When I first met Kathleen Tarrant, she sat on a grassy hillside overlooking the Ballard locks waiting for me and Genevieve to arrive and interview her for Project Girl Crush. It was a gorgeous day, and Kathleen was the epitome of summer: a beautiful woman sipping rose from a mason jar, in a fuchsia skirt and sleeveless polka dot button down. Her vintage Pendleton blanket cascaded around her, she popped bright red cherries into her mouth and giggled as she awkwardly (and messily) discarded the pits. We talked about spitting, we compared techniques. So much about this moment was picturesque.
Kathleen's grin came easily – even though, on the very same day that she on sat on the hill looking so utterly covetable in the Seattle sun, Kathleen received the news that she had been let go from her job. The startup that she had given her voice to for over a year was folding, and she was just one among the dozen or so casualties.
But this is Kathleen – the girl who lost her job and, mere hours after receiving this devastating news, still showed up to be interviewed for PGC. It's that kind of bravery and honesty that I appreciate more than anything else about Kathleen. She's jovial by nature, and her laugh tends to be infectious, but her willingness to be seen in what could have been a very ugly moment turned out to be incredibly beautiful. If this project is about anything, it's about appreciating an individual's most authentic story. It's not an easy thing to encourage this vulnerability from others, and far more difficult to muster and share it myself. But Kathleen isn't the type of girl who tries to mold her life according to the outside eye – she isn't pretending to be something she's not or working hard to appear effortless. She is actively herself, even when that self is feeling pretty raw. She's not trying to disguise her path or make it seem more glamorous, instead, she says, "I feel fulfilled because I'm trying as genuinely and clumsily as I can to find what I love."
How did you come to do what you do?
By making a lot of bold, seemingly stupid choices. By quitting jobs I hated, writing for anyone who would take my words, trying everything I could think of, talking to people, and reminding myself that there's no end goal in a job. What I do every day is where I find fulfillment – not in a fictional promotion or title. I met the CEO of Lively after I quit my job as an office manager and went back to school. At the time, I was writing freelance for a few places, and when he and I got into a conversation about my writing, he asked me to write their website. That spun into a full-time job.
People often debate whether or not one can be truly fulfilled by what she does – do you feel fulfilled by your work?
Honestly? Yes, and no. I always feel satisfaction from doing anything well. I feel fulfilled by being challenged to hone the skills around my passion. I feel fulfilled because I'm trying as genuinely and clumsily as I can to find what I love. I don't believe a day job can do this. I do believe it can be a learning experience and a daily chance to do things that you wouldn't get to do on your own.
Where else do you derive creative/emotional/intellectual fulfillment?
I've discovered recently that being a writer often isolates me. Especially with the classic 9-5 job, I often come home and feel sapped of any extra energy to put toward creative things. Recently I've been invigorated by the idea of collaboration. Every time I talk to friends who are also a little tired after the necessary task of paying the bills, we find that it's so much easier and more exciting to work with someone.
I also bake. Whenever I can't seem to figure out what the hell to make that's beautiful and real, I bake. And then I spend that time being very quiet, and then I share it with someone. That's about as creative as I can imagine being on most days, and it feels wonderful.
Name one instance that made you feel vulnerable, unprepared, and/or scared:
When I was 21 I finally admitted to myself and the people who love me that I was anorexic. I had spent almost three years hiding and controlling my disorder and denied a problem even when I was down to an obscenely low weight. I broke down alone in my room one night, called my parents, and then called the Eating Recovery Center in Denver, and checked myself in. I called even though I wasn't ready to get better. I called because I knew I had to save my own life, even if I didn't know how. I can't imagine a scarier moment in my life when I was rawer.
What helped you navigate that challenge?
I want to say, people. And people did. My parents were unbelievably present with me through the whole thing. I had a wonderful boyfriend at the time who loved me selflessly and kindly through the whole hard recovery process. But what really helped me navigate was remembering my Aunt Wendy, who died from her own eating disorder when I was 17 and she was only in her 40's. I saw how it destroyed my mom, and my grandma, and how it destroyed her ability to experience joy. There is no joy in compulsion and addiction. When I realized how much love I was surrounded by, and how unable I was to let it into my exhausted heart, I held onto that and let it guide me through recovery. When I felt joy again, I felt it flood back to me along with sadness and fear and all the other feelings, and I came alive again. Life got me back to life. It's helped me walk through other hard times, whenever I feel that it would be easier to shut down and accept my lot in life, I push through until the wall breaks and let all the good things mix with the hard things, and let life come back into view.
Name one thing that inspires you:
Early mornings. Oh my God, I hate getting up in the morning. I hate it so much. But anytime I do, and everything is gray and luminous and quiet, I feel the clearest and present in my own mind. I get the best writing done between the hours of 5:30 and 8 AM.
How do you maintain that feeling when that source of inspiration is not readily available to you?
I find other quiet and luminous moments and rest in them. Early mornings are rare moments when no one is asking anything of your time, but you can create that space with a little more work during daylight hours. For instance, as I write this I am having a beer and a cheeseburger at the dive bar across from my work because I decided that I was feeling inspired during my lunch hour and didn't want anyone bothering me.
And it's warm outside, so I wanted a beer.
I will probably end up wanting a nap as well.
Name your greatest professional achievement:
Helping to build the Lively brand from the ground up. I've never had my voice define a brand before, and it has been the strangest and coolest process, seeing how it can translate.
Name your greatest personal achievement:
Five years in recovery this September.
Who do you have a girl crush on? Why?
Fuck. So many women. I will go with Anne Lamott, just because she's been my most continuous girl crush. She's a Christian author, and while I am no longer a Christian, she is funny and wise and curses and destroys the idea that a woman, especially a Christian woman, has to be proper and buttoned-up. She has dreadlocks, and quotes Rumi, and talks about her fears and shortcomings with so much love. She loves men deeply, but doesn't define herself by them, and acknowledges the struggle not to do so. I recommend reading Traveling Mercies first, and then all her collections of personal essays.
Who are you intimidated by? Why?
KIDDING. Actually, it's usually everyone. I have a problem where I walk into a room and immediately decide that my invite was probably meant for someone who brushes their hair and eats more vegetables, and I have to mother myself out of the corner. I actually sometimes will pause and think very clearly, "you're a very nice person, and have nice things to say and contribute. And at least 40% of these people are at least a little bit wishing they were in bed with Netflix right now, too."
What's a meaningful piece of advice you have been given, and who gave it to you?
My mom told me when I was a teenager, and had mostly male friends, that I need to cultivate deep friendships with women. She told me that the more women trust each other and develop relationships that aren't defined by our relationship to men, the happier lives we will have. She still goes on road trips with her college girlfriends every year, so it didn't take me long to realize she was right.
Oh, also, advice that my nutritionist gave me.
She told me to eat carbs and Oreos and Cheetos and drink wine, because no one gets a medal for not having cellulite, and your body deserves a little taste of joy sometimes, too.
At what age did you feel most vulnerable, and why?
Age 13. I grew 6 inches, my hips suddenly appeared like bumpers on the side of my body, and I was banging into everything and falling down and I had braces and a bad haircut and a backpack that rolled.
Do I have to explain why?
I was also in a band.
What advice would you share with that former self?
No one is cool, girl. Write more fanfiction.
How do you see your life 30 years from now?
Hopefully healthy. Hopefully surrounded by love, and giving enough of it myself. That's all I've got. Anything else is a bonus.
Ooh, maybe I could have long gray hair, that kind that is wiry and a little crazy. That'd be great.
What steps are you taking currently to achieve that vision of your future?
By loving as honestly as I can. By recognizing my shortcomings with as much gentleness as I can, and celebrating the things I get right. By very much intending to quit smoking. After this pack.
Tell me something pretty. A quote, a lyric, a drawing… however you choose to express yourself.
"Stop acting so small. You are the universe in ecstatic motion."