Tired of reading the same recommended books from the usual sources? Just think of our weekly What We’re Reading column as your non-committal book club with FADER and some of your favorite bands. For this installment, associate editor Duncan Cooper goes deep on what’s on his phone.
by Megan Boyle
I like the way I learned about Megan Boyle. After reading Tao Lin's Taipei, a novel that sometimes quotes from tweets in the author's real life, I did a little digging to uncover some of the original conversations that ended up, pseudonymously, in the book. One of these was the heroin-fueled #xmenlivetweets, which is still online. I obviously knew that the book's protagonist, "Paul," was Tao Lin, but the tweets revealed the real identities of other name-changed characters, like "Erin," an X-Men livetweeter who became, for some time, Lin's wife. "Erin"—"Ran out of subway to get a cab for us while tao discreetly vomited and felt like I was on a reality tv challenge #xmenlivetweet"—turned out to be Megan Boyle. I had actually already read her memorable, self-explanatory story "Everyone I've Had Sex With," and after the tweet-realization thing, I followed her on Twitter, downloaded and enjoyed her 2011 book, and finally, most importantly, discovered her monumental liveblog.
She started the liveblog in March 2013, explaining it in its first post as strictly a thing she was doing to make herself feel better:
"I AM NOT GOING TO TRY TO MAKE THIS SOUND INTERESTING OR TRY TO MAKE YOU LIKE ME OR THINK ABOUT YOU IF YOU ARE READING THIS OR ENJOYING READING THIS, IT’S JUST GOING TO BE WHAT IT IS, IT’S A FUNCTIONAL THING THAT WILL HOPEFULLY HELP ME FEEL MORE LIKE IMPROVING MYSELF."
I've always been drawn to artists who willfully neglect their audiences, and so in August I deleted everything in my Instapaper account and repopulated it with Boyle's liveblog. Its months of entries—the updates averaging maybe one every hour—became the equivalent of a long, unedited book, a few hundred thousand words long. Reading it has been strange and moving, because I identify so much with her writing style: lowercase except for when she's on her iPhone and it auto-corrects, lots of ellipses, lots of just saying "jesus." and sentences that abruptly end, like with a period stomping unexpectedly after the words "of" or "so" when she's too exhausted with herself to even complete the thought. And I identify with her bleak outlook too, and the seeming impossibility of making her life better, despite often trying—she makes to-do lists, she gives herself rewards for completing small domestic tasks, then ends up back in bed. A lot of the liveblog is just her alone with her thoughts, and sometimes she talks about depression-type things in a funny way: "All of my major jackets have lost 1+ buttons at some point. Buttons got the right idea: stay away from me." But other times it can get candidly, defeatedly dark. Those moments really resonate with me, which can be eerie: for example, a few weeks ago I was really unhappy and tweeted something like: "I'm looking forward to an indeterminate future that's probably unattainable due to my anxiety," and then 40 minutes later read an identical sentiment in the liveblog.
Every few weeks in the liveblog, she says that writing is a way to remember things she'd otherwise forget. I think about that a lot in my own life, especially when my job lets me do unusual things, like learn how to ride a motorcycle or go to a dance music festival in Holland. It was actually on that Holland trip that I started reading the liveblog, and I tried writing one myself in my notebook, doing constant narration of things like a teenage couple sharing headphones on the train, or when I was hiking and had to shit so bad I started to panic and run. I really enjoyed doing it while doing it, partly because at the time I was feeling very lonely and disconnected from my surroundings, and keeping up a conversation with myself helped me feel better. But I think it also reinforced my unhappiness, and probably alienated me even more.
For me, the most interesting thing about reading Megan Boyle's liveblog now, eight months or so since she was writing it, is the spoiler-alert info on her Twitter. Because of her Twitter, I know that she eventually abandons the liveblog, checks into a psychiatric hospital, and has falling-outs with recurring characters/friends. All of that adds a feeling of doom to parts of the liveblog, like when, for example, she's planning to join the navy in order to become an astronaut. Just today, on the train, knowing full well that she does not in fact become an astronaut, I read this part, written after she's had dinner with her dad and talked with him about his own time in the navy:
i said ‘i’m really glad we did this tonight, i liked talking with you about the navy.’ dad said he liked tonight too, and that i should always feel free to call him or leave him voicemails or emails, he always likes them and wants to hear more from me. we were standing in the doorway. i said ‘i know you like voicemails and stuff like that. i think i’ve been feeling ashamed of myself, to talk. like i know you want to hear from me but i’m ashamed to tell you about what my life is like because i’m not doing anything, i haven’t been interested in anything. and it’s always nice that you want to hear from me. it’s just hard to imagine why, for me, like why would anyone be interested when to me it feel so, so it’s hard, yeah it’s felt too shameful to talk about.’ dad nodded a moment. he said ‘you know, i think i get that. i didn’t think about it like that.’ i said ‘but now i’m interested in something, so’ and smiled and we hugged. i said ‘now i’ll get to tell you about space.’ dad said ‘that’s right. oh i can just tell things are getting better now. there’s nowhere to go but up,’ broke the hug to point at the sky, said ‘hey! mars, that’s up, you’ll go to mars, you’re going up!’
I feel like that's really all you need to know; I think it's really affecting. She says that she doesn't intend for you to enjoy reading it, and maybe enjoyment isn't the thing I experience, but I experience something really intense anyway.
One last thing: my technique is to use the liveblog as the second thing I'm reading, so I'll read a novel in iBooks and then when I want to take a break for a half-hour, I'll read the liveblog in Instapaper. Besides the liveblog's book-like length, going back and forth in this way emphasizes its literary-ness. Coincidentally, or maybe as a result of liking the liveblog, the books I've been reading lately have dealt with similar themes: Jean Rhys' Good Morning, Midnight (1939), about a lonely woman drinking a lot in Paris (here's a screen grab of my favorite passage); Lorrie Moore's collection Birds of America (1998), each short story another gut-emptying taken on everyday ennui and alienation; and Ryū Murakami's Almost Transparent Blue (1978), about nihilistic Japanese teenagers having sex and doing drugs. Reframed as a book, I think the liveblog is as compelling as any of these. It's probably my favorite "book" this year. It's teaching me a lot about what's possible in my own writing, and ways of writing that are better suited to my interests and goals, and so even when it's upsetting, it's also really inspiring.