Three Great Things: Lili Taylor

The prolific actress, who's currently starring in the new drama There There, on what makes her life special.

Three Great Things is Talkhouse’s series in which artists tell us about three things they absolutely love. To mark the current release in theaters and on VOD of the new drama There There, starring Lili Taylor, Jason Schwartzman, Lennie James and Molly Gordon, fan-favorite Taylor shared some of things that bring joy and meaning to her life. — N.D.

Charlotte Brontë
For the past year and a half, I’ve listened to Jane Eyre every day. I’ve been doing some intense writing recently and when I take a break, I put on Jane Eyre. It’s a way for me to not go so far away from either my thoughts or feelings or where I’m at, to stay in the living world, but to take a break also. I listen to an audiobook of Jane Eyre on, an independent audiobook company which gives money to your favorite bookstore. (Mine goes to Books are Magic in Cobble Hill.) I have bookmarked my favorite scenes, so I can listen to them whenever I feel like it.

I identify with Charlotte Brontë; I feel like I have a friend in her. Almost every sentence of Jane Eyre is perfect. Charlotte combines her imagination with truth; she feels her way through what she writes, and yet she’s also a really good writer. So, Jane Eyre is both a wild ride and also something that intellectually takes me where I need to go. Charlotte sees the world as a friendly place, as a place that she’s welcome in. I don’t always feel like that, so I use her as a power of example. She wrote about how the stars she looks at are her friends, because they were there when she was a child and so they know her and she knows them. It’s so nice to feel connected and have that kind of connection. The book has also impacted me because it’s so in touch with passion. I think with any great writer – like some other favorites, such as George Eliot or Shakespeare – they capture the whole human experience. It’s like that great prayer by Kalidasa: “Look to this day, for it is life, the very life of life.” And, of course, like all the realities and verities of existence, by listening to Jane Eyre every day, I’m able to look to the day.

I’ve been birding for about 15 years and I currently serve on the board of National Audubon Society and the American Birding Association. I’ve always loved birds, but I didn’t know until I started birding that there was a tribe, and I didn’t know I could connect with birds in this way. So I’m now unabashedly declaring it to the world.

I didn’t really have a spark bird. For me, it was more about my consciousness of birds; one day, I really heard a bird. It wasn’t just a general Disney-esque chirp chirp chirp, it was a communication. And it was from a living, real, authentic creature. That’s when I started to push in, to truly watch and observe birds.

When you’re watching birds, there’s always a story. Today, a Cooper’s Hawk caught a pigeon in my backyard. What’s interesting is, the pigeon was still alive. I previously thought captured prey died quickly, but as the Cooper’s was knifing into the pigeon’s chest, it was still blinking and it seemed like the pigeon had an expression that said, “Oh, shit. I’m done. This is so fucked up.”

I love Cooper’s Hawks and pigeons, but what I’m excited about at the moment is the Tufted Titmouse. There has been an explosion of Tufted Titmice recently, which is so cool. I had four in my backyard today, but until a few weeks ago I’d never seen them there. (This morning, I also had two Black-capped Chickadees, three Dark-eyed Juncos, four White-throated Sparrows, 20 House Sparrows, 15 Rock Pigeons and four Mourning Doves!) I was talking with my friend Tom Stephenson, who wrote The Warbler Guide, about what we think is going on with this Titmouse irruption. We didn’t have an answer, but I love that it’s happening and is going to give us really cool data.

My life is a little too erratic to have a regular patch where I go birding, so my patch is my backyard, because it’s got to be convenient or I’m not going to do it. Also, the whole thing with birding is, it’s interesting to do it anywhere. I like to bird anywhere and nothing is too common for me, nothing is old news. But then, of course, I also get to go to different locations as an actor, so then I start venturing into the wild and seeing what birds I can see there. But even on location, I like getting to know the crows. When I’m in places where there are crows gathering, I follow them to see where the roost is. I love doing things like that.

Obsidian is a personal knowledge management system software that I’m obsessed with. Personal knowledge management systems are one of these things that when you look into them, you say, “Oh, I see, there’s a whole world here!” There are at least 30 operating systems that are loosely based on zettelkasten, the filing system of sorts created by Niklas Luhmann as a way to connect all one’s ideas. “Zettelkasten” translates as “note card,” and the idea is that you put these notes in one place and then connect them like atoms. Obsidian is essentially a markdown text file system where I can make connections and link thoughts. So, for instance, I have my whole Kindle library on Obsidian, along with all my thoughts and my bird notes, and I link and tag all of them and then all of a sudden I have a graph view which starts to show connections I didn’t know were there. It’s fantastic because I highlight passages so much, but before this I wasn’t using these highlights. I also use the Readwise app, which sends you five passages you highlighted every day. I love using these apps which make meaning out of things that matter a lot to me.

Obsidian has a learning curve and I’ve had to do a little bit of simple coding. Apparently, it takes about a year to master it and I am four months in, but I’ve already started to have little breakthroughs. You can look at certain things in your “vault,” which is what they call the database, and query certain terms. I queried the word “observation” and saw connections in my own notes and highlights that I hadn’t been aware of before. I’m editing my proposal for a book about birds and acting, so the idea of observation is key for both of those topics. It feels like everything I’m interested in is converging at this point in my life, like my curiosity is all coming together in one place.

Lili Taylor is a multifaceted award-winning actor who can now be seen in Andrew Bujalski’s There There, also starring Jason Schwartzman, Lennie James and Molly Gordon, out now through Magnolia Pictures. She was most recently seen on the Amazon Studios mystery drama series Outer Range, starring opposite Josh Brolin, and in Braden King’s indie drama The Evening Hour. Lili’s accolades include a Golden Globe win for her performance in Robert Altman’s Short Cuts and an Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Female in Girls Town, as well as Prime Time Emmy nominations for her roles in American Crime, Six Feet Under and The X Files. On film, she’s best known for her work in a plethora of independent classics such as Mary Harron’s I Shot Andy Warhol, Robert Altman’s Short Cuts, Stephen Frears’ High Fidelity, and Nancy Savoca’s Dogfight and Household Saints. She also starred in such fan favorites as Mystic Pizza and Say Anything. On stage, Lili most recently starred in Wally Shawn’s one-woman show The Fever.