Art, Body Acceptance, Creative Nonfiction, Memoir, Mental Health, Prose

My Eternal Creative Space

I am working with an art therapy book geared toward body acceptance and the first art prompt was to depict our ideal creative space. I think the idea was to draw what houseplants and implements and draperies we would like in our art room, but this is what I came out with instead. It may not be a still life style depiction of what my ideal creativity space would look like–I would never be able to realistically draw a grand piano, an ancient viola, stacks and stacks of sheet music, an art table big enough to lie down on, cement floor to make messes easier to be messy, a photo studio, a recording studio, a big sink, every brush and paint and crayon and color and implement known to man, redwood tall shelves of books, red velvet chairs, open atlases mapping out all the adventures I’ve had and am yet to have, and above it all, the ceiling painted with the zodiac so I have a mapped out sky and eternally turning fate overhead always–I may not be able to realistically draw any of that, but what I did come up with accurately represents what would be going on in that space in the ether, among all that glorious stuff while the art was happening. There would be the spirit of Mercury, planet and god, and a Valentine from him charged electric positive and negative. There would be wild hair–my hair–probably red and black paint in my wild white hair. There would be me looking through my glasses, their dark frame the slightly warped symbol for infinity. My poodle, blue in this drawing for tranquility, would be there nosing my hands across the page in smarter directions than I would have ever thought of on my own. The numbers 12 and 21 would likely pop up everywhere, mysteriously as they do in every corner of my life already. The technological universe is coded on 0 and 1. My little universe is 1 and 2. There is eternity everywhere! The ouroboros, the dense spiral in Mercury’s head, the glasses… And yellow sunny swirls all over and underneath because this is Apollon and the Muses’ space as much as, if not more than mine. And finally, a treble clef because, in this space, everything sings.

-M. Ashley

Confession, Creative Nonfiction, Personal Essay, Photography, Prose, Writing Life

Self-Portrait: 2022 Is Also All About My Hair

“There is a lot of breakage.” Don’t we all feel that way?

I balked when she said it and immediately went to defend myself. It must be the scrunchie I had near permanently in my mop since the beginning of the pandemic. It’s because I hadn’t had it cut since then. It’s because the hair is in terrible condition because of pandemic neglect and not, dear gods, because it’s falling out. It’s just broken not heading for the hills. It’s just broken, not endangered. It’s just broken—more, healthy, unbroken hair is just behind it.

I got it cut in December 2021 and I feel like a human again. The broken hairs are still broken, but the unbroken ones are no longer frayed like D-grade straw, looking like a witch’s hair. Gods, was I ever embarrassed when I walked my straw haired witch’s self into the Great Clips and asked them to whack the mess off. The stylist was understanding, matter of fact as the hay hit the floor, and gave me a marvelous new start, jawline length, relief from all the burden of the last two years that had fallen well past my shoulders and almost all the way down to my waist.

So the broken ones are still broken, but they’re also still growing and now don’t have so far to go to catch up to their unbroken sisters. The mop isn’t so long that I have to keep it up in a scrunchie anymore. I don’t have to be bound all the time. No more mass breakage is imminent. 2022 is going to be a good year.

How much further can I carry this hairy pandemic metaphor? Let’s see:

The thing about the short curly hair is that there is no second chance. There is no second day hair so, if you’re going somewhere, if anyone else is meant to see you, you must must must take care of it day by day. It’s a hassle when we’ve all gotten so used to not caring much about ourselves as we huddle and hide away. But also a sign of health, this hassle, and anything, even if it’s vanity, that forces you to bathe and primp and proper yourself, is a good thing and a godsend in a time when it’s far too easy just to let go.

With the short curly do that gives no second chances, I wake up from tossing nights looking like Einstein. That’s why I was able to come up with such completely original, genius, and insightful observations about the pandemic vis-a-vis my hair.

Original, I tell you. Original.

I wish you all the best and healthiest in 2022. My goal is to be here more and make more super genius and purely original observations with both my words and my art, photographic and otherwise. My goal is to read more of your work as well. My hope is we will inspire each other. My hope is we will inspire each other enough so as to give each other the tingles. My hope is we will inspire each other enough that, tingling together, it makes our collective hair, broken and unbreakable, stand on end.

-M. Ashley

Photo: My submission for this week’s 52 Frames challenge, “Self-Portrait” I’m calling it “Gallows Humor.” Taken with an iPhone 10. Flash did not fire.

Autumn Walk Diaries, Personal Essay, Prose, Writing Life

Autumn Walk Diaries: Smoke and Fire

Next-day smoke from the University Fire

The thing this morning was smoke.

We walk at around nine or ten and, at around nine or ten, the scene over Little Mountain towards Devore and the Cajon Pass was bleak.

We wish for gray skies here. We hope for it. We pray for it. Some of us may even bay at the moon and dance for it—thirsty, drought stricken, dead lawn denizens that we are. But that gray ain’t rain clouds, brother.

Little Mountain was on fire yesterday—not our bit of it, but the bit of it one neighborhood away, closer to the freeway where my great aunt and uncle lived for forty years, north of the 215 freeway, south of all those houses… all those houses. Everyone was evacuated. Water drop helicopters landed in the neighborhood park. City and county fire descended and ascended upon it from all possible angles. They put the fire down so fast, it barely made the local news and was but a mild ripple even amongst the busybody neighbors on Nextdoor.

Little Mountain is on fire a lot. Our people know how to fight that fire. Our people have always been victorious. Not a single house or business has ever been burned in that spot. We are very blessed. We are very lucky. We are willful that we go on living here, year after year, fire after fire… after fire after fire after fire.

So this morning, the thing was a sky over the mountain filled with orangey gray that smells like God’s barbecue and promises nothing but swimming pools, A/C filters, and formerly pink lungs full of ash.

Weirdly, though, a hopeful sight: smoke in the sky, no longer connected to the earth below—no longer a real threat, no longer a panic, no longer everyone’s nightmare. A little relief. More than a little gratitude all those houses were saved and we can go back from praying our neighbors make it, to praying one day we get friendlier clouds filled with rain.

-M.

Autumn Walk Diaries, Creative Nonfiction, Personal Essay, Prose

Autumn Walk Diaries: The Mailman Knows Too Much

There wasn’t much afoot on our walk this morning–how very clever of me–and we pretty much had the neighborhood to ourselves, which is just the way I like it. I pretend Kismet likes it that way too, but I’m sure her mighty, sporty poodle heart would prefer some action.

Rounding the last turn from Sheridan onto Clemson, the mailman swung around to the box next to us as we passed the last house. We see the mailman every day, but usually he is across the street and we prefer it that way because yuck–human interaction and, yuck–having to be conscious for a few seconds of our walk just long enough to say “good morning. “

I’m feeling a bit like the troll who lives under the bridge today when really, in my own mighty sporty poodle heart, I love saying good morning to people on our walks and look forward to announcing to my family, upon my return, who all I had the polite exchange with. (With who all I had the polite exchange? “Who all” is the problem with that sentence I think.)

Kismet and I talked to our mailman once before. She barked at him and I had to reassure him it was just that she is afraid of cars. Nothing personal.

“It’s not the mailman thing then, huh?” He said and laughed.

“No,” I said. “I’m sure she’d love you if she knew you.” Then I felt weird, like I accidentally flirted. Another one of the 50,000 ways Michelle makes herself uncomfortable while the other party thinks nothing of it.

Before pulling off to the next mailbox, he said, “I dropped a package for you at your door.”

“Thank you,” I said and walked away, feeling oddly creepy that, although we met a street away from mine, the mailman my dog barked at and with whom I accidentally flirted knows who I am and to which house I belong.

Shouldn’t that be the most natural thing? I know where he belongs: in his truck, doing his route between 9 and 10 every day. Why shouldn’t he know where I belong: walking past his truck, going in and out of that one house, albino plus black and white poodle in the neighborhood between 9 and 10 every day?

Nothing even remotely creepy in it except my own creepy mind.

Cheers to the mailman then. I know we shall meet again.

I would say “Happy fall y’all” but I’m a Southern Californian which is the wrong kind of southern for that. So instead, have a like awesome autumn or whatever. There. That’s much better.

-M.

PS
Thanks for the package.

Creative Nonfiction, Fears, Personal Essay, Photo Playbook Challenge, Photography, Prose, Writing Life, Writing On Writing

Photo Prose: Dread Box

Picking up any pen is hard. Opening my notebook is one of the Herculean trials—the hard one.

Getting past the rickety-ness is worse still. It’s like hearing Atlas’ ancient knees pop as he hefts the Earth one more day. One more day. One more day.

I dread goals. I dread the lazy, yawning “what next” after I reach one. I dread not reaching any.

I dread being a flake—but worse, a joyless flake. No one loves a joyless flake like no one loves a fat person who is not jolly. I dread also being the fat person who is not jolly.

I dread my credit card payments. I keep my dreaded credit cards under my dreaded pens to keep me from the dreadful using them.

I keep lip balm under the dread pens and cards. Most of all, I dread being kissed unready.

-M.
Photography Playbook Prompt: Something you dread.

Creative Nonfiction, Fears, Personal Essay, Photo Playbook Challenge, Photography, Prose, Writing Life, Writing On Writing

Not “My” but “Our” Worst Fear

Photo Prompt: What is your worst fear?

Let’s get vulnerable with each other. Let’s get naked and play the mirror game. Let’s do it in front of a group of twenty-somethings with their whole brilliant lives ahead of them. Let us let them sit cross-legged in a circle around us and let us let them bombard us with questions as we try to mirror each other’s movements exactly.

We’ll have to answer honestly and be beastly to ourselves in this game because it is impossible to lie focused only on each other, move for move, even down to the twitch in the corner of my mouth and yours when someone lazily lobs, “What is your worst feat?”

We say, “This.”

We are afraid of this. We are afraid of only ever being as good as each other, locked in the hopelessness of leprous perfectionism. Not singly—mutually. Each other’s. Always each other’s.

We are afraid of this: falling short, move for move, in each other’s eyes forever.

-M.

Creative Nonfiction, Photo Playbook Challenge, Photography, Prose

Too Much Time Like Too Much Money

Photo Prompt: Parameters

Having too much time is like having too much money—it’s an asshole thing to complain about, but still a problem.

Whoever painted this mystery on my street—likely an alien—knew clearly where she was going and clearly where everyone else should be and what we all should avoid. She knew to tell everyone that if they dug here, something terrible would explode. Warning was the alien’s meaningful work.

She wrote: It would all go down in February.

Someone who came after—likely a human, likely me with my one blue running foot rudely in the shot—must have had too much time on her hands—an asshole problem—and, grasping around for something to fill her hours, investigated the alien’s code, aware only of its mystery and not its warning. She must have taken the arrow to indicate her life path and dug there foolishly—hoping to find her purpose entombed in the asphalt. Instead, our Pandora released the malicious thing, nailing her, the wise alien, and everyone else who had heretofore been busy.

It all went down in February.

Every now and then she comes out to kneel by the blackened hole in the cracked and cracking street. She cranes her neck to observe the bloom of the mushroom cloud she made and picks gravel from under her unmanicured nails. Locked down like all of us, she has all the time in the world for this.

She wonders dangerously, “What now?”

-M.

Creative Nonfiction, Memoir, Personal Essay, Prose, Writing Life

Bars and Blue Sky

Dostoyevsky said, “Life is life everywhere.” I don’t remember where or when he said it, but his mind was on human suffering in Siberia.

Bars and blue are the view from my office window. I live in a dirty, dying town in the inland desert of Southern California. We call it an empire. My neighborhood is ghetto-lite, but still rough enough to have warranted bars on all the doors and windows since 1985.

Here in the SoCal inland desert empire, it is green and, in the winter, the temperature rarely dips below forty degrees. The snow, in Siberia, is like bars I’m sure, but unlike these in my window, inescapable. Blue sky, like life, is blue sky everywhere though and we have at least these two things in common which, as I stand in the sun, un-barred, I’m sure is much more comfort to me on blue days wishing for the shocking sanctity of suffering and snow than it is to them on days that are nothing but sanctity, suffering, and snow

-M..

Creative Nonfiction, Memoir, Photography, Writing Life

Two Ouija Boards Under the Bed

Photo Prompt: What game are you playing in life? Learn the rules. Win the game.

Some people have monsters under their beds. Some people have shoes and extra blankets. Some people have porn. Some very lucky people have money. I have two Ouija boards—one made by my best friend—the beautiful one, board and friend—and one made by Hasbro—the glow-in-the-dark one, the one covered in dust and almost crushed by my ancient, broke-down box spring.

This is the game I am playing with life. I talk to spirits constantly. I’m sure they all put the Michelle-specific ear plugs in long ago. I have nightmares that are backwards prophecies. Life seems to be moving without me touching it—though really I must be touching it. I’m so white, I glow in the dark. The best parts of me were made by love.

Once, I wondered if sleeping with two Ouija boards under my bed was the reason I have nightmares every night, but then I realized only I can give them that power, and I only would give them that power if I moved them elsewhere in fear. I left them where they were and although I still have nightmares, I am winning this game.

-M.

Creative Nonfiction, Family, Memoir, Photography

The House Born Around Us

That my address happened to end up in my crotch in this my first attempt at arty photography is sheer Universal genius.

I was not born here. The house was born around my family when we moved to this city when I was four—the best part of all that happened when my parents got divorced.

Right after the divorce, my sister, mother, and I lived with my great aunt and uncle for a while and wore Goodwill clothes. Somehow, in less than a year, my mother was able to afford this house. Maybe it was all the money we saved wearing those Goodwill clothes that had that smell—the other people’s houses smell that must have dishearten my mother as we were between houses and, I know, humiliated my older sister who was sure she was really born royal and this town was all too bottom of the barrel for her. The smell seemed exotic to me and had a whisper to it, something like the ghosts of all the children who ate and played and sweat in these clothes before me.

My family continues to eat, play, and sweat in this house thirty-seven years later. It is now filled with our own ghostly whispers and we are sure to haunt it until the Big One knocks it down. It has been good to us and if all it cost was wearing good will on our backs for a year, it would have been a bargain at twice the price.

-M.