This Book Will Change Your Life.

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  • This Book Will Change Your Life - On Being Human by the Jennifer Pastiloff.

    To talk about On Being Human, much less the love that is Jen Pastiloff, seems to call for something special or more involved than anything as straight forward as the usual free-flowing, albeit sentient, book ruminations I engage in here. She's too special. As is On Being Human. But how does one go about telling the story of  knowing Jen and her work? Does it involve exploring her from different angles, a multi-faceted approach to someone with multiple facets? Or is it about stories? Not that I have so many stories about Jen. We've only met once. We podcasted. She published my essay "Powder Blue Polyester Tuxedo" at her site The Manifest-Station. And we've messaged sporadically since, most recently when On Being Human was released and before that when I learned that I had been losing my hearing, something she knows all too much about. So, there's all that. All of which has some something to do with stories, the stories of a relationship and the stories behind those stories and I suppose all the stories we tell or mean to tell.

    "That is what I am working on sharing in my workshops: how our stories are within us and they deserve to be let out, they deserve to be heard." (page 276)

    When I met Jen, after she published my piece, and she was in Chicago and we decided we'd do a podcast, I had little idea all that Jen meant to people, how influential she was, that her workshops were so important to so many. And yes, that makes me an asshole. Especially when so many Chicago writers I know and love knew her, loved her and were attending the workshop she was leading while in town. I hadn't done my homework. But that podcast was huge, with the biggest numbers the show has ever seen and the most exposure the podcast has ever received. The response made me want the show to be better, or at least treat it with more love. I updated the iTunes page and got the show onto Stitcher and then Spotify. I added a logo. And it was Jen who inspired me. Jen was, is, not playing around. She's all in and I wanted to be all in as well. She made me be a better version of me and that's what she does. She gets people to find their voice and look for their stories. And then of course when you find them, you have to share them. That's how it works.

    "There is always a story under the story." (page 301)

    Which is just what Jen has done with On Being Human. People kept asking her how she's done what she's done and so she told us. She shared all of the stories and then all of the stories behind the stories, which is what she does, she digs, she shares, she's human. She waitressed and struggles with an eating disorder. She said she was an actress, but really wasn't doing much to become one. She refused to accept that she was losing her hearing, or that her body was both betraying her and telling her just that, or that she was deserving of love. But she found antidepressants, she got hearing aids, she found yoga and teaching, leading workshops, and she discovered what she had always known, she could be there, right there, for the people who needed her. She could share her most authentic life and she could give love. And then she discovered that it wasn't even really about yoga, or teaching, though it's that stuff too, but it was about connection, and she was right there for that as well.

    "Writing was the way out, just as yoga had been the way in." (page 225)

    She didn't discover writing though, that was always there, but she made others write their stories and what I find most fascinating is that there is no magic here. Someone committed to finding their best self and decided to share it. Jen knew people had stories to tell and that in telling them they would learn the things about themselves that they already knew to be true, but couldn't accept or face. They needed permission, a prompt, inspiration, a safe space, and Jen gave them that. That, and love. And she has love now as well, love she deserves in the way we all do when we put it out into the world. She may still have bad days, and her hearing, as is mine, is still fucked. She may even be an asshole at times. But Jen is love and if On Being Human is nothing else, it's a love story, to herself, and all of us. Will On Being Human change your life? Of course it will. But the lesson here, one lesson anyway, is that in the end, we have to love ourselves enough to want to change them.

  • These Books Will Change Your Life - The Heart Crossways by the James Claffey and FUNHOUSE by the Robert Vaughan.

    James Claffey and Robert Vaughan are not new authors to me, really they're anything but. I've followed their literary careers, I've read with them, blurbed their books and asked them to blurb mine, had them as guests on This Podcast Will Change Your Life, Vaughan anyway, I'll need to get Claffey on as well, soon, promise. But they've been around, and I've been around, and it is this idea of still being around that I found myself ruminarting on as I read their most recent books The Heart Crossways and FUNHOUSE by Claffey and Vaughan respectively. Which is not to ignore the gifts that come with their work. It feels almost cliche to point out that the Ireland-born Claffey's command of language borders on the luxurious (luminous just didn't seem to capture what was in my head). I assume that this is a birthright, but as I wrote when blurbing his short story collection Blood a Cold Blue, "...James Claffey infuses every story with rhythm and rot, doing things with words that I've never seen before and don't expect to again," Claffey knows loss and decay, and in this new novel he twists both into a coming of age tale that may follow every rule - sex, violence, individuation, delinquency - but feels new, or at least renewed under his pen and his clear-eyed view on what it means to be working class, the struggles to survive, and to hold onto one's pride, especially the always delicate male pride, the desire to escape, the lack of balance and stability and the wonder at how one will ever be anything but that which they seem fated to be. Also a birthright I imagine. Vaughan on the other hand does what he has continued to do from book to book and line to line, an exploration of the myriad places Vaughan has traveled, both physically and temporally. Time and place bending to his imagination. In the same way Claffey juggles words, Vaughan juggles the copious amounts of ideas that seem to churn through his brain and onto the page. That these ideas seem to come back to an ongoing search for the meaning in relationships, any and all relationships, family, marriage, male, female, gay, straight, is a reminder that like the coming of age tale, talking relationship is not something new, but few explore all the twists and iterations of these dynamics as inventively or dynamically as Vaughan continues to do.

    Now before I move on to the next book, post or riff, a call back from whence I came: this idea of being around. I've thought a lot lately about how many writers I've been lucky enough to meet over the years, but also how many, both male and female, seemed to have moved on from writing to other things. Some of this, and do be warned, more cliche is about to happe, is life happening, work, family, illness, and some of it may be that the desire to write has passed, as strong as it may or may not have been, other things are just as important and there is only so much time to do it all. But I also believe that some of it is something else, that time passes these authors by, that they get stuck, unsure of what comes next, or what comes next is not of enough interest to them or those who might publish their books, other writers come along to replace them, time starts to slip away, and with it the desire to keep pushing and keep struggling as they did at the start of their careers. Claffey and Vaughan are still around, still pushing and juggling words, and to celebrate that a couple of white dudes have persisted is obnxious, but it doesn't feel like nothing that they have. The world will gladly leave you, or them, behind, but it hasn't happened to Claffey and Vaughan, not yet, and that, we can all celebrate. Not to say doing so will change your life, but their words will, always, and for long as we have them.