Lemon Mystery (creative nonfiction)

“How often have you sailed in my dreams. And now you come in my awakening, which is my deeper dream.”
-Khalil Gibran, “The Prophet”

In my dream, I walked with my god through his sacred orange grove. The trees all had white bark. That was important somehow, the white bark coming off like ash, but healthy healthy. The trees were all so healthy.

Today, walking my puppy, I came across two lemons on the sidewalk. It was around the side of someone’s house, not near any trash cans. No wind had been blowing so they hadn’t come on the wind. There was no lemon tree leaning over the fence or anywhere nearby. It was as if someone had been walking that way and dropped these two lemons for me to see and follow like breadcrumbs, but sour and more vividly colored.

I thought of my god’s white barked orange grove and could this have been my god walking this corner, dropping these citrus fruits for me? Do oranges in the dream orchard become lemons on the waking dirty street? Dreams communicate this way in the sleeping and waking dream. Color color, symbol symbol, the promise of a taste. A god that walked that way before you. Mystery.

-M. Ashley

Natively Unquiet (creative nonfiction)

If you threw the Empire State Building into a raging sea, no one would know the difference. Deepak Chopra said something like that, advocating for meditation. I bet the people of New York would know the difference–their skyline sadly quieter again.

But not silent.

There is no such thing. Like time and god, it’s something we conceptualize, track our lives by, aspire to. But there is always some sound. There is always some imperfection. Our own breath. Our own heartbeat. The mortal body regulating itself as it slowly, calmly perishes.

And that’s not a bad thing. Humans will never be gods and humans will also never know silence or be silent. We are the creatures we are, natively, and we are an unsubtle, noisy lot.

When I try to be silent, movies related to the logistics of eternity flicker across the insides of my eyelids. I’ve learned (sometimes) to watch and not participate, like seekers of silence and stillness are supposed to do, but even when the films are silent films, there is still the sound of the flickering, still the hum of electricity to projector that bolts through the physical brain. The slapstick of memory and trauma and dream and inspiration plays itself out and I laugh. As silent as I am, as unmoving as my belly and throat are–still there is the laugh.

That’s probably the foundational sound of the universe–the breath and heartbeat sound even She can’t get away from when She curves back into herself to resettle before birthing herself, from herself, again.

-M. Ashley

Talk About Disease (creative nonfiction)

It puts me ill at ease when my mom starts talking about my grandparents’ cancer—how they were dying at the same time, in hospital rooms next to each other. Lung cancer.

They smoked together. I’m sure he lit her cigarettes when they were dating. A sexy gesture. A sexy pull. Firsthand smoke to firsthand smoke. Breathing in each other’s breaths. Secondhand to secondhand. Thirdhand smoke in each other’s clothes. They breathed it in when they were dancing close.

Thirdhand smoke in their clothes still, even their clean clothes that my mother had to divvy up amongst relatives or donate after they passed. You never really can get rid of the smoke, the breath, the illness, the cancer. It grows and grows.

My mother’s marriage was falling apart as her parents were dying. My father was useless.

One day, after having worked a full day and spending most of the evening sitting at her parents’ bedsides, my mom came home to find that my father had put my sister and I to bed in our day clothes. She tells me he didn’t even bother to take our shoes off. That’s the part she couldn’t get over.

Unemployed and couldn’t be bothered to take our shoes off.

Unemployed and he would do the laundry at three in the morning with all the lights on in the house and Hank Williams roaring from the record player.

She wasn’t spending her evenings with him. He couldn’t throw a toddler’s tantrum, so he chose Hank Williams instead and, “You did say you wanted me to do the laundry, didn’t you?”

The cancer grew and grew.

My grandparents died and my mom got a divorce in the same year.

I once asked my mom if she was glad my grandparents weren’t around to see her get divorced. I asked her if there was some relief in it for her—in their passing. I don’t remember how she answered. I know she spoke, but all I really remember is the silence while she thought about it.

The hospital was in a rough neighborhood. My mom had to go into the parking garage each night wielding mace. She had a full time job, two kids, one of them (me) disabled, and, as I have mentioned, a useless husband. She is a badass. That’s the her in her I hope to breathe in.

-M. Ashley

Noisy (creative nonfiction)

“Feel the delight of walking in the noisy street,
And being the noise.”
-Rumi, “A Community of the Spirit”

I bet the world would take Gen Z a lot more seriously if they knew the difference between “everyday” and “every day..” There is, at least I think there is, a correct way to make noise in this math we call writing.

Words mean things.

I once got in an almost fight with a therapist because she thought “heigth” was a word. That would have been an unholy kind of noise. A rumbling fist fight behind the closed doors of confidentiality. I may have come out bloody, she looked like she could have been a scrapper, but dammit, I would have been right. I am right. There is no h at the end of the word.

A lady in my group therapy had an albino husband. There was some drama with him at the behavioral health clinic. The therapist leading the group said she heard about him coming in and “acting a fool.” Part of his foolishness being that he whizzed in the corner of one of the therapists’ offices and had to be carted out of there by the po po. He was making all kinds of noise—shouts, grunts, tinkles.

I was embarrassed for my people. When the secretaries for the crazy house see me, do they now think, there’s another noisy albino ready to piss in the corner. Somebody get the gloves on. Somebody get that powder that sucks up hazardous liquids. Somebody get a mop.

I speak quietly, still embarrassed for my people. Lack of pigment doesn’t mean lack of decency man, be a human for fuck’s sake. Be a little quieter, in a dignified way. You are not the kind of spiritual noise Rumi was talking about.

That same lady, married to the peeing albino, in my therapy group, looked ratty all the time. Not throwing stones. I can rat it up in fine style myself. Just a matter of fact she looked ratty all the time. And once she said she didn’t take care of herself because her albino husband couldn’t see her anyway and I didn’t disabuse her of her excuse to look ratty, but unless there was something extra wrong with his eyes that isn’t wrong with mine, yes… yes he can see her in all her ratty inglory..

I’m sure that’s not what made him make the loathsome noise and piss in the corner, but it’s just one more stressor, or an indication of a relationship already stressed because the woman cares more about what he can’t see than what she sees in herself.

I wanted to shout in the street that she should be un-ratty for herself, and damn the pissing albino with his not that bad eyes. Be your own woman. Be you for you. Be beautiful for your own liking. But then I realize, shouting at her in the street would be me making the noise at myself mostly because I too, as I said, can rat it up a lot of the time and don’t like looking at myself in the mirror and I don’t look and the internal noise is something like well, if I can’t see the rat tunes that well, I can’t blame myself for being ratty, which is the same argument this lady had but at her other, which is infinitely better than me having this discussion and blaming my quiet rattiness on myself.

-M. Ashley

A Hill I Once Knew (creative nonfiction)

My Uncle Chuck’s house backed up against one of the humps of Little Mountain. As far as I know, Little Mountain has two major humps separated by two apartment complexes, two tracts of homes, two schools, and, lately, a strip mall, an iHop, a McDonals’s and a Starbucks always bustling with CalState Berdoo students.

My Uncle Chuck’s house butted up against the back of it and there was a small piece of it in his yard. I knew it intimately. He landscaped the crap out of it. He not only planted gorgeous plants everywhere, but he dug great paths and steps into the dirt so my sister, my cousins, and I could go run and chase all over it, minding the ankle-eating gofer holes of course.

We used to love to dig holes in that hill ourselves. My uncle had shovels for us all and, wherever he was working on some worthy project on the hill, there were my two boy cousins and I also working, digging holes to China or, if we were really ambitious, digging a hole large enough for us to sit it. Sometimes that took days, but the prestige that came with climbing into your own hole was well worth it.

-M. Ashley

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

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

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