Ash Huang On Independent Work, Writing & Inclusivity

Our wonderful guest artist, designer, and author Ash Huang talks about the experience working as an independent designer, the challenges of writing and self-publishing a novel, and diversity and inclusivity in the design industry.
Ash currently works as a designer at Adobe.
Interview by Cesar Contreras • Photo by Helena Price

Cesar: Pencil or pixel?

Ash: I am going to invoke my powers of astrology. I’m a Gemini, so I’m going to say both.

Cesar: All right. Just to give a tiny bit of background. You do everything from, I mean, we’re talking illustration to design, you’re in the tech world so to speak. What is it that you admire the most from both sides of the spectrum? Considering pencil to be the analog side of things when we’re talking art and design. And pixel, the digital side. What’s the one thing that gets you really inspired?

Ash: Bridging those two halves is always very interesting for me because in a sense, I do consider myself more of an arty-farty pencil-type person who’s managed to smuggle into the tech world a little bit. I saw this comic, I don’t know who drew it, but it was talking about the humanities versus science. And it was something related to Jurassic Park, like science tells you you can make dinosaurs, but humanities tell you why this might not be such a great idea. And so it has dinosaurs chasing people, and things like that.

I think there has been this division of science and art for so long. But I don’t know. If I were ever to become fully embracing of the San Francisco hippie culture, I think I would definitely become a pantheist where I was like, “God’s in everything and everything is united, everything is the same!” Where I think art and science are actually inexorably linked.

Some of my favorite artists have been scientists. One of my favorite poets, WC Williams, he was a doctor full-time, and he wrote some of the best American poetry that we have. But he was just like, “Yeah, I just do doctor stuff in the day time,” and there’s tons of evidence of … I don’t know. I think the two are actually very similar.

Cesar: Yeah, it just reminded me of Leonardo da Vinci, someone who always bridged the two.

Ash, for those folks that aren’t familiar with you and your work, can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Ash: Artistically and design-wise, I do the whole spiel of myself, that I’m an artist, I’m a writer, and I’m a designer. I do everything from painting portraits of sad boys to writing novels and essays, and then doing brand and product design, and sometimes illustration. Then on top of that, I’m always doing weird things, like I just bought a loom recently. I’m trying to keep all my plants alive.

I have a lot of strange other hobbies. I’ve been soap making, other things like that. I was telling my friends, “If you look at these zombie shows, you probably want me to be in the society behind the walls. I’m not going to be too good at defending from the zombies. But I’ll make soap, I’ll knit you sweaters, we’ll design a nice commune together.”

Cesar: You’ll make sure everyone’s taken care of. All the survivors.

Ash: Yes.

A little more about me. I grew up in Connecticut and my parents both emigrated from Taiwan. I grew up in a tiger parent household with them. Discovered art pretty early on and was pretty bookish. I would read all the time. Went to Carnegie Mellon for design school and then I moved out to the Bay Area and I’ve been here ever since doing assorted things, from working at agencies to working with really small startups, to working with larger startups, to working with now, a bigger company. I’m currently at Adobe working on XD.

Cesar: That’s very cool. So, as a kid growing up you read a lot, but you also did a bunch of other artistic things.

Ash: Yes, all the time. I was writing stories and drawing stuff. I loved to draw horses, which is mildly embarrassing.

Cesar: No, not at all. I love horses.

Ash: It’s funny because I think I was doing a lot of what I do now, just as a 7 or 8-year-old. I was reading a lot and doing art and everything. In that way I guess I’ve been very consistent, even as things have changed.

Cesar: Very cool. When you were growing up were you also interested in doing techy things?

Ash: Yeah, I was doing both. So while I was doing all the art stuff, I was, at 11, coding websites in HTML and everything.

Cesar: Whoa.

Ash: Yeah, my dad had got a free domain with our internet service, which now if you think about it, you’re like, that’s weird.

Cesar: That was really cool though.

Ash: Yeah, he taught me how to upload to it and use an FTP server and everything. It was like, “Here, go nuts.” And I was like, “Alrighty.” And then I went ham on the whole thing and made little websites.

Cesar: So cool.

Ash: I actually would love to see if they’re still up and find them. I mean, the embarrassing thing is like you can definitely find websites from when I was like 13 or 14, when I was like a punk kid. So I was like, “Don’t steal this, or else Ash will punch you,” or something. It’s just like so full of sass.

Cesar: Wow, so at 11 you were building websites, you were making things, you were artistic, reading a lot. I mean, building websites was something that I didn’t get into until way later on in life. Let me get back to the soap thing. Is that something that you like to do just as a hobby?

Ash: Yeah, I think I just really like the feeling of mastering a skill or being a novice at something. I think there’s something really humbling about that. You do design for two decades and no matter how good or how bad or whatever, you do develop some sort of competencies. You forget what it’s like to be completely new at something and even the idea of having empathy for approaching a situation that you don’t know anything … or something that might be scary.

And so I think it’s really healthy to … I feel very privileged that I don’t have a life where things are extremely difficult every single day. My worst problems are not that bad. It’s almost like a weird method of meditation—like a maker’s meditation of sorts.

Cesar: Yeah I definitely agree with that because many of us who work in the design space, we spend a lot of time in front of the computer. I guess making things with our hands gives us a little bit of balance, if you will. And it also helps us create and generate better ideas.

Ash: Yeah, and also if you look at a lot of the trends that have come up lately, they are inspired by other fields. Holographs, all the holographic pastel-y gradients now, that’s all inspired from fashion photography and fashion. And there’s a lot of cues from pursuits that aren’t tech and aren’t design. I’m trying to think of other examples, like marbling? People were very into marbling. That’s an extremely hand-done technique.

I also think that people are really trying to humanize technology. I think we’re kind of at a turning point where it’s gone from this very elite thing to do, where you have to learn to code, there are so many barriers in the way. It’s becoming less that way.

It’s becoming more of a democratized thing and arguably that should be going way faster. That’s a whole other topic. But as it’s becoming more of a human thing, I think people are kind of struggling to put a bow on it. That feels more human than it might have been in the past.

The Firesteel by Ash Huang

Cesar: Yeah, definitely.

Ash: And that’s bringing a lot of stuff from the real world in.

Cesar: Yes. So you work at Adobe now. What do you do more of? Does your job involve a lot of coding or do you do more of the… are you involved in more of the design side of things?

Ash: Yeah, right now a lot of the work I’ve been doing, it’s a lot of design work and it’s a lot of more holistic stuff. It’s been the fun thing, taking a step back when there’s something that comes up, and being able to say, “Hey, let’s look at this from a more holistic sense. This is part of a bigger system.”

Especially at Adobe, where there are so many interdependencies where there’s features that have been legacy features. Even things like layers in Photoshop or even the move tool. So there is some consideration with how much unity you have to have between the apps and things like that. It is a design problem, but it’s also kind of a giant meta thing where you have to always be considering this giant ecosystem.

Cesar: Awesome. What were you doing before working at Adobe?

Ash: Before that I was independent for 2-1/2 years, almost 3 years.

Cesar: Freelance? Independent designer doing client work?

Ash: Yep. I was doing a variety of product stuff where I would go in-house and help a company out on a project or something part-time, to doing marketing pages or illustrations. I did a lot of onboarding growth stuff, in a holistic sense. And then I was working on my own stuff as well, which I still am.

Cesar: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, you’ve published a book, you draw and paint and it’s great. I want to ask you about the book and just want to know, what kind of challenges have you come across while writing and self-publishing a book?

Ash: Yeah, the first hard part was writing the thing, which took several years of iteration and stuff. I have not much professional academic writing training besides what I got during my education, and snippets in design school. I would audit a poetry class or something. I was not qualified to write a book. There was nothing that said, “Oh, you have a degree” or “You have anything else.”

There was no reason to write it, really. It was just something that, if I wanted to do it, I would do it. I don’t know, it’s funny because I also think that people’s response to, “Oh, I’m writing a book,” they’re like, “Okay. That’s cool.” Because it’s one of those things that people don’t necessarily finish, and I was like, “I don’t even know if I would finish. I don’t know what’s going to happen. So I’m just going to do this and see where it goes.”

Which is how a lot of my projects are. There’s some projects that are really slow and take me years and years and years. There’s projects that I whip out in a weekend. But I start off saying, “Let’s see what happens before I set any kind of deadlines or anything.”

I was in this state of play. And I found that I really liked it. I really liked writing and beyond that, I wanted this book to exist. Part of it is just purely, even at a job or even doing a design job or something like that, if you do stuff you get some kind of reward, right? You get a salary, you get paid, there’s a client on the other end, so they’re interacting with you and giving you cookies when you do good things or reprimands if they don’t like it.

But when you’re doing a project like writing a book, there’s no one else, it’s just you. So you really have to be comfortable being on your own. I think the way I was raised, I spent a lot of time by myself and I spent a lot of time in books and so on. I think I had a pretty solid time just spending time by myself and writing, where I still really enjoy getting into the text editor and just writing a scene.

It was me spending time with myself where I think even for me, it was kind of challenging. I can imagine if you weren’t jazzed about spending 10 hours by yourself on a single scene or a text or something, it’s a huge barrier. It’s really hard. It even was hard for me, and I love being by myself.

Just the process, the whole publishing industry is old enough. And often anytime you have an older industry, there’s just baggage, right? Where it’s like you have to get an agent, you have to do this and that.

When I started looking at timelines, I was like, if I get an agent and if that agent gets a publisher, that’s 3 years of my life. And that’s 3 years before I even hear back from a real reader if this book is interesting or bad, or what’s good about it, what’s bad about it, what really interests people. I made the decision to publish it on my own just because I luckily have the experience to design everything myself. So throwing a book in InDesign, getting it into an eBook format and all of that, that was not hugely challenging just because it’s what I did for my day job. Designing covers and making a site, and making a little video. I had all of those scrappy skills to get it done.

There were definitely funny things, my friend is the girl in the video, in my promo, and I was like, “Here, this shirt I have in my closet. You can wear this.” And I’m curling her hair and stuff beforehand. And she’s like, “Oh, the hairspray!” I was definitely like really scrappy with it.

But for a first book, it’s getting that book from completion to out in the world, in people’s hands in a matter of months, it was pretty big. I did learn a lot from people’s feedback. I could see what people were actually latching onto in the book, what was interesting, stuff that I was worried about that either people didn’t care about, or other stuff that they picked up on that I didn’t even think about.

I think having that real world feedback was a huge benefit. It was actually a really validating experience for me doing it this way. There’s no reason someone should have published this book. If I got any response, I would’ve gotten tons and tons of rejections beforehand. And I think for me… Obviously, I could be an amazing writer down the line and whatever, but right now I’m just starting out, in some sense. And so I’m looking to the future and looking to get better and everything.

To hear this early on, where it’s just the outright dismissal—I don’t know that I would’ve stopped writing because I just really enjoy it. But it definitely would’ve factored in somewhat, a little bit, into, maybe I’d spend 10% less time writing,” or something like that. It’s really easy for habits to slide into decline once you start being like, “Ah, 10% less, hey, maybe 20% less.”

By publishing this book, I submitted it to a self-published award thing and got some notice on that. Now even as I’m doing my next books, at least now I have some of the pedigree that I was missing, if I were going to go and try to find an agent.

Cesar: How often were you writing to get this book published? I mean it took you years, right?

Ash: Yeah, and a lot of that was editing. So, the writing itself doesn’t actually take that … I mean, last week I wrote 25 pages in a week, and it was fine. And that’s while having a day job and my husband and my dog and everything. So the writing part, I think that’s the most surprising thing. I mean, even design I think is similar, where the actual making of the stuff doesn’t take much time. But it’s the editing and reworking and being like, “Oh, I randomly had this thought, and now I have to rewrite this whole storyline,” which takes all the time.

Cesar: Awesome. I would like to talk a bit more about your transition from being an independent designer to working in an in-house team at a large company. I would like to get your perspective and have you shed some light for people who are perhaps afraid of taking the next step and those who have been thinking about making a move from either freelance to working in-house or vice versa.

Ash: Yeah, for me, when I went independent, I was super burned out and I needed time to almost go through this thing with myself where I had to discover how I actually wanted to work and how I wanted to do things, how I wanted to set up my own life. That time was invaluable. I think every designer needs to do that. Because up until then, you’re working on someone else’s schedule.

If you’re fortunate enough to go to school, then your professors are telling you when to work and why, and what to do. When you first get out and you’re a young designer and you’re working at a company, people are telling you what to do and why, and when and where. You’re always dictating on someone else’s schedule. But having 2-1/2 years by my own, doing my own things and working at my own pace, I figured out a lot about myself and how I like to work.

One thing you might discover is, are you the type of person who works consistently for a couple hours at a time every day? Do you like to just get it all done and then leave it to rise like bread while you’re gone, and then come back to it? And then re-bake, which is kind of like how I like to be. I discovered I need a lot of time by myself. When I was working independently, I probably spent a total of 14 hours a week with people, besides the weekends.

Cesar: Yeah.

Ash: It was a little too little. I’m really introverted, but even that, I was starting to be like, “Hello, who are you? Hi, hi, hi, we’re meeting.” And they’re like, “Whoa.”

Cesar: Make contact with other people.

Ash: Yeah. They’re like, “You’ve been alone all day. You’re a little intense right now.” But it helps me a lot now, because I can be like, “Oh, hey, I’m feeling really weird and so I’m going to go work from home, and work on my comps. If you need me, look for me there,” versus, “Why do I feel weird? I’m burned out. I’ll just keep going and keep having meetings and chug on through.” Now I can take a step back and be like, “Okay. I know what I need,” and I can be more self-sufficient in that sense.

So I think that’s a really good reason for going independent, and I think everyone should try it. Because you can always go back. When I was actually going full-time and I was having all this agony about it, I was having coffee with my friend, Kerem, and he was telling me, “My mother-in-law has this rule that if you can undo it, don’t worry about it.”

There’s a lot of things to worry about in life that are really worthy of worry. The health of your family, or your pets or big decisions like that, they’re worth agonizing over and worrying over. But if you can just undo it, then who cares? It’s like no harm done. Just try to be good and benevolent towards people and just try to do no harm. But if you can undo it, then what’s the big thing? And so I was like, “Well, if I get a job it’s like I can always quit.”

Cesar: It’s like, what’s the worst that can happen?

Ash: Right, exactly, it’s, “I’m sorry, this isn’t working out. I’m going to quit.” That’s like the worst that can happen. People can be irritated by that, but no one’s going to be like, “I pillory you. A pox on your house.” That stuff just happens. So I was like, “All right, that makes it a little less scary.”

But I think freelance is the same thing where … I do talk to a lot of people who are like, “Oh, I really want to go independent. I’m very, very curious about it. I feel called to it, but I’m too scared.” And I’m like, “Well, do you have money saved up?” And they’re like, “Yeah I have X months saved up.” And I’m like, “Are you prepared if anything should happen?” A lot of it is just like having the monetary cushion and being able to having saved up that money, just in case. And I was like, “Well, do it for 3 months. If you hate it, don’t do it anymore.”

Cesar: Go back.

Ash: Exactly. So you can always go back. And I also think there is an ebb and flow where you go out independent. This is not the first time I was independent. I was independent for a couple of months between my first job and working at Twitter. And I think it’s just like an ebb and flow where it’s sometimes you just want to be on your own and sometimes you want some stability or to work with a team.

The Wild Woman Roadtrip Guide by Ash Huang

Cesar: That’s awesome. Besides working at Twitter and now Adobe, what are some of the other companies you’ve worked for?

Ash: Pinterest, I worked with Dropbox a bit last last year, I’ve worked with Designer Fund, and a bunch of other startups that I’m having trouble recalling right now.

Cesar: Oh, that’s amazing. A lot of big Silicon Valley companies.

Ash: Yeah, and it’s definitely like dog years. So one year at a company is like 7 years. I feel like stuff is always moving in just all kinds of directions.

Cesar: I admire that, but I have to be honest, it’s a little intimidating. I don’t have any experience in Silicon Valley or any of the startups.

Ash: Yeah, I think it is intimidating. And it’s funny because one of my friends described it, “It’s kind of like a merry-go-round where it’s really hard to get on, but once you’re on, the centrifugal force just keeps you inside of the carousel. But from the outside it seems so hard to jump on.”

Cesar: Yeah.

Ash: Yeah and I think that’s a major … That’s not great. Silicon Valley should definitely be … it’s getting better but it’s not at the point where it’s an inclusive place, where people are like, “Oh, this is a place to go.”

Cesar: Yeah, I appreciate that you’re outspoken about diversity. You write about it, you talk about it, share about it online. I’d like to hear more of your thoughts about diversity and inclusivity, whether in Silicon Valley or any other place.

Ash: First of all, it is a wider systemic problem. I think we’re seeing especially now, that there is really an underbelly. I think a lot of us who are lucky enough to have a diverse circle of friends and to be exposed to many ideas and many lifestyles when we were younger, we take it for granted that everything is that diverse. It just seems to us like how life is, how it’s supposed to be. And I grew up the only Asian kid in all of my white classes, I was the only minority there. I am a fair-skinned person of color, and I was the most diverse person there. It’s not great.

Cesar: Yeah.

Ash: In all of my classes. I always had grown up as a young person, with that and some other factors, where I always felt very much like an outsider. And so even when I was reading and things, I would always identify with people who were the outsider. I mean that naturally brought me to technology and everything. Revenge of the Nerds, and that kind of thing.

As a younger person looking at The Matrix and all of that stuff, it’s funny, because I identified with it so much. But I was young and I also couldn’t see what was problematic about it. I have a lot of these things, the problematic fave where you’re like, “Oh, okay. If you just disregard all the misogyny and racism towards everyone, this is an interesting story.” But when you’re 13, 14 years old, you’re just absorbing stuff.

I had this moment, I guess, when I was in my really, really early 20’s where I came out and I was like, “I’m out in the world. If I work really hard and I try to do the right thing, there’s nothing that can stop me. I have the whole world available to me.” And I think that’s when stuff started to seem really weird and started to crack a bit.

I had a ton of professors who were of different races or who were female and everything. Even school, in college, I felt insulated. Getting out into the world there are things that you’re just like, “Is that real life?” Being chased around by a male superior when he was drunk, stuff like that, where you’re just like, “Eh, it’s not …” You start to see that certain people don’t have to deal with these things and don’t even know they exist.

There’s stuff that happens to people every day and even me, I try really hard to be alert and aware of these things, but I don’t even know. I read stories, one example was somebody was describing that “in our house, if there was leftovers and you were hungry, if you ate them you would get in trouble, because your parent was saving that for dinner.” I have never experienced that. But that’s the reality for a lot of people. And things like, I was describing swatting to someone yesterday and they were like, “What’s that?” I don’t know if everyone’s familiar with swatting.

Cesar: I don’t know.

Ash: Basically you call in a bomb threat or something to someone’s house that you don’t like, and if you are really bad, you’ll describe that person. You’ll be like, “Oh, this blond woman is wandering around with a knife and she’s threatening to bomb everyone.”

Cesar: Oh my gosh.

Ash: They send the SWAT team to that person’s house and then if you’ve described your victim as a suspect, then they’re in danger of getting killed by the SWAT team, basically. This was happening to a lot of women during Gamergate, where visible women who were speaking out were getting SWAT teams sent to their house. It’s like real-life trolling to a super dangerous degree. But this stuff happens, and you might not hear about it.

Going into other experiences, we just don’t hear about them and I think we’re at an age where we can actually start to hear about these things and become aware. And once you become aware to them, you kind of have this moral choice, do you just sit by and let it happen and just put your head down and think about long shadows versus skeumorphism? Or do you start to think about how we’re going to actually—and I think it’s hard to, as designers, because you use the tools that you think you have.

So you’re seeing a lot of people being like, “T-shirts to save the world,” and things. Which, it’s better than doing nothing. It’s like definitely better than that. You can see now, people really struggling to figure out how—I mean, I struggle with this, too—where we have to figure out how we can actually serve in a way that’s beneficial to society.

Cesar: And effective.

Ash: And take into account all of these things. Take into account all of these things that are happening around us, that we were just like, “Whoa, where did this come from? I’ve just been not watching.”

Cesar: Right, it’s like a sleeping giant.

Ash: Yeah. It’s been very weird for me because I feel that I’ve really had to reevaluate my perceptions of why people do things, and motivation. Because it’s frankly to me—it’s baffling to me why some of these things are happening. I’m not surprised by them, but I’m like, “Really? We’re going to do this? All right. Come on.”

Cesar: Is it because of a scale at which things are happening?

Ash: I consider myself a very imaginative, anxious person. There’s just some weird survival mechanism that’s built into my family for random historical reasons, where you always jump to the worst case scenario, so you’ll be prepared. It’s like, “okay this is the worst that can happen, and then we’ll step back 95 steps to this other place that’s reasonable and likely.” And that’s been my life, pretty much forever.

But now it’s, “oh, okay, so we step back 8 steps.” But then the step that’s all the way extreme, “maybe that’ll happen later, we don’t know.” And so I’m just like, “I don’t know how to live. This is a weird new place to be.” That’s kind of more how it feels.

Cesar: Have you noticed some really significant backlash from opening up on the internet? Any crazy trolling that you’ve experienced?

Ash: Yeah, I put this in air quotes, I’ve been pretty fortunate in that I haven’t gotten a lot of the really violent or very scary trolling, which a lot of my friends have. I get a lot of friends who get death threats, assault threats, just totally violent things by people.

Cesar: Back in January you wrote something really interesting. A thread on Twitter that really caught my attention. And I would like to read it to you first. This is just part of the thread.

“Learn to apologize. No “sorry you feel that way” BS. Listen, make the other person feel heard, and genuinely own up to your mistakes. Look at your inner friend group, who are you @-mentioning and retweeting?”

My question to that is, as designers or creative professionals, how can we get more involved in promoting inclusiveness and giving a positive message through our work. If there’s a way.

Ash: I think a lot of people are scared to start doing diversity work. And by diversity work, that’s in huge heavy quotes where it’s like, “be a human being and try to hire people and be fair, right?”

Cesar: Yes.

Ash: Try to look around and be like, “Hey, maybe my company shouldn’t all look the same when we wear plaid shirts together and so on.”

Cesar: Right.

Ash: A lot of people are frightened to start doing the right thing because it seems really hard and it seems scary. And the fact is it just seems scary, right? Because as human beings we respond so strongly to negative feedback where we remember negative things, it’s like a survival thing. We’re very bad at remembering positive things or even neutral things. I’ve personally … because I look for it, I see a lot of examples of people who don’t do diversity right or really mess up something, and they apologize for it.

One notable thing that I remember was Benedict Cumberbatch slipped up and messed up and said something wrong, where he used a wrong term, where instead of saying people of color, he said some other term. And he apologized. He was like, “I’m sorry. That was bad of me.” Nobody remembers that because they’re just like, “Oh cool. Thank you.”

Cesar: Yeah, “You owned up.”

Ash: “Don’t do it again.” It is an emotional topic, obviously, because not having diverse companies affects so many people’s lives so adversely. It just makes things really hard for people. It perpetuates this cycle of constant homogeny. We need to focus also on the neutral examples where there’s many people who take influence. I think music is a really good example where people are really upset at Iggy Azalea because she has tweeted some very racist things. Very, very bad, where it’s like, “Girl, what are you doing?” And everyone is like, “We don’t like you anymore,” because you’re not supposed to say this stuff.

Suspension by Ash Huang

Cesar: Right.

Ash: It’s really horrible and it just shows the true colors, where you’re basically verbally violent against this group of people that you’re stealing artistic inspiration from. It’s really not right.

There’s so many neutral examples I think that people don’t see. All they see is when someone messes up and does not take responsibility, and just gets hammered for it. I mean rightfully so, to some extent. So people just start to make this assumption where, “Oh, if I say anything, I’ll get attacked. And if I get attacked”—who wants to get attacked?

To me, if you made a product and it was terribly designed and people made fun of you, would you stop designing? No. You would be like, “Oh, let me see what’s true in this, try to improve and do better. And if I hurt anyone in the process, I should probably apologize.”

Cesar: Yeah.

Ash: People don’t necessarily do that, but as designers we’re taught to take critique in that way. If we can approach diversity issues as a solvable thing, maybe not solve them in our lifetimes, hopefully, we’ll see —I mean… there’s just so much history—but if we approach it like something where we come at it with humility and come at it without ego, where we intend to improve, then you’re going to be fine. There’s nothing to be afraid of. The fear is more that you’re going to continue doing harm to people who already have so much harm done to them.

Cesar: Awesome, thank you. Just to chase things up a little bit, I want to ask you some quick fun questions. And I’ll start with who are your top three favorite artists?

Ash: That is a tough question. Like visual artists?

Cesar: Any background. They could be writers, visual artists, music, anything.

Ash: Gotcha. So one person, I’m reading my first Octavia Butler book. She’s an amazing sci-fi writer. I’m reading Parable of the Sower. It’s a little scary to read because there’s passages that could be said right now, but we won’t get into that. So that’s been fun.

My friend Vanessa Koch is doing these amazing paintings. She was at Asana for a long time and now she’s just painting giant acrylic paintings in her studio which is like really fun and interesting.

A third person. Let me think. I follow a lot of people on Instagram who are just doodling around and it’s like amazing to see. I have like a separate artist Instagram so I can have like a feed that’s all art.

Cesar: That’s cool.

Ash: It’s really fun. Yeah. That’s been fun. I’ve been just trolling through there and just seeing everyone’s awesome work.

Cesar: Yeah, and you just mentioned one book that you’re currently reading, but if you have any other book recommendations, specifically on the topic that we have been discussing.

Ash: I would definitely read anything by Reza Aslan. So Reza Aslan, if you don’t know him, he was on CNN and went viral for a little bit. I think it was CNN. It was either CNN or MSNBC. The reporters were kind of baiting him a little bit to admit that Islam and Muslim people were not peaceful people. And he was just so eloquent and would just shut it down.

But the book I read by him, I think it was called Beyond Extremism [Beyond Fundamentalism]. That book, it’s not just about Islam, it’s also about Jewish culture and Christianity and so it frames everything. He’s like a religious scholar. He isn’t just interested in Islam. He is well-spoken on a bunch of religions and he goes into this idea of making policy. When you make policy, you have to be on earth and thinking about policy in an earthly manner. Once you start to ascend your policy-making into the moral realm where you’re talking about, “it’s an edict that we must obey God in these ways,” without thinking of actual people and impact on people. That’s when the war is lost. And he just goes through all these examples of when these kinds of moral situations have arisen. So it’s a really interesting look into that. That’s one I would recommend.

I just read The Handmaid’s Tale for the first time and that was terrifying, but really good. That one was awesome.

Let’s see, what else have I been reading? I just read Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins, and it’s a near for a future post-apocalyptic story where it goes through the story of what happens when California runs out of water. It’s kind of an interesting scenario. And she’s a very poetic writer, so I like her language. She has some stories too, but this is her first novel. So that was a pretty interesting one.

What else have I been reading? I’ve read a lot lately. Other than that I’ve been reading YA fantasy of novels to cuddle up in my warm blanket and [crying noises].

I’ll probably re-read Harry Potter. I think that’s next on my list. I’m in the mood to re-read Harry Potter.

Cesar: Very cool. Now we’re about to wrap it up. I would like to ask, if you have any parting piece of advice, what would it be?

Ash: I think it can feel really hopeless right now, but everybody can be so important and there’s so much small work to be done that—first of all, if we had been doing it all along: you listen to a lot of what people have said in the past. And we kind of brushed them off as alarmists, or fomenting conflict or so on. But especially now, you look back, you’re like, “Oh, you were right. If we had listened to you 4 years ago, maybe this would be better.” But we don’t know.

Doing that small work now and really ramping up to doing the bigger work, start small where if you see something off, say something. If someone interrupts a woman during a meeting, be like, “Hey, I wanted to hear her finish her thought.”

You can’t, tomorrow, just become someone who’s strong against conflict and really confident that they can stop things in the tracks. You really have to practice. Even things like, you go to a shop and the mat is out of alignment. You’re taking control of your environment enough that you straighten the mat out or something. Or holding the door open for someone who has their hands full.

You have to build yourself up, you have to train yourself. If you can think of yourself as in training to be a resister, you’ll go pretty far. You’ll at least be farther than you are right now, versus not doing anything or feeling paralyzed. There’s just small steps, one day at a time.

Cesar: Wow, well thank you so much, Ash. Thank you for taking the time to be on the show. And thank you for sharing your wisdom. This has been great, thank you so much.

Ash: Thank you, Cesar. It’s been fun.

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