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.

Bye bye, Nutcracker

For the last four years, I’ve played with my string quartet at The Paine Art Center’s production of Nutcracker in the Castle. What on earth is “Nutcracker in the Castle,” Ashley? Basically all the rooms in this mansion are decorated with Christmas trees and festive touches (nutcrackers). It’s sensory overload in a very festive (and nutcrackery)way. From mid-November until the January, guests are free to go on self-guided tours during the week or go on guided tours on the weekends.

We play on the weekends for the guided tours. Groups are taken by Godfather Drosselmeyer (who is usually mistaken for a pirate at least once a night) through the “castle” to see the rooms and a performance by a local dance studio. Before the guests go on the tour, they gather in a large gallery room to eat cookies, drink punch, play with toys, and take pictures in front of a gigantic tree. This is where we play.

We play the same music for each of the tours (seven on Saturdays, eight on Sundays). It gets old very quickly. Since the tours start the weekend after Thanksgiving, I’m usually in the Christmas spirit and feeling cheerful. But by the time Christmas comes around, if I hear Waltz of the Flowers, I’m about to go ape shit on somebody.

Playing the same music for eight hours each weekend for two months takes a certain stamina. When you’re playing Miniature Overture the 500th time, you recognize that you’re going insane, but you have to stop yourself from actually doing so.

Over the last four years, we’ve found ways to entertain ourselves. Though the players have changed (we rotate a few different violists, just got a new cellist, and now have two different first violinists to pick from), we still sort of do the same things: gratuitously long improv sessions during Arabian Dance, staring contests, adding ridiculous flourishes (super fast single octave scales), and lip-syncing the Drosselmeyer’s monologue. New forms of entertainment this season included the violist signing the monologue, Fruit Ninja battles on my Kindle,  blowfish face ambushes (two of the musicians make blowfish faces and stare at me till I laugh), and stifling laughter at the expense of children who fall over for no apparent reason (yes, that happened).

Last weekend was the final performance of the season. Now that it’s over, I’d like to say that I’ll miss it, but I won’t. I’m not sure I’ll know what to do with myself. If anything, I’ll miss seeing the group. We bonded, not completely unlike the way soldiers do. Hopefully there will be more gigs and even more after-gig beverages.

Nutcracker

Nutcracker at sunset. This was before we got a foot of snow.

 

Music

Curious what my weekends looked like? THIS.

 

Tree

I think this tree is 25ft tall, so it’s probably really easy to decorate. Also, in the foreground is the coolest dollhouse ever. I would have cut a bitch to have this when I was a kid.

 

Nutcracker

These 5ft tall dudes line the perimeter of the first room, so if you’re creeped out by nutcrackers, I’d advise not arriving early for the tour.

…and then I hung out with some of the world’s best musicians.

I was going to stay home last night. I had a somewhat uneventful day at work and after teaching a violin lesson, I thought it would be nice to go home, put on some sweats, and try to write something. This would have turned into me being on Facebook for about an hour, then watching The Colbert Report.

But I had received a Facebook invite to see the Philharmonia Quartett Berlin perform at UW-Oshkosh. At first, I was like, “Meh. Quartet music. It’s too far to drive and I just bought new tea. I’ll youtube the program.” But something kept tugging at me – a comment that one of my friends posted: “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to see some of the best musicians in the world.”

So I felt obligated. I knew I would kick myself if I didn’t.

I AM SO GLAD I WENT.

It was a fantastic reminder that I can’t expect my  life to be fun, exciting, or inspiring if I sit in my apartment alone. First off, I was welcomed by the sight of the building in which I spent the most while in college. I never thought I would be so comforted by the hideous architecture. I didn’t realize it at the time, but many of my most tumultuous and memorable moments happened in the Arts and Communications building.  That building witnessed the disintegration of my two most serious romantic relationships, the beginning of one of them, several crying spells (over boys, over finances, and over studies), a tipsy rehearsal (for what ensemble? I’ll never tell), and plenty of others I would rather not post on the internet. My point is that it was like walking back to a home – even if it was a stressful and oddly moist atmosphere.

I was able to see many of the people that made my time in the music department fun. It also made me really miss being there. At times, I hated how small the music department was – it was small, a little cliquey, and surprisingly gossipy at times. It sometimes reminded me of high school. But regardless, it was a community. There’s a sense of comradery among music students. We complain about how other majors only take four or five classes a semester while we’re taking seven or eight. We complain about the stinky practice rooms, and how the hall is either steamy or freezing. We complain about practicing piano or ear-training. We all have to trudge through the same classes. I would say it’s exactly what happens to men on the battlefield, just with reeds, spit valves, mallets, and rosin.

The concert was incredible. It inspired me to both play my violin and sell it – because why bother? I’ll never be as good as them. It was a pretty traditional program – two fantastic quartets book-ending a modern piece that everyone pretends to understand and really love. Mozart, Lutoslawski, and Beethoven.

The thing about music like Mozart or Beethoven is that it has a distinct grace and natural air to it. I’m too clumsy of a violinist to play Mozart properly, and I certainly haven’t played enough in the last six months to do Wolfgang or Ludwig any justice. I’m envious of violinists whose pianissimos are as powerful as their fortissimos. The four musicians tonight made it look so damn easy. It was hard to imagine any of them being an amateur. It sounded like they had been rosining their bows in the womb and perfecting arpeggios and three octave harmonic minor scales on the other side of the canal.

The Lutoslawski was completely different. It was sort of like they got up there and said, “Hey! Look at all the sounds we can make with these things!”

It was powerful to watch, but in the same sort of way I felt about The Master. I could appreciate its complexity and the strength of an ensemble that plays the piece, but I didn’t connect with it.

Afterward, I was planning on going home and reading some more Infinite Jest when I caught wind that one of the musicians had asked (in a perfectly charming German accent) where to get beer. A few of my friends jumped at the chance to take them downtown to Oblio’s. I wavered for a moment and then remembered: a once in a lifetime opportunity.

When else would I be able to say that I saw the world’s best string quartet (for free) and then had a few beers with them?

NEVER. That’s when.

So I went.

I spent most of the time talking to the cellist (who I thought was handsome in a mature-foreign-world-class-musician sort of way) and the violist. The cellist said he enjoyed Wisconsin and was glad that our beer had improved. We ended up talking about the Lutoslawski piece for about twenty minutes, with the violist talking and half-singing the thing while we followed the score (which looked INSANE, by the way). As I guessed, the piece wasn’t exactly measured – the bars are more of suggestions. Phrases are repeated and ended by cues and rests are counted in seconds (not beats). Basically, the musicians have to function as a single unit (which, I realize, all ensembles truly have to do) in order to achieve a successful performance.

But when I told them I was glad they ended with the Beethoven, they both laughed their hearty German laughs and asked if I wanted another beer.

It was a great night. And while I love blogging and writing, I’m so glad I didn’t stay home in front of my computer.

My Favorite Thing

Thinking of my favorite thing is difficult. My no-brainer response is my violin. I’ve had it since my sophomore year of high school. I spent many nights and weekends were spent at McDonalds with my pores getting clogged with french fry grease and my patience growing thin with the trainees who couldn’t grasp the POS system.I can’t remember the exact cost, but I do know that I could have bought a fairly decent used car for the same price.

It’s been through a lot with me – a concerto competition, chair auditions, music festivals, youth symphony concerts, college auditions, college symphony concerts, quartet gigs, and lessons. But while I like my violin, I don’t always love it. Sometimes it’s a pain in the ass, but it’s more the operator’s fault than the instrument’s. My vibrato isn’t as loose as I’d like. I lost my bowhold four years ago and have been struggling to get it back ever since.

My second response might be my Kindle. That seems like a strange response because I’ve only had it for about 2 years now. I feel like an object that gets the title of My Favorite Thing needs to be owned for a significant amount of time. I got it for Valentine’s Day from my boyfriend at the time, Bill. He bought it the same day he gave it to me. I know because he asked to borrow my car. When he returned, he had a gift and a card. I sat on my bed and opened the gift. “Omigod, Bill! You got me a Kindle!”

“Yeah, it’s the one with the 3g access, so you’re able to get books without an internet connection.”

“Omigod. Thank you!” And I gave him a big hug. And a kiss. Lots of kisses too, I’m sure. I was thrilled. I was amazed how the screen looked like something I was supposed to peel off before using. When we went to bed that night, I crawled in next to him and read a Toni Morrison book by from the light of the street because I didn’t want to disturb him, though he told me I could turn a light on if my eyes were strained.

I’ve since used the thing to read a ton of books. I love that when I travel, it’s just one book instead of the three or four I’m usually reading at a time. It is always with me in case I find myself with an extra 10 or 15 minutes with which to read. I fall asleep reading and often wake up with it nestled under my pillow or tangled in my duvet, like an adoring mate. I love it.

There are other objects I could name, but there’s always an issue. My journal (Which one? I currently have two). The pearls Bill gave me for Christmas last year (I haven’t worn them in months and I have mixed feelings about clasping them around my neck). My copy of Lolita (It’s not the original – I lent that to a friend who lost it, then replaced it with an Everyman’s Library edition). My bed (how cliche). My wine glasses (I’ve only had them for a few months). My ipod (again, not my original. That was stolen and I inherited Bill’s. And it’s on its last leg now).

Many of the objects I think of have strong ties to other people. All of the things from Bill are pretty obvious. But even my copy of Lolita reminds me of another boyfriend. I bought it at a bookstore in Milwaukee because the cover intrigued me. I read it while we were fighting one week and it was able to completely transport me. My journals aren’t permanent things since over the last 8 years I’ve decided to get a new one every time something significant happens (a move, a breakup, a sudden realization that the $40 one at Barnes & Noble is prettier than the one I’m currently writing in).

Which brings me to the last thing I could think to name – a small gold necklace. My Aunt Laurie gave it to me my freshman year of college. She was cleaning out her jewelry box and asked if I would like anything. I don’t wear much jewelry – usually nothing other than earrings, and even those are usually just cubic zirconia studs. But the necklace stuck out to me. It was simple and delicate – very subtle. You might not even notice it unless you looked for it. That’s what I liked about it.

It’s like a little secret I carry with me, and only those closest to me get to see it. I’ve been wearing it on dates over a spritz of Chanel no.5, beneath a silky shirt and near my camisole. I’d like to think that men are interested in it. Why, I’m not sure. I imagine a man wants to kiss my collarbone where the minuscule chain rests. But it’s probably just a dumb curiosity: “What’s that shiny thing by her boobs?”

But other than attracting men to my neck, I just like the necklace. It came into my possession as a throwaway, but I still thank my aunt for giving it to me. It’s become mine in a way I hadn’t anticipated when I first got it. I’d never lend it to a friend. I take it off every night and hang it so the chain doesn’t tangle.

Unlike the other objects, it’s subtly me. My pearls make me feel like a Kennedy. My violin steals the show. My Kindle reflects nothing other than the fact that I love to read. My journals are often crass and full of things I don’t want to share with other people. And while Lolita has some of the most beautiful prose I’ve ever read, I will never write like Nabokov.

I guess for me, at least, My Favorite Thing isn’t so much about pointing to some object and saying “I really, really love that thing”. It’s more about something that makes me feel like myself unadorned, even if it is a piece of jewelry.