My NYE 2014 or The Importance of the Buddy System

It’s a new year, I guess. Not really sure what I’m supposed to do about that. This time last year I was full of optimism and bursting with these grand ideas. I kept thinking things like, “EVERYTHING IS BLOOMING! I can get tattoos and I’ll start dressing like everyday is a fantastic production and I’m the star. And I’m going to start telling myself that I am fantastic and that I am beautiful and I deserve nothing but the best and OH MY GOD I’M GOING TO START RUNNING and be the best person alive.”

My first post of 2013 was a lot more positive than this one is. It might not be fair to contrast the two, considering this time I’m doing my best to digest a pretty epic breakfast of eggs benedict florentine (all the cholesterol of eggs benedict with a few leaves of spinach thrown in to make me feel a little healthy) and three cups of coffee. I think when I wrote last year’s post, I was eating something like quinoa and cranberry with herbal tea. I was trying to be a lot healthier than I am today.

I know that the typical thing to do for a new year is to welcome the next 362 days with optimism and determination to make it the best yet. I also know the typical alternative is to resolve to not make any resolutions. (har har har) I’m feeling decidedly bleh about either option. So, instead I’ll just tell you about my New Year’s Eve.

It started out pretty magically. I took a half day off to kick off a 5-day weekend, and surprised myself by getting my hair cut at an Aveda salon downtown. The last time I got my haircut, it was done by a student who took an hour to just frame the edges. I stood for 30 minutes of the cut and paid $10, so I’m not sure I could have expected much more. He tried to give me whispy bangs, thinking that to do that, he should cut them on an angle. When he tried to correct it, I just told him that it looked fine – mainly because I was terrified he would give me bangs like this:

Not really my style

Not really my style

So I’ve made do over the last month or so, mostly just pinning them to the side while they grew out. But I decided that I was going to pay a professional to make me look beautiful. After sitting comfortably for 30 minutes, I left the salon in a cloud of that wonderful Aveda scent with hair that was somehow shorter yet thicker than it had been in years.

It's hard not to feel fabulous when you're wearing animal print

It’s hard not to feel fabulous when you’re wearing animal print

I ended up going to an acoustic living room show where a friend’s band played. It was a really beautiful way to begin the night, complete with a drumset made of pans, buckets, and crates, slide guitar, and an accordion. I sat sipping malbec by candlelit in a room of people whose names I thought I knew, but wasn’t 100%. Though I arrived alone, I felt included and happy to be with this group of people who were content listening to our friends make music.

After the music was done, I joined a group of people to The Reptile Palace to see a few other bands. The Reptile Palace is a place where I’ve always felt a bit alienated – it’s one of those punk bars with stickers and graffiti covering most surfaces, three vodka selections, and probably a basement full of PBR and only PBR. Whenever I go there, I’m certain that everyone is thinking, “What is that square doing here? She should go home and work on her taxes.” The things I occasionally take pride in (not smoking, enjoying beer that doesn’t taste like vaguely hops-flavored water, having health insurance and paid vacation) suddenly embarrass me and make me feel like I’m not living an authentic life. Intellectually, I know it’s idiotic to feel inferior for being a responsible adult, but that’s just how my brain works.

I was dropped off with the drummer with promises of more friends arriving, including my roommate. After what felt like an hour (in actuality, was probably about 10 minutes), a few things happened within three seconds: first, I spotted a guy I had gone out with a few weeks earlier. Things hadn’t ended disastrously, just on uneven terms. The point is that I was momentarily uncomfortable. Second, I realized the cranberry & Stoli I had just ordered was not necessary. I was sufficiently drunk from drinking the better part of the malbec I brought to the party. Third, I felt lonely for a split second.

What did I decide to do? Walk home. In subzero weather with $1 gloves and three-inch heels. “It’s only like 2 miles. It’ll be fine,” said my wine-clouded brain. “If I get tired along the way, I’ll just stop into one of these many bars to warm up. Or I could just take a brief nap in the doorway of some shop.”

I was about two blocks from The Reptile Palace when my pocket buzzed. I saw it was Jason, who had dropped me off earlier. I answered the call with a numb finger to hear, “You’re going the wrong way. Go back to the bar.”

“I’m going home,” I told him.

“Why are you going home? It’s 10:30.”

I didn’t have an answer. I realized my reasons for leaving would sound pathetic if I bothered to articulate them. “I don’t know.”

“Get in my car. Do you see me?” He said. Then to the passengers in his car: “…she’s drunk.”

Feeling foolish but realizing he was right, I climbed into his car, welcomed the warmth, thanked him for stopping, and told myself I wasn’t going to drink anymore that night.

As soon as I got back to the bar, I had a few glasses of water and started having a much better time. I greeted the man whose presence made me flee, apologized awkwardly, thanked Jason about 30 times for picking me up, and got disproportionately excited when my roommate showed up. I rang in the new year by toasting water, kissing the drummer, and hugging my best friend.

I woke up the next day and realized a few things: 1. I’m really glad Jason saw me and picked me up, because there’s a chance I would have stopped for a brief slumber that could have ended with me freezing to death. Yeah, that’s a thing you have to actually be concerned about when you live in Wisconsin: FREEZING TO DEATH. 2. Alcohol makes you do stupid things like try to walk home at 10:30 on New Year’s Eve. I’m happy to say that is the only time I’ve done something that idiotic while intoxicated. Just so my parents don’t freak out and start lecturing me on being responsible: 99% of the time I’m in bars, I operate on the buddy system, ensuring neither of us wanders off to take an outdoor nap when it’s -20. I promise you didn’t raise a complete moron. 3. Having paid vacation doesn’t make you a responsible adult, so I should really stop feeling superior just because I was being paid while I recovered from my hangover on Wednesday.

So what’s going to change for me in 2014? Probably not a whole lot. I’ll continue to document my complete lack of perfection. I might start flossing. Cheers!

Fear & Self-Loathing Oshvegas

In lieu of blogging the last few months, I’ve been journaling. You know, writing in those blank book things? There’s not a keyboard or anything, so you have to use a pen (I recommend Uniball Signo with the micro tip) and like, draw the letters and words on the pages. Some have lines and some don’t. I prefer the ones with lines, because if I attempt to write straight on an unlined page, my sentences all start sloping upward. Supposedly that means I’m optimistic about my future.

That optimism bit sounds wonky right now, but that’s due to a few things: this terrible weather we’ve been having the last few days (as I described to a Miami-based client this morning: “It’s the exact opposite of whatever paradise you’re experiencing”), my hormones volleying my mood between EVERYTHING IS FUCKING AWESOME and GOOD GOD GET ME BACK IN MY BED SO I CAN EAT FAMILY-SIZED BAGS OF PEANUT BUTTER M&MS WITHOUT JUDGEMENT, and a slight ego bruise.

It’s been a weird couple months since I last posted. My best friend moved in with me. Before she worked evenings, it was basically the two of us crocheting and watching Netflix every night. Now, we see each other occasionally on the weekends. What else? I tried a few new shampoos, did a mud run dressed like a crazy person, went to an intimate acoustic living room show where everyone around me was exponentially cooler than me, carved pumpkins, saw a lot of live jazz, was part of a good friend’s wedding, swooned over the seductive power of “I Put a Spell on You,” joined a gym I haven’t been to in two weeks, dressed up like Coco Chanel for Halloween, shoulder-danced to Justin Timberlake with my little brother after buying holiday cat sweaters, made the unfortunate/wonderful mistake of visiting Half Price Books on a misty Saturday where my love for real books was reignited (my Kindle has been getting minimal use since I’ve bought about 2 dozen books), and have been trying really hard to find a way to make fleece-lined leggings appropriate for an office setting.

We hadn't gotten to the muddy part yet.

We hadn’t gotten to the muddy part yet.

Andrea carved the awesome turtle squash.

Andrea carved the awesome turtle squash.

See? Cat sweaters! We wore them for Thanksgiving. And yes, my little brother is almost a foot taller than me.

See? Cat sweaters! We wore them for Thanksgiving. And yes, my little brother is almost a foot taller than me.

Anyway, when I sat down to write this post, I thought I’d turn to my journal for some inspiration. Surely over the last two months I’ve pondered some interesting issues and came upon satisfying conclusions, right? Of course not, because even as a 25-year old woman, I write about boys with the same frequency as my 13-year old self. Sure, sometimes the musings on my romantic life lead to deliberations over other things (the search for validation, personal expectations, compelling vs. non-compelling conversations, self-respect, and the value of communication & honesty), but they were brief and most entries were just like, “So I met this guy and then I met this other guy and omg they know each other and omg what will happen next?”

It could explain why I’ve been so reluctant to post. It may sound like the sort of thing Socrates would find intellectually stimulating, but I promise that my romantic stumblings will satisfy only the nosy & mindless.

What’s most disappointing is that I feel like I have a much more interesting mind than my journal reflects. It’s just that I find my self deliberating over these sorts of things rather than my mixed feelings about the latest in government surveillance, racial tensions that are so apparent in music and television, and my fear about our culture becoming so reliant on virtual facades for relationships and my blog’s contribution. You have to admit that in comparison, sorting out my dating life is much easier, and therefore preferable.

I reread all of that and started to hate myself for most of it. I really just want to climb in bed and read one of those books I bought. I don’t have the energy or brain power to write a diatribe about why you should all get off the damn internet and show somebody you love them, but I do hate myself just enough to go to the gym.

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.