When I talked with writer/speaker/host/all-around great thinker Ashley C. Ford by phone for this story, the world was a very different place. We were excited about the Hoosier native’s return to Indy to speak at our very first Big News IRL event on March 27 (in partnership with Pivot Marketing) and this story was meant to be a teaser to all that you would get to hear from her in person about her journey from Fort Wayne to Ball State to New York City and everything she has accomplished and learned along the way.
Of course, much has changed since then but we still want you to get to know Ashley—and fear not, our event will be rescheduled. As a Hoosier-turned-New Yorker (and in my case, now Hoosier again) myself, we had such a fun conversation and I’m glad I can share it with you, just know there’s a reason we didn’t touch on the current state of the world…it had yet to shift so abruptly. The whole Indy Maven team can’t wait until we can all gather together again and hear from Ashley IRL. In the meantime, I highly recommend you follow her on Twitter @ISmashFizzle.
On what drove her to move to NYC
I think I really decided to move because I was offered a job. It was the kind of job where, for me at that time, it signaled an opportunity to take a risk, because I could see all the ways that it could go wrong—moving to New York City with no money to take a job at a media startup and not even just at a media startup, but at their LGBT desk where when things start getting cut, the first thing these places cut are the identity sections. But I realized that this was a chance for me to bet on myself and I just needed to use whatever reasons I could to take that chance. I did and I was really lucky to have that work out well for me.
On social media vs. real life
That’s the hard thing about having any kind of following or any kind of popularity or influence or whatever anybody calls it. Having that on social media, the hard part is that you are sharing with the world and you are trying to share authentically and trying to share yourself because, I mean at least for me, that’s what I want other people to do.
I see social media as this grand opportunity for us all to connect and have big conversations and learn more about each other and make big changes in the world because of what we learn, hopefully. But there’s also the fact that you can have an online community and it can be representative of your real life, but at the end of the day, your real life is happening face-to-face.
It’s happening in your physical environment and it’s happening in your home. Both places have this great potential and you can’t abandon one for the other. I think that’s what’s rough about social media, is that people start to fall into watching somebody’s online presentation of themselves and they abandon their idea of the person who actually lives offline, the person who actually is dealing with things that maybe they just don’t feel are appropriate things to talk about online. Or maybe they can’t talk about those things online, whatever the reasons may be. Just because you see something online doesn’t mean you have a full story, and that’s okay.
“Indy, for me, it really is this place that taught me how to be a young woman in the world.“
On balancing what to share publicly with authenticity
What helps me is realizing that there’s a difference between secrets and privacy. Secrets are about shame. I don’t have any secrets. I don’t have anything that people can’t ask me about that I don’t feel like I could answer honestly. But sometimes my honest answer is, “I don’t want to talk about that.”
You can ask me whatever you want, for the most part, at least at this point in my life. My boundaries are mine and I don’t have to convince anybody else that they’re okay. If it hurts somebody else’s feelings what my boundaries are, that’s something that they need to go reflect on and figure out for themselves. That’s not actually about me. Because I have those boundaries. It helps me to not get caught up in the muck of not being able to tell the difference.
Not everything that’s happening to me in my life is mine to talk about, first of all. And also not everything that’s happening to me in my life is something that I want to share with other people. I have intimate relationships. I have close friendships. I have so many different dynamics with different people and what I share is dependent on the level of intimacy that relationship has reached, and not all of those things are to be shared with the general public. There are things that I believe or that I know that to me it shouldn’t matter if I say them or it shouldn’t matter if I put that out there. But shouldn’t matter and does matter are two different things.
I just don’t want to delude myself into becoming the kind of person who thinks that her words and her actions have no impact. I have a lot more to learn. I am not comfortable saying to the world, “This is what I believe about this.” Because I do believe certain things about that, but I also am smart enough to know how much I don’t know and that I have too much influence, whether I’ve asked for it or not, to put half-truths into the world.
On why economic transparency, something she addresses often on social media, is important
Because the people who don’t want me to talk about it, the people who spew that blowback, benefit from me not talking about it in one way or another. Sometimes it’s the people who control, are in powerful positions in that system who are like, “Hey, don’t give the game away.” You know what I mean? And then there are the people who just don’t want to believe that that’s the system they live under and they don’t know where to direct their anger about that system. So they direct it towards the person who reminded them how messed up it is, and that’s me. I just have a thing where I’m just not going to cater to people at the extremes anymore.
I can’t alter the truth to make it more comfortable for people who, to be perfectly honest, really need to be able to accept the truth and not because it’s right and not because that’s the way it should be, but because that’s the way it is, and we have to accept the way it is in order to change it and make it better. Accepting the way it is is not acquiescing. It’s not giving up. It’s not saying, “Well, this is the way it is. So I guess that’s the way it’s always going to be.” It’s saying, “Okay, this is our starting point, so we’re all on the same page.”
On the biggest coastal misconception about the Midwest
That there are no black people there. It’s wild to me because my high school was 90% black and I’m from Fort Wayne, Indiana. That’s not because of a massive black population. It was mostly because of gerrymandering and a certain kind of segregation.
But still, I’ve always known a bunch of black people and communities in Indiana. The thing about Indiana, and this is why people don’t think black people live in Indiana, is because it is really hard to get any kind of power as a black person in Indiana.
I think a lot of Indiana is still on the colorblind kick. There are still a lot of people who think you’re not supposed to see color instead of, no, you’re supposed to see color and acknowledge that people are treated differently based on the color of their skin. You’re supposed to think about your place in that and whether you are helping or harming in that situation, if that matters to you, and what you want to be doing in that situation.
So maybe you realize that this is true and you’re like, “Well, it’s not my problem and I don’t want to do anything.” It’s like, “Okay, but that’s a choice.” It’s not not a choice. It’s still a choice. You just have to be able to live with that, and some people can. Fine, I’m just not one of those people.
On paying attention and learning from others’ experiences
Learning is not going to hurt you. It might hurt you to realize that you believe things or that people that you love believe things that are harmful, and maybe you don’t want to participate in that anymore. But that’s not going to kill you.
That’s not going to break your arm. That’s not going to leave a scar on your face to make that realization. The only thing that’s going to do is free you from an assumption that actually keeps you from experiencing the world at its most beautiful. Because the people in this world and the differences in us is a hugely beautiful thing. When you can appreciate it without judging it or thinking that it should be judged, when you can accept that the reality even if that’s difference is beautiful, it might bring marginalization or oppression into this person’s life, when you can just accept that that is the case and not think that that’s some personal dig on you or your grandparents or their legacy or whatever, that’s when you can start just loving the beauty in it.
Because you only have one life and you only get to be one person in this one life. There are some things that you’re just going to have to take the other person’s word for it. There are some things that they’ll just know better than you know. You have to accept that. I think that’s what’s really hard for a lot of people is that they have to be like, “This person’s experience can be so different from mine that I can’t fathom it. How can that be possible?” The real question is, how would you know because you can’t be them?
On her favorite things about returning to the Midwest and Indianapolis
I love food. So when I come back, especially when I’m in Indy, I want to hit all the restaurants. I want to eat. I want to go to all the little shops. Indianapolis is really where I learned how to be on my own and be an independent person and gravitate towards things that I enjoy. So I always like going back to Irvington because I like to go get tacos at La Escollera and I like to go eat at the Legend. Maybe I’m trying to get some Jockamo’s Pizza.
Me and my husband browsing around in James Dant waiting for our table at Jockamo’s or something, and walking over to The Kile Oak where I used to walk every day almost when I lived in Indianapolis. When I lived over there, I walked to that tree every day just to decompress. That’s where my husband told me he was in love with me for the first time.
Indy, for me, it really is this place that taught me how to be a young woman in the world. I’ll be honest, I think it was more gentle with me than it had to be, especially living in Brooklyn now. But that’s where I figured out I could do something, that I could make it on my own. I didn’t need anybody to save me. I wasn’t irreparably broken. I learned all those lessons there. So many parts of those cities remind me of these moments of reclamation and finding myself and spending time with friends and meeting new people, going to First Fridays and Fountain Square, meeting up for brunch with my friends on Mass Ave on a Sunday and how slowly over time it’s meeting up for brunch with my friends and their kids. It was community.
On the most Midwestern traits ingrained in her personality
Two things, smiling at people when I come out of the bathroom. That’s never going to stop. I’ve lived in New York for six years. I can’t make it go away. So that’s just ingrained. And two, I don’t really panic. I feel like Hoosiers don’t panic in general. I feel like there is a lot of pride in Indiana in being a little bit more pragmatic and not panicking. Obviously that’s not true for every single person in Indiana. But I think that that’s considered a really Hoosier trait to us is you don’t panic. There was a lot of value in Indiana in keeping your cool.
On what’s next for her
This is the pre-book year. This is, I think, my last pre-book year because I’m pretty sure my book’s coming out spring 2021. I’m really trying to figure out right now a few things. What’s the next thing I want to write? Where’s the next place I want to live? I think the final thing that’s the really, really big thing for me is how do I want to feel in a year? I know how I feel right now. I’m pretty good. I’m all right. I feel proud of myself. I feel proud of so many other people. I feel like I’m getting closer to something, but also I know that there are things that I still have to allow myself to admit that I want. I’m really, really looking forward to putting those things down on paper and starting to actively work toward them instead of just keeping them in my dreams.
On what we should all be reading
Untamed by Glennon Doyle. It is just one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read about being a woman in this time and learning to give ourselves room to be who we are in a world that tries to do the opposite. It’s not theory. It is not academic by any means. It is a series of stories, personal stories woven together that paint a picture that I think is relevant to most women and people, honestly, in general.
Abby Gardner is Indy Maven’s executive editor who is thinking about all of her friends and former colleagues in New York City right now and wishing them good health, both mental and physical.