ASH AMBIRGE

Author, CEO & Founder

Learn More >>

“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.”

Gulp. 

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 22

2018

Sometimes You Fall Into Things. You Fall Into People, Fall Into Places, Fall Into Patterns, Fall Into Deep Dark Obsessions With Red Velvet Cake. (AHEM.) 

Jun 22, 2018

The other day I tweeted about how I watched The Notebook and so CLEARLY I was living my best life. And then I started thinking about how much I love that phrase, because it’s a good reminder, isn’t it? Am I really living my best life? What does that even mean? Sometimes you fall into things. You fall into people, fall into […]

In: Feeling Dead and Uninspired, Feeling Disillusioned With Life

READ ME >>

Sep 5

2012

Are You Going To Be Someone Who Does? Or Doesn’t? (Warning: Contains Least Amount of Swear Words Ever Written On TMF)

Sep 5, 2012

It’s 5am. I’m checking out of my hotel in Buenos Aires, and I’m hoping the $80 eye cream I bought is ACTUALLY HELPING ME NOT LOOK LIKE I JUST CRAWLED OUT FROM UNDER A MOSSY, EARTH-STENCHING, FUNGI-COVERED ROCK. Mostly because I knew Andrés would be checking me out–hopefully in more ways than one. Andrés isn’t actually his name, as […]

In: Feeling Dead and Uninspired

READ ME >>

Oct 25

2018

Be Brave, Courageous, Interesting, Crazy, Difficult, Weird, and Downright Complicated. But Don’t You Ever Be Normal.

Oct 25, 2018

You know what’s fucked up? Normal. Normal is so fucked up. For example, it’s normal for expats to drink daily in Costa Rica. This is a terrible idea, and yet, because it’s done over and over again, it’s become normalized. NO ONE WILL GIVE YOU THE STINK EYE FOR SLUGGING A BEER AT 10AM, Y’ALL. […]

In: Feeling Dead and Uninspired, Feeling Disillusioned With Life

READ ME >>

Apr 25

2010

White Men Can’t Jump, But They’ve Got Other Tricks Up Their Sleeves: The (Unearned) Privilege of Being White

Apr 25, 2010

Here’s a little something to ponder: Band Aids. What comes to mind? Perhaps a small, rectangular piece of flexible plastic with adhesive that sticks to your skin and pulls at your little hairs when you finally tear it off, bringing back unpleasant memories of your last Brazilian wax. No? I should leave the Brazilian wax […]

In: Feeling Dead and Uninspired

READ ME >>

May 11

2010

2 Minute Guide to Reclaiming Your Life

May 11, 2010

If you clicked on this post, you either: a) Need to get a grip. b) Want to reclaim your life. c) Have no time to do either. d) Googled “mating habits of porcupines” and this just came up. e) You read everything I write because you’re secretly plotting my demise. With the exception of letter […]

In: Feeling Dead and Uninspired

READ ME >>

Jun 8

2010

How to Start a Revolution (Or 3 Ways to Change the World)

Jun 8, 2010

See that baby face up there?  That’s my friend Karol–pronounced like Carl–who is a writer, traveler, & all around adventure-seeking bad ass over at Ridiculously Extraordinary.  Right now he’s living in Poland, but before that he was downing noodles in Thailand, dodging kangaroos in Australia, and doing the zen thing in India, to name a […]

In: Feeling Dead and Uninspired

READ ME >>

Exclusive VIP Access

Enter your email to start your own middle finger project and get all sorts of colorful inspiration + know-how straight into your inbox to help you quit your job, do what you love, and start the side hustle of your dreams.

Don’t worry, there will be plenty of f-bombs.

Privacy Policy Info Here