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Archive for April, 2012

I spoke to a friend the other day and we talked in wise words to each other.

                “Most of the decisions you make in your life are not final,” I told her.  “You can usually change your mind if it’s not working out.”

                “Respect yourself enough to let go of what is no longer serving you,” she told me.

                I have lots of fun with my friends these days, lots of times filled with inane conversations over a glass of wine or belly splitting laughter shared across miles of telephone towers.

                But the hardships must be shared as well—and these are not easy.  I’ve embraced tears, taking them into my own being. I’ve shared mine, hoping to alleviate some of my own burden.  And in the sharing, we don’t necessarily find the answers but we do find a bit of comfort.

                I tell my friends what I know for sure and what I still question on the darkest of nights.  I listen to their journeys and urge them to the other side.

                Because life—well, it’s freakin’ rough at this age of mine.  We are well into adulthood, more than old enough to know better.  But we still look for peace in our childhood ways, the ancient game of show and tell.  Look at these scraps of my life; let me tell you what they mean to me.  Ooh and aah so that I know what I have to tell is worth showing.

                And I would love more than anything to give my friends the right answers to alleviate their minds of stress and worry.  Of course, I would accept a little resolution in return.  But that’s not going to happen.  As much as we want the magic wand and the crystal ball, those are childhood games that must be put to rest.

                Perhaps, though, the show and tell will be a childhood game that is allowed to flourish in these later years.  And maybe a little bit of truth or dare……

Truth:  Tell me what you are most scared of.

Dare:  Now turn around and face it.

Truth:  Who are your closest friends?

Dare:  Let them help you.  Tell them your fears.  Comfort across telephone towers and belly splitting laughter will be your reward.

Go on now….

 

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Battles with the Beast

Yesterday I decided to wake up when my body told me to—not my alarm.  And my body decided that 10:45 would be appropriate.  And so I woke, with all the to-dos that had been floating in my head the night before slipping away like wisps of smoke.

                The sun was shining and I immediately began to berate myself for the things that I knew would not get done—working on some writing revisions, sending out some e-mails, going for a run.

                Instead I focused on small victories.  I cleaned my coffee pot, I journalled, I checked my mail.  I know, I know, hold your applause.  I listened to sad music and my dog snoring and watched the trees gently sway in the wind from my window and knew that my greatest victory of the day would be to know that all of it was OK.

                There’s a little beast that climbs on my shoulder on days like this.  It screams at me all of my insecurities and the resounding chorus is ‘What If?”  What if I don’t know what the hell I’m doing?  What if all these hopes and dreams I have for myself will stop desperately short of what I want them to be?  What if I never quite figure it out?  What if I am the weak person that my detractors speak of rather than the brave one that my supporters speak of?

                Weapons drawn, I faced the beast with a little compassion.  I’ve learned that engaging in the war with him leads to no answers.  I told him that perhaps his fears are valid and that some days will be better than others.  I took pen to paper and acknowledged all his questions—I admitted that I did not have all the answers.  I gave him the day in hopes that he would keep himself hidden the next.

                And in truth, I wanted to end this story neatly, saying that I woke today and drank coffee out of a very clean coffee pot.  But the fact is that I shattered my coffee pot during the final rinse.  But what I do have is a new day, and instant coffee, and the feeling that the beast slipped away while I wasn’t looking.  That damn thing always hates when I am too nice to him.

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My New Tattoo

“I thought you’d outgrown that,” my dad said to me when I told him that I was getting my third tattoo, but my first one in over a dozen years.

They’ve all meant something though. There’s the dolphin on my lower back that I got just a month after my 18th birthday. I had just made my childhood dream come true by moving to the beach and pursuing marine biology. The tattoo was commemoration of that, proof that I could do the things I set out to do, a reminder that the beach was where I needed to be in my life.

 I got my second tattoo just a year and a half later. I had a friend that passed away when he was sixteen years old and I got the tattoo on what would have been his twentieth birthday. It’s a pair of Chinese symbols that mean “Live for the Day.” I was honoring the fact that my life and every day that I had was a gift; I wanted to remember that some hadn’t been so lucky.

And now, on my ribcage, is my dog Maggie’s pawprint. If you’ve been reading this blog, you know that she is dying….and that I don’t know what to do with myself when that day comes. For the past eleven years, Maggie has been my rock. She was my only solace during a two year span of my life when I lost five loved ones and feared that every ring of the phone would bring more bad news. She was the strength I needed to leave an abusive relationship in my mid-20’s. She was my buddy when I moved across the country to start a new life. This tattoo is homage to a wonderful dog, but it’s also a way for me to know that the strength she provided will always be with me.

A friend and I were talking last week, about the women we were when we were younger. We remembered feeling possibilities and fire, freedom and a life that knew no boundaries. We talked about how those women went into hiding somewhere along the way. I feel like I’m at the point in my life now where I’m coaxing her out, slowly but surely. Sure, she was a woman that made mistakes and had lots of lessons to learn….but by god, she was certain that she would figure it out. She had dreams and knew that she deserved to see them come true. She wore her heart on her sleeve, for better or worse, knowing that those who loved her would appreciate and care for it. And, well, she liked to get tattoos.

 So as I lay in that tattoo chair, hearing the loud vibration of the needle, I did my yoga breathing and smiled. The man doing my tattoo had grown up down the street from me in childhood and had let me come into the studio before it was even open. Being back in my hometown allows me plenty of full-circle experiences such as this. And, yes, getting a tattoo on one’s ribs, where there is little to no fat to cushion the blow, is quite painful. But in that moment, I celebrated the fact that Maggie would always be with me…..and the return of the woman who liked to get tattoos.

 

 

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The Sandcastle

Often in our lives, we stumble upon things of great beauty.  Unexpected, the joy in seeing them becomes so much greater.  Take a photo. Show it to friends. Know that they will never feel the gasp that you felt when you fell into its path.  Take that moment of wonder and share it nonetheless so that others may see your world as you see fit. 

                I came across this sandcastle a couple of years ago while at the beach.  The time of year I can’t remember though I know that it was a quiet one because I remember stepping out onto the sand, seeing this, and looking around for its creator, or even someone else to enjoy it with.  The structure itself is elementary, something that any small child with a bucket and shovel could have constructed.  There is a wall that aims to protect the main building in a fruitless effort against the waves.  There is a moat filled with coarse shells.  There is a door and a walkway leading to it.

                The castle is decorated with the discarded homes of bivalves—oysters and clams.  Washed up by the waves, they’ve found a new purpose here, providing beauty to a square of sand before eventually rejoining the ocean with the next wave, a constant recycling and reliving.   But here’s where it gets interesting.  One can’t find daisies on the beach.  Yet, there they are, lining the fortressed walls of the castle and also the walkway.  And sitting atop the structure is an arrangement of flowers that speaks to corsages on prom dresses…or perhaps a decoration on a tombstone. 

                Suddenly, my visions of laughing children with diapers sticking out of the bottom of their swimsuits, of parents gazing from underneath the shade of a beach umbrella; those all disappear.  It was no child to put up this castle and adorn it with daisies.  No, the person who built this castle was building it for someone.  They would not tire of its construction halfway through, dousing it with a bucketful of water.  They were serious when they built those fortressed walls and told the ocean to leave it be for just a while longer.

                At least that’s what I thought when my breath caught in my throat as I stumbled across this castle.  I raised the camera to my eye, hoping to capture the essence of second chances in life, of walls built and relied upon, of paying tribute to those that we have loved greatly.  And here now, years after taking the picture, I find the photo again and stare at it for long moments and everything comes back to me, my life now containing things that the girl with the camera never could have foretold.

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A year ago today, April 16th, 2011, my life was in a very different place.  And could I have imagined this as my future?  Yesterday I waited tables after staying up late the night before with a new group of friends.  After my shift, I went back to my parents’ porch and drank a much-needed glass of wine, taking in the surroundings that have been familiar for over thirty years.  The breeze blew warm and the temperature was close to eighty degrees.

                My dad and I took the dogs for a walk around the neighborhood and we ran into an old neighbor, a business associate of my father’s and my high school French teacher.  I then returned to my own apartment where I was forced to turn on the AC when both my dog and I tossed and turned for over an hour.

                Today I shall attend an exercise class with more new friends, go to my Creative Non Fiction class, and then celebrate a birthday with a dear friend.  And all of this is good…and seems OK….but the voice of year-ago-me is screaming “WTF?”

                I’ve never been the type to have a five-year plan.  The jury is still out on if this has served me well or not.

                And it makes me think about April 16th, 2013.  I have no idea what my life will look like at that point in time.  That thought is equally thrilling and frightening.  I hesitate to try to design something for fear that I may be disappointed.  And I’m finally gaining the faith in myself to realize that whatever it is will be OK.

                Because the year, it goes by like a line drawn from point A to point B.  But imagine that line makes a few turns so that it wraps up all the events of that year.  And in that little parcel will be victories and failures, new friends and old heartbreaks, times of uncontrollable laughter and tear-filled evenings.  The balance of all of all those, their placements and importance over the course of that line—well, as they say, only time will tell.

                So until then, I imagine myself not tiptoeing on that line between A and B as if on a tightrope but instead setting it down so that it can have room to wave and wiggle; so that I can have the space to hop and dance my way along.

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We Are…..

I grew up in a town that taught me resilience.  Lessons of rising in the face of adversity coursed through my bones from the time I was tiny.  Stories of ashes and champions shrouded everything around me.

                Perhaps you’ve heard of it.  It was the subject of a movie starring Matthew McConaughey.  On a November night over 40 years ago, a plane crash killed the entire football team of Marshall University.  Also gone from our community were supporters of the team.  There were people who thought that the adversities and tragedies were too great for the football program to endure.  But endure they did.  And at first it was bad—many games lost, many heartbreaks continued to be suffered.  And then it turned around.  The team became great and won championships.

                This is the place where I grew up.  I have a mother who attended Marshall at the time of the crash who knew many people on the plane.  I knew adults who had been orphaned as children.  Their losses became my own, because my community seemed small and so we were all in it together.  I shared their tears, their pain.

                I also shared their glories, spending most fall weekends in the bleachers at the Marshall stadium.  I watched as they lost…and then won…and then won some more.  I was swept up in a crowd that stormed the field on a quest to tear down the goalpost after a championship game.  I sang along to “Georgia on My Mind” played over the stadium’s speakers when a deciding game was won, sending Marshall to a championship in that state.

                Eventually, I left my hometown but my blood still ran the kelly green of the school’s uniform.  Marshall football was the only sport that I followed.  I told everyone the story of my town and my team and then the movie came out and I no longer had to tell the story.

                I spent this morning running the steps at the Marshall stadium with a friend.  It was a punishing workout made easier by the conversation that we had between huffing breaths.  We spoke of love, lost and found, and we spoke of life lessons, learned and broken.  As we ran, the ghosts of the stadium filled my head.  I saw the ridge of grass where I used to hang out with my friends in high school.  I thought about all of the years that had passed since then and what they’ve contained in my life.

                All around me, the sounds of cheering still seemed to echo from the walls.  They were sounds of a community unwilling to give up on their team, the sounds of a group of people who had seen pain and not shied away from it, the sounds of strength, the sounds of resilience.  And these are the sounds that still run through my bones.  These are the sounds that push me forward.

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Dear Yoga,

                I love you.  Have I told you that lately?  Or have I told you enough?  I’m sorry that at first I brushed you off, being bored by your chanting music and your repetition.  But then, when I truly came into contact with you, I realized how important you would be in my life.  I saw that you could truly push me to explore the abilities of my body and my mind.  I had a teacher and then many who played cool music and made me sweat in a way that I never thought possible.  It was then I saw your beauty, in the emotion mixed with exertion.

                Though I’d had other lovers before, named Running and Team Sports and Kickboxing, it was only when I met you, Yoga, that I felt a strength in my body that I’d never felt before.  But it wasn’t just the strength; it was the fact that it was intertwined with a practice of becoming more flexible.  To have power and then to be able to bend that power—isn’t that where true harmony lies?

                Yoga, you constantly tell me to come back to my breathing.  It’s a good reminder.  As silly as it sounds, because we all must breathe to live, it’s that focus that calms and centers me.  In the inhales, I bring space into my body and in the exhales, I push out the space and make room for new discoveries.

                On your mat, Yoga, I ground myself and know that I can always come back to it.  When the poses get too tough and the work too strenuous, I know that I can come into a position of rest and put my head on the mat.  It is there that I will again connect to the earth below me, and then finally to myself.  You give me the option to rest when I need to.

                You constantly are offering me intentions, Yoga, but you give me the freedom to interpret these intentions as I see fit.  You speak to me of balance but know that it’s OK if I topple over slightly.  But, oh, when I achieve that balance, it’s a feeling of accomplishment like I’ve never felt.   You give me variations in poses and let me know that all of them are acceptable.  I know I don’t have to look like everyone else in the room—-because whatever point I reach will be my best and my most beautiful.

                Yoga, you give my body the power to stand upright.  Yoga, you give me a chance to reflect and still learn new things every time.  You teach me the lesson that though I might not be able to achieve a pose one day, with practice and gentleness towards myself, it is within reach.  You talk to me of alignment, you talk to me of being in the moment, you talk to me of holding, but then letting go.

                Anyway, Yoga, I just wanted to let you know these things.  I know you probably get many letters like this and that people love you for many different reasons.  But I wanted to let you know how I felt.  Thanks especially for the headstands—those are super fun.

Love,

Ashley

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