Cicadapocalypse 2013: Reminiscences on Freaky Insects

I’ve been seeing a lot about the cicadas taking over the east coast right now. Apparently this seventeen year brood is causing a racket in the heavily populated areas with their mating calls. The Atlantic Wire says, “It will be loud. It will be gross. It will be pretty annoying.” After they’ve shed their exoskeleten on trees and lawns, they’ll irritate everyone, and get their freak on before dying. The new offspring will burrow into the ground, to live as xylem-sucking nymphs.

Holy mother of god. This is the stuff of my nightmares.

Until I was 23, I thought a cicada was a bird. I never paid attention in science classes, so I missed the bit about cicadas not being adorable songbirds. I must have seen the word in poem and used the whimsical context to determine it was a summer-singing bird. Because of its distinct sound, it’s supposed to be one of the most recognized insects in the world. At 23, I had been using the internet for about ten years, so you would have thought I would have asked all-knowing google about that summer buzz. I just never did.

When I was ten, an aunt told me it was a cicada. I noted that it had a unique call. Since I heard the sound so often, I thought it was a sadly common bird. I pictured a small grey thing with pink-flecked wings, anxiously flitting between tree branches.

Two summers ago, I traveled with my boyfriend at the time, Bill, and his father to Oklahoma to take Bill to grad school. They had loaded up the family SUV with Bill’s drums, leaving a pigeonhole in the back seat for me. I didn’t really know what to expect on the ride. His family was different than mine. Their conversations revolved around current events, politics, technology, and biology-heavy discussions about mysteries like why caffeine affects 40-somethings more than 20-somethings.

Somewhere in Illinois, I was awoken from a dramamine doze to a thunderous buzz that was different from the semi hums and vibration of tires beneath me. “What is that sound?” I asked.

“Cicadas,” Bill’s father said.

I pictured hundreds of grey birds. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard more than one at a time.”

“They’re probably in those clusters of trees along the highway,” He said. “Those are some weird bugs.”

I looked to the rearview mirror to see if Wyatt was joking. He was wearing sunglasses and not smiling. “When I was little, I thought they were birds,” I lied.

Bill laughed at the absurdity of it.

As I experienced that distinct sensation of inner humiliation, I realized this trip was going to be a lesson in my ignorance. I started to make a list of things to google when I got home.

“They make that buzzing sound with tymbals,” his father said, glancing over his right shoulder for a lane change, the sunset reflecting in his sunglasses. “They’re sort of like ribs that contract and buckle inwards. That’s what makes the click. It’s the males’ mating call.”

Cicada, tymbal.

The first time, I remember hearing the call of a cicada was while chalking the sidewalk. Kneeling on the pavement, I clutched a knobby piece of yellow chalk. My eyes squinted in the bright sun as I tried to detect the source. It was electric and jarring, beginning modestly, then roaring to fortissimo only to quickly diminuendo to silence.

I decided it was the telephone pole, where the wires met. I figured the words were compressed and encrypted in the lonesome dark yarns. By some strange set of mathematics, they eventually settled into syllables and pauses. Happy with my conclusion, I studied the imprints of the sidewalk on my knees. The flesh was pink and achy from the cement’s angry pressure. I began to draw a telephone, crawling to draw the curlicue cord, ignoring the pulsing pain on my kneecaps.

When we finally reached Oklahoma, the three of us walked around Bill’s new campus. We were standing outside the music building when Wyatt noticed a cicada shell on a sycamore tree. He plucked the shell off the melty-looking bark. “They shed their skins after they emerge from the ground. It ends up just clinging to the bark,” Wyatt said.

I remember shuddering and leaning into Bill. “That’s creepy,” I said. The papery silhouette rested massless between Wyatt’s fingers. I imagined the thing springing to life and buzzing maniacally into my hair. Bill watched his father study the shell and smiled when I caught his eye. I was embarrassed and wondered what he would say if he knew I was just then solidifying an image of the creature whose sound had so perplexed me as a child.

“They have some really weird life cycles,” Wyatt said. “Some are pretty short, just five years or so. But some have seventeen-year cycles.”

“Seventeen years?” I asked.

“Yeah. It was developed as a defense against predators.”

“Okay,” I said, waiting for more information. I figured if I agreed it would reassure him that yes, I was on the same intellectual place as he and that I was following the conversation completely. But of course, I was embarrassed. Why did this work? What difference did it make if the cicada was seventeen-year species or a two-year? Couldn’t they still be preyed upon? Wyatt talked about it in such a plain, matter of fact way –  like he was telling me something I probably already knew. I didn’t bother asking.

“They eat xylem from the roots of trees,” Wyatt went on. “They spent most of their time underground. I think as adults they drink sap.” He invited me to look closer at the skin. Setting aside my girlish fear of its attack, I leaned in. Thin and translucent, it was the hue of an old newspaper. It reminded me of a tiny, elaborately-designed balloon animal. I could crush it without effort. For a moment, I might be able to forget my embarrassment. Just maybe, if I could crush the molted skin, I could reverse the fact that I had never paid attention in science classes. If that wasn’t possible, then I could at least ignore my ignorance.

Cicada, tymbal, xylem. 

I think the trip took four or five days roundtrip. After leaving Bill in a sort of dumpy apartment in Edmond, Wyatt and I spent the fifteen hour ride listening to Merchant of Venice, talking about his first cooking experience (burnt tomato soup), and Bill’s need to substitute the cream and cheese in alfredo sauce for a béchamel. He was a walking encylcopedia. I was the foolish girl dating his son – pretending to be confident despite the fact I knew nothing.

It took me a while, but the shame of my ignorance faded. After googling my list (cicada, tymbal, xylem, brood, Phillip Pullman, the history of Route 66, 3D technology, Merchant of Venice, béchamel), I realized I didn’t have to live in a constant state of wonder. I walked around with the largest encyclopedia in my purse. The answer to any of my wildest queries was dependent only on the strength of my 3g connection.

So for those of my readers who are enduring the cicadapocalypse, don’t worry. A quick google search will reassure you that it’s not one of the seven plagues – just a bunch of hideous and super horny insects.

Throwback Thursday: Thankfully, middle school doesn’t last forever

It’s been another week. I don’t even know what happened between last Thursday and this. Somehow seven days have passed. All I have to show for it is a bunch of overtime, bags under my eyes, a sore knee, a terrible blood blister on the tip of one of my toes, and a three-day weekend in sight! That’s right! I’m taking a day of vacation next friday. I’m going to read. And eat pancakes. And sit in sweatpants all day. I might go for a walk downtown. I might day drink. Who knows? The possibilities are endless!

Anyway, please accept my apology for the lack of post in between Thursday posts. I’ve got another idea for a weekly post – so keep your eyes open!

Every Thursday, I dig out an old diary and share an entry sans editing (in hopes we’ll all see my grammar and apostrophe use improve) with a short commentary. If you like laughing with/at Young Ashley, feel free to use the handy search bar to the right and simply type “Throwback Thursday” and you’ll find the whole archive. Thanks for reading!

Thursday May 25, 2000

Dear Libby, 

Do I sound happy in my diary entries? I wonder what people think when they see me. Do think think, “Oh, there’s a dork.” or “there goes that Brat again.” or “What did she do to her face?”

I’ve been depressed lately. The only good points of my days are when Travis is online the same time I am. I feel like the urge to fit in is driving me crazy. I want so badly to have a boyfriend, someone like Travis. Like he would write “I luv Ashley” like, 500 times in an e-mail to one of his friends. 

I want to feel loved. I know my family and God love me, but I want a boy to love me. I want someone to give me a rose because they missed me over the summer, or to call me, even to pass notes with a boy would be better than nothing! 

It’s like, how many girls my age don’t want to feel love from a boy? I sure don’t know many! How many girls would love to be popular and always surrounded by friends? TONS! And I’m one of them! 

I think I would feel an atomic ton better if I lost 15 pounds. I want to feel good about myself in my Navy Blue Tankini! Who the hell wouldn’t?!!

Igg

Luv ya, 

Ashley

Middle school was basically three years of me being perpetually disappointed with myself. I was too short. I was too fat. I had too many pimples. My boobs weren’t big enough. I didn’t make cheerleading. None of the boys liked me. Everyone else had cooler clothes than me. Everyone was cooler than me.

I’d like to think my classmates were all just as lost and miserable as I was, but I’m sure some of them weren’t. Maybe it’s the jealous twelve year old in me, but I bet some girls never had to wish for a boy to like them. You remember those girls – the ones who always had a boyfriend, even when having a boyfriend only meant that you sat next to each other at lunch and danced the slow dances.

I think this is a picture of my sixth grade homeroom class. I'm just the frumpy weirdo in the back with straight up Zooey bangs.

I think this is a picture of my sixth grade homeroom class. I’m just the frumpy weirdo wearing orange with the straight up Zooey bangs. We were a pretty glamorous bunch, huh?

It’s funny to see how much I changed from twelve to eighteen. I went from desperately wanting to be a preppy cheerleader to deciding to be an Hot Topic-shopping emo kid who scribbled all over her notebooks. The things I strove for ended up being the same things I loathed in high school. I hated the status quo because I didn’t feel like I could ever be the girl I wanted to be. I ended up changing who I wanted to be – I lowered the social standards for myself. 

In retrospect, this was probably for the best. Sometime in eighth grade, some of the girls I was jealous of  ended up getting in trouble with parents, principals, and counselors after rumors surfaced about sex acts and underage drinking. There’s no telling what state of self-loathing I might be in now if I had entertained my craving for male attention. It would have gone one of two ways: giving in and getting that cheap validation or panicking at the idea of a penis and refusing to ever look at a boy again. Judging from my previously mentioned encounters with boys, it probably would have been the latter.

Not sure why I thought the gigantic sweatshirt was a good look, but I rocked it anyway.

Not sure why I thought the gigantic sweatshirt was a good look, but I rocked it anyway.

Though I still occasionally wonder what people think of me, it’s a relief to not have that same cloud of self-consciousness hanging over me. Call it what you want – self-assuredness or a malfunctioning social awareness – I live my life as I want, without spending too much time taking the status quo into consideration. I suppose that doesn’t come as much of a surprise after knowing that I’m looking forward to spending a day of vacation reading, huh? Whatever. I’m going to get paid to read and eat pancakes in my sweatpants.

Never in her wildest dreams did Young Ashley think that’s what she’d get excited about at twenty-five.

Throwback Thursday: You are Going to Hell for that.

Every Thursday, I dig out an old diary and share an entry sans editing (in hopes we’ll all see my grammar and apostrophe use improve) with a short commentary. If you like laughing with/at Young Ashley, feel free to use the handy search bar to the right and simply type “Throwback Thursday” and you’ll find the whole archive. Thanks for reading!

Good news, guys! We’re onto my third journal! And it’s not a Pooh journal! I’m not really sure how I got a hold of this one, but it’s actually not terrible looking. If have to take this to public places, I won’t feel the need to explain to everyone notices it.

Don't be so optimistic, journal. You're still terrible.

Don’t be so optimistic, journal. I’m sure your insides are still terrible.

There’s also this on the first page. Not really sure what I was going for, but whatever. Nice drawing, 12-year old Ashley.

Bald? Gorilla arms? Massive eyes? Must be Zooey Deschanel in a twisted universe.

Bald? Gorilla arms? Massive eyes? What the hell is this supposed to be? 

Anyway, I decided to call this one Libby. I don’t journal too much these days, and I think it’s because I have a close friend to talk to about things. Also, I fancied myself a bit of a young, alive version of Anne Frank. 

Thursday April 20, 2000

Dear Libby, 

My gosh I wanna cry. I saw Godspell with Kali, and it was so heart softening. It’s about how it would be it God had walked the earth today instead of 2000 years ago. I don’t want to tell you about the begining, it’s too long. But the end, omigosh, it was so sad. The guy who plays Jesus (Ben, he’s the pastor’s son, but sort of a QT) prayed to his father in heaven when everyone else fell asleep. And when one of his friends came rushing in with men to get him and tie him to a 3’x4″ board of wood, there was a sense of urgency. With Ben crying in fake pain, Kali and I sat there, tears in our eyes, we watched as the men dragged him to the stage to be put on a real cross. He acted so well, all while people pretended to put fake nails in his wrists. Then he sang out in his soothing voice, “God, I am dying…” Then, “God, I am dead…” And he hung his head, which gave the illusion the life was gone from his body. The people took his body and held it high and walked out thru the audience to the doors. After about two minutes of watching the people mourn over his death, (oh yeah, b4 he was wearing a superman t-shirt.) he walked up to the stage in a clean white suit, giving everybody the reassurance that God’s always with you. Ben was singing, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord…” And oh the words still murmer in my  mind. 

It’s strange, over the period of 3 weeks, I’ve been exposed to the story of Jesus’s death twice, and both, my eyes got all watery. I think it’s a sign to something, but what? 

I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say it’s a sign that you saw a theatrical production that was a bit heavy on the pathos.

Wut.

Wut.

I think it’s dangerous to introduce religious concepts to children before they develop critical thinking skills. When you’re an impressionable child, you don’t understand rhetorical techniques. You don’t understand how sounds, colors, lights, words, melodies, and key changes can combine to manipulate your emotions to sway you. It’s clear that even though I knew the things in front of me weren’t real, I was still moved by the production. In that sense, you could say it was a great play.

And I would be okay if it stopped there, but it doesn’t. It pulls you further to feel that guilt. It’s YOUR sins that are piercing his wrists. It’s YOUR sins that are driving that crown of thorns on his head. It’s YOUR sins that have lashed his back. YOU crucified him by being exactly what he created you to be: a human who is foolish and selfish. If you’re like the majority of the population, you haven’t done anything so terribly offensive to warrant this sort of punishment. It stands to reason that if Jesus hadn’t died, we’d have to endure hell, right?

One of the Sunday school lessons that has been fused into memory was one that illustrated the severity of sins. We were asked which was worse: “Killing another person or lying? Taking the lord’s name in vain or disobeying your parents? Being envious of your friend’s toy or not resting on Sunday?” Because we were children and were faced with a dichotomy, we picked one or the other. Some of them seemed arbitrary, but I remember working with my group to come up with an answer. When we were done, we presented our answers and PSYCH! No matter what we answered, we were wrong.

“Each sin is the same in God’s eyes. Whether you lie or say his name in vain, whether you kill someone or are jealous, a sin is a sin,” the teacher told us. “But the good news is that Jesus died for all of your sins because he loved you. All you have to do is accept it.”

Give that message to a child too early, and she’ll spend a great deal of time anxiously determining how terrible she is. I had been jealous of my friends’ toys and sometimes I lied to my mother about cleaning my room. And since I never knew if I had truly accepted Jesus into my heart (I accepted him roughly 23 times between the ages of seven and 18), I was constantly in fear of burning forever because I didn’t know if I was doing it right.

I’m sure there’s a argument with twelve talking points about how mistaken I am, and that my real issue is that I just don’t know Jesus. If I knew him, I would understand these things. And maybe this will make some of my family sad: I once had that faith, and now I don’t. What happened to me? 

 That is the definition of faith – acceptance of that which we imagine to be true, that we cannot prove.   – Dan Brown

I don’t have faith in God anymore. I’m just no longer willing to accept something for which I’m unable to find compelling evidence. While it’s nice to think of someone who will guide me to what I need to do, but I’m more willing to to believe in my own ability to change my circumstances and figure it out from there. If I’m unhappy with some aspect of my life, I’m the one who has to make the changes. Praying is not going to give me a promotion or raise: working hard and being innovative will. Praying is not going to cure my occasional bouts of depression: fresh air, good books, and quality time with friends will. Why credit this guy with changing my life when I’m the one who put in the legwork?

This isn’t my usual Throwback Thursday. It took a quick and hard turn to the serious, but that’s how these things go. I don’t have much of a message for Young Ashley this week. Just keep your chin up and don’t be so melodramatic. Also, QT? B4? You’re writing English, not Bingo coordinates.

Selfishness & Priorities

In interviews and on some versions on my resume, I mention that one of my valuable skills is being able to prioritize tasks. In an objective sense, this is true. Give me a bunch of things that need to get done, and I have no problem deciding how and when to do the tasks. Four new hire files to audit? Personal development plan that needs revision? Three inch stack of motor vehicle reports to audit? Quality check corrections? Code cleanup for a client? Compiling and organizing information for the OneNote notebook on electronic on-board recorders? Revise and distribute meeting notes from the morning’s conference call? It will all get done. (For the record: quality check corrections, meeting notes, two new hires, half the motor vehicle reports, code cleanup, two new hires, last half of motor vehicle reports, OneNote project and personal development plan if time allows.)

Look at this portion of my cubicle and be impressed.

Look at this portion of my cubicle and be impressed.

Short-term planning is not an issue for me. Long-term planning is difficult. My typical planning skills don’t translate to my life-planning. I realized this today, when I got home after 7, nearly too tired to shower or eat.

I will be getting my own apartment in June, and I was made aware of the fact that I have virtually no savings. So, I decided to pick up some extra hours at work to store some money away for when I’ll be living without a roommate. I’ll need to get a few pieces of furniture, a set of pans, possibly a television, and probably a dozen odds and ends I won’t think of until my toilet’s clogged and I’m wondering how I could be so stupid to live without a plunger. Also, I’d like to get a car that was made post-Y2k.

Hush. It was a straight road. 150,000mi deserves a damn picture because Facebook.

Hush. It was a straight road. 150,000mi deserves a damn picture because Facebook.

I’m still training for that 5k I mentioned a few weeks back, so I was at the gym for an hour. My 5k time is still hovering right around 36ish minutes since I slacked off for a couple weeks. I try to run more if I can, but I’m not always motivated.

Hey self! You're too slow.

Hey self, you’re too slow.

When I got home, I wanted to read the book on Scientology (L. Ron Hubbard was an evil, manipulative genius. Going Clear is sensational.). Then I wanted to respond to my penpal’s letter I received late last week. Then I got a shiver from my ceiling fan cooling the sweat on my back, so I was reminded I needed to shower. Then my stomach grumbled and I realized I needed to make something for dinner. Then I remembered a new episode of New Girl was on and I wanted to watch that. Then I remembered the two essays I still have to write for a scholarship I’m applying for.

Then I remembered I want to write. I want to blog more. I want to churn out new content on a regular basis. But I also want to revisit drafts I’ve allowed to pile up for the last year. I want to write that one essay on maturity that’s been bouncing around my head for two years. I started wondering what I was doing with my life. And then Vince called.

Libraries are great for blogging abotu your childhood journals.

Libraries are great for blogging about your childhood journals.

What do I want more? A cute apartment? A new car? A final draft of those essays? A warm meal? The ability to run 5k in less than 38 minutes without wanting to hurl afterward? A mutually fulfilling relationship? Another finished book? My vibrato and bow hold back?

I like to confuse my upstairs neighbor by quickly alternating between Bach, irish jigs, and bluegrass waltzes.

I like to confuse my upstairs neighbor by quickly alternating between Bach, irish jigs, bluegrass waltzes, and classic Frank Sinatra tunes.

I try to accomplish the big things I feel I can control, which usually leaves the smaller things to fall to the side. As a result, I work too much and save my personal pleasures like writing, playing violin, and reading for that ever-elusive “later.”

It should be a law that Sunday mornings are meant for paper books and breakfast in bed.

It should be a law that Sunday mornings are for paper books & breakfast in bed.

I try to keep things in perspective when I plan my day: hitting my 5k goal isn’t something I can just decide to do one day. It takes time, a lot of miles put in on the treadmill, and just the right selection of songs on Spotify. Driving a decent car and furnishing my first sans-roommate living quarters will take money I don’t currently have and since overtime is available, I need to take advantage of it.

As much as I’d like to write more, it maintains an air of abstraction. It will never be done. No matter how great a piece ends up, there will always be more to write. I’ll never say, “Okay, I’ve done all the writing. I can move onto all the violin-playing, and then onto all the book-reading.”

What I’m going through right now is too selfish to be adulthood. An adult is able to provide support and affection for her family. An adult selflessly spends time with a partner. An adult doesn’t get upset when a day goes by without reading. An adult puts others’ needs before her own.

I know that at 25 I am a woman for all intents and purposes, but my obsession with my own  whims almost certainly categorizes me as a girl.

I’m not sure if I should feel bad about that.

Throwback Thursday: The one where I learn about sex.

Every Thursday, I dig I out an old diary and share an entry sans editing (in hopes we’ll all see my grammar and apostrophe use improve) with a short commentary. If you like laughing with/at Young Ashley, feel free to use the handy search bar to the right and simply type “Throwback Thursday” and you’ll find the whole archive. Thanks for reading!
 
I apologize for not posting in between Throwback Thursday posts. For the first time while addressing an blog absence, I can say that I’ve no actually been busy with productive things. Vince and I went to see Second City on Friday night. On Saturday, I had a surprisingly productive meeting with my writer’s group that inspired me to revisit and draft old essays. I’ve been working on a new design for the blog (if you didn’t notice, I finally bought the domain). I had a photo shoot with my brother to replace the selfie that serves as my face to the internet (“Make me look less fat” was an actual quote from that night). I’ve been working on an application for a scholarship to take some writing classes this summer, and I finally got my ass back to the gym. If everything goes as planned, you can look for the new design this weekend and I’ll be down to my goal weight in three weeks. 
 
I bet one of those things won’t happen. 
 
Without further delay – here’s this week’s latest Throwback Thursday!
 
 
Friday June 11, 1999
 
Today Katie has a camping party till Sunday morning. Two nights away from Corey and Ryan = H – E – A – V – E – N, heaven! It will be heaven without them, hopefully it doesn’t storm though or otherwise we’ll be stuck in the camper all weekend. Lucky that “Huckleberry” campground has an arcade. (Please have an indoor pool, PLEASE!)
 
C rapy weather – 
A lways for the Ottos
M aybe not this time
P lease have good weather
I wish
N ow I
G uess it’s END. 
 
This should be the sole example of why acrostic poems should be banned from all elementary school curriculum.

This should be the sole example of why acrostic poems should be banned from all elementary school curriculum.

 
still Friday June 11, 1999
 
It was supposed to storm alot today, but it didn’t. (And I’m glad!) When we were coming, we listened to “Kiss FM” the new song from Backstreet boys was on. “That way” We (me Katie, Danna, and Emily) were singing along with it, it was fun! Then when we got here, we threw the ball in the water for Dude, Katie’s dog. Then we went to the game room. The Game room has a jukebox type thing. I played “Livin La Vita Loka” by Rickie Martin and “Drive myself crazy” by N’sync. It was fun. Then we went swimming, for about 20 minutes. I’ll write more later. They’re playing poker, they’re betting tons of stuff. It looks interesting! See ya!
 
Saturday June 12, 1999
 
I could NOT get to sleep last night. Danna and I kept on talking, there was this really sick story that Emily told us, which I will NOT write (Sorry Corey!) So we got up ate a breakfast of pancakes, bacon, and eggs with milk. A VERY good meal especially for camping. Then we went swimming for like 45 minutes. It was preety cool and fun. Then we went to the arcade. I played a game of air hockey with Danna, she won, and one with Katie, she won. I stink at air hockey. We went for a walk and at lunch we went to the bar for lunch. We were so freaked out. While we were ordering I saw this sign that said “BEER – helping ugly people have sex since 1862.” Isn’t that sick? Then there were these games where if you got so many points then the lady on the computer took of her pieces of clothing one – by – one. = S – I – C – K!
 
Okay, enough of the past, now the present. I’m sitting by the campfire listening to our RUDE camping nehbiors practically yell to talk to each other. 
 
I experienced one of those blinding moments of a resurfacing memory while rereading these entries. The story Emily told – about seeing two girls playing with each other in the showers at the public pool – was one of those stories that was seared into my mind. Probably because it was the first tale of lesbianism I had ever heard. My christian upbringing had instilled such a healthy sense of homophobia that the story made me sick to my stomach. I could picture it and every fiber in my body told me it was wrong. The strange thing was that I was sure it was wrong not because it was two girls, but because it was a sexually charged moment. I think I would have been just disturbed if it had been a boy and girl playing with each other in the shower. 
 
This weekend was apparently my first experience with sexuality. I had such an idealistic view of love and relationships – one that didn’t ever veer into the sexual realm. I was terrified of all things sexual. I was disgusted by most of my body (I think the only thing I didn’t completely hate was my hair), and the idea of anyone touching or coming near my “private parts” was grotesque. Sexual thoughts were bad. Sexual feelings were sins. Sexual acts of any kind were completely forbidden. It’s not at all surprising that I thought talking about sex was essentially damning myself to hell.
 
I was fairly certain the devil was preparing my quarters (I imagined a corner red, black, fiery, with rusty chains, where I’d be doomed to watch him eat spaghetti for all of eternity. Not sure where I got the spaghetti detail from, but that was what I imagined) when I sat through the first sex ed class in fifth grade. This wasn’t even the one where intercourse was discussed – it just addressed the fact that boys had penises and girls had vaginae and breasts. But yeah, I heard the word “penis”  and I heard the word “vagina” and I seriously considered writing a letter to my principal, telling him that I was a child of god and had no business hearing words like that. Hearing terms for my body parts? UNACCEPTABLE, Mr. Demilio. 
 
Now, I’m not saying that my parents raised me wrong or that they made me terrified of my own sexuality. I scared myself all on my own. On several occasions, I remember my mother telling me, “Sex isn’t bad – sex is really beautiful when it’s shared by a husband and wife who really love each other.” My mother handled it well. My father never addressed it, not that I expected him to, really. I give props to every parent who has the guts to talk to their kids about sex. I’m debating if I ever even want kids, just so I don’t have to deal with that whole deal. Children are so inherently weird about these things. It’s a shame that our bodies mature so much earlier than our brains. Our bodies long to be touched while our brains still laugh at the idea of a boner. The concept of making love is completely absurd; we don’t realize our bodies are emotional objects. We don’t learn that almost any physical sensation affects our pysche until much later – usually after we’ve made a few mistakes first. 
 
I knew sex was supposed to be something beautiful and significant, and that’s why the images in the bar disturbed me so much. At the time, I didn’t have the capacity to realize I was wasn’t disgusted by them – I was saddened by them. The image of two people having sex only when enough beer had been consumed was heartbreaking. Maybe because I always feared I’d be one of them. Or maybe I feared I’d be like that blonde girl on the pixelated screen, getting male attention only by slinking down a catwalk while peeling off my clothing.
 
I didn’t want to think that lust had anything to do with relationships and love. These first encounters with lust were scary. Lust made you animalistic and hungry only for the violation of another person. Lust had the ability to turn love into a selfish compulsion. This deeply depressed me. 
 
I’d like to say that I’ve completely lost these feelings and that all of my experiences have proved Young Ashley wrong. the truth is that intimacy isn’t always intimate. Looking back on some of my relationships, I can name, without hesitation, several occasions when the selfishness of lust stole the show. These were moments where I was so dumbfounded by what had just been taken from me, I wasn’t able to react. At the time, I pretended like everything was okay, but some of these moments disturbed me so much that I’ve written drafts and drafts of essays and stories trying to figure out what exactly happened – to no avail, for the most part. Maybe we can credit some of my cynicism here: people can be the most awful to each other in moments of pure vulnerability. 
 
I guess you could say that Young Ashley was a prude. Ashley of Today thinks that intimacy isn’t valued highly enough. I’m not saying that I think pre-marital sex is wrong. I’m no longer religious, and if you’ve got half an ounce of intelligence, you’ve probably picked up on the glaring hypocrisy if I made such a statement. What I’m saying is that my mom was right – sex can be really beautiful when two people love and respect each other. 
 
If I had to tell Young Ashley anything, it would be the following: Sex is not terrible. You will not go to hell for wondering about penises. Your vagina is not the source of all evil. Treasure yourself. And stop journaling at campfires with your friends. You look like a weirdo.  
 

Throwback Thursday: Zen in the Art of Pooh Journaling

Every Thursday, I dig I out an old diary and share an entry sans editing (in hopes we’ll all see my grammar and apostrophe use improve) with a short commentary. If you like laughing with/at Young Ashley, feel free to use the handy search bar to the right and simply type “Throwback Thursday” and you’ll find the whole archive. Thanks for reading!

Exciting news, you guys! I’ve moved onto the second diary in my collection! We’re getting closer to my truly humiliating entries!

You're right, Ashley. These are two COMPLETELY different notebooks. You have such dynamic taste.

You’re right, Ashley. These are two COMPLETELY different notebooks. You have such dynamic taste.

Tuesday May 4, 1999

Hello. My name is Ashley Elizabeth Otto. I’m in the fifth grade at Clovis Grove Elementary school in Menasha Wisconsin. I play the violin. My instructor is Ms. Jane B—- F—–. My best friends are Ashley A, Ashley M, Katie B, and Malee L. In my family there are 4 other people, not including myself. First there is my Dad, Kraig. He works at “J.J. Keller”, and he works for My Uncle Mark, who is my favorite uncle. (I’ll tell you about him later.) Next my mom, Eileen. Her maiden name is H——. She works at “Piggly Wiggly”. Next Corey he is 12, he goes to Maple Wood Middle school. Finnally Ryan. He is 5, he went to “Tinny Tots”. Ms. F—- says that I have extraordinary talent in music. Thats good for my dream! My dream is to be in the New York Symphony, and a hairstylist on the side. I’d like to marry a doctor and live in a big house. My dream car is a VW Beetle. End. 

Saturday May 8, 1999

I feel great today! Even though its only about 10:40, I really feel great! I have a feeling today will be  a great day. Or a “happy day” as I used to call it. Corey would call it a “Rock and Roll day.” Today I slept in till 8:00. I got up, played a game of pool with Corey. (We got a 10 in 1 pool table, its got pool, basket ball, lots of games, a lego table, and more!) I had a toaster strudle for breakfast. Then mom went to Dawn’s house. (she’s still there.) While she was there I got into the shower, shaved my legs. Then I blow dried my hair, washed my hair, and now I’m writing in you! I will work out after this too. I don’t know what else to say. End. (for now!) 

I still feel great! Ok, so there’s this girl, Hilary Hahn. She looks like she’s 11, but she’s 19! 19! Well anyway, here’s here story for Time for kids: 

[i then proceeded to copy a short article about Hilary Hahn in unbelievably tiny print]

What’s really amazing is that at age 10 she got into a musical academy! I wish I could do something like that! Well I almost did. I’ll tell you the story of when I started violin. It begins last year…

“Please dad! I really want to play violin! Pleeeeeaase!” “Well I’ll have to check with your mom first.” Well after Dad talked to mom about it, they said yes. We had to go to Gegan to get fitted for our instrument. My cousin Kyle was there, he would play the cello. I was fitted with a 1/4 size violin. On my first lesson at 9:00 on a Monday morning we learned “twinkle twinkle little star.” Plucking. I did not want to practice plucking. “OH wow! I can pluck!” So, I practiced with my bow. When my mom came to my 12:00 lesson one time I passed “Mississippi hotdog.” (a twinkle variation) Ms. F—– stood on her head! I was the first one in my group to pass it. So while there were on song #1, I was on song #2. One day when I had passed “Perpetual Motion” the 9th song Ms. F—– called and said that song #9 was the song that she wanted her students to be by the end of their second year. So she was going to give me a scholarship to Suzuki summer camp! Well even with the scholarship it was to much for my parents to pay. So I didn’t go. Well, she said that if during the summer there were no lessons that I might get private lessons. Well I didn’t do that either. So in the summer school classes there was Strings Lessons. All because of me! Me! Well sometime in March we had our annual “Strings Festival.” We had a rehearsal at 12:30….

I proceeded to list more rehearsals and lessons that establish my excitement and apparent status as a Suzuki Book 1 prodigy. “Gavotte is a simple song, but hard bowings to it” was my grammatically unsound statement about my progress at that point. It wasn’t so much an entry about me starting violin so much as an overview of my accomplishments my first year. I just sort of bragged about myself. Sort of begs the question: have I really changed at all?

If you’ve been paying close attention, you’ll notice the dates of these entries overlap some of my earlier Throwback Thursdays. I promise, I’m not going back, I’m just moving on to the next journal. I thought my excitement over new notebooks and journals started much later in life, but turns out it’s always been an issue. The cursive of this first entry is so tightly written that it makes my hand sore. Flipping through this diary, I find that most of my hand writing here is small. Maybe I’ll find that I was a passionate advocate for paper conservation while writing in this notebook. Or maybe it’s just that I was hoping the publisher would more favorably judge a neatly written journal when deciding which 10 year old’s journal to publish next.

Journal

I remember writing introductions for many of my early diaries, but I think this was the most deliberate one. It was as if I expected to have a conversation with it. “Wow, that’s really your name?” my diary would say. “No! Your dad doesn’t work there! And your brother went to ‘Tinny Tots’? What did they do there, study tin cans and potatoes?” For the record, it was actually called Tiny Tots – I was just a moron who didn’t know how to spell. I think these introductory entries were a sort of offering to the journal. It felt too assuming to just start writing about my days. I thought each journal needed a preface – as if anybody would read them and not be able glean the details from later pages. Obviously I was still learning the art of story telling. I’ve since learned a few things about writing.

Construct a story by establishing the plot (I needed to ask my parents if I could play violin because I wanted to join Malee when she left math for lessons), introducing characters (me, 11 and anxious; my father, work-weary with dirty fingernails; my mother, fresh-faced and wiping the counters), illustrating the setting (early fall, cool breeze brightening the warm air of my parents’ kitchen, we’re standing near the drawer with the telephone book), create tension (I had asked the year before, but my dad said no, that I was too young – maybe next year), sprinkling in dialogue (“Can I pleeeaaase, Dad? Can I?” “Your mother and I will need to talk about it”), and granting a resolution (they said yes, I kicked ass).

This second diary looks like a much more serious attempt to capture my place in the world. It was around the time I was first made aware of impermanence. I wanted something to leave behind – a collection of Pooh journals, apparently – that would justify my existence. At the time, I remember hearing my mother warn me about the end days, saying that the rapture was near. I was almost certain I would never make it to 18. I didn’t think I’d die, I would just never reach that age or I would just be raptured in a Jesus beam. I guess you could say these diaries were my gift to the sinners not raptured.

Actually that seems like more of a punishment. “For all of eternity, your only reading material will be a Pooh diary written in metallic gel pen recounting one girl’s greatest indecision: whose hotness is hotter – Leonardo Dicaprio, James Van Der Beek or Joey M? Hope all the sins were worth it, heathen.”

It’s obvious that my journaling began as a desperate attempt to stake a claim on my life. “I was here! I lived! I have thoughts that matter! My story has got to be important!” Though I don’t journal as often as I would like, I think I write for the same reason. I think this blog has established my stake (according to search terms, a claim whose only worth is its advice on encounters with ex-boyfriends), and my personal journal tackles much more personal issues. Now I use my journal for the venting I’m sick of bothering Andrea with. It’s for the thoughts not entertaining enough for Twitter and too depressing to make into Facebook statuses. I suppose my more recent journals would reveal an apparently depressed and often romantically confused woman whose biggest wish is to find a way to survive on fourteen hours of sleep each week.

Keep dreaming, Ashley. Keep dreaming.

Food + beer + jazz = friendship

A few nights ago, I went over to my friend Matt’s house for dinner. Matt is a relatively new friend. We met this winter during the Nutcracker in the Castle, where he made me laugh at the most inappropriate times: during performances (by doing an improv session consisting of either glissando-like scales or half note scales), at the clumsiness of children (one fell over for no apparent reason), epic pigtails (on 70 year old women), and terms whose definition I’d expect to find only on Urban Dictionary.

I had been over a few weeks earlier when he invited my brother and I over for a few drinks. He told me to wear the girl equivalent of a suit. I toyed with the idea of wearing a pantsuit just to be snarky (I don’t actually have a pantsuit, but I do own black pants and a black blazer), but I decided to go with a dress and red lips instead. We spent the night drinking beers (one was so dark it looked like motor oil), wine, and whiskey over his homemade bar. At one point, the group migrated to his bedroom where he had his collection of instruments.  If I’m remembering correctly, he has several guitars, a banjo, a bass, violin, viola, cello, and an accordion, which was stashed under his bed. I played Twinkle Twinkle on the cello before realizing I had no idea how to hold the bow and my fingers tend to press down in increments made for a violin rather than a cello. After I grabbed the violin, we started playing from his Real Book.

My ex is a drummer whose passion lies mostly in jazz, so I had seen a Real Book before, but I had never really looked through it. It was one of those things that I let exist in his realm. He was so passionate about it, it was a bit intimidating even trying to learn about it. Though I’m a musician, performances rarely amaze me. (Clearly this is different if we’re talking about literature. Give me a good Nabokov story and there’s a good chance I’ll tear up at the ending.) It’s not that I’m unimpressed and think I could do better. Believe me, I can’t, and I know it. It may be a jealousy I’m not willing to articulate, or it could be a decided apathy; I’ll never be as good as Joshua Bell or Mark O’Connor, so I won’t waste energy thinking about it. I could be alone in this, but I think that somewhere in admiration of art or music, there is at least some amount of drive to emulate. This could be why I don’t play violin as much as I could. It’s a completely unveiled self-fulfilling prophecy: I’ll never be a master violinist, so I don’t practice often. I play enough to keep my basic skills up, but I’d be embarrassed for any of my music professors to hear me play Bach.

We played a few tunes that night. Though I had a stout-cloudy mind and screwed up plenty of simple rhythms (a few times, Matt started singing what I was supposed to be playing), I think I started to understand why small ensemble musicians keep performing. It’s not the free drinks at bar gigs, it’s that feeling of creating a moment that is utterly unique. I’ve always loved that feeling of combined singularity (ignore that nonsense term and just go with what I’m saying) that comes a good performance, but this was different. Classical music has always made me feel like I was interacting with the music in front of me, but this was more like interacting with the music around me. I’m sure my musician readers will say you’re supposed to do both, but I’m usually just too aware of the fact that those around me are way better.

After the last Nutcracker gig, the quartet went out for a drink and Matt told me there were levels to his friendships – you could tell where you stood in terms of his acceptance. “If I give you a hug, I probably like you,” he told me, sipping a beer. “If I let you drink my beer, I consider you a friend. And if I cook for you, we’re probably gonna be in each other’s lives for a while.” That night, he gave me a hug. A few weeks later, he shared a favorite stout (the motor oil one), and on Tuesday he cooked for me. So I guess that’s it. We’re gonna be friends for a while.

Matt

Thinking about hiring him to be my personal chef. Let’s hope he accepts payment in blog posts.

I’m always a bit envious of good cooks. I can usually follow a recipe, but I’m disproportionately proud of myself when I throw a bunch of things in peanut sauce and call it a stir fry. It won’t surprise you to hear I was impressed by his ability to make a mostly vegan meal without a recipe in sight.

Cooking

I know. Coolest spatula ever, right?

Sitting down to a meal completely void of leftovers and preservative-soaked “food” was an excellent treat. We had portabella sandwiches on homemade sandwich rolls with homemade hummus, onions, pepper, and burnt garlic; spinach salad with tomato, avocado and a balsamic dressing; red bananas, and an imperial porter (Flying Dog’s Gonzo Imperial Porter, whose label was an ode to Hunter S. Thompson).

Holy yum.

To quote the genius Liz Lemon: “I want to go to there.”

It was one of the best meals I’ve had in a while, and it was extremely nice to sit and talk with Matt in a non-Nutcracker setting. He’s full of entertaining stories like early college days spent drinking and cooking on roofs, dealing with students’ masturbation while teaching at music camps for handicapable children, and being chased by stripper dungeon basement guards at 3am in Budapest. I left his house that night with rolls, hummus, a full stomach, and a new friendship.

Dishwasher

Who doesn’t love passive-aggressive notes on a dishwasher?

I told him I’d invite him over for a meal sometime, but not to expect anything more than a frozen pizza and a randomly-chosen pick-six from Festival. I figure that way he’ll be blown away when I make my signature peanut sauce stir fry, consisting of ramen noodles (sans season packet) and whatever happens to be in my cupboard and freezer.

Also, this is the second time this week I’ve used the word ‘masturbation’. I’m sorry, Mom.