Daniella Mestyanek Young (UNCULTURED) Interview

What does the infamous Children of God sex cult have in common with the United States Military? We sat down with Daniella Mestyanek Young to find out.

In Daniella’s eye-opening, gripping memoir, UNCULTURED, she courageously explores her harrowing experiences growing up in the Children of God, and the profound parallels between that tumultuous past and her later service in the United States Military. Daniella’s writing is raw and unflinching, offering a rare insight into the emotional and psychological challenges she has faced.

A powerful storyteller, her experiences have propelled her to become a prominent voice in discussions surrounding the psychology of cults, military service, and the human capacity for strength, growth, and progress. Through interviews, public speaking engagements, professional coaching sessions, and a vigorous web presence, she offers a message of hope, resilience, and the potential for personal growth and transformation. Daniella’s journey is a testament to the strength of the human spirit and the ability to overcome the most daunting of challenges. UNCULTURED is not just a memoir but a powerful exploration of the human condition, touching on themes of trauma, recovery, and the quest for identity and belonging.

In sharing her remarkable story, Daniella Mestyanek Young invites readers to examine the parallel threads of her life’s tapestry and to ponder the universal themes of resilience, redemption, and the pursuit of a life worth living. Her work stands as a testament to the power of the human spirit to triumph over adversity and emerge from the darkest of circumstances as a beacon of strength and inspiration. She sat down with Tiny Spoon’s Sam Cook to talk about the world we all live in (the beginning of the interview, which includes a sneak-preview to Daniella’s next book, as well as the transcript of their conversation in its entirety, can be accessed here):

Tiny Spoon: Those of us that look at the world around us and with a critical eye, with a discerning eye, we can understand that, in a certain sense, history is written by the victor. So, there’s a reason that the Taliban [for example] are, thumbs down—a bad group, a cult. Whereas the United States military, or academia, or ‘Western hegemony’ as a more nebulous term, is thumbs up—it’s the drawing of lines and distinctions. The prescriptive nature of: What is a cult? How does it work? Is what I think that you hint at it in multiple spots throughout [UNCULTURED].

Daniella: I like to think that all of my academic theory is tucked into that… [and] story is the best way to move ideas. So [the question was] how do we take these concrete ideas that matter to everyone, and tuck them into the story?

TS: What I see right now is there’s this hyperfocus on American exceptionalism, individualism; there’s a hyperfocus on the individual, and there’s a hyperfocus on identity. What it seems to me is that by putting people into different groups, be it self-proclaimed or otherwise, saying, “Well, I’m this and I’m unique and I’m special…” And of course, we’re all special. Don’t think for a minute I don’t believe that. But to say, I’m different than you and I fit in with this group of people and this is my clan and these are my people—it gives way to political extremism of all sorts. There’s something subversive about it, there’s something that infiltrates the media that we consume… and it’s not a bad thing to have this invisible world that surrounds and connects all of us, but I feel like I’m looking at the world around me, waiting for an impact. When I first read [UNCULTURED] I felt viscerally angry; there’s a feeling of helplessness, like this is the world we live in

D: Yes. So, a couple of the things— America has the most cults, by far, and I think that American individualism plays into that.  One thing we know about people that tend to join cults is that they don’t usually come from very strong cultures, and they’re seeking something that’s missing. So… we see a lot of cults in times of social turmoil and that is because social systems are being pulled down and people are searching for meaning; nobody ends up in a cult on accident; they’re searching for something.

Right now, I think we are living through the end of the American experiment. You hear people say we’re in ‘end stage capitalism’… so, I think one of the hard things with deconstruction, or any time you’ve had a belief, and this goes also to your political parties or whatever, it’s mourning the idea of ‘what could have been’ …[and] we have this ‘live and let live’ attitude in America, with the individualism. [Also, consider] the internet. When I was in intelligence school the worst disaster in the world was the internet going down; millions and millions of people started to die; we saw that in Puerto Rico on a mini scale. And so, it’s like we have created all of these things that we need to survive, and now we’re realizing it’s not the better way.

We understood that we needed to live in groups to dominate everything else alive on the planet and that groups and systems are stronger than individuals. Now, we are realizing that most of those groups and systems are messed up! I think all millennials are going through their crack-in-the-brainwashing moment; leaving their cults and being like, oh, all of this was messed up… we are living through the Armageddon of the American experiment, and something else is going to rise out of the ashes, and it’s going to be different. I think most of the world is figuring out that a responsible kind of socialism is the next evolution of democracy. And I even feel like it’s really conceited of us to think that we are the end-all-be-all; no empire has ever lasted longer than 250-300 years. [Eventually they all create] this triangle where they spread out so much that they then cannot maintain their superiority and no one’s ever beat that before, but we think it’s going to be us, just like no one’s ever won an insurgency before— we spent 20 years trying to pretend like it was going to be us.

You talked about how accessible the writing was, so, first of all, I had one person tell me, “I don’t think your stories have a market, because I don’t think that a good girl from Milwaukee who’s never had anything bad happened to her can understand growing up in a sex cult or being a woman in military.” And I responded, well, I would check the concept; that there was a nice girl from Milwaukee that never had anything bad happened to her? All women can think of a time when they were a little girl and they wished they had a fairy godmother to take them away and bring them to a better world. All women and girls have had trauma, that’s why Disney is a billion-dollar industry. Then on the flip side, I had a psychiatrist to tell me, “Your stories have value because we study the extremes to understand everyone else.” And what I really tried to do here was sort of that Jane Austen ‘every woman’ thing; you’re reading my story but you’re inside the eyes of that child [in the story] and you’re experiencing all of it. So, you can picture how those things about group behavior impacted you in your world, even though you never went through a cult.

I always say: there’s three steps, or three phases, to leaving a cult. You have to 1. wake up (the crack in the brain-washing) and actually leave. This is where I think [culturally] a lot of millennials are right now. And then I think it takes about a decade, but you have to 2. understand why you were in a cult, and then what impacts it had on you. For me, I was born in one, so that took me to understanding systems and how we’re handed down generational trauma. Just because I didn’t choose it, it’s still having lifelong impacts on me, even though I rejected it, that’s part of the journey. Here was me thinking, oh I walked away from that. I can just run as fast as I can, work hard, you know, one day I’ll hit enough success and when you’re Captain in the Army and it’s not enough and you’re still broken. You’re like, okay, I need to start dealing with this. And then the third phase: 3. once you’ve got everything deconstructed and put in place, then you have to figure out how you move forward with no models.

I think those last two phases often happen simultaneously. For me, writing this book, studying what they call ‘social identity theory’, basically how we identify in our groups, that was what led me to realize literally two years ago that one of my issues is that I never got to develop a personal identity—because that’s what we’re doing between the ages of one and six; we’re understanding that we are separate from our mothers and we’re developing that personal identity, and then a little bit more as a teenager, with pushing the boundaries—I never got to do any of that, so I have to start doing that now.

TS: As I was reading UNCULTURED, I had my own… trip. About this emphasis on identity and finding your place in the world and how that can mold us, and how this emphasis on the individual can be used by groups to kind of… ‘amoeba’ out, and suck folks in.

D: Essentially, we’ve replaced God with the individual. So, one of the things I say a lot: in cults and in any kind of coercive control, from one person to another, you’re going to have these thought-stopping cliches, So, “trust the prophet,” “we keep sweet,” “boys will be boys.” These are all thought-stopping cliches. And then people ask, “Okay, well, are all our religions cults?” No, but all religions have a point on which logic doesn’t explain it and you must therefore go on faith. So, all religions have thought-stopping cliches baked in, which means they have the potential to be manipulated by people for coercive control. That’s why we see trends; religions become cults, gyms, non-profits… that’s sort of what you’re saying, right? Like if someone says, “Oh it’s just me, you can’t question me, I’m doing this for myself in my own health, we kind of take that up, right? [Take for example] when our culture was advocating an eating disorder, right now, as healthy eating— and [this trend is] going around. We have in many ways made the individual bad and we don’t question God. So, we don’t question the individual.

TS: And that’s different than the ancient Gnostic tradition of saying, “Well, no, it’s not that the individual is God, but God is within all of us.”

D: And that’s different than elevating just the individual… I believe that any idea can become its own cult, or can be used to radicalize people.

TS: It seems like a self-perpetuating cycle, where if you have the overemphasis on the individual as a God, you have all of us sequestering ourselves into our identities, (and we all do it, I’m no different; “Oh, I’m a writer. Oh, I’m a musician…”) and we give ourselves these labels. We say this is who I am because it feels safe. It feels good to say this is where I belong and these are my people.

D: One of the human drives is defining yourself and your community—we need an us and we need a them. To get that high of community, you need this polarization. I don’t think the groups that are soulless corporations are on the way to becoming cults, they’re just soulless corporations; they’re their own bad thing. It’s the groups that are ‘people-first’ that are the ones on their ways to becoming cults.

One of my analogies is: in the military, we have operations and we have intelligence, and these two are partners—we used to joke “We’re married!” but you’re set in opposition to each other. So, if you’re operations and your job is going to take that village, I’m security and my job is bring everyone home alive. Well, the best way for me to bring home everyone home alive is to not let them go anywhere near the village, but that’s a really terrible way for you to take the village; that’s not going to be an effective way, right?

When I used to give CEOs these talks about culture, [I would tell them] I can ask everyone that owns a business: “Can I see your business plan? Or, can you tell me about your financials?” And you’re going to be able to do something, but then if I ask you, “Hey does Tiny Spoon have a culture plan?” Well then, I’ve got people staring at me like I’ve purple spots on my face, but everyone will see that culture is the most important thing. So, it’s like… how do you do that?

And this is the kind of career I feel like I’m carving out for myself; everyone in the space of culture and group development focuses on the good stuff. [But my question is:] who’s keeping an eye on the bad guy?

The security officer in the army is always resented. We’re told that from the beginning, you’re seen as the bad guy— you’re seen as the person that’s always bringing up the negative. And so, I get it; nobody wants to do that in operations. And I feel like in every company, if you have two people, one of you should be in charge of operations—usually companies have that—then the other person is in charge of culture; everything that you do: how’s this going to affect your people? And then you don’t know, so you have to forecast out, understand what you expect to see, build some checkpoints in, and see if you’re doing that. And if not, you re-adjust. So, [I think that] all of these things are almost easy and obvious, but because it’s negative, because it’s dangerous, because nobody wants to think that they’re going to become manipulative, or that they’re going to build a group that has toxic power over people, people don’t look at this stuff.

In the military, every brief has a place for the security officer: What’s going to happen to us? What is the danger? It’s not if it’s when. When things go wrong, what are we going to do? My favorite example of this was maybe back in 2012, the Department of Homeland Security made ‘Prepare for the Zombie Apocalypse’ posters. Because they thought, well, Americans won’t care about preparing for a tornado, but if we say “prepare for the zombie apocalypse” people will think that’s cool, and then they’ll be more prepared for the tornado. That’s what intelligence is in the military; [I remember] I couldn’t get my soldiers excited to do a country brief about Afghanistan, so I let them do it in World of Warcraft instead! You tell me you’re going to go do X mission and I’m thinking, what am I going to do? I do this in leadership seminars with paint, and they’re all painting their canvas… and halfway through I come by and I throw black paint on their canvas! Or, sometimes I just make everyone switch canvases.

TS: That is profound… so, I think we agree that we are living through the end of the American experiment, and the question is: What happens next? Well, we don’t know exactly. But we know that it’ll be different… and that it’ll be a lot more of the same in a lot ways—the power dynamics that come out of class, race, and social strata… these things offer a certain degree of protection for certain folks, maybe not so much for others, but as we navigate the changing of Empire, I think that there’s an inclination to not look at the negatives, to not talk about things honestly, and I think that where you’re making a difference is that you’re rejecting that ethos and saying, no, in fact, we need to have books like UNCULTURED, and the next one. What we need to do is be able to talk about the less-than-savory aspects of the way politics works—the way that any of this works.

D: Yeah! And to understand that our propensity is to love the group we’re in and to justify the group that we’re in. We have one of the rules, Tom, [my husband], came up with this one: anytime you’re chanting your own last name, you’re in a cult. There’s organizational science behind this—they’ve done studies with middle schoolers where you divide them all up into groups and they have to work together as a group to get the grade, and everybody thinks they just got the best group ever— everybody thinks that— every group will go on and on about how their group is the best ever. Usually when this is done in business, at a conference or whatever, you only do one, right? You break up into groups, one group, your group is the best blah blah blah etc. So, with this study, they keep putting them in different groups and by the time you get to the third or fourth group, you start to realize that all the groups are awesome! Human beings interacting with each other is awesome, human beings working together does more than an individual can do, but it’s just to say: anytime you think your group is awesome, just because it’s your group, it’s for politics. Anytime you’re chanting your own last name, it’s a cult. One of my other rules is that you need to ask yourself all the time: is this a cult? If you asked your other members of Tiny Spoon “Is this a cult?” What would be the first reaction?

TS: Probably laughter.

D: Bingo! If you can’t laugh about it, you were already on the downslope. [For example] my dad is a literal comic artist. He’s a funny, funny man, my stepfather, but if you called The Family a cult… he’s not funny anymore. If you say to a Mormon that Mormonism is a little bit cult-y, they do not like that joke, they will not laugh! So, I think that’s your sign; in a healthy organization, you should be able to ask yourself: where does this go toxic? So, you should be able to joke, and say, “this is a little bit cult-y… but here’s what we do” right?

TS: Yeah, this is how we know: we’re not a cult.

D: Yeah, like every organizational conference? Cult. I’m probably going to go do an MFA next, and I’m really excited because every semester I get to go out and do a 10-day residency in a literary cult world at [someplace] like Tahoe; that’s going to be amazing. The difference is you go home after those ten days. If you stayed living there you would start to become a cult and if things got toxic, if the logic broke down, (where humans tend to trend towards wanting power), then you become a toxic cult.

TS: I can confirm that MFA-world is absolutely a cult, not to say that people shouldn’t do it— I don’t regret it, but you have to know that going in; I didn’t realize that until about halfway through my MFA program.

D: I’ve already been warned that because I have a successful book in the popular press, I will be a writer*… with an asterisk; this book needed to be published by an independent university press for me to be taken seriously as an MFA student.

TS: People can get envious… if anyone is successful in any field—more successful than other folks in that field—they’ll look at you with a higher degree of criticism.

D:  I always say about this book: when I set out to write a book about groups, I knew I needed the right group to help me do it. One of the things my co-writer told me was that “publishing is the most collaborative art form!” This book is so good because like a hundred different people worked on it! When I started on this journey of what I call ‘turning my brain into money’ I was having some lunch conversation with someone at this networking thing, and they asked “Do you have fascinating conversations, like this all the time?” and… yes, I do! and when I worked in security, I did not. And now I’m very popular on TikTok because I have learned [a process where] all I’m doing every day is reading a whole bunch, thinking of stuff, and then writing my next book. So, I thought, y’know what? TikTok will find this fascinating. So, 50,000 people watch me read a clip about ADHD and then start talking about rape culture from there. Anyways, I got 20,000+ followers pretty quickly. I’m just the girl with the degree from Harvard that has a bona fide cult background but also wants to apply it to the world all around you.

TS: It’s clear to me that you’ve had so many experiences, experiences where not every person makes it through to the other side, especially with this zest for life. Obviously, you want to change the world, you want to make things better for other people; in the simplest way possible: you want to make a difference.

D: Which also puts you at risk for joining cults!

TS: Really?!

D: So, the one thing that scholars have identified that makes you want to join a cult is… just being a seeker; being overly idealistic and being a seeker. So, people tend to think it’s that people [who join cults] are dumb or they need money, and so you know, my favorite example is that a Harvard-educated lawyer died at the Branch Davidian standoff in Waco. So, it’s not stupid people, it’s good people…[and] I’ve always had a mission; first I was a missionary kid winning the world for God, then I was in the military, and then I was writing this book! So, it’s one of those things I identify that is not bad, but it puts me at a risk of joining a cult.

TS: Certainly! That personally resonates with me, as I consider myself a bit of an idealist, and it’s something that I work on too. I’m critical of myself enough to do the metacognition to notice what I notice about the way I think and about the way I act. And also, to notice what I notice about the world around me.

D: It’s the same with charismatic people. There’s a really great book called ‘Influence’ by Robert Cialdini, and it [delves into] people that have charisma, this quality of charisma, that people are always trying to define because it can be so great, but also so harmful… So, the problem is: charisma is different than likeability… but that’s kind of how it presents, right? Which means the only way to protect yourself against charismatic people is to spend your life avoiding likeable people… but, you’re not going to do that, so, what can you do? And the answer is: you can notice [what you notice about individual and group behavior]. …All that to say, there isn’t necessarily an answer to a lot of these things. Human dynamics and group dynamics have inarguably changed in all of human history. And so that’s why I think, we need to talk about cults; we need this stuff because it is kind of the ultimate [mechanism] in human control, but that same control factor is everywhere. It is the ultimate in ‘us versus them’ and dehumanizing [others], but human beings always stack rank and always kill the ones at the bottom.

It is really weird walking around in the world as a cult survivor, which honestly, one of the things I wanted this book to show was that we bring something else to the table other than just how to survive trauma… [and] some of the things cults really do right are… community, motivation, purpose. And you can ask any [military] veteran to tell you about their service and it will be: horror story, horror story, horror story, but I made the best friends ever, and I had the time of my life—and it’s the same with us ‘cult babies’. Even someone like me who ran away as fast as I could from that environment, I spend the rest of my life looking for that connection, that feeling of when you meet someone and you have so much in common with them—the first time you meet you’re talking for five hours— that is an amazing feeling, and I rarely had that outside of the cult world except as a veteran. So, one of the things that drew me into the army is that I kind of failed at socializing in the outside world, which is what drives a lot of people into cults. And then I was handed a uniform, and an immediate group, and jokes that everyone understood… and all you have to do is essentially sell out your individuality for that higher community. And I would say, from the literary perspective, it’s hard to find cult books that aren’t just the trauma narrative. Which is just… “and then she survived,” and I really didn’t want to write that. I really wanted this to be a page-turning story, which I think it is. Also, [I wanted it to contain] the ideas that matter to everyone.

TS: Absolutely. And there’s this through line, this idea that the runs through UNCULTURED where you clearly are making parallels between Children of God and the US military, all while fitting your experience and perspective into it, as so aptly put at the end of the book when your colleague in the military says, “You need to write about this, you need to write all this down.”

D: I get this statement all the time, people say, “Well, you don’t seem like a cult survivor.” And I got a lot of rejections on [pitching] UNCULTURED [to publishers]; “Oh, we don’t do Children of God it’s too awful,” and then by same token, “Oh, you don’t look like a veteran.” And by the publishing industry; “Oh we don’t do books by military women because they don’t sell,” and there’s this parallel: We think we know what cults are, we think we know what happens to the daughters of America when they disappear behind the high commune walls of the Department of Defense, but we really don’t. And that was my realization; that someone just needs to talk about it all. It’s stood out to me that every generation of woman veteran has reached out to me to basically say, “I thought it got better after my time, I thought it got better.” —and it was a big wake up call for a lot of the men that worked with me, to say, “I just thought you were so professional, and your whole career was easy…” So, for them to realize it— that’s the only way we make change, talking about it… [and] nothing made me special, I just put it in a book. I was the first one to write it down. The fact that we’ve all gone through this, and no one says anything, and no one questions anything, is what makes it cult-y.

TS: And that’s part of the design too, right? Because the atomization of the individual, and the overemphasis on the individual, again, works in that self-completing cycle.

D: And it’s in our culture too, and it’s the individualism, and it’s also the ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’ mentality… [Furthermore,] you need to tell our stories [everywhere], not just over here in the military women’s museum, it needs to be told [in all the museums]; we need to be able to talk about all of it, because this is the only way [to change things for the better]. What you have is all these men at the top trying to fix something that they know is a horrible problem, but the men at the top are either the predators or they’re the good guys, so they can’t see it—one or the other.

TS: I could assume that the men at the top, even if they’re not the predators, then they are at least complicit in that [predatory behavior] because to get to that level—and it could be in the military, could be at a company, it could be at a university—you become part of the problem by your acquiescence to the issue.

D: [Many of the folks mentioned in UNCLUTURED] …were good people, they loved me, they tried to help me, but ultimately, what can they do in these groups that they’re sort of complicit in? When I started writing this book, I did not know it was going to be as critical as it turned out. And I think part of why it’s so hard for us to deconstruct any group experience is because then you can’t be proud of it anymore.

TS: I think that pointing to contradictions saying, “Yes, I suffered abuse but I am proud of my service,” the two things exist in tandem— right and left, black and white; it’s one thing. To point to these contradictions in the way that you have, and to use your observations of your own experience, it takes, of course, discernment, and also courage— and in doing so you’ll never know exactly how many people you’ve helped with this book, or the next. What you’re doing is making a tangible difference in this world and serving as that opposite side. You’re completing the contradiction as it stands. To write this book, and to write the next, and to make this your pursuit, your mission, your career, whatever you want to call it— this is the way. This is the way that things change, and how things could get marginally better.

D: One of the things you said earlier was so beautiful, and I think about this a lot: usually the victors are the ones that get to write down the story. And so, I didn’t set out to write a book; I set out [interested in] cult culture, [thinking] I want to spend the rest of my life talking about culture… and one of the things I realized on both the Children of God side and the Army side was that I was not finding what to me felt like a complete representation of the culture of what I went through. I didn’t write the first Children of God book, I definitely didn’t write the first military woman book, but if I had found a book that I thought [represented my experiences and the parallels between them] well, I wouldn’t have written mine.

I did have a really belated realization after writing a book called UNCULTURED that was, oh, I am part of defining the culture for women —you can no longer say that you fully understand the Children of God, or the experience of being a woman in the army, if you haven’t read this book, because you’re not getting the whole picture. And especially for people that want to change the world, it’s like, well, writing a book makes you immortal in some ways, doesn’t it? Actually, one of my signs of success, of keeping count: 12 people have told me that they’ve gotten their therapists to read this book. And so, that’s like you said; it’s making a difference, and religious traumas are still really just being defined, and people are giving my book to their therapist so that they can understand them. That was the mission… and I lost my little sister, she won’t talk to me anymore because I wrote a book, and the only thing I could tell her was, “Look, I am not religious. I struggle with meaning, a lot of meaning in my life, in order for me to choose to stay alive, and this is a way that I can see to do that— to help other people.” That’s the whole point of memoir.

TS: I think that across the across the board, many people will make excuses for silence, especially after the fact. And I think that in a lot of different fields, hindsight is 20/20, where when after the atrocity is said and done, you’re able to look back and then you could say “Okay, well… this is what this was… that was really messed up,” but when you’re in it…

D: And then also people will say, “Oh, you know, the rape in the military is almost the same rate as the population, we can’t control it.” Like when the bad thing does happen, when someone does rape the children, when there’s just a bad apple, get rid of the bad apple! Because that is what almost never happens. And that is what comes from the deification of the military— we can’t criticize. Every time I say: “Look how basic training is just programming, they learned it from psychologists who studied abusive relationships, that is what they did.” People go, “Well, yeah, we need it!” Maybe we need it, but we need to be talking about it. We need to be understanding it… It’s just sitting with a discomfort, and again, this is another thing about cults— why people love cults is: clarity. When the world is confusing, being surrounded by other people that look just like you, think just like you, and confirm that your mission in life is the right one—that feels really, really good. This is why when veterans leave the military and they’re struggling with suicide, I tell them to go find a nonprofit; go find a veteran non-profit because it’s really hard once you’ve had all the hype of the military to feel like anything you do after that is going to be useful. [For instance,] Tom is studying plant science and global poverty, so he can go try to solve world hunger; he was not just going to go be a Southwest pilot, that wasn’t enough for him… So, one of my final things up for groups is always that values are gray—we act like love is good, and money is bad, and I grew up in a world where love was weaponized. So, values, nothing’s obvious— and the hardest thing is to just get comfortable living in the gray and to understand that clarity is not coming; we live in a complicated world. Nobody’s ever going to give you the handshake [and say] “Great job, you made the right choice for your life.”

TS: So, as the material conditions of the world around us continues to slowly degrade, people are struggling, and I think there’s an emphasis on finding community and feeling to be a part of something that, as you’ve said, is innately human that we all—doesn’t matter who you are—we all strive for a way to find a community to combat (either the internal or the external) stressors of life, this way seems to be education; reading, writing, and through that some kind of mental—and in your case, physical—liberation from oppression or oppressors.

D: Yes, so one thing I think about education and cult leaders that most people don’t think of, is obviously, when people are trying to limit what you’re reading, that’s a bad sign, and in my next book, I’m going to have a “How Culty Is Your Organization” survey at the end, and one of the question trees will be about: Do they tell you what to read? Do they control what you read? So that’s super important; you just need to have a reading list that nobody controls, even you. Just think oh that looks interesting, pick it up, read it, because you never know what things are going to speak to your experience or simulate ideas for you. But I think the thing about participating in actual formal education is that you understand that experts always have a limit to their expertise; nobody knows everything.

TS: What role do you feel education, agency, and liberation play in today’s society? And/or why is education, reading, and being critically engaged in the world so important?

D: So, from the perspective of things I talk about: it helps you realize your own programming.

So, for instance, education and agency; I really do not enjoy talking to people who are religious by default, whereas I’m fascinated by talking to people who, as adults, have chosen their religion— could be the same one as their parents, but they’ve actually investigated it, they’ve actually figured out why they are the religion that they are… [it’s important to be] getting educated, taking agency over your own life, and really understanding what are the things that you do, and why? Because every time you’re thinking, “That’s the way we’ve always done it, it’s the way my parents have done it, this is in the Army…” I call this ‘shut up and sit down lieutenant’— you’re more at risk of just going along with the group, whatever it might be… so, there’s this picture out of 1939, Poland, everybody’s hailing Hitler, and one guy is like this [not doing the salute, arms crossed], the spotlight’s on him, and the message is be this guy, everyone thinks they would be this guy, and now people say, “I don’t understand the Nazis,” [but] I think we’re all starting to understand— sociologists say that most of us would have supported Hitler, by far and large. I comfort myself with the fact that I wouldn’t probably have, you probably wouldn’t have, the people that are always criticizing and always standing out [wouldn’t have] …generally when you’re good at going along with groups your life’s going to be easier, you’re going to have much more friends, all that stuff—you’re just also broadly more at risk for toxic control, and being a part of toxic systems too, which I think is worse.

TS: Yeah, and you know you can’t blame folks too much for following the path of least resistance. The pragmatist in me understands that, but that is also where the disjunct occurs between what makes the most sense in the short term, and what makes better sense in the long term, which is to be true to yourself, to your values, your beliefs.

D: I think it’s a balance of both, right? So, my little sister, love her to death, but she, and with my mom it’s very much the same, their personalities are they want to be liked, they want to fit in, not necessarily in a bad way, but they like to be a part of the group, and I don’t like to be a part of the group. So of course, my challenge is then that I always feel alone and isolated, and like nobody likes me, but their experience in the cult really was better, and really was less toxic than mine, and really was less abusive than mine, because ‘go along to get along’ is in their personality. So, another thing of the book that I really wanted to pull out was: anytime you’re in a system that is not made for you, it’s traumatic… For me, I’m happy to be an expert on groups, but I never want to work a nine-to-five again, I never want to be in a large organization. I don’t group very well. I’m always the one standing out, pointing things out, and so I’ve kind of learned that I have to make my own group instead of trying to fit into pre-existing groups.

TS: I think that all of us needs to recognize ourselves and it’s again this contradiction of being able to say, “Okay, this is who I am not because I so much choose to be, but because of the choices that I have made” This is who I am, this is how I move through the world, and this is maybe what my purpose is. A little background about me; what brought me to Colorado [and Tiny Spoon]— back in 2017 I took a really hard fall; I was nonresponsive for a week; I came out of it with a TBI. I should not be alive. None of the doctors could figure it out. And I decided to take some advice and to go out and get the MFA and really dive into education, and it totally shook up my life. I have no idea where I’m headed or what’s going to happen, but it’s just this feeling of well I got a second chance, so now I just need to pay attention, and the path will be illuminated, like in a video game; look where the light shines.

D: …It sounds kind of spiritual and frou-frou, how it’ll be illuminated, and that was kind of what Scott Halter told me; everyone was telling me, “Don’t write about the cult, just write about the army, nobody will take you seriously,” and he was the only one [who told me] don’t just write about the cult and the army, write about being a mom, write about running, just write! Every time I’d write something and send it to him, I’d be so proud, and he would respond with “Ok! Keep writing.” And after four years, I finally realized it, and it’s fascinating— I think once you finally find your thing, you look back and you see how everything was connected all along, because again, we don’t fundamentally change. I was always fascinated by group behavior, in basic training I would get yelled at because I would just be watching the drill sergeants, doing their game of breaking us down and training us, I thought this is fascinating.

So of course, once you find it, once everything comes together, when you find your thread, you find your thing, you think, oh yeah, this has been me all along, and I can find the parts that connect, but really, without taking the time, taking the risk, to do it, you just stay in what you were programmed to do, or [who] you were. Almost everyone, I feel like, has these great stories of things they’ve created or, people that have changed the world— they always have this moment where they had to take their time to figure out what their value was and then do things that were outside of norm, if that makes sense.

TS: On a personal level, I really appreciate [you saying] that, because the last couple of years have been a real crossroads for me, and I’m trying to figure out how do I maneuver and where do I go, what am I going to do? And how do I live my best life? Whatever that is.

D: There’s this great exercise: close your eyes, get a writing pad, and imagine that you’re 80 and then just go through all of your senses— What are you seeing? What are you hearing? What are you smelling? What are you feeling like? What do you want your life to be? And then backwards plan from there. I really like that one.

TS: I like that one, too. So, another question: if readers took at least one moral, value, or insight away from your book, what do you hope it might be? And, without putting words in your mouth, it seems that taking the risk [of writing with intention], is this the insight?

D: I think it’s question everything… There’s this exercise: Ask yourself Why? five times— Why do you want to write a book Daniella? Well, XYZ. Why? Why? Why? Why? Why this coaching thing? And when you finally get through all of your BS answers, you realize what you want to do.

When veterans are getting out of the military, I’ve identified that those first two years out are where there’s the real risky part, because you’re jonesing for the group, for the mission; you’ve lost all of these things and you’ve got to find your purpose— ask yourself, “What you want to be when you grow up?” and ask yourself, Why? over and over and over again. The government thinks that as long as they’ve got you a job on the outside then you’re successful, and then they scratch their heads at 22 of us a day killing ourselves. I’m going to bring you back to the social identity theory versus personal identity, that from birth we are being taught to fit into groups, and we are being taught not to question ourselves, and we are being thrown thought-stopping cliches about the culture and why it is the way it is. Just question everything. What I want people to take away from this book is: wow, I never thought of the parallels between a sex cult and the US army and now I’m going to question all of my groups. I want this to change the way that you look at group behavior for the rest of your life. And it comes back down to that. It’s so easy to not question when everyone else is doing something, and there’s no way to just put a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ label on that; everything’s context, everything’s culture, everything makes sense [some of] the time. So, you really have to just question, just question everything that seems to be obvious; Why do I do this? Why do we do this? And if you don’t know? As parents, this translates to: we do not say the words ‘because I said so’ in my house, those words are absolutely not allowed.

TS: No disrespect to my parents, but I got hit with the ‘because I said so’ a lot as a child, I was very inquisitive, and I’ve carried this this habit with me into adulthood, but what I notice in my own head is that I’ll ask, “why?” about some things, but then there’s other things, maybe about myself and habits that I notice, where I’ll think: I think I know why I do thatWhy, why, why— I can follow that to a certain point. And I’m happy to ask— “why does the political system work the way that it does? Why is it just different flavors of Kool-Aid? Why is it all set up like a sports match?” Why, why, why? But then the second that it becomes a little more pointed, a little more personal, maybe that’s when I shy away from asking these ‘why’ questions— it’s a lot to think about!

D: What I have found is that all Americans seem to be able to very easily understand that I was brainwashed, nobody understands what brainwashing is or isn’t, but this concept of: you grew up in a cult, you were taught bad, wrong, things and you had to reteach yourself and understand different things… what Americans don’t seem to realize is that they also were programmed. If you were born in China, to different parents, you would probably have very different beliefs about why, and how, to do things. And that just goes back to a good definition of culture, which is “just the way we do things around here” and so if you think anything is wrong with the culture of America, then you need to start asking ‘why’ about everything, because all of it is so deeply baked in to that.

TS: What advice might you have for other writers that want their story heard? Other than ‘just do it’, just write, write, write—other than that.

D: So, that first is: why do you want to write a book— why are you doing it? And what’s the idea? I started writing a book when I was 24 years old, before [UNCULTURED]; the best thing I ever did was not try to write an actual book until I was ready. But also asked yourself, what is that one idea? I wrote a book that could be very easily sensationalized in a lot of ways and I think that I have almost completely been able to maintain control of that narrative. I got to write exactly what I wanted to write. The first hard thing I had with my publisher was the cover, which turned out great, but they let me write exactly what I wanted to write, and I think that is because I so strongly knew why I was doing it, for me, which also meant I needed to go to this high level— why you’re doing it is going to indicate what level you’re trying to get into the game.

But also, what is that one idea? My book is about group behavior, about how humans will do almost anything to fit in with their groups, and I’m going to show you that through this parallel of cult and army, rather than asking you a question. Because I know that elevator pitch; I could have been proud of this book in a lot of different formats. People can have their own agenda for why they want to read this book or talk to me about it. But I’m still going to get my message across, and I think that’s what is going to allow you to [feel good about your own final product], especially if you’re writing about your own personal trauma, your sex life… You have to put in things that make you look bad and feel bad, but I knew exactly what it was all going to. Every chapter in UNCULTURED, could be an essay; Chapter One: Corporal Punishment, Chapter Two: Split Personalities and Groups Versus Individuals, Chapter Three: Medical Neglect. So, another good [bit of] advice along those lines I heard is: treat every chapter of your book like it could be its own Ted Talk. We had this one idea for UNCULTURED, even though it’s a memoir, we built it almost like an academic paper. So [we had] one idea and then it was the really detailed outline about everything, which is also really helpful because when you’re doing the creative part of writing and you need to get in the mood and put yourself in a trance and lose yourself in the writing, it’s just like salsa dancing. [When] you know your back step, you can do a whole bunch of crazy spins and still find your back step and you’re fine. So having that why, having that elevator pitch, and then having a strong outline— that is going to help you write a best-selling book in six months.

TS: And honesty, right? Being honest with the yourself, also, for the sake of being honest for the reader at which ties into the questions of why.

D: I had to just tell myself like I’m going to make a decision right now: I’m going to put it all in the page or I’m not. And I eventually did and I thought, it’ll be a better book, writing about the toxic relationship, writing about the affair at war, these are all things that could really blow up for me, and I just have to trust that, if I’m honest, the reader’s going to come through this journey with me. It’s just one of those things; if you’re creating any art, some people are going to hate it. So, that’s the other part— it’s like they say, “learn to ignore the trolls” and trust me, it takes a long time. I think you actually have to go viral before you learn to ignore them. Once it just becomes too much then you’re like, oh yeah, it doesn’t matter what you say. I can just ignore you.

TS: You have to turn off the ‘comments’ section!

D: Yeah, I’ve had military veterans come for me really hard on Twitter for about two years now, and it’s sucky every time, and it’s the flip side of being honest (and it ties back into that why are you doing it) because you’re going to lose family, you’re going to lose friends—not everyone’s going to go on this journey with you, and part of that is because the people that were closest to on that journey are not ready to go there themselves yet, and so you can’t pull someone else through their own internal work…. is what I’ve learned. It’s why I have 25 siblings and very few of them speak with me.

TS: Well, I think I speak for anybody and everybody to say: I’m really grateful for you, for going on, and for recounting this journey that you have been on, for having the courage to write it down, and to write it down in a way that is as accessible and personable and as heart-wrenching as it is.

D: I did the audiobook, (when you talk about how the winners usually get to write the narrative): so, one of the things about Children of God, was when they stopped being religious prostitutes, then they just became childhood entertainment, [in the] eighties and nineties [they made] movies and videos and sold them all around. I was like a little ‘Lindsay Lohan of the apocalypse’ growing up, a world child star, and so, when I went to a record my own audiobook, I thought, well, is it this kind of cool… even the cover, I [initially] did not want that picture to be used. I thought, that is a picture of me being exploited and trafficked and I don’t like that, but in the end what I realized was that by doing this, writing these stories down that I couldn’t control, I can control them now. That picture, I couldn’t control it then, but now I use it, and I’m going to make [money] off of it. I was not a bad voice actress, and the New York Times recommended the audio, actually, the audio sells faster than the hardcover! And I thought, well, yeah, I am a trained actress since I was a child. And now I’m going to use this, you know, or [take for instance when I was] making balloon animals in college. I’d make $250-$300 an hour making balloon animals (I do it now for kids’ birthday parties sometimes) and people always ask, “How do you know how to do that?” …I was a teenage carnival clown in Mexico, you know?

To leave it on a happy note, one of the things we go through when we write our memoirs, when we do any kind of internal work, is learning how to live in one space—how to not be all fractured— which is what the culture does to us, what trauma does to us… before I wrote this book, not only did I not have a good idea of who I was, but I also didn’t know how to explain it. How do I explain where I’m from? It’s very, very difficult, but once you put it all out there, now I can say, “I’m American. I was born in the Philippines, but I’m also from Brazil, and if that is confusing for you, good news. Here’s the best-selling book I wrote about it.” I think part of why making our own clothes is so fascinating for me and my daughter is because I can take an American jacket, rip it up, put some Japanese scarves as a liner, crochet some fringes on the edge, and do it in Brazil colors and say, “This is me. And you don’t have to understand it. That’s okay. I know who I am.”

TS: There’s the metaphor: taking the discarded, the tattered, the torn, and fixing that back together into something really beautiful, something meaningful, and something that has clearly had an effect on the culture. It’s going to lead to a second book, which again, I cannot wait to read.

D: When you do start to speak out, when you try to tell your own stories, when you’re trying to explore your trauma, when you’re trying to figure out your neuro-diversity, whatever it is, when you start to question the structure, you’re going to have a lot of people try to shut you up, and a lot of the times, that’s the people [that are] the closest to you. One of the phrases people use a lot with me is, “Well I just don’t talk about those topics— it’s just too complicated.” So, my response, and where Tom and I live these days, is, no, we don’t do off-limits topics. So, if you’re the kind of person that has off-limits topics, you should know I write books about cults and nasty stuff, and you probably just don’t want me in your life. Easy! Again, we need the them as much as we need the us, right? So, finding yourself: defining who you are is also defining who you’re not. That part hurts. I don’t know that I’ve ever said that out loud.

TS: Thank you so much Daniella, we really appreciate it.

You can keep in touch with Daniella here:

Twitter: @daniellamyoung

TikTok: @daniellamestyanekyoung

Instagram: @_daniellamyoung

Website: https://www.uncultureyourself.com

& you can read the full transcript of our 2-hour conversation here.

Brandon Blue: Snap.Shot

Brandon Blue’s debut chapbook Snap.Shot is available for pre-order now, & we are excited to highlight this talented poet & share a sample of his work!

In his debut collection, Snap.Shot confronts held narratives of black queer life, Snap.Shot strives to answer questions of belonging, identity, and survival. In poems directed by personal narrative, engagement with art, and the erotic, Snap.Shot grounds the reader in a fragmented speaker in order to create a self-resilience strong enough to brave devastation.

From sword swallower to bug, mother to dominatrix, these poems shapeshift and ask the reader to trace their own moments of tribulation and triumph to reflect on how they came together to make something entirely new, a Snap.Shot of a life.

Award-wining poets Michael Collier and Muriel Leung describe the collection as “a convincing and promising introduction to a deft new voice in American poetry” and “takes ekphrasis — writing about other art forms — to new heights in this exciting debut collection full of sword swallowing yearning dressed in pleaser heels” respectively.

Brandon Blue is a black, queer poet, educator and MFA candidate at Arizona State University from the D(M)V. He is an assistant editor for Storm Cellar Magazine and his work has or will appear in Barzakh, the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival Poetry Anthology, [PANK], and more. His work is also featured in the Capital Pride Poem-a-Day event. His work has received the support of the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing. 

Blue also holds an M.ED from the University of Maryland, College Park in curriculum and instruction and a B.A. in French Language and Culture.  He worked as a public school French teacher for 6 years and a creative writing mentor to young and developing writers for 4 years.

At the root of everything Blue does is an initiative sense of care. In every project, poem, and teaching experience what must be first in our minds are those we care most for and the strangers who are only strangers for a while. He believes that both creative work and teaching are both practices of community and empathy and they feed each other. It is through this work of interconnectivity that we not only learn more about ourselves but about the world around us— how we co-exist, and how we make sense of what cannot be known. But rather than fear or escape this ambivalent state of being, Blue pushes forward into that wall to create a possibility where anything should be able to happen. 


“In language that’s fresh and in poems guided by formal invention, Brandon Blue’s Snap.Shot describes love’s passages of joy and sadness, the pleasures and perils of physical and emotional passion. Snap.Shot is a convincing and promising introduction to a deft new voice in American poetry.” — Michael Collier, author of The Clasp and Other Poems, The Folded Heart, The Neighbor, The Ledge, Dark Wild Realm, An Individual History: Poems, and My Bishop and Other Poems  

“Brandon Blue’s Snap.Shot takes ekphrasis — writing about other art forms — to new heights in this exciting debut collection full of sword-swallowing yearning dressed in pleaser heels. Zooming into the blur of a photograph or painting or video, Blue turns our attention towards the oftentimes unexamined and quieter intimacies of queer desire, the areas where shame or want deferred struggles to buck against the frame, distilling for us this very lone moment in time where one’s reaching comes alive. This collection asks a persistent question: How can any poem, image, or body remain unchanged after what it has seen and endured? The answer: The poem, the image, the body, let them all shapeshift, borrowing their parts from one another in the inventive spirit of gender fuck, no feeling or word left behind. This is the ultimate drag, this becoming and becoming, until finally — it breaks free; it is.” — Muriel Leung, author of Bone Confetti and Imagine Us, The Swarm

You can pre-order a copy of Snap.Shot here!

Tiny Talks with Renee Cronley

Tiny Talks is an interview series with Tiny Spoon’s talented contributors. This week we spoke with Renee Cronley from our tenth issue.

Tiny Spoon: What kindles your creativity?

Renee Cronley: What I read, and everyday life, is enough to fuel my imagination.  I don’t think it’s possible for me ever to be stuck in a ‘creativity rut’. I might stumble on a mental block while I am focusing on a story or poem and if I can’t get past it, I will put in aside for a while.  Exercising sometimes helps, like going for a run or a brisk walk.  I also find switching up artistic mediums to be helpful, like painting, sewing, cross-stitching, scrapbooking, etc., which I find help create new creative channels to work around the block.  It can open a floodgate too.

Tiny Spoon: Are there any artists/ heroines/ idols/ friends that you look up to?

Renee Cronley: Quite a few.  All the writers that inspired me to write from a young age: Francine Pascal, R. L. Stine, Christopher Pike, L. J. Smith, Stephen King, Anne Rice.  Later in life: Oscar Wilde, Edgar Allan Poe, Shakespeare, W. B. Yeats, Catriona Ward, Ruth Ware, Marissa Meyer.

And the strong support system of writers that I have had the privilege of learning from and leaning on:

Sharmon Gazaway, who shares my love for haunting stories and poetry and spends each day working diligently on her novel while still managing to submit poetry and short stories with me. We share our gains, losses, and work through our writer insecurities together.

Sara Crocoll Smith, who somehow balances her job with a child, being the creator and editor of Love Letters to Poe, writing her Hopeful Horror Series, and a non-fiction book about the life of Edgar Allan Poe and turning one of her short stories into an independent film… it’s inspiring to say the least.

Marion Lougheed, editor, and creator of Off Topic, who has been an integral part of my support system since I started writing again and it would be hard to be where I am now without her.  She is a wonderful writer and academic pursuing her Ph.D. in anthropology. I’m thrilled that she will be editing and publishing my nursing burnout poetry book through Off Topic.

Tiny Spoon: Are there any natural entities that move your work?

Renee Cronley: I’m a nature lover and so it appears in my stories and my poetry.  Nature is rarely a passive feature in my works.  It usually takes on its own character, working against or with the protagonist to serve the theme.

Tiny Spoon: We love insight into the creative process. Could you share what it is like for you, either with your work that appears in Tiny Spoon or in general?

Renee Cronley: My process is fluid for both poems and stories.

My stories usually play out like a movie in my mind, and I write the action sequences as they are unfolding by following the characters. I usually have to backtrack to fill in some details which refine the stories and push them forward.

My narrative poetry works similar to my story process, but I am more concentrated on details and phrasing it using literary devices. But unlike stories, my poems rarely start off as mini movies. They usually start from a phrase that flies into my mind that I can’t let go of and then I just write around it.

Tiny Spoon: Do you have any current or future projects that you are working on that you would like to share?

Renee Cronley: I am currently working on a book of poetry addressing the very pressing and relevant topic of Nurse Burnout.  I worked as a nurse in Long Term Care and almost every ward in the hospital until I got pregnant with my second child in 2019.

The public has very little insight into Nurse Burnout and how it manifests.  Politics and clinical jargon are barriers to understanding a crisis that affects us all.  My poetry book expresses the difficult emotions that arise from traumatic situations, coupled with a lack of support and resources and unrealistic expectations in a way that can be digested by people who don’t work in health care.

Tiny Spoon: What book, artwork, music, etc., would you recommend to others?

Renee Cronley: Heartless by Marissa Meyer

All Forgotten Now – A poetry chapbook by Jennifer Mariani

The Haunting of Willow Creek by Sara Crocoll Smith 

Tiny Spoon: Is there anything else you would like others to know about you, your creations, or beyond?

Renee Cronley: Writing is as much a therapeutic outlet as it is a creative process—it allows me to work through knots of tangled emotions.  I can unravel them through stories and poetry to see myself and the world more clearly.   

Tiny Spoon: Where can people learn more about what you do?

Renee Cronley: https://www.facebook.com/renees.writing.page


Tiny Talks with Ashley Howell Bunn

Tiny Talks is an interview series with Tiny Spoon’s talented contributors. This week we spoke with Ashley Howell Bunn from our tenth issue.

Tiny Spoon: What kindles your creativity?

Ashley Howell Bunn: Movement in all its forms kindles my creativity: movement of body, of breath, of emotions. As a somatic writer and yoga practitioner and guide, I use my physical and subtle bodies to connect to my creativity and the beauty within and around all of us. I also find that this embodied approach to writing and creating helps me connect to the present, which is often difficult with my anxiety. Rather than inhabiting only the intellectual or physical, my goal is to connect and support others in their journeys to wholeness.

Tiny Spoon: Are there any artists/ heroines/ idols/ friends that you look up to?

Ashley Howell Bunn: So many people. My son and his beautiful perspective on the world, my sister and her strength, my partner and his joy. My writing friends who support and inspire me in so many ways. My writing idols and heroines also include Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Andrea Rexilius, Khadijah Queen, Leslie Jamison, Emily Bronte, Gwendolyn Brooks, and so many others. There are so many beautiful words and souls, and I am honored to know them all in any way.

Tiny Spoon: Are there any natural entities that move your work?

Ashley Howell Bunn: Everything in the natural world moves me and my work. The cover of my chapbook is actually a found poem I made from a hike I took in Golden, CO. I found natural objects that, for me, related to the Chakra system. It is moments like this, where I can clearly see the reciprocal relationship we have with nature, that I feel whole. Poetry is all around and within us, and the smallest stone holds and communicates everything we need if we are in the space to listen.

Tiny Spoon: We love insight into the creative process. Could you share what it is like for you, either with your work that appears in Tiny Spoon or in general?

Ashley Howell Bunn: My process is a lot of intuition. I will think something, or see something, or feel something, and write down a small note (usually on my phone to be honest). Later, I will take time to sit with that thought or idea and write into it. I like to play around with form on the page- sometimes creating new spaces on the page to hold parts of experience. I do this quite a bit in my chapbook and use boxes to hold certain experiences or emotions, so they have a safe container on the page. I also play with sound and breath on the page to support a more embodied experience for both myself and the reader.

I also very much depend on my writing community to help me with my process. I am a part of a few writing groups, some generative and some workshopping, and this is an invaluable part of my process. Community is essential for me, and the inspiration and insights my friends offer are magical. We support and challenge each other in a myriad of ways. I actually wrote the poem published in this issue in one of my writing groups. My best work comes through connection with others.

Tiny Spoon: Do you have any current or future projects that you are working on that you would like to share?

Ashley Howell Bunn: I am working on a year-long somatic writing journey with prompts, somatic exercises, poems, and essays for each day of the year to spur reflection, connection, and grounding. I also regularly teach virtual and in-person somatic writing workshops, and I am working to share this with a wider community. I also have a few projects in my head, and a little on the page, surrounding sobriety and recovery, visual meditations, and a children’s book celebrating neurodiversity.

Tiny Spoon: What book, artwork, music, etc., would you recommend to others?

Ashley Howell Bunn: M. Archive by Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Our Mother the Mountain, by Alexander Shalom Joseph, Pause, Rest, Be by Octavia Raheem, My Grandmother’s Hands by Resmaa Menakem, Sinner’s Prayer by Jason Masino, Maud Martha by Gwendolyn Brooks, Anodyne by Khadijah Queen, Sister Urn by Andrea Rexilius, The Recovering by Leslie Jamison . . .just to name a few.

Tiny Spoon: Is there anything else you would like others to know about you, your creations, or beyond?

Ashley Howell Bunn: My chapbook, in coming light, was published through Middle Creek Publishing in 2022 and is available through their website. It is a collection dealing with the loss of my father, the pandemic, motherhood, individual and collective grief, and the energetic layers that we all inhabit and heal through.

I am also a founding member of the Tejon Collective, an accessible creative space in North Denver. I offer yoga, individual Reiki and Tarot sessions, and somatic writing workshops through this space, and we have a lot more to share soon! Follow on Instagram  for more details: @thetejoncollective

Tiny Spoon: Where can people learn more about what you do?

Ashley Howell Bunn: www.howellandheal.com, @howellandheal

Tiny Talks with A. N. King

Tiny Talks is an interview series with Tiny Spoon’s talented contributors. This week we spoke with A. N. King from our tenth issue.

Tiny Spoon: What kindles your creativity?

A. N. King: I like to collect inspiration. A half-remembered dream. A random thought. A bit of a conversation overheard. A page in a book someone turned into a second-hand shop. I like to play with small ideas and try to see which ones I can get to grow into something that’s new and exciting to me.

Tiny Spoon: Are there any artists/ heroines/ idols/ friends that you look up to?

A. N. King: I have a small but mighty network of writing friends I admire greatly. They’re ability to make cool art and then put that art out there has inspired me time and time again to keep making cool art of my own.

Tiny Spoon: Are there any natural entities that move your work?

A. N. King: As someone who lives in the Southwest USA, I often find myself writing about the deserts and monsoon storms. They don’t appear in all of my work, but I find them weaseling their way into my imagery again and again.

Tiny Spoon: We love insight into the creative process. Could you share what it is like for you, either with your work that appears in Tiny Spoon or in general?

A. N. King: With all my poetry I tend to start with a focus on a couple of words. If I’m writing black out poetry, I find a word on the page or a short phrase that stands out to me, and if I’m writing free-verse I’ll start with whatever word has popped into my head. I jot that word down or circle it with a pencil and start mind mapping. What does that single word or phrase mean to me? What else does it make me think of? I try to treat that word or phrase as a symbol something small that stands in for something too large to put into words: a memory, a feeling, a hope, or even a fear. Whatever that larger thing is, is what I consider to be the theme of my poem. I’ll take that theme and that original phrase and just start drafting. Black-out I’ll start scanning over the page until I see other bits that follow that theme, and free-verse I write down whatever lines pop into my head that fit with what I have so far. I always work in pencil so I don’t have to be afraid to explore every direction the poem can go in from here!

Once I’ve said everything, I think I can I switch to revision and form. I always want my poems to have a certain flow when read out loud (even the tiny poems) so I spend a lot of time refining the word choice and structure of the poems before I put them in ink.

For the The Confusion of Death and a few other works I added the additional element of digital collage in part because I couldn’t play around with the structure as easily as I could have in a free-verse poem. When I finish a poem, I really do want it to look like a symbol so the end goal is something that shows as much as it tells and means even more under the surface.

Tiny Spoon: Do you have any current or future projects that you are working on that you would like to share?

A. N. King: Nothing officially in the works just yet! I am always writing poetry, and always inspired to try new things, so hopefully there will be more soon. I have a few collections I’m trying to work on and find just the right home for as well.

Tiny Spoon: What book, artwork, music, etc., would you recommend to others?

A. N. King: My Top 3 favorite books to recommend to people are Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, How to be a Heroine by Samantha Ellis, and Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Seriously if you haven’t read one of these, I would highly recommend picking it up!

For music I absolutely love any playlist put together by AlexRainbirdMusic (on Youtube). I get to discover great music by independent artists and they have so many different types of playlists so I can always find something to inspire me.

Tiny Spoon: Is there anything else you would like others to know about you, your creations, or beyond?

A. N. King: I absolutely love writing and explore a variety in styles of poetry, fiction and more all under the name A. N. King. This is also the name I use on social media where I often post micropoems and glimpses into other creative things I may be working on, and on NaNoWriMo where I participate every year. If you liked my poem, I hope you’ll follow me around one of these places and explore some more of my work!

I have one other poem that has been published recently as well “How to Tell if Your Apple’s Gone Sour” which is published by They Call Us in their Eve edition.

Tiny Spoon: Where can people learn more about what you do?

A. N. King: You can find me on most of the social medias as @ankingwrites and can keep track of what I have actively going on on linktr.ee/anking_writes.

Tiny Talks with Kimberlee Frederick

Tiny Talks is an interview series with Tiny Spoon’s talented contributors. This week we spoke with Kimberlee Frederick from our tenth issue.

Tiny Spoon: What kindles your creativity?

Kimberlee Frederick: Over the past couple of years, I’ve spent a lot of time learning to become a lot more aware of sensations, of my physical experience of the world moment to moment. As it turns out, that’s an enormous driver of my creativity; I find that as soon as I have any curiosity, delight, or even resistance toward something I feel physically, I want to collage about it.

Talking to other creatives is the other sure-fire way for me to get the little buzz of urgency to make something. There’s something about discussion ideas, process, or (often) total silliness with others who love to create things that just deepens the pool of inspiration.

Tiny Spoon: Are there any artists/ heroines/ idols/ friends that you look up to?

Kimberlee Frederick: How does one whittle this list down?! I’m almost obnoxious in how much I look up to my friends and my family, as well as the artist communities I get to interact with both online and in Portland, Oregon. I’ll keep it at that, for fear of leaving out  someone who absolutely deserves to be mentioned.

I will call out Anais Nin specifically, though. Her powerful, grounded writing has been a recent obsession of mine, and reading her journals and essays frequently motivates me to start creating.

Tiny Spoon: Are there any natural entities that move your work?

Kimberlee Frederick: A lot of the collages I make are rooted in natural entities, actually. Specifically natural entities that are at odds with the body. I play around with mushrooms a lot, and bugs of all sorts. I can’t seem to stop combining vivid florals with grotesque anatomical imagery. I’ve been doing a lot of work recently with the ocean; I think it’s the tension of the terror and allure that really gets me.

Tiny Spoon: We love insight into the creative process. Could you share what it is like for you, either with your work that appears in Tiny Spoon or in general?

Kimberlee Frederick: The collage that was accepted to Tiny Spoon is a digital-analog hybrid piece, but it started its life as a cut-and-paste project. When I work manually like that, I tend to get started when a particular image in my stash of ephemera tugs at me and won’t let go. From there, I feel like I’m having a conversation with the narrative that underlies my initial attraction to the image: I ask it whether this cutout or that abstract color strip feels relevant; I sift through stacks and stacks of magazines and scraps and junk mail multiple times, adding and discarding elements in different configurations. I don’t actually know what really works about this process; I can’t even tell you how I know when I’m done. It’s extremely intuitive, and most of the time I don’t really know what the piece is trying to be until after it’s glued down and I go to name it.

When I assembled the collage submitted to Tiny Spoon, I didn’t realize how important it was to the figure in it that she kind of blended with the other mycological elements in the piece. Only when I went to name it and found that the muted color, her solitude among the mushrooms, and her posture conveyed hopelessness did I decide she wasn’t quite done saying what she needed to say. When I made the figure more inextricable from her surroundings, more of the mushrooms than among them, it felt finished.

That’s fairly indicative of the difference in approach to hand-cut versus digital collage: purely intuitive when cutting and pasting gives way to more conscious intentionality when I work digitally.

Tiny Spoon: Do you have any current or future projects that you are working on that you would like to share?

Kimberlee Frederick: I’m striving to develop a more consistent and evolving writing practice alongside my collage habit. I envision the two coming together in something like a chapbook that explores my desperate discomfort with dentistry, teeth, and their ilk.

Tiny Spoon: What book, artwork, music, etc., would you recommend to others?

Kimberlee Frederick: There’s so much cool, weird stuff that smaller presses and independent creators are putting out there!

Check out Wrong Publishing and Body Fluids Lit for regular doses of great weird poetry, flash, and art. I discovered a weird little book of stories called Melancholic Parables by Dale Stromberg through Wrong. Also the insultingly incisive poet Carina Solis.

Some great music is hitting Portland recently: Breezy the Band is killing it with their kitchen sink amalgam of rock/punk/hardcore/etc. and tremendous songwriting.

Lament Cityscape is making me rethink everything I thought I knew about loud industrial.

Fever Deacon goes so hard with layers and texture in his dark bass stuff; I never know if I want to dance or have an ego death when I listen.

Tiny Spoon: Where can people learn more about what you do?

Kimberlee Frederick: I keep my website pretty updated: www.kimberleefrederick.com

I’m on Instagram fairly regularly @unrealcitypdx.

Tiny Spoon: Do you have photographs or images you would like us to share?

Kimberlee Frederick: Yes, my studio assistants 🙂 Dale (left), Circe (top), Sampson (bottom)

Tiny Talks with William Clark

Tiny Talks is an interview series with Tiny Spoon’s talented contributors. This week we spoke with William Clark from our tenth issue.

Tiny Spoon: What kindles your creativity?

William Clark: There are artists or writers I tend to turn to for sparking ideas. Perhaps the most essential three poets for me are Emily Dickinson, Wallace Stevens, and A.R. Ammons. Specific books of theirs I routinely dip into are Dickinson’s fascicles, Stevens’s The Auroras of Autumn, and Ammons’s Sphere: The Form of a Motion. I also keep a record of images I see in dreams. It’s not a dream journal per se, but just a sentence or two about a single specific image I might have glimpsed. Most times when I practice more routinely, the effect is to expand that particular generative part of my imagination (and sometimes making dreams more vivid). Because I often get flashes of ideas from little things I see or experience in dreams, this can be very productive at times.

Tiny Spoon: Are there any artists/ heroines/ idols/ friends that you look up to?

William Clark: The most influential artist in my life is John Coltrane. For many years I was a practicing jazz musician before writing took over my creative output. I was lucky to encounter Coltrane’s work at a very young and impressionable age. I’m not entirely sure why, but even as a teenager there was something about his music that I felt was speaking directly to me. I very quickly gravitated to the rich complexities of his most experimental work. In my eyes, there is no other figure that better represents the true consummate artist. If you examine only the last decade of his life, 1957 to 1967, the artist you hear at the end is barely recognizable from the one at the beginning. That is to say, I can’t think of any other artist (of any other medium) who innovated as much as he did. His last recordings are some of the most transcendent music ever created.

Tiny Spoon: Are there any natural entities that move your work?

William Clark: This question reminds me of how we’re all riding on the shoulders of previous generations of writers, even if we’re not even conscious of it.

Tiny Spoon: We love insight into the creative process. Could you share what it is like for you, either with your work that appears in Tiny Spoon or in general?

William Clark: I know that I’m in the groove when I get so deep into a project that I simply feel like a conduit for ideas, or that the words are writing themselves. It’s a blissful feeling, one that if you ever experience you want to return to again and again. My biggest struggle with the creative process has to do with making my conscious brain more receptive to when the subconscious surfaces an idea. It can be quite hushed and invisible. And then when I do recognize a surfaced idea, the challenge becomes developing the discipline to run with it, to not delay it.

When it comes to writing poetry, I like to think of the words and phrases and images I use as brushstrokes. That’s one of the reasons why I use irregular spacings and line breaks. In my mind I’m word-painting with different textures and variations of lines, curves, and slants. I try to avoid any set pattern and instead let my instinct inform me of how to shape something. I’m also always conscious of the opposing forces of chaos and order in my work. For example, I use sound and rhythm in my poems––not end rhymes per se, but sonically linked words––as something that helps ground the chaos of the metaphors or lack of punctuation or syntactical irregularity. With regards to the two poems appearing in Tiny Spoon 10, I wrote both of them late at night on my smartphone. I developed this habit after my son was born about six years ago, when the only time I had to contemplate poetry was late at night after everyone went to sleep and the house was finally totally quiet. It helps to keep my poems more concise and deliberate, and less purely improvisatory and wild. Both poems are at least in some small part related to trauma and how the mind adapts to it. It’s a topic I’m fascinated by, not only on a personal level, but also a societal level.

Tiny Spoon: Do you have any current or future projects that you are working on that you would like to share?

William Clark: I’m in the process for finding an agent for two novels I have written. I also have a poetry collection I’d like to publish, one that I’ve been tinkering with for the past few years.

Tiny Spoon: What book, artwork, music, etc., would you recommend to others?

William Clark: Find a list of John Coltrane’s Impulse! records, which roughly represent the last 5-6 years of his life. Start from the beginning, don’t rush it. Steadily work your way to the end. If an album seems too harsh, go back to the one before and sit with it a while longer. But it’s important to keep trying. His last few albums are otherworldly and utterly transcendent, but you can’t just jump to the end and expect to get anything from it. You have to work your way up.

With respect to books, I never really know how to answer this question. There’s rarely a single book by an author that has an outsized influence on me. Instead, it’s more of an artist’s entire oeuvre that shapes me. In other words, I find when I really invest in spending a great amount of time and effort to inhabit the worlds of others, the influence comes from total immersion and not necessarily from a single piece.

That said, for some reason Virginia Woolf’s book, The Waves, just popped into my head. What an incredible book, but also incredibly weird and inimitable. There’s simply nothing else like it. Also, something else that just popped into my head is James Merrill’s The Changing Light at Sandover, another book that is both totally fascinating and utterly strange.

Tiny Spoon: Where can people learn more about what you do?

William Clark: Two online journals you can find my poetry are Clade Song 3 and smoking glue gun, volume 4.

Tiny Talks with Irina Tall

Tiny Talks is an interview series with Tiny Spoon’s talented contributors. This week we spoke with Irina Tall from our tenth issue.

Tiny Spoon: What kindles your creativity?

Irina Tall: Nature inspires me, I often listen to birds… I have a jar on my balcony where I pour food, and then I watch how birds eat and communicate.

One time a hawk flew to the balcony, a large female, she hunted sparrows and caught a few. She ate them right on the balcony, and then cleaned the feathers for a long time.

Sometimes I go to exhibitions, and more often I am inspired by the films and books I have watched.

I probably wrote a long and incomprehensible phrase, but I really love birds of prey. At night, I often look at the stars, I like their distant fire, the moon month … I want to imagine a different life on them and I start to find out that it is possible that there is a person living there like me and he has the same thoughts, the same life …. and I sit down and draw some kind of worms with human heads, fish in which, instead of a body, a naked skeleton and several human heads.

Tiny Spoon: Are there any artists/ heroines/ idols/ friends that you look up to? 

Irina Tall: One of my series of works was inspired by Yaoi Kusama. I love bright red, I saw her work, and then a year or more passed and a series about eggs matured inside me, when I drew, I thought exactly that the egg is a circle shape, only it was changed a little. I often imagine abstraction when I draw some object or person.

Once when I went to the museum, I was struck by the portraits of Angelica Kaufmann. And as a child, I tried to repeat the self-portrait of Zinaida Serebryakova, she depicted herself in front of a mirror when she combs her hair, then this gesture seemed to me like a stretched bowstring, after I compared this gesture with the famous archer Mikas Cherlyunis. In imitation of this artist, I later made a series with raspberry drops, where a bird, a human head, a web, a horse grew out of each.

I really like Egon Schiele, perhaps this is my idol.

Tiny Spoon: Are there any natural entities that move your work?

Irina Tall: A kick moves me very well, sometimes a creative stagnation occurs… And then you realize that your whole state is like stupidity that has rolled over you, and you just have to watch… and then a hop and something starts to move you. It’s good to get kicks, after one such kick, I took part in fifty projects in a year.

Sometimes my friends or just strangers make me move, sometimes even one phrase helps. Once I saw a manager who was buying a piece of cake in a store, I saw how she communicated with the seller and I noted that she had artistic abilities, and then the thought came to my mind how many obstacles she had to overcome in order to achieve the position in which she my depression, which sometimes rolls over me, has evaporated somewhere. Episodes like this keep me moving forward.

Tiny Spoon: We love insight into the creative process. Could you share what it is like for you, either with your work that appears in Tiny Spoon or in general?

Irina Tall: Oh, I have two methods of work. First, I just sit down and do it, no matter if it’s lines or spots. Second, I watch people, go somewhere to watch a performance or an exhibition. And inspire what they see.

Since 2021, I started making monotypes in ink, I had thin paper and I thought what I could do with it, from this the series “Ghosts” was born (it has five chapters and is not yet fully completed). I think that you don’t need to watch how others draw and imitate them, you need to invent something of your own, even if it’s not very successful at first…

I like to read books, I like mythology, I often draw some mythological creatures.

Tiny Spoon: Do you have any current or future projects that you are working on that you would like to share?

Irina Tall: Now I am working on a project dedicated to Judith, at least in the story that I want to portray is the legend of Judith and the head of Holofernes. Giorgione has a famous work on this subject. It was this work that first inspired me.

In my project, Judith becomes a heroine placed in a kind of parallel world, from where people travel to everywhere where there are colonies on Mars, Venus. And where she is a girl from the highest aristocracy kills a high-ranking person who raped and killed. Probably this official is a kind of blue beard, since most often women become his victims.

I’m also doing a project about famine and war… These are even two different projects, but it’s hard to talk about them, at least talk about them. I have sketches, but they were not easy for me.

Tiny Spoon: What book, artwork, music, etc., would you recommend to others?

Irina Tall: I like Handel’s The Four Seasons, Mozart, almost all classical music in general. When I watched the movie “Interstellar”, I was struck by the music, and then I found out about the composer Hans Zimmer. I constantly turn on and listen to concerts from YouTube by this composer.

Once I was at a performance by the Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki and literally fell in love with his works.

This is probably a difficult question about books, I like Czeslaw Miloš, but I’m like a lazy artist, but I read them all. At one time, I was struck by the non-linearity of the narrative, some kind of hidden philosophy in the erotic, by Milan Kundera’s novel “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”.

One of my favorite books is a book about Roman emperors.

Now I am subscribed to many mailing lists of English and American magazines that publish contemporary authors. I enjoy reading short stories and poetry.

Tiny Spoon: Is there anything else you would like others to know about you, your creations, or beyond?

Irina Tall: My self-portrait is the Siren, the essence that wears a mask and where you can see the essence in the slit of the irons.

I believe that the main thing for a person is to move forward and it doesn’t matter in which family you were born, you just need to work hard and work.

Tiny Spoon: Where can people learn more about what you do?

Irina Tall: You can see my works on social networks, I have an Instagram: @irinanov4155, @irina369tall

Lately I’ve been into collage. And for International Women’s Day, I made a collage with the image of a little mermaid. Probably everyone knows Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale about the little mermaid, I wanted to show a different image, an independent and complex girl who, when faced with something, does not give in, but overcomes. I consider the image of the prince in this story to be weak, or rather, he is a weak person who cannot make a decision, and then the girl makes the right decision, she refuses it and returns to herself.

Tiny Talks with Amy Guidry

Tiny Talks is an interview series with Tiny Spoon’s talented contributors. This week we spoke with Amy Guidry from our tenth issue.

Amy Guidry working on a recent acrylic on canvas painting.

Tiny Spoon: What kindles your creativity? 

Amy Guidry: Galleries, museums, nature, animals

Tiny Spoon: Are there any artists/ heroines/ idols/ friends that you look up to? 

Amy Guidry: There are many artists I admire, but based on many personal reasons I relate most to Frida Kahlo.  I admire her for creating beautiful, intriguing art despite what life threw at her.

Tiny Spoon: Are there any natural entities that move your work? 

Amy Guidry: The natural world in general inspires my work.

Tiny Spoon: We love insight into the creative process. Could you share what it is like for you, either with your work that appears in Tiny Spoon or in general? 

Amy Guidry: All of my paintings begin as a thumbnail sketch.  Sometimes I have an image in mind, other times it may be a concept that I’d really like to cover through my work.  Either way, I do tons of thumbnail sketches, which may just be slight variations from one to the next or they can be wildly different.  I go through this process just so I can flesh out an idea until I feel like I have the “one.”  I save all of these sketches because I’ve actually created subsequent paintings from ideas that I didn’t feel strongly about at the time.  Just looking at them with fresh eyes can lead to something new. 

Two Polar Bears share an eye, view of the world.

Tiny Spoon: Do you have any current or future projects that you are working on that you would like to share? 

Amy Guidry: I’m presently working on a painting for an upcoming show at Modern Eden Gallery in San Francisco.  This group exhibition is titled Beyond the Horizon and features works inspired by star patterns, planetary bodies, and the monumental myths that inhabit the night sky.

Tiny Spoon: What book, artwork, music, etc., would you recommend to others?  

Amy Guidry: I’d highly recommend reading The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander.  For artists, I’d recommend Leonora Carrington’s exhibition, which I have to enjoy online, going on now at Recoletos Exhibition Hall in Madrid.  I haven’t kept up with new music lately but I’ve been listening to Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker.

Tiny Spoon: Is there anything else you would like others to know about you, your creations, or beyond?  

Amy Guidry: As an artist, one of the more influential genres for me has been Surrealism.  With my “In Our Veins” series, my style was becoming progressively more surreal, and I was looking to challenge myself technically and conceptually.  One of the themes explored with this series is animal welfare.  It’s an important issue for me on a personal level, but I also feel that it is a significant part of the future of our environment.  They go hand-in-hand.  “In Our Veins” explores the connections between all life forms and the process of the life cycle.  This includes the interdependence of the human race to each other and to the rest of the animal kingdom, as well as the planet itself.  One cannot exist without the other, therefore it is of the utmost importance that we care for each and every living thing.  Of course, I believe this is important not just for the survival of the planet, but also out of a moral and ethical obligation as well.

One of the “trademarks” seen throughout the series is my depiction of animals.  I wanted to emphasize their importance and do away with the notion that animals are “less” than humans.  So, each animal- be it mammal, bird, etc.- has been endowed with something we consider a “human” quality.  For example, some animals such as wolves, have more “human-looking” eyes or the animals are posed in a strong, maybe domineering, manner, or they have a facial expression that could be considered “human.”  Above all, even if they are depicted in a state of distress, the animals featured have a strong presence.

Surrealism allows me to delve into environmental issues and animal welfare, creating strange worlds that reflect the current state of our planet.  I’ve been inspired by imagery that comes to mind when first falling asleep or through free association.  What seems illogical can come to life through painting.  Truthfully, I do feel like what I paint is a mirror-image of our reality, though.  Maybe a Through the Looking Glass reflection, but a reflection nonetheless.

Tiny Spoon: Where can people learn more about what you do?

Amy Guidry: Website: https://www.AmyGuidry.com

Instagram: @amy_guidry_artist 

Facebook: @AmyGuidryArt 

Tiny Talks with Niels Noot

Tiny Talks is an interview series with Tiny Spoon’s talented contributors. This week we spoke with Niels Noot from our tenth issue.

Tiny Spoon: What kindles your creativity?

Niels Noot: I think that for many who create there is this internal drive of I have to do this or I will go crazy, and however cliché that might be, I believe that is the case for me as well. This may sound quite paradoxical looking at that I just came out of a creative block that lasted almost half a year. With a new project I suddenly started – without a plan or idea – I am getting out of it. There is just another obstacle in my way now, that obstacle being the question of what my, or rather our responsibilities are as writers, artists, creators. And it is an obstacle I am slowly finding the answer to through the current text I am working on. Writing was initially a way of dealing with things for me personally, it was the personal I wrote about, but now my focus has shifted, and I find myself writing more about what is going on around me, in my city, country, the world. Édouard Louis was once asked about the political or societal aspect of his work, and his answer came down to ‘’How can I write about things that are not political, while there are so many bad things happening’’. In that light, it was a certain luxury I afforded myself to let the words I was able to put on a page not be about how action is needed. Now I do not afford myself that luxury anymore – it has now become the public through the personal. I would still go crazy if I would not write, but now it is because the guilt of inertia or inaction would be too much.

Tiny Spoon: Are there any artists/ heroines/  idols/ friends that you look up to?

Niels Noot: I There are so many great people who do truly amazing things everywhere, and I am trying to surround myself with the people that stimulate me, who constantly make me reconsider and reinvent my viewpoints and ideas. I will have to highlight some people around me, such as my dear colleague at Simulacrum Magazine Marta Pagliuca Pelacani, with whom I curated and edited the documenta issue, who has unending curiosity and the will to follow up on that curiosity. There is of course Jérémy Bernard, who, together with the rest of the editorial board, is fighting against the capitalistic tenets of publishing through Loose Dog Magazine and its admirable non-hierarchical and anarchic publishing practice. This has shown me the possibilities and has pushed me to start my own publishing practice. I cannot mention all, but in order to highlight some independent magazines that deserve the limelight, one cannot forget Arts of the Working Class and Solomiya Magazine. You can’t go around them in Europe during these times of war, upheaval, and social issues. They do a great job at standing up for those who need it, and continuing to highlight the beauty in the mess, the people.

Tiny Spoon: Are there any natural entities that move your work?

Niels Noot: No natural entities for me, unless you can call a big frustration with the world right now a natural entity.

Tiny Spoon: We love insight into the creative process. Could you share what it is like for you, either with your work that appears in Tiny Spoon or in general?

Niels Noot: What I love about the creative process is that it always changes. I was talking to a writer recently who is also a father, and he said that when you are a father you cannot wait for inspiration to come to you because the ‘creative time’ is more limited. I, on the other hand, still have that ‘luxury’ of being able to wait around, so I change my surroundings and experiment with what events or things trigger any ideas, sentences, or words even that I can work with, and I try to make the most out of all this time I have right now.                       

Every time a work of mine appears somewhere it is such a big honour. Knowing that there will be people reading it – maybe, hopefully, it will have a positive influence on someone; knowing that all the late evenings and cigarettes and frustration and drafts are appreciated. Of course, it is, in some way, a wonderfully self-congratulatory and selfish thing to attach much meaning to a publication, posting it online and all, but that YES among the NOs does help occasionally in order to keep going.

Tiny Spoon: Do you have any current or future projects that you are working on that you would like to share?

Niels Noot: Definitely! As mentioned briefly before, there is this new project I started working on, as a part of the collective publishing practice I started (MIASMA). The project is called The Complaint Project, and what we are trying to do now is collect as many complaints as possible and publish these, make them available in public spaces for people to take and read – or use as toilet paper if they disagree with the complaint. The complaints can be as small or as big as you want, they can be anonymous or with your name in full display. We launched the website recently and the complaints are rolling in, I wrote a manifesto, how cliché. But what happened is that for a long period the project just stood still, due to my inaction, and that was frustrating. So what I did was start this text, I don’t think there is a name for it. It is becoming a bit of a monster in the way it diverges everywhere. Perhaps it might become an exhibition text if the project comes that far, perhaps it disappears in the drawer, but for now the complaints are coming in and they are great to read. It shows that people are good, the kids are alright, and even though our western society looks so polarised on the surface, you see that they are very much connected in the problems they encounter. The whole topic of the complaint as a concept, and the urgency attached to it, calls for a theoretical framework in the ways they function nowadays. We might not always realise it but the conceptual object that floats in bureaucracy called the complaint illustrates and almost embodies some vital issues going on right now. Ourcomplaint nowadays is one against a certain entity or problem, but it always functions within and plays by the rules of those same entities. It has become a tool of appeasement, that is effectually futile, for people who can afford the time and futility in order to calm their minds. And that is where we come in, we skip the bureaucracy, we skip the filtering, and make all these complaints public and available for everyone who wants to. In very simplistic, and perhaps controversial, semantics we are practicing offline cancel culture of the commons – if cancel culture even exists.

Tiny Spoon: What book, artwork, music, etc., would you recommend to others?

Niels Noot: Recently I have gone a little bit down a Foucault rabbit hole, so that is where my mind goes immediately. It is really interesting to learn about and recognise the power structures guiding – or fooling – us right now. Next to the classic Foucauldian power theory and how spaces influence us in that way as well, it is enlightening to read The Order of Things.

Tiny Spoon: Where can people learn more about what you do?

Niels Noot: For the editorial and curatorial work I am involved in you can always take look a look at MIASMA (miasma.nl & @miasma_mag) and Simulacrum Magazine (simulacrum.nl & @simulacrum.magazine). Regarding the rest, The Complaint Project can be checked up on here miasma.nl/complaint-project, and everyone is always to shoot me a message @nielsnoot in case I am slacking with my work.