ENTERTAINMENT

Tavi Gevinson On Her 'Life Skills' Podcast And What Is Getting Her Through

The actor and former editor of Rookie talks about her new advice podcast series, which answers questions such as, "How do I manage uncertainty?"

In 2018, Rookie, the online magazine for teen girls created by actor Tavi Gevinson, folded. Yet, the gospel of Rookiean online feminist space that encouraged young girls to discover, explore and be who they are without apology — has kept going. Despite shutting down three years ago, the online archive still receives nearly 500,000 unique visitors per month. And now, Gevinson is set to add to the archive with a new Audible podcast series based on one of Rookie’s most popular columns, “Life Skills by Rookie.” The series premieres Thursday and will feature some of Gevinson’s favorite writers and thinkers answering questions such as,  “How do I talk back to my inner critic?” and “How do I manage uncertainty?”

The “Life Skills by Rookie” podcast couldn’t have come at a better time, when it seems like our collective and individual futures feel very much up in the air. Gevinson, who has thrown herself into acting since Rookie ended (she is set to star in the upcoming “Gossip Girl” reboot), spent much of last year slowing down in order to figure out what’s next. In the interview with HuffPost below, she discusses “Life Skills by Rookie,” how the work of Mary Gaitskill has changed her life, and the power of saying “no.”

Where did the idea or the impulse come from to do this particular project? What does it feel like to see that even after Rookie in its original iteration is gone, it’s still continuing to connect and touch people years later? 

So Audible approached me, and my producer there was also the editor at Razorbill at Penguin for Rookie’s yearbooks. She was really familiar with Rookie and, you know, we were kind of reminiscing about specific essays or articles that she remembered, and then trying to think of a way to do a little Rookie show that would kind of feel like this special pop-up, one-off project. And I ended up on “Life Skills by Rookie” because Krista Burton did the “Life Skills” column on Rookie and beyond her column, there was so much good advice.

So I reached out to nine of the writers — two of them did an episode together — and asked, “If we were to do this, what kind of skill would you want to teach?” Because I just felt like, especially with the audio format, it would be really comforting to hear someone talk through some of these questions. And then, of course, when the shutdowns happened in March, I went through a brief, “Oh God, what am I doing? Everything is meaningless with everything I’m working on.”

Tavi Gevinson's new Audible podcast explores the big and little questions we have about getting through life.
Tavi Gevinson's new Audible podcast explores the big and little questions we have about getting through life.

Same. [Laughs]

Yup, it was a reckoning for us all. I found out from my friend Max, who’s kind of been Rookie’s tech troubleshooter for years and helped shut down the site and turn it into an archive — he was looking at the back-end for some reason that I don’t remember, and he was like, “Rookie is getting, like, 475,000 uniques a month.”

Wow.

And I was like, “Oh, shit. This is the beauty of evergreen content, I guess.” And I was like, “Is this just since the shutdowns?” And he was like, “No, it’s been steady since it folded basically.” So then I felt like, “OK, actually it would be ... yes, this is the right kind of project to do.” Something that both kind of shows off writers’ voices and lets them talk about their specific experiences, but also can be applied for the reader or the listener and have a kind of utility. And then, especially once we were all in our homes and, weirdly, I felt like a teenager again, it was just so comforting to work on and so nice to be in conversation with all of these writers over the last several months.

It has obviously been the craziest fucking year. Like, God, so much has happened. Can you talk a little bit about where you were mentally and emotionally at the top of 2020 and where you are now?

Yeah. Well, I mean, that reminds me that I loved your end-of-the-year newsletter. And also just every time you mentioned that you’re taking a break, I’m like, “Yes, go! Good!” I support breaks for everyone. At the top of the year, I was about to be shooting the new “Gossip Girl” that’ll be on HBO Max next year at the same time that I was going to be doing a musical off-Broadway. And so I was preparing myself to feel really spread thin and stimulated and, like, “on” all the time. And then, of course, that one weekend in March, it was like, just kidding! And I feel like since then, it really has taken me the whole year to adjust to not having the stimulation that I’m used to. I suppose it’s helped me just having the time and also being so desperately in need of ways to soothe myself and not just numb myself.

Mhm, yup. Exactly. 

[Laughs] I have become so much more. The albums I loved this year — I haven’t loved an album like that since high school. You know what I mean? Because I’ve just had the time to be obsessed.

Yes! I’ve just been thinking about that — the days back when you were in high school and listening to an album, just lying on your bed and listening to an album and that’s all you’re doing, you know?

Yeah. Letting it actually populate your mind with images and getting to know it intimately and being excited for this one, very small millisecondlong part to come up. All of those things became so important to me, and same with just having mindless comforting entertainment or even drawing. I’m not really good at drawing, but in high school I drew a lot because I was in class and I was bored. But the last few years, I’ve been like, “Oh, I miss doing that,” but I didn’t make the time. And it’s been nice to just, you know — I have to be my own babysitter or something and say, “Sit in the corner, draw.”

[Laughs] Give yourself a little juice and a little snack.

Yeah, and take a nap. [Laughs]

What’s something really difficult that happened last year that you had to survive?

God, it’s so hard to pick just one. I mean, on one hand, I have been incredibly lucky and privileged and have had work I can do at home. So on one hand, I’ve just felt like counting my blessings every day. And on the other hand, so many things can be true at once, and so many feelings can coexist and gratitude can coexist with utter fear. I’m trying to think of an interesting way to say this, but it’s really just not that interesting. It just has been ... at first, being like, “What is this thing? How does it get transmitted? Am I sick? Is someone I love going to get sick?” and then dealing with that throughout the year. And also just the complete failure of our government to take care of people.

Yeah.

One thing that bothers me is — and I totally understand it, I totally understand why we’re all like, “Fuck 2020. 2020 was cursed.”

But it’s not just 2020.

Yeah, totally. I think there’s something about isolating this year. We’re acting like it was just “bad luck.” That frustrates me, because I think if this year didn’t lay bare for you — and I know I’m not the first person to say this, I know this has been going around on social media — but if this year didn’t lay bare for you the horrors of racial capitalism and the utter vulnerability of so many of our institutions and how just fucked up funding is in this country on every level, then I don’t know what could make that more clear. I don’t really know why I bring that up other than to say, while it’s tempting to be like, “Oh, this year was a fluke or a glitch in the simulator,” whatever, I think that kind of makes it just harder to feel like I am sharing a reality with other people.

With certain people, yeah.

Right. 

That makes complete sense. Having to witness the sort of disdain and lack of care that exists in the world is really hard. I totally get that. Well, to pivot, what’s something really good that happened to you last year?

Something really good is that I got really into Mary Gaitskill. Thank God for her. There are multiple stories and essays and books of hers that I read twice. I just got so attached to her voice and found it so comforting, especially her memoir “Lost Cat,” which is about grief and the way different losses and loves are sort of lying dormant in you all the time and can be activated by really unexpected losses or changes. I found that especially comforting because so many people this year — I felt like we were trying to create some kind of hierarchy of suffering or decide who’s allowed to feel what pain, and it’s helpful to have someone lay out as rationally and tenderly as she does that feelings just are what they are and they work in very mysterious ways. And then I just love her book “Veronica,” and I’ve read it twice and I love her short stories, so many of the essays in her collection “Somebody With a Little Hammer.” Going back to the teenage thing, I don’t think I’ve had a phase with an author like that in a long time, so that was really nice.

How have you found ways to connect with people? I think that the past year has really made us reevaluate our friendships, our community and how we show up for them. What has that looked like for you?

I love making mail for people. It’s a fun, crafty thing to do that’s also for someone else. So there’s been a bit of that this year. I feel like just trying to be transparent. It’s a relief in a way to not have to all act like everything’s going great, and having that common ground with people even though I know it’s different for everyone. I think I made some of the weird things that I do for a living a little more human. It just reminded me that everyone is a person going through something. Also, honestly, just texting a lot.

What has it looked like for you to take care of yourself? I know “self-care” is such a buzzword, but I think now more than ever, I’m realizing that oh, I literally don’t care for myself. Like, I don’t feed myself and drink water when I’m supposed to. What has that looked like for you?

It’s definitely looked different at different times this year. Thankfully, one of the episodes of “Life Skills by Rookie” is “How to Do Self-Care That Actually Works” by Danielle Henderson, so working on that has helped program me to take better care of myself. But also one thing she talks about in that episode is saying no. And so I’ve just been trying to say no a lot more, and then I don’t resent the people in my life. So that’s nice for them.

What have been some books, movies, TV shows, music, art, etc. that have been helping you get through? 

At the top of my gratitude list is the clarity of the writing voices of Mary Gaitskill, Audre Lorde, Cathy Park Hong and Claudia Rankine. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor’s “How We Get Free” and Adrienne Maree Brown’s “Pleasure Activism” and “We Will Not Cancel Us” helped me process some of the year’s events and metabolize feelings of despair. I read “A Primer for Forgetting” by Lewis Hyde when shutdowns started and remembered it throughout the year, as it deals with both personal and mass trauma. And I know I’m not the only person who felt dormant pockets of sexual trauma and rage come alive in quarantine, so I want to shout out “Pleasure Activism” for helping with that, too. And I also found a lot of comfort in the recognition (and awe!) I felt while reading “True Story” by Kate Reed Petty, “Luster” by Raven Leilani, “A Girl’s Story” by Annie Ernaux and lots of Gaitskill. Plus, of course, “I May Destroy You,” and the new Fiona Apple album. I played “Fetch the Bolt Cutters,” the new Phoebe Bridgers and the two new Taylor Swift albums the way one might hand a toddler an iPad to get them to stop crying (I’ve heard).

I felt utterly spoiled by the new season of “Pen15” and new graphic novels from Adrian Tomine and Walter Scott. My most-watched movie was “Something’s Gotta Give” — it’s so cozy and the performances are so warm, and writing any email last year felt like the scene where Diane Keaton is weeping and typing while her living room drapes flap violently in the wind. And, finally, the last episodes of both “How To With John Wilson” and “City So Real” were shot in spring and summer 2020. I enjoyed both series a lot, but those episodes — phew! It is unsettling to begin to see the year in retrospect, but it’s a relief, too.

What advice do you have for anyone who is struggling, mentally or emotionally, to just get through the days this year? 

I would say that, in this moment, as much as you can put one foot in front of the other and just try to soothe yourself and look down at yourself from on high and see yourself as a little wounded animal that needs help, because that is sort of what we are. Just have some self-compassion and don’t try to fix any of the big-picture things right now. If you’re spiraling, put a floor beneath you and feel your toes and do some box breathing exercises and just ask yourself what will soothe you and pay attention to how things make you feel. And then the more you do that, the easier it gets. Even if it’s staring at TikTok for five hours, I think that’s totally ...

Valid.

Yeah, a form of therapy. [Laughs]

What are you imagining for 2021? 

Good surprises! Fewer scary ones! More ambitious demands of more competent government leaders. Creative institutions making structural changes instead of just expressing progressive values in the realm of storytelling. And continuing to chip away at the ridiculous distractions I create for myself so I think less about death. Or a more intentional lean into the distractions, so I can enjoy them without feeling like I did something wrong. I also want a dog. 

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

 

“Getting Through…” explores the ways in which people from all backgrounds and walks of life — artists, scientists, entertainers, healers, activists, entrepreneurs and “everyday” folks — are processing, connecting and taking care of themselves and others during these wild times. Hopefully, these conversations will serve as a record and a guide for anyone who reads them. Read interviews with author Fariha Roísín, yoga instructor Mominatu and actor Taylour Paige.