Day 1: I met Tracey in the hallway old-school style, on my way to class in an elementary school that is now a place for parties, and also sometimes classes. I had arrived early, about 5:40 thinking class started at 6. I entered the main doors escaping the sharp smell of smoke-filled cold from the welcoming fire pit, that later would graciously burn away shame. I was stunned by bagpipes and drums. The bellowing unafraid instruments made to sing by men in kilts. They began promptly upon my entrance through the doors and it scared the shit out of me. Loud, sudden, intimate, shock. I wove my way through the back hallway and sought out the gym. There was more music in there, people dancing, children chasing, more men in kilts, golf hats checking me out and telling me how Irish I looked, complimenting my scarf, my lips, my eyes. I made my way to the other doors to escape their gaze. On stage I saw a woman I recognized, holding the instrument that breaks my heart with its mellifluous song, pulls it right on out of my chest where it hovers with the notes, a violin being played as a fiddle. The woman locked eyes with me and we held each others' gaze for what seemed like minutes but was a mere 10 seconds. Her beautiful blue eyes remembered my face too. We smiled a genuine deep “hello, how nice to see you again” smile. I knew immediately that she was the woman who played All you need is love and Something in the Way by The Beatles during my wedding ceremony 10 years ago, which is something my heart can never forget.
I read that the class was in the gym but this surely wouldn't be ending soon. I phoned my lover and told him who I'd seen and sent him a blurry photo. I laughed at the fact that I was alone in a McMennamins* on St. Patrick's Day! I headed to the cigar room for a glass of red blend. I decided to check the Mina Parsons room where I took a workshop with Lidia before, when I was first introduced to the stellar underground culture that is Corporeal. I made my way through the halls being bumped, pushed, blocked and rubbed by the beer drinking and spilling, giant leprechaun hat and red wig wearing bodies swishing drinks that teased of spilling on my head. Tracey stepped out right in front of me and bumped me, stopped me in my path. She was donning a fleece scarf with paws on it. She turned around and with a kind smile apologized. Her acknowledgment startled me and shifted my mood from slightly anxious to calm. I told her not to worry, it was ok. I followed her on to the classroom and thanked myself for not unleashing my frustrated over-probed, impatient persona who said it's ok without truth. Aaawwh shit, I am so relieved I didn't be a bitch!
Tracey lives near L.A.
Day 2: Leprechauns gone, replaced by pool soakers ready and half naked in the hall. The gym is ours today and there's one spot for me to lay my yoga mat, thankfully it's by the door. I have to be by the door, on the end of an isle, the outer rim of a table, the most freeing space in the room, otherwise my body will ensue panic. I also have to pee a lot, like way more often than the general population, which causes me more panic when I have to get up and disrupt, sometimes I panic myself in to having to pee because I'm so afraid to have to pee a million times, so me being on the edge of the crowd is best for everyone. I smoked way too much pot in high school, I'm telling you!
Jennifer Pastiloff begins by turning on the microphone and starts to sing “When the night...” joking about the hand held microphone. That's when I started to fall in love with her. Her first words were my favorite song.
We do some yoga and write, we use our bodies to process physically the things we are to write. We manifest these stories through the body that we carry them in and it is magnificent. Of course I'm called on to share after we've written about our fears: “I am afraid of...” When the prompt was introduced I laughed one loud ha! to myself. Where was I start? What was I to choose? We only had a few moments not a few days? My life is cradled in fear. I go through life a frightened mess most of the time who has visions of the most terrible things happening to me and my loved ones. Death. Ok, that's a reasonable place to start, the deepest dark. I go there.
When Jen says my name I want to say no, but I know it's not fair. I just heard some really vulnerable, courageous and deep as fuck fears from others. I took 3 long deep breaths, almost spoke then took another long deep breath, sought my grounding core and shared my fears of losing my daughter, my fear that is manifested from my not believing I deserve true love and happiness. That too will be taken away, says my subconscious. This is what my therapist pulls from me based on our 2 years together. Towards the end my head was shaking so violently that I had to hold it in my hands, my hands that were shaking just as maniacally. I'd just whimpered out these words as I wept to a room of 42 women, all looking at me. I do not like being the focal point and that is probably my greatest fear I realized right then. Who the fuck am I going through life fearing this awful thing that traumatizes me, the fear of ultimate loss? I'm wasting the time that I have with these wonderful people in this, my most beautiful life yet, thinking about something that some have actually experienced , which is why I fear it, which is why I feel not worthy to express it, which is why I feel guilty for these fears that I have no control over, caused by the same brain that brings me art, that allows me to see beauty everywhere. I'm so afraid that my life will be robbed by my fear of life robbing! What in the actual fuck!?
My panic experiences are cyclical, like a spiral of madness in the middle of my chest and that's why it's one of the most frightening diseases.
I know what you're thinking, wow she's mental...well, let me just say that, well yes, yes I am slightly mental, but who isn't? Anyone who pretends they're not is a pathological liar. I do not know this because I am not a therapist and it's just a guess.
Afterward I was approached by a couple of women who told me my words touched them and they could tell I was a beautiful person and mother, that my thoughts must be born from furious love as well as loss. I am thankful for their kindness still. The fury of my love might be my book title if I ever write one. But honestly, I can't even finish an essay so chances are pretty slim.
Then we sang along to 2 of my heart songs, I will always love you and The Rose! At this point Jen has said that we were beauty hunting, which is my main gig every day. I give myself a fucking metal for inventing the #loversofthebeautiful hashtag, even if I'm the only one who uses it! She also shared that when she dies she can say “I have done love.” So by this point I'm convinced we're soul mates and I love her as much as I love Lidia. But not in the "I'll show up on your street with binoculars" kind of way.
Day 3: I was late and a little hungover, like 15 minutes, but they'd started 15 minutes early that day, so I was technically 30 minutes late. Shit. I don't normally do that. But the school auction where my daughter attends 1st grade was the night before and part of the deal is bottomless glasses, it was for education that I was hungover and needed 15 minutes more of sleep! So I gave myself a guilt-free pass, well almost, more than usual. Then we sung along to my all time favorite song forever, no matter how much I fall in love with a million other songs, Stand By Me by Ben. E. King. I know it sounds super corny, but it was so freaking wonderful!
Jenn told us to find a partner. Tracey turned around and we became partners. 3 minutes, hold a gaze of eye contact for 3 whole minutes with this person you hardly know. Do not break the spell, look, stare, seek.
I also give myself a fucking metal for being a top-notch-devoted-eye-contact-you-are-the-only-person-in-the-room-when-you're-talking listener, unless I'm experiencing panic, then I cannot focus. If you've told me something and I seem lost, or if I cannot recall something that we've discussed several times, intimately, I had or am having a slight panic attack. That's how you can tell, just so you know. So next time you can just hold me and that will make me feel better. But ask first, because I may also be feeling claustrophobic, in which case I don't want to be snuggled. Or if you're a serial interrupter, then I will shut down from you like nobody's business.
Anyway, I thought, ok no problem, sure it will be awkward but we can hypnotize one another with our eyes! That's so cool! Because I'm extremely optimistic by nature.
We locked pupils, we gazed, we blinked and giggled and made weird faces but ultimately it was pretty awesome.
After the 3 minutes were up Jenn instructed us to give our partner something; a hug, a note, a token. We had fallen in love! Duh! Tracey immediately started removing this sparkly tennis bracelet from her wrist. I shook my head slightly, while giving her an appreciative look. “This was my Mother's” she said. I shook my head more. How could I accept this!? The marcasite pieces made an every-other-one pattern with shimmering amethyst encased by sterling silver. This wasn't a Claire's accessory, this was semi-precious stone beautifully cut and placed, linked together with skill and care. AND it was her Mother's!
She started to put it on my wrist and I accepted, stunned by her generosity without hesitation, she clasped the intricate and sparkling closure. I looked at the one piece of decoration I had on. A bracelet my daughter made for me about a month ago. White plastic letter beads that spelled out “Mommy I love U” strung together by elastic string. It hadn't left my wrist since the moment she tied it on. It showers with me too, so don't worry, it's clean! I did hesitate...my daughter made this for me and all the other things that entered my brain... You know, all that fear shit. I washed them away by saying to Tracey's gorgeous light brown eyes “I'd like to give you this”. I slipped it off of my wrist and wrapped it around hers. I felt guilty that she'd given me this fine jewelry and I'd traded it for plastic and elastic, but it was my most sacred piece, my most special. If she was a mother, she'd know that. Then I thought Is she even a mother? What if she isn't? Awh man. She is I can tell. We hugged a long time, we cried and then promised to stay friends forever now. She was extremely motherly.
A moment after that I recalled in my over stimulated memory bank that she'd mentioned before the eye contact challenge, her daughter had blue eyes and mine reminded her of her daughter's. I hope her daughter won't be upset she gave me that bracelet. I thought.
After that we spent time with Lidia and sat around the tables. One of the phrases on the corporeal website is, “This seat is yours, take it.” Because it's a welcoming workshop model, not exclusive to brilliant published writers. Although, there are still many, and I have only met brilliant writers there. Since I was late I was left with a seat right in the middle, squeezed in so tight that if I needed to get up I'd have to ask others to move. I stood against the wall as long as I could and hoped no one would notice. I felt like an asshole. I would make sure later to tell the women at that table it wasn't that I didn't want to sit with them.
And that seat at the table that was mine, I was so fucking grateful for! I don't know if Lidia could sense my panic, if she's noticed me squirming in my seat before, but she started talking about “us” on the sidelines, those of us who need to be on the rim and we help hold it together, there wouldn't be a center without us. I realized then, that she'd been sitting on the edge the entire time! I felt immediate relief. She didn't look at me once or point to me but she was talking directly to me, with me. No one cared I was standing there, how self-centered of me, hahaha. So I stayed against the wall. I stayed on the skin-cell infested carpet, with layers of mine falling each minute.
So many women read what they'd written and I was blown away once again at the talent, all these literary artists, beautiful souls that I was able to be with in those moments. I'm always too afraid to read because I'm not the best writer, and compared to what is read, I'd feel like a dip-shit. So I chicken out.
I almost read my poems at Cafe Delirium in downtown Gresham when I was 20 but I chickened out then too.
The workshop ended and Tracey gave me her hard info, then we all left. We started searching for and connecting with each other on facebook. I found Tracey right away and we linked up. She had recently shared an essay she wrote at a previous workshop. The prompt was, My girl, going. In it she wrote about her daughter's struggles with suicide attempts and masochism and how they got through it together. She understands my fear-center, my pulsing ball of anxiety and grief more than I do, because she is one of those mothers who has actually experienced the threat of ultimate loss. She loved me for what I shared, she didn't think I was invalid.
Because of that acknowledgment she gave me first in the hallway, and again at the end of the workshop I was calmed, this recognition and non-judgment lightened my anxiety. For a while, meeting people with these stories I so deeply feared made it that much more real and frightened me harder, giving root to my panic. But now, I know that I am OK right in this moment and my daughter is safe. I am safe. I deserve to be happy! Damnit! I accept the fears and work with them instead of trying to push them away because that doesn't work. They're always there, hovering. My bullies.
Sometimes my fear of myself and the self-loathing I manifest magnifies all the bad that lives in my body. Surrounding myself with beautiful souls, women who love furiously, who carry stories in their bodies and share them is the best treatment. We need each other. The universe brought us together that weekend and I will never forget. Not only Tracey but every single beautiful, radiant, talented, artistic female in that group. We will always go through life together, even though we live scattered around the country physically. Together we can help teach one another to love ourselves as much as we love others, to lighten that heavy load of shame and bullshit that weighs down our hearts, our backs, heads and livers. As women we have been trained to loathe ourselves in one way or another, from various sources.
I might not have been as excited to go to this workshop if I'd read "self-help" or "transformation workshop" even though I'm a strong believer in those experiences, I'm on overload of deep shit lately...I've engaged in too many experiences where I end up just absorbing more of everyone's negative energy.
All I've been accumulating needs to be dug out bad, and that's what made this workshop stand out, there was some major healing, not just talking but physical and emotional LITERAL transformation of this shit! No 90 day warning assholes, you're o-u-t! This weekend I shed layers and layers of unnecessary dead skin cells. Matter that pushed and shoved its way out of my belly, up through my chest out through my tree stance and mother fuckin' vinyasas! I have been revivified. Come on in ladies, the water is fine! (I mean, that can be debated obviously, shit is fuuuuuccccckkkked up right now, but this workshop is the water I'm referring too.) Why yes, I am still an over-explainer.
My daughter inherited my sensitivities as I inherited them from my Mother and I truly believe it makes us more beautifully ourselves. I'm devoted to teaching my daughter to love herself and allow her to appreciate all of who and what she is, even the "bad", by showing her that I too embody that for myself. She's already stronger than I'll ever be.
If you missed the link above to Tracey's essay, Here it is again: My Girl...Going, Going, Going... Gone
More on Jen Pastiloff here.
*McMennamins is a NW local chain. There are two brewing brothers who collect and save abandoned buildings, transform them into these majestic hang outs. The McMennamin Brothers were the innovators of craft brewing in the NW as well as wine making and have also expanded into distilling liquor.
The history of each place is respected and on display throughout. The entire environment is a work of art with paintings in every crevice, décor that enchants and there's something special to be found in every room. The Kennedy School is my favorite. I think the management there must be bomb because the employees seem the happiest there.