Monday, October 22, 2018

An architect with a paralyzing spinal cord injury acquires a monkey helper, even as he grapples with what makes a life worth living. That's just one of the provocative questions posed in Katharine Weber's sublime new novel STILL LIFE WITH MONKEY.

I first met Katharine Weber on the now defunct and totally wonderful online bookish site Readerville. We stayed friends and her expert eye unlocked many of my novels for me I(I'm so so grateful to her.) Her new novel and seventh book, STILL LIFE WITH MONKEY (bet you cannot take your eyes off that gorgeous cover, can you?) is both profound and moving, about a man, paralyzed in an accident, who acquires a monkey helper, but the question remains: Is this life worth living? 
Katharine’s  also the author of TRUE CONFECTIONS, THE MEMORY OF ALL THAT: GEORGE GERSHWIN, KAY SWIFT, AND MY FAMILY'S LEGACY OF INFIDELITIES, TRIANGLE, THE LITTLE WOMEN. THE MUSIC LESSON and OBJECTS IN MIRROR ARE CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR. She's also the Richard L. Thomas Visiting Professor of Creative Writing at Kenyon College, and she previously taught at Yale.

Let's take a gander at all the praise STILL LIFE WITH MONKEY is garnering:

Lucy Scholes in THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW:  “Still Life With Monkey” is profoundly humane even while it’s asking the most difficult questions.”

Karen Joy Fowler in the THE WASHINGTON POST: “A beautifully wrought paean of praise for the ordinary pleasures taken for granted by the able-bodied. In precise and often luminous prose, with intelligence and tenderness, Weber’s latest novel examines the question of what makes a life worth living.”

Starred review in PW: "A heartbreaking triumph.”

Starred review in Kirkus: "Rigorously unsentimental yet suffused with emotion: possibly the best work yet from an always stimulating writer."

Booklist: "Weber’s sixth novel is a nuanced investigation of what is left when all of the ways one identifies oneself are wiped out in an instant . . . Beautiful, emotionally resonant storytelling.”

BookPage: "Weber expertly weaves Duncan’s internal conflict throughout the novel, constantly making the reader wonder if he will find the strength to continue living in his new circumstances and carry on with a will to make new legacies. Most importantly, Still Life with Monkey begs the question, “What would I do in this situation?” It’s a question that lingers long after the book ends."

Tayari Jones: "A brilliantly crafted novel, brimming with heart. Pairing poetry with wisdom, this is a story about what it means to live, love, and grow.”

Thank you so, so much, Katharine for being here. And for a whole lot else.

Still Life With Monkey asks the unsettling question—just what makes a life worth living? And I think it’s important to recognize that for different people, this means different things. Can you talk about this please?

That’s a great question, Caroline. Who can say what is enough to make a life? What varieties of pain, both physical and emotional, are bearable, or unbearable? These are tremendously personal feelings, and consequent decisions. We can all pretty easily think about people we know who are in ordinary life situations we cannot quite understand—why doesn’t she leave him? Why does he put up with that terrible boss when he could get a much better job for more money?  Why don’t they move from that awful neighborhood? But we never really know what it’s like to be anyone but ourselves.

Suffering that one person can tolerate for years, another might not be able to stand for a few weeks. There are infinite varieties of pain and suffering and loss, some of them more visible than others. The biggest challenges of all, the life and death kinds of challenges, are no different. How much anyone can endure, and how to make choices about change, about seeking the end of pain and suffering, even the biggest choices of all—these are personal decisions and also rights that every one of us possesses.  Whether or not disability has meant that certain kinds of choices are literally out of reach.

Ottoline, the helper monkey, is one of the most charming creations in all of literature, I believe. I know you did extensive research with real monkey helpers. How much of your research is Ottoline, and how much did you build on and create?

I spent several years educating myself about capuchin monkeys in their natural habitats, and also about the training of capuchins to make them helper monkeys capable of providing “helping hands” to disabled people. Capuchin monkeys are the smartest New World monkeys, and they are capable of learning more than fifty commands for switching on lights, turning pages, picking up dropped phones and remotes and so on – all skills that allow disabled people to have more autonomy and independence and privacy.  Training consists on a great deal of monkey see, monkey do.

The Primate Institute in New Haven of my novel is fictional, but there is an actual Monkey College at Helping Hands, in Boston. (You can see great monkey videos on their website, I spent some time behind the scenes at Monkey College, and then, well after I had completed a first draft of the novel, I was introduced, by a mutual friend, to Kent and Nancy Converse and Kent’s monkey helper, Farah. They were generous in allowing me to spend time with them to deepen my sense of life with a monkey helper, and after several visits we had begun to develop what is now an enduring friendship. The novel is dedicated to them (as well as to another good friend, also a quadriplegic, whose generosity and frankness gave me many insights into the emotional and physical experience of becoming a quadriplegic after a catastrophic accident.) 

Though I have never based a character in any of my six novels on any actual person, I admit that Ottoline, though she had come to life in my early drafts long before I met Farah, is truly inspired very directly by my little monkey friend Farah. It is my good fortune that Farah likes me, so spending time with Kent and Nancy and Farah is always a very rich experience. (If you’re wondering, Farah the monkey is some 36 years old. She is a tufted capuchin, with a shock of fur on the top of her head. Think about who was famous for her big hair 36 years ago, and you will discover the origin of this little monkey’s name.

Still Life With Monkey was originally called The Monkey Helper. Why the name change?

Every novel I writer starts off with a plan, and then inevitably I find myself deviating from the plan. You always have to be open to surprising yourself when you’re writing a novel. I thought I was writing “about” a monkey helper, when in fact I was writing about a complex marriage, twins, secrets (everyone in the novel has secrets, including the monkey), architecture, life with a spinal cord injury, art conservation, and the right to die. So that working title became obsolete. I love the title Still Life With Monkey because it has layers of meaning. There is a tradition of bountiful still life paintings by French, Dutch, Spanish and Italian painters over three centuries. These are exquisitely rendered depictions of extraordinary arrangements of fruits, flowers, meats, game, and savory tarts, displayed temptingly in beautiful vessels, heaped on laden tables, an imminent feast that also suggests the transience of life’s pleasures. When these artists added a monkey or two snatching treats from the table, it was a playful commentary on human appetites.
For my novel, this title offers layers of meaning. Even compromised, this is still life for Duncan. Paralyzed life is a still life. And now his life is indeed with a monkey. Duncan is obsessed with the quotidian pleasures of his life and how much he has lost. Ottoline can give him back some of his ability to make choices for himself. But is this still life with a monkey enough?    

This novel feels and reads differently to me than your previous ones. Is this something you were aware of or is this just an organic change? (I’m always interested in how one novel grows out of or away from the previous ones.)

I appreciate your sense of this, Caroline. A real writer’s question. I agree, there is a lot about this novel that’s a shift for me. I spent some seven years writing this novel, partly because in these same years I have been teaching at Kenyon College (which I love) and have had less concentrated writing time. But also, it’s been a complex undertaking. It’s my longest novel (286 pages—I don’t write long novels.) It’s the first time my main character has been male. It’s the first time I have written principally in the third person. And it’s a high stakes narrative in many ways, with complex moral questions driving the story for each character.  So there were indeed some deliberate challenges to myself with this novel. But also, it is my sixth novel and seventh book. You have to teach yourself to write each novel as you write it. I believe I am a both a better writer and a better teacher now than I have ever been before.

What’s obsessing you now and why?

I always love this question in your Q&As on your blog. Setting aside for the moment my chronic rage and anxiety about the state of the world and all the consequent disasters since the current occupant of the White House took office, I am juggling three different next novels in my head.  This means, in addition to mapping out the situation and the story for each, which I have done but am also still developing, that I am at different moments delving into Amish culture and traditions, rumspringa, polydactyly, puppy mills (for Rumspringa), New Age healing retreats, poker tournaments, and sea glass collecting (for Traveling Angel), and details of daily Pueblo life in New Mexico and Arizona circa 1886 (for The Going Away Woman). Inevitably, before I am done with each of these novels, there will be numerous other rabbit holes down which I will burrow in pursuit of my strange idea of research. 

What question didn’t I ask that I should have?

What am I reading now?  And the answer is many short stories by Henry James and Edith Wharton, for an experimental advanced fiction seminar I am teaching right now, for which I am having my students read only the short fiction of these two masters as they write their own stories. Anyone who has ever been present when an author visits a book group must read Edith Wharton’s wickedly funny story “Xingu.”) I am also, right now, reading Deborah Eisenberg’s brilliant new story collection Your Duck is My Duck, both because I adore her work and this is the first book she has published in twelve years, and also because I am thrilled to report that we will be reading together at the Miami Book Fair on November 18th.


Saturday, October 13, 2018

Anne Lamott (!) talks about why dying in real life is not like dying in the movies, how to not hate those in power, grace, grief, love and so much more in ALMOST EVERYTHING: NOTES ON HOPE.

I'm so thrilled to host Anne Lamott here. But first, some personal stuff.

This is what I know about Anne Lamott:

Many years ago, after I lost a baby 3 1/2 months into my pregnancy, I wrote Anne Lamott. I didn't know her. I had never met her.  But somehow, in my grief and pain, I thought she would understand  and I needed to write her. Imagine my shock when I came home to find this compassionate, funny, smoky voice on my answering machine talking about what I had gone through and how I would be okay. THAT IS ANNIE LAMOTT, folks.

Fast forward. Algonquin had a series where they had really big, famous authors, interview not-so-big or not-so-famous ones. Annie agreed to interview me. The place was packed, but what I remember most was getting in a limo (!) with Annie and she dug into her purse and pulled out half a peanut butter sandwich and said, "Hungry? Want this?" THAT, TOO, IS ANNIE LAMOTT, folks

Through the years, we've stayed in touch. I've read everything she's written, and this book ALMOST EVERYTHING got to me in a way nothing she's written before ever has. Of course, I was laughing, but I was also weeping in parts. About grief, death, politics, kindness, family, cookies, and so much more, this is just an extraordinary book, and I'm thrilled to host Anne Lamott here. 

This seems like such an important book for now. At points, I was weeping (I was also laughing, too, so there is that.) Let’s talk about Almost Everything. Why the almost?  Why do you think almost is necessary? I mean, what if we knew everything? Could there really be no growth?

 The original title of this book was Doomed: A Book of Hope, but we changed it to Almost Everything because it is really Almost Everything I know of any importance that I can pass on to my 15 year old niece and 9 year old grandson. I wanted to pass along everything that would have been so helpful to me along the way—that everyone is a mess deep in, and it just hurts to compare your insides to other people’s outsides. That families are hard, hard, hard. That all truth is paradox. That writing never goes well, but here are some tips I know about how to get it done very day.

It’s “almost” because some of the stuff I know something about—ie how to stay sober over time, how to survive the loss of a dog—is material I’ve already written about, that might not be relevant to the young people in my family or the public at large.

These are dark political days, and for a long time, I clung to the Mr. Rogers’ quote, about “looking for the helpers.” I feel like your book really is doing the same thing. Instead of hating, which is easy to do, AND it sometimes feels good to do it, we need, instead, to get rid of it so we can focus on what we can do—and sometimes that’s just the smallest thing. Can you talk about this please?

Well, there’s a whole chapter of not letting them get you to hate them, because the. You turn INTO them, and you lose your center and strength.  But the willingness for me to change—in this case to look at my hate and judgment—comes from the pain of not changing.  And all important change happens Incrementally, and from awareness—you notice what a jerk you’re being in traffic, and how it makes you feel, i.e.  uptight and self-righteous—so instead, you start letting people go first, and that feels lovely. That feels like a world you would like to live in—so you help begin to create it.  
 You devoutly believe in God, yet you welcome all those who do not, which is really generous and wise. But why do you think things have gotten so worse for us as a whole people and a whole planet? Have we not been tested enough? And what do you think is the best way for us to not freak out about statistics, like our planet has ten more years, or the GOP want to do away with preexisting conditions on health insurance?

  My theory about how things have gotten so awful and insane is that this is the end of the 50’s, where males dominated and women were subservient and didn’t partake of the wealth and power—and the male power structure is terrified and very angry about having to share.  It’s dying dinosaurs, doing a tremendous amount of damage with their tails.

     The best way not to freak out is to offer warmth and light to oneself, and then to the world, through small acts of generosity, and creation.  I love the quote of the priest who helped AA get off the ground, that sometimes heaven is just a new pair of glasses. So we take off the bad glasses, that see and fixate on the deterioration and conflicts everywhere, and we look out through the good glasses, through which we see the beauty all around us—look up! At the sky, the tree tops, the moon and stars. We see how beautifully, lovingly people are taking care of others.  We see a few things that are actually working, that help us keep the little flames insight us lit.  We see people to serve.  We see the help and comfort that surrounds us.

Your chapter on families did me in. Families do indeed live imprints on us when we are young, and to survive, we become those, but we don’t have to stay that label. That felt ridiculously freeing. I also loved your advice on not trying to save or change a family member. I spent years trying to “fix” my mom and the only thing that happened was she became increasingly resentful and angry and she never changed. And when I let go, we had a better, richer deeper relationship. This is such a hard lesson to learn! We can offer help, but if asked.  Do you think that trying to fix others is actually trying to fix ourselves?

I think (or know) that trying to fix or save others is hopeless, and of course I have spent my life, until a few years ago, trying to rescue and fix everyone. I eventually realized that NO ONE, not once, has ever gotten an alcoholic sober, or gotten a very heavy person to slim down. It always has to be an inside job.  But letting go of people and releasing them to their consequences, pain and higher powers (who turn out NOT to be us) often has the effect of giving them the space to begin healing. Or at least to begin to want to begin healing, which is huge.

We tried to fix our families because our parents needed us too.  If we hadn’t tried, hadn’t used our life force to pump our parents up out of their unhappiness, the entire ship of our families might have sunk and gone under. And if we didn’t believe we were the problem, because we were defective or annoying, it meant our PARENTS were a mess, and should have raised orchids instead of kids; which would have meant we were doomed. Thinking that we were inadequate was our only shot at having a little control, since we could try to do better, and need less. So we did that—but it didn’t work. (I hate that!) And it didn’t work better at 30, 50, 64 but it’s still my go-to default stop when people I love are going under—but the healing is that I now just try to fix and rescue for a couple of hours, instead of decades.

Having lost my mom a year ago, your chapter on death was really moving and helpful and full of hope. It actually made me cry, maybe because it didn’t have a bit of woo woo to it. Can you talk about how hard won this knowledge must have been?

    So hard won!  I had two unsurvivable losses—my father died after two years with brain cancer, and my best friend died after being diagnosed with breast cancer.  And both times, I was so incredibly close to them, and never left their side, and I learned that death was not like it is in movies. It’s very natural, excruciating, and beautiful, filled with grace and holy moments. Both dad and Pammy had Hospice helping them, and they are like the cavalry!  Hospice nurses are like midwives, so tender and caring and knowledgeable, and they taught me how to show up, listen, and savor the time I have with my most beloved. Ever since, I’ve shown to help people who are going to die, and again and again, I see the miracle of life, the miracle of the precious community. I see grace everywhere, even when my heart is breaking. All truth is paradox.
“Why is rarely a useful question,” you write. I want to dig into this a bit. Does this mean that when in discussion with people who have vehemently different political beliefs than ours, knowing where they came from won’t change things? For example, if a person has grown up in a white enclave in a rural area and has never met a Muslim and is terrified of them. That’s the why. They’ve had no experience. But what if they learn that that guy they always say hello to when they gas up their car, the one who always asks about the family, etc. etc.  is Muslim? They might change their views now that they know someone. So wouldn’t the why be important there?

I’m sort of grounded more in action steps of entering into difficult emotional states and predicaments--i.e confronting my own prejudices and fears.  I always wanted to know why why why when I was a child, and of course I still do.  We had a family friend when I was growing up who used to always answer, “Because that is it’s nature.”  I was raised by intellectuals, and believed there were codes I might break, or things I might achieve, after which I would be whole, or happy.  But it turns out that “figure it out” is not a good slogan. So, to answer your question, I think figuring out why why why is always fascinating and sort of addictive for me, but not ultimately useful.  What’s useful is doing the deep dive into the ways I am ignorant and/or self-righteous, followed by radical self-forgiveness. Then I carry that into the  world.

 You found love! You’re getting married!  What’s the lesson here?

My son Sam, who is 29 (!!) has “We never give up” tattooed on his forearm.  I’ve raised him with this battle cry and together we are teaching his son this.  About 4 years ago at a big fundraiser in a church in San Francisco, the interviewer asked me what dream I still held onto, after all the blessings and accomplishments of my life. I thought about quietly, and then in front of a thousand people, I said, “I’d like to be married.”  It was kind of shocking moment, to admit to such a deep longing. And then a couple of years later, I met this lovely man, brilliant and funny and kind and good-looking, and...two years later, a month ago, while we were watching the US Open tennis matches on TV, he asked me to marry him. So never give up. God is SUCH a show-off.

Friday, October 12, 2018

A woman who has the power to change the weather, what it means to fit in, and more. Cai Emmons talks about her dazzling new novel WEATHER WOMAN

 To say I loved Weather Woman is an understatement. Full of amazing science, and even more amazing characters, it's the kind of book you want to press into the hands of everyone you meet because you need them to read it so you all can obsess and talk about it.

Cai Emmons is the author of the novels His Mother’s Son (Harcourt) and The Stylist (HarperCollins). His Mother’s Son received starred reviews from Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly, was a Booksense and Literary Guild selection, was translated into French and German, was reviewed by O Magazine and The Economist, and won an Oregon Book Award (the Ken Kesey Award) for fiction.

Her wonder-filled latest, Weather Woman, is the story of meteorologist Bronwyn Artair who discovers she has the power to change the weather. I am so thrilled to have Cai here. Thank you, Cai!

I was gobsmacked by your novel, by your insistent merging of both science and wonder. What was haunting you that led you to write this book? Why now?

 Since I was a young child I’ve been fixated on the weather, extreme weather in particular. Weather seemed to speak to and through my body. Sometimes, I really wanted the weather to be different—on cold and rainy Halloween nights for example—and sometimes I even imagined I might change the weather if I concentrated hard enough. When I became a writer, it was a natural outgrowth of this obsession to create a character who really could alter the weather. This idea started to really press on my consciousness over the recent years of extreme weather events.

 Where did you get your obvious love of weather? Did you research? What surprised you in your research? What did you learn about the intricacies of the brain? And is it true that a cubic foot of air carries enough energy to boil all the oceans of the world?

I love reading about science and often regret that I didn’t study more science in school. When I realized that this book would require delving deeply into meteorology and physics I was both excited and daunted. A book that I’d read earlier called The Intention Experiment became my springboard in thinking about the enormous untapped energy of the human brain/mind. The official research began with a “Great Courses” class about meteorology, 24 lectures by UCLA professor Robert Fovell, covering clouds, wind, tornadoes, cyclones, hurricanes, etc. Though it was supposedly an introductory class, much of it was beyond me, but I did my best. I read various other books about extreme weather and climate change and physics and neuroscience. One of my favorite books was The Cloud Collector’s Handbook, by Gavin Pretor-Pinney. I am still drawn to these books, still wanting to understand more about the mysteries of the universe. And, of course, the more you read the more questions arise.

 My research brought me to many startling facts about the capabilities of animals: some bears can smell food 18 miles away; moths have the best sense of hearing (better than humans); some bacteria use a magnetic navigation system; frigate birds, who spend weeks at a time in flight, sleep while they are flying (sometimes using only one brain hemisphere). Such factoids wowed me, particularly in terms of how we tend to underestimate the natural world around us.

Esteemed physicist Richard Feynman is credited in some places on the Internet with having said that a cubic foot of air carries enough energy to boil all the oceans of the world. Like you, I was blown away by that idea, and I’ve been trying to corroborate it. It turns out not to be quite right (though it’s true that a great deal of energy can be contained in a very small space). John Toner, my go-to physics friend who researches flocking and is a professor at the University of Oregon, says:

“A cubic foot of air at normal atmospheric temperature and pressure weighs about 30 g (roughly one ounce). Using that most famous of physics formulae E=mc2 implies that if you could somehow convert all of that mass into energy, you'd get three thousand trillion Joules, or about one billion kilowatt hours, or about 3/4 of a megaton, of energy. That's a pretty big bang, but only enough to boil a cube of water about half a mile on a side. You would actually have to convert a volume of air about two miles on a side into energy to get enough to boil all of the oceans.”

My final takeaway from most of the reading I did is that every living thing and every human action is made possible by an expression of energy at the atomic level. Even human thought is facilitated by energy and creates energy. From that idea I was able to imagine myself into Bronwyn’s power.

What moved me so deeply was the way you wrote about how none of us are alone, none of us should be alone, and we should all be connected to the earth. Can you talk about that please?

I think about this subject a lot. As individuals we so easily become wrapped up in our heads, our unique experiences and problems. Our culture encourages us to individuate and distinguish ourselves from others, but human beings are fundamentally social creatures, and when you look at the cultures that are deemed by anthropologists and sociologists to be most happy, they are the ones in which there is a strong sense of community. Isolation from others—in the sparsely populated state of Wyoming, for example, or among some elderly people—is strongly associated with depression and suicide. We need each other, even those of us who are introverts. And being with other people tends to make us happy.

 Bronwyn’s power originates with her strong attunement to the Earth. She notices the Earth and respects it. Near the end of the novel she discovers something she has been sensing all along—that she can’t save the Earth alone, even with her incredible sensibility and power. She needs the assistance and support of others. Whatever she does must be done in community—something the Arctic fox tries to convey to her.

 I love the love story between Bronwyn and Matt, two souls who don’t quite fit in the regular world, but who seem to me to be the kind of people our world needs more of. Could you talk about this please?

I liked writing about Bronwyn and Matt because they are both capable people who are always underestimating themselves. I have always been drawn to humble people, and I agree that there are too few of these people in the world. Matt hates himself for using his journalistic skills to fabricate untruths, and Bronwyn hates herself for being from lowly circumstances and not being able to withstand the rigors of academic science. But they are both able to unearth the shining light in each other.

 So much of this wonderful read is about the way we perceive, and how we control those perceptions.  At one point, a character says, “There’s always someone trying to normalize you,” which, I think, is unfortunately true. How can a person who is a square peg celebrate that?

Oh my god, how true this is! I think women, in particular, are susceptible to feeling they should be different: more sociable, more pleasing to others, more willing to take whatever job is offered them. Understanding that it’s okay to be who you naturally are and actually feeling it’s okay to be that person are often at odds. It has taken me decades to fully accept that I can be both outwardly expressive and “big” and also sometimes be a hermit. Assertion and the passage of time help in healing this disjuncture.

Bronwyn undergoes a big moment of self-acceptance when she defies her mentor and states unequivocally that she can do what her mentor believes is impossible. Once she has crossed that line, she can’t ever fully return to her retreating earlier self.

Your use of language was also wonderful. “Bouyant as a dust kitty,”  for example. Where did you get your love of language from? And for you, does the language come first or the story, or are they interchangeable?

I have loved language since I was quite young. When I was eight I began writing poetry. Much of it was nonsensical wordplay, stemming from my love of the sounds and rhythms words could make. That pleasure in words has never faded, but when I’m thinking about a novel it is usually catalyzed by some kind of what if…? What if I (or someone else) really could change the weather? That was the question that became the germ of Weather Woman. I love the extrapolation that begins to play out from posing such a question.

 What’s obsessing you now and why?

I am always thinking about the stories of women, what it means for a person to be born into a female body. I’m a relatively short woman, and in crowds I often feel claustrophobic and in danger of being stepped on. I recently started wondering how things would be different if women were generally taller and bigger and physically stronger than men while all else remained the same. This is not the premise of the novel I’m currently working on, but the novel touches on a similar obsession.

 What question didn’t I ask that I should have?

 Perhaps a question about the relationship between Bronwyn and Diane. When I came to the end of the novel I found myself feeling a lot of sympathy towards Diane and interest in how their relationship would play out. I was curious about how much she could change. I answered this question by writing a sequel—something I never, ever expected to do, but once I began it tumbled out. Sinking Islands is the title. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Want to change your life? You MUST pre-order the sublime Jen Pastiloff 's (with a foreword by Lidia Yuknavitch!) memoir ON BEING HUMAN, A MEMOIR OF WAKING UP, LIVING REAL AND LISTENING HARD

Hi everyone. You know how important pre-orders are right? So I'm here telling you that you need to pre-order Jennifer Pastiloff's memoir ON BEING HUMAN --RIGHT NOW. Not just because of sales and attention--but because this memoir turned me inside out and I believe it might do the same for you. I was crying. I was underlining phrases. I was being changed with every line. It's really the story of a woman who thought she was nothing, and she became everything to so many people. She has a hearing loss, so she listens even more fiercely to everything and everyone.

Jen changed my life. She was the one who urged me to write about my mom's dementia, my mom's dying, the time when I almost had to make a choice about an abortion, and most importantly, she got me to admit that I, too, have wonky hearing, and claiming it just made everything easier and better. She's my heroine, and I am completely blissed out to claim her as my friend.

Here's the details:

 Jennifer Pastiloff, Beauty Hunter, is a public speaker who travels the world with her unique workshop: The Manifestation Workshop: On BeingHuman-a hybrid of yoga, writing, sharing out loud, and occasionally a dance party.  has been featured on Good Morning America, New York
Magazine, CBS News and more for her unique style of teaching. She’s developed a massive and loyal following from her personal essays. She also is co-editor of the magnificent online journal THE MANIFEST-STATION.

Check out Retreats for all retreat listings and Workshops to attend one in a city
near you.

She tweets/instagrams at @jenpastiloff.

And here's the incredible interview Jen gave me. And P.S. Jen, I've got you. I've always got you,

I’ve commented that what is so revolutionary about your moving memoir is that even though it most definitely is YOUR story, it feels like it’s all our stories—all of us who have felt we were not pretty enough, or smart enough, or lovable enough. Can you talk about this please?

 The through line I see the most in the work I do is the pervasive belief of “I am not enough.” I have been in workshops, rooms with eight-year-olds all the way up to women in their seventies, and a lot of them were saying the same things: I am afraid of what others think, I am not pretty enough, I am not enough. To feel less alone in our struggles is key to surviving. When we start to listen to each other, we realize that so many of us share the same Inner Assholes. One of the ways to quiet the IA is to talk about it and conquer it together. My IA is still alive and well but it’s quieter (some days) than it used to be.

You know that feeling you get when you hear someone speak, or read something, and you think, “Oh my God, that could be me talking?” We need more of that. Honest, un-curated, unashamed truths about who we are so that we can see that the idea of perfection is a MYTH. That we all have been striving for something non-existent. I do think that listening is the key. Fierce listening, or hard listening, to one another. So often we deal with the same feelings- different details, of course- but the same core feelings of shame or not-enoughness or pain. When we realize that we aren’t the only one, it’s like a big exhale. This is why the #metoo movement is so powerful. It’s the same idea. Me too.

 What kind of writer are you? Did you know how this memoir was going to unfold or were you stunned and surprised?

One thing I talk about in my book are Bullshit Stories, as you know, so if my Inner Asshole (IA) were to answer this question, it would say: I am not a real writer. But I know that isn’t true, that it is indeed a Bullshit Story

I don’t know what kind of writer I am. I started writing stories as a little girl. At NYU, I found poetry, and that really was my first great love. Still is even though I don’t write it much anymore. I am a writer who writes in bed, or on the couch (which is also a sofa bed) as her son and husband sleep (as I am doing right now), or in the car, or who doesn’t write for days, weeks, months. I am a writer who uses social media to write. I am a writer who has no “system.” I am a writer who writes some beautiful things and who also has written some godawful terrible sentences. I have found through this process of selling and writing a book, or rather, through my entire life, that there is no one right way. I can tell you that I do not take myself too seriously, or at least I try not to. Since I dropped out of NYU, I have always thought of myself as a failure. Since I taught yoga and got sort of “famous” for that, I was afraid I would be thought of as a joke, as some kind of woo-woo person, since I share a whole lot of intimate stuff on social media, I thought I wasn’t a “real writer” but I guess, in truth, the answer is: I sold a book. I have a book coming out into the world so whatever “kind” of writer I am, I did it. There is not one right way.There is only the way that YOU do it.

 What I also found revolutionary is the way you took what helped you and turned it into these stupefyingly successful yoga/writing workshops all over the world. How come yoga lends itself to all of this so well?

We store so much in the body. Everything, really. The idea I had was to get to a vulnerability that occurred when the body wasn’t in fight or flight mode. I wrote a poem years ago where I said “Do Yoga. Let everyone you’ve stored in your muscles out, every so often, to breathe.” I do think it’s like that- we keep things inside of us to any chance to move shit around is good. Having said that, I have people who have never done yoga, people in wheelchairs, people who come and just sit. The idea is to embrace the body rather than deny it.

 As someone who has spent the majority of my life trying to NOT be in my body, it felt like my life opened up when I stopped trying to run away from it. Be it yoga, or dance, or just swinging your arms, or simply breathing- I believe that when we connect to the what our body is saying, it’s easier to drown our IA (Inner Asshole) out. The body tells the truth.

I also have noticed that the more fatigued we get, the harder it is to keep our guards up. Sometimes, after a really long travel day, I cry. I have no idea what’s wrong, or why I am so weepy, until I go, “Oh yea, I am just really fucking tired.” I want to get us to that place in my workshop where our armor is off without having to have a really long travel day or being up for 24 hours straight. By using movement, it allows us to soften. I don’t care about the yoga part. That was a way in. A lot of times we just dance or sing or laugh. The idea is to not escape. I have always been an escape artist (anorexic, over exercising, binging, sleeping) so to just be with what’s happening in my body- that feels revolutionary. As Lidia Yuknavitch always says, your body has a point of view. I have found no greater truth. I am finally learning to listen.

 Every time I finish writing a book, I feel as if I’ve somehow rewritten myself, that I’ve changed. How did this memoir change you?

In many ways, I feel like it is the first time I really grieved for my father. Can you believe that? He died so many years ago, when I was a little girl, but I locked it inside of me and shut down. Writing this book opened me up in a way I thought was impossible. I thought the grief was too old that healing could never take happen.  And yet, it did. I am not suggesting that we ever get over losing someone or that I am “fixed” or “healed” but I allowed myself to feel things I never had for fear they would kill me. They did not kill me. I did not look away- which is the main tenet in my workshop- Don’t look away. To do that for yourself is life-changing. I looked at all of it- the beautiful and the hideous parts.

This is kind of embarrassing to admit but I also felt like an adult for the first time in my life. Even though I have a two-year-old, getting this book done made me battle some demons (the lack of planning, living in chaos etc) because I signed a contract and I had to get it done. It was one of the first time in my life, ugh, I hate admitting this, that I saw something to completion. It has given me a confidence and a sense of possibility now, though. I can do things. I can do what I thought I couldn’t. I try and remember that when I get caught up listening to my IA telling me all sorts of lies as to what a bad and lazy human I am.

This book also changed me because I found compassion for my mom. Everyone has a complicated life, everyone has stuff with their parents or their family, but writing this book gave me insight and I was able to finally see my mother as a human being who was doing the best she could. When you experience trauma as a child, as I did, it’s hard to not get stuck in the belief system from that time. The process of writing the book helped me rewire my belief system and also get to know my mother better.

My father-in-law died a quick and painful death from pancreatic cancer as I was writing it, which cracked me open and also forced me to revisit my father’s death, in a new light.

One of the things I talk about so much is not being an asshole. Don’t be an asshole, I always say. Writing the book made me realize I am still an asshole sometimes, but that I do my best and I am doing pretty good. I took a good hard long look at myself and I liked myself, which is a new feeling. The idea of embracing being human is largely based upon realizing that we are all assholes. Sometimes. And when we don’t look away, when we bear witness, when we tell the truth and listen, life becomes more bearable. I guess I did that with myself in writing this book, so whadya know? I also learned that I am an asshole who drinks too much coffee. (Approx 789990 cups during the process of writing On Being Human.)

What’s obsessing you now and why?

Releasing attachment to the outcome. Are people going to buy it? What if I said too much? Can I take it back? Am I too exposed? Are people going to help me the way I help others? Living in a one-bedroom with three bodies. My nephew’s constant starvation that he has from Prader Willi Syndrome. The state of our fucking country. If people are going to vote. Dying and leaving my son. My mom dying. The toilet paper Trump had on his shoe as he boarded Air Force One the other day. The fact that my coffee cup is empty- be right back.