~2.5-Hour/IRL Interview with Tao Lin on MDMA: The 11,810-Word Transcript
TL: No, ‘cause I’d die. I would die.
CL: So what drugs do you want to try?
TL: Just anything.
CL: Are you gonna do heroin?
CL: Oh no, don’t do it.
TL: No, I think it’s a mistake when people…it’s fine. Like eating a muffin’s worse than drugs. Like carbohydrates are horrible for the body. It’s like saying that if I eat a muffin one day, the next day I will need to eat a muffin.
CL: So if you do heroin, the next day you won’t need to do heroin?
TL: Definitely not.
CL: That doesn’t make any sense.
TL: It doesn’t make any sense?
CL: I don’t think so.
TL: Yeah it does. Even if I feel horrible, if I drink a ton of coffee and the next day I feel horrible, that feeling of horribleness is interesting to me, I like feeling it, actually. I don’t feel a great desire to drink more coffee to return to normal. ‘Cause normal is what I want to avoid. I don’t like feeling normal.
TL: So feeling horrible due to withdrawal is something, I like that. ‘Cause I view things differently.
CL: So you kind of like the extremes? You’d rather be in like a bad mood than no mood at all?
TL: Yeah. But I’m saying this in all seriousness, eating carbohydrates is worse than doing drugs for your health, in my view. At least when you take into account the benefits. Like, say you eat a pint of ice cream. How long do you feel good from that? For the five minutes that you’re eating it. But say you take some kind of drug – say you take Adderall. You’ll be able to be productive for a long time. Plus you won’t spike your insulin levels.
CL: So you’re anti-carbs.
TL: Oh my god, I’m not anti-carbs, I’m just saying they’re not cost-effective if you’re trying to feel good. For longer than like the exact time that you’re trying to ingest them.
CL: What do you think is like the most high you’ve ever been?
TL: (Long pause) God… (Longer pause, Tao mutters ‘God’) I don’t know. After some point, they all seem the same. I feel really good right now.
CL: You feel really good right now? Oh good. Is it like a body buzzing thing?
TL: I don’t know…let me try to think really hard to see what’s happening.
CL: Yeah, describe it to me.
TL: There’s just like a bubble around a certain area of my head. And outside the bubble are thoughts that normally make me feel like I want to leave a situation. Like how there’s this person, and am I making this person feel uncomfortable? Am I boring this person? What is this person thinking about me? And that’s just outside the thing. And in addition to that, there’s whatever affect it has that makes me feel like I’m not tried. And that I’m comfortable, extremely comfortable.
CL: Like secure?
TL: ‘Secure.’ Secure in what?
CL: Just like, who you are?
TL: No. I’m still aware of like, evvvvveeeeerrryyything. Can you say that again, I feel like I was good at explaining this.
CL: Can I ask again – ‘describe how you’re feeling.’ Do you think you’re like normally a pretty self conscious person?
CL: You’ve said that you’re trying so hard to appear normal to people.
TL: So that they don’t feel uncomfortable.
CL: But why would people feel uncomfortable around you?
TL: Extremely short responses to their questions which makes them feel like I don’t like them. But actually I don’t have anything to say. Or like – for some reason I have a monotone. But I was born with it! And for some reason that makes people think that I hate them!
CL: So do you have to try really hard to put expression into your voice?
TL: I just don’t try anymore! I just try to just be around people who don’t think I hate them.
CL: When you talk to them?
TL: Yeah, yeah. People who understand that I if I didn’t like them, I wouldn’t be around them. I just try to do that.
CL: Who’s like your closest friend?
TL: Oh god. I just felt like…really alone when you said that.
CL: Oh no! I’m sorry.
TL: Oh wait, there has to be someone. I feel like I have close friends but then we ‘stop talking.’ Right now I guess, who do I feel close to?
TL: Oh my god…that seems so…it seems impossible. Like I feel close to different people over the sets of days.
Guy on MDMA: Who’s the girl in all your Vimeo videos?
TL: Which ones?
Guy on MDMA: She’s in your Urban Outfitters video.
TL: Oh that’s my ex girlfriend.
CL: Oh really?
TL: Like over the past few days I’ve been texting someone a lot and then I’ll feel really close to them.
CL: You made an Urban Outfitters video with your ex girlfriend?
TL: No, we went into Urban Outfitters to show that they were selling Shoplifting from American Apparel. We made a video of it.
CL: That’s funny.
TL: Yeah that’s my ex girlfriend. What was that question you were asking?
CL: Oh I was asking you who you felt closest to. Are you close with your parents?
TL: No. No. Oh my god, I’m pretty close with my mom. My god.
CL: Do they understand what you’re trying to do?
TL: I feel like my mom does. My dad – I don’t know. I don’t think…I don’t know. He’s like a mad scientist, it’s hard to know what he thinks about the tone of stuff.
TL: Yeah, tonal. Whether something I say is sarcastic, sincere or direct.
TL: Yeah, yeah.
CL: Oh okay.
TL: Yeah ‘tonal.’
CL: What was it like being at NYU?
TL: (Sighs) I don’t know. Just the same as anything.
CL: Did you go there thinking you would meet a lot of people that you would have things in common with?
TL: No, I have more in common with people who don’t go to NYU. I don’t think any intellectual stuff really. I just like pop punk, direct stories…Woody Allen movies.
CL: What’s your favorite Woody Allen movie?
TL: Stardust Memories.
CL: Oh really? That one is great, Charlotte Rampling. I like Another Woman.
TL: Oh I don’t think I’ve ever seen that one.
CL: Oh it’s great. It’s with Gena Rowlands and Mia Farrow.
TL: Whoa, I haven’t even seen that one.
CL: I think you would like that one. It has Gene Hackman in it. It’s super good.
TL: Whoa. It’s not funny, or as funny?
CL: It’s kind of funny. It’s more like one of his more serious dramas. Like Interiors or September or whatever?
TL: Everyone hates Woody Allen now.
CL: They do?
TL: Yeah, you didn’t know that?
TL: They worry that he’s making the same movie over and over again and ‘bla bla bla.’
CL: Yeah. But they’ll be really sad when he dies.
TL: I don’t understand when people are sad when people die.
CL: Like, someone famous? Or in general?
TL: Like someone you’ve never met.
CL: Oh. I guess you miss the idea of them or something. Or it reminds you that you will die.
TL: Well I think it just doesn’t make sense when someone dies and everyone writes about it. Like even if it’s not your job, and you just keep writing about it. Just because they died. Wouldn’t it make sense just to focus on people who are alive? If you’re writing about people who are dead, that’s supporting evidence that you should kill yourself. You’re like inserting energy into like, a void.
CL: (Laughs) I think that’s true.
TL: I never understood that. Or, I always understood it, I just think that view that discrepancy.
Girl with Guy on MDMA: Can I make a comment?
Girl with Guy on MDMA: I’m just so impressed at how decisive your answers are.
TL: God. Oh god. Maybe because I’ve thought of them before.
CL: You’ve thought of them before?
TL: Everything I’ve said, yeah pretty much.
CL: Do you interview yourself in your head?
TL: Whoa. I guess in the way that everyone does.
TL: Just like thinking, ‘what do you think about this?’
CL: But you don’t think about press clippings before they come out?
TL: What do you mean, ‘before they come out?’
CL: I don’t know.
TL: ‘Press clippings.’ No, I just think, ‘how am I going to phrase this in a tweet?’ Is it a ‘damming review?’ And do I use ‘London Review has interviewed’ or ‘interviewed?’ I try to focus on remaining consistent in my Twitter prose style, so my life can feel more exciting.
CL: Well ‘has interviewed’ is more dynamic than just ‘interviewed.’
CL: Like (zany voice) ‘has interviewed Tao Lin…’
TL: To me ‘has interviewed’ seems passive, detached…to you, it seems more dynamic…
CL: It seems like it.
TL: Hmmm. But then I think like, but if I’m trying to be minimal, I should just delete the ‘has.’ But then I’m like, I’ve already used ‘has’ so many times. I need to be consistent. And then that troubles me. And then I seem to like, solve that by rationalizing that ‘has’ and without ‘has’ are trying to convey different things. Even though I’m not even sure. And now it’s just like, I wasn’t consistent. I stopped paying attention at some point. Or for one tweet I stopped paying attention. But I don’t want to delete that tweet, because it’s an important link and I can’t put it back.
Those are my thoughts throughout the day.
CL: Those are your thoughts?
CL: But then you’ll also tweet like ‘I feel really depressed right now.’
TL: I never feel like, earnestly depressed. Oh my god.
CL: But the characters in your books do.
TL: They do?
TL: Yeah. But there’s always some degree of self awareness. They’re never completely inside it.
TL: I think the most depressed a character has felt, well one of them is in ‘Sasquatch’ (note: this is part of Lin’s short story collection Bed), the girl, she says like when she feels really depressed, she likes to focus on it. And then…there’s like a bed that she lays in. Fuck. Can I look at the book? Do you have Bed?
CL: Yeah, I got it. Hold on, I’ll grab it. I’ll grab your other book too. You can read Siddhartha.
(CL mutters ‘uhhhh’ while getting up and retrieves the books, wondering what time it is.)
TL: This is probably like my favorite thing I’ve ever done.
CL: You’re just saying that.
TL: Why would I say that?
CL: I don’t know.
TL: I’m not I’m saying it as if what I’ve written is the favourite thing that I have ever read. Oh, you thought this interview was what I was saying?
TL: Oh, I like this interview a lot! I worry about having you transcribe it. It’s very intimate.
CL: Yeah, me too. Oh here’s the thing that I was saying, (CL reads from Eeeee Eee Eeee eloquently and dramatically) Andrew was lately feeling that maybe despair was a mistake, “that he missed those times, that there was a yearning, really, to his prose; and would try, then, to desire, in this missed and wanting and therefore nostalgic way, the present moment, when feeling lonely or sad; to experience it while it was happening as the thing he would later yearn for—to realize, as it was happening, that feeling bad was a mistake – as if it were words on a page, being read not lived. Schopenhauer had said that – that life was to be perceived not as a book you would write but as a book already written, something to be gotten through, so as to detach oneself from suffering, which was an outside thing, really; not actually in the text.”
TL: Yeah, I like that a lot! That’s the main thing of this book.
CL: Yeah that’s like one of my favorite things I’ve ever read.
TL: Sweet, that’s the entire book.
CL: That’s the entire book?
TL: Yeah. If I think about any time that I’ve ever felt depressed in the past, I feel like I actually miss it. Do you feel that way ever?
CL: Yeah sometimes, like, if I’m really upset about a guy that I dated, I’ll actually think back on it. And it’s almost more satisfying to be like, really upset about something then when you’re feeling just kind of like, ‘bla.’
TL: And if you can while you’re feeling upset realize that in the future when you’re actually going to miss this, you’re going to feel something different.
CL: That’s so true! I never thought about that.
TL: That’s what I said! Yeah so that’s what I try to do. So if I’m feeling horrible I’ll think about how a year from now, all I think about is how I liked it.
CL: Yeah. That’s a really good useful tactic for like, coping with something.
TL: Yeah even if it isn’t true it’s still a good way to deal with something. Oh god. Oh my god. Oh god.
CL: I can’t believe you have a 60-year-old gay stalker.
TL: Yeah between 60 and 80.
CL: That’s so crazy.
TL: I think he’s really tactful. He started coming to my readings and photographing me sometimes. And one time he gave me a collage of photographs he had taken of me. But he didn’t stay long, he just gave it to me and left. And then we emailed a few times. I just say like ‘thank you’ and stuff.
CL: Didn’t you say that he masturbated about you?
TL: Oh he said some stuff. And then he said like ‘that’s fantasy, I’ll leave that to masturbation.’
CL: And you just went like, ‘thank you.’
TL: Yeah, that’s fine! I like him. What I don’t like is people – when I’m ‘AFK’ in red in Gmail chat and they keep talking to me. And with nothing to say except ‘s’up.’ And then I feel pressure to say shit. What bothers me is like people, not giving me space.
CL: Well it’s pretty crazy how accessible you are.
CL: You’re kind of like a stalker’s dream. It’s just like, they have your email, you’ll respond to them on Twitter.
TL: Yeah I think stalkers are fine, unless they kill you.
CL: (Laughs) That is totally true. You don’t want to be like Jodie Foster. Or if like, you had a stalker and they did something really bad.
TL: Like what?
CL: Like killed Obama or something?
TL: That would be fine, that has nothing to with me. That sounds insane.
CL: Like if your book convinced them to kill Obama or something.
CL: That would make you feel bad.
TL: No, that wouldn’t. Or, would it? I’m really not sure. I don’t know Obama, and millions of people die everywhere.
TL: But I wouldn’t view it as my fault.
CL: You wouldn’t view it as your fault?
TL: No like the long term solution –
CL: Like the Catcher in the Rye convinced so many crazy people to do stuff.
TL: Yeah I don’t – that’s not the Catcher in the Rye’s fault. How do I say this… oh my god. Oh my god. Jesus. Like the long-term solution to those kinds of things is to just tease out what’s factual. There’s like abstract reality and physical reality. Books exist in abstract reality. If someone kills someone in a book, no one suffers pain. But in concrete reality, if you punch someone they’ll suffer pain. If someone understands that there’s two separate worlds, they probably won’t read something and then do it. But if you censor a book, those people will still be thinking the same thoughts. Like if you censor a book where someone kills a thousand people, that doesn’t destroy that thought. People will still be thinking in their head, ‘people killing a thousand people.’ But if they’re able to distinguish abstract reality from concrete reality, they’ll know if they think something it doesn’t hurt anyone.
CL: Do you think of a lot of destructive thoughts?
CL: All the time?
TL: Yes, like I’ll think…wait, no I don’t. What do I think? Oh my god. I think offensive stuff. Wait – next question.
CL: ‘Cause there’s a lot of violence in Eeeee Eee Eeee.
TL: Yeah that’s completely fine. Because it’s not in concrete reality. It’s two different worlds with different rules.
CL: (Yawns) You were talking about how one of your styles is ‘Lorrie Moore-style figurative language.’
TL: Yeah, that was a Lorrie Moore style. Or so far, which I used in Bed.
CL: Like, kind of third person…
TL: Yeah third person, a lot of similes, metaphors. Sentence construction like ‘the apple of the eye’ but not ‘the apple of her eye,’ but stuff like that, metaphors.
CL: But you stopped using that? Richard Yates doesn’t have that?
TL: Well Richard Yates and Shoplifting doesn’t have that style. But I’m still writing stuff with that style. I have a short story I’ve been working on for like, eight months in the style of Bed. I just like both styles.
CL: How did you come up with your signature style?
TL: Which one is that?
CL: That’s like the clipped, short sentences.
TL: To me I don’t have a signature.
CL: Pardon me?
A | A | A
I Should Be Able To Get Drunk At A Fraternity Party And Go Upstairs To A Guy’s Room Without Anything Happening
I mean, wake up to reality. This is male sex.
3. Make inaccurate assumptions. Have you ever seen the erroneous suggestions made by Netflix’s ‘Because You Watched’ feature?
A walk home from work is a walk through the parade of Nations during the Olympics.
I have lived in two African countries, one of which I was born in – Nigeria. But I also spent a decade or so in Botswana.