I’m pretty effing honored to have Ash Ambirge of The Middle Finger Project offer up a guest post to Redhead Writing. If you don’t know her, you should. If you think I’m irreverent, she’ll flip you shit and then make you sit in it. ‘Nuf said. Grab a coffee and a Snickers – this post is one that requires some settling in (and it’s worth it).
It wasn’t long ago that devastation quickly and quietly ambushed my life, culminating one night in a deserted K-Mart parking lot in the slums of South Philadelphia.
I sat in my car, underneath the unforgiving glow of an insect-encrusted floodlight, alternating between holding back the tears and not being able to stop them, followed by sporadic outbursts of kicking, yelling, screaming, and wailing at the universe for handing me this monumental test of strength that I was not, in any way, ready for.
Fucking universe and its perpetual lack of good timing.
I had hit rock bottom. Not just any rock bottom, but the mother of rock bottoms, one covered in glass shards, stale cigarette butts, and dirty diapers, accompanied by a thick aroma of dread laced with despair. Though, in retrospect, that might have just been the scent of late-night Philly streets–hard to tell at the time.
In that moment–my monumental moment of failure–I had exactly twenty-six dollars and thirty two cents in my checking account, zero available credit, and, as of one harrowing hour prior, no where to sleep that night. I had always known this moment could come at any time, and for many years, I feared it more than anything. My parents were both deceased by the time I graduated college, leaving me without much support and the unexpected title of bad ass orphan. That’s what I like to call it, anyway, because orphan alone sounds far too pathetic for someone who was once voted Most Likely to Succeed by her high school peers.
Boy did they fuck that one up.
I had known that if I slipped up anywhere along the way, this moment would one day find me. And lo and behold, suddenly there the bastard was, staring me in the face, taunting me with the smugness of victory. Life had brutally defeated me, once and for all.
So, amongst the crying, and the sobbing, and the punching of car objects that weren’t meant to be punched (your dashboard is much more durable than you think) I did the only thing that seemed right at the time–something I had never done before.
There at the steering wheel in the K-Mart parking lot, I, Ashley Ambirge, prayed.
A funny sight to see, actually–a recently-turned-homeless agnostic who doesn’t even know how to pray, praying. But clearly, I needed help, and since there didn’t seem to be any men with white horses nearby, I figured this god character would have to do.
I started with a little something like this:
So…hey, man. Errr…sir…errr…god.
It’s me. The girl who lit the bank dumpster on fire in the 6th grade. I know you remember that day, don’t you? I still can’t believe we didn’t get caught. By the way, just so we’re clear, we totally didn’t mean for that to happen. You know how it is the first time you ever light a match–you don’t know it’s going to burn your finger so fast, and in a moment of panic you might make the fatal decision of throwing it, rather than blowing it out. Whoops. How were we suppose to know the dumpster was full of paper? Anyway, that’s not actually why I’m phoning you tonight.
The real reason is because, to be blunt, I suck. It’s been made very clear that I suck. This moment is testimony to the fact that I suck. But here’s the thing–from this day forward, I’m going to try with all my might not to suck. Not anymore. No more sucking here. (Within context, of course.)
So, with all due respect, I was thinking that if you were feeling particularly chipper, maybe you could pull some strings and help me out of this mess. I know you’ve got a whole bunch going on right now with the economy, the Middle East, starving people in Africa, and fucking with Bush as as your new favorite sport, but right about now, I could really use a member of your angel posse. I mean, what do you think?
I was met with silence. Apparently this god character isn’t much of a talker.
I stop, let my head fall to the steering wheel, and sob some more.
Growing up, I had always been one of those annoying girls with the annoying list of accomplishments. Student Council President. Captain of the volleyball team. AP Calculus kiss ass. Prom Promise Princess. (Which basically means you vow not to do the nasty in your $200 Jessica McClintock dress, and then go out and do it anyway because, ohmygawd, it’s high school, and like, Troy Collins will totally let you wear his varsity jacket if you do.)
Brownie-baking, fund-raising whores.
And yet, that’s exactly who I was.
So much so, that the founder of Monster.com awarded me a full scholarship to a well-known private university. I went on to graduate in the top ten of my college class, with not one degree, but two. I even went ahead and got a Master’s degree for shits and giggles (because isn’t that why anyone gets their Master’s degree?). Later, I worked my way up the corporate ladder in marketing, and then as an account executive in advertising sales, handling national accounts and being awarded high praise (and compensation) for my efforts. At one point, I had the perfect job, the perfect car, the perfect outfits, the perfect life, and even the perfect home.
And yet somehow, it all came tumbling down, and the next thing you know, there I am praying. Just goes to show that anything can happen, really.
It’s a long story as to how I went from picket fence to K-Mart, but I think the words, “financial irresponsibility,” “illegal Mexican immigrant lover” and “nearly choked me to death” sum it up quite nicely.
I loved him. Madly. Passionately. Irrationally.
Until the day I was forced not to.
Until the day he slammed me up against the wall of our apartment, his hands tightly gripped around my neck, my air supply completely cut off. I waited for him to let go, and started to panic when he didn’t. I looked him in the eyes, and pleaded with him with my own, but what glared back at me was a cold, unfeeling hollow shell of what once was. He gripped tighter. I cried harder. And in that moment, I was sure I was going to meet my fate.
That was one hour prior to my K-Mart moment of glory.
I had managed to escape, taking what little clothes I could gather, piling them into the trunk of my car, and driving away as fast as I could. Though, with a quarter tank of gas, and only $26 to my name, I knew I wouldn’t get very far. For years I hadn’t played it safe with my finances, and now it was finally time to pay in more ways than one. And I was scared.
Fortunately, that whole bad ass orphan thing had an up side, principally in making me unapologetically stubborn. I might have only had $26, but I’d be damned if I couldn’t find a way to survive.
I knew I needed to draw on what resources and knowledge I had at the time, and that’s exactly what I planned to do. There would be no more reliance on opportunity to come a knockin’; it was time for me to start busting down some goddamn doors uninvited. So, I did the next best thing to praying. (And drinking, of course, since that seems to be frowned upon while seated in an automobile.)
I opened my MacBook.
Beyond the freelance writing I had been doing, I had a little secret weapon that I had been building up, called a blog. It wasn’t just any blog; it was a blog titled–ahem–The Middle Finger Project (what? it’s classy, shut up), and it was a blog with about 2,500 subscribers at the time–something that, to me, was an accomplishment of sorts. On the blog, I talked about the importance of freedom in our short, short lives, and promoted entrepreneurship as a means of achieving that freedom. Freedom so we could do work that mattered to us, freedom so we could be with people that mattered to us, and freedom so we could focus on the things that mattered to us.
I knew that eventually I would turn it into a business, but wasn’t quite ready to take that full leap. I kept relegating it to a far off place called, “soon,” but the week I became homeless, I suddenly realized the sheer value of utter disaster: Sometimes, you have to be on the brink of it, in order for motivation to override procrastination.
So right then and there, I decided to take a risk–I would try and leverage my blog and skill set to the best of my capabilities, in an attempt to create something of value for my audience that I could charge for. I wasn’t in the best mental state, and would need some time to develop said resource, but $26 surely wouldn’t last me until it was finished. So, I did something that, at the time, I thought was unconventional: I decided to offer a pre-sale of the product I hadn’t yet made, nor had no clue how to make. I was nervous; I had never sold anything on my blog before, and wasn’t sure what the reaction would be, or whether anyone would even bother buying something that didn’t yet exist. I was even more nervous that I’d be laughed at, and that I’d lose every subscriber I ever had. But, I had no choice–it was sink, or swim, and I was determined to thrash my way through it, no matter what it took.
So in that very moment, there in the K-Mart parking lot, under the beam of the unforgiving, insect-infested light, I wrote this post. (Note: The original copy announcing the pre-sale has since been edited, which makes me sad, but the majority of the content is still in its original form.)
Throughout the post, my pain is hidden, buried deep beneath such encouraging words that, admittedly, I wasn’t sure I believed at the time. But after all, they say a blogger typically writes what s/he needs to hear most, and this is a prime example.
This blog post was a desperate attempt at me trying to save my own life.
The next day, I closed my eyes before pushing publish on the post from an internet cafe, and gave myself a quick pep-talk: It’s now or never, Ambirge. The worst that could happen is the no one pre-orders the book, and you’ll have to start asking friends to borrow some money and a couch. That isn’t so bad, is it? Surely someone will help. Won’t they?
I took a deep breath and hit publish.
And I sat, and waited, and gritted my teeth, and chipped away at my nail polish, refreshing my Gmail over and over, hoping to see the words “Sale – EJunkie” come through.
But nothing came.
Nothing within the first two minutes, that is.
Suddenly, right before my very eyes, my angel posse arrived, because the next thing you know, not just one sale came through, but several. And more. And more. And even more! I couldn’t believe what was happening; did my audience believe in me that much?
Within an hour I had sold 20.
Within two hours, I had sold 60.
And by the end of the day, I had sold 116.
At my pre-sale price of 50% off, at $12 a pop, that amounted to $1392.
I’d never been so grateful.
That $1392 did more than get me some gas money; it gave me the initial faith that I needed to continue, to start hand-crafting my own reality, rather than waiting for someone else to come along and give me the opportunities I wanted. That was some time ago, but the lesson I learned that day–the value of creatively leveraging your talents–is one that has since helped me build The Middle Finger Project brand and turn it into the full-time business I had once only dreamed about. Fast forward to present day, and I just closed last month out with $10,132 in revenue, all from that little vulgarly-titled blog of mine–the vehicle that made all the difference in the world for me, the moment I finally started letting it.
And to think: All it took was financial ruin with a dose of abuse mixed with a smattering of homelessness. Funny how that works.
I haven’t told this story often, for fear that telling it would make me appear weak and somehow unworthy. Yet, as I’ve grown, and as my business has grown, I look back and reflect, only to realize that the only reason I’ve been able to reach the level of success I have today is because of the cracks in the foundation–as it turns out, those cracks don’t represent flaws, but rather, marks of character. Badges of honor. Street cred–literally. And the start of a journey that has only just begun.
For me, disaster was my saving grace.
Perhaps the universe doesn’t have such perpetual bad timing, after all. I’d normally insert some feel-good horse shit here about embracing your circumstances, and looking on the bright side, but at the end of the day, that’s a joke.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: It isn’t about imagining the silver lining. It’s about taking the sharpest knife you can find, vehemently slashing through all of the bullshit, and yanking it out with your bare hands.
You have no choice.
And if, by chance, you ever find yourself in a K-Mart parking lot in the slums of Philadelphia, I have only one piece of advice:
Lock your fucking doors.
And then get to work.
Because truth be told? There is no angel posse.
This one’s all you.