All My Life

All my life I’ve created lists.

To-do lists.
Grocery lists.
Bucket lists.

I’ve written poems in the form of lists. My first poem was a list of everything I loved about Spring. It had rhyming couplets, and it was terrible. All my life I’ve listed reasons why that poem didn’t deserve the Grand Prize at my elementary school.

All my life I’ve created lists.

I listed all the senses in that prizefighter poem, the distant sound of a neighbor’s lawnmower, the way our tulips bent over backward along the sidewalk, and the contrast of cumulus clouds against mid-April’s Alabamian sky.

All my life I’ve created lists.

I listed the sound of rain berating my bedroom window, the sight of a silver maple’s branches bending under the streetlights just outside that window, and how the smell of lighting created a sadness I could not explain at eight-yrs-old.

All my life I’ve created lists.

All my life I’ve created lists to explain myself away.

All my life I’ve created lists.

Tonight, I listened to the same album that was playing when my mother called to tell me that my father had died. I listened to the same playlist, in order. I listened tonight, because all my life I’ve created lists.

I listened, tonight, because I don’t know what else to do, except to hit play and repeat. I listened because I don’t know how to explain away the repetitions. I listened tonight because history repeats itself, over and over and over again, until it doesn’t.

Sweetest Thing

Photo on 7-9-14 at 8.30 PM #3Earlier today, I sent an email to someone, with the subject line, “I would rather say too much than not enough…” and then I finished the final paragraph with a line just as pithy and vague, “…ultimately, rather than say too much or not enough, I would rather say just enough.”

It was simultaneously the most clever and the most retarded thing I had written in a long time.

But it made me feel alive for the first time in months.

A few years ago, I kept a personal blog on this site. I wrote every day, just like I did when it became abundantly clear that I wanted to be a writer. And now I am a professional “writer,” which means I get paid for my words.

Correction: I get paid to translate someone’s insecure ramblings into coherent sentences that speak to a large audience. I get paid to use all the available brain power I have to write for the man. And I’ve been okay with that, until now.

Something has shifted in me lately that I cannot explain, and today, it became abundantly clear that I can no longer give myself to someone who is not invested in me. So after arriving home this morning loaded on coffee, afterglow and cigarettes, all I wanted to do was write.

I wrote like a fiend for hours.

Then I found this wonderfully pithy article that reminded me that my life is not over. It reminded me that I am alive, as long as I’m writing.

It was the sweetest thing…

You know…

I started this blog in 2010, because of reasons I don’t need to get into. And now, just like getting back into comedy for reasons I cannot explain, I need to reopen this.

Mostly, I’m just looking for a place to practice, where people know me and will not judge. And where I can be honest and intelligent, and whatever else I need to be.

In other words, “More or Less” is back in business, without all that SEO crap, at least until I get distracted with something else that monkeys get distracted by.

Also, my farewell post is cracking me up. At least I am a monkey who can laugh at herself.

Thanks for following, and stay tuned…

Dear Readers

This is the post I’ve been writing (and avoiding) for months. I have finally decided to end this blog. I feel that it has served its purpose, especially now that I have moved on artistically.

If you wish to have access to this blog, please email me at, and I will give you private access.

Otherwise, you can follow me at a new blog address, TBA (the blog anew), which will have hilarious posts like this (yeah, that’s me being funny – and awkward – on stage)…

For now, dear readers, I appreciate your love and support, and I bid you, adieu.


The Monkey



Visibility: Private

Where are you? Your voice is too quiet lately.

-Reader Comment

Lately I’ve been missing from my own life. Even this blog, which I began almost two years ago has missing pieces, posts that I made private to protect the identity of others. As if I’m slowly erasing the memory of me in their stories, instead of the other way around.

When did I start giving a shit what others think? Why has my voice been so quiet after a period of breaking through all those years of silence that I vowed to never return? When did I stop making people laugh?

Two weeks ago, I stood in front of a crowd of strangers at a local comedy club, which was inspired by a conversation I overheard on the bus and Levity’s weekly open mic night. With the exception of a co-worker and his fiance, I knew no one in the audience. And I got laughs. Lots of them. People laughed, and they weren’t being sympathetic.

A week later, I came alone, without knowing if anyone I’d invited would show up. They didn’t. No matter. People laughed even harder. I was standing in front of group of people I did not know, and I was making them laugh, genuine, hearty laughs. As soon as I sat down at my table for one, there were immediate pats on the back and congratulations. A woman sitting in the back grabbed my arm on my way to order food.

“That was exceptional,” she said to me.
“Thank you,” was all I could say.

The people behind the counter treated me with a respect I didn’t get the previous week. Even a few of the regular comics approached me to shake my hand.

Q: Why have I been so discouraged, invisible, and quiet since last Passover?

A: The Life’s Pursuit and the pursuit of love are not one in the same.

Unfortunately, I must leave one behind in search of the other.

Vacant Lot

I had bought into the idea that the problem must be me, that there was some essential flaw — arrogance, low self-esteem, fear of commitment — that needed to be fixed. I needed to be fixed.

Sara Eckel

A few weeks ago, my editor at Wise Bread forwarded me an email with some requests from freelance journalists who where looking for sources.

“Hi Ashley,” Meg wrote to me, “Scroll down below here — a writer for Women’s Day is looking for a grocery-store insider, and since you’re both a frugality writer and former produce worker, I thought you’d be a perfect fit.”

Sara Eckel was well-spoken, focused, and extremely polite over the phone. She was grateful for any information I could provide. We discussed ways to lower the grocery bill for about an hour, but talk of buying fruit in season began to wane, and I became more interested in her “real writing,” that is, the writing she did to sustain her soul rather than her checking account.

“I’m working on a book,” she said, and then almost too humble to admit it she added, “actually, I’ve had several publishers interested in it, but now they are dragging their feet.”
“What’s it about?” I ask, jumping off my perch on the kitchen counter to open the refrigerator and sigh at the empty racks.
“It’s about women who marry after 40,” was her initial response, but she went on to explain that the book was more about how she spent her 30’s thinking that something was “wrong” with her, only to find out that she hadn’t met the right person.

I closed the refrigerator door, slowly, and then I stood upright again, staring into the sunset, like a slow-motion animated theory of evolution…

…That’s me. One big theoretical design. A never-ending poem that refuses to rhyme for rhyme’s sake. A couplet that will oblige for mnemonic purposes ONLY. A ghazal without a purpose. A graduate degree out of control. A handful of literary coins in the toll taker’s palms…

I walked toward the cape-cod-style crank windows facing due West and listened to her tale, and the tears started to fall like little cliches. Salt bombs and a quizzical glance.

Had I bought into the idea that there was this person for me, or that I was not enough without this person? That there was no poetry without the vacant lot?

Even in the goddamn rain?

Stuck in reverse

And even after we stood at Sinai and received that moment of clarity, we still fell back into the habits of busy mind and cluttered heart. And so God says to us, “Make for Me a holy place so that I can dwell inside you. Yes, it is possible to stay connected with me at all times in all places, even as you engage in the life of the world.”

—Rabbi Shefa Gold

On Thursday afternoon, I spent the better part of the workday thinking about stories, not just the Purim story I heard during my first celebration at OZ, but the story I’m telling here, about coming out, and the bigger story—the one we’re all trying to tell. The one about how we are going to fit in to this world, and love, and be loved.

I started writing my Ghost Ranch Story in portions because I thought it would be an easier and more interesting way to tell it. I thought it would feel more natural from a storyteller’s point of view. I began my coming out story because a co-worker recently asked about how I “came out,” a phrase that still makes me smile and cringe at the same time.

“It’s not really a story,” I told her as I raised the noodle-laden chopsticks to my lips, pausing to add, “I mean, unless you consider it a story of waking up one day and finally telling the truth instead of just recognizing it.”

I had never really thought of that summer at Ghost Ranch as a story that I would tell one day. Nor had I considered it a catalyst for coming out as a lesbian. It was something more. Something inexplicable and sacred. Something I had inscribed onto dozens of handwritten poems that would never be published, not because of their lack of clarity or quality, but because of my own understanding that I didn’t need external validation to understand who I really was, even at the age of 23.

Emily Dickinson without the white dress.

But nothing can exist without a creation story. Everything we do as humans is nothing but an epic tale, even as we “engage in the life of the world,” even as we relish in the commonplace or any of the five basic senses. Only when we tell our story can we learn to see it as a gift.

That same Thursday, I logged on to Pandora and put on my headphones to mute another co-worker’s call to a client, just as I had done so many times as a child to drown out the excess noise surrounding me, and I heard these lyrics:

When you love someone but it goes to waste
Too in love to let it go, but if you never try you’ll never know just what you‘re worth
When you lose something you cannot replace…
Stuck in reverse

And I imagined Ryan’s car, stuck in reverse in some desert ditch, and suddenly I was turning the car around, and traveling back over those miles and miles he and I did not cover, but that would surely lead me home again.

Terumah means “gift,” and ultimately the only gift we can give is ourselves, our full and available presence in each and every moment of our lives…Here is the blessing of Terumah: When the heart is willing and there is a commitment to the work, then the Divine Spirit will show us the pattern, the blueprint, the plan, the inspiration that births beauty into the world. And that beauty is designed to send us back to the Source of its inspiration.

My heart is willing, so please, G-d, come talk to me.

The Symphony of Home

-for SW

June 2001

Perhaps, when the world was young,
naive and untouched, I was here
in this semi-arid region
gulping for air & water.
I may have known words then.
Now I have to learn them like a body
of language I’ve just discovered.

Now I must drink them like a symphony of rivers
carving a canyon of divided tongues.


July 2001

Curves of my favorite mountain
are painted with eastern colors
in my mind’s gallery.
I pull this painting out when needed,
when I yearn for the fog that rests
on her smoky and swelling crests.
I visit home when I doubt.
I wander her hills & sit under a sycamore,
dream of tulip poplars and may apples
in the spring. Then I remember how
the mountains directed me
back into that mellifluous fold,
like a conductor waving her arms
over a masterpiece.


Ready to start…

When the flame of awareness is burning steadily within me, it illuminates the act of perception, rather than just the object being perceived.

—Rabbi Shefa Gold

Purim is on Thursday. It’s the next major Jewish holiday, but then, as a friend told me today, they are all major holidays. It’s a monumental day for me because it marks the one-year anniversary of my decision to convert to Judaism. Actually, I don’t know the exact date, but I remember meeting with Rabbi Jan for the first time just a few days before Purim last year.

During one of our first meetings, I told her that converting wasn’t really a decision for me, that I felt “as if I’ve always been Jewish, or like I should’ve been born into a Jewish family.” She smiled with recognition and said, “I would guess that for you, converting is very much like coming out.”

Very much.

June, 2001


The desert has no answers.

In this land of buttes and mesas,
all knowledge
is rock and sand,
juniper and pinon,
prickly pear & deserted highways,
and it’s a child—disguised as a young woman
playing solitaire,
writing poems in a dusk-lit room,
riding a mountain bike past
flowering cholla and sagebrush,
under the sun,
over her fears, and
racing for a sunset
she can fathom.

I wrote that poem the night before I told my boyfriend of almost two years that I loved him but couldn’t be with him. Those exact words were spoken to me just a few months ago, days after my birthday and the last time I made love to the woman who said them to me.

“Karma is real,” another, very wise woman told me just yesterday. Yes, and so is forgiveness in the light of karma. I never meant to hurt Ryan, just as I’m sure the woman who irreparably broke my heart never intended to do so. Then, as I’ve learned through writing for the heating and plumbing industry, sometimes it is better to replace than repair.

Yet I doubt Ryan felt that sentiment when he arrived at Ghost Ranch two weeks after I drove his car through the main gate with my mother in the passenger seat, snapping pictures all the way to the main building...

“What’s your name?”
“Ashley Watson,” I tell the woman at the front desk, who is sunburned and wearing a wide-brimmed hat. Immediately, I wonder how someone so practical could let her face get so burned.
“Oh, you’re one of the new lifeguards!”
“That’s correct,” I tell her, scanning the room and snapping a picture of it in my head.
“It’s so beautiful here,” my mother says in her friendly Southern way.
“Oh, yes! Is this your first time in New Mexico?”
“Yes, I drove out here with my daughter,” she places her hand on my shoulder, “She had to drive her boyfriend’s car because he won’t be here for a few more weeks, and she didn’t know how to drive a stick shift, so I taught her how during our trip out here.”

I cut my mother one of those, eyebrow-raising, “You are so full of shit,” looks, and she responds with one of her typical, shoulder-shrugging, “What? We’re here aren’t we?” looks.

“Oh, how nice!” the woman says, pulling out a folder with some paperwork.
“Yes,” I smirk, “it was quite the adventure.”
“Well, now, here are some forms for you to sign, you know, just the standard employment forms, and you can get those back to us any time in the next few days. And here’s your schedule, and a map of the ranch. The college staff is housed on top of the Mesa behind us,” she waves her arm ambiguously in the air, “and there’s parking up there, but I must warn you, there are a lot of bumps and potholes on the dirt road going up the hill.”

I must’ve tuned out at that, perhaps thinking it was a fitting metaphor, because I just remember hearing murmurs between her and my mother until I heard,

“Will you be staying here tonight, Ms. Watson?”
“No, Ashley is driving me back to Albequerque later today, and I have an early flight back tomorrow morning.”
“Oh, well, if you two want lunch, the cafeteria is just up the road, and actually, you can see it from here,” she gets up and walks with my mother to the door, “It’s that building just below Kitchen Mesa, and that fenced-in area is the pool where Ashley will be working this summer.”
“Wonderful, thank you so much!”

My mother has always had this genuine way of speaking to people that made everyone around her feel comfortable, so the woman continued to chat away about the history of the ranch, and how the cabin we passed on the way in was used in the move, City Slickers.

Meanwhile, I slowly walked over to the door and looked out at the landscape for the first time. Its beauty startled me in a way I had never experienced, and then I realized their conversation had ended. I looked over at my mother, who was putting on lipstick while looking in the gift shop mirror. It felt like the day she dropped me off at Davis Hall at Maryville College, even though I had been away from home four years.

We walked out of the main building down the sidewalk toward the gravel parking lot where Ryan’s car sat baking in the sun. My mother took a picture of the flower garden, and then asked a stranger to take a picture of the two of us sitting on the wooden bench near the front entrance.

We walked in silence across the lawn in front of the cafeteria, glancing up at Kitchen Mesa, slowly heading toward the picnic tables where I would eat many of my meals that summer, where I would sit in desert darkness, drinking Tecate and watching the mule deer eat alfalfa—studying them as they studied us.

We pause to look toward the highway and Paternal.

“What if I make a mistake?”
“A mistake? What do you mean, Ashley?”
“I mean, what if I’m distracted, or what if I’m not quick enough, and some kid drowns, or—”
“Honey, listen,” she nods her head toward the pool, “First of all, that pool isn’t much bigger than our living room.”

I look over the fence. She’s right. I start to grin and tear up at the same time.

“Secondly, didn’t you just go through months of training? Why would you be scared of not doing a good job? And lastly, you’re Marty Watson’s daughter,” she pauses and looks at me for emphasis, “You can’t fail.”

Tonight, I found my journal from that summer. I flipped through pages and pages of poems I’d written and forgotten, all of which had one basic premise:

I was ready. For what, I wasn’t quite sure…



, , , ,

Other people’s lives seem more interesting cause’ they ain’t mine…

—Modest Mouse (from Lonesome Crowded West)

“Did you have one of those viewfinders as a kid, you know, those camera-like things that worked like a projector?” I ask Craig, looking out at Paternal from the end of our five-hour hike.
“Oh yeah, I remember those,” he laughs and leans into the juniper tree behind him, “with the little paper discs that you put into the slots and clicked the lever so that you could see the images as if you were actually there?”
“Yeah,” I say, squinting over the desert landscape below us.

I could see the winding road leading back to the main part of the ranch, where, all summer, I sat next the pool in the shadow of Kitchen Mesa, where I watched other people’s children every day for almost four months, and where my boss told my ex he could no longer be a lifeguard because of the tension between the two of us and she trusted me more. Where I was on my way to the bathroom one afternoon, and in one deft movement, lifted a drowning toddler from the kiddie pool, only to find the mother completely oblivious to the entire scene. Where I taught local children how to dive, headfirst, by diving alongside them.

The view was perfectly clear. To the West, Paternal—the mountain Georgia O’Keefe claimed that God told her she could have if she painted it again and again. To the North, Chimney Rock and Highway 84 winding up to Taos. To the South, the same highway leading down to Santa Fe, and behind us, to the East, a network of hills and valleys that blinded the mind. Beyond that, I could not find an image. No matter how many times I clicked the lever in my viewfinder, there was nothing but a white light.

Craig and I sat silence for hours, and I thought about what I had to do when we descended.

“We should go. Sun’s starting to set and we don’t want to get caught in the dark,” he said finally.
“You’re right,” I said as I watched the cars move like ants on the highway. I knew what I had had to do when we reached the college staff housing, but I had know idea how I was going to do it.

I knew that coming out was not something you planned. It was something that you dove into, headlong, and uncertain if you would come up again.