Actress, writer, and editor Amber Tamblyn joins Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books guest host Allison Pataki to talk about her new book, Listening in the Dark: Women Reclaiming the Power of Intuition, which features a compilation of essays written by women from all walks of life. Amber shares what she learned about intuition from the contributors and her own reflections, how she edited essays by individuals like Amy Pohler differently than her mother’s, and why she’s considering writing a second edition of this book. The two also discuss Amber’s piece about the late Brittany Murphy and how the book can assist readers who want to get in touch with their own intuition.


Allison Pataki: Hello, everybody. Welcome. I am Allison Pataki. I am here today with Amber Tamblyn, award-winning author, actor, activist, director. The list goes on. Amber, welcome.

Amber Tamblyn: Thank you so much for having me.

Allison: It’s such a pleasure. Amber is here to discuss her fabulous new book, Listening in the Dark: Women Reclaiming the Power of Intuition. Amber, can you please tell us how and why you wrote this important book?

Amber: I’ve been thinking about this book for a long time, the subject matter of it, and thinking about what intuition means, and not just the meaning of it, but the practical application of it in our everyday lives as women. I think we assume that intuition is this woo-woo mysticism, witchy thing and not really attainable. That’s because of, as I explore in the book, generations upon generations, literally hundreds of years of oppression towards the subject with women believing that rational thought is the only kind of important intellect and that emotional thought and intuitive thought has nothing to do with that, when the truth is that it’s extremely valuable and useful as a practical tool. Listening in the Dark is an anthology that I put together of women across industries, women from Amy Poehler to essayist Samantha Irby to The New Yorker’s Jia Tolentino, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, Huma Abedin. We got them all. My mom. My mom’s in the book.

Allison: Yes, your mom.

Amber: She is. All these women write about their relationship with their intuitive process. This doesn’t mean that they are talking about how great they are and how they have their intuition nailed down and they’ve got it all figured out and they shoot from the hip. If anything, it’s more of an examination looking at how they came into the process, how they learned to harness it and use it through trial and error. Then I have a bunch of essays throughout the book that give context to the overall themes that are talked about. They also share things that are personal to me with my own experience with intuition, including childhood trauma growing up as a child actress in Hollywood and growing up as an object in an oppressive industry in that way, all the way to our dreams, what they can mean as far as intuition, what they can tell us about our conscious waking life. Then there is a deep dive into the oppression, the history of women’s oppressed intuition. There’s a lot going on. Then the book ends with a practical guide that walks you through how to find your own.

Allison: Exactly, there is so much going on and so many voices here. How did you put together this powerhouse list? As you said, you have actors. You have politicians. You have emergency room doctors, poets. How did you compile this lineup? How was it working as an editor but also a writer?

Amber: For me, putting this book together was a real labor of love. As I mentioned, there had been so many books out there — I’ve written some of them — that are about women’s movements and equality and rage and feminism and all of these different pieces of, to me, a larger systemic problem of the puzzle, which is our othering as women from our intuitive process, from our unique understanding of what our body and our gut and our mind combined tells us and the ability to actually listen to that. I thought the best way to translate that and to really reach readers was to have a diverse body of writers and contributors, people with very, very different backgrounds, different socioeconomical backgrounds, different races, ethnicities, and to have this feel like it was a fully formed idea about all the different ways in which intuition manifests. I knew many of the people who are in the book. Then there were several other ones, like Jessica Valenti, who’s a brilliant feminist writer, who I reached out to and connected with. She was extremely excited to be a part of it, as was everyone else. That’s where it came about, was this idea of having a chorus of voices speaking about this very, very important topic which feels so timely right now in this culture.

Allison: Did you get everyone you wanted?

Amber: That’s a great question.

Allison: It could’ve been a thousand pages, right?

Amber: Honestly, at one point, my editor Laura was like, “We have to stop asking now.”

Allison: Because everyone’s saying yes to you.

Amber: That’s exactly right. Some people who I would’ve loved to have in this book would’ve been probably Anne Carson, Mary Beard. There were a few.

Allison: Beyoncé, right? You talk about her.

Amber: Always. Can she be in everything that I do?

Allison: You talk about the Beyoncé chakra, which we’ll get to in a minute.

Amber: That’s right.

Allison: Then that’s your sequel. You’ll have all those women when the sequel comes out.

Amber: Yes. I’ll have all of those women when the sequel comes out. We’ll see. Maybe there’ll be a whole other book about the same subject.

Allison: You talk about how really from the age of girlhood, childhood — you talk about yourself specifically, but a lot of your writers also touch on this. We’re sort of conditioned as young girls not only to lean toward rational thought, but also just to cut ties with our intuition because we want to be polite or we want to fit into the expectations that others or that society might have for us. Then there’s this severing that has to happen with that inner voice. Can you talk a little bit about how that played out for you and some of your other writers and how as women we can sort of unravel that conditioning that’s going on?

Amber: That’s a great question. It was such an interesting experience. As much as I was like, I’ve got this great idea for a book — I’ve been thinking about it for years, wanting to approach it, then asking all the writers, everyone who said yes. Then we’re starting to write. Almost everybody except for a few women were like, what the fuck am I going to write? I think there was a real sense of panic of, oh, how do I describe it? I really asked them to try to go a layer deeper than just talking about terms we understand that don’t have a real definitive meaning. For instance, an inner voice, a feeling in your gut, those types of things, we understand them, but then how do we trace the steps? If you’re going to make a decision about a job, if you’re going to make a decision to end a marriage, if you’re going to make a big life decision, a personal or professional decision, what are the steps that you take to get there? To me, I really wanted them to go through that process and talk about the way your brain goes back and forth because, fight or flight. You might be terrified of what that answer might be. It might be something that might uproot your entire livelihood and the stability of a family, the stability of a life.

These are not easy questions to answer for yourself. Sometimes the answer that you arrive at is really difficult. That was part of our beautiful reciprocity as editor and writer. I would go through with them and ask them, can you expand further here when you’re talking about this feeling? Can you talk about what you did with the feeling, where it went, what it led to? Maybe it wasn’t the right thing that it led to. Maybe it was. Really saying, how do we go through practically? My great hope is that this book will help younger generations of women, teenage girls, women in their twenties, so that they don’t have to go through what a lot of us went through with years and years and years of second-guessing ourselves. That is my great hope for this book. I wanted to show that these powerful women, these women that you love, that you idolize, that you think are the most incredible women because they are doctors, healers, actors, writers, politicians, they have also second-guessed themselves their whole lives. They have also had to go through a process to get here. Hopefully, through their essays and the pieces that I add to it, you will feel a little less alone in your own process to try to harness your intuition.

Allison: You and America Ferrera have this amazing exchange in this book. You and America have worked together, obviously, in films. Also, you just have this really incredible friendship and this bond. You talk, just as you said, this is just us sitting at a table having a conversation. You write it all down for the reader. One of the things you and America talk about is flexing your intuitive muscle and how you’ve both really worked through that not only as child actors coming up in the industry, but now as leaders and activists and writers. How do women learn or practice flexing their intuitive muscle?

Amber: It is so hard. It is not easy. I think if we see it like a valley of peaks that we go over and each one gets smaller and smaller — maybe the first couple are really steep. They’re really hard to get over. Then you come down on the other side. Then the next one is smaller and smaller and smaller. Then it doesn’t become so difficult after a while. When we’re talking about flexing an intuitive muscle, it is that thing for women — they talk about it in the book. Sometimes it’s a tingling in the ear. Sometimes you get cold all over. Sometimes you just go inward. Sometimes it does really manifest literally and physically in the gut. When you sense something isn’t right, there is a fear that kicks in automatically. Immediately, your mind, it is its job to tell you, don’t do that. That’s going to rock the whole boat. Your boss is going to fire you. You’re not going to be taken seriously. This is going to disrupt your entire life, your career, any of those different things. It’s your brain’s job to jump in and say, here are all the consequences of listening to this intuitive voice that’s speaking to you, that’s telling you something. It’s not like the rationale mind too. That’s why it’s so complicated. The rational and the subconscious and the conscious mind has a voice. Both you and I have it. Everyone has it. While walking down the street, you hear yourself talking. You’re telling yourself something. That voice is so strong that it sometimes outweighs what the body is telling you.

If you can connect those two things, it will open up a whole door. It will open up a whole world of possibility for what answers can look like in your life. Part of flexing the muscle is asking yourself a question that might be difficult. Pick a topic. In the end, there’s an essay that goes through a bunch of different things, a bunch of different examples. Then sit with it for a minute. See what your mind tells you. See what your body tells you. It might tell you something that is disruptive, that is scary, that makes you want to run and go, no, no, we’re not doing that right now. We’re not doing that. Life’s too hard. Things are too hard. It’s not necessarily about going with that answer, but it’s about holding onto that and respecting its truth as something in the future you might want to use or, as America talks about in that essay, actually doing it, doing the thing that terrifies you. She talks so beautifully about, nothing in her life, from her personal growth to her professional success, nothing has come to her without trembling, shaking, terrifying fear first of doing it, of asking to produce something, of asking to be the first Latina director on a set of her show, of asking to do all of these different things. She talks about literally crying in a trailer, shaking and crying, thinking, I can’t do this, I can’t do this, and then going through and figuring out, why not? What are you afraid of? That muscle is so powerful. The more you flex it, the more it becomes as powerful as the mind and the voice in our rational thought. Those two things combined are a force that the world is not ready for in women.

Allison: You talk about, too — it’s really this haunting chapter you write about Brittany Murphy and how you both came up together and your memories of the last time you saw her and heard her speak. She whispered something to you in passing as you were both at an audition. It’s called “Crossing Paths with Ghosts.” Can you talk about what that experience meant for you? You saw Brittany sort of as a foil or the direction that, very easily, your life could’ve unfolded or gone in that direction. Can you talk a little bit about your reckoning with that and your writing about it?

Amber: Of course. Several years ago, I had a book come out called Dark Sparkler, which explored the lives and deaths of young and child-star actresses. I kind of looked at women below the age of forty. It became an absolute obsession. It became investigative journalism. It became something that took me seven years to write. It’s also something that transformed me as a writer and put me on the map in a lot of different ways. One of the poems in there, it’s called “Brittany Murphy.” It was for Brittany. It was so interesting to me because writing this essay, which is also about creative process and about, how do you find the thing you’re trying to say? — especially as a writer, as an artist, how do you find it? How do you let yourself go through the fear of writer’s block? It’s not coming to me. I’ve written a few words, and it’s terrible. How do you push past that? For me, trying to write that poem and many of the poems that were in that book was about letting myself go through the process I needed to go through, which didn’t look like anyone else’s process. We can all read, as I mention in the beginning, Stephen King’s On Writing. You can read books about how to be a writer. The truth is that the best thing you can do for yourself as a writer and as an artist is find your own unique, intuitive process. What I’m talking about when I say that is, for instance, for me, it might look like procrastination, walking around, cleaning my whole house fifteen times, answering a million emails, going to see a movie, ignoring it, coming back, writing a few things. Maybe there’s a line or a sentence that pops through that feels like it’s worth exploring, opening up, sitting with it, and telling my body that it’s okay and telling my brain that it’s okay, that it’s not going to just come tumbling out like some magical spell. That’s not how it works for everybody.

It’s so funny. My late mentor, who the book is dedicated to, Jack Hirschman, used to say to be a good writer you have to write every day. I don’t think that’s true. That’s when I knew I became a writer, is when I separated from him and his way of writing. For me, it was about absorbing the outside world and letting myself go through the process I needed to go through in order to make that happen. The essay’s an examination of Brittany and looking at my life in the early aughts, in the early two-thousands when there was a lot of these teen actresses. We were all in the early stages of social media. It was actually slightly pre-social media at the time when paparazzi felt very dangerous, literally dangerous. They were chasing people down. People were getting killed. It felt dangerous in the world, nineties, early aughts, that sort of era. What it meant to look at someone like Brittany Murphy, who wanted to come to Hollywood to act so badly and succeeded in that but then in the process, kind of lost herself. The essay is about finding myself in honor of her ghost and keeping her ghost close to me as this thing that’s inside that is there as a voice of a reminder that life and death are important parts of our existential process; meaning, death is a good thing. Not the literal death, but going through it, changing, going through hard questions, answering them, and then following through, starting over, renewal. All of these things are so important to our processes. That’s what that essay is about.

Allison: What is it like switching hats between your writer side and your editor side? What was it like editing Amy Poehler or your mom? How was that? Did you have to take them on different days and take them in different mental and emotional places for yourself?

Amber: Oh, yeah. I had to have a huge spreadsheet for everybody to make sure how passes had gone through. Working with Amy was super fun. She’s also just a really funny, good writer. Her piece is about being assaulted on a street, this experience which is partial assault. It didn’t go all the way that it was supposed to, but how it affected the rest of her life. In typical Poehler fashion, it’s extremely funny. It’s beautiful. It’s heartwarming. It’s devastating. It’s all of the things that she is capable of. I really loved her essay. My mom and I had such a funny experience editing our piece, of course, because there’s so much history there. I think I’m always right. My mom thinks she’s always right and that I should listen to her because she’s my mom. My mom is an extraordinary woman. She’s been a teacher for decades. She teaches counsel and life skills in California, which is a process where you get kids in schools to sit in circle, pass a talking piece as an exercise in listening and communication, especially for middle schoolers and high schoolers, which is a very difficult transitional time. She’s a . For a lot of the essayists, a lot of the contributors, part of the work of the essay, experience of writing it, was trying to make sure that what they were saying and what they understood to be true was then something that was translatable to the reader. Oftentimes, my mom would give statements that totally made sense to her because she’s been in this world forever. She has such a deep connection with her intuition. I would have to say, okay, but imagine you are somebody who works in accounting at some company somewhere who’s a woman who doesn’t even know intuition means, doesn’t even know what that word is. How would you explain that to her? There was a lot of that, opening it up a little further. Instead of giving terms that are understood to the author, try to find a way to describe intuition in a really universal way.

Allison: How would you answer that question for us right now to someone who may not have that quick answer? How would you define intuition for the accountant who doesn’t know what it is?

Amber: It could be anybody. I know plenty of people, too, that don’t have deep connections, but are trying. What would my definition of intuition be?

Allison: Yeah.

Amber: I think I would describe it as a deep listening, a different kind of intelligence, is what I would probably call it. I want to keep connecting it with the idea that it’s not out here somewhere. It’s not what hundreds and hundreds of years of the patriarchal world, which has controlled everything from medicine to the advent of mental health to women hearing voices hundreds of years ago during the Salem witch trials and beyond that — the idea of hearing voices, of being called to understand something, it’s not out here. It’s inside you. It is a deep understanding. It is real. It is a real manifestation, a real intelligence that is to be used, not just something to listen to, not just something to have there to think about. It is to be used as much as we rely on knowing and other forms of intelligence. To me, I think that intuition is something I wanted reframed in this world in which women’s autonomy, bodily or otherwise, is being taken away from us in so many different regards. I want us to be reconnected with that deep understanding and that deep intelligence and to know that it is real. It is practical. It is something that can be used every single day of our lives and will change us if we flex the muscle.

Allison: If we flex the muscle, absolutely. Speaking of flexing the muscle, what advice or wisdom would you share to aspiring writers or first-time writers or lifelong writers who are working on their own books? What advice would you give? What would you share?

Amber: Let the muse rest. That’s what I would say. Again, there’s so much emphasis on, to be a writer, you must write all the time. I think that is definitely true for a lot of people. That is how they come to their process. Find your unique process. It is the only thing you can do. Find the way in which you uniquely arrive to the page and what you uniquely have to say and how you uniquely say it. That is what sets you apart from everyone else. Sometimes that is reframing our mind around this idea of, again, writer’s block or something or not being able to do it. My other mentor, the late Wanda Coleman, who’s a brilliant poet, would say you’ve got to let the muse rest. She’s in there. Maybe she’s sleeping. She’s resting. She’ll awaken when she’s — if you keep your mind on it, if you keep your gut on it, if you keep thinking about it and letting it sort of marinate in your head and in your body, let it grow there. Let it trickle out a little bit at a time when she gets up, when she goes to sleep, all of those things. That is some of the advice that I would give, and to make sure that you are really giving the space for your most authentic self as an artist and a writer to arrive.

Allison: That aligns so perfectly with Listening in the Dark and following your intuition, following your deep inner wisdom, Women Reclaiming the Power of Intuition. Amber Tamblyn, how can readers connect with you and find out all the latest and greatest as you and this book are making your way through the world?

Amber: I’m on Instagram, @AmberRoseTamblyn. I also have a website, That’s my mom’s nickname for me. I’m on Twitter, @AmberTamblyn, posting lots of really great things there, including behind the scenes of our tour, interviews with authors, ridiculous reels. Why not? I’ve been having so much fun promoting this book because it feels like something that is expansive and regenerative in a way that — I think all of the numbness that we have felt has been so difficult, especially with the pandemic and everything else. I just want to re-sensitize women to this really important part of our intuitive process.

Allison: Amber Tamblyn, Listening in the Dark: Women Reclaiming the Power of Intuition. Thank you so much for writing this book. Thank you so much for speaking with us today.

Amber: Always a pleasure. Thank you so much.


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