For some reason, I started believing when I was younger that the things I loved doing didn’t count. Almost all of my friends had some sort of sport or extra-curricular activity that they were passionate about. I never really had that. I started gymnastics when I was ten and by the time I reached the competitive level I was 12 and then there was puberty and middle school and realizing that no matter how much I loved it, I really started too late for someone without a supernatural gymnastic gift to be competitive at any higher level. So by 13, I was officially ‘without hobby’. I was weirdly naturally gifted at band, but after middle school I was bored with it and had no desire to continue. I loved choir but when I didn’t make the top choir on my first try I gave up. I had no athletic passions, and I felt like I didn’t have any passion that really defined me.
Except that wasn’t entirely true. I thought it was true. But it wasn’t.
Since I was a baby, I have loved books. My mom likes to tell the story of me at 18 months “reading” my favorite book when we would go grocery shopping and strangers thinking I was some kind of child prodigy able to read at a ridiculously young age. Of course I couldn’t actually read, but I had memorized the story and could recite the words and knew when to turn the page at the right time. Books have always been a passion of mine. I remember curling up in a chair and reading for hours on end as a child. I remember every year my very favorite gift was (and still is!) always a “book box” from my mom, overflowing with brand new novels that I would devour immediately.
And then there was the writing. The first vivid recollection I have about writing was in second grade. We were supposed to write a couple sentences about a picture assignment we had in class. I drew all different kinds of fruit, and once I started writing I couldn’t stop. Somewhere in my mom’s garage is a box that contains that picture, and instead of a two-line explanation on the back, there is a thick stack of wide-ruled paper stapled to it, my second-grade penciled imagination going wild as I wrote and wrote and wrote some story that I remember as a cross between ‘James and the Giant Peach’ and ‘Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.’ I have boxes and boxes of spiral notebooks filled with stories and poems and journal entries, from the age of 8 to 18.
And then something happened. I don’t know what, honestly. I got distracted with all the “academic” reading and writing of college, maybe. I forgot that I loved to read. I definitely forgot I loved to write. There were ten years of my life where I didn’t really read for fun anymore. And I completely quit writing. TEN. YEARS. I remember trying to come up with a hobby. Sitting at my mom’s kitchen island while she tried to name off things I might like. Nothing felt quite right. I still don’t know how this is possible, how I completely forgot about things that absolutely beat my heart for so many years.
One night three years ago, Will and I had our good friends, Will’s best man and his girlfriend, over to our apartment. She was talking about a blog that she had started, how it had gained a lot of followers and how she had started submitting her writing *for money* in various arenas. She pulled up a recently accepted article she wrote, and I read it. This was the first time I felt it – a teeny, tiny pull that said that was what I should be doing. I remembered in college reading the blogs of girls I had went to high school with who had already gotten married and pregnant. I loved, loved, LOVED reading them, loved hearing the details of their life, the mundane parts and the big announcements and just generally feeling like I was reading a real-life story, which I was. These blogs about everyday life were absolutely magical to me. I felt extremely creepy, but that wasn’t enough to dissuade me. I remembered thinking that I would love to be able to write so freely for others to read. But I stopped myself where so many other people do. I recognized myself and my story as uninteresting, unimportant, not worth it.
Throughout the next couple years, I noticed a couple other friends bravely beginning blogs and websites. And that ache started growing stronger until I was opening new links to their posts with an almost jealous urgency – so eager to see what they had to say and wishing wishing wishing that I was doing the same.
I kept the idea secret for quite a while. I didn’t want to tell anyone because I didn’t want them to make me feel bad. I was afraid people would make fun of me, ridicule me, judge me, lecture me. I didn’t want any of that. But I was aching to write. I can’t think of a more perfect word than ‘aching’. It was a physical sensation, this strong desire to do something and the pain of my pushing it down and saying “no. Not now. Not you.” It hurt.
When I decided I was going to do it, I did it. It took me one week to set up the website and get a handle on how to use it on a basic level. I ran into a multitude of quotes and advice basically saying “ASHLEY. YOU ARE NEVER GOING TO BE F***ING READY. JUST F***ING DO IT ALREADY.” So I did. On New Years Eve I bought my domain name, and I published my first blog on January 7th.
And here I am, one year later. Every single time I hit “publish” I get a jolt of fear and a rush of excitement. Because you never know how something you write is going to be received. I have been praised, I have been criticized, I have heard crickets.
And I am damn proud of myself. As a girl who quit anything I couldn’t be perfect at, I am practicing, every week on being imperfect and finding joy anyway. I am challenged by each and every piece that I write. I know myself infinitely better than I did before I started blogging. It has been the scariest thing I have done (besides having a baby – that one DEFINITELY takes the cake) in a long time.
But in one year, I re-found my passion. I re-acquainted myself with a true love of my life that for some reason I didn’t think was valid or good enough. Reading and writing is in my bones. I know now that I doubt I can ever give it up again. Sometimes I need it more than other times. Sometimes the passion or anger or joy or pain or excitement or disappointment is too much for me to hold within my own body. Putting it on the page and setting it free in the world is *hands down* the most therapeutic thing I have ever done.
In one year, I have reached millions. You guys. Over A MILLION people have read my words. My words have been read in over 175 countries. Writers and advocates who I have enthusiastically followed and been a fan of have read my words, shared my words, and praised me. It is unreal. In one year, I have heard the personal struggles of people I thought I knew, people I barely knew, and complete strangers. I have found alliances and support in places I never expected. I have felt my heart so full I don’t even know how its possible it hasn’t exploded already.
I’ve also felt extremely vulnerable, unsure, and downright scared. I look back at some things I’ve written and hated them. Some of the pieces I have loved the most have totally bombed. I don’t recognize myself anymore in some pieces and don’t agree with some of the things I have written. But that’s life. I’m growing, changing, contradicting myself, changing my mind, trying to stay open. Its kind of beautiful. Messy, for sure, but still kind of beautiful.
I am brave in some ways, but not in others. I am not a risk taker. Fear is often times enough to shut me up, push me down, keep me from growing. This year I started to be just a little braver. I started to look at my fears and say, I’m gonna do it anyway. So I don’t know what it is for you, if there is something you love but have forgotten or something you’ve always wanted but been too afraid to try. But if there is? Go ahead and borrow the jist of every inspirational quote I read when I was trying to decide if I should do this or not:
“________ (insert your name here). YOU ARE NEVER GOING TO BE F***ING READY. JUST F***ING DO IT ALREADY.”
Good luck, I love you guys. I seriously do. For taking time to read my words, comment, message, share, and just give me encouragement to just keep on. Happy one year anniversary my friends! And here’s to many more!