Michelle Tea Gets the Tea From… Beth Pickens

A little over a decade ago, I was running a queer literary nonprofit that had become successful beyond my wildest dreams. However, because I have zero admin skills, the dream was swiftly curdling into a reality, and I was about to call it quits. I called my grant writer in despair, and he barked at me, “Hire Beth Pickens!”

I already knew Beth, from when she worked the Women’s Center at the University of Missouri, Columbia, and brought two of my queer performances to town. Luckily for me, she was available, and she not only swept up the festering paperwork pile, she applied her clear vision and deep love for queer arts to the organization, allowing us to bring back a defunct performance tour, start a Caribbean writers’ retreat, offer an annual poetry chapbook contest and so much more!

Beth has since moved on to private career counseling for queer and marginalized artists. Hers is the secret name that artists across the US whisper to each other when they despair of getting a handle on their creative output or healing their bad relationship with money. Her services have become so popular that she is unable to take on new clients, but luckily for the world The Feminist Press has published Your Art Will Save Your Life, a manifesto, pep talk, and workbook for professional artists and writers (or those working towards getting profesh) who feel at odds with the larger culture. It’s funny, it’s wise, it’s spiritual, it’s tough love. Read below and get to know your new best friend.

What is the most uncanny thing that you have ever experienced?

Once, around 2003 when I was about 24, I went for an early evening walk in my neighborhood alone and I saw something floating approximately six feet overhead. It looked like a string of Christmas lights, the old-timey kind with big round bulbs, but the thing was slightly more organic looking. I watched it for about five minutes, as it floated above higher and higher, puzzling over what it could be. Finally – alone and pre-smartphone, therefore camera-less – I walked away wondering if it was something extraterrestrial. It’s the only “unexplained” phenomena I’ve experienced.


What is in your bag right now?

Boring regular things – wallet, Chapstick, lipstick, portable Neti pot nasal inhaler, hand cream. My purse situation is a canvas bucket back inside of a lesbian tote bag.


Please share the 15th picture on your cell phone.

Someone sent me this pic of my book in a bookstore! Can’t remember who or which.










How are you like or not like your sun sign?

Capricorn – I definitely have a powerful data processing center where my heart should be. I’m organized, care about money and structure, and know that I know the best way to do things. I am NOT (I don’t think) boring, miserly with others, or singularly focused.


What is the last book you read? Song you listened to? Show or movie you watched?

Last night I finished How To Break Up With Your Phone by Catherine Price. Last movie I watched was Death Takes a Holiday. Last song was Angélique Kidjo’s cover of the Talking Heads song “Crosseyed and Painless.”


What was the last meal you cooked?

Last night I made what has been referred to as a restaurant-grade greek salad and “ultimate banana bread” from the Cooks Illustrated cookbook.


Where would you like to go on vacation right now?

Akumal, Mexico.


Tell me about getting to meet someone you idolize or admire.

I just went to Queer Talmud Camp where I got to meet Rabbi Benay Lappe, who created a queer yeshiva and an annual camp where queer and trans people gather in the woods to study Talmud together.


What are you like when you’re sick? 

I want to be left alone to die.


What are you obsessed with or inspired by right now?

I am inspired by my artist clients who are so committed to their work, even while the whole world seems to pummel them, shit on them, or otherwise encourage them to give up.

I am obsessed with double salted black licorice, finding the right cocktail of skin care products, hiding from the current LA heat wave, and discovering a bra I can believe in.


What are you upset about right now?

Late-stage America.


What is the most recent dream you remember?

I dreamt one of my artist clients told me she was giving up on Oakland and needed to move away and I was thinking about what we’d do about her arts non-profit if she moved. Then when I talked to this client in real life, I realized that never happened. Just a dream.


Who is/are your queer ancestor/s?

Cookie Mueller. My Hebrew name is for Shulamith Firestone. James Baldwin, Magnus Hirschfeld, and Alice B. Toklas. And the ones whose names are never captioned in photos.


What is your dream project?

To create large-scale, effective wealth re-distribution.


What are you doing this weekend?

Yoga x 2. Date night with my beloved. And Sunday is the 15th of the month so it is my personal admin day, which I learned from an interview with Sabrina Hersi Issa on the podcast Call Your Girlfriend. On the date of your birthday each month, you set aside the day for your own personal admin – the stuff you keep putting off. So on the 15th of each month, I do things like get a massage, clean out a closet, deal with health care paperwork, send emails that keep getting buried, re-pot my orchid, etc. Very Capricorn but highly effective.

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