Category Archives: Blogging

The Pivot

This is the stairwell between the first floor of my hospital and the basement, the route that leads to the cafeteria. In 20 years, I’ve been down these stairs thousands of times. They get repainted every few years and the non-skid safety strips are checked and replaced. This stairwell is mostly used by staff, so it’s not the prettiest–all fluorescent lights and workaday beige.

Maybe it was because I’ve been so contemplative lately, or maybe just that I was walking to lunch alone instead of talking to a friend, but today I had to stop and….stare. Notice anything?

It's OK to stair.

It’s OK to stair.

Every bottom stair has a worn out place. Why is that ONE SPOT worn away when the rest of the stairs are fine?

Couple of reasons:

It’s the lowest point. No matter if you start out at the top of the stairs walking to the left or right, if you’re in a crowd or alone, if you stop to hold the door for others, by the time you get to that lowest step, you’re in single file. Nobody’s swinging wide to go around a blind corner. Like cows in a chute, we arrange ourselves into an orderly pace and space to take that corner. We draw closer to the wall, to make ourselves safe from whatever might be barreling around the blind turn. Or we make ourselves small to keep from barreling around the corner.

It’s the spot where you pivot. Halfway down the stairwell, you have to switchback. One hundred and eighty degree turn in the opposite direction. Our graceful bodies teeter on that narrow bottom step, then without even thinking about it, all our weight shifts onto the ball of the foot and with an elegant little swing of the hips we change direction. But pivoting our entire body weight on about a 1-inch spot in the sole creates a lot of pressure. It’s far more pressure to change the direction in which we’re moving.

Everybody’s doing it. Every foot that takes those stairs hits THAT spot. Over a few weeks, hundreds of thousands of feet use that stairwell and because we are creatures of habit, every foot hits that spot. THAT SPOT. The total surface area of the stairs is irrelevant, because not every square inch is used equally. It’s that ONE SPOT that takes the beating.

And I guess I had to stop myself from crying in the stairwell because that little worn-out spot called to me. We have so much in common right now, that little spot and me. I’ve been at my lowest for the last few months, clinging to the wall and hesitant about going around the corner. Life is forcing me to pivot. I’m going in one direction then BAM…a 180 is required. And it seems that everybody’s doing that. Raise your hand if you’re feeling ground down and a little dizzy from the switching back and forth.

Even with 195 drafts in my folder, I couldn’t bring myself to write for an entire month. And this story right here might be in the bottom 10% of my output over the last four years. Look at that photo…terrible! How am I going to SEO this post about hospital basement linoleum and depression?

I tried to learn more about the idea behind the worn out pivot, but that led me down a rabbit hole of Newtonian mechanics and Pinterest boards for best patterned carpets to hide wear on your stairs.

So this drab picture of a scuffed up spot on a basement stairwell is what I’ve got for today. I wrote about it because it made me feel something. If you’ve read this far, please accept my apologies. I’m sorry that I made you read this drivel, and I’m even more sorry that I haven’t trusted you with the stuff that’s clanging around in my head. But here we are at the bottom, so it’s time to pivot.

See you soon.

 

 

 

My Word for 2017

Last night when I had finished writing in my gratitude journal, I took the pen and scrawled one word on the back of my left hand: WRITE. By the time I rolled out of bed this morning, the word had already faded between my pillowcase and cheek, but there was enough of it left to give me that nudge. WRITE.

So natuarlly, I spent most of the day clearing four bags of donations and two bags of pure-T trash out of the kids’ rooms. I rearranged furniture and glued broken Christmas ornaments together. I finished a book (My Sunshine Away) and started the next one (Hillbilly Elegy). I ate the last of the Jordan almonds that I bought for Christmas because they were Daddy’s favorite. I bought dog food and folded laundry. I exfoliated and moisturized (eradicating that reminder to WRITE along the way). I wished G’s mom safe travels on her way back to Brasil. I took the kids to a movie. I even started a Facebook thread about choosing a word for 2017.

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Folderol–that should be my word. Because now it’s 11:28 p.m. and I’m still chasing my tail.

I thought about “act.” Or “speak.” I want to dedicate this year to action and speaking my truth and speaking up for what I believe in. Then Jenna suggested “listen.” Isn’t that even more important than speaking? Maybe I need to focus on listening this year. When Vivi and I were cleaning in her room, I found a picture she had drawn of G and me arguing while she and Carlos sat in a porthole on the cruise ship. Oof. Do I really need more Speak? I need more Listen.

Friends suggested many gentle words: present, open-hearted, patient, kindness, grace, peace, smile, hope, light.

I’m not feeling like it’s going to be a gentle year. They suggested some fighting words too: rise, resist, courage, strength, grit, going, fierce, tenacious, valiant, endure, stand, endeavor, persevere.

I pondered words while I folded laundry. You can’t be doing laundry on New Year’s Day–it’s bad luck. I considered words while I ran to the grocery store to buy greens and peas. Gotta eat some peas for luck and greens for money on New Year’s Day, right? I tried out words while I swept under around the kitchen. If you sweep on New Year’s Day, you’ll sweep someone out of your life.

I celebrate the new by following old superstitions. Even though I know it’s all silliness, I follow the traditions because they remind me of where I come from and they give me a little illusion that I can control where I’m going.

And the one New Year superstition that I hope does prove true is the idea that whatever you’re doing at midnight is what you’ll be doing for the rest of the year ahead. I’m tapping away on my keyboard. Writing is the thing that I do to rise, resist, keep going, persevere. It’s my way of being fierce, tenacious, and valiant.

Writing is also where I find peace, how I practice grace, how I remain present. My best writing is kind and open-hearted and light.

So my word for 2017? WRITE.

And the grandfather clock that my Daddy made for me is striking 12 bells. Happy New Year, y’all. Let’s go find our stories.

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Perfect Pointless Mornings

The dogs are back on the beach at St. Simon’s. They’re only allowed on the public beaches between Labor Day and Memorial Day. As I took my stroll from the Coast Guard Station towards Gould’s Inlet Sunday morning, tennis balls and frisbees flew through the air with suburban bird dogs hot on their tails.

Sunday Morning on St. Simon's Island

Sunday Morning on St. Simon’s Island

“Katie, get up here!” one woman hollered to a sopping wet spaniel when she wandered off to a tide pool. “Amber! Amber! Amber!” a man chanted to a Corgi with better things to do than listen. “Bella! Bella! Good girl!” and the chocolate lab got a treat for coming back from the sand dunes when she was called. “Archie! Get the ball! Archie!” The beach sounded like a playground 10 minutes before nap time when everyone gets worked up and worn out.

I wandered along the edge of the water, my eyes down looking for shells to put in the plastic cup I had brought along. It was already an hour later than I had planned to leave for home. But I couldn’t live with myself if I drove 700 miles to the seashore for a board retreat and didn’t at least get my feet wet. In a word, I was lolly-gagging.

The tide was almost at its low, so there were plenty of shells to be had, mostly plain old oysters and clams. I’d pick up a promising one and hold it up to the sun as it rose over the low brown ocean. I’m looking for shells with natural holes worn in them for a project I’m working on back home. If the sun shone through, I put the shell in my cup. I love the ones that have grown smooth and pocked with time as they’ve rolled back and forth along the bottom of the sea. I want to string them together and make a windchime for the screened porch.

On one side of me, the sandy expanse of beach rollicking with dogs. On the other side, the quiet brown ocean teeming with life and mystery and danger. Pelicans and power walkers and crabs and investment bankers all out to get what they needed from the morning. And me shuffling along the narrow line where all that activity comes together.

Where this meets that

Where this meets that

Story-telling is like that. While the whole wide world goes on around me, I’m sifting through the little broken leftover things. Picking up a gray one and tossing it back into the water. Holding another one up to the sun to see if a little light peeks through. Putting it in my pocket if it shows promise. I’ll take these home and mix them in with all the shells I’ve picked up this summer and last summer and the summers before that. I’ll rinse them off with a little water and leave them in the sun to bleach. Shells, like stories, reveal hidden colors and crannies, after you show them a little attention and let them sit for a while.

After an hour at the beach, I got back in the car with the sand still on my feet and pointed the car towards Griffin. My dad isn’t doing well and I wanted to go by and see him. His precarious health is the ocean-sized story I haven’t been writing about for a couple of months. The idea of life without a parent is dark and mysterious and dangerous and eternal like that quiet brown ocean I walked beside this morning. So I’ve been looking at the shells instead of at the sea.

Crabby on SSI

Crabby on SSI

With shells and stories rattling around in the car, I played The Cowboy Junkies “Open” CD on that first stretch of I-95 outside of Brunswick.

I don’t sleep most nights,
Just lie awake and count my blessings.

I’ll take this endless life
Of perfect pointless mornings.

I’ll hold you till the morning comes
’cause it’s all that I can do.

I’m so open. I’m so open.

I don’t like these last goodbyes.
I don’t like goodbyes.

I’ll take this endless life of perfect pointless mornings. It’s all that I can do.

Have a listen.

Hello, Friend. I Am Afraid of You.

Me on Day One of my first BlogHer!

Me on Day One of my first BlogHer!

Two years ago, when I went to BlogHer for the first time, I didn’t expect much. I’d only been writing for a few months and I knew that I knew pea turkey squat about the world of blogging. I met this one really cool woman, Heather, who was starting a blog, too. When I asked her what she wrote about, she said, “Well, I’m not really sure what my niche will be…” I looked at her with my gob hanging open and replied, “You’re a lesbian vegan parent of multiples, one of whom has special needs…and YOU can’t find a niche? I’m screwed.” Heather and I were standing on the Expo floor, surrounded by sponsors who wanted to establish relationships with bloggers–maybe like us?– who could generate content about their products. Air freshening candles, tapioca pudding, car seats, vibrators, seltzer water, hair care products from Best Buy…what the ever lovin hell?

I couldn’t figure out where I fit in. Then on Friday night, the Voice of the Year keynote blew me away. In the midst of all the expo noise and the SEO tips and the social media optimization strategies, these women were recognized for getting up on stage with a microphone and telling stories. I had found my niche. Telling stories.

20140725_210343So last year, I went for it. And I got a spot on that stage with that microphone. The entire trip to BlogHer14 in San Jose centered around that seven minutes on the stage. By that time, I knew I could sustain my blog. I knew I could tweek widgets and self-host and run ad code and learned even more about those things at the conference. But the whole conference was pre-VOTY nerves and post-VOTY high.

Something different happened after last summer’s conference. I kept my place at the blogger table on social media. I friended other writers and I followed people so I can learn from them. My friend, Dee, said, “Why are you liking stuff on a site about natural hair for Black women?” Because Patrice at Afrobella is a pro. I’ve been watching how these women build community by participating in their communities on line.

In the days leading up to BlogHer15 in NYC, I’ve found myself more anxious than I have been at the previous trips. And that’s completely weird because I know far more about blogging and branding than I ever have before. I’m not looking for a niche, or the spotlight this year.

I’m looking to meet my friends.

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I want to hug A’Driane’s neck because for a year I’ve been learning from her about how to raise boys with quirks. I want to see what shoes Luvvie will be wearing and I want to vote for her Red Pump Project HIV charity to win The Pitch. I can’t wait to see the dress that Alexandra ordered from China–it’s a gem of a clustercuss. I want to talk happiness with August and books with Thien-Kim and parenting with Vikki. I’ll listen and learn from women who aren’t like me. I’ll go to the Queerosphere party and I’m going to dance at killer karaoke like a white woman who learned her moves from Molly Ringwald sometime in the mid-80s. I want to hug the ones who are hurting and promise them that they will be OK.

All of those connections that we’ve been building over the interwebz for 12 months will have to step out into the light of day. I don’t know what anyone’s voice sounds like. I don’t recall who is tall (well, Arnebya is) and who is short (Queen of Side Eye…ahem). I know Casey is handsome and her daughter is fancy. I’ll find these dear people in a crowd and then…

I’ll be me. Simply me. And I’ll be present. And I’ll be OK, too.

Because what I realized today is that this anxiety stems from some whack idea that when I am seen in the light, I will be revealed as that awful person that the voice inside my head sometimes tells me that I am. Even if that person isn’t real, if they don’t exist anywhere except inside my head. I might be the sum total of the worst parts of me instead of the best parts of me.

Hello friends. I am afraid of you because of how I might judge myself in your presence. But I have found my niche among this band of storytellers and I am thankful for the place at the table.

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The good fortune I took to San Jose

 

If You Tell A Town A Story…

mouseHave you ever read the book “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie?” It’s all about cause and effect and how one thing leads to another. If you give a mouse a cookie, then he’ll want some milk…and so on. That’s how Wednesday unfolded for me, all because I told that story about spending summers watching Grandmama Eunice write the “News In Gay.”

If you tell a town a story…you wake up to a message from DeeAnn saying that her mama found some of your grandmama’s old columns and has already passed them along to your mama (who calls later to say that she has them set aside and will visit soon–they’re too fragile to mail). Because our mamas have been friends since the late 1940s and our grandmamas were friends too. Miss Ruby and Mr. Hoke lived right down the road from Grandmama Eunice and DeeAnn said she used to HATE it when her Mimi got on the phone with Miss Eunice because it meant they were going to talk for a WHILE and DeeAnn was going to have to cool her jets.

If you tell a town a story…the boy you had a crush on since before you could remember–yes, Jeffrey from last summer’s story about peaches–who also happens to be DeeAnn’s baby  brother, has sent you an email to say that he remembers the exact sound that old metal drink box at Jack Findley’s made. He says he’ll pass the article along to the Findleys’ daughter, Alice, so she can read it too. And then your friend, Lynn, from back in elementary school writes to say that she is all teary with sweet memories because Jack was her Daddy’s brother and that was her Uncle Jack and Aunt Bessie and she loved them so. And I tell her how it was at Jack Findley’s store that I first learned how to whistle, sitting there on the upturned apple crate at the end of the counter while Miss Bessie talked to Grandmama and Grandmama enjoyed an Eskimo Pie from the freezer chest. Then Joe Nash, whose mama taught me at Vacation Bible School for many summers, says he remembers going to Jack’s to buy Chef Boyardee. Joe just opened The Fat Chihuahua restaurant in that little town and it sure ain’t Chef Boyardee!

If you tell a town a story….Lori Lee calls her mama from Florida to tell her about the story about Miss Eunice and before Miss Susie has even had time to finish her breakfast, the two of them are crying and laughing over the good times that Lori Lee had with her Nannie on those summer days long ago. How Lori Lee ate great big bowls of fresh peas right after swimming lessons and before the soaps. Before she hangs up, Lori Lee tells Miss Susie how she understands that it’s important for her own Max and Morgan to get time with their grandmama.

If you tell a town a story…Miss Susie shares that story on Facebook and one of her friends, Carol, says how she remembers my grandparents so fondly because she spent a lot of time at that very house while she and “Sammy” were dating. And I squawk, “You’re THE LEGENDARY CAROL?” The one Daddy still mentions now and then as he clutches at his heart while Big Gay rolls her eyes. And then Carol subscribes to Baddest Mother Ever and now I’m Facebook friends with my Daddy’s prom date.

letter-447577_1280If you tell a town a story….Sonya, who just last year married the boy that SHE had had a crush on since the 1970s, reports that she was going through some old papers at the bank and remembers seeing some of Grandmama Eunice’s columns. She promises to take another look and let me know what she finds. In the meantime, Stephanie, a Wesleyan sister, sends me a tip about a project via the UGA library where they’ve preserved small town newspapers on microfilm and I might want to check it out, seeing as that’s about two miles from my house.

If you tell a town a story…you find out that your VP at work knows that town because her husband was roommates with Willis, a boy from right up the road. Instead of talking about work, you end up talking about shelling purple hull peas and how to make that sweet tomato relish and how it was good to be the girl baby in the family because it meant your grandaddy let you stay in the air-conditioned office at the packing shed while your brothers had to pick peaches. Even the SharePoint developer who was there to talk about site design and governance starts hankering for a big bowl of peas and a glass of tea.

If you tell a town a story…you hear from Mrs. Love, the wife of your elementary school principal and she says she read the story to him and he says hello. My cousin, Greta, who was one of two guests at my first birthday party, says it brought back so many memories of Aunt Eunice’s house. My cousin, Annette, who’s 92 (but you didn’t hear that from me) and still the life of any party, remembers how kind Aunt Eunice was to her after her parents died when she was still a teenager.

If you tell a town a story…you get more stories in return and your heart opens up and you learn things you never knew about people you’ve known all your life.

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Start At the First

I am starting again. Again and again and again and again. When I started writing Baddest Mother Ever, I committed to writing every day for 90 days, just to establish the habit. That challenge really got me going. It’s time to get going again. I’ve let my writing output here drop because life is crazy right now, but life is always going to be crazy and I’m beginning to understand that it only gets crazier when I don’t write. Some of you need to exercise, some need to pray, some need yoga–we’ve all got that thing that keeps us grounded and able to handle the world. Writing is my thing.

For months now, I’ve felt blocked. I’ve been staying away from topics that might upset or bother anyone else. I wrote something a while back and a total stranger started squawking about it to me. So some timid part of my brain said, “That wasn’t worth the trouble.” Or I come up with a story idea…that is a little too truthy. I have opinions about things, but I’ve kept them to myself for fear of having to hear, “BUT THAT’S WRONG!” I don’t like conflict, but I really don’t like silence.

June 1 seems like a good day to start again. All these graduates stepping out into the world. Weddings and babies and summertime–time to explore this day and the next day. The whole world is talking about Caitlyn Jenner (well, the part of the world that gets Vanity Fair) and her transformation. Her “starting again.” Her words about regret resonated with me–what if at the end of life “You never dealt with yourself.” I’m not comparing the courage that it takes to transition in the spotlight of celebrity to the courage that it takes to write a blog post and hit Publish. Please. I’m just saying that I understand the discomfort of an outside that doesn’t match an inside.

I have six minutes left in June First to finish this and start again. I’m going to do my level best to post every day in June.

the-ability-to-start-over

Some Big Gay Advice

It’s been kinda quiet here at Baddest Mother Ever lately. Not quiet in my life. Not quiet in the world. Just quiet in this space because I ran into a wall of fear.

2013 - 1the world needsMy fairy stepmother, Big Gay, called this weekend. We’re gearing up for Big Gay Christmas, so there’s lots to be done. After she got the list of suggestions for presents for the kids, and reviewed the menu for standing rib roast, she said, “Ayshley (you have to say it with the extra vowel and a little touch of cigarette smoke to get the full effect), your Daddy and I adore your blog. You have such a gift.” I thanked her quickly but she was not to be deterred.

“We used to get something new to read every day–lately we’re lucky to get a story once a week. What’s up with that?” I know she was teasing me, but she was making a point too. That woman knows me. And she knows when something is up.

“I’m in a rut. I feel like I talk about the same stuff over and over and I figure people are getting bored with that. It just seems like blah blah blah blah nobody cares. I’m afraid to mess it up and I’m afraid to not write. I’m just stuck.”

And that’s when she doled out some Big Gay Advice.

“You’re going to need to get the fuck over that.”

Big Gay does not find Bunny's perching trick funny.

Big Gay does not find Bunny’s perching trick funny.

She collects antique English porcelain and has a little Italian Greyhound named Bunny. She grows antique roses and peonies as big as a dinner plate. She’s in the garden club and the book club. She’s elegant and smart and lovely.

And right.

Sometimes you just need to get the fuck over yourself.

I’m in such an over-analyzing mode lately that now I’m wondering if I’ll lose readers just because I said fuck. Several times. Or if I talk too much about my goofy brain.

Whatever. I’m going to choose to get the fuck over that.

Big Gay and I talked a while longer but I had to get off the phone to see who was yelling at whom back in the house. I took a shower and when I checked my phone a half hour later, I saw a missed call from Big Gay.

“Hey, did you need something else?”

“I did, sweetheart. I had another thought. Your writing HELPS people. It makes us think, ‘Well, I guess I’m not so weird after all.'”

“Thank you for saying that. That’s what I want to do.”

“But, Ayshley–what I realized is this. It can do the same thing for you. When you write, you’re not alone either.”

So here I am–telling another story about how sometimes I forget that telling stories is important–even if your parents are the only ones reading. Even if the story has been told again and again, like the one about the Christmas when Daddy gave Big Gay an industrial meat slicer. Or the story about the time we were picking on Little Gay about being  a bad driver and she stormed out of the house and ran over the cat. That time when Brett got pulled over by the cops for stealing her own car. Or when Daddy got emotional asking the blessing and toddler Grant whispered loudly, “Pop Pop’s cryin’ like a baby!”

Yeah, I think I’m over it. Thanks, Big Gay. I got you that heavy duty garden hose you asked for for Christmas. You are so good at making things grow.