- Would you give us a bit of background about yourself? Briefly tell us who you are.My name is Michelle Tang. I’m 34 years old, and I hate this question. How can I briefly tell you who I am if I am so many things? But here, the generics… I was a middle school teacher for ten years and now I work in Educational Technology. I am married to a total dream-boat and we just had our first baby. I live in Queens, NY. I was born on the autumnal equinox, during a full moon, and I’m a Virgo/Libra cusp. I was also born in the Year of the Monkey.
- Would you share with me what were some of your early experiences with reading, writing and art? I always loved reading, as far back as I remember. I switched schools in Kindergarten and when I left, my teacher signed a copy of our “Sally, Dick and Jane” primer and let me take it home as a present. (I can’t believe we were reading that crap in Kindergarten in the 1980s!) My favorite book at my new school was In a Dark Dark Room and other Scary Stories. I took it out so many times from my school library that they made me buy my own copy! By middle school I became obsessed with Edgar Allan Poe, who is my favorite author to this day, and William Shakespeare. My best friend bought me a huge Shakespeare anthology when we were in 9th grade and I read Romeo and Juliet so much that the binding of the book snapped right at Act II. I was always writing songs and bad Emo poetry, journaling etc. Then as I got older I started writing scary stories, and jotting down ideas for novels and picture books. Writing has always been a way for me to release emotions, reflect, share experiences and to just let my mind wander. I’ve also always loved the performing arts and art, and had to choose between the two often in school. I went the music route, but at home I’d make clothes, paint animals, build structures etc. In college we had a terrible music program, so there I got to switch over to things like pottery, art history, Chinese landscape painting etc. Very cool stuff.
- When did you decide to be a writer, and how did you know?
I don’t think it was ever a conscious decision, it just was always a part of who I am. But in terms of trying to write things for someone else, I was inspired by a really fantastic novel I picked at random from the bookstore. I loved it, and while it was an adult fantasy novel, I thought it was something my middle schoolers would love. So I wrote an email to the author, she came to visit my school here in NY, we became friends. In fact, all of her books ended up being rebranded/marketed for a high school audience. We talked about how awesome a movie would be over the years, and recently she asked me to write the screenplay for the book. It’s a tall order, and something that I’ve been working on here and there for a long time. But it’s so hard! I need another retreat to tackle that with the full force of my mind. But another thing that inspired me was when my sister got pregnant w/her son. I wanted him to have something really special, a story created just for him. And that’s why I came on the Italy retreat…to write that book for him. It’s a read-aloud adventure/fantasy and I hand-made a leather-bound version for him, with all my own illustrations. It felt awesome to complete a project like that, and my sister and family went nuts for it. I think it’s part of why my husband asked me to marry him too, 😉
- What was your family unit? Did you have brothers or sisters? Where did you grow up?
I grew up on Long Island in NY, about 60 miles from NYC. It was my mom, my dad and my older sister.
- What were the dreams of the future you had when growing up? Have you made any decisions in life based on those dreams?
At my youngest I wanted to be a veterinarian, but then I learned that it involved way more than hanging out w/puppies and kittens all day and it was too intense for me. But I actually always wanted to be a singer/songwriter. In truth, it’s still an ambition I have today. Yeah, I’ve made lots of small decisions…always writing, going through journals and other scribbles and trying to pare them down to just the heart of things—and then reworking and arranging those ideas into verses and choruses. Something I still do now. I’ve also had a talent agent, recorded a song, auditioned for American Idol several times etc. But I have never been able to take big leaps of faith in that direction, at least not yet anyway.
- What kinds of stories were you told growing up?
Hmmm, not many in truth. My parents didn’t read to me, and didn’t read often themselves. And they weren’t storytellers, they actually have that bizarre 1950s mentality of keeping everything private or a secret, so there was never much sharing in that way. I guess in some ways that’s part of why I was so fascinated with books and movies, and getting sucked into those stories. It was like air and water for me.
- Were there teachers or teachings that influenced you? How so?
Absolutely! I became a teacher myself, didn’t I? I had teachers that ran the gamut from total a**holes to incredibly nurturing and inspiring ones. But it was definitely the unusual teachers w/different approaches that I loved. Like in 9th grade I had a hippie English teacher who was always encouraging us to be super creative and expressive. I remember playing the character of a King in our English class and sitting on top of her desk on my “throne”. I ran to that class every day, instead of cutting out on it like I did in so many others. But I think it was actually my music teachers that most influenced me. They taught me discipline, how to hone my craft and how to share myself and my gifts with the world. Once I was shown that I had that potential, I was able to apply those talents and skills to the rest of my life and I still use those performance skills in my daily life, and in my work. When I became an English teacher, it was really important to me—especially in working w/middle school kids—to give them the opportunity to read all kinds of strange and wonderful things, to use art to inspire them, and to write creatively as often as possible. Once h.s. hits, many kids never have that opportunity again, so that was a HUGE part of my teaching repertoire. And I hope I inspired some of them to do great things.
- What are the things in your life that make you the happiest right now?
My son, Atreyu! He is amazing. The inspiration for his name is 2-fold. He’s the main character in The Neverending Story and the name means boy warrior—so that was my pick. But my husband is a huge modern Metal fan, and one of his favorite bands is called Atreyu. He even has some of their lyrics tattooed on himself, so yeah, it was a great pick for both of us. Atreyu is just so precious, so innocent, so much fun and I am just thrilled that I get to share my love of stories and music and dance and art and cooking and everything else with him. He already loves to play drums, and tells himself and his little toys stories in his baby gibberish, loves being read to and cuddled and there’s nothing better in the world. And my husband is amazing. Having a baby is a whirlwind, and living in NY is a constant uphill battle, but we make a great team and have so much love for one another. I’m so happy that our relationship is the one my baby gets to see and be a part of every day of his life. Very different from my not-so-great experiences w/my own family growing up. So I’m definitely motivated to keep at the arts for myself, and for Tre`. I’m driven by a desire to give him a safe and happy life.
- Do you have any daily rituals?
LOL, right now I’m just focused on getting from one day to the next. Full time working mom, and first baby—it’s kinda just madness. Wonderful madness. So I guess I try to shower daily, which I hear is a pretty big accomplishment at this stage of the game, hahaha.
- Do you remember your dreams? Are there any specific ones that you recall giving you insight into you’re life that you’d be willing to share?
Um, I had a recurring nightmare for a long time as a kid. Of taking a canoe over a dark lake, and paddling to this island where everything was ordinary but on a huge scale. And there were big tile walls everywhere, and a big man with a hammer used to chase me. Really scary as a kid. I had that nightmare often and always thought of my dad as that man w/the hammer, even though I never saw a face. But then I also used to have these incredible flying dreams. Where I’d just be soaring over my neighborhood at night. It was such an incredible high, such a feeling of elation. Those are my extremes. I’ve never been a middle of the road kinda girl, not even when I was unconscious. My husband and I are always joking that I have no middle, and he is Mr. Middle.
- What are three pivotal moments in your life? How did they come to be?
A really traumatic family event that occurred when I was in high school, a long overdue period of independence and girl power in my late 20s, and the birth of my son. Those are three things that caused huge shifts in my life.
- Do you have mentors or other working artists who influence you today?
Now that I work in the publishing industry here in NYC, I have friends and colleagues all around me that are constantly hustling and creating and dedicating themselves their craft, even if it’s on a part-time basis. And that keeps things fresh for me.
- How did you come to have the creative pursuits and lifestyle you have?
I think there has always been an element of fearlessness to my character, and that has always enabled me to take big risks and follow my gut or my heart, regardless of the adversity I faced because of it. I think there’s a confidence and sense of freedom that comes w/that trait, and it has helped me to follow my own path and live the way I feel I should. Sometimes there are unavoidable constraints, things that can’t be avoided like money and responsibilities, but that’s to be expected.
- What advice would you give those who would like to take a similar path?
Yes. Go. Now. Do it. I’d say you have to be brave enough to be at least a little selfish, and pursue things that make you happy. But from that, from being happy, you are able to give and share and inspire so much. Also, you have to look at the big picture and remember what’s important is your day-to-day life. Not the one or two things a month or a year that most people let hold them to a certain place, or job or mindset. If you do what makes you happy most of the time, life is pretty great.
- Were there any gatekeepers in the professional world for you, people who either let you in or barred the way as you were coming through?
Absolutely. I think teachers served as both in a lot of ways. And I would say the same of bosses/managers. Some took me under their wing and I thrived, and others aimed to knock me down, hold me back. I said aimed, not succeeded.
- Who are your favorite contemporary artists/musicians/writers?
Coming from my teaching background, as well as being an eternal adolescent, I love so many contemporary YA fiction writers. I love that there are FINALLY stories written specifically for young people in that way. In the past everything was written for babies and old, white WASPy men. And that’s what kids were always reading in school, all this high brow, inappropriate stuff meant for old men. Now kids can find limitless fiction/nonfiction works to inspire them, teach them, support them etc. It’s incredible. I’m a big Dark Fantasy fan, so I love Cassandra Claire, Maria V. Snyder and writers like them. I also have a thing for creative photographers who play with light and perspective. And I love countless musicians/singers/songwriters so that would need a separate survey.
- What kind of control do you think you exert over your own destiny?
“Whoever has the power, has the control.” –Gmork, The Neverending Story
Yeah, I mean, whoever you give your power to is going to run your life. Be it your bosses, your kids, your significant others, your mom, your friends…and I think we are each in control over how much power we allow ourselves. I think who your power is given to is different at any given moment, but I like to think that when it counts you can empower yourself and get things done.
- What is your criteria for success?
Confidence, particularly in your choices. You have to be able to make tiny little everyday choices and huge, life-changing ones in order to get wherever you want to be. And I think checking in w/how you feel is also important. If you feel good, look forward to another day, and can take pleasure and pride in what you accomplish, you are successful.
- Has money or critical success influenced your creative decision-making?
Regardless of how much I hate it, I’d say yeah money is always like the elephant in the room. Even when you’re not consciously aware of it, it plays a part in so many things.
- What advice would you give to your younger self?
- Do you feel it is important to have more than one pursuit in life? Or is it important to have a singular pursuit?
This would have to be in perspective. At a particular moment, having tunnel vision can be what leads you to success. But we all know the idiom of not putting all of your eggs in one basket, so I think it’s important to find multiple outlets. Some things that you are really good at, and some things you really want to accomplish, because those are often not the same things. Diversify your portfolio of life, it keeps things interesting and makes you more resilient. When one door closes, when you fail at something, you can move on to and excel at something else. If you only have one purpose, that hit to your ego and confidence can be so hard you have trouble getting back up.
- What do you want to be known for?
My best friend bought me this mug once, I know just stay with me for a second. It says, “Live boldly, take risks, make someone say, What the Hell was that all about?” I think that summation of my life would make me happy. Yeah, the risks and boldness, those are obvious. But I actually think it’s the part about making people ask questions that is more of my personal mission. We get so caught up in the mundane, in the routine, in the status quo, and I think people as a whole need someone to come around and shake things up every once in a while. To make them second-guess things, to inspire them to make changes. I think that’s what keeps the world moving.
- When you look forward in your life what do you hope to find there?
Laughter. Adventure. Camaraderie. Closeness. Comfort. Freedom.