Texas, My Texas

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Around 5 o’clock tonight, I will read my first published poem at the launch party for the Belmont Literary Journal. The poem is called “Texas Doesn’t Miss You,” and up until now, I’ve kept it very close to me, only letting a few people read it. I don’t even think my mom has read this one. It’s very personal but in a way that’s not exactly clear at first glance.

I wrote “Texas Doesn’t Miss You” for my creative writing class last semester. The idea for it was developed after reading Linda Gregg’s essay “The Art of Finding.” In the essay, she develops the idea of resonant sources and how they ought to guide the emotion and imagery of your poetry. I would go so far as to say that this concept applies to all writing, because these resonant sources are the wells of collected experiences that you draw from in order to create… well, pretty much anything. After reading Gregg’s essay in class, we each made a list of our personal resonant sources. At the top of my list: Texas.

Now that I’m looking back at this sheet of paper, I’m not sure how Texas ended up at the top of the list. It doesn’t make sense that it beat out other resonant sources like sisterhood, performing, introspection, taking walks, or my parents’ divorce; things that make up most of what I write about and experience on a daily basis. But there’s Texas at the top of my list. Surely that means something.

It probably means I was homesick that day, ready to go home for Thanksgiving or Christmas break.

Or maybe it was an indication that I felt misplaced; sad and lonely for no apparent reason.

But more likely than not, Texas showing up at the top of my resonant sources list is a matter of pride and of expansiveness. Heat that covers you like a blanket, and thunderstorms that rage like giant toddlers. It’s my mom’s perfected art of hot rollers, and our old backyard, long and flat with no trees. When I think of Texas, I think of walking on the pavement without shoes and the heavy, earthy smell of warm dirt. Too many cowboy themed parties and never enough Tex-Mex. “Snow days” and State Fair days; megachurches and megamalls. A clear view of the sky, day and night, and oh, the stars, big and luscious as ripe blackberries. As soon as I start making lists like this, the sensory details come rushing back at me all at once, like a gust of wind. In my memory, I can put myself back there, to a day where all of this could have happened. And before I know it, I am no longer writing a poem, but I am pouring myself out, crying because I am so stupidly in love with Texas. Texas is the setting of all of my memories and the standard by which I evaluate the new ones. For me, Texas touches everything.

And you wonder why Texans have so much state pride.

When you read “Texas Doesn’t Miss You,” I hope that somewhere inside your head you can hear the anguish and the love expended when I wrote this. To me, reading this poem is like a kick in the gut. I guess it kicked some of my fellow BLJ editors, too, because they picked it out of a huge selection of beautiful poems. I was shocked and honored when I got the acceptance e-mail. Never in a million years would I have believed that I was a poet.

But I guess I am. And I have Texas to thank for that.

All my love,
Ashley

Here’s a link to the poem and our 2014 edition of the Belmont Literary Journal: http://www.belmontlitjournal.com/poetry-posts/2014/3/26/texas-doesnt-miss-you

Archetypes Are Real

I am an English major, so it probably goes without saying, but I LOVE archetypes. There’s something about universal symbolism that makes me feel all warm and jumpy inside. It’s like Christmas.

I read a new book today called Archetypes: Who Are You? by Caroline Myss. Basically, the book explains how all those archetypes you studied in English class apply to your real life (for some of us, English class is real life, but that’s another matter entirely). According to Archetypes, the patterns you experience in your life– whether it be the constant voice in your head that shoots down your ideas or how you light up when you get a good conversation going– all trace back to your character archetypes, or the defining characteristics that rule your personality.

I took the archetype quiz (you can take it here) and read in depth about my archetypes in the book. I ended up getting Creative, Caregiver, and Intellectual and learned a lot about myself as I cuddled in my pink blanket on a rainy Nashville day. As Myss says, the archetype descriptions “somehow know more about you than you know about yourself.” Oh, was that too true.

Archetypes

As an Artist…

  • I prize creativity.
  • I fear being ordinary or unacknowledged.
  • I see beauty in everything, and if I can’t find it, I will make it myself.
  • I am likely to falter when faced with fear or failure. The Starving Artist, the Artist Star, and the Drunken Artist archetypes keep me from pursuing my art as a career.
  • I thrive in a positive environment because I have an optimistic approach to life.
  • I am continually reinventing myself.
  • I am always comparing my talents to yours, and it can sometimes be a big problem.
  • I love Pinterest like a lifelong friend.

As a Caregiver…

  • I prize compassion.
  • I am likely to feel resentful or uncared for if people don’t take care of me the way I take care of them.
  • I look for the good in everyone.
  • If you need me, I will never let you down. Ever.
  • I fear that no one can or will take care of me.
  • I never ask for help.
  • I care too much.
  • I sense what you need before you say anything about it.

As an Intellectual…

  • I prize wisdom. I learn from every experience I have.
  • I consider all the options and consequences before I make a decision. This often means that it takes me a million and two years to make a decision.
  • I thrive on good conversation.
  • I try to connect all the dots and make sense of everything.
  • I am a know-it-all, and it is rare that you will ever hear me say the words, “You were right, and I was wrong.”
  • Logic, order, and control make me feel safe.
  • I can be a good liar. (And a pretty one.)
  • I overthink everything.

So there’s a pretty honest snapshot of me. Take the quiz, and let me know what you get! I’m already guessing about what some of you are. I know I’ve got some other Intellectuals and Creatives in my family, and many of my friends are Caregivers, too. Is anybody a Rebel? Or a Royal?

All my love (’cause I’m a Caregiver),

Ashley

 

Faraway Family

My mom got to go home to Denmark for the first time in years. This visit came at a good time because her sister has been having a lot of health problems lately, and it’s been weighing heavily on her. It’s always hard to hear that someone you love is sick, especially when you can’t possibly understand what they’re going through, especially when it’s a battle they have to fight on their own, especially when it’s your sister.

Mom and Moster

My mom and Moster Helle

My mom and I have this in common. My little sister Megan has a thyroid disease, which flared up dangerously my freshman year of college. Used to being the oldest child– all powerful and always in-the-know– it was hard for me to be so far away while she was getting treated. And it was hard to come home during breaks with Megan a different weight every time, never on the same medicine, maybe sleeping the whole time, maybe in a bad mood. She is much better now, handling her health problems with grace and strength, but still. It weighs on you.

#thyroidprobs

Megan taking a nap while we set up my freshman dorm. #thyroidprobs

Of course, my mom knows we share this connection, so she said: “I know you know how this feels, but it’s so hard to have a healthy body and watch your sister have so many health problems. You wonder what, if anything, you can do to help. And you wonder ‘Why not me?’ It’s so much harder when she’s so far away.”

And soon my mom and I will have this in common, too. Megan is graduating high school in a few months. Her dream is to go to medical school in New York and stay there. And she’s about to make it come true. And while I’m so immensely proud of her and grateful that she’s healthy enough to see this dream come to fruition, I have to be honest and say that I push down so much anxiety and sadness whenever I think about it. Can our family suffer any more separation?

And then I feel guilty, because I’m typing this in Nashville. I left. How come she doesn’t get to? How come I get to write a sad guilt-trip blog post? That’s not fair to Megan. I got a novelty experience while my family had to deal with a gaping hole in its structure. But I now see the consequences of my gaping hole, and I so deeply fear the one she’s about to make. I couldn’t have learned the importance of home without leaving it first. I hope she’ll see that, too.

But maybe she won’t. If I know nothing else, I know this: there is something in my blood that made me leave home. Megan has the itch. My mom followed her dream, my dad left Puerto Rico with his mom. My family is scattered around the world: divorced and thrown into the wind, following dreams and thriving wildly. But God we miss each other. Constantly. That hunger for family is never satisfied. You can see it in the way we interact with each other on social media. We’re like monsters, gobbling up every scrap of information, liking every picture, commenting on every status. While I am thankful daily for texting and social media and FaceTime, none of those things compare to the comfort of being together, riding in the car together, telling stories at the dinner table, watching movies on the couch with a bowl of ice cream, dancing around the kitchen at Thanksgiving.

So, family, I know you’re reading this, and I want to know if it was worth it. Are you glad you left? Do you miss home, wherever that may be? How do you deal with homesickness? How often do you think about your sister across the ocean? Your godmother who’s having yet another surgery? The cousins that you were raised with and now rarely see? Have we made a mistake by pulling ourselves so far apart? Or are we just some of the bravest people in the world, never sitting still, always changing and taking risks?

I miss you guys always. You are on my mind, no matter how far apart we are. I am proud to belong to you and carry you in my heart.