Interview 009: Hannah VanderPoel
Hannah is a writer, filmmaker and web producer with a day job writing for MTV and a resume including work on Tonight Show, HBO, Funny or Die, and other favorite media hangs. Unsurprisingly, Hannah is funny as all hell, plus she's deeply insightful (as most hilarious people are.) Oh, also, I was lucky enough to go to college with Hannah but we didn't realize that we were best, best sister-friend material until after we graduated and started writing about our feelings on The Internet.
I learned a shit ton from this interview -- not only about Hannah, but about LIFE. It's true. And this interview includes the words "Monster Truck Tampon Commercial," so... read on, pal!
What character stuff have you had to actively work on over the past several years?
Becoming a better listener. Being in your teens and early 20s is like a 10-15 year stretch of pure, unadulterated self-absorption. I love to talk. I get very excited about a lot of things. And that's great. But I'm trying very hard to be as good a listener as I am a talker. What I've realized in trying to improve on this is that a lot of people have conversations where they mutually don't listen and don't connect at all. I would like to not be that way as much as possible, would like to not lead relationships like that.
How are you doing on that stuff now?
I'm doing better than I was. Maturity helps; I'm a bit older now and lately I prefer to listen. The byproduct of better listening is better relationships, which is wonderful. I still have days when I talk myself sick, and start to hiss at myself "SHUT UP, Hannah, can you please. Just. Shut. UP." But those days are rarer now, and when they happen I am nicer to myself about it.
How would you describe your purpose?
This is so hard to answer. Certainly the impact is greatest when I push boundaries, namely in my writing. The video stuff I make. Any sketch I've written, and there are a lot of weird ones - like Feminist Rose From Titanic, or Monster Truck Tampon Commercial, or Con Air But Set on a Boat. I'm always trying to present something in a way it's never been considered; that's my goal in everything I make. There's a selfish component, because it's fun to do. But mostly it's most rewarding to inspire anyone who reads or watches anything to do the same. People deserve to see things differently, constantly.
And on a personal level, maybe one day I'll have a family and kids and that will be a new kind of purpose.
Define your career... Then tell us how it's different then you thought it would be.
I'm a writer at MTV and I also do a lot of my own writing - mainly sketch comedy. Growing up I knew I liked writing but I didn't think of it as a real career. I wasn't one of those kids who Knew What She Wanted To Do. Now I have a job I truly love, where I can be weird and try a lot of different things. I'm extremely lucky. But, it was the accidental product of being myself, strongly, until I found a world where that was appreciated. I tried a lot of things; I failed a lot and I'm still figuring it out. You never know what you're meant to do unless you try things. You must be open.
Do you feel like you've made it yet? Have things clicked? Explain.
I don't think I'll ever feel like I made it. Every success has been a door to something newer, harder, more exciting. Things have clicked in that I finally have a grasp on what I like doing and have started to believe I'm good at it. But "made it" it? That sounds like a tragedy, like something you'd only say when you're dying in bed. Even then really I hope "I made it" are not my last words. I'd rather my last words be "I love you" or "play 'Twist and Shout' at my funeral party and be sure to play it on vinyl, and if you don't have vinyl then for pete's sake, go out and buy it on vinyl because I'm fucking lying here, all dead, and it's the least you could do."
How do you think others perceive your life path? Do you care?
I don't assume that people are sitting around all day perceiving my life path. They are not the ones living it, I am! Regardless, I don't care, and the fact that I don't is something I've always liked about myself. I've always marched to my own drum and been a little bit opinionated and I've never felt bad about that. Being myself has gotten me much, much farther than being like everyone else. That, and I've found that comparing your own life to someone else's is an express train to feeling blue. Very silly thing to do.
Speaking of others, how have your relationships shaped you?
I couldn't be more thankful for my female friends. Friendships between women are the best love stories. Every time I've thought "I can't do it! I can't!" there has been a lady who says in some capacity, "Fuck you. You can. Here, I'll help you." I write sketches with a team of five women, and every decent sketch I've ever started has become a great sketch because of the rest of the group. We don't have drama. We are super supportive of each other. You can't do everything alone. If you have a couple good women around, you can do anything.
What's your perspective on life like now as opposed to 5 years ago? 10 years ago?
It's okay to cry when bad things happen, but you must keep reaching for what you want, and if you do you are unstoppable. Here to explain is a long anecdote, so bear with me:
Last year, I was invited to present some work at a reading. At the time I was in a rough place. I'd ended a relationship with a wonderful person because I had a feeling he might not be the right man for me, which was painful and lonely. I was celebrating a birthday, and coming to terms with approaching an age at which society begins to treat women like great hulks of space-waste. I was so tired of hearing "don't you think your expectations are high?" or "what do you expect will happen for you?" Because I thought I could have amazing things! And now I was so full of doubt! I had finally mustered up the courage to go out and do something. On the way to the reading, a man stopped me on the street and said: "You're not that great looking, but you could be. You just need to lose ten pounds. Just ten pounds, and you'd have everything you want!" Which to me felt like icing on a cake of, "You think you could try to be taken seriously? You don't deserve anything! Stop trying!"
I wanted not to care. But it gutted me, because I'm not super woman. I wanted to find the nearest pile of dirt, dig a hole in it, and hide there for 90 years. Instead, I cried for about 45 seconds, wiped my face and went and did the reading. I was hurt, but I did the reading. Five years ago I might have berated myself for letting something hurtful get to me. Ten years ago I might not have even gone out in the first place. But now I know the value of soldiering on. There is always going to be an unauthorized voice telling you you'll fail or that you're undeserving. It's okay to cry when you hear this voice, because this voice is very mean. But you're the one who decides whether to hide in the dirt, or to keep reaching for the amazing things you set out to do. You must keep choosing to reach for amazing things. Every time you do, the mean voice gets a little smaller. That is, I think, the secret to an unstoppable life.
What are you most looking forward to?
My 60s. I'd like to move to a big house in Charleston. I've never been to Charleston but I think it would be a great place to live out my golden years. Maybe I'll have some more money. I'll be wise but not yet decrepit. I'll finally have the copper-pot filled kitchen of my dreams. It'll be just like a Nancy Meyers movie. I can't wait!
In your daily life, when are you happiest?
I walk to work every morning. I've done this almost every day for nearly 6 years. Walking in New York City is the best. It always looks different even if you take the same route. I've gotten all my best creative ideas while walking. Or sometimes I'll just put on a podcast or music and get lost in that. It's the only time each day when I feel less like a person and more like a part of a the world.
On the other hand, how do you pull yourself out of a funk when you're in one? And how did you most likely wind up in said hypothetical funk in the first place?
I like being in a funk - it's weirdly satisfying. I always write a lot, talk to friends. I see lots of movies alone, which is great because then I'm caught up on cinema. In fact I have to be careful not to stay in a funk, especially if it's a good one. When I do need to feel better, the song "Blister in the Sun" usually helps.
And how did you most likely end up in said hypothetical funk in the first place?
Generally drama from boys. Not always in the romantic sense - a bad catcall can ruin my day. Reading an enraging, sexist news story can too. Or worse, secretly wishing I was male because I think life would be easier - that gets me down. And of course, when my crush doesn't text me back. It all goes back to stupid boys. Men, on the other hand, are usually lovely.
Any other questions you wish someone would ask you?
Yes. I wish someone would ask me what I'm most afraid of. People don't talk about that enough! So, here are the things I am most afraid of, in no particular order: tarantulas. Dying young, in an avoidable way. Puking (it's a phobia). Having a kid and not loving it. Open water. Never finding romance. Earthquakes. Witnessing someone commit suicide on an NYC subway platform. Losing my looks. Admitting that I care about losing my looks. The movie "The Exorcist." Never having the opportunity to share my work. Never making work that's worth sharing. Loneliness. But mostly, tarantulas.