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.

Continue reading “HAPPY NEW YEAR”

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.

Continue reading “REST IN PEACE”

Posted in ASHLEY IN WONDERLAND, FUNERAL SERVICE, MENTAL HEALTH, PHOTOGRAPHY, writing

#FIREDUP2k16

So, I was fired from the funeral home.

Again.

One day shy of the one year anniversary of the first time I was fired.

Ahhhh, life. You never, ever, ever fail to keep me on my toes.

I missed class yesterday morning, which never happens. I set my alarm for the wrong time, I mixed up my days, totally goofed – but this meant that I could go into work early, and I was really excited to go into work. I miss work, I hate that school takes me away from work and that I don’t get to be as present as I want to be, as involved as I long to be. I didn’t text Tom and tell him that I was sneaking in a few hours early because I wanted to surprise him. Yesterday was the first day that felt like fall to me, the leaves are starting to change, the air was nice and cool, the sun was bright. I felt fine, I remember thinking that – I feel fine today.  I walked into the funeral home with a vial of shaved citrine in my hand (said to bring success in ones career) and an Elvis magnet, stoked to add them to the rest of the oddities collected on my desk.

I made it as far as the doorway. I didn’t even get to put my bag down.

Continue reading “#FIREDUP2k16”

Posted in ASHLEY IN WONDERLAND, FUNERAL SERVICE, MENTAL HEALTH, PHOTOGRAPHY, SCHOOL, writing

Summertime Sadness

img_3509
Well, it is unofficially and undeniably already here – my very own case of summertime sadness (thanks, Lana, for giving such a clever name to that listless and unfulfilled feeling that haunts me from late May until early September).

I’ve got a lot going on these days. I’m working full-time as apprentice funeral director/embalmer, I’m going to school full-time (which involves traveling an hour and a half away twice a week to Piedmont Tech for biology classes after work – meaning I don’t get home until nearly 11 PM at night) – this plus the rest of the coursework for other classes and trying to maintain sanity as I learn an entirely new career that isn’t quite so simple (I mean, embalming a human body is a little more complicated than working as a cashier at Target, and I can say that with confidence, as I have done both) – my point being, I don’t feel good. I’m stressed, and stress is hard for me, because I take it to a bad place. I take it to a place of blame and self doubt and it is truly the sickest and cruelest thing I could ever do to myself. I feel sad a lot lately. I feel overwhelmed and stretched thin and all of the things that I love seem to go abandoned – like blogging, reading, crafting, etc. I know – at least I hope and pray – that all of this will be worth it in the end, when I have that degree and my apprenticeship is complete, but it is hard to give away your time when you feel like you have none to give, I guess. Especially now, during my personal hardest time of the year.

I’ve always been prone to summertime sadness – while everyone else is orgasming at the first mention of summer rolling in, I withdraw, isolate myself, go away inside – I’m mean, snappy, frustrated easily, angry – I don’t know why this is. I just know that I have never felt joy in this time. It has always felt like something to be suffered (probably because I have the good common sense to be revolted by 95 degree heat). And mentally, as far as my levels and mania and ups & downs go – this is where I always find myself at my worst and most desperate. So to have an already heaping amount of external stress dumped on top of a place where I’m already trying to hold a hand over an open wound in myself feels like a mountain I’m too tired to climb again this year. Already, my teeth are gritted, shoulders hunched, “can’t can’t can’t can’t” a steady mantra on repeat in my mind.

I thought that taking a mini vacation to Disney World before this semester began would be a really good thing for me, and in some ways it was (pics to come later) – I flew again for the first time in years and got over that major fear (HALLELUJAH), and that felt AMAZING – plus I had a great time with my best friends at one of my favorite places in the universe, so you really can’t complain about that. Sadly, some “triflin’ shit” got in the way of pure & total rest & bliss, and it put quite a bit of a damper on my relaxation, but that was also a learning opportunity, too, which I’m grateful for – I’m quite used to trying to constantly be everything for everyone, and I worry to the moon and back about everyone’s happiness but my own. Fortunately, the aforementioned “triflin’ shit” helped me to put my foot down and realize that sometimes I deserve to be happy, too. And I think that was a big step for me – and having that notion cinched in my mind is something I’m going to carry with me into the summertime sadness – I DESERVE TO BE HAPPY, TOO. There. I said it. It’s on the internet, so it must be true.

I think something important for me, at least during my bouts of summertime sadness, is to be mindful of my triggers, so I can at least step around the landmines as best I can vs losing my damn leg to one. But how to get past the depression? That, I have no clue. This is how I always end up around the beginning of September plotting my suicide and being irrational and out of control to the point that none of us – my family, my friends, myself – know how to handle me- I get so down that I can’t see up, only straight ahead.

I guess I just wanted to chat with myself on my blog and rationalize what I’m feeling. The first step to getting over or past any hurdle is to accept it, and I accept it – I’ve got the damn summertime sadness. It’s a real thing, it’s valid, and I’ve got to somehow gird my loins and try to make it through. And mostly I think I just needed a good whine, and writing always makes me feel better. I get so damn hung up about writing and trying to make it perfect, but none of it will ever be perfect – and I guess I’d rather post lots and lots of sullen or meaningless crap than look back and wish I had taken the time and wonder what I was thinking way back when.

Feel free to leave your favorite summer suggestions in the comments – just remember, I hate the outdoors, all people, places that aren’t air conditioned, and basically everything. Just kidding – I’d love to know your tips and tricks for summer fun – or, even more importantly, what helps you get through your own version of “summertime sadness”.

Till next time xx

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 FUNERAL SERVICE, LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL

SMELL YA LATER, 2015

When the end of the year rolls around, you can’t help but look back in review at all that has happened to you and in your life throughout the last twelve months. That’s human nature. We tally it all up, all these events and changes and milestones, compare it to our neighbors and friends, decide whether it was a good year or a bad year, and then dismiss it. And a Happy New Year!

A year ago today was my first day at work at my old mortuary, and I remember thinking, as I walked into that place for the first time as an employee, “This is it. I’ll be here forever. I’m set for life”. I was going to work side by side with my best friend. I was finally doing what I wanted to do and have dreamt of doing for so long. It seemed like the best and maybe only way for me to get everything that I wanted. Maybe I was naive to think that, but I bought into what I was sold and I was committed to holding on to it, no matter what.

The coolest thing about life is how it will find a way to shake you up when you get too complacent, or when you settle for something that is beneath you, or that you weren’t meant for. I will always believe, with all of my heart, that I was always meant to work at that mortuary. I was. There was a reason for that. I was always meant to go through the hell that I did there – but I was never, ever meant to stay there, and once that became clear to me, I was able to address my truths: there is something more than this. There is farther to go than just right here.

So if anything, when I look back at 2015, and all of the pain and struggle and hurt that I endured, whether it be job related or not, what I think this year really taught me is that maybe we don’t always get what we want, but we do get what we need … and really, isn’t that better? One year ago, I really thought I had what I truly wanted. And what I truly wanted was to stay forever at that old funeral home with my best friend, even if it meant enduring mental and verbal abuse at a constant rate and being treated worse than an abused animal – because I somehow believed this was my ONLY chance to do what I wanted to do. But what I really NEEDED was to get out of that toxic environment so that I could discover my own freedom and greet what my future held.

I always get so sensitive about the new year, because it always somehow signifies aging and getting older, and the idea of 2016 definitely has the potential to be horrifying – I mean, I’ll be turning 30. I’ll still be a college student living at my mom’s house. None of these things are what I wanted – but they are what I needed. And no matter how many different ways I have tried to escape my eventualities, they have found ways to re-emerge and shake me up and humble me when I was lost.

I spent 11 years being friends with a girl that treated me like garbage, because I felt like I had to stick in because I had already devoted so much time. When I finally had the confidence and strength to cut her out of my life once and for all earlier this year, it felt like being born, it was that freeing. I felt so light and so happy and so able to be my true self without having her hanging over my head like a sick raincloud. Yet, like my time spent at my old funeral home, I will never look at that time as time wasted – I know that I was always meant to be friends with her, because in the end, she taught me a massive lesson about what good friendship meant, and her inadequacies taught me how to value and love and hold on dearly to the people I have in my life.

Similarly, I spent nearly two years on and off with a man that turned out to be married. I never knew until he slipped up and I figured him out. When I confronted him, he claimed that it was an open relationship, and he didn’t want anything between us to change. I thought that because I wanted him, that I could deal with it. Fear of the future and what it may or may not hold, fear of what I might never have again, fear of being alone … it all forced me to try to yield and settle for something that I “wanted”, even if I had to sacrifice myself and what felt right to me to have it. Eventually and thankfully, I realized, HEY ASHLEY. GUESS WHAT. You don’t need this. You don’t need this AT ALL. And I stopped speaking to him from that moment on. And what did I learn? An invaluable lesson about how I want to love and be loved in the future.

Her friendship, his love, that job – they were all things I wanted, but were never things that I ended up needing in the end. They were necessary evils, instrumental in teaching me lifelong lessons, but they were only ever just that. Placeholders on the way to bigger and better – and that is why they aren’t moving forward with me in life. Because I am learning to pay attention to the difference between what I want and what I need. And I am saying no to settling or cowering out of fear.

A month or two ago, I would have steadfastly looked back on 2015 and declared it the worst of my life thus far – but from where I’m standing here at the very tail end of it, it was actually the best. It was the freaking best.  What I lost could never, ever, ever be tallied up to be nearly worth what I’ve gained. I can happily say that I feel better and stronger and closer than ever to the person that I know that I was designed to be. I have grown so much in my life that I can’t help but only feel happiness, freedom, and excitement to see what comes next.

And that applies, shockingly, even to turning 30.

So goodbye, 2015, and thank you for all the things you taught me. I never saw you coming, but I’m so glad I finally learned to listen to what you were trying to tell me. And to 2016, you beautiful and terrifying beast, bring it on.