Look! My friend Ashley stopped by to share a guest blog. I love her. You will too. So, you know, read! And, also, you should follow her on twitter. Because she would like that. You can find her here: The Twitter.
Songs of Innocence and of Experience
by Ashley Bartlett
I was a fuck up as a kid. Not in a cute way. I almost didn’t graduate high school. Mostly because I had a problem with showing up. And on the days I did show up, I declined to do things like take exams or do homework. In fact, I generally would prop a book in my textbooks. Inevitably, the book would slip and my teacher would confiscate it and I would be sad until the end of the school day. Freshman year, I loved action. Tomorrow, When the War Began gave me a whole lot of thoughts on war and the definition of victors. Sophomore year, I was all over novels about witches. Weetzie Bat was my girl. Junior year, I discovered poetry. Blake and Plath were my favorites (still are), but Byron was pretty fucking cool too. Of course, I also started writing angsty teen poetry. It was not good.
But senior year, I found lesbian fiction. Radclyffe was my first, obvi. Above All, Honor was my goddamn bible. I carried it everywhere. Back and forth between Mom and Dad’s house, class, sleepovers, work, school trips. I still have pieces of it memorized. My copy is held together with packing tape. It’s stained with coffee and cherry cough syrup. I’ve dropped it in pools and bathtubs on multiple occasions. I learned more from that book than four years of high school. It was queer identity and a guide to loneliness and sex ed and stoicism and adulthood and a reason to not be afraid.
It was also the reason I decided that lesbian fiction was far better than poetry. Let’s all take a moment to be happy that I stopped writing poetry.
In my memory, it was in English class when I decided to write lesbian fiction. It probably wasn’t actually there, but I have fond memories of having books confiscated in room B-6, so I’ll let the recollection be hazy.
I graduated in 2004 (by an act of…God? That’s another story for a different day. It involved a month of in-house suspension, two charitable teachers, and one pissed off teacher who was ready to flay me alive. Out of love). It was the same year that Radclyffe launched Bold Strokes Books. I was definitely in that English classroom when I decided BSB was going to be my publisher. I was arrogant and innocent enough to think that dreams were real. I was entitled enough that the world hadn’t bitch-slapped hope out of me.
Over the next year, I had some…experiences. I dropped out of community college after a month. I stopped speaking to everyone I’d known in high school. I met my wife. I turned 18, moved out of my parents’ houses. I got fired for being gay. I enrolled in community college on my own dime.
In between all of that, I read. A lot. I scoured the BSB website. I wrote terrible short stories. I carried a Moleskin and pen because that’s what makes you a writer, right? Toward the end of that summer, I saw that BSB was publishing an anthology. So I sent in a story I had typed on a borrowed computer. And for some reason, they decided to accept it.
I’m arrogant. We know this. But I didn’t want to be the obnoxious kind of arrogant. So I studied the art of dropping gems into conversation. “Sorry, I can’t go out tonight. I’ve really got to finish these edits.” “Oh, my first story is going to be published next year.” No big.
But it was a big deal. Sure, it was just a short story. And, no, I can’t read it now without cringing. But I was published at 19. Still a teenager. That fact fueled a lot of things. Some more arrogance, of course. But also a wealth of possibility. When it came out and I was able to see my own name in print, that was fucking exciting. I immediately started writing the novel that became Sex & Skateboards. (I can’t read that without cringing either. But I think that’s pretty normal. It was my first novel. I edited it so many fucking times that I’ve fatigued any thrill it could give me.) That short story was validation, not just of my whimsical, childlike dreams. It was validation that I didn’t need to be what other people wanted me to be.
This month is a decade since I was first published. In those ten years, I did very little that I was supposed to do. But I did everything on my terms. I didn’t know any other way. I’m not a fuck up anymore. And I think that I never really was.
Ashley Bartlett was born and raised in California. Her life consists of reading and writing. Most of the time, Ashley engages in these pursuits while sitting in front of a coffee shop with her wife and smoking cigarettes.
It’s a glamorous life.
She is an obnoxious, sarcastic, punk-ass, but her friends don’t hold that against her. She currently lives in Sacramento, but you can find her at ashbartlett.com.