Heavy Hangs the Head: Interview with Taryn Hipp

09/18/13

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About six months ago, my friend Taryn emailed and asked if I could illustrate the cover of her book. Yes, she was writing a book, and it was coming out soon, and she wanted me to design the cover. Taryn and I met online back in 2008. She had sent me a friend request on Facebook. We had mutual friends. I didn’t know who she was, but randomly, I accepted her friendship. I turned out to be one of the best random decisions I’ve ever made.

For the past five years Taryn has inspired me endlessly. Early in our friendship, she seemed to be going through something huge, but I didn’t know exactly what it was at the time. When you only know someone on Facebook, and you know very little about them, you begin to piece together information that will give you a fuller picture of who they are. I knew Taryn worked at a record store. I knew we had similar taste in music. I knew she had a biting sense of humor, and a very soft side too. Taryn intrigued me. Her posts on social media were brave and revelatory. She was, I came to find out a couple years into our friendship, leaving her old life — a life of fear and addiction — and declaring a new life for herself, a life filled with love and promise, sobriety, school, hopes, dreams, and, eventually, this book. Over the years we’ve gotten to know each other better. Since 2008, Taryn has become a fixture in my life. I am continually inspired by her humanity and honesty.

So, back to Taryn’s book. It’s called Heavy Hangs the Head, and you can see the cover I designed above. I am quite proud of it, though it was all Taryn’s vision. The book is a memoir. It’s about Taryn’s journey from anxiety-ridden child to delinquent teenager to divorced alcoholic to who she is today. In her own words, “Heavy Hangs the Head is my journey towards learning to overcome the things that hold me back & accepting that sometimes, it’s ok to not move at all.”

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{Taryn celebrates the launch of her book.}

I eagerly read Heavy Hangs the Head when it came out and realized immediately I had to interview Taryn about the book. It is a brave, gritty and honest memoir. As with most books I read, I had to know more. (Incidentally, this is the first in a series of interviews I’m going to be launching on this blog with artists and writers I admire. Stay tuned for more interviews over the next few months.)

Lisa: I love the title of the book so much — Heavy Hangs the Head — where does it come from?

Taryn: It’s actually a line from the movie Cry-Baby. The main character is crying over being heartbroken & her grandmother says, “Heavy hangs the head that last night wore the crown.” During my drinking days I went to sleep the queen of the prom only to wake up feeling exactly the opposite.

Lisa: Heavy Hangs the Head (to me) was much more about your search for stable ground. loving relationships and meaning in your life as much as it was a story about getting sober. For example, you don’t talk too much about the process of getting sober and what that was like, but you do talk a lot about your relationships and how they shaped your life. Tell us about how you decided what aspects of your journey to write about?

Taryn: When I started working on the book my goal was to give a little “back story” of my life and then write about getting sober but as I began to write I realized that the “little” back story was a huge part of why I was even writing the book. Everything that has happened in my life led me to this place, the good and the bad. It took me a long time to see that. I try to live without regrets and I think that my search for stable ground, as you say, has been and continues to be the driving force in my life. But it’s not just stable ground really, it’s more the ability to remain stable when the ground shakes. Ya know? Before I got sober I couldn’t do that. I would begin to lose my footing and immediately turn to alcohol to self-medicate. When I was going through my divorce I had this hole inside of me that ached constantly and it was accompanied by this terrible voice in my head that just wouldn’t stop making me miserable. The alcohol was able to “fix” both of those things. Obviously, it was more of a paper towel duct taped on a wound than a bandage but the process of writing the book was my bandage and the healing process has been extraordinary.

Lisa: You’ve written a lot of zines but never before a book! And you wrote it relatively quickly. You worked with a small press called Sweet Candy Press. How did the relationship with Sweet Candy begin? What was the writing process like for you as a first-timer? How did you get yourself to sit down and write?

Taryn: I’ve known Sage from Sweet Candy for a long time because of zines. When I mentioned I wanted to possibly write a book she was like “Yes, do it and I’ll put it out”–just like that. It happened so fast. We’re both really into self-publishing and the Do-It-Yourself way of life so it was a new experience for both of us. I had no idea how to write a book so I actually went to the library and checked out a dozen or so books about the subject (none of which I actually ended up reading because it just became too overwhelming). I “took the summer off” from school, and writing the book became my job. I had a routine that involved my porch and a lot of coffee and a dedicated amount of hours per day to writing. But the subject matter was so intense and sometimes really triggering that it became difficult to stick to my routine. I would go days without working on the book, finding other things that were suddenly way more important. Eventually Sage would step in and give me these epic pep talks that really helped get me back on track. I have no idea what big publishers are like but I doubt they answer text messages in the middle of the night with words of encouragement like “You can do this. I believe in you.”

Lisa: The book is really raw and really comes through in your voice, as if we are reading your journal. Was there an editing process? If so, what was it like? Or did you want to stay as true as possible to your voice?

Taryn: I am a zine maker. I am the first person to tell you that. I don’t know how to write a book. I only know how I wrote my book. The editing process was basically me writing for hours at a time for days and then putting it in a Google Doc and asking my best friend or my boyfriend to read it and tell me if it made any sense. A few times I felt like maybe the story was getting off track and I asked friends to give me their opinion or tell me what they wanted to know after reading what I had written so far. I didn’t really give anyone a choice though, it was more like “Read this. Is it totally stupid?” So, I had help throughout the entire process. Once the book was “finished” there were a few people who went through it and we made changes together. I didn’t want it to be in anyone’s voice but my own. No one could tell my story the way I needed it to be told and that’s why it reads like a zine because that’s how I write.

Lisa: What did you learn from writing this book? About yourself or the writing process? Any motivation to write another? What are you working on now?

Taryn: I joked last year that I was learning to be “more brave” by stepping out of my comfort zone and doing things I wouldn’t normally do. I think this book was the final step in that journey. Not everyone will enjoy the book or even care about the book but it exists to show the world that I could do it. My life got all mixed up a few years back, and I truly didn’t think I could get through it. Like, I sometimes will stop myself from being in a bummer mood and just remember where I was four years ago. Writing this book has given me a lot of perspective and it has shown me that it’s okay to be an emotional person, to seek out help, to be vulnerable.

I’m always writing. I actually put out a new issue of my zine, Lady Teeth while working on the book. There is another issue of that in the works also and I’ve been writing a lot of short fiction that may turn into a collection. I had an idea to write stories based on the women in my life and it sort of grew from that. I’m also back in school now that the summer is over so that keeps me pretty busy. I didn’t start college until I was 31. It was never something I really even considered but I’m so glad I did because I really enjoy it. I also think the fact that I am a Psych major had a lot to do with me writing a book like Heavy Hangs the Head. I’ve been approached about speaking to high school kids about my experiences with drugs and alcohol which is not something I had ever considered but I am excited about.

Lisa: If you could summarize the 2-3 people and/or circumstances that turned your life around, what would you say?

Taryn: I spent a long time being very angry at the world and feeling sorry for myself. I didn’t understand why certain things happened to me, and I felt like the whole world was out to get me. Eventually I had to realize that I was self-sabotaging and making excuses. My life sucked because I wasn’t doing what I needed to do to make it not suck. So when I got charged in 2010 for public drunkenness, that was a huge turning point for me. I began to heal and grow and gain perspective. My life has always been really special, I just never bothered to focus on anything but the negative which wasn’t just unfair to me but to the people who loved me. My book is dedicated to my sisters, Jennifer and Veronica and that’s because they have stood by and supported me through everything. They are the reason I am the woman I am today because they have loved me unconditionally, believed in me even when I didn’t, and never turned their back on me. That is something everyone deserves and once I realized that and embraced it, my life turned around and I started loving it.

You can purchase Heavy Hangs the Head here, where you can also check out & purchase Taryn’s awesome zine collection.

Happy Wednesday!

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