Back in the Day (Puff)

Sometimes, the universe sends me exactly what I need when I least expect it.

This year, I decided I wanted to take more control over my life. I wanted to better understand what I did each day and maximize my time–COVID showed me life is short, and I want to make the most of each day I live. So, in true Virgo fashion…

I bought a fancy planner. 🙂

This planner is built like a brick house, but so sleek and chic I don’t mind how much it weighs. It’s got a spot for everything: my daily schedule, a to-do list, even a spot to write down what’s for dinner every night! In addition to all that, there is a little quotation at the top of each page. I admit I didn’t really pay much attention to this section–too focused filling in all the other stuff–but Monday’s entry gave me pause:

Close up of a planner page with the quotation "I fling my past behind me like a robe...I have outgrown it." by Ella Wheeler Wilcox
“I fling my past behind me like a robe…I have outgrown it.”
Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Oof. What a punch in the gut.

I consistently berate myself over things I did/said in the past. My inner saboteur loves to mollywop me with reminders of cringeworthy statements and inappropriate behavior, particularly when I’m anxious or depressed. Doesn’t matter if it happened in 2nd grade–that nasty inner voice has a sharp tongue and a long memory.

On Monday, I was stressed and anxious. I’d had a rough couple of weeks at work and my nerves were one adverse event away from snapping. These factors created a prime situation for negative self-talk and I almost gave into it. But this quote made me stop and ask myself, “How does beating myself up over last week help me this week?”

Short story: It…doesn’t.

So I shook it off and went to work. I disregarded any silly comment or errant mistake from the last week. I moved forward.

And so should you.

Beating yourself up over things that happened “back in the day” doesn’t help current you. Shame and criticism are not effective motivators, especially over something that happened a long time ago. Learn from your mistakes, grow from them, but don’t let them control you.

You never know if you’ll get a tomorrow, so treat yourself with care and compassion today.

(Lay Your Head On My) Pillow

“…and just relax, relax, relax…”

I know I can’t be the only one who remembers that groove from Tony! Toni! Toné!. Yes, that song came out when I was, like, 7. No, I didn’t have a clue what they were talking about (there are some pretty adult themes in those lyrics). But hey–I’m a sucker for a good R&B tune! (And if you’ve never heard this song, please give it a listen–it’s awesome.)

You’ve probably figured out I use songs as the titles for my blog posts. Sometimes the songs get stuck in my head for days–they won’t leave until I get my thoughts out. Most times, the songs remind me of a particular feeling…a moment…a memory. Today’s song actually came from a conversation with my therapist.

In a session earlier this week, I shared how overwhelmed I felt–just plain stressed and anxious–with all the changes in my work schedule and obligations in my personal life. After I was done explaining everything, she asked me a question that knocked me right on my ass:

Can you be relaxed on the busiest day of your life?

Now I had to think about this for a minute, because basically my entire life I’ve assumed busy = stressed. I enjoy having things to do; I love staying busy. But I don’t like being stressed the fuck out. (My guess is most people don’t.) My therapist challenged me to relax and not get tense even when I’ve got a lot going on.

So yesterday, even with the stress of work and home, I tried to relax. Instead of worrying about every possible thing that could go wrong, I tried to focus on the present–what was happening in that moment. And the day went surprisingly well! Usually at the end of a work day, I’m dragging myself back to my car–all the stress of the day just weighs on me, so much that it feels like a physical weight.

Yesterday, I left work feeling light as air.

So many of us struggle with anxiety and stress; we weigh ourselves down with worrying and feel we’ll never be able to accomplish everything. If you feel this way, you are absolutely not alone–I’m right there with you. But I’d encourage you to ask yourself that question, “Can I be relaxed on the busiest day of my life?” Allow yourself to see things in perspective–you don’t have to be stressed or anxious just because you are busy. Handle your shit–don’t let your shit handle you.

And just relax…relax…relax.

Thank U

This week I (like many of y’all) am celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday in my hometown. Family, fellowship, and food–the holy trinity of this particular celebration. An opportunity to appreciate all we have…then go out and buy more on Black Friday! And of course, the question asked around dinner tables every single year…

“What are you thankful for?”

The pandemic made me extremely thankful for the many blessings in my life. I imagine others had a similar onslaught of overwhelming appreciation for life, health, and other things oft taken for granted. COVID really helped us put things in perspective, y’all.

But sometimes it’s hard to see the sugar for all the shit.

Lately I’ve been stressed, depressed, and just plain exhausted. Work life has tried me. Home life has tried me. My inner saboteur has been working overtime to convince me I’m a terrible human being who only deserves the worst in life.

How am I supposed to find the sugar in all that shit???

I’m thankful I have a job, even if it feels like work gets added but never gets taken away. I’m thankful for my family and friends, even if we don’t always see eye to eye. I’m thankful to see another season, even with the cold, dark, windy days. Every day I draw breath is a great day, even if it doesn’t always feel like it. Because each day gives me the opportunity to be thankful for the beautiful things–big and small.

And if you have nothing else to be thankful for…

Be thankful for the ability to be thankful.

Dream On

Somehow, I lost my ability to dream.

I’m not talking about the dreams we have when we sleep—I still have plenty of those. (Honestly, my nighttime dreams are so active sometimes I wake up still tired.) I’m talking about dreams for myself, my life, the person I want to be.

When I was a kid, I used to dream I’d be a famous actress making movies in Hollywood.

As a young adult, I dreamed of becoming an executive at my company helping to make change for sick people around the world.

I even had dreams for this blog, that it would blow up into my own lifestyle brand where I inspired all sorts of people to be the best versions of themselves.

But somewhere along the way, I stopped dreaming. You know what?That’s actually not true at all. I didn’t stop dreaming…

…I just stopped believing my dreams could actually come true.

How do you find the courage to dream again? How do you find the hope when you’ve lost it? How do you dare imagine a better future when the present day beats you down so thoroughly?

I truly don’t know. I wake up every day and go to sleep every night and just continue through the motions. I tell myself I’m stuck, there’s nothing else than what is now. Be grateful for what I have and never wish for anything more.

I am grateful for what I have, no doubt about it. But I want to allow myself to dream of more again. I want to rediscover that version of me who was convinced she’d make an impact on the world.

So I’m back on the blog after almost a year of inactivity. Maybe this blog won’t turn into anything at all. Maybe nobody cares a rip about what I have to say.

But hey, a girl can dream.

Under Pressure

Next week, my company will start bringing people back into the office. I’m part of “phase 1,” meaning that I’m expected to return to my office on campus on Monday.

I am terrified.

Coronavirus is still very real. The number of cases is increasing, (particularly in the county I live in). I do my best to wash my hands frequently, observe social distancing, and wear a mask in public. I’ve barely left the house in the past few months.

There is immense pressure to return to the office, but I’m torn. I could leave this company, or take a leave of absence and come back when things are safer. But then I’d be leaving a job I truly love and scrambling to find a way to keep the bills paid. Or I can return to the office (as I plan to on Monday) and put my health and the health of the people I love at risk. It’s a rock and a hard place indeed.

I don’t want to make it seem like I’m being thrown to the wolves. My company is requiring masks in community areas, and we are getting a solo office if we want one. I’ve learned more than I ever thought I would about the HVAC system we used—the company is improving the air filtration system and shared details about it with us. All of these things are great for sure.

But what about the elevators?

The break rooms?

The copy areas?

All it takes is one person.

One person being careless or showing up to work sick and all hell breaks loose. I understand that people want things to get back to “normal.” But unfortunately things probably won’t be “normal” for quite some time.

Honestly, things may never go back to the way they were.

When I return to work, I won’t be going to in-person meetings. I’ll be calling into meetings from my office, with the door closed and the window open.

When I return to work, I won’t be in a classroom teaching groups of 20-40 people. I’ll be in my office, training those exact same people virtually. I won’t be able to see their faces, but I can still educate them and support them.

When I return to work, I won’t drop by someone else’s office to troubleshoot an issue, or ask a question, or just say “hi.” I’ll be calling people, or using video conferencing—all with a sign on my office door telling people to call me instead of stopping by.

When I return to work, there will be no lunchtime gatherings with coworkers as we enjoy delicious food from the cafeteria buffet lines. I’m bringing my lunch every single day, and my own silverware too. I’m currently trying to figure out how I can bring enough water for the day so I don’t have to go to the water fountain or the break room for a drink.

When I return to work, it won’t be “normal” in many ways. As I think about it, there is one way in particular that will make going to work completely abnormal for me.

I’ll be scared to do it.

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.

Heat

Think about all the things going on in your life: work, school, family, friends, all that. Think about how much you time and energy you pour into those things. Now ask yourself this question:

What am I getting back?

If you are providing support, you deserve support. If you are giving respect, you deserve respect. If you are listening and striving for understanding, you absolutely deserve to be listened to and understood.

This applies at home, at work, and anywhere else. You should get back what you put in.

But–and it’s a BIG but–you also have to communicate your feelings.

Have you told the person (or people) that you’ve been supporting/respecting/listening to that you aren’t getting the same in return?

Sharing your perspective is the most important part of all this, and yet it’s the part that often gets skipped. How do I know this? Because I’m the one who hates confrontation. I will avoid it at all cost.

Communication does not have to equal confrontation.

If these people truly love you, care about you, and value you, they’ll hear you out. They’ll try to meet you halfway.

And if they don’t, just remember this:

I put my work in–day in, day out!

Baby I deserve it–don’t let me down.

You used to make me feel like a diamond.

Now it don’t even seem like you’re tryin’…

So give me one good reason I should need you?

Kelly Clarkson, ‘Heat’

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!

The Beginning

When I first started this blog, I’d just celebrated my 26th birthday.

Yesterday, I turned 31.  #OldLadyClub

What would I tell myself, at the beginning?

  1. Control is not love.  You deserve better than him, even if you don’t think you do.
  2. Yes, you do love your new job.  Money isn’t everything–you’ll get by, I promise–and you’ll be soooooo much happier.
  3. DO NOT COSIGN ON THAT CAR.  Trust me.
  4. DO NOT PAY FOR THAT WITH YOUR CREDIT CARD.  Again, trust me.
  5. Old friends will leave your life–let them go, girl!  The ones that stay are the ones that belong.
  6. You are beautiful at any weight.
  7. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.  There are so many people who love you.
  8. You’re going to travel the world.  Take lots of pictures!
  9. Love–real love–will find you.  But you have to love yourself first.
  10. You are so much stronger than you know.  Physically and emotionally–you can handle anything that comes your way.

Many thanks to all of you who’ve been part of my life’s journey.  Here’s to 31–I’ve only just begun!

31me

A ‘froed out, thick hipped, incredibly happy Kentucky girl living in a Wisconsin world.