a thirtieth birthday

I turn thirty on the 26th of this month. I haven’t decided yet if I am going to be traumatized by turning thirty or if I’m going to take it in stride and be chill about being an unsuccessful but surviving adult, still living in their parents’ basement. Who knows? This next 24 days are going to be a real adventure.

Most of my freakouts have been not age related, but milestone related. I freaked out about going to middle school. I freaked out about going to high school. I freaked out about going to college and graduating college and going to grad school and graduating grad school and moving cross-country and moving back and moving cross-country again.

But the birthdays? Nah. I like birthdays. I remember ten being a big deal — double digits! — and thirteen! And I failed my driver’s test on my sixteenth birthday, so that one was pretty garbage-y, but otherwise I’ve been okay so far. Birthdays are happy, celebratory. I spend the entire month of my birth making myself the center of everyone’s attention and because I am just that annoying and because the people around me are just that amazing, they not only tolerate it, but encourage and participate in it.

I feel old all the time. I feel old when I realize how young other adults are. I feel old when I realize — with a suddenness that should be impossible at this point — that I will not publish my first book before I am 25*. I feel old when I see Taylor Swift. I feel old when my bones ache — which is sometimes daily — and I feel old when I hear a song I loved as a kid played on an “oldies” station. I feel old when I don’t like something intended for youths and old when I do. I feel old when I wake up with a headache or when I decide not to have a drink because being buzzed sounds exhausting. I feel old constantly, but I have always, since I was a kid, and it has never had anything to with the numerical value of my age.

I am old. I have always been old. I am perhaps slightly less old now, at thirty, than I was at 25, and most definitely than I was at sixteen. I will likely always be old.

But for me, old is just the way to be and the way I have been has worked out pretty well for me. So bring it, thirty, I’m waiting.

*And now not before thirty. What a failure.

totally top five 2k14: stuff

We’ve come to the end of the list-making! The end of everything I loved in 2014! The random stuff I loved that I couldn’t1 manage to shove elsewhere!

5. The Gym

Uggggh, I cannot even begin to explain how much I hate that I even considered putting this on the list, let alone actually did it. I went to the gym in college and I always hated it because it was boring and tiring and full of weird people. I started going in 2014 when our fancy new rec center opened and actually turned out to be pretty nice and Crystal was willing to suffer by my side.

For me, it’s really helpful to have a gym partner, headphones, and a Kindle2 and even though I usually hate it at the beginning and at the end and sometimes in the middle, I usually get in the zone enough with my book and my Cardio Hip Hop to get through it.

I sleep better, I feel more rested, and have less pain when I work out. And okay, I guess I just feel generally better when I do it on the regular. Annoying as that is, for that alone, I’ll begrudgingly let it have a spot on the list.

As secondary faves having directly to do with the gym, I have to also mention:

FitBit One which I got as a gift in February and have worn almost every single day since. I don’t know how useful the information is but I do enjoy having it!

Also, the Skechers Flex Appeal New Rivals which are the only walking/workout/gym shoes I have ever worn and actually liked rather than tolerated. They are so comfortable that I sometimes wear them in public with regular clothes like some kind of mom.

4. Target

Okay, so I grew up by a Target and then we got a nicer Target and then my sister lived right by a TWO-STORY Target, but never in my life have I appreciated Target the way I do now. The closest Target to us is two hours away, which means if we pass through for any reason whatsoever, I am spending an hour, minimum, in Target. My oncologist is in a city where they have two Targets and I feel like I’m in some kind of mighty prairie metropolis. On a recent trip, we went to Target twice then stopped at another one on the way home as well. And the current rumor is that we might be on track to have a Target in two short years. If I’m still here, I’ll probably be first in line to shove other people to the ground in pursuit of those sweet Cartwheel deals.

I don’t know exactly what I buy at Target or what compels me to wander the aisles, somehow both dazed and overexcited, but I do know I’ve spent more money at Target in 2014 than I have at any point in my life before. I even have the Target Debit card. I have a problem and I love it.

3. Lumosity & Elevate

I have always had a terrible memory, terrible enough that my sister calls me Goldfish, and I’d learned to cope with notes and apps and all kinds of things. In 2014, I decided to try exercising my brain with more than just the media I consume and started using Lumosity in app form between switching over to their superior and more varied desktop version3 almost exclusively. I play four times a week, usually, and I don’t know that it’s scientifically done anything of use4 but anecdotally, I have definitely noticed an improvement in a couple of my brain areas. I definitely improve at the games, which is pretty rewarding, but I’ve noticed my ability to multitask has improved and my memory has definitely gotten better. Not bad for some goofy games, right?

Elevate is newer to me, but I think I like it even more than Lumosity. It targets different things — I find Elevate’s games to be more practical, while Lumosity’s are more indirect. It’s like… If your brain was training for a marathon, Elevate would be the time your brain spent running, while Lumosity would be your strength-training and stretching. Both are necessary, but the results feel really different.

I don’t pay for Elevate, partially because the free service is awesome, but mostly because $4.99 a month is just way, way too high for me. I’m sure it’s worth it — what’s available free is seriously wonderful — but I’m just too cheap.5 Definitely snag it for free though, you won’t regret it.

2. Washi Tape

This is probably one of the goofiest things I could’ve put on this list, but I see washi tape every day and use it weekly and am pretty much surrounded by it constantly, so I kind of can’t hide how much I love it. Goofy, yes, but also a legit fave.

I think I bought some Martha Stewart washi from Amazon at the beginning of 2014 and wasn’t wildly impressed with it6 but then ended up ordering some of this stuff and loved it. Then I started decorating my Moleskine7 with it and then… I started seeing it in Target and now it’s… a problem.

Anytime I obsessively collect something, my girlfriend makes fun of me8 and there is nothing she mocks me for more than my love of washi. I’m very proud.

1. TokyoMilk Dark No. 62: Tainted Love

Okay, so this was supposed to be number one on the Bath & Beauty List but I kind of dropped the ball and forgot about it while I was writing the post, even though there’s a 99% chance that I was actually wearing it while writing the post.

I love perfume and have a solid collection curated since I was, oh, like 14?9

But I am really, really picky about what I’ll spend on. Perfume is expensive! And I really need to love something to drop the cash on it. I have never been the kind of person who can just wear one kind of perfume until it runs out and then switch to something new, nor could I be the kind who has only a signature scent. I like to have a nice big tray full of choices to pick from each morning, but every single one has to be a scent I love.

I bought Tainted Love at the Sephora in the MALL OF AMERICA after smelling pretty much every single bottle on their wall of scents. I had gone in to buy Spicebomb and almost did, but it ended up not smelling great on my skin. I kept gravitating back to the TokyoMilk bottles because they just look so pretty all lined up together. The TokyoMilk scents can be… kind of weird. I think they’re going for ~edgy and if edgy smelled good, I would be so into it, but it turns out edgy mostly smells like patchouli which is the worst.

Despite how lacking I found the rest of the selection, Tainted Love is great. The notes are dark vanilla bean, orchid, white tea, and sandalwood, which is really warm and sweet without being grossly sugary or overwhelming. The sandalwood makes it a little masculine, which I love and it seems to last on me well enough. It just a great fall/winter scent and I am going to be so sad when it gets too warm to wear it. And, bonus!, it’s only $36 a bottle. A steal!

Next time I’m in a Sephora, I’m going to obsessively smell every single TokyoMilk scent again until I find another one I love. Tainted Love is so good that there’s no way it’s their only winner.10

Previously: 2K12 | 2K13 | JAMZ | MOVIES | BATH & BEAUTY | TV | ALBUMS | BOOKS

1. Or forgot…

2. Had I had my Kindle when I went to the gym in college, I’d have probably managed to become a regular.

3. You get access to both and the app has finally started to get more games, so I am fonder of it now.

4. The brain test you take to start and the one you take a while later like they suggest? My score didn’t change a single point.

5. To be fair, I would probably think Lumosity was too expensive too, were I paying for it myself.

6. I still am not impressed with the Martha Stewart tape and wouldn’t recommend it. Washi, as I have learned, should feel like masking tape and Martha’s is stiff and waxy and the rolls tend to peel and separate and are just generally crappy. Bad show, Martha.

7. I changed formats for 2015 — well, I’ve used this one before, just not in a while — and I like the washi in there too! Also, it’s cute as hell.

8. Even though she is the queen of collecting crafts and hobbies. Bins! Boxes! Full of yarn! She’s a hypocritical monster.

9. Most perfumes last pretty much forever. I have a bottle of Ralph Lauren Romance that I bought at Macy’s when I was starting my freshman year of high school that still smells flawless. I’ve had a few go bad on me over the years — looking at you Pleasures & Beautiful Sheer — but for the most part perfume is a great investment because it lasts. To be fair, if you like the smell of burned maple syrup, perfumes that have gone bad might be your thing.

10. Well, I’ll probably be running topless through a field screaming about how much I missed warmth, but when I remember to be, I’ll be sad.

this mutation

There are maybe three phone calls that you’d really describe as the worst in your life: the person you love most in the world has been killed or severely injured, your beloved pet has been killed or severely injured, your doctor has test results and they’re not good.

I got the third — for which I’m grateful, to be honest, the other two are worse — and it was the worst phone call of my life after the worst, most anxiety-riddled three weeks of my life.

My girlfriend took the call for me — the saint she is, appeasing my anxiety at the cost of her own, always — so I can’t recount it in perfect detail but the gist was, “You have cancer. We thought it might be a worse, more rare cancer, so we had to send all your bits and pieces away to be double-checked which is why it’s been three weeks, but no, you’ve just got the regular ol’ garden variety of endometrial cancer.”

Cancer is not a fun word, it’s not a kind word. It sounds ugly and feels wet and clunky and hiss-filled in the mouth. It effortlessly terrifies everyone who speaks English, makes them simultaneously recoil and lurch toward you in apology and pity.

I am 28 years old and I have endometrial cancer.

I have cancer. This is what I say to myself every morning upon waking and every night as I try to fall asleep. It’s a constant, gently barbing hum at the back of my throat any time my mind quiets. Sometimes, like the evening that followed the worst phone call of my life, it isn’t quiet. I say it aloud because if I don’t remind myself that it is real, I cannot cope. I fear I will forget and my life will return to normal without me realizing and it will come again and strip it away from me again, fresh and brutal.

I have cancer.

Sometimes it comes out like a cough, sudden and jarring, scratching at my throat. My eyes water and sting, but it passes quickly — a swallow of water down the wrong pipe — and everything’s okay again.

The night I learned he results of my labs, I looked in the bathroom mirror and fluffed my hair and stroked the skin under my eyes because I still haven’t found an eye cream I want to buy. (I’m almost 30 and I live in a place where the temperature is regularly 20 below, hydration is a priority.) I looked into a face that has cleared up tremendously in the last few weeks because of a drastic change in diet and exercise, my color finally returning to me after months of severe blood loss that necessitated two separate blood transfusions and a total of nine pints of strange blood commingling with my own. I looked in the mirror and I smiled and I said, “I have cancer and I have never looked more beautiful.”

My narcissism truly knows no bounds.

“I am reading Gone Girl on my Kindle and I have cancer.”

“I am shopping for a desk lamp at Target while having cancer.”

“I have cancer and I am moisturizing my face.” “I have cancer and I’m deep conditioning my hair.” “I’m cleaning the bathroom and I have cancer.”

It’s a refrain to center my reality. For now, this thing inside of me, this vicious brutality of mutation is part of me and I must learn it, acknowledge it, accept it.

Cancer will — hopefully, prayerfully, “Please, oh please”-fully — not always be my reality, the center of my every breath, but for now it is.

I have cancer.

I have cancer and with luck, it’ll all be fine.

I am Ash, I have cancer, and I’m doing okay, really.

back to school with judy blume: an outro

OKAY. I’ve put this off for too long and I can’t take it anymore. I want to wrap up my Back to School with Judy Blume project before I forget everything about all eight of the books I read last month. I put it off because this is my 100th post! And I wanted to figure out a way to celebrate that! And probably give away some free shit!* But I came up with absolutely nothing. So here we are instead.

school's out with judy blume
I spent my September getting emotionally educated by the inimitable Judy Blume and eight of her teen and pre-teen protagonists. I learned some stuff! And I remembered some stuff! And I shared a whole bunch of personal details that probably no one in their right mind ever needed! That was my favorite part though, let’s be real.

Most of all, though, what I learned/remembered is that books are important. Books are important. Writing for young adults is profoundly important. If there’s one thing from my adolescence that most shaped me as a person it was reading, reading, reading, all the time, anywhere, at any moment. I always had a book in my bag and I probably actually started carrying a bag with me because I needed somewhere to put whatever book I wanted to carry around with me.

I had always been a big reader, since I learned to read (at four, my mother wanted me prepared for kindergarten) but my eighth grade English teacher was a particularly valuable element in my quest for the written word. She gave me Fahrenheit 451 and a slew of other books that changed me as a reader, made me more open, made me more aware, and made me better. She gave me Chris Crutcher and Robert Cormier. She gave me Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. And, had I been a bit younger or bit less obnoxious/aggressive as a human being, I think she probably would’ve given me Judy Blume too. She gave me access to the incredible library she’d built in her classroom and she took me seriously when I came to her to ask for more. (Hell, she even took me seriously when I did lyrical analysis of a Korn song.) She was a phenomenal teacher and an incredibly important part of my youth. She believed books and stories were important and she made sure that reading stayed with me, that school didn’t dig it out of me. I wouldn’t be a writer now, had she not nurtured me as a reader. I wouldn’t have an MFA. I wouldn’t tell stories. And without telling stories, without writing, I don’t know where I’d be. Thanks, Mrs. Wells.

Books are important. And going back to school with Judy Blume taught me why: We need to know we’re not alone. And Judy Blume is important because she wants young women — young people, but young women especially — to know that to their absolute core, to know in their hearts that no matter how isolated they feel or how weird they think they are, they are not alone.

It sounds like such a simple thing, but I think it’s one of the Great Purposes of Writing and it’s one for which I strive desperately. Why else would I share each and every thought that flitters across my consciousness? Why else would I blog? Why else would I read blogs? As much as I love reading stories and experiences that are unique to each of the people I follow, I think the medium transcends when you have a moment of “Oh! Oh, yes! Me too.” And I don’t really think books are all that different.

And Judy Blume’s books excel at those moments, they revel in them, they both whisper and shout them at readers. From being the subject of childhood cruelty to figuring out how your genitals work, Judy Blume is there to say, “Hey, you’re not a weirdo! There are lots and lots of us just like you!” And no matter how dated the details may be — sanitary napkin belts and Milwaukee braces that would never make it through a TSA checkpoint — that heartfelt relatability is the core of what makes Judy’s stories successful and timeless.

Being a kid — particularly one between 10 and 16 — is just horrid. It’s ugly and confusing and scary. Not just in a puberty way — zits and pubic hair and periods and boners are all weird, but we survive — but in a “I have no idea how to be a human being” way. You want to be cool and you want to be liked and you’re constantly struggling with desperately wanting to be older and not wanting it at all. It’s years of genuine misery and confusion, longer if you’re not lucky, and it all sucks so much. Adolescence will always be those things — gross and weird and scary and confusing — but lucky for lots of us Judy Blume was, is, and will be there to hold our hands through it.

And maybe through those scary bits of adulthood too.

In case you missed ’em:
Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret.
Then Again, Maybe I Won’t
It’s Not The End of the World
Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing
Otherwise Known As Sheila the Great
Tiger Eyes
*No, you absolutely cannot have my Judy Blume books.

back to school with judy blume: blubber

Dear Judy,

Reading Blubber was not a fun experience. That’s usually a sign of a book that has affected me in some way, so that’s not necessarily a harbinger of doom or anything. But, let me tell you, it’s not not either.

I am fat, Judy. Extremely fat! Death fat. The kind of fat that they crop the heads off of on the news while talking about the OBESITY EPIDEMIC that apparently has a death grip on the entire United States. I was a fat kid, a fat adolescent, a fat teenager, a fat adult, a fat undergrad, a fat substitute teacher, a fat grad student, a fat unemployed writer, and I’ll probably someday die while fat. I will likely always be fat. And, Judy, though I know it’s not the dominant opinion, there’s nothing wrong with being fat.

I don’t think you hate fat people, Judy, but you sure do like to have your characters worry over their weight and the weight of those around them. This is a symptom of adolescence. I experienced it too! From both sides. And I wish, just once, your characters would learn that there’s nothing wrong with being fat. I wish Linda hadn’t dieted. I wish she’d stood up to the cruelty of her classmates, instead of joining in on it when it was foisted on someone else. I wish Jill had stood up for her. I wish someone had said, “Who cares that she’s fat! Let’s all stop being assholes!” But they didn’t. And that’s a massive bummer.

I won’t go in to all the things I’ve learned from being part of the fat acceptance movement. I won’t talk about the ways in which we ostracize and other fat people, the way we use their bodies as metaphors for greed and materialism. I won’t talk about the ways in which weight has little to do with health and how people can be healthy at every size. I won’t even talk about how weight and health are not morals and how being healthy doesn’t make you a good person or how people who are fat and unhealthy are just as deserving as respect and humanity as people who are fat and healthy or thin and healthy or thin and unhealthy. I won’t even really talk about how we are all deserving of respect, bodily autonomy, and a life free from body shame. And how all of those things are important lessons, not just for fat people, but for everyone.

Well, I guess I did talk about all those a little.

But what I really want to talk about is how, thus far, your books have offered moments of safety and surety for weirdos, Judy. Your gift as a writer is giving young people lively characters with whom they can find shelter, comfort, and camaraderie. Margaret and Deenie and Sheila and Tony and Karen all suffer the same pains and embarrassments and fears that real live adolescents do and you capture them with care and honesty. Your characters learn lessons from their mistakes and become better people. Because of that, your books act as both tools for learning and comforts, like a childhood blanket or stuffed animal when we’ve gotten too old to cling to them.

What I want to talk about is how Blubber doesn’t comfort anyone. It doesn’t teach anyone. It doesn’t provide an example of a decent human being or show us how not to be like those who do wrong. These children, including Jill in whose perspective we have been mired, are terrible. They’re cruel and hateful and vicious. They tear Linda down until she is literally berating herself unprompted in order to perform the normal functions of her day unabused. I hoped that Jill would stand up for her in the beginning and then I hoped that Jill would learn a lesson from her own foray into bullying and then I was just left to desperately hope that she would at least understand what she had done to Linda because she was suffering it herself. But she doesn’t. She learns a lesson about… not caving to bossiness?

I’m not saying that Blubber isn’t honest. Kids are terrible, horrible, monstrous creatures that go straight for your weakness like a wolf with a vulnerable jugular, but fiction, especially fiction targeted toward young audiences, should be aspirational. It should hope for a better world full of engaged, empathetic humans who don’t want to cause injury to one another.

I was a fat kid who took an enormous amount of abuse from my classmates. I was also a fat kid that fought back, who bullied back, who laughed it off even when it was too much to take. I understand Linda’s decision to join the other side, to seek shelter from the storm deep in the clouds.

What I cannot understand is why Jill learns so little. Children are capable of empathy, often far more than adults are, and yet she remains callously impervious to the plight of her classmate. It’s so hard to watch Jill become Baby Brenner with so little recognition that this is almost exactly what she was just perpetuating alongside her friends. How she can be so outraged at the abuse Tracy receives because of her race and yet be unable to process that to the cruelty she herself commits?

I can’t imagine having been eight or nine or ten or, hell, twelve and reading Blubber and feeling anything other than scorned and hated and miserable. A book like this should be for the Blubbers and the Tracys and the kids who are emotionally brutalized by the world around them. But Blubber isn’t for those kids, it’s for the Jills and the Carolines and the Rochelles. It’s for the ones who refuse to stand up when other people are being hurt. It’s for the ones who say, “There are some people who just make you want to see how far you can go.”

I can’t understand it, Judy. I just can’t.

– Ash