How to Transform

I love transformation stories.

A Prince becomes a Beast and then, thanks to the love of a beautiful stranger, becomes a Prince again.

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A poor ragged orphan girl, despite her evil stepsisters and thanks to her Fairy Godmother, becomes a princess.

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A geeky copy editor gets a second chance at high school and becomes prom Queen.

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A Manhattan maid becomes… well dressed for an evening? I’ll be honest; I can’t really remember the story line for that one. But she transforms and it’s magical.

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And of course, we can’t forget every movie that stars Anne Hathaway.

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Side-by-side

What is it about these tales that captures me? These stories are told over and over again, in thousands of different ways, but essentially it’s the same storyline… And I fall for it every time!

“The reason stories have dramatic tension is because LIFE has dramatic tension.”

Donald Miller, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life

Good stories and good lives have a lot in common. They both require tension, bravery, and usually end with a grand transformation. We root for main characters that have gone through hell, who have experienced the stories tension to its’ fullest, and we bask in all the glory of their transformation. Why wouldn’t we? They have earned it!

The Transformation of Suffering

In “real life” transformation does not happen as easily as it does in these stories. Suffering does not change into something beautiful overnight… it is no Anne Hathaway! The tension that is experienced in life typically lasts a lot longer, and I know few people who can pin point the very moment of their transformation. In our own lives we have no singing mice, no fairy godmothers, and no Julie Andrews’ to signal our stories climax.

In movies and storybooks there is a clear order: suffering comes, transformation happens, and then beauty arrives. In life it is different. We often experience beauty and suffering together.

I think that is where real life transformation comes from, learning how to let beauty in when you’re suffering.

Let Beauty In

This Friday is the five-year anniversary of my dad’s death. My dad had suffered a stroke about a year prior to his death that left one side of his body paralyzed and confined him to a hospital bed. These past few days I have been thinking a lot about how that season transformed me. How the quiet moments of suffering were often the ones that carried the most beauty.

My dad loved music, and he loved to sing; something we had in common. However, the stroke he endured impaired his speech and made speaking (and of course singing) a challenging task. The doctor told him that he should practice smiling because it would help him build back up the muscles in his face, but dad refused. “What do I have to smile about?” he’d say, to which I would tell him to stop being such a grumpy old man, and that kind of banter would go on for a while. So I decided since verbal abuse didn’t seem to work on him, I would do the next best thing. I would sing Sinatra songs while effectively messing up all the lyrics.

“Come on Ashley, I’ve raised you better than this. You know the words to “Fly me to the Moon.”

“No! I genuinely believe that it goes, ‘Fly me over the moon.”

“No! It goes like this…”

Then he would continue to serenade me, and everyone else in the room. Stroke or not, he still sounded beautiful.

“Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.”

I feel that there is no better way to conclude than with this poem/prayer by Rainer Maria Rilke.

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,

Then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall, 


Go to the limits of your longing. 


Embody me.

Flare up like a flame and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.

Just keep going.

No feeling is final. 


Don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life. 


You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.

Rainer Maria Rilke, Book of Hours, I 59 (Emphasis added)

 

Dear Meghan Trainor


Dear Meghan Trainor,

We, you and me, are all right. Go ahead; take a deep sigh of relief.

I read a blog the other day, crediting you to a lot of things I don’t believe you’re responsible for (Taylor was right, haters are going to hate). In lieu of this, I thought you’d be happy to know, I have got your back (figuratively).

I am not offended by your music, or to be more specific, your lyricism. I don’t think you sat down with a guitar, or a piano, or a xylophone one day and thought, “I hate skinny people, someone needs to put them in their place. Also, my butt looks great today. I should write a song with these reoccurring lyrical themes running through it.”

Don’t worry though Meg, (can I call you Meg?) I have compiled for you a selection of reasons why I think people need to chill out.

First off, I think the people who are having such a hard time with you, are taking you and your music way too seriously. Not to say your music has not had a lot of thought put into it, but let’s be real; it’s not a piece of government legislation… you are writing pop songs.

I understand the powerful affect music can have on an individual, but I didn’t go screaming for the hills when Destiny’s Child released “Bootylicious.” I didn’t think, “Oh no! Beyonce said that I wasn’t ready for their jelly, but it seems as if they’re providing me with their jelly regardless. I’m not ready! Your body is just too Bootylicious for me.”

I have never sought out abuse from a man because Britney Spears seemed to be so hell bent on being hit one more time.

I have not kissed a girl, because even though Katy Perry seemed to enjoy it, I don’t feel like I would.

You know why? Because I don’t live my life by these songs (if I did I’d be living out some strange montage of the Backstreet Boys Greatest hits)!

All music has a message; some are messages of love, some of hatred, some have deep political messages, and there are some that are meant to be tongue-in-cheek. I feel like “All About That Bass” is meant as the latter.

Secondly, I think the concept of a “self-image role model” is a bit of a joke.

Do you have great self-image?

Yes? Awesome.

No? That’s too bad for you.

It doesn’t help or hinder me.

Thankfully (or sometimes regretfully), my self-image is really only controlled by me.Which means, that if I don’t like hearing about your love for fine booty because it makes me doubt the quality of my own, that’s my issue, not yours.

Third and lastly, I feel like you’re getting way too much credit.

Here is a list of songs which seem to possess preferential treatment towards big butts:

  • Sir Mix-a-lot’s “Baby Got Back”
    • “My Anaconda don’t want none unless you’ve got buns hun.”
  • Snoop Dog and Jason Derulo’s “Wiggle Wiggle Wiggle”
    • “You know what to do with that big fat butt… wiggle, wiggle, wiggle”
  • Jenifer Lopez and Iggy’s “Booty”
    • “Mesmerized by the size of the, You can find it if you like take your time, I can guarantee you’ll have the time of your life, Throw up your hands if you love a big booty” (Poetry, I know)
  • Black Eyed Pea’s “My Humps”
    • “Whatcha gonna do with all that junk? All that junk inside that trunk? I’m gonna get get get you drunk; get you love drunk off this hump.”

There are many more. I am not kidding. Google, “Songs about booty.” You’re sure to find a myriad of musical gems.

I say all this not to trash musicians who were previously inspired by a woman’s posterior, and of course, not to diminish your contribution to this classic collection. I am merely pointing out that, “All About that Bass,” does not contain revolutionary content. The booty has been sung about for years, and in significantly more derogatory ways.

Do I love the “skinny bitches” line in your song? No, not particularly.

Do I love the way any sized woman is acknowledged in most pop, rap, country, or rock music ever through out history? No, not particularly.

You know M (can I call you M?); I think the world needs to cop a balance. There is not one ideal body type for women. Bottom line, if you are a woman, and you have a body, that’s ideal. We should appreciate our bodies, take care of them, and value them for what they are: a container for much more important things.

You are a fun, young woman, who wrote a catchy song about enjoying your body, to which makes curvy girls everywhere wiggle, wiggle, wiggle, and that’s okay.

Your shoulders don’t need to carry the weight of all the women who have body issues.

Women People need to stop blaming music, television, movies, and video games for the world’s problems, and get working on their own problems.

No one person is to blame, not even you Meghan Trainor.

Yours truly,

Ashley

How To Forget Where You Live

Hi.

My name is Ashley,

And I’m a stalker.

*Insert many other voices greeting me in unison*

Don’t worry; there is not some poor schmuck somewhere whose unrequited love has driven me into hysteria. No, the object of my stalking is actually a house, to be more specific, the house I grew up in.

My family moved into our house when I was about three years old, and we didn’t move again until I was ten. Almost every fond childhood memory I have took place in or around that house. I learned how to swing on the swing set in the backyard. I fell in love with the boy across the street. I had Christmas’, birthdays, and Easter egg hunts in that house. I did homework, playtime, family dinners, and jumping on the bed in that house. I loved that house. I don’t think we would have ever moved out if it hadn’t have been for my parents divorce, but that is neither here nor there. We moved and since then I have moved over 15 times.

So yes, on lonely days, lost days, cold days, or if I just happen to be in the neighborhood, I stalk my old house.

I say stalk because I always feel supremely creepy when I’m doing it. I don’t peek in the windows or sneak around the side or anything, I just drive by… really slowly. Like, imagine slow, and then go slower, that is how slowly I drive by the house. I do not mean to make it look as creepy as I imagine it looking, I just get lost in thought and can’t help but linger.

I envision what my adolescence would have looked like in my house. I scoff at how poorly the new owners have kept up the lawn, and can almost hear my father’s voice saying, “All the time I put in, and look at what a mess they’ve made.” My eyes drift across the street, and I think about the little boy I loved for so many years. I think of my summers with him jumping through sprinklers, and eating watermelon popsicles. I see the shed in the backyard I was convinced had monsters in it for an embarrassingly long time. I smell my mom’s cooking and remember her as did when I was little. I even drive down the back alley to peak at where my tree house use to stand, and am still flabbergasted as to why anyone would want to tear down such a magnificent structure. I see my mom and dad sitting on the patio on a sunny morning, my mom with a book, and my dad with his smokes.

And for just a moment, I feel like I am home. Then I drive back to real life.

In Between Addresses

“What do you mean you don’t know your address?” says a judgmental sounding voice on the other side of the phone from a bridge toll company that shall remain nameless.

“Well, I just moved, so I don’t know my new address.”

“Well, what was your last address?”

“I don’t think I ever got around to giving you my last address, so I think what you’re actually looking for is the address before last.”

“Fine, give me that address.”

“Yeah, I can’t remember that one.”

“Well isn’t that the address on your drivers license?”

“No, no, my drivers license has the address from before that on it. Do you want that one?”

*Insert stunned, frustrated silence*

This conversation and others like it are the reasons why, “Can I have your address?” has become a remarkably challenging question for me. Every short-term address I hand out is just another piece of mail I’ll have to redirect later, and it’s strangely exhausting. It makes me feel like I’m floating in between where I am, and some mysterious place I will be 6 to 12 months from now. With every piece of mail that gets lost in between addresses, it just reminds me that I’m wandering, and suddenly I become terribly unsettled.

Hopeless Wanderer

“I will learn to love the skies I’m under.”- Mumford and Sons

Life has changed a lot for me over the past few years. I have lived on another continent, I have adjusted back, I have gotten engaged, I have gotten married, I have been fired, I have been hired, I have lost old friends, gained new friends and, of course, I have moved.

With all of the changes, my biggest struggle has been to refrain from stalking my past. It is so easy to look back on what could have been, how I would have hoped to be treated by people, how I would have liked to end or start something, or the homes I wish I hadn’t moved out of, but there’s no use in dwelling on my shoulda, coulda, wouldas’. I can do a drive-by every now and again, but at the end of the day, it is just a waste of time and gas.

Instead I just need to learn to love the skies I’m under. Thank God for the lovely things I’ve had, the ridiculous crap I’ve endured, and the feet He has allowed me to keep wandering with.

A Prayer for the Hopeless Wanderers

I pray not that you stop moving, but that the Lord gives you sturdy shoes to travel in.

I know that when it rains, it pours, so I pray for umbrellas, rubber boots, and an internal knowing of how to clean up after a flood.

I pray that the Lord accompanies you on all your journeys, so that no matter how far away you go (and even if you’ve forgotten the address that gets you there), you always feel at home.