We had the good fortune of connecting with Toby B. Hemingway and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Toby, what role has risk played in your life or career?
The strange thing about risk is that I haven’t always felt like I was taking one at the time, but in hindsight I was. I have always been careful not to get too far ahead of myself and to take on risks that I feel confident I can handle. ‘What do I have to lose?’ has always been the key question. But I’ve also been incredibly lucky and had support from family and friends. That’s important, too – feeling like you’re not taking on a risk alone, even if it is completely your endeavor. Moving to the USA at twenty three was a risk, but I didn’t feel like I had a lot to lose at the time. When I was close to finishing high school, a teacher took me aside and said he thought I wasn’t pushing myself far enough. I remember he said “You have to take a risk. You could drown swimming in the ocean, but imagine being able to swim and never going in the ocean because you’re afraid of drowning.” I like swimming in the ocean, so I guess it stuck with me!
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
Right now I’m excited about this book I’m publishing, called We Just Weren’t Animal People. It’s a small book of intertwined true stories, most from my childhood in Australia, about strange and wonderful animal encounters. But really it’s about family and how those instances can help you better get to know yourself. It wasn’t too difficult to write, but it was a challenge to make it feel like a single, winding narrative, rather than just a series of anecdotes. I developed it somewhat from my practice of writing self-contained pieces, short enough to fit in an Instagram frame. That was great practice at getting to the point. The challenge here was to use that punchiness to keep a longer piece rolling for the reader. I learned to throw things out. I learned to just keep going. But I think most writers know what that’s like. In total, the project met another challenge for me – how to get my work off screens and into the hands of people who like my writing, without having a publisher yet. I remember that phase when I was making music, before the labels came along. It was frustrating when I was young, but in retrospect, it was also exciting to do it yourself. So I’m embracing that feeling again.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
This year has been a painfully effective test of my favorite spots in the city, as so much has been closed for periods, you really do miss things. In true Angeleno fashion, I’m almost always in my neighborhood, so I’m blessed that there’s so much here. Skylight Books is a constant in my life and just a great place to look at books. My son, who’s 6, has his own version of that experience – we love to visit Secret Headquarters comic book shop in Silver Lake. I eat way more Daily Donuts on Hillhurst in Los Feliz than I should. One place I’ve missed an awful lot since March is Ostrich Farm in Echo Park, where my wife and I have shared many much-needed quiet dinners over the past few years. Summer hasn’t been summer without a trip to Dodger Stadium, either. Beer and hot dog in hand, sun-setting, the crack of the ball against the bat… what more do you want? Griffith Park is always a great place to quickly feel like you’re out of the city and likewise, I love running around the Silver Lake Reservoirs so much, my friend Howie from Southpaw hair salon and I started the Silver Lake Track Club. Look us up and come for a run, once it’s safe for all.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I’d like to give a shoutout to my friend David Harlan, an artist and designer who goes by Popglory. He has helped me put this new collection of stories I just finished together as a book. I have always been drawn to designers and visual artists, and they really are the silent force behind so much music and writing. The right direction completely changes how people perceive your work and first impressions matter. I have been very fortunate for the generosity of friends like David. Also my friend George Byrne, who is an amazing photographer and a very encouraging collaborator. It’s important to have those people whose work you admire and vice versa, to bounce things off each other and trust their taste level, even if you work in a completely different media.