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We create

We create
Writing to Save Your Life
October 10, 2016 at 6:39 am 10
A few Octobers ago, I wrote to save my life. I'd become angsty, entitled, and was flailing to find my place with four kids age 7 and under. I found out about a blogging challenge Write 31 Days (where you, surprise!, write for 31 days) and I decided to try to find beauty in my mundane. I spent my nights writing and finding pictures and reading and commenting on other blogs. I felt like I was a part of something. I felt like all my pent-up creativity finally had an outlet. I felt like I was alive again. Writing was like that for awhile, something like oxygen to gulp down when you've just realized you've been holding your breath. It was full of play and twirls and spins and twists. It was full of little squeals when a "real live author" would comment on something I said on Twitter. It felt like life itself. Then I realized that artists are people, too -- complete with laundry, to-do lists, and the hard work of creating not just their prose but also all the marketing to go along with it. That authors are just people who do their thing -- just like CEOs and attorneys, stay-at-home moms and those in the service industry. We're all just doing our thing. One foot in front of the other. Some tasks are delightful and others a slog, but isn't that a bit how life is? I think I'd expected the writing life to be the answer to all the angst inside, because it was for awhile. I still write to find my way home. I still write to give my words away. I write because storytelling is the best way I know how to chase beauty and practice sustained attention. I write because it helps me to stay curious about my own life and stop pressing all the easy buttons. But writing -- or creating or making enough money or buying that new dress -- will not actually solve the angst inside. It comes out sideways when we push it into new containers that we expect will fill us up. I'm learning to hold those emotions with open hands. To not push away those negative feelings of resentment when my insides itch. After all, they're little warning flags asking me to pay attention, to show up boldly in my own life. They're flags that tell us something is rotten in Denmark. So it behooves us to pay attention. Yes, I'll keep creating because that is just what I do. It's how I'm wired. But I can't ask it to save me. So even though I know that I'd get some terrific content out of Write 31 Days, that I'd get some more blog readers, and be encouraged, I'm in a season of "no" right now. I'm trying to realize I need to match my output with what I'm actually capable of in my real life. That means right now, lots more time outside, driving my kids to soccer, reading with them, and trying to keep my room clean. It means long walks and good food. It means I work towards longer writing projects in early morning hours that no one will see. It means I can breathe. For I'm finding, without margin there is not much room for the Spirit or my spirit to move. Of course, there on the edge, the wide expanse feels scary. It's hard to know what I'm falling into. But I'm convinced that only there -- when I intentionally make room -- will writing make me come alive again not because it scratched an emotional itch, but because it is what I'm created for. It is my glory song back to the one who hovered over the expanse. Who called all of it good.  
  More: My friend Mary Hill interviewed me for her Write 31 Days theme: 31 Days of Christian Women Bloggers. I'd love for you to read more about the writers who inspire me, and how apparently I'm really reticent to have a "favorite" of anything (song, bible verse, etc.) here. Read on for other women writers to inspire you, too.  
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Faith + Vulnerability, Motherhood + Marriage, We create
Have years of making PB+J meant I’ve lost the woman I was?
August 23, 2016 at 6:00 am 1
Have so many years of making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches made me number to mystery, to beauty? Ashley Hales: Motherhood and Mystery aahales.com I had a few hours completely alone the other day. I felt torn between working out, sleeping, cleaning and writing. I settled on writing -- the others I can take children along for the ride while doing them. It felt blissful, quiet, with a cup of coffee I didn't need to reheat 20 times in the course of the day. I turned on my favorite Spotify writing playlist and let the notes sink in in ways they hadn't done in awhile. Suddenly I wondered if I was still the woman that could be moved by notes struck on the piano. In college I'd had a CD of Beethoven that accompanied me (along with a Starbucks baroque playlist) on my studying sessions. I'd procrastinate from philosophy and English essays by writing poetry, about musical notes and meaning and depth. All those things that as a mother, I find harder to come by. I wonder if that woman is still in me somewhere. I spoke with my husband the other day about this whole mothering business. That it feels impossible some days to even keep the house in any semblance of order. That my days are spent in the space between children, monitoring homework, breaking up sibling fights and bickering sessions, returning the stolen toy from an offended sibling, and sitting in my daughter's tight embrace while she sits on the potty (apparently, I've turned into her lovey). That it all doesn't play to my strengths. Sometimes I wonder if I exist amidst all the chaos. Or if I'm simply the frayed rope holding it (often hopelessly) together. I tend to explode in a pile of mess (my own and theirs). The emotions become too much, too loud, too rich, too chaotic. I dream about coffee, or the glass of wine, or the quiet home when they're all old enough to be in school at the same time and my days aren't spent in an endless loop of drop-off to pick-up, circling in my minivan. I'm the frayed rope and they all have a hand on me. But in those rare moments of quiet, can I get to that part of me whose soul soars with music, with a well-turned phrase, with the quickness of the Spirit of God? Or has she become numb to mystery after too many years of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, diaper changes, and children's extracurricular activities? Some say those things can usher us into the presence of God. I hope beyond all hope that they're right -- that doing the dishes will help me become more contemplative, that cooking and cleaning will increase my gratitude, that wiping bums will help me to take myself less seriously and learn empathy. I hope. I pray. But I doubt, too. Because I'm just a bit tired of taking on the emotions of my familial world and running alongside them like a parent running next to her child on a two-wheeler for the first time. There's elation, fear, and relief as we carry the sorrows, cares, and anger of those we care about. It numbs sensitive souls, but perhaps it's more useful. Less self-referential. How do I crack open those deep, seeing parts of my being when I'm swirling in chaos? How do I soften myself from the hustle so I can hear those notes again? Beauty is a painful muse and I wonder if I want her enough to have all my self cracked open to her touch. Or, if it's just convenient and comfortable to use my circumstantial chaos to push her away. Maybe I -- maybe you -- are scared to really feel and know what goodness and truth looks like. Maybe. When we crack ourselves open, who knows what can happen? Who knows what can get in.  
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Announcements, We create
What I’m Packing & What I’m Leaving Behind
April 12, 2016 at 5:40 am 4
coffee-1225485_1280 I leave in about 24 hours to attend the Festival of Faith & Writing in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Novelist Zadie Smith, George Saunders, Tobias Wolff and poet Luci Shaw are going to be there. These are writers that are not new to the scene. They have lived and breathed a writerly life for decades and I cannot wait to glean from their perspective wisdom. I'm meeting up with my friends from The Mudroom, and SheLoves Magazine. I'll get to hang with the lovely folks at Her.meneutics and my writerly sisters from The Redbud Writers Guild. I'll see online friends I have never met in person and hope to catch two of my college professors there. But this year, I'm going as a writer.  I'm not going to this event as an undergraduate, just to learn and get class credit and write an essay. I'm not going as a critic and editor (though that's another career path I absolutely love). I'm going as a writer with a book proposal that says I have words and readers need them. It takes tremendous courage to own up to who God is calling you to be when you're waiting in free fall. I don't know if agents and editors will want to continue conversations and yet, I trust in a God who is faithful and true. He does not lead us into the wilderness to starve us and shake his finger at us. He does not shame us and punish us. Similar to the same way that I get a kick out of my kids' art, God gets a kick out of mine, I think. I don't criticize my child's drawing as not to scale, I delight in my four-year-old son's mind and the way he describes the shape of a heart ("a circle with a down, and two paths"). I just love it. So I'm trusting that when I step on the plane that I'm bringing the smile of a good, good Father. And how does that compare to a publishing deal? But here are some of the things going in my suitcase: a big purse, business cards, and a whole lot of leopard. What I'm Bringing Ashley Hales I'm also going to pack a ton of snacks, a water bottle and a portable phone charger. I'm paying attention to the small things that bring me delight like gold file folders and leopard print, black and white. It makes me feel myself. It makes me feel strong and when a wave of anxiety washes over me, I need something tactile that grounds me -- that reminds me who I am. I'm leaving behind the posturing, the one-upmanship and the insecurity that can plague the creative lot. I've learned how much insecurity can masquerade as bravado and I've seen how insecurity can leave us stuck in corners when we should speak out. So, I'm wearing my leopard print and my red lipstick. I'll introduce myself and have conversations with writers, agents and editors -- some of which might flop terribly. But I'm also trusting that the outcome does not define my identity. No matter what I have readers like you who say my words matter. That they met you right when, where and how you needed them. I have friends and a tribe of people who tell me that all our stories matter. I'm just telling my story (granted, at a huge conference with influential people), but that's all I'm doing. And I have a Father who smiles at my storytelling. Show up, do the work, be present. That's what I'm bringing to the Festival. // Sign up for my newsletter below and get a sneak peek of the book I'm writing. I'm sending it out before I go, so sign up: * indicates required
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At other places, We create
How alive do you want to be? On the Creative Life
April 5, 2016 at 6:00 am 2
THE BEST VIEW   They say that when you live abroad that it goes in cycles: the first year is the honeymoon year. You swoon at the language, the accent, the magic of it all. It’s like Liz Gilbert in Italy: it is bathed in golden light and you just want to eat the whole thing (and gain 20 pounds in the process). The second year, you turn into a cynic, where “home” has become multifarious and all of sudden, those endearing qualities of your honeymoon turn out to be what gets under your skin. The third year (and perhaps beyond), you’re rooted in both “home” and “away.” There is no “grass is greener.” There is just grass. No better or worse; it’s all of a piece. “Home” is perhaps wherever you are not, or wherever you are, or all places at once, or none. You give up making sense of it all, mentally translating or making pro and con lists. You just get on with the living. So it is with writing. The love affair, the affinity for words and how they taste drips sweet; words make your tongue thick with the wanting, the way colors and phrases swirl together and go down like a rich cabernet. Then there is the green-eyed envy, where you figure that everyone else has said it already, and besides, better than you, and the muse has left. Thankfully there's a final stage. It's when you settle into the the work itself. To state the obvious: writers must write. The words beckon— sometimes electric like a new lover, at other times we slouch toward them sullenly like a jilted boyfriend or perhaps, we're just a bit chummy, like a lover-turned-roommate, sitting comfortably next to you on an overstuffed couch with your matching cups of Earl Grey. The words are always there, waiting.   // I'm writing at The Mudroom all about how the butt-in-chair writing life actually is the saving part. Not the book deal, or the free swag, or everyone thinking your the best (or worst) writer ever. No. You know what matters? It's the writing itself -- because the writing (or whatever kind of creating you do) makes you come alive. That is worth failing for. That is worth dancing and getting all the steps mixed up. For the simple joy of being alive. I hope you'll join me over at The Mudroom and read the whole thing. Please share, too, if you found it encouraging.   
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We create
What Do You Need More Than Routine & Efficiency? It’s This.
March 14, 2016 at 3:52 pm 4
Why I write: Ashley Hales at Circling the Story I could fill this "why I write" manifesto with a lot of pretty phrases. I'm really good at pretty phrases, actually. That's the easy part. The hard part is the scratching under the surface, where your soul feels like its clawing to get out, and finding the words for all the thoughts and feelings. The hard part is crafting a story that is often caught right in the messy middle. You're maybe a lot like me. You begin to get lost in the morning routine, work, working out, and all the family obligations. You thought you were supposed to be a world changer, but now you drive a minivan. Life begins to feel dull and routine and you feel like you're drowning for want of beauty. For me, there are moments when chopping onions can bring me out of myself (maybe, it's just the tears!), but unless I intentionally make time to chase after beauty, it doesn't happen. All the cares of the world choke out those still moments where the world seems blissfully connected. This blog is my little offering that says: You matter. Beauty matters. Your small story can change the world. Don't you want to be motivated by a wild beauty that could actually change how you work, how you mother, how you eat? Here, I chase beauty in sentences. And I believe that stories can change the world. It sounds perhaps a touch idealistic, but wouldn't we die if we did not have stories to anchor us? We'd drown in the mundane. Without beauty, we'd lose our capacity for connection. And without connection, what are we left with? We're left with empty, hollow eyes of dead efficiency. I write about all sorts of things -- from my ordinary life mothering 4 children, to the writing life, to reviews on cultural objects and books, to devotionals. This blog is perhaps more like a potluck feast than a carefully curated five star meal. And I'm okay with that. There will be time for fine dining, with the time and mental clarity for linen napkins and fine wines, but now? Now, I need beauty and story to enliven my every day. I bet you do, too.  This little place is not simply my story, my chasing after beauty. I bet you crave a bit of distance -- the ability to step back and see a bigger picture than all the details affronting your senses each morning. Maybe you're looking for hope in your glorious mundane. That's where story therapy comes in.  Story therapy is my free gift to you. It's a "me, too" for all creatives out there -- whether you write, paint, bust a move at family dance parties, or love dreaming on Pinterest. We're all creative beings. We all need beauty to keep us going. And we all need to see how we fit -- what our story is all about. That's what I want to offer you with outstretched hands. Consider me your story therapist. We'll talk, ask questions, and work together on chasing beauty. What are you waiting for? See what others are saying and sign up here to get started.   IMG_0358  

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// I'm participating in Jeff Goins' 7-Day Blog Like a Pro Challenge. When I start to feel stuck, I find that sometimes starting new projects helps jog my creativity. So along with launching a church this Sunday, mothering 4 littles and working on a book, I'm devoting a few minutes to this challenge. Join in!
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