Meet Tao Lin, Poet, Techy, Outlaw
5:00 p.m me: Hi, this is Michael from the Yale Daily News, are you busy?
binky.tabby: Hi. No, I’m available for our interview. Thanks for your interest by the way in interviewing me.
5:01 p.m. me: Thanks for making yourself available. Before we start the interview proper I thought I’d say a few things.
5:02 p.m. This is for the weekly “Arts and Entertainment” section of the paper, but it’s not called the “Arts and Entertainment” section, it’s called “SCENE” instead.
I just thought you might enjoy that.
binky.tabby: Pretty funny.
I have until 5:40, will that be okay?
me: Definitely, that should be plenty of time.
me: We should get started then — if there are any questions you feel uncomfortable answering, just say so.
5:03 p.m. binky.tabby: Okay, thanks.
me: So, how much of “Shoplifting from American Apparel” is based on your own experiences?
binky.tabby: It is all based on my own experiences.
5:04 p.m. me: I think you’ve said elsewhere that shoplifting is morally justifiable — that more or less anything is morally justifiable. Do you still feel that way?
5:05 p.m. me: Could you say why?
5:08 p.m. binky.tabby: Based on what I know I think “morals” is about what is right or wrong. The universe we exist in is one of arbitrary nature. The only “rules” it has, that I know of, are “gravity” and “cause and effect.” Therefore to know what is right or wrong (outside of “gravity” and “cause and effect” are right) one must make assumptions. One assumption is something like “pain is bad (wrong).” One could just as “legitimately” assume that “pain is good (right).” There are more reasons why anything is morally justifiable, based on what I know, but what I just typed alone seems to “prove it” already to me.
5:09 p.m. me: Your characters often talk about their feelings in a way that suggests that they too are arbitrary. Is that fair to say?
5:10 p.m. (the feelings, not the characters)
5:13 p.m. binky.tabby: I don’t think that my characters’ feelings are arbitrary. They feel happy for specific reasons. They feel sad for specific reasons. Even when they say or imply things like that they are sad for “no concrete reason,” the reason seems to still be specific and clear to them. Because of things like that time is unidirectional, “death” exists, and “consciousness means we must choose, but the universe doesn’t tell us how to choose.” When there seems to be completely no reason why a character is sad (I’m not sure if my characters have felt that), not even “existential” reasons, then the characters seem to view their sadness as chemical, and “curable” by drugs or whatever, which also is not arbitrary.
5:14 p.m. me: Got it. How do you feel now?
binky.tabby: At this moment I feel “pretty good,” just “chugged” half a medium iced coffee.
5:15 P.m. me: Cool. Where do you get your coffee?
5:16 P.m. binky.tabby: Think Coffee by NYU’s library. They have “cold brewed” iced coffee. I think they take the roasted beans and grind them then soak that in water overnight, then filter it. “Cold brewed” iced coffee seems very noticeably less bitter to me than “normal” iced coffee.
me: Where do you do most of your writing?
binky.tabby: NYU’s library.
5:17 p.m. me: Do you browse the Internet while you write, or do you deliberately avoid it?
5:18 p.m. binky.tabby: I don’t deliberately avoid it. I almost always have Gmail open while writing. When I’m “working hard” on a book though most of the time is spent reading through the book and thinking about it and editing it with a pen away from a computer. Up until I have a “full” draft though I probably have Gmail open 95 percent of the time.
5:20 p.m. me: In the book Sam (who I’m assuming is a pretty good stand in for you) claims that as a child he wanted to be a marine biologist when he grew up. When did you decide to become a writer?
5:21 p.m. binky.tabby: I don’t think I’ve ever unsarcastically viewed myself as a “writer.” But I first decided I wanted to try to write things for publication probably when I was 19, second year of college.
5:22 p.m. me: Are you able to support yourself as a writer, or do you work other jobs to pay the rent?
5:24 p.m. binky.tabby: I’ve had different jobs (in 2 libraries, a restaurant, as a personal assistant) until last August, when I sold 60 percent of the royalties of my next novel to people on my blog and made $12,000. Currently I’m making money by doing “random-ass things” like selling things on eBay or getting $300 occasionally from speaking at a college or writing an article.
5:25 p.m. me: I find the new book complicated and disquieting for a number of reasons, but there’s no denying that it’s a quick read. Do you value literature that is easy to approach?
5:26 p.m. binky.tabby: I don’t think I “value” it, but I do prefer reading writing that I can read at a “normal” pace without losing focus or “getting lost.”
5:28 p.m. me: Your characters seem confused or at least skeptical about what’s “important” in their lives. (I’m thinking of something Robert says to Sam, can’t find it at the moment.) Is that fair?
binky.tabby: I would say that Sam knows at any given moment (except occasionally not knowing for a few minutes, or a day; like one day a week or month maybe) what he wants to do, in life, in the short term, but he also is “ever aware” of the arbitrariness of what is “important,” which causes him to feel confused sometimes when he thinks about the long term and “death.”
5:36 p.m. Do you feel that literature is excepted from the sense of “arbitrariness about what is important?”
5:37 p.m. binky.tabby: I think I view writing not as a separate thing, but just as a form of “thinking.” When Sam says that all he thinks about is “literature” it means, in part, that all he thinks about is “everything.” As opposed to “not thinking” or feeling like one is “looking forward” to drinking a lot, or forcing oneself to sleep, in order to stop thinking.
5:39 p.m. me: Can you name a few authors writing now whose books you enjoy reading?
binky.tabby: Brandon Scott Gorrell, Ellen Kennedy, Zachary German, Noah Cicero.
me: Awesome. I went to camp with Zach after eight grade.
5:40 p.m. eighth*
I live with him now.
me: Is he a good roommate?
I have this other thing to do now.
If you have more questions you could e-mail them.
5:41 p.m. me: OK, no problem. Thanks for taking the time to talk to me. I really liked the book.
binky.tabby: And if you need jpegs or something you can e-mail my publicist, Megan.
Oh, good, I’m glad you liked it.
Thank you again for interviewing me.
Have a good night.
5:42 p.m. me: Take care. I’ll probably send you 2 or 3 more questions in an e-mail. I’m meeting with an editor tomorrow at 9:00 p.m., so if you get to it before then, that would be ideal.
binky.tabby: Will do, thanks.
QYou live in Brooklyn. Do you think that the Internet makes it easier for people to launch a “career” as a writer without living in a major metropolis? And the other half of that question —
; do you think living in New York has been instrumental to your success in getting your works published?
AI think the Internet makes it much easier for people who live in Montana or Montana-like places to “launch a career.” I feel that living in New York has probably helped me between 10-15 percent, mostly because I can do readings here easier, and there are more people here than in Montana to read to. I don’t remember specific instances of “meeting a person” “helping my career.”
Q“Shoplifting” contains several references to mental illness. Do you worry about your “mental health”?
ASometimes if I’m thinking irrationally, or thinking things that are causing me to feel upset (that at other times have not caused me to feel upset), I feel worried a little that these thought processes might keep intensifying, and I wouldn’t know how to stop them, or “correct” them. I also focus a lot on health, and on what thoughts I am thinking, in order to try to make myself think things that will cause me to not feel upset, in a manner that will make me less upset over time. So yes, I think I do worry about my “mental health” a lot, but maybe in a way that most people do.