Out of the Broom Closet

The new movie I Feel Pretty starring Amy Schumer is about a woman who, after a head injury, wakes up the next morning with arguably, a major personality change. As someone who lives with a traumatic brain injury I find this a comical and somewhat accurate premise for a movie, based on my own experience. I could say that I hit my head and became a radically different person, and from the outside that may appear true, but my injury was more nuanced, I think.

I hit my head and as a result, I started living as the whole person I was all along. My brain injury didn’t change who I was, it just prevented me from hiding who I am.

A recent episode of the Invisibilia podcast explored the idea of living between two worlds. The individuals featured in the episode talk about living in a gray area between two identities, and this got me thinking about my own identity.

I am a writer who teaches composition and critical thinking at a university level.

But I am also a psychic/intuitive who offers readings, energy healing, and space clearing.

In my own perspective, these aspects of myself are on opposite ends of a spectrum that I might label “academic” and “woo woo.” When I teach composition, I often call into question the very beliefs I hold personally. And yet when I am using my psychic gifts, I attempt to ignore my rational mind that would question or even criticize what I do.

Because of the obvious clash between these personas, I’ve kept them separate, for the most part.

Spoiler: it’s not working.

I find that when people in my “writing” circles discover that I’m an intuitive, they become my clients, and vice versa. I often find myself working with people who come to me for spiritual advice and then they admit that they have a secret passion for writing. Or, I’ll assign my students to write a research paper and one of them will ask if they can perform a survey of research on metaphysics.

This blending of my worlds is happening in my personal practices, too. Until recently, my writing came about through a crafted/academic approach. Lately, I can’t seem to put down any words unless they’re coming from a more mindful, heart-centered, even spiritual place. I shouldn’t be surprised that there’s such a link between spirituality and art, but for whatever reason, it hadn’t clicked for me until I read this blog post I came across on the The Traveling WitchS.L. Bear writes,

“Just as an artist uses intent, deep focus, and ritual to create a work of art, a witch uses intent, deep focus, and ritual to work a spell.”

Here was my revelation. I had heard similar things before, but the idea of applying my spirituality to my art as a process rang true. I had spent years learning how to write using my brain, but now I’m coming to understand how to write using my heart.

Process, I think, influences the product too, and this shift in my creative method is reflected in my current work. I’m drafting my second novel and this manuscript contains overarching occult themes. It’s not that my earlier work didn’t reflect on aspects of myself, but they were older versions of me, and versions that didn’t touch my deep (and current) passions.

So, for many reasons, it seemed time to “come out of the broom closet,” if not for the sake of acknowledging these disparate aspects of myself, and connecting the dots for anyone who’s been following my Facebook feed lately, but for my own sake, for the opportunity to practice authenticity, and to let all of my varied interests influence one another.

Despite this proclamation, this raising of my “freak flag” up the flagpole, I recognize that I am a work in progress. For practical reasons, I will still toggle between these personas, but I expect that there will be more blending of my two worlds from now on (especially as I continue to work on this particular novel).

If this is the first you’re hearing about one or the other of my personas, or you had heard a little bit and want to know more, my spiritual work is available through my website ashtreeharmony.com and my writing is available at ashleykwarren.com. Both sites have an option to subscribe to my blog or email newsletter.


The Girl Who Wore Scarves: The Fashion Trend I Won’t Give Up

The bulk of my scarf collection was purchased on a summer trip to France when I was sixteen. I still remember the store in Paris; it was a chain, I think, and not particularly fancy, maybe the equivalent of a Claire’s in the United States. I remember loving the red and purple logo on the plastic shopping bag, the same logo that was above the door when I wandered in off the street. The store was filled with large swathes of color in sophisticated patterns and styles (unlike the washed out screen prints in the stores back home, “17” on a faded green and orange t-shirt in The Buckle, or “U.S.A.” in blue lettering on a red t-shirt in Old Navy). These were not “t-shirts,” they were blouses, and each floral print, pin stripes, patterns of words, or even better–the blouses in solid colors–reminded me why I’d come to appreciate France in just the ten days I had been there. France was elegant.

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The Scarlet Scarf

This was before France used the euro and the franc exchange rate made my American dollars go pretty far. Seeing 10-franc signs around the store I realized again what I discovered in the beach stores in the south just a few days before: the shopping I did on this trip would outshine both in volume and quality any experience I could have at home.

The scarves even looked French, almost romantic, that’s probably why I was attracted to them. The way necklaces covered the side wall of Claire’s back home, organized by color and size and hanging in rows, the scarves billowed from ceiling to floor like rainbow colored waterfalls. Years later I learned these were called pashmina scarves. I wanted to touch every one and couldn’t believe how soft the fabric felt, or how beautiful they looked with the reflective sheen to the threads as if they’d been weaved with a bit of satin.

The Deep Purple Scarf

I quickly did the math and realized I could get at least five and still have money left over. Torture came in having to choose which colors I wanted. The pink was gorgeous, so was the turquoise, but I didn’t have a single thing in my closet I could wear them with. I settled on the practical colors: scarlet, cream, sage, deep purple, and a cerulean blue that grew lighter in hue at one end.

Of course when I returned to school in the fall I wore the scarves. I began wearing them everywhere, even on weekends with sweatshirts and sweat pants. I told myself I used them for warmth. It helped that I was a dancer and we danced in a cold studio. Also, I wanted to emulate the college women who wore scarves for the warm ups. Really, I think the scarves made me feel older and more glamorous.

on the way to MN orchestra
A fancy satin beaded scarf

By college the scarf habit had become second nature and even somewhat of a joke among my friends. One friend even texted me a picture of herself when she’d dressed in a cardigan and jeans with a scarf, calling it a classic “Ashley” look. I was the girl who wore scarves.

By the time I was twenty, for every birthday or Christmas I’d receive a scarf. Honestly, I loved almost every single one. I was given scarves that might have been sent to Goodwill. I had scarves knitted for me and scarves brought back from far away places. It had become my thing, but then, by my late twenties it became everyone else’s thing too. Infinity scarves were all the rage. I started seeing the undergraduates wearing them at the University where I was an adjunct professor. At a gas station on a road trip, I saw a rack of scarves placed near the women’s restroom. I couldn’t leave the house without seeing someone wearing a scarf.

The word-patterned infinity scarf

I admit I found an infinity scarf in Target with words printed in a pattern like some of the clothes I found in that French boutique. The fabric wasn’t right–thin and already fraying a little bit–but the pattern made me nostalgic and I bought it anyway. I got a few compliments and I suppose I appreciated the way the scarf stayed wrapped around my neck, but the glamour and sophistication were missing. When I wore the scarf to give a presentation to a group of third graders and they raved, I knew that uncomfortable moment had come. I had become that person who still wore the thing they liked to wear in high school.

New York 5
The Cream Scarf

I’ve decluttered a few of the scarves now and have asked people to stop buying them for me. I rarely wore the cream colored scarf I brought back from France, even though the color felt as comforting as drinking a vanilla latte. When I wore it I looked like Amelia Earhart, which wasn’t the look I was going for.

I saw an article the other day with a headline that read something like, “Can You BELIEVE What We Wore in the Early 2000’s?!?!?!” and saw pashminas on the list. I felt that disappointed sinking that comes with the dissonance of time passing. The way that living in your own present can also mean staying in the past. I had an inkling of how wearing scarves was my metaphor for resisting change, and wondered what other parts of my life I was holding onto for too long. If only every idiosyncrasy or habit could show up on a fashion listicle to remind us of how we drag the past with us.

Still wearing scarves!

I will still wear scarves, I can’t help it. I want to feel elegant and sophisticated, but I won’t wear them out of habit. I’ll wear them for the confidence. The moment the confidence is gone, so too go the scarves. If that means my friends will still be sending me selfies with ironic scarves when they’re in their eighties, so be it.

I Was a Waitress for One Night

For one night I lived out a small fantasy. I got to be a waitress.

You might be thinking (especially if you’ve worked in restaurants) that my fantasy is a bit absurd naive. Difficult customers, low pay, other unappealing aspects too numerous to mention–where’s the fantasy in that?

It’s probably because sometime when I was small and in the I-can-be-tricked-into-doing-chores phase of development, my mom convinced me it was cool to set the table.

How I managed to make it through my teen years, college, and grad school and never work in a restaurant, I don’t know. I guess I assumed I didn’t have enough experience. Being a waitress has been a fantasy of mine simply because it was something I’d never done.

The details of how I found myself being a waitress are not super important. The easiest way to explain it is to say that I had to do it for a job, and also that I worked at a nonprofit (fundraising, donor appreciation, you get the idea).

The restaurant, a small establishment downtown, reminded me of something you might see in a city much bigger than ours. Painted brick, hardwood floors, high ceilings, a stylized logo across one of the view windows. Inside, empty, except for the musician warming up and a man behind the bar drying glasses, I was immediately put to work preparing for the patrons to arrive. And as I worked I was struck by the artistry already creeping into the experience. White tablecloths covered unused tables to make lines of symmetrical squares. Silverware was wrapped in napkins folded like origami then placed on plates, each at exactly the same angle. Even the font on the menu was beautiful, clean, precise.

The man behind the bar and two other gentleman (henceforth referred to by their roles: The Sommelier, The Apprentice, and The Chef) worked the restaurant that night and brought their individual artistries to the experience. I learned that in addition to his extensive wine knowledge, The Sommelier was a painter, whose work was hanging on the restaurant’s walls. I watched The Apprentice nimbly dice something green and fragrant into pieces so fine they stuck under my fingernails when I was allowed to garnish the entrees.The Chef magicked a gelee that tasted and felt like soup-Jello in my mouth, and made me feel nostalgia for some comforting down-home experience from my past I knew I’d had but couldn’t remember.

As The Waitress, I floated between tables and removed dishes in a tempered, tai-chi fashion–a rhythm that rarely characterizes my movements in a normal day. Confidence came from somewhere, and I found myself joking with the patrons, caring about their needs. I was serving them.

Being allowed into this world for one night, I developed an appreciation for food and its production in the way I can appreciate a cellist who attacks her instrument during an allegro, or a poet who selects a word for the way it feels coming out of her mouth. And in the feeling of serving others, I felt the immediate satisfaction of delivering something to someone, in this case, a six course meal, six works of art, and was witness to the experience of that art.

Spending the evening with The Sommelier, The Apprentice, and The Chef, I was in concert with artists, each of us connected by our own appreciation of that which we find beautiful, clean, precise.

The Chef joked that the restaurant was hiring. Did I need a job? He knew a guy. And for a moment I seriously considered the offer, then wondered if being in this world night after night would make it lose some of its splendor. For the sake of holding onto the feeling, for engaging in art for art’s sake, for being reminded of that truism, I don’t think I’ll ever take him, or anyone, up on the offer to work in a restaurant.

Things of the Week

I listened to a podcast yesterday from Note to Self called “What Happens When We Skimm the News.”  The episode is part of their Infomagical Project which addresses information overload. In the first half of the episode host Manoush Zomorodi talked to the creators (Carly Zakin and Danielle Weisberg) of The Skimm, a news-focused email newsletter. In the second half of the episode Zomorodi talked with New York Times writer John Herman. By contrasting these discussions, Zomorodi presented what I took to be a “quantity vs. quality” debate as it applies to the Attention Economy.

This got me thinking about how I consume information. I appreciate quality, but I admit that I’m guilty of seeking out quantity in fear of missing out. After listening to the podcast I did subscribe to The Skimm and realized that I package information (or seek out packaged information) all the time.

So, I’ve decided to start a series of posts, as much for myself as for anyone else who is interested. I consume or engage with different ideas and inspirations all the time–more than I can remember. I’d like an archive of these discoveries to return to when I’m like,”What was that thing I read about the sloths at the circus?”

I’m calling this Things of the Week, somewhat inspired by Pop Culture Happy Hour’s “Things Making Us Happy This Week” except my list may include things that are neutral or slightly less than happy, as well as things unrelated to pop culture (but let’s be real, there’s probably going to be a fair amount of stuff about pop culture). With that, my inaugural Things of the Week:

Nostaligia: Hermoine Granger and Matthew Crawley making me feel like a little girl again. 

Subscribed: The Skimm

First Time: Hosted my own yard sale

Bingeing: Weeds Season 4 (second time around), Scandal Season 2 (first time around)

Reading: Rooms by Lauren Oliver, Finding Water by Julia Cameron

Researching: fitness wearables, sailing, Meyers-Briggs Personality Types

Catching Up On: The Mindy Project, New Girl

Current Obsession: Tumblers with Straws, Sparkling Water, Infused Water, Infused Sparkling Water

Yoga Intention: Staying in the present

Looking Forward to: dinner with friends, lunch with friends, trip to Yellowstone Nat’l Park

Fun Brain Injury Side Effects: replacing the word “mosquito” with words that begin with “z.” Examples: “You can use it to keep away zucchinis,” and “They have bigger zebras than we do here.”



The Magical Twitterverse

According to my Twitter profile, I joined the social networking platform in 2009, but it wasn’t until the last month or so that I really began to embrace Twitter. I got tired of the recycled content on my Facebook feed (I’m looking at you TIME Magazine. I can’t count the number of times I’ve logged in to see that article delineating the 14 reasons why I’m so tired all the time. Here’s reason #15: I’m tired all the time because I see duplicative content on my newsfeed.)

The other reason I started to engage more frequently with Twitter was the various recommendations I saw around the web that Twitter is THE PLATFORM for writers. Then, I came across this bit of wisdom (in a Pinterest newsletter, I think, which I regretfully can’t find at the moment. Feel free to link to this insight in the comments if you’ve read/seen it somewhere else) about social media. Facebook is about the past. Twitter is about the present. Pinterest is about the future. I’m all about being in the present so Twitter seems like the natural choice.

I started tweeting more frequently and quickly discovered the magic in Twitter: the hashtag. Not just any clever hashtag, the ones that other people are using. My first tweet where I really felt like I was starting to “get” how the whole Twitter-thing worked was when I found a hashtag that didn’t mean what I thought it meant, and then I tweeted about it:

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I can’t tell you what kind of rockstar I felt like when I had one friend and four strangers favorite this tweet. On Facebook I rarely (okay, never) interacted with people I didn’t know. But on Twitter I was having light, micro-conversations with people the way you might strike up a conversation with someone on a plane or in a coffee shop.

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Twitter also helped me remember that social media can be fun. I squee when someone who I think is moderately famous favorites one of my replies. I chortle when people live tweet #TheBachelor or dish out clever responses to #FiveWordsToRuinADate. I get a tiny boost of self confidence when I buy a new pair of glasses and the company I purchased them from throws a compliment my way.

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The hashtag thing also helped connect me to my field, my people. I discovered #amwriting. There are many opinions about whether or not this is a helpful or distracting hashtag for writers but for me it makes me feel like I’m back in my low-res MFA  connecting with writers all over the country (and maybe the world) around a common goal. It makes an arguably lonely profession feel less lonely.

#amwriting led to #PitMad where I found that I could pitch my novel to literary agents and that they might actually respond. Consider my mind blown. I’m still dazed from the magical high that is #PitMad so I’ll virtually introduce you to Brenda Drake, host of #PitMad and other wonderful things, and let you read up on what it is/how to participate in the future.  Also, I want to link to Diana Urban who is an author that got her agent through #PitMad and has some great tips on how to write your tweets.

While participating in #PitMad was an amazing opportunity professionally, I liked it just as much because I got to “meet” so many writers. And seeing the goodwill of writers retweeting one another’s pitches and wishing each other luck just reminded me that the publishing industry is not as mean, or scary, or terrible as some people would like you to believe.

Participating in #PitMad also helped me to be a better writer. I’ve heard many a writing mentor say that if you can’t distill your novel down into one sentence then maybe the novel is not as tight as it should be. Having to generate 24 tweets about my novel forced me to use my skills as a writer to convey a large idea and hundreds of pages into one small, compelling sentence. Even if I’m not tweeting about my novel, the social pressure on Twitter to be funny, witty, or have something meaningful to say is like a writing exercise all on its own.

Of course, the most important writing I do is when I’m putting down words on the next novel or short story, but in an age where many writers are the advocates of their own work, it’s nice to know that I can spend time on social media in a productive and fruitful way.

Here are few of my favorite people/companies/parodies to follow. And obvi, if you want to join the fun, follow me!

  • Hayes Brown: @HayesBrown. Foreign News Editor/Reporter, @BuzzFeed. Formerly at @thinkprogress. RTs = multiple Russias Today. Thoughts all mine. Tips, etc: hayes.brown AT buzzfeed dot com
  • Neil Gaiman: @neilhimself. will eventually grow up and get a real job. Until then, will keep making things up and writing them down.
  • Roxane Gay: @rgay. I write. I want a tiny baby elephant. I love Ina Garten. Now: An Untamed State (Grove Atlantic) and Bad Feminist (Harper). Next: Hunger (Harper, 2016)
  • Linda Holmes:@nprmonkeysee. Writer at NPR’s pop culture blog, Monkey See; host of NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour. Formerly of Television Without Pity.
  • Glen Weldon: @ghwelcon. Writes/podcasts for NPR and other places. Unauthor, SUPERMAN: THE UNAUTHORIZED BIOGRAPHY. Author of THE CAPED CRUSADE, coming 2016 from Simon & Schuster.
  • Barry Allen Facts: @BanterWithBarry. Barry Allen parody account! Not associated with the The Flash.
  • inbox tattoos: @getinkbox. A New Way to Tattoo. Natural ink-based tattoos that last 12-15 days. Check out our tats on our website below!
  • Saved You A Click: @SavedYouAClick. Don’t click on that. I already did. (Tweets by @jakebeckman)
  • Warby Parker: @WarbyParker. Welcome to Warby Parker! (Pleased to meet you.) Questions? Let @WarbyParkerHelp know.

Revising My Life

After finishing a draft of a story, some authors put the story in a drawer so that, when enough time has passed, they can pull it out and look at it with fresh eyes. In an example of life imitating art, for the past year my life has been a draft of a story sitting in a drawer, waiting to be taken out.

Continue reading “Revising My Life”

Cinderella Collection by Sephora: Playing Dress Up as an Adult

image courtesy of Sephora

Once upon a time, I was a little girl and I loved Disney. My toy-box wasn’t filled with blonde, blue-eyed Barbies, it was a museum of Disney cartoons in Mattel® form: Ariel, Jasmine, Belle.

I watched the movies, read the storybooks, wore the t-shirts, had the matching curtains and comforter for my bedroom (it was 1989, they were Little Mermaid). I lived in a replicated fantasy that Disney had created for me.

Then I grew up. I realized Ariel was swimming around in a seashell bra and had an alarmingly tiny waist. I watched as the Disney Princesses needed a Prince to come to their rescue. I saw the branding and merchandising take over with “princess culture” and felt puzzled, maybe even duped. Did Disney care about creating fantasies for me or did they just want me to buy the matching toothbrush to go along with my pajamas?

Continue reading “Cinderella Collection by Sephora: Playing Dress Up as an Adult”

Hey “Girl:” Life of a Temp

These past few months while finishing my masters thesis, I’ve been working for a temp agency to earn a little extra cash. With flexible hours, and the chance to get to know  the town I’ve just recently moved to a little better, the experience has, for the most part, been worthwhile.  Being that I’d never worked for a temp agency, there are a few things I’ve discovered worth noting:

photo courtesy of kellyservices.us

1) The vernacular of working for a temp agency.Despite that fact that it is not listed on Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary, in this industry, “temping” is a verb. What surprised me was how often I was referred to as “girl” (or “girls” if I was in a group.) This applied to all the female temps, and it did not matter the age of the employees (I had co-workers who were in their 70’s.)Hopefully, this stemmed from the term Kelly Girl® coined by William Russell Kelly, founder of Kelly Services, who started a temp agency by loaning his employees to other businesses, and not from straight misogyny.

Even my boyfriend, who worked for the company as a gravedigger, was a Kelly Girl®. Continue reading “Hey “Girl:” Life of a Temp”

The Art of the Product Review

thumbs up, gnome
photo by nocklebeast

My cellphone contract will expire soon and as everyone knows, this means I get to upgrade my phone. While perusing my network’s online store, I discovered some of the best reading material the internet has to offer:

The product review tab.

I marveled at the passion that went into these reviews–emoticons, superfluous punctuation, ALL CAPS. Without any obvious external motivation or reward to review a product, the endeavors of these zealously happy or disappointed reviewers are admirable. Most people you have to pay to fill out a survey–these people do it for free! Some of these product reviewers deserve at least a certificate of completion from the hosting website, something comparable to what you might receive for completing a course in photography at your local adult education center. Continue reading “The Art of the Product Review”

Front Page: Introducing, My Dog

After the run today, Adventure Junkie and I witnessed something unusual. Cruising behind an 80’s Oldmoldsbile Cutlass, we watched two chihuahuas yap out the passenger window. Then, one of them jumped out! The little dog had seen a big dog behind a fence and propelled himself out the window in order to yap from a shorter distance. Suddenly, I was glad that my dog can’t fit through our car window.

Meet Page, the greyhound.

greyhound, faun, dog, pet,

Page weighs 82 pounds, measures 64 inches from the tip of the nose to the tip of his tail, and at almost 3 feet tall can easily lay his head on our dining room table. Often, he’s mistaken for a great dane and children have been known to call him “Marmaduke.” Continue reading “Front Page: Introducing, My Dog”