Painting Your Elephant

Scott and the parts of his elephant that he was contractually allowed to show.

Scott and the parts of his elephant that he was contractually allowed to show.

One morning at work when I was feeling particularly beige and suburban, like a…oh, I don’t know, like a beige Suburban, I stomped into Nicole’s office and whined, “My friends have the coolest jobs.  This man, Scott, that I know from GHP?  He’s an artist in LA and he’s spending this morning painting an elephant.  Not painting a picture of an elephant–putting paint all over an actual elephant and getting paid for it!  And me?  I’m sending emails warning people that they better return salad bowls to the cafeteria or there will be hell to pay.”

Nicole, ever the great friend and cheerleader, replied, “Well–wait a minute.  You just had that great weekend at Wesleyan with all the alumnae stuff and giving the speeches and parties.  That’s you painting your elephant.”

She had a point.  “Painting your elephant” has now become one of our shorthand phrases to each other.  The words we use to remind ourselves to take pride in our own kind of creativity.

My friend, Margaret, who blogs at Grit Girl Runs Fast, is the reason I have been thinking about painting the elephant this week.  She wrote about how she’s intimidated by some of her women friends because she thinks they are more accomplished or educated.  Pffffft.  But she doesn’t let that stop her from loving them.  She surrounds herself with people who make her want to grow.

Who make her want to….(wait for it)…paint elephants?

I know what she means.  Our GHP group, our tribe, met 29 years ago this week.  I love these people like I love butter but they intimidate the ever-loving shit out of me–ALL THE TIME. Look at them:

ele nyc

January 2013, NYC

There’s Michelle who saves little babies who can’t breathe.  Jimmy raises the money that changes the world.  Ridge designs fantastic NYC store windows.  Sara, the poet.  Trajal, the choreographer.  Ginny, a psychologist who also finds time for community theater.  Jill is a big time business lady and bon vivant.  Deidre?  She’s an award-winning actress in LA who you’ve seen on shows like Southland, E.R., The Riches…and some Popeye’s Chicken commercials.  Seth is a defense attorney who performs Shakespeare in his spare time.

These are people who intimidate me.  But I find the courage to hang out with them because LOOK AT THE JOY.  And this photo was taken after a funeral.

These people are so alive that they sizzle with energy.  We talk ourselves hoarse.  We laugh until other people turn to see what the fuss is about.

These people are creators.  They make things that didn’t exist before.  They remind me that it is possible to spin gold from straw.  Check out some of this awesomeness:

Here’s what happens when Mike gets bored working in his yard:

ele mike


Here’s Bryn playing M’Lynn in Steel Magnolias (NOT her real hair):

ele bryn

Here’s Shannah, reigning Romulan Miss Galaxy (NOT her real superorbital ridge):

ele shannah


Julie in Austin with her award for best comedy pilot:

ele julie

This is Brantley, who’s currently in Switzerland on the European leg of his ukelele tour:

ele brantley

Look at the smile on John’s face (second from left) that night that Ruth Bader Ginsberg came to see his play “Arguendo” then stayed around for the Q&A panel:

ele rbg


And here’s me, painting my elephant behind a podium:

ele me


Margaret–please keep hanging out with people who make you want to grow.  I’ve been doing it for 29 years and it’s working out just fine.

GHPeeps–Thank you.  I’m proud to know you.  I love you.


18 thoughts on “Painting Your Elephant

  1. Brandy H


    YOU make me want to paint MY elephant! You will never know how inspired and honored I feel to have served with you and all the other ladies on Wesleyan’s board of Managers.

  2. Cheryl

    I’m proud to know YOU, Ashley! And I’ll be adding “painting your elephant” to my lexicon, along with “no spaghetti” and other colorful classics from previous posts.

  3. Seth

    Ashley, You have always been inspiring and intimidating. Thanks for occasionally hanging out with me. It’s my only hope of looking cool.

  4. Gay (BIG) Garrett

    You raised a pile of money as big as an elephant for blood cancer research so I think that you painted your elephant GREEN! Good grief give yourself the credit you deserve. Got it?

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