Posted in ASHLEY IN WONDERLAND, DEATH/LOSS, LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL, MENTAL HEALTH, relationships, writing

THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT

I wrote this last year, in the days that led up to the first anniversary of your death. It has remained in its embryonic stage, in a tangle of nonsensical pieces and parts, until today. I wasn’t ready then, but I’m ready now.

To F. – (as Pete Yorn would say, “cos it already is”).

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Posted in ASHLEY IN WONDERLAND, FUNERAL SERVICE, LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL, MENTAL HEALTH, relationships, writing

HAPPY NEW YEAR

We are so close to the end of the year, and that always seems hard to believe, doesn’t it? I mean, the Counting Crows even wrote the annually relevant jam, “A Long December” about what this confused, sort of gray feeling of wistfulness and closing is like. (Note to self: find time to listen to “A Long December” before January rolls around). But just like the song says – “There’s reason to believe that maybe this year will be better than the last.” – and I get that. I think we all do.

With a new beginning (which we all logically know is really just watching the ball drop on TV from Times Square and taping up a new desk calendar at work when we get back from holiday break) comes what we all need so desperately to keep us moving forward – the smallest glimmer of hope. Because hell, maybe this year really will be better than the last. Maybe it takes moving forward to realize that the year we are leaving behind wasn’t really so bad after all – or, in some cases, maybe it truly was an awful one, and we need to prepare ourselves to move on so that we can get some space to start to heal. No matter where you are at in your personal journey, by the time the last dregs of December are clouding the bottom of the glass, I think we can all agree that we are ready to ring in the New Year, if only just to see what might happen next.

Time is so incredibly sentimental and bittersweet. We hold on to it so dearly, using it to mark our good and our bad and our in betweens. I think that’s why I’ve always upheld a particular romanticism in regards to fresh starts and new beginnings. While it sometimes feels scary to enter uncharted territory, even if it is purely symbolic – it also feels so exciting. And that’s because of possibility. Because possibility exists, and because we, even at our darkest hours, exude hope for a better tomorrow – somewhere out there in the ether, the two mix together and become chance. “You never know” – one of the most powerful phrases in the history of language.

With the examination of time come and gone comes the natural reflection of what we have experienced in the duration. I think this reflection is wise, because I believe that we all have the responsibility to try to become a better version of ourselves every year. And reflection is how we do that – how we look back at what we have just survived, as a learning tool, as a way to honor the time spent, as a way to grow positively. We cannot learn if we do not reflect – even if reflecting is difficult and sometimes painful to do.

So, in that vein – I reckon it’s time that I mark down a little something about what 2017 meant to me. Painful as it may have been, sometimes.

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Posted in LGBTQA, writing

THEY WERE HERE (12/06/17)

On December 6th, we were able to stop again on our way back to South Carolina to pay respects at Pulse in Orlando, the sight of the now second biggest massacre in American history. Since June 12th, 2016. We’ve already had something top it.

What a sickening thought.

I believe my first trip to Pulse was late last year or early this year, and it was just as painful to witness and behold. There is no preparation for what you will feel when you pull into that lot and imagine what happened there, the senseless carnage and the cruelty.

The surrounding community has most definitely not forgotten these beautiful souls – even the Wendy’s across the street, where we changed clothes before the long ride home, had encouraging signs stressing the need for acceptance and equality posted behind the counter, and a framed print listing the names of the lives lost that night. From the window of the Wendy’s, you could have a burger and stare at the memorial. The sad thought turns my stomach. The crosswalk in front of the club had been painted rainbow, and ONE ORLANDO signs hang boldly for all to see.

It makes me so profoundly happy to see that this place is being taken care of. A live Christmas tree is up now, with jugs of water placed nearby, encouraging those who stop by to tend to it. And they do. People protect this place.

A sign, attached to the official Pulse sign, which is new as of my last visit, states that it will eventually be a permanent memorial and museum. Not a single soul is unrepresented or forgotten. I am so grateful for the people who are tirelessly tending to this precious place, who are keeping hate away from it. Who plant flowers in multicolors and share smiles and urge us, the shocked and horrified passersby, to walk away from this painful place feeling inspired to be kind, understanding, and above all things, tolerant.

I’ve included photos below the cut, with a trigger warning because of the obvious reference to LGBTQ+ violence and slaughter. As I’ve said before – I do this not out of voyeurism. I want people who are not able to visit Pulse, whether for travel reasons or perhaps just an emotional unreadiness, to know that these people have not and will not ever be forgotten. I’ll never stop visiting them and praying for them.

I was not a Pulse attendee. Orlando is not my true home. But I identify as a pansexual woman who spent many nights at my own personal Pulse with my many LGBTQ+ friends, feeling safe and free to be ourselves in a designated “safe space”. In many ways, that innocence is lost – there is no such thing as a safe space anymore. But all we can do is promise to remember, and to do our absolute best to prevent it from happening again.

There will always be a Pulse, as long as we promise to never forget. And I never will.

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Posted in FUNERAL SERVICE

REST IN PEACE

I miss the funeral home. I do. I often dream about it and I wake up with tears running hot down the sides of my face because for that one second between sleep and wake, I am groggy and think that I will be going there again soon, that it is just the middle of the night and work will be in the morning, in just a few hours. I dream about being in the prep room, about methodically slipping on my protective gear, about choosing chemicals, about clean incisions, about what it feels like to be doing something with my life that feels worthwhile.

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Posted in travel

A GIFT TO HER FAMILY AND THE WORLD

Not much to say here – what can you say, really?

20 years ago last December, on Christmas Day, the nation was forever changed by the violent death of this little girl. She  was America’s Daughter – we all wanted justice for her, had never seen anything like her!  In a time before Toddlers & Tiaras, her eerily overpainted face and overly wise eyes unsettled us all. Who could do this? The American people craved answers.

Was it an intruder? Her parents? Her brother? A fan? We still don’t know, and probably never will. This child’s short lived life is arguably one of the most famous true crime stories in American history.

A body is just that – a body. A shell. Knowing that and feeling that are two different things, however. Death hag and true crime fan that I am, we pitstopped on the way to Atlanta to St. James Episcopal cemetery in Marietta, GA yesterday to pay our respects to the late JonBenét Ramsey. Her name evokes such an image – I think the majority of us have memories attached to her. The only thing I can say is that being there … it felt surreal. I wish I had a better word, but that’s it. It felt bigger than I could understand.

JonBenét rests in a peaceful corner of a quiet cemetery in a town that passes her by without a second glance – it seems almost laughable, considering her un-lived years have been rocked by near-constant controversy and scandal. With her half sister, Beth, and her mother, Patsy, nearby, she is Just Another Little Girl. Gone too soon. You could hardly believe you were standing over the shell of one of the most horrifying moments in the history of our nation, and truly, of time. It seemed almost inappropriately quaint, but maybe that’s the point. I don’t know. None of us do, do we?

Posted in LGBTQA, writing

ORLANDO

If there is anything that I can say with absolutely certainly about my early childhood, it is that homosexuality was no big deal. It was a concept that I quickly became familiar with, and I knew all that I needed to know about it: it was just something that some people were.

Though I became familiar with homosexuality at a very young age and knew and understood what it meant to be homosexual, it was just a part of my life that required no further explanation. I cannot stress that enough. I never had to ask my parents awkward questions, I never needed further help on the topic. As I saw it, some boys kissed boys. Some girls kissed girls. It seemed really simple. I just innately knew from a very early age that the gender of who I loved or was sexually active with didn’t matter, and honestly, it just seemed like a really stupid thing to get your panties in a bunch about.

I got to live in this beautiful bubble for awhile – where gay was gay and gay was totally okay – but by the time I reached middle school, the jig was up. I started to understand that being gay wasn’t so black and white – rather, it wasn’t a thing that you just could be with any semblance of ease. I felt like a fish out of water when I started to look around and see the behavior towards homosexuality – it was “disgusting, unnatural, perverse”. Even more confusing was when people were accused of being gay that weren’t – like the term “gay” was a bad thing? Something actually insulting to be called? In middle school, if you didn’t throw a football well enough, you were a “faggot” – even if you WEREN’T. It was sort of like how I learned that “fat” was an insult that could be hurled at anyone, and it was the worst thing – it would bring a twiggy, long legged girl to her knees with self doubt. I had always been fat and knew it was “bad”, so I accepted what was dealt to me – but I never could quite understand how being gay had similar connotations. This was the first time that I began to make gay friends, and I bonded with them in solidarity, and fought for them like a lioness defending her cubs. But the wool had been pulled back from my eyes – the naiveté of early childhood was gone.

Then I got a little older. High school. You can only imagine all I learned about “being gay” in those hallowed halls. Still, I was confused. Why was this a bad thing? Why were my friends hurt and abused because they were gay? The bullying dialed up to 11. The Southern Baptists told my friends matter of factly that there wasn’t a space in heaven for them if they didn’t change. I watched them cry as they turned from their churches out of fear and shame, watched them live in fear of their parents finding out who they truly were and what the cost of the truth would be. “Faggots” were targeted, chairs kicked out from under them, their lives a constant living hell. To this day, I thank God that we were the last generation before social media really became rampant – because I don’t think some of those jackals would have let some of my friends out of high school alive.

As I left high school, I left with one truth: in the eyes of the great majority, it was somehow not okay to be gay. And if you were gay, you either un-gayed yourself and un-gayed yourself quick, according to the Southern Baptists – or you hide your “shame” for the rest of your life.

Well … I sure as hell wasn’t going to stand for that.

As it always does, and as none of us truly believe it will, life goes on after high school, and what we were afraid of then becomes the catalyst to who we will inevitably become – whether we choose to stay afraid, or if we use what we suffered as a launching pad to our personal evolution. At this time in my life, I was pretty clear on hatred towards gays. My gay friends, previously proud and bold and jubilant, ran back into the closet and slammed the door with the force of a thousand suns.

And throughout all this time, I was just there – I was there when they hid their true selves in public, and I was there when, as we grew up and away from high school a little bit, they tiptoed, absolutely terrified, back out of the closet. I was there for them, because they were there for me. After all, I had always been different: fat, mental problems, a little dramatic, weird as hell, way too damn much eyeliner – and the gay community embraced me with open arms. I quickly and happily blended in to the gay clubs where we all sought refuge from the real world with a relieved glee. Many, many happy nights spent drinking and dancing, covered in glitter, light up the memories of my early twenties like so many stars now.

(Funny thing, though – you always wanted to get out of the parking lot and into the club as quickly as you could – you could just never be sure who was watching, and how safe you’d be. This is around the time that I learned about hate crimes.)

There’s a secondary part of this story, too. While I’ve always designated myself to ally – defender and militant supporter of the LGBTQA community – the truth is that I’ve always grown up knowing that I liked both boys and girls. And not just that. I liked trans girls and boys, too. I have never have labeled my sexuality for the same reasons that, as a child, I just couldn’t understand the big deal about all of this – and also because I just didn’t really know where the hell I fit in. And though I tended to crush mostly on boys and slept mostly with boys – but simultaneously liked girls, trans people, and basically anyone who interested me – I just thought that, at most, I was straight with a dash of extracurricular interest. Maybe bisexual – but even then, I didn’t feel like that fit. I couldn’t claim that, because there was more to it, a wider berth.

As I grew older, really, only in the last year or so, and my knowledge of queer culture deepened, and I realized what I am: pansexual. “One who can love sexuality in many forms. Like bisexuality, but even more fluid, a pansexual person can love not only the traditional male and female genders, but also transgendered, androgynous, and gender fluid people.”

FINALLY. Something that makes sense.

So when I think about what happened in Orlando over the weekend, I can’t help but feel sickened. Sickened because I know what it’s like to want to be with your friends in a safe place. Sickened because I’ve watched my gay friends be broken and abused for who they are. Sickened that some assholes right now are coming out to say that these people that were senselessly slaughtered deserved this because they aren’t right with Jesus. Sickened because this has been my community all along and I was too ignorant to realized it.

I thought earnestly about what I could do to help – the answer is not much. There is just no way to plug the gaping hole left in the LGBTQA community, or our nation. But what I can do is claim this as MY community now, and fight LOUDER & HARDER – fight tooth & nail for our rights to safety and freedom. I am a part of the LGBTQA community, formally and proudly. MY community was attacked. I am not okay with that. And while kind, no amount of thoughts & prayers will fix what has been broken. We have got to take a look around, every single one of us, and find the common denominator in these issues.

And then we have to fight like hell to stop it.

So here’s what you can do. If you are a straight ally, start talking about why what happens hurts and disgusts you. Start talking to anyone who will listen. Hell, even a retweet will do – don’t ignore this because you think you aren’t involved, or because this isn’t your community. This is not just about gay people, but your brothers and sisters in humanity. Fight for them.

If you are a girl who likes girls but also likes boys and also likes trans people but don’t know where you fit in – you fit in right here with the rest of us. You are a part of this, and don’t you dare feel any differently. Fight for them.

And finally, to those who oppose homosexuality for religious reasons, I won’t and could never change your minds, and I respect that: but I do beg you to be civil, gracious, and generous. Stop telling people they are going to hell. Stop making Christians look like terrorists themselves. Stop being cruel. Stop turning away from people that are different than you. And most of all, get down on your knees and thank God that it wasn’t your church that was attacked – because it could easily have swung that way (and has been before in the past) – and rise above your egos. FIGHT FOR THEM.

If a kid like me could figure out the truth about homosexuality at the age of six – IT’S NO BIG DEAL – then I think we should all be able to grasp it. Support it or not, whatever, do your thing – but remember this: who other people sleep with is really no damn big deal. And one should not have to DIE or even ever feel one second of fear in order to assauge the insecurities of a sick and twisted man who let his ignorance and fear breed hate.

To those that were lost in Orlando last weekend, eternal love flows as your community weeps for you, and you will never be forgotten.

 

Posted in FUNERAL SERVICE, SCHOOL, writing

GLORY DAYS

Below is the first submission I made to my first class when I returned to school in February of 2014 to become a funeral director. We were asked to introduce ourselves, and I remember how exciting that felt – I was saying it out loud (well, typing it, really) for the first time: I’m here to become a funeral director. I’M GOING TO BE A FUNERAL DIRECTOR!

Now that I AM a funeral director & am back in school once again, this time pursuing my associate’s degree in mortuary science, I had to laugh at how Miss America I was about it all in the beginning – because this time around, I’m pretty I’VE F’ING HAD IT, bloodshot eyes & constant thoughts of murder about it all.

Long story short – I guess it is kind of adorable to look back and see how sweet and excited I was about it all in the beginning. This first semester back has been so damn difficult and draining, I won’t lie – I’ve had a few moments where I’ve been up to my eyeballs in never-ending work & have thought “weeeeeeellll do I REAAAAALLLY need to embalm, too?” (the answer is yes) – so I kinda needed to get back to that vibe – because at the rate I’m losing sanity this time around, I’m thisclose to abandoning my career and going to sell pretzels at Disney World for the rest of my life. Anyway, read on!

“For the past eight years, I have been working as a Cosmetologist, with a focus primarily on makeup application and hair cutting. My time at Piedmont Technical College will be spent earning my Certificate in Funeral Services.  For some, the jump from Cosmetologist to Funeral Director seems like a huge leap, but many of the same qualities necessary for a successful Cosmetologist can be translated into a future career in Funeral Services. While the idea of re-entering education as an adult did seem intimidating at first, I am looking forward to the challenge. I am excited to experience the next chapter in my life as a student.

Aside from my professional aspirations, I am a native of Greenville, South Carolina. I love to travel and see as much of the world as I can. I am always up for a spontaneous road trip spent in the company of good friends. I also like to go to as many concerts as I can, because music is very important to me, and is a huge part of how my friends and I bond. When I am at home, I enjoy spending my downtime time reading a good book, knitting, catching up on TV shows, or spending time with my family.”

Cute, right? I know, I know.

Back to the books.

Posted in FUNERAL SERVICE, LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL, MENTAL HEALTH, turning 30, writing

A LIFE WORTH WRITING ABOUT

Whenever I try to write these days, I feel a sense of panic that I can’t really put words to. Writing used to be my most natural and craved form of expression – every word, every exchange, every thought had to be documented once, twice, three times over. I was religious in my documentation, the telltale hump on the middle finger on my right hand always red and swollen. My diaries were my friends, my confidents, the only people who knew the truth about who I was, what I had done, and how I hurt. Like a fool, I took for granted the person I was and the life that I was naturally living, and instead used to cry to the fates and beg the universe for a life worth writing about. And then when one fell into my lap, when things were hot and fast and out of control, when I had EVERYTHING to suddenly write about – the pages slammed shut and I put away the pen.

I rationalized this because a lot of things that I needed to say were hard. And some things are just too hard to write about. So … I stopped, pretty much completely.

Can you blame me, honestly? It’s like, you try as hard as you can and work with a furious fervor to squirrel away the things that hurt into a place where they aren’t constantly falling back into your immediate line of vision – and writing is just purposely recalling blinding, white hot pain for the sake of …?

Of what?

What was the point of recalling what I barely made it through the first time? Then again, didn’t I always want this? Countless pages in countless diaries, wishing one life away to make room for another?  Oh, how I wanted to be a real, bonafide adult, like the ones on TV – to have all the mythical secrets of adulthood unlocked and for the taking. Wasn’t that the story that I kept waiting to write?

It is this narcissistic and frustrating combination of finite disinterest and fleeting whimsy that seems to be where I spend most of my time these days. All of the time that I wished away is exactly where I wish I could run like hell to now. Most days, I feel like a battery in a car that won’t turn over – you try as you might, but the damn thing just won’t do it.  Everything in my life, not just writing, falls into two categories – hard, or not. If it is hard, if it even SEEMS hard, I don’t even bother looking at it. Writing is hard, so I don’t do that anymore. Facing my fears is hard, so I’ll just turn away and not look. It isn’t that I don’t want to move forward, or that I don’t want to be present or progressive – I just can’t find the strength. But here I am. Ashley the adult!

Every day, I’m toeing the line between desperate to make a point and exhausted by the idea of even trying. Working around the deceased has made me siamese, one single body split, fighting two alternative visions. There are only so many times that you can artfully arrange the shell of what used to be a human being into a fancy casket before you make yourself look down and wonder what the hell we are all really doing here in this life. When death becomes real to you, really, really real, everything matters SO much. The fear of wasting a second of your life is all-consuming. I panic so often about not doing it (life) right – the same old fear of not living “a life worth writing about” –  yet similarly, I can’t help but feel that nothing truly matters in the grand scheme of things, because we all leave the same way – alone, and with nothing. Both viewpoints are right in their own ways, but there has to be some sort of middle ground that doesn’t leave me hollow inside and terrified of facing reality.

I have to laugh now when I think about the desperation of wanting to carve out “a life worth writing about” – it’s sort of like walking willingly into quicksand.  Before you know what you’ve done, you’ve gotten so far off track – one leg stuck in the muck, no escape foreseeable. I have spent SO much of my time in this life wishing for something better, something bigger, SOMETHING WORTH WRITING ABOUT – but I have very rarely been willing to actually work towards the promise of a better tomorrow. If wishing hard enough created reality, I would be the richest woman in all the world. But instead I am poor, because I have robbed myself blind. I’ve stolen my own ambition, I’ve bartered away my strength and confidence, and I’ve crippled and hobbled the purest and best part of me – my imagination – and replaced it all with cynicism and fear.

I wish I could go back in time and tell myself to stop wishing everything away, to stop questioning everything so damn much and just take each day one at a time. Because we do all die, and you don’t get a second chance, and you should never waste your time worrying or being afraid. Instead of letting that reality be my touchstone, I have spent nearly 30 years wringing my hands and wondering if I’m doing it all wrong. An entire life that has always been a game that I am playing against myself and am still somehow losing. If I could go back in time, i would shake my old self by the shoulders and tell her that life was and will always be worth writing about, even on the hardest day, and to never, ever lose that good and pure part of yourself. It doesn’t have to be extraordinary to be documented. Face your fears, every single one of them. Don’t NOT try because something might not come from it.

I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my time here – none of us ever really get it all right – but the biggest one that I ever made was putting down my pen and shutting myself up because I got scared. It may take everything that I’ve got, and it may truly be for nothing in the end – but a life worth living, much less writing about, would not mean a damn thing without this, my purest expression, my most honest release. And I know that I can do this, because just like I know without a doubt that I would go back in time to tell my younger self to never stop writing, my younger self would visit me in the future and be shocked that I ever had.

Posted in POP CULTURE

ALWAYS

Damn, what a week.

There is nothing that I could say about this wonderful man that hasn’t already been said by many wiser and better spoken than I could ever hope to be, but here’s my offering, my hat thrown into the ring:

I thank you, Alan Rickman, for the light you brought us all, for your talent, for your uniqueness, for your voice, and for everything that you did to help bring one of my favorite book series to life. Your enormous legacy will never be forgotten.

My wand is raised for you, my favorite head of house. Always.