Category Archives: Learn it

Threads and Moles

Honey and Cinnamon Latte from Camino Bakery in Downtown Winston…Still thinking about this one.


I have a lot of things running through my mind on a daily basis, as I’m sure you all do. But every once in a while, just like in a great work of literature, I start to see a common thread. A theme if you will, running through each area, popping in and out like those little moles in the arcade game. They tuck their little heads out just long enough to tease you and then just when you are about to whack them, they are gone again and generally laughing manically in the process. If you’re lucky (or maybe if you just have good reflexes), however, you get one and the ‘doiiiiing’ that echos throughout the arcade is quite satisfying.

That’s how I feel when I see one of these themes—Doiiiiing. Gotcha. Quite satisfying.

It started with Macbeth. I teach it every year, but timing, as they say, is everything. So despite the fact that I talk about these things with a new group of students every few months, I always learn something new from my kids (I guess that’s part of why I like teaching) and so the material is always fresh. This week we did our Brown Bag Exam. I love this test for two reasons. 1) I love the look on my students’ faces when they realize that I’m not joking and this actually their test on the novel. And 2) I love what it teaches the students, deeper levels of critical thinking and synthesis of motif, theme, character, plot, and all elements of narrative. Watching them pull it all together is, well, brilliant. So, despite the fact that one class had to play “Simon Says” at the end because following directions was a little too much for some of them (that’s a story for another time), the test ended and I began grading them. Many of the students were focused on Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s inability to ‘cleanse’ or ‘purify’ themselves of their crimes because they had been ‘soiled’ by evil and covered in blood. I love some of the comments they made. One student, who had soap in her bag said she immediately thought of the old saying “cleanliness is next to godliness”, which Macbeth and Lady Macbeth could never achieve because of their trafficking with evil. No matter how hard they ‘scrubbed’ as Macbeth said “all of Neptune’s Oceans” would not rinse the blood from his hands.

Which brings me to thread number two. In our Bible study this week we were talking about Anna and Elizabeth, as we read through Dynamic Women of the Bible by Ruth A. Tucker. This was a fascinating discussion, from some pretty dynamic women in our church. The thread continued with our discussion of Elizabeth, who becomes the mother of John the Baptist. Since our previous discussion of Sarah the month before was still pretty fresh in our minds, this connected pretty well as both women were well advanced in years when they became pregnant with their children. But where this took a turn is when we began a discussion of the purification process for women after childbirth in Jewish culture. Following the birth of a female child, a woman must undergo an 80 day purification process whereas following the birth of a male child a woman must undergo a 40 day purification process. All feminist arguments about why such a discrepancy must exist aside, we began to discuss when the process would begin given that Elizabeth was present at John’s circumcision (which occurs 8 days after the birth). If she is still being ‘purified’ how is it possible that she can be present? Well, of course, I did some research and I found out, that the “impure” period means that she can simply not be with her husband sexually for the period of 40 days after having a male child and until she goes through the Mikveh process (a period of ritual cleansing in which she bathes in a collective water—doesn’t have to be living water). This then makes her “clean”. The eight day waiting period is also because of a purity and cleansing period, which is why circumcision is done on the eighth day I believe, and is when she is able to enter the temple after undergoing a cleansing process as well (there are many cleansing processes for men too, by the way, just in case you are wondering about all this!). Elizabeth, unlike the Macbeths, brought life into the world—she didn’t take it away, yet she still had to be cleansed. I ruminated on this for days trying to figure out why my brain couldn’t let go of the thread.

And then I remembered Esther.

I’m doing a Bible study with some friends on Esther and we were talking about Chapter two this week, and my thread just got LONGER. Especially verses 8-9: “When the king’s order and edict had been proclaimed, many girls were brought into the citadel of Susa and put under the care of Hegai. Esther also was taken to the king’s palace and entrusted to Hegai, who had charge of the harem. The girl pleased him and won his favor. Immediately he provided her with her beauty treatments and special food. He assigned to her seven maids selected from the king’s palace and moved her and her maids into the best place in the harem.”

Okay, I know what you are thinking: “Ashley, that’s not a mole, that’s a skunk. Let it go.” I know, this doesn’t look like it connects to the Macbeths or to Elizabeth at all, but bear with me. There is a thread.

In the harem, Hegai provided her with beauty treatments. Let’s skip down a few verses to 12: “Before a girl’s turn came to go in to King Xerxes, she had to complete twelve months of beauty treatments prescribed for the women, six months with oil of myrrh and six with perfumes and cosmetics.” Now do you seem my thread? I’m pretty sure that sounds like cleansing to me. And she was already beautiful to begin with, so what in the world was she being cleansed from? Maybe for Esther it wasn’t about being cleansed from anything, but being prepared for something greater. And boy did she get prepared for something…unbelievable (bless her heart).

So what in the world is happening here? Why is my life suddenly filled with stories and ideas and conversations about purity and cleansing?

Honestly, I have no idea. But, I do think it invites me to take a look at my own life and ask myself some hard questions about my motivations and self-interests. Sometimes the threads in our lives take on a theme for a reason, to point out something that need to be cleansed, to point out that we are not perfect, to point out that perhaps those slippery moles can be caught and examined.

And sometimes, it just gives us one more thing to write about.

Whatever the case may be, I don’t ignore them. Because if you ignore the threads, you’re likely to get caught on a nail and unravel. And if you ignore a mole…well, they’re worse than rabbits about multiplying and if you have them in your yard for too long—well, say goodbye to your infrastructure. Whack those moles, and whack them good. It really is quite satisfying.


It’s Tough Being a Woman…

This is the title of one of my favorite Bible studies by Beth Moore (Living Proof Ministries). If you have the opportunity to participate in this study at any time, I highly recommend it. This week I started studying Esther, the book of the Bible the study focuses on, and I realized how much Biblical hope the book gives us—even though, ironically, God is not mentioned in the book—ever.

So why is it tough being a woman?

If we were honest, we’d probably say it’s tough being a human, but I know more about being a woman, so I’m going to focus on that.

  • It’s tough being a woman when you feel like the whole world rests on your shoulders alone.

The struggle of modern womanhood is feeling as though you have to do it all—24/7. The feminist movement had a lot of positive outcomes, but one of the negative effects was this belief that to show weakness and dependence on a man—or even other women—is a bad thing.

But to be weak is human.

We all have weakness. Men do, and so do women. Neither is “better” or “worse” kind of weakness—it is dependent on the individual—but the fact of the matter is we are all weak. And we might as well start admitting it to ourselves, because as much as we want to believe that we are all Wonder Women, eventually those gold bracelets and white boots get tarnished and dirty. Some of us do a great job of proving that we are…for a while. And then we get tangled in our own lasso of truth. We can’t DO IT ALL. Humans are dependent on one another and we might as well admit it.

Now, I’m the pot, and I’m calling the kettle black right now. I know this to be true because this week alone I was trying to be about 6 people: I was a teacher teaching and grading research papers (4-5 a night baby), I was a “synchronized swimming participant” (we had practice this week for the talent show next week!), I was a program volunteer for Winston Salem Writers (organized and executed a program; 20 attendees, thank you very much), I was a Sunday School teacher (Found a great new lesson book, but I have to modify it, because it’s just not 100% right for my kids), I was a granddaughter/daughter/niece (had a family dinner before my grandfather’s surgery), I was a devoted granddaughter (visited my grandfather in the hospital), I was a Key Club Sponsor and UNICEF fundraiser ($930 dollars raised so far toward our $2000 goal), and I was a writer (not a very good one; I only wrote about 1000 words this week blech).

Okay, 7 people. And now I’m tired. Because it’s tough being a woman.

  • It’s tough being a woman when your destiny seems out of your hands.

As I was reading Esther 1 this week, I looked specifically at Xerxes and his party hardy attitude. SO he holds this party that lasts for 180 days (that’s a school year btw) which is totally insane and he invites not only the nobles, but all the military leaders, and I think anyone involved in the military would agree with me that there are some really fine military officers out there, but there are also some notoriously crude military officers out there. Not to mention the spoiled brats that would have been the princes and leaders. So when I put it into this context and the fact that “as much wine as he wished” is mentioned 3x I wonder if Vashti’s refusal is  more than just being tired of her trophy status–I wonder if she isn’t terrified. Do I really believe that all the men would be polite in this kind of setting–especially the King? After all, this is the man who takes all the beautiful virgins of the kingdom into his harem later.

But that’s not really what they’re worried about. They’re upset that she refused, but they’re more upset that other wives—their wives may follow her example and refuse them as well. OMG! What if MY wife refuses MY demands?! They think. And I see that this isn’t a story just about power, it’s a story of finding our own feminine power (not in a let’s stop shaving our legs way–but in the sense that we have a purpose in God’s kingdom as well). Because what they are really afraid of is a feminine rebellion and that is typical for the ruler Xerxes who was having a hard enough time keeping control of his military holdings, the last thing he needed was domestic uprising. That would just add to his fear, thus, I suppose his irrational decisions.

Vashti and the other women are dependent on the men and their decisions and when they make their own decisions, the men start acting like spoiled children. And that, my friends, is tough.

And sometimes I’ve felt that other people are in control of my destiny. Obviously I have a lot more freedom than Vashti and the other women of Susa, but I’m still dependent on a lot of things in my society. I teach in a public school and I have to depend on the elected officials in the NC House and Senate who are fairly clueless as to what it is like in the school system to make decisions that affect my entire fate—and I’m not just talking about pay. They also determine class sizes and resources and curriculum. And that is tough. I get emotional, upset and angry and yes I can vote against the people who are doing things I don’t like, but then usually they are for something else I don’t like and so I’m caught it this perpetual state of inner conflict about what the right choice is for the greater good. And that is tough too.

At any rate, I don’t know why Vashti refused. Maybe she was just being a spoiled brat. Maybe she was scared. Maybe she was tired of being shown off. Regardless, what it shows us is that men and women—humans–need to communicate and they need to do it with clear heads and minds. If they don’t things become muddied very quickly.

  • It’s tough being a woman when society’s expectations are too high for you to live up to.

I’m not really going to expand on this one much, because I think it speaks for itself. Society expects a lot from women and it’s why we have a multi-billion dollar beauty industry. It’s exhausting.

So, my point: It’s tough being a woman—it’s tough being a human, but we just keep trucking and every once in a while we find those beautiful moments that make it all worth it.

Why aren’t you married yet?

If I had a dollar…or a quarter…or a nickel…well, let’s just say I get asked this question a lot by teenagers who have the tact of the Jolly Green Giant in a China shop.

To be fair the conversation usually starts with the pictures of my darling nieces on my walls, who, do in fact look an awful lot like me (genetics are very powerful). It goes something like this:

Me: I know.

Student: Do you have any kids?

Me: No.

Student: Do you want kids?

Me: Maybe someday. Depends on whether all you jokers drive me stark raving mad first or not.

Student: Are you married? [Bingo the million dollar question]

Me: Nope.  [And this is where it goes one of two directions]

Student A: Why aren’t you married yet?              Student B: Don’t you ever want to get married?

Neither of these conversations, of course, have anything to do with English, but you’re kidding yourself if you think my job is just about literature, grammar, and writing. And I’d be bored out of my skull if it was. My job description of course is “English Teacher” but that’s only about a third of what I actually do. My job is really relational, which is exactly why conversations like this will always happen. My students want to know more about me (of course, there is the kid who thinks I live at school…literally…but that’s a story for another day) and why I want to know more about them.

As a result I’m forced to confront my perpetual state of “singledom” (regardless of whether or not I am or am not currently dating someone) or a regular basis. And that is trying.

The door to nowhere at the Winchester Mystery House (Where I would like to send that question :-))

Because the answer is not simple.

Yes, I want to be married, someday, I think. Most days I want to be, I think. And yet…

No, maybe I don’t want to be married—I like my space—I like my independence—I like my life the way it is and change is…ah….ah…

But I do want to be married. I write Christian romances. Of course I am looking for that for myself so…

Yes, I do.

Of course, it’s not just my students who ask this, but they are the ones who ask most often.

The fact of the matter is, I’ve always pictured myself married by now. I’m not, but I’m not unhappy about it the way my 16 year old self thought I would be, so that is perplexing as well.

What I don’t want is to get married because it is what people expect. If I am simply trying to find a life mate because my society believes that I am somehow incomplete without a partner, then I’m not okay with that. I’m an individual person and I have an identity on my own without a partner.

Of course, the opposite is true too. I hate the idea embodying the extreme opinion where women are all about not getting married because marriage strips them of their independence. With the right person, marriage can add to your identity rather than strip it from you.

So, why am I not married?

I shrug or throw it back at them: Why aren’t you? I ask. Because they answer is all the same no matter what age you are (Maybe I’M still too young to be married…don’t call me old, children ;-)).

Do I want to be married?

Sure, under the right circumstances, I think we all do (even those adamantly against marriage would probably cave…haven’t you seen HIMYM?)

I love NOT Knowing…Do you?

I love not knowing.

Tonight at Bible study we talked about Sarah and Hagar and realized we had way more questions than we did answers and by the end we had come to realize that each statement ended with “but we just don’t know.” We can speculate, we can make educated guesses, we can provide evidence as support, but what we can’t do is know. And I love that. I thrive off it. I use it as an invitation to “suck the marrow out of life” (thanks for that tidbit Thoreau).

Because not knowing is a springboard to discovery and learning.

Nerd alert?

Well, maybe, but “I am what I am and that’s all that I am” (Props to Popeye for that one) and I won’t apologize for it. People are so afraid of not knowing things, but I think it’s beautiful and humbling. So why are people afraid of not knowing?

  • Not Knowing is Scary: when you don’t know the outcome to something, it can be terrifying. How did I do on that test? Will I have enough credits to graduate? Will my boyfriend’s parents like me? All of these unknowns can be terrifying, but there is a certain kind of beauty in them as well. Don’t get me wrong, I want to know the answers, which is exactly why I LIKE not knowing, because then I have a PURPOSE, something for which to search, to KNOW to experience.
  • Not Knowing is Intimidating: “What do you mean you don’t know?” Not knowing connotes stupidity, ignorance…but that’s not what it really means. Not knowing isn’t the same as ignorance; not knowing is in a perpetual state of ‘yet’. It’s an invitation to knowledge, not a label of ignorance that we should embrace.
  • Not Knowing is ineffable: We can’t describe the sensations that not knowing gives us—it’s upsetting, it’s frustrating, it’s freeing, but ultimately it’s what makes us human.

So I like not knowing, because it means I still have something left to know. As the Doctor himself says, “I don’t know…But that’s good, the day I know everything I might as well stop.”

And I’m certainly not ready to stop yet. Because who am I—who are we all? Might as well quote the Doctor here too…”The stuff of legend.”

Everything IS Awesome

Kicking things off Thursday with a murder mystery dinner at Winmock where the guest of honor is none other than Kathy Reichs. Too much fun! Especially since I got to enjoy it with my Mom!
Friday pops out a great story in the Zephyr, our school newspaper, about my book. Sometimes being a high school teacher has its perks and I’m so proud of the kids for the article they wrote.
Saturday I volunteered at the BikeMs Tour to Tanglewood. I had a great time helping out for a good cause. I also donated a copy of my book to the silent auction. The best part of the donation–It was bid on!
Mini Reunion with great friends on Sunday night at Foothills. Couldn’t ask for a better end (except if a few others had been able to join us)