If you know me in any capacity, then you know. I wear my heart on my sleeve.
I talk openly about personal struggles. I don’t shy away from it. I lean into it.
It’s how I cope, how I find strength, how I process and how I navigate through this life of mine. It’s what I do.
And although it can be uncomfortable and - sometimes - awkward and maybe even at times inappropriate, it’s 100% the most authentic way for me to be.
Fully * Whole –y * Unapologetically * Me
And sometimes… it resonates with other people. They tell me it gives them the space and permission and courage to lean into their own truths, their own pain, their own struggles.
And for me… that’s all I could ever hope for.
To be me and to be a beacon that beckons for you to join me… in the place of being you. Fully * Whole –y * Unapologetically * You
You are Enough
Getting Personal: The way it ended.
Matt (my husband) and I were feeling like everything was falling into place. We started daydreaming about what the baby would be like, what we would need to change about our current life to accommodate the little one. We started discussing our parenting “rules” and what we would do if…
We had so much behind us and we had so much hope that THIS was our time, FINALLY.
We had decided (finally) to pursue a gestational surrogate; we connected with someone who was ideal. Things were falling into place. It was exciting and almost too easy. For the first time in a few years, I felt ONLY joy and hope. I had so much energy. Was this how it was always supposed to feel? I knew that other people who ventured down this path didn’t always have the same successes we were having out of the gate. “This must mean it will work!!!! How could it not work? There is no reason to think it won’t work! This is the best chance we’ve got, best we’ve ever had.” We tackled the research, the to-do list. We talked and had meetings and secured doctors and had evaluations and set dates. It was flying by… easy peasy.
I told our lawyer (yes lawyers have to be involved in these things) that it was so strange to feel only excitement and energy and “good”. That I wasn’t used to things working so smoothly. She encouraged me to savor that feeling, because it would get difficult. “It always does” she said.
This is where the water gets murky. The contract is very important and crucial step in this process. The contract is for our (Intended Parents) protection, the baby’s protection, the gestational surrogate’s protection and her family’s protection. Everyone involved is considered and protected. It is a huge undertaking.
We had all of our research and knowledge but until you are in the contract phase… it’s really hard to imagine all the possible scenarios you need to think through, plan for and wrap your head around. Dealing with lawyers is intimidating… the language and the legality is daunting. The whole process got heavy… fast. And expensive… it’s what we knew… what we had anticipated… but it just felt so…. Big and heavy.
I won’t go into details, because those are for us.
But I will share this. I started to mildly panic. And it only took a short amount of mild panic days for my anxiety to become fully charged and ready to explode.
One night, Matt took Ellie on a walk. During their walk, an email popped up on my phone… from our lawyer. It wasn’t a bad email. It didn’t say anything that was unexpected or outrageous… but it triggered something in me. And I had a panic attack. Irrational Emotional Frantic PANIC…. gripped me. The pressure of everything seemed to crash into me.
It felt like this was the bad news. This was the ball dropping. This was the story our infertility journey always took… “and now for the bad/sad/disappointing/heartbreaking/devastating portion”
To me … it felt like it was.
And I typed a response… a nonsensical response to our lawyer. I hit send.
Then I panicked some more… and typed a second response to our lawyer. I hit send again.
The door opened, and a freezing Matt & Ellie (our dog) walked in… He was talking to me.
I couldn’t hear him. I was panicking. I told him over and over “I am panicking”
He didn’t understand. why was I in a panic? Don’t worry… it’s okay.
He read the email that triggered me. He saw nothing wrong with the email. (Bless his level headed soul, I love this man)
He reassured me that it was fine, we could email her a response in the morning. I could now stop panicking.
So I told him (still panicking but a little less intensely) “No I emailed already, twice… omg I was panicked. It doesn’t make sense. Our lawyer will think I am losing my mind. What have I done? Can you email her? Tell her I panicked? Fix it please?”
He was (rightfully) upset with me for having responded twice… without first consulting him. And to be honest I think he was kind of upset with me for panicking. When you live with someone who has anxiety or depression… or both… it affects you too, and sometimes, you get upset, sometimes you just wish they didn’t have these things. I get it. It is valid. It makes sense. But when you are the person with all the feelings going haywire… it hurts. I could sense his frustration and anger… which of course… made me panic even more.
I didn’t sleep much that night.
The next day I cried a lot. I cried at the lawyer’s kindness in her response to my two emails. I cried because I felt like I was unraveling. I cried and I thought. And then I went to my studio. And I started to paint.
I needed to get that panic out. I needed to release it.
That felt right.
Our long road through infertility taught me to recognize the moments I need to stop and take care of myself. The moments when only painting or singing or writing or breathing will do. The moments when my body needs to have a way to get everything I am feeling…out.
I am so grateful for the gift of self-expression, for my art, my voice, my creativity. It is so healing.
Over the course of the next few weeks this became my pattern. I never quite panicked the same way I did that first night. But I felt it. I knew I needed to start examining the “what if” possibilities.
What if we don’t move forward?
I told myself over and over… hold on loosely. Life is not full of guarantees.
What if we do move forward?
What will it take? What will be shed? What things will die so that this new chapter can spring to life?
And as the panic ebbed and flowed, as the emails bounced back and forth, as deadlines came and went, as negotiations unfolded, as I created & moved studios & signed up for big scary new challenges,
as life continued …
I started to recognize three things.
That felt powerful.
And then, in every fiber of my being… I knew we would be done. I wrote in my journal that night. This is the beginning of the end. I see us choosing to be done suffering. To be done clawing at this door of unrealized dreams. I see us. I see the life we have and the life we’ve created and it is enough.
It took a few days to work through our decision. We cautiously gave each other the space to process and feel everything. And then one night it felt like the right moment to call it.
“If we keep going… it could break us”
“Yeah, I like our life now, it’s a good life”
“I’m so ready for this to NOT be the focus of our energy”
“This has been a part of our whole married life, I just want to be us… to enjoy being us”
“It would’ve been nice if it worked a long time ago”
“It was a really hard road wasn’t it”
“It’s okay if we stop"
So that's what we did.
We choose to stop.
A surrender to what is and has been out of our control.
We are Enough.
It's been a week and a half since we made our decision. A few days ago we went public with it, and I wanted to come here... and share a little more. How it all unfolded there at the end. How I took my grief / panic / anxiety and poured it into this work seen above.
I'm not sure what the future holds. But I am ready.
and thank you
Thank you for your words of encouragement, your prayers, your hugs and tears and hope. It has been a very long journey.
my facebook/instagram post:
We’ve always been us. You, Me
I want to write a million words about the journey we have walked together. But words can only capture a small piece. Some things can only be said through art, or tears, or music, or hugs.
I choose to keep fighting for us. To enjoy the moments we have, together.
Last week, Matt and I made the decision to stop our pursuit of having a child/children.
Our road through infertility was long. It was painful on every single level. My heart broke a thousand times.
We fought hard, but it was time to lay down our armor and surrender. I never imagined that after 8.5 years we would choose to be childfree, I never thought that this would be our resolution. But the path led us to moments that brought everything into focus. Moments where I knew ... if we kept clawing at this door, if we continued our efforts of prying open the door to a future we thought we would always have... if we kept at it, it would break us.
And in every fiber of my being I knew, we had arrived at our resolution.
It would have been nice to get pregnant on our own. It would have been nice to have one of the five rounds of IVF result in a baby. It would have been nice if that little heartbeat we heard had stayed around longer than 8 weeks.
It would have been nice.
That’s not the story that unfolded for us.
You don’t know how far this journey will take you... or where the road will lead. You don’t know when you first embark, if it will work or if you will survive.
I know now, that I am enough, our small family is enough, our love is enough.
I’m so ready for life beyond infertility. For the adventures we have ahead.
I’m so thankful for this painful, treacherous road... it taught me this:
Be who you are, love her, love love love, make things, it’s okay to not be okay, it’s okay to take care of yourself, breathe, you matter, you are enough & this wont last forever.
Today Ellie only wanted to be outside.
She waited patiently for our walk and when the walk was rather short she seemed to ask for me to let her into the backyard. I knew it was probably our only chance for her to have some good outdoor time this week, but I also was feeling very productive and energized. My to-do list was getting tackled. It was warm-ish a nice 30*F and not too windy, so I let her out to explore the yard.
I noticed she wasn't running into the small patch of shoveled lawn. She wasn't sniffing the branches. She wasn't rooting around underneath the deck. She just was being still.
For several minutes I watched her sitting on the edge of the deck.
And it moved me.
It was as if my sweet little pup was sending me a reminder. To stop and be.
To go outside when the weather is warm enough and take it in.
Breathe. Listen. Be Still.
So I bundled up and took her to the walking trail.
Together we walked on the snowy path.
Breathing in the fresh crisp air.
Listening to the wind rustle through the branches.
Hearing the winter bird songs.
Our steps muffled and our gait slow.
We took it all in. Stopping to smell or snap a photo.
On our way back my glasses grew misty. It was raining or snowing. Just little tiny specs of water. Ellie's fur had collected mini snowballs and her sweater was damp. My cheeks were rosy, and my body warm.
For a moment we stopped. I took a deep breath in, just as a Blue Heron took flight. He had been resting in a small pool of water nearby. Iced over at the edges the water was still moving, creating the most tranquil sound. A moment to be still within.
For the remainder of the walk my brain was at work, creative sparks and ideas were bubbling to the surface. It was as if our walk on the snowy trail path had pulled these thoughts together and brought them to life.
Work will wait.
The world is calling us to come outside and breathe deep. If only for a few moments.
it will be the thing your work needs.
My friend and fellow artist lent me a book recently, ART/WORK
I am reading it slowly and deliberately.
It is helpful in so many ways.
the other day I began working on something that I really had no idea about. Something that you would learn about in art school, but since I didn't go to art school, I had no base knowledge but reading this book brought it up.
And THAT has me thinking...
The more I have jumped into my art career, the more I have learned.
There are things that would've scared me and stopped me in my tracks if I knew about them all when I started out.
and as I write that,
I find it more true than ever.
Personally, professionally, across the board. LIFE.
so much of life is
jumping in and learning as you go.
There are things we don't even know yet. Things that may stop us in our tracks if we do.
so we don't know.
a list of things I didn't know until I learned...
So we begin
I am beginning this year craving a sense of calm.
I have sat here, trying to force a blog post, which is very annoying. So I am going to stop doing that and write you a something else.
was I even hearing the rain
my mind was cluttered
but that did not stop me
from adding to the pile
filling up the space with extra noise
so much noise
the to do's and should do's and have done and need to do's
my eyes settled on the view
just beyond the window from where I sat
it was raining
it was raining
it was raining
I've always loved the rain (I thought)
I'm going to sit and watch the rain (I thought)
I'm going to enjoy it, because it sounds so peaceful.
so I sat
and I watched
but the noise in my head
was too loud
the to do's and should do's and have done and need to do's
it was raining
it was raining
it was raining
later... when the sun came out
I found myself asking
was I even hearing the rain?
It is so important for me to pause and reflect back on all of the happenings. Let's remember 2018 before it leaves us.
This year I really enjoyed creating so many different pieces. I loved mixing medias and trying new things. Earrings were a hit, embroidery has also been a fun new addition.
All of this and so much more.
I love noticing raindrops. Resting on beds of leaves. Colors so vivid and varying. Autumn glory against pavement grey and grass green. Beauty so subtle and brilliant, so fleeting and slow. The season of goodbye. This is where my soul is most awake... here on a rainy sidewalk, beneath a blue umbrella.
Clad in gear to keep my skin dry. Heart open, eyes wide. Breathing deep.
Process just as lovely as result. The journey and the destination.
I see colors combined in ways I want to dive into.
I see shapes and patterns in the changing leaves, the reflections, the air, the thoughts.
Moments collected to form a life.
Did you stop and look? Did you breathe? Did you see the rain? Are you listening?
I've been thinking of you.
Wondering what would be the best way to return to you.
Is there a wrong way?
blogging is another form of art for me. It cannot be forced. It just needs to flow from the place that all of my work flows. And if I force it... we can all tell.
So does returning have rules? guidelines? promises?
It's hard to say.
but let me tell you a story...
On a breezy October afternoon, sitting in front of her computer she received a phone call.
It's not habit for her to answer calls from unknown numbers but today she did.
A brief moment while phone connections flickered. She almost hung up. Then the line connected.
"Hello? Is this (name)"
She knew immediately that this wasn't a personal call or even a professional call. It was not a doctors office or political candidate.
The voice on the line was making a sales call. Specifically about the website. Hers.
He spoke and she could see where this was going, NO THANK YOU.
Did she know that her sight is TEMPLATE?- he spoke with disgust.
Did she know it doesn't show up in searches. Did she...
She did. She does. And she is happy with her sight. Thank you anyways.
But that doesn't work. The person on the line, has a script to follow, the job they do depends on how well people react to the script. It is their job, and she knows this, and she hates this dynamic. But she really is fine with her website, and she isn't interested.
So She politely stated that this was indeed okay with her. Thank you and good day.
She hung up.
That story was from today. In my real life. And it got me thinking.
Why can't it be okay for this space... my blog and website to be in a state of becoming?
I mean... for me, it is okay. It is more than okay. It is how I want to model my life. Being fully me, actively growing and changing and evolving, a work in progress. It is how I approach my art, my studio, my life....
I don't need to be perfect. Perfect doesn't exist.
I just kept thinking about the conversation, and how maybe my goals don't have to look like everyone else. My pace and timing is for me to set.
All this to say. Hello again. I'm here, I never really left. I just needed to write something that felt authentic and true... when I was ready. And tonight I felt ready.
Thanks for being here.
ashleymanley.com/Photos by Ashley Manley.
I've painted not one, not two but THREE murals and I assisted on another one!
A while back when my friend Jessica of Lit on Fire Used Books was opening her new location I worked with her on creating a very special mural for the shop. www.litonfireusedbooks.com/
Fast forward a year and I was approached by another Jessica. Fellow muralist and amazing artist friend of www.loveheylola.com/ She hired me to assist on a commissioned mural project. We painted her amazing tree designs on a local grade school. It was so much fun.
Then I began work on the Heart Wall Mural for LOVE WALL PEORIA.
As part of the Peoria Public Art team I got to work on various aspects of #lovewall. Working on the Heart Wall and lettering the fundraiser mural messages.
Bethany from BushBaby reached out to me. She was looking to hire ME for a mural in the new location for Bushbaby. They were building all kinds of amazing new features in the new shop, including a Rental/Party room!
Time was limited... could I do it?
YES YES YES!
I am so honored and grateful that Bethany hired me to do this mural. Here are some photos of the whole process. Enjoy!
And be sure to stop by BushBaby as they reopen their adorable store. Info for renting the party room and other info can be found at www.bushbaby.co/
Interested in hiring me for a mural of your own?
Visit my contact page and send me an email. I'm happy to visit your location and give you a quote.
Once upon a time I blogged regularly.
And then the app started crashing on my phone and ipad. I could only blog if I logged into the computer.
It wasn't a huge deal really, just an extra step. And to be honest I much prefer typing on a keyboard. All was well... or at least fine. All was fine and I was mostly keeping to my regular scheduled blogs.
And then one day my husband took the laptop downstairs to work on.
And I forgot about it.
That is the story of how I forgot to blog for two and a half months.
Don't worry... I am ready to tell you all the things I did.
I visited Texas with my hubby. I watched the Peonies come and go. I had the most delicious dessert. I got new glasses & contacts. I took Ellie on plenty of walks. I got a haircut. I went to the Farmer's Market as much as my schedule would allow. I thrifted and found some very cool things. I celebrated Cheeky Remix's birthday. I biked A lot! I visited murals and even got to help paint a few. I did yoga. I painted. I went to art events. I drank so much coffee. I visited St. Louis. I worked on cleaning my home studio a tiny bit. I went to my uncles wedding. I had a pool day with friends. I rearranged the coat closet. I had my mom and sister visit. I had my sister inlaw and mother in law visit. I made new friends. I visited the new cyds. I snuggled Ellie. I stopped to smell the flowers. I worked on abstract embroidery. I got to visit with my friend Mal.
so now you are all caught up.
whew. Let's get back to regular blogs shall we?
Sitting on the sofa, computer in my lap. I look up to a scene of organized chaos.
I have a festival this weekend in which I will sell my art and vintage goods. Today I spent the afternoon creating the inventory list, pricing and organizing all the things I need to take for the art side of things.
To say that our living room is covered in art... well... it isn't a lie. The windows are open with a soft breeze flowing in. My pajamas are the only clothing that made sense. I am in that crazy work mode. When I hit a flow and things just have to happen. (Also it should be noted... this is the product of procrastinating)
Yet. Here I am, blogging. Checking off all the things on my list.
Price Originals (Check)
Repackage Pendants (Check)
Update Financial Spreadsheet (Check)
Organize Art into piles for safe travel (Check)
It is times like these when I forget to eat. So Matt reminded me 12 times about the pasta he had ready for me.
It is times like this when Ellie needs a walk and I can't take her. So Matt took her.
It is times like these that I forget to take a break. So Matt snapped a picture of the blooming daffodil in our yard.
I love using words to connect with my fellow humans.