20 Questions: Tao Lin

Photo (partial) by © Mallory Ann Whitten

American poet, novelist, short story writer, and artist Tao Lin’s new book, Richard Yates releases this week. Lin tells PopMatters 20 Questions that he’s never hired a hit man, or been on a spa vacation, or used Prozac. Honestly.

American poet, novelist, short story writer, and artist Tao Lin’s new book, Richard Yates releases this week. PopMatters’ Marcelo Ballvé says Lin’s literary voice is “… funny, inventive, rigorous and wielded by an author skilled and talented out of all proportion to his years.” Check out Tao Lin’s blog here.

Lin tells PopMatters 20 Questions that he’s never hired a hit man, or been on a spa vacation, or used Prozac. Honestly.

Book: Richard Yates

Author: Tao Lin

Publisher: Melville House

Publication Date: 2010-09

Format: Paperback

Length: 208 pages

Price: $14.95

Image: The latest book or movie that made you cry?

I don't remember the latest. I remember crying, to varying degrees, at the end of Clumsy by Jeffrey Brown (standing underground in the Montrose L-train station, maybe 1:30AM, late 2007); at the part in Joe Gould’s Secret by Joseph Mitchell where Joe Gould is drunk and says his mother once openly cried in front of him while saying something like “my poor son” (on my bed, maybe 2:00AM, late 2008); at the end of Old Boy by Chan-Wook Park (in my brother’s studio apartment on a Friday or Saturday, late 2005).

2. The fictional character most like you?

Probably the main characters in most of my stories/poems/[other].. But I think/feel/behave differently than I did four-six months ago and “very differently” than four-six years ago and also seem different throughout each day, depending on if I've drank coffee, what time it is, [many other factors].

3. The greatest album, ever?

Some albums I’ve enjoyed listening to as albums are Chemistry for Changing Times by Blacktop Cadence, Suburban Teenage Wasteland Blues by Strung Out, The Great Depression by Defiance, Ohio.

4. Star Trek or Star Wars?

I read that and thought "Star" in an authoritative manner then seemed to realize that “Star” is the first word of both possible answers. I’m not sure. Maybe Star Wars.

Book: Shoplifting from American Apparel (The Contemporary Art of the Novella)

Author: Tao Lin

Publisher: Melville House

Publication Date: 2009-09

Format: Paperback

Length: 112 pages

Price: $13.00


5. Your ideal brain food?

Probably any caffeine-like stimulant while “on” a raw vegan diet and either “aware of someone I like a lot who seems to like me in an equal, reciprocating manner” or “feeling 'cripplingly lonely'/'severely depressed' to a degree that I stop feeling ‘bad’ and feel mostly calm.”

6. You're proud of this accomplishment, but why?

I feel “proud” whenever I feel that I’ve worked on something for a certain amount of time with a certain amount of attention. I’m not sure if I think in terms of “pride” though. I’m more just aware that I've maybe increased how confidently I feel "in control" of my life, which I feel more "glad" about than "proud".

7. You want to be remembered for...?

I don’t about that. It seems irrelevant what people think about me when I’m dead in the same manner it seems irrelevant, to me, what a character in a novel I’ve never read is thinking about during [whatever scene], to some degree. I think it would be funny for people to read in obituaries of me that my major contribution to the arts was the popularization of the phrases “neutral facial expression” and “screaming in agony”.

8. Of those who've come before, the most inspirational are?

The things that have most effectively caused me to work more—and with more difficult-to-achieve goals—on my writing, or to do things to try to change my life when I feel depressed instead of "lying around" or "complaining”, are things that are focused on “hopeless” feelings of depression/loneliness (or are focused on characters that are experiencing those feelings).

These things are songs by I Hate Myself, Samiam, Neva Dinova and Rilo Kiley, and books by Jean Rhys, Lorrie Moore, Richard Yates and Ann Beattie. Each of those things, when viewed alone, as if it existed without a creator, are “depressing”; they were all created by people who, presumably, to some degree, were as depressed as the selves/characters portrayed—but differed from those selves/characters in that they “did something about it”. They wrote a song or a story or a poem or a book.

In that sense their “art”, when viewed as existing within the universe and created by a person, is the opposite of “depressing”, to some degree, and causes me to feel more focused on wanting to do things instead of complain or feel depressed.

9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?

I don't think I wish anything like that. If I did I would maybe work hard to get a business degree and then some kind of high-paying job. Then pay like 50 writers to write novels, telling them which novels I like and would like them to try to copy, to some degree, while also revolutionizing [whatever book] in all manners. Then pay 50 people to read those novels to see which ones seem like masterpieces. Then publish them with my name on the cover.

Author: Tao Lin

Book: Eeeee Eee Eeee

Publication date: 2007-05

Publisher: Melville House Publishing

Length: 211 pages

Price: $14.95

Image: Your hidden talents...?

When I was 15 or 16 I could play “Fantasie-Impromptu” by Chopin from memory and his “Ballade No. 3” almost from memory. I'm not sure if that's hidden. I think I reference Chopin in two or four of my books. I don't think I have hidden skills.

Maybe that I can “play” pogs. Almost every person between seven and maybe 14 played pogs in my neighborhood when I was a kid.

11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?

The idea of "advice”, in terms of telling people advice or asking people for advice, has become not comprehensible to me, to a certain degree, due to feeling like for something to be accurately defined as "good" or "bad" I would want to know the context, goal, perspective for it. Sometimes I will ask someone what they think about something, but I don’t think I view it as advice. I view it more as that maybe their brain has more energy (or other things) than mine at whatever moment, and can give a more accurate “output” based on my “input”, like a calculator. When I type 190 x 5.4 into a calculator, I don’t view the calculator as “giving me advice” and I don’t view the answer as “good” or “bad”.

12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?

The things I've been “in control of” for amounts of time that I’ve liked the most are probably [different kinds of food including watermelon, iced coffee, coconut water] at different times, depending on my specific context/goal [at whatever moment], or maybe, like, some kind of... drug or, as a teenager, some kind of video game. I remember feeling very excited about Final Fantasy III for Super Nintendo and Civilization II for "computer".

Recently I bought earphones that have a range of 8Hz to 22000kHz—the largest range I have experienced via earphones so far in my life -- and I like them. I hear things I haven’t heard before in some songs.

13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or...?

I don’t think I've worn Armani. I am wearing Levis right now.

14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?

Maybe a ten-year-old who ingests Adderall every day due to a doctor's prescription in order to profile it for a magazine. I would ask the child many questions. I feel highly interested in writing a profile like this (contact me if you’re a magazine that wants to commission it or know a family with aforementioned child that would be interested in having me profile it). The company that makes Adderall would probably throw things at my windows at night to scare me into not writing the profile.

Jet Li would star—in his first English-language, non-martial-arts role—in an Oscar-winning biopic re “Tao Lin’s downward spiral into insanity as the company that makes Adderall, using .05% of its $250 million marketing budget, destroys his life in a difficult-to-incriminate manner before leading the highly-publicized effort to nurse him back to mental health, an effort whose main component is the prescription of one-three other drugs made by the company that makes Adderall, in a program of recovery that is court ordered.”

Book: Bed

Author: Tao Lin

Author website:

Publication date: 2007-05

Publisher: Melville House Publishing

Formats: Mass Market Paperback

Length: 278 pages

Price: $14.95

Image: Time travel: where, when and why?

I feel completely unsure where/when/why. I seem okay with where I am. I just realized that I would maybe want to time travel to two months ago to exploit the stock market. I'm not sure though. I don't think I would want that, due to a fear of the implications of existing in two places. Actually I think I would feel afraid but also like I “have to” do it, if given the chance, in the same manner I felt like I “had to” name the characters in “Richard Yates” Haley Joel Osment and Dakota Fanning once the idea “arose”.

16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation or Prozac?

I’ve never hired a hit man or been on a spa vacation or used Prozac. I have "joked" many times about "offing" various people. I've also "joked, to some degree" about using antidepressants to solve “feeling bad”. I've never "joked" about spa vacations. I think I would choose spa vacation.

I want to watch a movie entitled “Hit Men on Spa Vacations and Prozac” that begins with someone "popping" Prozac with one hand while in a spa holding an iPhone with another hand, saying “I’m putting you on hold, [a hit man’s name] is calling” to [a different hit man’s name].

17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or...?

I've "used" coffee most often out of those.

18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?

I like most any place if I have internet access. I prefer places that don't seem "decrepit", are not near a factory farm or any other thing that would affect my health negatively, and where it doesn’t rain more than 20 percent of the time, has high temperatures averaging between 50 and 80 degrees, and low temperatures between 30 and 70 degrees.

19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?

Nothing. I don't want to interrupt his life at all. If he's eating dinner with his family I wouldn't want to interrupt that to any degree. If he's golfing or thinking about oil spills, I wouldn't want to interrupt that to any degree. I would only tell him something if I had crucial information, that I felt, to a certain degree, he would want me to tell him, like that the plane he was boarding had a defect that was going to make it crash. He probably wouldn't believe me. Seems like I would be prosecuted and receive community service if I told him that.

In a situation of "small talk", like at an informal White House dinner, that I'm somehow invited to, I might say something to him like “Hi, I like [something concrete about him like his shirt]” then listen to his response calmly then walk away.

I read on the internet that he bought Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. I feel willing to say something like “what do you think about Freedom” if after I complimented his shirt he seemed “highly interested” in continuing to talk to me for some reason.

During all of this, if I’m not “on drugs”, I would feel like I was “in the process” of committing a large, multi-part “faux pas”, but Obama’s level of tact would probably overpower that and I would quickly begin to feel calm.

20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?

I have two-eight nonfiction “pieces” I want to write or am in the process of writing. I have 15-30 percent of a forthcoming iPhone app and future print book entitled North American Hamsters completed. I have ~30,000 words of a nonfiction narrative in a file that I sometimes edit. I have two-eight email interviews and [other things] related to Richard Yates that I’m working on. I have a ~6,000-word short story I’ve been editing for something like seven months that I’m thinking about submitting to Electric Literature at some point.

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