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Entries in tao lin (3)


In Which We Eat Pot Brownies With Tao Lin

photo by Sharokh Mirzai  

Self vs. Author


Tao Lin stays awake in his apartment 2-3 days at a time, taking small walks outside to buy expensive vegan snacks while high on Adderall and Xanax. When I visited him at his studio apartment in Kips Bay, I liked the feeling that everything inside his space was there because it had once been brought in by someone else, for an unknown purpose (a kiddie pool, overturned in the kitchen – a kite, broken in a pile on the floor) not because it had passed a test before being admitted. I liked the feeling that nothing had been scrutinized after it was used, then rendered useless and thrown away. I liked the feeling that Tao did not give a shit about the mess. Or about how anyone perceived life inside his house.

I have a secret sympathy for the misanthrope. I get the hoarder. I understand the mad desire to hold on to every piece of accumulated material, to stay alone all day in a cool, dark apartment among one’s things. So I have always had benign feelings of admiration for writers like Tao Lin. I recognize the safety of indoors, and the fear of losing something precious simply because one deigned to enter the world beyond social media.

photo by Sharokh Mirzai

When I first introduced myself to Tao Lin, I was 21 years old and still using Hotmail. I’d read one of his stories and e-mailed him to tell him I liked it. “I don’t have many friends,” he had said. “I don’t like being around more than one person at a time, usually. Or I don’t like people that much generally. I don’t know.”

For six years I “got to know” Tao through the internet, through emails and gchats, and then a week ago, I went over to meet him. He asked me to come around 4 p.m., a little after he woke up. When I arrived the door was propped open and he was sitting at a rectangular desk in the small studio. There were no lights on, except for the gooseneck lamp clamped to the mirror in the bathroom, emitting an eerie reddish glow on the doorway, and the melting shadow of sunlight coming in through the apartment’s only window.

photo by Sharokh Mirzai

The room was crammed with broken things: lamps, piles of hangers, old clothes, huge blankets, and what looked like a collapsed tent. “That was from my ex girlfriend,” he said, in the kind of hushed, uncertain staccato that is his voice. Piles of dishes, unfinished art projects, scissors, tape, and envelopes, black plastic bags filled with who knows what, barricaded his desk and the surfaces around it. There was the distinctive sound of water dripping as I took a seat on a cluttered sofa and offered him a Tecate from my bag. I didn’t know what made everything so uncomfortable. He said “there’s beer,” and opened the refrigerator and took out a Wolaver’s.

Perhaps even more apparent than the commanding aura of hoarder tendencies in the place was a sense of absence - the apartment’s evocation of all that had been excluded, had failed to capture Tao’s interest enough to be brought in in the first place, which are probably most of the things of “good taste” or the things we see in stores and in one another’s houses. Tao’s apartment was not “comfortable” by any conventional means, but there was something comforting about an environment from which “disorderly actuality” had not been removed. I was pleased by the success of my plan. I felt that being inside of Tao’s apartment allowed me to understand him better.

photo by Sharokh Mirzai

“What did you think of my book?” Tao asked, after we had been sitting there holding our beers for ten minutes. “Most of the reviews were negative.” I asked him about the fish on the wall, cut out of newspaper, and the broken lightbulb next to the Natalie Imbruglia CD on his desk. “My ex girlfriend gave that to me.” He stood up and went over to the tiny refrigerator and pulled out a rectangle covered in aluminum foil. “Someone sent these to me,” he said, and started breaking up small pieces of pot brownies, holding the freezer door open with his elbow. I took two 1x1 pieces and chewed them around and washed them down with Tecate. The conversation moved on, and I did not say I had tried to read the book twice but couldn’t finish either time.

photo by Sharokh Mirzai

“Do you think memoir is more authentic than fiction?” I asked.

“No. I mostly just think in memoir that person is lying.” We sat together on the couch and signed in to Twitter.

“Don’t you think,” I asked, “men tend to write fiction instead of memoir when they want to write about themselves, because of ego?”  “No,” he said.

“Really,” I said. “Why do men hardly ever write memoir?”

“I don’t know,” he said.

“Why don’t you write memoir?”

Under my twitter handle, Tao typed in the appropriate amount of characters letting people know we’d be heading to KGB bar for a reading, and then he added hashtag #potbrownies.

photo by Sharokh Mirzai

A cab dropped us off outside 8th Street Organic Avenue, a boutique vegan grocery store with pristine white shelving and a hospital vibe except for the smell, like fresh cut lawn. This is the place Tao goes pretty much every day after ingesting Xanax, to buy a chocolate mousse, a coconut yogurt parfait, and a green juice, which costs him $31. “This is so good,” he said, showing me a coconut mousse from a wall of containers that looked exactly alike. We walked several blocks to KGB bar and pushed through a crowd of people waiting to get in the theatre on the floor above. Inside, it was very dark and cool, and we sat in the corner. “I eat the Xanax first because it makes things taste better," he said, eyeing his green juice. I expressed my need for water for the second time in two minutes. “Oh shit,” Tao said, peering into my face, holding straw paper limply between his dry lips. It was the first time in three hours I’d heard him speak in a normal tone of voice and it scared me. A guy came over and shook my hand. Tao said “he saw Twitter, he saw the hashtag, don’t worry" as if that made any sense to me. I was starting to feel like I couldn’t see anything clearly. It took a lot of effort to figure out how I was supposed to leave.

This is what real life looks like, they tell us. This is the job of a writer – to vanquish mess – to inhabit the studio apartment, or the Lower East Side bar of actuality, to pick out a few elements with which to make a story, and consign the rest to the garbage dump. It is wrong, then, to assume that in the presence of a novelist, the experience of them will be the same as how you experienced their stories, as you were reading them. But for Tao Lin that is true. With him in person, no small awkwardness is spared. Images of panic-inducing chaos crop up frequently, not just as metaphors for the failure or absence of meaning, but as advertisements: for his own depression, sense of floating, meaninglessness.

photo by Sharokh Mirzai

During the three or so hours we were together, I became drunk and high and moved into a sort of panic, and Tao was fucked up on any number of pills he had taken, plus beer, plus green juice plus another beer, and it was just like his book Taipei. It was just like we were in that book, on our way to some party, susceptible to great mischief and misunderstanding along the way. Barely moving his mouth, he asked if the photographer would stop taking pictures soon, because he was getting too fucked up. I said “What?” not hearing him, or remembering we had been taking photos this whole time.

photo by Sharokh Mirzai

For some years – five or six – Tao was a living person inside my head. For his entire life as a published author, he has been a living person coexisting with his own literary persona. Tao does not do well with it, I think. I do not do well with it, and when I left him at the bar, I left with the memory of someone I quite liked, but felt angry at, and was now worried about, the same way I would worry about a brother in the hospital, or a friend going through a breakup. All the impressions and ideas I have ever had about Tao had been accumulating over the years, and now none of them added up. Riding home over the Williamsburg Bridge, I blamed Tao for being himself, for being just like the characters in his books, because he was violating my creation.

As an author of fiction, his great subject is the tension between falseness and reality. To him it seems there should be nothing but the present. There should be no dividing line between reality and parody of truth, no shield in real life or fiction that says life is not fucked and death is not near. He doesn’t write, as some authors do, to invent a world in which things that are pristine and mythical and inconclusive are the dominant matters of concern. He does not wish to pick out parts and dispose of the rest in order to make a story.  He imposes narrative on his own life - all of it – and the stories are concrete, and they are sometimes boring, and, as with Taipei, they drag. His work says, this is what it is, right here. I am showing you. Everything adds up. “Real life.” And yet, there is a sneaking suspicion, just as I have right now, writing this, that I am missing something. The novelist, even as he tries not to, exists in two forms - both himself, and as author -  and one cannot know for sure which side of him - the one that sleeps through his flight and misses his book readings, the one that ingests many drugs, the one that fell in love so hard he eloped, the one that shamelessly self-promotes - is putting on a show or being earnest. And that is the mark of a good fiction writer: the one that never lets us fully accept the work. The one that leaves us questioning if we really understood what we just read, and how much about life, about people, about the author, we can really ever know.

Cass Daubenspeck is a contributor to This Recording. This is her first appearance in these pages. She is a writer and editor living in Brooklyn. She can be found in many bars. She interviews people about their private lives here. You can find her twitter here. You can find her website here.

Photographs by Sharokh Mirzai

"Oregon Trail" - Bad Banana (mp3)

photo by Sharokh Mirzai


In Which We Lie At A High Level of Awareness

An Artistic Party


Woodcutters by Thomas Bernhard has maybe the most shit-talking (percentage-wise) out of the books I have read or movies I have seen. The level of shit-talking in Woodcutters is perhaps equal to some Gmail chats or online message boards, I believe, but the sentences are longer and the shit-talking is done by a man in his 50’s (I think) and also it is sustained for around 200 pages within a concrete situation.

The narrator's shit-talking seems “uncontrollable.” The shit-talking is sometimes abstract, but I did not feel that the narrator was “insane” or something, because many concrete examples were given and also the shit-talking seemed self-aware. I felt no urge to argue with the narrator’s shit-talking because I felt it was understood to the narrator that his shit-talking was uncontrollable, mood-driven, and something he should probably not let influence his actions in concrete reality.

The context of the shit-talking is ages 20-60, focusing on how people changed over time, and often from the perspective of “an entire life” or “the end of a person’s life” (a funeral and a suicide are referenced many times), therefore more emotional to me than normal shit-talking about the stapler in Dave Eggers’ memoir or something. I felt the shit-talking was “tragic.” I was affected sometimes. About 3/4 of the way through the book I thought “Wow, the intense shit-talking is all-inclusive, ranging from intellectual to emotional to existential (to emo-like self-hatred or self-pity, even), within a context of a group of people’s entire lives almost."

The shit-talking occurs only inside the narrator's head. The narrator is at a dinner party (an “artistic party,” he thinks many times in a shit-talking tone) sitting in a one-seat sofa in the dark, alone, in a kind of side-room, talking endless shit in his head. Then the dinner begins and he moves to the table, continuing to talk private shit in his head, sometimes while staring openly at the person he is shit-talking (knowing that the other person is “no doubt” also shit-talking him while they look at each other). Sometimes he talks shit about himself for talking shit about people who are just like him. Sometimes he admires something someone at the table says but then shit talks himself because a moment ago he was intensely shit-talking the person’s entire existence.

At one point someone at the dinner table talks shit openly about another person at the table (who the narrator had been shit-talking privately for maybe 20 pages) and the narrator feels “redeemed” or something. I often felt the narrator was experiencing confusion but that his despair and negativity were stronger than the confusion and therefore the confusion was not mentioned, but perhaps “assumed,” as a “foundation” for all cognition. The shit-talking moves around to different people, I think everyone at the party is targeted at some point, including some people in their 20’s who the narrator knows nothing about except that they look young. I would describe the narrator as a “good” person. Probably more self-hating than other-hating, willing to refrain from certain things to satisfy others, and probably humble and calm.

The narrator talks shit about himself maybe 20 times for going to the party he is at, citing that he just didn’t want to go at all, that he knew he would feel disgusted by everyone at the party, and that he knew for sure it would be a very bad experience, according to him. The scene where he agreed to come to the party is shit-talked many times. It is also mentioned that the people who invited him most likely also did not want him to come, yet somehow still invited him, with enthusiasm even.

During the novel the narrator speaks two or three times, I think. When he speaks it isn't shit-talking, it's saying "Yeah" or “I don’t know” or something, almost meaninglessly, as a kind of pointless aside, noise-like due to the concurrent endless stream of uncontrollable shit-talking inside his head that has taken up most or all of his communication resources. When the party is over, at the end of the book, he says around four sentences to the host of the party indicating that he liked the party, was glad he came, liked everyone at the party, and wants to be friends with the host again (he had previously shit-talked the host and the “premise” of the party perhaps most intensely), while concurrently privately talking shit about himself for lying at such a high level of awareness.

I liked the main character because his shit-talking seemed existential, it was not a man who seriously believed he was better than other people, that some kind of art form or life was better than some other kind, or that he was actually doing more important things than anyone else. He seemed to have endless shit-talking in his head all the time, irregardless of his situation, and he seemed to know this, and therefore be able to look at it and not believe it. He seemed just really depressed about life. Alone in bed he probably shit-talked life, death, and other existential things rather than specific people (which I believe he probably generally felt sympathy towards). I hear some people talking shit and I feel like they would actually kill the other person, if given the chance, “powered” by the force of their own abstract shit-talking. I believe the narrator would rather kill himself than kill someone else. I enjoyed Woodcutters by Thomas Bernhard.

Tao Lin is a contributor to This Recording. His blog is here 

"Island, IS" - Volcano Choir (mp3)

"Cool Knowledge" - Volcano Choir (mp3)

"Youology" - Volcano Choir (mp3)


In Which We Read From Tao Lin's Shoplifting From American Apparel

Excerpt: Tao Lin's  

Shoplifting from American Apparel

introduction by WILL HUBBARD

Of the many rumors I have heard about Tao Lin, I am most impressed by the idea that Tao Lin writes a great deal every day — at his apartment, at the NYU Bobst Library, at places that sell relatively inexpensive iced coffee. I admire diligence in writers because I know that writing all the time requires the quasi-mystical ability to make note of what happens inside and outside the mind whether or not it coheres or makes a story. Even the act of writing "We are fucked" over and over again — as Lin's narrator does quite often — belies its own melancholy by affirming both the writer's company and the continued ability to observe that gives him life.

Lin's characters tend always to lament that they are alone and hurting, but the sharing of self-pity allows them to heal at least as much as they decay. In Shoplifting From American Apparel, even the whims of Luis' "shit" internet connection cannot isolate these friends for long. Literature, for this writer, is talking: to the people that come closest to understanding you as a person, to the people who probably do understand you as a person. The result, for the reader, is a perverse voyeuristic pleasure muddled with self-pity for having been excluded from Lin's circle of communication.


from Shoplifting from American Apparel


“You seem strange,” said Luis on Gmail chat. “I’m pretty sure you have Asperger’s. People with Asperger’s and schizoid personality disorder usually make good friends.”

“Schizoid,” said Sam. “Luis. What are we.”

“Fucked,” said Luis. “Was that like a cheer. What are we! Fucked. Our shit can be studied by an anthropologist 1,000 years from now to know what we ate.”

“Indian food,” said Sam.

“They will say 'Sam had a vegan diet of good food and wine and Indian food. Luis ingested Waffle House.'”

“I want to change my novel to present tense,” said Sam. “Is there some Microsoft Word thing to do that.”

“I don’t think so. I think you have to do it manually.”

“Manually,” said Sam.

“By hand,” said Luis. “Get an interview on Suicide Girls, that should be your next step. Do you think in five years the national media will create a stupid term like ‘blogniks’ to describe us.”

“Yes,” said Sam. “Remember we had hope like 4 months ago.”

“Can you cite that day,” said Luis. “The day of hope.”

“I remember one night particularly,” said Sam. “Your book was at 30,000 sales rank. I was alone in the library. My fingers lay illuminated on the keyboard. Likewise my face was bathed in the soft blue light of Internet Explorer.”

Sam stared at what he typed with a neutral facial expression.

“I just peed outside and hurt my foot,” said Luis.

“You pee outside,” said Sam. “Is it because of laziness. Or variety. I got arrested today, when I was stealing. I am okay. I just need to go to court on 9/11 and get community service.”

“Just now,” said Luis. “For what.”

“Today around 4. A shirt. I was going to get a new shirt for my reading.”

“Are you serious,” said Luis. “9/11. Why didn’t you tell me.”

“I don’t know. I wasn’t thinking about it until you peed outside and I thought about variety.” Sam emailed Luis around eight hundred words he had typed earlier about the holding cell. “The Asian guy got his ass beat for no reason and lost $100 and spent the day in jail,” he said on Gmail chat.

“What did you do in there,” said Luis.

“I sat there,” said Sam.

“Were you scared. What did you do.”

“We sat there,” said Sam. “I felt the same sort of.”

“What did your brain do,” said Luis.

“I was trying not to laugh at the drunk guy. The Asian guy was like in Kafka. He didn’t steal anything and got his ass beat and will probably be deported to Canada.”

“Who beat his ass,” said Luis.

“Kmart. I think they chose him because he looks like he doesn’t care if he gets his ass beat for no reason. I think Kmart saw that in him.”

“Kmart beat his ass,” said Luis. “Are you worried. Have you told your parents.”

“I’m not telling them,” said Sam. “Unless they ask.”

Sam talked about his parents having moved to Taiwan.

“Your parents have returned to their native land to die?” said Luis. “Are they like living there now, like that is their life?”

“Yes,” said Sam. “I think.”

“Are you okay, my friend,” said Luis.

“I don’t know,” said Sam. “Are you.”

“I haven’t been arrested and my parents haven’t left the country I’m residing in. I don’t speak to my parents but I’m already over that. So it is different with you. You didn’t tell me that. I feel like petting your head.”

“My mom emails me,” said Sam. “I am okay.”

“Don’t steal shit for a while,” said Luis. “And try to make yourself happy in some way.”

“Okay,” said Sam. “I’ll buy a new emo CD.”           

“Do you have a lawyer,” said Luis. “Do you have connections. When I went to court I told them I was a Hersado and the charges were dropped magically. My grandfather owns a grocery store.”

“I have no lawyer,” said Sam. “I might get a job.”

“You have good rankings on Amazon,” said Luis. “Soon you will be making money to write and be weird, and not have to steal.”

Sam said he was going to eat Chinese food.

“Go eat,” said Luis. “It is a beautiful night.”

Tao Lin's novella Shoplifting From American Apparel can be purchased here. Tao twitters here. You can visit his website here. Tao will be making public appearances in California from September 26th to October 3rd.

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