Dear Mom

Mom, if you are reading this, please forgive me for going against what you’ve taught me, but I must admit, I have always believed this world would be a better place if we talked to more strangers. I’m not talking about the strangers that you sat me down and warned me of when I was 8 because I kept stopping people on the street and asking for their business cards to add to my obsessive collection. I’m referring to the people who surround us as we navigate through our daily routines and how we often treat these encounters as obstacles instead of opportunities. If less people sat in silence in the back of their Uber and more people asked their waitresses “Do you mind telling me about your tattoo?” or their subway neighbors, “What’s that book about?”, I can’t help to think that these small exchanges would have immeasurable impact.

This belief has been the root of my unwavering passion to become a part of today's world of advertising. I have been lucky enough to spend the last 4 years at Syracuse’s Newhouse School of Public Communications falling in love with a misunderstood art that is too often stereotyped by its complicated past. Take my grandma for example. In the 60’s, my grandma smoked a pack of cigarettes a day and had neighborhood couple’s over for what my mother gingerly refers to as “special dinner parties”. In 2016, my grandma takes 2-hour power walks every morning and boards guide dogs until they are ready for their permanent homes. The point is- she’s changed since the 60’s, and so has advertising. While my grandma began raising a family and became a source of encouragement and support, advertising evolved into a powerful storytelling platform for inspiring and sharing those conversations that we as individuals often neglect to initiate. As I join this ever-changing, influential industry, I’ve made it my dream and responsibility to deliver powerful stories to the masses in order to spark crucial conversations between individuals.

 

 

A Drag queen with a phd

I currently possess the ability to offer my vote to any of our sparkling presidential candidates, and on May 29th I will gain the power to waltz into every bar that has graciously denied my over-smokey-eyed, teenage self. Yet, even as I reach these pivotal benchmarks, I would by no means claim to be a “grown up”. This is mostly because:

1.   I still pick out the M&M’s out of my trail mix

2.   I still can’t spell restraunt correctly on the first try (There’s your proof). 

But as I explore the globe, I have found my mind wondering less about when I will reach this coveted adult status and rather who I want to be when I get there.

What kind of person will I be? What will I be passionate about? Where will I leave my mark?

These thoughts flood my mind as I explore new corners of the world. 

The part of traveling I find most amazing is that precise moment when an object, known or unknown, instantly transforms into a story as you experience it. A moment can be as picturesque as biking through Berlin and arriving at that wall of graffiti when youre struck with the realization that that is, in fact, The Berlin Wall standing before you. Or, it can be a more....unique....situation like holding your friends hair at 3AM in Paris and realizing that she is covering a plaque signifying the death place of King Louis the something in 2 Euro wine. It really varies, ya know?

Either way, it's in those moments where you realize the incredible truth that everything we see is there for a reason. A symbol of the past. A persons passion brought to life.

This doesnt just go for the monuments and long dead royalty; it applies to every unique detail that furnishes a culture. 

It can be three kids fantasies to build an upside-down apartment brought to life by transforming an old brothel into a bar with furniture glued to the ceiling (Madam Claude Berlin, Germany) or twin brothers revival of their 80’s childhood with a café offering over 120 cereals and 30 flavors of milk to enjoy along with nostalgic cartoons (Cereal Killer Café, East End of London).

It is these dreams turned to reality that inspire me to wonder those classic, cliché-ass questions of...who will I be? And most importantly, will I get a personal plaque for people to throw up on in 100 years? Because Id be honored.

I believe these constant thoughts arise from a common anxiety, shared among many of my college friends, which is the overwhelming desire and pressure to have a “thing”. Sure, we all have majors at this point, but what’s my personal thing? What are my hobbies? What the fuck do I put in my Tinder bio? I think it’s human nature to want to find your thing, or at least not have a heart attack on the first day of school when the teacher leisurely asks the class to go around and share a couple fun facts. Like, I don’t know, I do a pretty decent dog bark and from ages 7-12 I formed an extensive collection of random business cards that I kept in a plastic container hanging from my neck. What do you want from me?

This thing” Im referring to is the desire to establish ourselves. Take one of my current professors in London this semester for example. For three hours a week, my professor throws on pants and a button up, puts his MA and PhD to work, and teaches a riveting class called Sex, Gender, and the City. But just beyond the classroom, youll find those clothes swapped for a dress and heels as he performs in drag across London. At first, I found this hard to believe coming from a towering man with a full beard until one day we were discussing the origin of restrooms as a place for women to rest and remove their corsets when he explained, You cant take a shit when youre corseted as fuck. I speak from experience. Safe to say I didnt question his glitter-covered night job after that day. You cant really question someone with insight like that. What Im getting at is the fact that, he is someone whos found their thing. Someone who has their passions in order and the ability to go from ties to tits whenever his heart desires.

For me, it has never been an issue of a lack of passion for finding my thing, but instead finding a place to focus it on. This yearning to direct this burning passion towards something has led to a plethora of phases throughout the years. Actually, if you were to lie out my Christmakah wishlists of the past, you would have a perfect visual timeline of the countless Ashley reinventions throughout the years.

Update: I Facetimed my mom and asked if she by any chance saved my Christmakah wish lists and she seemed baffled and annoyed that I would imagine she would take the time do something like that. Which, frankly, is a surprising reaction coming from a woman who has a bag of my baby teeth in a drawer somewhere, but whatever.

Instead, here are some numbers to give a little context of the identities of Ashley’s past:

2004-2006: Skater chick dewd

 + 9 skateboards
 + 2 helmets
 + 30 Thrasher Magazines (all for the one page of stickers in the back, obv)
 + 47 more stickers
 + 6 arrays of colors in DC’s and Vans
= one solid Ollie a considerably less solid kickflip 

2007-2009: Angsty garage band girl

 + 2 Guitars
 + 3 Teachers
 + 46 picks (mostly skulls)
 + 4 Guitar Straps (again with the skulls)
 + 1 pop-art painting of The Beatles
 + 1 framed Jimi Hendrix Quote
= The ability to play Smoke on The Water and 1/2 of Day Tripper

There they are. A small glimpse of my beginning-life crises that have lead me to this point. But something I have recently realized is that I am actually quite proud of my ankle-deep knowledge in a wide variety of subjects. I may not be a master in a particular area yet, but put me in a room with just about anyone, anywhere, and I bet I can reach deep into my bag of dinner table facts and pull out something that allows me to connect. It’s like not actually being fluent in another language, but being able to ask, “Where’s the bathroom?” or say, “Fuck off". You know. The necessities.

But, what does this all mean in terms of that question: who will I be when I grow up?

Well, as I meet new people with new "things" each day, I realize it's really not that "thing" that defines us. Instead, each of us is a unique combination of the small things. Just as my girl Maya AngeIou puts it, "You are the sum total of everything you've ever seen, heard, eaten, smelled, been told, forgot - it's all there". What I think she was really trying to say is that you dont just wake up one morning as a drag queen with a phD, but what you do wake up with is 24 hours and the opportunity to seize them. It's what we do in these hours that makes us who we are.

I believe that one of these mornings, at some point in my life, all these small and seemingly meaningless things will end up meaning absolutely everything. One day, a months phase will refuse to fade, and when that day comes, no matter when it is, I will know that every guitar pick, skateboard deck and piece of random stranger wisdom will be a part of my story. 

What's your wifi password?

“Can you imagine doing this without a phone?”

A question that has come up countless times since I began my adventures abroad. I took off on December 28th 2016 from San Francisco, and have since then explored seven countries with a major dependence on that small blue dot on my screen.

This question first entered my mind over Christmas break when my Grandma’s bf (go gram), did what most seasoned (old) people do and…talked…a lot.  Which, honestly, I am more than okay with because old people have a right to tell stories. Just as kids have a right to ask dumbass questions because they don’t know anything about anything, old people have a similar right to tell stories because they know everything about everything. Which they don’t. But Jesus Christ, you don’t tell them that.

Anyway, back to the question. The question about technology entered my mind as he began to recount his experiences touring Europe in the early 70’s in a brand new yellow VW van with his first wife. Wait wait wait. Did you say 70’s? OG yellow VW van? I don’t think he was quite aware of the insane nostalgic, Tumblr porn he was casually spewing. I perked the fuck up as he laid out a typical day on the road:

Him and his wife (Dawn) would whip their van to the tune of Black Sabbath, whistling along to Pink Floyd in perfect key until coming across a camp filled with like-minded, tie-dye wearing, loose moral hippies like themselves. After a casual acid trip and floating around the fire in Levi bellbottoms, they would rise the next morning and simply decide as a group of strangers where their next destination should be. Once decided, they would simply caravan along to the next stop.  HOOLIGANS!

Okay- a few disclaimers:

1.     I have no idea what his first wife’s name is, but “Dawn” was #5 on “Most groovy names of the 70’s” when I Googled it

2.     Pretty sure there was absolutely no acid involved being that his view on weed is “I could never do that stuff, made me feel funny”…which I am pretty sure is the point of weed but w/e

3.     Honestly, about the only true detail of this story is the caravanning with strangers part, but bare with me b/c I was on my third glass of Rosé and I got excited as I was writing

The point I am trying to make is about trust. Trusting these strangers to lead them around Europe. Trusting the crinkled map in his glove box. Trusting a local on the side of the road after taking a wrong turn. The antiquated idea of trusting yourself to be in charge of your journey without the security blanket of a Google search bar in your pocket. 

When I first landed at Heathrow Airport and bought a SIM card, I quickly learned three things:

1. Whoever tells you there is no language barrier in London is full of shit

2. It feels way less socially acceptable to ask someone to repeat what they are saying when you know they are speaking the same language as you 

3. Just smile and nod

This is how I ended up with a SIM card that worked in a whopping two of the seven countries I visited throughout the next month. It wasn't until after my trip that I realized just how valuable this reality was. Being forcibly disconnected for the majority of my trip was the most disguised blessing I’ve ever encountered.

Now, I want you to understand that this is coming from someone who has Yelped everything down to public restrooms, and still Google Maps to my childhood dentist of 15 years. I love technology. I depend on technology. But, as I cordlessly traveled, I found something intrinsically beautiful about trusting your gut. Something rewarding about trusting the vibe of a restaurant just walking past. Something warming about stumbling upon a quaint café rather than mapping the closest Starbucks (or god forbid McCafé) for free wifi. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes you fuck up and end up at a Mexican-Czech fusion restaurant in the middle of Prauge where they offer you the English menu before you even speak, but sometimes you find yourself eating the fattest schnitzel you’ve ever seen in a Vienna coffee shop surrounded by locals smoking mad men style inside and meet 3 film students in a polygamous relationship who give you a list of all the best underground, unmarked clubs in the city.

Who knows. I’m still working on finding my happy medium in the screen world, but I just don’t think a blue dot can lead you to shit like that.

PS. What are the chances I stumbled upon this babe while walking through Paris 

Yellow Van