Saturday, April 27, 2019

You're reading my diary




This story about diaries is breathtaking. It's illustrated and lovely. It caught me unaware this morning, during an internet browsing session I had to talk myself into. I've been sleeping a lot this week (10 hours a night) and I thought another foggy, rainy morning in bed might be just right. But I dragged myself up and made coffee and hoped that a little aimless clicking might motivate me to finish my work for this course I'm taking. And then I found this. 

"But you're still cognizant that someone might pick the lock and read the pages, and it still matters so much that a stranger likes you. So your diary is never all the way true."

I kept diaries in high school, and recently restarted one when I first became a contributing writer for Book Riot. It was such a weird time in my life, when I was finally getting this chance I had really dreamed of, and I found myself feeling deeply stupid and inadequate. The people I worked with were really, really smart about books (duh, because it was their job) and I desperately wanted them to like me, or be impressed by me (? Ashlie.) and I spent a lot of time poring over our back-channel communication in the editorial Slack account, grasping for times where I might reach out and make a connection, then terrified that I had said the wrong thing in the wrong way. At that time, Book Riot was instrumental in teaching me the way that books and politics intersect, the way that reading can be an act of activism, and the role I had as a teacher and a writer who recommends books. My mind was crammed with information, and for awhile, I worried much more about how I looked and was received during this education than actually getting it right. 

So I bought a diary.

I wanted a place where I could admit that I felt less-than. I am a big oversharer on the internet, but I couldn't even blog about feeling like I didn't have the intelligence I needed- intelligence and literal book-smarts where such a big part of the identity I crafted for myself. The diary was a DUMPING GROUND. I beat myself up for fighting with my husband, mispronouncing Yuyi Morales' name (and calling her 'him') to a publishing rep at a book conference, loving love triangles (the trope that every Classy book industry person I saw was rolling their eyes over), and in general being too green, too awkward, and too unimportant. Looking back, this is also where I wailed when my son's preschool teacher hated him (she did) and when we discovered he might need an IEP for educational support (he did). It was different than my usual online "Parenting is hard and my kitchen floor is messy" stream-of-consciousness. It wasn't a general, feel good, we're-all-in-this-together conclusion. I don't know if it's a coincidence that this was around the time my doctor prescribed me antidepressants and anti-anxiety meds. 

There's not a big lesson-learned ending here, unless you count the fact that I can't find the diary now? I think I started it in 2016. I do a lot of reflection in my passion planner. I do less general sharing on the internet, not at all on purpose, but I feel like I have less time. And most of the things I decide to pour myself into are more about my outreach than my image. That is one of the most beautiful things about getting older. Of course I still care about how I look, but it's much easier to accept that not everyone is going to like me or be interested in my take. Working in a position that serves an entire school instead of a set number of kids/fellow teachers has taught me that universal acceptance is impossible. Learning that the people who run even a super-thoughtful, super-intelligent website are still humans who mess up and, most importantly, have different opinions than my own has let me be more confident in my own intelligence and comfortable with knowing what I don't know. 

I might need a diary again one day. Writing is still the best way to sort thoughts and figure out how I feel. Sometimes things are too close or too much a part of someone else's life for me to type until it makes sense, then hit publish and hope it helps someone else. But I'm glad I'm at a point in my life where I'm more comfortable admitting my stories of humiliation, my messes that can't be swiped with a sponge.  

Thanks for reading my diary.

Image credit: Maria Luque 

Friday, March 29, 2019

Entering The Middle


I came here because I miss writing. I write. It's one of the only things that I've always done. My mom came to visit recently and brought a bunch of things I wrote when I was in elementary school. There was a strong program at the school I went to from grades 2-5, and I didn't realize my mom had saved these books. They're cringe-y and sweet and sometimes- kind of good? I've always liked words. I've always been proud of how I can string them together.

It's time that I accept that I am in a different part of my life right now. For several years, I was absolutely obsessed with fiction writing. It was the biggest part of every day for me. I've spent the last two years, since I became a school media specialist and started library school, waiting until the next thing calmed down so I could pick fiction writing back up. Missing the process itself isn't even as exhausting as constantly feeling a like a failure for not getting it done. And yet the idea of shelving it is still pretty scary. I have a singular focus at most times (there is a lot to say here about things I'm realizing as I'm in the process of learning about ADHD through the diagnosis of one of my sons) and when something is in front of me, it's important to me. When it's put somewhere else, it can permanently disappear. I don't want my stories to disappear. But I can't keep tearing myself apart trying to do something that doesn't fit in right now. 

My undercut is growing out. For the first time since I shaved part of my head in November 2017, I'm really not feeling my look. And there is absolutely nothing I can do. I have half a head of past-pixie length hair, and half a head of hair that falls to my shoulder blades, and until I'm in a place where I can sacrifice my messy bun, that's just how it's going to be. An awkward in-between time. The end goal- having hair that's one length, a fresh canvas to play around with- is visible but still a good distance away. I've always been impulsive and bad at long term planning, but I'm holding on. Sitting in my awkwardness, because I know something better is coming. 

All my sisters are having babies. Five new babies to our family in a single year. That's a hell of a lot of beginnings. I'm watching the fumbling, the figuring out new routines, the rewiring of entire families, and I have so much admiration. It's such exhausting work to start completely over, to remake something that was already made to make room for new things that are not temporary. New normals. I don't miss the beginning. And yet I'm a little bit envious, because I am in a middle. An awkward, ever-shifting middle. I had gotten really good at the beginning, and then we moved out of it, and now I feel clumsy and unskilled again. Figuring out which things about my children are permanent, and not byproducts of flying through growth stages. Starting a new career (yes, a dream career) and realizing how it's less of shift and more of a COMPLETELY NEW THING that requires a completely new skill set. Realizing that life is never going to slow down, and making time for exercise, my husband, and my friends is non-negotiable.

Very often, I want to get in bed and sleep and sleep and sleep. This is not a reference to physical tiredness. I can't tell if it's a depressive episode, laziness, or overwhelm, but it's not the world's healthiest coping strategy. But at least in this middle, I can see it for the slightly troubling thing that it is, and wonder, "What's missing?" Schedule a date with my husband. Force myself to start a book that I know will suck me in. Let myself free-associate in a blog post, because nothing soothes my depression like the sound of my own voice. 

I've officially accepted it. I'm in the middle. 

Here is what I'm leaving in the beginning: the excuse "I have TWO KIDS" (this was something I said with panic/wonder/annoyed overwhelm the first three years that it was true), working on autopilot (acceptable when you've had the same career for a decade and your skills are fire- not when you're new new new and you've got a lot to learn), bonding with my husband only over our kids (this one is EASY to fall into), defining myself singularly (I CONTAIN MULTITUDES), taking friends for granted (oh my friends I love and need you and you're worth the work to connect).

Here is what is coming with me: recognition that I can be toxic and messy and need to keep working on myself (the pinnacle has not been reached), enduring gratefulness to have a school library position (a dream I didn't even know was a dream until a few years ago and I reached it SO FAST!), the work of letting go of needing to be liked (you don't have to like me), my three degrees (I can celebrate that! Three degrees! THAT IS BADASS), my mulletish undercut (grow, baby, grow), a newfound appreciation for identifying and nurturing mentor relationships, a closer connection to my mother and sisters, my planner habit, a fledgling bullshit detector, an understanding of when to stay quiet...I'm realizing that I could go on. I've got some tools.

Here's hoping I keep carving out time to write down my thoughts. Here we go, Middle.

(I'm struggling to find an image credit for this gorgeous picture- if anyone has any leads, let me know!)

Sunday, December 30, 2018

It's the end of 2018 as we know it, and I feel fine.





I'm not super in the mood to reflect. I wrote a whole post about our year, my family, what we've been through and where I hope we go, and none of it really meant anything to me. It felt like what Shonda Rhimes calls "athlete talk." The stuff basketball players have to say before they're allowed to go back to the locker room. "We moved the ball and they put up a fight, it came down to them outplaying us." Just words devoid of substance.

I am in the mood to start fresh. There has been an interesting backlash against resolutions, especially in the blogging/podcast world. I love how all these women are pretending like they invented the word of the year, or that they've *always* hated January 1st goal setting, when I used to eagerly read every single one of their carefully listed resolutions they posted with filtered pictures of sunrises and coffee cups and silhouetted families. I love that shit! Now everyone's like "I've never ever been a fan of setting myself up against undue pressure. I'm more into WORDS, you know? I've just started doing this and changes everything. I'm DONE with dieting but I'm totally ready to eat clean this year." I stand in the kitchen shaking my head. It's actually one of the reasons I'm really grateful for the #pashfam community (the only hashtag I follow on insta)- goal setting is not vilified and lots of people are posting different spreads to track their small habits and larger plans.

All that to say, my biggest lesson learned this year is that absolutely nothing is true for everyone. Not a thing. Not a way of pursing health, not a way of setting goals, not a way of preparing meals, not a way of raising children. It's hard for me because I have spent probably 15 years of my life in pursuit of the perfect template. And I'm starting to figure out that it'll never work like that. You might find a person to look up to or a life philosophy to follow and it'll fit for a time but not forever. Eventually one of your personal needs or values will press up against the general idea you were adopting and the dissonance can cause real panic, if you thought you found the way things were going to be from then on out. You have to make your own template. It's corny and it makes me sigh.

I'm not in the mood for athlete talk, but I do want to play through this exercise of answering some year end questions, in case it sparks something for me to help me understand how I want to move forward. I'm getting together with some friends today to think about 2019, set some intentions, burn some stuff we want to let go of. I'm hoping my own template will start to emerge from this interesting work.

1. What are the three most important things you learned this year?

My kids need me more than I thought they did.
I cannot be home for an entire summer and stay healthy.
I have to figure out my own template.

2. What are some things you accomplished that you're proud of?

Ended first year as a Media Specialist.
Helped Ben get through his tumor scare.
Changed the look and feel of the entire front of the house (with Ben) into a living space I enjoy.

3. What did you do this year that you'll remember for the rest of your life?

Ben and I working through everything with his health in the fall will stick with me forever. The raw fear and the way that everything felt frozen, and then the strange, slow-to-come relief when things were okay. Making the appointments and talking to the doctors and planning every second of our lives to pretend to have control. It ending as fast as it started. It changed me.

4. What was your most memorable day and why?

Honestly, the day of the surgery will be memorable, and the way that people rallied around us with shocking, breath-taking love and support. But I want to focus on some other positive memorable days this year- our trip to North Conway and spending the day hiking was amazing, or playing hours and hours of Werewolf with my family at my aunt's house over Christmas. 

5. What would you have done differently? Why?

I would have worked this summer. There is no way I could have known that I would feel the way I felt this summer, no way I could have seen that the total lack of routine would make me fall apart. I haven't worked during the summer since the boys were born, but when they were smaller, they took a lot more energy and we had to follow a routine- meet up with friends or go on adventures in the morning, excellent napping skills from 1ish to 4-5 in the afternoon, then dinner/baths/books/bed. There was time for me, time for socializing, and even a few chores worked in. Ever since we've moved into this house (this was our second full summer here), the boys haven't napped, and now that they're much closer to self-sufficient, it's way easier for me to spend a day doing nothing, and not in a good way. Short vacations are perfect for laziness- two full months of the year should not be spent that way. This summer will look different. 

6. How are you different this year than last?

As a person, I'm more stable. I am able to look at myself and see positive or negative patterns. I understand my reactions more than before. I haven't implemented every single piece of knowledge I have, but I have learned a lot about myself. I'm also closer to understanding my family. This has been a time of transition for us- new house, new life stages, new jobs, new goals. Everything I knew about being a mom is changing. I laugh at newborn-mom Ashlie who was quite certain that as soon as her kids could entertain themselves and eat without choking, this whole gig would get much easier. It never gets easier. But it's kind of comforting to grow into what you don't know. 

7. What do you look forward to accomplishing in 2019?

A better relationship with the family that lives in my house, based on our newest needs 
Secretary time (more to come on that one)
Physical thriving
Better money sense (less Target bans, more long term plans)

I'm just going to link to the Passion Planner site because honestly, get one, they're wonderful, the Instagram community is wonderful, and planning has become a treasured hobby of mine. If you want to use my email address (ashlieelizabeth@gmail.com) as a referral name, cool, but more importantly, check these out and see if they might get you closer to your goals! I'm not affiliated, just deeply in love.

I'm also going to link to my intentions for 2018, which I finally got around to posting IN MAY, if that gives you an idea of the kind of year it was.

Tracy Shutterbean is a blogger I've been following for years, and she lives the intentions life way outside of January. Her weekly intention lists are completely different from mine but they inspire me every time. Definitely a worthy follow (her Instagram @shutterbean is excellent, too).