Amber Tamblyn’s Practical Guide to Getting In Touch With What You Already Know


Amber Tamblyn, poet, writer, and actor, made a book for you, and thinks you might want to read it before the midterm elections (November 8). Listening in the Dark: Women Reclaiming the Power of Intuition is like a “good vitamin,” Tamblyn told me on a recent phone call. It comprises essays by writers, doctors, actors, a congresswoman, a political strategist, and more all writing on intuition—a sort of group effort to address modern malaise, one that has deracinated our mind from our body and locked away what we want and what we think in some tower. 

“We as a culture are in deep need of a different kind of resensitizing,” Tamblyn said. “We are tired and still in a state of shock from so much that has happened over the last several years. And it’s not enough to ask women and minorities to just keep showing up. There’s gotta be new tools and resources for us to show up, and there’s gotta be new investment in the many different forms of our intelligence.”

The intelligence of our intuition, for example. Tamblyn added, “To me, all of this is tied together with our political output, our ability to fight for ourselves—our ability to not just know something to be true, but to speak on it—is gonna have to come from strengthening our intuitive foundation.”

The collection, which Tamblyn both edited and contributed to, is a kaleidoscope of windows into that idea. Writer Samantha Irby finds her intuition through putting words down on the page. Amy Poehler writes of losing her innocence and finding her instincts. Hillary Clinton’s onetime right-hand woman Huma Abedin spoke of her own mother’s quick confidence and becoming more like her. Ahead of motherhood, essayist Jia Tolentino writes about female mystics from the Middle Ages. Tamblyn herself writes about the actor Brittany Murphy’s death and peeling away from the dehumanizing audition circuit of her youth. 

When assembling the group, she wanted to get women of different backgrounds who are prominent in various fields. Also: women who “didn’t have all the answers.” 

Tamblyn wanted to push past the phrases like “gut feeling” or “inner voice,” and find out what they actually mean in practice. Like, “When you feel something in your body, and your head recognizes it as being true, but then you don’t want it to be true, you’re not ready yet to follow through on what that answer is. What is the reaction that happens?” she wonders. “What has taken place for you in the past? What kind of fear comes up? What do you do with that fear?” 

For Tamblyn, one of the best examples of that was writing her book of poetry Dark Sparkler, which came from an obsession with the deaths of young actresses, many of whom were Tamblyn’s contemporaries as she rose to prominence starring in Joan of Arcadia and later the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants movies. She writes in Listening in the Dark of how the seed for the book was Brittany Murphy’s death, and how the poem Murphy’s death inspired led to her most popular book of poetry, which she published in 2015.  

“I think I was unaware of how important that was to me personally, and to my own need for an existential death, plus a sort of rebirth in that way. That was something that I didn’t discover until after writing it,” Tamblyn told me. “And Brittany Murphy’s poem was sort of the precursor to that understanding. So my obsession with her and with the writing of that poem was my intuitive process’s way of saying, We’re going to explore and investigate these stories in preparation for your own metaphorical death and what will come after. And we don’t know what the after looks like. Who knows, but this is where it’s starting and you have no control over it.”

That strange time in our culture—post-TMZ’s launch but before the idea that you could really make a livelihood of branding yourself—is where Tamblyn had to dig deeper in order to come out the other side a writer. 

“I hope that women think about their own individual, unique way in which something like that might present to them,” she said. “It might not be they were a child actor, but it could be something else in their life that is pointing them towards a way. And sure, on the surface, it might not seem like it’s leading to anything, but again, following that deep listening might reveal something absolutely revelatory about your life and about your trajectory.”

And if all of this sounds a little too heady to grasp onto, there’s a poem Tamblyn published at the end that she intends as both a recap of the essays in the book and as an exercise to consider when you sense you have a big decision to make, and would like to really know how you feel about it. If there’s a big choice—stay or leave my job, my spouse, my home, etc.—you could read through it, and then voilà, there is your answer. It begins: 


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