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.

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Upcoming Workshops

I’ve been collaborating with a lot of great artists lately thanks to the various writing groups and organizations I’ve joined over the last few months. Through these collaborations, I’ve put together a variety of workshops that I’ll be offering in my local community. For ongoing events and workshops check out my new Events page. Here’s a peek at what’s coming up:

 

FEB 23: Channeling the Feminine Divine – A Workshop of Self-Discovery

Tap into your inner goddess and create a connection to the divine in this workshop of self-discovery. Create meaningful change in your daily habits as you learn about feminine archetypes through the Greek Goddesses Athena, Aphrodite, Artemis, and Persephone.

In this course, led by creative writers and spiritual consultants Ashley Warren and Anna Paige, you will be introduced to the strengths of each goddess and how to apply those characteristics to modern life. Using guided meditation and writing exercises, you will connect to your inner goddess and the divine feminine within.

The course includes a special Vintage Apothecary Goddess Oil blend.

LOCATION: Better to Gather Events at 2404 Montana Ave.
DATE: February 23
TIME: 7-8:30PM
COST: $35

What should I bring?: yourself, a pen and a journal.

Click here to register

MAR. 18: Movement as Inspiration 

We often use the term “muscle memory” to refer to motor learning. But beneath these patterns of repetition committed to procedural memory, our bodies hold many stories. We have scars and injuries, birthmarks, tattoos, allergies, and a bad haircut or two. As we write the stories of our bodies, we access opportunities for understanding and healing. Join Ashley Warren and Nia Technique instructor Aimee Carlson for a workshop using both movement and writing exercises to jumpstart the creative process. Participants do not need to have significant movement or writing experience to participate.

Date: Saturday, March 18th
Time: 1:00-3:00pm
Location: Sky Studio, 101 Lewis Ave.
Cost: $25
To register: email Ashley Warren at ajoybliss@icloud.com

MAR. 30: My Voice, My Mantra

In an environment of constant information, what words are you using? How is language serving you or holding you back? In this workshop with Anna Paige and Ashley Warren, we will guide you through writing exercise to find your voice. Then together, we will distill these discoveries into a phrase or affirmation that holds meaning for you.

To help you carry this practice into your everyday life, we will create a necklace that will serve as a physical representation of your mantra.

LOCATION: Better To Gather 2404 Montana Ave.
DATE: March 30
TIME: 7-8:30PM
COST: $35

What should I bring? Yourself, a pen and a journal

Click here to register

November 9th, 2016

After midnight, moments after setting my iPhone on the nightstand, deciding I couldn’t refresh NPR.org one more time, I heard what I thought was a gunshot. I live in a red state and my first assumption with every bang is it’s a gunshot, but then there was another, and another, four bangs with a silent even pause between each one.

“Fireworks,” my husband said. “Trump won.”

We both reached for our phones. 244 electoral college votes became 279 votes and the angry caricatures of both Trump’s and Clintons faces stared back at me from their places above the abstract map of blue and red squares. We turned out the light and went to bed.

*

I don’t remember what I dreamt about, or if a dreamt anything. My brother said he dreamt about zombies. At 4:30am I woke up, I can only assume from stress or panic. With deep breaths I fell back asleep only to awaken, leering, two and a half hours later. My period started. Even my body was exhibiting some kind of ironic biological defiance to America’s new reality.

Two days before, a friend and I had hosted the first event in a series of Write-Ins, an hour for people to come together to write and be in community with one another. The series was part of a literary organization (with a hardly subtle hint of feminism) that we started with a mission to create more writing opportunities in our town. Two days before we were feeling revolutionary and empowered. Overnight our confidence turned to desperation.

The day after the election, my friend’s text to me read, “Hello. Did you get any sleep? I want to do something. Hold safe space for people to write and hug and be. What can we do?”

I texted back, “Barely. We could do another impromptu/pop up Write-In maybe,” and then I digressed as I thought about my commitments for the rest of the day.

I had to meet a student at my office then teach a composition class. Also, I was an artist-in-residence at the public library. I had been leading a workshop for the last four weeks leading up to the election. I was helping teens write letters to the next president as part of a project hosted by the National Writing Project.

The rest of my text read, “I don’t know what I’m going to say to the two thirteen your old girls who participated in the Letters to the Next President project—we’re supposed to have a pizza party at the library tonight.”

The moment needed immediacy and action, but I was grieving along with everyone else in my bubble of America. I wanted to hide. I called my friend and we poured over our options. Our literary organization was new and we had no idea what the political leanings were of our participants. In the end, she opened her home to anyone who wanted a place to write but asked people to private message her for the address.

I stumbled through my morning and wondered how I would face my students, many of whom had made it clear in one way or another that they were Trump supporters.

When I got dressed I wore a jacket I purchased from J. Crew several years ago when Mad Men style was a thing. I curled my hair and put on some lipstick and my big black sunglasses. I looked like Jackie Kennedy Onassis. I thought about how she performed her civic duties at a time when she might have wanted to hide.

On campus, walking to the liberal arts building I passed students. Fear set in, labeling set in, and everyone I passed was either a “likely Clinton supporter,” which brought a feeling of relief, or a “likely Trump supporter,” which brought on a feeling of distress. I’m not proud that in that moment I was engaging in the same kind of irrational thinking that contributed to Trump’s election in the first place.

Before my lecture, I had to meet the student who needed to take a test. She arrived at my office and her greeting was careful, her voice polite, and it took on a tone she hadn’t used with me all semester. Though I had never said it she knew which side I was on, and I which side she was on. We exchanged the appropriate professor/student pleasantries and I sent her to a conference room to take her exam.

While she worked I graded papers. I checked Twitter and Facebook. I sent texts to my brother and my husband. I wanted to cry but didn’t because I didn’t know how my students would meet my vulnerability. I tried to understand what exactly I wanted to cry about.

Before class I went to the bathroom and coming out of the stall I ran into a student who had written an essay for me about voter apathy. She was my mirror that morning. We couldn’t smile. Our eyes were tired. Our skin lacked the pink that comes with breathing deeply. We didn’t say anything to each other but we knew.

*

On my lunch break, I watched Clinton’s concession speech and had my cathartic moment. I sobbed while admiring those steely nerves that characterized her as being robotic. I listened to her words mindfully (it was the first time in a while I hadn’t scanned something on my phone during a long video), and near the end of twelve minutes, I found the smallest ray of hope. She said, “To all the little girls watching…never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world,” and it reminded me of the two girls who were taking advantage of the opportunities presented to them, who were asking important questions and finding their way through the answers. Hope for me was two girls who wrote letters to the future president about making school lunches healthy, and developing community programs to educate people about nutrition choices. Hope was two little girls who, despite the outcome of the election, believed their voices would be heard.

*

That night we had our pizza party at the library, the girls and I. We read letters about medical marijuana and cyber bullying, and unemployment, and we shared ideas and opinions. We smiled and we laughed because we needed to.

On the day after the 2016 election, in my darkest moments, I was planning for the worst. I was planning for the reality that I could lose my health insurance and that my student loan payments might not be adjusted for my income anymore. And when I ran out of plans I worried. Worried whether my cousin’s husband and family would be allowed to stay or return to the United States because they are Muslim. I worried for my Muslim students and my African American students and my gay students and my female students.

But eating pizza in a small conference room with two intelligent, adolescent girls, I realized I was doing something, however small my actions might seem.

I was doing something by mentoring them. I was doing something by teaching my Trump supporting college students how to write effectively and think clearly. I was doing something by running a literary organization with my friend, even if our feminism made us vulnerable.

And with these thoughts the hope caught on and pumped in my heart, like small bangs, with silent even pauses between them.

Things of the Week: Literary Billings Edition

Introducing BALA: After a wave of poetry activity in our town (much of it tied to a grant from the Pulitzer Foundation), my friend Anna Paige and I found ourselves talking about the need for more writing activities and events in Billings, MT. With a little bit of serendipity and some good old fashioned networking, we met one of the founders of the Helena Area Literary Arts. Realizing that what they do is AMAZING we decided to create a version of their organization here in Billings.

And so we would like to introduce Billings Area Literary Arts (BALA), a new organization dedicated to building and enhancing literary arts in and around Billings, Montana.

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Logo design by Kate Restad of Pioneer Creative

BALA will be offering a variety of events dedicated to writing, starting with a series of Write-Ins.

Write-In: to occupy a place as a form of creation.

On the first and third Monday of every month, Billings Area Literary Arts (BALA) will host an hour of dedicated time and space to write. Participants are invited to come to MoAV Coffee to write, edit, revise, or share as part of the writing process. Moderators Anna Paige and Ashley Warren will be available to give feedback on short pieces or excerpts from longer works as well.

Join us for our first Write-In!
Monday, November 7th
5:30-6:30PM
MoAV Coffee
2501 Montana Ave.

*Please bring whatever writing tools you like to use. (Paper, pens, laptop, tablet etc.)

In addition to these Write-Ins, we’ll be scheduling more events in the near future. Here’s a sneak peek:

Flight of Writers: In collaboration with Harper and Madison and Lilac, BALA will host a night of writing, food, wine, and art. Guests will enjoy pairings of literary, culinary, and artistic courses, a true feast for the senses.

A Reading of Her Own: These readings will be dedicated to showcasing female-identified writers who will share short, 800 word or 8-minute long memoirs at an open-mic night.

If you would like to be added to the BALA mailing list, please send an email to billingsliteraryarts at gmail dot com.

Another cool thing I’m doing: I am honored to have been selected as an Artist-in-Residence with the Billings Public Library, specifically in the TECH Lab, an education and creation hub reserved for teens.

During my time as Artist-in-Residence, I have been helping teens write letters to the next president as part of the national project Letters to the Next President 2.0 hosted by the National Writing Project.

Our project was covered by the local news this week–our clip begins at 9:12.

Things of the Week 9/7/16

Nature: My weekend included a hike near the Woodbine Falls area of the Beartooth Mountains. I love that this trail winds along the river for the first half a mile or so. It’s beautiful and loud–the sound of the water definitely clears the mind.

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Watched: Street Fight–a documentary by Marshall Curry about Cory Booker’s 2002 campaign to become the mayor of Newark, NJ. I remember now why I don’t often watch documentaries–the more controversial the topic, the more I yell at my TV screen.

Reading: Feeling Very Strange: The Slipstream Anthology edited by James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel. Was introduced to this in grad school by James Patrick Kelly, who was a faculty member in my program. Don’t know why it’s taken me this long to read it other than now feels like the right time.

Mental Health:Clinton just made a very important announcement — and hardly anyone is talking about it”The Post’s View, August 31, 2016, on The Washington Post

Possibly one of the more optimistic articles about government/the  election I’ve read in awhile (and possibly why it’s not getting much coverage). I particularly like everything that’s happening in this paragraph:

“The big-ticket item in Ms. Clinton’s plan is $5 billion for community health centers providing substance abuse and mental-health treatment as well as traditional medical care, which jibes with elements of reform initiatives emerging from Congress. To address a shortage of mental-health professionals, meanwhile, she would smartly encourage telemedicine, among other things. Ms. Clinton also proposed pumping up the budget for basic scientific research, some of which would be diverted into studying the brain. Aside and apart from the debate over mental health, Democrats and Republicans have often been able to agree on funding basic research such as this.”

Current Obsessions: eating dry cereal, candles, tea,

Thing Happening Today: First day of school.

Things Happening This Weekend: 

Pulitzer Out Loud Presents: Slam Poetry Workshops

I consider myself a poetry dabbler and I’ve never tried Slam, though I have great respect for it. Very much looking forward to attending these workshops.

Brew Ha Ha 2016 – Oktoberfest

Drink beer to support literacy? Don’t mind if I do.

 

Things of the Week 8/31/16

Made up word: un-bungler–a person who is a fixer but isn’t as badass as Olivia Pope

Current Obsessions: recipes I can make from things grown in my garden, bergamot oil, the TV show Superstore

Trying: Ekphrastic poetry. I’m collaborating with local artist Michelle Dyk to create poetry from some of her beautiful collage work. A sample of my current inspirations:

Rabbit hole: articles on The Guardian containing research about dogs

  1. “Dogs understand both words and intonation of human speech” 
  2. “Study showing decline in dog fertility may have human implications”
  3. “Labradors may be genetically ‘hard-wired’ for greed” 

Wow: Beyoncé at the VMAs

Learned: Chuck Tingle lives in my town. 

Re-learning: Learning Management Systems (the irony is not lost on me)

Things of the Week 8/10/16

Funny: The Terrible, No Good, Very Bad Day I Woke Up as a Debut Author: Jade Sharma Tries to be Happy About the Publication of PROBLEMS August 4, 2016 on Literary Hub 

Alfred Hitchcock’s, The BirdsWas awoken by a flock of sparrows battling in a tree directly outside my bedroom window. Went to the bathroom and discovered one had managed to maneuver itself under the screen and between the storm window and the actual window. It looked like a living shadowbox. Only days before while practicing yoga I watched a sparrow try to enter our house in a similar manner.

Looking Forward to: roadtrip to Missoula with greyhounds in tow, stopping in Bozeman to eat at Roost, and listening to episodes of RadioLab on the way.

Reading: Tattoo Machine: Tall Tales, True Stories, and My Life in Ink by Jeff Johnson. This book has a brilliantly colorful quote that demonstrates the use of tattoo industry slang. Terms indicated in italics:

“Dude, it was a Dee Dee on speed dial unholy bloodbath. No pork chops, a mid-shift seismic California bumper sticker taco valve explosion, a fucking parade of drunks brimming with Chud potential and I ran out of boy butter after the second fight in the lobby. Bonus hole city to boot.”

Also reading: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Found: that mouse we were “over” last week...by way of our olfactory senses 😦

Mystery: there seems to be evidence of something large bedding down by our fence. Could be animal or human due to our location.

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Listening to: 

Things of the Week 8/3/16

Writers Being Writers: fave quotes from An Interview with Annie Dewitt by Brandon Hobson, 7/25/16 on The Believer Logger 

“I think it’s important to talk about the reality of being a writer. The glossy author photos don’t really speak to that. To the sacrifices that are made. And the times when you watch your family and friends who have chosen other paths make money, get married, move up and out in the world, have kids. You wonder what direction your life is truly going in and have to grapple with some difficult choices, all without knowing whether or not you’ll succeed. That’s, to date, the hardest thing I’ve had to face. My own self-doubt. ” – Annie Dewitt

“I’ve always admired how writers like Schutt and Salinger accomplish so much through the use of the unsaid. As a child, you have so little of the world explained to you. Your perception of events colors everything. So much of what you know is defined by the perimeter of what you don’t know, which is always expanding.” – Annie Dewitt

Reading: Religion for Atheists: A Non-believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion by Alain de Botton

Rereading: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (thanks, Chelsea Clinton)

Nature: while walking by a city park near downtown I saw not one but three hawks hanging out behind the bleachers near the high school. They sat on the chainlink fence and watched as the crows picked over scraps. Whenever the crows found something good, like bullies the hawks dove and chased the crows until the crows gave up their lunch money.

Having My Mind Blown: “From Tree to Shining Tree” a podcast by Radiolab, July 30, 2016

Current Obsessions: my local library, evening walks, drinking water, ice cream (any number of flavors)

I’m kinda over it: the mouse we saw in the house a few days ago, despite many mice-preventing tactics currently underway

Bingeing: Gilmore Girls (3rd time), this time with my husband and in preparation for Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life

Pompey’s Pillar: Visited Pompey’s Pillar National Monument for the first time, and during Clark Days, a miniature festival celebrating Montana history. I was maybe a little underwhelmed at the pillar’s size, but the graffiti courtesy of Lewis and Clark was pretty cool.

 

Brain Injury Accessory of the Week: earplugs

 

 

Things of the Week 7/20/16

Watched: The Big Short–In 2007 I was a new college grad, and when the housing bubble started to burst I was too focused on getting a job to really understand what was going on. I appreciated the ersatz education I got watching this movie because I admit I wanted a dumbed down version of the financial crisis. The most obvious pedagogical technique the movie used was explanations of financial jargon provided by random celebrity personas conveyed directly to the audience (i.e. breaking the fourth wall). The technique was a bit polarizing, as was the movie. I liked the film, but I also appreciate the criticism the film received so I’ll leave these two articles for further explanation/consideration:

“Why Does the Big Short Break the Fourth Wall” by Tom Bond, One Room With a View

The Big Shot Review-Ryan Gosling and Christian Bale can’t save this overvalued stock” by Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian

Listened to: Switched on Popa podcast on the making and meaning of popular music I heard about this podcast on another podcast (Pop Culture Happy Hour) and have been really enjoying the depth with which hosts Nate Sloan and Charlie Harding discuss music. There most recent episode “Around the World with Drake” addresses music appropriation.

Downloaded: Prisma-Art Photo Editor – having way too much fun with this one. I feel like this app is the fix for anything/anyone who isn’t photogenic (though selfishly I think my dog is very photogenic.)

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Reading: Dear Mr. You by Mary-Louise Parker–an epistolary memoir written in the second person point of view. Basically, this book is two of my favorite literary techniques mashed together. And I have to agree with the celebrity praise on the back cover, it is truly poetic (Mary Karr) and tender (Colum McCann).

Street Art:

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I suspect the text and the stencil were created by separate artists but what a thought provoking combination.

 

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I think we have a street artist in the making with this one.

New Skill: key wording. I’ve started working for my husband, who owns a film production company, and one of the most help things I do (read–task I’m qualified to perform) is enter relevant search terms into the databases that host his stock video footage. This is turning into a great word-association exercise. EXAMPLE: make a list of all of the relevant adjectives or nouns associated with the word sun.

Brain Glossary: new term: “Brain Push.” Similar to “Brain Squeeze” except the direction of discomfort is vertical instead of horizontal. Like stacking books on your head instead of tightening a belt.

Fun Brain Injury Side Effect: When writing by hand, inadvertently replacing or adding letters to common words so as to create something like a foreign language. EXAMPLES: withing (within), yar (you), warnt (want).

Things of the Week 7/13/16

Word Count: 723 in one sitting. A new high score since the brain injury.

Walking: “Walking While Black: Garnette Cadogan on the Realities of Being Black in America” by Garnette Cadogan, July 8, 2016 on Literary Hub. 

Gardening: We were a little late to start the garden this year, but better late than never. Purchasing plants in July leaves few varieties to choose from but we were able to pick up some tomatoes, bell peppers, El Jefe peppers, basil, lemon verbena, blackberries, and zucchini.

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Current Obsessions: coconut anything, eating two flavors of ice cream at once, vocabulary.com,

Poetry: Snare drums sound like school’s start

Slang: While doing research for my second novel I discovered the following:

Tattoo slang, like most other kinds of slang, also varies greatly based on region. In a TIME interview of Portland tattoo artist Jeff Johnson, Johnson states that many individual tattoo shops and artists have their own slang terms that wouldn’t be understood outside their particular shops.

Joy: Creating slang for a tattoo shop has become my new writing exercise.

Catching Up On: Castle

First Time: Making an herb wreath. I felt very Martha-Stewarty while completing the task. Next time though I’ll take an anti-histamine before I begin.

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Fun Brain Injury Side Effect: transposing words that sound the same and are also frequently used in my vocabulary. EXAMPLE: Yoga, stop eating that. TRANSLATION: Nova (the dog), stop eating that. Repetition for the sake of correction only leads to reuse of the incorrect word. EXAMPLE: Yoga, Yoga, Yoga! Leave it.