It’s been almost three years since I sent a newsletter, so just in case you’re like, uh, wtf? who dis? here’s a re-introduction.
Hey! I’m Ash Huang, writer and artist, formerly a tech design lady. At some point you gave me your email and said that it was okay for me to email you. Here’s my old desiccated Twitter if you’d like a reminder of who I am. I left my job at Adobe this fall to pursue my own endeavors, some of which you’ll hear about in future emails if you decide to stick around.
These very occasional newsletters will contain:
They will come at most monthly, but more likely every quarter. If you remember my emails of yore, it’s almost exactly the same format. Funny how that works out.
Absolutely! no! hard! feelings! if you’re no longer interested in what I’m up to, or if I’ve caught you in the wrong moment. Please unsubscribe and be well!
The TL;DR is, I’m doing this instead of social media for the time being. Read on to find out more.
I owe a lot to social media. In the thirteen years I’ve been active on it, it’s given me my livelihood, connected me with some of my best friends, gotten me writing gigs and conference opportunities, and kept me safe in tricky working dynamics.
I’ve gone through a lot of life changes in the past few years, and decided last August that it was time to take some time to focus on my own art, rather than building the boxes other folks put their art in. Because, 2020.
I’ve previously experienced the benefits of extended solitude in 2015, when I drove across the country with just my dog and my tiny Toyota Echo. I’m already not on Twitter or Facebook much, and figured kicking myself off of Instagram for the end of 2020 would function effectively as solitude, since those of us who are lucky enough to be able to stay home are staying home anyway.
It was honestly quite lonely at first. I would take pictures of my omelette and immediately wonder what to do with them. I missed the folks I talked to only via Stories. I would unlock my phone and then stare at the home screen for a while before realizing what I was looking at.
But then I started reading and making, and connecting more closely to the friends and family I was already texting with. I was spending more time with myself and my thoughts, and it was like I could finally hear myself think again.
My relationship to social media had shifted over the years, without me realizing. It is painfully trite to type, but it doesn’t fit so well into my life anymore. It’s less a matter of career, creative and social survival for me, and the time I invest in it doesn’t enrich my life the way it used to.
I was off Instagram for about 8 weeks. I spent half of that time chasing my toddler around, the human embodiment of Taz. I still read thirteen (!) entire books, rewrote 100+ pages of my novel, and created a personal knowledge repository from scratch using development languages that still elude me (we’ll talk about studying some other time).
My learnings are less a matter of taking some time off for perspective, or kicking some habits. I needed to reshape my priorities to match where I am today, and then the habits would follow. Without this higher level plan, I would have gone right back to doomscrolling and hot-taking.
For 2021 and beyond, here are some of the values I’m shifting, and how that’s already manifested in my life:
Personal bubbles aside, social media can expose us to thought streams we wouldn’t come across normally. That’s serendipity, and it helps us grow. However, the dark side of serendipity is that bad influences also land in your lap, from the merely distracting to the downright abusive.
Moving to a place of more intentionality, I’m going to more judiciously seek out content and interesting lines of thought. Yes, that means a bit less serendipity, but it doesn’t mean NO serendipity, as tempting as that justification is.
Some new habits:
It feels good to be in the know, to stay up to date on what’s going on as it’s happening. Having conversations in the realtime means we can have large discussions about topics du jour out in the open.
It’s important to capture the energy of immediacy and to strike that proverbial hot iron, but digestion is an important act. It’s almost impossible to predict consequences real time, to fact-check, or even just fully understand what’s going on.
I’ve mostly lost interest in giving hot takes, only because there are truly very few situations where my moment-to-moment analysis is anything but entertainment, versus stepping back and filtering through something bigger.
Some new habits:
I used to feel a thrill steeping in content all day, but I realized that it actually hinders my creative process. When I look at my writing practice, I feel pretty confident I’ve honed in on a voice that’s mine, and I can appreciate other writing styles, no matter how different they are from mine.
I’ve been honing my writing as long as my visual art, and my visual style still feels like a badly fitting sweater, it doesn’t feel like me. I realized that part of the issue is that while I can only read one book every six hours so, I can see hundreds of images in the same time. It’s a lot easier to drown out my own voice and question what I like to see AND make, because I’m too busy chasing the next lark.
Some new habits:
After a decade of helping companies of all shapes and sizes appeal to users and consumers, I assumed it wouldn’t be too difficult to shift to appealing to myself instead. Nope! It’s been really hard for me to not immediately ask, “Is this useful to anyone but me? Will other people get value from this?” I really want to ask, “Do I like this? Is this meaningful to me?”
I have little interest in becoming some random contrarian or blocking out all feedback, but I truly believe that if I create from a place of telling the truth, I will connect more authentically with people anyway. I growth-hacked enough signup flows in my lifetime, and I’m not in a position where I need to growth-hack myself into some kind of franchise anymore.
Some new habits:
I gave my site a bit of a refresh as a part of this 2021 life power wash, give it a visit.
Help me make some space and snag some seconds of The Firesteel (just $15). I also found a few old prints and shirts in the back of a cabinet that were sold out previously.
This book is thought provoking, and was very influential in my own social media shoe-gazing. Odell explains what we lose when we get caught up in the attention economy, and how we can sustainably claw back some sanity. However, it isn’t a perfect or easy read. The structure meanders as it pleases, and it’s a bit mercurial: the title ends up feeling pretty clickbaity, despite a good portion of the book railing against clickbait.
Truly a fun romp, this had me snort-laughing, chest-clutching and sending screenshots to friends. The plot keeps you reading and it feels fresh, but it’s got all the hallmarks you’d expect if you like YA fantasy: cool creatures, romance, biting dialog, magic, betrayal…It’s the first of a West African fantasy duology and you won’t have to wait long for the second one to come out.
After the death of their father, two orphan siblings try to find their own American dreams, where opportunity feels as mythic as tigers wandering the landscape. Asian American fiction is undoubtedly having a renaissance, but to have the privilege of reading a nuanced Asian American centered goldrush era Western—phew! This is a special book full of direct and gut-punching prose, and it really feels Chinese American.
Note: For each book, I provide a bookshop.org link because I like their business ethos. Like many others, I’m trying to move away from Amazon where I can, but I do recognize it is hard to divest entirely from Amazon, especially if you’re into buying e-books, so I link them, too. Full disclosure, I do get a small commission if you decide to buy from either link (bookshop’s is bigger).
I’m an inconstant gardener, and decided to take advantage of this year’s hopefully rainy winter. I’m starting a few things and hoping to stretch into a full on cottage container garden in the next few years!
Fruit and veg: I’m growing easy micro crops that will forgive me for my ADHD inconsistent watering.
Herbs: I am trying to grow herbs I can’t easily find in the grocery store.
Patiently waiting to see if they’ll germinate and survive:
…and I’m working up the courage to start some flowers (poppies, snapdragons, and more…). It’s been a weird friend-flex dream of mine to be able to gift people bouquets I grow myself!
What are you having success growing? Bonus points if it loves windy but sunny Bay Area climes…Hit reply and say hello!
Until next time… Xo Ash