Starving

It’s been over two weeks since my last post, and hopefully this one will explain why that is.

These past few weeks have been…a lot. America is a country built on stolen land by stolen people. The racial injustices experienced by Black people since we got here were put on full display in a viral video of George Floyd being murdered by a police officer.

Now, this video was shocking to a lot of people. But Black folks have seen this show before—multiple times. This ain’t nothin’ new to us. What really surprised me, though, is how many people lack empathy for others.

Real talk, I’ve always been the “sensitive” one. An empath, I guess? My own emotions hit me hard, and I tend to feel others’ emotions strongly too. Considering others’ feelings, perspectives, and experiences is something I was taught at a very young age.

Apparently some people’s parents skipped this life lesson, because I’ve seen wayyyyyyyy too many people lacking empathy here lately!

I wish I had the privilege to be that person who gives 0 fucks. That person who says and does whatever they please, other people’s feelings be damned! I wish “If it doesn’t impact me personally I don’t care,” could be my life’s motto.

But that just seems…wrong.

It might be easier to live life that way, but that doesn’t make it right.

Throughout life, I was taught to not be selfish. “Share! Listen! Give! Always!” (I grew up as an only child, so I feel like I got this lesson more than most people.)

But there is a difference between self-advocacy and selfishness.

When is it okay to ask for something back, or keep something for yourself, or require people to treat you a certain way? When does advocating for yourself become caring ONLY about yourself? Where’s the line?

I wish I knew. I feel like that line is in a different spot for Black people than it is for anyone else. We’ve had to spend our whole lives worrying about what other people think, how they see us. Maybe that isn’t “empathy” in the traditional sense, but that heightened awareness is necessary. Honestly, our survival depends on it.

Which is better–to be full of empathy, or starved of it?

Personally, I’d rather be caring than careless. But no lie, it’s EXHAUSTING. I’m so tired, y’all. That’s why this post took so long—all my energy has gone toward surviving lately.

Y’all have no idea how much effort it takes to be professional at work when your employer is doing the bare minimum regarding diversity. It’s so hard to take care of my home when all I can think about is how I’ve only ever seen one other Black person in my neighborhood. It’s tough to be a loving partner when my partner has a lot of the privilege I lack.

But sometimes the hard thing to do is the right thing to do.

Rest In Peace to George Floyd and all my Black sisters and brothers dead at the hands of racism. We will never forget you. We will avenge you, by any means necessary. Black Lives Matter.

My Life

The first time, I was young.

I don’t remember my exact age, but I was a kid–probably around 5 or 6. I was at a friend’s house, playing with girl about the same age as me. We were acting out our favorite TV show, Saved by the Bell.

She was having a hard time choosing who to be: Kelly Kapowski (the beautiful cheerleader) or Jessie Spano (the super smart class president).

My choice was already made for me. I’d be Lisa Turtle, the rich fashionista.

Not because I was rich. Not because I enjoyed fashion.

I would be Lisa because I was Black, and Lisa was Black. Plain and simple.

Honestly, I identified more with Jessie–I loved to learn and I admired her passion for issues like saving the environment. I liked how she always said what she thought and worked hard to be the best. But I couldn’t be Jessie because we weren’t the same color.

I didn’t really think of it as racism at the time because, as a said before, I was a kid. But looking back I see how I was put in a box because of my skin color.

The second time hit a little harder.

Once again, I don’t remember my exact age. But I was still a kid. I was riding the bus to school, and an older boy kept trying to get my attention. He kept calling me a racial slur (one that I will not type here).

Yes, I told the bus driver. No, she didn’t do anything.

I got called this slur EVERY DAY until the boy got his driver’s license and stopped taking the bus.

The first day I got on the bus and he wasn’t there, I felt a trickle of relief. By the end of the week, I realized he wasn’t coming back. The trickle turned to a flood. Finally, I could ride the bus in peace and quiet.

What’s that saying? “Third time’s a charm…”

This one I remember in great detail. I was in sixth grade, in Ms. White’s classroom. It was almost time for school to be dismissed, and we had to be sitting at our desks when the bell rang before Ms. White would let us leave her classroom.

I was kneeling on the floor beside my desk, picking up all my papers and books. I wasn’t dawdling–I was putting stuff in my bag as fast as I could. But there was so much stuff.

The bell rang and I wasn’t in my seat. No one could leave until I sat down. I stood, then moved to sit down at my desk. That was when I heard it.

“Hurry up, BLACKIE!”

It came from a white boy I only knew in passing–his name was Jesse. I don’t remember ever speaking to this boy–before or after this incident–but I can see his face in my mind’s eye as clear as day.

I froze where I stood. All hopes of sitting down were gone–I couldn’t move. I just stared at him.

Ms. White made Jesse apologize to me–a quick “sorry” that was clearly more about getting to the bus line than giving an authentic apology. Ms. White released the class, and I shot out of that classroom with tears running down my face.

I was practically running to get to the bus, crying. Someone–I can’t remember who–asked what was wrong as I flew past.

“Nothing.”

I can’t even remember if I told my mom what happened.

It happened over and over again, and got more humiliating each time.

In high school, it poured rain on the day of a band competition. I was in the colorguard, wearing a hairstyle that required a lot of hold. Pump It Up spritz was the go-to product to keep my hair in place. (If you’re a Black woman reading this, you’re probably nodding in agreement right now. Pump It Up is an old school Black hair staple, right there next to Luster’s Pink Oil Lotion and my aunt’s favorite, Blue Magic scalp conditioner.)

“Ewwwwwww, what is that smell?!?

Apparently, Pump It Up + rain water = a slightly unpleasant aroma. And another guard member was LOUDLY letting everyone know about it. I just tried to stay as far away from everyone as I could. Not only was the hairstyle that took an ENTIRE DAY ruined, my day was too. I felt like such a freak, even though the white girls back then would use so much gel and hairspray they reeked of aerosol.

It presented itself so often, in so many different ways.

My worst experience with racism to date didn’t even happen in America. That’s why it’s the worst time–I didn’t see it coming.

I was in Denmark for a work trip, staying for two weeks. It was January, so the days were short and dark and cold there, but I was so excited. I’d never been to Europe before, and here I was–traveling abroad for business! I felt so fancy.

The first week passed without incident. There were a few snags with my work project, but I powered through them. Then the weekend came and everything changed.

I went out to dinner with a co-worker. We went to a fancy place and ate a meal with, like, seven different courses. We talked and laughed and enjoyed the delicious food and generally had a fantastic time. We took a car back to our hotel, and I headed to my room after a quick goodbye near the hotel lobby. Shortly after I got back to my room, I got a text from my co-worker. The man working the front desk said I couldn’t stay at the hotel.

He thought I was a prostitute.

I went back to that front desk, room key in hand. I explained that I’d been in the hotel for an entire week and hadn’t had any problems until today. I asked that man if he would have made the same assumption if I was a white lady.

He said NO. Had I been a different color, he wouldn’t have given me a second thought.

It felt like I’d been punched in the stomach.

I wish I could say those were the only times.

But there are so many moments I’ve left out.

The “You’re so pretty for a Black girl,” moments.

The time a classmate said it wasn’t fair I got a full scholarship to college because I was Black (even thought I was in honors classes and my grades were higher than hers).

The “You’re not like other those Black people–you’re one of the good ones,” moments.

The time a former coworker “complimented” me by putting both of her hands wrist deep in my fresh kinky twists–without my permission, of course.

The “I’m sorry, we don’t have makeup in your shade,” moments.

The time a boy I had a crush on in high school told me he couldn’t be racist because he’d kissed me once. (This was years after the kiss, on a Facebook post about police brutality.)

The “You’re so articulate,” moments.

The time a judge at a speech tournament wrote me a ballot explaining that I shouldn’t just do pieces on Blackness–that I was “better than that.

The “I don’t even think of you as Black,” moments.

The time I competed in a local beauty pageant and won Miss Congeniality, but I wasn’t included in the photograph that ran in the paper.

The time I drove past the fairgrounds in my hometown and saw signs stating “All Lives Matter” and “Blue Lives Matter” and learned just whose lives clearly didn’t matter.

The time I had dinner at my high school boyfriend’s house and his father refused to speak to me. Seriously–the man didn’t say a single word to me the entire time I was there. He spoke to everyone else, but not to me.

The time I got pulled over late at night in my new car. Terror isn’t the word–it was worse than that. Thank God I hadn’t been drinking, had all of my paperwork, and had the wherewithal to put on my most “articulate” voice for the officer.

Every single time I change my hair and people at work say they can’t recognize me–even if it’s just a switch from curly to straight. (And it happens EVERY SINGLE TIME.)

It’s exhausting. It’s infuriating. And, unfortunately, it’s a regular part of my life.

If you read this and realized that someone you know has said or done something like this in the past, I hope you’re horrified. If you read this and realized YOU’VE said or done something similar in the past, I hope you are filled with shame. I hope you look back over your life and recognize every single racist thing you’ve been part of. I hope you cry.

And after all that, I hope you make a promise to do better.

I hope you realize you aren’t a bad person, but that you have some learning (and maybe more importantly, un-learning) to do. I hope you read up on how America has disenfranchised Black people since we were stolen and brought here. I hope you advocate for Black people with your time, energy, money, resources, and especially YOUR VOTES.

I hope you check your racist family members and friends–don’t let those jokes or comments slide. I hope you support reparations for descendants of slavery. I hope you protest for us and with us. I hope you stop saying you’re “colorblind” and start saying “I see your color, but I don’t devalue you because of it.”

I hope you take a look at your life, now that you’ve seen some of the uglier parts of mine.

Fighter

How long do you argue with someone?

You’re right. They’re wrong. Classic scenario, right? How much time do you spend fussing with this person to prove the obvious–you’re right, and they’re wrong?

Had you asked me this question a few years ago, I would have looked you in the face and honestly replied, “As long as it takes!”

Awwwww, Baby Ashley was so…earnest.

Nowadays, I just don’t have the energy. And, to be frank, it’s just not worth my time.

2020 has shown me that life is too short to waste on things that just don’t matter. And unless you’re one of the cov-idiots who thinks this pandemic is fake, you probably realized that WE DON’T HAVE TIME FOR THE BULLSHIT.

Seriously. If it isn’t something that impacts my health, my family, my community, or my coins, I’ve decided I’m not fighting with you about it.

This is proving easier said than done.

Last week, a man went awf in my inbox. Just going on and on about why he he shouldn’t have to…he doesn’t have time…why is he required to…and so on. And I had a #ThrowbackMoment. Baby Ashley read that email and started putting together a three point presentation on why she was right and he was wrong.

But guess what Grown-Up Ashley did, y’all?!?

She sent a reply that was merely TWO SENTENCES. Those two sentences said everything that needed to be said. So I said my piece, and I went on about my day.

Say your piece, then move on. Don’t let anyone waste your time, your breath, or your life!

Try a Little…

Tenderness. Ah, Otis Redding. Still not sure exactly what a “shaggy dress” is, but the song is awesome regardless.

We could all stand to treat each other a bit more tenderly these days.

Now, more than ever, am I realizing that people are just that–people. Each person is facing their own internal battle, and plenty of us have external battles to fight too. (Hellooooo Miss Rona.)

“It’s a cruel world.” We’ve all heard that before. But does it have to be?

Not at all.

Could we all take the time to really listen to each other, be honest, and make a valiant attempt to see the world from someone else’s point of view? Could we not just talk, but actually communicate? Absolutely.

Will we do this? Fuck no.

Why? Because we don’t want to make the effort. Or, to use a phrase I’ve heard more often than I’ve ever wanted to, “That sounds like a lot of work.”

Who cares if it’s a lot of work if it’s the right thing to do?

Every damn day I bust my ass to try to do the right thing. My mother raised me to think of others, be compassionate, and do what I know is right even if the world says it’s wrong. These were lessons I learned very early in life.

Apparently not everyone got the same lesson.

But what can I do other than lead by example? I’ll try my best to be kind, and supportive, and to treat people the way I’d like to be treated.

I’ll try a little tenderness.

Will you?

Vulnerability

The world is not a safe place for vulnerable Black girls.

A few weeks ago, my therapist told me that vulnerability is something we should work on. She said I don’t trust people.

Well, duh. I know firsthand that the world is not a safe place for vulnerable Black girls.

After our session, I tried to think of when I first learned that lesson.

Was it sixth grade, when I wrote a note to my secret crush (a white boy) and he laughed while reading it aloud to the entire class?

Was it my 13th birthday, when I planned a big party, invited everyone I knew from school, and only two people showed up?   

Was it the summer after my sophomore year in college, when the man I loved dumped me but still strung me along so he could have someone to clean his apartment and cook for him?

Was it when I was publicly shamed by a dentist for crying out in pain during a root canal?

Was it the multiple instances of racism, sexism, or the brutal combination of both known as misogynoir that I’ve experienced in my life?

Most likely.

I truly wish that I could open up and be myself with everyone. But lessons learned the hard way are ones not quickly forgotten.

This world is not a safe place for vulnerable Black girls.

So Amazing

So, I just listened to the first episode of the podcast I narrated Who Killed Julie? and it was so amazing!  (And no, I’m not just saying that because I narrated it.)

This podcast is different because it’s fiction that tackles a very real subject–domestic abuse.  As a domestic abuse survivor, I know firsthand how hard it can be to recover from such a terrible experience.  The podcast creator, Paul Sating, is using this series to bring light to the issue and support survivors.  How awesome is that?!?  It’s one thing to use the topic to get listens, but to actually use this platform to help people who’ve gone through this ordeal is honorable and so needed in today’s times.

With all that’s going on in regards to women and sexual assault in America today, Who Killed Julie? is a necessary listen.  For those who ask why she didn’t fight back, why she didn’t report it back then, if she was drinking, what she was wearing, and all the other bullshit excuses for terrible behaviors on the part of men, you should listen to this.  This is a story of a woman who experienced something truly terrible–lost her life even–and the reason why will chill you to the bone.

Check out Who Killed Julie? on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, and Stitcher!

The Weight

I pulled in to Nazareth, I was feelin’ ’bout a half past dead
I just need some place where I can lay my head
Hey mister, can you tell me where a girl might find a bed (can you tell me)
He just grinned and shook my hand, no was all he said

-Aretha Franklin, ‘The Weight’

If you’re wondering why I haven’t posted lately, it’s because I’ve been feeling the weight.

An unarmed Black man was murdered by a police officer in his own apartment.

Brett Kavanaugh will likely become part of the Supreme Court.

Wisconsin, where I live, is slowly recovering from historic flooding that destroyed many structures and even killed someone.

The White House is in chaos.

As a Black woman in America, getting through each day lately has been utterly exhausting.  Watching the news makes me so anxious, but I can’t not watch–I need to know how close to oblivion we are getting.  Unfortunately, we are inching closer and closer every day.

The weight is bearing down on me.  It’s bearing down on a lot of us.

But I can’t let it take me out.  We can’t let it bring us down.

We have to continue to help and love each other, regardless of what we look like or how much money we have or where we’re from.

We have to fight back against those trying to tear apart our country with racism and discrimination.

We have to keep moving forward.

Yes, I’m still feeling the weight.  The struggle to make it through each day is still very real.  But I like to think that my muscles are getting stronger.  I’m trying to find something positive in each day to keep me moving forward.

I hope you are too.

 

 

Me. Mine.

It was during high school, one afternoon, in an upstairs hallway.

I’d come to the conclusion I wanted to end the relationship.  We’d been together awhile (probably around a year) and while things were good at times, overall things were bad.  My boyfriend–my first real boyfriend–was clingy, demanding and manipulative.  He wanted to plan matching outfits every day.  He constantly compared our relationship, especially the physical aspect (really, the lack thereof), to his best friend.  If I was having a good day and he wasn’t, he went out of his way to ignore me until my day was shitty too.

So, I told him it was over.  He rested his head against the wall, silent.  I though the conversation went as well as it possibly could have…until he reared back and slammed his forehead into the glass of a picture frame hanging on the wall.  In disbelief, I backed toward a classroom door, hoping to escape quickly.

Locked.

Shock quickly turned to fear.

Luckily, other students were farther down the hallway and heard the commotion.  I hurried back to class and frantically told my teacher what happened; she rushed out to assist him.  My cousin came to check on me and I told him I was fine, he hadn’t hurt me.

The painful part came afterward, when I was asked to keep quiet about what happened.

My ex begged me not to tell anyone what happened.  He hoped to join the military and worried this would negatively impact his chances.  His mom and sister came to me with the same request.  I was horrified.  was supposed to protect him? He was upset, they said.  That behavior wasn’t like him; his future was at stake.

He.  Him.

My college boyfriend–my first real love–went home for the summer while I stayed in town and worked.  Toward the end of the summer, he told me he wanted to take me out to dinner–to talk to me about something–when he got back.  He was very mysterious, refusing to tell me what he wanted to talk about, and I thought for sure he was going to propose.  Turns out, he wanted to break up.  (Thank God I got him to tell me over the phone instead of in a restaurant.)

But after that, we were still cordial…until he got upset with me for not buying a computer from him.  See, he worked at a computer store and I came in one day and bought a brand new laptop–but not while he was on shift.  He could have used that commission, he said.  He thought I would have wanted to help him out.

He.  Him.

Too often, women are expected to take ownership for what men do.  Recently, the trial and conviction of Bill Cosby illuminates this disgusting facet of our society.  Why did she go to his hotel room?  What did she expect would happen?  Why is she coming forward now?  He’s an old man; he’ll die in prison because of this.  What about him, his legacy as a Black actor?

He.  Him.

It sickens me for a number of reasons, but mostly because it happened to me.  I completely understand the anger, the sadness, the frustration, and the guilt that comes with being made to feel like you have to take care of someone totally able to care for himself.

Women are socialized to care, to nurture, to feel.  We are expected to be firm, but kind.  We are taught to be nice. Even at our own expense.

This goes for everyone, but especially for women–we need to start taking care of ourselves.  It isn’t selfish to protect yourself from harm.  It isn’t mean to tell the truth.

Honestly, I hesitated to even write this post. What if my two exes, their friends and families, got upset with me? What if I hurt their feelings? What if I made them mad?

Then I realized–I can’t worry about them. I have to worry about me. One of my intentions this year is to speak my truth. I’m finally telling the truth I’ve felt obligated to keep quiet for so long.

Me. Mine.

You don’t owe anyone your self-esteem, your time, your money, or your silence–especially if they aren’t willing to positively invest in you.

Pura Vida: Part 3

We’re drawing nearer to the end of this four-part series on the mother/daughter trip of a lifetime–a tour of Costa Rica!  If you’re just now checking out this series, make sure to go back and read Part 1 and Part 2–trust me, you wanna know about all the cool/funny/awesome moments Mom and I shared during the first two legs of our trip.  🙂  And now…

Day 6 (continued):  Arrival Day in Guanacaste!

Another day, another early morning pickup–our van arrived at 6:45am to take us to the final stop on our Costa Rican adventure.  The van ride was long and the roads were winding, but the views along the way were absolutely breathtaking.

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Adios, volcano!

And when we got to Guanacaste, the view was even better!

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Hola endless blue skies and beautiful blue ocean!

We arrived at our hotel before our room was ready so to pass the time, we browsed in a few shops and had lunch at a vegan restaurant.  It was delicious!

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Sweet and sour veggies with Asian slaw for me and “ice cream” cake for Mom!

With a few more minutes until check-in, we hung out at the bar until the front desk manager told us our room was ready.  The room was absolutely adorable–inside and out!

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Artwork outside the room…

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…and inside too!

 

Our room was also very close to the pool, so we slipped into our swimsuits, grabbed our books, and enjoyed some delicious cocktails poolside.  We we definitely feeling the #puravida vibes.

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Relaxing.  Refreshing.  Amazing!

The rain kept us inside again that night, but the skies were clear when we woke up.  We took advantage of that by hitting the streets of Guanacaste!

Day 7:  Guanacaste!

Breakfast at the hotel kicked off our beach day!  We spent some time checking out the different stores on the strip, then found a restaurant with a patio on the beach for even more relaxing in the sun.

You wouldn’t think that chilling on the beach would make two ladies work up such an appetite, but it surely did.  We asked the front desk manager at our hotel for some recommendations for lunch, and he hooked us ALL the way up.  He talked to a friend of his who owned a restaurant called The Roof.  We quickly learned how it earned its name–it was a ROOFTOP pizza place!  The restaurant wasn’t open yet, but the owner opened up early just for us.  Talk about #VIP treatment!

The view was amazing, and the pizza was absolutely divine.  Just see for yourself:

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The Roof

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The Roof

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Delicioso!

After that fantastic lunch, it was more of the same awesome stuff:  drinks and reading by the pool.  It may sound lame, but the hotel was such a wonderful place that we didn’t really want to leave it.  (If you’re ever in the area, I highly recommend Hotel Pasatiempo!)

And the rain lulled us to sleep yet again…

Day 8:  Guanacaste!

You can probably guess what we filled our time with on our remaining day in Guanacaste…

  • Shopping – check
  • Eating – check
  • Enjoying delicious drinks on the beach – check
  • Generally being fabulous – double check!

We made a few new friends at the different beach side restaurants we dined at too:

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Friend 1:  Sleepy!

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Friend 2:  Hungry!

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Friend 3:  Squirrel-ly?

This was one of my favorite days of the trip because Mom and I got to really vacation.  We didn’t do anything we didn’t feel like doing.  We enjoyed decadent desserts and didn’t care about the calories.  And we talked–which meant the most to me.

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Enjoying a sweet treat with the sweetest woman I know–my mommy!

Day 9:  Journey to San Jose!

Saying goodbye to Guanacaste was terrible.  But we had to make our way back to San Jose to catch our flight back home.  It’s almost like the universe knew we didn’t want to leave:  this transport was the worst van ride of all (it almost made me carsick!) and we were stuck in traffic for a longggggg time.  (Long enough that our van driver flagged down a bread vendor and bought a loaf.  Guess he figured he might as well have a snack since we weren’t moving at all!)

After we finally made it to San Jose, we grabbed a quick snack while we waited for our room to be ready.  This was my final Spanish test, as the restaurant staff didn’t speak any English at ALL.  I guess I passed (because they gave us the cake and coffee we ordered) and after we settled up our bill we checked into our last hotel room of the trip.

We read more, uploaded tons of pictures of our trip to social media, and checked in with loved ones back home.  Dinner was room service in the hotel room and our lullaby was the heavy deluge that is a hallmark of the rainy season in Costa Rica.

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Nighttime in San Jose

Day 10:  Departure Day in San Jose!

Our dreaded final day in Costa Rica–after a whirlwind of fun and adventure, it was time to say goodbye.

I’m a momma’s girl through and through, so I hated saying goodbye to my #1.  But, at least it wouldn’t be goodbye for too long–I’d see her again at Thanksgiving in November.  I’ve said this a million times, but only because it’s true:  I’m so thankful to have a mother who loves me so much.  She sacrificed a lot so I could have a great life, and I could never ever EVER repay her.

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Mother and daughter after the trip of a lifetime!

Yes, our trip was over, but…this series isn’t!  Check back soon for the final part of my Pura Vida series–it’s the best part for sure.  🙂