Well, Shut My Mouth.

Mouth of Akhenaten or Nefertiti  circa 1353 BCE Image courtesy Met OASC

Mouth of Akhenaten or Nefertiti
circa 1353 BCE
Image courtesy Met OASC

The emotional fatigue of these last few weeks has taken some part of my voice with it. There is so much to say that I can’t seem to say anything. There are 130 drafts in my blog folder, but I haven’t written anything in days.

Last week, I went to a funeral in my hometown–Gay, Georgia. I want to write about the family cemetery and the fact that my grandmother already has a place marked for me that I’ll never use. I also want to write about how I lived in that town for so long, it’s where My People have lived for 100 years, but I have no idea where the black cemetery is. It can’t be that far from the streets I know. I have so many things to say about race that I can’t even start.

The preacher at the funeral said some things about religion and world views that sat so wrong with me that I had to pull out a piece of paper during the service and take notes on all that I couldn’t say in that moment. But the paper is still there in my purse. He has his way and I have mine and never the twain shall meet.

I made the widow laugh that day, as we leaned against a mossy stone wall by the raw red clay of her husband’s grave. I wanted to write about how important that was to me. It’s good to laugh. It’s one thing only the living can do.

Even on a sad day, I was happy to be with my family. Watching my cousin’s girls do gymnastics after lunch, barefoot in their black dresses. Admiring pictures of fish they have caught. Telling stories with people who have known my people for generations. Catching up with my sister and making plans for our next adventure with Vivi. Laughing with Brett when the police cars hit the sirens to began the procession and she pretended to run from Johnny Law.

I ate food cooked by good-hearted Baptist women and I wanted to write about that. Pound cake made by Miss Ann. Miss Ruth’s macaroni and cheese. Miss Marcia, my Sunday School teacher, whose voice takes me back instantly to when I was in single digits. I haven’t written about any of that.

I went back to Wesleyan for fall convocation on Tuesday. I talked to the senior class about doing their best. How their best will change. I stood in front of an auditorium filled with hundreds of people and I told them that I’ve struggled my whole adult life with anxiety and never feeling good enough. I want to write about that, too. How important it is that we be honest with our younger sisters, that no one sits alone and thinks, “It must just be me.”

I want to write about how my son’s feet, when I go in to check on him and he’s deeply asleep, how his tiny little feet take my breath away with their perfection of form and their total innocence. How soft they are, and strong and how one day not long ago, I could hold them both in one hand. How one day he will go off to college.

Tomorrow is the 10 year anniversary of when Richard gave me Sadie’s ring and I want to write about that. I can’t yet.

Where I come from, when you are met with news that is so shocking your mouth just hangs open in wonder, sometimes the only thing to say is, “Well, shut my mouth.” You can say it when you’ve been corrected. Or when you’re gobsmacked. That’s kind of where I am this week.

Maybe writing this has shaken something loose. Maybe.

Tight Shot, Wide Shot

One of my dearest friends, Brantley, called me today for a quick pep talk.  Y’all have met him briefly in a story about painting elephants (and ukeleles). And in the story about dust being dust and being all that we are. He and I have known each other since 1985.  Brantley caught the bouquet when Richard and I got married. So yeah, we go way back.

He said something that spends so much time rattling around in my own head that I thought it was an echo at first.  “Everyone on Facebook seems to have their shit together and I don’t know what I’m even doing.”

Sound familiar? Oh, Brantley, my love…let me share a little something with you.

Tonight, I looked around my house and started thinking about tight shots and wide shots.  Here’s a tight shot from my dining room:


Mahogany inlaid table. Elegant screen.  That silver wine coaster?  It’s Hermes, darling.  I bought it in Paris. This is what we put on Facebook.

Now here’s the wide shot:


Art projects hanging from the art, PS3 chargers, Christmas ornaments that need to be glued together, ripped upholstery, tarnished candlesticks, and more crumbs ground into that Persian rug than our dog can eat.  This is real life.  (Even my camera balked at the scene.)

Here’s a tight shot:


Hand tied Armenian wool rug with lapiz field featuring jade and ruby accents.

Wide shot:


Green pleather purse that doesn’t match a damn thing but it was $18 at Kohls two seasons ago.  Stack of books I haven’t read. Stretchy pants. Apron strings because the apron my mom gave me hasn’t made it back to the kitchen yet.  It’s only been sitting there a month. And there are Lego bits just out of the frame. This is real life–the wide shot!

Here’s another tight shot kind of vignette that I would put on Facebook to make everyone think I have my shit together:


These are just a few of the antique Christmas ornaments that I have collected on my travels.  The beaded stars are from a tiny shop in Prague under Karlov Most. The pink bell came from a junk store in Bermuda. The green frosted ball is from…you get the idea.  This is Facebook. Oh, and to throw in a little Pinterest, these ornaments are displayed on a branch that I found down by the river and REPURPOSED in a vase of river stones.

Wide shot:


That scraggly old limb has been up in the corner of the living room since 2004.  Have I dusted those balls?  Hell, no. My balls are nasty. (Never thought I’d be saying that on the line.) That’s two Hefty bags of clothes that need to go to the thrift store.  Does anyone need a telescope for their living room?  We have two.  And these are just our upstairs telescopes.  There are a few more in the basement.  Life with Mr. Science is not tidy. (At which point he normally yells, “That’s DOCTOR SCIENCE!” then scatters more cracker crumbs on the sofa.)

I took a few more of these tight shot/wide shot combos, like in the bathroom and the kitchen, but I’m scared DFCS or the EPA will come get me if I post them.

Facebook: tight shot.  Real life: wide shot.

One Right Thing

Can those of you who raised little boys PLEASE promise me that I will make it through this year?  This boy…this BOY.

Things got quiet this morning.  Never a good thing!  I had left the door to the deck open so I could enjoy some fresh cool air. Carlos took advantage of the situation and decided to paint the deck PURPLE with some tempera paint that G had left out there from a birdhouse project. paint

Got a little ninja turtle thing going on there.

I plopped him in the tub and laughed it off.  But he melted down when I wouldn’t let him use the entire bottle of Disney Princess Bubble Solution.  We worked it out.

He refused to wear the first two shirts I pulled from the drawer, but we agreed on a blue shirt with bears on it.  I got him dressed, right down to his Spiderman sandals.  I let him win the battle of the hairbrush.  OK.

Then I left him in the den in front of Peppa Pig so I could take a shower myself.

Do y’all sense my mistake?  Can you feel it in your parenting senses?

You’re thinking, “Ashley? Did you put up the purple paint or did you just leave it right there in the same place like an idiot?”

Yes, yes I did.  Little Dude figured out how to get back out on the deck and painted himself purple AGAIN.


This time I might have cleaned him up with a little less patience and a little more grumbling.  Dressed him again.  Dressed myself again. Left the deck purple.  Locked the white dog inside so he didn’t end up purple too.

Got all ready to go, when I remembered that I needed to restock his extra clothes cubby at school because potty training is STILL a thing. Still. As I went to the laundry to get a bag of tiny underwear, he covered the loveseat with Parmesan cheese.

Yep.  Aromatic.

But hey, the dog was inside and would take care of that.  We load up the car with a stack of clean clothes and off we go. When what to my wondering eyes doth appear but a kamikaze squirrel, so I slam the brakes. Clean clothes fly EVERYWHERE.

That was it. I snapped.


From the back seat, I hear a tiny little voice chirp, “YES!”


Right there in the middle of the road, we laughed.  Carlos the Purple made me laugh.

That’s the thing about kids. Even in the middle of all the fuss and bother, they’re the very ones to remind me that it is delightful to live in a world that can turn purple, where a loveseat can smell like spaghetti, and sometimes you get a bubble bath on a Wednesday morning.



Something Broke Here a While Ago

Six or seven months ago, as I walked to my office one morning, I saw a man from the grounds crew chopping up azalea plants by the sidewalk.  My first reaction was horror–those plants were perfectly healthy.  While I stood there on the sidewalk with my mouth hanging open, the man turned to me and shrugged.  He spread his arms out wide over the wreckage then shook his head with resigned disgust.

“Somebody plowed right through here last night.”


That’s when I saw the bigger picture.  He wasn’t tearing down healthy azaleas–he was disentangling broken limbs from the car shaped hole that had been left in the hedge. Next to the car shaped hole, two deep tire tracks gouged the lawn all the way back to the spot where they had left the blacktop. Someone had gone across two lanes, up and over the sidewalk, across the grass and into our azaleas.  Jesus.

He and I shook our heads in wonder.  But there was nothing for me to do, so he got back to his work and I headed on to mine.  As I continued on the sidewalk, he said, “Careful–there’s glass everywhere.”

The pebbled sidewalk lay covered with a glaze of green glass pebbles from the shattered windshield.  I picked my way through.  By that afternoon, the hole in the hedge had been transformed into a seamless part of the landscaping.  The sidewalk had been cleared as if nothing had happened.  Life went back to normal.

I’ve walked that same path a few hundred times since that day, in winter then spring then summer.  Today, though, I walked by at a different time of day.  The angle of the sun sparkled off something in the grass.  The lawn twinkled with pale green jewels, mixed in with the browning leaves and twigs from the old oaks, the acorn caps left by squirrels, the brittle grass of summer and the dry Georgia clay. All around, emeralds at my feet.  A carpet of peridots.

Through all those days of all that weather, the pebbles of windshield glass survived.  It got me thinking about the scars we carry with us from the hardest parts of our lives.  The rough edged surprises that can still make us bleed.  The fallout.  The flinch.

The evidence that something broke here, a while ago.

From a distance, and in the right light, they shine like jewels.


Sunday Sweetness–Having It All

Today’s story is a flashback to New Year’s Eve when I stood on a pink beach and watched a gold balloon float into the sky.  You can’t have it all, but there is so much to love. Have a great day today, for “when it is August, you can have it August and abundantly so.” Click the photo to read “There Is This.”

Image courtesy Pixabay

Image courtesy Pixabay

Why My Family Talked During the National Moment of Silence

Image courtesy Pixabay

Image courtesy Pixabay

Thursday at 7 p.m., thousands of Americans gathered together at vigils in memory of Michael Brown of Ferguson, MO and the other people who have lost their lives in incidents of police brutality.  As those crowds drew together to observe a moment of silence, my family talked.

While I stirred a pot of chicken and broccoli on the stove and my brand new high-schooler set the table, I asked her, “Is anyone at your school talking about Ferguson, Missouri?”

She wrinkled up her brows and said, “What, like the court case?  I thought that was in Kansas.”  She thought I was talking about Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, KS.  That’s what they study in school when it’s time to talk about racial equality–the Supreme Court case the ended school segregation. Yeah, we need to talk.

We put the casserole on the table at 6:40.  We talked about the usual things–the football scrimmage on Friday night, Vivi’s library time today.  Carlos refused to eat and asked for goldfish, smoothie, oyster crackers, fruit snacks.  Each time, I told him “No, we’re having chicken and noodles,” and pointed to his plate. He refused. Vivi finished up and asked to be excused at 6:58.  I watched the grandfather clock that their white grandfather made for them and pondered whether I should bring up the moment of silence.

Here’s the way I saw it:  a moment of silence helps us focus in stillness when we have been caught up in the noise.  But in my life, there hasn’t been enough noise.  I watch the killing of unarmed black men from the safety of my America, from a world where #MikeBrown is not trending.  I have to go out looking for the fury because it’s not outside my dining room window.  So we switched things up and paid our respects to Ferguson and the Brown family by talking during the moment of silence.

My kid surprised me.  She talked about how race issues show up at her school, self-segregation in the cafeteria, linguistic shifts among different social groups, how there are kids she met once who have died in gun violence.  She talked and we listened.  We talked and she listened.  We talked about what her life is like now that she identifies as a Latina.  We talked about the ghetto of privilege that she has grown up in, where everyone has a PhD and a Prius.  We talked about diversity of more than color–diversity of opportunity, language, culture.

She–SHE!–brought up John Locke and the AP Government project she’s working on.  It’s about the Bill of Rights, so we talked about amendments that granted personhood to former slaves, women’s suffrage, how amendments get passed, why “equal protection under law” is still something that we are working towards.  We sat at our table and talked about the Age of Enlightenment and how the idea of individual rights evolved.  This is the kid who would rather watch grass grow than read a book, but she was TALKING about John Locke.

At 7:30, G, our girl, and I rose from the table and started cleaning up.  We didn’t solve anything.  But we started talking during the moment of silence and I feel like it was the right thing to do.  We talked about the history that came before us and the history that we’re living through right now.

This Blue Sky Is Not Beautiful Because…

As I walked between buildings this morning with my face in my smartphone and my head filled with project deadlines, housekeeping minutiae, goals and dreams and regrets that make up the miasma that sublets my head, a red rosebud caught my attention.  I turned off the phone for a second.

I took a deeper breath and pushed it down through my tense muscles, all the way to my feet. My feet sent back the message that I was walking on a pebbled path made of gentle curves, passing under five old oak trees.  My brain wafted down the word “psithurism”–the word for the sound that wind makes in trees.  I couldn’t help but smile.

At the end of the path, I stopped on the sidewalk to let a car pass, even though I had the right of way at the crosswalk.  Reflexively, my mind clicked over to berating the car’s driver for not seeing me…but I stopped and chose to breathe again.  I lifted my eyes, and this is what I saw:blue sky

Such a surprise, to SEE the sky and accept with grateful wonder that I get to live in a place on a day in a moment when that color is right there for me to see.  No charge, no ticket required, no restrictions apply.

At that moment, what words popped into my head?

“This blue sky is not beautiful BECAUSE of anything.  It just IS. It is and it is beautiful.

Not because I have a job.

Not because my clothes match and smell nice.

Not because my son’s potty training is on or off track.

Not because the scale said a certain number.

Not because I met that deadline.

Not because I wrote today or slept last night or ate the right balance of carbs to protein or remembered to take the school supplies to the teacher.  All those things that fill my mind have nothing whatsoever to do with this blue sky that brings me such delight.

And no self-respecting Georgia Girl could dive into a sky like that without humming “Blue Sky” by The Allman Brothers.  Here’s one of only five recordings of “Blue Sky” from the glory days of the brothers, the band, the Betts.  This version was recorded live in 1971 at SUNY Stonybrook.  It’s long, because it was the 70s.  Worth every single second–breathe your way through it instead of playing Candy Crush or worrying about carbs.

“You’re my blue sky, you’re my sunny day.  Lord y’know it makes me high when you turn your love my way. Turn your love my way…” Click the photo of the band if you’d like to go back to that day: