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.


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! 



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.