Being Seen: A Conversation with Lane Moore
A quick look at Lane Moore’s social media channels might give you the impression that she’s the least lonely person in all of New York City. In fairness, not many people can say they have thousands of followers enthusiastically invested updates about their foster dog’s moods or the good-looking stranger they met in their laundry room. But there’s a reason Moore pours herself into this community. Her best-selling memoir, How to Be Alone: If You Want To, and Even If You Don’t, recounts how she spent most of her life learning to be the support system she never had.
Moore explores dark subject matter with her signature blend of wit and heart; she takes readers through her experiences of childhood neglect and of living in her car, but also describes what she calls her “stranger luck”—an uncanny knack for meeting the sort of people who would let a homeless teenager sleep on the couch in their newborn’s room.
Much of the book deals with fallout from the sort of childhood that teaches a young person to stop asking for love. But as a writer and performer, Moore’s sensibility is brazenly, stubbornly in love with love. She is a former Cosmopolitan Sex & Relationships editor and writer for The Onion, the frontwoman of the punk band It Was Romance, and the creator of Tinder LIVE!, a show that involves real-time swiping and (gentle) riffing on real Tinder profiles. By building all these things, she’s helped to nurture multiple overlapping communities of people who, like her, want to know where to find the romance they were promised as adults. This is the paradoxical nature of her work. Whether it’s a song, a show, or a book, Moore excels at bringing people together over the shared experience of loneliness.
It was a pleasure to talk recently with Moore about writing How to Be Alone, her editorial work, and the joy of connecting with readers.
The Rumpus: Most people know you as the host of the comedy show Tinder LIVE! And in your memoir, you often address the reader in second person, like a kind of crowd work. Has performing Tinder LIVE! influenced the way you write?
Lane Moore: I don’t think so. That really personal, open kind of writing style has always been what I’ve liked to write. It’s hard to remember because I’ve been doing Tinder LIVE! for five years. My writing has always been like that, naturally, but as Tinder LIVE! has grown, it’s become this kind of shared communal experience. If anything, I think it’s the reverse: I have this audience that’s really connected to me, and it’s become more about that connection.
Rumpus: You’ve said in interviews that you wrote this book for the person who needs it. Do you consciously write with the aim of reaching someone who will recognize themselves in your work?
Moore: I’m writing because this is what I want to say. But one of the things that helps me push past the fears I have of being too vulnerable, too open, too raw, is the thought, What if you’re not the only one who thinks this way? What if you’re not the only one with these thoughts in your head? What if people are glad you put this into words?
Rumpus: What role does empathy play in your writing?
Moore: As big of a role as it plays in my life. I’ve always been deeply, deeply empathic, and I don’t know how to not be that.
Rumpus: I really enjoyed that you started a chapter in How to Be Alone with a quote from Harold and Maude.
Moore: That movie means so much to me. All of the quotes [that begin each chapter] were very carefully chosen. I specifically wanted to make a kind of playlist-mixtape for the reader to go along with each chapter, because that’s very much my shit.
Rumpus: How did you choose the quotes? They’re so different from each other, ranging from L. M. Montgomery to Patti Smith…
Moore: I really wanted each quote to be the perfect opener for each chapter and to set the tone. They were also suggested readings. With the Lucy Maud Montgomery quote, it just seemed so perfect because I relate so much to Anne Shirley—to famous orphans in general—and to Anne’s super-romanticism. And then, of course, it makes sense because, later in the book, I go to Prince Edward Island. I just wanted to add things I really related to, to the things I felt they perfectly encapsulated. It made a lot of sense to me that it was a combination of books, movies, music, quotes, and excerpts, because those are the things that got me through my life. Those have been my touchstones. They were my family and my friends when I didn’t have family and friends. So it made sense to me to introduce them, and it was really fun to figure out. You only have a tiny portion of text, so how do you find the perfect two or three lines? That was a fun experience, a thing I spent a lot of time on.
Rumpus: Like many writers, you use humor to help explore dark subject matter. Why is humor so effective in telling these types of stories?
Moore: Some therapist told me at some point that humor, in terms of psychology, is considered the most intelligent coping mechanism. I felt so excited and proud! That that’s where my brain went, that after everything I’d been through, I thought, “Oh, I’m going to choose to develop a sense of humor instead of more destructive habits!” Which isn’t to say I don’t have those, too, but I’m glad that I have humor.
I think I also developed a sense of humor as a way to communicate with other people. I’ve always been very, very aware that most of my stories are sad. When I was a kid, I remember a friend telling me, “Lane, your stories are always really funny, but also really sad.” I thought, Oh, that’s me. That’s me in a nutshell. I think the humor was a way to soften it, to make it more palatable. It’s the spoonful of sugar, my way of saying, hey, I want to tell you about really painful things—will this help?
Rumpus: How did you decide what to share and how to share it?
Moore: I wrote a whole chapter that I thought was really beautiful and wonderful, but when I read it or thought about anybody else reading it, I wanted to die. So I decided, okay, then we’re not ready to say that yet, and that’s fine.
That’s not to say there aren’t many parts in the book that make me think, Omigod, omigod, that exists, I said that out loud! I feel very seen when people say they saw the book as “brave,” because it was not anything easy to talk about. Sometimes, in interviews, people will ask me about something I wrote in the book and I’ll say, “I can’t talk about that.” And the interviewer will say, “But you wrote about it in the book.” And I’ll say, “That doesn’t mean it’s easy. That doesn’t mean it’s solved. What book were you reading?”
I didn’t put out that book because everything is fine now, or everything is magically healed. That’s not how life works for most people.
Rumpus: In the chapters about your romantic relationships, you bring in a lot of behavioral psychology theory. What was the intention behind this craft choice?
Moore: The book isn’t a self-help book, but it also kind of is. I wanted it to be something that was helpful to people. Whenever I have something that’s been helpful in my own healing, I want to share it.
For a lot of people who have had hard lives and who have trouble connecting, knowing your attachment style is crucial. I’ve read a lot of books about it, so I know they can be very boring and hard to absorb, but that lens was so helpful to me in processing everything that happened that I wanted to share it. Knowing all that information permeated everything else, and I was able to see how it fit together. Attachment styles are so much more important to know than astrological signs.
Rumpus: Which memoirs speak to you the most?
Moore: I read Marya Hornbacher’s Wasted really young. That was a huge book for me. Like me, though, I don’t think she would qualify it as a memoir. I don’t qualify my book as a memoir. I know a lot of people do, and I know why they do. But for me, it’s a snapshot. I wanted to get personal. To get closer to where I came from.
Rumpus: You won a GLAAD award for your work at Cosmopolitan, and your book includes some frank discussions about biphobia in the dating app world. How did your work as an editor inform your writing?
Moore: I think what my work at Cosmo did was show me an audience reacting to what I was writing. That was really helpful to me. I was seeing all these tweets from people of all genders and sexualities, from all around the world, being like, Oh my gosh, you write the things that I’m thinking! I was like, Wha? The thing is, I didn’t have a byline. People didn’t know it was my work, so I wasn’t getting that kind of feedback. But seeing the reaction online gave me this awareness that I wasn’t just some weirdo, the only person on earth who thinks the way I do. And it gave me a window to talk about some other things. I always reference that my first two Cosmo articles were one that they asked me to write, about boobs, and one that I pitched them, about how to talk to a friend who’s suicidal. So from the jump, I was like, okay, I’ll write this silly boob thing but I also want to talk about suicidal ideation because no one ever does. That’s specifically why, when I applied, I thought, I’ll only do this if I can do this really radical thing I want to do. And they were like, okay, do it!
Rumpus: Dating in New York is a common subject of so many stories across various media, and has been for many years. In writing about it, were there tropes you wanted to avoid?
Moore: Well, I never saw myself in any of those stories. I think that so much of the writing we’ve seen on sex and dating is, first of all, largely heterosexual. It’s very light, and to me, things never felt light. A lot of what I wrote about at Cosmopolitan was very, very different from that. There were a lot of things that were just funny, but a lot of it was rooted in having emotions and not really loving casual sex, because I wasn’t getting anything out of it, and wanting to find love. I’d never really read anything like that. All the Sex & Relationships stuff I’d seen in New York was very sex-focused, very hookup-focused, and that’s all fine but it never really resonated with me. I’m not that chill girl who just wants to fuck. Instead, I started writing what I wanted to write. It turned out there were other people who wanted to see some things that were a little bit different, who were also writing queer things and more inclusive things. I was just writing the things I wanted to read.
Rumpus: Which sections of How to Be Alone are you most proud of?
Moore: I can’t remember offhand, but there were a lot of moments where I was like, Yes, that’s exactly how it is! When you just find the right words for something. That’s my favorite thing about creating anything. As a writer, finding the words to say something you feel like you’ve never heard anybody convey—you’re like, Yes! That’s exactly how it feels! I feel the same way when I write songs. A lot of the songs I wrote for It Was Romance, I wrote because I felt there wasn’t a song that explored what I was feeling, or that made me feel a certain way.
So many of the things I’ve written that people tell me made them feel seen, I wrote because they made me feel seen. It’s that mirror that tells me that what I’m feeling exists. When I doubt myself, I go back to a song and it reminds me that, yes, it does make sense.
Rumpus: I’m hard-pressed to think of other books that explicitly describe self-parenting and building support networks from scratch. What was it like to put those things into words?
Moore: I mean, super terrifying. But at the same time, I’ve never read any one story or book that talked about that at all. That’s why I wanted to. I’ve always had a want to speak up when no one else is speaking up about certain things, and that was one where I was just like, I’m gonna say this. If I’m the only person on earth who’s ever had to be their own parent, who didn’t have any support system and has no idea what that’s like, then I’m the only one, and at least I said it. But instead, I get hundreds of letters to the contrary, because we’re all just keeping it inside. I truly had no idea—I felt like I was the only one, like I was guarding this shameful secret. But when you speak up about things you have this shame about, very often you realize other people are quietly keeping that shame in as well. And you realize none of us deserve to feel like that.
Rumpus: What’s it like to talk to fans of the book?
Moore: When I go on tour with Tinder LIVE!, it’s incredible. People line up to get their books signed and they’re crying. The thing is, that’s what I’m like, too. I just did SXSW and I met Shirley Manson. I knew I wasn’t gonna be cool when I met her, but I went up to her anyway, and she was like, hey, come here, let’s take a photo! I immediately cried all over her in an extremely not-cool way. It’s funny because there’s only a select few people I’ve done that to, and I just felt so uncool and so gross, thinking they thought I was weird. So now, because I’m like that, when people come up to me on tour or after Tinder LIVE! shows, and they’re crying, apologizing, saying, “I know this is weird, but,” I’m able to turn to them and be like, nope! Let me tell you something: I am that person. That’s who I become when I meet someone who really means something to me. The idea that I’m somebody’s Shirley Manson is the coolest, most beautiful thing, because I’ve been on the other side of that. It means so much to me, because I know why they’re crying. I know what that feels like, to feel so connected and so seen, when somebody’s work means so much to you that you have no words. I might cry now—it’s just so beautiful and it means a lot to me because it’s what kept me going when I was a kid. I want to make art like the art that kept me alive. I want to make art that helps other people stay alive, too. And hearing people tell me that that’s what this book is? That’s surreal.
Photograph of Lane Moore by Amber Marlow.