Arts

Tavi Gevinson Finds Comfort in Legal Pads, Canned Fish and Rumi

At 25, Tavi Gevinson finds herself caught between worlds.

There’s the world of acting — where, starring in both Classic Stage Company’s upcoming “Assassins” revival and HBO Max’s “Gossip Girl” reboot, she already straddles stage and screen — and the world of writing. Launched into the public eye in 2010 when she founded the now-defunct fashion blog Rookie, she continues to write for herself and for magazines, notably when expressing her regrets in Vulture for working with the abusive producer Scott Rudin.

But the preternaturally busy digital native is also at a crossroads when it comes to how to best use her time. She says she longs for the 3 a.m. sleepovers of her childhood, an hour which now sees her “sitting at my desk and working on different projects that no one asked for.”

It’s not surprising then, that on a video call from her apartment in Brooklyn, Gevinson discussed 10 things that ease her mind and help her feel productive. (An earlier list she’d shared before our conversation was meant to be satirical, but she wasn’t sure how well a shout-out to “rugged individual queen” Ayn Rand would read, and recanted.) These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

1. Canned fish Once I realized I was the first person ever to try canned fish — and that it’s such an easy way to feel like I’ve made something, even though I haven’t done much — it became very pleasurable. It gives me a lot of energy, which is kind of annoying, because when it turns out things are good for me, I’m like, “Damn it, now I have to keep doing this.”

2. Google Keep It’s basically Google’s Notes app, but I feel like the Notes app has become such a loaded medium: It makes me feel like I’m writing an apology, and I have nothing to apologize for. So I needed a different app to trick myself into writing by starting on my phone, instead of sitting down at my computer and seeing a blank document and getting freaked out. Plus, Google really needs our help, and really needs the shout-out, so I wanted to include them.

3. Legal pads Journals give me anxiety, especially if they’re really nice; even picking out a new journal can take all the fun out of keeping one for me. These are more like my diary. When I was in high school, I would write my diary during class, in my notebooks, and then tear out the pages and compile them. “Books” would be a strong word for what they are.

4. The are.na app and website It’s sort of like Tumblr, but more organized; you create different channels, and then you upload blocks with photos, videos, links to articles, PDFs, anything. I don’t know if the good people at are.na would object to this, but the easiest way to describe it is actually as a kind of Pinterest for ideas. I follow channels where people compile readings about subjects I’m interested in, or images that follow a certain theme. Then I use it to organize ideas for things I’m writing. It’s very calming to use.

5. Turning childhood keepsakes into jewelry I’ve never made my own clothes or anything, but I found these broken necklaces I made when I was a kid and realized it would be pretty simple to fix them. So I got supplies from a bead store across from Bryant Park, and now I can wear these necklaces I made when I was 5, but have turtles on them. I kind of pile up a lot of DIY projects that sound nice in theory and then rarely follow through.

6. Upcycling brands The Series and ThereIsNoMoreStudio! on Etsy are brands that upcycle materials they find, while Samavai makes dresses and shirts out of saris. I have a couple of things from each, and it feels special to wear something that has a built-in history and that someone has very creatively reinvented.

I don’t do a lot of browsing on Etsy, though, because I think it’s kind of stressful. More than once, I’ve bought a piece of furniture and then realized, once it came, that it was for a doll house.

7. Abandoning books I started finishing a lot more books once I started abandoning ones that I wasn’t compelled to finish, but would just carry around with all of this guilt, and then I would end up looking at my phone instead. So, if by page 30, I’m not interested in turning the page, or I feel I’m not being enriched, then I let it go and I trust that it will either come back to me at the right time, or I’ll die never having read it.

8. Conair face steamer A makeup artist on “Gossip Girl” gave this to me and I went, “OK, Amy …” but then I found it really helpful and soothing. You use it and it’s like, “Am I in a spa, or am I on my toilet?” It also seems to be good for your skin — which is the point, yes — but the ritual is also really pleasant to me and feels like it’s helping my skin even more.

9. Running to slow songs If I listen to fast songs, I try to run at the pace of the music and can’t keep up. So I like to listen to songs that go at a steady clip, or ideally craft a playlist that starts a little more hyper and then reaches some kind of slow catharsis, with everyone in Prospect Park loving and understanding that I’m having a meaningful experience.

Some of the music is excruciatingly sincere, singer-songwriter music. Some is ambient and wonky — Brian Eno is reliable. Sometimes I do show tunes, too, and I’m mortified that people can hear it, and see that I’m angrily running to “The Light in the Piazza.”

10. “Don’t Go Back to Sleep” I came across this Rumi poem a few weeks ago in the “Reality Streaming” Substack by Hawa Arsala. Whenever I’d hear people say that they wrote, or made art, in the morning, I would be like, “Well, good for you.” I was resistant to the idea of there being an advantage to waking up early, but I recently tasked myself with trying it for a week and, annoyingly enough, it is very magical to write in the morning. It feels like you have some kind of secret or something.

This poem makes me much more eager to go toward that magical little space, because nothing else really gives me that feeling I get out of working alone. It isn’t really fair to be an unpleasant wench all the time, just because I’m mad that I didn’t spend enough time writing, so … yeah, that poem.

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