“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”
We all need an audience.
I have been writing since I could write. The first real book I ever read was Judy Blume’s Forever when I was seven years old. (Don’t ask how or why I read this at seven years old.) I don’t remember anything except a penis being named Ralph and even that might be inaccurate, that may be another penis from another novel I read at age eight or twelve. I stopped writing for a long time during various dark hours of my life for various dark reasons, but I have always been a writer. I started with short stories when I was five. In college, I started to experiment with poems. I found Sylvia Plath. I started confessing when I found her confessional poems and have never stopped.
Lately, I’ve been thinking: Why all of a sudden are people paying attention to what I have to say?
The reason is simple: because they are seeing it. I literally have an audience. There is no magic to it. I am the same me; I just have a few more sets of eyes looking at my sentences and poor grammar skills.
In the past, no one but a couple select people were seeing my words. I’d call my mom and ask her if I could read her what I just wrote. Or my friend Karina Wolf in New York. Now, I have a Facebook Fan Page and a Twitter and an Instagram and yoga classes and, you know name it, I got it. So you see, I have an audience. I have real life human beings with feelings and fingers and eyes reading what I am putting out there.
Whether they like it or not is besides the point. There are people reading my words.
I was in a battle with Facebook recently because I wanted to change my fan page name to Jennifer Pastiloff, instead of Jennifer Pastiloff Yoga, as it had been. I got it into my head that the “Yoga” part of the name would deter people and make me less of a real writer. (Oh, the stories we tell!)
My friend said something that I liked about this. She said that yoga is what brought me an audience. That nature knew how to organize itself.
It was then that I realized it probably didn’t matter if my page name said Ralph the Penis or Jennifer Pastiloff Yoga. It was the content.
It was what I was saying. A name is a name. And yes, I have an audience. How this is what I have wanted my whole life: Hear me. Listen to me. Pay attention to me. Beyond the “me,” what I have always wanted just as badly, even as a kid, was to help people and to make people feel things. (What kid talks like this? Apparently, the same kid who went around reading Forever and telling people she knew how to spell “Antidisestablishmentarianism.”)
I want what I write to help you understand something about yourself or the world or least have you feel your face flushing with a “I know what that is like!”
I want to connect. That’s it.
How can you connect if you don’t have an audience? You need one. One, a hundred, a billion. Whatever.
The boyfriend who wouldn’t let himself be called “boyfriend,” whom I have written about, never used to read my writing. I’d write a poem and ask him if I could read it to him. “Can you email it to me?” he would say without looking up at me. I’d be hurt, but I’d do it because I wanted someone, anyone, to read what I wrote.
He would never respond to the email.
I had no audience with the man I loved or thought I loved. The girl in her bedroom begging her not boyfriend boyfriend to read her poem thought she loved him and wanted nothing more than him to read what she wrote and then kiss her on the forehead or maybe just say, “Good job, Jen.” She wanted anything, really. Any nod in her direction that said, “Keep going.” But there was nothing, except, “You need to stop waitressing…You need to figure out what you want to do with your life…You need to stop sleeping so late…You need to make a plan.”
Can you just read what I sent you?
I will. I’m busy. Later.
He never did read them.
We all need an audience. I don’t care if it’s one person or one million. We need someone to acknowledge us so we’re not standing alone in a parking lot clicking the beeper for our car only to realize hours later that the car isn’t there. It never was there.
The car will never respond to the beeping of the alarm. It will not answer its call. Maybe you’ll get into a security guard’s car and have him drive you around and around. I swear I parked it right there. But the car isn’t there, and you are alone with your bottle of wine and baguette and poems and car keys, standing there like a fool.
Sometimes it feels like a fluke to me that I am doing so well. People say things like, “You must be used to it” or “You must get this every day.”
Let me tell you the answer as plainly as I can: No. No, I am not used to this, and I am glad for that fact. I want to keep being surprised at how holy this all feels.
Last month, for my birthday, a bunch of my people I lovingly call my “Tribe” got together to get me a new computer, knowing that I spilled wine on mine and that I had a book to write, dammit! One Tribe member, Katie, organized it all. After the yoga class I taught, where they had decorated the room with balloons and banners, they presented me with a gift card for $1600 to the Apple store. It was no secret I wanted a MacBook Air (which I am writing this post on now). They signed it “Love your Bali, Italy, and Ojai Tribes.” They had such faith in my book that they bought me a new computer. (I kept hearing myself beg, “Please, read my poem. Please, can I read you what I wrote?” as I held the gift card in my shaking hand.)
I have never had a surprise party. I have never had thirty-five people conspire like this for me. As they presented me with the card, they were taking a video of it. I had an out of body experience. I felt myself disconnect and float away and go numb because I couldn’t be with the experience. How can this be for me? I wanted the video to go away. I wasn’t responding the way I should. I couldn’t feel anything. Where am I? I kept asking myself to get grounded and tethered to something real like geography. I floated away and watched from high above. From inside the lights, I watched all of the people celebrating me (after all, the theme of class was “Celebrate Yourself”), and I saw my past and all the events of my life also there in the room, and they were mixed in with the wine drinkers and the cheese and the yoga mats and the people who were alive. The past was whispering in my ear that I should accept the gift, so I slipped back into my body, and I am not sure what I said, but there is video. I was awkward and unsure of where I was in time and space. Where am I?
I am not sure if you can see the ghosts in the video, but they were there, and they apologized for not listening before and not reading my poems and for all the rest, but then they told me that it was high time I buck up and face the present (that’s how they spoke!) and accept who I am now.
In her early journals, Sylvia Plath wrote: “I love people. Everybody. I love them, I think, as a stamp collector loves his collection. Every story, every incident, every bit of conversation is raw material for me. My love’s not impersonal yet not wholly subjective either. I would like to be everyone, a cripple, a dying man, a whore, and then to come back to write about my thoughts, my emotions, as that person. But I am not omniscient. I have to live my life, and it is the only one I’ll ever have. And you cannot regard your own life with objective curiosity all the time…”
I underlined that passage ten years ago when I got the book (as a gift from my mother who has always known who I was in the world), and I haven’t picked up the book since. I keep looking at that passage, the only one I underlined.
Maybe that’s why she killed herself in the end? She couldn’t reconcile how to live as both the one who leaves and the one who gets left. You cannot be everyone, as she wrote. But what I can do is be myself, in all my layers and mess and effed-upness and glory and failures and successes and cups of coffee and wine spills, and I can write about my thoughts, my emotions, as that person. That person is I. Not the dying man or the cripple or the whore. But maybe the dying man or the cripple or the whore is in my audience somewhere, and maybe, just maybe, there is something in me that is also in them, and maybe they will go to bed a little less afraid, or maybe they will press their hand up against a window and hold it there in hopes that something will have shifted by the time they take it off the cold glass.
Jennifer Pastiloff was recently featured on Good Morning America. She is a yoga teacher, writer, and advocate for children with special needs based in L.A. She is also the creator of Manifestation Yoga® and leads retreats and workshops all over the world. Jennifer is currently writing a book and has a popular daily blog called Manifestation Station. Find her on Facebook and Twitter and take one of her yoga classes online at Yogis Anonymous.
Jen will be leading a Manifestation Yoga® weekend retreat at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in the Berkshires, Massachusetts Feb 1-3, 2013.
*Image courtesy of SimpleReminders.com