State of Mind: Ashley Ragovin

Ashley Ragovin is the kind of friend you want in your corner. She has a way of seeing to the core, through the haziness and formalities and nonsense. It’s no accident that All Time—the neighborhood cafe she co-owns in Los Feliz—feels effortlessly perfect, the ideal ratio of no-frills simplicity meets utter attention to quality meets no-rush, linger-all-afternoon-type of laid back. Ashley is both relentlessly honest and relentlessly true blue, the friend who will in the same breath serve you tough love, an earnestly rare compliment, and the perfect glass of Sicilian wine that you didn’t know you wanted or needed but somehow, of course, Ashley discovered while traveling through remote Italy, showing up and knocking on the door of an off-grid, old world winery, and befriending everyone there by just rolling up her sleeves and marching out to work in the vineyards for two weeks. That’s just how she does it, folks. We visited her at home to sit, drink wine, and talk. Below, a conversation on embracing our stripped-down selves; the specific growth that comes from loss; what it means to define (and redefine) who we are not just what we do.

 

 

Interview by Leigh Patterson, Photos by Helen Nishi   

 

 

 

THE PAINTER'S JUMPSUIT, Light Silk Linen, Desert

  

  

  

  

 

THE 1930s BANDANA, Lichen

 


How might someone describe you? What has helped you — a person, an experience, a place — embrace this definition?

One thing I have been thinking a lot about recently is how from when we are young we frame our existence though the idea of work, of what we want to be. But lately, I have been really thinking about who I want to be. You can sort of zoom out and look at the mosaic of your own character from this neutral place, and examine how you want to relate to the world. Maybe you say, ‘oh I’d like to be kinder or more patient or be more feminine right now.’ Then you can just imagine the quality of those attributes, what they mean to you, and just by practicing them you can become more a certain way, or less another. You know, at times it’s served me to be very tough, and I’m sure people would say that I am so; but at other junctures it's been a harmful approach. That’s also true for being generous and forgiving; there are circumstances where being that way has been a setback, and in other cases it’s been the most redeeming. I like the idea that we can choose.

 

What has working in multiple roles and having your hands in a lot of businesses/projects taught you about letting go of needing to be one "thing”? 

I have always tended to move fast, hard, fearlessly, and have been decisively independent. I think when you achieve some small recognition or successes, that fuels the idea that, ok that’s how I have to be all the time. That’s how I can be in control. I have to fight and push and demand. But work and life are multi dimensional and fluid. So when you become too singular, it reaches into other areas of your life and you know, maybe it isn’t that sustainable, or that enjoyable, or even that interesting. There is tremendous grace and patience required for meaningful collaboration. Doing the work to develop that side of myself has work itself more harmonious and balanced. Rather than pushing my own agenda and thinking of myself as independent, I have to actively find a compassionate place to listen from—not only to my partner (I work with my husband), but also to the people who we employ, who we consider our team and also, in a way, family and rely on for success.

I also recently wound down my first business to make room for other creative pursuits and new things to come. I felt so light once I took that action, but I struggled with the decision for a while because I felt that iteration of my work was linked to my identity. Letting go of that idea was very liberating and it freed up so much energy. That's a great lesson, that you don’t have to lug everything you do around forever, that no single project defines you for eternity.

  

  

 

 

THE BOY TANK, Silk Noil, Tea

  

 

  

How have you come to know yourself differently in the past year?

A lot of life stuff happened in the last year—I broke my ankle, I opened a restaurant, I wound down my first business. Most significantly, I lost my mom. This moment was like being unplugged from the external world and plunged into my own internal one, involuntarily and chaotically and into a place I had never considered exploring. I was in so much pain I was willing to go anywhere, do anything.

I started reading about consciousness, I started meditating, practicing different types of breath work, I took trips alone to far away, extreme places, I started moving through some spiritual and personal territory as simply a means of trying to find some fraction of relief from such excruciating loss. I was opened up to ideas and experiences and people I wouldn’t have been open to otherwise, all of which have really pressed into who I am and molded me into this different place of self. It’s too big to synthesize into words even, but I think that process gave me a little more softness with other people, maybe more patience or gentleness with myself.

Every action my mom took in her life made me better in some way and in looking back on this past year, I’m realizing even her unexpected death is part of that legacy. I still feel like she’s teaching me, helping me go deeper into myself. Of course I don’t mean to romance her death in anyway; it’s so easy to put words down and make all of it sound chronological and clean. It wasn’t, it’s not. The learning and the growth happens side by side with the torturous pain and sadness. Some parts of you grow and others shrink or die. But that ache and impossible void is not something I want to bury or run away from, and I guess that’s the biggest difference—going from trying to escape my own body to being a little more capable of sitting still in the unanswerable, more curious toward feeling the rolling textures of grief.

  

How we show up (figuratively speaking) anywhere is how we show up everywhere. Do you have a personal philosophy for living?

I am always editing. Addition by subtraction, doing more with less. I like the idea of peeling away layers rather than adding them on. Expose something instead of decorating it or covering it. So in the kitchen that means fewer ingredients and less process. I tend to live in the same clothes day to day. In work, finding the confidence and honesty to say no to opportunities when they aren’t good timing or the right fit is a form of editing that feels really good—less stuff crammed in a given day or week yields so much more energy. The less clutter that hangs onto the core of something, the more its story and texture and richness can come through. And if you start with something of substance, you don’t need to dress it up. That’s with food, with wine, with the people in my life, the work choices I make. That’s what feels right. That’s what feels like me.

  

 

 

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