Ashley Ambirge, in a notice-me flame-red coat, is swiveling her hips wildly and laughing deliriously as she tries, with varying degrees of success, to hula-hoop.
Passersby stare at the 25-year-old acting silly beyond her age - and in front of the stately Courthouse of West Chester, no less.
"People think I'm an airhead," said Ambirge (AM-bur-zhay), well aware of the first impression she often makes, an image underlined by her stylish bob that sweeps across one eye, her bubbly laugh, and, of course, her antics.
But then, that's her point: Challenge assumptions.
Take her blog of four months. The Middle Finger Project (www.themiddlefingerproject.org), 700 subscribers and counting, is fast becoming a voice of Gen Y.
Given its provocative calling card, you could be forgiven for assuming this is some angry young woman's screed or high-jinks satire a la The Colbert Report.
Instead, it's a forum for serious mental chin-ups - its motto: "rejecting the status quo & rebelling against mediocrity" - with the occasional whimsical call for action, like the Hula Hoop Contest. She's asking her readers to videotape themselves hooping in public (deadline to submit is Monday) as an exercise in shedding inhibition. The idea came serendipitously, when Ambirge noticed a West Chester student who periodically hula-hoops on campus with joyful abandon, and then noticed the disapproving gapes and muttered insults.
Why can't a grown-up hula-hoop in public? Ambirge demanded. "At some point, we cross over this invisible line," she says over lunch at the nearby High Street Cafe, her sparkly turquoise hoop resting against a wall for now. "We're not allowed to have uninhibited fun."
That's the type of fodder that feeds her blog. It "calls into question a lot of these societal expectations and norms," Ambirge says. Hence its name.
"We should ourselves through life," she says. "We should go to college, we should get a job, we should get married. We should buy a house. The point of The Middle Finger Project is to stick up for the wants in life."
Twice a week, Ambirge posts to her blog. Her lengthy essays take several hours to compose and keep her up into the early hours, she says. Readers love the elegant, smart connections she ultimately makes.
"She's an excellent critical thinker," says fan Lindsey Huddleston, 25, of Nashville. "I don't know anyone else who's saying what she says with the force she says it."
Such as Ambirge's assertion that education is really designed to produce cogs for the economic wheel. "In school, too often we are taught what to think, not how to think, and there's a fundamental difference," she blogged recently.
Or her argument that the pursuit of success actually leads to failure. "We fixate on winning," she wrote in another post. Success, she said, shouldn't be "what you've accomplished but what you're accomplishing. It's not what you've done, but what you're doing. And it's not who you are, but who you're becoming."
Life Without Pants blogger Matt Cheuvront, 24, of Chicago is one of several Gen Y writers who promote living life to the fullest, the status quo be damned. "This mantra of 'sucking the marrow out of life' is apparent in every single word Ashley shares with the world," he e-mailed. "Once you've made it through one of her posts, you want to jump up and conquer the world!"
After all, this is the generation who watched their baby-boomer parents sell out to corporate America and workaholism, and who themselves were pushed to make choices that always looked to the future. Pursue that extracurricular, their parents urged, because you enjoy it, sure, but more important, because it will get you into that good college that will land you that good life.
"They had clear boxes that their parents and advisers told them they needed to check off to succeed," said Melissa Lavigne, director of the Intelligence Group, a youth trend forecasting firm based in New York.
When the payoff is a workaday grind (or, in these recessionary times, no job at all), many Y-ers have rethought their choices, she said, and have opted for what Lavigne calls healthy hedonism, an indulgent enjoyment of the moment infused with optimism, and very different from the attitude of the 1960s.
"It's not this live for today because there's no tomorrow, but live for today because there will always be a tomorrow," she said. The future-focused generation craves a chance to "fall off the track, to follow what is fun and meaningful to them."
It helps that many are young and single, with few obligations.
This rebel Ambirge, for one, has dumped the conventional lifestyle - the director of marketing job, the serious boyfriend, and the house furnished with Ikea - that she attained after graduating in 2006 from Wilkes University with public relations and communications degrees and a minor in Spanish.
Instead, she's getting a master's at West Chester to teach English as a Second Language classes and living in a friend's unfinished basement in Chester Springs.
Ambirge was inspired by the best-selling 2007 self-help book The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich by Timothy Ferriss, stressed-out businessman turned stress-free advice maven. In essence, he suggests setting up automatic systems of income via the Internet that then free up time to pursue pleasures.
For Ambirge, that means selling a few copies a week of her insider's e-book guide to Costa Rican travel (Become a Costa Rican in 30 Minutes Flat, currently $19.99) and ultra-white teeth. The latter is a scheme to resell - at considerable markup - whitening strips to Chileans, who admired her pearly whites when she traveled there but, she learned, didn't have access to the strips.
An only child raised by a single mother in the rural Great Bend in the mountains of northeast Pennsylvania, Ambirge won a scholarship to Wilkes, where she wanted to study anthropology but didn't when her mother convinced her it would be impractical.
Then, during her senior year, her mother died suddenly. "It showed me how impermanent everything is," she said. "It was weird." Ambirge auctioned the family goods and traveled to Costa Rica, where she found that what one does for a living matters less, she says.
But she didn't really rethink her priorities until she had graduated and landed the marketing job. "I was incredibly disappointed. Is this what I waited my entire life for?" she says. "I was pretty bummed."
Now, Ambirge lives to travel (by way of teaching English in other countries), blog, and, oh yeah, indulge in Operation: Get Excited, another experiment on the Middle Finger Project in which she suggests doing something random, just for fun, once a month. So far she has taken salsa classes and plans flying lessons.
"I see so many bitter, lifeless people walking around, like zombies," she says. "I reject the ideas of fate and destiny, and I promote individual choice. You can choose."