You ever see people that look like your dead relatives and then you CAN’T STOP STARING?
I do that a lot. Like this fall, in Dublin, when I creepily tried to take a photograph of a total stranger in a pub without his knowledge by casually waving my phone around in the air—#PROTIP: do not drop mid-operation—because I was convinced he looked like the spitting image of the one photograph I have ever seen of my father.
This is why, when my top DNA match on 23 and Me kept showing up as a 60-something man with an Irish-sounding name, I had to send a message. But it was one of those messages where you’re like, DO NOT SOUND LIKE A NEEDY PAUPER, ASH. The message could not have the whole “standing here on your doorstep” vibe, because (a) social distancing, obviously and (b) I’m not trying to spook the only person I've ever found from that side of the family.
So there I am, acting all super caszh, and I fire off a simple note that sounds very “innocent family tree-ish.” Not needy at all! Just makin’ a tree over here! Which part of Ireland? Got any diseases?
And then the stranger whose name begins with J responded.
“Your father was my first cousin,” he said. “He was a Philadelphia police officer, as was his father—they used to come by on Sunday mornings for coffee. I never knew you existed.”
And then I sat here for a long while, staring.
My best friend has cancer.
I wish I could say she’s gone through the hard part, but there is no easy part, and there never will be. I wonder how scared she is, versus how scared she seems. I wonder how scared I am, versus how scared I seem.
I think back to the day the man who became my father got the news. I was with him in the car. “What does terminal mean?” I asked. “Outlook not so good, kid,” he replied.
I sat there for a long while, staring.
My partner refunded another $1,400 today. Businesses in the Costa Rica tourism industry require tourists, after all. I see the worry on C’s face every time he checks his email. Will there be another punishment awaiting?
I think about my birthday coming in June. I don’t want him to get me anything. I don’t want to be another punishment.
He sat here for a long while today, staring.
I released a book with the biggest publisher in the world. Days later, a worldwide pandemic closed every bookstore in the world. I only got to see my book in the wild once.
I think of how this feels like another loss I have suffered.
My book has sat there for a long while staring, too.
My closest friends have not read my book. The people who have read it—for the most part—are people I have not seen in fifteen years, or people I do not know at all. I have never understood this paradox. And yet, I know it to be painfully true: the people who are closest to you are often the farthest away.
I think of how this feels like having a baby, and no one commenting.
I sit here for a long while staring, thinking about all the baby showers I’ve been to.
When I started blogging, no one commented. They thought me silly, perhaps a bit eccentric. It was an eccentric thing to do, at the time.
But that did not mean it was the wrong thing to do.
I think of how glad I am that I trusted my voice—though I sat there for a long while staring then, too.
Right now I’ve sat here for a long while staring as I write this. I’m staring at the paper, my life, my business, my hobbies, my health, my habits, my routines, my desires, and the fact that, apparently, I’m a writer who sucks at Scrabble. (Yesterday, C put the word “Siberian” on the board and used all his letters and got 50 bonus points and I wanted to shiv him.)
Maybe you’ve been doing a lot of staring, too. Into the abyss. Into the kitchen. Into the fabric of your life. Right now is a time for lingering thoughts; for lullabies; for simplicity and returning to a time of innocence. (Says the girl who just wrote about shivving someone.)
And it’s also a time for seeing things more clearly than ever: when you strip back all of the busyness, what are you left with? Who are you left with? And does any of it actually matter?
Oh, these are hard questions to ask.
But the worthwhile ones always do bring you to tears.
It scared me when a quarantine didn’t noticeably change my life. At a time when everyone else is trying so desperately to figure how how to adapt to this new reality—indoors, quietly, without so much of the hullabaloo—I’ve hardly noticed. Has online business made me a recluse?
And then I think about the good. I think about how my life has been so full, I have never made space for hullabaloo. I don’t value artificial interactions at the coffee shop. I don’t care about gossip at the water cooler. I don’t care about the superficial comings and goings that mark so many people’s days. I’m fiercely focused. I lock my eye on a ball and I MOVE. And given that what I do is build and invest in properties online, it makes sense that my reality would remain largely undisturbed: unless they quarantine us off the internet (god fucking forbid), I’m going to keep coming in hot.
And I gotta say: I hope you will, too. I hope you’ll use this time to keep staring, but also keep moving. Just remember that you don’t have to keep moving in the same direction. Now, more than ever, is the time to pivot if you’ve secretly been coveting a change.
Start the friggin’ website.
Buy the friggin’ URL.
Hop on Squarespace—it’s fun to use.
Turn an idea into a reality.
And recognize that you can have a whole new life in two hours flat if you really want it. A business you didn’t have before. A project. An idea. Something that you can build. And something that will give back to you, after you’ve put time in.
I think of how this is often called “enterpreneurship,” but what it really is is ownership. Ownership over what happens next. The way you use your time, your talents, your skills, your desires, and even the hard—right now, more than ever. Use the heavy as motivation. Use the shit sandwich as a reason to do something beautifully drastic.
You do have ownership—I want you to know.
Things may be heavy, but heavy builds muscle.
A virus can keep you inside, but it can’t keep your ideas there.