Photography Petra Collins

tavi gevinson on love, and the difficulties of writing about it

The writer and actress talks to i-D about Rookie’s latest release, ‘Rookie on Love,' which features essays by Mitski, Jenny Zhang, and Hilton Als.

by Brittany Natale
04 January 2018, 4:19pm

Photography Petra Collins

“Love is all around,” Tavi Gevinson, the 21-year-old writer, actor, and founder of Rookie magazine, writes in the introduction to her newly released book Rookie on Love (Penguin Random House). “But its holding place is not always another person,” she clarifies, “Sometimes you find the best companion in yourself, or the fun of worshipping a teen idol, or the challenge of trying to understand love in its various forms.”

Rookie on Love is Rookie’s fifth publication to date, following the four Rookie Yearbooks which Tavi and her team have released annually from 2012 through 2015. Unlike the yearbooks, which each set out to capture a distinct moment in a young person’s life, Rookie on Love explores the countless facets of a single theme: L-O-V-E, in all its forms and nuances. In Rookie on Love, the reader is taken on an emotional journey through the work of 45 different contributors. Florence Welch, Alessia Cara, Hilton Als, Gabourey Sidibe, and Durga Chew-Bose, as well as a host of regular Rookie contributors, all share their innermost musings on friendship, romance, self-respect, and crushes in the form of essays, poems, comics, and interviews.

The book ranges far beyond the “Hallmark greeting card” kind of love; it’s about real connections — between friends, families, parts of yourself — and the many ways those bonds can evolve. Sometimes, love is one-sided, as writer Kiana Kimberly Flores explores in her essay “Unrequited,“ or expressed through your dedication to a passion, as the musician Mitski explains in “Centripetal Force,” and other times the most important thing is to love yourself, as Danielle Henderson writes in “You First,” an essay about self-care.

Tavi spoke to i-D about Rookie on Love and the all-importance of nurturing the “unromantic” kinds of love.

How did the idea for Rookie on Love come about?
We had done four giant Rookie Yearbooks — annual compilations of work that had been published on our site — and wanted to cap it off so there would be one for each year of high school. We knew the next series should have all-new work, and that the books should be less like tomes, more like companions. Most of the questions sent to our advice columns are about love. The second most common thing we get asked about is self-love/self-respect/self-esteem. Next, family and friendships. I realized Rookie on Love would capture all of those topics, and then we wouldn't ever have to publish a book as repellant sounding as Rookie on Your Parents. Plus, love can also mean fandom and obsession, so then pop culture would have a place in this collection, too.

Love was a great writing prompt for our contributors because it's universal but invites really specific memories and ideas. I am obsessed with it as the one feeling language cannot do justice to, so for a bunch of people from this community, a bunch of my favorite writers, to prove me wrong, was mind-blowing.

So often, we associate "love" with romantic relationships. Why do you think it’s important that we’re reminded to nurture the "unromantic" love in our lives also?
After secularism, the idea of a soulmate — of One True Love or Prince Charming — became a kind of God to believe in, to live for, to alter oneself in service of. That [in turn] became a vehicle through which capitalist, heteronormative, patriarchal forces could sell products, disempower women, and outcast queer folks. Unloving the commodity of love frees you from trying to please the idea of an imaginary person, and that makes it easier to listen to yourself and your true desires and needs, and to accept love that is deeper and realer. Recognizing great friendships, tricky but rewarding familial relationships, the joy to be had in work and different kinds of expression… recognizing all of those things as love enables you to seek a romantic love that more closely resembles that feeling of connection, of being known, of truly knowing another — and not something out of a movie that looks right but feels wrong.

In one of the book's essays, "Centripetal Force" by Mitski, she speaks of her deep love for music and how it caused her all of this grief but also gave her a way out of it. Is this something that you’ve also experienced either through your writing or performing?
Absolutely. Writing and acting make me feel invincible. Like no matter what happens in my life, there's a way to metabolize it, an opening, a way out. Like who I am is still waiting to be uncovered and not tethered to who I've been. That's why I want creativity to be a source of love for people and not of dread or anxiety or fear of failure. It's a means of creating more possibility, more ways of existing. When I first wrote something that clearly expressed how I felt, when I first came offstage and realized I didn't fully know what had just happened, when I met my boyfriend and found that talking with him made the world unscary and my life unburdened, anything became possible.

Danielle Henderson's essay "You First” focuses on the importance of self-care. What is some self-care advice that you live by?
Anne Lamott: "Radical self-care is quantum, and it radiates out from you into the atmosphere like fresh air."

Can you tell me a little about some of the events you’ll be doing to coincide with the book?
Every Rookie book has been accompanied with a tour. We'll have readings by the book's contributors and I'll sign it, and usually some kind of discussion gets going just because people come with things they want to kind of show-and-tell to the group. Working on the internet can feel like shouting into a void so seeing our community in person is really affirming, especially seeing everyone make friends, seeing people who came alone walking away with phone numbers, meeting young Rookies who weren't old enough to read it when we started it but are coming to it now, seeing Rookies who've been with us since the beginning and have grown up alongside it throughout their middle school, high school, college years. It's really overwhelming in the very best way.

‘Rookie on Love’ is available now through Penguin Random House .

tavi gevinson