Friday, November 16, 2012

Breather

I am going to take a break from the blog.  There are things going on right now in my family life that are difficult for me to process and that I'm not in any way interested in writing about.

I may only need a week-long break or maybe longer. We'll see.

In the meantime, you are welcome to request an invite to my closed Facebook group, "Ashley's Tiny Crumbs", where lots of discussion goes on about a variety of things.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Politics, Jesus, Wee Wee's, and Sofas

Last night at work, I walked past an older lady who stopped me and said, "Can you help me for a minute?"

"Of course," I replied.

She had some questions about the colors of a sofa she was partial to.  We discussed things about the sofa and another one on the other side of the aisle.

This gal was a very tall black woman with an intense personality that reminded me of my elementary school teachers in Louisiana.

So I told her I'd need to go up to the front of the store and ask some questions to get the info she needed about the sofas.

"Are you new? Are you seasonal?"

"Yes, I've been here a little over a month.  I'm hoping they keep me after the holidays. But I just moved here from southern Utah.  Was working 40 hours a week and still couldn't pay rent.  So I moved in with my ex-husband on a temporary basis."

"Utah...that's where the Mormons are..."

"Yes, I was Mormon."

"Are you still Mormon?"

"No."

She laughed a sort of victory laugh and put her hand up for a high-five.  I couldn't help but start laughing myself. I high-fived her back and said, "And I voted for Obama."

Her laughter got louder and she threw her arms out to hug me.  We hugged a good, tight bear hug.  Then she said, "Sit down girl!  Sit down! We gon' havta talk! My name is Brenda Brown!"

So we sat on sofas facing each other.

"So what brought you here?" she asked.

"I came here so my kids can be close to their dad.  We've been divorced for 2 1/2 years."

"And there's no chance of reconciliation??"

"No... he's gay."

And simultaneously she gasped and her dentures popped out!  Which made her gasp again and proclaim, "Ashley, I wear these cause I'm having dental work done... That's a lie, that's just what I tell people, I'm not having dental work."

I have barely stopped laughing throughout this entire ordeal.

After she calmed down she got real serious and said, "Tell me more about this.  I'm gonna kill him."  Referring to Matt.  "Were you just shocked?"

"Um...no.  I knew before we got married."

"You knew?!"

"Yes, but we were Mormon, so we thought that-"

"Oh, I know!  I know about the Mormons!  I saw a documentary!  The Mormon church is a lie!  They ain't Christian!  I know that Obama is Christian.  That Mitt Romney ain't Christian!  Do you and your ex get along?"

"Yes, and I support him and-"

"Don't do that.  Don't support that. That's not of God.  You're not born that way.  That is born of sin!  My sister is gay.  She wasn't born that way.  My father beat her after she looked a boy, so she became interested in girls."

I'm sitting on the opposite couch doing that thing that my friend, Southern Sister, does when she's listening to something that she thinks is utterly ridiculous but doesn't want to be rude:  "Uh huh.  Hmmm... Okay," while nodding my head ever so slightly.

She continues, "And with those men, it's all about their wee wee!  Don't they know that's not always gonna work?!  Like everything else on our bodies, it's gonna droop!  It ain't gonna work forever!  And then what they gonna do??"

"Wow, yeah, right, hmmm..."

"The kids don't know, do they?"

"Yes, they know."

"Do they understand it?"

"I'm fairly certain."

After that, we started talking about sofas again. She got the help she needed from another sales associate, and I went back to stocking egg nog flavored scone mixes.







Monday, November 12, 2012

Lukewarm

A couple of years ago, while still struggling to hold on to my religion, I was at dinner with 3 BYU friends who'd all left the church.  I did not identify myself as such quite yet.

As the topic came around to Mormonism, I mentioned that the thing keeping me hanging in there was feeling the Holy Ghost.  I asked the friend that I knew the least in the group what she did to feel the Holy Ghost since she'd stopped attending services.  

She immediately pointed out that the thing she missed most about Mormonism was the service to others that seems to be quite constant when you're practicing.  And she went on to explain ways she'd filled that void in the last several years.  

I realized later on that she never answered the question I actually asked, which was a about the Holy Ghost.  

And I felt... stupid.  

It was presumptuous of me to assume that she even still believed in a Holy Ghost.  So I thought that maybe she was trying not to hurt my feelings by avoiding the concept all together.  

Even though I felt stupid, the way she chose to handle the question was actually rather sweet.  

The Holy Ghost.  

Rather than think of it as a Being, think for a moment of the Holy Ghost as simply a feeling.  

While I was actively Mormon, there were real, undeniable feelings of 'burning in the bosom', an immense warmth and love washing over me at certain times.  I am choosing to continue to call this the Holy Ghost.  

I don't have another term for it.  

I read a story recently about a gay man who came back to Mormonism.  When he became quite ill, he'd still had enough belief that he'd asked a Mormon priesthood holder for a blessing.  This experience drove him to return to the church and abandon living and loving as a gay man.  He explained that his reasoning for this was because he'd felt the Holy Ghost when receiving that blessing, and to paraphrase his words, "There is nothing like it."

Why is the Faith that facilitated such sweet, tender, burning feelings of peace and love- unlike anything I've ever felt- so fucked up?

The typical response I would expect to get from this question is "Because the Gospel is true."  And thus would ensue the explanation that the Church and the people of the Church are not the same thing.  

"The Church is perfect.  Not the people."  It's nothing less than a Mormon mantra. 

But at what point can the 2 no longer be separate- the people and the organization?  When people, right and left, are getting hurt?  When the approach to teaching and leadership is screwing with people's emotional health?  When too many backward opinions are taught by bishop's and other leaders as doctrine? 

Yeah.  

That is the answer for me.  

My new spiritual home, whatever that ends up being, must be free of this fuck-upery and full of that feeling I like to call the Holy Ghost.  

I'm sure y'all out there are chock full of suggestions on how I can find this feeling.  This delicious, singular feeling of utter Divine Love.  

Maybe I could go out into nature and find it there.  

Maybe I should volunteer somewhere.  

Maybe if I was paying more attention, I'd feel it in my day-to-day dealings with my children- the miracles in my life.  

Or, maybe, it's already there.  Maybe that 'feeling' has become so much a part of me that it doesn't stun me anymore the way it used to.  Maybe it's there... all the time.  

And so what if I drink on occasion.  So what if I have non-wedded sex with my boyfriend (or did up until August).  

Most Mormons would tell me that I simply cannot feel the 'Holy Ghost' if I am doing these things.  

How are 'these things' more horrible than the anger I harbored for several years when I was active?  How are 'these things' less accommodating to the 'feeling' than the judgement I cast upon others in my True Blue Mormon years?  And what about the gossiping I did about members of my ward while I was serving as Primary President?  

I was able to feel that amazing feeling from time to time in these periods of my life.  

But guess what?  There was a time when I fasted for strength one Sunday when Matt was out of town. Sundays were the most difficult days for me to do on my own- getting everyone ready for church, getting myself ready for church, gathering up all of our materials for the meetings.  And while I was prayerful all day long and going without food for spiritual purposes, I felt nothing.  

And that day became one of those red-letter days in the Book of Ashley's Horrific Parenting Experiences.  

Wanna know something else?  The pinnacle of my experience as a Mormon woman, my temple sealing (marriage) to a worthy priesthood holder, also denied me that 'feeling'.  

So what is the answer?  It's not easy.  I wouldn't say I haven't felt it since leaving the fold, but it's not the same.  

So there you have it.  Another raw, god's-honest-truth confession from Ashley.  

The journey continues.  








Friday, November 9, 2012

Friday Foto (F)album!

 Ada around 2 years old.  She'd pull her pants up like this a lot.  I think it made her feel grown up.




Ada this summer.  She was pretending to be a girl whose parents died in a car accident and this was a photo of her missing them.





Me in college.  I was hungry.  Circa 1995





Me and a Pedo-Bunny.  Circa 1980





My brother.  Thomas Horatio (sp?) Wilkinson.





Timothy at Ariel's Grotto restaurant at Disney's California Adventure.  Circa 2006




My cat, Richard, asleep on my bed in Cedar City.  Circa this summer.




New Year's Eve party 2 years ago with ye olde BYU buddies- none of us are Mormon anymore... what did BYU do to us???





Hana and Emma inside one of the A's outside of California Adventure.  Circa 2006





A goat.





Richard with Frankie, who he knocked up.  Frankie went outside a week before we left Cedar and never came back.  





Swarthy.





Me.  Circa 1980





My beautiful mother and myself.  1976.  







A photo of Ada that her teacher gave me today at Parent/Teacher Conference.  Circa today.











Thursday, November 8, 2012

I Just Wanna Be Loved, Is That So Wrong?

Jeremy is in Colorado making friends.  I think that's fantastic.

His primary group of friends are the people he works with at Starbucks.  And some of these co-workers are girls.

Now, hang on.  This post isn't about jealousy.  (Just kidding, yes, it is.)

He's been hanging out with his new friends enough that fragile, little me started to have the first inklings of nerves.  We were FB chatting a couple of nights ago when I brought it up- 'it' being my nervousness.

"It's just that with me so far away, your friendship with one of these attractive girls could so easily escalate without anyone ever meaning for it to."

He Skype called me right after that.

I answered.

He assured me nothing like that would happen.

I started to cry.

I Skype cried!

I really just wanna see my boyfriend.


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Thoughts on the Election by a 13 Year-Old


"I'm sick and tired of people my age who can't even vote arguing over the Presidant! Like seriously! Why do you care so much!?? We are supposed to be kids and not give a flying monkey poop about politics! And honestly, no one who can vote cares about you opinion because in their eyes you are still a kid! In 4 years we will be barley old enough to vote! And all we are supposed to do as kids is go to school hang out with friend's and be a care free mofo!!!!!! It's getting old! And saying "oh the country is just going to get worse" doesn't apply to you yet!! God! We. Are. Still. Kids!!! That's why you can't vote until 18!! Gosh!!! We just need to Not CARE!!! It's just dumb and we are waisting our short childhood! Hold on to it! Don't let it go because you'll miss it when it's gone!"




My daughter, Emma Neves, everyone.


















If Only This Could Slooow Down the 'Growing Up'...

From the time Hana was a toddler to about 7 or 8 years old, she'd ask me to tickle her when I'd put her to bed at night  She loved it.  She found it incredibly soothing.  And I found it beyond special to connect with her in this way.

Hana didn't breastfeed.  She wouldn't.  She would not have anything to do with it.  We went to lactation specialists, tried several techniques...  not happening. 

As my first child, this was nothing less than heartbreaking.  My 22 year old self feared that we would never bond.  

I pumped for her for 3 months and then dried up.  

So even though we didn't bond in that way, she showed me throughout her younger life that she had a desire to bond with me.  Unfortunately, there were many nights she'd ask to be tickled, or 'tittled' when she was a wee toddler, and I would make up some excuse to not do it because I was ready to BE DONE for the day.  



But on those nights that I would let go of my impatience and self-absorption, I would lightly drag my fingers over her legs and arms and back and feet.  I'd run my fingers back and forth or in circles and swirlies.  Sometimes she'd also request, "Mommy, will you squish my feet?"  And I'd massage her teeny tiny toes and feet.  

Hana and I went through a rough patch, to put it mildly, from about 5th grade to 8th.  The details of that are for another post.  But it got to a point that I couldn't live with her anymore, thus her coming out to California with Matt.  

A few weeks after coming to California myself, she started asking me to tickle her again.  

"Huh?!"

"Mom!  Come tickle me, please!"

"Uh... okay..."  

And now it's our thing, again.  

Her feet and toes are still teeny tiny.  She takes after the Italian side of Matt's family.  She's on the smaller side, like her Great Grandpa Venturi was and Matt's younger brother, Sean.  

I love tickling her while she tells me about her friends or about her day.  Does she have any idea? Does she know the gift she's giving me as a 14 year old daughter? It's overwhelming.  It's the best.  

And... in true Ashley fashion, I can't just let the moment be.  I usually feel the need to throw in an inappropriate comment or two to get a laugh.  I don't know why I do that.  

A couple of nights ago, during a lull in the conversation, I was tickling her calves when I said, "Hey... I'll show you my boobs if you show me yours."  

She screamed.  

Called me a 'pedo'.  

It was exactly the reaction I wanted.  















Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Keep on Rockin' in the Free World

Feeling much gratitude today.

And I'm not saying that because I feel like I should or because that's what all my FB friends are posting today.

I really feel gratitude.  It's overwhelming.

I am grateful to have choices.  I am grateful to live in a country where taking things for granted is even a concept.  My mind cannot wrap itself around the horrors and oppression that still exist on Planet Earth.

I am grateful to live in a country where I am allowed to get a divorce.  I'm grateful to live in a place where I am allowed to work.  I am allowed to dress how I like.  I am allowed to make love to my boyfriend.

Funny thing about gratitude- it makes you miss things.

I miss my mom today.  So much.

I miss my sister, who is like an army of women packed into one person.  

I miss the South, the home of my childhood.

I miss Jeremy's warmth radiating next to me.

I miss Emma.

Bittersweet day today.  Mostly, sweet.

My wish for today is that everyone treats it like a holiday.  Talk about the voting, the candidates, and the country with an air of celebration.  Give yourself that while the excitement ripples through the nation today.  As long as the polling stations are open, celebrate.  Eat some bacon.  Get your favorite cup of coffee.  Treat yourself to something that brings you joy- a nap, a lunch date, a walk, or maybe just voting is enough...

Celebrate the joy of a day like today.





Monday, November 5, 2012

I Can't Help It, You Guys. It's Just the Way I Am.

Who knew I'd be pretty dang good at retail?

I've been working part time at World Market now for about a month.

It's been interesting...

For starters, the registers have to be from 1992.

The phones are nonsensical- put a call on hold and you have to remember if it's holding on line 55, 56, 57, or 52.  Want a manager to call your phone when at the register?  The phone at register 1 is called 321, register 2 is 322, etc.

Need to use the PA system for assistance at the register? A 'Service 10' call means 'I need a manager,' a 'Service 20' call means 'I need someone to open another register because my line is really long,' a 'Service 40' call means 'Someone has a question about a product.'

To clock in, one has to push 'shift start', and then 4 more buttons before you can swipe your time card.

This is a lot to remember.

I like walking the floor and talking to customers.  No buttons to push (not literal ones anyway).  No numbers to memorize.

Now that I've been working long enough to know the layout of the store (ever been to a World Market? SO MUCH STUFF) and the 'correct' way to approach shoppers, I've been entrusted with a device called an RF (are you keeping up with all this??).  It can be used to scan items, but most importantly it can be used to...

drum roll...

SIGN PEOPLE UP AS MEMBERS OF THE WORLD MARKET EXPLORER REWARDS PROGRAM!  

...thunderous cheering and applause

This is a HUGE deal.

This last Saturday, after I clocked in, the GM handed me the RF, and said, "I want you on the floor signing up as many people as possible.  Just sign 'em up like crazy."

Aye, aye, Cap'n!  "Okay!"  And I walked out onto the sales floor.

I want to be an employee that exceeds expectation.  I want to be valued.  And I like my GM a lot, so I wanted to make him happy.

"Hi, are you a member of our rewards program?"

"Uh...no, I'm not."

"Well, it's free to sign up and it takes only 30 seconds!"

The morning started out with one 'no, thank you' after another.  My GM was counting on me!

And I had to tell myself not to take it personally when they say 'no'.

I had to really work it.

Smile.  Soothing voice.  Shoulder rub.  Suggestive winking.  Pelvic thrusts.

I ended my shift with 14 sign-ups.  Apparently this is quite praiseworthy.  The GM was asking for updates throughout the day, and each time he was ready to fall down at my feet and kiss them.

Before my shift ended, he called me back to the office.  He had 2 gift cards in his hand and told me to choose one.  Jamba Juice or Starbucks.

"What's this for??"

"For kicking butt today on those sign-ups!"

"Oh! Because I'm awesome?!"

"Yes, because you're so awesome!"

I took the Starbucks card and enjoyed a Caramel Brûlée Frappaccino during my next shift.  I was so proud of myself that I called Jeremy, who works almost full-time at a Starbucks in Colorado. I told him,  "I got to partake of your fluids today! Because I'm awesome!"




Friday, November 2, 2012

Holy Crap, You Guys! This is My Boyfriend!!!


The Mormon Church is Not a Chunk of Clay For You To Mold. You Want It To Be, but No, No

I grew up in the Mormon church.

From a teeny tiny tot.

But that happened in Louisiana, Texas, Tennessee and Oklahoma.  Mormons are RARE in these places.  So I was faced with a choice:  embrace it and wear it like a letterman's jacket OR feel like an oddball and be weird about it.

I chose the former.

For me, that was not hard to do.  There are a lot of reasons for this, but the point I'm making is... I was never ashamed about being Mormon.  Even in THE SOUTH.  Even in Dixie, y'all!

This attitude I took in my approach to my religion gave me a sense of identity that I sorely needed.  When I was at church, I knew who I was- absolutely- but it went beyond that.  I was extremely comfortable in my Mormon skin everywhere I went.  I gave my black, Baptist Louisiana elementary school teachers Books of Mormon for heaven's sake.

This was my experience until BYU and not just because of the lack of black Baptist teachers.

It wasn't just that Mormonism- what I'd always viewed as the thing that made me unique my whole life- was now in the very air I breathed and water I drank.  It was also that now I had to discover things about me that were special and different that others/myself would value beyond Mormonism.  Um, that is hard for a frustrated 19 year old to do.

But there was no room on that campus for the parts of Ashley that I learned to value.

It hurt.  It physically hurt to be in this community no matter the frame of mind I adopted, whether that was trying to fit in, trying to stand out, or trying to simply co-exist.

The reason it hurt is because I didn't feel okay.  For the first time in my life, I didn't feel okay to be me.  It felt that everywhere I went on that campus, there was a message being broadcast to me, loud and clear: YOU MUST BE 'THIS'.

And when I didn't want to be 'that', I began calling things into question that, again, I never had before:  "Do I not have a testimony?" "Did my parents screw up in the way they raised me?" "Am I not of as much worth as the girl with the petite figure or the guy whose dad made 3x's as much as my dad did last year?" "What is it exactly I am supposed to be?"

And now we've come full circle.

I got angry.  I was angry that the religion facilitated a community of SAMENESS.  A community where identity is about an Institution and not about my heart.  That identity is wrapped up in physical appearance and hiding authenticity.  That identity is wrapped up in saying the right thing, because saying the wrong thing will brand you as an outsider.

So I started to rebel.

Oh, just see what I did that was soooo hardcore~

I wore jeans with holes in the knees (against the dress code which is part of a larger Honor Code).  I would get scathing looks all damn day.

I wouldn't come home most nights until 2am during my freshman year, and sometimes not at all.  I was with my friends or with this guy I was seeing (which did escalate to naked make-outs).  One night, I came home earlier than normal, got off the elevator of my dormitory floor, and a whole bunch of the girls were sitting there on the landing just chatting and laughing.  "Well, hi," I said to them all.  "Hi, Ashley," replied a few of them.  Then one followed that up with, "Thanks for coming home tonight," as I was walking away to my room.  The group burst into laughter.  Ooooo, they showed me!

Once in a class, several papers were passed out so the teacher got a stapler going around for us to use.  A guy sitting behind me had just stapled his papers, and I turned around, handed my papers to him, and said, "Will you bang me up?"  He looked at me like I had just molested him.

At BYU, you cannot live the gospel as a 'personal' thing.  There is an Honor Code. 80% church attendance was required and an ecclesiastical endorsement once or twice a school year (cut to Bishop's office and 'are you living worthily' questions).  There are/were rumored to be Honor Code 'spies' who reported misconduct.

I desperately needed to find a way to be Mormon on my own terms.

I remember the beginning of sophomore year in a theatre movement class sitting off to the side on the verge of tears.  A sweet friend came over and asked, "What's the matter, sweetheart?"

"I'm freaking out because I'm back here at BYU where people get married before they finish school and have babies really young...  I don't want that!  I don't want to be that stereotype!"

She comforted me and said some helpful things.  But I was still at BYU.

I got married before I finished school.  A Mormon temple marriage- the end all, be all of Mormon existence.  I'm not joking.

When I took this step, I let myself be immersed in the culture of Provo, Utah- not too far off from life at BYU.  I think I felt like I didn't have a choice.

And that was the first time I became legitimately depressed.  Sure, my marriage to a gay man had a lot to do with that, but, I mean, I felt sick to my stomach whenever I was out and about.  I think of certain places right now, like the Target in Orem, and the memory comes attached with nausea.

I've heard it said several times in recent years that how we live the gospel is a personal thing.

Um, not really.

Not if you want a temple recommend.

Not if you want to avoid alienation in your religious community.

Not if you want to take the sacrament.

People can lie, I suppose, in order to keep their status or appearance of blending.  I'd rather sleep at night.

So 15 years later, I left it.

I had a conversation on Halloween with my old BYU professor, Brilliant Amazing.

I mentioned a couple of Mormons who are very much in the public eye and who very much make up and live their own version of Mormonism.

I asked B.A., "Why does that make me fucking insane?!  The LDS religion does not make room for you to make your own version.  It has never been that way, and it never will be," (especially if you want the full privileges the church offers).

To which B.A. replied, "Mormonism has to change or die.  Honestly, that's where we are."

I then asked, "And if it dies, what does that mean for you, if you don't mind me asking?"

"I'll find another spiritual home.  It won't be easy."

Boy!  Did he just say it or what?

"You just struck a chord in my soul!" I told him.

That is where I am.  Trying to find my spiritual home.

Because I now have a wonderful and exciting chunk of clay in front of me.  I have all the freedom in the world to mold it and shape it according to what feels good and right to me, but more importantly, what feels authentic.

As of right now, it's just a chunk of clay that I've played around with.  Nothing defining about it yet.

What I really hope is, at some point, it will look like me.