We had the good fortune of connecting with Tai Farnsworth and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Tai, what’s one piece of conventional advice that you disagree with?
“Write every day.”
This is something I heard often in both undergrad and grad school. The advice is commonplace enough that people who aren’t even in the writing or publishing field have said it to me. I find it to be a completely absurd piece of advice that does nothing more than gatekeep people who don’t have the time or desire to write every day. It makes people think they’re not writers, when they absolutely are.
I don’t (and have never) write every day. I *think* about writing every day. Absolutely. I like to sit in public places (when that was a thing) and listen to the way people engage in dialogue. How they turn words into sentences into conversations. How they interrupt each other. How different personalities take up different spaces. I like to read outside of my style as a learning practice. Writing exists in my head while I listen to music, while I cook, while I drive. I think about writing every day. I do not (and don’t want to) write every day.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
My path to writing was circuitous but I have always loved creating little stories for people. At school I used to write naughty short stories and pass them around to my friends in class. (Sorry to all my teachers.) One of my favorite books growing up was Cisneros’ “The House on Mango Street” and I often drew inspiration from her style to write vignettes about my life – mostly about my family and our pets, sometimes about my friends’ boobs. But I always thought I would go to school for business or something practical. My dad is a very practical person and my mom is a RN who was working as a pharmaceutical rep when I was in high school. I figured the most logical path would be via some kind of less creative avenue. I took one statistics class in high school and promptly dumped that plan in the trash. Both my degrees are in writing. Writing isn’t just my passion. I genuinely feel I was called to write. To put stories like mine into the world. When I was growing up, I didn’t see a lot (any?) books written about characters who existed in the liminal spaces. I often felt lonely and confused. Unsure of my place in the world. Unsure if I even had a place in the world. I want to write stories that assure people they belong. Stories that validate the humanity of each and every messy person in the world. Stories that let people be mixed race and queer. Or let people be shitty. Because people are those things.
After taking a break from school for a bit, I returned to get my MFA and though I don’t think that’s necessarily the right path for everyone, it certainly was for me. I’m sure my writing would have improved on its own, but I’m confident the teachers at Antioch overhauled my work in a much more timely manner than I would have by myself. I would not be the writer I am today without my teachers and without my mentor through “We Need Diverse Books.” I’m lucky to have had so many champions along the way and I can’t wait to pay that kindness forward to the next generation of writers.
My work is also an imperative to my happiness. As I said – I don’t write every day. But when I need to write, it’s absolutely critical. A lot of my writing is a processing. I journey into and through myself to see the story of who I am and the story that is outside of me. It’s a self-love exercise. I write about my queerness and I write about being fat and I’m able to bathe in that love because the words are my water.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
In the before times, one of my favorite places to be was Barnsdall Art Park. I often went there by myself to watch the sunset or with friends to have a big potluck. I used to be in a book club that met there. And it was one of my favorite date spots. The park is small and perfect and offers great views of the city. I usually bring a homemade salad, but Electric Lotus and Starfish sushi are nearby and they have some of the best Indian and Japanese food, respectively, in the area. (I also recently discovered an amazing sushi spot called Sushi Near Me, which is absolutely critical for a visit.) I’m sure if my best friend was visiting, I would be able to convince them to avoid the tourist locations. But I’d probably still take them to Venice beach. Even though it’s touristy, it’s a classic.
We’d obviously go on a book store tour – The Last Bookstore, Skylight, Book Soup, The Iliad, Eso Won.
Of course, there’s no way we wouldn’t do an ice cream tour – Wanderlust, Jeni’s, Salt and Straw, McConnell’s.
I can’t go a week without going to a nursery. So, we’d absolutely visit a couple – Sunset, Hargitay, Sego.
We’d definitely go on some hikes – Fryman, Griffith Park, Malibu, Wisdom Tree.
Maybe a museum or two – The Broad, The Getty, Griffith Observatory, (or unique ones like the Museum of Death, The Museum of Jurassic Technology).
Eat in all the pocket neighborhoods – Little Tokyo, Artesia, Little Ethiopia, etc.
Honestly – I’ve lived in LA my whole life and I still discover new and exciting things every day. It’s a city that keeps on giving. Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Honestly, I think the concept of “it takes a village” is not overplayed and applies to way more than raising children. Literally, it takes a village to exist. Every day is so damn hard and so much is asked from us to be “productive members of society.” There are countless people who have contributed to my success in big and small ways.
I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for my parents. They have always supported me, both emotionally and financially, in my writing pursuits, and I’m well aware how lucky I am.
I very vividly remember driving around LA with my friend Chris and asking him what he was doing that weekend. He said “writing” even though we didn’t have any assignments due for school. And I was floored by the idea that I would have to write to be a writer. That conversation changed my life.
My writing wouldn’t be what it is without my readers. I’m grateful to Dani, Kate, Jesi, Megan, and Rachele for listening to me read my work to them. Over and over and over and over again. Thanks to Sai for the brainstorming session that led to my book title. And thanks to all my students who have answered questions like – “is this what teens sound like?”
Biggest love to Savannah, my future wife and the love of my whole heart. Thank you for celebrating each tiny step with me. Thank you for letting me complain when it doesn’t go as planned. Thank you for understanding when my alarm wakes you up at five-thirty in the morning so I can write before work. You’re a generous and very weird human whom I love unendingly.
Savannah Sawaged Carmel Farnsworth