To My Devoted Readers…

I’m sorry I haven’t been posting much lately. Instead of just articulating the facade, I’ve been out living (going to foggy basement parties, having spontaneous drinks with friends, dancing with new friends, running color runs, playing impromptu bluegrass concerts with my uncle, hosting parties, and occasionally giving out my number to boys I probably shouldn’t). It’s been fantastic. I highly recommend you stop looking at a screen as soon as you’re done reading this. Have you seen real life lately? It can be really beautiful. Everything is Blooming, folks. 

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I know that I told you my vacation from Throwback Thursday was only going to be for the month of May. It’s been over two months since I shared a diary entry. Young Ashley might be thrilled, but I’m not too proud of it. I started something and I didn’t follow through. I am supremely irritated when people do that, so I’m sorry that I’ve failed you. I know a lot of people really enjoyed those. This is going to change. Throwback Thursday is coming back this week. 

I had a housewarming party last weekend to break in my new place. Two of my closest friends made me a fantastic gift that inspired a new weekly post called Brunch with B-Crox. You can expect a recipe and short anecdote with my usual self-deprecating banter and weird pictures. My definition of Brunch is a pretty vague one, so it might not always be a breakfast recipe. And don’t worry, I’ll explain the B-Crox thing.

Since many people find my blog by some combination of the terms “seeing my ex” and “what to do,” I’m considering doing some sort of dating advice. I’m sort of hoping I’ll start following my own advice too. That would be neat. This is still in the brainstorming stages, but I figure that since I’ve dated people before and have an opinion, I’m qualified to tell people what to do. It’s real scientific.

I’m going on vacation next week. I’m not counting or anything, but I have exactly eleven days until I’m in the middle of the woods without 3g access. I have plans to read about three pages of Infinite Jest before falling asleep on the beach and/or day-drinking. Don’t worry though, you’ll still get your posts. If I don’t you can send me messages on Facebook about how you’re really disappointed in me – not mad, just really disappointed.

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…and at once I knew I was not magnificent

On the last full day I was camping, I went for a hike. I’m pretty sure this was the day after  the loon incident because it was cool enough for me to wear a sweatshirt that morning and not want to put on my swimsuit and hang out by the beach. Hiking seemed like something worthwhile and therapeutic. As a kid, I remember hiking with my parents and then later with my cousins. We always seemed to spend hours and hours on the trails, and when we decided to return for pizza pudgie pies, it seemed to take hours. So I prepared by double knotting my tennis shoes, filling my nalgene with water, stashing two granola bars, a two-way radio (walkie talkie doesn’t seem like a legitmate device), my ipod, camera, and finally hooking Jack on a leash. I was pretty sure I would be gone for three or four hours, and I figured I was prepared with 32 ounces of water and two granola bars.

The hike was beautiful. I let Jack off the leash and he walked ahead, sniffing and pausing every now and then for me to catch up. I don’t spend much time in nature. You might think this would make me savor every experience in which I’m surrounded by foliage and chirping birds, but I don’t. It’s not that I was bored by the hike, I just kept wondering if other people walked the same trail in awe of the trees and creatures that inhabited them.

I was hoping that the trail would lead me far away from the campground, where I would actually be in danger of being lost. I’m not sure what part of that I was craving – the isolation, the powerlessness, or the twisted sort of lack of responsibility that comes with either of those. Part of me was thinking this would be a way to escape, if only for a few hours. But I’m not sure what I was escaping from. My phone hadn’t been on for days, I wasn’t arguing with anyone in my family, I certainly wasn’t stressed by life at camp. Maybe I was thinking that if I escaped (got lost in the woods), I wouldn’t have to return to my normal life. My normal life that consists of monotonous office work, a wavering desire to be active and healthy, a useless Netflix queue, a virtually nonexistent love life, and a sort of sick gut feeling of needing to do more with my life.

But I didn’t want to really do that. I didn’t want to live alone in the woods with my dog. I’ve gotten to the point where I’m comfortable on my own. I’ve started to appreciate the fine art of being alone. I like having the freedom of creating my own adventures. Right now they might not be the most exciting adventures, but they’re more than what I had over the last year or so. The long distance thing with Bill sort of clipped my wings (sorry for the cliche). It’s not that I was unhappy with it – I was comfortable. I liked my routine of work, read/write, text and videochat with Bill. But I didn’t see my friends much because I was often waiting for him to be done with class or rehearsal so we could talk or hangout via videochat. When I did hang out with my friends, I was alert to the vibration of my phone when he would text. I missed him terribly when I was out. I missed the coupledom even though I was part of one. Of course that’s something you sign up for when you’re in a long distance relationship, but I didn’t realize the repercussions. What I’m really getting to is that what I saw as my being loyal to my boyfriend was really just me being complacent with my life. I didn’t really challenge myself to meet new people. I didn’t push myself to write more. I didn’t explore my own creativity. I didn’t  enjoy my immediate life.

But I’m starting to do those things. I’ve met several new people in the last few weeks. I’ve gone places without the security blanket of a friend to force myself to meet new people. I’ve rediscovered my itunes library and made Pandora stations that inspire me to create things (Santigold & St. Vincent are particularly good). I’m truly enjoying my friendships again. I hesitate to say that I sacrificed those things while I was in the relationship because Bill enriched my life in many ways. Also, admitting you sacrificed things while in a relationship is essentially admitting that you’re a dependent romantic who can’t even feign independence. And I don’t really like how that sounds. “I was just a really dedicated girlfriend” sounds a lot better than “I used my relationship as an excuse to become complacent and dependent on one person for my happiness.”

I think that’s what I was hoping to escape from. It was something I had learned over the previous few weeks but had been reluctant to articulate. I considered just leaving this revelation to myself, but I’m a bit of an exhibitionist (And Other Reasons to Have a Blog, a book by Ashley Otto) because there’s always been a part of me that doesn’t truly admit the truth of a statement until I write it down. When I was in elementary school, I didn’t officially have a crush on someone until I wrote it in my journal. What does that say about me? Whatever it is, it’s probably something pathetic. Maybe that’s why I’ve waited over a week since returning from my vacation to write this post: I’m not exactly eager to admit I’ve made mistakes and have weaknesses.

Anyway, I kept getting annoyed when I would pass a campsite or see that I was near a road. It was further proof that I couldn’t just escape reality – physical or psychological. Finally, I resigned to the fact that as long as I stayed on the trail, I would be close to camp and wouldn’t be left to die of starvation or dehydration. It was around then that I put on my headphones and listened to Bon Iver while I traipsed back to the campsite. For a while, I had pretended to be enchanted by the natural state of my surroundings. And it had kind of worked. It was beautiful and  picturesque in the way that a camera is never able to capture (though not for lack of trying), but what I really wanted was a soundtrack to help me imprint the afternoon in my memory.

And anyway, what could be more Wisconsin than hiking up north with Justin Vernon crooning in your ears?

Welcome back to fiction, Ashley!

I met with a former professor a few weeks ago, telling her I wanted to pick her brain on writing and publishing but secretly hoping some of her brilliance would rub off on me and inspire me to write an incredible best-selling novel or memoir. I ended up going away with my publication process knowledge reaffirmed (search for lit mags and journals, write a short cover letter, include a SASE, include your manuscript, expect rejection), a realization that I am unfamiliar with the concept of economy of language, and a name to contact about a writer’s group.

I met with the writer’s group today. It was a slightly varied group, our ages ranging from 24 to what I assume was 50s. I was the only female to show up today. Apparently one was hungover, the other three had other obligations. We discussed two first chapters – one a sci-fi and the other a sort of coming of age story that reminded me a lot of David Rhodes. While I had a difficult time critiquing the sci-fi since it’s a genre I literally never read, I realize it’s probably a good exercise for me to read and think about.

It was exciting to talk with other writers, to know that there are people slaving away at computers (one used a typewriter, claiming it was too easy to highlight and delete passages he’d miss later on), and that I am welcome to join them. It was surprisingly refreshing to be confronted with fiction again. I’ve spent the last year so intent on writing memoir that  fiction has become this sort of looming figure in the back of my head. I told myself to avoid it because I felt so passionately about writing my own stories. In the past, a person or a phrase would stick in my head and I’d think to include it in a short story. It’s been years since I’ve met a new person in my head. But talking with these guys reminded me of all the possibilities of  fiction.

There’s a definite comfort in writing memoir: things happen to you. Reflect. It’s as simple as that. With fiction, you have the responsibility to create realistic and likable characters, worlds need to feel real, the plot needs to feel immediate and make sense, pacing needs to feel just right, the language succinct, all while maintaining an honest true-to-you voice.

It’s a lot to take on, but that’s exciting to know that I’m able to do that. I’ve done it in the past, and now that I’ve gone through and discussed books and stories and theories for hours upon hours, I know what makes something successful.

So I’m planning on taking the time tomorrow to sit and write fiction. I have a scenario, characters, a conflict, and a bit of dialogue. With any luck, I’ll be able to get a first draft out.