~2.5-Hour/IRL Interview with Tao Lin on MDMA: The 11,810-Word Transcript
TL: I don’t have a signature style to me.
CL: Oh. But you do…
TL: Like the passage you read from Eeeee Eee Eeee is like a page long.
CL: Oh yeah that’s true. But I think people think you do.
TL: Yeah people definitely think I do.
CL: Like your use of the single scare quote is like David Foster Wallace with footnotes.
TL: Oh yeah. Yeah.
CL: That’s what people might remember you for or something.
TL: Yeah. But I don’t think ‘David Foster Wallace’ and think, ‘footnote.’ Like I would never write a review of Infinite Jest and just say ‘David Foster Wallace – obsessed with footnotes.’
CL: Mmm. (Laughs.)
TL: You want to ask me something else?
CL: But it seems like when you put things in scare quotes, it’s like you don’t have to own that emotion or feeling.
TL: Yeah but I don’t put scare quotes around emotions. I put it around like clichés, or like, things that normally I wouldn’t say without changing my inflection. But saying it with the scare quotes is an entirely different thing than saying it without scare quotes, and just not saying it. Just literally a third way to do something, with its own effects, that I like.
CL: To me, it kind of reads like Facebook status updates.
TL: The quotes?
TL: What do you mean?
CL: I think a lot of your writing does sometimes.
TL: You mean – reads like Facebook status updates?
CL: Yeah. In a good way. Like in the way that sometimes you read someone’s Facebook status update and think ‘holy shit – what’s going on?’
TL: Yeah, yeah! Yeah I derive so much pleasure from reading all this shit on the internet! It’s awesome.
CL: It is so awesome.
TL: I’m just taking screenshots of people’s shit all the time.
CL: Really? You have a whole folder of them?
TL: That’s how I view Lorrie Moore’s writing – just like continuous lines of sweet shit.
CL: Yeah – it’s so true. Like crazy screenshots of humanity, or something.
TL: Like ‘joke joke joke joke joke…’
CL: Have you met her before?
TL: Lorrie Moore? No, I went to her reading at Barnes & Noble. And I left her Bed but I didn’t talk to her. I just left it on the table. I pretty much don’t try to talk to people more famous than me. I feel like I’m wasting their time. I feel like I’m burdening them or something. I don’t like feeling like I’m getting more from someone than they’re getting from me. But I like feeling like someone is benefiting from being around me. So I try to stay away from – that’s why I don’t try to associate with people more famous than me. I think.
CL: Yeah. That’s interesting.
CL: What’s one of the funniest things you’ve seen on Facebook recently? Or a really fucked up thing?
TL: Let me think, let me think. Well I don’t check my newsfeed that much. Mostly Twitter.
TL: Someone tweeted…I don’t remember. There’s so many. How did you find about my writing to begin with?
CL: How did I find out about it? Um, I think that I saw that Miranda July mentioned you in a magazine once.
TL: Oh sweet.
CL: And then I think I saw Shoplifting from American Apparel in a bookstore.
CL: And I thought it was a good name because I knew someone who worked there and they told me how to shoplift from there.
TL: Did you?
CL: I never did.
TL: What did they say?
CL: They said you should go into the dressing room and you have to make sure that you bring enough hangers for as many items of clothing that you have. And then you put all their clothes underneath your clothes, and then you walk out. And I guess the people at American Apparel are pretty lazy and hate their jobs – so they just count the amount of hangers that you have. And so they’re like, ‘Oh well she brought in four things.’ So now you know.
TL: What were you asking me before?
CL: Oh, I don’t remember.
TL: American Apparel…
CL: Are you getting tired?
TL: No. I’m just trying to focus on thoughts.
CL: Focus on thoughts
TL: Oh yeah I was going to say that Miranda July probably counts for like, 30 per cent of my sales.
CL: Her blurb?
TL: Her blurb.
CL: That was like money in the bank?
TL: Well, she’s just so famous. People just read that blurb and want to read my book, I guess.
CL: How did you get it?
TL: Well she emailed that she read you are a little bit happier than i am and said something, like ‘enjoying it.’ And when Bed came out my publisher asked her if she would blurb it.
CL: Cool. I didn’t know that’s how blurbs worked.
TL: How do you think they work?
CL: I didn’t know how they worked! I thought it was more formal, like you met Joan Didion in a coffee shop or something.
TL: No the publisher just emails someone and asks, ‘Can you blurb this person?’
CL: Weird. So who do you want to blurb your next book?
TL: Oh my god. I can’t think of anyone.
CL: Tom Wolfe.
TL: Just whoever good wants to say something. Or yeah, no, no. No, whoever would attract the most people that I could become friends with. Yeah. I’m not sure who that is.
CL: David Bowie.
TL: David Bowie? I don’t know. I don’t know. Yeah if a bunch of people started contacting me and I liked them all and they all seemed like people I could get along with, that would be good.
TL: I get along with a lot of people who like my writing, so that’s good.
CL: What, you get along with them?
TL: People who like my writing.
CL: You like them?
TL: Yeah, we get along.
CL: That’s good.
TL: Yeah we have the same sense of humor or whatever.
CL: Yeah. That would be terrible if all your friends were like, big jerks.
Guy on MDMA: I just thought it was funny that when I emailed you I was like ‘I woke up at 5 o’clock.’ And I thought you would be like, ‘what the fuck?”
TL: Yeah that was sweet. I imagined like, ‘why.’ Do you sleep like 15 hours a day or something?
Guy on MDMA: I’ve been trying to correct my sleeping schedule. So last night I didn’t sleep. Like the night before last night, and then I went to work on like no sleep. So the night before I went to bed at like, 9 PM at night. But I woke up at 2 pm. But then I was up until 10 AM and then I fell asleep and then I woke up at 5.
TL: Jesus, that’s so complicated. Yeah I do stuff like that, try to correct my sleeping schedule and shit.
Guy on MDMA: It never works.
CL: Do you work out as well?
TL: ‘Work out?’
TL: I do pushups and sit ups and pilates-type things in my room.
TL: Yeah. Why do you ask that?
CL: I don’t know.
TL: Yeah I try to exercise. I listen to KCRW’s ‘Bookworm’ while I do it usually. While he interviews authors. Or Terry Gross.
CL: What does your family do?
TL: Oh my god…I don’t want to talk about it. Something else. There must be something else. I can sense you’re holding back something.
CL: Really? No. I don’t know what people would want to know.
TL: Yeah? What do you mean ‘people want to know’?
CL: I don’t know what people would want to know.
TL: Yeah just whatever you want to know is what people want to know.
Guy on MDMA: Have you dated lots of girls?
TL: No. What do you mean, ‘dated?’ Longer than two months, probably like…three? A year and a half, a year and a half and a year.
CL: It’s hard to be in a relationship. They take up so much time.
TL: To me they don’t take up time.
TL: Because then they become the only person I see. And I just do work in the daytime. And then hang out with them at night.
CL: That makes sense. When you were writing Eeeee Eee Eeee – were you trying to get over somebody?
TL: No I was just indulging in being obsessed with somebody. I like doing that. In the same way that I like listening to an emo song, it’s like vicariously experiencing being obsessed with some girl or something. It’s satisfying.
CL: Yeah, you write about obsession so well.
TL: Yeah, it just feels good to like someone.
CL: Yeah. My friend says that it’s like cooking – like, even if you don’t like someone, you should always have someone on the backburner, cooked at like a low heat.
CL: So even if you stop liking someone, you can like, bring that person back to like a boil.
TL: Sweet. I have a funny story. One time I had dinner with a girl. And I didn’t think she had a boyfriend. But during the dinner she said she had a boyfriend. And I had been focused on her for like a week. So then after dinner I said, ‘Oh it’s okay, I have this other person to focus on.’ But then I remembered that this other person was this guy Auden that I was thinking of. So it was a guy, this guy that I had been vaguely thinking was a backup. But it wasn’t.
CL: Are you –
TL: No I’m not bisexual, or anything. It was just a friend. Like I had my brain had somehow interpreted him as my backup girlfriend. So I was like ‘Oh it’s okay I have this backup.’ But then I realized that I was vaguely thinking of a guy.
CL: That’s funny.
Guy on MDMA: Have you made lots of friends online?
TL: Yessssss. Maybe almost everyone I talk to is someone I met online first.
TL: Yeah, everyone I publish on my press I met online first. And then I probably have only hung out with a few of them since.
CL: I guess those are easier relationships to cultivate.
CL: Yeah. There’s like less risk involved.
TL: Less risk… I also think it’s just easier to find out what a person is really like. Because people in real life are polite and stuff. And you can find out like six months later that you actually don’t think the same about things. But on the internet if you’re typing and reading their writing, you can figure out what they’re like faster.
CL: That’s true. So when people say that you don’t come by your success honestly, you would say that’s not true?
TL: Come by my success…
CL: You’re just all shock tactics…
TL: No, my writing isn’t shock tactics, it’s just working really hard. And then the promotion stuff, no, I never do anything shocking. I don’t say like racial slurs to get attention. Or like, beat up someone to get attention. Or say grand pronouncements like ‘top 10 shittiest writers’ to get attention. Or even like, ‘top 10 greatest literary magazines’ to get links. Like I don’t do lists or anything like that, and those are the easiest ways to get links.
TL: And I don’t make statements like ‘this person sucks’ and that also gets links and coverage. And I don’t even say ‘this person’s great’ to get a bunch of people saying ‘Yeah, he’s great.’ I’m like the opposite of shock tactics, I think. Yeah I try to avoid all those things. And those are the conventional ways to get attention – list, grand pronouncements, hate, praise. List, grand pronouncements, hate, praise – there’s something else. (Lin repeats that phrase to himself.) Focus on celebrities.
CL: Oh yeah. Which you kind of did.
TL: Oh yeah, Richard Yates? And I look at that, and that’s like a detriment to it. If I felt like that was going to help – I wouldn’t have done it. Like handicapping myself.
CL: Why was it important for you to name those characters that?
TL: Because intuitively it felt funny and satisfying.
TL: And the feeling was like I shouldn’t do it because it was so stupid.
CL: Oh yeah I think you said that before, that because it was the stupidest thing you could think of, you had to do it.
TL: But stupid doesn’t mean anything. It’s just a bunch of factors coming together. Can you think of anything else? This is your last chance, before I go back to New York.
CL: Oh god, it’s true.
Guy on MDMA: What time are you going back to New York?
TL: 12 pm.
CL: I should probably go home and go to bed.
TL: No, you shouldn’t. You don’t have a job. Don’t worry.
CL: I know! I feel like you’re testing me, you want me to ask you something really good.
TL: Oh no, I just believe in the stream of consciousness.
CL: No, I’m scared of asking you something you won’t like.
TL: That’s why you should be on ecstasy. Then you won’t be scared. Don’t be scared.
Guy on MDMA: Are you still feeling it?
TL: Yeah because I took the other one. Are you done? What time is it?
Guy on MDMA: You’re not done? Do you think I should take another one?
TL: Or I don’t know. Jesus it’s only 3:19 AM.
CL: Why do you keep saying ‘Jesus’ over and over again? Is it a verbal tic?
TL: Yeah it’s just a verbal tic. Sometimes I just think, ‘Jesus Jesus Jesus.’ But I think it’s funny so I don’t discourage it. I actually feel good saying ‘Jesus.’ It seems like weird and stupid.
CL: Yeah it does seem weird and stupid. And sarcastic, too.
TL: Around the internet someone was adding ‘y’all’ to every single sentence and all her friends were getting pissed at her. I thought it was really funny so – like the Hipster Runoff ‘ya’ll.’ Like ‘hey, what up, y’all?’ ‘Do you want a beer y’all?’ But no, don’t feel like offending me or whatever. I’m serious, you should ask like, whatever.
CL: I don’t know what to ask you. I guess sometimes people feel like if they take drugs or if they have sex or something, they can get out of their head. Like their brain stops working.
TL: Their brain stops working…
Guy on MDMA: I feel like my brain starts working on drugs.
CL: You obviously went to Burning Man.
TL: No my brain stops working when it’s overwhelmed by crippling thought processes about like, work. And then it stops working. No, I don’t feel like I lose control.
CL: So really your biggest concern is that girls don’t like you?
TL: Jesus. The most accurate way of describing it is that I have different concerns at each moment. That’s one of them. I wouldn’t say it’s a concern, it’s just something I’m thinking about. Like the exact thoughts would be like ‘Why isn’t she responding to this message? How many days has it been? What is she thinking? Wouldn’t she respond to it if she liked me at least a little bit?’ But I also think about a lot of other things throughout the day, but that’s one of them.
What do you think I would be thinking about?
CL: What do I think you would be thinking about? I guess I expect that you would be thinking like the characters in your books.
TL: Like – what?
CL: Like existential thoughts.
TL: Like what?
CL: Like ‘why the fuck am I here? Why do I live in this city?’
TL: I think stuff like that too. I think like, ‘Why is this my life?’ And I laugh but to entertain myself. I think like stuff about death, like ‘death, whatever.’ And depression, like what does it mean to be sad? Why am I sad? What does it even feel like? Yeah I think all those things, combined with keeping a consistent Twitter-prose style and keeping my internet presence consistent in style. And the girls.
CL: So that’s it.
TL: Consistent prose style. Emotions. Girls. Sleeping schedule. Food.
CL: Clothes? Do you think about what you’re wearing?
TL: In short bursts. Because once I feel comfortable in something, I just keep wearing it. But a lot of times I’ll change my clothes a lot in the morning. But not a lot of times, just when I feel like I look bad in the things I’ve been wearing for like a week. And like I want to change something.
CL: Yeah it’s funny, when you think about how stupid your life is sometimes, it’s actually hilarious. And maybe a little depressing.
TL: I don’t think it’s depressing because I realize it’s only stupid in comparison to something else.
CL: Like people have stupider lives than you?
TL: No. People think it’s stupid. There’s nothing inherently stupid about changing your clothes, compared to like…I don’t know. What is some serious stuff that people do? Compared to like balancing your account, finances, whatever.
CL: Getting back to the whole hipster thing, do you feel like you’re hipster icon? Do you take that seriously?
TL: No. I don’t know what it would even mean to take that seriously.
CL: When you participated in that N+1 ‘what was the hipster’ discussion, it seems like it’s defined by people who don’t know what it is. Nobody knows what makes a hipster a and nobody cares.
TL: I just try to stay away from all categories and labels.
CL: So you don’t think you write ‘hipster fiction?’
CL: What was the consensus from the N+1 panel? Did everyone reach a consensus that hipsterism was impossible to define?
TL: I think people concluded that you should just focus on your own stuff. The Cobrasnake was saying that a lot, that he just focuses on his own stuff. That was the consensus. Someone stood up and asked ‘Why did you keep writing after the literary bowel movement that was Shoplifting from American Apparel?’
CL: The literary bowel movement! What did you say?
TL: I said – ‘umm’ and then I said, ‘I don’ t know.’ And then I said, ‘I guess I wanted to try and make money.’ And then I said something. And then when he was walking away I thought about screaming ‘Fuck you!’ in a joking tone, but then I didn’t.
CL: Did you used to be a compulsive shoplifter?
TL: Not compulsive, just functional. Just for money.
CL: Oh yeah.
TL: I would sell things on eBay. But I wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t getting me money.
CL: What kind of things would you shoplift?
TL: Batteries mostly.
Guy on MDMA: How would you sell the batteries? ebay?
TL: Yeah eBay. Is there anything else you want to ask me? Personal stuff?
CL: I think I might be out of questions.
Guy on MDMA: You’ve been at it for awhile.
CL: This has been epic. I feel like we were Frost/Nixon or something.
TL: Really? I didn’t say anything. Did I?
Guy on MDMA: You said a lot of things.
TL: I don’t know.
CL: I think you talked about a lot of things.
TL: Really? Yeah.
CL: Do you feel good about it?
CL: You don’t feel like you didn’t talk about anything you didn’t want to talk about?
TL: I think it was good.
Guy on MDMA: This is how interviews should be done.
CL: On bean bag chairs?
Guy on MDMA: Just hanging out rather than having to arrange somewhere to go and meeting somewhere there.
(Tao Lin touches CL’s long hair.)
CL: Did that feel good?
TL: Yeah, it’s soft. Where’s my glasses?
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