I haven't been sleeping well lately. I contribute this to a few things: a two-year old son who seems to be planking his sweet body across my pillows at all hours of the night; secondly, a rotund belly that houses that wild boys little sister; and third, but mostly, my own mind. My mind is doing a slow jog around itself and here's what it pictures: My book tour. I see an elementary school classroom full of scrubby little faces looking up eagerly at me as I read my children's book to them. Their darling hands act out the story with puppets I've brought along. After we are done reading, we talk about art and writing and we make art and writing and then I leave their classroom with some of my shiny, new books. I don't purport that my book or book tour will change the world, but I do believe that all kids deserve to be a part of meaningful things, and I believe in the children's books that shaped my own world as child.
In the past few days, since I've launched my Kickstarter project to get my children's book published, this nightly fantasy has started to seem like it could actually be a reality, rather than a far-fetched someday. I, quite honestly, am shocked and delighted by the amount of support that's already been shown to the project. I feel an immense gratitude for platforms like Kickstarter.com. They offer a sense of democracy and ownership that can sometimes lack in the marketplace. Thank you so very much to friends and strangers who have donated, supported along the way, passed the word along and believed in the project from the beginning. It really does make me beam across my whole face. The funding is halfway there, but the project has been featured on the "Staff Picks" page and on the "Popular Projects" page on Kickstarter, so we hope to not lose momentum. Please contact me with any questions, concerns, suggestions, etc... Thank you and spread the word! http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/ashmae/the-lost-party
at 2:52 PM
'This is not fun,' I thought. But we kept walking because we had no choice. As we wound through the meadows and blackened trees, I remember I stopped hearing what Carl was talking to me about and had a distinct glow of gratitude. Not gratitude for nature, or for family vacations, but gratitude because Carl was allowing me to be strong. He had just spent weeks in the Nevada mountains literally climbing up and down mountains gathering rock samples for his research. He is a good hiker, and full of stamina. I don't know if it was a conscious decision he made to let me carry Remy in the heat, or even if it was something I insisted on, (which is more likely the case), but either way, Carl did not object to, nor interfere with my sacred moment of both suffering and total joy at doing something hard by taking Remy from me.
I didn't mention the moment then, and I don't know that I have since, but I think about it often. It has become a useful metaphor for me. I remember in that moment having access to greater empathy and understanding of people I had previously not. It was brief, and still incomparable, but real for me. If you know me, you know that I mention pioneer women often, because I think about them at least a few times a week. How did pregnant women walk across the plains?! with other children!? lots of other children!? without toothpaste?! or good shoes?! etc....it blows my mind, and then I usually conclude that I either feel terrible for them and/or I would never be able to do something like that myself.
In that moment on our hot, dusty hike though, I did have a small glimpse of what they might have felt, or what all sufferers might feel in some way. Hard things are hard, and not fun, but they connect us to each other, and to ourselves. Terryl Givens says, "There is solace in the solidarity of the desolate." The hot hike liberated my sense of belonging and built my confidence so that I felt I might have greater capacity to connect to people i want to understand and love. I am grateful that Carl believed in my ability to be strong.
Relative to 98% of the world, I know so little about suffering, and so I don't want to downplay or make light of what it is for other individuals, but I do know that in my own minute bouts of suffering, I am not left to simply suffer for very long. I find the weight of suffering to be woven with rich threads of the sacred.
I once hurt a friend by my actions, and not just a friend, but a very close friend, probably the closest friend I've ever had. I hurt her in a way that she didn't want to talk to me or see me, and yet, I felt this intense need to fix things, to mend her myself. I spent a lot of time praying about what I should do, and each time I felt so strongly that she was taken care of and that it wasn't my place to take away the sacredness of her personal strife. I sensed that although maybe I could have found a way to fix things in a jiffy, I would be robbing her of something far more important by doing so. I would have robbed her of the opportunity to become stronger. And the same went for me. It was a terrible, crushing time for me. I lived with a knot in my stomach. I literally thought I would be crushed under the weight of a new life in the which things would not be the same as they were before. But I did live through it, and I recognize distinct ways in which I am a better person for having been allowed to suffer as well. I don't think this is the right response in every situation, but I've learned over the years that not all difficulty is bad, some is, and we should do what we can to help, but I suppose I'm thinking more of the quotidian difficulties. I'm grateful that a super mom hero does not swoop down into my house every time I think I can't handle being a mom anymore. I'm grateful that Remy doesn't go away, but continues to be right next to me (literally, my house is small), and allows me to work through things, his presence asks me to be strong. It seems then, that an important part of being allowed to be strong, is the opportunity to acknowledge that something is hard. In Mormon Culture, we are an optimistic and faith-filled people, and it is sometimes easy to say that a trial is a 'blessing' or that there 'must be something we need to learn.' I don't doubt those things, and I think they are true, but I believe we also need space to say that something is hard, because how can we know we are strong, if we don't acknowledge its difficulty?
I used to try and be a fixer of everything and everyone. I wanted to make everything right always, no matter the cost. As I've grown older, and I hope not less loving, I've made peace with allowing people to be strong out of a love for them. I've also come to realize this is not easy, but still, I'd want them to do the same for me.
at 12:30 AM
The other night I told Carl that I was turning into someone who just wants to watch an episode of the Colbert Report and be in bed by 9:30 every night, and this proclamation was not without a heavy note of despair. "What's so wrong with that?" he said. To which I responded in my head, "nothing." but in a way, a lot of things. I, along with every other mother of young kids, or person responsible for things other than your dreams, worry that I am watching all the grand ideas I thought I would do, slip away. And not necessarily in the way that they are slipping through my fingers and there's nothing for me to do about it, but some in the way that I am simply waving them on with the explanation that now is not the time. Sometimes it seems like they dance away in bright colors and turn to ask me, "are you sure you don't want to join?" and then I look at Remy, and I say to them "no thank you, I'm working on something else." This is a both a refining and sanctifying process.
I went to a lecture by Terryl Givens and his wife this week. Near the end of his lecture he said, "Good questions require risk. Every question, every reach for discovery becomes an act of faith." That line hit me like a bursting star inside my chest. It seemed so true, and also requiring much bravery. I thought about the inherent risk in asking the question, "What am I supposed to do with my time right now?" That is a hard question, and carries perhaps the most risk, because the answer might not be perfect and it might not be to pursue the dreams I thought were vital to hold on to. But I'm certain it is a good answer, probably one far better than I could have come up with.
From David Foster Wallace's commencement speech at Kenyon University in 2005:
I am grateful for the inherent risks my simple life asks me to take. Bringing another baby to our family is a risk in many ways. Probably for that baby, and for us. I know my life will change, and maybe more of the things I thought of as important to accomplish will dance further away. But in between that balance of certainty and the unknown lies a very vibrant, sometimes ethereal string of moments where all seems perfect, and maybe it doesn't just seem that way. I find my life in this place often. Between the moments of chaos and mess, trouble and worry, I find this place where Remy runs around with chocolate on his cheeks, and Carl dings his bike bell when he rides around our corner, and I even make a good dinner sometimes. This place is quotidian, almost unmentionable, but I am finding that many dreams worth pursuing are. More and more I am happier to ask the difficult questions, because they teach me who I am.
at 1:01 PM
In some ways I've been torturing myself for the past few years about this children's book. Not because I didn't want to do it, or that I don't completely love thinking about and making it, but because I, in all honesty, was totally afraid to fail. I kind of still am, but I came to a point in July where I said to myself, "enough is enough". I knew that if I didn't follow through with this project I'd talked about for so long, I'd only be disappointing myself. I asked fear to kindly step aside, because I had some things to work on. And I started working. Everyday during Remy's naps, and when he goes to bed, I bring out the pencils, my walnut ink and trusty bamboo stick and my trustiest watercolors and I work. There's a whole lot I want to say about the process, but because I still have a few pages left to finish in my book, I will leave that to later. I will say something though that will be of no surprise to anybody, but entirely useful to almost all of us. Sometimes we just need to START! I had nearly paralyzed myself because it was so terrifying to start the project. I didn't know where it would go. would it be perfect!? I wanted it to be. Well, here it is, near completion, and no, it's not perfect. But it exists, and I am getting rather excited about it, and Remy laughs at the paintings. I am no longer worried about failing, okay, I'm a little worried, but I'm also pretty okay with it. It's not like I haven't experienced it before. Without further ado then, here are some paintings from the book. You may have seen some of them if you follow me on instagram. In the coming weeks I am going to launch a kickstarter project to try and get the funds for the first run of printed books, of which 1/10 will go to a classroom in need, so stay tuned. I'll probably post something on instagram when I launch, so follow me if you'd like @birdsofashmae. Also, I should say, I've had such incredibly supportive and kind friends, both people I know and people I don't, that believe I can do things. Tell me what you're up to, I'd love to love you back.
at 1:34 PM
A woman in Tonapah, Nevada gave me a raw chunk of turquoise on a Sunday. She asked me if I liked the light or dark, the green or blue and then she dug around the rubble of plastery rocks in an old plastic bag until she found the perfect piece. Deep, lake green with a rift of steamy blue. The shape an upside-down house with stark inlets and points. A fracture near the bottom cracks outward toward the back where regular, grey rocks cover the colors like a dusty mask. The turquoise, half the size of a plum seed, is the most opaque thing I've ever held. I could never look through it, even if the brightest light were shining on the other side. Like every unknown thing could burrow itself inside that creamy color. It is solid, and real and every bit tangible. Without a word, the woman from Tonapah with a husband who works the mines, sealed the lone rock in a cellophane bag and accepted our thanks, but no more. I kept it in a special compartment in the glove box for the rest of the car trip home, and I pulled it out in Lee Vining, in Mammoth Lakes, in Yosemite, and in Modesto when it was almost too dark to see and we'd just cleaned throw up from Remy and the carseat for the sixth time that day. Every time, I couldn't help but feel that the soft-armed woman living in the middle of the barren desert, would have made anyone feel so special.
A friend told me recently that in Cantonese, to spell or describe the word crisis one uses two different characters: danger and opportunity. Just like she said she had, I thought about the possibilities for truth and for change in that statement over and over. Because suddenly, the few things I could have pinned the word crisis to in my life no longer had endings in the word 'crisis', but move past a finality and open up into giant meadows I did not see were there through the thicket of trees I had my eyes so pressed to.
Another friend, who always has the right thing to say, wrote me an email in the which she ended with this: I know that to Remy and to Carl yours is the godliest face...Stand on the mount, proud.
at 10:17 PM
I used to be the cool older sister who took cool younger sister to small, hip music shows where I knew everyone and everyone knew me. This past Friday night I was nervous as I drove to a familiar gathering spot of yesteryear for a show with a band I've been listening to for nearly a decade. Bayley, my younger, and incredibly cool sister, was with me. I was terrified I would show up and not only would it be totally apparent that I was mommed out, but I was worried I wouldn't know anyone, that all coolness had been packed away a few years ago, and Bayley would witness it all. As soon as I walked up to the house and saw endeared, comfortable faces gathered in circles on the grass and on the front porch steps, I was at home. I knew most of the people there and it was surprising to me to realize that a lot of us had the look of "I can't stay out too late, my baby is at home with a sitter." We were all five years older and it was okay.
All through high school and college I hated when people called me "woman" or "lady". I always corrected them. "Girl", I would say. "I'm just a girl." I also avoided anything that would connote "woman": purses, lipstick, high heels, matching clothes. The idea of growing up has perpetually scared me. I can't quite put my finger on it. The thing about it that scares me. Maybe it's the imagined inevitable. The perceived notion that I will fall further from adventure and the glory of activist college days and just become another in the rank of mom, or mormon, or lady. When I sit down and explain this, and then look at the evidence of good people around me, I realize my case is pretty weak. Nonetheless, it is an internal swoshing that unsteadies me at times.
The show started and I sat against a wall and felt everything with ease. The dim lights, the wood floor, so many pairs of skinny jeans, shoulder bags and self haircuts. For a half hour I felt a return to what motivates me to create, to be a part of something. For some time I haven't felt this at church, or at home on my own when I sit with my art supplies, or with my new friends in California. It's not that I'm unhappy, I'm not. I just haven't been able to stir myself to vigor, to staying up late to work on projects. This little show, with an old friend singing new songs, and another old friend playing the bass, and two dozen old friends listening with me reminded me that we need spaces in which we create and appreciate each other. In the same house, I had had two different art shows in years past. I had taken my group of high school writing group girls to this place to talk about words and poetry when it was a letterpress studio. I had worked, planned, sold my art at farmer's markets and even failed at projects with people in that room. I felt a spirit there that night. One that reminded me of things I already knew, but had forgotten: that experiences with God and his goodness are not limited to religious contexts; that creating is worth the difficulties it proposes and that our creations don't have to be our magnum opus to be shared; that sharing the things we create (including our children) is meant to be done together, with old and new friends.
at 12:16 PM
One of my most vivid memories from my childhood is standing behind my dad at his big white desk that tilted forward and had a spinny stool attached to it. I remember the desk sat in the corner of his bedroom overlooking our backyard. One time he took out a giant piece of paper and drew a big bear. His pen never lifted from the paper, but his arm moved around in sweeping circles, like he was waving his hand to do a magic trick over the paper. I remember I stood behind him from start to finish confirming more and more by the second that indeed, my dad was the very greatest. When he was done, he lifted the paper from the top corners and let it hang down. The great bear was almost as tall as I was. In my family, we've always been in love with the drawings my dad makes. For a long time he didn't make any though. For many, many years he has been too busy with other projects, with family, work, everything. We've missed his art and the way he knows how to draw anything. Which is why I am so so happy that he is making art again. It's like a part of our dad (and no one is more proud of his art than my mom) is back. Aren't these portraits just incredible? I think so. You can order one at zippy portraits.etsy.com
at 9:16 PM