Maggie Tokuda-Hall on Doing Pretty Well with the Left

An interview with Maggie Tokuda-Hall, from The Write Stuff series over at SF Weekly:

Maggie Tokuda-Hall has an MFA in writing from USF and a tendency to spill things. She splits her time writing for children and writing for adults, and her debut children’s book, Also an Octopus, comes out in 2016. Find her on twitter @emteehall.

When people ask what do you do, you tell them…?

I tell them I’m a bookseller. Or that I spill things.

What’s your biggest struggle — work or otherwise?

Fighting the downward slope of my own mind. Laziness, pessimism, anxiety.

If someone said I want to do what you do, what advice would you have for them?

Aim higher.

Do you consider yourself successful? Why?

I have found a person to share my life with, friends to laugh with, and a hair product that works for my curly hair. I write things and sometimes people listen to me read it and say nice things. I have come out of depression. And I can roast a mean chicken. So, yes.

When you’re sad/grumpy/pissed off, what YouTube video makes you feel better?

every goddamn time.
You got women
You got women
On your mind

Do you have a favorite ancestor? What is his/her story?

I have a great-great grandfather, a Jew in what’s now the Ukraine. The story goes that he was in an inn one night, in the communal area, praying. A man accosted him, since he was a Jew, and my great-great grandfather punched him in the stomach, and accidentally killed him. When he went to trial, the judge found him innocent, saying that all men should be allowed to pray. But, the judge said, he must promise never to raise his right hand in anger ever again. Which he never did. But, as the family saying goes, “he did pretty well with the left.”

Who did you admire when you were 10 years old? What did you want to be?

I wanted to be Geena Davis in A League of Their Own, and I also wanted to be the first woman president. My goals have changed a bit, as have my role models, but I think I had the right idea.

Describe your week in the wilderness. It doesn’t have to be ideal.

The remains of bookseller and lazy person, Maggie Tokuda-Hall were found in the forest, picked apart by raccoons and crows. It is suspected that she got lost, confused, and then gave up all hope. It appears she tried to eat her own left arm, but was unable to go through with it. Unfortunately, she was only about 100 yards from the nearest path, which could have led her to civilization, safety and survival.

Would you ever perform a striptease? Describe some of your moves. Feel free to set the mood.

First I turn on some sweet slow jams, the kind that start with someone speaking, saying things like “I’m sorry girl,” and “Girl, you have to forgive me,” because women go wild thinking that the generic female is just a stand in for their name. I’m wearing layers and layers of clothes, mostly street finds, and by that I mean things I pulled out of dumpsters. My lover tries to ignore the smell of stale urine but I grind up on her, so it’s unavoidable. I’ve been wearing these clothes for weeks. As I take off each article, I whip it around over my head like a cowboy and then chuck it, hard, at my lover. Once I’m down to only soiled long johns, I break out the mayonnaise.

How much money do you have in your checking account?

Enough to grab a drink, and to treat a friend. Not enough to take over the world.

What’s wrong with society today?

People who feel like they know, absolutely, the single answer to that question.

Are you using any medications? If so, which ones?

Hot coffee every morning is required to render me fit for polite society.

What is your fondest memory?

My recent wedding seems like the obvious answer. But I think, actually my favorite memory is of sneaking into Muir Woods when Congress closed, and so technically, National Parks were closed, too. My now husband and I hiked in and watched leaves fall to the forest floor and kissed and listened to each other and to silence, and I thought, “this is how love is supposed to feel,” and I felt so warm and full in that sureness.

How many times do you fall in love each day?

Oh who knows, innumerable? I’m in love with the plum I’m eating right now, but I’m pretty sure it won’t last.

What would you like to see happen in your lifetime?

I was told there would be flying cars?

What is art? Is it necessary? Why?

I think art is what happens when humans, fed up or enthralled by the problem of first-person experience, decide to try and make something that either highlights that problem or circumnavigates it. Without it, we’d be unable to train our minds to even try and empathize with others, so yes, I do think it’s necessary, or we’d all just be stealing food off each other’s plates and punching each other.

When you have sex, what are some of the things you like to do?

Yell other people’s names. Start political debate. Check my cell phone. Fart.

What are you working on right now?

A collection of short stories. Another children’s book.

What kind of work would you like to do? Or: what kind of writing do you most admire?

If I could write anything, I’d want to write the names for the colors in Anthropologie catalogs. Or, I’d like to just take credit for everything Kazuo Ishiguro writes, like, “Yeah, you’re right, The Remains of the Day really IS some of my best work.”

If there were one thing about the Bay Area that you would change, what would it be?

It would be affordable for all of my most interesting and talented friends, and they would move here, and we would build a compound in Golden Gate Park, and outsiders would only be granted access upon my approval. And also Brian K. Vaughn would live here, and he would be my friend, and maybe king of the compound.

A night on the town: what does that mean to you?

Sending a more polite version of this text:

I’m sorry I missed your party / get together / reading / thing at that bar last night, I was at home watching TV in my sweatpants and that seemed like the most reasonable thing to do.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen?

An old jam jar completely full of diarrhea, and sealed. Splatter and a half eaten Slim Jim next to it. All of this on my porch in the Haight.

What can you do with 50 words? 50 dollars?

In 50 words, I can give just about anyone an earnest compliment. With $50, I could treat them to dinner.

What are some of your favorite smells?

Grass. The ocean. Freshly brewed coffee. The corner of Haight and Ashbury right outside the Ben n Jerry’s when they make new cones. Concrete streets after rain. My husband’s head.

If you got an all expenses paid life experience of your choice, what would it be?

Could it just be “life experience”? As in, the rest of my life? Because I would totally sign up for that. Otherwise, I’d choose something extravagant, like a trip to the Maldives, for too long a time, in hotels far too luxurious for the likes of me, and meals that would make me fat. 

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