Interview: Ash Parsons

Can you start by telling the readers a little about yourself? 
Most importantly, I am a first timer. The more time I spend on this mud ball (I’ll be 37 next month!) the more I realize I am still getting used to being here. I am just now figuring out some of the questions I want to ask, with no clue what the answers will be yet. I am finally figuring out what I want to be when I grow up. At least for a few years. I am an odd mix of dreamer and thinker, of believer and doubter, of hermit and people person. I have been married to a really good, kind, patient, hilarious man for nearly SEVENTEEN years. I say it in caps because we’ve earned it, fought for it, shown up every day to make it happen. I have three sons, ages 7, 13, 14. I have been a professional photographer for the past decade and I’m just now transitioning out of that to be a writer. It’s a wild experiment and I’m still holding my breath to see if all of this works out.  

zion and mama.png

You write letters to people. Or rather, you ask people to write you letters and you write them back. Can you tell me how you got started doing this?
I started writing letters intentionally and regularly when I returned to social media after a two year break. During those two years, I was able to sink my teeth into face to face relationships and deeper connections than I had made on these digital distraction boxes we carry in our pockets. I returned to social media, noticed the gaping hole of real, personal, intimate connection and decided to give out my P.O. Box address and invite people to write. They did, and the gut level honesty we were and are able to have is breathtaking. 

You also have a podcast. Did you start that before or after the letters?
I do have a podcast! :) I have put it on pause for now to finish a book proposal but I am still hopeful I will be able to continue. Dear Somebodyis the name of the podcast and I started that after the letters, after realizing how many people have a shared longing for the deeper stuff of life, the messy and lovely stories that don’t fit well in a social media box or bio. I am really hopeful about the stories I’ve received and hope to continue telling them soon!

I don’t ever share my story thinking that it is going to change the world, it’s not “one size fits all.” I share knowing it is going to change me, and it’s going to change a few other people. The few who need it, who are starving for a fellow human experience, spoken in a dialect they can understand and feel in their bones. As long as that happens to someone, it’s worth it.

What is something you have learned from writing letters to people?
Each time I open the sticky envelope from a new person or place, I feel so humbled. It’s easy to throw up a social media post but it’s a lot more consuming to find paper, a pen, some quiet, and to use your hands to scribble your thoughts down. Because of the intentionality, people don’t screw around. There’s a sense of total raw honesty, of saying it just like it is, of camaraderie and trust. I am pretty convinced that the most transformative part of being a pen pal isn’t getting responses to my letters, or me responding to others. I think it’s the ability to be so honest, tell our stories, even to surprise ourselves with what we see on the page, and then send them out into the open air and let them go. 

We are never really done growing up. What do you hope to do in the future?
I have been writing every day for the past three years. After keeping most of it under wraps, I’ve decided to let my work hopefully see the light of day and I am working on a real, honest to goodness, book right now. I love writing and I hope to see some of my stories on the shelf of the library someday. That’s the deep sparkly dream in the bottom of my heart.

What gets you out of bed in the morning?
Zion. Figuratively and literally. Mothering this six-year-old human Christmas tree has been one of the most life-giving, heart wrenching gifts I ever could have hoped for. He is adopted, black, has some severe medical needs and cognitive delays and is the most magical human you could ever hope to sit in a room with. His resilience and joy is overwhelming to me. It’s a constant mix of bitter and sweet, of all I hoped for and yet the longing to see him be free of all his pain and struggles. It’s the daily awareness that the deepest pain and brokenness can give way to the greatest beams of light. 

Do you have advice for girls growing up today? 
The sooner you can learn to take exquisite care of yourself, the better. We can be so good at comparison, at self-critique, even self-rejection, but the second commandment is to love our neighbor as ourself. Which means the preface to that commandment is that we alreadylove ourselves. Loving ourselves is the instruction sheet for loving others. The more I treat myself like I would a small child or a dear friend, listen to her needs, make her cups of tea and let her laugh and cry when she needs to, tell her she looks nice or that she deserves a hot bath, remind her to do the work each day that fills her spirit with hope and not waste time on things that suck life and identity and energy out of her, the more I can extend a full-hearted love to others.

Do you have any female figures that you look up to? 
I have too many to list, but here’s a few! My mom, because she just went through a cancer diagnosis and brutal surgery and is now giving all of her energy to her father, who is losing his life in a battle with cancer. Anne Lamott, my literary fairy godmother, who has always spoken the language of my heart and reminds me that people of faith can still be irreverent and breathtakingly lovely at the same time. My friend Jaclyn, my neighbor, who sits with me regularly to cry into cups of coffee about life and motherhood. My beloved Coco, who is a spiritual director and co-conspirator in living a meaningful life. My dear heart, Liz, who is willing to drive 40 minutes just to check up on me and tell me her stories. My BFF for life, Devon, who has not hesitated to hop on a plane and fly to me when my world falls apart. I can’t think of anything more heroic than someone whose willing to sit with a friend in their pain. 

Loving ourselves is the instruction sheet for loving others.

Why do you think it is important to tell our stories?
I have the perfect example to answer this lovely question! Today I went to my P.O. Box and pulled out a manila envelope from a woman who lives in California. She had listened to a podcast interview my husband and I recently gave on The Love Love Love podcast with Yan Palmer. (Our episode is called “Death Surge” and we lay it ALLLL out on the table for this). She heard the raw stories, of losing my father, of adopting our third son, who was a preemie, of marriage and struggle, and it aligned with her own story and experience. She sent me a letter, some bags of tea, and some copies of photographs of herself as a preemie being held by her parents. In her words, something in our sharing gave her “an enormous wave of HEALING.” I don’t ever share my story thinking that it is going to change the world, it’s not “one size fits all.” I share knowing it is going to change me, and it’s going to change a few other people. The few who need it, who are starving for a fellow human experience, spoken in a dialect they can understand and feel in their bones. As long as that happens to someone, it’s worth it.

What is something in life that you are most proud of?
Even though I don’t claim to have had much to do with it, I am so ridiculously proud of my boys, my three sons. I marvel at their compassion and empathy, their senses of humor and tender hearts towards our family and towards others. They are 7, 13, and 14, so they definitely have their moments, but most of the time I just marvel that I get to share space with them for a few years, that I get to claim them as my own and listen to their stories and watch their lives unfold. It’s just the greatest honor.

A few favorites: 

Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott

Dan in Real Life (personal) 
The Fantastic Mr. Fox (our family’s favorite movie)

"Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in."

-from Leonard Cohen’s song, “Anthem”

What is your life motto?
Most anticlimactic ending ever, I don’t have one, at least not yet. I guess I must still be young, must still have some time left on the planet to figure this one out. Maybe in thirty years I’ll finally have a life motto. Sounds like a good plan to me.