Rax King on ‘Tacky’, The Cheesecake Factory and writing as a career
Reading Rax King’s writings is like eating fettuccine Alfredo at The Cheesecake Factory. Drinking nostalgia for the 2000s cream-coated mall, you can’t help but smile between bites.
It’s a sensation that King describes in his new book, Tacky: Love letters to the worst culture we have to offer. “It’s legitimately a miracle,” King told Bustle of The Cheesecake Factory. “Two hundred years ago this country didn’t have the infrastructure to take a dish made with seasonal ingredients and reproduce it in 10 different climates, and you can say that we probably shouldn’t rely on this technology anymore. , but it’s really cool that that was never possible. Naysayers be damned: “People shit at chain restaurants, but these things are getting popular for a reason – with the exception of Applebee’s, they made a deal with the devil. “
Delicious chain restaurants, Hot Topic, The sims: Tights explore all kinds of things considered lowbrow. King treats these pop culture relics like an archaeologist would, both respectful and eager to understand. Her Bath and Body Works signature Warm Vanilla Sugar fragrance hymn turns into a meditation on desirability and how young women dream of being eaten like sweet little pastries. An essay on Jersey Shore becomes a celebration of her late father and the many hours they spent watching tanned gym rats make bad decisions. Greeting Sex and the city‘s Samantha Jones, King takes readers to her own Samantha-inspired sex story, from kinky websites to threesomes and all the memorable romps in between.
King started working on Tights in earnest after her 2019 essay, “Love, Peace and Taco Grease,” went viral. It was a vulnerable play, about leaving an abusive marriage with the help of the famous Guy Fieri TV show, Diners, drive-in and dives. The response from readers has been overwhelming, which both delighted King and totally frightened her. This time around, she’s ready for whatever awaits her. “If people decide to read these essays without a charity or whatever, at this point I’m so used to it, I really don’t care. Tear me up, I don’t care.
She hopes others – especially those who might be embarrassed by their bad taste – can find a similar peace. “All the things people make so much of a fuss about because they’re so good, most of them are really nice and fun,” she says. “If you think that if you like something and should be embarrassed about it, just relax, and if you don’t like something and are judgmental about it, you should also relax a lot. People should just relax.
Below, King discusses the nature of tack, what it was like to see her essay go viral, and why writing is the easiest job she’s ever had.
How would you define the word sticky?
Anything that is likable or magnetic that you feel you should be embarrassed to like. This is a great guideline for the collection. There are so many very popular things that people want to assume are silly or bad because they are popular, and they can be a little silly, but we can make our own experiences from these very popular franchises and very stupid. We can decide what they mean to us. I don’t think it’s anti-intellectual to devote attention and thought to a silly 90 minute little movie with songs and montages.
Your essay “Love, Peace and Taco Grease” really took off online when it was published in 2019. How did you feel about distributing such a personal article so widely?
It was complicated. On the one hand, I was very happy. I mean, this essay really changed my life, and the attention it garnered opened a lot of doors for me, from a writing standpoint. I’m especially grateful for this because in June 2020 I lost my day job, and I wouldn’t have been able to make it work if I didn’t already have a manuscript that was sold and I didn’t have everything this buzz.
In that sense, it was great to have all the attention, but it was also like I was writing about my abusive ex-husband, and it’s kinda scary to have all these strangers able to read the details of this horrible relationship I was in. You never expect a room like this to get so much attention. I kind of thought, [personal essays are] mostly old-fashioned now, and a handful of people will be reading this thing, mostly friends of mine probably, I’m just glad I wrote it. But when it really got away from me, I was a little scared [my ex] would sue me.
Has becoming a writer always been your goal? Who are the writers who inspired you at the start of your career?
As a kid, student, and young adult, I had no idea that I was going to be able to make a career in writing. My assumption was, “I’m going to get down to it, if anything happens it will be on a very small scale because I’m not working that hard.” You know, “If nothing happens, that’s the most likely outcome, and just assume you’re going to have a day job for the rest of your life and get on with it.” “
[I loved] writer Lisa Carver’s essays – she’s so unique and enthusiastic and quite different from the kind of personal writing I’d read up to this point – and I think the same was true of the writing by Samantha Irby. All these writers who are particularly loud and openly excited about the things they write about, they really got me thinking, “I can do this, I can write in the way that is most natural to me, this exuberant way of writing. very personal voice. . And I may never get rich – I don’t think I will ever get rich – but there are people who read this stuff, there are people who find it important and worthy of consideration.
What is the writing process Tights look like?
I mean, to be honest, I’m pretty much useless after about 3pm. If I have to work, it must be in the morning. I’m going to get up, take my dog, a toothless Pekingese, for his walk, then put my butt in the chair and start working right away, because if I do something between walking the dog and starting to work, it won’t. will not happen. I don’t work hard! I just don’t know what to say to people, I feel like there is this mythology that successful writers are the ones who work the hardest at it. Actually, you know what, I’m not going to say that I don’t work hard, I’m going to say that I think this job is inherently pretty easy. Like, I’m not up all day breaking my ass, I’m no longer at the table, I don’t undress anymore.
As the work progresses, this is really the easiest I have ever had as I am primarily responsible for myself and if I miss a deadline it affects me and my editor. I’m not on the hook for – OH, JESUS, MY NEIGHBOR IS ON THE ROOF, IT’S JUST FEARING ME! My window looks out on my roof, and I just saw this guy prowling –
Oh my god, if this turns out to be a horror movie …
I’m about to be completely murdered … But what I mean is I think there’s this real mythology that writers pass between us, that we work really hard, write a novel is really hard. And it’s not like it’s easy to produce writing, but I think we would benefit from having a little perspective. It’s not difficult, it’s not difficult, we don’t work that hard.
Are there any obsessions or drafts you had that weren’t included in the final collection?
It came to me after my manuscript was finished and returned, but I really, really want someone to let me write about Billy Joel. I feel like he’s getting a lot of bullshit in the vein I’m interested in, you know, “that’s bad schlocky music that sucks”. I don’t think that’s true at all, I think Billy Joel deserves another chance from people in general who think they’re too good for Billy Joel, and if that was to be done over again I’d put 10 000 words about Billy Joel in my book.
Well, I’ll be keeping an eye on Billy Joel’s essay.
Someone has to let me write about Billy Joel. I keep talking about it in every interview I do, because like I said, I don’t like to work hard – so I think ideally someone is going to see this and it’s going to be like the way the models are discovered in the movies. Someone will find out [this] and let me write it down.
Do you have any advice for people who secretly watch reality TV shows, or hide their carefree loves?
Relax [laughs]. It does not matter. I think I often tell myself that I don’t actually feel like that, because I spend a lot of time on Twitter, and a very cynical space on Twitter.
My example is I can’t fuck with Marvel movies. I don’t understand why they are all bluish gray; I don’t understand why they are so serious; I don’t know why we need 10 a year. But at the same time, I don’t see the point of shitting on people because they like it. For me, this is where it becomes a danger, when your personal aversion to something stupid or foolish becomes some kind of a guiding principle for how you feel about other people.
So many Tights relies on those very sensory memories, like smelling Bath and Body Works perfume. Are you nostalgic by nature?
You know, it’s interesting. I’m not at all, but I guess you could probably say that my instinct to always review things rather than seek new things is a form of nostalgia in its own way. In fact, I have a very bad memory. I don’t remember much of my childhood until a certain age, and there are all these huge gaps. I was told it was sort of a response to trauma, like your brain was cleaning the old hard drive of things that would hurt it fairly regularly.
I think as far as I’m drawn to nostalgia, what I definitely am is almost archaeological preservation for me. The things that I really remember enjoying, they take on this disproportionate meaning because there are so many things that I can’t remember or that I didn’t appreciate. Tights is a series of love letters to 12 things that I distinctly remember loving, among the hundreds and hundreds of things that have made me suffer in my lifetime.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.