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.