When your counselor emails you to make sure you’re still alive, you know you’ve been gone from your “normal life” too long. And she’s probably not the only one wondering that.
Yes, hi. I’m still alive. Been traveling. What’s that? Oh, thanks! It’s my summer hairstyle. Keeps me cool, ha ha. I agree, it’s been far too long since I’ve posted. Hey, you’re looking good! Have you lost weight? No kidding! No, that’s okay, if I want to learn how to live on sunflower seeds and paste, I know who to call. How’m I doing? Well…
I went to Florida. And then I went to New York. And then I moved to a new house. And then I went to Colorado for two months. And then I went to Chicago. And now I’m finally home, in my new house, trying to figure out which drawer has toothpaste and which one has pesticide, while I schedule 1,486 doctor/dentist/psychiatrist/sleep doctor/therapist/car mechanic appointments. Oh, and I’m now a team leader at work. Which is AWESOME, but…umm…I don’t have time to work right now, so…
…So I’m doing alright, I think.
I think I’m doing alright, mostly because I know that this is a new season, and that it’s okay for me to be ridiculously tired from all the things I just did. I’m realizing that seasons can be natural checkpoints, and that checkpoints are a great time to pause and rest, as well as to assess the things I’m carrying around with me and see what I really need.
For instance, I don’t really need a mandolin AND a ukulele, neither of which I play. Ever. Probably a good time to drop one or both of those.
Neither do I need to go to a doctor I really dislike. Ain’t nobody got time for cranky men giving you a pap smear.
But I do need a consistent, physical activity in my life. So I need to find one of those again.
How about you? As we head into a seasonal change, a checkpoint, what do you need to drop, and what do you need to find for this next season?
A coworker reminded me this week that since we’re going to Florida, we will probably want to bring bathing suits. I’ll be there for an entire month, so realistically I will want more than one bathing suit. But I only have one good bathing suit.
If you’re female, you already know where I’m going with this. Feel free to go grab a snack and come back next week. By the way, you look thin. Have you been eating enough?
Like most women, I hate bathing suit shopping.
This is because no one actually looks good in a bathing suit unless they get paid to do so (allowing them to pay other people to help them look good in a bathing suit.) Oh, and chubby kids. Fat babies look adorable in bathing suits.
When it comes to something as tight-fitting as swimwear, the sizes Small, Medium, and Large, simply don’t allow for the fact that HUMANS AREN’T SHAPED THE SAME. Not a one of us. For instance, I’ve got some extra junk in my trunk, but I also have the rib cage circumference of a chihuahua. And I’m supposed to choose between three sizes that were actually made for “Small model,” “Average model,” and “The rest of you.”
What in the actual heck?!?
(And don’t even get me started on dressing room lighting. I’m pretty sure it’s the mirrors that have cellulite, not us, just so you know.)
And yes, I can buy a more expensive bathing suit that allows for specific measurements. But forking over $150+ for a piece of lycra specially tailored to my bra size and the width of my belly button is just not how I want to spend my money. Why isn’t this where the whole, “There are starving children in Africa!” subject pops up? It makes so much more sense in relation to over-priced bathing suits than food that’s already been purchased and served to an American. I’ve been cleaning my plate for almost 20 years now, and those children are still starving. It’s not working, people.
I know I had a point to all this. Something about the unfairness of our material world and how they work us over for extra money and we try to make ourselves feel better while we eat our feelings of inadequacy because we don’t look like models.
But honestly, that just feels exhausting. Forget it.
I’m going to Walmart to get a bathing suit and some ice cream. Need anything?
I’m typing this from the back corner of an airplane, flying 37,987 feet over Atlanta. I’m hurtling through the air in a metal tube, making the 989-mile journey from Orlando to Indianapolis in about 2 hours. For the dollar price of a decent pair of jeans. I paid more for the tablet I’m tapping these words on than I did to look down at the earth like an astronaut coming back into orbit. Crazy.
And yet, this journey that seems crazy when you break it down is actually returning me to normal. I’m coming back to real life.
I’ve spent the last two months touring with a Christmas rock band, playing shows in prisons and homeless shelters. If you don’t know me that probably sounds like the beginning of a bad joke or a Lifetime movie plot, but it’s true.
This touring season has been hectic and harried, full of late-night gas station stops and frigid early-morning wake-up calls. Our schedule has been all over the place, and that combined with rehearsals, regular work meetings, and overseas travel means that I haven’t had a steady routine since August. I haven’t worked out more than twice in one week since June. Add in the emotional intensity of talking to sobbing inmates and still grieving the loss of one of my best friends, plus not getting a lot of alone time, and all this makes for a very unstable Ashleyne.
So today I am returning home. I’m returning to my routine and my bed and my gym and my cubicle.
Normal often feels boring. Home can seem like an abstract concept. But today, normal and home sound wonderful.
(Feel free to remind me of that in a month, when I’m complaining about it.)
So, wherever you are today, whatever you’re doing, why don’t you take a moment to join me in appreciating normal and real life? If you’re far away, or in a strange season, stop to look forward to returning to normal. If you’re in the day-in-day-out right now, no matter how hectic, stop – breathe – notice how nice real life is. Look around and enjoy the mess, organization, chaos, noise, or quiet. Are you home? Is this where you belong? Savor it.
Although experience is lauded as the greatest teacher, I realized last night that many of my long-lasting life lessons came from my friends.
And so, in case you didn’t have friends to teach you each of these lessons, here are a few of the things I’ve learned from the friends around me. (In no particular order.) I’ll start with how the lesson was communicated to me, and end with a general statement, since often the specific circumstances require some adjustment in order to make the lesson relevant to others.
Couscous can turn “I scrounged up some random items from the pantry” into “Look I made a meal!” I recognize that this feels like an odd lesson, especially as the first on the list of “important life lessons.” Not to mention the fact that couscous is totally 2008. But really, the point here is that one freshly-made, hot item on a plate of random foods gives a sense of intentionality and comfort. Big picture lesson: Never underestimate the power of making hot food to comfort your soul.
Even if you never dance, if the bride asks you to dance, you dance. This is mainly about setting aside you own insecurities every once in a while, so another person can enjoy a big moment in their life. Don’t worry about how stupid you look or feel. Just jump in. Like Amy Poehler says, “Nobody looks stupid when they’re having fun.” Big picture: Make sure you forget about you sometimes in order to make life moments better for others.
But, don’t mistake drama for big life moments. Manipulation and shame have no place in getting you to do things. There’s a huge difference between, “This is really important to me,” and, “You will ruin everything is you don’t do this.” This is a huge challenge for me to recognize, but I’m learning. Learn with me. Big picture: Choose to do things for people or not to; don’t get suckered into it.
When traveling overseas, always bring your own toilet paper. Everywhere. This is pretty self-explanatory. But the big picture lesson I’ve learned from it is this: Never take for granted that other people have what you have.
Whenever possible, have your friends be friends with each other. First of all, this makes story-telling so much easier. “Well, you’ve met them, you understand.” But also, the phrase, “The more the merrier!” really is true. Some of my favorite moments have been with multiple sets of friends all in the same place together. Big picture: Ummm…whenever possible, have your friends be friends with each other.
What are some lessons you’ve learned from your friends?
Tonight I accidentally shattered a bottle of wine on the steps of a church in Tbilisi, Georgia.
I never thought I would say that sentence.
Yesterday I had pizza with a girl who grew up in a village where soldiers kidnapping children for ransom and women for wives is still a frequent occurrence.
I really never thought I would say that.
Because I don’t think I really believed that it still happens. Not now. Not when I can watch the Gilmore Girls on my phone and order a book from Amazon and have it delivered to my home in two hours or less. Not when a woman or a black man can run for president in America.
Not when I am so safe by comparison. Her reality is too far from my own for me to believe it without hearing her, meeting her, looking in her eyes.
So far on my trip to Tbilisi, I have learned some fascinating things, met wonderful, kind people, and seen beautiful mountains, buildings, and seas.
But I have also been strongly reminded of how much I do not know, and how much I take for granted.
And so here is my reminder, from my room in Tbilisi to my American friends.
If you can, travel. Ask questions. Learn about other cultures.
If you cannot travel, learn any way you can. Even if you never meet someone from another country, it will change the way you see your own life, and the lives around you.
And if, someday, you find yourself in Tbilisi without a corkscrew…I wish you good luck.
We didn’t have television growing up – or rather, we had a television and a VHS player…just no channels. No, I’m not Laura from Little House on the Prairie. It’s just how it was.
But my great aunt Ruth lived in a house attached to ours, and she had basic TV channels, which was a huge deal. Five days a week – come hell or high water – she watched the news, Wheel of Fortune, and Jeopardy. (And she would have been shocked that I just said “hell.”) She wouldn’t watch the weather, instead preferring to get her predictions from the hometown newspaper. As a five-year-old, I personally found that very unreliable, given that it was printed in black and white and not color.
My siblings and I were rarely allowed to watch TV with Aunt Ruth, but there were two events we could count on: the Presidential Election and the Olympics.
Confession: If no one else was home – an admittedly rare circumstance – my sister and I would sneak into Aunt Ruth’s house and, keeping careful watch for approaching adults, watch snippets of soap operas. Ah, the rebellious lives of homeschooled children.
So. Watching the Olympics, both winter and summer, was a big deal. More specifically, the Olympians were a big deal. They were stars, icons, world leaders…bigger than Alex Trebek or George W. Bush. They were superheroes. Unreachable, unknowable, and unbeatable – except by their own kind.
I maintained this belief for a long time, and it is still my default. It gives watching the Olympics an extra special excitement.
But in 2012, I was flying back to New York from California, and an unknown event caused an entire airline to delay flights in a major North Eastern airport. I found myself in a terminal packed full of frustrated people. Standing room was scarce, and there certainly weren’t any open seats. As a tired 24-year-old with an hour to kill, I plopped down where I could: right next to the trash can. I pulled out a book and started to read.
Within minutes, another girl claimed the other side of the trash can as her temporary home. After making herself comfortable, she called a friend. With my proximity, boredom, and innate Harriet the Spy tendencies, I quickly deduced she was speaking to a friend from home. It was obvious they hadn’t spoken while she’d been traveling, and their mutual excitement piqued my interest.
She started describing the opening ceremonies and how crazy it was that she’d gotten to meet Hope Solo and even see Alison Felix in real life.
Ah. This girl was at the Olympics. Of course she was excited.
Wait. What was that about her first heat? This girl was IN the Olympics.
This girl was an Olympian.
I could hardly believe it. But then her flight was called and she walked to her gate, and I could clearly see that TEAM USA was stitched in giant letters across her back.
I sat next to an Olympian! Well, sort of. We were separated by two and a half feet of plastic and garbage. But an Olympian!
She was normal. She was a kid. She sounded like a high school student describing her prom. She was probably a small-town hero, a college athlete who didn’t medal. For her, this was the biggest moment of her life.
Even though I’m older and much wiser, as I watch the Olympics, I’m still star-struck. Watching Katie Ledecky or Kerri Walsh-Jennings makes me wonder how there can possibly be any misogynists left in the world. Those women are amazing.
But beyond amazing, I now know they’re real people. They work crazy hard and earn those moments in the spotlight. That’s why they get to be Olympians. But they’re still normal. You and I aren’t so far away from them, really…sometimes just one delayed flight and a trash can. Don’t forget that, friends.
I am sitting on a friend’s bed, enjoying a light breeze in sunny California, but apparently I must write to you. I have words to be read, you have eyes to read, we’re a match made in heaven and I cannot stand to be apart.
But I’ll keep it short:
On Friday, you will hear from a wonderful woman on grief and joy and hope. Look forward to it.
This week, if you are in doubt about staying or going, go. That is not always a good motto to have, but I believe in seasons of jumping in, seasons of saying yes, seasons of going. So I’m recommending that this week, you go. Why? Because I currently have enough sand in my ears to fill a small hourglass, and memories of two great evenings spent at the beach with my friends, and I almost didn’t go. Next week I will breathe, rest, think. This week, let’s go. Let’s dive in and live adventurously.