Back when I lived in DC I would take regular breaks from life.  I'd turn my phone off, leave it at home and only go to work and come back home.  I would do this for a week or two -- once I did it for almost three, and only "came back" because I checked my voicemail and some folks were pretty worried.

The other thing I did was spend a night in a hotel every couple of months.  I'd usually drive down to Richmond, VA - it was a nice drive and got me far enough away from the beltway that I felt like I could breathe.  It wasn't the cheapest habit, but looking back, I think it was part of what helped me stay sane.

I'm tired.  Physically, emotionally, spiritually, professionally... I'm tired.  Over the last couple of months I've started realizing that my 8th graders are really leaving me and it's occurring to me that some of them aren't ready.  Trying to get them there with just over a month left to do so is no easy feat.

You can't work with kids and not develop relationships with them.  Most are seasonal.  Kids come and go -- that's the nature of a school.  As a counselor, my job is to make every child on my caseload feel like there is someone in the school building who can and will help them with their problems.  Of course, being responsible for 400+ kids makes building individual relationships very difficult, but I manage, I like to think anyway, to be a large part of making my school building a safe place emotionally for the students who attend.

Sometimes, though, the relationships are more than seasonal.  This year I've developed some very close and very individual relationships with a handful of kids.  I really do care a lot about them and I worry about them and want them to be successful, much the way I imagine their own parents do (well, some of their parents).  I work with a low-income, high needs population and so that presents its own set of challenges.  One thing I pride myself on is supporting the kids in their athletic events.  I drive them to their games, I watch them play and then I congratulate them after on their hard work, win or lose.  I see their faces light up when they notice me on the side of the field.  They always check in with me on game days to make sure I will be there and I try to make every effort, though there are certainly some times I can't.

For the ones I'm close to, I spend a lot of time with them.  I'm walking them through everything from dealing with teachers they don't like to feeling as if their parents don't like or care about them.  For some of them and on some days I'm the only person who smiles at them, hugs them and makes them feel good enough.

All of that takes a lot out of a person.  I'm constantly pouring into these kids and I love what I do, but it's draining me way more quickly than I can refill.

But the kids aren't the only ones I pour into.  My coworkers need support, my family, my friends -- as always, I sit here realizing that everyone's got me but who do I have?

I had an uncomfortable exchange with someone I care about, recently.  I can't decide exactly how I care about them and what that means for how I want them to function in my life, but they are someone I consider a friend and this exchange has stayed with me.  Partly because I wasn't at my best, and I allowed them to make me react in an out of control way, but also because I realize that just like so many other things in my life, I feel unheard and disrespected, but I don't know how to communicate that.

I know my friends and my family and my kids and my coworkers love and care about me, but sometimes you need evidence of that to remind you.

My BFF was worried about me a couple of weeks ago.  He sent his former roommate and friend to take me to dinner since we don't live in the same city.  He also insisted that I take a break.  "Come down here!" he text me.  But I can't - I'm not free any upcoming weekends to make an 8 hr drive.  I would love to, but I can't.  I've made promises to my kids, I've made promises to my friends and I hate breaking promises.  He did make me promise to find a weekend to do something for myself and decompress.  So here I am.  Away from "life": my phone is off, the BFF is the only one who knows I'm doing this and I intend to keep it that way.  

God.  Please let this brief respite give me the energy I need for the week ahead.


The Four Agreements: Be Impeccable With Your Word

According to the author, the first agreement is the most important.  Be Impeccable With Your Word.
Your word is the power that you have to create.  Your word is the gift that comes directly from God.  Through the word you manifest your intent, regardless of what language you speak.  What you dream, what you feel, and what you really are will all be manifested through the word.  -Don Miguel RuizWisdom From The Four Agreements

Obviously this is about being honest.

But one thing that I always pay attention to is why a person says something the way they say it.  Why didn't the author say "Be honest"?

Because it's more than that.  Being impeccable isn't just telling the truth, it's also about authenticity.  It's about precision of language.  Say what is true, what you feel, what you mean.  Be precise.  Don't beat around the bush, don't use coded language, don't couch what you say in niceties you don't mean so that it will be perceived better.  Use your words to convey meaningful truth.

Further, impeccability is about purpose.  Speak because there's a reason to speak.  One of my favorite quotes by Gandhi is "speak only if it improves upon the silence."  An idea I take to heart.  Use your words to share knowledge, not just to fill a void.

My sophomore year in college I lived with 9 other women (and yes, at times, it was like The Real World: The Estrogen edition).  There was one roommate I came to really care about, but boy could she work my nerves with all her talking.  I would lament to my BFF about her constant talking.  I remember telling him, "she can't let more than 5 seconds of silence go before she has to speak."

He didn't really believe me, so I told him to come over one night when it was just her and I in the house.  He had a hard time keeping a straight face as we purposefully didn't talk so that we could see how long it would take her to begin rambling about anything, just to avoid the quiet.  Trying to avoid quiet says more about you than you might think.

When we are impeccable with our words, when we are precise and poignant, we take care of ourselves and each other.  We help avoid unnecessary misunderstandings; we share our true feelings with those who need to hear them; we impart wisdom and knowledge on others.  We are good citizens when we are impeccable with our word.

Lord knows it's not easy.  Most of us don't want to hurt those around us.  But I've found that being careless with words can hurt, even when that's not our intent.  Sometimes moreso.  I'd rather a person know exactly where I stand on an issue and be hurt for a little while, than go on thinking I feel one way only to be hurt later when they find out I feel another way.

Ultimately, being impeccable with your word is about you.  It's freeing to know that everyone around you knows who you are and what you stand for.  Authenticity is a beautiful thing.  It's consistent, trustworthy, and always timely.  There is no way you can be who you truly are without being impeccable with what you say.

The Second Agreement: Don't Take Anything Personally


The Four Agreements: Intro

On my most recent trip home, my mother decided it was time for me to finally go through the remainder of my belongings that had been living down in the basement.

I'm an emotional packrat and I've kept so many things to remind me of lives lived, experiences had and sweet memories.  Notes, letters, stories, books... you name it, I've probably kept it as an artifact to remind me of the past.

I didn't enjoy thinking about all the junk I would have to go through, but I found quite a few gems, including a pocket-sized book titled Wisdom From The Four Agreements.  I vaguely remember my mom giving me this in college and I vaguely remember flipping through the book.  It's a condensed version of the NY Times Bestseller The Four Agreements.  I'm very aware of the four agreements and bring them up whenever they're relevant.

After re-reading this little book, I decided the four agreements deserve my own special spin to them...

Not to mention, the blog deserves some new content from me, no?

The First Agreement: Be Impeccable With Your Word



Generally speaking, as I move about in my every day regular life, I don't think or worry much about people who don't like me or don't wish me well.  Generally, as I move about in my every day regular life, I don't consider that I might have haters.  I've never subscribed to the "haters are my motivators" line of thinking; I've never, personally, seen the logic in it.

But over the last couple of months, I'm starting to feel... hated on.

It started back when I found out I'd be teaching another class at my alma mater.  The first class I co-taught with 2 other professors in the fall and this class I'm teaching solo.  It's a big deal, but then to me it's not.  I appreciate the opportunity, it's certainly a resume builder and I'm always happy to mentor and provide support for folks looking to enter my field of work.  But when all is said and done, I don't do this to look good to anybody.  I do it because I'm genuinely interested in being a help to the students and the faculty who invested so much in me and the start of my career.

Last semester, one of my colleagues, and a person I consider a friend, who also teaches this same course, called me up and asked if I'd be willing to speak to his class on short notice about a certain topic.  He pitched it as an opportunity for me to meet some of the students I'd have the following semester -- I didn't need the opportunity as I had all of them in the class I was teaching at the time -- but it did provide an opportunity for me to talk to them more about myself as a professional, since the class I had them in was a bit more about the theory.

He met me at the door to the building (I was running a bit late) and walked me back to the class.  On the way he re-emphasized the opportunity to meet the students and he added a note - "some of them asked me how it is you're able to teach this class when you've only been out of school for a year."

He went on to discuss how he assured them that I had a lot to offer and they could learn from me, but none of that did much to assuage the feeling I had that everything wasn't on the up and up.  It felt like maybe HE was the one who'd wondered how I got this opportunity when he'd been in the field for 7 years before he was approached.  I was confused.  Did he see me as competition?  He wasn't going to teach any fewer classes or make any less money because I was helping out, so why the comment?  And even if he didn't wonder that, why did he offer it up to me?  How was it a helpful comment?  I tried to shake the feeling that he was throwing shade, but I couldn't.

Earlier this month I was at a staff meeting, and sat next to a teacher I feel I have a pretty good working relationship with.  We've hung out, in a group, outside of school and, generally, get along while at work.  She and I are both native Tennesseans, but we hail from different cities.  She asked me what high school I went to and when I told her the name of my private high school she replied, "oh!  No wonder!"  Intrigued, I asked her to explain what she meant.  She said, "I mean, it explains a lot about you.  You're not really black."

I'm not new to this whole line of thinking, so I knew exactly what she meant when she said it, but for some reason I was particularly offended.  Maybe because she tries to present herself as someone with a background other than the one she has.  Which is fine -- "started from the bottom" and all that.  Maybe that made me think she wouldn't be the type to think of someone as "less black" because of (enter stupid stereotype here).  When I told her "what do you mean, 'not really black.'?" she responded, "I mean of course you're black, but you're not ghetto, hood, from the projects black."

The more I thought about that exchange, the more I couldn't let it go.  Aside from the stereotyping, which is par for the course, there was something about her "no wonder!" that didn't sit right with me.  No wonder what?  It was as if she'd always thought something was wrong with me and knowing I attended a private school explained it -- but what could "it" be?  I think more than feeling stereotyped, I was wondering how long she'd been pondering how I got to be the way I am and further, for what reason?

And then last Saturday I had drinks with a couple of friends where it came up that I'll be going back to school this fall to get a degree with an emphasis in administration and instructional leadership so that I can be an administrator.  One of my friends laughed at me and seemed shocked that I wanted to be an administrator.  Last night, she, myself, and several different friends had dinner where she brought this tidbit up in conversation (though it wasn't relevant).  She said it in a "wait till y'all hear this shit..." kind of way and it set me on edge immediately.

Everyone was very supportive of me, one of them even said she'd love to work for me.  It seemed that their support wasn't what she was going for and so the friend who brought it up added, "well, you really should spend some time teaching.  I mean, summer school or something.  As a counselor, but even when I was a teacher, I listened to and respected admins more if they had a teaching background."

I'd been so caught off guard by the whole thing, I just said something about taking it all one thing at a time -- but I couldn't shake the feeling that she does not wish me well on this journey.  And why not?

If we're honest, we've all been jealous of another person's accomplishments.  Whatever they may be.  Marriage, kids, family, jobs, cars, houses, degrees, acclaim -- somewhere in there falls something each of us want out of life and when someone else has it before we do, sometimes we feel jealous, EVEN when that person is a friend of ours or someone we care a lot about.  Sometimes, those are the very people.

So I get how it can be hard to feel happy for someone and I don't judge anyone for feeling that way, but do you have to tear someone down?  Do you have to be negative?

My mom always tells me to be careful who I let in my circle, and I feel I have been.  It seems to always be the people I don't expect.  The folks I find so far away from me in terms of what they have or what they want that I just can't fathom myself as any sort of competition for any of them.  And if I'm not competition, then what is there to be jealous or petty over?  Or so goes my line of thinking.

Turns out, I need a new line of thinking.


I Can't Make It Be What It Ain't

One of my friends has THE most country sayings and I love all of them.  "I can't make it be what it ain't" is one.  It's another way to say "it is what it is" which is to say, in a sense, no use in being upset about a thing being a thing.

But what about when a thing isn't a thing?  Or it is a thing, just not the thing you want?

There are a lot of posts floating on the interwebs today concerning comments Chuck Smith made on last night's Real Housewives of Atlanta episode.  After inviting Nene Leakes and Phaedra Parks back to their hometown of Athens, GA to speak with some of the kids at the Boys' and Girls' Club of Athens, Chuck decided to confront Phaedra about comments she made on a trip that his wife was apart of.

Chuck's dating history came up during the trip and it was revealed to his wife that not only had Kandi dated Chuck, but so had Phaedra.  Phaedra dismissed it, mostly, citing it as something that happened when they were kids (read: not a big deal) and then again in college (again, seemingly, not that big of a deal).  Chuck, however, wanted to clear the air and clarify with Phaedra that they never dated.  When provided with examples of how Phaedra came to the conclusion that they dated, Chuck asserted that she, like Kandi, was just "part of the team."  In other words, he was lying to and manipulating several women into thinking he was dating them exclusively, when really he was doing everything but being exclusive.

I think Chuck's an asshole for several reasons.  Primarily, this whole conversation was unnecessary unless he was trying to stunt for the cameras and for his wife.  Of course, I don't understand why he and his wife just couldn't have that conversation privately where he explained that and added that regardless of previous relationships, she's the one he married and so forth and so on.

But what about what it means when you say one thing and do another?  Chuck tried to make Phaedra seem desperate for claiming him as an ex, all the while wholly admitting that he set things up so that she would think that.  I'm always baffled when people do that. They go out of their way to make a thing a thing, and then get upset when you call it a thing.

Let's take this outside of a romantic relationship.  I was just pondering the other day a personal situation where I feel compelled to keep a secret for some friends.  The secret itself isn't exactly a bad secret -- meaning it's not something that would or presently is hurting anyone.  In fact, it's really not anyone's business but that of those involved -- however, because of my proximity to the situation and people's tendency to want all the juicy gossip and all the tea on all the people all of the time, I'm frequently approached for information.  I don't mind keeping the secret, but I'm frustrated that it seems while my friends don't want anyone to know, they're not exactly doing their part in terms of discretion.

I've broached this topic, vaguely, with them before and I was basically told - "no one asked you to keep it a secret..."

Sure.  Fine.  Neither of them said, "Ashley, here's this information and now that you know it, please don't tell anyone."  But they didn't have to because their actions said it for them.  But I'm stuck holding the bag because they made a thing a thing and now don't want me to call it a thing.

Ultimately this is about having your cake and eating it too.  Wanting to have something, but not wanting to pay for it.  Wanting to have a girlfriend, but not wanting to spend the time necessary -- so you remind her frequently that "you're not my girlfriend" even though you take her everywhere with you, you've introduced her to friends and family and you spend a lot of your free time with her.  In fact, it would seem that she is your girlfriend -- except when you don't want to be held responsible for how your actions affect her.

Alls I'm saying is, folks gotsta be mo' careful.  We know when we're manipulating a situation in our favor.  So don't get mad when you get called out on that.  Own it.  Step into it.  Or just quit trying to get people to do things without their explicit permission.

You can't make it be what it ain't, even if you never said what it is.


Mississippi Damned

I'm not sure how I stumbled on this film, but I know it was over a year ago that I did so.  Maybe even 2.  I finally bought the DVD and watched it.  This movie is a film everyone should see.  The writer/director Tina Mabry does an excellent job, as do the actors.

This movie follows the story of a family in rural Mississippi beginning in 1986 and then continuing in 1998.  At the center of the film is the Peterson family.  Junior, Delores, Leigh and Kari are all members of a larger extended family who all live within a few miles of each other.  Junior has a gambling problem while his wife Delores is a hard woman from years of dealing with her husband's lying about where their money is going.  Their oldest daughter Leigh is gay and struggles with what that means to her family, but also to her own identity and the youngest child Kari has a talent for music that might be her ticket out of hell.

We also closely follow the stories of Delores's two sisters, Anna and Charlie.  Anna has an emotionally abusive husband, Tyrone.  Anna struggles with potential sterility in the early part of the film.  In combination with her husband being unable to find work, their marriage suffers exponentially.  Meanwhile, Charlie is an alcoholic who lives with a cheating boyfriend.  Her only son Sammy is an excellent ball player, but his mother's alcoholism and tendency to focus more on her boyfriends than her son, puts him in some unfortunate situations.  Eventually Charlie finds herself in her own life or death situation.

I've always been interested in family dynamics and this movie gives me all the functional dysfunction I can handle.  I see my own family in this family and I see some of the societal ills that I wonder how we'll ever get around, play out in this film.

For example, there's a theme of power through sex that runs through this film and in some very uncomfortable ways.  We see one character who feels powerless attempt to exert power on another character, using sex.  Their relationship, unsurprisingly, never recovers -- and the ways they relate to one another after the fact provides insight into just how much sex is often not at all about sex.

There's also the theme of sacrifice.  What do we give up for our family -- even though we may not like them very much.  One character sacrifices her way out of the misfortune and dysfunction, only to have another character sacrifice absolutely everything to give it back to her.

One thing is certain: this movie is HEAVY.  I took several breaks during the almost 2 hour film.  There were moments where I thought "Jesus Christ -- is there any light at the end of this tunnel?"  And there is -- but it is most certainly at the very very end.  Even with all that, though, I would watch this movie again and again -- it's that good.

The only place I've found this film is at the film's website -- but it is 2014 and this is the internet.  If you can find it somewhere, anywhere, please watch it.  Even if you don't purchase the film, I bet after seeing it, you'll want to.

One more clip.  In this scene, the women's mother (who lives with Anna) is confronted by Charlie over things that happened when she was a child.  It is very well acted and so true to the experience many survivors of abuse experience when they try to bring up what happened to them.  But you don't really experience Charlie's pain as much as you experience the mother's.  She's denying any responsibility, but you can sense that her words and her true feelings don't really match up.  It doesn't hurt that their mother is portrayed by one of my favorite "little-known actresses" Dr. Tonea Stewart.



Man. I haven't posted here in awhile. Tons of reasons -- mostly tumblr. But I've always thought of this blog as my place of depth. Tumblr is good for those quick hits -- thoughts that are too long for twitter but not thought out enough for here.

Guess I haven't been doing a lot of deep thinking.

I have done quite a bit of learning over the last several days. Right after things initially began to happen, my first instinct was to blog about it. I have always come here to help myself process the crazy things going on in my life. I have frequently found myself searching for keywords on my own blog looking for inspiration or some advice from my own mouth (they say it's always harder to take your own advice).

But every time I sat down to write this post, I stopped. I think I was a bit embarrassed. On the one hand, I've shared some pretty personal stuff here, but on the other hand I've always been able to do so cautiously. There's no way to do that this time. There's also the issue that at this point, I don't know who reads this blog -- if anyone does anymore. I know there are people I know personally who come here. Some because I gave them the link and others because they've cyberstalked me long enough to find it.

I decided to share this because, ultimately, it's a life lesson that I hope I remember and if my mistake can help someone else -- good.

What I learned had several parts to it. The biggest was: it's ok to have strong convictions about something. Often our convictions are security blankets. They protect us from things we're not prepared to handle. Sometimes they just protect us from crazy. Just like I believe we should respect others' beliefs and convictions, we should respect our own.

I have written, previously, about a guy -- W. It's hard to describe our relationship. Over the past several years, it has been very complicated. It has involved marriage proposals, intimate conversations, lies, brave honesty and so much more. But I think I always thought that despite our missed connections and the fact that he seemed to always be unable to vulnerable enough to admit his feelings for me, we were friends. Not necessarily close, but still friends. I felt like I could call him if I ever needed anything.

W and I haven't spoken in a while. He briefly text me a few months ago -- the conversation really went nowhere and felt very pointless, but it was classic behavior for him that I read as attention-seeking so I didn't think much about it.

While home visiting my mom and family for the holidays, a friend hit me up and asked if I'd join her and her brother for drinks. Initially I declined saying I was already out and too far away, but she mentioned that W would be there and so I figured I'd make it happen because I had a feeling I wouldn't see him otherwise.

From the moment he arrived he was flirting very heavily with me, which isn't unlike him. I was mildly annoyed because he began to act a bit too possessive for my tastes, but he's always doing something out of the ordinary, so I ignored it.

After drinks, W invited me back to his place. I agreed -- it was late, and I was well aware of what I was doing and what it implied. I didn't have any specific intentions, but I figured I'd see where the night led.

I don't talk about sex very much on this blog -- and I have prefaced almost all my commentary on the subject with that same point. But what is true about me and sex is that I find it to be a very personal act. I have people in my life who would talk about it, and all of the "it" they've had until the cows come home and with no problem. While I talk freely about sex in general, talking about it as it specifically pertains to me has always been something I was less comfortable with. I've always held it in high esteem and always felt that no matter the circumstance, it should be a respected act -- I think the way people devalue it contributes negatively to a society and culture that already has a hard time dealing with sex and it's consequences (good and bad).

As a personal rule of thumb, I typically don't have sex outside of a committed relationship. That is not a hard and fast rule, but it's something I do try to work with and I think it's helped me out a lot. Including in this relationship with W. Sex has come up and it has mostly come up without coming up, but I've always felt convicted that I needed to be careful around him with that. On this night, however, for whatever reason, I didn't think about it. I just did it -- and immediately after, I knew it was the wrong thing and I felt sick about it.

I really don't know what I was thinking -- maybe I felt too comfortable with him. Maybe I felt like while we aren't in a committed relationship, he and I have been doing SOMETHING for a while and that should mean something with regards to sex. Or maybe I just wanted to so I did. I really don't know... I really don't.

As I prepared to go, I started telling him I thought he was a jerk. There was something about the way he seemed very uninterested in me as a person right after, that didn't sit right with me. I am a counselor and I do tune into the things people do unconsciously. He claimed he didn't know why so many people thought he was a jerk and he insinuated that I'd hurt his feelings, but I could read him from a mile away. I dealt with an emotionally abusive person before and I know when someone is trying to flip something around on you to make it your fault.

Eventually, to prove my point, I asserted that I knew he'd probably had meaningless sex with someone recently and he said he had. I asked him who -- thinking it would be the neighbor he'd mentioned -- but was shocked to hear him say "L" the name of the friend who'd invited me out that night.

She and I aren't close friends. We went to high school together and we've maintained connections over the years. We're cool and we certainly respect each other. She knew that W and I had a strange relationship and I knew that W had previously tried to get with her, but she'd told me then she had no interested in him and I'd been told nothing to make me think anything had changed.

Appalled, embarrassed and angry, I got up and left. I was sick about it all night and into the next day. I just didn't know what to do.

Out of nowhere, L text me to say she really needed to talk to me because she had information she needed to share. Turns out she and W had been "talking" or working on being a serious committed relationship for about a month. I felt like I'd been sucker punched. He flirted all night with me, with her sitting right there. I called another friend who'd been there and she confirmed that not only was he all over me, but that there was no indication that anything between L and W was going on.

Her story made a lot of things make sense. Like why he asked me not to tell anyone and why he blew my phone up the next day (I didn't want to talk to him because I was so upset about it). It even made me think twice about comments he made, seemingly out of the blue, about L and I.

Initially I struggled over whether or not to tell her what happened. I didn't want to get any more involved in the mess, and I was still embarrassed. I felt like I looked like an idiot. But I realized that if nothing else, she needed to know what she was dealing with and that he couldn't be trusted.

L and I are cool. She subsequently had it out with W and he of course blamed me. Claimed he'd passed out and I popped up in his bed all over him before he could say anything. Even claimed that I started talking about how bad I felt about it -- which, while I did, I never conveyed to him because I couldn't articulate why.

But now I'm left wondering why. Of all the people and all the situations, why me and why did I allow myself to do that, knowing that's not my speed, and it's not my thing.

I'm also upset that I've truly lost a friend -- or maybe I'm realizing I never had a real friend. He was motivated by selfishness through and through. And while I realized that from the jump, I never thought his selfishness would be used to purposefully hurt another person, just because he could. For me, this has felt like loss on several fronts.

But I did learn a huge lesson on convictions and now I have hard evidence that what I'm convicted about is important in terms of keeping me emotionally safe. Everyone isn't convicted about the same things. There are things in life that don't bother me; that I just don't care about that really matter to people I know. Different strokes for different folks -- and that's fine. Just as long as you know what works for you and stick with that, I think you'll always come out on top.