We all learned to share in preschool, and it was easy, because really, how hard is it to share a box of crayons? But now, I place such a tremendous significance on THINGS—music, books, movies—that it becomes painful to share them with others. When I find something I really love, I become this wild beast, snapping at anything that comes near, protecting its specialness. My worldview tends to be that popular = cheap, and obscure = special. So when I love something, I worry that it will become mainstream and thus cheapened (see: Twilight). I find myself trying to live in a painstakingly curated micro-world of things and people that are all MINE. But I think I would be happier if I could be more easygoing and less ferociously possessive. So I had a conversation with Tavi and Sonja about sharing, and how it can make us crazy, but also potentially less crazy. —Maggie
Maggie: I’m so possessive that it’s unbearable. I lie when people ask simple questions like “What’s your favorite television show?” I come up with decoy interests so I don’t have to share what I really love. Probably my favorite show in the world is Babylon 5, and it’s honestly a struggle for me to say that to you. My decoy interest for Babylon 5 has always been Xena: Warrior Princess. And my decoy for Xena is Highlander. I develop these multiple layers of decoys based on how much I trust someone.
Tavi: I create decoys, but not out of possession, usually just embarrassment. Not because I’m worried that someone will think I’m WEIRD for liking The Virgin Suicides or Ghost World or The Royal Tenenbaums (three of my favorites), but because I’m worried that they’ll cry “hipster” or something, and I feel like I need to explain that Ghost World has personal meaning for me, and it’s not just that it’s a holy temple of lonelyteenrefuge for certain Tumblr circles, and I’m DIFFERENT and SPECIAL!!!!
Sonja: Well, I’m older, but I do recall going to great lengths to find special things, like clothes. I wore vintage cashmere sweaters and Doc Martens with black satin ribbons instead of laces, and people made fun of them. A year and a half later, everyone was wearing them. My personal thing, which is maybe kind of paranoid, is that it always seemed like people were copying me. It drove me insane. It felt really weird/alienating to be mocked, but at the same time copied. So I was always shifting and changing.
Maggie: God, I’m so paranoid about people copying me, which is something I’ve never admitted before. Sonja, we are mindmates.
Sonja: Tavi once used the word “brain twins.”
Maggie: Thought mirrors! Head sisters! OK, but what about when you find someone who loves your favorite thing, but that person turns out to be a MORON? It’s like, How can you be so stupid and yet love Twin Peaks?
Tavi: There was a girl at my school who I really, strongly disliked. And she mentioned Ghost World at some point, and I felt like, How could YOU be a person who has seen that movie? That movie (and graphic novel) taught me how to live! How could you have seen it and STILL be someone who sucks? I realized that people aren’t just products of their tastes. We saw the same movie, but we each focused on different parts, and gave the same parts different meanings, etc. I have some friends who like stuff I hate, and I have met people I hated who had my exact same taste. I’d like to believe this stuff really matters—probably because so much of my life is just being obsessed with stuff—but in the end, people see what they want to see and hear what they want to hear, so it all matters way less than we think.
Sonja: Once, I remember this female artist was friends with my boyfriend at the time, and he made me sick with jealousy by sharing MY MUSIC, like early Sleater-Kinney, with her. I wanted to scream. It felt like a betrayal.
Tavi: Lately I’ve been better about not being so territorial—ultimately, I want the artists I like to do well! As for older things that don’t need my support—’60s girl groups, Grey Gardens, or things that are not exactly obscure but always felt like it compared to what people in my school liked—I still want to share them with people so that my obsessiveness can be a nice thing that brings people together instead of a private interest that isolates me. Things that I like become way more meaningful when they become part of a connection to someone.
Maggie: That’s really interesting to me, because I’m kind of the opposite. I use my love for obscure things as a way to intentionally isolate myself, to enable my own misanthropic tendencies. “I hate everyone, because no one likes Deep Space Nine!” Then I find out, in fact, someone does like Deep Space Nine, and I no longer have an excuse to shut out every single person, and my whole world turns upside-down. So I just reject it and get depressed, and then move on to something else. “I hate everyone, because no one likes Fringe!”
Sonja: I have to say, getting older, you really stop caring, or at least care less. Now I’m just happy when people are into the same stuff. There is so much good stuff! It thrills me to no end that I can share, like, Sonic Youth with people half my age. It’s a huge, amazing relief. I’ve been searching for connection for most of my life. I’ve struggled for so long with very few reference points. Now I feel like I can relax a little bit.
Tavi: I think before—maybe before the internet?—it was desirable to like what everyone else likes, and now that seems to be what everyone is trying to avoid. I just want to like what I like! But it’s hard to learn more about a band I love without having to also learn about the fanbase and what being a part of it would say about me or whatever.
Maggie: Speaking of the internet, I’m wondering, Sonja, if you have any sense of indignation in terms of how easy it is for kids today to access cool stuff. No one really has to EARN their obscure tastes anymore. By “earn” I mean getting a ride after school to the scary video rental store downtown, or the weird independent bookshop that has an Anarchist Meditation section. Now the kids can just Netflix and Amazon whatever they want. There’s no risk or adventure involved.
Sonja: I like this question, because the answer makes me realize that I have possibly matured. I think 10 years ago, I would have felt contempt or indignation. Now I choose not to participate in those sorts of judgments. I don’t do a ton of “surfing.” I only read a few blogs, because I find that the deeper I go, those old feelings—of having your identity horribly splattered all over the internet—come up. But then I found Tavi’s blog, and I felt astonishment. My mind was blown by the cultural references, especially with us being from two different generations. But I did not feel possessiveness. It was more like the clouds opening up and beams of light shooting through. (I was raised Catholic.)
Tavi: I’ve gotten a lot of Grownups On the Internet angry at me for liking stuff that was made before I was born that is important to them personally. “How could she UNDERSTAND THE IMPORTANCE AND SUBVERSION of My So-Called Life if she was not born until 1996?” I don’t think you need to understand a thing’s cultural context to like it. The story of MSCL is kind of timeless. It’s about a girl in high school. I’m pretty sure those existed after 1995. In a way, something can be more special if it feels like your relationship to it exists outside of what people in magazines were writing about it in its day. Also, what, you can only like stuff made AFTER you were born? Quick, everyone! Delete the majority of your iTunes library!
Maggie: I think a lot of it has to do with control. Some flashy internet kid starts blogging about your FAVORITE ALBUM—you have no control over that. There’s that saying: “When you love something, set it free.” I just can’t quite get there. When I love something, I put it in a cage and don’t let anyone near it, including myself in some cases. I have this batik shirt from Indonesia that I love so much I never ever wear it. I’m afraid my love for it has become its death sentence. Why is a shirt so freaking precious to me? And why am I such a Gollum about it?
Tavi: I think one reason people of all ages get so territorial is that when they first were interested in more obscure things, they didn’t yet know anyone else who liked them, and it became kind of isolating. And then when they finally DO find other people who like the stuff they do, they want to invalidate those people’s reasons for liking it and claim that it’s not as deep or real, because those people never had to SUFFER for their RIGHT to like Riot Grrrl. I feel like: don’t we WANT people to know about Riot Grrrl? And isn’t sharing good things a GOOD THING?
Maggie: I want to talk about when your favorite thing gets commercialized, which can be torturous. I really loved the Twilight books when they first came out. I read each of them about a dozen times. This was before they became a crazy movie franchise. I don’t know exactly what the last straw was for me—perhaps the Team Edward water bottles. I do know that I can never read those books again. I can’t go to the mall again either, because it’s like Twilight Plaza these days—merchandise everywhere, screaming at me, “Your love wasn’t enough! Give me your money!” It feels really debasing. And it’s so weird, because the actual content of Twilight hasn’t changed, but my ability to love it has changed. It is gone.
Sonja: Team Edward water bottles. NICE. I think I want one.
Maggie: I guess the idea is that you’re championing Team Edward so aggressively that you need a break to rehydrate.
Sonja: When you say you feel as though you can never read Twilight again—maybe it’s just a sign of moving on and evolving.
Maggie: I never considered that! I mean, there was a summer when I did nothing but read Twilight and New Moon over and over. That’s not a sustainable love.
Tavi: Once I got an email from a girl who was like, “TeenNick is starting to show Freaks and Geeks! Zoey 101 doesn’t deserve a slot on TV next to Freaks and Geeks!” And I felt like, I’m glad that that show is finally getting some much-deserved recognition! I’m glad that someone who wouldn’t have known about Freaks and Geeks otherwise and would have thought the world was an endless sea of Zoey 101s will now feel less alone! And who is this girl to decide who DESERVES to see this show? What if I think that SHE doesn’t deserve to see it, because she’s being such a jerk about it? The world would be a better place if Freaks and Geeks were more popular!
Sonja: I’ve always been into ALTERNATIVE THINGS (still hate that term) and have felt like a weirdo as a result. In recent years, I decided to embrace popular culture. I started listening to Britney Spears and watching Six Feet Under, mostly out of curiosity. And I liked them. I guess it’s easier for me to step aside and just observe when it’s something mainstream.
Maggie: I know what you mean. You won’t get your heart broken by Top Chef. It’s just so harmless. You don’t invest your soul in it, which can be a relief.
Sonja: HUMANS WANT AND NEED TO CONNECT. So we connect through our tastes, through movies/books/music/art, etc. It’s kind of sad in some ways, because the movie is a third party we have to go through to access one another.
Tavi: I don’t want to live on a deserted island full of stuff that makes me happy and no one to enjoy it with. On the other hand, it IS annoying to go to school and hear the same people who made fun of you for liking a weird thing suddenly liking the weird thing. And it’s easy to feel like other people won’t get why Freaks and Geeks is so good or meaningful for you. But it’s way better to be obsessive about the thing you love instead of obsessive about how other people are or aren’t into that thing.
Maggie: Sonja, I want to talk about the piece you wrote in February about your deep devotion to the Wilson sisters and their band, Heart. In that article, you admit how hard it was to share Heart in 1999, when Sofia Coppola included them on the Virgin Suicides soundtrack: “Heart were MINE and they were all I had—or so I thought.”
Sonja: It’s so fascinating to investigate why you love something so much, to peel the layers back and get to the core. It shows you who you are. It made me feel vulnerable to talk about feeling jealous. My friends and I were already jealous of Sofia, ’cause we all wanted to have made that movie.
Maggie: It’s true. It can be so hard. And yet, some people seem to do it so easily, which is why I wanted to include Tavi in this conversation. Tavi’s all over the internet, just sharing her heart out. Tavi, how do you do it without losing your mind? Doesn’t it hurt to share so much?
Tavi: I’ve never felt too precious about sharing something I like on my blog or on Rookie, because it’s just a natural extension of what I’m into at that time. It’s funny—sometimes I’ll see someone I don’t like post a link on Facebook to a YouTube video of a song I LOVE, and I get all, “Since when do YOU like [X band]? You don’t understand them like I do! You are not worthy of that link!” Then it occurs to me that, technically, they could’ve learned about it from my blog, or from Rookie, and then I feel like a big dummy, and also an asshole.
Maggie: To me, Rookie feels like a self-selecting community, very tight-knit and intentional. Like a raft on the Internet Sea of Overshares. I think once I start trusting people more, sharing will be easier, and I’ll realize that mindmates are everywhere. Especially here with you. ♦