In San Diego this weekend? Join me and Death and a plethora of local and amazing authors for a brief read and chat over cups of joe. See you there!
In San Diego this weekend? Join me and Death and a plethora of local and amazing authors for a brief read and chat over cups of joe. See you there!
It’s July in San Diego, which means Comic-Con descends upon downtown and the air is filled with the sound of Nerdist live podcasting. It’s truly a beautiful time for us geek chic wannabes. I love that, these days, the ones who were once uninvited to the table of cool kids are instead having kickass lunches on hovercrafts and space station bridges, enthusiastically inviting all around them to attend. I heart the nerds.
A few months ago, I had the privilege of being interviewed by one Barbra Dillon of Fanboy Comics, a Comic-Con uber-presence, which to me meant that creepy little death poems had officially achieved a brand new amazing level of cool. Be sure to check out Fanboy at Comic-Con if you are in town for the week and enjoy all of the yub nub!
Barbra J. Dillon, Fanboy Comics Managing Editor: Just over a year ago, you released your first poetry collection, Creepy Little Death Poems. What inspired you to take on this subject matter, and do you feel that the creative process of writing the collection impacted you as the project took shape?
TT: Joan Didion said, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means.” For me, writing the poems was a transformative experience, one that helped me unpack and cope with a really dark time. Depression can be mysterious. It’s intangible and tangible at the same time, because, for me at least, I would feel it emotionally as well as physically. I think that’s why the image of the Grim Reaper, or, to be more accurate, the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come from A Muppet Christmas Carol (because I’m a total holiday nerd), made so much sense to me…READ MORE AT FANBOY.
As most of you will recall, in September of 2012, I wrote a blog entry entitled “Write Out the Dark Spots” about the transformative power of writing. It was a vulnerable post, exposing my struggles with overcoming depression. However, it was also a necessary post. In order to mine my creative worth, I had to explore the obstacles. In this post, I introduced my “creepy little death poems.”
The response was quite supportive, and people sort of became fans of the poetry. It was dark. It was funny – at least I thought so. People were probably surprised. As I mentioned in the post, I’m not someone who typically walks around talking about death…
Because the response to this blog post was so positive, I decided to take advantage of National Poetry Month in April of 2013 to post 30 days of “creepy little death poems” on Facebook – mostly on a dare. What followed was a month of humor and darkness that got everyone around me giggling. Well, most everyone. My mother was worried about me. Peripheral Facebook connections were either hesitant about commenting on my page or over the moon about the poems.
But mostly, people really dug them. I was happy. I dug them, too.
Early in 2014, I was cast in a production of “Macbeth” at Intrepid Shakespeare Company, where I was handed a challenge: find an illustrator, create a book and we will sell your ‘death poems’ in the lobby.
I found a ‘death poem’ kindred spirit in Lizzie Silverman’s clever artwork and together we created this compilation. I can’t tell you how much it means to me that people want to have this on their bookshelves.
What started as a very awkward step towards uncovering the darkness has turned into thousands of points of light and I am grateful to have people around me who say they believe – in me, in the amazingness of creating work, and in the idea that when we support each other’s artistic pursuits, we all benefit.
San Diego’s newspaper, the Union-Tribune (U-T), recently invited me to do a four-part series for the Sunday Arts section chronicling a behind-the-scenes perspective of my role as a Witch in Intrepid Shakespeare Company’s Macbeth. Thanks to Arts & Entertainment Editor Michael Rocha for giving me the space to say things like “prosthetic glue boogers” and “pig intestines” in print. That is what I call ‘trusting a writer’ and I am very grateful.
James Hebert, theatre critic for the U-T, says, “If you haven’t had a chance to check out our ongoing ‘Actor’s Diary’ by Tiffany Tang, who’s now appearing as one of the witches in Intrepid Shakespeare Co.’s Macbeth, you’re missing out on some excellent writing and vivid behind-the-scenes insights.” Aw, shucks, Jim.
Links to the four installments of the ‘Actor’s Diary’ are below.
Also, check out the U-T‘s accompanying video package on Macbeth.
Say what you want about behemoth bookshops. Barnes & Noble has been quite good to me over the years, if only for the fact that they have provided me with opportunities to exchange a laugh or two with people who completely inspire me.
(Note to self: tell the story about meeting the graceful Susan Egan in a New York City BN and how she subsequently, divinely, and synchronistically sent you the elusive sheet music you had been seeking out for months. Well, actually, that’s pretty much the story.)
Last Monday, Barnes & Noble sent me Elizabeth Gilbert.
Yes, I’m a big Eat, Pray, Love fan. Who isn’t? Who didn’t read that book and all of a sudden treat themselves to luxurious artist dates consisting of solitary brunches and meditative labyrinth walks? Who didn’t follow her journey and repetitively conjure up friend after friend who would appreciate this section or that? “Oh, Suzanna would love this part about Italy,” I would think to myself while reading, and “I wonder what Stacia would think about this part in the ashram?” or “I can absolutely see Lisa and Tatiana and I having this conversation over dinner at French Roast.” And on it went. Book clubs happened. Copies were wrapped in Christmas paper and sent to the post. It was, and still is, at the top of my reading recommendation list.
But I think the appeal of that book is more than the fact that it’s a good read. I think the appeal comes from the fact that it’s so incredibly relatable. The voice is not an unfamiliar one. And as we watch the author “Frankenstein” her way through her experiences, as she might say, we get a sense of how to go about unpacking our own journeys, or at least perhaps how to summon the courage to try. (Please note: the word “Frankenstein” can only be used as a verb if it is accompanied with the proper Frankenstein’s monster-ish walk, a proper illustration of what it is like, sometimes, to do “new and scary things.”)
“Writing is the thread that has sewn my life together,” said Elizabeth Gilbert at the Barnes & Noble event space adjacent to the loudly colorful children’s section. At least, I think that’s what she said. In a moment of haste, regretting the absence of a notebook in my purse, I busted out a pencil and started scratching in the back of my copy of her latest offering, The Signature of All Things. Anyone who knows me has witnessed those moments when I am caught scrutinizing my own writing as if it were a secret message from Orphan Annie and I am sans a decoder ring. (Yes, my life revolves around Christmas references. Get over it.) So, bear with me.
I think anyone who calls herself a writer would recognize that notion of not being able to truly understand things until they’ve been… I was going to say “written down,” but actually I think “written through” is the more accurate preposition. To “write something down” has such finality. To “write through something” implies work, journey, understanding. Joan Didion said it so many times in her personal essays: “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means.” Even now, I have a dear friend who is Frankensteining her way through unpacking her childhood abuse, writing through her experiences, bringing light to the dark corners.
I don’t know if Liz Gilbert feels exactly this way, but she contended that she even after the great success of EPL, she knew she couldn’t leave writing behind, get a big house, and “raise Corgis.” And so it is. Writing as necessity. In her own “Thoughts on Writing,” she says, “I never promised the universe that I would write brilliantly; I only promised the universe that I would write.” Joan said, “We tell stories in order to live.” Indeed.
Of course, this blog is about the not writing, the question of what happens when that is true and yet the words/space/time/healthy psychological headspace don’t seem to come. Liz had some things to say about this, too.
Starting with something like “stop trying to find your passion.”
Instead, she said, seek out curiosity. “Passion” is a word so fraught with anxiety, she said, that it becomes yet another weight to bear sometimes. Follow curiosity, that “small tap on the shoulder that makes you turn your head just a quarter of an inch. It’s smaller, quieter, and less intimidating.”
Cue the cumulative sigh of everyone in the room abandoning their stressful adherence to “finding their passions.”
I love this about Liz. (I can call her “Liz,” because we are obviously BFFs now.) She completely dispels the idea of the tortured writing process. “Artistic torment is a really romantic idea,” she said in an interview with Globe and Mail last month, “but it’s not very conducive to output.” In other words, she admits that her artistic process “would not make a very good biopic.”
Since she was raised on a farm, she says, her writing process is seasonal: the season for inspiration, the season for research, the season for writing, editing, and finally, for rest. Sometimes these seasons can take days, and sometimes they can take months. Sometimes, like winter in Westeros, they can take years.
The Signature of All Things was written from a 70-page outline, which was constructed from the index-card fruit of three years in the research season. (Shout out to her West Civ teacher, Mr. Kisco, and his index card research methodologies.)
Three years of research. Three years of preparation. Three years of curiosity. After that, writing was like painting a room where the the furniture had already been moved and the windows pre-taped.
“I feel sorry for the girl I was in my 20s,” she laughed, who would often try to paint only to realize there was a couch in the way. She spoke of sitting and staring at the blank page wondering where the inspiration was going to come from. She would later discover the way of the creative warrior.
“Inspiration is like a one-night stand,” she said. “Creativity is a 40-year marriage.”
Of course, we’ve all seen her eloquent TED talk, where she outlines the potential parameters of genius, inspiration, and creativity.
But the counterweight to creativity? Compassion.
In a discussion about women and artistic pursuits, Liz pointed out that we are very likely a “new species.” We have no role models, no history, no mythology to reference as we go about our lives making decisions about family and career and balance. Never before have we had such freedom of self-determination. Here, she referenced Martha Beck, fans of her Facebook page, and also her sister as examples of the one thing that will enable us to truly embrace who we are and shine appropriately – compassion, for each other, but most importantly for ourselves.
“Martha Beck defines the mystic as the woman who chooses family, or career, or both, but has enough compassion for herself not to constantly berate herself for not choosing the other path,” said Liz, sort of. She then told a tale of her sister and a significant gesture of compassion she extended towards another mother who was spiraling into an oblivion of unworthiness after witnessing the gingerbread houses that her own kids had put together while being babysat by Liz’s sister. That conversation started with “You’re a better mother than I am” and ended with, simply, “Let’s not do this to each other.”
The Facebook has become an extension of this compassionate community, aka “Tribe Liz,” and visiting her page is like a run-in with someone offering free hugs. But, the cool part is that she is quick to return the embrace. She keeps track of her people, reaching out to them when necessary, tethering them to the font of support which that space has become. There is the story of the young woman on the other side of the world who has shared her hardships on the page, who was sent a copy of The Signature of All Things, who responded in broken English with “You care on me!”
“Yes,” said Elizabeth Gilbert. “I care on you.” And, the funny thing is, in this world where our heroes are constantly disappointing us, she really does.
Check her out on book tour now.
Typically, I feel as though I have two kinds of dreams. One is some sort of processing activity – random images and feelings that are actually a decompression of my life experiences. The second are the dreams that seem to be something a little more. You know what I’m talking about: The dreams that seem like intricate stories or movies in your mind. The ones that come complete with sounds and colors and smells. The ones that actually seem to mean something.
Recently, I’ve been having some income work/creative work balance issues. That is, I am challenged by the time I spending on my writing obligations to others and my writing obligations to myself. I have blogged before on this topic, settling on the 10% theory, as a way of guaranteeing my creative funtime. But the 10% wasn’t working. I ended up spending way more time on my creative writing than I did on my income writing, or vice versa, and I was feeling deeply anxious about keeping up with everything. I needed some sort of plan beyond the 10% to help me right myself on the page. This was on my mind as I fell asleep a few days ago.
That night, I dreamt about a creepy insect. It would not leave me alone. It was everywhere: this giant beetle-like creature that I did not recognize and could not name. It infused my dream, like some sort of gruesome action sequence out of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
Upon waking (and resisting the urge to vomit into my pillow), I pretty much assumed that this was some sort of stress dream. Still, I was so perplexed by the pervasiveness of this insect in my dream that I had to sketch it out (which is an odd impulse for me since I draw like a worm). As I drew, I found that I kept wanting to add some sort of long appendage to the insect’s nose. I kept picturing it in my head, this black beetle with a…trunk.
How strange, I thought as I sketched. I wonder. Is there such thing as…an elephant beetle?
Google taught me a lot about the insect world that morning (and freaked me the frak out). I did actually discover the existence of said Elephant Beetle, an insect I had never seen before and probably would not be a fan of actually encountering. (I can’t even look at this image for very long without cringing in my desk chair).
The Elephant Beetle was a perplexing discovery, as the picture is remarkably close to my own kindergarten rendition of my dream beetle. My logical mind had been under the impression that dreams could only consist of images I had actually experienced in my waking life. This must be some magical message from the universe, I decided. Maybe it was a warning of danger to come. Maybe it was a sign to pay attention to where I am walking. I decided to delve further.
I paged through the Google listings, discovering oodles of information on Elephant Beetle native habitat (not California, thankfully), flight activity (WTF, these things fly?), and their potential to be weaponized (“future sci-fi thriller material,” I note in my journal).
Then, Google eventually led me to a hit on YouTube which caught my eye. It was entitled “The 6 ‘P’s to Overcoming Procrastination.” I was intrigued. Why in the world did this come up on a search for information on Elephant Beetles?
I started watching the video. It was good, full of interesting techniques to deal with procrastination. Okay, cool. Just when I was about to switch it off, at about the five minute mark, there it was.
All of a sudden, I knew why I dreamt of this creepy critter.
According to Kirsty O’Callaghan (who has the most amazing Australian accent, by the way), if you are having trouble balancing your necessities with your funtime, the first order of business in the morning is the thing you don’t want to do. There’s always that one thing that you have to do but you would much rather put off. Do it. Because after you do it, you will be free from the burden of it for the rest of the day, leaving your mind open to enjoy and explore.
She calls this “eating an Elephant Beetle.”
When I read this, something clicked in my head. Was this the answer to my balance frustrations? I thought about her advice. Yes, I could still spend my first 10% creatively – journaling, meditating, whatever I needed to do to wake up and feel grateful for the day. But the next step was not necessarily to delve into my creative funtime projects. The next step is to eat an Elephant Beetle.
It makes a lot of sense. Part of the reason we creative types resist the urge to indulge our projects is that we always feel the weight of something more pressing in our list of obligations. We try to compartmentalize, but sometimes it bleeds into our work without us being able to stop it, and all of a sudden we are making a “To Do List” in the margins of our morning pages. Perhaps if we spend the first task of the day eating our Elephant Beetles, they wouldn’t come creeping and crawling into our creative writing (or in my case, my dreams).
Maybe I will keep this Elephant Beetle picture by my computer each day until I actually finish whatever it is that would qualify as “eating” one. Then, I will give myself permission to turn the picture over and get to the things that fill my soul. Because, honestly, this picture terrifies me.
But it doesn’t scare me as much as not actually getting to write today.
Do you have any suggestions for links to dream interpretation? Please comment below.