Czar of the Heavens

“…but I resisted the thought of a Czar of the Heavens, however loving His sway might be.”
-Bill W., “Bill’s Story,” Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 12

I have chronic PTSD nightmares. I woke up from a particularly bad night—screaming screaming screaming—orange and red death screaming all night—and when I took my pup out for potty, I saw that her pee spot, over time, had formed an unmistakable heart on the pavement. An unmistakable heart with dog plops scattered about.

I sat on the edge of the brick planter box watching her squat, my arms wrapped tight around me, still shaking a little, and I smiled. I hadn’t the energy to laugh, but here was the Czar of the Heavens laughing for me.

How loving is the sway of this Czar that he would draw with his own shining finger a dog piss heart for me while my horror was screaming in my sleep? Pretty damn loving.

“I love you,” says this Czar, “even when things are shitty, and maybe especially then. This heart isn’t drawn around the shit. It’s drawn right thought it.”

-M. Ashley

Alcoholics Anonymous
Overeaters Anonymous

God Guy Buys Me a New Purse

“Open your hands, if you want to be held.”
-Rumi

If your hands are closed or, worse yet, clenched, where does your lover lay the present? I wrote a poem to that effect once and it’s quite profound, especially if your lover is Rumi’s THE Lover and the presents are all the good gifts of god.

I have this sort of boyfriend—this man who loves me unreadably as I have shattered his heart many times. Maybe in this unreasonableness for exactly that reason, he is exactly like god. Jokingly, (sort of), I told him he should buy me a new purse because I was soon to be acquiring a lot more stuff—gifts from actual god. I was (sort of) joking, but he said, enthusiastically, “OK!” And I might accept. I don’t want all the sticky little strings that are attached to love-in-desperation presents, but unlike with god gifts, I can keep my fist clenched for this one.

I can keep my fist clenched. He can go ahead and hang my new Hermes bag on my one outstretched arm.

-M. Ashley

Uber Gangster Heaven

In an Uber, coming home from an appointment an hour away, stuck in traffic, the driver spent the first half of the ride telling us how important unions are and how he went around stumping for the union all the time when he worked at the Albertson’s warehouse, and then in the second half of the ride, he told us how he wants to get a collage of American gangsters tattooed on his leg (he had tats all over, including his face). He wanted everyone from Al Capone to El Chapo (not an American gangster, but I kept that to myself), to all these relatively current drug lords I’ve never heard of, and then somehow we ended up with him telling me how crack is made (or so he’s heard) and how much Percs and Fentanyl cost on the street (or so he’s heard). When we got to the destination, I told him that that ride was the most fun I’ve ever had in an Uber by far, which is a fact! I told him he was fantastic and gave him a big fat tip. My male friend, more conservative than I, was not thrilled, but I was in Michelle heaven!

I love people so much.

My only regret is that I forget to tell him he needed to add Jimmy Hoffa to his tattoo. Dang it!

-M. Ashley

Authentic African Musical Tiger Says

In a moment a pain, crying and praying, my god brought me this. The radio playing mysterious drums and me… I had to look. Authentic African music surely… with a tiger on the cover. A tiger.

Hard to pain cry and SMH cry laughing at the same time.

And if that weren’t enough: That look in the authentic African music tiger’s eye: “You… Hey you… Hey you there lady, crying. You! Authentic African musical tiger says, RELAX!!!”

And buddy, you’d better fucking relax.

-M. Ashley

Ghost Heart

“Much have we loved you, but speechless was our love, and with veils has it been veiled.”
-Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

In a moment of pain, suffering again with a traumatic memory, beyond trauma, that gave me tremors in my right arm and down the length of my leg, I cried out in loneliness and, in the imaginary conversation I was having with my therapist, I said how lonely I was with my trauma and how talking to my god was not enough because “he’s a ghost!”

(I am thinking of a ghost’s sheet as a veil.)

I hurt my god’s feelings. He has been right here with me through all the blood and guts.

Many times, talking to others about him, I have referred to him as “a figment of my imagination,” and “my all-powerful psychosis.” He joyfully laughs.

I called him a ghost and broke his heart.

-M. Ashley

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

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: 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: 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.

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.