Linnea Ashley on January 14th, 2013

The only part of my Sunday evening that didn’t make me feel like a complete sloth was the end. We did a hanging “beat” from the trapeze. Dangling from my knees, arms straight, it only required me to swing back, arch and swing forward, bending at the waist as high as i could. It was the only thing that felt like what it looked like. It reminded me of swinging from the monkey bars in grade school…wind in my braids and my giggling to myself.
In my head, the whole evening was going to be like that. I was going to take to the air and recall simpler times. And while the purpose of taking classes from kinetic arts center was to get into some semblance of shape, i somehow forgot to factor in the workout component into my little fantasy.
So there i was, limply hanging from a trapeze no more than five feet of the ground, my palms aching from the friction, my shoulders hurting from the strain, my forearms shaking from exhaustion.
When i walked into the gym (what else can i call it?) i was caught up in the incredible view of people doing things with their bodies that i have only seen on television. A woman was balanced on the head of a man (who would later lie flat on his back and hold her spread eagled in his palm, and then rise –her still in his palm- to a sort of tripod), a woman spinning in a ring and dangling in various positions, and another…beautiful body art trailing her back and arms…wrapping herself in red ribbon pooling on the floor from the ceiling, her body arced and limbs long. I momentarily forgot, despite the receptionist’s warning, that they have been working at it for years. They have been spinning and climbing and balancing and sweating for years.
i was a newbie.
I was winded at warm-up. Breath heavy, i was reminded that i need to get a new inhaler. But i persevered and was introduced to the pike and straddle. Introduced to the “easy” way to climb the rope.
It all takes core muscle. It all takes the body overcoming physics (a body at rest…) and it takes more than a living social coupon that fuels momentary excitement.
I have two more classes. And with callasuing hands and emerging soreness i’m sure i’ll feel in the morning, i am curious what those classes will feel like.

Tags: ,

Linnea Ashley on October 25th, 2012

It doesn’t fall to the earth so much as it caresses it. Slightly heavier than fog but almost as inconsequential. I wake up to wet pavement and a car washed almost clean…almost. And it is a strange thing to miss. Rain. Real rain. The kind that thunders on rooftops and drenches the earth definitively. Not petty or lilting or cautious. Robust and shouting.

I miss rain. Houston thunderstorms rolling in on green gray clouds. Cold fronts sweeping in cool –since summertime cold is an impossibility in the sweltering bosom of the gulf coast.

I miss curling up at the window, book spread open prepared to read, but losing myself in the rhythm of drops and the patterns on windows.

It is the beginning of the rainy season here. The beginning of cold damp days that seep into my bones and leave me shivering. Nothing freezing. Nothing sopping. Something in between. Something necessary to keep trees and grass and living things living. Something to feed the water table for the thirsty masses. Something to demand appreciation for all the cloud-free sunny days the bay offers up with generosity.

I’ll sleep tonight with the sound of slick roads echoing in the distance. The soft splash of tires kicking up puddles poured out from an almost muted sky. Moisture and passing cars the only proof it rained at all.

Tags: ,

Linnea Ashley on October 24th, 2012

I miss my words. Caught up in the midst of a lit review and constipated by some issues emerging from my past and i find myself staring at my computer with something akin to fear and loathing. November looms heavy and gray before me and that is problematic because November is NaNoWWriMo and for once i’d like to finish.
But if i can’t summon the syllables to complete a simple blog how the heck am i supposed to find 50,000 words worthy of stringing together and telling a story?

part of it is working through the gunk. Like machinery or an old toothpaste tube all crusted over…sometimes you just have to dig past the crud until you get to the good stuff. Sometimes you have to trust there is still good stuff left. And i want to trust that. But i’m also a believer that gifts are given for a reason (and i do believe my words were a gift…to myself if no one else) and if they go unused they are returned. I like to believe my words are sitting in the bag with the receipt on top but not yet re-shelved for some more grateful and mindful someone to use.

Maybe i’ll just have to dig a little at a time. This short blogette is me peeling the crust off the sides of tube so maybe- just maybe- i can get the lid to screw on. Maybe tomorrow i’ll prick enough of a hole through the mess for a few pearly drops to leak through- enough to give me hope of clean teeth…er…meaningful sentences to send back into the ether as a thank you and a prayer.

Tags: ,

Linnea Ashley on September 29th, 2012

This isn’t right…it doesn’t make sense exactly but it’s what’s on my mind right now even if my mind is still sorting through it.

Gotye hits me in the same place cellos do – somewhere in the heart of me where my soul files heartache and joy for reasons of some perverse pleasure pain principle. Oddly i don’t always listen to lyrics. Odd because i love words. I mean I always hear them but it takes a while for them to sink in. and then all of sudden i have a swift inhalation of breath because someone’s poetry or wit startle me into remembering the full breadth of the art that is music.

Sometimes it is simply the stories shared…carrie underwood pissed off about a cheating man and damn sure he won’t do it again. Or a line;  brooke fraser pleading, “…now that i’ve seen, i am responsible, faith without deeds is dead.” And sometimes it is a sentiment. And in gotye’s somebody that you used to know it is a sentiment long unuttered but instantly understood at the center of me.

But you didn’t have to cut me off
Make out like it never happened and that we were nothing
And I don’t even need your love
But you treat me like a stranger and that feels so rough

When i was younger my relationships ran their course and time and often distance did their part and my exes become faces in photographs. This person who i knew became someone that i used to know with very little effort on my part. I never expected my high school sweetheart would still be prominent in my life even though we’ve remained friendly. Life went on.

But now. Now, so close to 40 i can smell it, and i find myself navigating a life cluttered with people i once knew…really knew. People who knew me. Only they don’t anymore. Or if they do- maybe they shouldn’t.

I think of my past loves…slipped into married obscurity…and despite my indignation that i once knew his laugh or the touch of his hand on the small of my back, the smell of sandalwood, or the perfect crease in every pair of jeans, and now know nothing, i understand the reason for it. A marriage full of everyone’s past could get crowded. Still, to know the taste of someone’s lips and the sound of his voice when he’s sleepy, the look in his eyes when the world is heavy but he doesn’t want to ask for help, those are intimate things. And it doesn’t just evaporate…or maybe it does. Only it doesn’t evaporate clean, it leaves a ring, a stain where the knowledge was, still is, just less visible.

No you didn’t have to stoop so low
Have your friends collect your records and then change your number
I guess that I don’t need that though
Now you’re just somebody that I used to know

I have a collection of photographs from a trip i took with a boyfriend. We laughed and fought a little and generally had a wonderful time. None of those pictures is displayed. Instead they are filed away in my computer where i puruse them when i’ve steeled myself to peer upon the face of somebody that i used to know.

Because the thing is, even though that relationship isn’t severed, it is. How we knew each other-how we were- has been transformed into something new. No judgment for the transition, maybe a lament…but…

Moving back to Oakland, small city that it is, i ran into an ex boyfriend twice in the span of 10 days. There he was, this man i saw every other day for the better part of six months. This man i hadn’t seen for almost four years. And i once knew his laugh and how to assemble the perfect bite, and standing there in the meat aisle i couldn’t even tell you if he was married.

We hugged but we were nothing…but we used to be…

Linnea Ashley on September 25th, 2012

I’m no doctor, but do no harm feels like a reasonable compass point. it seems to calibrate with “do unto others” and it resonates with me. And so the longer i worked internationally, on the rural ground far away from the paved roads and well stocked grocery stores of the capitals, the more i began to question the harm component of the work i was doing.

Questioning the efficacy of development work is pretty commonplace. If you don’t question that at some point you aren’t paying attention or don’t care. If you don’t question you can’t adjust to make things better. But the more fundamental question of “should i even be here?” is the one i struggled with. Struggle.

I’d decided we didn’t- i didn’t. and i had a litany of experiences and research to back up my claim.

And then my uncle happened.

Listening to his dizzying and infuriating assertion that he (and any other westerner) didn’t have the time or inclination to do research on international issues they cared about in order to “help” i thought my head might explode.

He was talking about Kony2012 and had the bracelet – red threaded band with a small metal disk- to prove his commitment. What was i doing, he asked. At least they were doing something.  What that something was he couldn’t quite articulate but he was certain it was better than my frustrated pessimism, better than my counter argument that solutions are complex- as are the problems that make them necessary.

I don’t believe something is always better than nothing. I do believe that something can cause harm and make things worse than they were. But in the midst of our discussion, my frustration a stark contrast to his calm, i saw a pinpoint of truth to his argument.

What was i doing? Past work aside, i came home in part to get away from that world – to try to figure out if/how i fit into a system meant to fix problems but that is fraught with issues of pay equity, short-term solutions, ignorance of nuance, and good intentions gone wrong.

There is danger in assumption that “my something” is better than whatever else might happen in the absence of it. There is ego in it as well. But in equal measure there is also merit in the question of my doing. “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Edmund Burke. What am I contributing to that triumph?

*from summer 2012


Linnea Ashley on September 25th, 2012

I never thought i’d end up here. Not after i finally got out. In part it was a constant growing up…my dad’s voice reminding me that graduation was my departure date- more or less (and graduation from college was a must). Not that he and my mother had my bags packed and waiting off stage to greet me once i had degree in hand. They weren’t particularly bothersome at all the year i stayed at home between graduating and preparing to leave for the peace corps. I didn’t even pay rent despite working a few jobs to pad my savings.

I guess dad knew, giddiness aside at – in his words- getting his wife back, that i wasn’t trying to sprout new roots and stay put or anything. I was as ready to leave as i’m sure my parents’ were to get their house back.

And it isn’t that i’ve been gainfully employed without break since then but…the only time i came home (until now) was right after the peace corps. And that stint lasted less than two months. Just long enough for me to see my sister married, buy a car, and drive off to dallas.

Subsequent stints of unemployment have sent me to my sister and brother-in-law’s house. Three kids and perpetual washing needs, we translated into more of an equitable trade-off. I felt less like a mooch- be it after hurricane Katrina (while i was trying ot figure out what to do) or after i finished my masters and hadn’t secured employment.

But this time…this ever lengthening bout…has sent me back to square one. Back under the roof of the people who loved me first and most in life. So here i am, a 36 year old grown ass-woman- at home. i choke on the very phrase because it is hard, damn near impossible to feel like a gorwn ass-woman when i’m borrowing the car and sleeping in the single bed in the office. Instead i feel more like my old self- circa 16- when i was oh-so-certain that when i was “grown” there’d be no looking back.

I was wrong.

And this isn’t to disparage my parents. Quite the contrary, the only thing better than my parents in my current situation would be gainful employment .they neither nag nor make me feel guilty. They are supportive and loving. So all the issues and hangups within this little blog- well those are mine, all mine. And i claim them. Because this is a blog for my current tribe- those returned to their childhood homes because life is dealing them an unemployed hand at the moment (and are lucky enough to have folks willing and able to take them in).  if you are part of my tribe or simply want to be reminded why you are thankful you are not…this was for you.


Tags: ,

Linnea Ashley on August 24th, 2012

the thing is, i’m a geek. no great secret to anyone i went to school with (or who knows me now for that matter). the geek part of me is active and  she has needs. so i find myself geek crushing…again. it is a geek crush, so i’m not talking shemar moore’s shirtless glory and sexy smile but teju cole’s witty brain and written voice.

i’ve never met him. knew little about him before the hullabaloo related to his white savior industrial complex tweets and the atlantic article that followed. the tweets caught my attention but the article…oh the article. there he poured out ideas i’ve been wrestling more intensely with each passing year i’ve spent abroad.

but i digress.

my crush was sparked by te’s (he’s my crush so i’ll call him te if i want to) sound political fervor but grew as i discovered his thoughts on home and experienced his temporary blindness. now my affection is a medley of metaphors as much as impassioned rampage.

he’s not my first. my equally current obsession with childish gambino – not because he’s famous and despite him constantly talking about his nether regions, but because he manages to reference terry gross, ee cummings (no matter how crassly), and bitches brew in a string of songs i can actually recite lyrics for.

the geek in me loves it. loves references to places and things that are common and dear to me…loves reading someone with a word-love-affair that i’m out of practice of but never really stray from.

Tags: ,

Linnea Ashley on March 25th, 2012

I don’t believe America has to be perfect before we can reach out to help other nations any more than i believe i must be perfect before i can reach out to help another person. Hinging help on perfection will leave us all lost. Still, the reaction to Trayvon Martin’s murder reminds me of how important it is to understand situations. Not simply the broad strokes…but the details that make it beautiful and gruesome and sometimes, maybe too often, deadly.

A week or two ago Kony 2012 dominated the headlines and I, like millions of others, engaged in discussions on the merits and missteps of that campaign. It hit me close to home not only because i remember hearing and reading about the LRA and the kidnapped children of Uganda back when it was first being reported, but because my work –until recently- was international public health; I lived and worked in Uganda for a year (and in Liberia and South Africa before that).

I never intended to disparage the campaign’s creators personally, or even the organization, my concern with the campaign was far more general. I worry about the approach we take as nations and NGOs and well-meaning citizens of the world, without fully understanding that even the best intentions can have unintended consequences that do harm.

There has been a murmur of – if not support for, then- defense of Zimmerman, the man who fatally shot the unarmed 17-year-old in the chest. The he was simply watchful of his neighborhood. He cared. I don’t share that view, but it almost doesn’t matter (almost). It almost doesn’t matter because vigilant or vigilante, Trayvon is still dead, his young gaze peering out from the shadow of a hoodie locked forever in a photo. Even if you can muster belief in Zimmerman’s “good intentions” it doesn’t negate the horror those intentions wrought.

A friend posted an article discussing the unwritten rules of blackness, things black children are taught by their parents to help them successfully navigate…at the very least uninjured…through life in America. The resulting thread – a multicultural hodgepodge of people – included surprise and shock that this separate “life curriculum” exists. But the rules rang familiar in my ears.

Although Americans (mostly) speak English and are exposed to the same media, whole portions of the population have different understandings of what it means to live in America. And yes, of course there will always be diversity and difference. Noone can know all things – understand all things…but in the scope of our global village fellow US residents are local, and Trayvon’s murder illustrates how differently Americans experience our home.

Another friend was disgruntled by my critical reaction to Kony 2012. He explained how he and colleagues spent a morning looking for Uganda on a map and discussing child soldiers (he admitted he didn’t watch the entire video). I am puzzled how we feel, not only qualified but justified, in deciding what happens in East Africa when what most people know of fits inside a 30 minute commercial for an NGO.

It is that understanding – or lack of- that I trace back to Trayvon. His murder has many moving parts, outrage at the tragedy is well placed, but fixing it…(I’m sure his grieving family would scoff at the notion)? Fixing not just this one case, but creating  sustainable change in the future so there aren’t any more Trayvon’s – immortalized only in photos because they were taken too soon. Fixing it requires understanding beyond emotion.

It requires us to understand context, the where and laws and history. It requires us to understand local/state/federal boundaries and the chain of command. And beyond our borders it requires us to be obsessively inquisitive, to acknowledge cultural differences, to accept our answers may not be best.

While I am thrilled to see more people engaged in discussions about the world  we live in, my hope is that we are able to move through our gut reactions, our tears, our rage. My hope is that we learn to channel those feelings indo deeper understanding of our world and the nuances that make it vivid and interesting. I hope the measure of success for social campaigns – both international and domestic- is more than how viral a video goes, how many westerners can do geography, and how many people sign a petition.

If it were as easy to “save” others as watching a video or signing a name in electronic ink, people would have saved themselves.

Don’t misunderstand me, symbols are powerful. One million hoodied people (or hundreds) marching through New York City is a symbol of unity in grief and determination just as 70 million views is a symbol of piqued interest. But life and atrocities are more than fashion and geography.

It is essential to entwine symbolic gestures with knowledgeable action. It is about working in tandem, in teams. It is about respecting people’s agency…be they Ugandan grassroots advocates and survivors or black man-child(ren).

That doesn’t mean there is not space for anyone else in the fight for freedom from tyranny and injustice; on the contrary, it is about ensuring there is space for the aggrieved and ensuring that good intentions lead to good and sustainable solutions, that our dread and disappointment are able to make a discernible difference that doesn’t divide.

In the meantime, what can Americans do:

Tags: , , ,

Linnea Ashley on March 22nd, 2012

I can’t seem to find the words to make people understand – really understand – that the accepted fear of a man, not in particular clothing but in particular skin, is how we got to a bullet in the chest.

Listening to NPR today, a panel began a meandering discussion which at one point had a young black man stating that he understood that he might scare people. He continued to explain that he didn’t think it meant it was ok, but everything in his explanation made me cringe for him. Made me think of all the ways he could try not to be what he wanted to believe the fear was based on. He could dress in a suit and not a hoodie. He could sing country music lyrics and not Lil Wayne. He could be meek and mumbling to a stranger who felt justified in following him for no reason and not assert his right to not be harassed.

And he would still be black.

And if he were in the wrong place at just the wrong moment, in a state with seeming “get out of murder law” on the books, he would be dead. Dead like 17-year-old Trayvon.

The thing is, his clothes aren’t really the problem. One of the strongest memories I have of my father is almost 20 years old. Lost in the jumble of his face at my volleyball games and teaching me about nature on walks through creeks, an elevator ride sticks out. We were in his office building, where he was the manager of the child support division, and he was dressed in a three-piece-suit. It was a bright day and I was chatting away. A white woman appeared at the elevator door, child in tow and my father, smiling, held the door for her.

She clutched her daughter to her chest and refused to get on the elevator with us in broad daylight, in a state office building, with my father clad in his three-piece-suit and me, his teenaged daughter, by his side. It is still a fresh wound for me all of these years later – seeing my dad through the eyes of a stranger.

It wasn’t his hoodie that inspired her fear, he wasn’t wearing one.

I wish I could get people to understand that although Trayvon was a good kid with no record, that isn’t the point. Would it be ok for Zimmerman to have shot an unarmed teen in the chest if he had been carrying a bag of skittles and an ice tea as long as he had a record? The problem isn’t that he shot a good kid- the problem is that he shot a kid at all. That he shot unprovoked. The he shot against the instructions of the police. That he shot a “they” that was really only a him…a man-child who will never get to be a man.

The problem is that he shot a young black man and it appears to be of no legal consequence.

This tragedy is finally receiving some attention. The questionable response of the Sanford police department has been brought to the attention of the state of Florida and the FBI. Finally, this heartbreak has reached the attention of the masses.

Enter the debates.

Amid all of the talking and outrage, I want to make sure we are tackling the issue. Trayvon is a victim of the issue – not the issue itself.

The conflation of blackness and danger is at least part of that issue and so pervasive “that driving while black”, and now “walking while black”, are valid concerns for people of color. By simply occupying black skin a person must navigate a world hostile to danger (real or perceived) and therefore hostile to them.

This notion can’t be fixed with blogs or pleas to see the humanity of six and a half million black men. It doesn’t mean we should stop talking, but more than words have to change. Systems have to change if there is hope of changing minds.

A friend’s FB thread began an argument that the fed’s should jump into local jurisdiction and “fix” this case. My desire to work through the system was met with derision.

No one cares so why wait for justice?

I’m not naïve. I don’t want to wait idly by for justice, I want a unified us to point out the cracks in an ailing system as it is dealing with this tragedy. I want us to be vocal and mindful and vocal some more so that errors and shortcomings can be corrected. Because sometimes we have a short attention span, and sometimes there isn’t an electronic trail that tells the story so compellingly…and in the absence of sweet kid with a spotless record we might not be as motivated to unite and cry and demand justice.

But if we watch the system now… Watch it while we are collectively outraged. Watch it while it creaks and moans and shows us its broken parts (like an apathetic police force and an alibi-law), justice might happen be served, now and in the uncertain future.

And while nothing can make the death of Trayvon ok, a legacy of justice in the lack of the injustice done to him, might be the closest thing.

Tags: , , , ,

Linnea Ashley on January 30th, 2012

i have to find a way out of my current funk. Unemployment is not sexy but people who urge me to “take advantage of the time” are surfing in shark infested water looking decidedly like baby seals. It isn’t because they aren’t right. It is true that i have waaaaayyyy more time than i will probably ever have until i retire (or marry rich!) but it is equally true that it feels less free. living with family isn’t totally free unless i sit at home and do absolutely nothing but hunch over my computer searching for jobs.

Some would argue that is all i should do…and i did do only that, for a while. After taking a breather from my travel i threw myself into the job search with dedicated purpose and the thought that there was no need to really unpack as i’d only be passing through.

Three months later and my suitcase is constantly vomiting up articles of clothing that i don’t need while simultaneously swallowing those that i do. At some point i’m going to have to let go of the illusion of temporary.

The jobs advertised look less and less appetizing but i feel more and more compelled to apply for them. Only, my fingers are frozen over the keyboard as i consider working at something horrific for the next two years simply because i had too little patience and even less faith. Of course faith can be misplaced or even misunderstood. Maybe i’m sitting here having faith that i’m destined for a job that is both fulfilling to me and beneficial for the world around me but the real faith in question is an economy that, while on the mend, is not quite mended yet. Faith in one doesn’t negate the other.

So i find myself trying to figure out how long-term my plans should be. Is this an overnight bag kind of flux i’m in or am i looking at a rental agreement with the folks?

February around the corner, and faith heavily shaken, i’ve already progressed to my back-up plan. Temping. Only i got rejected from a temp agency just last week. Everyone asks the same thing, “what did they say?” followed by variations of, “wow! I’ve never heard of that before” which is followed by a repeat of “what did they say?”. Sigh.

What they said was:

            Thank you for submitting your resume to Xxxxx. Xxxxx provides opportunities in the clerical and administrative fields and after much consideration by our Staffing Managers; we are not your best resource.

And while it was followed up with a link to an agency they thought more suitable (it isn’t, since I’m public health and not a clinician) it still results in two things…my back-up financial plan for tiding me over is blown to bits and more devastating to my self-esteem…i got rejected by a temp agency.

Trying to hold the meltdown at bay, i know i have to come up with a new plan. I’ve never had to consider a back-up to my back-up but there is a first in everything.

So now is the time i figure out faith. Now is the time i decide if my current discomfort is meant to get me moving right now or to mold me into a new shape in preparation for whatever comes next. I applied for an amazing gig a few weeks ago. I’m pretty sure they are either in the midst of interviewing or have already hired and i’ve heard nothing which means i need to keep looking, hoping that something wonderful catches my attention.

The question i must ask and answer for myself is if i should wait out another such opening-one that gets my fingers flying in a flurry of anticipation and excitement for a potential gig. The other option, adult as it may be, is less gratifying but quite possibly necessary. In a time of rampant unemployment i may just need to suck it up and take what i can get…provided the temp agency isn’t an indication that i can’t get anything.

February is about to unfold. I dip my toe in wondering what it will offer.

Tags: , , ,