Tara Schuster, GLOW IN THE F*CKING DARK: Simple Practices to Heal Your Soul, from Someone Who Learned the Hard Way

Tara Schuster, GLOW IN THE F*CKING DARK: Simple Practices to Heal Your Soul, from Someone Who Learned the Hard Way

Zibby interviews entertainment executive, mental health advocate, and bestselling author Tara Schuster about her latest book Glow in the F*cking Dark, a powerful, ruthlessly honest, and irreverent guide for taking charge of your mental health. Tara describes the traumas that led her to write this book – an abuse-filled childhood, getting laid off from the job she’d had for a third of her life, and a terrifying dissociative episode on the highway. She also shares her book’s message: we are all made of stardust, and once we’ve cleared the traumas and problems that obscure us, we can shine the way we were meant to.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Tara. Thanks for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Glow in the F*cking Dark.

Tara Schuster: Thank you for having me. I’m excited. Excited to see you. Excited to do this.

Zibby: Excited to see you too. I’m excited for our upcoming event together, finally, after our last one was canceled in LA due to the pandemic. Years later, here we go.

Tara: Due to that little thing, little-talked about pandemic. I’m really excited about our event. I really want to give people journaling tools. In no way is it a reading. It’s like, okay, you’re interested? Let’s do this.

Zibby: I love that. You have this really rare ability to make the most horrific things sound funny and to be hopeful in the hardest of times. You’re so good at that. Every time I read something you write, I’m like, really? That too? You just keep opening the door into yourself wider and wider with each book, which I love because it’s such an act of generosity to share yourself like that, but also to inspire others to get over whatever it is. I feel like one of the main takeaways from this book at least is, you’re like, you can all just be busy and do your stuff and not deal with what’s underneath, but you’re not getting over it. If you’re not dealing with this, it’s coming out your ears.

Tara: Even worse, if you’re not dealing with it, the people who love you are. There’s no way around that. I used to think for a long time that if I really dug deep, it would ruin my life and be so overwhelming. Who has time for that? Actually, I have a bunch of errands to run. It didn’t really become so urgent until I realized, “Wait a minute, the way I’m treating my family, my friends, this isn’t about me. This is about my community,” that I really started to change.

Zibby: Let’s back up a second. You start this book off on the heels of being laid off from Comedy Central, which was the crux of your entire identity for a decade. You sort of hit bottom. Start us off there. Say what that felt like and all of that.

Tara: I was at Comedy Central for a third of my life. It was super important to me because it was a substitute for my family. I had grown up in a mess, wreck, disaster where things came to die. Super neglectful, psychologically abusive. Then I found Comedy Central. It was glamorous. Jordan Peele and I hung out. It was this magic trick to distract, to be like, look over here at all these glammy Hollywood things. Don’t look over here at this quarter century of complex trauma. The job made me feel like less of a weirdo too. I felt like nobody could relate to me, mostly because nobody talked about these “odd” family dynamics. I didn’t have anyone in my life reflecting to me that they had anything similar. In some ways, the job at Comedy Central was a “screw you” to everyone else. Oh, yeah? But I made it. I made it in this very public way. When I was unceremoniously laid off at the beginning of the pandemic, I just went into identity freefall. At that point, people were introducing me, “Tara Schuster, Comedy Central,” like it was my married last name. With an absence of being defined by other people, I really did not know who I was. I was living alone. It was the pandemic. I had no family. I know we all had it bad in different ways. If you were stuck with your whole family at home, not great. If you were stuck alone, alone, alone with just your thoughts, no job, and now trauma, that wasn’t great either.

Instead of calming down for one minute and saying, “I have savings. My life is not in immediate danger. Let me reflect,” I was like, we are going to push through this. Let’s immediately find new meaning. I’m going to find a big thing. Everybody’s going to think I’m so cool because I did this thing. It was the 2020 election. I just googled, how can I help in the 2020 election? One of the first search results was, you can help register voters in Arizona. Truly, just like that, I picked up my Vitamix, picked up a bag of books I would never read, stuffed them in my Prius of doom, and set off on the road. On the road, unfortunately, I had one of the worst dissociative episodes of my whole life. It was dangerous. I felt completely out of control of my body. I was speeding at ninety-five. I’m not a good enough driver to be driving that fast. My hands were on the steering wheel. I knew they were mine. I knew they were my hands, but they looked like they were completely detached from my body. I just realized, this is really unsafe. I can’t keep going. I can’t keep overwhelming. I can’t keep achieving my way through life. I’ve got to pull over. That was one of the very first times in my life where I pulled over, stopped.

Because I was in the Mojave Desert driving to Arizona and because LA is so polluted, when I looked up, it looked like I was in a starfield. I was in this celestial body. I just wondered looking up at these stars — we know how stars come together. It’s masses of dust and debris. They get pushed. They get put under pressure. Then they go nuclear in the center. That’s how they shine. I thought, man, those stars shine in the bleakest of circumstances consistently. They didn’t have it the best. They actually went through a lot of BS to become who they are. I just wonder, can I glow like that? Is there a way for me to find safety within myself so that when everything is taken away I’m not just lost at sea? That’s the question of this book. Is there an essential self? If there is an essential self, has it been so messed up that you can’t trust it? I didn’t trust anything inside of me. Could I find that? Could I cultivate it? That’s where we start with Glow in the F*cking Dark.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, that is just so amazing. One of your reflections on how you’ve become the way you were when you do your deep dive is your relationship to fear and putting yourself in harmful situations. I found that super interesting too, how because parents are supposed to keep you safe — your parents didn’t keep you safe at all. In fact, were priming you to feel threatened at every opportunity. You just didn’t have that sensation. When you end up in the desert with — or the forest. The desert? The mountains? I don’t know. I have it in my head.

Tara: Bryce Canyon.

Zibby: Canyon, that’s the word, with these cult guys and whatever. You’re like, why didn’t I leave? I don’t know. I just didn’t sense fear. I feel like there is that commonality when you find out about people who do all these terrifying things. How can they do that? Is it this? Talk about that. How are you on that scale now that you’ve worked through even more stuff?

Tara: It’s so interesting. I solo travel a lot to the Brazilian rainforest to see Iguazu, to slot canyons in Utah. My friends always say, wow, you’re so brave. That never made sense to me because I didn’t feel brave. It just felt like the thing to do. I always had pinned that in my mind. Huh, it’s weird that people tell me that this is somehow a whole thing. I don’t see it that way. I was actually camping alone in Zion — I don’t want to get too much credit. I had a full-size inflatable queen mattress. This wasn’t like I was really roughing it, but I was alone. It never occurred to me, oh, I’m a young woman in the middle of this campsite with literally nothing to protect myself. Cool. Good idea. I very quickly set fire to my stove, mostly because I had no experience. I realized, okay, this is going to be a takeout camping situation. It’s going to be a daily walk into town.

Zibby: I’m going to call Postmates to deliver to my tent.

Tara: Yes, exactly. I went to this café, ordered a burrito, was just eavesdropping. I’m a big eavesdropper. If you’re sitting next to me, good luck. I’m listening to everything you’re saying. This father was explaining to his children, he was saying, “We’re going to go canyoneering tomorrow. I’ve never been canyoneering. I don’t know what to expect, so I’ve hired a guide. Even when you feel scared, you will be safe. We will be looking out for you. This guy has done it a million times.” It was like my brain exploded, melted, every type of shockwave because never in my life had my parents told me that I was safe, would be protected, and that I wasn’t doomed. It was quite the opposite. It was, if you go to the bathroom in this restaurant, you might be raped or kidnapped. In that moment, I realized, wow, the job of a parent, probably, is to provide safety. That might account for why I do these things that are actually unsafe without thinking about them. I walk through the world feeling that it’s normal for your body to be ten out of ten stressed and worried that somebody’s going to take you from the street. I was just always worried about my physical safety, but I thought it was normal.

Zibby: Wow. I’m sorry. I can’t believe the way your parents treated you. I know you’ve come to this resolution with your dad. That was also really meaningful to watch you go through that, grow with you. Oh, my gosh, the goodness of your heart to forgive and how to get pushed to the point where you had to stop talking, it’s really powerful stuff. Just the idea they could be so inconsistent and harmful and all of it, even watching the scenes with him where he would switch on a dime like that and pretend like nothing happened, it’s really, really tough.

Tara: Now how I look at it is, obviously, something happened to my parents. Now that I’m an adult and — I take care of my best friend’s three kids. She had three kids under three during the pandemic. She’s my rock. She’s my stability. For the first time in our fifteen-year friendship, she called me and was like, “Dude, I need you to come over. I am outnumbered. I really need help.” It’s such a blessing when a friend asks you for help because you feel needed. I felt like, oh, my god, yay. Finally, I can somewhat pay the debt of the wild amount of care she has given me. One thing I did with her oldest daughter, Maya, is I would think of Maya in situations I had been in. Think of Maya pinned to her floor, her body being examined. What would adult me do? Adult me would start screaming, defend her, call the police. What would I do if someone told Maya she couldn’t cry, she wasn’t allowed to have feelings, shot down her ideas? That was a big thing I actually didn’t write about. Any idea I had, I was told was terrible or useless or literally was ignored like I didn’t say it. I felt like I didn’t exist.

Then I’d look at Maya. I’d see, oh, that is so weird. No healthy adult would treat a child this way. You would listen. You would comfort. You would reflect back to them that they are present, that you see them as an autonomous being. A lot of where my compassion for my parents come from is, for them to hurt me to that extent, how hurt must they have been? To live in that reality they were living in must have been painful. I know how painful it was for me. How painful was it for them? I didn’t come to forgiving them lightly. My dad, I didn’t talk to for two years of the pandemic. My mom, I haven’t talked to for something like fifteen or seventeen years. A lot of boundaries before I’ve come to this place. I now recognize however much I have suffered, they probably suffered a lot more. It doesn’t excuse how they treated me. At the end of the day, I’m not to blame for how they treated me, but it is my responsibility now to take care of this and to move through it. No one else is going to do that work for me. I’ve just sort of accepted it all. It all happened. I accept it. I have to work through it if I don’t want to be beholden to the past, if I want any emotional freedom.

Zibby: You’re the most self-actualized person I think I’ve ever met. I swear.

Tara: Don’t worry. I basically had a mental breakdown two weeks ago crying to my editor about how my life was — “Everything’s ruined.” Releasing a book is a weird — I’m sure you know. It’s just a weird thing. I definitely have my moments. The difference now, though, is I know it. I can’t always escape it in the moment. I can’t always navigate my way out. Pretty quickly, I’m like, wow, I’m really sorry. I messed up there. Maybe we can work together on figuring out how I could be a better communicator. I’m not defensive anymore. It doesn’t bother me if someone has feedback for me. I’m just like, cool, another growth opportunity. Don’t love that I have it, but I can accept it.

Zibby: Wait, why were you breaking down two weeks ago?

Tara: When my first book came out, truly, nobody knew who I was. I was an executive at Comedy Central. Nobody thought of me as a creative person. There were no expectations. We all thought the book would do “meh,” and then I’d go back to being an executive. Quite the opposite happened. It was actually perfect timing when I was laid off because it was the beginning of promotion for Lilies. Had I not had that, things would have been really bad. I was able to quickly pivot and work on this thing that I loved, which was writing. I just think this time around, there are so many more expectations, particularly from my readers. I love my readers. Sometimes I feel weird telling them how much I love them, except I’m like, there is such a lack of love in the world. Why would I be shy about telling anybody how much I see them, feel them, want to be there for them? F that. I want to be there with people. I really want to see them. I really want them to like the book. I hadn’t really ever thought about it before this moment where’s it’s come out, but I wrote it for them. I just want to do them proud. I want this to be helpful. That pressure didn’t exist the first time around.

Zibby: First of all, I bet you’re going to get a lot of new readers as well because now it’s a totally different market. You’re coming out not just marketing to the same people. You’re not just talking to your readers. It’s great that you love them. I think this book is great. I think this is a standalone. You don’t have to have read the first book. You can just dip into this. It builds on some of the themes, but it’s different. It’s different. You still have your awesome voice and your capital letters thing and your funny jokes sprinkled throughout. You had some joke about, I’m not going to pay full price for a crop top because it’s a third of the material. It’s so funny. I can’t stop thinking about that as I fold my daughter’s crop tops. I’m like, it’s so true. It doesn’t even exist. It’s like buying half a bikini or something. Anyway, I think this is even more personal and even more powerful. I loved the first book. The humor offsets the pain enough.

Tara: I do think it’s a much deeper book. I’m talking about much darker things, like suicidal ideation, but I’m trying to bring levity to it. There could not possibly be levity to this, except there is. If we get so overburdened by how hard things are, it makes it very difficult to talk about, to makes changes with. Lori Gottlieb, she blurbed this book. First off, I’m obsessed with therapists. Oh, my god, they are doing God’s work. They are so smart. She in particular is just so brilliant and insightful. One of the things she said to me was, “This is a standalone book. It’s not like you’re rehashing anything. It’s a completely different journey.” When she said that to me, I was like, okay, Lori doesn’t suffer fools lightly. She’s very smart. The fact that she, a legit mental health professional, sees in this book, actual strategies and that I can bring a little comedy to strategies, I feel really good about that.

Zibby: I guess it took her saying it, not me, but that’s fine.

Tara: It’s both of you.

Zibby: No, I’m totally kidding. I’m joking. It’s true. She’s right.

Tara: No, seriously, though. When you have people who you respect tell you these things, it matters.

Zibby: I love Lori. It’s awesome. It is deeper and darker, but also brighter. Isn’t that the whole point?

Tara: Yeah. You can find lightness. Even when things are dark, it’s not like the lightness went away. It could be obscured. One of the central metaphors of the book is that we are made of stardust. I think that’s really important because, first off, it’s just true. The carbon in your muscles, the iron in your blood literally come from stars. This isn’t some cutesy thing I wrote on a mug and sold on Etsy. This is just science. When I think about that, I think, nobody looks at the stars and says, they have moral failings. They didn’t get their to-do list done. They have too many errands. They didn’t run them. We generally accept that stars are awesome. If you can’t think of yourself as awesome or inherently good or that your essential self has any worth or value, you don’t need to think about it. All you need to remember is, I am made of stars. Just that framing alone has upleveled my whole life. I really sit and think about myself being full of stardust. It’s really hard to pick yourself apart, to be hypercritical, and to be hypercritical of others because you recognize they too are made of stardust, and stardust is a miracle. A lot of this is actually just reminding myself of the truth. It’s not something that had to be made up. That was just something that had to be internalized and remembered, that we all really do have our own light within us. It’s about removing what obscures us, the traumas, the problems, the expectations, the obligations. It’s about clearing the way so that you can shine the way you were made to.

Zibby: Your book is like a big windshield wiper.

Tara: I hope so. I use that sometimes. Let’s move that fog away. It’s funny, I feel like there’s a backlash to saying that anybody needs to fix themselves. I have a backlash to the backlash, which is, what are you talking about? We obviously — look at this world — obviously get damaged by things that are so beyond our control. That doesn’t make us bad. That’s the key. You could be damaged and still an awesome soul at the bottom of that damage. I’m not quite sure why it’s helpful not to admit that things might have happened to your outer shells, things worthy of being taken care of. I find it so cheesy when people say, you are inherently good, but then don’t tell me anything about why that is. The star metaphor, knowing that I am good, physically, it’s just true, and knowing that it is okay that my outside shells were damaged — the stardust can never be. The stardust is what can never ever be messed with. It’s there. It’s just fixing and healing what’s on top of that.

Zibby: Very powerful. It’s awesome. It’s amazing you’ve been able to not only clear your own stuff out of the way, but to help so many other people clear theirs out. That’s so generous of you. It’s just so generous and really awesome.

Tara: It’s funny. I’m sure you know this. People ask me all the time, was it cathartic writing the book? Did it feel like a form of therapy? The answer to that would be no because in order to write these scenes in a narrative — if you haven’t read my work, it’s never prescriptive. It’s never coming to you from on high. I try to paint a narrative as if it were fiction. Here’s the scene. I want you to be in it. I want you to feel those emotions, which means I have to revisit my own traumas over and over and over again in the editing process. It never gets better. It never gets easier. It’s always very difficult. I would say that by putting it out in the world, it’s dissipated. I feel like every reader now carries a little piece of my burden. I carry a little of theirs because they tell me, I really relate. That sounded like you were in my brain. How did you know that about me? That’s how I’ve found it to be very cathartic, is that we’re all spreading this burden of the worst things that ever happened to us so that none of us have to just shoulder it alone.

Zibby: Have you met David Ambroz in LA, by the way?

Tara: No, but that name is super familiar.

Zibby: I’m going to introduce you on email after this. He grew up in the foster care system and had a really horrific childhood with his siblings and everything, but wrote about it in a book. He’s funny and charming and works at Disney. I just feel like you guys would really get along and have a lot to catch up on.

Tara: I would love to meet him. The foster care system is so dismal. Of all of the embarrassing things in America, that’s top two, hundreds of thousands of children suffering with no advocates at all. I’d really love to meet him and hear more about that.

Zibby: His book is called A Place Called Home. I’ll put you in touch. Thank you, Tara. This is so great. Thanks for your book. I read it at a perfect time for me personally, for whatever reasons. Thank you. It was awesome. Do not worry about it coming out. I am not worried at all on your behalf. I wish you all the best.

Tara: Thank you. Thank you for all the work you do advocating for writers. During the pandemic, you were the lifeline, truly, myself included, for anyone who had a book coming out when everything was getting canceled. Nobody knew what to do. You were like, okay, we’re going to figure this out. We’re going to be doing some Lives. We’re going to be doing more podcasts. We’re going to be doing events. I really admire the way you really stepped in there for writers.

Zibby: Thank you. Thanks. I didn’t know what else to do. I was like, I’ve got to have some purpose here. The world is falling apart. Let me focus on something aside from being — anyway, thank you. I’ll see you at our event.

Tara: Yes. Thank you, Zibby.

Zibby: Bye.

Tara: Bye.

Tara Schuster, GLOW IN THE F*CKING DARK: Simple Practices to Heal Your Soul, from Someone Who Learned the Hard Way

GLOW IN THE F*CKING DARK: Simple Practices to Heal Your Soul, from Someone Who Learned the Hard Way by Tara Schuster

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