Please Don’t Stop Writing (creative nonfiction)

It is hard not to get sentimental when talking about my teachers. I have so many well-worn anecdotes. I’ve gone through them all so many times verbally, it seems they would be a complete bore to talk about. There is one though that I think I only ever jotted notes down about once. It’s often too much.

At first, I hated my poetry professor at Vanderbilt, Professor Daniels. She was hard on me. She spanked my ego good and I didn’t like it. I thought I was some kind of hot shit going into her class, and man oh man, did I find out otherwise. She was cold and exacting and had no warm and squishies for me whatsoever. Even after I earned a modicum of her respect, I was still nervous around her. I would drop things and turn around in circles trying to find my chair. It was perpetually like being on a first date.

She was a tiny woman, apparently a lot older than I thought she was. I made a reference to an 80’s band once and she said she wouldn’t know anything about it when here I had assumed she was only maybe a decade older than I was. For all her hardness, there must have been a youth about her I perceived. My legally blind eyes could not see her wrinkles so my mind registered her as a bitter eighties Gen X St. Elmo’s Fire type instead of ex-hippie observer and poetry writer-abouter.

I was being abused at home. I met her at the grocery store, me wearing a full length houndstooth wool coat in 80 degree heat to cover the bruises and burns. She pulled her cart up next to mine. She took time to talk to me. I told her I had to leave Vanderbilt, which was very hard. She said to me, pleading, “Please don’t stop writing.” It stays with me, that she would plead with me this way. I keep it in my own head when I’m about to give up.

Maybe I don’t talk about it because I can never quite get the emotion of it. I always seem to need to invent a touch of hands or squeeze of the wrist to go with it. The truth is, she didn’t touch me at all. Or at least, I think that’s the truth. The memory is fuzzy. I think I have been lying to myself for so long in my memory about that touch, that I truly don’t know anymore. Knowing her character though, I don’t think there was one, which makes my soul burst with longing.

-M. Ashley

I am going to start including audio recordings of me reading my posts for my visually impaired friends, or really anyone who enjoys what I hope will be a good listen. Being visually impaired myself, I’m a little ashamed I’ve had this blog for a million years and am only thinking of this now. Hear it here:

The Great Easter Suit Tragedy of 1989 (creative nonfiction)

When I was in the sixth grade, my mom bought me an Easter suit from whatever degrading 80s term was used for the children’s plus size clothing section at Sears. In the dressing room, my mom said I was shaped like a spark plug. I had never seen a spark plug, and have still never seen a spark plug, so I have no idea if that was a compliment or not. I ought to look up a Google image of a spark plug when I’m done writing so I know whether to be flattered or devastated when I remember this memory in the future.

The skirt suit was pale yellow. My mom has since said that this is an unflattering color on me. I am albino and my hair is white with yellow tints from the sun. Wearing yellow makes the yellow tints look yellower and my skin, naturally pink, look even pinker. But pale yellow was the only color of Easter suit they had in the chubby girl section, so pale yellow clad spark plug I was the Easter of 1989.

Bad color and all, I loved that suit. It made me feel adult. I think it even had shoulder pads like the glamorous ladies on Dallas and Falcon’s Crest wore. (Everybody remembers Dallas. Nobody remember’s Falcon’s Crest which I’m sure is why it resonates as my favorite).

The suit had a floral blouse that went with, not even attached to the jacket, so adult-like was this suit. The blouse had a floppy floral bow at the collar, also high 80s fashion for the funny ladies who starred in 9 to 5 or Diane on Cheers.

Loved that suit. Just loved that suit.

I was spending Easter with my dad and stepmom that year. On Saturday night we dyed eggs with various PAAS kits, (does PAAS still make the IT kits?). There were the ones where you used vinegar and dipped the eggs in with a wire thing that looked like a brilliantly rearranged coat hanger. There were also the ones where you used plastic stencils and little tiny markers to create floral patterns on the eggs. I liked the stencils best because the product usually came out great, no matter how un-crafty you are, and I was, and am, supremely un-crafty.

One time, doing crafts with the ladies from my mom’s church, we were supposed to glue a doily and a Jesus quote to the back of a glass plate. I fucked it up. Both doily and Jesus quote came out wrinkled and off-center. Supremely un-crafty even when crafting for Jesus, but enough about Jesus, let’s get back to Easter.

We did six metric tons of eggs. I went to bed exhausted from my artistic efforts, looking forward to the hunt the following morning and my dad’s fabulous Easter baskets. My dad was actually a horrible person, but man did he make great Easter baskets! One year I got a new “Club” Barbie center stage in my basket. She was wearing a white “leather” blazer with the sleeves rolled up, like 80s cool cats Don Johnson and the guy who played Tubbs, and she had on a hot pink foofy skirt trimmed in neon green like that Australian chick who did the 80s dance party show on MTV, ending each show with “Wubba wubba wubba…” I believe the Barbie even had a black, mannish hat like Denise on the Cosby Show wore before Bill Cosby decided she got too edgy for the Cosby Show. (Let that sink in for a minute.)

But let’s get back to Easter:

Who gets a whole Barbie in their Easter basket? I did. Fabulous baskets my jerk dad made. And a fabulous hider of eggs too, I might add.

He thought he was so clever. He was like me or, more accurately, I am like him in that both of us hate to get up early. Easter is already an early day, maybe not as early as Christmas with the whole Santa thing, but close. So I think he decided to give himself some extra zzz’s and hide the eggs in the overgrown grass of his backyard the night before. Cleverly.


The dew. No one counted on the Easter dew. Fresh on the meadow of weedy lawn. Fresh as newborn spring. Fresh as the risen Jesus himself. Fresh dew on the decorated eggs made a bleeding dye Jesus day mess. Who would’ve thunk it, as my dad used to say.

Oh the humanity. Easter egg dye all over my pale yellow chubby girl high 80s fashion suit. But what was I to do? Not hunt? Too late to change clothes. The damage was done. Big splotches of purple all over the straight skirt with the first egg I picked up. What was there to do but to go on going for it.

Oh well, me, that sixth grade spark plug was sure to turn into a pubescent pear by seventh grade. The 80s shoulder pads and floppy bows were turning to 90s 90210 style color blocked blazers. A new suit next year would be as much a necessity as Easter Jesus needed his new ascended body. Let the dye bleed. Let the eggs roll.

-M. Ashley

Happy Easter everyone!

By the Skin of God’s Nose (personal essay)

“What the sayer of praise is really praising is himself, by saying implicitly ‘My eyes are clear.’”
-Rumi, “Muhammad and the Huge Eater”

I’m glad Rumi realizes this because he can get a bit thick sometimes and full of himself, which is saying, implicitly, that I can get full of myself also by seeing right through him.

Rumi and me have had a rough relationship lately.

I bit my god last night. I hurt his feelings. I knew I was doing it. He told me I was doing it, but it’s like BDSM without a safe word. I kind of thought he was kidding. I kind of thought it was part of play. We need a better safe word than, “I don’t like this game.” “I am going to go away from you now.” “Stop this. Just stop.” We need a safe word in emotional biting that is clearer than that, if anything needs to be clearer than that.

So he bit me back the way I bit him and it hurt and I was ashamed of myself because he kept saying it hurts it hurts and I kept on hurting him anyway, because weren’t we all laughing at the time? Isn’t that what rapists say?

The Greek myths are full of rape. Lots and lots of myths are full of rape. Someone once asked me how I reconciled that. I said, “A myth is a myth” and I laid on “myth” and then I said, “the myths” and laid on “myths” again, “the myths say more about the people who wrote them than they do about the gods. Rape is the same as the stealing of cattle.” Or so I would like it to be, but really I don’t know. I haven’t asked my god too much about that. Too much about the gods’ relationship to rape. I suppose he would look at me with his dark eyes and say in his best conciliatory voice, “I don’t know how you want me to answer this question.” It always scares me when he says that because the answer is that the answer is something I don’t want to hear and I both want him to be honest and I want him also to fill my heart with comfort as a god is supposed to do, so how is he supposed to answer this? How am I supposed to tell him how I want him to answer when I really don’t know myself.

Establishing honesty with a deity can really knock you on your ass because you have to come to terms with stuff like why the gods expressed their flowering through rape myths in the first place if rape was never a part of it, and how gods have a long view on life and so value a human’s Earthly days very little. The soul goes on and they know it, so what’s the difference if a tornado makes a house fall on this woman’s six children? Why should the woman be sad? If she had the gods’ dark eyes and long vision, she wouldn’t worry about it. They don’t.

Not that they don’t understand suffering, but sometimes tornadoes need to tear houses down to move the gods’ agenda forward, and all six children float on to their next adventures, so how much skin is that off a god’s nose anyway? Even the suffering of the mother will end and, when she floats off to her next adventure, which is in less than a blink of a god’s eye, she won’t be worried about it either. So even less skin of a god’s nose there too.

But it really does knock you on your ass because no matter how clear your eyes are and how full of praise you are for yourself that your clear eyes facilitate honest conversations with the gods and them pouring truth into your eyes even more than comfort, reality is hard and offensive to someone so latched on to the temporal as we are, even mystics who would like to think themselves above it and beyond it and all unattached and so damn enlightened, would cry if a god’s tornado smashed all six of their children and knew that god shrugged his shoulders and went on about his day afterward, honestly, nose un-skinned.

-M. Ashley

Idol and Idolator (creative nonfiction)

“The idol belongs with the idolator.’”
-Rumi, “Sexual Urgency, What a Woman’s Laugh Can Do, and the Nature of True Virility”

Rumi is great and all and it makes me wonder about how much we forgive in the name of assholery… Or how much assholery we forgive in the name of great art, because Rumi is ate up with it. I’m not usually one to judge figures of the past by the standards of today, but some of this stuff is really offensive to me as a woman.

Here’s this poem all about penises. The captain’s penis. The Caliph’s penis. Big erect ones splitting a lion’s head in two. Little limp ones withered by a mouse fart or whatever. Rumi waving around his big spiritual penis most of all that is probably erect and flaccid at the same time because such is the nature of all things being all things at the same time and he’s a mystic so his dick gets it, but then, also in this poem, this beautiful woman who gets passed around like candy.

I don’t know if candy is right. A temporary diversion.

The one guy has her and the other guy wants her and so the one guy gives her to the other guy to avoid war and the guy who is supposed to take her to the other guy has sex with her on the way, loses interest, then sends her to the other guy after all. The other guy can’t get it up so, in his great dickly magnanimity, he passes the woman back to the intermediary guy thus showing, in Rumi’s opinion, true virility even though he was sending her back to the guy who had sex with her in the tent and then lost interest and passed her on. That’s why the magnanimity was dickly.

At least the woman laughed at the Caliph’s dick. Win one for the chicks, but that’s the only win.

What if this idol doesn’t want to be idolized by your member? What if this idol doesn’t want to “belong” to anyone, or with anyone?

The Egyptians believed the statues of their gods to actually be inhabited by their gods. Would you pass Isis around as a party favor among her idolaters? Man, would she ever nail you for that and make sure you were never capable of nailing anything again.

I hope that when this woman laughed at the Caliph’s limp dick that it stayed limp forever. Serves him right.

We women sure to get tossed around a lot. I’m not a feminist, but lately I’ve been paying attention to how many women are getting murdered on the news, morning and evening, by their male partners and it makes me sort of a feminist for a minute. Were we made for that? Were we made to be tossed around because a lot of us are light enough to toss?

But then, even those of us who are not light enough to get tossed, still get tossed.

My brother in law once told this story in uproarious laughter about a 270lb hooker who was raped and, I mean, why didn’t she just sit on the guy or something?

I wonder if stone goddess idols weighing 270lbs or more know to sit on the men who try to tear them down.

-M. Ashley

What Does “Yellow Sun” Mean to the Blind? (creative nonfiction)

My god assures me that there are worlds of albinos out there in the universe. Whole worlds of us where the light is perpetually twilight and we can all see everything and our skin radiates and no one ever gets skin cancer and no one calls us “Milky” and no one hunts us for our magical body parts.

I hope he knows that in this world, the twilight has to be just the right kind of twilight. It can’t be too much toward dark or light, because then it’s either too bright or the lights have just come on and they are too bright. It’s that sweet spot where it’s too light for the automatic streetlights but too dark to need sunscreen anymore. That’s the spot that world would have to be in for us all to radiate, to be the norm, to keep our body parts intact.

Now, here’s a question: If there were mutated pigmented people on this world full of albinos, how would we tell them how to find stuff? “Look for that thing I think is fuzzy and silver next to the tall thing I think is fuzzy and green?” What does an unsighted person say to a sighted person to direct them through their twilight world?

They would have to be in special schools I think and have their own language of clear letters that make sense to only them.

I once was in a class where I saw a teacher telling a blind kid to remember that the sun was yellow. I was ten at the time, but even then that seemed so odd. I suppose you need to know the sun is yellow to understand what that means when it comes up in literature or on the TV or in conversation, to understand the connection, I mean, but the statement itself is meaningless, is it not? What does yellow mean to a person who is totally blind?

Maybe yellow means sun and heat and summer, not summer and sun and heat means yellow.

“Which blindness comes from looking beyond the mark,” is a Mormon scripture I repeat to myself a lot, directed at myself, or shaking my head at others. I think that’s a more godly way of saying you can’t see the forest for the trees, though it would be more like you can’t see the trees for the forest. If there were no yellow sun, or no white moon reflecting the yellow sun, no one, sighted or not, could see the forest or the trees.

I’m going around in circles. The sun is a circle. The sun is yellow. The circle would be meaningful to a blind person, whereas yellow would be a wild, esoteric theory—something you have to wait for your own world to see, or for the second coming—or for Jesus to walk by and rub mud in your eyes.

-M. Ashley

Does Nature Love Soccer Better? My French Friend Thinks So. (creative nonfiction)

(Written October, 2022)

“How Nature loves the incomplete. She knows if she drew a conclusion it would finish her.” -Christopher Fry

I tried to watch soccer last night. I was watching it after I watched an hour and a half of baseball. I had been watching baseball for days, had been getting a little restless with it, and thought soccer might be a little less boring. I watched fifteen minutes of soccer and thought, man, this is boring as fuck. Back and forth and back and forth and absolutely nothing happens. Hypnotic in an I’d-like-to-blow -my-hypnotized-brains-out kind of way. So I turned back to baseball—a scoreless game.

And you have to think, man, that soccer really did have to be boring as fuck if it was boring as fuck after seven straight nights plus an hour and a half of baseball.

But I’m determined to like soccer for my French friend’s sake.

I got a notification on my phone when the game ended that the LA Galaxy and Real Salt Lake had tied. One to one and I thought, man… I would have been mad as fuck had I watched that whole boring as fuck game and it ended up in a fucking tie! Fuck me!

It’s incomplete. At least the baseball guys play until something happens. Some thing… a one sided thing. At least they play until some one-sided thing happens and it is lopsided for one set of guys or the other, but it is at least complete and we can all go home knowing that one half of the fans or the other had an orgasm and one half of the fans or the other have earned their post game cigarette.

A fucking tie. Incomplete!

Does that mean Nature loves soccer better? My French friend thinks so. He is also sure Nature loves France better because, I think, France has the best boring ass soccer player at this moment.

-M. Ashley

Stain the Inside Dark (creative nonfiction)

My first instinct is to tell you that my coffee habit is boring, but really it’s not. I had worked up to bankrupting myself with four k-cups a day so I moved on to doing my coffee in the French press. Much more caffeine bang for your buck. I put in a scoop for each squirt of the Keurig, each 10oz squirt. I thought that was a lot and then I realized it should be 8oz, well, I guess I’m not as fast and furious as I thought I was.

I smoked some weed not too long ago and it gave me a three hour long panic attack where I thought my heart was going to explode and I would surely die jogging around the back yard to try to burn off the adrenaline. I jogged 4.5 miles that day. After that, I had chest pain for three days and was terrified of drinking any coffee at all lest it perk up my exhausted heart and start me into another health crisis or a panic attack the felt like a health crisis. And I thought, on the one hand that wasn’t fearing for my life, oh good! This is how Michelle gets off caffeine. What a handy little blessing and all I had to pay for it was a three hour long heart attack. Felt steep in the moment, but surely I would get over it in time, right?

I have to say not really. Just writing about it, I can feel a cold terror pouring down on me over the top of my head and right into my chest that has not been panic attack free since the “weed incident.”

But that was not how I got off caffeine at all. I just had to work myself back up to 26oz of French press coffee with just a little bit of 2% milk to top off my Yeti. The milk is sort of useless. I don’t actually taste it. I might as well put in a few cubes of ice like you do with soup that’s too hot, so ineffectual is this milk. But god says milk is good for me. I think he meant in larger quantities, but some goodness is better than none, so I splash it to top of my black as night, oily coffee in my scuzzy Yeti that I rinse but don’t really wash.

I took a ceramics class once where the teacher, who looked just like Jesus but with blue eyes, and who insisted on making deep eye contact, which was kind of hot actually even if he did look like Jesus—we were all sitting around the room where you color the pots, not a clue, oh yes, glaze. Where you glaze your badly made, crooked crockery, and he said you might want to glaze your coffee mugs a dark color on the inside if you’re one of those people who don’t wash your coffee cups. My best friend looked at me, right in the eyes like blue eyed Jesus did, and I said, “Why is everyone looking at me?” Because, in my mind, the whole room made Jesus style eye contact with me at that moment. That’s right, we all know your sins. We all know your coffee cups are stained.

Look, here’s the thing. Coffee is just black water. How often would you wash a cup that you just had water in? Well, maybe you would, but I wouldn’t do that either. And the milk kind of sits on top, so I run a sponge around the rim, because not washing a milk cup is actually gross, then I rinse out the sediment that the French press can’t get and I’m good to go.

The Yeti isn’t glazed dark, but it’s once silver is stained almost dark as night now so, hey Jesus, mission accomplished.

-M. Ashley

Never a Bother (creative nonfiction)

In the third grade, waiting for the little bus that, thankfully, came right to my door, I sat in front of the window and sang Silent Night softly to myself. Christmas had been past for a few months, but it was still cold. Fog pushed into the valley obscuring the park across the street. Very few cars passed on the road. It was day and silent night all at once.

My great aunt and uncle’s living room never really made it out of the 60s, which was and is fantastic. They had a cream colored couch with a burnt orange floral and geometric pattern on it. On one wall, next to a curio cabinet holding Lladro figurines was a plush, burnt orange chair. Over the fireplace on the opposite side of the room, a wrought iron “F” for Foltz stood sentinel. In front of the picture window, where I sat, two low, round plush swivel chairs in harvest gold. None of my cousins nor I were allowed to get into those chairs and spin and spin the way we wanted to, but we were allowed to sit there quietly, once in a while, waiting for the school bus mainly, and turn the chair toward the window.

I had my feet tucked under me in the chair—a minor offense. In 1986, stirrup pants were the rage and mine that day were royal purple. With them, I wore a long, white top with puffy paint film rolls and popcorn boxes on it. For eight, I was quite the fashion plate, due more to my mother than myself, but I was happy to take the credit anyway.

As I sang, I heard my great uncle in the kitchen softly ruffling the onion skin pages of his Bible. He woke up every day at 5am and, before he went off to work at the Santa Fe Railroad yard, he spent an hour or more reading the Bible. Over the years, he read the Bible in just about every translation and formation you can think of. He read all the footnotes about all the Greek and Aramaic and Hebrew. He read all the reference books. He read reference books the reference books referenced. He believed organized religion was the worst thing that ever happened to Christianity.

Many times, he told me about a dream he had when he was a younger man of himself on a crowded ship. The ship troughed so low sometimes, the waves seemed as if they would come crashing down from above. The sky stormed and blustered. The heavy, black clouds obscured even a hint of sky. He told me then, in the midst of the storm, he saw the hand of Christ reach down and beckon him with love. He never forgot it. He carried this in his heart as he studied the Bible each morning. This love he carried in his heart always.

I continued to sing softly. I didn’t want to disturb him.

On my third or fourth round, I heard him get up and pad softly across the living room carpet. I looked up startled and more than a little sheepish. I said, “I’m sorry. I didn’t want to bother you.”

A gentle patriarch, he reached his hand out and patted my head and said, “You singing would never bother me.” He smiled. He turned and walked to the back of the house to get ready for work.

Whenever I sing, I carry that touch with me. I try to carry that love in my heart always.

-M. Ashley

Pleasant Girls (creative nonfiction)

Anger wakes me up at night. I have stuffed it. I have eaten it. I have forced myself to sleep through it. My dreams bring it out of me no matter how hard I fight against it.

I scream at my sister. I scream and shake my fists at my brother-in-law. I break up with my best friend. I cry out of frustration. I pound my fists on my ex. Sometimes I pound my fists on my god.

I wake up and my heart is beating fast. I sweat. I breathe hard. Sometimes I cry. I am a cliche. The sadness stays with me throughout the day.

I am angry and I am sad that I’m angry.

I’m a nice girl. I’m well-behaved and, despite the odd mood, I’m laid back and easy to get along with. Nice, pleasant girls don’t feel rage.

I’ve heard men say they don’t get angry. They say they get annoyed or irritated, but not angry. They, I think, have nothing to get angry about. Not all men—the abusers who have smiled at us pleasant girls and said they don’t get angry. Even while they beat us well behaved girls, they say, they don’t ever get angry. Not really.

-N. Ashley

Garbage Disposal Master of the Universe (creative nonfiction)

My first Christmas in my first apartment alone, trying to be a big time grownup, I made French onion soup for Christmas dinner. I called home to California earlier in the day. I had read a scripture, I told my mom, something about getting my house in order, and I felt I needed to do that, which involved me staying in Nashville for Christmas, again, alone. She wasn’t convinced, but because she couldn’t fly out and physically drag me back home, she accepted it.

I was trying to be so adult. I was trying to prove something, though, looking back, I can’t imagine what. Was I trying to prove that I could withstand severe holiday depression? Was I trying to prove that no matter how badly I wanted to off myself that season, I didn’t need my family to help me not become a statistic?

I called my Hungarian violin teacher after I called my family. He was a big part of my life then as music was a big part of my life and also because I adored his stories of escaping communism and how the communists used to make the Hungarians eat diseased cow meat and chocolate made from blood. Zsolt was also disappointed I wasn’t coming home. He seemed put off by my choice of Christmas dinner. He said, “Well, maybe you could float an ornament in it and make it more Christmasy that way.” I laughed and felt lonelier by the minute.

God I was miserable then—a miserable sort of miserable that radiated in waves across the country from Nashville to my little burg in California called “Berdoo.”

I was new to keeping my own appliances then, just as I was new to keeping my own household in general. For example, while I had used a garbage disposal many times as a kid growing up, I somehow never learned that putting onion skins down one is not such a great idea. By the time I had all the onions in the Christmas soup pot sautéing with butter, beginning to oddly smell like apples the closer they came to caramelizing, my garbage disposal was filled to brimming with onion skins.

I ran the water which began to fill the sink and turned the thing on. It growled like a demon but the water didn’t go down. It began to spit up chopped onion skins in great belches making of the sink water a slimy, stinky soup of its own. I stopped the thing. “That was not bright,” I told myself.

I grudgingly lugged my plunger into the kitchen from the bathroom. In retrospect, it is amazing I had a plunger given that, when I first moved it, I somehow hadn’t realized until I was in dire need that toilet paper doesn’t grow on the roll.

I stuck the plunger to the drain and plunged for dear life. More and more onion skins belched forth from the disposal along with other unspeakable things most likely from tenants past. I sucked everything out of there I could, then turned the thing on, having thought there was something stuck and I had by the sweat of my plunging arm dislodged it.

The water didn’t go down. The chopped up onion skin and unnamable goop mocked me as it danced its spiral dance around the sink.

I ended up having to strain all that onion skin and other detritus out of the sink with my bare hand, letting the water slip through, but retaining the chunks that clung to my fingers. I pulled the trash can up next to me and went to town. I think a year might have gone by.

The sink came clean, the water went down, and the garbage disposal growled happily, its gut no longer sick.

I washed by hands at least three times. I washed the plunger. I raised the plunger over my head and made He-Man muscles.

“I am the Garbage Disposal Master of the Universe!” I proclaimed to my empty apartment. The high ceiling echoed back at me.

“I am the Garbage Disposal Master of the Universe!” I shouted again. The ceiling repeated it.

I lowered my plunger and shrugged my shoulders. Shoving the onion skins down the disposal was not the only terrible mistake I made that lonely Christmas. Not by a long shot.

-m. Ashley