman who walks through life with open arms. The one who laughs the loudest, focuses the feelings, who looks you in the eye like you’re the only one that matters.

You know her. She’s the steady rock on the shaky ground. She’s the shaky hand with the steady gaze. She’s the one who breaks first and shows you her wounds, then also shows you how to repair them – and then later when you’re hurting, you remember the one who showed you how to move through it all instead of around it.

She’s the inclusive woman.

Inclusive is infectious.

Inclusive is knowing loneliness and instead of putting up walls to protect yourself from hurt, plowing them down to make sure you feel WITH people, not AT them. That’s what walls always end up doing, anyway. Breaking the WITH, driving the AT. Handball courts. River dams. The red rubber ball bounces back even harder; the water smacks the sides and breaks up the otherwise steady current. Or worse, stops it altogether, so all you see is glassy nothingness. A mirage that folds over itself as if to say, Nothing to see here. Forget what’s under the surface, that flow never mattered anyway.

To be inclusive is to let go of the cynical crutches that are so easy to lean on when we’re scared or unsure. It’s to invite people in with a hug and a smile, to keep your wits about you but give everyone a chance. It’s to banish the “prove,” disarm the doubt, and raise that second eyebrow to meet the other and turn judgement into joy.

Raise that second eyebrow to meet the other and turn judgement into joy. Click To Tweet

The exclusive has standards to be met and hoops to jump through. The exclusive asks you to “earn” their time, their trust, their attention. The exclusive is the fabulous in-crowd and the fabricated Instagram captions; the stuff that makes you FOMO and fear that you’re just not welcome there. Somehow, though, you still feel you should try.

And yet underneath the exclusive facade of wild self confidence and sky-high standards is a person who just longs to be loved. They have forgotten that the way to get love is to give love, the way to belong is to invite in the world, and the way to be seen is to look inside yourself for validation. The exclusive creates cliques and mocks others and has checkboxes to be filled before giving the green light.

Living in the exclusive is no way to live. Because when you only let in some, you really let in none. When you censor yourself for most, you limit yourself for all. You’re looking to protect yourself and you’re looking to be safe, but in the process you’re telling yourself to always stay on the lookout for the enemy. Exclusive is where judgement breeds, where rifts are dug, and where even true love can turn sour.

And yet INCLUSIVE can sting, too. It can claw at your skin and slap you in the face. The more accepting you get, the more truth you see. The more truth you see, the more accepting you’re challenged to be. It’s like the universe or whatever is haunting and heckling you. Ya think you’re so altruistic huh? Ya think you’re sooooo empathetic? Well try THIS on for size, why dontcha?! (and yes, the universe sounds like a 1920s mobster in this scenario.)

Inclusive can feel like walking on fresh-polished marble wearing brand new socks, each mini-step feeling slipperier than the last. Fighting for control is useless and will keep you in one place. The only way to move forward is to make each step deliberate, strong, grounded, and sure.

Life opens up when you open up to it. Click To Tweet

But the tradeoff to resisting the fight and strengthening your step is that life opens up when you open up to it. And people open up when you open up to them. Not always, but most times. Not immediately, but eventually. And as they come around, they’ll bring others along with them. And so on, and so on. We say we’re sick and tired of seeing people display tropes of the human experience instead of experiencing the experience itself – but it’s got to start somewhere.

And so the only question really is, how bad do you want it? Enough to open? Enough to let go?

The way to banish the exclusive is to be the inclusive. The way to open what’s closed is to turn your own key. We’re all just looking to do our very best with this life we’ve been handed – and your “very best” only floods in when your dams have been blown open and washed away.

 


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A Sense Of Place: On Belonging.

A Sense Of Place: On Belonging.

Community Love Most Popular Posts Motivation + Inspiration Shift Of Power Work

My first big meltdown when I moved to New York City two years ago wasn’t upon touchdown or our first night in an empty apartment. It wasn’t because someone was rude to me, or I lost my way, or I missed a subway stop or four.

Nope. It was in the gym locker room.

I remember that first week so clearly: the champagne buzz I felt from the newness, the novelty of being able to get anything.you.want.at.all. delivered to your apartment instead of having to lug it home in bags that cut off circulation in your fingertips. The way you could be walking, skipping, singing, sobbing down the street and people accepted you like whatever you were doing was a part of the flow. The waking up early just because we were so excited to experience the morning. I remember so clearly. It was love at first footstep.

And then I lost it. I mean, I knew it was coming at some point – I definitely cried my second night, mostly out of sheer exhaustion – but I didn’t expect that my anticipated feelings of shock, overwhelm, and longing would show their sad faces in the women’s locker room on Greenwich Avenue after I made a corny joke to a stranger thrice my age and she genuinely giggled back.

My gym had been my safe haven in LA, and LA had been my safe haven in my life. Having grown up visiting the City That Never Sleeps on a regular basis but living in the City That Sleeps In Then Goes On A Hike my entire life, I was very familiar with New York but not enveloped in her. It wasn’t just my immediate neighborhood that I felt protected by in LA; it was EVERYTHING. The street signs, the off-ramps. The familiar faces and the predictable reactions. The sunrises, the sunsets, and the days the ocean-fog took over the whole sky so you couldn’t tell when one finished and one began. I knew LA from birth. She WAS me.

I tried my best to recognize this when I lived there, but just like so many things, there is always some little important bit of a-ha that happens when you no longer have that thing you loved. For me, that a-ha came in a locker room when I realized how alone and unfamiliar I felt within my surroundings. How, while I valued anonymity, I also valued (and took for granted) my ability to CHOOSE it.


Humans are pack animals; we’re tribal. We’re not meant to wander the hills alone until we find a mate and then go back off again to raise and let go of our kin. Our brains are hard-wired for connection, and even the most introverted of us need to feel a sense of togetherness to truly thrive. It’s been proven by sciency people who are book-smarter than I am: loneliness leads to depression and is a huge indicator of how long you will live.

I’ve been watching and reading a lot of Brené Brown lately (you should be, too!), especially the interviews and articles surrounding her newest book, Braving The Wilderness. The book is all about belonging, and (no, this isn’t a spoiler) how “fitting in” is actually the exact OPPOSITE of belonging.

When I moved here, I wasn’t looking to fit in – I wasn’t interested in molding myself to fit the shape of someone or something else – but I was struck by how shaken my sense of belonging had become. And moreover, how much I tied my sense of belonging to other people RECEIVING me.

That’s why the older woman laughing at my lame-o offhand comment got me so choked up. That’s why I started to panic as I became new eyes on centuries-old surroundings. I felt unfamiliar. I felt routine-less. And the smallest things like seeing the same parking lot attendant I only thank-you’d and have-a-nice-day’d and gym members I never even spoke to and just silently awkward-nodded to while we grabbed adjacent dumbbells were things I didn’t expect to crave. I thought I was autonomous in LA and above all that neediness, but boy did I have myself fooled. I was dependent on other people to validate my experience.

The last couple years have brought more change to me than I thought possible: two apartments, two neighborhoods, a new job, multiple events, brand new soul-friends, marriage. And as I contemplate where I go from here, as I head closer and closer toward my thirty-second year, which I have ALWAYS felt in my gut holds something major for me (micro- or macro- major, who knows at this point), I think about how my sense of belonging has changed too – or maybe how it hasn’t. I am on the precipice of something big, but for the first time in a while I’m hesitant to take a much-needed step to fall and build my wings on the way down.

Brené says that we belong everywhere when we belong to ourselves. So if I belong everywhere, then why is it that I’m so tied to THIS sense of place? Maybe it’s for the same reason people stay in relationships that are fine but not GREAT, or stay in jobs that earn enough to live but don’t add enough to LIFE. Because I “know” this sense of belonging is secure IF I just do all the right things, and check off all the to-do boxes, and it’s a very external and define-able belonging. Predictability and ease. Mother-effers.

Once you stop trying to fight your emerging identity - which is tough, because trying to fight it can sometimes FEEL like trying to find it - everything is magic. Click To Tweet

When I moved here, I felt placeless. I remember telling my friend Sarra that I felt freaked out by the amount of places I could go where I knew no one and no thing (Soak it in while you can, she said). I belonged to no one and no thing. I was trying to see where I fit, and tried on a lot for size. I don’t think I really knew how to belong to myself yet. That’s the cool thing about New York, though: it FORCES your identity out of you. The people who try to fight the force are the ones who have it hardest in life, but especially life in this city. But once you stop trying to fight your emerging identity – which is tough, because trying to fight it can sometimes FEEL like trying to find it – everything is magic.

I don’t think everyone is able to belong – or rather, find a sense of belonging – in NYC. You’ve got to be a little wild, a little crazy, and very comfortable getting uncomfortable, to even catch the first glimmers of it. That process and this city will kick your ass before you realize that your recovery is a part of your becoming. It will spook you, but your challenge is to never let it SCARE you. You’ve got to be next-level brave to become and belong – everywhere, but especially in this city that could care less whether you walk around anonymously and disconnected or full and enmeshed.

And now, I’ve found my way, and I’ve found my spaces. I have a “place.” Of course, I know that’s just a feeling and an illusion. And I wonder: is my newfound sense of place, coupled with my acute memory of what it’s like to NOT have one, keeping me in a new loop that doesn’t serve me? I think so; maybe. I’ve been here before, so I can recognize when I am here again.

The great thing, though, is that I know that I am my own and no one else’s, and that an external sense of place is fab but an internal one is fabber. If I know I’ll be okay no matter what, and I know I will be mine no matter what, then maybe, just maybe, I can start to take those steps that lead me to places I don’t know yet.


Two years ago I woke up for the first time as an NYC resident. I know it’s only been two years but I honestly can’t imagine waking up anywhere else.

Brené Brown says that true belonging only comes when you belong to yourself and yourself only, everywhere and nowhere.

Living here, I finally feel like I’ve found where I belong.

belonging sense of place katie horwitch

“I wake up every morning and say to myself, ‘Well, I’m still in New York. Thank you, God.” ― Ed Koch


 

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What She’s Taught Me: A Mother’s Day Thank-You Note.

What She’s Taught Me: A Mother’s Day Thank-You Note.

Community Love Motivation + Inspiration

DEAR MOMS,

I’m sure you’ve heard it before. Maybe a little, maybe a lot. Maybe it’s been forced or routine. But this is a different kind of thank you. An honest thank you, to all mothers, biological AND emotional, a thank you for everything you teach to those around you on a daily basis…whether you realize it or not.

 


TO ALL MOMS OUT THERE…
everyone speaks of the sacrifices of motherhood, but in my eyes I have only seen freedom. Maybe not the freedom to jet off for a spontaneous weekend or sleep in ’til however long you’d like on the weekends, but an awareness and a courageousness that comes with being a mom – and that represents an incredibly unique type of freedom. Freedom of the heart to love as hard as it pleases, freedom of the spirit to dive into the kinds of big decisions that most only dip their toes into. It’s a kind of freedom that’s not often talked about amidst the hardships and challenges and struggles of motherhood, but it is a freedom that sets an example for the rest of us, a crash course in how to own your own unique brand of leadership. It’s a freedom to allow yourself to start with a fresh slate, to scrap everything you thought you knew, over and over again.

From the time you see that little plus sign all the way past when your first grandchild is born, being a mother means being able to start over with renewed confidence and focus time and again. Most people stay in their bubble of comfort for far longer than it serves them, afraid to begin anew or open themselves up to life’s many shifts. While I’m not saying you’re never afraid (you’re only human!), you feel the fear and do it anyway. Thank you for constantly moving forward. Thank you for showing the rest of us what a different kind of freedom looks like.

 

 

TO ALL MY FRIENDS WHO ARE MOMS… thank you for showing me what motherhood looks like from all angles. From you, I’ve learned that one style does not fit all, that there is really no “technique” that is fool-proof and no way that’s the right way. In observing you approach motherhood from your own angle, I’ve learned something way beyond what it means to be a mother – something bigger. I’ve learned what it means to attack life without being a carbon copy, about how to navigate life on your own terms.

I look upon you with awe as you make decisions for your family and yourself with such confidence, with such assuredness, because there are more important things that must be done than let uncertainty rule your day. I can sometimes sense a slight fear of not knowing what’s right, and when I’m lucky, you let me behind the curtain and share your uncertanties with us. Please know I will always, always listen. You consistently show me that the only “right” choices are those you make from your heart. Thank you for letting me in on your journey.

 


TO MY OWN MOM…
the thank-yous could pile up if I let them. Thank you for encouraging my creativity, thank you for being an open book, thank you for driving me around and reading to me from four books every night. But if I could thank you for one thing only, I would thank you for teaching me how to be a leader, both personally and professionally. You realize that relationships, just like anything else worthwhile, are work – and you put the care and effort in every single time. In your friendships, you’re happy going out on the town yet equally happy to sit on the couch with a glass of wine and storytelling. You’re one of those women that was born to be a mother, born to be a shoulder for everyone you love to lean on. And yet you never forget to take care of yourself. You’re not a pushover in the least, you’re not a people-pleaser. And yet you somehow know how to take care of everyone at once, including yourself. You know that you cannot love anyone else unless you love yourself first. Yes, there are times you complain about the lines around your eyes or the rogue grays at your roots, but every step you take is that of a woman who at her core absolutely loves who she is. You’re a presence – even when you’re not trying to be. Thank you for teaching me how to walk with that kind of confidence.

 


I’ve also learned about myself, my uniqueness, and in trying to emulate you in so many ways I’ve learned who it is I really am. I am silly, sometimes in the same way you are, sometimes in a way that’s completely my own. While you are the life of the party, I’m the person who sticks with one or two conversations all night. I laugh like you, I think, at the same things and with the same reckless abandon. I cry when I laugh, every time, which I know I inherited from you too (thank you for laughing so much). I’ve learned that although we joke and claim otherwise, you don’t know everything, and that you’re just as often wrong as you are right. Because of that I’ve learned it’s okay not to have all the answers. I’ve learned that there are lessons I am yet to learn, ones you’ve known for your whole life – and similarly, there are lessons I’ve got under my belt that you’re still figuring out. I don’t fault you for it, I love you more for it. I’m more like you, mom, than I’d sometimes like to admit – and less like you, mom, than you’d sometimes like to admit. It’s that fine balance of similarities and differences that is at the core of our relationship.

 

While not all of us will choose to be mothers, we'll always have the women who came before us and walk alongside us to teach us how to lead, how to love, how to embrace the freedom you feel when you make a decision and stick with it. Click To Tweet


We all have something to love, whether it be a child or pet or even a vase filled with flowers picked by hand at the Farmer’s Market. While not all of us will choose to be mothers in this lifetime, we will always have the women who came before us and walk alongside us to teach us how to lead, how to love, how to embrace the freedom you feel when you make a decision and stick with it.

Happy Mother’s Day to all of you who possess and demonstrate that inherent maternal instinct on a daily basis – the one that is such a blessing, the one that protects and loves in a way that’s uniquely your own, and teaches us all to do the same.

 


all photos by krista ashley.


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a version of this originally appeared on the chalkboard mag.

WANTcast 044: Staying Sane On Social Media (WITHOUT Disconnecting)

WANTcast 044: Staying Sane On Social Media (WITHOUT Disconnecting)

Community the WANTcast

I know. Social media can be frustrating for me, too. And I can’t count how many times I’ve heard my friends say they’re going on a digital detox or post a #DeleteFacebook hashtag (especially after all the drama of this week in particular; I’m looking at you Cambridge Analytica).

But the thing is, going cold turkey DOESN’T REWRITE our bad habits.

If you’re listening to the WANTcast, you’re probably already pretty mindful IRL. You’re present in your conversations, you live for the now, and you’re all about savoring the moment.

But here’s the hard reality: social media, smartphones, and being in-somewhat-constant-contact are not the exception anymore, they’re the norm. Facebook or #DeleteFacebook, there will ALWAYS be some new platform for us to use and abuse.

Whether you’re looking to grow your business or are the average social media user catching up on cute baby/puppy pics and posting funny memes, the social media overwhelm factor is loud and proud and REAL. It’s not just that social media is a distraction – it’s that it makes us question how true our truths really are.

Today on the WANTcast, a few solid social media tips + strategies to follow (ha, no pun intended) so you can have your life and post it, too.


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Show Notes:
Read it here
Party In My Plants
Know Your Endo

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