Zibby Owens: Welcome, Ashly. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to talk about Read This for Inspiration. Today, we’ll talk about this for inspiration.

Ashly Perez: It’s so weird. I haven’t seen very many people holding the book. You just popping into frame was like, oh, my goodness, there it is.

Zibby: There it is. It’s so beautiful. I know this is a podcast and also on YouTube. For the people listening, I am a sucker, as you can see from my bookshelves behind me, of the different rainbow colors. It says Read This for Inspiration in all different colors on the spine with yellow in the back. All the illustrations are just so happy and awesome. In addition to the actual content of the book, the container is so happy and something that we all really could use right now. Bravo on that.

Ashly: Sorry, guys, if you hear background noise. I’m outside, and there an airport near me. That’s what you’re hearing.

Zibby: You know what? There’s always something. Usually, it’s sirens in my background. Trade-offs. Ashly, tell me about your journey from Buzzfeed to publication, how this book came to be, and how you exploded onto the scene yourself.

Ashly: My background is Buzzfeed. I worked there for five and half years before Buzzfeed was really what it was. I was a video producer making all types of different content. Now I’m a TV writer and then have now written this nonfiction book that in some ways is a culmination of most of my life experiences. I went to college to study international studies. I love languages. At one point, I lived in South Korea as an English teacher and thought I was going to be a diplomat. This book is very much a dumping of my brain. I have ADHD. It’s a function of how my brain works that these are in short little chapters about lots and lots of different subjects. It was actually really relieving to write the book and to see it because even now to this day, I can open it, and it still looks like the inside of my brain.

Zibby: I love how you set out all these rules at the beginning. You were like, you can read it like this, or you can just open it anytime you want, or you can do it like that, and it doesn’t matter. It was the most forgiving entrance. It’s like you’re holding someone’s hand and being like, let me teach you how to use this book and how it can be a little different.

Ashly: Really, the rule is just, however you want to use the book, you can use it.

Zibby: Let’s go back to your ADHD, which you talked about. You said in the book, “I’m not good at resting. In fact, I have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, emphasis on the hyperactivity. Stillness does not exist in my bones, literally. And because of this, I am also not very patient.” Then you talk about how you rush through everything and all the rest. Tell me about, when did you know you had ADHD? How did that affect even your education and growing up and things like that?

Ashly: Most women don’t get diagnosed with ADHD until they’re older. I was the same. I was in my late twenties. When I found out and finally got the diagnosis, almost everything clicked backwards in my life. I was like, oh, my god. One of the things that made me realize that I had it is that constant interrupting is a sign of ADHD. My whole life, I just thought that my brain felt fast and I was rude or something. Then I realized, oh, this is just one of the symptoms of ADHD. When I went back and started actually talking to my therapist and to a psychiatrist, I had almost all of the markers for both deficit and hyperactivity. Because of the way women are socialized, we often can socially get around what most little boys can’t, which is just hyperactivity and an inability to concentrate in schoolwork. For me, ADHD, it was very much a cycle of feeling relieved and then feeling upset and then feeling confused about what that meant, and ashamed. Now I really feel like I’ve embraced what that does to my brain. This book wouldn’t exist if my brain didn’t have ADHD. ADHD has an ability to grasp different concepts from all over the place and put them together in kind of a weird and interesting mash-up. That’s what I tried to do with this book, is just let my brain be free and bring together concepts that might not normally make sense.

Zibby: It’s so funny. I’ve talked to other big-deal editors of memoir or narrative fiction or whatever. They’re always saying things like, try to play with time. Try to bring in this and mix it up. Don’t make it too straightforward. Make it more interesting. That’s exactly what you’re saying is how your brain is, de facto state of operation, right?

Ashly: Yes. It’s nonlinear and just hops around. That’s so interesting that editors are looking for that.

Zibby: Because the rest of us, even if you don’t have ADHD — I feel like I have situational ADHD. I am constantly interrupted, and so I can’t actually think in a normal way anymore. No, I know it’s much more — I know a lot about it. I don’t actually have it. I do feel like sleep deprivation and other things can really affect your ability to focus, not in terms of an underlying condition, but a situational condition.

Ashly: I also think that, in some ways, the way that we use social media now has affected all of our attention spans whether or not you have a diagnosis of ADHD. We all have so much less attention because of the way we’re constantly consuming content in little bites.

Zibby: Yes. I think that has its translation into fiction where it’s, keep people on their toes. Don’t just sit and tell them a story and expect them to — and not all. Maybe it was just a handful of — I don’t want to totally say — now people are going to be like, wait, I have to change my novel and mix it up a little bit. No, no, no, but just in some instances, it can help keep the pacing or whatever. Anyway, all to say you do that naturally. I love how you interweave, as you said, all your personal stories. Tell me a little bit about your abuelo and his love of books and your special relationship with him and then how you ended up dedicating the book to him and his great saying that you put — of course, I’m not going to find it at the right time. Was this one it? “There’s always more to learn.”

Ashly: Yes.

Zibby: You have it here, which I’m showing on YouTube, but nobody can see. I won’t even try to massacre the Spanish. Tell me more about him.

Ashly: The book is dedicated to my abuelo. He is the entire reason that I love books. He died in 2019. He was known as kind of a walking encyclopedia, anything that he read. He read in all sorts of languages. He read in French. He read in English. He read in Spanish. Anything that he read was committed to memory even all the way up until he died when he was eighty-nine. He always used to write me letters in Spanish. I would write back to him. The entry that you’re talking about is from a letter that he wrote to me. At the end of it, it’s, “Nunca creas saberlo todo. Siempre necesitamos aprender más. Never think that you know everything. There’s always more to learn.” I really think that that’s how he lived his life, always in the pursuit of knowledge and the pursuit of new facts. He enjoyed discovering new things that would change his perspective. I always very much appreciated that about him.

My sense of curiosity and appreciation specifically for words — you’ll notice that a lot of the book has to do with etymology and the origin of language and what words really mean. I think that came solely from grandfather because he was so precise with all of the words that he chose. He often corrected my Spanish and often made sure that I was using the correct words, the correct interpretations. I would go over to his house in order to learn Spanish. He would pull out old letters that my dad had written him. We would correct my dad’s letters in Spanish, which is very fun. We would correct my dad’s letters in Spanish with a Spanish-English dictionary next to us to be learning, and always learning. I wanted to dedicate the book to him because it’s very much an expression of love of learning and of always being curious and always discovering new things and not being precious about where you discover new things because you can find things everywhere. You can find inspiration everywhere.

Zibby: That is such a genius idea, by the way. I have this giant bag of camp letters from summer camp which is stuffed underneath a bunch of clothes in the corner of my closet. How great, as my kids get better at grammar and learning to spell — hopefully, they’ll get better — to take those letters out, even in English, and have them correct them. Then they can learn more about me. We can have a bonding moment. That’s brilliant.

Ashly: It was such a fun way for me to learn about my dad with my grandfather there and learn about their relationship and then also learn Spanish. It was just so fun and so personal. I’m sure your kids would love that. I think anytime, as children, we get a glimpse into who our parents really are and who they were when they were our age, it’s mind-blowing and it humanizes them.

Zibby: Totally, and the people, even, who wrote me letters because I saved a lot of those. Now with the emails, I’m always like, I’m sure I’ll be able to find this later. I’m just going to stuff it in this folder on the side here. I’m never going to see that email again, but my own letters, I have. I know where they are.

Ashly: I think a lot of writers are very attached to words, obviously. The only thing that I will ever keep — I always think, if there was a fire, what would I grab? I keep everything anyone has ever written to me. If I was at a bar with a friend and we wrote something on a coaster, I have that coaster. I have Post-its that my roommate used to write me in college. I have anything that has words on it. When my grandfather died, or right before he died, he showed me in his office, his whole desk was filed with every single letter anyone has ever written him. The ones marked from his family were marked tesoros, which means treasures. I was like, oh, at the end, all we have are these treasures from each other and what we said to each other and how we made each other feel.

Zibby: It’s so true. I’ll tell you, the first thing that I always do — I’ve lost a lot of people, as I know so many people have. I don’t do this consciously, but I have found that one of the first things I do is an inventory of, what letters? Where is their handwriting? What can I hold in my hand? What pictures do I have? What videos do I have? I assemble it all together. Those become talismans, the note from my friend in college that I still have, the birthday card from my grandmother, all of it. It ends up having so much more importance.

Ashly: I’ve memorized every voicemail my grandpa ever sent me. It’s so funny because voicemails are always so casual. It just feels like, how did I not know this was so important? Now my mailbox is always full because I refuse to delete any voicemails from anyone.

Zibby: The only voicemail I refuse to delete is from Andre Agassi who was the second guest on this podcast. I just thought it was the coolest thing that he ever called me. I keep deleting all the annoying school emails or my parents or whatever, but Andre Agassi, all caps, is in my voicemail inbox. Tell me now about your TV writing and what you’re doing aside from writing great inspirational books like this one.

Ashly: My TV writing, I work on a show called Good Trouble which is on Freeform. It’s a spin-off of a show called The Fosters. It’s been such a fun exercise. I started in digital writing and writing short-form content for the internet and then moved into TV writing, which is group writing, essentially. I didn’t know even as a writer what, really, the function of a writers’ room is. It’s just a bunch of writers sitting with each other discussing their lives and stories and seeing how it translates to other characters. Really, all writing is the same, I think. It’s humans sharing stories with each other and then figuring out the best form for it to take. Ironically, being in a writers’ room, you do very little solo writing. When you get an episode, you go off and write. Sometimes you’ll write scenes for different episodes. It was more of a function of just being in community with each other.

Zibby: I feel like I usually preferred solo projects to group projects in school. Yet I kept getting thrown together, particularly in business school because they were like, you have to learn how to work as group. Then the more I talk to people who work in writers’ rooms, it’s the same thing. I’m like, I guess I should’ve I have that opportunity. A girlfriend of mine is going to be in a writers’ room in January. She’s like, “Do you want to come in on our Zoom?” I was like, “Yes, I can’t wait. I want to see what that’s like.”

Ashly: It’s definitely a very cool experience. It’s fun to be able to write in lots of different forms. The book was very much written exactly where I’m sitting every day at the same time. I would write during the dawn and during dusk, I found were the best parts for me, so in the very early morning or at night in the magic hour, essentially, of the day and the dawn. The hardest part about writing this book was that I had to be inspired in order to write it. I was constantly practicing, how do I find inspiration and in what ways? Part of it is the discipline of looking for inspiration. Then oftentimes, it would be at the time where I was completely exhausted, couldn’t think of anything, and would go on a walk that something would surprise me and give me a true burst of inspiration that was unlike just pining and looking for it.

Zibby: It’s hard to say, okay, now I’m going to be inspired. Although, I guess now that we have your book, now I have a time and a place that I anytime I want, I can just go in. Another thing I noticed is how often you referenced Oprah. I feel like she must be some sort of cult hero of yours because you talk about not only how she used to hand out free donuts on the street to get people into her taping studio, but also how few iconic moments are relative to how much time the show took in general, how many hours. Tell me about you and Oprah.

Ashly: Me and Oprah, I wish that that was a real thing of, here’s my friendship with Oprah. Like most of America, Oprah has just been an icon in my house and a purveyor of wisdom and somebody I’ve looked to for perspective. My and me editor had a lot of back-and-forth about how much Oprah could be in the book. I won a lot of Oprah. I was just flipping through the book the other day. I’m like, oh, the first couple of entries are very Oprah-heavy, or people that Oprah has talked to and the wisdom that she learned there. I really respond to Oprah’s What I Know for Sure and Little Truths. She has a book called The Book of Happiness. Oprah is also someone who has been scouring the world in her lifetime for new perspectives and new learnings. Oprah’s person is Maya Angelou. If you know anything about Oprah, all she ever talks about is Maya Angelou and what Maya Angelou taught her. For me, Oprah and Brené Brown are the two people that I constantly and incessantly talk about who I feel like are women who have taught me a lot. One of my favorite things that you’re referencing is, there’s an entry about Oprah how she had, I believe it’s 4,561 or 4,651 episodes of The Oprah Winfrey Show.

Zibby: 4,561.

Ashly: 561. I was trying to memorize it because this has actually come up a few times. She has 4,561 episodes of The Oprah Winfrey Show. Maybe ten of those episodes, but truly, three of those moments are iconic in American history and feel like part of our pop culture zeitgeist. I think about the fact that she had a quote that said, “Do the work as an offering. Then whatever happens, happens.” I think often as artists or creatives or people who are looking just for inspiration, we put a lot into whatever the next thing is and feel like it has to be perfect and it has to be the thing. In actuality with life, even what you were talking about with camp, think about how many hours you’ve spent at camp, how many days, how many nights. How many of those memories really stay exactly with you? How many of those are pertinent to you? It kind of taught me that you can’t hold everything so preciously. You just do the work because you want to do it, because you love it. You live your life because you have to live your life. We’re not really sure what’s going to resonate. It’s not our job to figure that out. It’s just our job to put out there what is important to us.

Zibby: I love that. That sounded like great advice. I always like to ask what advice you have for aspiring authors. That is fabulous. Would you have anything else aside from, basically, keep putting things out there and letting the right people find it when they need it?

Ashly: That pretty much sums up my advice. You don’t need permission to be a writer and that the validation of — oftentimes for me, I was always looking for, what is going to make me a real writer? What job am I going to get? Who’s going to see it? Do I have to have a published book in order to feel real and authentic? It’s actually so much more about, I feel like a real writer when I’m writing stuff that I like and no one can see it. Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who’s this amazing writer — she did Fleabag and Killing Eve. She’s a television writer. She always says that she writes for her one best friend. She just wants to make her one best friend laugh, and that’s it. She ended up making everybody laugh and is this incredible writer. I think the pressure of thinking of an audience and people who are going to deem your work important can actually be the killer of creativity. Either write for your best friend or write for yourself. Take that pressure off. Then whatever happens, happens. If it goes out into the world and people like it, great. If it doesn’t, I often think that the time of anonymity is the best time to be a writer because you can fail in the dark by yourself with no one watching. Enjoy the time before the time where people are looking.

Zibby: Love it, failures in the dark.

Ashly: Yes, the next book after Read This for Inspiration, failures in the dark.

Zibby: Read this for inspiration in your closest with the lights off. Ashly, thank you. Thanks so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.” Thanks for this beautiful book which just makes me smile whenever I see it and which I’m going to leave out on my coffee table even though it’s tiny and adorable because it’s really happy.

Ashly: That’s exactly what it’s for. That’s what it’s for. I made it specifically, when I was designing it — I carry my books with me all around in backpacks and stuff. I wanted it to be hard enough that it didn’t get bent and that you could fit it into your purse, into your locker, or right next to you by a coffee table. Thank you so much for having me, Zibby. It was great talking with you.

Zibby: Great talking to you too.

Ashly: Bye.

Zibby: Bye, Ashly.