In early 2013, the writer Megan Boyle began a project that would shape the next five years of her life. The best way to explain it is with her own words. She typed the following into her Tumblr account late one night:
starting today, march 17, 2013 i will be liveblogging everything i do. right now in my life there is no one i talk to frequently enough that they would be upset by me not doing things i had told them i would do. the only person ‘keeping tabs’ on my life is me. as time has been passing i have been feeling an equally out-of-control sensation of my life not belonging to me[...]. i witness myself willfully allowing opportunities to fade away from me because i don’t follow through with the tasks necessary to make them happen, because for whatever reason, it is hard for me to make myself do things that i know will make me happy sometimes.
The idea was that if Megan had to report everything she did to the internet, it would hold her accountable and cause her to behave less destructively. What followed was an experiment that spanned 6 months of her life and nearly 400,000 words. It featured the mundane details everyone experiences — to-do lists, money problems, running errands — as well as a chronicle of an impressive quantity of drugs, parking tickets, smoothies, and self-destruction, accompanied by photos and videos.
The experiment didn’t work. Megan didn’t start doing things that made her happier. In some ways she got worse.
A few weeks into the project, Giancarlo DiTrapano, editor and publisher of the indie powerhouse Tyrant Books, woke up one morning, started reading the blog, and found himself so interested he didn’t get out of bed for three hours. Megan’s writing had already found a following through her poetry book, selected unpublished blog posts of a mexican panda express employee, as well as her social media presence and the movies she’d made with her then-husband, the writer Tao Lin. She’d already reached a cachet of “cool” that is rare for writers; Tao and Megan’s wedding, for example, was covered by popular-at-the-time venues like Hipster Runoff and Thought Catalog.
After the Tumblr experiment concluded, Gian officially asked to publish the liveblog as a book. It was originally slated to come out in 2015. That didn’t happen.
Throughout 2015, Megan failed to finish the edits and was also severely addicted to Adderall. During the worst of her addiction, her body was covered in scabs from picking at what she described as “nanotechnology skin eruptions,” most likely the result of drug-induced psychosis. She stayed up for literal days, didn’t speak to anyone, rarely appeared online, and stopped responding to Gian’s queries about the book’s progress. It seemed, in some ways, an inevitable result from relentlessly poring over a difficult period in one’s life. Gian says the book is “one of the most personally honest books ever written,” and that description is not hyperbolic.
Megan made it out, though. She got off the Adderall, which took several attempts. She graduated college, completing a design-your-own major that emphasized psychology, philosophy, and writing. And now, 5 years and 24 days after the last liveblog post, Liveblog is a book, 707 pages long and several inches thick.
The first time I wrote about Liveblog was in 2013, while it was still being written. I had quickly become enthralled in the project, checking both it and Megan’s accompanying Ask.fm account as part of my “daily internet-checking schedule.” There was, of course, a voyeuristic quality to my enjoyment. It was interesting to read about the details of somebody else’s romantic relationships, body insecurities, and moments of self-doubt, especially when it was coming from a writer I already admired. Sometimes I experienced a rubbernecking train-wreck feeling, like when Megan went on Adderall and crack binges. But it was also just good entertainment, exceedingly bizarre and funny, like when Megan imagines herself on a reality show in which the contestants murder each other and then run from the cops. And, on an artistic level, it was exciting: a person using the internet to create a new kind of literature, that was possible only because of the internet, and entirely free of the pretension and artifice of, say, Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle.
Because I was so taken by it, I requested to interview her via Skype for the literary website Electric Literature. In the spirit of the liveblog, we decided that our conversation would take place over the course of three months. For each session, I’d asked her a few brief questions and then afterward we’d spend an hour or two talking about nothing important. I remember sending her photos of my ex-boyfriend, telling her about my current relationship, sharing ideas I had for the videos that would eventually accompany another project of mine, a short story collection. Bits and pieces of these conversations became part of Liveblog, a consequence I hadn’t thought about at the time — I didn’t know that interviewing somebody could turn you into a character in a book.
Five years later, I am driving to see Megan in Baltimore. We’d agreed to the date, July 12, earlier in the summer, but I hadn’t talked to her in a while. When I emailed her that week to confirm the date, I didn’t hear anything back. I was a little worried, but after emailing with her infrequently during the time that had passed since our Skype sessions, I knew it wasn’t uncommon for her to be slow to respond.
I went to Baltimore anyway, figuring I’d either hear from her or I wouldn’t. Midway through my drive, I texted our mutual friend, Jordan Castro, to see if he’d talked to her recently. (Jordan is also a writer and “character” in Liveblog.) My fear was that Megan had sunk into a depression, the kind where even responding to emails feels overwhelming, much less being interviewed for a publication like The FADER. I had originally asked to meet her mom, who factors into much of Liveblog, and now regretted doing so, worried that this request was causing unnecessary stress.
I knew from conversations with Jordan, and also Megan’s somewhat-frequent YouTube updates, that Megan had been doing considerably better. Jordan replied to my text, saying he had “abruptly stopped hearing from her a few days ago.” As I drove, I considered the possibility of writing this profile without her, perhaps interviewing her friends like Jordan, Gian, and her ex-boyfriend Zachary German.
A few hours passed, and Jordan had become more panicked. “might drive by her apt tonight to make sure she’s not dead,” he texted. “dead friend ptsd.” (The last time he hadn’t heard from a friend for a while, it was because they’d died from an overdose.) “she’s probably not dead lol,” he replied a few minutes later.
She wasn’t dead. A few hours after that, Megan replied. We planned to meet at her apartment the next day, after she had an appointment with her Jungian analyst.
The day was muggy and hot. Her apartment was a little hard to find, a second-floor shotgun off what is technically a street but is more like an alley. We walked up the twisting wrought-iron stairs, so narrow that only one person could pass at a time. Her apartment is charming and thoughtfully decorated, little framed photos and cute knickknacks everywhere. While I admired her bookshelves, Megan admitted to me that she had been in a month-long depression, which was indeed why she was late to reply to me, but she was on the other side of it now.
We sat down in her kitchen because that’s where the A/C was. It’s a kitchen I’d seen previously on her YouTube videos: there is her blender; there is the oven where she’d written instructions for creating a “Twitter OvenFeed” in marker.
We sat down at the table and I turned on the recorder. Megan had an interesting way of turning my questions on myself. I asked her about the Adderall hallucinations, then she asked me about my own issues with mental illness, and quickly it felt like I was talking too much. I couldn’t figure out if this pattern stemmed from a discomfort in talking about herself, or was simply the result of a person interested in the psychology of other people. Megan laughed a lot, and seemed thoughtful but not depressed. I remembered our Skype conversations, how the transcription process had turned into a miniature nightmare. Her words made enough sense in real time, but transcribed they were fragments of sentences, thoughts begun but abandoned. Her thought process was evidently clearer now, as she articulated the process of turning the blog into a book in complete, organized sentences.
The way Megan feels about the book has changed a lot over the years. Her waning enthusiasm for the blog is evident in the book itself; toward the end, long stretches of time are covered by nothing more than “did not update” or “abandoned.” For a couple years, she completely lost the desire to write anything at all. For a while, she hated the liveblog, hated that she’d written it. “I feel like I did this for such a crazy reason,” she says. “I just wanted someone to help me, or kind of live for me, back then. I wouldn’t do it now.”
She didn’t really return to the book until 2017, on the urging of Sam Cooke, a visual artist, “character” in Liveblog, and Megan’s eventual ex-boyfriend. Another element that spurred her on was a trip to Chile to visit her Spanish-language publisher there, Los Libros de la Mujer Rota. She says, “The literary community [there] seemed earnestly passionate about the future of books/writing, and were passionate about what they were doing.”
Some of the earlier Adderall edits felt “overworked,” so the published version of the book is fairly close to the original, she says. “I remember [editing] up to like a 100 pages a day, without [the Adderall], just breezing through things and knowing what I wanted.”
Mostly, the changes consist of deleting things that were nonessential, and then expanding on others. The book, according to the cover, is technically a novel, and certain aspects were fictionalized. An example is the relationship with a person referred to in Liveblog as “omitted,” because he’d requested his name not be divulged, most likely due to his role in the publishing world. “He asked for some details…to be toned down. He sent me 52 pages of edits he wanted,” she says, laughing. “Like, ‘Delete this, change anxious to thought.’” The result still has the unfiltered quality of the original blog but now follows a narrative arc, complete with scenes that feel effortlessly literary.
I spent the night at Megan’s house, sleeping in Megan’s bed. In the morning, she made me a green smoothie, a more “I got my shit together” version than the one from Liveblog, which she deemed the “least you can do smoothie” and consisted of just spinach and bananas; this one also had cucumber, oranges, and an avocado.
We headed over to her mom’s condo, about 40 minutes outside of Baltimore, me following Megan in her Honda Civic hatchback. I had requested to meet her partially because she was the most important character in Liveblog, excepting Megan herself, and partially because she seemed wonderful. Some of the warmer parts of the book involve the two of them “partying” late into the night, which is how Megan describes them talking, laughing, crying, and watching TV in her mom’s bedroom. In the book, her mom seems soft and wise, kind and strong, giving Megan loving advice while seeming to accept her daughter for who she was, troubles and all.
And her mom is just how I’d imagined her, compassionate and smart and funny. Her condo is just like I’d imagined it too; as Megan writes in Liveblog, it’s full of all “the pretty things she’s collected over the years.”
We sat down in the living room and talked about politics and therapy and Megan’s struggles. At one point, her mom began asking numerous questions about Megan’s relationship with her ex-husband. At first Megan patiently responded, before eventually asking, “Can we like, not talk about this anymore?” I asked Megan’s mom about her own life, growing up in the Midwest, her career as a transcriptionist and then travel writer, and Megan’s childhood (she was a drama kid in high school).
Eventually I looked at the clock and realized nearly two hours had passed without me noticing; it was close to five and time for me to leave. Right before I left, Megan pulled out a disposable camera, and we took turns taking photos of each other: me with Megan, Megan with her mom, me with Megan’s mom. As we stood by the door, we talked briefly about Megan’s book. I thought about my own parents, how they’re proud of me for my writing but also don’t quite seem to “get it.” It suddenly seemed important for Megan’s mom to “get it,” to understand this remarkable thing her daughter had accomplished. “Megan’s been able to do something really amazing here,” I said. “She’s really special.” Her mom smiled, hugged me. She got it. This was not the mother of the self-destructive, mentally unstable addict from five years ago. This was the mother of Megan Boyle, the novelist.
Megan Boyle will be reading the entire text of Liveblog, for roughly 48 hours straight, from 11/14-11/16 at Murmrr in Brooklyn.