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.

Throwback Thursday: Dear God, I met a boy…

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!

Sunday August 29, 1999

My mom and I had a looong talk. She said that when God takes us up to heaven, even our thoughts are judged or whatever. Lately I’ve been trying really hard not to think bad thoughts and keeping  myself spiritually clear. I’m going to get involved with the church. Today we went to the church picnic and I had a great time! I’m going to try out for the church orchestra, join youth group, and read my bible every night. I’ll try to each day I write in here to find a good bible verse for that day. End. I have a prayer, Dear Lord, please have my mind be clear of all evil thoughts, please have you be my first true love and not to get caught up with materialistic things of today. Amen. End. (again)

“Because you are specially and deeply loved, you are priceless.” Psalm 139:13-16; John 3:1

August 30,1999

I know I don’t have many pages left and lots of the thoughts that I wrote in here were evil. But I thought I’d put “Dear Jesus” on top of my entries. So that when I’d write it would be like talking to God. I’d tell him all my troubles just weeping because of my sin in his arms. 

Speaking of men/boys Corey made friends with a really HOT boy named Austin. He is thirteen, has dark brown hair, dyed blond on the top sort of, brown eyes, so cute. 

Real love is decorating his name whenever you write it.

Real love is decorating his name whenever you write it.

Sunday September 5, 1999

Dear God, 

I can’t get over Austin! He’s so adorable with his dreamy blue eyes, curly brown hair. He is so cute! And he treats me very, very good. I really think he’s musclur.  He’s so nice. He even likes all the same Christian groups I like. Like DC Talk, Jars of Clay, Newsboys, he is so cool. Most of the other boys I like haven’t even heard of DC Talk, so I think it would be cool to get together with Austin more often. Austin, if you’re reading this, I hope you like me, cause I sure like you! I’m not saying “love” cause I know I’ll (I might) get over him and see someone else I’ll really like so oh well. When I’m around Austin, thoughts spin in my head such as “Is my face oily?” “Is that pimple really read on my nose?” “Is my hair messy?” “Why is he staring at me?” 

I really hope Austin is a little bit interested in me. When we were at the high school hanging out, (It was just me, Dustin, Tiffany, and Corey) I was hoping that Austin would come outside. then all of the sudden, I was talking to Tiffany and I turned around and saw a bow riding a white bike – Austin! I’m like, “Tiff! There’s Austin!” (whispering)

“Omigosh!” she squeals. So then we were hanging out. Tiffany thinks I’m obsessed with him. But I can’t help it! He’s so nice, I could probably spend a whole day with him. End. 

Since I’m extremely tired and I think I’m starting to get a cold, I’ll keep my commentary pretty short today.

  1. My daily bible verse lasted precisely one day. Way to go, Ashley. 
  2. About 70% of my thoughts are probably evil by Young Ashley’s standards. It’s a good thing I’m neither catholic nor jewish. That guilt would be unbearable.
  3. I’m sure gushing about my crush isn’t exactly “evil”, but I don’t think calling a guy HOT with radiating steam rays is praiseworthy or godly.
  4. It’s probably okay though, because he liked DC Talk. We cool, God? We cool.
  5. This is the beginning of my religious period. I ended up playing in the church orchestra and joining a bible study where I met several friends who I was close with until high school came around. I’m not sure what exactly happened, but at some point, the friendships fell apart. I think I held those friends to a higher spiritual level, so I was disappointed to see they could be just as mean and two-faced as the kids I went to school with. Eventually we’ll probably also see my faith retreating.
  6. All crushes prior to Austin meant nothing. He had everything I was looking for: HOTNESS and an “i” in his name that I could dot with a heart.
  7. At eleven, treating me “very, very good” apparently meant letting me stand on the pegs of his Gary Fisher BMX bike while he peddled around the neighborhood. SWOON.
  8. Austin is probably the reason that, to this day, I have a soft spot for guys with dark curly hair. Either him or messy haired Patrick Dempsey. Anybody’s guess, really.
  9. I’ve never been good with eye color. I’ve had two separate relationships that each lasted two years and I can’t recall the color of either man’s eyes. I’ve probably suppressed the memory of one, but there isn’t really an excuse for the other. I think his eyes changed colors depending on the light and what he was wearing. That’s my final answer.
  10. Stay tuned for more on Austin. He’s a recurring character as I grow up.

Alright, I apologize for the brevity, but seriously – Momma needs some soup and quality time with her Kindle.

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.

Throwback Thursday: No Empathy Here

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!

Tuesday April 18, 1999

Dear Genna, 

Don’t ya hate that when you have all these ideas, but then you forget them? Well, you wouldn’t know. 

I just counted the pages left – 21. 21?! Geeezzz!

I love getting mail! (e-mail) ((That is)) I went on aol

[don’t worry about the end of that sentence, Ashley. You’re too cool for punctuation.]

Monday April 26, 1999

Dear Genna, 

I haven’t writen for a while. I have changed over the month. First, I have a new crush, Andy B. He used to be really mean to me now, I think he likes me. Second, I have a new movie star crash, Jame Van Der Beek, and Joshua Jackson. 

[I spent the first 3/4 of the journal claiming to be in love with Leonardo Dicaprio. I was a fickle yet dynamic ten/eleven year old.]

Sunday May 9, 1999

Dear Genna, 

I’m sorry that I have not writen in you for a loooong time. But I may not write in you again. 

See ya!

[Don’t fool yourself, Ashley.]

Tuesday June 8, 1999

Dear Genna, 

I know I haven’t written for a very long time. I’m on summer vacation. I went to the pool at 1:00 then came back at 3:00. I had fun. But not as much fun as on Saturday! Saturday, the pool opened, Ashley M came with me. Ashley is pretty popular with the boys. “The boulders” were there. (John, Jim, and Andy) John was kinda the leader. (John likes Ashley.) So they followed us around, then they jumped in really close to us. I hate them. Sunday was cool too. I went to the pool with Corey, Ryan, & Dad. I was alone most of the time. I was just swimming when Tim saw me. “Hi Ashley.” I just looked at him like I didn’t know him. He must have went and told John that I was here. John splashed me And kicked me in the BUTT! 

I HATE JOHN! 

(BOTH OF THEM)

Ashley Otto

My diary, aka "Genna" circa 1998. I bet most literary geniuses start by writing in Pooh journals, right?

My diary, aka “Genna” circa 1998. I bet most literary geniuses start by writing in Pooh journals. Good to know I’m on the same track as Hemingway.

I was a terrible child. Really. I was a nightmare. I’m not sure how my parents or anybody else put up with me. Everybody was a nightmare at 11 and 12, right? Just humor me and say yes. Please.

I was the Queen of Melodrama. Everything was the worst. I hated everyone. If I had known the word, I probably would have been the Queen of Hyperbole. Adolescence was such a delicate point of life. I despised being a child, but I didn’t know what made a person mature. I wanted to deny who I used to be; I didn’t want to acknowledge that just a year earlier I had played pretend on the playground or that my bedroom contained more doll-sized furniture than actual furniture. Perhaps I created elaborate versions of reality because I severely limited my imaginary playtime. 

Though the above entries may indicate otherwise, I was severely self-conscious. I embarrassed myself in every way. This was when puberty started: my face was suddenly sprinkled with these stubborn pink dots. I remember standing in front of the acne-treatment area in the grocery store, wondering which container of Oxy to ask my dad to buy me. I was always embarrassed by it when he came to collect me, and I wouldn’t ask for it. Or maybe I did and he said no – the memories are fuzzy. I needed something for the acne, but part of me thought that by ignoring it and pretending it didn’t bother me would make it go away. I still handle problems this way, only now I have skin care and know how to apply makeup.

As we discovered a few weeks ago, I was convinced I was hideously overweight. But yet somehow, I talked myself into thinking half the boys in my class liked me. I wasn’t obese, but I was never a skinny girl. Looking at pictures of myself from this time, I can’t help but think that I was such an awkward girl. I wasn’t ugly, but I wasn’t as pretty as I wished. My smile was too squinty and my face too pudgy. My eyebrows were too bushy. My hair was so thick (I would kill for the hair I had at 10) and I styled it by double blow drying: first brushing and blow drying, then curling it with a blowdryer/curling iron combo. I hope Paul Mitchell is taking notes.

How did I survive this? How do any of us get through this stage of being awkward giant children to adults who pretend to be well-adjusted? The key is empathy. As children, we are completely focused on ourselves. As adolescents, we are focused on what is happening to us. And this is fair enough – our bodies are doing weird things like collecting fat in strange places, sprouting hair in previously smooth areas while our brains are being flooded with hormones. We’re starting to take note of how we compare to those around us. That comparison isn’t kind. It’s cruel and self-serving. We’re wonderful little narcissists, staring into this reflection of others, seeing only our beauty. To see anything else would completely destroy the delicate image we’re desperately trying to maintain.

Now I want to apologize. I want to write Tim a message on facebook and tell him I’m sorry for being such a bitch to him.  I want to tell him that Young Ashley was a shithead and he should have ignored her. And I want to write John a message telling him kicking me in the butt (!!) was extremely inappropriate, even if it was underwater. But most of all, I want to tell 11-year old Ashley to calm the hell down.

“You know what, Ashley? You are not ‘all that and a bag of potato chips’ like you seem to think. You didn’t know how to spell ‘written’ until halfway through 1999, for crissakes. Yes, you’re awkward right now, but don’t take your self-loathing out on other people. Get over yourself and act like a decent human being. Your parents did not raise you to be an asshole.”

What I’m actually curious about is the point I began to empathize.  Was it that first sense of alienation I would feel the next school year when Andy B. made fun of me for reading and eating dutch babies? Was it in high school, when I started listening to emo music and scribbling lyrics all over notebooks? Maybe somewhere along the way, I’ll discover that moment on the Throwback Thursday project.  I’m just so glad I’m not an eleven year old jerk who hates everyone. I’m much happier being an almost-25 dork who writes at libraries.

Among the periodicals, pondered great life questions like the hottness of James Van Der Beek and Joshua Jackson.

Among the periodicals, and surrounded by a few homeless people, I pondered great life questions like the hottness of James Van Der Beek and Joshua Jackson.