I’ve been “writing” for the last two hours and this is all I have to show for it.

I started writing a really nice post about how I am returning to writing because I want to exercise that muscle again because I love words and the way it feels when you can describe something in a way that illuminates it in a way that readers who weren’t there go, “Goddamnit she’s right.” But I had to do a little bit of mental preparation first; Reading the archives of my high school xanga turned into reading the novel I tried writing at seventeen. That turned into laughing at myself turned into trying to validate myself again which lead in a temporarily fruitless search for the first piece that won me a flash fiction contest. I like the first one better, but the only one I can find is the second piece that won me a flash fiction contest. THE STRUGGLE IS SO REAL, YOU GUYS.

I found myself clad but naked that caramel August evening. With iced espresso bitter on my tongue, I watched as you arranged vibratos for strings note by note. For a dollop of a moment, you and your thoughts were mine to taste – tart and airy like a meringue. As your fingers volleyed the piano keys, the saccharine words slithered to my pursed lips: I love you.

I think I was hungry. At the very least, I really wanted dessert.

This is where the magic happens.

I’ve been in my new apartment for about three months now. One of the things that excited me most about the place (other than the beautiful light everywhere, ability to paint the walls, lots of closet space, a garage, pleasant yard, french doors, and great location) was a closet off the living room that had potential to be a fantastic little writer’s nook.

Me being me, it spent the last three months as a closet housing winter coats, paint cans, an occasionally-used box fan, extra blankets (I own no less than 10 blankets. I have zero explanation for this fact), and partially unpacked boxes. I saved this project for a weekend when I didn’t have anything going on.

That weekend finally came around, though it was a pleasantly busy weekend – containing a baseball game, Fox Cities Jazz Fest, dinner at a new restaurant, baking new treats (B-Crox in da house), Lolita-reading in the park, late night whiskey & jazz, lunch with a friend I haven’t seen in months, and vinyl night (True story: I brought Hall & Oates) at a local pizza joint. I squeezed a lot into that three day weekend.

Look at all the Throwback Thursday content! That's only half of it.

Look at all the Throwback Thursday content! That’s only half of it.

I’m now writing from inside my writer’s nook. When this little space came together on Sunday morning, I was instantly inspired. Finally, I thought. This is where all of my writing will finally happen. This is where I’ll write my masterpiece. This is where I’ll return to my fiction-writing. 

I’ve been in here for about two hours. Fifteen minutes were spent writing the above paragraphs. Twenty were spent taking pictures with my phone and camera (gotta have one for the instagram & higher quality for the blog post!). Another twenty were spent on a phone call I had been putting off. A cumulative 20 were spent idly on Facebook. At least 10 were spent trying to find the perfect writer’s nook music (finally came to the conclusion that Belle & Sebastian is boring and cute in the most annoying way). Then another 15 minutes were spent scrolling on Pinterest.

It’s funny how much time I spend excusing myself for not writing. Sometimes I think I need idea books, method books, style manuals, how-to books, or just new books. Even though one of my shelves is dedicated exclusively to books of this sort, I’ll get a new one. Inevitably, I read twenty pages, get a great idea for an essay, but then toss it to the side after a half hour when I think of a clever tweet because I’m all about instant gratification. It’s way easier to write tweets than it is to write a full blog post or honest-to-god memoir.

I’m hoping that at some point during my evenings and weekend afternoons in my writer’s closet, I’ll relearn patience.

Till then, keep an eye on my twitter feed. Every now and then there’s a gem there.

Sign of genius, I'm telling you.

Sign of genius, I’m telling you.

Quiet: Fighting the Intro-Extro Battle

If I’ve talked to you about books or personality in the last two weeks or so, I’ve probably talked about Quiet: The Power of Introverts. I’ve read exactly 4 chapters and I keep telling people about it because I’ve learned so much. Essentially, our culture currently prizes extroversion above introversion and because of that, creativity and inspiration is lacking in day to day life.  Because the most innovative ideas come from introverts, we are doing ourselves a disservice with the constant fixation on group activities and teamwork. 

Quiet

I used to think of myself as an introvert, but I began surprising myself a few years ago when I started enjoying being in groups. Being center of attention intimidates me, but I like the idea of giving a worthwhile comment or having a lengthy and intense discussion about books or the possibility of music-making with an old friend over a microbrew. Bouncing ideas off friends, successfully creating something with a team, and acting as an authority (in a professional setting as well as social settings) are all things that appeal to me.

I don’t mind being alone, but if I go to bed without having talked to anyone other than coworkers (no offense to my cube-dwelling friends), I feel restless and disappointed with myself. I should have reached out to Nicole today. I wonder how Kaleigh is doing in her new home. I should have asked Jason to meet up for a drink. I haven’t talked to my aunt in a long time, I wonder how her kitchen remodel went. It’s been a while since I’ve seen Sam. I should have hung out with Nic. I should have taken Christina up on that idea about coffee. I pull my sheets in closer and turn on my Kindle and start reading, and quickly forget about all of that. 

My introverted nature is fighting with my freshly-cultivated extroversion.  I want the people around me to know that they matter to me,but it’s so much easier to just putz around my apartment, pretending to be productive. That sounds selfish because it is. What stops me from reaching out to friends? They’ve reached out to me multiple times and I rarely return the gesture. Am I afraid of the rejection? In a few cases, maybe. But I know that I have common interests with these people. I’m confident I would enjoy that show Nic has been telling me about. I know I would get a month’s worth of laughter if I talked to Nicole for twenty minutes. And I might find a new friend if I reached out to Christina. But there’s a part of me that is reluctant to face the potential awkwardness of hanging out with a friend who doesn’t know me as deeply as someone like my best friend, Andrea. And that fear is what stops me from reaching out to those people. 

But getting back to the issue here: my actual placement on the introversion/extroversion spectrum.  When asked to list my hobbies, they’re all of the introverted variety: reading, writing, knitting & crochet, running, baking, cooking, sewing…good god, I sound like a grandma who should be in fantastic shape. Though I truly enjoy doing those things, I feel a pressure to be surrounded. Where that pressure hails is a mystery, but I feel it stronger than I’d like. The times I’ve showed my extroverted side, I’ve been rewarded instantly – by the approval of an idea, laughter at a joke, or the gratitude of being understood. 

But it’s a quick sense of satisfaction. It takes very little effort for me to feel fulfilled in social situations. My default setting for social interaction is self-deprecation, and since people seem to enjoy that, I go with it. But the things that make me feel really good are things that require patience and focus on quieting my inner monologue to let the creativity flourish.

When I spent hours reading or writing, it was in high school – when I didn’t have much of a social life. I journaled constantly because I didn’t have a best friend to listen to my sometimes never-ending wordbarf. Reading allowed me to get swept away by a story. I wrote short stories and the beginnings of a few terrible novels, because when I was alone, I was able to cultivate and tweak those ideas. Without anyone else’s input clouding the development of my ideas, I was free to work as I saw fit, yielding some of my favorite pieces.

Having only read the first four chapters, I’m not sure what else I’ll find from the rest of Susan Cain’s book. So far, I’ve taken away that I’ve begun to prize the gratification of my extroverted efforts above my introverted ones, despite the fact that the latter gives deeper and longer-lasting satisfaction. After spending an hour writing this, I’m not sure if I want to go read more of the book or if I want to spend the rest of the night feeling guilty about not calling people. 

If you haven’t heard of Susan Cain or her awesome book, I’d recommend listening to her fantastic TED Talk. 

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.