I’m still editing parts of this, but my plane is here, so g2g! Peace!
I wouldn’t say I grew up poor, but…. I know what poor looks like, so well it still seems more “normal” to me than a life of wealth and comfort…
I wrote an introduction about what inspired me to post the first part of my life story. It’s longer than I think an intro should be, but it’s an entertaining story with some good advice sprinkled on top, so I’ll post it in the comments below. You’re always welcome to add your comments &/or questions as well. I value everyone’s perspective, even though not everyone values mine (shout-out to G. from SoCal, btw).
Why should anyone value my perspective? Who the eff she think she is??
Today, I wanted to begin to answer the question:
Who Am I?
I am a yoga therapist. I studied clinical psychology and psychotherapy at the undergraduate (Loyola University New Orleans), Doctoral, and Master’s degree-levels. In that order, starting with AP Psychology in the “upper-middle-class” suburbs of Atlanta. My ancestors, the ones of whom I know, were African and American slaves, and some of the whyte men who owned them. If you have the privilege to know where you came from, I highly suggest you learn it.
For many systemic and personal reasons, my family of origin always lived just above the poverty line. I wouldn’t say I grew up poor, but many of my cousins and uncles did. I know what poor looks like, so well it still seems more “normal” to me than a life of wealth and comfort does. What poor does not look like is: going to school in affluent almost-all-whyte suburbs for most of my life. Poor does not look like new school clothes once a year, or all the library books, puzzles, and games that myself and I* could ever want. I even had adequate childcare until around age 9, or whenever I was old enough to be a latch-key kid ~ which, if you’ve seen Get Out, you know is a potentially deadly side-effect of poverty.
Poor also does not look like straight-As in “advanced &or gifted” courses my whole life. It certainly is possible, but far less likely if you face real poverty at home. We can look at the research data together if you want. Growing up in the suburbs, I did feel poor when my friends had things that I wanted and was denied ~ a computer, ballet or karate or piano lessons, comic books, a father ~ but I was always so “well spoken” and “polite” and “a joy to teach” that nobody really treated me like I was “less than” anybody. Until later. Keep reading.
My grandmother and my mother did an excellent job preparing me for life as a brown-skinned, female-bodied person in These United States. From kindergarten, I was informed that I’d need to work twice as hard for half the recognition as my “peers.” I heard often that life would be easier for both my mother and me if I were a boy. Usually it was my mom, herself a life-long tomboy, saying this. She wouldn’t say exactly why this was the case, but I could tell it had something to do with sex, and her own fear that I’d become a single mother for the third generation in a row. I deeply internalized this fear, and I’m still working on it.
We moved from Virginia Beach to Atlanta when my mom left the navy and I was in 5th grade. First, she went without me so she could find a job and a place for us to stay by Christmas. I spent the first half of that school-year (fall 1997) staying with my grandmother in Farmville, Virginia, attending Prince Edward County Middle School. Yes, it was traumatic. Another story for another day.
In Atlanta (College Park, specifically), I went to a majority-Black school for the first time in my life… and made one friend. Not IN school, noooo-ho-ho… they hated me in school. I was very confused about why my classmates ~ who finally looked like me and came from the same background as me ~ were so hostile towards the way I talked, insulting my Blackness whenever I used “big words” or “talked White.” At the time, my mom didn’t know the words “internalized racism,” so she just tried to convince me they were jealous of the opportunities I’d had. At the time, I would’ve much preferred to have friends than the hostile envy of strangers who looked like they could be family.
… And anorexia. I didn’t want anorexia, but I started eating 500 calories or less per day because people also made fun of my fatness. My weight was never seen as a flaw before, but that was easier to “fix” than the way I talk. Not eating was also an easy, inoffensive, unobtrusive form of self-mutilation, which my depression craved. My first eating disorder coincided with my growth-spurt, so it looked like I was just growing into my “woman’s” body. I didn’t really lose weight, but I started to feel better about myself once I could see my collarbones and hip-bones.
For the record: I DO NOT RECOMMEND EATING DISORDERS TO LOSE WEIGHT, AT ANY AGE! Been there, done that, got better. Honestly, my disordered eating habits always had more to do with how I felt than how I looked. Ask me in the comments and I’ll write about how to SLIM DOWN SAFELY, sooner than I plan to. I may also write more about what it’s like to be called “white girl,” and why it was so deeply hurtful to me.
For now, I just want people to know a bit about who I am and where I’m coming from. When my non-POC teacher in College Park told my mother about the M to M program (literally “minority to majority”), which bussed poor black kids to the rich whyte suburbs for school, she knew I’d have an easier, more fruitful educational experience. She was right.
For middle- and high-school, I was back in my comfort zone… as a so-called “model minority student.” The downside was that all of my friends lived on the other side of Metro Atlanta, in the suburbs of Roswell and Alpharetta, respectively. That’s where I learned that “middle class” meant having one parent who makes about $100,000 a year, plus another parent who decorates the house for every calendar holiday; cooks breakfast and dinner for everyone, every day; and has a social life of her own, be it spin class, or a sewing circle, or collecting stuff for poor people for fun. As a child of these people, I learned, it’s important to take everything you have for granted.
Fortunately, I was a child from a different kind of family. I appreciated everything about middle-school and high-school. I started eating again, for one! I learned to speak Spanish and play the oboe (for free), and took both seriously. I briefly joined Tae Kwon Do club and fencing club (until I found out dues and uniforms for fencing club cost over $150). I made beautiful, nurturing, diverse friendships; a few of which are still going strong. I even had a healthy dating/sex life, which for me meant two boyfriends total and no “p+v sex” until after graduation. [Your body, your choice an’all, just make informed decisions at every age, for your sake and your partners!]
Aside from Hurricane Katrina***, college was pretty uneventful. I graduated Magna Cum Laude with a BA in Psychology. I’m also 1 credit shy of a Minor in Music; for which I had to take the piano lessons I’d always wanted, and elected to take ballet for two semesters. I spent hours window-shopping in art galleries whenever I went to the French Quarter on my days off. I gutted houses, took a Katrina tour and a swamp tour and a cemetery tour (all free), got crying-wasted in the Quarter twice, evacuated to Texas twice, marched with Tulane’s drum line one Mardi Gras, and voted for Barack Hussein Obama my first time voting. [Vintage Facebook pics of me pouring Busch down the drain are coming]
I also had three jobs at once, once. Turns out, paying for college isn’t easy when your family doesn’t “do” college funds. Loyola had awarded me a full-tuition scholarship (obviously, lol; I only listed about half of my extracurricular activities earlier ::tosses hair::), but the additional scholarship money for room and board ran out around my junior year. I took a semester off, moved off campus, and worked my A$$ off! What kept me smiling the whole time?
1. How lucky I felt to live in New Orleans.
2. My future clients, and how I would “change the face of psychology.”
3. A sketchbook.
4. The 24-hour swimming pool outside my apartment. And poboys on my days off.
Okay, maybe college was a little eventful. I studied philosophy and Buddhism, world religions and world history, sociology, women’s literature, black women’s literature, Puerto Rican literature (in Spanish), enough French to fake it well, and finally understood biology, physics, and research methods in a way that made sense to me. I traveled more than ever and made new friends; some of whom I still treasure, some were unfriended on Facebook years ago.
Then, Hurricane Grad-School hit me… and here’s a good place for a cliff-hanger.
When people ask me “where are you from?” or “where did you grow up?” I don’t have a short answer. Sometimes I wish I did, but I think that spending several years in several different places is the only way to experience the truth that there are many ways to live, and what’s “normal” depends entirely on where you are. International travel has a similar effect, if you allow it to. I visited Hong Kong and 5 places in Italy as a teenager, that just didn’t seem important while I was writing about high school.
My point is this: I call myself Ashley Jemini for several reasons. Geminis are multi-faceted and so am I. Geminis fully embrace many points of view at once, and so do I. I’m not just a Gemini (with Virgo Ascending and Virgo Moon and eight other planets to talk about) in my star chart, I practice yoga therapy like a Gemini. I’ve spent many years learning to embrace all the varied, sometimes contradictory parts of myself. Doing so has basically cured over 20 years of dysthymia, anxiety, and major depression. I cannot help but suggest that others do the same.
The road to self-acceptance can be long and sh!tty. I sincerely hope that my experience and expertise can help others to the peace joy at the end of their tunnel. Namaste, y’all.
*Look… I’m an only child and a Gemini. If I didn’t talk to and about myself, if I didn’t allow myself to fully express multiple points of view, I’d certainly go insane. If everyone would explore different points of view in their own heads, there might be fewer arguments in the world. I’m just saying!
**My one friend that year was a girl from the apartment complex whose mother had an abusive boyfriend. I’m not sure how we met or why we stopped being friends. Maybe she moved away.
***talk about “another story for another day!” Evacuation stories are the BEST! I have two, myself. Three if you count “Hurricane Grad-school.” Stay Tuned! If you have an evacuation story you’d like to share, please do so in the Comments below. My stories aren’t the only ones worth telling, by far.