April / Ashley
Name: Ashley Trabue
Lives in: Nashville, TN
Alma mater: Belmont University in Nashville, TN
Studied: English with minors in Elementary Ed and Painting
Takes her coffee: Black
Last book read: The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks
Responsible for: Creating art, reading, crafting poetry, attending a creative business coaching cohort, performing in public poetry readings, preparing for her book publication, and caring for three children
SIB: You were a Montessori elementary school teacher who recently switched to pursuing an art career. What let you know it was time to make the switch?
AT: I was working between 50-60 hours a week running my own classroom. I thought, “Well, I love kids, and I have my summers to create.” But creativity shouldn't be feast or famine. It shouldn't be crazy in the summer and then dry in the school year. It wasn't sustainable or satisfying. Plus, I'm a very empathic person and serving twenty-two kids, twenty-two families - I was giving from a well that I wasn't refilling.
I went through The Artist's Way [by Julia Cameron] and I realized I'm passionate about creativity, about making stuff. So nannying was a stepping stone where I could utilize my background. I could charge a nice price. I work thirty hours a week now and I make as much as I did when I was teaching. That will end in June or July, and my goal is to freelance from there on. I'm in a creative business coaching cohort right now, and I'm getting some ideas and strategy on how to make it. I'm just so excited.
SIB: How does your cohort work?
AT: [The leader, Kristin Sweeting, is] a local photographer based in Paris, France and Nashville, TN. She's had her practice for like a dozen years and she’s very successful. She offers individual coaching and group coaching - that's what I'm doing. I knew I needed to get some sort of accountability besides just my friends - someone that I was actually going to be paying, where I would take it a little more seriously. We just had our first meeting the other day and it was so good. We're going to meet quarterly and we have a syllabus and a Facebook group where we support each other and ask questions. We're all at different stages in our career, but we all shared the same insecurities and struggles. It's like group therapy.
SIB: How did your career transition affect your marriage - and vice versa?
AT: My husband Trey actually started The Artist's Way a little before me, so when I told him [about my career change], he totally got it and was very supportive. On the Enneagram he’s a 2, and 2s are classic helpers. When I was teaching and working crazy hour weeks, a lot of the household burden fell on him. So when we made this shift to me working less hours, it felt really good that I was able to cook dinners half of the time and help out with laundry more than I had been.
SIB: Your husband is creative as well. Do you both work on your art together?
AT: He's my best editor. He always reads my poetry and I always read his short stories. We kind of offer each other feedback.
SIB: In Inception (2010), Ellen Page’s character remarks that sometimes she feels as though she’s discovering an architectural design instead of creating it. Have you ever felt that way about a creative project?
AT: Absolutely. Whenever I go into making something with a fixed idea in my head, I'm fighting against it. If I go into it with an idea, but open, it's like layers and you fall into it. I'm always happier with those. I can look at a piece and tell if I was fighting against it or if I was easing into it. As someone with [clinical] OCD, Zoloft helps me to tune down [negative] voices and gives me the ability to focus on the positive.
SIB: What is some of the positive affirmations you like to tell yourself?
AT: When I was first embracing this creative journey, one of my favorite [quotes] was, “It's my job to make the work, not judge the work.” Another one was, “Leap and the net will appear.” Or, “My creativity leads me to truth.” I just read this book called The Big Leap by [therapist] Gay Hendricks and he says, “I expand in abundance, success and love every day and inspire others to do the same.” His whole thing is, if we can tell ourselves these things, eventually it starts to sink into our subconscious - which is where a lot of our insecurities and self sabotaging behaviors originate from. It's like programming yourself.
SIB: Besides medication, what are other ways that you keep yourself healthy?
AT: I started therapy last fall and that was huge. Meditation. Journaling was huge. Lately my journal has taken a shift because I realized a lot of it was worries or blame, and I felt like I should journal from a place of inspiration instead of a place of fear. So if I'm journaling my worries, [I think], “What are the worries that I can control?” And then writing affirmations, or dreaming, like, “This is what's going to happen in five years. This is what I want to have happen.” And hiking, being in nature. That gets me out of my head in the best possible way. Especially right before and right after it's rained. You know how the light falls differently, whenever it's all evenly dispersed? Oh, it's just magic!
SIB: Morning routines are also key in staying healthy. How does your day start?
AT: I don't look at Instagram. I learned that the hard way. I'm going to stay in my own life when I wake up, I'm not going to jump in someone else's. Recently I started doing a morning yoga practice. I've been trying to sit in uncomfortable yoga postures, and just breathe into them and be okay with being uncomfortable in my body. If my mind wanders, I bring it back to the breath. I'll do that anywhere from five to fifteen minutes. Then I grind some coffee beans and make coffee. I'll either sit with my journal and channel some inspiration or I'll go to the studio and paint. My husband has his own independent routine where he makes coffee and writes. So we're both in our flow.
SIB: Since you and Trey are both introverts, how do you set boundaries with each other when you need alone time?
AT: If I'm painting, he used to come up and give me kisses or be sweet and I had to be like, “Baby, I'm in my flow. When you're playing video games, how annoying is it if I interrupt you?” And he's like, “Oh, yeah.” So just communicating that.
SIB: Tell me about your bunny!
AT: Oh, Billie! I was on Craigslist in 2011 looking for a free couch. And I came across an ad - a lionhead rabbit and another kind of rabbit had babies. I drove like an hour and a half with my brother out to the country and the babies did not have [the lionhead] gene, but they were still so cute.
I took [one of the babies], and I was still in college and really had no business having her. She was in a cage for the first couple of years that I had her. And then I realized that if we spayed her, she could be litter box trained. So for the past four to five years she's been free range and it's amazing. She's like a cat. So when she wants to be pet you can pet her, if she wants to be alone, she's alone. In the morning, she's always right by my yoga mat, waiting for me. A rabbit binky is where they jump and twist a little bit. It's their happy dance and she binkies when I come out in the morning; it fills my bucket for the day.
SIB: What have you learned from working with the children you nanny?
AT: It really helps you to undo the programming that you grew up with, at least for me. I learned how to speak to kids and how to encourage their best self to come out. Just like nonviolent communication, “I” messages, learning about how we all regulate our emotions so I can teach the kids. Inevitably I brought that home to my husband, so we started using that. But the specific family that I'm with now, what I'm learning the most from them, I guess is that babies aren't so scary. *laughs* I'm not ready for kids anytime soon, so it gets that oxytocin release in. It's just the best.
SIB: Have you had any pressure to have kids?
AT: My husband's family is always joking about it. They know that we don't want it anytime soon if we do want them, but they still bring it up. My mom used to, but then she kind of got the message. So she's been respectful. We set that boundary really clear. We're doing our own thing right now.
SIB: What have you learned in your journey towards having an adult relationship with your mother?
AT: Boundaries were huge, and they were really hard because historically I've been so enmeshed and not even realizing it. I had to ventilate a lot of rage and work through some emotions. But once that period had passed, I also had to learn how to communicate with her and cultivate compassion towards her. Her Enneagram personality type is a 1, and [relationships between] 1s and 4s [Ashley is a 4], especially parent-child, can be very toxic because 1s are black and white thinkers. 4s are gray thinkers. Also, 1s regress to a 4. So in her mind, the way I was behaving was [juvenile]. It was being able to realize I don't have to take it personally.
SIB: How have you worked through lingering feelings of guilt and inadequacy?
AT: As a child, a lot of escapism. I would read compulsively and I'd also play in the woods and create. I was a finger crocheter, collager, painter. I was in gifted classes or whatever, so I got a lot of additional support in that way. So I had a lot of outlets, but I didn't ever know about emotional regulation. I just knew how to cope with it. As an adult, EMDR has been huge. Traveling back in time in your mind and being able to “watch” it and consol your younger self. It felt so good, but also radical. It gives me chills thinking about it.
SIB: What do you like to read now?
AT: I like to read fiction, non-fiction, and poetry journals.. My husband probably read four books for every one book I read. He often recommends things for me to read, or we'll listen to audiobooks. Whenever I was coming out of my religious programming, I consumed religious texts. Whatever I'm obsessed with, I feed. Reese Witherspoon posted on her Instagram the other day something like, “Who you will be in five years is determined by the people you surround yourself with and the books that you read today.”
^ from Reese's IG, @reesewitherspoon
SIB: So who will you be in five years?
AT: More myself. Someone who is wildly successful in her business. Someone who travels a lot. And someone who gives back. Somebody who's plugged in and loving and well-rounded.
SIB: There seem to be two extremes in response to women’s sexuality - to let it all hang out or to shun it as evil. How have you found a healthy interpretation of your sexuality?
AT: I think sometimes letting "it all hang out" can be healthy. It can feel like reclaiming your space or a natural response to a repressive system. Owning what's yours for your own sake. Just as being ultra-private about your sexuality can be healthy. It all just depends on the situation, what kind of headspace each of us are functioning from.
In my journey, it's been a matter of working toward acceptance of and confidence in my body. A large part of why I paint and draw in the figurative is because for a long time, I couldn't see the inherent beauty in my own body, but I could see it in the bodies of other women. So capturing their contours, their confidence, allowed me to begin to undo the programming that the female body is suppose to look one certain way. Or that the female body is only sexual. It's important to me to work at chipping away the shame that can pile up around the idea of bodies in our society - I think it’s those toxic beliefs that lead to the imbalance in our behaviors.
SIB: Most successful people dress very simply, or at least with a “uniform.” This frees up the mental energy to make other creative choices. So what do you wear on a daily basis?
AT: I love stretchy pants that are like more like pajamas. Sweaters. This is my favorite sweater. It's by a local person, Elizabeth Suzann. It's called the Billie sweater, which is my rabbit's name. Jumpsuits. I've minimized my wardrobe drastically. I [used to be] the most maximalist maximalist and I married a minimalist.
SIB: How'd that go?
AT: Some butting heads at first, but then the minimalist movement happened. It was so stressful for me to not be able to find stuff, and we have a really small space. So it was like clutter everywhere, and visual clutter to me is a signal of mental clutter. So getting rid of all this stuff that didn't serve me helped to clarify what does serve me. Books and art supplies are probably our hardest things to minimize, but they add the most value to our life so we don't necessarily need to minimize them.
If we don't think we'll reference a book or read it again we find a new home for it. Same with clothes. I love giving clothes to friends that I don't feel so good in anymore. It's not about having it down to a number, it's more of simplifying your life so you can get more joy and energy from the things that matter.
SIB: Speaking of things that matter, you love doing art crawls with your friends!
AT: In the past two years we've really been intentional about building community and the art crawl is just a great excuse to all come together. You see people that, even if you don't hang out on a regular basis, you can catch up. It's a whole mix [of] galleries; very high end to local startups. This one gallery, Julia Martin, normally has all female grunge bands on her front porch.
SIB: After college, twenty-something women still feel the pressure to go out every night and have a ton of experiences. How have you ignored the craziness for your low-key lifestyle?
AT:I was kind of a pendulum. Crazy busy doing stuff all the time in college, and then whenever I was teaching, it was the opposite. I just stayed in all the time. But I need community, so now it's finding that balance of, I want to be around people; I also need my alone time. For instance, we had friends in town this weekend. We're supposed to have a dinner date with one of my best girlfriends on Tuesday. Then I sent her a text and was like, “Can we reschedule it, because I'm going to need some alone time [after this weekend]?” And she was like, "Oh yeah, no big deal!"
SIB: Do you have any tips for how to have a good gathering at your home?
AT: I love games. I mean, I love deep, wonderful conversation. So if that happens, that's great. But sometimes it's nice to have something to do. We've been having Create Nights. My husband went to this book sale - they had all these coffee table books for like $2, so he bought some really cool ones. We've been cutting out pictures and having a bottle of wine over a few hours and making collages. Or we'll bring over a pouring medium and have it on standby in case the whim strikes us. I love being around people who aren't scared of being vulnerable and creating things or being vulnerable and having honest, deep conversation.
SIB: When you cook, what do you like to cook?
AT: We've been doing a lot of quiches and soups. Vegetable soup, or tomato soup and grilled cheeses. Or spanakopita, like a Greek dish. But we do have a tendency to fall into ruts. Every week, it's like the same like four meals. Our go to is orzo with feta and dried tomatoes. And with Trey being about to go back to school, we wanted to kind of have some more stuff automated. So recently, we joined Plated. We love it. And the the goal is to collect the recipes that we really loved, then unsubscribe and just have those.
SIB: Tell me about your book of poetry (Vertebrae) that's coming out!
AT: It's kind of like a purge of my childhood, at least as I internalized it as a child - coming of age poems geared towards women. Finding your voice, finding your boundaries, finding your body and all that kind of stuff. [It’s called] Vertebrae because I had to build a backbone.
SIB: What was the writing/publication process like?
AT: I got my first poems published in the National Review in 2015, and that's when I first realized, “I could do this.” So I kept writing. I didn't mean for the themes to be what they were, it was just a natural evolution of what I was dealing with. Probably like a year and a half ago, I was like, “Enough have been published where I feel like I could get a manuscript together.” And I had been in poetry groups, workshopping stuff and having mentors. So then trying to get a manuscript together and have it edited and send it out and weather through rejection.
I was a very thin skinned person, and rejection felt physically abrasive. But I took it as a challenge of like, “I'm going to do it until it doesn't hurt anymore.” *laugh* And it always does hurt a little. But I was hearing about authors who have been published dozens of times getting rejections and being like, “Yeah, it sucks, but I'm still great.” The business coach I work with is like, “Business is like dating; it's best when you know your worth. And if they want to join you and your worth, that's great. If not, you'll find someone else.”
SIB: What makes you feel happy?
AT: Everything. Little things. Lighting candles in my house. My morning ritual. Colors. There's this tea shop in East Nashville called High Garden and they have a wall of loose leaf teas. I love going there and smelling the different teas. Textures like my feet on carpet. Or being with kids. Practicing being with my feelings and having self compassion and feeling the capacity inside me to feel good grow.
SIB: What does balance mean to you?
AT: It's always changing. It's organic. It's looking at what you value right now in your life, what your priorities of those values are, and, “How am I going to address all these values?” Right now, my values revolve around energy and love - love of my creative practice, of my partner, and of my community, but also love of learning, love of growing. Specifically learning about mindset and business. In a year or two from now, that may be a little different, so just being open, and aware, and striving - striving to live your values.
follow ashley's work at @ashleytrabue