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She was a teenage media mogul—and now her story extends to the page and the stage … not to mention the reboot of “Gossip Girl.” Get to know Tavi Gevinson.

Design Matters: Tavi Gevinson

Design Matters: Tavi Gevinson

WRITER / ACTRESS

24.5.21

acting / blogging / Rookie / Style Rookie / fashion / theater / writing / Stevie Nicks

Transcript


Debbie Millman:

Tavi Gevinson is still young, but she’s no longer really, really young. She came to public attention when she was just 11 years old for her fashion blog, Style Rookie. A few years later, she founded the online magazine, Rookiemag.com, which combined fashion and feminism for teenage readers. She also did quite a bit of acting in her teen years both in films and on stage. In 2018, Rookie stopped publishing, but Tavi Gevinson, now in her mid-20s, still writes, edits and acts. And Rookie didn’t really die. Now, there’s an Audible podcast, Life Skills by Rookie, which Tavi hosts. And she is starring in the soon-to-be-released reboot of the hit television show “Gossip Girl.” Tavi Gevinson, welcome to Design Matters.


Tavi Gevinson:

Thanks, Debbie. I’m so excited to speak with you.


Debbie Millman:

I am too. Tavi, is it true that Winona Ryder gifted you a pair of brown leather gloves that once belonged to Audrey Hepburn?


Tavi Gevinson:

That is correct.


Debbie Millman:

Take us through that. How did that happen? And I do need to know, how did they smell?


Tavi Gevinson:

Like vintage, very old gloves. So Rookie published a birthday tribute to Winona Ryder, I think, the first year we were publishing, and then she emailed our editor’s inbox, said she wanted to take a bunch of us out for dinner. We went somewhere here in Brooklyn. We kept in touch over the years. When I did my first play in New York, she gave me … no, she gave them to me just before that for my 18th birthday. The nicest, wildest gift you can give a person.


Debbie Millman:

How did she have them? Did Audrey Hepburn give them to her?


Tavi Gevinson:

Yes.


Debbie Millman:

Wow, that’s provenance.


Tavi Gevinson:

I know, I have them in a safe, literally.


Debbie Millman:

That’s incredible. So, Tavi, you grew up on a quiet tree-lined street in a community West of Chicago. Your dad was a hippie who went to Woodstock. Your mom was born in Norway and is an accomplished textile artist. You’ve said that your childhood was somewhat like the show The Sound of Music. In what way?


Tavi Gevinson:

Wow. I think whenever I said that I was maybe being a little idealistic. I should clarify—I don’t know if my dad’s a hippie. He went to Woodstock when he was 18. But by the time I was growing up, he’s a high school English teacher. Pretty buttoned up.


Debbie Millman:

Oh, OK.


Tavi Gevinson:

But I think when I said that, I was thinking of my sisters and I all did musical theater. My mom is an artist. She weaves tapestries. My sisters and I were often kind of choreographing dances or making dioramas. Our basement was full of art supplies and it just wasn’t a big deal to be creative.


Debbie Millman:

You began acting long before you were interested in fashion. I understand that you and your two older sisters were active in the local community theater and you played Gavroche in Les Mis.


Tavi Gevinson:

You are good at research.


Debbie Millman:

So wait, can you also sing? Are you also a singer? Are we going to see you in musical theater at some point?


Tavi Gevinson:

I was two weeks into rehearsing a musical when the shutdowns happened a year ago.


Debbie Millman:

Which musical?


Tavi Gevinson:

Assassins.


Debbie Millman:

Oh, wow.


Tavi Gevinson:

The Stephen Sondheim, John Weidman show. It was going to be a classic stage company here in New York off-Broadway. We’re hoping that we can come back this fall. Yeah, so I have been singing since I was a kid. I would say probably the reason I can be in Assassins is because I’m playing Squeaky Fromme, and none of the characters are supposed to be real singers.


Debbie Millman:

Oh, yes. Yes, I did read about that.


Tavi Gevinson:

I can serve a story, but I wouldn’t identify as a singer. That would be insulting to real singers.


Debbie Millman:

What is it like to embody a character that’s done so many evil things?


Tavi Gevinson:

I mean, I’m really excited to do this show because, unfortunately, it’s certainly become even more prescient since the shutdowns. It’s about people who try to assassinate different U.S. presidents, some successfully, based on real people. And I guess, the little that we got into the process, a lot of her longer monologues are very similar to what’s in her memoir. And the way she remembered her experience of Charles Manson as him kind of saving her. You can find kind of an in to understand how someone else who’s done things you would maybe never do, to see how they make sense of their own experiences and do or don’t see them as evil or traumatic or not.


Debbie Millman:

I want to go back to the origins of your founding the Rookie empire. When you were in sixth grade, a friend from your theater had an older sister who had created a fashion blog, and I read that you were struck by how much confidence and style she had. But what impressed you most was when her classmates mocked her site, she wasn’t upset. She actually found them amusing. And I’m wondering, why did that specific thing impress you?


Tavi Gevinson:

I think I felt very uncomfortable being in middle school and being like, wait a second, some of us are growing up and dating boys, and some of us still look like we’re 8 years old. What is going on here? And I felt much more on the “I’m still 8 years old” side. So I think my interest in fashion came from being like, oh, I can reject this version of growing up that I really don’t relate to and would like to put off as long as possible, which is to basically become a female object sort of.


Tavi Gevinson:

By the way, not that I could articulate any of this at the time. But when I look back, I’m like, oh, right, I was a late bloomer. I was uncomfortable with my body and growing up and everything that becomes a part of the female experience after a certain age. And someone like Stephanie, who had the blog, showed how dressing could be kind of a creative outlet and then her attitude toward her classmates who made fun of her was like armor. The idea of not being kind of afraid of people, even though I totally was, was something to aspire to.


Debbie Millman:

Do you think that you … I mean, I don’t know if you would even have known this back then. But looking back on it, do you think that your starting Style Rookie was an experiment in trying to feel less concerned about what people thought of you, and less about really fashion and that type of expression?


Tavi Gevinson:

Yeah. I mean, yes or no. It was a blog for an audience, so I was concerned with the response, but it was kind of like, “let me at least create a little arena where the people I’m in community or conversation with, or other fashion bloggers and other teenagers online who I think are cool, rather than boys at my school who make fun of me.”


Debbie Millman:

You debuted Style Rookie in March of 2008. And what I found so interesting about are those early posts was the range. You admired the style of Twiggy, Lucille Ball, Thomas the Tank. Individually, they’re interesting, but as a combination, I think they become even more interesting. And so where were you finding so much of your inspiration at that point—from other blogs or reading or movies or TV or all?


Tavi Gevinson:

Definitely other blogs. I remember Stephanie also sent me an email that that was, “Here are the blogs I read, and here are the cool magazines I read.” So then it was Nylon and British magazines like I-D and Dazed and various Vogues from Japan, Italy, Vogue Paris. Oh, Lula Magazine. And definitely, the more indie ones I’m mentioning, they were irreverent and eclectic in their references. So I was just being opened up to these other ways of thinking about it as a form of self-expression.


Debbie Millman:

In the first year of publication, Miranda July became a fan and sent one of your videos to Kate and Laura Mulleavy, the sisters that founded Rodarte. Do you know how Miranda July first became aware of what you were doing?


Tavi Gevinson:

No, I don’t. I should definitely ask her.


Debbie Millman:

And I believe that very first year, you were also invited to your first Fashion Week, where Karl Lagerfeld admired your blue-gray dyed hair? Did you dye your hair blue and then it faded to gray, or was the decision to dye it gray?


Tavi Gevinson:

I dyed it blue and then it faded, and then it seems like a major political statement of some kind.


Debbie Millman:

That was when I first became aware of you. And I saw this picture of you with the gray hair and I thought this is like the most genius thing I’ve ever seen. And I still remember the moment I saw that picture of you, thinking this is the most feminist thing I think I’ve ever seen.


Tavi Gevinson:

Oh, that makes me happy.


Debbie Millman:

But when that first Fashion Week was over, you wrote that you cried, and you thought that all you would have was that one cool experience, and now you’d be going back to middle school where you were made fun of for what you wore. Did you really think at that time that that would be it? Was that a sort of theme of feeling like this is the best it’s going to be, or I’m only going to have this one shot? That’s something I’ve contended with my whole life. Like, if I don’t do this thing, then I’m never going to get that opportunity again.


Tavi Gevinson:

Yeah, totally. I had no perspective. And I also, I mean, a few years ago I did a play with a 12-year-old, and his mom afterwards was telling me just the grief he felt for weeks and weeks. And I was like, oh, right, because you’re literally not old enough to know that these projects happen again, and you’ll have collaborations, and you’ll travel again. I guess it’s also because fashion, it was so conditional, my family couldn’t afford for a parent and me to travel to New York or Paris or whatever for a photoshoot or fashion show or something unless it was being paid for. So it was sort of like, well, as long as they’ll have me, I’d love to keep doing this stuff. These are amazing experiences. I’m being exposed to people I really respect and getting to interview designers and meet these photographers. And of course, I wanted it to be more of a career somehow or the beginning of some kind of career in the arts, but I didn’t really know what I wanted, and how long it could work.


Debbie Millman:

By the time you were 13, you were commissioned to write for Harper’s Bazaar, which made you the youngest writer ever published by the magazine. But at that point, there seemed to be some people who thought that your blog was a hoax perpetuated by fashion insiders or even your parents were writing it because it was so professional. And even your sister had to defend you online to naysayers by saying, “This is my younger sister, she’s really legit.” How did you manage all the questioning and the doubt?


Tavi Gevinson:

It was very shocking and not easy. I think one thing I remember finding helpful was that my dad gave me this story by Harvey Swados called Claudine’s Book, which is about a girl who, her aunt discovers her diaries and has them published as a book, and then the girl kind of becomes famous. And then she decides to let people believe that it’s a hoax because she wants to return to her normal life. Which I mean, I was not like Claudine. I wasn’t writing private diaries that were discovered. I was seeking out an audience on the internet, so it was different, but trying to kind of look to stories like that or people I admired.


Tavi Gevinson:

I think that’s why part of why I love Bob Dylan and Rei Kawakubo so much, people who were misunderstood and were like, “Great, I’ll just make this work for me.” I think it’s part of how I dressed. I think it’s part of things I wrote that were really opaque and confusing. It was very confusing. And even if in theory, I knew like, OK, what this really means is that I’m good at what I’m doing, if enough people think you’re fraudulent, then you feel like a fraud. So I definitely felt insecure about all of it and at the same time had a lot of support. And I’m sure it helped me in some way to develop some kind of “I’ll show them drive at that age,” which I still have to this day. So, yeah.


Debbie Millman:

Well, by 2011, you became disillusioned with the fashion industry. And one defining moment occurred while you were sitting next to Anna Wintour at a fashion show.


Tavi Gevinson:

Yeah, it was so scary. I think she was seated next to me and we acknowledged each other, said hi, or something. And then she turned to me and said, “When do you go to school?” And it struck me as so aggressive, and it possibly wasn’t, but it was just, it was confusing. I don’t know. I was just like, the visions of becoming an adult that I’m being offered here are really bleak, and I don’t want to become someone who has the kind of relationship to youth that this world does. But I think what I felt at that show after the interaction with Anna was like it didn’t feel magical anymore. It didn’t feel like a storybook. It wasn’t like something I could kind of escape into as much. And also by that point, I was in high school and I finally liked going to school, and had a good group of friends and all of that.


Debbie Millman:

Rookie didn’t ever feel like it was about shopping or consuming or trying to attract boys in the same way that so many other teen magazines, both online and off, seemed to position themselves. It almost felt anti-consumerist in a lot of ways. And I’m wondering if that was intentional. If you can look back on it now and say, “Yes, that was actually a decision. It wasn’t just how I was feeling but it was a direction that I wanted to work in.”


Tavi Gevinson:

Yeah, it was both. Sometimes our shoots were styled and we borrowed clothes for them. A lot of the time it was just teenagers shooting their friends in the clothes they already had. And the point wasn’t that you could look at the photos and then buy what the people in these photos were wearing. The things I’ve always loved like thrifting and DIY projects, that was definitely a conscious decision for Rookie to be about that. I mean, we had style and beauty advice columns that sometimes involved recommending like, these are good bras to buy or whatever, but it was definitely a choice for it to not be about just buying more stuff.


Debbie Millman:

You still continue to perform on stage. When you were 14, you performed in a community theater production of Ragtime, where you played a little boy; you dyed your hair Raggedy Ann red from what I understand. Were you taking acting lessons through this time, or were you just learning on the job, so to speak?


Tavi Gevinson:

I started doing voice lessons when I was 8, but I didn’t take acting classes. I just did local theater and some school plays.


Debbie Millman:

You also voiced a character in the animated short film Cadaver, alongside Kathy Bates and Christopher Lloyd, which was long-listed for an Academy Award. Did you begin to feel any sort of conflict or push-pull between acting roles and the ambitions and responsibilities of Rookie and going to school? And I want to say that in a very different way than Anna Wintour said it to you.


Tavi Gevinson:

Yeah. I think probably the thing that suffered the most was my schoolwork, and it was really important to me to be with my friends and have some quote-unquote “normalcy.” Yeah, I don’t know how I did … That sounds horrible now. The thought that I went to school from 8–3 and then I worked on Rookie for … I mean, I guess that’s why it was a passion project. But yeah, it was not a balanced day.


Debbie Millman:

Yeah. I love the fact that you were posting from 3 p.m. till midnight because that’s when your readers were away from school. So in some ways, it kind of worked.


Tavi Gevinson:

Yeah.


Debbie Millman:

You made your Broadway debut in 2014 at the Court Theatre in Kenneth Lonergan’s play This Is Our Youth, and I know you actively pursued getting that role. How did that opportunity come about?


Tavi Gevinson:

Scott Rudin told my agents that he wanted me to audition for it. And I read the play and auditioned for … I think I sent a self-tape, then I had a call back in New York that my dad and I flew here for, and then I met with the director in Chicago where she also lived because the show started at Steppenwolf. Yeah, then we did it at Steppenwolf that summer.


Debbie Millman:

Brandon Brantley, in The New York Times, said this about your performance. “The precocious 18-year-old fashion blogger moonlighting here is an astonishingly assured actress.” And you also got an excellent review in your next Broadway role in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, where you were described as a malleable craven and poignantly credible serving girl. And tell me, with reviews like that, did you consider at that point giving everything else up and dedicating your life to being an actor full time?


Tavi Gevinson:

No, I still really wanted Rookie to keep going, especially now that I wasn’t in school anymore and could give it more time.


Debbie Millman:

You stated that you feel very in touch with the biology of the world when you’re acting. And I kind of love that. I was wondering if you could tell me more about it. Because I think that when somebody is feeling really connected to any art, there’s sort of that connection with the spirit world, so to speak, without being too woo-woo.


Tavi Gevinson:

No, totally. I think it’s a completely magical thing, especially if you do something as many times as you do in a play. Your body just knows it intimately enough that you don’t have to think a whole lot. There’s also the unknown variables of like the audience is different every night and the other actors are different, and just really magical things can take place. And you also can sort of observe the way the show is different every night on such a molecular level. I guess that’s what I was trying to say. Your awareness is so sharpened because you’ve just been, yeah, from the repetition, I think, and I just really love the way that that feels.


Debbie Millman:

Ultimately, after seven years in publication, you decided to end Rookie’s run in 2018. And you wrote a poignant six-page piece on the site about why. And I got the sense in reading the letter then, rereading it now, knowing what you’ve been doing since, that this was very possibly the hardest and maybe most important decision of your life.


Tavi Gevinson:

Yes, it was.


Debbie Millman:

How do you feel about it all now? Looking back on it, it’s been three years, maybe two real years, one fake year in this strange time we’re in? Do you have any regrets?


Tavi Gevinson:

Yes, but I’m also like “you can’t isolate one thing and wish it were different without accepting that then your whole life would be different.” So, of course, there was a period where I wish I’d kept it going longer, there was a period where I wish I had ended it a lot sooner. It was a financial mess and a financial loss. But other than that, I don’t know, I gave myself such a gift by just freeing myself of this responsibility that I was really used to having, and letting myself think about who I could be if that wasn’t such a big part of my life. And I feel so much freer as a writer being able to talk about that experience more openly and not feel like I have to keep up this kind of like, “everything’s great over here, a thriving business over here.” So, yeah, and also just, I have so much more time now.


Debbie Millman:

Well, it’s sort of interesting to consider the faces that we have to put out there in the world. And I think that your final letter in Rookie was remarkable for so many reasons. And I also think it gave other bloggers, early bloggers, people like Grace Bonney, for example, from Design*Sponge, I think it gave them a way to understand what their creation meant in a moment in time, and it was also OK to let that go if you didn’t want to monetize it in a way that felt inauthentic or tawdry.


Debbie Millman:

After you moved to New York, you wrote a cover story for New York Magazine about how the sort of black hole of social media and Instagram had overtaken you, and you stated, “Everyone and everything I encountered in person I had already interacted with or consumed online. The people I was fans of became real people I knew but they didn’t know what I knew about them and I didn’t know what they knew about me. There were a million versions of all of us running around in one another’s heads. I posted my own press photos, party photos and red carpet photos, and I quieted the inner younger me who would have found that shallow and gross. There was no need for another private fake public account for these moments, they became my everyday. At last, I could claim the realm of visibility. I authentically infiltrated.”


Debbie Millman:

Tavi, what made you decide to write the piece? It was very honest, you were very hard on yourself. I came away from that piece thinking, Tavi Gevinson is being really harder on herself than she needs to be.


Tavi Gevinson:

Wow, Well, I’m interested in that.


Debbie Millman:

I mean, it really felt like you were taking yourself to task for doing something that everybody does, like everyone is doing this. And yes, you sort of came clean and admitted it all, but you weren’t admitting something that was so alien to the rest of us that we were like, lock her up, put her away. It was like, oh, my God, we’re doing this too. We’re all doing this and we’re all positioning ourselves as one person in front of everybody else while inside we’re weeping.


Tavi Gevinson:

Yeah. I mean, well, also now I’m like, I mean, I would have to read … it’s been a while, I’d have to reread it. But I do think to write such a thing now, I think it would be a lot less about the way Instagram modifies human behavior, or at least my behavior, and more about the economic structure behind it, which is so vile, and I’m sure is super-pleased for people to think the worst thing about Instagram is just that it makes us insecure or something. But I think I wrote it because I did feel it was rewiring my brain. And I had made these videos on Instagram where I was joking about trying to game the algorithms to make sure people would see my videos in their feeds, and trying to use funny filters, or I went to Times Square and took selfie videos in Times Square. And then Instagram reached out to me and they were like, “Come to our offices, we’ll explain the algorithm.” Of course, it was a very surface-level meeting.


Tavi Gevinson:

And so then I emailed some of what I had written to Stella Bugbee, who was then editor-in-chief of The Cut. So, I don’t know, I think it feels good to make some of these things visible, especially because, I mean, it is very uncomfortable to feel like I represent something to people looking at me. There’s not that many people that I don’t really relate to. And in the latter years of Rookie when I was trying to fundraise for it, when I was trying to publicize it, when I was a little more of a girl boss, it didn’t feel great and it was a relief to offer up something that was about how difficult the financial reality of it actually was and about how much easier it was to make money as an influencer, because historically women are valued for what they look like.


Debbie Millman:

I want to talk a little bit about that too, because your next piece for New York Magazine talks about that as well. But before we get to that, one thing that I did notice throughout my research and in preparing for the show today, was the notion in that piece, in particular, you talk about how when you were reviewing posts from that era, now you almost envied your own life as though it were someone else’s. And the concept of sort of two lives reminded me of something that your mother said when Style Rookie first debuted, and then something you wrote when you closed Rookie. So your mom stated, “There are two stories here, the 13-year-old who lives in our house, and the 13-year-old who is being taken very seriously in this world of fashion.”


Debbie Millman:

And then in your goodbye Rookie letter you shared, “It is sometimes felt that there are two Rookies. There’s the publication that you read that I also love reading, writing for and editing, and then there is the company that I own and am responsible for. The former is an art project, the latter is a business. Each one needs and feeds the other. But when I started Rookie at age 15, I saw the two as mutually exclusive.” And I kind of loved this running theme of this duality, and as well as sort of somebody that’s very introspective in the kind of work that you do with your writing and then someone that’s very extroverted or extrospective, if that’s a word, with your performing. So I just wanted to sort of mention that, really.


Tavi Gevinson:

Thank you. I’m so flattered. My God, I’m so flattered by how much detail you’re bringing up. My gosh. Yeah, this pleases me.


Debbie Millman:

Thank you. So you have described yourself as a writer and an actor and an artist, but you also state that you haven’t believed the purity of your own intentions ever since you became your own salesperson too—again, that duality. So do you feel like you’re able to balance those polarities more now? Do you feel like there’s less of a delta between that artist and salesperson?


Tavi Gevinson:

Yeah, I mean, definitely not having a business to … I mean, I have the business of me to maintain. And so I just sort of make a series of decisions around what’s good for business and doesn’t take away from what I love doing and what’s good for business but not worth it, as an actor, writer, someone with a personal brand. I do think that maybe when I was younger, I mean, there’s A, being a teenager and being a purist and caring about selling out or whatever. B, there’s the responsibility Rookie had to its readers to not sell them lies. C, there’s now the idea of someone doing sponcon would hardly be considered selling out. But in earlier days of Rookie and certainly my blog, to do such a thing felt so compromising. And so, yeah, I mean, now I definitely don’t, again, I guess the gift of time, like I just know myself a little better and so there isn’t a kind of identity crisis around all of this stuff.


Tavi Gevinson:

And I also just, frankly, have enough financial stability and wealth that I don’t have to decide to do things that I really don’t care about or dislike, but that would be good for my brand, or make me a lot of money. So honestly, that’s a big part of it. It is a privilege to not have to do things that make you feel compromised. But I do also think the world has changed a bit where I think we’re just sort of like the backbone of our economy is GoFundMe, and I think there’s an overall understanding of everyone do what you can.


Debbie Millman:

Yeah. I remember back in the early ’80s when having a sponsor for a rock-and-roll tour was considered selling out. Now you can’t have a rock tour without one.


Tavi Gevinson:

Right.


Debbie Millman:

Tavi, in February, you wrote another piece for New York Magazine about your issues with the Britney Spears documentary, and what you refer to as well-meaning attempts to ascribe young women power that they don’t have. And in the article, you write about how when you entered the world of adult men as an 18-year-old, you were aware that you’d been granted access, visibility and currency through your whiteness, thinness, cisness, and what Janet Mock calls pretty privilege, as well as your social status. And you cannot reconcile your awareness of your power and all the safety it promised with the idea that you are also vulnerable in any way. And you go on to state, “With beauty as the only such capital, being considered in your prime is not a position of power if you are a girl alone in a room with a man.”


Debbie Millman:

And in the article, you reveal that you were taken advantage of emotionally and sexually because of that capital. And I’m really sorry that this happened to you, Tavi, but I also want to thank you for writing about this because I think that when anybody discloses their own experiences, it helps all women.


Tavi Gevinson:

Thank you.


Debbie Millman:

You very specifically didn’t name your assaulters. Any particular reason why?


Tavi Gevinson:

Do you have seven hours?


Debbie Millman:

I do. My producer might not, but I do. Absolutely.


Tavi Gevinson:

I think in the context of the piece, I was making a larger argument about power dynamics and I didn’t want to distract from the argument with anything that could be taken as gossip. To name someone in public, you are so much better protected if you can support yourself with details and evidence, and I’m much too in the thick of processing a lot of it to offer that up to audiences. I also think, creatively, rhetorically and politically, I really liked the move of being like, you know what, it’s not that important. I promise you, he’s not that interesting. I really don’t want my experience to become overshadowed by this person’s identity. And in fact, viewing cases of assault and abuse through this fascination with individual men’s identities that our culture keeps doing in the last few years since #MeToo became more mainstream, I would say that way of looking at these stories was even damaging for me in understanding what was happening while it was going on, and then in my ability to process it later because then the most important thing was protecting this person’s identity.


Tavi Gevinson:

But what I was writing was more about my experience of sexual trauma, and I wasn’t seeking that kind of justice. For that piece, it did not feel like it would better position me or my arguments by naming any of the men I was writing about.


Debbie Millman:

Do you feel that you’re able to process it, or are you still processing? What has the journey been like for you with putting that information out there, and then managing your own realizations about your abuse?


Tavi Gevinson:

I’ve learned that writing and therapy are two really different things. And that the sort of trauma therapy that I am in is ... actually, here’s something that’s really interesting. I’ve been doing a lot of writing about these experiences for myself for years. And it is interesting to look back and have documents of how much the story has changed and of my own cognitive dissonance. On one hand, I think all of this writing has been part of just how I have survived. It helps me day-to-day as a daily practice. And then, on the other hand, I look through it all and I’m like, wow, in a lot of ways I can see how this got me further from remembering what really happened. Because if you are trying to make something into a story, or if you are trying to service a larger argument, it’s really easy to lie to yourself, forget things.


Tavi Gevinson:

And actually, when I published that article in The Cut, I was so shocked to learn that the performative power of saying out loud or in writing what happened and publishing it, even if I didn’t share details, even if I didn’t name anyone, to say it out loud, publish it, and see people respond and be like, “I know exactly what kind of relationship you’re talking about; I’ve never known anything to be so true in my life and I believe you.” That was so powerful that it actually brought to light so many more things I had totally forgotten. And so it’s been really disruptive and really a trip. But it is so superior to the years of not sharing it with people, or me feeling a bizarre need to protect these men, or literally just having these blanks in my memory and thinking, Well, I guess I’ll never really know what went on. And now it’s like, “No, no, no, you do know.”


Debbie Millman:

You know.


Tavi Gevinson:

It’s wild.


Debbie Millman:

Yes. I’ve experienced it too. The older you get, I think the more these things reveal themselves as actual things and not just concepts, if that makes sense.


Tavi Gevinson:

Yes.


Debbie Millman:

Tavi, you’ve talked about how the writer George Saunders once said he was really glad his books didn’t do well until he was much older. He felt that when you’re young, you already think you’re the center of the universe, and if you have success young, it seems to confirm it. And you’ve said that you think that success can sometimes breed a sense of untouchability, which is when people can be most vulnerable. And I’m wondering sort of now that you can look back and see some of the journey that you’ve taken with more clarity, do you have any advice for young women that might be experiencing early success?


Tavi Gevinson:

I think if there’s anything I can offer, it’s that in my experience, there have been so many questions that have cropped up over the years that I thought were so uniquely difficult, and that they needed really creative answers, usually in the form of ambition or more work. And if there’s anything I can offer, it’s that I think a lot of the things I was struggling with were also just matters of mental health and just day-to-day health. I mean, something like whether or not to fold Rookie, yes, the answer to the stress I was experiencing was to fold Rookie. But there were a lot of creative ways I tried to solve what I was feeling before finally finding a new therapist and having the support from people in my life to view it as a decision of just health, and what do you want your life to look like day-to-day, and just trying to put those things first, rather than trying to, I don’t know, achieve your way out of distress. So I don’t know if that’s quite advice, but that’s what I think I can offer.


Debbie Millman:

Thank you. I want to talk with you about some of your current projects. You’re currently working on quite a few. You’ve brought some of the original Rookie spirit back to life in an eight-episode podcast for Audible Originals, titled Life Skills by Rookie, which is a riff on the site’s popular column. And in typical Tavi style, the show provides candid but kind of humble advice for dealing with some common but hard-to-talk-about issues, how to end an unhealthy friendship. I was particularly interested in that one. How to navigate conflict and confrontation, and even how to talk to people who are not good at talking to people.


Debbie Millman:

So I’ve been wondering, did the pandemic influence the show’s topics? They’re very soulful, very introspective. And I’m wondering if, now that we’ve had a lot more time to think about maybe some of our unhealthy friendships, or how do we want to live in the world, how do we want to get together with people, I was wondering if COVID has influenced the way that you were thinking about the arc of the show?


Tavi Gevinson:

Yeah, I mean, it came together pre-pandemic. The scripts were all written last summer, and definitely influenced … I mean, one episode is how to manage uncertainty. The writer and I were constantly talking about the events that were unfolding every day over the last year. So yes, I think it definitely, it was really nice in this last year to have this way of working with these other writers and to do a Rookie project that was different from stuff we’d done before, but very, I think, calling on the best aspects of Rookie.


Debbie Millman:

Oh, absolutely. I listened to the uncertainty one first. I didn’t want to wait because that’s something that I’m obsessed by is if there is ever any certainty. I know that you’re working on another podcast for Audible about romance and fiction. Will that also be under the Rookie moniker?


Tavi Gevinson:

That’s not a Rookie thing. That’s a narrative podcast.


Debbie Millman:

That’s so cool. So you’re really getting into the podcast world.


Tavi Gevinson:

Yes.


Debbie Millman:

And you’re writing a book?


Tavi Gevinson:

Yes, I am.


Debbie Millman:

Tell us, is that a memoir?


Tavi Gevinson:

Yeah, it is a memoir/essays hybrid.


Debbie Millman:

When do we have the ability to be able to purchase it?


Tavi Gevinson:

That is a question for my psychic. No.


Debbie Millman:

I hear you. I’m somebody that was a year late on my deadline for my book. I totally hear you.


Tavi Gevinson:

Yeah. I’m hoping a year from now or possibly later in 2022, or possibly 2023.


Debbie Millman:

OK. Certainty.


Tavi Gevinson:

Yeah, exactly.


Debbie Millman:

Well, finally, I’m very excited to talk with you about your participation in the HBO Max reboot of “Gossip Girl,” which you are starring in. Congratulations.


Tavi Gevinson:

Thank you.


Debbie Millman:

For our young listeners, the original series aired from 2007 to 2012 on the CW. This reboot is set in the same New York City neighborhood, same schools, but features a much more racially diverse new cast, pledges queer inclusivity. I’m very happy about that. The first set of photographs of the cast on the steps of The Met instantly went viral, instantly broke the internet. Were you surprised by the response?


Tavi Gevinson:

There had been murmurs for so long that I was like, OK, people won’t be excited to see this. Because I think the original show had such a strong fan base and people are constantly rediscovering it.


Debbie Millman:

So the centerpiece of the original show was the blogosphere Gossip Girl once ruled, and that’s changed in the reboot. But you play a character named Kate Keller. Tell us about Kate. Tell us what you can about Kate.


Tavi Gevinson:

I was just going to say, I don’t know what I can say. She’s ambitious. She looks like me. I think I’m legally bound to not say more than that.


Debbie Millman:

Oh, OK. We’ll just have to send our listeners to Google it because there’s some interesting stuff but not much. There is that ambition word but that was pretty much all I could find.


Tavi Gevinson:

Yeah.


Debbie Millman:

But there were some good photos. Tavi, the last thing I want to talk to you about is someone very important to me, who I know is important to you—Stevie Nicks.


Tavi Gevinson:

I knew that is who it would be.


Debbie Millman:

In your TED Talk many years ago, you stated this, “So what I hope you’ll take away from my talk, the lesson in all of this, is to just be Stevie Nicks. That’s all you have to do, because my favorite thing about her other than everything is that she has always been unapologetically present on stage and unapologetic about her flaws and about reconciling all of her contradictory feelings, and she makes you listen to them and think about them. So please be Stevie Nicks.” I have been trying to do that my whole life, basically. Sometimes, more successfully than others. I’m wondering if you still feel the same way about Stevie that you did then.


Tavi Gevinson:

Yes. Oh, my gosh, and she just keeps giving us more reasons to aspire to everything she represents.


Debbie Millman:

Right.


Tavi Gevinson:

I feel—


Debbie Millman:

I don’t even—


Tavi Gevinson:

Yeah.


Debbie Millman:

I don’t even think about her songs being songs anymore. I call them gems.


Tavi Gevinson:

I love that. They really are. They feel elemental to the universe in a way that they’re much more than songs. And I feel like, on her Instagram, she’s always posting these great little coincidences around their lyrics. She’s a mystic.


Debbie Millman:

Is it true that after Stevie heard your talk, she sent you a cashmere blanket to wrap yourself in whenever you felt like you needed a hug?


Tavi Gevinson:

Yes, that is what she said. She invited me to her show, and I went with my friends and my parents in Chicago when I was still in high school, and she dedicated “Landslide” to me from the stage, and I was sobbing. She’s like a fairy godmother, which I say because she literally signed a card that way. So, yeah.


Debbie Millman:

Yeah. I will share something that I know you’ll relate to. When I was in high school, I was on the prom committee for my senior prom, and I wanted … this was 1979, so it was the year after “Landslide” came out. And I wanted that song to be our theme song for the prom, but no one wanted the name “Landslide” for the prom because that was not a good name. So I recommended, wait for it, “Mirror in the Sky.” And then we put tinfoil on the cafeteria ceiling. I just needed to share that with you. I thought you’d appreciate it more than almost anyone I know.


Tavi Gevinson:

Absolutely. How poetic. That’s amazing. “Landslide” would have been hard to do.


Debbie Millman:

Tavi, thank you so much for putting so much wonderful work in the world and thank you so much for joining me today on Design Matters. I’ve wanted to do this for a long time. I’m so happy that you’re here.


Tavi Gevinson:

Thank you, Debbie. It means a lot to me. I’m very honored. Thank you.


Debbie Millman:

Thank you. You can hear Tavi’s new podcast, Life Skills by Rookie, on Audible Originals. You can see her in the upcoming reboot of “Gossip Girl” on HBO Max. You can read her writing and see more of her work at tavigevinson.world. This is the 17th year we’ve been podcasting Design Matters and I’d like to thank you for listening. And remember, we can talk about making a difference, we can make a difference, or we can do both. I’m Debbie Millman and I look forward to talking with you again soon.

And remember, we can talk about making a difference, we can make a difference, or we can do both.  — Debbie Millman