Earlier today I tweeted that every version of me I’ve been so far would be proud of who I am now. This occurred to me yesterday, after Kel left for a hunting trip, and I found myself pattering around the house, doing small chores, and letting my mind run wild in the silence. Rather than my usual joy-stealing habit of constantly reciting a list of to-dos to myself, for the first time in a long time, my thoughts allowed me to internally gloat about what I’d already done.
My accomplishments are difficult for me to remember to share and celebrate. Despite being Very Online, I am always worried that when I take the time to say a kind thing about myself or something I’ve done, some old crone with a long finger is going to jump out of the shadows, pointing, and mocking me, “Look at her, Please! Everybody! All Eyes on Ashley C. Ford! She obviously needs you to look at her do another stupid thing.”
I hate that mystical mocking crone, but I know why she speaks to me that way. I know why she thinks she’s helping, and so I try not to be mean. I tell her it’s okay, and it’s safe for me to feel pride. No one I love is going to make fun of me, or attempt to protect me by not allowing me to think too highly of myself. No one is going to try to take this from me, and even if they did, no one could.
I’m about seven weeks out from my 34th birthday. I don’t know how to feel about that upcoming age other than curious about what the next year will bring. The pandemic is stifling, the election coverage has been excruciating, and there is always a chance things can get worse, but I try not to use that as an excuse to assume they will.
This past year, with all the pain and chaos that came with it, I hosted two podcasts, narrated an audio play, wrote two cover stories for magazines, re-started my blog, (mostly) finished my book, and invested in the long-term care of my mental and emotional health. I was a great partner, a good friend, and took nearly every chance I got to do my best. I let myself be human, and I held myself through the worst of my experience. I learned to ask for help, and then I learned to receive it. I didn’t kill the crone, but I taught her to hear me say, “I don’t need you now.” Sometimes, she listens. That feels like an accomplishment too.
When I was very young, a doctor in Missouri told my grandmother I would be tall and thin. He said he was able to judge this based on the size of my hands and feet relative to my age. Well, I do have pretty big hands and feet, but I am neither thin or tall. I’m pretty average in all ways. My height, 5 ft 5 inches, it only one inch taller than exactly average. My weight fluctuates, but I’m currently a size 14/16, and that is also pretty average. As I grew up, for a moment, it seemed like the doctors predictions would come true. Up until I was 15 years old I was pretty thin by sight (though gym class told me my BMI put me on the lowest end of overweight/ABOLISH BMI), and I was still one of the taller girls in my class. Then it changed, and it kept changing. I stopped growing taller, and started gaining weight. My grandmother couldn’t handle it, and fixated on my body. Then I fixated on my body.
I love my grandmother, but she’s dead now, and I can’t keep a scale in my house. My relationship with my body is developing, but a little warped by the view that it never became what it was supposed to be. At least, not to her. I want to laugh at the old stories about her pinching my sides, gifting me girdles, or refusing to buy me pants if I needed them in a certain size, but I’ve lost my sense of humor about them. I thought laughing at it made it easier for me to feel the pain behind it all, but I think it was just a distraction. A place to go so I wouldn’t have to stand in the middle of my shame. Instead of defending my body, I tried not to think of it at all. I cut myself off from my truest home. But I’ve gotten really very good at returning to the places where I have unfinished business. When I find the way back, I may drift off, but I don’t forget the path. I don’t forget my way home anymore.
I keep thinking about the poet Mari Evans. She lived here in Indianapolis for much of her life until she died at ninety-seven years old. She wrote a poem called I Am A Black Woman, among many many other, but this one is the one that speaks to me. She was a Hoosier-by-Choice, a Black woman artist, and a human being just trying to live her life. Will you read this poem for me? I hope you will.
When you read it, think of her, remember her, and be renewed. She has something to teach me about belonging where I am, and living a fully engaged creative life. Not many women who look like me and come from what I come from get that. I will. And I will not be ashamed.
For the past month or so, I’ve been working on providing the narration for The Agitators, an audio drama about the (sometimes) friendship between Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass. This is one of the projects I’ve felt most lucky to work on this year, and I hope you’ll check out the trailer, and maybe even be interested enough to listen to the play when it becomes available this week.
I know I’m always up to something, and it can be hard to keep track of what I’m working on when you’re the kind of person who’s interested in that kind of thing. I also know that I haven’t been super helpful in that department. I will try to change that by posting some of those things here. I’m not going to start a newsletter unless I can afford to hire someone else to run it, and I don’t have enough time or resources to keep a constantly updated website. Until now, social media has usually been a fine way to let people know what’s going on, but your online habits are changing, and so are mine. Here’s where I’ll be for the time being.
I hope you dig the podcast. I hope you dig this space. I hope you’ll keep wanting to know what I’m making from time to time.
We almost moved to Austin, Texas last year after attending a friend’s wedding, and eating all that delicious food, my God. Then I almost fought a waitress on the last day of our visit, and we kinda never looked back. The plan was still to move out west, and if it wasn’t going to be Austin, it was going to be Los Angeles. Both places where the residents constantly scream about not being in need of new residents. Just the opposite, in fact. But we knew we had to move, needed to move, and if the right place for both of us wouldn’t present itself clearly, we’d say fuck it, and end up wherever we ended up. I assumed I could make a home out of any place at all, and never imagined that some places might feel more right than others. Which is how I ended up feeling stuck in the first place.
I do not feel stuck where I am now. Where I am now feels like an expanse of opportunity and potential, and dying trees in a last dance. It feels like a gust of wind cutting across a field of grass, hardened with frost, glowing yellow and green in the sunrise. It feels like Austin, and LA, and all the other places I might have ended up where fine places to end up, but they never would have felt like home. I never wanted to be the kind of person who ran away from anything, least of all herself, and I don’t think that’s what I’ve been doing. I think I’ve been where I was supposed to be, and when that stopped being true, my body wouldn’t lie to me about it to keep the peace. I worried about keeping the peace. When things are going good, even when I’m not admitting that to myself, I am loathe to change. That doesn’t make change less inevitable or less necessary, but I tried to make it so. I really tried.
When Kel called from the airport, asking, “How would it make you feel to move back here?” I knew he was calling me home, and I did not deny it. I knew the move would be harder on him than it would be on me, and I knew I would start planning it anyway. Every time I mentioned it to someone in Indiana, they welcomed me home, like I was already on the way.