Like a black hole, but with emotions

In a perfect world, I would have posted more in the last year, because so many wonderful things have happened. I fell in love and started a new career. It felt like my real life started. But it’s not a perfect world. Instead of posting, I was learning about business analysis & writing requirements by day, kissing & laughing with Mike by night.

I’m posting now because it’s the only thing I can think to do. When my heart feels fractured and my contacts salty, my mind gets restless. For the last few months, I’ve sought easier outlets than writing: HBO, new crochet projects, wistful novels, adult coloring books, and binge-drinking. Writing about pain is difficult. Writing about personal pain is exhausting. Writing about family pain is dangerous.

Yet here I am, about to dig in.

The specifics aren’t important, but the basics are probably necessary. The last time I saw my mother was on my birthday, February 29. She left without notice in early March. The last time we spoke was mid-April. She filed for divorce sometime late April. She’s been with a man in Oregon since early June. The last time we exchanged texts was Saturday, while I was recovering from a hangover. The night before I either instigated an argument or cornered her into confessing her sins, depending on your perspective. Either way, I blame alcohol.

Part of me is terrified to write about this – privately or publicly; the other half doesn’t give a damn – it is what it is. These thoughts and feelings have been churning for a long time, and I haven’t been able to do much with them. I talk to Mike. I see a counselor. I try to spend time with my dad and brothers. I take vitamin D and sleep in on the weekends. But when I slow down, I realize I’m buckling under the weight. I just want to be past all of the frustration.

I thought my depression phase of the grieving process was very short. There were only a few days in June where I couldn’t concentrate and slept so hard I woke a zombie. Other than that, I’ve been angry. My counselor assured me that I would likely be going through cycles of grief for the next few years. The idea is daunting. It hadn’t occurred to me that I’ve never had to deal with something so emotionally massive.

This isn’t just something I’m going to have to deal with over the course of the next few months. I’m going to have new questions, frustrations, and concerns as I hit my own milestones.


My emotions, circa spring/summer 2016. Everything is at the event horizon, basically.

I want my rhetorical questions to have answers.

How? When? Why?

BlogHer ’13

So, I’m just kind of throwing things out here right now. Maybe it’s because I’m out of it, or maybe it’s because I’m leaning so far back on my couch that I might as well be lying down, but whatever. I’m in a sort of ridiculous planning mode. By that I mean, that I’m thinking of all these things I want to do and not seriously considering how to get them done.

For instance, I’ve been wanting to organize my room for the last week or so. It made sense that it was a bit unorganized last week, what with working 60 hours and all. But it’s Tuesday and I’m rolling into another week with three pairs of boots in front of my closet, today’s jeans, yesterday’s tights, and half of tonight’s pajamas on the floor. Will I eventually clean them up? Yes. Probably on Friday night, because that’s what my life has become: WORK work WORK work WORK work CLEAN CLEAN drink drink drink RECOVER sleep FIVE HOURS OF GLEE heat up soup for dinner, repeat. It’s pretty amazing.

But here I’m planning the next year or so of my life. Loosely, of course. My quartet starts our Christmas gig this weekend (Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker music played at least 10 times each Saturday night and Sunday afternoon) – that will run until January. Then I’ll have a major implementation (doesn’t that sound important?!) taking over my life as the year ends. After working a ton, I’ll be taking a vacation in March – some place warm with tropical drinks just a pretentious flick of the finger away. The most recent addition to my plan is the BlogHer convention in July. That’s about as far as I’m looking tonight.

I’ve never been to a convention of any kind, but I figure it will be a great way to jumpstart and motivate me.  Also, it would be refreshing to turn the screen-socializing to actual socializing, right? Anyway, right now there is a discounted rate for bloggers that runs until the end of the year. The whole reason I’m writing this is that if you blog, you should go.

So hey – blogging friends: Meet me in Chicago July 25-27 at BlogHer ’13!

[excuse the random photo of wine and perfume. it seemed to capture the essence of my blogging. or something]

Thanks, Merci, Danke, Takk, Dzięki, Gracias

Yesterday, my phone was blowing up with emails from WordPress. I got about 300 emails telling me that I had a new subscriber, comment, or Like on a post.

The most exciting part of it is not seeing the view count go up (though that is pretty awesome), but seeing that people are reading and enjoying what I do. It’s great to connect with my friends and family over my posts, but it’s an entirely different feeling when I can do the same thing with virtual strangers.

It’s funny, because the post that was Freshly Pressed was one I wasn’t sure about posting. I was feeling obligated to post something and I dug out the beginning of an essay I had started a few months ago. I did a little editing and attached my favorite picture of me and my brothers and posted it like any other day.

I just wanted to thank everyone for taking the time to read. I’d like to invite my new subscribers to Like Everything is Blooming on Facebook. There you’ll be able to see new posts and bonus content (by bonus content  I mean Instagrams of my writing areas, embarrassing excerpts from my high school journals, and other things I think my readers my find interesting). If you’d like to be a Superfan, you can follow me on Twitter where I share microblog posts like “The LOUDEST cricket in all of existence has been sitting outside my bedroom for the last two hours. I want to kill a bitch” or “As a grown woman, I’m probably more excited about the new T Swift single than is appropriate”.

Thanks for your support!


After a boring and unnecessarily long day at work, I came home with the intention of getting some good work done. By good work, I mean get through a few chapters of The Marriage Plot. I’ve been reading that book since November. Every time I pick it up, it flies by. It’s the sort of book I want to savor. I’ve restarted the book three times now, just to make sure I remember everything that happened previously.  I did the same thing with The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex. I know it’s redudant, but I’ll say it anyway: I really like Jeffrey Eugenides novels. Anyway, before reading, I wanted to get something written in my journal.

I did what I used to – I flung off my shoes and cardigan and lay stomach-down across my bed with my journal and pen. My bed used to be a creative hotspot. When I was growing up, that was what I did: I just came home and wrote for hours on my bed, taking breaks for dinner and violin practice. It was a sanctuary. When I got to college, that all changed. My bed was used for sleeping and the occasional makeout session. The few times I did write there, it felt like a novelty – a sort of quaint encore performance.

Today, after twenty minutes of writing, I got melancholic and nostalgic for better days. I got all teary eyed and felt incredibly lonely. I was about to curl up into a ball for maximum sobbing potential when I heard a key in the door and Carissa walk in.

“Ashley, did you put this package outside our door?” She called.

I pulled myself up and wiped my face. I met her in the living room. “What?”

“Oh – to Miss Ashley E. Otto!” She said, handing me the package. “Oooh, are you okay? What’s going on?”

“I’m just feeling lonely and sorry for myself,” I said.

I sat on the couch to open it up. There were about four layers of tape and I decided to not use a knife. I was in one of those modes that made everything more difficult. I could be more sullen and exasperated if everything was cumbersome.

It was from Joelle, a girl I had met my freshman year. She was my mentor for a single credit one-on -one writing seminar. She was the first person to give me valuable feedback and ideas for revising my writing. We sort of fell out of touch over the years, but I followed her blog when she traveled to Poland and she followed my life via facebook pictures. Every once in a while we would exchange a few messages, but nothing very intimate.

A few months ago, when Bill and I broke up, she asked if she could send me a care package – one without wine or chocolate even though that was probably all I wanted, it wasn’t what I needed. Of course I accepted. Her life must have gotten busy because she wasn’t able to send it until now. But it was the absolute perfect thing for me to see tonight.

It contained Shel Silverstein’s The Missing Piece Meets the Big O, a small box of truffles (chocolates ftw!), a journal, novelty gum, and flower pin. I read through the Silverstein book and promptly had a very cathartic cry. It was fantastic.

You know. I’ve said before that I don’t believe in a god, but beautiful coincidences like this make me think twice. Sometimes it’s comforting to believe that there’s some big orchestration I don’t understand yet. My logic overcomes my whimsical side. Circumstances on Joelle’s end prevented her from sending it till now (according to her card, the package saw three living rooms before reaching mine). I created my own perfect storm by recovering from last week’s bout of extroversion (I was occupied every night other than Thursday) by working overtime and spending the last five evenings with books and a box of old journals, but it all culminated to a single moment in which I was reminded I was not alone and people still do wonderful things for each other.

[also, these are the cutest truffles ever]

Anticipation vs. Reality

My mother and I bond over a few things: Shopping, milk chocolate, Patrick Dempsey, and the occasional bowl of oatmeal. When I was young, she spent her weekends sewing me dresses. I could find her at the kitchen table, a foot steady on the pedal I was too afraid to touch, with pieces of a dress neatly pinned to the tissue pattern stacked in the order she would need them. A stocky tomato was placed to the left of the machine, and as she would guide the dress under the darting needles, her fingers would deftly pull them out and puncture the wiry flesh of the cushion. I would push them in as far as they would go, so the primary colored pinheads dotted the surface like pimples.

On Sundays, my father would be in the living room yelling at the television screen. I remember his rough “YEAHHHHHHHHH!” as the Packers scored, and my mother spitting, “Aww shit…” when she made a mistake and had to tear up a row of stitches.

Since the things she created were usually for me, I often felt as if I should help her in some way. Sometimes I was able to pick out the pattern. I’d sit on a thick stool  and lean over the slanted steel cabinets that cased the patterns at Walmart while I flipped through the heavy books. I was a dork: I lived in a fantasy world of dolls and historical fiction. I envied my cousin, who had an American Girl doll until I got one of my own. I had the books and would daydream about Samantha’s Victorian upbringing, where even her swimming suit was a superfluously frilly dress. I wanted to wear a wool cape and warm my hands in a white fur muff. I wished the desks at my school were like the swirly wrought iron one in Samantha’s collection. I wanted to wear stockings and buckle shoes . The more frills and buttons the better. And so at those pattern books at Walmart, I would pick the dresses with the pleats and collars. I picked out a long coat with a nautical neckline, so I could dress like the girls I imagined in my books.

I thought that if I wore those clothes, then I would be transported to those times. It wasn’t that I had a life that needed escaping. I don’t remember my parents fighting. I remember my father working during the days and my mother cashiering at the grocery store at night. When my brother and I would fall asleep on the couch, my father would pry us awake, telling us we needed to go get mom.

While I flipped through the books, imagining all the dresses I would have made for me, she would walk the aisles to find fabrics to dresses she had already decided to make for me. Like most mothers, I assume, she had her own idea of how to dress me, and that’s probably for the best. Though I always liked the dresses she made for me, they were never exactly how I had imagined them.

I think I see the dresses much how I view reality today. I have hopes for how things will turn out, but while I daydream about things, I’m aware of the stink that reminds me things will probably not turn exactly how I’m imagining. Reality rarely lives up to daydreams. The dresses were the first lesson of that.

So what’s better? The anticipation of a daydream or the contented reality that plays out? I’m glad to have grown out of my daydreaming tendencies, but however enjoyable my reality may be, sometimes I wish I could just stay in my head, constantly looking forward to the potential of a situation. This sounds a lot like disappointment, which is the exact opposite of what I want to convey. Today, for instance, I woke up to a rainy morning and had the urge to sit on my couch reading Lorrie Moore stories all day. From my bed, it seemed perfect: brew a pot of coffee and spend the day dehydrated and lost in second-person prose. What I ended up doing was having a single cup of coffee and finishing High Fidelity, punctuated by dozing every fifteen minutes or so.

Was it a good morning? YES. Do I still want to read Lorrie Moore? YES. Will I get to that? YES. But the marathon reading session in my bed probably won’t be as picturesque as I’m imagining because my spun-sugar candle isn’t as fragrant as I had hoped, and my coffee will get cold, or I’ll have to go to the bathroom, or I’ll need to heat up dinner, or I’ll get distracted by Netflix.

Maybe I have an answer to this: Anticipation is often better than reality, but it doesn’t help any to complain about it, so maybe the best thing to do is to daydream about simpler times when the thing you most hoped for was to wear a gaudy dress like the one in your doll catalogs.

You should also make it a point to thank your mom for not making those gaudy dresses because those pictures would be humiliating.

OkCupid messages tend to speak for themselves

Since I’m on a kick to meet new people, I decided to make a profile on OkCupid. I don’t think I’m supposed to be telling people that I have an online dating profile, but whatever. I’m in a much better mindset than the last time I tried online dating, so it doesn’t feel so pathetic. OkCupid seems a lot less sketchy than POF. If POF is the back alley where rape happens, OkCupid is the public park where drug deals happen at night so you don’t go there after sunset. I imagine Match and the other paid services to be like trendy reservations-only wine bar.

My experience so far hasn’t been too bad. My profile doesn’t go too in depth, but I mention that I read, write, and never go anywhere without my Kindle. I also have a disclaimer that says “If you don’t spell well or use poor punctuation, we probably won’t get along very well.” I think that has significantly decreased the amount of messages I get from douchebags. However, it’s still split about 50/50 as far as creeps/non-serial killers. I don’t respond to many messages, because quite frankly, I’ve only come across a handful of promising candidates (pre-law student from Milwaukee, small business owner from Green Bay, purchaser for a manufacturing company from Neenah) I like the idea of narrowing the dating pool to men who share similar interests and values. I realize, of course, that a guy can claim anything on his profile. Before I meet any of them, I’ll talk with him for a few weeks to make sure he’s not a serial killer. It doesn’t take long for me to weed out the ones I’m not interested in, especially if under “I’m really good at” they list shotgunning beer. True story.

I’m trying to come up with an appropriate introduction to this, but it’s just not working, so I’ll just jump right into it. The following are the most ridiculous messages I’ve received in the last few days, as well as the responses I would like to send:

63% compatible: You’re kinda hot, are you friendly?

Well, you used the correct “your/you’re”, but no. I’m not friendly. Also, you look like a cast member from Jersey Shore, and I don’t GTL or use bronzer.

42% compatible: What’s up Charlie’s angle

Charlie’s angle? Do you mean Charlie’s Angel? 

0% compatible: Yummi 😉

I just threw up a little.

45% compatible: How does this sound hope on the back of my motorcycle up to door county sit on one of the cliff sides n we right poems or short stories on ur kindle 🙂

You have no idea what a Kindle is, do you?

73% compatible: Hello how are you doing I just have a question do you go for the men with looks or do you go for what they have to offer you and treat you like gold and may I add that you are extremely beautiful

I go for good looking men who treat me well. Can I ask a question? What do you have against punctuation? 

0% compatible: Hi, I like ur profile, wanna chat? Would u step barefoot on a cake?

What. The. Fuck. 

Somehow, I’m terrible at shavasana.

This morning I went to yoga. I woke up feeling optimistic and fresh-headed, mostly because of the sunshine and a good night of sleep. I am still feeling like my body is made of rusted tin, so I figured yoga would either be the perfect or absolute worst way to spend my morning.

It turned out to be a mix of both. I took a few yoga classes when I lived in Milwaukee. The first one was taught by a ballet dancer who was obviously incredibly flexible and did each pose so accurately she could have been the model for a yoga coffee table book. Fortunately, she was also an excellent teacher who made sure to explain each pose very thoroughly, telling us which muscles to engage and which ones should be void of tension. I actually felt like a got a workout in her class. I was usually sore on the days that followed the class, realizing I could engage muscles I had never acknowledged. It was sort of like discovering my body and what it was capable of.

I also felt much more balanced. The I used to think that the whole body-spirit balance was for crazy new-agers who stink of patchouli and incense, surviving on jicamas and green tea, swearing that animal protein is full of evil. But I’ve realized over the last few months that it’s pretty important. I feel so much better when I’m active and taking care of myself. If I spend a few weeks with my butt on the couch, my whole outlook changes. The only thing that seems in the realm of possibility is continuing to watch Netflix and eating bowls of cereal. My outlook turns negative and I say no to everything because none of it seems worth the effort. Then somehow a switch is flipped and I get sick of the lethargy and go for a bike ride or something. That’s when things turn around – I’m more excited about life, days seem brighter and I get upset that there aren’t enough hours in the day to accomplish everything I want.

It comes down to something very simple that I don’t acknowledge as much as I should: physical activity like exercise, excitement, love, and sex raises endorphins. This makes a person feel good. It gives you a feeling of euphoria. Which might explain why Michelle Obama Arms continues to work out despite the fact that she looks amazing.

What I like about yoga is that it feels like an hour of stretching. You’re encouraged to turn inward, focusing on your breath and working at your own pace, coordinating the poses in sun salutations with your inhales and exhales. Today, I remembered the one thing I struggled with the most while I was in classes at Milwaukee: calming my mind in order to be fully engaged in the poses. The ballet dancer used to tell us that the goal of shavasana (the corpse pose at the end of a session, where the body recovers and your mind, body, and spirit are rejuvenated) was to have a completely blank mind. We worked during the class to breath deeply, imagining all the stresses and worries being expelled with each exhale. During shavasana, I was usually aware that my mind was noisy. I was distracted by the buses starting and stopping in front of the building, how if I moved my palm slightly on my mat, it made that soft sticky sound, and that my breath was much more shallow than I realized. There were only a few times when I felt truly at peace and clear-headed during shavasana. And when that happened, it was amazing. Those were the best classes.

I didn’t achieve a clear head during yoga today. I’m assuming it was because it’s been years since I’ve done a downward dog or a sun salutation. I don’t think I turned inward once. I think it was because it was a new situation. I was aware of the smallness of the fitness studio and began to wonder how they held classes in a such a small space. Then I noticed the trees outside and realized it was windier than I remebered. And the cars on the street – they were driving fast, offering a sharp contrast to the stillness of the bodies in the room. And the whispery flute music playing over the speakers was distracting since every other song seemed to be a variation on Pachelbel’s canon. At the end of the class, my body felt much better, but my head was still all over the place.

It was so unsatisfying. I had woken up with such a clear head, but as the morning had worn on, it had gotten cluttered by the day’s plans and things that needed to get done. I felt off balance in such a strange way – much like when your body is exhausted and your mind is racing or vice versa (which is worse in my opinion) – when you’re mentally exhausted but your body is awake.

I really did enjoy it though. I’d like to do this more regularly. Ideally I would like to do it daily, but I doubt that will happen. I’ll shoot for a couple times a week at least, then maybe it will just become a part of my day on it’s own.

Anyway, namaste from my couch to you, wherever you are.