Music feeds my soul and is an absolutely crucial part of my life.  I don’t sing in a band; although I do think that being a front woman in a band was a calling in another life.  But I don’t really know who I would be without my love of rhythm and lyrics and song.  It guides my emotions to a place they need to be and takes my heart on adventures I never could imagine.  And there are certain songs that take me and lift me up and drop me right into a certain moment of my life.  There’s a Father John Misty song that takes me straight back to the first summer after my divorce, a time when I was gracefully unhinged and navigating waters of a brand new life.

Sometimes music drops me in an uncomfortable place, though, and it’s those times in which I find reckoning.  Either that or I find myself desperately punching a button to skip past the song once I hear the first notes.  A couple of months ago, I was tending bar and waiting on a group of men and we started having a conversation about songs.  I joked about how so many songs had been tainted for me because they reminded me of exes.

One of the men looked at me and said “Don’t ever do that.”

“What?” I asked.

“Don’t ever let a man take your music from you,” he said.

That comment from a stranger shook me to the core.  But then, like sometimes soul shaking things do, I forgot about it.  Enter the upcoming Huntington Music and Arts Fest, which is a wonderful local event that we have in our town.  It’s a day of outdoor music and community and it’s something that I look forward to every year.  Well, every year except for this one.

You see, I had attached a pretty jagged memory to this event (HMAF, as all the cool kids call it).  Last year at this time I was involved in a new but pretty intense relationship with a man.  Because I’m not quite ready to go into detail and in the interest of keeping this short, I’ll just say that our ties together started fraying and unwinding the day of HMAF.  They continued to do so for a few more weeks before we called an end to it.

That ending came about because of music as it turns out.  We had gone to a music festival together and we were watching one of my favorite artists, Josh Ritter.  He started performing my favorite song, one about a girl in a war with eyes like champagne.  I had seen Josh Ritter three times previously and he had never done that song live.  So when those first notes were played, my heart burst all over Cincinnati and I began to cry.  I grabbed the hand of the man I was with and knew in that moment he had no interest in holding it; he would never be able to give me that moment or any other moment for that fact.  Later on Band of Horses starting singing a song about how no one is gonna love you the way I do.  I asked the man I was falling in love with to let me go that night.  Our ending twisted and turned a little more but none of that is important.

And so I declared to my friends that I would not be attending HMAF this year.  And then yesterday I started making a new playlist for my yoga class that would be happening the day of HMAF.  I was listening to the artists that would be in attendance and started getting sad that I would not be.  I told a friend of mine that today at lunch.  She looked at me and asked me if I remembered what that man said to me at the bar that night.

I had forgotten.  I was letting a man take my music from me.  I was negating all of the times that I had been to HMAF before last year, I was giving them up so easily in reverence to this one bad year.  I was denying myself the right to dance and laugh and be with my community.  And that’s just silly.

I remember my moment I gained closure from my divorce.  It was on a ferry en route to the small town in Costa Rica where I was going to attend my teacher training.  This was a few months following that summer that Father John Misty played in heavy rotation.   I had been on that ferry before….on my honeymoon.  Yes, I was doing my training in a town which I had first visited as a newlywed.  On that ferry, sea spray hitting my face, caliente music booming  from the loudspeakers, I questioned my decision.  I wondered why I was revisiting this place.  And then I decided that I would not revisit it; I would reclaim it and make it mine.  And I did.  I took my flag and stuck it in the place where the new life would soon spring.

I have a hard time learning the lessons of closure.  The rational part of me knows that I am the only one who can give myself the gift of closure.  That, as much as I may want it from another person, they might never give me what I want.  But I have that power to reclaim what is rightfully mine.  I have the right to my music and my songs and my ferry rides.  So if you see me this Saturday, maybe grab my hand, give me that moment….give me a new story to weave in between the lines of the song being played.  But a warning–I might drag you straight to the dance floor.


And So It Begins….

I just celebrated my 39th birthday.  It was a hard one to swallow, the final year of my 30’s.  From talking to friends, I know that I am not alone.  There’s different ways of coping.  And mine is to declare celibacy for a year and attempt to write a book.  Which is kind of funny to think about because both of those things seem like drastic measures and I wonder if I’m fooling myself about the fact that I’m cool with this whole train-to-40 type thing.  But  honestly from the moment I dreamed up the notion, I have been so excited about it.

The amusing part is hearing people’s reactions to the whole thing.  I’ve had a few people say “Wow, you’re going to write a book?”  But more often than not people have said “Wow, you’re going to remain celibate for a year?”   And it is hard to tell which one of these things will be the biggest challenge.  But I know in my heart/gut/soul/tiny little voice that this is just what I’m supposed to be doing.

I’ve always wanted to write a book.  There’s been a story inside of me that’s been trying to find it’s way out for quite some time now.  I just never knew what it was until about a month ago.  And when the idea floated into my head, I seized it and didn’t let go.  I put out an open letter asking women to tell me their stories about love and connection and heartbreak and longing and all the little things that exist in between.  And the response was overwhelming.  Within a few days, I had dozens of emails.  The women who responded have ages that span 40 years, distances that spans thousands of miles and stories that run the spectrum.  Some of them want to tell me a story that they’ve never told anyone ever before.

I told a friend a few days later, humbled and in awe, “This has become so much bigger than me.”  She shook her head and said, “No, this is just your size.”  I suppose some of the reason behind my decision to remain celibate during this time (and celibacy including dating and any kind of intimacy or romantic encounter) is to fully honor the space that needs to be created in order to receive these stories.  I’m just not sure I could properly hear a story of heartbreak if I was falling in love.  And I’m not sure I could hear a story of love in I was in the depths of heartbreak.  But from where I stand now, I have been through almost all of it by this point.  I joke to others that if it’s one thing all of my attempts at love have given me, it’s the ability to provide great advice to others in a variety of situations.  Some of it may be ‘do as I say but not as I do’ but whatever.

But there’s more.  I have some work to do on this ol’ heart of mine.  I’m ready to come to terms with some things.  I’m ready to change the tape reel in my head.  I’m ready to redefine who I can be as part of an ‘us’.  In short, I’m ready to figure my shit out.  And I’m ready to see what could happen when I spend a whole year giving myself the energy that I usually freely and carelessly throw to anyone who I become involved with.

In the weeks since I started laying the roots of this project, I have already been in contact with some pretty incredible people.  I spent a weekend at a yoga camp and learned more than I ever thought possible about sisterhood.  I’m developing strictly platonic relationships with men, something that I’ve never really done before.  And here’s the big one……I met a really nice man who was nothing but kind and sweet and adoring.  And on my birthday I ended it because this project is more important to me right now.  I chose myself.  And he completely understood.

Today I went to a complete stranger’s house and she made me coffee and we talked for two hours about love and sex and celibacy the idea of ‘the one’.  It was a beautiful story; one that at many points I could see myself in.  That’s kind of the whole idea of this…we are all on these crazy, undulating and intersecting roads and there’s a beauty that exists when we stop at a crossroads and share what we have learned.  I’ve got 51 more stories to hear.  And I’m so ready, for all of it.

I’ve still got room for a few more stories.  If you or anyone you know is interested, please email theintimacyinterviews@gmail.com

The Intimacy Interviews

To all of the women reading this:

I want us to talk. I mean like really, really talk. I want us to talk about the thing that tends to be our downfall and our salvation. That’s right…I want to talk about romantic love and intimacy and passion and heartbreak and all of the little things that exist between all of these words that are so much more than words. They are experiences and feelings and emotions.

I want to hear your greatest love stories, regardless of how they ended. I want to know what you learned from the lowest places of heartache and from the highest places of connection. I want to hear about the time you felt love so deeply that you felt for sure that you had found ‘the one’. I want to hear about the when that love left and you felt broken and unsure of everything.

I want to hear about the one night stands, the decades-long partnerships, passionate drawn out affairs and the one who got away. I want to hear about your marriages and your divorces and your first love and the relationships that you can’t quite define.

I want to hear what keeps you up at night. I want to hear about the mistakes that you keep making over and over and over. If you think you’ve got it all figured out I definitely want to hear from you. And this is not about our love for our friends or our children or our pets. I think we can all agree that those interactions tend to walk a straighter line. Oh no, let’s get to the stuff that songs and poems are written about.

Why do I want to know all of this?

Because I feel quite sure that this is the story that I am meant to tell. And I need your help. My 39th birthday is approaching and I want my year before the big 4-0 to be something meaningful. There are two big things that I’ve been wanting to do for a while now—-write a book and get out of my own way. I think that this project will help me accomplish both. Starting the week of my birthday, I will interview a different woman every week for a year. That’s 52 women, 52 stories. And during these weeks that will become the final year of my 30’s, while conducting these interviews, I will be setting about on doing some very important work on myself.

You see, I’ve kinda got my stuff figured out at this point in life. I love my jobs and feel absolutely certain that I have found my purpose on this earth. I have the best friends that a woman could ever ask for. My life is filled with beauty and adventure. I have found my bliss. But alas, the one thing that’s always eluded me has been relationships with men. Basically, I’m pretty bad at them. It has something to do with a fear of intimacy for some reason. And it’s the work I’m finally ready to do. Over the course of this 39th year of mine, I am taking a vow to completely abstain from any kind of romantic encounter. All of the energy I once threw into going-nowhere relationships is now going to be funneled straight to myself and this new project.

So what’s in it for you if you decide to become part of this? Well, you see, things tend to lose the power that they hold over us when we speak them aloud. If you need to heal, I’m here to take that story away from you just a little bit. Or perhaps you are trying to figure it all out like I am. Maybe together we can start to find some answers. It’s time to talk about this stuff. I have a feeling that, at the core of things, we have more things that bind us together than things that make us separate. I recently searched for books that dealt with women and intimacy and came up with a lot of results that read like “How to Get that Guy.” There’s got to be more than that. Who are we when we are in relationship and how does that shape and shift who we are in this world?

All of the results of these interviews will be treated with the utmost respect and anonymity. That being said, I will ask you to be completely vulnerable and open with me. It won’t work if you aren’t. I want you to tell me the things that you never thought you would breathe aloud. I have training in compassionate communication and holding space for others. I promise to honor your joys and your sorrows and your truths, no matter what package they come in. If I am a stranger to you, I can provide references of friends and yoga students who will tell you that this is something I am completely capable of.

I don’t know quite where this project will go. But I’m excited to find out. I want to talk to women of varying ages, backgrounds and sexual orientations. If you are interested in being part of this, please send an email to theintimacyinterviews@gmail.com Tell me briefly what it is you might want to share with me. And if you don’t know and are still interested, that’s quite alright as well. Let me know where you live. I am definitely not opposed to travel; I’m a big believer in face to face communication but if that can’t happen, then a good old fashioned phone call would suffice.

Thank you for your time.

Ashley Skeen

I was talking to a friend yesterday and told him that I had just wrapped up a two day spree of being in a super pouty mood.  He remarked that he didn’t think I was the kind of person who got pouty.  And I don’t think he’s alone in his assumption.  I am really good at hiding it.  For one, I tend to retreat when I’m not feeling great; and also, I have jobs that kind of force me to be ‘on.’  But in the name of this blog and the vow to honesty in which it was established, I want to open up a little about the pouty moods of mine.  But let’s call a spade a spade here….I want to open up about my depression.

It’s been a part of me for as long as I can remember.  The cliché black cloud that sneaks in and follows me around has been in my weather pattern since high school at least.  In those years, I’ve learned how to tame it a little.  I’ve learned that going for a good run will help me outrun some demons.  When I discovered yoga, I started learning how to shift my thoughts around a little more productively.  And I’ve learned that if I can force myself out of the house to be with friends, then the ‘fake it til you make it’ method works pretty nicely.  And I write.

But there’s always that period of time at the height of the depression where going for a run, doing yoga, seeing friends and writing all just seem like too much.  It’s the little gremlins in my head feeding off the black hole of my mood and they don’t want to go anywhere.  They are happier on the couch.  Because then they can convince me that I am worthless and that this mood is all my fault and then and then and then and then.  The thoughts swirl up and then get sucked down a drain, leaving me feeling depleted and just wanting to sleep a little longer.

The duration of these bouts and the frequency have shifted and ebbed over the years.  But it was beginning to become clear to me that, although I had all the tools in my toolbox, something bigger was going on.  My doctor offered to prescribe some medicine to help with my moods and I tried one that didn’t have any effect on me at all and then another one that effected me way too much.  Now, I had been used to maintaining ‘my crazy’ but how I felt on this second medicine was a whole other level.  I stopped taking it and knew that I never wanted to feel like that again.   It was then that I started looking into going to a psychiatrist.

It was a pretty great decision.  Not only was this guy super easy to talk to but he seemed to be able to understand what we were dealing with right away.   I told him in my first appointment that I was there because I knew that it was possible to feel better than I felt, and I wanted to be able to access that place.  He knew that I practiced self care and mindfulness and agreed that the right medicine might finally help me get past the boundary in which I was just getting in my own way.  It was then that he introduced me to GeneSight, a DNA test done with a simple cheek swab that will come back telling you what medications might work best for your specific body chemistry.  Lo and behold, when my test came back, not only did they confirm what I had already suspected—that something in my very makeup was slightly off making me prone to depression; but the results also showed what medicines would not work with my body chemistry.  And there in a bright red ‘will have negative reaction’ column was the very drug that I had such a bad experience with.  Science is pretty cool.

So anyhoo, over the past few months I have been on a low dose of a medicine that showed up in a ‘green is good’ category and I can say without a doubt that it is helping.  Overall, I am feeling more hopeful, happy and capable than I have in a long time.  That is, until a couple of days ago.

It started with an injury.  There I was, first at ‘bat’ in my adult league kickball game and after I kicked I ran to first base and something in my quadriceps kind of just snapped.  Now, lucky for all of us adults that really are too old to be playing kickball, there is a team called The Bonecrushers that consists of primarily orthopedic surgeons.  So after I was carried off the field, one of them examined me, told me that the tendon was still attached and that I just had a partial tear of the muscle.  “Rest and ice!” he yelled over his shoulder as he ran back to the field.  Also, my mood that weekend was being invaded by an ex who had just happened to get in touch out of the blue.  Now, I had just done a burning ceremony to burn and let go of one asshole and another asshole just drops back into the picture.  (Warning: things like this usually happen after burning ceremonies….it’s like the universe is making sure you’re good on your promise.)

That evening, I blocked and deleted bachelor #2 (the technological solution to a burning ceremony) and then went to bed early in hopes of a brand new day in the morning.  However, I set my alarm wrong and that resulted in me sleeping entirely too long.  I awoke with a couple of very vivid dreams still in my head.  In the first, I had met a very charming, handsome and rich man who flew me to Finland.  I had thought I had finally found a partner, someone who was willing to love me completely.  But then he told me he was gay.  Oh well.  And in the second dream, I was in some kind of jury room and I was pleading my case.  I was trying to convince a room full of people that what I was doing with my life was worthy.  So there it was in two dreams, my biggest fear of not being able to find love and my biggest insecurity of not being worthy.

So much for the brand new day.  I walked around dizzy and out of sorts.  Fortunately for me, my pout fest coincided with the release of the new season of Orange is the New Black so I stayed in bed or on the couch for the whole day and well into the next.  And then I had to leave the house because I had an appointment, as it happens, with my psychiatrist.  I went into his office and when he asked me how I was doing, a torrent of now what sounded like whines came out of my mouth—“I hurt myself so I can’t exercise like I want to and I had bad dreams and boys are terrible and then and then and then.”

He asked me what the jury of my dreams had decided about my worthiness.  I told him that I woke up before the decision came in……..And then he asked me how I had been feeling before the kickball incident.  I told him the truth.  I told him how I had a newfound happiness that people around me could see.  I told him that I felt like I was able to feel joy more completely.

“So do you feel like you can get over this?” he asked me.

“Of course I can,” I said.

“So maybe it’s just time to put on your big girl pants and get out of your own way.  You were doing so well and none of these things sound like game changers.”

At that point, I shit you not, with the sky just a little gray and no rain in sight, a crack of thunder so loud that it made us both jump out of our chairs and yell profanities struck right outside the building.

“Ashley, that’s God talking and he thinks I’m right,” my doctor joked.  And then he sent me on my way.

Here’s the trickiest thing about joy.  Sometimes it is really hard to accept that it’s not some dumb stroke of luck when it shows up in your life.  Especially when you have some deep seeded insecurity that perhaps you are not worthy.  And sometimes it’s even trickier to think that it’s even in the realm of possibility that this joy will last.  I’ve read that this is called “foreboding joy”, this idea of not fully being able to embrace the good things in life because you’re  already thinking of the ways in which they might end.

And that’s where the wiser me has got to rise up and take charge.  Because clearly I’m not fully healed if these worries make their way into my dream state.  But I can get out of my own way a little if I start to write the ending to these dreams.  The seemingly perfect man who turns out to be gay doesn’t mean that I’m unlovable just as the jury’s decision on my worthiness has no real bearing on what I decide to do with my life.  I can rest, ice, and compress my leg and heal myself to a place of running again.  It just takes time.  But I can get there, with all of it.  Soon I’ll be nimble enough to leap out of my own way.



Pink Bubbles, Canoes

For a while now, I’ve been following the moon, watching the giant orb of light in the sky and letting its’ fullness remind me of release and letting the absence of that light remind me of intention and wishes.  It’s one of the more hippie dippy, yoga teacher things that I do.  But I’ve only been doing it halfway.  And then a few weeks ago, I ordered a book called Moonology that is all about working with the lunar cycles.  Side note: my order also included a book about crystals and one about how to become a woman warrior and I completely pictured Amazon painting me into a ‘weird chick’ category in their software and fully embraced all of it.  So be it.  But I still refuse to drink kombucha.

So this Moonology book is all about how to fully use the power of the moon to bring focus and fulfillment and peace to your life.  If you’re rolling your eyes right now, please be aware that the moons influence the tides and our bodies are mostly water; so….science.

Just yesterday, the full moon was in Sagittarius and so the night before, I wanted to do a little releasing/forgiveness ceremony.  I invited a few friends to come over after a concert that was being held downtown.  However, there was beer at the concert and by the time I was ready to do my ceremony, most of my attendees were no longer interested.  Oh well, fun times.  However, one friend did join me in my backyard as we drank a little red wine, burned pieces of paper into a soup pot and imagined those we were forgiving floating away in little pink bubbles.

Here’s the thing about forgiveness.  Sometimes it’s pretty tough to do.  But you have to remember that by forgiving somebody, you’re not making them right.  You’re just allowing yourself to be at peace with the whole thing.  And being at peace sounds pretty rad, right?  This Moonology book also suggests thinking about it this way: that everyone in your life who you need to forgive is your teacher.  They were put into your life so that you could evolve and learn and be the best freakin’ you possible.  But learning sucks sometimes……remember Calculus?

The other practice that’s important to do during full moons is gratitude.  Moonology suggests that this is because after releasing yourself of all the bad juju (anger, resentment, etc.) through forgiveness, you now have room to invite the good stuff (love, laughter, puppies, etc.) in via gratitude.

But I think this practice goes beyond being grateful for all that’s good in your life; and that’s the little light bulb moment that I had during my class this morning.  When you practice gratitude, you must also offer gratitude to your teachers.   That’s right, you must not only forgive those stinkers that hurt you and made you mad…..you must also thank them for doing so.

The other night, while doing my forgiveness ceremony, I had one particular person who I had difficulty imagining in a little pink bubble of loving forgiveness.  I thought that maybe I wasn’t ready to forgive them quite yet.  The hurt was too fresh, the lesson not yet figured out, the heartache too deep.  And then today, while my class was in savasana, I began to think about how I wished to thank that person.   So I came home, I got the soup pot back out and I wrote another letter.  This time I thanked the person.  I thanked them for splitting my heart wide open because wide open is exactly where I want to be.  And there’s more……but right now that’s just for me.  But I ended the letter with “I forgive you.”  And then I burned that sucker.

I read it once that resentment is like continuing to carry a big old heavy canoe on your back, when it really was only meant to get you from one shore to the other.  Forgiveness is dropping the canoe once you get to the other side.  And gratitude is jumping up and down in the shallows of the water as you gaze across at the place from which you came, and then  turning around running arms and heart wide open into brave new lands.


Eight People

The night before last I was walking down the beach with a friend.  We had just had a delicious meal followed by a ridiculous shopping excursion in a tacky souvenir shop.  The sun was beginning to set and so we decided that, rather than get an Uber home, we would take our shoes off and walk the two miles home through the sand.  This friend is someone who, from our  very first conversation, has been the person I can express all of my thoughts to.  She gets me, she makes me think, she indulges any ridiculous question that I have.  So as we walked the sky gently turned from blue to black, flirting with shades of pink and violet on its way to night.  The waves lapped lazily and the breeze pushed gently against us.  This night, this setting, this friendship was made for hearts laid bare.  And so I began to tell her a story that I had never told anyone.  But now I will tell it here.

It was 2009 and I had been living in Colorado for six years, married for three.  It was late springtime and snow still blanketed the mountains and Aspen was in full gear with tourists.  A friend of mine was getting married in a few months time and a handful of us gathered for a bachelorette party/night out on the town.  We wound up at a bar situated  at the base of Aspen Mountain, a place that was known for it’s ‘apres ski’ scene.  We weren’t dressed in traditional bachelorette gear because we were mountain chicks……however, my friend wore a white fleece and a veil on her head.  So we were having drinks at the bar and a group of gentlemen approached us and wanted to buy us the next round.  They were in town from Canada having a divorce party.  One of them had been a professional hockey player and had just split from his wife;  they had split the houses (plural) and he had gotten the Aspen home.  So he invited a few buddies to join him on a ski trip to celebrate.

So as the night wound on, we started having fun with these guys and we were all tickled by the fact that we were celebrating the beginning of a marriage and they were celebrating the end of one.  The men had reservations for the private dining room at one of the finest restaurants in town and as that time approached they asked us to join them for dinner, their treat.  It was one of those “why wouldn’t you?” situations.  So we went to this restaurant, drastically underdressed, and had a great meal.  As we were eating, this one man who I had been talking to quite a bit told me he had a confession to make.

“We didn’t come over and buy you guys drinks because your friend is getting married.  But that was a great excuse.  The truth is that you were lighting up the entire room and I told my friends I had to find a way to get to know you.  I know you are married and I’m not trying to be inappropriate at all but you need to know how special you are.  And I’ve got this feeling you are going to do amazing things with your life.”

After dinner we went our separate ways, my friends and I to a local watering hole and the men to the swanky members only club.  I’ve never spoken to that man again.  I have a slippery memory of his face but can’t remember his name.   And yet.  Flash forward to a couple nights ago on the beach talking with my friend….

“Do you think that man is one of your eight?” she asked me after I had told her the story.  I replied yes without even thinking twice.

My friend had told me her theory of the eight before.  She believes that if you’re lucky, throughout your life you will meet eight people who, by meeting them, will profoundly change the course of your existence.  These people might only be in your life for a few minutes.  Or they might be in your life for decades.  But something in them truly and profoundly changes something in you.  Now, this is not a soul mate in the romantic sense per se.  Nor is it the eight most important people in your life.  I am so fortunate to have wonderful parents and friends who love me and lift me up.  They support me, they get me, they make me laugh and listen when I cry.  We shift and change together.  But they are not my eight.

This random Canadian man?  He’s one of my eight.  And I know this because, here it is, eight years later (look what happened there….) and that night is so profound for me that it will never leave the slippery folds of my memory.  Because at that point in my life when I met him, I was feeling very un-special and un-shiny.  I was in a marriage in which I did not feel appreciated.  I didn’t feel like my ex ‘got’ me or loved the parts of me that I was most proud of.  I had a light grasp of a feeling that I was meant to do ‘more’ but I didn’t know what.  And I didn’t feel like my partner believed in me at all.  And it’s hard to achieve anything when the one you sleep next to doesn’t support the effort.  And this Canadian man had no motives when he told me I was shiny and special and that he believed in me.  And yet he did.   And in that moment, I believed him.  And after that, I started getting a little stronger every day, investing in my strength and my self and my shine.  And that all brought me here, which is truly where I’m meant to be.

I have a few more that fill my list of eight.  One of them is my abusive ex (your eight people don’t necessarily have to be positive in your life).  However, I had been travelling around in a state of numb for a while when I was with him.  I was just doing what I thought I ‘should’ be doing.  With my studies, it was like I was running through  a race I wasn’t sure I wanted to even finish.  When I left him, I had to leave the state for my own safety.  He pushed me fully and completely out of my comfort zone.   But I needed that.  After leaving him, I moved to Aspen and began exploring a life that made sense to me, regardless if it made sense to anyone else.  And that way of living has been an compass for my soul ever since then.

One of my other ‘eights’ is the first man that I fell in love with.  It was decades ago, I was young, and the relationship only lasted a few months.  But yet, he showed me what I should expect in finding connection with a partner.  He showed me that love exists more powerfully in actions than in words.  I could talk to him about anything.  And he made my heart do absolute backflips every time he looked at me.  That’s how I want to be loved and I will always thank him for giving me that guide.

And my friend, the one who stepped side by side with me in the sand a couple nights ago?  Well, I’m pretty sure she’s number four.  It might take the gift of time to see how exactly she is shifting my life but I am certain that she is doing so.  The thing about your eight is that you never see them coming.  So it’s best to stay open, to let people enter your soul and your life.  Talk to strangers, fall in love, pursue a new friendship.  You never know who is going to change your life unless you allow them to do so.

The other day I put on a purple shirt and I thought the same thought that I have had for the past 30 years whenever I wear purple.  I was walking out of my elementary school wearing a violet dress.  The mother of one of my classmates looked at me and said “Well, Ashley, we’ve finally found a color that looks good on you.”  Inappropriate? Sure.  Insignificant? Of course.  Because it was just a passing comment, one that this woman probably forgot five minutes after she said it.  Meanwhile, thirty years later, I am still trying to reckon with how that has guided my life.

I started thinking about the purple dress after I read this sentence in the book “Autobiography of a Face” by Lucy Grealy:

“Sometimes the briefest moments capture us, force us to take them in, and demand that we live the rest of our lives in reference to them.”

I wasn’t a particularly attractive child.  I know my mom and dad are reading this and right now chiming in with protests.  But let’s call a spade a spade here.  I had a perm and a silver tooth and then traded that in for a mullet and some braces.  And I have always marched to the beat of my own drummer when it’s come to fashion.  Just ask one of my high school girlfriends about the doily outfit.

The comment about the purple dress was perhaps the first time as a young girl where the idea of being pretty even entered my head.  But it stayed there.  And then, at middle school dances, when I sat alone on gymnasium bleachers watching all the other girls getting asked to dance, being held at arm’s length by gangly little boys, I began to think that perhaps pretty was the most important thing to be.  I began to measure my worth by times that I was desired…..but those times were few and far between in my young years.  So therefore I felt a little worthless.

And that girl?  The one that sat alone on the bleachers?  The one who hadn’t yet seen the world and found independence and starting doing great things with her life yet?  Well, she still lived inside of me.  And she made a lot of the decisions for me.  I have let a lot of men in my life get away with treating me terribly, all because they told me I was beautiful.  I have at times neglected putting energy towards myself so that I could funnel energy into the men that I have loved, in a crazy effort to prove myself desirable.  I have not embraced the complete awesomeness of who I have been in my life, all so that I could be more palatable and easy to want.  And only now am I realizing how absolutely crazy that all is.

When I was living in Aspen, I got a coveted position as a cocktail waitress at a members only nightclub.  At the club, it was known that only the prettiest girls worked there, sauntering around holding drinks aloft on a tray wearing high heels and short skirts.  I wanted the job because the money was great.  But I think I was also trying to prove something.  To who?  The girl on the bleachers of course.  The girl that only looked good in purple.  And I continued to try to prove things to her as I listened to men spout words that I knew were lies but as long as they contained the words “you’re beautiful” I would see the whole package as truth.  I have allowed my open heart to shatter way too many times trying to please that little girl.

The other day, while I was wearing the purple shirt, I ran into a friend of mine; and as it does often, the universe tilted towards serendipity and my friend told me a story that sounded all too familiar. My friend has a beautiful voice.  I have heard her sing once and it brought me to tears and filled up my entire being with warmth.  When she was a young girl, my friend would compete in singing competitions.  At the age of 10, she came in second to another young girl in a beautiful sparkly dress.  My friend’s story from that point on was “I’m not a good enough singer and I’m not enough for sparkly dresses”.  As fate would have it, three decades later, my friend was in nursing school with a woman and one day they got to talking and figured out that the woman was the girl in the sparkly dress all those years ago.  And the woman told my friend that her mom would buy all these sparkly dresses that they couldn’t afford and then return them to the store the next day.  So this story, the one that my friend held herself up to, the one that made her feel not enough?  Not only was it not true for a million reasons, but it was also just a complete mirage.

And yet….oh, and yet.   I am guessing we all have versions of these stories that we keep spinning around.  These things that we lead the rest of our lives in reference to.  Until one day we decide that perhaps we know better now.  Until one day we realize that these points of reference are steering us right into oncoming traffic every time.  So what do we do?  We start by calmly but forcefully telling that little girl on the bench, that little girl singing her heart out only to come in second, that it’s alright for her to stop talking now.

We let that story go just a little bit.  We let it ease out of our beings with a gentle grace.  We realize that while childhood games are fun; it’s time to grow up and start being real about what we need and deserve and what no longer serves us.  And then we start with the apologies.  We apologize to all the versions of ourselves that we subjected to false stories; we apologize to that little girl for putting her in situations that she had no hope of succeeding in.  And also, because I know I for one have left others in the wake of my destruction when I acted out from places of needing to be desired, we apologize to all of those who were affected by our stories.  Verbally, energetically, peacefully.  We promise to try harder, because that’s all that we can ever do in this life.

I still wear purple.  And my friend still sings.  And together we laugh about these crazy stories we told ourselves.  We bemoan the fact that we let them rule our lives for so long.  But we also know that in the process of reconciling them and rewriting them, we have become wiser and stronger and our hearts more open.  We have become enough.  We have become beautiful.