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“Is It Really Better Out There?” For Those Who Grew Up In a Small Town and Left.

In: Feeling Dead and Uninspired, Feeling Disillusioned With Life

We rolled down the country road in a white pick-up truck, a six pack in the back seat and nostalgia in the air.

His beard was that of a proper mountain man, eyes as blue as high school. We were coming down off the mountain after an afternoon of shooting—as in actual guns. I’d never shot a gun before—am I even allowed to do this as a liberal?—but another forever friend had graciously insisted. “Come over on Saturday,” he had said. “We’ll teach you.”

This is home. It’s a place where old washers are strapped to the back of pick-up trucks and people stand outside smoking cigarettes in their bathrobes. There is a sign-up sheet for pumpkin rolls on the counter of the local pizzeria—name, phone number, and how many y’want—and a pencil-scrawled list of those who have been banned from the local bar. An old girlfriend pulls up next to me at the Dunkin’ Donuts drive-thru: “I saw you cruising through town!” she said. “I knew it was you!” (Mind you, I am in a nondescript rental car, making this moment even more serendipitous for both of us.)

For as much as this town isn’t me, anymore, it’s entirely me. Even the smell of cheese fries and gasoline, as men from Texas frack the land and look on with lonely, saucer-filled eyes—that’s me, too. I know the old dirt roads just as well as any one of ‘em. I’ve worn those same Carhartt jackets, too, as I felt my fingers freeze at the tip of the steering wheel.

We idle in a gas station with the smell of beer on our breath, when my friend—the blue-eyed one—spoke:

“You’re the only one from our class who really left,” he said.
“That can’t be true,” I replied.
“Trust me.”

These are the conversations that make me pause. Is he upset with me for leaving? Have I abandoned those that I love?

“Every time I see some new fucking picture of you from somewhere else in the world,” he continues. “I think—there goes Ashley.”


I tap my foot. Pick at my thumb nail. Brace myself to be chastised. But what he says next takes me off guard. I am unprepared. It is not what I expected him to say.

He looks at me with earnest eyes:

“Is it really better out there, Ash?”

I look down. There is silence. A decade of divergent life experiences rushed in between us. There are a million different answers I want to give, but all of them feel superficial, hollow, only a tiny fraction of the truth.

Soon, though, he changes the channel on the radio and turns up the volume—perhaps to save me from answering. Perhaps to save himself from the answer. And onward we drive.

And so I have been thinking about the question non-stop for the past three days. How do you bottle the world and show it to someone? How do you explain, in a few words, how big the ocean is, and whether it is better than a pond?

So I asked Twitter: for those of you who grew up in a small town, how would you respond? Here were their answers.

I still haven’t formulated a proper response, but I can tell you this: as I accelerate onto the highway, I look around at the barren winter trees, the tractor-trailer-filled truck stop, and the big yellow bulldozers, and I cry. I cry for my past. I cry for the death of innocence. I cry for the people who are just as part of me as I am, myself.

And I cry because, once again, I must choose.

With every mile I drive, I choose.

With every place I go, I choose.

I choose to be both more me…and less.

Never better, but always different.

Jun 14


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Jun 14, 2019

So, here’s an idea: making money is not courageous. Anybody can ring a bell for twenty years. “Look, ma—I’ve been standing over here ringing this bell for two entire decades—durh, durh, durh—and I finally got a sticker!” Making money is a relatively straightforward consequence of showing up to breathe in the right place. Cause and […]

In: Feeling Dead and Uninspired, Feeling Disillusioned With Life, Hate Your Job?


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Is It Your Own Fault?

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I’ve been meeting a lot of truly smart, savvy, remarkable people lately. So many are saying to hell with the safety net, and are leaping toward their passions, and haven’t looked back since. On the same token, however, so many of those smart, savvy, remarkable people are not. Frankly, this makes me want to burst […]

In: Feeling Dead and Uninspired


May 18


When You Feel Like a Hot Mess Full of Walking Contradictions and WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT IS YOUR LIFE?

May 18, 2017

You don’t have to choose, you know. You can be intelligent…and sensual. Extroverted…and introverted. Complex…and simple. You…and someone who’s evolving into someone else. Sometimes, in an effort to finally define who the fuck we are, we start putting ourselves into the little boxes voluntarily—the same ones that we spent our earlier years trying to escape. […]

In: Feeling Dead and Uninspired, Feeling Disillusioned With Life


May 4


Shattering the Current Model of Reality

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Most of you reading this website are here because you want more. Tried and true may be comfortable, but boring.  The traditional life path may be safe, but uninspiring.  The status quo is average, but nothing extraordinary. You know there’s something missing, but you can’t pinpoint what, exactly, it is. We’ve essentially been told for […]

In: Feeling Dead and Uninspired


Aug 28


Are They Telling You You’re Crazy?

Aug 28, 2012

My best friend since the first grade (a brilliant graphic designer) just surprised me with this ever-so-cool poster, out of a post I recently wrote titled, “Battle Cry of the Crazies: For Anyone Hustling For More.” Had to share. And now, it’s Tuesday afternoon. I have a meeting with Miss Lit Agent (big plans coming […]

In: Feeling Dead and Uninspired


May 10



May 10, 2018

You know those creeps who never drink any water and you’re all, “BUT YOUR CELLS! YOUR CELLS ARE SHRIVELING LIKE LITTLE CALIFORNIA RAISINS!”  (Unless this is the kind of thing that only goes through my brain, in which case, welcome to my inner landscape, ya’ll.) I feel the same way about time. There are so many people who aren’t drinking […]

In: Feeling Dead and Uninspired, Feeling Disillusioned With Life


Aug 30


Big Things Don’t Happen in Big Ways

Aug 30, 2015

. That dot is where you are. ——–>           . This dot is where you want to be. (Which makes me sound like a woman named Bonnie with big hair in a cheesy 1985 Visa commercial, but alas, I’m just a woman named Ash with big hair in 2015.) People have […]

In: Feeling Dead and Uninspired


I'm a Bad Influence on Women

Hey, I’m Ash! Twenty years ago I was a small town girl growing up in a trailer park in rural Pennsylvania. Fifteen years ago, I lost my family and everything I knew right as I became the first to graduate college. Fourteen years ago, I found myself leaving everything behind for a new life in the city where I could be “normal.” Ten years ago I realized normal was the most disappointing thing that ever happened to me. Nine years ago I quit my job in advertising and pursued my dreams as a creative writer. Eight years ago, I built a 6-figure business doing what I love using nothing more than the Internet and my voice. And now, today, I’m the founder of The Middle Finger Project, an irreverent media co. that helps other women find their voice and teaches them to use it to build whatever the f*ck they want to. With a book coming out with Penguin Random House in February 2020 (YASSS, WE’RE A PRODUCT IN TARGET!) I’m proud to be a bad influence on women and guide them into doing something disobediently brave with their life and their career.

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