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 you’re 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 friend’s 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 person’s passion brought to life.
This doesn’t 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 I’d 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” I’m 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, you’ll 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 can’t take a shit when you’re corseted as fuck. I speak from experience”. Safe to say I didn’t question his glitter-covered night job after that day. You can’t really question someone with insight like that. What I’m getting at is the fact that, he is someone who’s 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 don’t 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.