How I Made It

Ashley Opheim, Indie Book Publisher

FLARE #HowIMadeIt celebrates 100+ talented, ambitious and driven Canadian women with cool jobs. Want what Ashley has? Here's how she did it

Ashley Opheim headshot

Ashley Opheim; Montreal; @ambientttechnology

Let’s say we’ve just met at a cocktail party. How would you describe, in a nutshell, what you do?

I run an independent publishing press called Metatron in my favourite city, Montreal. We publish contemporary writing in cute, pocketbook editions, curate a writing blog called ÖMËGÄ, put on readings that draw “record-breaking crowds” and generally support a vast community of writers from all over the world.

Where did you go to school and what did you study?

I went to Concordia University for creative writing.

What was your first paying gig out of school? (In your field, or not.)

When I graduated, my idea was that I’d work in publishing. I sent off dozens of applications and didn’t hear back from a single person. It was frustrating to be met by silence. In retrospect, I’m grateful that no one hired me, because I was able to channel my anger and frustration about that in a productive way. I was motivated to use my time and energy to do something meaningful for the world and my community, and was stubborn about not taking on work that would deplete me of my motivation and suck my time and energy. I got into nannying part-time during this time and got paid to hang out with people’s cool kids, hang out in parks with them and get in touch with my childish side.

I decided to live a very broke life in order to have time to work on Metatron. I did an unfathomable amount of unpaid labour for three years or so out of university because I was building the press, community, relationships and networks. I really struggled for years with manifesting money in my life and feeling like I was a valuable member of society. It was not glamorous or fun. I feel for people who are graduating right now. It can be such a demoralizing time.

What was your BIG break? How did you land it?

My big break was landing an emerging publishers grant from the Canada Council in 2016. I opened the envelope from them and cried from happiness. I had been rejected by them before, so didn’t really know what to expect, especially considering our books are a bit experimental. The acceptance letter allowed me, for the first in my life, to breathe a sigh of relief throughout my entire being.

For my writing, I was recently invited to Rosario, Argentina to partake in an international poetry festival. I don’t know if that means I’ve ‘made it’ but it does feel like my hard work is starting to pay off.

Describe the moment in which you first realized, I think this is actually going to work out?

Recently! And I still don’t really know, but I do have a good feeling about it all. I think seeing the submissions pour in this year for The Metatron Prize and reading people’s cover letters made me realize that I had created something bigger than I could ever imagine. The things that people were saying about the importance of our press floored me.

I decided 2017 would be my make-it-or-break-it year with Metatron, so I’m taking lots of risks and working myself silly. Poetry is a really niche thing and not necessarily a secure career choice… but I don’t know. I guess I’m stubborn. I believe in poetry and want to change people’s minds.

What would you say has been your biggest failure or shortcoming, career-wise, to date? How did you bounce back?

There are times in life when you’ll feel like you can’t go on. You will have challenges thrown at you, one after another. You will lose people that you really love and want to love forever. Not all of your relationships will stand the test of time. It’s hard and it sucks, but here’s the thing: these trying moments in life, whatever they may be, are golden opportunities for transformation. When you’re left with nothing, you’ll have the opportunity to discover what it is you really have. You’ll be in the perfect place to take risks and make leaps of faith. And I do believe that when we approach these challenging aspects of life, whether they be work-related or not, in a way that honours our self and our unique heartfelt passions, we are capable of so much more than we could ever imagine.

Name one piece of career advice you always give.

If your dream job doesn’t exist, create it.

What’s the worst career advice you’ve ever gotten?

At the beginning of starting Metatron, I had a male professor of mine try to dissuade me from applying for grants when I asked him for help and guidance. He said it wouldn’t “be worth it.”

Did you deal with barriers in your field because you are a woman? If so, what were they?

It’s true, there are a lot of prejudices and barriers for women in CanLit. But there are also incredible women and allies all over this country working hard to change this.

I consider Metatron an intersectional feminist press, and it’s been difficult asserting that in day-to-day decisions sometimes. Generally, we get way more submissions from cis men than another other demographic, so I’ve been working hard to try and make our press a place that marginalized voices feel safe and represented in. Those are the voices I feel most compelled to amplify.

Are you making a fair income for your work? Why or why not? Do you have a side hustle for extra cash? If so, what is it.

I’ve just started to pay my self for the time I put into Metatron, something I really really dragged my heels on for a long time. I’m still not making the income I deserve, but I’m more grateful for the opportunity to do what I love. I feel incredibly privileged regardless of what my income is because I’m working my dream job at my dream press.

What’s the worst stereotype you’ve heard about millennials at work?

All of the stereotypes are so bad. Millennials are amazing. We have zero guarantee of a hopeful future. We are witnessing the icebergs melt and the natural world go extinct and crumble right in front of our eyes. We are living in a post-Trump reality. We are stuck in an outdated system that doesn’t suit our morals or beliefs. The work we want to be doing in the world is rarely in line with what we end up doing to survive. We are incredibly skeptical of the practices that make someone money in this world. We realize the work that needs to be done in this world isn’t necessarily financially rewarding. Most of my friends are working more than three jobs to survive. The fact that we can still imagine and create art and remain in a state of hope given the awful state this world appears to be in is a miracle and testament to our resilience.

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