25 Candles: One (Challenging) Wish I Have On My Birthday

Today is my birthday and I’ve officially turned the big 2-5. I am 25-years-old. 

To be honest, I thought time would creep slowly to this point in my life but it still feels like yesterday as I watched the time on my alarm clock moving steadily on my last time being 19 on the eve of my 20th birthday. I imagined one thing when the clock struck midnight that my 20s would be a thrill and an episode of Living Single brought to life.

Well, I’m halfway through my 20s and quite frankly….
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I’ve had multiple quarter-life crises by the time I reached 23, in a panic about wanting to make the best out of this time of my life that’s flying by and I won’t get back. I don’t want to look back years from now and sum it up with miserable. I want to make the remainder of my 20s sparkle, right up to the last second before I turn 30.

Then I could set up the rest of my life to with what I’ve started now.

I’m an introvert with a flaw of being pessimistic when things in my life aren’t going right instead of channeling my optimistic self that can easily be boosted through an episode of Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday.  I’m guilty of keeping the things that are interesting, colorful and out-of-the box about myself to myself. I can be stubborn but at this point I can see how much all of that hinders me from letting my artistic nature run free. In 2015, I got a glimpse of the good that my visions bring when I let go and let God…a flood of people who appreciate and relate to what I have to bring.

I will use this as an example until you get the point! That article I did for Black Girl Nerds changed my life when I decided to cut the strings of one of my colorful balloons go (I like metaphors, okay?) and to my surprise, being admired by readers. It was the most liberating feeling in the world with all the messages I received on social media with people thanking me for writing it and making me feel that I wasn’t alone. And I almost didn’t write it. I would’ve robbed myself of a moment that made me want to keep telling stories and let every balloon free to float around.

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After reading Shonda Rhimes’ hilarious and insightful book Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own Person (buy here), I was inspired.  A fellow introvert, Rhimes was propelled to say YES to things she was afraid of doing —  like avoiding press interviews, college commencement speeches and having a panic attack before an interview with Oprah that she doesn’t remember not one moment from — when her sister mumbled to her, “You never say yes to anything.”  

Those words set of a grenade for Rhimes who decided to dedicate a year to pushing that inner introvert conscious screaming no to say yes to what scared her and it changed her life. I flipped through the pages of her memoir and saw every thought reflected

So in honor of my 25th birthday, I’m making one birthday wish for myself that’ll be a challenge: to put myself and my dreams out of my comfort zone. I also thought, you feel awkward and self-conscious about being on camera, document yourself in the process. Put a bunch of eyes on you.

Thanks, me. I guess nicknamed myself after a fruit, claiming I could make it into lemonade would come at a price…making it.  Hopefully this will inspire at least one person who reads this and that’ll be the frosting on my birthday cake.

xoxo,

Ashley

Happy New Year!

Happy 2016!

I have to say, 2015 was a hell of a ride for me with ups and breakdowns, triumphs and eye-opening moments that fueled me. January 6, 2016 is special because it’ll be my 25th birthday and that’s a major milestone. I confess, I still feel like I’m locked at age 18 with a little more wisdom but learning to “adult” is a different world.

So, can I just say that having Rachel True (Half & Half) not only came to my blog but read my post about my weight loss. Get into that…

via Twitter
via Twitter

I have so much vision that I want to breathe life into and the little moments in 2015 lead me in that direction. I met Angela Davis and Laverne Cox in the same week, I saw Janet Jackson live in concert, I interviewed Amber Nash from Archer, Missy Elliott followed me on Twitter, a ton of celebrity interactions, Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly album changed my life and inspired me to write a short story — that I’ve decided to submit to a contest.

One of the standouts for me was the love I received for my article for Black Girl Nerds called, “Human Kaleidoscope: To Be Black, Quirky and Introverted” that caught the attention of actresses Rachel True and Cree Summer.  My Twitter mentions were filled with retweets, likes and beautiful responses from so many people who identified with me coming to terms with who I am and embodying that. And to think I almost didn’t write it and second guessed myself but seeing that word ‘quirky’ while randoming poking around the Black Girl Nerds site sparked the idea.

A person on Twitter suggested that I start a web series about my experiences as a “quirky, black, introvert” and thought after a while, “Why not?” Then realized that I’m awkward on camera and a little self-conscious but then after watching Amanda Seales’ hilarious Get Your Life series and her brilliant idea, I’ve been coming up with ideas!

 

 

Her curls hold the magic of the universe.
Her curls hold the magic of the universe. (And I meant to say *past) 

Goals for 2016

  • Build a stronger relationship with God and lean on him instead of temporary things to fill my void.
  • Start a web series (and I thank one of my Twitter followers & Amanda Seales for encouraging me to go for it!) 
  • Get a full-time job (with benefits – because benefits are the cherry on the sundae).
  • Get my OWN apartment and become more financially stable and responsible. The after college struggle is real and I need my own space to truly be myself, create, run around naked and be free. 
  • Have my writing published in print or digital publications like Essence, Ebony, Huffington Post, Vulture, etc. 
  • Interview more notable people! 
  • Have my own ‘Year of Yes’ (word to Shonda Rhimes) and maybe…kind of…sorta consider taking up acting as a hobby. 
  • Write a book or TV script or hell, both! 
  • And when maybe when my stuff is all together….a boo will come along? 

What are your goals for 2016?

#LemonadeLesson: Life Is Chucking The Most Frustrating ‘Lemon’ My Way

Photo: Tyler Moncrief
Photo: Tyler Moncrief

Today has been a tough day for me in the mounting pressure, impatience and unhappiness I’m experiencing with where I’m at in this point of my life. I’m ready to be on my own.

For anyone who is unfamiliar with my story, I’m Ashley! I’m 24-years-old, quickly approaching 25 (Jan. 6) and I’m living at home with my parents post college, broke, and working two part-time seasonal jobs when all I want to do is to be a full-time professional writer and living in a city where I can bloom.

My ongoing relationship with retail and all of its trappings.

For weeks, I’ve been scouring the jobs sites of Indeed, Linked In and Journalism Jobs to find that right job for me because independence has been calling for some time and I’m going to need a little thing called health benefits before I’m cut off of my dad’s insurance at 26. So, yeah… no pressure.

A big, hot pink sticky is on display on my vision board where I scribbled one goal: “Out of the nest  and into my own place by 25! Jan. 6, 2016.” And then I started getting a few responses from potentials out of Michigan. From phone interviews to Skype sessions, everything went well and I impressed the editors, with one offer and others leaning towards yes! “Oh my God. It’s finally happening,” I thought.

My mom brought up my need to have a plan and the core of it is money! Which I’m scrapping to get. The majority of money I’ve managed to save has been sucked into my gas tank for travel and good ol’ relentless student loan payments. I felt like I couldn’t catch a break to save my life. The resistance I’m bottling inside of not wanting to be in this position boiled over and in a rare moment, I vented my failure on Facebook, which stunned my friends to respond to my angst.

 

Facebook

Curled up in my bed, my room entirely black with just the illumination of my computer, I started to cry and become miserable. I think at the core there’s shame for still living at home and trying to launch myself out of this into a space where I can finally grow. I didn’t imagine that my 20s would be this way, honestly. I’m still growing up and I feel my gut telling me to push out passed my fear of failing when I get out there.

So far I’ve had a few job interviews for positions that’ll take me out of the state, something I’ve been wanting for years. I live in a small city with scarce opportunities and want to be in an environment where I can thrive personally, professionally, artistically, religiously and beyond. I’ve claimed it, prayed for it and slapped the message on my vision board.

That moment of crying out, I needed that. But what this ‘lemon’ thrown at me showed a message that I need to stop stressing over my plans and feeling disappointed when things don’t turn out my way. I thought that these job offerings would be my one shot out of Michigan…but it’s not. I’m a work in progress, still, even with stop trying to help God lead my path. I can be so frustrating even for myself so I can imagine how I frustrate the man up stairs. I ask him for patience but one thing I know, even with that breakdown I had, I have so much potential and promise ahead of me.

This is why I decided to start this blog and reveal myself, good and bad, because I don’t know everything and don’t act like I do. One thing I do know is that my purpose is my voice and the stories I have to tell. Hopefully this one in particular has reached you. If it has, I’ve done my job.

#LemonadeLesson: “You are allowed to be both a masterpiece and a work in progress, simultaneously.” – Anonymous 

Those Times I’ve Had Numerous Celebrity Interactions

Amber Nash screenshot
My Skype interview with voice-actress Amber Nash, voice of Pam Poovey on Archer! | ASHLEMONADE

One question that I get all of the time from my friends, “How in the hell are you talking to all of these famous people on Twitter?” Or  in general.

I wish I could just say “I don’t know” but it just seems to be a law of attraction or as Amber Nash (“Archer”) put it during our interview when I told her the woman who voices Siri follows me, “You have a gift!”

Soon as I get a tweet, I screenshot it and save it for the memories and the sake of bragging.

I know a dream of mine, in the spirit of Oprah Winfrey, is to interview celebrities whose work I love and  admire in some way or fashion. I’ve declared that and the universe seems to be pushing people in my direction. I’m a storyteller at heart and I love getting to the essence of a person and making that shine when I tell their story.

I got to meet and shake hands with Angela Davis at the UM-Flint in Feb. 2015 (I had a dream once that she touched my afro and complimented it). Days later I met, took a picture with and ask a question to Orange Is A New Black star Laverne Cox during her visit to Saginaw Valley State University — who called me her “OG fan” for mentioning her appearance on I Want To Work For Diddy in 2007. I was in a “Hi!” distance of Gayle King and several feet from  Oprah at The Life You Want Tour in Detroit last year. Plus I shook hands with Sheri Salata, president of the OWN Network.

I have at least 450 followers as of now and I’m very active on Twitter. I tweet during Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy on Thursday nights with other of fans, so much so that Kerry Washington responded “YES!!!” and retweeted my photo of me with a glass of wine and popcorn.

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O’Shea Jackson Jr. (son of my favorite rapper Ice Cube) who starred in the N.W.A biopic Straight Outta Compton was tweeting fans one night and in a sea of thirst filled women tweeting their sexual desires and MapQuest directions to their home, I leaned on my humor to be different and he hilariously took notice:

I tweeted my favorite gif of Ann Perkins from Parks & Rec holding waffles and he dug it. | @ashlemonade
I tweeted my favorite gif of Ann Perkins from Parks & Rec holding waffles and he dug it. | @ashlemonade

I found that just by being myself: funny, real and a little offbeat sometimes works in my favor. And taking a chance. I’ve envision myself wanting to rub elbows, whether interviewing or working alongside celebrities, and the universe decides to have Missy Elliott favorite my tweet or Reagan Gomez send me heart emojis because I told her that her tweet helped me in some way.

I’m confident that it’s a sign of what I’ll be doing someday but until then, I’ll still be sending these love messages until Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson responds.

The Time I Experienced My First Janet Jackson Concert

Janet Jackson enchanting the crowd and we lived!

** I’m going to make a vlog post as well for my YouTube channel but I’m currently working through on-screen awkwardness .

I’d never been to a Janet Jackson concert before. EVER.  With her 7 year hiatus since the release of her last album Discipline, the announcement of new music and a world tour made me hell-bent to see my childhood idol live and in living color. I jumped at the opportunity and gathered my coins for the taking.

I got to attend her very first performance in the United States for the Unbreakable Tour in Grand Rapids on Friday, Sept. 11 and it was the most incredible two hours of my life. I almost stupidly decided not to go at the last-minute to avoid the highway drive but I’m glad I didn’t listen to myself.

As the days grew closer, I became so anxious and the two-hour ride made no difference. I never had the honor of seeing a Michael Jackson concert (the chaos of a crowded show and people fainting around me would stress an introvert like myself out) so I couldn’t let the chance go by to see Janet. Who knew if she’d pull another Sade move and we wouldn’t see her for 5-7 years again.

While we were in the arena anxiously waiting, she was tweeting backstage ready to shut shit down.
While we were in the arena anxiously waiting, she was tweeting backstage ready to shut shit down.

Grand Rapids + Janet: Lit, Lit, Lit: Janet Jackson’s Turn Up To Kendrick Lamar’s “Poetic Justice” Is A Must-See + Janet Jackson Gives Kendrick Lamar’s Poetic Justice The Ultimate Co-Sign

I sat in the arena, in pretty good view of the stage, as everyone filed in, took pictures or danced. My eye caught a heavyset white man in the floor seats with one hand in the air, the other cupping a beer and winding his hips to mix of Janet songs the DJ was playing. I was home amongst a crowd of Janet stans and it was pure perfection.

The moment the lights went down and her silhouette glowed from the curtains, every dance move, every “Oh my God!” I yelled as she went from song to song, as she looked to the crowd, giggled and said surely, “So many hits.”

Yes queen… your musical receipts are plentiful. And one  thing came to mind: “Janet, don’t ever leave again.” Then when she performed “If” with that oh so famous choreography, I made up in my mind that I want to be a sex symbol when I grow up.

And in true "stan" fashion, I went off in the name of Ms. Jackson on Twitter.
And in true “stan” fashion, I went off in the name of Ms. Jackson on Twitter.

I’ve loved Janet since I was a young girl, being glued to the television when her videos came on MTV and VH1 and because of her, my eyes were open to the beauty and freeness of sexuality. Especially with the site of her dancing erotically one a man strapped in a harness. Janet is bae.

It was a dream come true. Something I’ve imagined in my head and in the moment of being surrounded by other Janet fans, it was the most incredible experience I could ask for. It reminded me how much her music meant and still means to me. I still hope to have the pleasure to meet her and possibly even interview her. My fellow journalism friends assure me that I’m capable of asking the questions the people want, once I get pass hyperventilating and making a complete ass of myself  with tears and “Oh my God, I love yous” involved.

In that case, I really hope it happens.

#BornAndMade Campaign + Being Inspired

BORNandMADE

One thing you’ll discover about me is that I feed off of inspiration, or little “aha” moments as Oprah calls it, and it energizes and restores the faith inside me when I feel discouraged or uninspired. I pounce on it like lion to prey. Yes, that intense! Inspiration is what got me through times as a teenager when I didn’t know who I was and thought I had to follow other people’s expectations.

Starting this blog for instance is a way for me to overcome my fears to show who I really am authentically and by my own terms. If I could say something to my teenage self it would be to not to let the world steal what’s sweet about you.

Carol’s Daughter (a product I use faithfully on my natural hair) teamed up with the non-profit I Am That Girl to start the #BornAndMade movement to encourage women and girls to be themselves instead of listening to the voices telling them who “they’re supposed to be.”

Lisa Price, founder of Carol’s Daughter, wants to empower women to recognize the beauty that lies within themselves, saying, “It’s important for girls to understand and recognize their power and the right way to use it. It’s imperative to remind them of who they are, and what they are…in the world. If I can help with that, then I’m getting up for a good reason every day. Where we’re born, what we were made with — whether those are good or bad things — all play into the people that we ultimately become.”

To make your own photo, go to bornandmade.com  to upload your own selfie, fill out a quick form and create a phrase that best describes you and share!

Remember: sweetness is contagious.

-ashlemonade

The Time I Went From Poundcake To Protein Shakes To Get Fit

Fall 2013 vs. Summer 2015
Fall 2013 vs. Summer 2015

It was that dreaded moment at the doctor’s office when I had to kick my shoes off and stand on the medical scale for my physical to see how much I weighed.  Then there’s that anxiety when the bar slides as the scale teeter totters up and down.

“189 pounds.” I’m sorry, what?

I was one bite away from 190 pounds — the heaviest I have ever been in my life. I once compared my first driver’s license with a recent one and was disheartened on how much heavier my face looked. What made things worst were the little things I noticed. How I felt my stomach fold when I sat in my car, how I couldn’t fit any of the jeans and dress pants I own and having to buy new ones. In the back of my mind, I remember being teased for being “50 lbs. away from being 200 lbs.” as a teenager and countless other insensitive comments by family members that made me cry myself to sleep. I still hold that. It’s somehow a bullshit rite of passage that every female endure.

Since starting puberty at age 11, I dealt with feeling self-conscious about how I looked, including my weight that continued to fluctuate throughout college and the “freshman 15” was no damn help either. It was when I did a photo shoot with a local photographer this, when I really saw how heavy I was from my stomach to my thighs. Frankly, I didn’t like what I saw.

Several months earlier I met a fitness instructor by the name of Sarah Fechter who I interviewed for a story project. (Read her story here). After seeing before and after photos of her clients from her LifeUpgrade fitness boot camps, I wanted to be a part of it. That fall I did my first camp — 5:30 a.m. for two days a week. I missed 3 classes. because sleep is my constant companion next to Cajun fries from Popeye’s. It was rough and after finishing I fell off.

LifeUpgrade

March 2015, I finally decided to stop bullshitting and signed up for the six-week spring boot camp. I traded my overactive sweet tooth for protein shakes and clean eating: no sugary sweets, no alcohol, fried foods, and large portions. I also stopped drinking sodas, fast food and changed my eating habits. I had to drink a gallon of water a day and keep up the fitness routine in between which tested my weakness: consistency.

Sarah caught me in a moment where I was over it/dying of thirst.
Sarah caught me in a moment where I was over it/dying of thirst.

Waking up at 4:20 a.m. for three days for those six intense weeks challenged me in ways I both dreaded and needed to get it together. Planks, circuit training, burpees (oh, how I hate thee), running on bleachers with dumbbells and every intense workout imaginable and I felt victorious every time I survived. At weigh-outs at the end of June, I lost a total of 7 lbs. taking me to 182 lbs and between 3-4 inches off my waist, hips, thighs, calves and chest.

I celebrated afterwards with breakfast at iHop and making a funny Buzzfeed post that I hope speaks to your hunger spirit.

As I’m finishing up week 12 before the start of fall camp, I have shrunk down from wearing a size 16 pair of pants at the start of the year to a size 12! The biggest challenge for me will be fall and winter, the height of baking season and comfort food and living in hibernation because Michigan is frozen solid.

It felt good to be around other people who, like me, are trying to get their shit together, prolong their life and be their absolute best. It’s inspiring to know that you’re not alone in this. It’s also emotional because I’m a turtle and putting myself out there always makes me anxious but it’s something I’m working on overcoming. If you’re reading this and want to make a change about your health, do it and be committed. Seeing the before and after of the picture of me in college versus now and those little 7 lbs. makes me proud and showed me what I’m capable of.

On May 18, 2016, a year to the date that I started camp, my goal is to be in better shape that I was when I started and to finally have abs so strong that I can dare people to either punch and bounce quarters of them for entertainment value.