To the Class of 2016: Ten Things I’ve Learned

To all my sweet, young friends who will be graduating tonight. I want you to all know how proud I am of the humans you have become.

As you embark on this thing called adulthood, let me pass on a few things I’ve learned along the way. Maybe one or two of them will help you avoid some unnecessary pain or frustration. There are many other things I have learned, but no one wants to read an infinite list. Ten will do for now.



1.
Don’t believe your own press. As you grow older, things will be said or written about you, both good and bad. You’ll even say things about yourself, both good and bad. We’ve all had to make ourselves look as good as possible for a job interview or an audition. Maybe things will even be printed about you. People will put you on a pedestal, and they will think you can do grand things. Don’t get me wrong; you can absolutely do grand things, but the minute you replace confidence with ego, that’s when your downfall begins. Stay humble. Stay grounded. Know who you are, and know who you’re not.

2. Find your people. Don’t settle for any group of friends that you can’t be yourself around. Be your quirky, weird, fun, absolute true self, and keep being that person until you find a group of people who are similarly quirky, weird, fun and true. Don’t surround yourself with ‘yes’ men and women. People who suck up to you are not your real friends. Don’t allow it. You can’t grow without positive resistance. Conversely, don’t allow yourself to be bullied by anyone. No one has the right to tell you how you should live your life. Or to make you feel small or unwanted. This isn’t high school anymore. You can walk away, and it’s a beautiful thing. Keep walking until you find your people.

3. Never stop learning. If you are pursuing higher education, take it as far as you possibly can, and past that, keep learning. Even if you’re not pursuing higher education, keep questioning, never take anything anyone says at face value, and never accept the answer, ‘that’s the way we’ve always done it.’ That’s they way it was always done before you got here. You bring value to everything you do. Keep reading, watching, listening, learning. You can never have too much knowledge. Also, travel. See things, see them in person. Meet new people, seek out opportunities to grow your mind, and expand your personal world.

4. Find your calling. You may or may not work some really crappy jobs in the next few years. Keep working, because they are the jobs that make you humble. A job is different from a calling. A calling lights a fire under you, brings you joy, challenges you, and makes you look forward to another day. Find your calling, and find a way to get paid for it.

5. Do all things in moderation. This is so important, and so very simple. Don’t drink/smoke/sex/drug/study/stress/sleep/work/play/spend too much. All of these have the power to take over your life. Some of them can ruin your life, and destroy many years, or shorten your life by many years. I’ll let you decide which those are, but they all have that power, if you give it to them. Don’t.

6. Choose a mate you like. Hormones are extremely powerful. You will have feelings for people you didn’t believe were possible. Strong, passionate, lusty feelings. Don’t listen to feelings. Do listen to that inner voice. It’s not enough to love someone, you must like them too. Do you like who they are? Do you like who you are when you are with them? Do they support you? Do they challenge you? If the only thing you have in common is physical attraction, then what will you have when that fades away? Choose someone who doesn’t push you to do things that make you uncomfortable, instead, choose someone who makes you the best possible version of yourself. Choose someone who brings you peace, not turmoil. Choose someone who makes your heart, mind, and soul say, “Ah. There you are.”

7. Be kind. Always. You are busy living your story, but you have no idea what your fellow man (or woman) is going through. Be kind whenever possible, and it’s always possible. If you find yourself becoming jealous of another person, ask yourself if you are willing to put in the amount of work they have for the result they have. If you are, then do it. If you aren’t, then be happy for them, and stop being jealous.

8. Learn to read body language. This will save you years of heartbreak and wonder. Learn to listen to what people say with their bodies, not their mouths. If the two don’t match, it is the body language you should believe. It is the purest form of truth.

9. Keep your sense of humor. Know that Life only gets harder. It will not always be kind, forgiving, or fair. Especially fair. Bad things will happen. Good things will happen. Sometimes, they will happen at the same time. Keep your sense of humor, because if you lose that, you could possibly lose your mind. Someone you love may not love you back. You might not get the job you know you were meant for. Eventually, you will lose people you love to distance, breakup, or death. This is Life. But you are in it for the long haul. Hang on, because it can also be beautiful, and full of wonder. Keep going for those moments. The big ones, and the small, simple ones. They make all the bad times worth the journey.

10. Seek God/Don’t blame God. He is the ultimate teacher, granter of wisdom, favor, and love. Seek Him in everything you do. He extends the hand of friendship to every human being. Those who accept it live an enriched life. Be careful to understand that it is not an easier life, in fact, at times it could be harder. In that vein, do not fall into the trap of blaming Him when Life beats you up. Trust Him. Trust that he will work all things together for your good. Bad things happen because this is Life, and this is a world with good people, bad people, disease, accidents, and tragedy. Know that He weeps with you in the bad, and rejoices with you in the good. Know that He loves you more than our human hearts can understand. That is, until you become a mother or a father. Then, I think possibly you will understand the depth of His love for you.


I don’t have all the answers, but these things have worked for me. In short, welcome, my friends, to all the possibilities of your Life. What an exciting adventure awaits!

 Happy Graduation Day. 🙂

Five Years Ago Today…

Five years ago today, a small gathering of people snuggled down on a plush sofa in my Mother’s living room and watched the fruits of our combined labor of love come to life. We were small in number, but we were mighty in passion. “No Lost Cause” was the film, and it was created on a budget of $7,000 (4K of which was buying the computer to edit the film on).

We watched ourselves and as we did, we laughed, we cried, and we had all the feels. When the film came to an end, we did a brief interview with the cast & crew talking about how we felt about the film and the future.

The future.

Two words, and yet so much possibility.

How could we know that that evening was just the beginning. How could we imagine that our little film, in our little town, and on our little, tiny, minuscule budget, would win awards in film festivals, leading to us meeting our distributor, leading to the film being sold internationally, leading to it being seen in over 37 countries around the world?

Here is part of a blurb I posted on the one year anniversary of that viewing:

“Today, we are nearly finished with our second film, and looking forward to the fall when NLC is released world-wide through our distributor. God has done some truly remarkable things in our lives, and I stand humbled and in awe of His constant provision and love. Thank you, dear friends, for believing in us and supporting us.”

That second film, “The Hepburn Girls,” was created with another small group of people, and it would lead me to meeting the people who would reignite my dormant passion for theatre.

In turn, those people would form a third, small but mighty group with a giant passion and a dream to create a community theatre in a rural county.

This same group would work and work and work, and then “Beauty and the Beast” would happen, and we would have a show less than a year after our theatre’s conception that would pull in over 400 people per performance.

And then we would win multiple awards for that show.

How could I possibly have known all of that sitting on a couch in a living room five years ago.

But it did.

Every bit of it happened because of that first film. Because of that first moment of saying, “Why Not?  Why can’t we do this?”

Tonight, we are screening the second film at the place where my two loves converged.

You should come. Not because you know me, or know the film. I’m no one special. I’m not more gifted or more intelligent than anyone else. I’m not extraordinary. I live with anxiety and fear just about every day of my life.

I just don’t let that fear and anxiety stop me.

You should come because when a group of people come together to support each other and their dreams, things happen. Magic happens. Perhaps seeing our dreams come to life will inspire you to pursue one of yours.

Who knows if this could be the genesis of your “Five years ago today…” story.

What a wonderful possibility!

———————-

“The Hepburn Girls”
Henry County High School Auditorium
New Castle, KY
7:00 pm.
Tickets available at the box office.

No Room in the Inn…

“And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.” Luke 2:7 (KJV)

We have an advantage over Mary and Joseph. We read about their exclusion from the Inn and gloss over it as a just another sentence in the story of the birth of Jesus. But I think about it now, and I feel for them. How in the moment, what a terrifying prospect that had to be for them both.

While I don’t have the experience of childbirth, I think how mortified we would be if our families sweet Katelyn had to be born in a parking garage because the hospital was just too full to take on another patient on the night my cousin Lauren went in to have her.

We know, with the benefit of hindsight, that His birth in a stable was the fulfillment of prophecy, that it had to happen this way, that it was always meant to happen this way. But Mary and Joseph didn’t. If they did, they never would have asked for lodging in the first place. They would have gone straight to the stable, because they would have known this was God’s plan all along.

Bearing that in mind, I think of situations I go through today. How life sometimes seems so unfair,  or ‘first world’ difficult. How much easier would it be if I could just head straight for the stable and skip asking for the lodging because I know this is part of the plan.

But I don’t know. I then realize that because I’m in the middle of living my story, I don’t know how it turns out. How the blessings, difficulties and trials were/are exactly what was/is supposed to happen, because it was/is all part of the plan. I’m not at the end of my life, but I know the One who is.

This Christmas, I’m realizing that I don’t have all the answers, that I’ll never have all the answers, and that’s okay. That this is what God meant when he said, “sufficient for the day is it’s own troubles.” (Matthew 6:34)

If there’s no room in your Inn, fear not. This could all be part of the plan. Your story is far from over. 

For the love of Art

Bad things happen. Hate, greed, violence, and pain have existed since our exit from the Garden of Eden. There is nothing new under the sun, so hate, greed, violence, and pain will go on existing until we all shuffle off this mortal coil.

What can be done about it? What do we do when things seem at their very lowest point? When we can’t imagine something more awful happening than the thing that happened yesterday? Or today? Or even tomorrow? How can we combat all the darkness?

Love. Joy. Peace. Forgiveness.

How can we achieve these feelings? These qualities? One way is through art. That sounds ridiculous. Legislation! New rules! More restrictions! Shouting! That’s what we need to create love, joy, peace, and forgiveness!

Perhaps. I’ll leave that up to those who feel called to that line of change. I wish them well. In the meantime, while they do the work they’ve been called to do, I’ll do mine.  I will combat the darkness by creating art.

What qualifies as art? The actual definition is, “the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance.”

Art is painting. Art is film. Art is dance. Art is theatre. Art is whatever we need it to be that stirs our emotions, stimulates our minds, and soothes our spirits. (Or challenges them).

During the Great Depression, all businesses suffered, but the one business that still brought in crowds was the movies. People wanted to escape their circumstances, and for two hours, Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, and many others were their ticket to another world. A world where there wasn’t any hate, greed, violence, or pain.

Our theatre has a show that opens tomorrow. Come see it. Not because the volunteer actors have spent countless hours rehearsing and refining the material. Not because it’s been a joy to produce. Not because these actors are some of the kindest people ever assembled in one place. Actually, not for any reason related to the actual formation of the show.

Come because for two short, simple hours, it will take you away from the darkness that gathers outside. Inside our four walls, there is sunshine, and there is pure joy. Our actors portray real characters with real problems, so there is conflict, but it is resolved. We know everything will turn out all right for them; and knowing that, we have a bit of hope for ourselves. And we need that right now. We need that every day.

We are fortunate to have many community theatres in our area, and all are producing the best quality art they know how. Support them. Support art in all forms because it’s only when we stop filling the seats, when we give up on any hope of love, joy, peace, and forgiveness that the darkness truly begins to win.

——————–

“Corney County Christmas Talent and Variety Show Fundraiser”

December 4 @ 7:30
December 5 @ 7:30
December 6 @ 3:00 AND 7:00

More information, including directions and tickets at:  www.TheTheatreDownstream.com

 

A Permanent Perfect View


My Aunt Barb, otherwise known as our fearless leader, has left us much sooner than anticipated, and we, her minions (as she liked to call us) are a bit at a loss. She was supposed to be here for many, many more years, and then a bad headache and several doctors appointments in July told us those years would be six months, and then Monday, those remaining months evaporated into the mist of time.


It doesn’t feel fair. I keep saying, “Wait. Hold on. This isn’t real. I’m going to call her and she’s going to talk about the premiere of “Castle” last night and how good it was, or when our next trip is going to be.” But I’m not. I can’t.

We were going to record her reading a bedtime story to her fifteen month old granddaughter (and lookalike) so she’d know the sound of her voice. I had plans to ask her what her favorite memory from our trips were, from her life. To interview her and give her the chance to leave her story behind. But I’m not. I can’t.

BJ KatelynShe loved reading mystery novels, especially Agatha Christie. She was also our family’s greatest mystery and complexity. She had Doris Day hair, but loved Britney Spears music. She adored sparkly accessories, but wore ballet flats, white pants, a button up shirt, long necklace, and a blazer (in the colder months) nearly every day of her life.

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She loved to socialize and talk, but didn’t like meeting new people. She loved walking, but only in the right temperature. Her humor was dry and her tongue razor sharp. She could be incredibly generous, or incredibly stubborn. She drank gallons of water to be healthy, but loved to smoke.


In short, she liked things the way she liked them. Her pastime of choice was shopping with her daughter, Lauren, and their Black Friday sprees were the organized thing legends are made of.

After my Uncle’s passing, I became her travel companion, and we took dozens of trips to the Jersey Shore. Last year, on this very day, actually, we were expanding our horizons and exploring Biloxi, MS. Her favorite amenity was a hotel room with an ocean view so she could sit there in the morning, drink her hot tea, and admire the scenery. Pity the hotel concierge who denied her that luxury. 😉

Her nails were always long and painted, and her favorite descriptive term was “fabulous.”

BJ cokes
She planned everything, and everything had it’s place. She was Poirot, she was Felix Unger, she was Monk (without the crimesolving). And she was a great big dose of Ousier with a splash of the charming Miss Clairee. She had an opinion on just about everything, and you would, and could, be treated to it at any moment.

She loved flowers, and she loved photography, especially photos of her flowers and her family. After our grandmother, she was our historian, the one who documented trips and the one most often behind the camera. She gave me tips on how to make my photos look more interesting, and she even encouraged my strange hobby of ‘stock photography,’ and bragged about it when we went out on trips.

When a tragedy like a death in the family occurred, she took charge. She was the one to arrange buying the flowers, getting the card, telling us where and what we should do.   Now we have to make the decisions, and with no one to take charge, we’re all adrift. We keep turning around, waiting for her to tell us what to do, and she’s not. She can’t.

She used to bemoan that she wasn’t really someone who had accomplished much, or was worth remembering. I wouldn’t want to be the one to disagree with her normally, but I will now. She was wrong.  We loved her. She was ours. All of her, the good and the bad. She was the kind of person that belongs in one of the novels she loved to read, not real life.
Maybe one day, she will be. She’s the kind of character that is a writer’s dream.

So tonight, I’d like to write her exit scene. Tonight, I like to think she’s in heaven, with a spotless mansion perched high above a long, sandy beach, a cup of hot tea steaming in front of her, and a permanent perfect view of the ocean.

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Sometimes, “It’s Complicated” to describe feelings.

It’s been a week and one day and I’m still at a semi-loss for words.

Our play, “It’s Complicated” has been put to bed and we’re already discussing our next venture. I have to admit, there was a lot going against us for this particular play. The weather wrecked havoc with our rehearsal schedule and we had to postpone the show by one week, which put the new performance days right smack in the middle of the opening of March Madness. In Kentucky.

Due to limited availability, we could only use the facility for one weekend, so there wouldn’t be a word of mouth buzz to boost our second weekend of attendance.

The Board also set a goal of increasing membership, and as an incentive to join at a higher level, Rachael and I offered signed copies of our book. But we only signed 10, which we felt was probably aiming high. I left some extras in my car and laughed at myself for doing so.

Finally, the show wasn’t ‘well-known’ material, in that it was original content, the bulk of which was written by me. Early on, one of the cast members asked me how it felt seeing my work performed, and I answered truthfully that it didn’t feel like my work. It was all very surreal.

While I have had plays or sketches performed before, I always have one ear open, waiting for the cast to say, “Oh wait. Nevermind. This isn’t a real play.” The fact that they all just accepted my words and acted like I knew what I was doing was too humbling. I told myself that maybe the cast might have enjoyed it, but that didn’t mean it would bring in people. For one weekend only, during March Madness. In Kentucky.

My expectations were shamefully low. To top it all off, I still get crippling stage fright. I’m absolutely certain that I’m going to forget every single line, and I become hyper aware that I am on stage, in front of a group of people saying words, and oh no wait….what are those words supposed to BE??? HELP HELP HELP.

It takes me halfway through the play to settle down and ease into the role. I took two photos opening night before I left for the theatre. The first, showing what my ‘outside’ looks like. The second, my ‘real’ inside.

Ashley OUtsideAshley inside

But then, performance weekend happened, and every expectation was shattered to bits. I had every intention of signing on closing night and gushing about all my feels. But when I sat down to say things, nothing would come because I couldn’t put into words all the feels that I felt.

Three Local churches donated snacks to keep us energized. I cannot emphasize enough how amazing it is for actors to have food waiting for us at the end of a show (or before, depending on the butterflies in our stomachs!!)  Our deepest thanks to Campbellsburg Baptist, Smithfield Baptist and Campbellsburg United Methodist.

We were thrilled beyond belief when on Friday night we jetted past our previous attendance record with 101 people in the audience. We thought we’d reached the pinnacle, but on Sunday 103 people came and we all nearly fainted with delight, myself more than anyone else.

Our two board members (and cast members) Angela and Kevin had a private goal in mind for new memberships, and not only did they reach that goal, they doubled it, in one day, during one intermission, which lasted about 15 minutes. I’ve never in my life seen two people raise so much money in such a brief period of time. It was astounding. We were all a bit dumbfounded. I went through sixteen books.

Finally, people actually seemed to love the show. They loved the content, they loved the writing, they loved the acting…we were showered with so much love it was overwhelming. Too overwhelming.

So here I sit, one week and one day later, still overwhelmed. Still unable to say thank you enough times. To the cast for wholeheartedly believing in my words, and to the crowds for showing up, signing up and standing up at the end of our shows.

Mid-way through the run, before the second day of breaking 100 people, I looked around at the cast and crew. While audiences were large, and money was coming in, that doesn’t always mean the show is a complete success. I only consider it a full and perfect success if, at the end of the show, the cast and crew are still happy they signed on for this endeavor.

So, I looked around. I saw their happiness, their smiling faces, their joy of performing and being together, and I thought, “We did it. This. This is really what success looks like.”

🙂

bts complicated

Now what??

Now that I’ve had my family birthday lunch, the celebrations are subsiding. Also, my 35 day blogging challenge is over, and while I don’t have to write a blog every day anymore, I wanted to at least finish out the month.  What happens now that the book is complete and released out into the wild?

Obviously, the bulk of the work is done and I can move on to the next project/book without another thought about those 35 intense days where I nearly lost my mind publishing my first book. Right? Right?

No.
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