May 7, 2020

The Chaos Within – The Bitter with the Sweet with Ashley Nunez

by joeyphoenix

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Accessibility Note: Scroll to the end of this post to find the audio transcript.

If we’re thinking of this as a pressure cooker – me creating things is the steam release valve. And for some people, the release valve is sending memes back and forth, it’s napping, it’s sitting and doing nothing, it’s finding a little time to read when not staring out at the void.

Ashley Nunez

Ashley Nunez is an artist, weaver of stories, and the creatrix behind Old Growth Alchemy, a virtual goblin stall filled to bursting with tisanes, botanical libations, and sensual ephemera. She joins me on the podcast today to talk about her new project: a podcast called Widdershins Stories, and how helping to make your friends famous can strengthen your community.

She also has a Patreon.

She started Old Growth Alchemy in 2017 as a way to explore what she discovered in her ongoing study in folk herb craft, lore, storytelling, and traditional witchery through her various creative offerings. 

Everything she makes is small-batch and changes with the turning of the year, a poignant commentary on the transitory nature of life itself. “Get it now or it will soon be gone,” she says with a wink, as if to say will only cost 5 minutes of your life, the last wish you made at a wishing well, or something small that you don’t need – that won’t be missed. 

Mentioned in this Podcast

Daughters of Darkness Blog
Finding Connections in Altered Landscapes – Article for DoD Fest by Ashley
Angela Carter
Joe Sabourin Music
Terry Pratchett’s The Wyrd Sisters

About The Chaos Within

Hosted by Joey Phoenix, The Chaos Within is a podcast celebrating the weird, the wild, and the creative – featuring makers, doers, artists, and oddballs exploring the unknown and tapping into their creative energy.

The Chaos Within is produced by Creative Collective and is available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

The Logo was designed by Anton Presents, the intro music is by Paul Senn ( using the Theta-U Creative Circuit System, and the outro music by Chris Wilson Sound using one of Joey’s maternal Grandmother’s haunted music boxes.

Click here for an up to date listing of Virtual Experiences

Creative North Shore is produced, curated and managed by Creative Collective, we are trying really hard to make sure that we don’t have to put a paywall in place and could really use your support to keep afloat and make us able to keep a few of our staff employed and providing you with content and information. Please consider supporting us with any amount.

Audio Transcript

Joey Phoenix 0:05
The Chaos Within, part of Creative Collective Presents, is a podcast celebrating the weird, the wild, and the creative, featuring makers, doers, artists, and oddballs, exploring the unknown and tapping into their creative energies. The intro Music is by Paul Senn and then the outro music is by Chris Wilson Sound. In the beginning, there was chaos. I’m your host, Joey Phoenix,

Joey 0:30
Ashley is as an artist, weaver of stories, and the creatrix behind Old Growth Alchemy, a virtual Goblin stall filled to bursting with tisanes, botanical libations, and sensual ephemera. She started Old Growth Alchemy in 2017 as a way to explore what she discovered in her ongoing study and folk herb craft, lore, storytelling and traditional witchery through her various creative offerings. Everything she makes is small batch, “Get it now or it will soon be gone,” she with a wink, as if to say it will only cost five minutes of your life, a wish you made it a wishing well, or something small that you don’t need… that won’t be missed.

She just launched a brand new project, which she has been teasing on her Patreon page over the last few days. It’s called Widdershins. But I will let her tell you all about it because I wouldn’t do it justice.

Welcome, Ashley.

Ashley Nunez
Thank you for having me.

It’s a beautiful spring day. And we’re sitting on a very cold porch and I’m excited about the growing things, but currently very cold. I have tea Thanks to you for today, I suppose.

So tell me about what you’ve been up to with Old Growth Alchemy in the last couple of years and your philosophy behind it?

Ashley 1:40
Yeah, so Old Growth Alchemy started, kind of as an escape. It was a really challenging year and time in my world. I was living in Burlington, Vermont, kind of transitioning jobs. And I started studying herbalism through like a actual apprenticeship. program and kind of overwhelmed. Which just began out of me furiously stuffing things into jars and hoping for the best. Noticing I had far too many jars than any person should have full of herbs in various menstruums, and then deciding to do something with them.

I, you know, started blending the very first thing and made more or less really was bitters, exploring around that, just because the concept of what bitters are and how you can use them from an herbalist medicinal standpoint is very interesting and useful. But then I started to kind of be like, Huh, well, all of these tastes quite bad, which is the point because they’re bitters. So how can we play with that and make that a little bit more interesting? basically trying to think of like, okay, you know, you encounter the tree cedar.

Well, how do we take that and find new and unique ways to explore it? So what happens if it’s a tincture? What happens if it’s a tea, what happens if you burn it? What happens if you infuse in oil? Like how do these different things like change how you interact with the natural world? In a way it was an exploration into bioregional animism, it was a way to explore a senses it was you know, looking at sense memory and how our experiences are so tied to like taste, touch and smell.

Joey 3:24
So you’ve done this for a while. But now in this time, when it’s more quiet… You are starting a new project. Tell me about what you’re up to there.

Joey 3:35
Yeah, so the the term Widdershins means counterclockwise at its most basic. It’s something that you find a lot if you happen to be like me and others that I know we read a lot of fairy tales and folklore and history also. And it’s just something of a hat like going against the grain it’s going like the the slant ways backwards, like view of how life is.

And just that as a concept that’s always really fascinated me and I’ve always wanted to do something under the name Widdershins. But I never really knew what when all of this, I’m gesturing vaguely at the surroundings for those of you who are not here, which is everyone…

When all this started happening, I really started looking at connections and how we find them and explore them. When our landscapes are so wildly changed. I wrote a little bit about it for Daughters of Darkness, you can find it over on their blog, but you know, I wanted to go further with that. So I found little ways here and there of, you know, connecting that I find really nourishing and what is interesting about it, so is what the final project of Widdershins is that has just come out is different than what I initially mentioned.

I was looking at it more as maybe kind of an initiative or branch of some sort of like, way people can connect through the written word and all of that, but it kind of meshed with something I’ve already been doing, which is the story parlor. For me story is such a powerful way that we connect, you know, whether it’s through the act of telling stories of thinking of our life in stories and how all of that works. I wanted to do something that I thought would maybe just like, help take people’s mind off of the situation. So I started reading, start reading the entirety of Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett. Got about halfway through, I was doing all this live stream on Instagram, and just realized that like, it was interesting, it was fun, but it was hard because they were in the like, hour segments.

So I wanted to do shorter segments, which is where the idea of the story post came in, that was gonna be you know, reading like a story, a poem and when we had the virtual Daughters of Darkness festival, I offered to read some works by Angela Carter. And my partner Joe Sabourin he,

Ashley 6:09
I asked him I was like, hey, so can you play like moody atmospheric music in the background. And while I was reading these, you know, these slightly macabre takes on Little Red Riding Hood. He was live composing in the background. And there were just like moments where it just worked. It just it had such a depth and dimension to it.

Ultimately, Widdershins still has these threads of connectivity. I still have little devious plots in my mind of what it can turn into in the long run. But what it settled on was something that was already in the works but just deepened in that is a storytelling podcast with live music composition. You know, we’re looking at fairy tales and folk tales as follows legends, you know, all of these things, these old dusty stories that we know so well. And just, you know, playing around with them and kind of just finding ways to get lost along with the main characters in the woods

Joey Phoenix 7:15
Following sort of these last threads to something brand new, I think… do you think Widdershins would have happened had this not had an opportunity not to come into being?

Ashley 7:29
It definitely would not have or at least not in this way not in this time. I’m finding that with all this time. You know, me being home not having to commute back and forth from work and just not having the opportunities or options to go out and see really amazing art being created or visit people and places in the darkest way is that this has been it created little pockets of wiggling opportunity. That I really grabbed on to. And Widdershins is one of these things that like I said, it was a, it was a backburner project, a lot of things that I had put on the back burner are now coming out because they have the space to you know.

I also don’t think that you have to or should be doing stuff at this time. Like for me. This like, being fully immersed in tons of projects, is how I’m coping with it. You know, at the end of the day, as much as I’m excited about this project, and as much as I’m really proud of it, and I’m proud of the work that I’ve done, and I say it’s an opportunity, it’s a coping mechanism to stress and to like the horrible situation we’re in and I don’t want to downplay how bad it is by saying like,

Oh, well look at my opportunities and look at how I’ve grown from all of this. It’s like, I mean, I have, but it’s because of the situation that we’re in. And it’s because of that all like this, if we’re thinking of this as a pressure cooker, me creating things is the steam release valve. And I think that, you know, for some people, the release valve is sending memes back and forth, it’s napping, it’s sitting and doing nothing. It’s like finding little, like times to read when not staring out at the void. For me, I just need to be busy, because if I’m too still, then it probably will explode and I will go with it. And I don’t want to go down there because I’ve been in dark parts of my mind before and would like to not be there.

Joey 9:51
Thank you for sharing all of that, hey, I had the privilege of knowing your inner self. So I have a better view of what you’re capable of. But what I see is like, your capacity to acknowledge that things are really crappy and still want to make something this time is bringing out your inner productive hermit self. Because as a teenager, you spent a lot of time alone reading wandering the woods. And like, maybe it’s given you the ability to like wander these like liminal spaces where like, we don’t know what the future holds, but it doesn’t matter because we have the present.

How has that come through in this time

Ashley 10:35
As you said, it hit me and like when I mentioned it to a while ago, I have a lot of this reminds me of being a teenager and just how I like really yearn for things. And so I read a lot as a way to escape. I spent the I mean, I spent a lot of time alone, but I didn’t have enough like experience in the world to know what to do. And I was always looking for an inciting moment or a thing to propel me forward and I was looking for something external for years, like all throughout being a teenager all throughout like in college, you know, just endlessly seeking some external source.

And that’s not really too different from now. I mean, if I’m being perfectly honest, like a lot of the things that I’m doing like you know, I’m still I’m not just completely hurting myself and making art just for me, I am doing it because I’m enjoying, you know, the responses, but I’m also doing it because it’s making me happy just to have stuff out there.

And I think that it’s the familiarity of the situation is like, oh, okay, I’ve been here before, like, I know how to navigate these waters. It’s going to be uncomfortable, but I’m much better equipped now than I was back when I was a kid. to like, figure out a way through here that isn’t just getting lost. I mean, it took me a really long time, even within all of this to get back to reading for pleasure, like, you know, I find connection through words I find connection through stories, I find connection through the ways that people present themselves. And, you know…

Joey 12:22
You do a lot of community building, digitally, and it’s kind of like a paradox in itself to be like building community, according to you. What is it like for you?

Ashley 12:30
For me, it’s just about supporting each other. Like, even before all of this started, like, you know, my partner and I had a really hard time with a lot of things like in our personal life, and a lot of people came through and I’m seeing that more and more within all of this happening with the virus and you find a way it’s just you you have to, you know, if you can’t do it in person, and if you can’t be there for them physically in person to you know, give an embrace or to like, root for them on with you know your words right next to them or to go to a shop and to buy their stuff.

It’s like you find ways to do things from a distance that are helpful. And it’s not all within this about money. It’s about like, maybe someone who’s struggling needs a cup of calming tea. So, you know, you send them a bag of tea, or maybe someone needs some words of encouragement. So you send them a message, you check in on them, maybe someone is struggling with their shop, you share their stuff, and this isn’t something that just happens in crisis.

If it only happens in crisis, then I don’t know that doesn’t say a lot. I think about the strength of the community, it needs to happen all the time. It’s been really wonderful to see people coming through for each other, and you really notice the abundance of care that’s coming out. You’ll also notice the lack and it is very strong initiative. But I would say like I’ve seen a lot of really, really beautiful things coming out of this from people supporting each other and finding all the different ways you can do that.

Whether it’s again, if it’s a shop share their stuff, like, like their stuff, comment on it, you know, do you have extra money cool, buy a thing from them. If not tell your friends like constantly just make your friends famous, and then just revel in that like, that’s just for me like one of the biggest things I just think that that’s so important is like, I get just so much like distinct pleasure out of knowing that people that I care about are getting the recognition they deserve.

Joey Phoenix 14:47
The Chaos Within is produced by Creative Collective. Creative Collective connects creativity, community, and commerce across the North Shore. As a collective of creative professionals, small businesses, organizations, and individuals. They coordinate a series of events, traditional and non-traditional marketing initiatives, resources and best practices to define why creativity matters in all aspects of life. In the beginning, there was chaos. Then you make it yours

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