A Conversation with Jason Cochran

I had a great time reconnecting with an old friend from college, Jason Cochran, whose book Here Lies America just dropped last week. Jason is a well-reputed travel writer whose love for history inspired him to trek across the U.S. to destinations where horrible tragedies have taken place. Whilst you may think that a dark and heavy topic, Jason's wry sense of humor and quick wit carry you on a fascinating journey through time—think Bill Bryson, but edgier! He weaves in the unraveling of his own family history along the way, too.

Jason Cochran has been a travel authority and consumer expert for 20 years, starting in 1998 when, on a two-year round-the-world backpacking trip, he created one of the first regular travel blogs. He is currently Editor-in-Chief of Frommers.com and co-host with Pauline Frommer of the weekly Travel Show on WABC, broadcast out of New York City.

What would happen if you took a long road trip–but only visited the tourism attractions that opened because something really horrible had happened? In his new book Here Lies America, Jason Cochran romps through American disaster zones, battlefields, Confederate memorials, and terrorist attack sites. Along the way, he takes a look at why these places matter, why some really don’t, and what motivated the people who built the monuments. And when he pauses to seek the meaning behind the early demise of one of his own ancestors, he uncovers a tragic race-based murder plot that had been buried for a century.


KARIN GUTMAN: Where did you get the idea for this book?

JASON COCHRAN: I'm a travel writer—I have been basically about 20 years. I was working at Entertainment Weekly and burned out on that. I went backpacking around the world for two years, and when I came back, I thought, “Okay I'm a journalist, but what kind?” Well, I became a travel writer. Arthur Frommer hired me. It became my job to go to places and then come back and tell other people how to repeat the tourist experience for the best value. My type of travel writing was never about the machismo of conquering the mountain or the adrenaline rush of jumping out of the airplane. I'm not a consumeristic traveler.

I realized pretty quickly after I started, that many of my fellow travel writers always had one aspect of travel they looked into the most—the folks always writing about food when they travel, or spas when they travel. I found myself most interested in history. I realized that I was less interested in the aspect of the active travel I did, but in the discovery of past worlds wherever I went.

I realized I was a historic person, but you need to travel to cover history because it didn't happen where you're sitting, most of it. In a way, being interested in history is like travel, it's just traveling backward through time. You still have to put yourself in a different mindset to go back to a generation that's not like yours and to try to see things the way they did, just the way you try to go to other countries and then figure out how to fit in. It's almost the same in a lot of ways mentally.

I thought it'd be fun, in a dark way, to go to all the historic sites in America—the battlefields and graveyards that tourists go to—and observe the ridiculousness of what we're doing. I imagined this would be a book of descriptions of fat kids eating ice cream cones on Arlington graves, and inappropriate souvenirs and that kind of thing. But very quickly when I began researching this, when I started in Georgia, I realized that wasn't the story.

KARIN: What happened in Georgia?

JASON: This was in Andersonville, which was an old Civil War concentration camp run by the Confederates near Americus. It's not too far from where Jimmy Carter was born and raised, and still lives. I was in Americus that night at a really old hotel from the 1800s. It was quiet and there was a young kid running the desk. He was asking what I was doing in town. I said, "I have this idea for a book, but I had a hard time today. There wasn't much." He said, "Did you notice the monuments?" I said, "How they're all clustered in one corner?" He said, "No, did you notice how Maryland's is huge, and the other states are much smaller? They didn't lose nearly as many people as the other states did."

I said, "Oh, that's interesting." Then we started to talk about the hotel, and he said, "This was built basically to house people who wanted to come to Americus to go see the concentration camp remains from the 1890s in the beginning of the century." I thought, that's interesting too because there was barely anyone there when I was there. I went back to Andersonville the next day and I looked at the monuments, and sure enough they were very disparate. I noticed, though, that the years on all of them were either at the very tail end of the 1800s or mostly in the early 1900s, which is 50 years after the Civil War.

That was the beginning of me realizing that this is really about the historic sites and who shaped them, and what they wanted you to believe when they did it.

In Georgia, also that same trip, I went up to Atlanta where I have ancestors. I'm from Atlanta originally. My people go back to the 1700s in Georgia. My great-great grandfather reputedly was buried in one of the most famous graveyards in Atlanta, one that attracts tourists. I found him in the graveyard and learned he wasn't very old when he had died. I realized that if I'm going to be fair about this whole thing, I have to look into my own family tragedy while I'm talking about all these other people's tragedies.

The book takes twin paths. While I'm going to all these various sites across the country, and I do from Hawaii to Florida, to everywhere in between, I'm also trying to figure out what happened to the person buried there in Oakland Cemetery. It was my great-great grandfather, and very quickly I find out he was a train engineer who died in a wreck. That much I knew. But when I went up to South Carolina to do a bit of research in the libraries up there--South Carolina is where the accident happened--I found out something that my family had never talked about which is yes, he died in the train wreck but it was sabotaged, and two African American teens were held for his murder and tried for it.

No one in my family had never known this. We had just known about the death. No one ever talked about this murder thing. So the book becomes an exploration of my own family's path and some questioning of how we got to where we are, and why this story fell out of the story, and finding out what other things fell out of the stories at these other sites as well.

KARIN: I love the concept. It sounds like you discovered the personal aspect of the book organically…

JASON: It happened purely by accident. I think even for the first month or so, I wasn't quite connecting the two. I was like, "Oh, I can research my family while I'm out and about." But when I found the clips on microfiche at a local library, that these young men had been held and arraigned for murder, I was furious. I was really pissed off that no one in my family had told me this.

This family that allegedly venerated our ancestor never happened to mention maybe the most salient part of the story of his death. I started to connect my anger with what I was discovering about these sites, how these major aspects of American history had been bent and twisted so they would be more pleasing mythology.

KARIN: Did you ever find out why the boys killed him?

JASON: It's part of the climax of the book, when you finally find out what their story was. There are still some questions. I don't want to give it away obviously, but you do find out the result of the trial.

KARIN: The book sounds more like a narrative than it does a travel guide…

JASON: Right, it's definitely not a guide. There are no websites, phone numbers, opening hours, or admission prices.

There's a rough narrative. As you move along, as I structure it, the uses of these sites become more tactical by political groups, people who want to venerate people or venerate themselves until we get to present day, which I think it's too early for us to really have a clear picture of why we tell our stories the way we tell our stories now. We need for someone else to look at us through the distance of time. But I do talk about what I'm seeing us do that other generations didn't do when they re-told their stories and how they theatrically presented their own worst moments of mortality.

It's not a gruesome book. I tried to keep it very light. I have a sort of self-effacing, wry voice, I'm told. I'm told that I sound like a guy named Bill Bryson, who's an American writer who works in England. I have my very strong feelings about what all this means to the mythology of my country, but it's not a political book.

KARIN: What does your writing practice look like? Do you dedicate a certain period of time to writing every day? Or does it depend on the ebbs and flows on what you're working on?

JASON: I have to fit my writing in alongside my full-time job. My full-time job is also writing, which can be difficult because if you spend all day writing, you don't necessarily want to spend another five hours in front of your computer at night writing. I try to balance that. It's very much when either inspiration or guilt hits me hard enough that I get in front of the monitor. I'm very much one of these writers who has required periods of gestation. That's what Stephen Sondheim called it. He gets the information he needs, he gets the character in the situation, and then he goes away to think about it, and then he comes back and somewhere there it is. That's what I need. I need to not think about it for a while.

For me, sitting in front of a computer for three set hours every single day is not always the best course for me, because I've written a lot of useless things that way, that I've just had to do over again. I mean, I always do it over again anyway, but I find that I'm much better if I walk away from the thing and then I just reach an emotional point where I just have to get back there and get it down.

KARIN: Tell us about your full-time job with Frommer’s… Are you going to an office?

JASON: As far as my work for Frommer's goes, I run the website editorially. I do the assigning and the editing of everyone else. I write two of their books every single year, so my springs are shot because I go to London for a month and a half or two months, and I also do Orlando. I'm there for less than that. Every single spring and early summer I write those books so they're out in December.

KARIN: I see, so you're basically updating your book every year.

JASON: Right, it's all mine. No one else works on it, so everything in it is my keystroke and I can decide what to change every single year. But it's an evolving thing every year because the world evolves.

The nice thing about Frommer's is they've changed as well with publishing. They don't have a bricks and mortar. It's a piece of overhead they don't need, especially with a travel company, with so many people always on the road. Each of us works independently, but of course with computers and everything, we're always “getting together.” I've always been at home, which is terrific. I don't work on my book during the day. I don't take time away from my day job, because I find it too hard to shift gears. The book thing is one set of muscles and one set of emotions, and the day job is much more technical and it's just an old skill. I try not to mix those. I just write at night or on weekends with my book.

I do, interestingly, tend to work in different spots. I work at my standup desk for my book writing, and I go anywhere else basically for work.

When it came to editing my book, I did most all of that out of the house. I worked a lot on this book at Mousso & Frank at the bar. I was the guy at the end of the bar with a stack of papers. I did it at Disneyland, too, believe it or not. There's a bar in the Lagoon at California Adventure, and I would bring my stacks of papers, and edit and cut. Both places had the same question, "Are you a teacher?"

KARIN: Grading papers?

JASON: Yep, that's what they thought. I told them, "No, I'm writing a book."

KARIN: You graduated from Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism, trained as a journalist. I'm curious what your experience has been as a journalist? Obviously, publishing is changing, but journalism is changing too.

JASON: My Medill training in a way did form this book, in that at Medill, you're always told to find primary sources, not secondhand sources for any historic or current fact that you have. I think my always asking that question, trying to find, “Has this been filtered before it got to me?” helped me interpret a lot of these sites I was going to, because I was always looking for the most essential, most basic, most primary truth. I think it has likely informed my entire world view. It's being very critical with my thinking.

Also, there's a joke... My last line in the whole in the afterward is, “This book was made without Wikipedia,” because I very much wanted to find either primary sources or a newspaper account, something that goes back to the source of things rather than from an interpretation of the source of things.

Ever since the day the Huffington Post was big, far too many journalists do what I used to call “clip jobs.” They just collect all this information from all these different places they've found, and they present what they think the story is, or what they interpreted the story to be. I think that a lot of these journalists and outfits today like BuzzFeed, and most of their departments, encourage that kind of behavior because they set minimum posts you have to do every day, minimum clicks you need to get to get paid. When you start thinking that way, obviously you're starting to skew things in order to pay for yourself and speed things up as well.

KARIN: Do you feel like being a journalist today is a viable path, given that there is more “clip job” reporting and less on-the-ground reporting?

JASON: I'm not sure if it's an entirely viable path. There are very few places that I would say still honor wholeheartedly that kind of quality. You're more likely, especially if you're a millennial, to wind up at one of these post mill places where really they're hiring you for your judgment rather than your journalistic ability which are not the same thing.

Now I have to go back and think, was it ever viable? I think in the 1800s almost every journalist was a yellow one, and to sell papers, that was always the name of the game. In a way, we just had an anomalous heyday of lawyer-like standards for journalists, which maybe was never realistic given greed, and corruption, and economic pressures of the world. Maybe we just had a luxury of trying to be as unbiased as possible, because economic circumstances favored us briefly. I also think there's no such things as journalism without bias. I think it doesn't exist.

For example, if you choose to cover a story you already have exhibited a bias by choosing that and not the other thing. I go into it in my book. I ask the question, “Why do we go to all these historic sites?” When all these are forgotten, and maybe more people were killed at those.” So there's a bias to why we record certain things. There's a bias in journalism—do you give it the first story or the third story, the front page or the 10th page? That's a bias. How long is the story? So it's impossible to have journalism without bias. My book, it's very much saying… ultimately, it's impossible to have history without bias. There's no such thing as a fact in history. Physics has facts. Particle physics, the way things move—laws, rules. There are no hard and fast facts on how you interpret how something went down. It's always a bias.

KARIN: Right, even if you have first person testimonials…

JASON: Yes, that's part of it. Even the sources might be wrong, or skewed. Secondly, there's so much that went unrecorded that you may not even know about, because that's history—things just don't get recorded and they don’t get down to you. You can get four dots of the picture and expect to come up with something much more complex out of those four dots; and it's ridiculous, because you're never going to know the truth.

Ultimately, that's what I realized about my own personal experience with my family in the book. I'm never going to know the truth. The truth, as I imagine it might be, isn't very pleasant. But I'm never going to know really what happened. I go to Stone Mountain in Georgia, which was the KKK ritual spot. My great-great grandfather’s son became a photographer for the newspaper. On the side, he would shoot KKK meetings for them. The debate is, was he or wasn't he? We'll never know. That's not the kind of thing people write down.

KARIN: I know you had to travel quite a bit to write this book, right?

JASON: Yeah, I went to more than 70 places.

KARIN: What’s the secret to carving out time for your passion project—the thing that you want to do, the thing that wants to be birthed—while maintaining your job and life?

JASON: My circumstance is that I am a travel writer. I happen to have very generous bosses, who will let me go places. We don't have a bricks and mortar. They don't expect me to be there all the time. So if I'm working one day from South Dakota, they're okay with it. I would tag it on to other trips I was taking, for work often, so I slipped things in when I could. Sometimes it's vacation time, sometimes it was business trips, sometimes it was working while I was traveling.

Which is one of the reasons it took years, because I had so many places to get to. I went to a lot more places that I had to cut from the book too, maybe another 40%, because the lessons I was learning at the places were repeated things that I had already learned at other places that I had decided to include.

KARIN: How long did you work on it?

JASON: About eight or nine years, off and on. A lot of off, but with the on, it was pretty intense.

KARIN: How do you feel, now that it’s out in the world?

JASON: I'm very proud to have it in my hands, and kind of never thought it would even happen because there were so many setbacks and roadblocks. Structurally, it was difficult to arrive at what we finally arrived at. I feel proud and grateful. I have yet to hear much feedback from people, because it's just out.

I have an uncle in his 90s that's an old school Southerner, who loved it, but says that there are some people who are going to get really mad at me because of some of the things I say about the South. “So, be careful.” Yeah, that's fine. You know, I've always been a little bit marginal. This book is about disillusionment, especially when it comes to my nationality in a lot of ways. I'm sort of prepared to be further disillusioned by the reception of it. When I wrote this, I really only cared about it being read and respected by people I respect and like. I'm not doing it for fame or fortune. I want like minds to dig it.

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A Conversation with Bill Eshelman

This month I have the great pleasure of featuring my uncle, Bill Eshelman - a retired General of the Marines, whose memoir Letters to Pat just hit the shelves! It captures his time serving in the Vietnam War using the letters he wrote to his wife Pat over the course of that year, 1967-68, as the foundation of his narrative. Originally, he says, it was just meant to be for friends and family, but then with some prompting, he reached out to a publisher who believed his personal testimonial has a broader appeal and audience. I feel so proud of him for committing his experience to the page and am honored to share his story with you!

Bill Eshelman graduated from the US Naval Academy and served 35 years as a Marine, retiring as a Major General in 1994. His career covered many different command and staff positions, but it was during his time as a military advisor to a South Vietnamese infantry battalion in combat that he recorded his actions and thoughts on an almost daily basis in letters written to his wife.

Letters to Pat chronicles the day by day events of Bill Eshelman, a young Marine Captain writing home to his wife. Hoping to command a U.S. infantry company in combat, Eshelman is instead ordered to advisory duty with a Vietnamese Marine battalion. The ensuing months present new challenges: dealing with US headquarters, the Vietnamese way of doing things and contact with the enemy. The letters plus notes from his combat journal form the basis of his book written 50 years after his 1967-68 experience.


Karin Gutman: I never imagined interviewing you for a book!

Bill Eshelman: I've never imagined you interviewing me either.

Karin: Did you ever imagine writing a book?

Bill: No. This is the only book I've ever written. The way it started was, after the war was over and I was back in the States—so we're into the '70s now—then until now, whenever the subject of Vietnam came up people would say after we talked for a bit, "Why don't you write a book about that?" I had never thought very much about it, but I kept getting those questions, even from my kids. But more so from my friends and in particular a couple of my Marine friends that I had served with said, "You need to capture what the Vietnamese Marines did over there. Hardly anybody writes about the Vietnamese Marines. It's all about the U.S. Marines."

I'd think about it and say, "Well I don't even know where to start for that." And then I think it was December 2017, Christmas, I was at [my daughter] Cathy's home in Colorado, and for some reason, the subject of writing a book came up again. And she said, "You need to do this for the family." She pulled out this box of letters… they were the letters that I had written to [my wife] Pat. Pat had saved all of them.

Karin: Wow.

Bill: I was aware of the box, but I'd never looked at it or opened it over all these years. I didn't know she had saved all those letters. I opened up the box and looked at a couple which I hadn't seen in almost 50 years, or even thought about, and I got to thinking, “It's been 50 years since I was there. Maybe it's time.”

Cathy said, “Take these letters with you and see what you can do.” I brought them back here to Pensacola and spent all of 2018 a week at a time going through those letters day by day and then pulling out of the letters what I thought was relevant about the war and my thoughts on it. And then I located my combat journal that I had kept the year that I was over there, '67, '68. And I added addendums to each of the letters when I thought it would help, based on more detail that I didn't write home to Pat about but was in my combat journal.

The more I got into that, the more I thought, “You know I need to finish this.” And so I took the whole year, and I finished it in December 2018.

Then I went back and added my thoughts, now that the war was over and all these years have gone by. We know so much more now about the war than any of us ever did when we were over there. Back then we only knew what was being told to us or what we were experiencing firsthand. There was no television and we had no access to the news every night. We were just living life an hour at a time at some points.

I wrote an epilogue at the end trying to pull together all the thoughts that I had had from those letters in the way I was thinking back then and what I know and think now. That's how I end the book.

Then I told the kids that I've put this thing together and asked, “Do you want me to run some copies off for you?” I think it was Cathy in particular who said, “No. You need to publish this thing.” I said, “I don't even know what that means.”

So I started asking around. It turns out my next-door neighbor here in the condo had done some work in that area, and she recommended two or three publishers to me. I picked out one that had a reputation for publishing a lot of military kinds of books in Virginia Beach. So I got hold of them, and I said, “I'd like to send this to you. See if you're interested. I just wrote it for my family and friends and they came back and said, 'We think it's got a wider appeal.'” And that's how it started.

Karin: How many letters were in that box?

Bill: That's a great question. I should've counted. Sometimes I would be writing a letter every day for a week or two. And then other times, it was impossible for me to write because we were on the move or in a battle, or it was raining; we were in the muck. That whole year I was on the move—or my outfit was on the move—so it wasn't like we went back to the same place every day. Lots of times the place I went back to was a hammock I hung between two trees out in the jungle or things of that nature.

So sometimes it would be as long as a week between letters. But for the most part, it was almost every day, so what 365 days? I probably have 150-200 letters.

Karin: That's amazing. So you were deployed for 12 months?

Bill: It was a 12-month tour, October '67 to October '68.

Karin: Did you know at the time that it would be for a year?

Bill: Yes, I had already been overseas for a year in Japan before Vietnam started. In fact, the reason I didn't get over to Vietnam until 1967 is I had just come back in 1964 from a year by myself in Japan.

And of course, the war really kicked off in '65. So they gave me a couple of years to get to see my family again before they sent me over to Vietnam.

Karin: And the letters you include were specifically the ones you wrote to Pat?

Bill: Yes, but I did write letters to my mom and dad and other people occasionally. But I don't have any of those. I only used the letters to Pat. And they were the most important because I was trying my best to write to her about what I was feeling, what I was going through so she could sort of live it through with me. She was home with three small kids reading the newspaper and listening to the news every night. And I can't even imagine how scary that must've been for her because it was taking one to three weeks for our letters to go home and come back.

There were no iPhones, no computers, none of that stuff. It was just snail mail. And sometimes, I was in a situation over there where I couldn't figure out even how to get a letter somewhere where it could be mailed. So I'd wait 'til a helicopter came in for whatever, hand it to the pilot and say, “Would you take this letter back and get it mailed for me?”

Karin: Could you actually read them after all these years? I mean, the writing hadn’t faded?

Bill: All the letters are readable, even those that got wet before I could mail them! They were written in ballpoint.

Karin: On a legal pad?

Bill: All kinds of stationery. I would try to keep some in a little plastic bag with me so they wouldn't get wet, a pad of stationery with some airmail envelopes. But there are all kinds of envelopes in the stack of letters. It's whatever I could find.

Karin: I'm curious to learn more about this combat journal…

Bill: It was a requirement. I had to make reports after every battle and every time period that had been established. I had to report back the numbers: how many wounded, how many killed, where we were, what the objective was. We who were officers or in charge of anything had to submit these back to the higher headquarters and that's how they reported the war overall.

One of my big gripes, and it's in my book, is that an awful lot of that was inflated as it went up to higher headquarters. And it was just a real problem for the outcome of the war.

Karin: What was inflated?

Bill: The numbers, especially the numbers of the bad guys. I'd go through a battle and knew what had happened because I was there. We counted the people that were killed and wounded on both sides, and counted all the weapons that were captured. And these numbers were reported up the chain of command.

In some cases, I even had a little camera in a plastic bag with me sometimes so that I could take pictures. And then Pat would send me a newspaper clipping which I'd get two or three weeks later from the Washington Post, and I'd read about the battle. Well, it was hard to tell that was the same battle that I had been in because the enemy numbers had all been inflated to make us look good—make us, the U.S. look good.

So early on as a young guy over there, I knew there was a little bit of a problem here. We weren't being really honest in terms of our reports.

Karin: How did you shape the letters into the form of a narrative that would work for a book?

Bill: Well, I added in the letters to Pat a lot of my own emotion that I was feeling as these different things were happening from day to day and from battle to battle. Somebody else came up with this phrase, but I use it because it's very descriptive… that that year over there in Vietnam, or in any combat zone I guess, for me and I think for most people if they're honest, could be described as days and weeks of sheer boredom interrupted by a few moments of stark terror.

That’s the way I wrote the letters back to Pat. When things would go crazy, I wouldn't write for a while because it'd take me a while to get my act together. And then I'd just give her the outline of the stark terror part. But all the details would be in my combat journal.

If I had time just to sit there all afternoon and think about it, I'd have a lot of personal stuff in there. If I didn't, I just wrote her, “Boom boom. Here's what's happening right now. I got to go. We're taking off again.” Stick it in an envelope and hand it to a helicopter.

1968, Tet, Saigon

1968, Tet, Saigon

1967, Bong Son

1967, Bong Son

1967, Bong Son

1967, Bong Son

Karin: So once you had a draft of the manuscript, did you share it with anyone before going to any of these publishers?

Bill: Oh yes. As I wrote the first few months, I would send chapters to the kids and ask them if they have time to look it over and see if they had any comments or, “Am I going in the right direction for something the family might want to hold onto?”

I got pretty good feedback from the kids. I did it with a few of my friends around here too that I've known for almost 20 years. And I even shared it with a couple of folks back in Arkansas that I had stayed in touch with, that I had grown up with since first grade. So I had a pretty wide audience to bounce this off of including some of my Marine friends that I had served with at various places. But I never shared the whole book, just the chapters as I was writing.

Then my next-door neighbor who recommended the publishers to me, since she had had some experience in the editing and publishing business, said, “When you finish with what you've got there, if you'd like, I'll be happy to look it over and give you some thoughts on it.”

So around Christmastime last year, I handed a whole manuscript to her, and I said, “Here it is in the rough.” She took a couple of weeks or so, brought it back and pretty well liked what I had written. She just suggested that I might want to say this or that slightly differently and that was about it. But it was a great page by page edit.

Even when I sent it to the publisher and they put their editor on it, all he really did was change around a few sentences.

Karin: How was the experience of writing it for you?

Bill: It was emotional. As I said, I took a year to write this book week by week. And sometimes I'd read a letter, and I'd have to think a day or two before I could actually write it down and add to it from the combat journal. It wasn't something that flowed. I had to take myself back 50 years to make that thing work.

When I left Vietnam, we went to Thailand for two years, so I was away from the U.S. for almost three years. My orders were from Saigon to Bangkok, Thailand. So essentially I hitchhiked home back to Virginia. Pat had already sold the house, sold the car, sold the boat. And three days, later, we were all heading back cross-country and across the Pacific. And then I didn't return to the U.S. 'til the end of 1970.

As a result I wasn't exposed to everything that was happening back in the States. I missed the RFK assassination, Martin Luther King Jr., all of the anti-war rioting. I'd read about it in the papers, and you'd hear people talking about it from time to time, but I was wrapped up in my job. And none of any of that hit me full face until I got home the end of 1970.

We moved back to the Washington area, and wow, it was almost like I arrived in a different country. The attitude, everything had changed.

Karin: In what way?

Bill: ANTI-VIETNAM in capital letters. I was starting to get a feel for that while I was still in Vietnam a little bit, but nothing like in 1970 when we went back home again. So all that was sort of a turn-off for me; we didn't talk about Vietnam, especially with our civilian friends.

I remember a cocktail party at a friend's home in about 1971, I guess, a few months after we had been back. I'd known a couple of these guys since high school days; they were both married with families now. But we hadn't seen each other since high school up in the Maryland area.

One of the wives that I'd never known started to engage me in talking about Vietnam and I started to tell her a little bit. I mean, I just responded honestly. And she said, “You're a liar,” and it stopped the whole party. She said, “You're lying. You don't know what you're talking about.” Now I'm thinking, “She doesn't think I know what I'm talking about? I was there.” So I just let it go. But that's an example of what I came back to.

Karin: What were you talking about?

Bill: I told her that I had lived with the Vietnamese for almost a year. I said there's some good points, nobody's perfect. I can't remember the exact words. But it didn't include the kind of things, I guess, that were on the six o'clock news back thenthat I was starting to hear since I'd gotten back. So those kinds of things did not give me any reason to think about writing a book.

Karin: So did you repress and bury the experience?

Bill: Those words may be a little strong. But it was that thought. “Yeah, I've got other things I need to concentrate on. If I'm going to stay in the Marine Corps, I need to concentrate on my job. And I don't need to let this bother me, that kind of thing.”

But I always kept getting comments every so many years from different people, “You ought to write a book about that,” whenever we started talking about Vietnam.

Karin: So when you decided to spend that year revisiting all of these memories and experiences, you say it was emotional. I can only imagine. Did you apply any self-care practices through the process?

Bill: I did. Sometimes I just had to put the letter down and wait a couple of days before I could finish that chapter. Yes, especially when I'd read the letter, then I'd read my combat journal, and get into the casualties and talk about some of the really bad stuff. It was better for me to wait a day or two and let it filter through rather than react to it immediately. And I found out it was much easier to write that way if I didn't rush it.

I didn't have any deadlines. I was just thinking about halfway through, “This thing is going sort of month by month just like I lived it 50 years ago. If this keeps up, I'll probably finish the book the end of this year.” And sure enough, that's the way it happened.

Karin: Did you at any point feel like, “Oh I don't want to keep doing this. This is just dredging up too much… too many memories, too many emotions.”

Bill: Just the opposite, Karin. The more I got into it, the more I felt like I've got to finish this. I need to do this for the kids and for my family. And I was not thinking of anything beyond family and friends.

Karin: And how about writing it for yourself?

Bill: I think it was always about my family and friends. I don't think I needed to re-live it again. It was pretty hard sometimes. But I did need to do it to finish the book for the family.

Karin: Where are you now, on the other side of it? Was the process of writing transformative for you?

Bill: How could it not be? I just can't tell you how much. In church, first week of September, the pastor has asked me to stand up at a Wednesday night dinner where they feature different folks to talk about their lives. And they want me to talk about this. And I wouldn't have done that a couple years ago, but I don't have a problem now doing it.

One of the reviews from a good friend of mine, a Marine friend of mine—he's retired—said something like this as he reviewed the book, “You said all the things that we were thinking about but never said ourselves.” And that really made me feel good.

Karin: That's got to be the greatest compliment.

Bill: I thought it was.

Karin: Now that your book is being shared with the world, what are you hoping the takeaway or message is?

Bill: Well, I guess I haven't thought about that very deeply, but off the top of my head, I'd like for families to understand what their loved ones are going through on a day-by-day basis when they're thrown into a situation like I was in, into a combat zone, which is still happening today as you know.

And the second thing I'd like for people to understand is the relationship with the third world country like Vietnam, and like so many other countries now that we're involved with. I'd like them to understand down at the ground-roots level where I was living with the Vietnamese, and most of the time by myself as the only American, what the challenges are and how that can just wear you out. The Vietnamese had been in this shooting war for a long time. It was just day by day trying to exist and make things work for them.

And that's what I was trying to explain to Pat in the letters. It's exactly what I was thinking back then. As I read a letter at a time, as I put this book together, I said, “That's right on.” And a couple times, I expanded on it just to emphasize it. That's all in italics in the book whenever I added to her letters.

I don't know that this book is going to be a success or not. I think it's going to be fun for my family and friends. But in terms of publishing a book to the world, I don't know anything about that yet. It might sell 100 copies, and then that's it. But that wasn't my goal, so it doesn't matter.

If it's successful, I think that's great because I think there's a story there for young Marines to read about and for families to read about. And it's interesting for non-military folks too if they want to get a sense of what military folks are going through and what the families then would have to be aware of.

Karin: It also certainly offers some perspective on the Vietnam War. Whether you're curious about what the families in the military go through or not, it's a personal testimony which is different, and perhaps more powerful, than a history book!

Bill: Yes, you're exactly right. The history component there is valuable, I think, because I've written it from the Vietnamese side during the 68 Tet Offensive which was one of the most horrific times... that was the turning point of the war it turns out, because everybody back in the U.S. thought we'd lost the war. Of course, I didn't find out about that until much later. I thought we'd won.

What I documented to Pat and in my military journal, and in some parts it's hour by hour for a few days, is how that battle went and how we won those battles during Tet 68. So there's a historical significance to this on the Vietnamese side that I don't think has been written about before.

Karin: Incredibly valuable. From your perspective at the time, why did you think we’d won the war?

Bill: Well, I was in three major battles over there during that year. We never lost a battle. We lost a lot of people, but we inflicted more damage on the North Vietnamese than they inflicted on us. In terms of numbers, we won every battle, so I had a hard time trying to understand when I'd hear from Pat or she'd send me newspaper articles about how we were losing after the 68 Tet Offensive. But I didn't think a whole lot about it. We just kept trying to win the next fight.

Karin: But I thought you said the U.S. papers were publishing better numbers?

Bill: No, the U.S. military was doing that. Saigon, General Westmoreland, and the Military Assistance Command Vietnam were inflating the numbers of enemy casualties as they were coming in and providing them to the White House and press. And I don't know if they were reducing the numbers of our losses or not. But they were certainly inflating the numbers of the battles that we were winning, and then that was going on the six o'clock news I guess to try to make us look like we were doing better than we were.

And then in the middle of all of that, with all these inflated numbers of how we're just winning this war big-time, the Tet Offensive happened, where at end of January and first of February in 1968, the whole South Vietnam exploded because the North Vietnamese had infiltrated over time the whole country. Like our New Year's here, we went on a truce where everybody stood down during the Tet which is their New Year's, and people went home. The Vietnamese went home. Everybody just took it easy. This was supposed to be a vacation for the North and the South. And the North then pulled the rug out from underneath us and attacked the whole country all at one time and caught us by surprise. Well, the papers back home made a big deal about how we got caught with our pants down and they created among us initially a whole lot of casualties. But we reacted and we fought back. And we won back every town and every hamlet that they had taken by surprise because they cheated on us. That's when the war turned around because the news folks back home, I guess, convinced a majority of the public that we were never going to win the war after that.

Karin: Now I understand...

Bill: But see that wasn't so evident to us there at the time. We had no six o'clock news. We weren't getting newspapers. I was primarily just hearing it from Pat from time to time. There were times that she could tell where I was and what was happening by reading the Washington Post long before she ever got a letter from me.

Karin: And now that you're done with the book, do you feel like writing anymore?

Bill: No, I don't. But I didn't feel like writing before, until it happened.

Karin: This is the story that needed to be told.

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To learn more about Bill Eshelman, visit his website.

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A Conversation with Jennifer Pastiloff

Jennifer Pastiloff visited the Unlocking Your Story workshop this spring and infused us with a kind of creative energy that felt invigorating and liberating. One of my students went home that day and whipped off an essay that had been brewing inside of her. Just like that, it flowed out of her. It's amazing to witness the power of giving ourselves permission, of transcending any negative self-talk, and simply embracing the story that wants to be told.

Jen's debut memoir ON BEING HUMAN hit the shelves last month and it is already a national best-seller. She has cultivated an enormous following on Instagram and travels the world teaching her On Being Human workshops. To glean some of Jen's magic and wisdom, scroll down to read our full conversation about everything from what it means to expose yourself in your writing to identifying your “bullshit story” - the thing that's holding you back. And if you want to experience her live, there are still a couple spots open in her France retreat next May!

Jen Pastiloff travels the world with her unique workshop ”On Being Human,” a hybrid of yoga related movement, writing, sharing out loud, letting the snot fly, and the occasional dance party. In addition to founding the online magazine The Manifest-Station, Jen leads annual retreats to Italy and France and co-teaches Writing and the Body workshops with author Lidia Yuknavitch. She offers scholarships to women who have lost a child through The Aleksander Fund.

Her debut memoir On Being Human (Dutton, 2019) is the story of how a starved person grew into the exuberant woman she was meant to be all along by battling the demons within and winning. She has learned to fiercely listen despite being nearly deaf, to banish shame attached to a body mass index, and to rebuild a family after the debilitating loss of her father when she was eight. Through her journey, Jen conveys the experience most of us are missing in our lives: being heard and being told, “I got you.”


Karin Gutman: How did this book come to be? I know it carries the same name as your popular On Being Human workshops.

Jen Pastiloff: Actually the book came first. I always was a writer from the time I was ... I mean, I started writing stories at six or seven. My dad died when I was eight, and I was doing that before he died. And then when I went to NYU, I was a poet, and I had a fellowship at Bucknell University for poetry. And then, when I had one year left of college, I was about 21 years old, I basically had a nervous breakdown. My mom had moved back to California from New Jersey, so I went there to take a semester off to feel safe, and be with my mom.

I got a summer job at this trendy Hollywood restaurant, and that lasted for almost 14 years, and I never went back to school. And I just got stuck. I got stuck in this rut of feeling worthless, and waiting tables but not doing anything creative, maybe writing one poem every God knows how often. I was doing a lot of yoga, which helped with depression, and I thought I would die there. I mean, I wanted to die. I was that depressed. But I also thought that was my life. I saw no escape route, I saw no possibility. I thought I was old, which is hilarious. I was by this point in my early 30’s—that's hilarious to me now, you know? I was pretending to be an actress during those years. And by pretending, I mean I was waiting at the restaurant for someone to come discover me. That didn't happen.

So, I had all these stories about myself.

I was doing yoga, and my friend suggested I become a yoga teacher. “Why don't you do that as a way to get out of the restaurant? Start doing that.” It did not sound appealing to me. I did not want to be a yoga teacher. And then I finally went on anti-depressants, and my whole life opened up. I thought, “Maybe I will do a yoga teacher training.” Not because I wanted to be a yoga teacher, but because I saw it as a possible way out of this rut of waiting tables at the same place.

So I went to yoga teacher training, and I started teaching yoga, and I got successful really quickly, because I was good with people, not necessarily because I'm this amazing yogi. And then, I started writing again, and I started writing blogs. And then I started writing personal essays, and really just telling the truth about depression. This is ten years ago now, and I was telling the truth about depression and anti-depressants, which nobody was doing back then, especially not a yoga teacher. It was so weird. I was this anomaly.

I was like, “I don't do yoga that much, and I drink wine, and I curse, and I drink coffee.” I was telling the truth, talking about grief, and anorexia, and my hearing loss. And then I started doing that more and more, and I developed this really popular blog, The Manifest-Station. I started creating this workshop, which was at first just yoga, and then I started adding writing prompts.

As my hearing was deteriorating more and more, I started really realizing what an amazing listener I was. I was learning other ways to listen with my whole body. I started getting more creative with this workshop, so it became less and less yoga. So now it's hardly any yoga at all. And I always wanted to write this book, this memoir, and I didn't know what it would be. That was the hardest part, that's what kept me for years not writing it, because I got so stuck in the ... What is it? What is it? What is the structure?

Finally, I sold the book on proposal, but my editors really helped me, saying, “Let's form it around the workshop. Let's use that as a structure.”

Karin: How did you manage to sell if off of a proposal?

Jen: Well, let's talk business. I was an exciting person I think to buy a book from, because they look at me as someone who already has this built-in following, right? So, I think the workshop was always going to be somehow some kind of selling point, because that's where my “celebrity” comes in, and I did not want to talk about the workshops, because again, I said to myself, “I don't want it to be self-help.”

So the first draft wasn't so much about the workshops. And then my friend Emily Black helped me, because my editor at Dutton asked, “Can you weave the workshops in?” And somehow we did it. And I was so not into doing that. But I listened, and it worked, and it ended up perfect. But really, I just didn't want it to be at all like any kind of self-help, I just wanted it to be memoir, or essays, you know?

But really the book always came first. The workshops were by accident. This was always what I want to do, which is really exciting for me. The other day I was thinking about making this meme, like, “What if your dreams all came true but they look different than you thought they would, and they happen at a totally different time?”

So, two weeks ago I was in New York, sitting onstage at the Center for Fiction, sold out, standing room only, standing ovation. And I was sitting there with this big thing behind me that says, Center For Fiction. And I thought, “My God, if my 25-year-old self—who's dropped out of college, who thinks that I'm going to be waitress forever, that I'm the worst garbage pile of a person—could see me at 44.” I just made up my own timeline. I just had no way of knowing how I was going to get there. But I got here.

Karin: You sure did. How does it feel?

Jen: It feels really, really good. The book launch in LA on June 4th was the best night of my life. And then, a couple of days later I went to Portland at Powell's, and I was like, “Wow, this is the best night of my life.” And then in New York, it also did. So those were the three best, besides my son being born, but vastly different, you know? It's going amazing. I hit a wall a week in, because the bad organizer that I am, I scheduled a retreat to France and a workshop in London. My book came out the day I got back. It was the highest high of my life.

And then I crashed. I got sick; I came down in bed, like “Oh my God.” It's a national bestseller, it's doing really well. The emails I'm getting are mind-blowing. It doesn't feel real. Just all over the world, people sending me so many messages.

Karin: Is there a common thread or theme?

Jen: Yes. Almost every single one says, “I feel like you're in my head. I feel like you wrote this for me. And also, I can't stop crying.” And also, people saying, “And this is my second and third time reading it,” which is really wild.

Karin: How incredibly rewarding.

Jen: Yeah. There's something that I talk about in my workshop all the time. I call it the 1 on the 100; it's a chapter in my book. And that's if there's 100 people in a room and everyone loves you except one, who do you focus on? I'm well aware of that tendency, and so I have to keep getting myself in check. Like the other day, I must have been following the hashtag ‘On Being Human’ on Instagram. I didn't even know you could do that. And somebody took a picture of my book from the library and didn't like it, but tagged On Being Human. And so it popped up on my feed, I wasn’t seeking it out.

And it said something like, “I really wanted to love this book. Yeah, not feeling it.” I thought, “Man, I don't need to see that.” But also, it got stuck in my head all of a sudden. So, I'm keeping myself in check with that human tendency, and also to realize that none of it matters either way, really, which is why when I get that email full of praise, to be touched by it, but not make it mean too much. Except, “Oh wow, human connection. That's wonderful.” But not, “Oh, I'm great,” or “I'm really successful.”

It's dangerous, because then my whole self resides upon how other people feel about me. My worth is all about what list am I on. We already live in a world that's like that. I'm not going to contribute to that. I'm here to say, “Actually, no. It's not that way.” So I have to really keep myself in check, because I'm also a human with an ego.

Karin: And what made those three launch events the best days of your life?

Jen: Well, first of all, I've never finished anything. Well I finished having a baby. It was incredible to see my book in the window. That is wild. And you'll never have your first book again. So that was just mind-blowing. And all those people gathered there to celebrate me, and to listen, and Lidia Yuknavich, who wrote the forward in my book was on stage with me, she flew in from Portland. And she started sobbing, because she was so touched, and grateful, and loved me so much. And so that was just ... Oh God, so profound, and intense, and beautiful.

People were there that I've known since childhood, new fans, people who saw it in the LA Times, whatever. But it was just this like, “Wow, I did this thing, and it's touched people.”

And then in New York, at the Center For Fiction, I was the most nervous, I think because when I was a poet, when I was at NYU, to me New York is always the literary end all be all, and my imposter syndrome was really kicking in.

So many writers were there, huge editors, my whole team. I was on stage with my friend who won a Tony the night before, and it just felt like ... I mean, I literally was shitting my pants. But then once I started talking, it was great. I even got them to do this thing called ‘dorking it out’. We played Journey, and everyone stood up and sang—all these New Yorkers, strangers. People in the audience were weeping. It was surreal. And the fact that I didn't float away, that I just stayed in my body, which is something my book is about, and just sat with it, was so wonderful. It just felt fucking wonderful.

Karin: Given that you were intimidated by this audience, was it still easy for you to dork it out and do and what you do so well in your workshops. Were you afraid, wondering if it would fly?

Jen: Of course I was like, “Give me a whiskey.” Once I got present, then it was. And once I just connected with people. And also, I told them how nervous I was. So that's the thing that I do, I said, “You guys, this is New York, and I'm so intimidated by all of you.” I was just so honest about it. And then, once I got them to dork it out and start singing, I was like, “Nah, they're just people. This is great.” The idea of the thing is always much scarier to me than the thing. So I was psyching myself out the first two minutes, but once I started talking and was just really listening and connecting, it was perfect and easy.

Karin: What about the exposure piece for you? In terms of revealing parts of your life with a wide audience and publishing it. I'm assuming that wasn't as much of an issue for you, because you are so open and transparent in your blogging and workshops. Is that aspect inconsequential at this point?

Jen: In a way, but don't forget, when I first started doing this, I wanted to throw up in my mouth every time I hit publish, every time I wrote something vulnerable. It's less so now, yeah, because I am so open in my workshops and in my writing. But still, it's still terrifying.

The things that I chose to share aren't random or haphazard. And not that anyone does in a memoir, but I felt really good about, okay these things I'm okay with putting out in the world. And there were things that I couldn't, and so I didn't, and probably won't until certain people are dead, you know what I mean? I wouldn't say it's inconsequential. No. But I'm okay with it. I don't want to die every time I publish something anymore.

Karin: I know you co-teach a workshop called ‘Writing and the Body’ with the great Lidia Yuknavitch, author of The Chronology of Water among others. How is that the same or different than the On Being Human workshops that you do?

Jen: It is the same, except she's added to it. We really ricochet off each other and work so well together. So we do mine in the morning, and then we have lunch, and then we do hers. With hers, there's no body movement, she gives prompts, and it's just writing; whereas mine uses the body and then I have you stop, drop and write. We both know our bodies carry our stories.

I actually use body movement, whereas Lidia just has a way of tapping in with her generosity as a teacher, with the wacky-ass way she looks at the world. So she will give prompts, things that are just so out of the box, that are really dipping into the imagination, and breaking rules. But it helps when we do my stuff first. The reason I use the body is because what I discovered is, the more that we are connected to being in our body, the less cerebral we are, the less armored we are. And so your walls are down a bit more, you're not as guarded. You're more willing to be vulnerable. One of Lidia's questions she asks all the time is, “And what's underneath of that? And what's underneath of that?” And it's a lot easier to get there I think when you're fatigued, or you're more connected to being in your body.

In France, I did a poetry workshop, and it was so incredible because none of these people considered themselves “poets,” and some of the poetry that came out of it was just astounding. It's cool because a lot of people who have labeled themselves as not a real writer, or perhaps they don't want to write for any endgame, being published, but they still want to write or create art.

Karin: That comes up so often in my workshops, when people say, “I'm not a real writer.”

Jen: It’s so insidious. I talk in the book about bullshit stories, and my big bullshit story was, “I'm not a real writer.” And so, now I'm holding up a book by a big publishing house, so can I say that anymore? But what I said on a podcast last week was, I was always a real writer. Unfortunately, it took me having a book to realize the fallacy of that. I don't know how to type. I type with two fingers, that's one reason that I'm not a real writer. I don't have a college degree. I don't have an MFA…

Another thing I talk about in the book is the ‘Just A Box’, like, “I'm just a yoga teacher.” “I'm just a mom.” “I'm just a memoirist.” So when I started doing all this work and started becoming successful with these workshops, it was so tricky for me, because everyone was like, “Yeah, Jen's this yoga person.” When in reality, I never wanted to be a yoga teacher. It's just hilarious. So I got labeled. And now, I swear, I could give a shit how you think of me. That's your business.

Karin: How did you let go of that?

Jen: I really started listening to the people that I was affecting, and it had nothing to do with putting a label on me. I started thinking, “Oh, you know it's about human connection. It doesn't matter.” Somebody sent me a stupid review—the person wrote, “This is not a literary memoir.” Well first of all, I beg to differ. But also, I never said it was. Nowhere is it marketed that way.

Another way I let that go too—and this is stuff I learned just from putting a book out there and going through the process—at the end of the day you want to sell books. So after I wrote the book, I said, “It doesn't matter to me what you call it. Just get it and read it.”

Also, I really work on being congruent as best as I can, meaning, if this is what I'm teaching in the world, then I have to do whatever I can to really walk the talk and believe that. I have to, otherwise I'm just full of shit.

One of the ways I healed from an eating disorder was… when I was teaching yoga and I started doing these workshops, all these people were coming to me, because I was writing about it as if I was healed, and I was not starving myself anymore, but the mental stuff was still there. I thought, “Oh, I'm just an asshole, because I'm still hating myself, and doing all this bullshit.” And I realized, “If I want to be who I say I am…” which is why this mantra, “May I have the courage to be who I say I am,” is my most important. Because everything I teach, and I say, and I write, I believe, at least in that moment. And a great epiphany of my life is, you get to change your mind. So I look back at things I wrote ten years ago, and I've changed my mind. So that's okay too.

Karin: How do you manage being a mom while writing a book and traveling around doing your workshops?

Jen: That's the hilarious part. I'm in a one-bedroom, we co-sleep. We share a bed, my husband, my son and myself in a fucking one-bedroom. I'm happy, and I'm blessed, and I'm content. Do I wish we had another bedroom? Yes. So it's hard, you know? When he was still breastfeeding, I brought him everywhere. Before he was one, he had 20-something flights, literally.

So I bring him as much as I can. Next week I have a reading in Denver, and I'm bringing him for a couple days; in Massachusetts, D.C. and North Carolina in July. But when I do the retreats to Europe, I can't bring him, because I pay a shit ton of money for his school, and because it's so much money to fly; it's also harder to do my work when I also have to be a mom. And so, I have a couple moments of guilt, but then I really do think, how cool, that my son came to my launches in LA and Portland. He won't remember most likely, but that'll be in him somewhere.

How cool that he gets to see his mom out there doing stuff, living, and her whole identity isn't a mom. I think that is so important, and it really makes me proud. I had a kid older. I was 41 when he was born, so I do think I'm wiser. Do I wish I was younger when I had a child for reasons just like it would be easier and I wouldn't be as tired? Yes. But I like myself so much better, and I feel like I have insight, having him at 41 that I would not have had at 31.

Karin: I recently watched your Love Forward Talk and I really appreciated you talking about the power of being witnessed and bearing witness to others’ stories.

Jen: I always talk about that.

Karin: And yet it’s often such a foreign idea to people, this idea of ‘holding space’.

Jen: This is why I'm successful, this is why my workshop works, exactly because of what you said, because it is so powerful. So, I don't do any magic tricks or anything, I just provide the space where people are able to really feel seen and heard. And it is so rare, and magical, and disarming, and amazing that people want more of it. I think because most of us walk around with so much armor on, and we're so afraid that someone won't like us if they know the real us, so we have just gotten used to not being fully ourselves.

And so, when we sit and just listen to someone without an agenda, like, “I'm not trying to fix you, I'm just here.” Which I really think, especially for grief, is what people need. It's the most powerful thing ever, because there's nothing for the other person to do. Oftentimes when someone—especially with grief—tries to placate you, or make you feel better, then you have to end up making them feel better. Like, “Oh no, it's okay.” The way we live in the world, we're not used to letting ourselves be seen because we're so afraid of being judged. We're all so addicted to being busy that we don't stop and just listen.

We don't realize how powerful silence is, that it's like, “Oh, you just listening is so huge.” Everything is about being busy, and as long as I'm making noise, or bullshit. I mean, being heard is everything. And the irony of me, I am deaf without my hearing aids, is beautiful. My favorite words are, “It's going to be okay.” And so to me, when someone is listening, or seeing you, however you want to phrase it, that's what it feels like.

I think most of us are afraid. We're afraid to really take our armor off, and then when we do, that the person won't stay because they won't like us or they'll turn away or whatever. And so when someone just sits there with us, and they don't vomit because they think we're a disgusting person, because that's what we've been telling ourselves, it's so powerful.

Isn't it amazing, the most simple thing is the most powerful, and it is so rare. And that's just to be seen and heard.

Karin: What do you think the key is to unlocking your story?

Jen: What I say in my workshops—which are always in yoga studios mostly— is, you only need two things. Forget yoga. You only need two things: Listen and tell the truth. What does that mean? Well, listen to yourself, listen to quiet, what happens when you sit down with a pen and paper or open a blank document. And tell the truth. I'm not suggesting that you overshare or tell everyone everything, because that's not right, that's not memoir. But tell the truth as it pertains to you, and as it feels true to you.

And then, the third bonus really would be to release yourself from the opinion of others. Which is hard, and I haven't done it yet. But I'm working on it, of letting go of, “What will they think?” So one of the things I say to myself is this. “It's worse than you think. They're not thinking about you at all.” Have a sense of humor. You have to have a sense of humor. If you don't have a sense of humor, you're dead.

I used to be obsessed with Wayne Dyer. And he used to say, “Release yourself from the good opinion of other people.” I don't know, it just sounds holy.


On Being Human Retreat

with Jennifer Pastiloff


May 30th - June 6th, 2020

Only three spots open

Wake Up, Live Real, & Listen Hard during this wonderful retreat, On Being Human. We will spend time ‘going deep and embracing all the things that consume us’. There will be yoga and meditation with Elizabeth Conway and we will also share time with other guest teachers. For the yoga practices, no yoga experience is required. Jen always says, ‘stop being assholes to yourself’ so you'll spend this time together learning to stop. By the way, Jen owns the domain ‘DontBeAnAsshole.net’.

For more info or questions, complete this form with France Retreat in the subject line.


To learn more about Jennifer Pastiloff, visit her website.

Buy the book!

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