Thursday, April 12, 2012

the survival guide.

Thank you Suzi Lahr for inspiring this post.

"Let us not be alone because we are afraid to be who we are, let us be honest and embrace ourselves whole heartedly and fall in love. Lets fall in love with the world. Lets fall in love with ourselves. Then we can love each other the way we were meant to." - Erica Knowles.

There are some things you just need.
And regardless of cost or sacrifice you WILL get those things. They could be completely irrational, like " today I want a to ride a unicorn". But if that is going to get you through the day, strapping a horn to a perfectly normal horse sounds reasonable. Other times it is more simple than that; showering with your favorite shampoo for instance, or getting to your car 5 seconds before the meter maid stuffs a hefty ticket in the windshield. (whew!)

Everyone has a survival guide. The internal book, hundreds of pages thick of the things, places, people, odds and ends that at any point in your life you can whip to make the day a little more bearable. It is hit or miss, however, trial and error; sometimes you have to try a long time to close that book and finally open another, far more interesting and less difficult book to read.

I have met people who have not once had to use this so called survival book. Lucky them, I would say at this stage of my life. I seem to read several pages a day over the course of this past year. And I am not finished. Not for a very long time it would seem.

When you have something as potent as death take hold of every ounce of your life. You start to cling to things. This is the best way to describe the initial stages of survival. Anything that numbs the pain. I imagine this is how addictions are formed if one is not paying close attention. But lets be honest, no one pays attention to themselves when its easier to be sad and angry. The gravitational pull of negative energy will trump happiness every day of the week for as long as you let it. To breed the sadness and anger is easy, its wicked. It's the self-inflicted high stemming from crappy hand the universe has dealt you. And you will kindly give happiness the finger as you walk by.

After an undetermined amount of time, and its different for everyone, you start to consciously decide what is good for you ( this is where irrational unicorn requests come in). And at a snails pace, you will find small things that make days sustainable. You can still be angry, there is no time limitations for any stage of grief, they can linger a life time. But, the important thing is to know in accompaniment with grief, there is also, intermittent laughter. There has to be. And when those brief moments of good energy surface, there should be a humble recognition of such milestones.

I was told on 2 separate occasions that in this such a time, when you lose someone so close to you it is as if a piece of you has died as well, the best thing you can do is to lower the bar. Lower your goals. If showering is all you can muster then you applaud it as if you just climbed Kilimanjaro. Don't actually attempt to climb Kilimanjaro right now, start with the stairs to your front door. The world will not stop, and as many times as you say you wish it would, if it stopped now you would still be in this angry/sad/ survival state of mind. Life is not meant to be cyclical, it is meant to be progressive. One step at a time.

Today, I am writing from a state of mind I haven't known for a while. I felt like writing today. Something I have done for myself, and little for this blog. Maybe this is the next page of my survival guide? Who knows, I am very noncommittal these days, but is a little different.

Included in my survival guide, I would wager that 85% of it is made up people who have made the last year, and more recently with the loss of my sister better than I could have ever tried to navigate this time alone. Both family and friends. And when the storm receded some there was less of a line between the two. The thread that connects your family during something like this only gets pulled tighter, and you receive a magnified version of the love that has always been there to begin with. There are thanks that I will never be able to say because I don't know where to begin. At some point I imagine that one amazingly perfect thing I will be able to say to each person who has helped me or my Mother, Papa, Sydney and Vito. But those words are yet to be invented it would seem. And the same goes for the friends in literally EVERY corner of the world that I could feel wrapping me in some sort of undefinable kind of love. Thank you.

None of us feel "courageous" or strong in this state, although countless people will tell us we are. We feel human. Probably for the first time we understand what that means. When you are forced into a scenario it brings about a reaction that is uncomfortable and you must adapt. You must learn. The last thing it feels is "good". But from an outsiders opinion, someone who has never experienced this before OR someone who has, recognizes that you actually ARE strong and those are the people who you should start clinging too and maybe eventually believe what they say.... someday.

Love and Miss you Erica. Bigger than the Sky.

**Pictures to come....**

Saturday, September 3, 2011

You vs. Heartache.

Charleston, SC
Kronic Coffee.

"I carry you with me into the world, into the smell of rain & the words that dance between people & for me, it will always be this way, walking in the light, remembering being alive together." - Story People.

Heartache is haunting.
It never sleeps. It does not eat. It requires a host, somewhere to nestle itself, take hold and make twisted; dark even. It thrives on the empty. The vacant space where something full and beautiful once lived. It does not have to try hard for its presence to be felt. It slowly works its way around the heart, making it bitter, and jaded about that beautiful, wonderful thing that you once held so close. It is easy to succumb to the heartache. Easy to let it wall up your heart, impenetrable to the life that surrounds it.
Blind we become when we are the haunted.

So how do you banish it, especially once its comfortable? Stubbornness tells it to stay, to lean into it and some day, a long ways from now it will evaporate. And as if awakening from a dream, everything will return as it was. And all will be right again.

Stubbornness knows nothing of heartache. how could it? It spends too much time deflecting every emotion to see that waiting it out, weathering the storm is the last possible way to deal.

No, I think the best way to banish it is to acknowledge it. Bring to the surface the very thing that has become your ball and chain.
Cry about it.
Let it out.
Hug someone.
Throw something if necessary.

And once you have done that...a few dozen times. Do it again. It is better to be exhausted from letting it go then from keeping it in. The ball and chain should not be the reminder of loss. It should not be there at all.

Dad was never jaded, never bitter or cross at what the world dealt him. Life for him was this terribly exciting adventure. It was an occasion. Something to dress for in the morning. So rather than sitting waiting for the stubborn hurricane of a storm to pass over, we drove around in it. We jumped in it. And rather than running from the ocean and the waves, we embraced them...we surfed them. For him. Nearly 80 of us paddling into the sunset, honoring the man who changed lives because of how he lived his. We are proud of him, proud to surf with him in the water, to remember him fondly because of how he loved.

And that was a far more freeing experience than I think any of us could have imagined.

Heartache may always be around, but it does not have to become the only existence. To be stronger than what life has thrown at you is potentially one of the most difficult undertakings known to humanity. To learn to live again, despite his absence is the hardest thing to date, I have ever done. I would rather attempt to live the way he wanted me to then to allow something as potent as loss take hold and never let go. And never recover. There are too many people who won't let that happen anyway. And for them I do not have words for the gratitude. Thank you never seems to cut it.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Rhode Home.

Charleston, South Carolina.
Song of the Day: Bright side of the Road. - Van Morrison.

1,635 miles.
5 detours.
2 unexpected stops.
1 oil change.
12 Adele songs...on repeat.
351 photographs.
4 friends.
4 family.

Geographically speaking, the road home is self-explanatory. Common sense tells me that South is the general direction to get me where I need to go. Then bank left somewhere outside Georgia and casually coast into my Carolina state of mind. Calculate in the traffic in various cities at particular hours of the day and you have the potential for road rage, but that comes with the territory. I have come to flat out worship my navigational app on my cell phone. It is the sole reason I was able to turn down any enticing road in any given state and still find my way with little difficulty, back to the highways. I am still thankful I was taught how to read a map and ask for directions. While driving through the back roads, nearly teetering off the edge of a mountain, reception is shall we say..."if-y". ( sorry Mom.)

However, common sense also tells you something else....despite your valiant efforts to remain unchanged and "the same" as you were; to resist, life has other plans. And there is no telling what the pathways of the heart will do to the journey home. You don't know what is packed inside the suitcase of the heart. The most abrupt and sometimes shocking discovery of your "baggage" so to speak is to spend an incredible amount of time, with yourself. Like...a road trip for example. Hours on top of hours spent doing nothing but driving and having total control of the seat warmers, the radio stations, the kind of candy you buy at the gas stations, and if one random road in some mountain town looks intriguing enough to drive down, you go for it.

The question, by default, asked at the end of the trip is always..." So how was the drive?". In stark contrast to the trip North, where I had made plans for myself and the people around me while thinking taking care of my Father was going to be a far easier job than I let myself believe. There were less pictures on this trip, more meandering. Found myself, in a fog, literally in the mountains in Virginia, drove through a town that had been devastated by a recent tornado, and drove through Johnson City, Tennessee JUST so I could play Old Crow Medicine Show's song Wagon Wheel and blast it through the streets. I visited friends and family for only hours at a time...I was ready to go home.

You cannot imagine what you are walking into if you do not allow yourself to explore all dimensions of possibility. No where in the forefront of my mind did I actually allow myself to believe he was going to die; maybe that was the best defense mechanism I could conjure. That was how I could help everyone else get through this. All the while deflecting the truth I already knew. But, no. This was unfathomable to me as I traced the coastline with my camera lens and nomadic heart heading North. Headed home.

And in the quickest of moments, I was there. Three months past, vacillating between the feeling of being home for 5 years and 5 days. There was no presence of time. It all stood still, the world stopped spinning. There are things, even now I must be reminded of because I somehow blocked them out; stored in a safety deposit box with no key. The ideas and plans I had for myself and my family quickly disintegrated to wishful thoughts. Never a more sobering experience than this one. The inexplicable realization of the truth had never come at the hand of such a cruelty, taken is the man we love so much. And sooner than we anticipated. Then, it was time to drive home....again.

The roads back to Charleston were laced with a palpable uncertainty. There was little I could do to cease the relentless thoughts that I knew what I was going home to. I did not know anymore. The world felt off kilter, slower and a tad gray as I drove out of my home state. I felt lost, even with my trusty tools allowing my safe arrival home. I wondered where my grief would ma

nifest itself. What form would it take? Would I cling to the plaid t-shirt of his that I packed along with me, would I deflect and run into the arms of someone who knew nothing about me? W

ould I squeeze out every ounce of love I held fo

r myself? Where would this grief go?

I think even the subconscious is surprised by the resilience of the heart. Its boundaries are vast and blurred by one's capacity for love. And as much room was left for grief there was double that amount for the love. I took home the hearts of every.singl

e.person who knew him

, thought of him, loved him, and wanted us all to be alright. I carried home my sister, my stepmother, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends; they were with me, they paved the Rhode. It was impossible to leave without them....

And so, the title, The Rhode Home, signifies what I left with. I brought a piece of Rhode Island back with me. The kind of security I needed to know I was not alone.

Since my return, I have found myself cradled by the ocean's tide. I am rocked slowly into a state of mind that makes him real still. Where I hear the faint sounds of John Coltrane dancing with the waves and his voice humming an unknown tune, we walk the beach together, always. This is where I find him, searching for beach glass. I am most at home by the sea. Next to him. And as long as the beach has the sea, he will never leave.

Welcome home.

Thank you Val, Liz, Erik, and Marea for your hours of love and patience with a vagabond friend. And thank you Mom, Papa, Syd, Vito, Justin, Janna, and Kevin for the necessary laughter on a night I needed it most...

And there are not enough words in the dictionary for the love I have for Carla, my amazingly beautiful and wise Stepmother. Who has single-handedly changed my life in 3 months time. I love you so much.

Erica, my unwaveringly strong sister, Never in any stretch of the imagination could I have made it through this without you. You are the truest testament for what it means to be strong and carry the weight of a life unable to be paused as mine was, and still persevere and still be able to find love. You are deserving of everything you have ever asked for and more. I love you bigger than the sky and miss you more than I will ever be able to describe. Thank you for being there for me.

...and yes I took that shirt you were looking for. Sorry. hehe.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Nothing Post.

Charleston, SC
Song of the Day: Knee Deep - Zac Brown Band.

This is the nothing post.

I have no actual topic of interest I want to discuss, no tale of some wild travel adventure that needs to be told (although I do promise to write about the trip back to Charleston soon). Nope. This post could wind down any pathway my brain decides to go...

The most exciting thing that is within a 50 foot radius of me at this very moment is the unopened pack of trail mix, in its vacuumed sealed bag. Its intriguing, the packaging that some companies chose. I will probably spend the next 15 minutes grappling with the little dashed line that says "tear here". I will curse it because it wont actually tear and I will probably get a paper cut. This all because SOME company decided to vacuum seal their peanuts and craisins. Its an unecessary struggle if you ask me, and false hope that the trusty dashed line will help me open and enjoy my little snack.

I should mention it is 3am.


I wanted to at least post something small, to prove I am still a functioning human albeit a slow moving one. But nonetheless I am still here, and I am still writing....just not as much. The inspiration will come....I'm just not entirely sure from where. I think this might be one of those "sit and think about your life on a bigger scale" periods in time. Similar to Picasso's "Blue Period", perhaps? I'm not entirely sure what that time of his life consisted of but, Blue was obviously the dominant color, and whatever it did for him it worked...he's still famous. But why not purple or a green period? I have had too much time to think, yesterday I sat in my new house surrounded by atleast 2o boxes and wondered if Goodwill would actually accept the empty caradboard boxes, they basically take anything right? Hmmm...

Yes, definitely need some inspiration. Actually I need some help FINDING something inspiring is more like it. I can't say I have tried "everything" because that is virtually impossible. But I have tried several different things to try and invoke some type of response that would warrant an " Oh my Gosh!!" and then immediately fall in love with whatever the thing is, and "Poof!": inspiration. This has gone in the complete opposite direction I would like, hence my 3am plea for nothing but inspiration so I don't have to write another "Nothing Post". There should never be a "Nothing Post the Sequel!"

I am going to continue with the nothing post by saying that I have decided the next thing I should cross off my bucket list is to go sky diving. Just because I can. consider this an open invitation to leap out of a plane with me if you so chose. I want to free fall. Feel weightless in the unrelenting world I live in. I want to say HA! Take that world, I'm Freeeee.....freeeee fallin'. Okay so maybe I borrowed that last bit but you get the idea...

Hmmm, or perhaps there is something else on my list I think I should cross off. I am happy to report that #87 has been crossed off...I did manage to slap a very deserving ex-boyfriend in the face for reasons that needn't be explained here. I figured that counted as being able to cross it off the list. It is my list after all, no one is keeping score but me.

Maybe its time to stop writing. I am almost to that point of realization that I may feel totally embarrassed by this nothing post...

One last thing. This entry is in almost direct correlation to my current brain function. It bounces from one topic to either, utterly useless at times depending on the topic that barely causes the synapses to fire. In such a situation as this, it is wonderful to know that I have a countless number of family members to call to sort of bring me " back to earth". I by no means need to be talked off a ledge, although that does sound contradictory when I speak of jumping out of a plane, but that is a seperate situation entirely. My point is, nothing has been more comforting that to hear someones voice on the other end of the phone that knows you well enough to know that life is a little harder than normal right now, because they are feeling the same way too.

This intense gratitude also extends to every friend who has called to talk, let me vent, spend the night at their house, sit on their porch, drink wine, coffee, spent the day at the beach with me and allow me to still have a foot in the door to my life that I have tried very hard to stay in tune with.

Lets see what happens after THIS post hits the internet. I may have a twinge of regret writing in my state of delirium. However in such a state I really am quite confident this is the best post ever.

And now, in the words of Grandma, and the best way to change the subject. " Oh look....a butterfly."

Today's pictures are a random assortment of life's nothingness....doesn't look so bad does it???

Saturday, April 30, 2011

{Kim and Jim.}

Mount Pleasant, SC

The brief photography hiatus is over. Actually you could probably say there never was one. But It had been a few months since I had photographed a wedding. And my process beforehand usually includes a mini meltdown consisting of calling my sister to talk me off the ledge and tell me "yes, you do know how to use a camera".... Once that first stage is over, (it usually doesn't last long), I chide myself for thinking such irrational thoughts, realize how excited I am for the wedding and morph into the "Ashley-photographer mode"; process complete.

I, like many other guests of the wedding, found myself doing a rain dance the morning of April 9th. There was talk of 60mph winds and golf ball sized hail. The only golf balls we wanted to have present at the wedding were the ones at the golf course, and not flying through the air at us. Thankfully we did not have to worry about any adverse weather conditions and the day went on beautifully.

I often have couples who have rules, limits, or some kind of stipulation to go along with the photographing of the wedding. I am informed of their "good side" or where exactly we are to stand to photograph the entire ceremony...etc. Kim and Jim were as easy going as any photographer could ask for. It made for a creative and fun filled evening. There were photos with Civil War soldiers, reading books in Barnes and Noble, reclined in lounge chairs, and it is not every wedding I can say that I danced with the bride.

I love, love. Lets just be honest.
I tear up at every wedding for so many reasons. There are so many details that make every wedding unique, different, wonderful. I would have never thought to have steel drums play at my wedding, Kim and Jim did and it was perfect for them. There was some of the best dancing I had seen in a long time, complete with the wedding guests in full costume for the YMCA. And instead of rice or flowers tossed in the air for their send off....lavender.

You left feeling loved. And you can't say that for every wedding. That is the all time, most wanted feeling when you are surrounded by people who have made your life beautiful. That is the glue that holds every bit of the day together, everything is its own separate entity until it becomes bound by pure, strong love. It was unmistakable; something no one could miss.

Congrats to you both Kim and Jim!! May your laughing wall be full of moments from this day.

And of course, HUGE thanks to Dustin Ryan for your amazing photography skills and comic relief all night long; much appreciated!

Monday, April 25, 2011

{How to raise your Daughters.}

Wakefield, RI.

Little else needs to be said than what is written below, except perhaps that no one ever tells you when your Father is extraordinary and has taught you, practically given you, every tool and bit of knowledge he knows to make you thrive in this world. He never doubted once that my sister and I would become more that what he could have ever possibly dreamt us to be. His imagination was infinite, as is his heart and soul....Thanks Dad.

How to raise your Daughters.

Read. everything.
learn to dribble with both hands.
always put a note in with packed lunches.
do what you love.
take your shoes off at the door.
be barefoot. often.
play red light green light. as many times as you can.
wear Dad's t-shirts to bed. to school. to wherever.
play the Mary Chapin Carpenter tape again.
learn to tell Miles from Coltrane.
Dance in the kitchen.
Dance when you decorate the Christmas tree.
All I want for Christmas is you.
the Christmas Moose!
Know good wine from great wine.
Go to Italy.
Va Bene.
A little road rage is okay.
Don't ever say "y'all".
look for beach glass.
go for ice cream in the wintertime.
walk in the wildlife refuge.
don't forget the binoculars.
try to make it to Phil's before 8am. $.99 breakfast is always good. especially for poor college students.
look for cloud animals.
make room for Scottie.
always say I love you.
put me on your shoulders when you mow the lawn.
"clean this 'shit' up."
call your grandparents.
Sunday at 1.
everyone should have a crazy dance.
dress up as Santa and take a picture with the Pizza Girl.
"patience is a virtue"
figure out the physics of how the phone bounced from the couch, half way across the room. it can be done!
Fuzzy Duck.
Socko and Sockorina.
count the birds in the sky.
"Jump to me".
start the day with coffee.
catch fireflies.
Tupelo Honey.
Brown-eyed Girl.
Play the guitar.
take too many pictures.
always know where the exits are.
"what color is this?"
pepper before parmesan.
the flying pillow.
Wednesday night dinners.
"be a shameless opportunist"
dump ducks.
look for dollar bills in the sand.
wrap birthday presents in the funnies.
hand wash the dishes.
bend the rules.
sneak onto the beach.
find out why the moon is yellow sometimes.
always check the surf.
Rocky the Cat.
learn to drive a stick shift.
point your toes.
stick your landings.
The Polar Bear Princess.
The Day Jake Vacuumed.
The Velveteen Rabbit.
"I Spy."
Calvin and Hobbes.
the wooden spoon.
procrastinate. later.
the special breakfast place.
a limo for your 21st birthday, just to be safe and because you're special.
always have good running shoes.
you are never without me.
watch the sunrise...

and let each day go with the sunset.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Jealous Walls.

Wakefield, Rhode Isand
Pandora station: John Coltrane.

I have been in my Father's house for nearly 4 weeks now and I find myself reminiscing about every transition it has has been through. I recall the hideous pink carpet, a bald light bulb over the bathroom sink, and when the coffee stain on the white rug looked like a dragon. There was also, the countless hours of "Red Light. Green Light" played in the living room, dancing around the kitchen to Jimmy Buffet, and the little blue swing that still hangs from the tree outside.

In the years since my childhood, things have changed. We are no longer the three musketeers every other weekend, but rather a little family of 4. Dad and Carla's wedding marked the biggest change these walls had seen in a long time. The ugly pink carpet was ripped up and hardwood replaced it. The kitchen is now equipped to make any type of food imaginable. (I personally see the need for more chocolate, but I am working on it.). If walls could be astonished these ones would be the first to admit it. Wednesday nights became THE night we all came together for good wine and food. Never a shortage of laughter. The garden blooms with every flower imaginable, it seems like something out of a dream. A cross between Alice in Wonderland and real life. This is a good life we have. I say it every time I am here, I love this life, these people, this house. This all started from something very small, something sacred and loved. We just wanted a place, a home that brought out the best in us and the best in everyone.

These walls are jealous. They have seen every bit of this house from the beginning. They watched my father dance in the kitchen with us as kids, read us bedtime stories, watch the same movie over and over again, fly us up to bed on a pillow, and continue the favorite family tradition of singing while decorating the Christmas tree. This is my favorite world to live in, for a little while nothing else exists while we all sit around the kitchen counter with our wine.

A comforting realization in this little world is, the future does not necessarily have to be known for the outcome to be wonderful. By default, we all know it will be. There has never been anything to suggest otherwise, regardless of the turn of events this house has seen. It was Dad who, purely by example, taught me what it means to have faith. And that faith did not necessarily have to be in a religious sense. Faith that there would be surf in the morning was a good start. So with the help of the ocean and Dad's uncanny wisdom, we have come to learn to have faith most importantly in ourselves, because he believed it first.

If I have learned anything from sitting in this kitchen it is how loved I am. And how loved we ALL are by one another. And from that alone, I have learned to live and spread love better than I could have ever tried to do alone.

And so, as the house watches us all move about in a state that we would much rather ignore or be rid of all together, we will do as we were told; to always say " I love you", embrace one another, take care of each other, allow for space but not so much that we get lost, and that it will be will be alright.