~2.5-Hour/IRL Interview with Tao Lin on MDMA: The 11,810-Word Transcript
TL: No…what do you mean?
CL: I don’t know – were you ever diagnosed with anything? Like any learning disabilities?
TL: Oh no… Jesus. No.
CL: Like I had attention deficit disorder as a kid.
TL: Oh, no. But a lot of people say I’m retarded.
CL: Oh really?
TL: Yeah it’s become like a meme recently.
CL: That you’re retarded?
TL: Yeah people say things like ‘is he retarded?’ And then they post videos…
CL: I think that journalist from Blackbook said that they thought you had Asperger’s.
TL: Yeah. I don’t believe that anyone has Asperger’s, it’s just like a scam. What – did you have ADD? Did you have to take Adderall?
CL: I took Ritalin.
TL: Oh sweet!
TL: Do you still take it now?
TL: What happened?
CL: I stopped taking it.
TL: After you took it, did you feel really able to like, do work and stuff?
CL: Yeah but I was like 8 and so, it didn’t matter.
TL: Whoa! That’s horrible. When you were 8…how long did you take it?
CL: I took it for like…four years.
TL: Jesus! Jesus!
Oh my god. Oh my god, four years… How many milligrams, do you know?
CL: I don’t know…
TL: What age to what age?
CL: Like 8 to 12.
TL: Whoa! That must have changed you.
CL: Yeah, I think it did. I think it did.
TL: Jesus. Like after the first few months after you stopped, did you feel like, bad or anything?
CL: Uh, I don’t know…I don’t think I liked taking it. I think I got like bad side effects from it.
TL: Jesus. People who take the most drugs by far are like, kids who get prescribed it.
CL: It’s so true.
TL: Like nobody takes drugs every single day for four years. Except people who get prescribed it by doctors. Oh my god.
CL: So…so people think you’re retarded?
TL: Yeah! Like three people came to my reading in Chicago and they’re like, ‘Are you retarded?’
CL: They asked you that?
TL: They were joking but… but it’s become like a meme. Yeah, they asked me that in real life, and they had their picture taken with me with them. Like the next day they reiterated on my Facebook wall, ‘Are you retarded?’
CL: Do you think it’s just the way you interact with people that makes them feel that way?
TL: That I’m retarded?
CL: Yeah. Like, you act retarded.
TL: I don’t do it on purpose. But I’m sure I ‘seem retarded.’ I actually do seem retarded.
CL: (Laughs) Why?
TL: Actually, retarded people aren’t self conscious.
CL: So you’re like, retarded but self conscious.
TL: Yeah because I don’t make sense a lot of the time. My grammar is extremely bad a lot of the time.
CL: Do you think that maybe you’re too far ahead of people? You’re like, three steps ahead of what the conversation is?
TL: Definitely not. I’m actually struggling to like…to just make sure I seem normal. I’m just struggling really hard just to make sure I don’t make the other person feel extremely uncomfortable, a lot of the time. Yeah.
CL: I don’t think you seem like that.
TL: Well I’m just trying really hard – for some people. If I get along with someone, I can be normal. Like, I get along with you – so I can be normal.
CL: So does that make it difficult when you’re trying to date people or make friends?
TL: ‘Date people.’ Well I don’t date anyone that I don’t like a lot. Or even try to date them. Yeah, I never like fake interest to have sex or whatever. Or anything. I fake interest, I don’t fake interest… Like less and less, I fake interest. I just try to avoid people that I feel like I would need to fake interest. To be normal.
CL: Which must be hard in Brooklyn’s literary scene.
TL: ‘Brooklyn’s literary scene.’ I don’t go to shit. Unless I’m with a friend.
CL: So right now your next goal to write another book and sell it for a lot of money, and hopefully to get a point where you can feel like, you don’t have to worry about money anymore?
TL: Right now I have two options. One is to get an agent and sell a book for a lot of money. And then use all the money just to focus on my own press and to focus on my own self publishing or whatever. Or I’ll start publishing myself immediately. And then, like tweet, ‘Does anyone want to invest in my bank?’ And get money that way. Honestly I’m not sure which one I want to do yet. But the end goal is just to have control over everything. Like the cover of my books, marketing, everyone. And never have to email someone asking them for something. That’s the end goal right now.
It seems extremely satisfying to me just to be able to design the cover and everything.
Guy on MDMA: How does that relate to your publishing company that you set up?
TL: That’s what I’m going to publish my stuff through.
TL: Yeah, ‘Muumuu House.’
CL: That’s kind of exhausting though, because not only do you have to write the book but you have to handle all your own press.
TL: I already handle most of my own press! If you look at my selected coverage on my blog, I can probably trace back something like 90 percent to something I’ve done. Pretty much all of them are like, friends who cover me. Yeah, so I pretty much already have done all that.
CL: On Hipster Runoff, Carles calls himself a ‘blog worth blogging about.’ Do you feel like you’re a ‘writer worth writing about?’
TL: No…no. I just don’t even consider that. That’s not, that doesn’t even enter my world of thought. If I’m worth…or if I’m good or bad. I never say I’m good. Or like, wait – do I? God. Ideally, I never say I’m good or like, ‘my book is awesome.’ I’ll say how many hours I worked on it but I won’t say it’s good. I’ll say I like it, but I won’t say it’s good.
CL: Do you feel like it sometimes sucks, just like, living in the world? Or like the world can’t provide us with enough to satisfy us?
CL: I know that’s a big question. I’m probably like, ruining your brain right now.
TL: No, that’s good. That’s a good kind of question, keep on asking that.
No, I definitely feel like the world is good enough.
TL: Yeah. Yeah the world is really good. And I say that based on evidence because I’m still alive and living. I didn’t kill myself. Like, if I killed myself then I could say the world sucks, on average.
CL: Like definitively.
TL: On average. Yeah. But since the urge to kill myself isn’t so strong that I actually kill myself, then based on evidence the world is worth continuing to live in.
CL: ‘Cause often it seems like the characters you write about in your books are teetering on that edge, you know?
TL: Yeah. (Long pause.) Can you say some more about that?
CL: I don’t know. What really depresses you?
TL: What ‘depresses me?’
CL: Yeah. And what makes you really happy?
TL: What really depresses me is when I like a girl and they’re not responding as much to me.
CL: That’s way more depressing than like The New York Times –
CL: – like giving you a bad review?
TL: Yeah! Like if I’ve emailed a girl that I like a lot and they haven’t responded in a few days, I feel really bad. The New York Times and other stuff like that doesn’t affect me at all.
CL: It’s the personal stuff.
TL: Yeah. Like my goal in life isn’t to get every review ‘loves me.’ That wouldn’t affect me at all. My goal in life is to like…find a girlfriend.
TL: That I like a lot.
CL: Oh really?
TL: Or that’s one of the goals, the main goals.
CL: Did you have a really serious girlfriend at one point?
TL: I’ve had (pauses to calculate) my god I can’t even remember. I think I’ve had two serious relationships. But yeah…oh my god, that’s not actually my goal. That’s like the secondary goal. My main goal is to…to able to have so much control over myself that I’m able to remain satisfied no matter what is happening outside of me.
CL: Self control.
TL: Yeah, I guess that is my main goal. To be able to like…even if I was on an island, like alone and freezing to death, to feel happy. That would be…that seems like the ideal goal to have.
CL: Yeah, absolutely.
TL: Like, not to try and change the environment but to be able to change your perception of the environment.
CL: You have a great passage in Eeeee Eee Eeee where you talk about just kind of like… I forget, you quote someone where that writer said that you have to be able to write your life so that the book that you’re writing is just as good as the life that you’re living, or something?
TL: God, say that again.
CL: Like, you have to write – like the life that you’re leading has to be just as compelling as the book that you’re writing?
TL: Who said that?
CL: Oh… I think you quoted it in Eeeee Eee Eeee.
TL: Oh wait, Eeeee Eee Eeee! Life or…
CL: Or you talk about how sometimes there’s a moment that’s so good that you actually feel like you’re present in it?
TL: My god, I don’t remember that at all. But I remember saying in Eeeee Eee Eeee – my god… (Long pause.)
Can you say that again?
CL: Oh. I have the book with me…
TL: No, again.
CL: Oh. Like something about how hard it is to be present in a moment…and how like writing almost distills that down to something?
TL: Fuck, my brain isn’t working around my thoughts. But there’s something else in that book… Oh my god… Oh my god… Something in that book it says like, Schopenhauer said to view life as a book already written rather than one you’re writing. So you’re just moving through it. That seems cool. That just seems like a cool and interesting way to think of things.
CL: Yeah. I had to read that passage over and over again, just to figure it out.
TL: It seems interesting.
CL: But if it’s true, what does that mean exactly?
TL: Uh, it seems extremely complicated. Beyond what anyone can comprehend. Because it has to do with free will. Like literally based on physics, people don’t have free will. Because like the first thing happened, and everything has cause and effect. Just like if we dropped a ball and it hit another ball – so that’s just, so based on evidence nobody has free will. That’s just extremely hard to comprehend.
CL: But you ultimately want to live a life where you’re in complete control.
TL: I think that’s ideal but actually in my life, I don’t even try to move towards that. I’m always focused on like, ‘Jesus, when is she going to respond to my Facebook message?’ And like, ‘should I just say ‘fuck it’ and message again?’ Or like…um, ‘should I buy this cookie? And eat it, or eat it later?’
‘What time should I wake up tomorrow?’ Or ‘do I need to delete this tweet, or not?’
TL: (Laughs) Yeah, that’s my life.
CL: But those are the kind of decisions that people are making all the time.
CL: Those are the only choices we have, sadly. I mean not really.
TL: Yeah anything I say is like… I just think my brain can’t fit enough lines of thought together to always be focused on the same thing.
CL: And that’s kind of how you write your characters.
TL: Yeah I like reading books where at the base level the characters are confused. That’s how I am.
CL: So if you could like, emulate anyone’s career, who would it be?
TL: Oh god…Oh my god. Jesus.
CL: Or, are you making your own?
TL: I just felt like the feeling of ‘severe depression.’
CL: Oh no!
TL: Because I think that if I wanted to emulate something, it would already exist. I would rather do things like haven’t been done before. So no, I don’t want to emulate anyone’s career.
CL: What are some things that make you really happy? Witnessing weird moments?
TL: What would make me happy? What would make me happy? If I really liked a girl, and they liked me back.
CL: Yeah. I guess that would make everyone happy.
TL: Yeah. It is has to be like perfectly timed, because if I like them a lot, and they message me too many times, I’ll actually just stop liking them. It’s just so weird.
TL: Yeah stuff like that is really complicated. Like I can feel myself detaching from them if the timing wasn’t perfect. It just seems complicated.
CL: I have this thing where if someone seems too interested in me, I’ll lose all interest in them.
TL: Yeah, that’s what I have.
CL: But if they’re not interested in me, that makes them more attractive.
TL: (While yawning) Yeah! Yeah!
It sounds so irrational, but I can feel my feelings changing, like independent of me.
CL: Yeah for sure.
TL: Yeah, it seems complicated.
CL: I wonder if it’s a… Is it because you feel like you need someone to validate…
TL: No. I think it just has to do with evolution. Like, people who connect with girls have more sex and have more babies and pass on their genes for wanting to be with girls. It’s evolution. That’s another reason why I don’t think I write about contemporary culture. Because I write about human behavior. Human behavior doesn’t change over generations. It changes over thousands over years. And having babies and passing on their genes. Like, people in their 80s and their 60s have the same genes.
(Looks at CL’s necklace) Jesus.
CL: It looks like a Transformer.
Girl with Guy on MDMA: Yeah, it does.
CL: Do you want to wear it?
(Tao Lin puts it on.)
CL: (Laughs) Okay.
Girl with Guy on MDMA: I love it. Was it made by someone in a jewelry shop?
CL: I don’t know exactly.
TL: Oh. My. God.
CL: It looks cool on you.
Girl with Guy on MDMA: I need some jewelry like that.
TL: You look really stoned.
Girl with Guy on MDMA: I’m just sleepy.
TL: Don’t you have like any pressing questions? Ask me.
CL: So okay… your dad was in jail for four years? And…you didn’t worry about that?
TL: No, I knew my dad would get along with anyone. Like, even if you put him in the ghetto with people shooting people, he would get along. And then he mostly just likes to work on stuff, and like, relax and be fed. And I knew he was happy because he was happy because whenever we would visit him…
CL: In Taiwan?
TL: No, Florida.
Girl with Guy on MDMA: What happened?
TL: He had a company and the government said he released a false press release.
CL: A false press release?
TL: Yeah he said – oh shit! My mom said like – I said a bunch a shit about my dad and some other thing. And my mom said that she would be happier if I didn’t talk about it and (grumbles)… Go onto the next thing.
CL: Okay. But he was in jail for four years?
TL: Yeah but that’s already public knowledge. What’s another thing… there must be something. Just ask anything, now’s your chance.
CL: Do you believe in God?
TL: No, no. C’mon, when you’re idly looking at my internet presence you must have some questions going through your head.
CL: I don’t know, I guess I just wonder about how ambitious you are and if you think you’re ambitious enough. And what kind of pressure that is. Because it’s all self inflicted pressure, it doesn’t come from anywhere else. It’s all expectations that you have.
Guy on MDMA: What are you trying to give to your readers? Like you’ve talked about…
TL: Oh my god. I’m not ambitious.
CL: You’re not ambitious? But you wrote three novels by the time you were…
TL: That’s just a side effect of wanting to relive boredom and wanting to do exciting things.
Guy on MDMA: But when you’re trying these things what do you want the people to take out of it?
TL: Nothing! Just whatever they want. But yeah, I’m not ambitious. Ambition’s just a side effect. Of wanting to…oh my god. Like if a lot of people know about me when I tweet something, the reaction will be bigger. Which is exciting to me. In part because like, everyone will see that one tweet is doing something. And if someone sees someone’s doing something, and it’s affecting one person, or it’s affecting a thousand people, that person will feel more excited if it’s affecting a thousand people. Oh my god. Oh my god. Oh my god. Ask the next thing.
CL: Okay…this like a common thing about people who move to New York. Do you feel like the city has a lot to do with you being a young a writer?
TL: In what way?
CL: Like how does the city – like New York’s literary culture – affect your writing or the way you view writing?
TL: By the time I finished my first four books, I had never met anyone. My first two books, prose books, were written when I never went to any events, I didn’t know anyone. So that based on evidence had no affect on those first two books Bed and Eeeee Eee Eeee.
TL: And Shoplifting – when I wrote Shoplifting and most of Richard Yates, I was working in various places.
CL: Where, at the library?
TL: Restaurant. Library. Next question.
CL: What kind of restaurant did you work in?
TL: Angelica Kitchen, a vegan restaurant.
CL: Oh right, Angelica Kitchen.
TL: You should ask non-factual questions.
CL: What kind of questions do you want me to ask? Heavy ones?
TL: I don’t know. Just start saying shit.
CL: If you could fill a swimming pool with any substance except water, what would you fill it with?
TL: What the fuck? Did you prepare that question?
TL: You just thought of that? Jesus. Instead of water, what would I put in it? Oh my god… Hundred dollar bills.
CL: A hundred dollar bills…
TL: What would you put in it?
Girl with Guy on MDMA: Mine is chocolate.
TL: At first I thought ‘jelly.’ Then I thought, one hundred dollar bills. Like that’s the writing process, you first think of a cliché and then you edit yourself. That’s the writing process in action right there.
CL: Mine is ‘champagne.’ Or Pantene Pro-V.
TL: My god – you like Pantene Pro-V?
TL: Oh, just to be funny?
CL: Just to be funny.
TL: Just to be funny…home owned video cassettes. Oh my god, like a ton of MDMA pills! Like, I would put 50,000 pills.
CL: Would you swallow them all?
A | A | A
The apartment you lived in your first year out of school, the walk-up with a view of the street.
I wanted to quit my job. I hated my boss.
His eyes widened, he became angry, and backed off of me. I told him he could leave now. Now. He said “With you being a good Christian girl, and me studying to be a priest, I think it’s important we not tell anyone what we did.”
In a fallen world, hope, like faith, is often the hardest thing to hold onto especially when you need it the most.