‘On Being Human’

Jennifer Pastiloff’s Memoir of Intentional Uplift

Jennifer Pastiloff’s memoir (as well as the title of her international workshop), On Being Human is an exhilarating, exuberant, and sometimes exhausting ride. We all have one of those friends who has to talk out every thought and feeling they have. But just about the time we’re ready to say “enough already”, they deliver something so moving and profound that you forgive and fall in love with them all over again. So it is with Pastiloff. In her writing, mundane leads to extraordinary, scattered draws together into cohesiveness, and the personal suddenly surprises with universality. Human, indeed.


Pastiloff’s journey takes her “from being stuck, to leading retreats around the world that teach people, essentially, to get unstuck.” The “unstuck” version of Pastiloff is like a shaken, uncapped bottle of carbonated soda. She gushes with memories, admissions, observations, ideas, conclusions, and profanity, frequently all in the same sentence.

After an introduction entitled “Beauty Hunting”, which is Pastiloff’s term for showing up and really listening to others, the narrative bounces around, dipping in and out of childhood tales and adult observations. The twin traumas of the unexpected death of Pastiloff’s beloved father when she was eight and her progressive hearing loss set the stage for nearly two decades of depression and anorexia. During Pastiloff’s extended “stuck” period, she manages to extend a summer waitressing gig into a thirteen-year slog and refuses to admit that she has to read her customers’ lips so she can understand what they’re ordering. She battles the destructive thinking she dubs her “IA” or “Inner A**hole”.

Eventually, Pastiloff decides that “the will to grow must outweigh the need to feel safe.” She begins to braid together multiple lifelines—yoga, writing, medication, hearing aids, and a dogged commitment to connection and caring for others—to pull herself out of the pit. She describes her amazement at being able to hear again, combining it  with the anguished understanding how much of her own life she’d missed. But ultimately Pastiloff offers a message of redemption through suffering. When her students say she’s the best listener they’ve ever known, she realizes that “I had taught myself to listen without my ears”.  Generally, that sort of line would make me say “enough already”. But by that point, I’d already forgiven and fallen in love with Jennifer Pastiloff.

(Dutton, June 4, 2019)

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Shari Simpson

Shari Simpson writes for film and television; the first book in her YA fantasy series SleepWakers will be on the shelves October 1, 2019.

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