You seem to be having a hard time picking a first question to ask yourself.
Thank you for noticing. I mean, what’s the difficulty, right? We ask ourselves tough questions everyday. Yesterday, my plumber Javier was telling me about customers that owe him money—people who engage him to do big jobs then claim they don’t have their checkbooks with them, will pay him later, will call but never do. Javier was talking really loud. He was getting worked up and my ears were starting to hurt. “Do I put an end to this or suffer silently?” I wondered. There’s a question for you.
What did you decide?
I spoke up and it was no big deal. He apologized, lowered his voice, and continued with his story. People are always remarking on my willingness to say what’s on my mind.
What do you do when you aren’t writing poems and essays?
I’m working on my slash identity these days. I’ve gone back to school to study physical therapy. Soon I’ll be a “writer-slash-physical-therapist-assistant.” I’m also learning how to dance with a partner.
Is that some kind of metaphor, “dance with a partner”?
No doubt, although I am, in fact, learning to salsa and two-step. About metaphors… I met a man at an art opening. We talked at another event a week later and I suggested that we hang out sometime. He had a great rejection line. He said, “I like my tranquility.” A Facebook friend posted a music video, writing: “Since I won’t allow any drama in my life, I get my daily required dose from country songs.” I’m interested in these two statements, though I don’t know why. Yet. For me, that’s often how a piece of writing gets started—euphemisms, metaphors, bits of speech that seem to pop with a larger story. What kind of people aim for ripple-free lives? I know I’ll write about it eventually.
In a poem?
Probably, although I’ll end up with something about me, of course, not them. Or them and me. You can’t know who you’re writing about. Once you tap in to the mainline of the imaginative force, all metaphysical hell breaks loose.
I’m sorry. Did you just go cosmic on me?
Forgive me. But I’m telling you, freaky stuff happens when you let yourself go deep and begin to unspool the imagination like a reel of film. Readers will tell you, later, how eerie close you got to things you couldn’t possibly have known about them.
Moving on to climate change… are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future of life on planet earth?
(Funereal silence. There is a dire cast to Tanney’s facial expression.)
You’ve written three “Modern Love” columns for the New York Times and you also wrote about your love (and sex) life in “Dirty Words.” Any regrets about revealing so much in your writing?
Sometimes I wish the Internet was set up in a way that let you select what items are Googlable. I don’t regret the things I’ve put out there in my writing. I’m proud of my work, but I cringe when I meet somebody for the first time and know they are going to go home and check me out and inevitably come to conclusions, after reading my work, before getting to know me even a little. So it goes.
Do you think you’ll write another novel?
It’s possible. I stopped pressuring myself about it several years ago. I love to write. I started young and can’t stop, even when it’s just for me in a notebook that no one will ever see; even when I think I’ve moved on and secretly wish my friends would stop introducing me as “a writer.” I’ve switched interests so many times in my life, but the writing doesn’t die.
One more question?
(And poof—she was gone. Interviewer and subject reintegrated.)