I came to meet Ashlee through Sharon Balsamo. I didn't know anything about her prior to showing up at her door at our scheduled appointment but within minutes of meeting we became friends and we dove into the conversational deep end pretty quickly. We cover a variety of topics extensively and vulnerably and I believe this to be a model of an important conversation. It is certainly a heart-to-heart and I am a big advocate for all of us having more of those.
A couple of days after our interview, I went out of town for a week to get a change of scenery and I wasn't able to transcribe this conversation before leaving. I also had some other things on my mind regarding this project and spent the time away thinking a lot about it. And then when I came back, I went to Sharon's office and we had another very beautiful conversation and talked through some of my frustrations. In the end, I made the decision that I wasn't going to transcribe interviews in their entirety anymore. It's an arduous task and one I'm not sure is necessary. It has somehow been responsible for the flow of these conversations as I've been conducting interviews in a way that I knew I could transcribe. So, what you will see below is my first attempt at changing this process. The entire interview can be listened to as per usual, but the words below are a synopsis. If you are a regular reader, you will likely see some tweaks as I continue to work into this new flow.
I'd like to offer a big thank you to Ashlee for this powerful conversation and for her modeling sincerity and integrity and another big thank you to Sharon for helping me figure out some next steps. Without further ado, I'd like to introduce you to Ashlee.
AD: I am Ashlee Jean Davis. I would describe myself as lighthearted, compassionate, an advocate for kids and teenagers, someone who often bites off more than they can chew and wants to do all of things right now in this moment. I have to calm the panic if I can't do that.
I've really started to embrace the way that my childhood shaped me. I grew up on a small farm in Texas but exposed to a lot of different salt-of-the-earth values. But my town was super redneck - there was a lot of racism in the town I grew up in. KKK was highly active. I was sort of exposed to all of that. Growing up, there was always someone living at our house. There was never a time that I remember it was just my immediate family; there was always an aunt or a cousin or the kid down the street that his dad got put in jail and he didn't have somewhere to go so my mom let him move in or a high school friend of mine that was going through a hard time. And so, my parents never talked about it, but it was just a part of... they taught us you help each other out and you do these things: you're nice to everyone, you give people your last dime if they need it. And then that work ethic of how much it takes to take care of pigs and sheep and goats and horses and cattle and rabbits and chickens and quail and every day the amount of hours that we spent outside doing those things is unbelievable.
So, I think that that really started to shape who I am. And then now I'm so far from that. Not only am I physically far from Texas, but I couldn't imagine living that life anymore. And I loved it, maybe not all the time, but I loved who it made me. But now I'm super liberal and atheist and I live in Oregon and my outdoor experiences are no longer bottle-feeding calves and walking sheep; now it's mountain biking and running. It definitely took a long time to get my footing with who I am and I feel like I'm there now. I'm very comfortable with who I am and I love it. I love the life that I live.
I like living more of a free-spirited life. We're choosing to not have children, which has recently become something comfortable I'm finally saying out loud because sometimes that's met with some intense reactions. I think because of who I am I'm choosing to not have kids. I love kids. I'm obsessed with babies. I love the kids that I work with. I love my friends' kids. I love being around them. I like doing family stuff. And I just feel like my calling is different to give back to this world. I think a lot of people give back my having kids and I think some people give back by having kids and a career that's giving, but I just want to do a lot for others and, selfishly, I want to travel.
ACT: What breaks your heart, makes you sad, concerns you in a way that affects you personally as you go through your life? And what is it that motivates you to do something about it? What lights your fire?
AD: It's a lot of little things that break my heart. The thing that probably I am faced with every day is a lack of tolerance and a lack of compassion. When I see that, that breaks my heart. I guess also along with that, I don't think it's apathy more as sometimes it's just accepted as the status quo.
Working in a middle school, I think sometimes when we see a lack of tolerance it's often met with, Boys will be boys or That's how girls treat each other is with drama and meanness. That breaks my heart, 'cause I don't believe that that's the case. I believe that people are capable of more and that we have to expect more from each other - to have more compassion and tolerance and empathy for each other. I have intolerance for lack of tolerance and compassion.
Teenagers motivate me to do something more because I think that teenagers are the coolest people. They're so curious. I truly feel like the majority of them want to be their kindest self and care about others. Because of that and for them, that's what drives me. And then, just wanting a more kind and compassionate and tolerant world that they're living in because it's a very different world than what we grew up in.
ACT: As you make your way through your daily routines, what do other people mean to you?
AD: They mean connection and they mean that we're kind of all in this together. It's cool that we don't have to go through life alone. And I think we need each other. I really do. I like that connection to other people because it's how we learn. We see ourselves in others. We see a need.
ACT: What does community mean to you? And what does it mean to you to be part of community with opinions or agendas that go against yours?
AD: Being aware and your eyes open is often times painful and hard. It's so much easier to have your head in the sand and not notice things around you and not put a lot of thought into the human behind the bill passed, the law passed, the human behind the mistake, the human behind the future wall. It's easier to not look at that.
As humans we have a tendency to protect ourselves - to just not pay attention to those things. Because it's hard and it's uncomfortable. We also want to be able to control and fix. And often times we can't control and fix those bigger issues or that pain. But I think one of the most beautiful things about humans that separates us from any other species is that we have the ability to feel deeply. And that even means hurting and sadness and all those uncomfortable things that we want to avoid. But that's what brings us together. That's what connects us.
That's what community means to me is that I can empathize or imagine or feel for or think about someone on the other side of the ocean that is living in a developing country underneath a piece of cardboard. And I can think about that mom from El Salvador that is sending her child to the United States and that pain that she must feel.
It's not solving the problem just thinking about it and knowing that we're all connected, but community to me is having your eyes open and your heart open and knowing and understanding what people are going through around the globe and right here under our feet in Bend, Oregon. No matter where you live or what your experience is, there are certain things we can't escape from. We can't escape from pain; we can't escape from struggle. And that's community. We can all find joy and happiness and love and all of those beautiful pieces, as well.
If I'm gonna live in this world with people that are different than me, to me it helps to understand why. Why does my dad love Donal Trump? Why does my dad think that there should be a wall? Why does my dad believe his life matters more than someone else's? Trying to understand the why behind it and 90% of the time recognizing that people respond and react in the ways that they do because they're trying to protect something that's valuable to them. And it doesn't make it right, but it just helps build that understanding.
We have to talk about these really hard conversations in schools. We have to teach our kids about how to talk about gender and sexuality and race and ethnicity and conversations that make people uncomfortable that we don't know how to talk about. We don't know how to have good conversations about this. And we need to be talking about it with our kids in schools. And they want to. They want to know those pieces. I think it's possible. I believe in humanity. But it takes work. It's hard.
ACT: Do you have a sense of purpose or a compulsion to live with intention or a responsibility to affect positive change?
AD: Yes, yes, and yes. I definitely feel a sense of purpose. I have this tendency to do all of the things right now. And there are so many big issues, right - everything from climate change to gender equality to racism to funding public education. Which one do you go for? Do you go for them all? How do you affect change in every area?
What I try to remind myself of is just focus on one thing and do that thing. And the thing I've been called back to is kids. That's my sense of purpose is believing in kids and being their advocate and their voice for change and their behind-the-scenes cheerleader - just believing in them and having unconditional positive regard for kids. Young people need an adult that shows up for them and holds space for them.
I have the time and the privilege and the energy to think about all of this stuff: about humanity and the greater good and what do we mean to each other. And I wonder about how many people aren't thinking about it. Are people thinking about these deeper questions?