Michelle Tea gives great advice.
I have known her for almost a decade. When we first met, we both wore cat-eye glasses and I offered her a space on the floor of my punk house, undoubtedly within feet of a ripe ferret cage.
In the intervening years, Michelle and I have traveled together as part of her queer literary tour, Sister Spit, and written alongside one another in Mexico as part of her nonprofit’s free writing retreat, the RADAR Lab. To say I value her advice would be an understatement.
From Michelle, I learned how to moisturize. I learned that being paid as an artist was a class issue, and I learned to change my relationship with money by casting a spell.
I should also tell you that I love advice in general. I am a fan of Ann Landers and Dan Savage, Dear Sugar, and of course the fearsome Dr. Laura.
I write an advice column for Bitch Media, and my dedication to the genre is so great, I was once fired from a middle school once my romantic advice for adults went viral amongst the snoopy sixth graders who tracked it down.
I was thrilled to hear that Michelle Tea was putting out a new memoir that combined both my love of an artist’s life and trajectory with the scrappy wisdom that comes from building a life from the ground floor up.
How to Grow Up tells the story of Michelle’s beginnings as a scruffy goth girl in Catholic school, takes us through the manic streets of 1990s San Francisco and delivers us to now, where the now-married Michelle exists in life as a writer and champion of fellow artists. She is happy. Some would say she is even blissed out. In her new book, Michelle details the lessons that led her to this life.
We spoke over the telephone, me sitting with Ponyo, a chihuahua in Portland, and Michelle slowly spinning a mobile over the crib of her new baby, Atticus. “He’s kicking his feet with joy,” Michelle said. “He frickin’ loves it.”
Nicole Georges: I was getting an advice boner reading your book (again). What is that the best way to put it—an advice “boner”?
Michelle Tea: What does an advice boner mean to you?
NG: I love advice, and I love hearing other people’s advice. How to Grow Up took us from point A to point B in your life, and I love that there is advice in between. Your breakup advice in particular was SO HELPFUL! I just needed to hear it.
MT: Nobody takes advice! I mean, it’s nice to hear what other people would do, but at the end of the day you have your own nature and you’re going to figure it out on your own, and people have to learn things their own way. That might mean you do it the hard way, and that’s your way. That was my way, the hard way.
NG: I feel like I have to learn everything like a caveman.
MT: Totally. Totally. I do, too. Usually everything’s going to be OK no matter what. There’s only a few instances where if you don’t take the right advice your life is going to go down the toilet. And those tend to be around addiction or gambling—things that can really sabotage your life or put you in danger. Most other things, like shitty roommates or “Should I go back to school?”—you know you’re going to be happy no matter what. You just need to have joy in your life, even if you didn’t take the best job or date the best person.
NG: I guess a lot of people aren’t happy or don’t know how to make themselves happy.
MT: They probably need meds. If you’ve done everything and you’re still not happy, go on meds. That’s what I did. We live in a world where you have access to a pill that makes you not a freaking stress case everyday. It’s so wonderful. It’s such a nicer way to live.
1. If you think you’re an alcoholic, get sober.
NG: How much do you have to think it?
MT: It’s hard to quantify, but if you’re haunted by this feeling you might be an alcoholic, do it. Go to a 12 step program. Don’t just be like, “I’m going to read Pema Chrodron and go to the gym.” I promise you will drink again. If you go to a 12 step, you’ll probably drink again, to be realistic, because the odds of an alcoholic drinking again are high. But the best odds are through a 12-step program, so why not go where the odds are the best?